Harold's Pledge to Duke William of Normandy
Harold was unfortunately shipwrecked in 1064 on the coast of Ponthieu near Normandy
He became a 'guest', if not a prisoner, of William Duke of Normandy. Harold was forced to take an oath to the effect that he would marry William's daughter thus reinforcing William's claim to the crown of England. William then allowed Harold to return to England.
The visit ended with Harold swearing his infamous oath to Duke William which was described by the Anglo-Norman historian Orderic Vitalis:
"Harold himself had taken an oath of fealty to Duke William at Rouen in the presence of the Norman nobles, and after becoming his man had sworn on the most sacred relics to carry out all that was required of him. After that, the Duke had taken Harold on an expedition against Conan, Count of Brittany, and had given him splendid arms and horses and heaped other tokens upon him and his companions."
The Bayeux Tapestry describes this critical event. William is illustrated as calling upon Harold to swear an oath of allegiance to him and to his right to the throne. The Tapestry shows Harold, both hands placed upon religious relics enclosed in two shrines, swearing his oath as William looks on.
Following the death of Edward the Confessor on January 5th 1066, an assembly of thanes and prelates and leading citizens of London declared that Harold was their rightful king. Harold Godwinson was therefore crowned King Harold II of England the day after Edward's death.
Harold justified himself on the grounds that his oath to William of Normandy was taken under duress and therefore invalid. William protested against what he referred to as the bad faith of Harold, and proclaimed his intention to assert his rights in battle by the sword!