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On This Day: Harold crowned King

Updated: Feb 16

January 6th, 1066: Harold Godwinson, formerly Earl of Wessex, is crowned king of England in Westminster Abbey.

Harold was born in the early 1020s, the son of Godwine, Earl of Wessex. He succeeded to his father's titles in 1053, becoming the second most powerful man in England after the monarch. He was also a focus for opposition to the growing Norman influence in England encouraged by the king, Edward (known as 'the Confessor' for his piety).

In 1064, Harold was shipwrecked on the coast of Normandy. William, Duke of Normandy considered himself to be the successor to the childless Edward and is believed to have forced Harold to swear an oath to support his claim.

The following year, the Northumbrians revolted against Harold’s brother Tostig, Earl of Northumbria. It appears that Tostig had governed Northumbria with some difficulty being unpopular with the Northumbrian ruling class, a mix of Danish invaders and Anglo-Saxon survivors of the last Norse invasion. Tostig was said to have been heavy-handed with those who resisted his rule, including murdering several members of leading Northumbrian families. So, in October 1065, the Northumbrians descended on and occupied York declaring Tostig outlawed for his repressive actions. Although the Northumbrians were placated by King Edward’s right-hand man, Earl Harold, the King was persuaded to agree to the demands of the rebels. Tostig was outlawed a short time later, possibly early in November, because he refused to accept his deposition as commanded by King Edward. The resulting enmity between the two brothers would lead to their fatal confrontation a year later.

Edward died in January 1066 and Harold assumed power, claiming Edward had designated him as heir. William now used Harold's oath of 1064 to secure Papal support for his invasion of England.

In September, Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, aided by Tostig, invaded England, but they were defeated and killed by Harold on September 25th at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, near York. Three days later William landed in England. Harold hurried south with his army and, on October 14th, clashed with William’s forces near Hastings. A day-long battle ensued in which Harold was defeated and killed, along with his other brothers Gyrth and Leofwine. King Harold II had ruled England for just 282 days.


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