|Reign||January 5 — October 14 (1066)|
|Died||October 14, 1066
Battle of Hastings
|Buried||Waltham Abbey (unconfirmed)|
|Parents||Godwin, Earl of Wessex
Harold Godwinson, or Harold II of England (c. 1022 – October 14, 1066) was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. He ruled from January 5 to October 14, 1066 when he was killed at the Battle of Hastings.
Godwin married twice, both times to Danish women of high rank. His first wife was the Danish princess Thyra Sveinsdættir (994 - 1018), a daughter of Sweyn I who was King of Denmark, Norway and England. His second wife was Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, whose brother or cousin Ulf was King Sweyn's son-in-law. Gytha and Ulf were allegedly grandchildren to the legendary Swedish viking Styrbjærn Starke and great-granddaughter to Harold Bluetooth, King of Denmark and Norway, father of Sweyn I. This second marriage resulted in the birth of several children, notably two sons Harold and Tostig Godwinson who played a prominent role in 1066, and a sister Edith of Wessex (1020 - 1075) who was Queen consort of Edward the Confessor.
As a result of his sister's marriage to the king, Godwin's second son Harold was 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 1053, 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 late 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 (1062 - 1063) against the ruler of Gwynedd, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, who had conquered all of Wales; this conflict ended with Gruffydd's defeat (and death at the hands of his own troops) in 1063.
In 1064, Harold was shipwrecked in Ponthieu and was turned over to the court of Duke William of Normandy. William considered himself to be the successor of the childless Edward the Confessor, and obtained from Harold an oath to support William as the future king of England. It was alleged that 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. After Harold's death, Normans were quick to point out that in accepting the crown of England, Harold had perjured himself of this oath. The chronicler Orderic Vitalis wrote: "This Englishman was very tall and handsome, remarkable for his physical strength, his courage and eloquence, his ready jests and acts of valor. But what were these gifts to him without honor, which is the root of all good?"
In 1065 Harold supported Northumbrian rebels against his brother Tostig who replaced him with Morcar, due to unjust taxation instituted by Tostig. This strengthened his acceptability as Edward's successor, but fatally divided his own family, driving Tostig into alliance with King Harald Hardrada ("Hard Reign") of Norway.
Marriage and Children
About January 1066, Harold married Aldith (or Aldgyth), daughter of Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia, and widow of the Welsh prince Gruffydd ap Llywelyn. Aldith had two sons - possibly twins - named Harold and Ulf (b ca November 1066), both of whom survived into adulthood and probably ended their lives in exile. After her husband's death, the queen is said to have fled for refuge to her brothers Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria but both men made their peace with the Conqueror initially before rebelling and losing their lands and lives. Aldith may have fled abroad (possibly with Harold's mother Gytha, or with Harold's illegitimate daughter Gytha).
Harold also had several illegitimate children by his famous mistress (or wife, according to Danish law), "Ealdgyth Swan-neck" or "Edith Swan-neck" or "Edith Swanneck". Among them was a daughter Gytha, later wife of the Russian prince Vladimir Monomachus or Vladimir Monomakh. Through descendants of this Anglo-Russian marriage, Harold is thus ancestor of later English kings.
Brief but eventful reign as King
Upon Edward the Confessor's death in (January 5, 1066), Harold claimed that Edward had promised him the crown on his deathbed, and the Witenagemot (the assembly of the kingdom's leading notables) approved him for coronation, which took place the following day, the first coronation in Westminster Abbey.
However, the country was invaded, by both Harald Hardrada 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. Harold offered his brother Tostig a third of the kingdom, and Tostig asked what Harold would offer the king of Norway. "Six feet of ground or as much more as he needs, as he is taller than most men," was Harold's response according to Henry of Huntingdon.
Invading what is now Yorkshire in September, 1066, Harald Hardrada and Tostig defeated 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 (September 25).
Harold now forced his army to march 240 miles/386 kilometres to intercept William, who had landed perhaps 7000 men in Sussex, southern England three days later on September 28. Harold established his army in hastily built earthworks near Hastings. The two armies clashed at the Battle of Hastings, near the present town of Battle close by Hastings on October 14, where after a hard fight Harold was killed and his forces routed. His brothers Gyrth and Leofwine were also killed in the battle. According to tradition, Harold was killed by an arrow in the eye, but the victim depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry is anonymous. Whether he did, indeed, die in this manner (a death associated in the middle ages with perjurers), or was killed by the sword, will never be known. Harold's mistress, Edith Swanneck, was called to identify the body (the face being destroyed), which she did by some private mark known only to herself. Although one Norman account claims that Harold's body was buried in a grave overlooking the Saxon shore, it is more likely that he was buried in his church of Waltham Holy Cross in Essex, which he had refounded in 1060.
Harold's strong association with Bosham and the discovery of a Saxon coffin in the church in the 1950s has led some to speculate that King Harold was buried here. A recent bid to exhume a grave in Bosham church was refused by the Diocese of Chichester in December 2004, the Chancellor ruling that the chances of establishing the identity of the body as Harold II were too slim to justify disturbing a burial place.
