Harold Godwinson and Other Stories: The Method to My Madness

A few years ago, I started to work on the screenplay, Harold Godwinson. It is one of my favorite pieces of obscure history; telling the story of King Harold II and his encounter with William the Conqueror. What I wanted to do was tell a biographical story of his life because very few people have ever done that. When they tell the story of Harold in film, usually they focus on The Battle of Hastings. This makes people assume that that was the only important thing he ever did in his life. This is not true in the least. He had several events in his life that made him the man that he eventually became. The screenplay went through coverage and came out of it with stellar feedback from the producer who went through it. Then I went elsewhere to ask a few questions about the sceenplay and the reviews weren’t so stellar.

The concept and subject of the screenplay were interesting, but the person who went through it thought that covering Harold’s entire life was a bit too much and that I should have stuck to the subject of The Battle of Hasting and not try to tell the story of his life. Also they began to point out things that didn’t matter. Still others who looked at it went through it and realized that it wasn’t at all “typical Hollywood fare” didn’t think it would pass muster. Commercially, perhaps not. As an indie film with passionate film makers, it could be the next Elizabeth, The Tudors, or The Last Kingdom, which is probably the closest in subject matter to Harold, Lets go through this a bit and explore some of the decisions I made and the method to my madness.

The story starts out with one of Harold’s first battles as he faces off against King Magnus the Good of Norway.  What is the purpose of this bit of the story? This is the battle that establishes that he is a man worthy of respect, despite the fact that he’s only twenty-one. As a British noble, he has to prove himself. If he doesn’t, why would anyone follow or respect him? This is basically a necessity. Also, during a battle, originally, Harold throws a knife in order to dispatch the king. People were like, “well now he’s just a cowardly knife thrower.” This is where Hollywood takes a departure from accuracy. In battle, it’s about taking the leader off the board as quickly and efficiently as possible, just like in a game of chess.  Once Harold takes out Magnus, the battle is over because he’s effectively  cut the head off the snake and the battle can no longer continue.

Most battles in the 1000 usually lasted for two to three hours. It would be different if it were a castle siege, however, field battles were short. The Battle of Hastings was unprecedented because it lasted for nine hours. Usually though, two to three hours. Harold has to take out the king quickly. His throwing a knife and taking advantage of an opening is simple realistic. The Hollywood bullshit of a guy fighting through fifty bad guys while swinging his sword around like Jackie Chan is not realistic or efficient at all. I took it out anyway because I let people talk me out of it.

Next he goes to visit the woman who would become his consort, Edith (Ealdgyth) Swan Neck. She’s just his consort, not his wife. They don’t necessarily have to have any ceremony for them to be joined. While all of the children brought of this union are considered legitimate, that doesn’t make her any less his consort and not his wife.  The next sequence is Harold’s encounter with Beorn. The first complaint was, “Godwin wouldn’t want to protect his third son, he would let him go to the battle with Harold.” No, he wouldn’t. Godwin’s two eldest sons (Harold and Sweyn) are going into battle against each other. Godwin is not going to send his third eldest son into the fray. He need to protect his line. Sweyn could very well have killed Harold. They could have killed each other. Also, history tells us that he wasn’t there. I changed it anyway from Godwin telling Tostig just not to go, to telling Tostig to go to the king. Also Sweyn disappears from the story after that because he almost literally disappears. While he did eventually secure a pardon, he only stayed for a short time and was banished again when his father was and afterward decided to go on a quest to the Holy Land. He died on this journey. So putting him back in would just be useless filler.

The next issue that is there was  was that Harold was banished along with his brothers and father. He escaped to Ireland. “So what did he do in Ireland and why  didn’t you go into that?” Um…mostly because it doesn’t matter. He was there for a short time, two years I believe, and after that, he joined his fathers second attempt to return to England and reclaim what was theirs. Ireland would have just been useless again to go into, but I added a scene where he gathered Irish mercenaries anyway to appease the Hollywood types despite the fact that it didn’t really happen like that. The scene in Ireland isn’t necessary, but the following scene where Godwin tells Harold that his son Wulfnoth has been taken hostage in Normandy is necessary as it helps to set up a later conflict.

This sequence that this sets up is where Harold himself is a hostage in Normandy, and threats against his brother and being tricked into swearing upon holy relics mean that Harold has to make promises that he would never make otherwise. This is the event that the last mentioned scene sets up.

