'English and French History has long been my favorite subject, with a particular interest in early history -William the Conqueror to Henry VIII. After I became an attorney, the thought occurred of researching what actual evidence there was, if any, for William’s claims to the English throne.
My initial thoughts were to write appellate court briefs for each side. As I started down that road, I soon realized that while it might of interest to a court, that format was unlikely to appeal to the average reader. The option was to embark on the unknown venture of trying to write a novel.
With the help of several writing courses and an editor friend of a friend, The Oath came into being.
The premise is that instead of initially resolving their disagreement by force, Harold II of England and William of Normandy put their cases before a fictional world court to be decided according to custom and law and presentation of witnesses and evidence.
I enjoyed the entire process- the research, the acquisition of new skills and the actual writing of the book.'
Excerpt from The Oath
[Richard Vos: Vicomte de Conches en Ouches, a close friend to William, Duke of Normandy and acting as his attorney at the trial before the Court of the International Association of Communities to determine if William is the rightful king of england as he has alleged and Harold Godwinson, former Earl of Wessex, and now King of England, a usurper. Leofwine Godwinson was Earl of Essex and Kent and was a younger brother of King Harold II. He acted as his advisor and attorney. to King Harold. The scene is the afternoon session of court on the day of presentation of the defendant's case and the direct testimony of King Harold in regard to his famous or infamous oath of fealty to Duke William.]
August 30th, Afternoon Session Ghent
Harold arrived at the court just as Leofwine was about to leave the courtroom so, unseen by Vos, he could pace outside. He was uncertain whether to be angry or worried at Harold’s tardiness. Where was he? Would he return from wherever he was before the bailiff called the afternoon session to order? Had something happened to him?
When he finally arrived at the courthouse, much refreshed from his ride, and greeted his brother, Leofwine had a hard time deciding whether to punch him or hug him. He opted to hurry him into the courtroom, all the while asking where had he been, why was he so late.
Harold assured him he was fine. “I can cope with the afternoon’s questions with equanimity and authority. I realize how difficult it is going to be to relive that afternoon in Bonneville-sur-Touques, but I also know it’s critical the justices come to the same conclusion as did King Edward, Archbishop Ealdred and my confessor—that an oath not given freely and under duress, no matter on how many relics it was sworn, is of no effect and is non-binding!”
He and Leofwine had spent a great deal of time determining the presentation of the testimony of the actual oath-taking. There was a fine line between recognizing the sanctity of an oath to God, freely taken before his fellow man and an oath taken under real and present duress. The oath before God was the keystone of society. It should not, and could not, be taken lightly. These twelve justices must be persuaded Harold understood the gravity of such an oath, that falsely taken, his very soul was imperiled. But, he also had a duty to protect the lives of his men, his brother and nephew. William might call them ‘guests’ but in truth they were prisoners, fully under the control of and subject to the pleasure of William. And even though he and his men might go home, he had known that Wulfnoth would not. Harold also remembered the deadly fate of the former Count of Maine and his wife while they were ‘guests’ of Duke William.
Leofwine opened the afternoon session by asking King Harold to describe the circumstances just prior to the ceremony of knighting at Bonneville-sur-Tougues.
Harold responded that they had just returned from the successful campaign in Brittany and it was his understanding that Duke William was planning a feast in celebration and as a send-off to him and his men as they left for England on a boat that Duke William was finally providing. Duke William also gave him a suit of armor at that time and told him it was for saving the lives of his men and also so that he would be suitably attired when the duke knighted him.
“Had Duke William said anything about knighting you before he gave you the armor?” asked Leofwine.
“No, he had not.”
“When did the duke first mention swearing an oath of fealty to him?”
“After the feasting, and after he had knighted me, an altar and casket were brought out and the duke said I was to swear an oath of fealty to him. I was surprised and a bit confused. I hesitated, not quite knowing what to do about it.”
“Would you explain to the Court why you were hesitant and confused about taking an oath of fealty to William?”
“I was hesitant because I didn’t see the point of an oath, or even the knighting, for that matter. I had already demonstrated that I was willing to help protect Duke William’s interests in Normandy by joining him in the Brittany campaign. I had even saved the lives of two of his men at that time. And this was true even though my several requests for a boat to enable our return to England had fallen on deaf ears. My country and his duchy had long maintained ties of cooperation, so what purpose could my individual oath to William in Normandy serve?”
“You just mentioned that you also didn’t see the point of the knighting. Why was that?” continued Leofwine.
“Well, first and foremost, I had no need or even any particular desire to become a knight of Normandy. At that time, in England, only King Edward was more powerful than I, and I actually had more personal wealth than King Edward. The lands I controlled in Wessex were three quarters the size of the duke’s Normandy. If you considered my brothers holding as well, the Godwinesons controlled an area larger than Normandy. Knighting was a meaningless gesture to me, but if William wanted to do it, I would go along with it. If I was ever in Normandy again, it might be useful.”
“What was the Duke’s response to your hesitation?” queried Leofwine.
“He said it was a fitting conclusion to having knighted me and ordered me to swear an oath to be loyal to him.”
“What was your reaction to that?” Leofwine guided the witness along a path of reasonable sounding reactions to an unexpected situation.
“It was his tone of voice when he said that I must swear the oath that made me realize William wasn’t being just the genial host; he was very serious and insistent about my swearing an oath of fealty. It was at that point that I remembered Wulfnoth’s warning to do whatever William wanted or he was a dead man. I remember looking at Harkon before I spoke. The look of fright on his face when it appeared I might not swear such an oath was a further reminder that we all were really William’s prisoners —
"Objection, Your Honor," Vos nearly shouted, as he jumped to his feet. “There has been no foundation established to permit such a slanderous allegation into testimony. I move to strike the phrase ‘William’s prisoners’ from the record.”
“Your Honor,” Leofwine quickly countered, “the question asked for the witness’s response to an order from the Plaintiff. It is relevant and admissible that he testifies as to his thoughts, emotions, and reactions which arose in response to that order.” Chief Justice DiVinci took a quick poll of the other justices and announced, “Objection overruled.”
“What, if anything, did you do next?”
“Since our future was completely within Duke William’s control, I said a silent prayer to God to forgive me if by taking this oath it was going to require me to do something at a later time that I could not in all conscience do. But I couldn’t risk the lives of my men and my family by refusing.”