What if King Edward’s great-nephew, Edgar, had been thought old enough to rule, and chosen as king?
Edgar Atheling was born in Hungary, the son of Edward the Exile, who in turn was the son of the legendary King Edmund Ironside. After returning to England when he was five or six, Edgar grew up with his sisters, Margaret and Christine in King Edward’s court. At the time of the king’s death, Edgar would have been fifteen or sixteen, too young and inexperienced to defend his kingdom. Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex was crowned instead.
But Harold only ruled for nine months and nine days until he met his historic end at Hastings. This time the Witan (the council of English nobles) proclaimed Edgar king but England was in chaos. By then the Normans were sweeping across south east England and no one could stop them. But if Edgar had been a few years older, perhaps Saxon England would have lasted longer…
What if the northern Earls Edwin and Morcar had defeated the Norwegian Harald Hardrada and King Harold’s brother, the rebellious Tostig, at the Battle of Fulford outside York in September?
The battle was a decisive victory for the Norwegian army. The brother earls could have hidden behind the walls of York but instead they met the Viking army across a river. All day the English desperately tried to break the Viking shield wall but to no avail. York surrendered to the Norwegians and Tostig, who claimed the earldom for himself, under the promise that the victors would not force entry to their city, perhaps because Tostig would not want his new capital looted.
During the battle, casualties were heavy on both sides. Some estimates claim 15% dead giving a total of 1650 (based on 11,000 troops being deployed in the battle. The mobilised power of Mercia and Northumbria was cut to pieces at Fulford. The victorious Norwegian army retired to Stamford Bridge, 7 miles (11 km) east of York.
Because of the defeat at Fulford Gate, King Harold Godwinson had to force march his troops 190 miles (310 km), from London to York. He did this within a week of Fulford and managed to surprise the Norwegian army and defeat them at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
But suppose Harald Hardrada of Norway had won the Battle of Stamford Bridge?
In reality, after the bloody Battle at Stamford Bridge, both Hardrada and Tostig along with most of the Norwegians were killed. The battle has traditionally symbolises the end of the Viking Age, although Scandinavian campaigns in Britain and Ireland occurred in the following decades, such as those of King Sweyn Estrithson of Denmark in 1069–70 and King Magnus Barefoot of Norway in 1098 and 1102–03.
Harald was King of Norway (as Harald III) from 1046 to 1066. As a 15 year old he had fought in battle. Prior to becoming king, he had spent around fifteen years in exile as a mercenary and military commander in Kievan Rus' and of the Varangian Guard in the Byzantine Empire. In Constantinople, he soon rose to become the commander of the Byzantine Varangian Guard, and saw action on the Mediterranean Sea, in Asia Minor, Sicily, possibly in the Holy Land, Bulgaria and in Constantinople itself, where he became involved in the imperial dynastic disputes. Harald amassed great wealth during his time in the Byzantine Empire.
Once he became sole King of Norway in 1046, Harald crushed all local and regional opposition, and outlined the territorial unification of Norway under a national governance. Harald's reign was probably one of relative peace and stability, and he instituted a viable coin economy and foreign trade.
So perhaps he would have been a harsh king for England but one which brought stability. With his trading and personal contacts, England may have prospered under him.
But before then, Harald would have met the force of William of Normandy as he journeyed south with his army….
What if Harold had defeated the Normans at sea?
What if Svein of Denmark had invaded or a neutral European political power had intervened?
What if William had died when he was unhorsed at Hastings or had been defeated at London Bridge in November?
What if the Bayeux Tapestry carries a hidden, secret meaning about the truth of 1066 – or a time machine could alter the past?
The possibilities of turning 1066 upside down are endless with so many different outcomes. Do you have a favourite one?
Helen Hollick, author of multiple historical and pirate novels, including Harold the King
Joanna Courtney, author of the Queens of the Conquest series
Anna Belfrage, Historical Novel Society Indie Award Winner 2015, author of the Graham Saga
Richard Dee, fantasy author of Ribbonworld
G K Holloway, author of 1066: What Fates Impose
Carol McGrath, author of The Daughters of Hastings trilogy
Alison Morton, author of the Roma Nova thrillers
Eliza Redgold, author of Naked, a novel of Lady Godiva
Annie Whitehead, who writes about Mercia and Saxon England
with a foreword by writer and actor, C.C. Humphreys
Cover by Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics.
The collection includes historical notes of what really did happen each month alongside the fictional re-interpretations, as well as authors' notes on what fascinates them about 1066 and why they chose to 'change' what they did. Each story has a few suggestions for 'discussion' points for schools, writer's groups - or just your own curiosity!
So where can you buy this fascinating collection?
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