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|Ruled:||January 4, 1066 - October 14, 1066|
|Predecessor:||Edward the Confessor|
|Date of Birth:||1022|
|Place of Birth:||Wessex, England|
|Wives:||Ealdgyth Swan-neck ("handfast" marriage
not approved by the Church), Edith
|Date of Death:||October 14, 1066|
|Parents:||Godwin and Gytha|
Harold Godwinson, or Harold II, England's last Saxon king, ruled from January 6 to October 14, 1066. He was born about 1020, the son of Godwin earl of Wessex and his second wife Gytha, sister to King Sweyn I of Denmark and England.
Created Earl of East Anglia in 1045, Harold accompanied Godwin into exile in 1051 but helped him to regain his position a year later. When Godwin died in 1953, Harold succeeded him as earl of Wessex (a province at that time covering the southernmost third of England). This made him the second most powerful figure in England after the king.
In 1058 Harold also became Earl of Hereford, and he replaced his father as the focus of opposition to growing Norman influence in England under the restored Saxon monarchy (1042-1066) of Edward the Confessor, who had spent more than a quarter of a century in exile in Normandy.
He gained glory in a series of campaigns against the Welsh ruler Gruffydd ap Llywelyn in 1062-1063, who died in 1063. About 1064, Harold married Edith, daughter of the Earl of Mercia, and former wife of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn. By Harold, Edith had two sons - possibly twins - named Harold and Ulf, both of whom survived into adulthood and probably ended their lives in exile. Harold also had several illegitimate children by his famous mistress (or wife, according to Danish law), "Ealdgyth Swan-neck".
In 1065 Harold supported Northumbrian rebels against his brother Tostig who replaced him with Morcar. This strengthened his acceptability as Edward's successor, but fatally divided his own family, driving Tostig into alliance with King Harald Hardrada (the Confessor) of Norway.
Upon Edward's death (January 5, 1066), Harold claimed that Edward had promised him the crown on his deathbed, and made the Witenagemot (the assembly of the kingdom's leading notables) approve him for coronation as king, which took place the following day.
However, the country was invaded, by both Harald of Norway and William, duke of Normandy, who claimed that he had been promised the English crown by both Edward (probably in 1052) and Harold, who had been shipwrecked in Ponthieu, Normandy in 1064 or 1065. It was alleged that, on the latter occasion, William forced Harold to swear to support his claim to the throne, only revealing after the event that the box on which he had made his oath contained holy relics.
Invading what is now Yorkshire in September 1066, Harald Hardrada and Tostig defeated and killed the English earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria at the Battle of Fulford near York (September 20), but were in turn defeated and slain by Harold's army five days later at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
Harold now forced his army to march 240 miles to intercept William, who had landed perhaps 7000 men in Sussex, southern England on September 28. Harold established his army in hastily built earthworks near Hastings. The two armies clashed near Hastings on October 14, where after a hard fight Harold was killed and his forces routed. According to tradition, an arrow in the eye killed Harold, but this belief stems from a misreading of the Bayeux Tapestry. Harold's body was buried at Hastings, but was later moved to Waltham Abbey in Essex.
Edward the Confessor
|List of British monarchs||
Bibliography: See biography by P. Compton (1961); F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (3d ed. 1971).