How Did Harold Die?



1  The Death of Harold Godwinson - usual view.

Everybody knows how Harold died  he got hit by an arrow in his eye!  This is mainly because of a famous scene in the Bayeux Tapestry (right).  The Latin words mean: 'Here King Harold is killed', and the tapestry clearly shows a man plucking an arrow out of his eye.

This picture, however, does not show the complete scene from the tapestry, which you can see in Source 2, and which gives a very different impression of what happened.

Recent studies of the tapestry suggest that the arrow is a 19th century addition, and that originally the figure under the word 'Harold' was holding a spear. 

After you have read this story and studied the Sources below, answer the question sheet by clicking on the 'Time to Work' icon at the top of the page.


The following websites will help you research further:


The Death of Harold Godwinson:

This comic poem by the early 20th century writer Marriott Edgar has done much to cement the myth that 'Arold got shot in the eye'

A short summary of primary sources

A very difficult article by Chris Dennis for the Historical Association (2009)



2  The Death of Harold Godwinson - full view

This shows the complete scene from the Bayeux Tapestry.

3  Primary Sources on the Death of Harold Godwinson

a. The earliest account of the battle, a document called the Carmen, written by a French ally of William called Guy of Amiens, says that Harold died like this:

William called to himself Eustace, Hugh of Ponthieu [and] Giffard ... for the destruction of the king...


The first, cleaving [Harold's] breast through the shield with his sword, drenched the earth with a gushing torrent of blood; the second cut off his head below the protection of the helmet; the third pierced the inwards of his belly with his lance; and the fourth hewed off his thigh.

b. However, another very early account, by a Norman called William of Jumieges (who wrote about 1070) says that:

Harold himself, fighting amid the front rank of his army, fell, covered with deadly wounds. 

c. Not until William of Malmesbury, an English writer who wrote about 1125, do we have mention of an arrow:

[Harold] fell, from having his brain pierced with an arrow ... and yielded to death.  One of the soldiers with a sword gashed his thigh, as he lay prostrate; for which shameful and cowardly action he was condemned by William, and expelled from the army.