Harold never expected to be king. His only relation to Edward the Confessor was through Marriage to his sister Edith (Ealdgyth). The people who chose who the next king was were the Witan (If you’ve ever watched The Last Kingdom, every so often they have meetings with the Witan to discuss things. It was made up of the king’s senior advisers, Housecarls, lords, and territorial thanes). There were four contenders to the throne, not the least of them being Harald Hardrada of Norway and William of Normandy.  They chose Harold because they wanted an Anglo-Saxon man to be their king. Harold also had to banish his brother Tostig for taking advantage of the people of North-Umbria. He also had to marry Edith (Ealdgyth) of Mercia a noble woman. He still favored his consort though.

In the end, Harold fought valiantly, but could not win against William who, after nine hours, finally broke the shield wall. The Bayeux Tapestry is not exactly clear about what figure is Harold. He could be the one who was killed while still giving it his all, or he could be the figure that was shot in the eye by an arrow. Both are propaganda. The Norman version is that he was shot in the eye, which is the most commonly propagated because history is generally written by the winner. The way I wrote it is that he died bravely defending his brothers and William tabbed him in the eye with an arrow. This was kind of to solidify William as the villain. Also there are one of two places that he could have been buried. I chose the most likely one at Bosham.

There also seemed to be an issue with language. I didn’t use modern contractions. People in 1066 wouldn’t have been speaking English let alone using modern contraction. While I have no skills in writing Anglo-Saxon, I basically did the next best thing. And lets face it; if you can figure out will not, cannot, they will, that is, then that in itself is an issue. I did the same thing in Dragon Fire, Angel Light. Technically it’s not stilted, it’s accurate. Anglo-Saxon was a language with primarily Germanic roots. It did not start to morph into modern language until after the mixing of Anglo and Norman people. You can even follow the progress of the English language from Beowulf, the last great work written in Anglo-Saxon, to Chaucer, to Spencer, to Shakespeare, to Milton and so on and so on. That’s kind of what Hollywood has done to us. It has thrown historical accuracy to the wind in order to appease modern audiences, which is not a very good thing. Also telling the story of his life sort of explains why Harold II is such an important person in history.

Without him, and his interesting life, things would have been much different. It breaks the Hollywood mold, and yes, it’s basically and indie film that needs the budget of a blockbuster. However, I have no doubt that it can be big and is a story worth telling. Thanks for reading. Hope you liked it!

 

 

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Scenes from Harold Godwinson

Hello and thank you for reading. I have finally finished my screenplay, Harold Godwinson, and I thought I would share a few scenes with my lovely followers and people I thought might be interested. They are chronologically in order, but there are, of course, scenes that come before and after each of these. I will go ahead and give a little explanation. Harold is the son of Godwin who was the Earl of Wessex in Britain. When Godwin dies, Harold takes up the title of Earl of Wessex as he is Godwin’s second son and heir. In January of 1066, Harold was crowned King Harold II of Britain. His fate is legend and I wanted to bring his story to the screen.His encounters with William Duke of Normandy would shape the history of Britain as the Anglo-Saxon kings were laid to rest, and the Anglo-Norman kings began to rise with William the Conqueror.

Note:Formatting is hard to do in a blog, but the script is formatted as it should be.

The scenes are as follows. The first scene is with Harold as he is just getting to know his consort, Edith of Essex. He had to meet, and fall in love with Edith fairly quickly because their relationship is an important cornerstone that runs throughout the story.  I thought it was a good scene to lead with because everyone loves a love scene.  Harold and Edith had an interesting love story that will conflict with what must be done when he become king and must marry a suitable wife.

Scene 2 is Harold’s first encounter with William of Normandy. This is a very important meeting, for what happens here will very much shape how the story ends and the primary conflict for Harold once he is king.

Scene 3 Harold’s brother Tostig is the 3rd most powerful man in Britain after King Edward and Harold who is still Earl of Wessex. He has abused his privilege and has taxed the people to the point of rebellion. He is called on his crimes and looks to Harold for help.

Scene 4 King Edward the Confessor dies. It is up to the Witan to determine who the next king of England will be.

CURIOUS ABOUT WHO MIGHT BE IN THIS MOVIE? THERE IS A VIDEO AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE WITH CAST SUGGESTIONS. THANK YOU!!

FIRST SCENE

Int. Chamber of Edith – Night

Edith’s MAID is helping to comb Edith’s hair. Edith wears her long white night gown. There is a large fire in the fireplace, and the large bed sits over not far to the side of that. The door quietly opens, and Harold steps in.

Harold

My lady…

The Maid stops her task, but Edith is not interested in Harold.

Edith

Continue. Pay him no mind.

The Maid continues on. Harold comes around in front of the fireplace and gazes into the fire.

Harold

I know our Fathers arranged this for their own purposes, but I am not the villain you would like to think I am.

Edith

I do not think you a villain. It is not you that I am angry with.

Harold

In all truth, I wasn’t thrilled about it either. But now that I have met you, seen you…

Edith

So where does that leave us? Will you simply take what you want.

