Thursday, 9 August 2012

Harold Godwinson (Harold II)

c1020-1066. The last Anglo-Saxon king of England (r. 1066). Harold was the son of Godwine of Wessex and Kent and his wife Gytha, a Danish noblewoman related by marriage to Cnut. Through his father's patronage Harold became earl of East Anglia in 1044. When Godwine was exiled by Edward the Confessor, it was Harold who led the army that forced the king to reinstate him. He inherited his father's earldoms on his death in 1053. Harold became the dominant figure at court, obtaining earldoms for his brothers Tostig, Gyrth and Leofwine by 1057. In 1063 he showed his military abilities on a successful punitive expedition in Wales. When Edward died in 1066 without any heirs, Harold was chosen king but he faced rival claimants in William the Conqueror of Normandy and Harald Hardraga of Norway. He also faced the hostility of his brother Tostig, who had been exiled from his earldom of Northumbria in 1065 and was now leading the Viking raids along the English coast. When Harald (Hardrada) in September 1066 he was joined by Tostig, but both were killed when Harold surprised and defeated their army at Stamford Bridge near York (25 September). A few days later William landed on the south coast and Harold hurried south with his exhausted army to confront him. After a fierce day-long battle at Hastings (14 October), the English army broke and Harald with his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine was killed. By Christmas William had been accepted as king of England. It is not known why Harold did not allow his army time to recover from the battle at Stamford Bridge or to gather reinforcements. It may have been eagerness to protect his family lands in Wessex from Norman depredations. More likely, he did not want to give his political enemies in England the opportunity to ally with William against him.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 92 - 93.

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