STORYLINE - 1: A FACE IN THE MUD - Coin Find Hides Political Turmoil (Historical Fiction) - and a modern parallel
Harold II, king of England for only ten months
The Lost Coin of...
'My Lord King we have cast your new silver penny', Eadnoth tells the still dining Harold. Eadnoth is a balding, middle-aged fellow who owns and controls the only licensed mint in the Lea Valley. Before he died King Eadward ordered a new silver penny to be minted. After his coronation Harold had Eadnoth complete the casting for the other side with his image.
'Can I see it?' Harold takes the newly-minted penny from Eadnoth and scans it at arm's length. He then holds it closer, admiring it. finally Harold hands back the coin to |Eadnoth, 'This is fine workmanship. Your craftsmen have excelled themselves! Who carved my likeness?'
'Wiglaf drew it onto parchment, and Earnald scored the image into the mould, my Lord King', Eadnoth answers proudly.
Is Earnald your Flemish engraver?'
'Aye my Lord King, recommended by Count Baldwin himself!' Eadnoth adds, 'Lord Tostig brought him in his own ship'.
'So he did', Harold sounds pained at mention of his renegade brother.
Twice this year Tostig has raided around the coast. The fyrd has had to be called out twice, taking men from watching the south coast for Duke William's ships. Although Tostig's men were beaten off, both times with great loss to himself, Harold did not need these diversions. He faced the possibility of invasion by a sworn enemy as well as by the opportunist King Harald Hardraada.
'Show it to my brothers, Eadnoth', Harold gestures to the young earls, Gyrth and Leofwin.
'If I did not know you, Harold, looking at this I would take you for a king!' Gyrth jokes. Unlike Harold and Leofwin, who with lighter colouring take after their mother, Gyrth resembles his father, the old Earl of Wessex.
When Harold took Godwin's title, the younger brothers were given their earldoms. Godwin's rivals Leofric of Mercia and Siward of Northumbria took a step back, old men with ambitious sons who sought glory and resented the Godwinsons' rise to power. Leofric and Siward are dead now. Leofric's grandsons stand to gain by Harold's demise, despite his marrying their sister Aeldgyth. They anticipate William's generosity. Eadwin, Earl of Mercia and his brother Morkere of Northumbria watch events in the south with interest.
'Are you hunting today, Harold?' Leofwin asks, handing back the penny to Eadnoth, who eagerly scoops it up and places it in the leather purse at his side. In pulling out his hand again Eadnoth inadvertently pulls out the coin with it.
The coin drops to the floor of King Harold's hunting lodge near the River Lea. This lodge, at the edge of the hamlet of Leyton is where Harold prefers to stay when affairs of state allow.
'Very well, Eadnoth', Harold turns to look up at the excited old fellow and smiles, 'proceed with minting'.
'My Lord King', Eadnoth bows and doffs his cap in respect. 'I shall have the new pennies ready for distribution within the month'.
'I thank you', Harold smiles again and turns to his brothers. Eadnoth leaves. No-one spots the now tarnished silver penny in the broken, betrodden straw.
King William looks around in the half-darkness of the lodge. No torches have been lit here since the vanquished Harold last stayed here before the ride to Hastings.
'Shall we prepare this lodge for you, my liege?' Earl William fitzOsbern asks his friend the king.
'We think not. Whoever wishes to use the lodge does so with our blessing. It is of no use to us. Tomorrow we sail for Normandy, so see to it that a tenant is found for this place'.
The Conqueror leaves the lodge and mounts his steed. A sudden gust of cold wind from the nearby marshes blows across his short, russet hair as he pulls on the reins and heads the hunting party back to Barking Abbey, leaving fitzOsbern to hand the keys to the newly-appointed coinmaker, the Fleming Earnald.
'See that any coins here are removed and melted for the king's new issue of silver pennies', fitzOsbern tells Earnald. 'He wishes to see no more coins with the image of that usurper, understand?'
'I shall, my Lord Earl, of course!' Earnald gladly takes the keys to his new home from the earl and casts an appreciative look about him. His new Saxon serfs can see to cleaning the floor of the lodge. The silver penny that fell from Eadnoth's purse still lies in the grubby straw that awaits the besom.
'Dad, look what I found in the mud by the river!' an excitable Gary Purser gingerly offers a small piece of round, flat metal to his father. Laid-off printer John takes the coin and holds it up to the light of the window,
'Where did you find this?'
'By the River Lea, near where they're building the Olympics! Gary hums with excitement, trying to remember exactly where it was he saw the tarnished metal. What drew his eyes was a silver coke can he might use for his school science project. When he picked up the can, there was the coin, half buried with grass growing around it. He asks his father, 'What's it worth?'
'How the hell would I know? History wasn't my best subject', John answers. 'Ring up the British Museum. They'll tell you'.
'Where was the coin exactly?' Tom Wells, the coin consultant asks Gary. When the boy finishes telling him how he found the coin, the smiling consultant puts a hand on Gary's shoulder and tells him, 'Sit down before you fall down, Gary. This coin is rare. Few minted for King Harold were ever found. Had you found many, buried in a casket or whatever, it would be Treasure Trove, when things are buried for safe-keeping - or buried as grave goods. This was lost or abandoned. Sell it, take it to an auction - or keep it'.
He hands the coin back to Gary and laughs,
'It's like winning the Lottery. Lay it in flat coke for a day, and it'll clean up like a new penny!'
(*The above, slightly re-written, was my entry into a short story competition for the Newham Writing Competition of 2009 with a limit of 1,000 words. It earned me £100 for first prize. Where Earl, subsequently King Harold's hunting lodge was situated is at Leyton, within the London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF). The coin find itself could have been made within either LBWF or London Borough of Newham (LBN), one of three boroughs - including Waltham Forest and Hackney on either side of the River Lea - that hosted the 2012 London Olympics.