Harold

I am not that kind of man. I could never do you harm. But if you would have me, I would be yours.

Edith looked to her Maid.

Edith

You may leave me now.

Maid

(rises and bows)

Yes, my lady.

The Maid leaves Edith. Edith rises and walks over to where Harold stands. They are silhouetted in the firelight.

Edith

And would you have me?

Harold

If it would please you, I would give you whatever I could. Anything. I would have nothing else but you.

He embraces her and they kiss in the firelight.

Int. Chamber of Edith – Morning

Harold holds Edith close as they lay together. He watches her for a moment as she sleeps and then kisses her forehead.

Harold

I will never love anyone as I love you.

SECOND SCENE:

INT. GREAT HALL OF WILLIAM – Day

William sits in his chair and Harold comes into the hall. He walks to the front of the hall and bows to William. The hall is littered with the ADVISERS of William, and at least two PRIESTS stand near the dais.

Harold

My lord, there is something we must discuss.

William

I know what you wish to discuss. You wish to discuss leaving my realm. We shall do so now.

Harold

My thanks, my lord.

William

Of course. But there is something I wish you to do for me first.

Harold then notices an ornate table, standing not far from the dais. He makes nothing of it though, as it is covered with a ratty old cloth and does not seem to be important.

Harold

What is it you would ask of me, my lord?

William

First, I wish to announce your betrothal to my dear daughter, Agatha. She will be a great wife to you.

Harold is taken aback, but does not see a way in which he can refuse.

Harold

(shocked)

Of course, my lord…

William

And next, an oath of loyalty and kinship, so that we may be joined in faith and friendship. Swear!

Harold does not answer at first.

William

Do you not wish to be loyal to me? To swear friendship and loyalty? A true man of noble blood would do so.

Again, Harold cannot refuse.

Harold

I will swear my friendship and loyalty to you.

William

Very good. And one final oath. When Edward the Confessor dies, you will recommend me as king to the Witan. Swear!

A hesitation.

William

Come now! This is part of your loyalty to me.

Harold

But I cannot promise such a thing. Nor can Edward. It is the Witan that will make the final decision.

William

Perhaps you are not as honorable a man as I thought. Perhaps your whole family are dishonorable. If that be so, then maybe the life of your brother is not that important, seeing as he is probably dishonorable as well.

Harold

(Angry and mortified)

You threaten my brother?

William

A life without honor is no life at all, and therefore, has no right to be. Prove yourself, and I will know. Swear that you will tell the Witan to choose me.

Again, Harold cannot say no.

Harold

I swear that I will recommend you as King to the Witan, and I swear that you will be the next king.

William rises. He goes over to the covered table.

William

That is very good of you, Harold, Earl of Wessex. However, both you and I know that an oath made under duress is one that is not required of one to fulfill. So I thought you should see what is in this chest. Come here.

Harold walks over to the table and William, who pulls the cover off to expose holy relics and the bones of saints.

William

You have sworn in the presence of holy relics. These are the bones of saints. To go back on your word now would be reprehensible.

Harold

(beyond angry)

You filthy deceiver! You have lied to me! You have deceived me. Your cowardly tactics do not make the oath any more enforceable!

William

No, I’m sure you will see that they actually do. One cannot go against God. It is he who holds this oath and will see it fulfilled. Do your duty, sir, or pay the consequences.

Harold

(angered)

Fine, I will do my duty, but at least let me take my brother home.

William

I don’t know about that. I have become rather fond of him, and he is quite useful to have around. You may leave, but he must stay. Good day to you, Earl of Wessex. Safe journey home.

William waved his hand, and Harold was led out by Guards.

THIRD SCENE

INT. PALACE THRONEROOM – DAY

King Edward sits upon his throne with Queen Edith by his side. On either side of him, lords are seated upon benches. On the kings right hand side are the old Lords of the Witan, and on his left hand side are the Thanes, and the representatives from across the lands. Before him stands a very well dressed Tostig, Morcar, Edwin and Harold.

King Edward

Tostig Godwinson, Earl of Northumbria. You have been called here to face allegations of abuse of your power at the expense of the people. What say you, sir?

Tostig

Abuse of power? The expense of the people? That is just not so, your majesty. I have done all in my power to care for the people.

King Edward

And the unjust taxes?

Tostig

A rumor, your majesty.

Morcar

Then why did your people ask us to step in and investigate? I think the proof of the allegations are clear. Those are hardly practicle and modest garments, Earl of Northumbria.

Tostig

(angerly)

And who asked you to come into my realm and spy upon me?! You are the one who was out of line.

Edwin

I think not! When people are about to rebel, it is our place to try and quell the violence.

