Harald II (England)

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Depiction of King Harald on the Bayeux
Tapestry : hIC RESIDET hAROLD, REX ANGLORVM - "Here sits Harald, King of the English"; to his left: STIGANT ARChIEP [iscopu] S - " Stigand , the Archbishop"
Harald Godwinson on the falcon hunt (depiction on the Bayeux Tapestry)
Harald's death - depiction on the Bayeux Tapestry. It is controversial whether Harald is the person with the arrow in the eye or the one struck down by the Norman horseman.

Harald Godwinson (also Harold , * 1022 ; † October 14, 1066 ; often called Harald II.) Was the last Anglo-Saxon king before the conquest of England by the Normans .


Harald was the son of the Anglo-Saxon Earl Godwin Wulfnothson of Wessex ( Godwins ) and the Gytha Thorkelsdóttir , daughter of Torkel Björnsson and sister of Ulf Jarl of Denmark . He had numerous siblings: the brothers Sveyn (also Sven ), Tostig (also Toste ), Gyrth , Leofwine , Wulfnoth , Waeltheow, Morcar, Edwin, Herbert, Ælfgar and the sisters Edith, Elgiva, Gunhilda and Gytha.

He married in 1065 Ealdgyth of Mercia , daughter of Ælfgar , Earl of Mercia , and widow of Griffith ap Llywelyn , king of Gwynedd and Powys . From this marriage he may have had a son who was also named Harold. He had numerous children from Eadgyth Swannesha ("Edith Schwanenhals"), with whom he was not ecclesiastically married: Godwin, Edmund, Magnus, Ulf, Gytha and Gunhild. No more is known of the sons than their names; Gunhild became a nun in Wilton . Only about his daughter Gytha is known more: She married around 1070 - four years after Harald's death - Wladimir Wsewolodowitsch Monomakh , 1113–1125 Grand Duke of Kiev .


After the death of his father Godwin , Harald became Earl of Wessex in 1053, making him the second most powerful man in England.

Fight against Tostig

Harald led campaigns in Wales (1062-1063) and against his own brother Tostig (1065). As the hothead of the family, Tostig had caused a rebellion against himself. Harald was faced with the choice of supporting his brother or not worrying about family ties and getting the rebels on his side for his later throne ambitions. Choosing the latter, he made his brother, who fled the country, a mortal enemy - a decision that probably contributed to his eventual loss of his throne and life.

Trip to Normandy

In 1064 or 1065 sent King Edward the Confessor Harald as messengers to William the Bastard (later known as "William the Conqueror"), the Duke of at this time Normandy was and of Rouen from ruled - and, moreover, there Harald's brother Wulfnoth Godwinson as Held hostage . However, the crossing ended differently than planned with shipwreck and in short-term imprisonment with the Wilhelm apostate Guy de Ponthieu in Beaurain . Wilhelm freed Harald when he found out about it. After Harald arrived in Rouen and joined a victorious campaign by Wilhelm, he swore an oath of allegiance . This was a tactical move by Wilhelm to consolidate his claim to the English throne, to which Harald, now bound by the oath, also strove.

King of England

Contrary to Wilhelm's expectations, after the death of the childless King Edward in 1066, the English Witan (supreme council of clergy and nobles) elected Harald as heir to the throne.

His short reign was overshadowed by the discussion about the legality of his reign. Eduard the Confessor had chosen Wilhelm as his successor (probably in 1052), but allegedly revised this on his deathbed and entrusted Harald to England. Wilhelm invaded England a little later in order to enforce his "rights" by force. For this he had the Pope give him special permission.

Battle for England

Harald posted his army on the south coast and waited for Wilhelm, while Wilhelm waited for a favorable wind on the other side of the canal. At the beginning of September Harald had to dismiss his army. The soldiers only had to conscription for two months a year, and the harvest on their farms was due. That month Tostig came back too. In the meantime he had allied himself with Harald Hardråde , who also had a certain claim to the throne through Knut the Great . With 300 ships (less than 30 of which returned to Norway) they landed in the north of England. After initial success, however, Harald managed to defeat the attackers in the Battle of Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066. Tostig and Hardråde were killed.

In the meantime Wilhelm had crossed over to England. In the decisive battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066, Harald was defeated by the Norman invaders. He was killed on the battlefield.

A later (not contemporary) Norman chronicler describes the end of Harald II as follows: The Anglo-Saxon king got an arrow in the eye and was then struck down with the sword by a Norman horseman in the following fight.

Harold was there, defending himself fiercely, but an arrow hit him in the eye and he was in excruciating pain. A knight rushed into battle and forced him to the ground with one blow on the helmet. When he was about to get up again, another knight struck him down with a blow on the thigh that went to the bone ... and Harold and his followers were killed. But so many wanted to kill him and there was such a crush around him that I don't know who killed him ... "

William, now known as "the Conqueror", was crowned King of England after his victory. An artistic implementation of the power struggle between Harald and Wilhelm can be seen on the Bayeux Tapestry .

According to popular tradition, his companion Eadgyth Swannesha found his body on the battlefield; then he was buried in its founding Waltham Abbey . His - much younger - epitaph is shown there to this day.


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Commons : Harold II of England  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files
predecessor Office successor
Edward the Confessor King of England
Wilhelm I.