King Harold II (Godwinson) of England 1020 – 1066

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Harold II Godwinson

Father – Earl Godwin of Wessex
Mother – Gytha Thorkelsdottir
Spouse – Edith the Fair (Swanneck), Edith of Mercia
Children – Godwin, Edmund, Magnus, Gunhilda, Gytha, Harold, Ulf
King of England – 1042 – 1066
Predecessor – King Edward the Confessor
Successor – King William I (the Conqueror)


1022 (around)
Born the second son of Godwin, Earl of Wessex and Gytha of Denmark (sister-in-law of King Cnut)
1025 (during)
Harold’s sister, Edith, was born to Gytha and Godwin.
1026 (during)
Harold’s brother, Tostig, was born to Gytha and Godwin.
1032 (during)
Harold’s brother, Gyrth, was born to Gytha and Godwin.
1035 (during)
Harold’s brother, Leofwine was born to Gytha and Godwin.
1037 (during)
Harold’s brother, Wulfnoth, was born to Earl Godwin and his wife, Gytha
1043 (during)
Harold’s brother, Sweyn became Earl of Hertfordshire.
1045 (23rd January)
Harold’s sister, Edith, married King Edward the Confessor
1045 (around)
Harold married Edith the Fair also known as Edith Swanneck. They were married by the Danish handfasting ceremony which was not recognised by the Church. The couple had five children, Godwin, Edmund, Magnus, Gunhilda and Gytha but there are no records of the dates of their birth.
1046 (during)
Harold’s brother, Sweyn, was exiled for seducing the abbess of Leominster
1051 (September)
Harold’s father refused to punish the town of Dover after some of Edward’s Norman friends were killed in a drunken brawl but instead raised an army against the King. The Witan intervened and the family were exiled. Earl Godwin, Gytha, Sweyn, Tostig and Gyrth went to Flanders while Harold and Leofwine went to Dublin. Harold’s brother Wulfnoth was kept as hostage.
1051 (during)
Harold’s brother, Tostig married Judith of Flanders.
1052 (date unknown)
Harold and his family returned to England at the head of an army. King Edward was unable to raise a force that would defeat the Godwins and was forced to sue for peace terms. It was agreed that the Godwin family could return and their former lands would be restored to them. Edward agreed to reduce the number of Norman advisors at court.
1052 (Summer)
Harold’s brother, Sweyn chose not to return to England but left on Crusade instead.
1052 (29th September)
Harold’s brother, Sweyn became ill and died.
1053 (15th April)
Harold became Earl of Wessex and the most powerful nobleman when his father died.
1055 (date unknown)
Harold’s brother, Tostig became Earl of Northumbria.
1058 (date unknown)
Harold was created Earl of Hereford.
1062 (around)
Harold led a series of campaigns against the Welsh King Gruffydd ap Llywelyn. The conflict ended with the death of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.
1064 (Spring/Summer)
Harold was shipwrecked off the coast of Ponthieu. William, Duke of Normandy ordered that Harold be brought to him. Harold was placed under virtual house arrest, accompanying William into battle at Rouen. After the battle he swore an oath to support William’s claim to the throne of England after the death of Edward.
1065 (during)
The people of Northumbria rebelled against the rule of Harold’s brother Tostig. Harold was sent to deal with the situation and sided with the people and sent his brother into exile.
1066 (5th January)
King Edward the Confessor died. It was claimed that he nominated Harold as his successor.
1066 (6th January)
Harold was crowned King Harold II
1066 (March)
Halley’s comet appeared in the sky
1066 (March)
Harold married Edith, daughter of the Earl of Mercia. This was likely a political marriage to strenghten ties with Mercia and ensure Harold has support in case his rule was challenged. Harold’s two sons by Edith, Harold and Ulf, were born after his death.
1066 (Spring)
William learned that Harold had been crowned King of England and began preparing an invasion. He also gained papal support for his invasion.
1066 (Spring)
Anticipating a challenge to his Kingship by William of Normandy, Harold stationed militia along the South coast and on the Isle of Wight.
1066 (8th September)
With food provisions and morale running low Harold took the decision to send his troops home.
1066 (8th September)
Harald Hardrada supported by Harold’s brother Tostig invaded England. They landed at the mouth of the River Tyne.
1066 (20th September)
Battle of Fulford
Harold’s earls Morcar and Edwin were defeated by Harald and Tostig at this battle. The two earls fled the battlefield.
1066 (after 20th September)
Harold Godwinson marched rapidly north
1066 (24th September)
Harold Godwinson reached Tadcaster, 15 miles south of York.
1066 (25th September)
Battle of Stamford Bridge
Harold won a decisive victory over the Norwegian invaders. Both Harald Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson were killed.
1066 (28th September)
William, Duke of Normandy sailed overnight and landed at Pevensey on the South coast of England in the morning. He was surprised to find no army waiting for him.
1066 (1st October)
Harold learned of the Norman invasion. He immediately made plans to return South.
1066 (6th October)
Harold reached London. He sent out a call to arms for men to join his army.
1066 (10th October)
Harold ignored the suggestion that he should remain in London and let his brother Gyrth lead the army into battle and told his army to prepare to leave London.
1066 (11th October)
Harold left London at the head of the Saxon army. He ordered that his men should muster at Caldbec Hill just north of Hastings.
1066 (13th October)
By the evening of 13th October Harold reached Caldbec Hill. He had hoped to make a surprise attack on the Norman camp at Hastings but he found out that William knew of his presence and had to change tactic.
1066 (14th October)

Battle of Hastings
Harold knew that he didn’t have the manpower to defend Caldbec Hill and so at first light he moved his men to Senlac Hill where they formed a shield wall and waited for the Normans.

William arrived and set up his forces at the bottom of the hill. He had three groups – Normans, Flemings and Bretons, both cavalry and infantry. William opened the battle with a barrage of arrows which, because of the hill flew over the heads of the Saxons. Next William sent in his infantrymen but they were unable to break through the shield wall. A group of Breton infantrymen turned and ran down the hill. The Saxons that had been withstanding that group broke the shield wall and ran down after them. William ordered that they become the focus of the next attack and although some managed to return to their line most were cut down. It is thought that Harold’s two brothers lost their lives at this point.

Having seen how the Bretons fleeing down the hill broke the shield wall, William changed tactic and ordered his men to do the same thing. Although the shield wall did not break so spectacularly again it did begin to weaken. With the light beginning to fade William ordered his archers to fire again but to angle them higher so that they hit the men just behind the shield wall. It is thought that one of these arrows went through the eye slit of Harold’s helmet and struck him in the eye or near to the eye. It is thought that while reeling from this injury he was cut down by a sword, possibly to his thigh, or an axe and died of his injuries. 

Harold’s body was so mutilated that it could only be recognised from marks on the body and may have been identified by his long term mistress, Edith Swanneck. Harold’s mother offered William her son’s weight in gold for the body but William refused. The exact burial place of Harold’s body remains a matter of dispute but a body found at Bosham in 2003 which was lacking a head and leg is a likely candidate.

1066 (after 14th October)
William of Normandy went on to take the South of England and then London. He was crowned King William I on 25th December 1066.



Published Jul 17, 2015 @ 10:22 – Updated – Mar 14, 2018 @ 2:36 pm


Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2015 – 2018). King Harold II (Godwinson) of England 1020 – 1066. Available: Last accessed March 18th, 2019


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