Biography of King Harold II Godwinson
The biographies of the leaders of the Battle of Hastings provide an insight into what led to the events leading to the Battle of Hastings. Harold Godwinson was a key figure in this saga.
Harold was born in 1022 and was the son of Earl Godwin of Wessex and Gytha Sprakling (990 - 1069). Gytha was the great-granddaughter of Harold Bluetooth, King of Denmark and Norway. He had three brothers Swegen, Tostig and Gyrth and a sister called Edith. In 1046, his brother, Swegen, was sent into exile for seducing the abbess of Leominister.
In 1051 Harold's father Godwin raised an army against King Edward the Confessor but a war was averted when it was agreed that the Witan ( a council consisting of 60 powerful nobles) would sort out the dispute. The Witan declared that Earl Godwin and his sons should be banished from England. Godwin and his sons, Tostig and Gyrth went Flanders and Harold went to Ireland. The following year they all returned and sailed up the Thames in force. They resumed their place as the richest and most powerful nobles in England and forced Edward the Confessor to send the Normans in the English court back to Normandy. King Edward the Confessor is also 'persauded' to marry Edith, the daughter of Earl Godwin and Harold's sister.
In 1053 Godwin died and his son Harold succeeded him as the Earl of Wessex. In 1055 Harold's brother Tostig became the Earl of Northumbria. Harold and Tostig were great fighters and in 1063 Harold and Tostig subdue Wales.
Harold had two wives, both called Edith. Harold first married Edith, the daughter of the powerful Earl of Mercia. They had two sons, who are believed to have died in exile. Harold also had several illegitimate children by his beautiful mistress (or wife, according to Danish law), called "Edith Swan-neck".
1064 was an unfortunate year for Harold who was shipwrecked in Normandy. Whilst there, he swears a sacred oath to support William of Normandy's
claim to the English throne. Harold later insists that he was tricked into taking this oath.
In 1065 Northumbria rebels against the tyrannical Tostig, who is exiled and goes to Normandy. He joins with Duke William against his brother Harold. The treacherous brother then changes allegiance again and joins with the Viking King, Hardrada.
In 1066 Edward the Confessor dies. When King Edward the Confessor lay dying his wife Edith and Harold Godwinson were at his bedside. According to Harold, King Edward's dying words were:
"I commend my wife and all my kingdom to your care"
Harold insisted that he had been tricked into taking the sacred oath of allegiance he had made to Duke William. And that he was not told that he was swearing the pledge on sacred religious relics - in his view he had been duped and owed the Norman Duke no allegiance and refuted his claim to the English throne.
The Witan voted that Harold Godwinson should become King of England, over the rightful heir, Edgar the Aethling who was only ten years old. Harold Godwinson asserted that he had been chosen by Edward the Confessor to be the next King of England. Harold Godwinson Earl of Wessex was crowned King of England on January 6th 1066.
There followed all of the events leading to the Viking and Norman Invasions and the Battle of Hastings on October 14th, 1066 when King Harold II of England was killed.
Read the fascinating Biographies surrounding the Battle of Hastings:
Biography of Edward the Confessor
Biography of William the Conqueror
The Harold Godwinson of Wessex claim