King Harold II: Facts About Harold Godwinson

Here are some facts about Harold Godwinson.

  • Harold Godwinson, or King Harold II, was the last of England’s Anglo-Saxon kings. He was also the last English monarch to be defeated in battle in England by a foreign invader.

  • Harold was born in about 1022 in Wessex. He was one of 9 children and became the Earl of Wessex in 1053, making him the second most powerful man in England.

Harold Godwinson

  • Harold became king after the death of King Edward the Confessor in 1066. However, he only reigned from January to October of that year, making him one of the shortest reigning monarchs.
  • Harold Godwinson was elected by the Witan (the King’s Council) to be the monarch, following the supposed wishes of Edward.  William, Duke of Normandy (later known as William the Conqueror) disagreed and felt he was the rightful successor to Edward the Confessor.
  • In September, 1066, Harold defeated an army led by Harald Hardrada of Norway, at Stamford Bridge. Hardrada came in 300 ships, although, according to legend, so many were killed, the survivors sailed home in 25 ships.
  • In October, 1066, William, Duke of Normandy landed near Hastings in Sussex to try to overthrow Harold. Harold’s army was defeated in what would become known as the Battle of Hastings.
  • William was able to gather soldiers from all over France and he had the support of the Pope. He may have had as many as 1,000 ships.
  • Although not known for certain, many believe that Harold was shot in the eye with an arrow during the battle. This event appears to be shown on the famous Bayeux Tapestry.
  • An abbey was built in 1070 on the spot where Harold Godwinson was killed, following a promise made by William I. Today, a marker in Battle Abbey shows the place where Harold died.
  • Nobody knows for sure where Harold II was buried, although it may have been in Chichester. Some people think he wasn’t killed by the Normans, but instead fled from England, or lived as a hermit for the rest of his life.

What next? Learn more about the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons by visiting our resources pages.

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