Harold Godwinson

Article

October 19, 2021

Harold Godwinson or Harold II is the last Anglo-Saxon king of England from January 6 to October 14, 1066, date of his death at the Battle of Hastings. Son of the powerful Earl Godwin of Wessex, Harold was appointed Earl of East Anglia in 1044, when he was in his twenties. Like his father, he was exiled from the Kingdom of England and stripped of his titles in 1051, but King Edward the Confessor was forced to restore Godwin and his sons to their estates the following year. When Godwin died in 1053, Harold inherited the vast County of Wessex. His fortune and his power are then exceeded only by those of the king. Chosen to succeed Edward, who died without leaving a child, Harold was consecrated on January 6, 1066, but two pretenders to the throne rose up against him: the King of Norway Harald Hardrada and the Duke of Normandy William. After defeating the first at Stamford Bridge on September 25, he in turn was defeated by the second, on October 14 during the Battle of Hastings, in which he was killed. Guillaume succeeds him: it is the beginning of the Anglo-Norman period in the history of England. Harold's posthumous reputation remains closely dependent on the view taken on the Norman conquest of England.

Biography

Origins

Harold, born around 1022 or 1023, is the second son of Godwin and his wife Gytha Thorkelsdóttir. Her father, of obscure ancestry, rose rapidly under the reign of Knut the Great, receiving the title of Earl of Wessex around 1018. Her mother was of Danish origin and related by marriage to the king: the sister of Knut, Estrid Svendsdatter, is the wife of his brother Ulf. They have at least eight children, including six sons: Harold, his older brother Sven, and his younger brothers Tostig, Gyrth, Leofwine and Wulfnoth. The siblings also have three daughters: Edith, Gunhild and Ælfgifu. In 1042, Godwin supported the coming to power of Edward the Confessor, after having successively brought his support to the two sons of Knut. He gave the hand of his daughter Edith to the king in 1045. The same year, Harold was titled Count of East Anglia. He accompanied his father in exile in 1051, then helped him restore his position a year later.

Earl of Wessex

On Godwin's death in 1053, Harold succeeded him as Earl of Wessex (who at the time represented a third of England), becoming the most powerful man in England after the king. He also became Earl of Hereford in 1057, and took his father's place in opposition to growing Norman influence at the court of Edward the Confessor. The latter, son of Emma of Normandy, spent nearly a quarter of his life in Normandy and surrounded himself with Norman advisers in order to counterbalance the power of the Godwins. In the west, Harold defends England against Gruffydd ap Llywelyn. This king of Gwynedd conquered all of Wales and made frequent forays into English soil, routing Earl of Hereford Ralph the Timid in 1055 and killing Bishop of Hereford Leofgar the following year. Harold undertakes a vast campaign to put an end to these incursions in 1062. His brother Tostig invades the north of the country, while Harold leads the fleet from the south before leading his troops north, in order to surround Gruffydd. A refugee in Snowdonia, he was killed by his own soldiers on August 5. Undisputed winner, Harold accepts the submission of the Welsh and places two kinglets at their head, the brothers Bleddyn and Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn. In 1064, Harold was shipwrecked on the coasts of Ponthieu. Captured by Count Guy I, he was held prisoner at the castle of Beaurainville (Belrem on the Bayeux Tapestry), then delivered to Duke William of Normandy who demanded his release. William considers himself to be the legitimate successor of Edward the Confessor, who has no children. He obtains

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