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Silver penny linking Bishop's Stortford to last Anglo-Saxon king goes on show for first time

A silver coin which links England's last Anglo-Saxon king with Bishop's Stortford now has a permanent home in Saffron Walden Museum.

The Harold II penny will go on show for the first time on Saturday August 24 at the north-west Essex archive along with three other ancient treasures unearthed in the district.

The monarch defeated at Hastings by William the Conqueror in 1066 is rumoured to be buried under the floor of St Michael's Church in Windhill.

Harold II penny (15420533)
Harold II penny (15420533)

The coin, found in the Ugley area, is very rare because Harold Godwinson ruled for less than a year. He succeeded Edward the Confessor and reigned from January 6, 1066, until his death at the hands of the Norman invaders on October 14 that year.

His mistress, or common-law wife, was the first Saxon owner of the Manor of Esterteferd (Stortford), Eddeva Pulchrima. She was a renowned beauty, sometimes called Edith the Fair or Edith 'Swan-neck'.

The couple had children before he made a politically expedient marriage to Ealdgyth, widow of the Welsh king, Gruffydd.

Rare reliquary pendant (15420529)
Rare reliquary pendant (15420529)

Harold's final resting place – after he was killed by an arrow through the eye – is disputed by historians.

Edith is said to have identified what was left of his body and taken the remains to Hertfordshire for burial. The abbey he founded at Waltham claims to be the site she chose, but modern investigations have revealed no trace.

Other historians believe he was taken to Bishop's Stortford and buried in the original Saxon church in Windhill and is still under the floor of St Michael's. Legend says that after her death in 1086, Edith joined him.

After the Rev Francis Rhodes – father of Cecil, the controversial politician in southern Africa and mining magnate – became vicar in 1850, a vault containing three puddingstone coffins of early Norman origin was discovered. Although one was opened and found to contain a male skeleton, it has never been proved conclusively that they contain the remains of King Harold, his wife and his mistress.

Posy ring (15420531)
Posy ring (15420531)

Permission for further modern-day investigations to settle the mystery has so far been denied.

A rare medieval pendant found in Farnham is also one of the treasures secured after £10,880 was raised from grants and public support, including £1,190 from a crowdfunding appeal for residents.

The gold 'reliquary' in the shape of a cross, made to contain a tiny relic associated with a saint, dates from the 14th or 15th century. The museum also acquired a 300-year-old posy ring and a Bronze Age gold-plated ring which is 3,000 years old.

Bronze Age ring (15420535)
Bronze Age ring (15420535)

Carolyn Wingfield, the museum curator, said: "We've been very fortunate to receive grants from the Art Fund, the Arts Council England/V& A Purchase Grant Fund and the Headley Trust towards the cost of the exquisite medieval reliquary pendant. It would have been a very special and personal item for whoever wore it.

"The terrific response from local residents has enabled the museum to also acquire the two rings and the silver penny, and I'm looking forward to putting them all on display."

Tony Watson, chairman of Saffron Walden Museum Society Ltd, said: "The society and museum are very grateful indeed to all who responded to our appeal, and I would like to thank all those who sent donations or contributed to our crowdfunding campaign. It demonstrates the depth of local interest in our district's heritage."

All four objects will be on display at the museum from Saturday August 24. There will be short curator's talks in the gallery at 11am, 2.30pm and 4pm.

The museum is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am to 5pm, and Sundays and bank holiday Monday afternoons from 2pm to 5pm. For admission charges and visitor information, see the museum's website www.saffronwaldenmuseum.org or call 01799 510333.

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