Harold II Godwinson (1022?? - 1066)

Translation : Andrew Zolnai

King of England from January 4th until October 14th 1066.

Source : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Silver_penny_of_Harold_II_(YORYM_2000_1348)_obverse.jpg
Silver penny of Harold II.
Source : Wikimédia

Harold is the son of Godwin(1), Earl of Wessex(2), and Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, sister-in-law of King Knut "the Great"(3).
Little is known of his early years, but by 1044-1045, it appears in documents as Count (Earl) of East Anglia (4).(4).

Source : https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataille_de_Stamford_Bridge
Battle of Stamford Bridge, by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1870).
Source : Wikimédia

In 1049, he led a fleet to help the Germanic Emperor Henri III in his fight against Godfroid II of Lower Lorraine(5) and his ally Baldwin V, Count of Flanders(6).

In 1051, a bloody riot broke out in Dover during the visit of Eustache de Boulogne(7), a relative of King Edward. Godwin, refusing to punish the rioters, was exiled with his family and took refuge in Flanders.
The following year, in 1052, Godwin and his sons came back to England at the head of an imposing army and the King is obliged to rehabilitate Godwin and to restore his domains. He can not enjoy it very long, because in 1053, he died choking during a meal.

At the death of Godwin, it is Harold who succeeded him as Earl of Wessex. He also succeeded his father in the Saxon opposition against the Norman omnipresence at the court of King Edward.

In 1057, he also receives the County of Hereford, on the border with Wales. In the early 1060's, Harold covered himself with glory by fighting Welsh king Gruffyd(8). At the latter's death in 1063, he married his widow, Edith of Murcia.

In 1064, Harold takes a trip to Normandy, but his ship runs aground on the norman coast and he is taken before William. The latter manipulates Harold into agreeing to help conquer the throne of England, and was also made to swear fealty. Harold will denounce the oath allegedly extorted, but William appealed to Pope Alexander II, who will excommunicate Harold.

Source : https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Godwinson
Harold's death depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry.
Source : Wikipédia

In 1065, Harold supported a rebellion against the Earl of Northumbria(9), his brother Tostig(10). This one is forced to flee and took refuge to the King of Norway Harald III.

In early January 1066, at the death of Edward, the Witenagemot(11) designates him the successor to the throne of England. Upon learning that it was Harold who become king of England, William of Normandy begins preparations to equip an invasion fleet.
On the other hand, King Harald III, who also claims to the throne, is also preparing his troops and his fleet, with the help of Tostig.

In mid-September 1066, the Norwegian fleet lands at the mouth of the River Tyne. On September 20th, the Norwegian army destroys the English armies led by the earls Edwin of Murcia(12) and Morcar of Northumbria(13) at the Battle of Fulford(14).

Alerted to this defeat, Harold gathers his troops and speeds at a forced march north to meet the Norwegian army. On September 25, the clash takes place at Stamford Bridge. During this battle, King Harald and Tostig are killed and the Norwegian army was finally routed.

On 28 September, the Norman army commanded by William lands on the Sussex coast at Pevensey and heads to Hastings where he built a wooden fort. Harold must again re-cross the island at full speed to first defend London and then advance against the Normans. Harold arrives near Hastings on October 13 and entrench himself by building basic fortifications with earth and wood. On 14th, the battle between the two armies begins and after some hours, Harold is killed and William is victorious.

Blason mythique de la maison de Sussex

Previous king : Edward "the Confessor - Next king : Edgard Ætheling

Back to the list of England's Kings

Notes :

(1)Godwin came from a powerful Saxon family originally from the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. He will follow Æthelstan Ætheling, eldest son of King Æthelred "the Unready" in his conquests. On the death of the latter, he received a territory in Wessex. King Knut "the Great" will give him the first title of Earl of Wessex. He will have several children, among them Harold, the future king of England, Tostig and Edith to be the wife of King Edward III "the Confessor".

(2)Wessex was one of the seven Saxon Kingdom before the complete unification of England in 975 by Athelstan. Its territory went from London to Plymouth, at the extreme south-west of the Island.

(3)Knut the Great, younger son of Sweyn 1st. He was born around 994. He was king of England in 1016, after the death of his father and the brief return of Æthelred to the throne.

(4)East Anglia was also a former Saxon kingdom before the reunification of England. It was located north-east of London, between Norwich and Cambridge.

