An exhibition is exploring the short reign and violent death in battle of our last Anglo Saxon king. Reporter JOSEPH FLAIG finds out more...

King Harold: An Exhibition of the Life, Legend & Legacy of England’s last Anglo Saxon King is open at Epping Forest District Museum until December 21.

It explores the rise to power, reign, battles and defeat of Harold in Hastings just months after his coronation in 1066.

The king, the second son of Earl Godwin, is believed by many to be buried in Waltham Abbey, the home of the exhibition.

He is one of the most important figures in the town’s history, first visiting as Earl of East Anglia when he was given estates around the town by King Edward.

In Waltham was a church in which a Holy Cross – believed to be a holy relic – was installed during the reign of King Cnut.

The cross was held in great honour by Harold.

In one of the many instances in his life which have become blurred with the mythical and miraculous, he is said to have been cured of paralysis after praying before the cross in the Vita Haroldi, a manuscript once held in the abbey.

Another manuscript, the Waltham Abbey Chronicles from about 1180, also features in the image driven display.

The chronicles tell the story of his death in Hastings, the identification of his body by wife Edith the Fair – or Edith Swan-Neck, as she was also known – and his burial in Waltham Abbey.

He had maintained his estates in the town after succeeding his father as the king’s key advisor in 1053.

His rise to power was completed after the death of Edward the Confessor, who had no children, as Harold was already recognised as the most powerful English man following brutal war campaigns in Wales and his family’s domination of national politics.

The Vita Haroldi and Chronicles are returning to the town from the British Library as part of the exhibition, marking the 950th anniversary of his reign.

Museum manager Tony O’Connor said: “If we were going to do something major on Harold, this was really a good year to focus on it.

“Even if it is a little bit ambitious after just re-opening, we felt it was something we needed to do as part of our exhibition programme because it’s an important story for the town.”

Also being shown are items from the Nazeingbury Hoard, discovered in the 1970s by the River Lea in Nazeing, including iron spearheads, axes and agricultural tools.

Prints and drawings from the British Museum feature, as well as images from the Bayeaux Tapestry, and a number of coins showing King Harold, William the Conqueror, King Cnut and Edward the Confessor will be on display.

“We are really pleased to celebrate these bits of our history,” said Mr O’Connor.

It is hoped that the collection of items and images will present a wider view of King Harold, he added.

“Not just the Battle of Hastings but the whole of the legend that has grown up around him.”

The exhibition King Harold: An Exhibition of the Life, Legend & Legacy of England’s last Anglo Saxon King runs from September 17 to December 21 at Epping Forest District Museum, 39-41 Sun Street, Waltham Abbey.