Harold Godwinson, often called Harold II, was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. Harold reigned from 6 January 1066 until his death at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October and his death marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule over England. Harold was an earl and member of a prominent Anglo-Saxon family with ties to Cnut the Great. Upon the death of Edward the Confessor in January 1066, the Witenagemot convened and chose Harold to succeed, he was crowned in Westminster Abbey. In late September, he repelled an invasion by rival claimant Harald Hardrada of Norway before marching his army back south to meet William the Conqueror at Hastings some two weeks later. Harold was a son of Godwin, the powerful Earl of Wessex, gythas brother was Ulf the Earl, who married Cnuts sister Estrith. This made Ulf the son-in-law of King Sweyn Forkbeard, Ulf, Godwin was the son of Wulfnoth, probably a thegn and a native of Sussex. Godwin began his career by supporting King Edmund Ironside, but switched to supporting King Cnut by 1018. Godwin remained an earl throughout the remainder of Cnuts reign, one of two earls to survive to the end of that reign. Harthacnuts death in 1042 probably involved Godwin in a role as kingmaker, in 1045 Godwin reached the height of his power when the new king married Godwins daughter Edith. Godwin and Gytha had several children – six sons, Sweyn, Harold, Tostig, Gyrth, Leofwine and Wulfnoth, the birthdates of the children are unknown, but Sweyn was the eldest and Harold was the second son. Harold was aged about 25 in 1045, which makes his birth year around 1020, Edith married Edward on 23 January 1045 and, around that time, Harold became Earl of East Anglia. Harold is called earl when he appears as a witness in a will that may date to 1044, one reason for his appointment to East Anglia may have been a need to defend against the threat from King Magnus the Good of Norway. It is possible that Harold led some of the ships from his earldom that were sent to Sandwich in 1045 against Magnus, Sweyn, Harolds elder brother, had been named an earl in 1043. The relationship was a form of marriage that was not blessed or sanctioned by the Church, known as more Danico, or in the Danish manner, any children of such a union were considered legitimate. Harold probably entered the relationship in part to support in his new earldom. Harolds elder brother Sweyn was exiled in 1047 after abducting the abbess of Leominster, sweyns lands were divided between Harold and a cousin, Beorn. In 1049, Harold was in command of a ship or ships that were sent with a fleet to aid the German Emperor Henry III against Baldwin V, Count of Flanders, who was in revolt against Henry
Image: Bayeux Tapestry Scene 13(crop 2)
HAROLD SACRAMENTUM FECIT VVILLELMO DUCI ("Harold made an oath to Duke William"). (Bayeux Tapestry) This scene is stated in the previous scene on the Tapestry to have taken place at Bagia (Bayeux, probably in Bayeux Cathedral). It shows Harold touching two altars with the enthroned Duke looking on, and is central to the Norman Invasion of England.
Coin of King Harold Godwinson
Gyrth and his brother's death at the Battle of Hastings, scene 52 of the Bayeux Tapestry. HIC CECIDERUNT LEWINE ET GYRD FRATRES HAROLDI REGIS (Here have fallen dead Leofwine and Gyrth, brothers of King Harold)