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.

The Battle of Hastings: Facts About the Norman Victory of 1066

Here are some facts about the Battle of Hastings, in which the Norman invaders led by William the Conqueror defeated the army of King Harold II.

  • The Battle of Hastings took place on 14th October 1066.
  • Most historians believe that the battle was fought about 6 miles north-west of Hastings, near a village that is now known as Battle, in East Sussex. Historians have pinpointed Senlac Hill as the likely location of the battlefield, although John Grehan is convinced that the battle took place on Caldbec Hill.

  • The army of King Harold took up a position of strength at the top of Senlac Hill. His army consisted mainly of infantry (foot soldiers).
  • The Norman army, led by William the Conqueror, positioned themselves near to the base of the hill. His army was made up of infantry, cavalry (soldiers mounted on horseback) and archers.
  • The battle was fiercely fought. The Normans attacked with cavalry and archers, but Harold’s shield wall and his defensive position were hard to break down.
  • The fighting started in the morning and continued all day. In the end the Norman army, with its greater range of different types of troops, started to gain the upper-hand. If the legends can be believed, King Harold was killed when he was shot through the eye with a Norman arrow. William went on to win the Battle of Hastings and he was crowned King having successfully invaded England.
  • The Battle of Hastings and the events leading up to the conflict are depicted (from a Norman perspective) in the Bayeux Tapestry.
  • Although exact figures are almost impossible to come by, it is estimated that Harold’s army was made up of about 6000 soldiers, and the Norman army numbered about 7000. The number of soldiers killed is unknown.

What next? Find out more about William the Conqueror, check out some facts about the Bayeux Tapestry, have a look at the Primary Facts resources page on The Normans, or discover the best children’s books about the Battle of Hastings.

The Bayeux Tapestry: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the Bayeux Tapestry.

  • The Bayeux Tapestry isn’t really a tapestry – it’s an embroidered linen cloth.
  • It is about 70 metres (230 ft) long.

  • It tells the story of the William the Conqueror‘s invasion of England and the Battle of Hastings.
  • The Bayeux Tapestry was probably made in England, having been commissioned by William I’s half-brother, Bishop Odo. It was discovered in the 18th century hanging in Bayeux Cathedral.
  • Wool yarn, coloured by vegetable dyes, was used for the embroidery and the work is divided into fifty panels.
  • The tapestry starts with a scene depicting Edward the Confessor sending Harold Godwinson to Normandy, and ends with English troops fleeing the battlefield at Hastings. The appearance of Halley’s Comet is also featured.
  • During the French Revolution, the tapestry was confiscated with the intention of using it as a covering for military wagons. Luckily, it was hidden by a local lawyer and kept safe until the troubles were over.
  • Charles Dickens was quite critical of the quality of the emboridery. After viewing it, he said, “It certainly is the work of amateurs; very feeble amateurs at the beginning and very heedless some of them too.”
  • The arrow sticking out of Harold Godwinson‘s eye in the tapestry would appear to be a later addition.
  • About 6 metres of the Bayeux Tapestry are missing. These scenes would probably have centered around William I’s coronation.
  • The Bayeux Tapestry was produced by the Normans, the victors in the Battle of Hastings. This must be taken into account when determining its accuracy as an historical source.
  • William Morris, in collaboration with Thomas Wardle and his wife Elizabeth, created a reproduction of the tapesrty in 1885. A team of more than 30 seamstresses were used to complete the work.
  • It is though that the Bayeux Tapestry was completed in the 1070s, several years after William’s victory in the Battle of Hastings.

Find out more about the Normans – click the link to visit the Primary Facts resource page.