Could King Harold have been buried at Waltham Abbey years after escaping his supposed death at the Battle of Hastings and fleeing to Germany? A ground scan may be about to find out
Peter Burke initially believed that the notion of King Harold escaping the Battle of Hastings bloodbath, in which he is commonly thought to have been dismembered and even shot in the eye, was far-fetched.
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A historian who has lived within 200 metres of Waltham Abbey for the past 29 years, Burke’s investigation began unwittingly while he was planning his latest book.
“I was researching for the Promise trilogy,” he says.
“I am a stonemason by trade and was interested in how some of the church and surrounding walls were constructed.
“Knowing stonework as well as I do, I've seen so many constructions old and new and their style can reveal the skills - and sometimes the lack of skills - of masons in the past, as well as anomalies.
“I found some interesting stonework around the Abbey at Waltham, and learned of a tale of a king who escaped the slaughter at Hastings, which I wove into my story.
“What surprised me was that, when I researched further into what I accepted at first as a fanciful tale, I began to realise there was possibly a story with some basis, in fact.
“I found an interesting manuscript called the Vita Haroldi and felt compelled to look deeper into this, as a part of the tying up of loose ends for my books.
“As I studied I became fascinated by the logical and simple manner of this work.
“Four years later, having thoroughly researched the histories available and pondered on the characters and their actions at the time, and the dates of the walls being constructed, I have concluded that the story of Harold's escape from the field of battle at Senlac Hill could actually be the true, English version: that although terribly wounded, Harold was nursed back to health and made his escape to Germany two years later.”
A licence has been granted for a scan in the Abbey gardens, supported by a geophysics team. It could be filmed by the crew responsible for a television documentary on the discovery of Richard III’s remains in 2012.
“Well, it’s being discussed,” says Burke, who is due to have talks with two production teams.
“There could, of course, be nothing where we are set to look, but I felt strongly enough that it was worth the £2,000 – the cost for the scan to at least look.
“The place we are examining using ground penetrating radar is where I have seen something.
“There are, I believe, three possibilities that lie under the ground at Waltham Abbey: the body of a brutally hacked to death soldier, a collection of bones belonging to a Saxon knight who is not Harold, a cask containing ash or bones - possibly Harold - or the remains of an old man, 6 foot 1, with scarring to his temple and cheek.
“If we find the latter then we will need a DNA test and history, as we have understood it for 950 years, may have to change.”
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