**The newly-named and opened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was opened to the public on the last weekend of July, 2013, with marquees, 'bouncy Stonehenge and other sideshows as well as a plethora of refreshment booths. My wife Kath and I were taken by a sheep shearing South African who introduced some rare breeds and others not so rare used for breeding. A quick wit, deft finger- and knee-work raised this performance from the level of an unpromising sideshow. Antiques and crafts were on show, too, on a large scale. The only thing that marred the day for me was the overpriced coffee at the Timber Shack cafe near the south bridge.
There's art in coins -, the study of them is numismatics - and there's history. Use of coins as 'tokens' to pay for goods or services goes back 000's of years. Take the expert's advice when starting your collection in whatever your period or country of interest, use it carefully and you could profit - if not in sales then as a collector and appreciator, a numismatist.
The story above was written around the time the Olympic site was under development at Stratford to the east of London
Historically this area was part of the Danelaw in Aelfred's time (see the early DANELAW YEARS series), developed in the Industrial Revolution as factory and mill premises near the mouth of the River Lea. Gradually the factories spread northward, the River Lea was turned into a glorified sewer although navigable by narrow boats that navigated from the Midlands via various canal systems. The Eastern Counties Railway (one of whose proponents was George Hudson the Railway King) came in early-mid-19th Century with works at Stratford. Latterly the Great Eastern Railway took over, the London & North Eastern and then British Railways took over in the first half of the 20th Century.
During WWII after part of the area had been bombed German prisoners of war were bivouacked here in a bid to prevent further bombing. The ploy seems to have worked. In the latter years the part-demolished bomb-damaged factories were used to store scrap and life-expired domestic appliances. The railway works were run down, the last steam locomotives built here in the mid-1950s being the British Railways' standard 'Pacific 'Britannia' 4-6-2 class for the Eastern Region. Diesels were built from then onward until the works closed down in the 1980s. Close to the works was the British Railways Motive Power Depot (mpd).
Aside from the railway container depot at Leyton all this was swept aside from the early 2000s when London was awarded the 2012 Olympics. With the backing of the colourful Mayor of London, Boyis Johnson, and a generous 'shot' of cash the Olympic Site was developed to be opened on time in the summer of 2012 with an interesting display of history (including Isambard K Brunel, who built the SS 'Great Eastern' at Rotherhithe across the Thames) conjured up in great style by the film producer Danny Boyle - including Daniel Craig, aka James Bond, bringing HM Queen by helicopter from Buck House. Flash, bang, wallop!
There's a modern parallel to the story of Harold's accession to the throne of England ...
Namely in the UK's Brexit Referendum result: withdrawal from the European Union. William put about the story that Harold had sworn fealty to him as future king of England (the United Kingdom was still a long way off then), and that he broke his oath in being crowned king. It was the Witan, the early mediaeval 'parliament' that had the final decision on who would succeed to the throne, not the outgoing king or any of his friends at any level of society. Thus William's belief that as kinsman to the childless Edward he had the right to the throne was flawed.
He set about 'rubbishing' Harold, secured the backing of the Pontiff Alexander in Rome and drummed up support for his 'crusade' against Harold and the Church establishment in England. With his family priest Lanfranc he told the European heads of state in the Christian world that he was going to 'cleanse' the heathens (English clergymen from local priests to archbishops tended to be married with children, as opposed to their Continental cousins who practised celibacy). That the Church and Hierarchy in England did things their own way held no weight across the water beyond Calais.
Flashing forward to AD 2016, similarly Britain wished to do things the way it wanted without being penalised by Brussels or Strasbourg. For all the 'advantages' many saw in continued EU membership despite their meddling in domestic policy, they would not accept the decision made by the majority - slender as it was, and largely in England and Wales - that Brexit meant what it said on the label.
The £Sterling slid against the $US and the Euro, the market dropped as a result of outsiders trying to force Britain back under the Brussels umbrella. Now we see the likes of 'Teflon Tony' backing a second 'failsafe' referendum. Money talks, talent walks. I don't know if you've noticed, but the areas that voted to leave the EU were the 'have-nots', areas that had suffered from EU interference in fishing - other European countries could fish in our waters, but our fishing fleet's catch was restricted, go to Grimsby, Hull, Peterhead and so on, and see how few British registered fishing vessels there are - and it's only farmers in Britain, landowners, who have the money to hire or employ an accountant with the time fill the reams of forms to claim any EU agricultural benefits.
Equally a lack of foresight and political will on the part of successive governments - Conservative or Labour - to secure commitment on industry and employment. It's all very well letting large steel-making concerns go down the plug-hole and saying 'Oh, look, but there are new factories opening', but many of these new factories are largely mechanised, computerised and only hire a score or so female staff and the odd maintenance engineer with a skeleton clerical force. Have you noticed the number of industrial museums opening in the North?.There are large numbers of people - mainly men - who have little to expect from the EU, maybe from anyone, in the way of employment.
Speaking of landowners, 'Teflon Tony' (Blair) and Cherie have amassed a raft of properties under his own and his offspring's names in very well-off areas of London. Naturally they're all for staying with the 'club'. Likewise fellow former Labour leader Neil Kinnock and his wife Glenys boarded the 'Brussels Gravy Train'
Considering the Labour Party was founded to speak for the working classes in Parliament, Kinnock, Blair and associates have come a long way from the path set by founder Keir Hardy. It's enough to make anyone vote Tory (Conservative).
Images down the Lea Valley
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