(5)Sometimes called Godefroid III. He was born around 995-997 and died in 1069. He was Duke of Upper Lotharingia, Lower Lotharingia, Marquis of Antwerp and Count of Verdun. From his first marriage to Doda, were issued several children, among whom the future Ida of Ardennes who married Eustace of Boulogne. Ida was the mother of Godfrey of Bouillon and Baldwin of Boulogne, the future kings of Jerusalem.

(6)Baldwin V, Count of Flanders called "the Pious". Born about 1012 and died in 1067. He was Count of Flanders from 1035 to 1067. He was the son of Baldwin IV of Flanders and Ogive of Luxembourg. Married to Adele, the daughter of King Robert II of France, around 1029-1030, they will have several children, of which Matilda, future wife of William "the Conqueror".

(7)Eustace II of Boulogne, born around 1015, is the son of Eustace 1st of Boulogne and of Mathilde of Leuven. He is Count of Boulogne from 1047 to 1087, and was among the faithful companions of William the Conqueror.

(8)Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, born around 1000 and died in 1063 was King of Gwynedd before seizing other Welsh kingdoms and unify them in 1055.

(9)Northumbria was also one of the seven former kingdoms of England before reunification. It was located in the north-east, between York and Edinburgh.

(10)Tostig was the third son of Godwin, earl of Wessex. He was born around 1026 and died on September 25th 1066 during the battle of Stamford Bridge. In 1051, he maried Judith, daughter of Count of Flander Baldwin IV, who is also the aunt of Matilda, the future wife of William I.

(11)The Witenagemot or Witan was a assembly of wise men of the Saxons. This assembly, operating almost as a sort of parliament, was composed of influential men of the kingdom, the clergy, the Earls and Thegns.

(12)He became Earl of Mercia at the death of his father Ælfgar in 1062.
He is the eldest son in a family which is also composed of Morcar, the future Earl of Northumbria and Edith, the future wife of Harold Godwinson.
In 1071, as the two brothers try to raise Mercia again against William 1st "The Conqueror", Edwin is betrayed by his escort and killed.

(13)He became Earl of Northumbria in 1065, after a peasant revolt ousted Tostig Godwinson from the throne of the County. He was the second son of Ælfgar of Mercia. His older brother was Edwin, the future Earl of Mercia and his sister Edith's, future wife of Harold Godwinson.
In 1066, he was defeated at the Battle of Fulford by an army led by Tostig Godwinson and King Harald III of Norway.
In 1071, as the two brothers try to raise Mercia again against William 1 'The Conqueror', Edwin is betrayed by his escort and killed. Some time later, Morcar is captured and will finish his life in Norman jails at an unknown date.

(14)Fulford is located on the outskirts of York, around 2 km south of the city center. In mid-September 1066, the Norwegian army leaded by King Harald III and Tostig, landed on the English coast at the mouth of the Humber. Having sailed upstream the River Ouse, the Norwegian set up their camp near Riccall, located about 15 km south of York. So, it advanced towards York and on September 20th, it meets the army commanded by the English earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria, near the village of Fulford. The English army was routed and York fall into the hands of the Norwegian on 24th.

(15)Harold is in the southeast of England because of the Norman threat when he learns on November 20th the landing of the Norwegian army near York. A forced march, he crosses the country in four days to arrive at Tadcaster, about fifteen km southwest of York on septembre 24th. He learns then that the city fell to Harald and Tostig and he also learns that they left the city by dividing their forces. On September 25th, Harold makes a move his troops bypassing York, and surprises Harald and Tostig settled with part of their army near Stamford Bridge, about 15 km northeast of York. After a conciliation attempt that fail, the battle takes place and during the fighting, King Harald and Tostig die. The survivors then join the Norwegian in Riccall and board their ships to return to Norway. Harold can then take the southern route, to meet the Normans who just landed in to head for Hasitngs.

(16)Pevensey is located along the coast in East Sussex about 8 km northeast of Eastbourne.

pour une bibliographie plus complète... Bibliographie
  1. "Les Cahiers de l'Histoire"
    4éme trimestre 1960
  2. Who's Who in British History, Early Medieval England 1066-1272
    Christopher Tyerman ; StackPole Books, 2001
  3. Kings and Queens of England - From the Saxon Kings to the House of Windsor
    Nigel Cawthorne ; Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2009
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Translation : Andrew Zolnai
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