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Harold II of England

Harold II
Rank: 22nd
Ruled: January 4, 1066-October 14, 1066
Predecessor: Edward the Confessor
Date of Birth: 1022
Place of Birth: Wessex, England
Wives: Ealdgyth Swan-neck ("handfast" marriage
not approved by the Church), Edith
Buried: Waltham Abbey
Date of Death: October 14, 1066
Parents: Godwin and Gytha

Harold Godwinson, or Harold II, England's last Saxon king, ruled from January 6 to October 14, 1066. He was born in about 1020, the son of Godwin, earl of Wessex, and his second wife, Gytha, sister to King Sweyn I of Denmark and England.

Created Earl of East Anglia in 1045, Harold accompanied Godwin into exile in 1051 but helped him to regain his position a year later, succeeding to the Earldom of Wessex (a province at that time covering the southernmost third of England) on Godwin's death (April 1053).

In 1058 Harold also became Earl of Hereford, and he replaced his father as the focus of opposition to growing Norman influence in England under the restored Saxon monarchy (1042-1066) of Edward the Confessor, who had spent more than a quarter of a century in exile in Normandy.

In about 1064, Harold married Edith, daughter of the Earl of Mercia, who had previously been married to the ruler of Wales, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (died 1063). By Harold, Edith had two sons - possibly twins - named Harold and Ulf, both of whom survived into adulthood and probably ended their lives in exile. Harold also had several illegitimate children by his famous mistress (or wife, according to Danish law), "Ealdgyth Swan-neck".

Harold's support (in 1065) for Northumbrian rebels against his brother Tostig strengthened his acceptability as Edward's successor, but fatally divided his own family, driving Tostig into alliance with King Harald Hardrada of Norway.

Upon Edward's death (January 5, 1066), Harold (claiming that Edward had promised him the crown on his deathbed) engineered the swift approval of the Witenagemot, the assembly of the kingdom's leading notables, for his own coronation as king, which took place the following day.

The country faced the threat of invasion, however, by both Harald of Norway and William, duke of Normandy, who maintained that he had been promised the English crown by both Edward (probably in 1052) and Harold, who had been shipwrecked in Normandy in 1064 or 1065. It was alleged that, on the latter occasion, William forced Harold to swear to support his claim to the throne, only revealing after the event that the box on which he had made his oath contained holy relics.

Invading what is now Yorkshire in September 1066, Harald Hardrada and Tostig defeated and killed the English earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria at the Battle of Fulford near York (September 20), but were in turn defeated and slain by Harold's army five days later at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

Harold now had to submit his army to a 240-mile forced march to intercept William, who had landed perhaps 7000 men in Sussex on September 28. The two armies clashed near Hastings on October 14, where after a hard fight Harold was killed and his forces routed. According to tradition, an arrow in the eye killed Harold, but this belief stems from a misreading of the Bayeux Tapestry. Harold's body was buried at Hastings, but was later moved to Waltham Abbey in Essex.

The Orthodox church recently recognised Harold as a martyr with October 14 as his saint's day.

Preceded by:
Edward the Confessor
List of British monarchs Succeeded by:
Edgar Ætheling