King Harold's Noble Strategy
strategy included the use of castles and cavalry - Harold
strategy did not.
Harold's army was
far inferior in number to that of the Normans, and some of his
captains advised him to retreat upon London and lay waste the
country, so as to starve down the strength of the invaders.
The policy thus recommended was unquestionably the wisest, for
the Saxon fleet had now reassembled, and intercepted all
William's communications with Normandy. As soon as his stores
of provisions were exhausted, William would have been forced
to move to London , where Harold, at the head of the full
military strength of the kingdom, could have defied his
assault. Had Harold taken this advice he would probably
have witnessed his rival's destruction by famine and disease,
without having to strike a single blow.
But Harold's bold
blood was up, and his kindly heart could not endure to inflict
on his South Saxon subjects even the temporary misery of
wasting the country.
"He would not burn houses and villages, neither would he take
away the substance, of his people."
Harold's brothers, Gurth and Leofwine, were with him in the
Senlac camp, and Gurth endeavoured to persuade him to absent
himself from the battle. The incident shows how well devised
had been William's scheme of binding Harold by the oath on the
holy relics. (Harold had sworn on sacred religious relics an
oath of allegiance to William and to his right to the throne)
"My brother," said the young Saxon prince, "thou canst not
deny that either by force or free will thou hast made Duke
William an oath on the bodies of saints. Why then risk thyself
in the battle with a perjury upon thee? To us, who have sworn
nothing, this is a holy and a just war, for we are fighting
for our country. Leave us then alone to fight this battle, and
he who has the right will win."
Harold replied that he would not look on while others risked
their lives for him.
Men would hold him a coward, and blame him for sending his
best friends where he dared not go himself.
He resolved, therefore, to fight, and to fight in person; but
he was still too good a general to be the assailant in the
action; and he deployed his army with great skill along a
ridge of rising ground which opened southward, and was covered
on the back by an extensive wood.
He strengthened his position by a palisade of stakes and osier
hurdles, and there he said he would defend himself against
whoever should seek him.