Harold Godwinson, a wealthy, powerful man who inherited money and titles from his father, Godwin Earl of Wessex, upon his death in 1053. Harold Godwinson dedicated his life to serving King Edward the Confessor unreservedly, soon becoming indispensable to the King. Then, when Edward died in 1066, Harold was very quickly crowned king. However, as history now bares its scars, Harold Godwinson’s reign would not last long.
Harold Godwinson – King Harold II
Harold Godwinson, now King Harold II, did not succeed Edward the Confessor without challenges. Edmund Ironside’s grandson, Edgar the Atheling, had a very strong claim to the English throne, but was very young. Furthermore, both King Harald Hardrada of Norway and, of course, William of Normandy (Edward the Confessor’s cousin) both had their own claims too. William was defiant in his belief that Harold Godwinson had sworn an oath to defend his rights to the crown.
Harold II was a proven leader and a superb general, and was always the favourite from the beginning, despite these other claims. He already had a huge backing from powerful nobles, and solid pedigree from his ancestral past. Moreover, he knew how the realm worked, Harold II had never been more ready.
King Harold II faced further problems from within his own family though, specifically from his brother Tostig. Tostig was given the Earldom of Northumberland after the death of their father, Godwin. However, he did not manage the earldom well, and was eventually banished from Northumberland. Harold decided to replace Tostig with a more dependable replacement, which inevitably caused friction between the brothers.
In a move to strengthen Harold’s alliance with the northern kingdoms, he chose to marry Edith (this was his second marriage), daughter of the Earl of Mercia. However, one month after the famous siting of Haley’s comet, in April 1066, Tostig attacked England’s south coast. His attempt was unsuccessful though, and attempted a second attack in Northumbria. Failing on both counts, Tostig needed an alliance with someone who could bolster his army, and King Harald Hardrada took up the offer.
In September 1066, Tostig and Harald Hardrada, with 300 ships, sailed up the river Ouse looking to launch an offensive. To their surprise, at Stamford Bridge, King Harold II intercepted them early and attacked. Harold II’s military prowess, along with his well trained army destroyed Tostig and Hardrada, in what was one of the most renowned victories over the Vikings, the now famous Battle of Stamford Bridge.
Fresh from his great victory, King Harold II was given devastating news. While he was busy fighting off his brother and the Vikings, William of Normandy had been assembling a vast army in Northern France and had sailed across the channel to the Sussex coast. Harold, who had anticipated a possible attack from William, had been camped on the south coast just days earlier with his army. But, with little evidence that William was even coming, Harold had decided to move off back to London (where on route he intercepted Tostig and Hardrada).
Harold Godwinson – Battle 1066
So Harold II now had to swiftly march south again, to confront this new invasion. William had moored up in Pevensey Bay, bringing with him 500 ships, and moved on foot to Hastings. Harold II had reached a hill (now known as the town of Battle in Sussex), where swamps and bogs lay either side of a narrow pass down to where William and his Norman army stood. Harold’s army vastly outnumber William’s, and his army were on higher ground, so the odds were in Harold’s favour. But they had marched for days, and were still weary from the previous battle.
The two armies advanced and the Battle of Hastings began. After a full day of devastating violence, King Harold II was killed when a chance arrow hit him in the eye (although this is now disputed). The battle was over, and William of Normandy was now King of England. William of Normandy would now be know as William the Conqueror (or to some, William the Bastard!)
This was the last successful foreign invasion of Britain. In Bayeux, Normandy, William’s half-brother Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux, ordered a huge 70m tapestry to be made in honour of William’s victory at the Battle of Hastings.
Harold Godwinson Facts
- Harold Godwinson was born in 1022, Wessex
- His father was Godwin, Earl of Wessex
- His mother was Gytha of Denmark
- He was crowned on 6 January 1066 at Westminster Abbey, aged 44
- He married Edith Swan-Neck
- He also married Edith of Mercia
- He had seven children
- Godwin, Edmund, Magnus, Gunhild, Gytha, Harold, Ulf
- He died on 14 October 1066 at the Battle of Hastings, aged 44
- He was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England