Tostig

(smugly)

My people would never rebel. They love me.

Morcar

Yes indeed. They plan to love you to death. They say if you ever return to that land, they will kill you.

Tostig

A mere lovers quarrel.

King Edward

We shall see. What do the representatives and Thanes have to say of this?

The Thanes and others of the region give their testimony. In the end, there is no doubt. Tostig is clearly guilty and everyone knows it. Harold gives his brother a sad look.

King Edward

The Thanes and others have given their testimony. Lord Lerith, what does the Witan have to say.

Lerith is an old man with short white hair and a long white beard. He is saddened by what he has to do.

Lerith

My king. The Witan finds that guilt is undeniable. The Earl of Northumbria, Tostig Godwinson, is guilty of the crimes of which he has been accused. You may now pass judgement.

King Edward

Very good. Tostig, Earl of Northumbria. You no longer have a right to that title, and it will be handed over to Morcar of Mercia, along with your estate and all other holdings. You are banished. Leave now.

Tostig

(beyond angry)

Your majesty. You cannot do that. You cannot do that!

King Edward

(Also beyond angry)

Are you telling me, your king, what I can and cannot do in my own court?! Leave now, and do not return, or the punishment will grow worse for you.

Tostig turns to Harold.

Tostig

(desperate)

Brother? Will you not help me?

Harold

(sad)

The king and the Witan have spoken. I am sorry, Tostig.

Tostig

(Insane with anger)

How could you betray me like this?! My brother has betrayed me!I stand betrayed by my people, my family. All of you!

King Edward

GET OUT!!!

The king’s exertion in yelling causes a coughing fit, and he is taken by his wife from the throne room. Tostig stares Harold down for another minute.

Tostig

Believe me, brother, I will be avenged. And you will suffer for your disloyalty!

Tostig storms from the hall, leaving a speechless Harold behind.

FOURTH SCENE

Int. Bed chamber of King Edward – late day

Edward lies upon his bed, Queen Edith stands beside it, holding his hand and weeping. When Harold arrives, she looks up at him and beckons for both he and Lerith. The rush over to her.

Queen Edith

Brother, the king is dying.

King Edward

(weakly)

Perhaps, but I am not dead yet. And seeing as that is the case, I should make my wishes known.

Harold

You wishes, your majesty?

King Edward

Yes. I appoint as the defenders of the realm…

He trails off as they all three wait in anticipation. Lerith cannot wait.

Lerith

Yes, my king?

King Edward

I appoint…My beloved wife, who I have so neglected over the years, and her beloved brother, Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex. You may put my preference forth, Lerith of the Witan.

Everyone is taken aback, especailly Harold. The king had appointed him. He knew the Witan might, but the king?

Harold

My god…

King Edward

Can you do this for your king, Harold?

Harold

Of course, my King. I would do this for king and country.

King Edward

Very good. Take care of my beloved wife. She will need you, and you her.

Harold

Yes, your majesty.

The king goes limp. King Edward The Confessor has died, and his wife dissolves in tears as Harold holds her. A few tears come to his eyes as well.

Harold

Lord Lerith. Gather the Witan. The king is dead.

Int. Palace Counsil Chamber – Night

In a dark chamber, lit by fires and torches, the men of the Witan gather. A group of Twenty men, all old and bearded sit in the room at a long table. The three most senior are Lerith, ANGAR, and KERRIK. The three men will control the proceedings.

Lerith

The king is dead, so it is now time for the Witan to make a decision on who the next king will be, since he left no heirs.

Angar

The closest relative to Edward is Edgar, who is now in Hungary.

Lerith

Edgar is a sickly child who has spent little time in our country. He is not a suitable leader for Englishmen.

Kerrik

Then perhaps Harald Hardrada of Norway. He is a strong man, and a good leader.

Lerith

He is still not an Englishman. He is a Norwegian King, and does not belong here. The people would see him as an invader, not a king. I wish to get this out of the way. Both King Edward and Harold Earl of Wessex have asked to put forward the name of William, Duke of Normandy.

Angar

Give that Norman bastard the throne of England? I would rather die than see that.

Lerith

Agreed.

Kerrik

But those are our only choices.

Lerith

I would like to suggest someone else. Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and Brother-in-law to the king. He is an Englishman and a nobleman, and the people already love and respect him.

Angar

I agree with this. Harold would be a good choice. Kerrik?

Kerrik

I agree, lords Angar and Lerith.

Lerith

The name of Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex has been put forward. All in agreement with this, raise your right hand.

All of the men of the Witan raise their hands.

Lerith

It is decided. Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex will be crowned King Harold the second. Thank you, my lords. Our decision is good.

The men of the Witan agree by nodding and exiting the room. Lerith goes to tell Harold.