Legacy and Legend
Harold's illegitimate daughter Gytha of Wessex married Vladimir Monomakh Grand Duke (Velikii Kniaz) of Kievan Rus' and is ancestor to dynasties of Galicia, Smolensk and Yaroslavl, whose scions include Modest Mussorgsky and Peter Kropotkin. Consequently, the Russian Orthodox Church recently recognised Harold as a martyr with October 14 as his feast day. Ulf, along with Morcar and two others, were released from prison by King William as he lay dying in 1087. He threw his lot in with Robert Curthose, who knighted him, and disappeared from history. Two of his elder half-brothers, Godwine and Magnus, made a number of attempts at invading England in 1068 and 1069 with the aid of Diarmait mac Mail na mBo. They raided Cornwall as late as 1082, but died in obscurity in Ireland.
A cult of hero-worship rose around Harold, and by the 12th century, legend says that Harold had indeed survived the battle, had spent two years in Winchester after the battle recovering from his wounds, and then traveled to Germany, where he spent years wandering as a pilgrim. As an old man, he supposedly returned to England, and lived as a hermit in a cave near Dover. As he lay dying, he confessed that although he went by the name of Christian, he had been born Harold Godwinson. Various versions of this story persisted throughout the Middle Ages, and have little claim to fact.
Literary interest in Harold revived in the 19th century, with the play Harold, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in (1876); and the novel Last of the Saxon Kings, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in (1848). Rudyard Kipling wrote a story, The Tree of Justice (1910), describing how an old man who turns out to be Harold is brought before Henry I. E. A. Freeman wrote a serious history in History of the Norman Conquest of England (1870-79), in which Harold is seen as a great English hero. A fictional account based on the events surrounding Harold's struggle for and brief reign as king of England titled "The Interim King" has been published and is written by James McMillan. By the 21st century, Harold's reputation remains tied as it has always been, with subjective views of the "right-ness" or "wrong-ness" of the Norman conquest.
Ealhmund of Kent, King of Kent AD 784. Ancestry unknown. =? | | Egbert of Wessex, c.770-839. Paternity uncertin. =Redburga | | Ethelwulf of Wessex, c.795-858 =Osburga daughter of Oslac of Isle of Wight =Judith of France daughter of | Charles the Bald |___________________________________________________________ | | | | | | | | | | | | Athelstan Athelbald Aethelberht Ethelred Aethelswith Alfred the Great d.851? d.860 d.862 = Wulfrida d.888 = Ealhswith | | ____________________________________| | | | | | | | Aethelwald Aethelhelm, Earldorman of Wiltshire | k.899 =Elswitha | | | | ___________________|________________ | | | | | | | Aethelfrith of Wessex (d.927) Elfleda of Wessex (d.918)+Edward the Elder =? | | | | Ethelweard Eadric of Washington, Wessex =? | | Athelward "the historian" (d.998) =? | | Athelmar Cild (d.1015) =? | | Wulfnoth Cild, Thegn of Sussex =? | | Godwin, Earl of Wessex =Gytha Thorgilsdottir | |___________________________________________________________________________ | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | Sven Tostig Gyrth Leofwine Wulfnoth Waeltheow Morcar Edwin Herbert Alfgar | & sisters Edith (who married Edward the Confessor), Elgiva, Gunhilda, Gytha | | Harold Godwinson +Ealdgyth Swan-neck =Aldith (married 1064) | | | _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ |_________ | | | | | | | | | | | | | | Godwine Edmund Magnus Gunhild Gytha of Wessex Harold Ulf b.1049 b.1049 b.1051 1055-97 1053-1098 fl.1098 fl.1087 two sons died in exile in Ireland lived in Normandy? issue & fate unknown
- Biography by P. Compton (1961); F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (3d ed. 1971).
- Biography by Ian W. Walker: Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King. Sutton Publishing, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 1997. ISBN 0-7509-1388-6
- In re Holy Trinity, Bosham 2004 Fam 124 - decision of the Chichester Consistory Court regarding opening King Harold's proposed grave.
Edward the Confessor
|King of England
Edgar Ætheling (Proclaimed king by witan, never crowned)
|Earl of Wessex
Merged in Crown
|Monarchs of England|
|Alfred | Edward the Elder | Ethelweard | Athelstan | Edmund I | Edred | Edwy | Edgar I | Edward the Martyr | Ethelred | Sweyn I*† | Edmund II | Canute*† | Harthacanute* | Harold I | Edward the Confessor | Harold II | Edgar II | William I | William II | Henry I | Stephen | Matilda | Henry II | Richard I | John | Henry III | Edward I | Edward II | Edward III | Richard II | Henry IV | Henry V | Henry VI | Edward IV | Edward V | Richard III | Henry VII | Henry VIII‡ | Edward VI‡ | Jane‡ | Mary I‡ | Elizabeth I‡ | James I‡§ | Charles I‡§ | Interregnum | Charles II‡§ | James II‡§ | William III‡§¶ and Mary II‡§ | Anne‡§|
|* Also Monarch of Denmark | † Also Monarch of Norway | ‡Also Monarch of Ireland | § Also Monarch of Scotland | ¶ Also Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Overijssel and Drenthe|