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Battle of Hastings 1066AD - King Harold was NOT killed by an arrow in the eye

To set things straight King Harold was Not Killed by an arrow in his eye
The myth of King Harold being killed by an arrow in the eye was created in the 1800's by historians who had vested interests in interpreting an individual chronicle as the truth, for their own advancement.

So lets look at the Chronicles and take a holistic view of all that reported this incident.

Arrow in the eye from the Bayeux Tapestry

Details from the Chronicles
Anglo Saxon Chronicles:
There was slain King Harold, and Leofwin his brother, and Earl Girth his brother, with many good men: and the Frenchmen gained the field of battle, as God granted them for the sins of the nation.
Nothing about an arrow

Battle Abbey Chronicles:
The miserable English, feeble and on foot, are scattered abroad. Pressed upon, they fall; they are slaughtered, and killed ; and their king being overthrown by a chance blow, they fly in all directions, and seek their hiding places.
Nothing about an arrow

The Carmen:
When the duke spies the king above on the steep hill
His hard pressed men are being torn to pieces
Harold is forced to go the way of all flesh
The first shatters his breast through the shield by a lance
The second by sword severs the head below the helmet
The third by spears pours out the belly’s entrails
The fourth cuts off the leg at the hip

Nothing about an arrow

Florence of Worcester:
When, however, numbers had fallen on both sides, he, alas ! fell at twilight. There fell, also, his brothers, the earls Gurth and Leofric, and almost all the English nobles.
Nothing about an arrow

Henry of Huntingdon:
Meanwhile, a shower of arrows fell round King Harold, and he himself was pierced in the eye. A crowd of horsemen now burst in, and the king, already wounded, was slain. With him fell Earl Gurth and Earl Leofric, his brothers.
At last an arrow, but Harold was injured by it not killed

Master Wace:
The arrows now flew thicker than rain before the wind ; fast sped the shafts that the English call 'wibetes' Then it was that an arrow, that had been thus shot upwards, struck Harold above his right eye, and put it out. In his agony he drew the arrow and threw it away, breaking it with his hands : and the pain to his head was so great, that he leaned upon his shield.

And now the Normans had pressed on so far, that at last they reached the standard. There Harold had remained, defending himself to the utmost ; but he was sorely wounded in his eye by the arrow, and suffered grievous pain from the blow. An armed man came in the throng of the battle, and struck him on the ventaille of his helmet, and beat him to the ground ; and as he sought to recover himself, a knight beat him down again, striking him on the thick of his thigh, down to the bone.

The arrow again, but Harold was injured by it not killed

Orderic Vitalis:
Although the battle was fought with the greatest fury from nine o'clock in the morning, King Harold was slain in the first onset, and his brother Earl Leofwin fell some time afterwards, with many thousands of the royal army.
Nothing about an arrow

William of Malmsbury:
Very little on the battle at all
Nothing about an arrow

The Bayeux Tapestry:
The tapestry appears to show a figure either holding a spear or with an arrow in his eye, this may not be Harold, and may also be a bit of fake news, as it there is a weight of opinion that says the first copy of the Tapestry by Stothard in the early 1800's doesn't show this arrow.

So lets look at a copy of the Stothard and compare this with the actual Bayeux.

Arrow in the Eye - Bayeux vs the Stothard print
The Arrow in the eye, both from the Bayeux and the Stothard
It has been claimed that the Stothard print of the Bayeux Tapestry commissioned by Society of Antiquaries and printed in 1821 shows that the arrow in Harold's eye was a spear or javelin being thrown by the soldier, and was not an arrow in their eye, and that this was modified in Victorian times.

This image shows a comparison between the Stothard print from 1821 and the modern Bayeux, both show the arrow in the soldier's eye or face, hence the above statement is just an urban legend and is incorrect. If there were changes made to the Bayeux then this would have had to be prior to 1821.

The death of Harold - Stothard print vs Bayeux
The injury of Harold and his subsequent death
The Bayeux Tapestry shows two events, before and during Harold's death, the arrow in the eye is depicted to the left, and then his death by a sword blow to his leg. The Stothard shows the same details as the Bayeux which implies the events occurred in this order.

These events from the Bayeux seem to agree with Master Wace's chronicle and also that of Henry of Huntingdon.

It would seem from Master Wace , Henry of Huntingdon and the Bayeux Tapestry that the events recorded shows that that Harold was injured by an arrow in his eye, and later was killed by multiple Norman Knights.

So in my mind the weight of evidence shows that Harold was NOT killed by an arrow in the eye, and that these chronicles show a consistent story which is most likely to be correct.

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Author Simon M - Last updated - 2024-05-06 15:44:41
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