Harold Godwinson – The Last Saxon King

Harold Godwinson, also known as Harold II, was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England before the Norman Conquest.  He was a son of  Godwin, Earl of Wessex, and his wife Gytha. Godwin and Gytha had several children, notably sons Sweyn, Harold, Tostig, Gyrth and Leofwine and a daughter, Edith, who became the Queen consort of Edward the Confessor.

As a result of his sister’s marriage to the king, Godwin’s second son Harold was made Earl of East Anglia in 1045. Harold accompanied Godwin into exile in 1051, but helped him to regain his position a year later. When Godwin died in 1053, Harold succeeded him as Earl of Wessex (a province at that time covering the southernmost third of England). This made him the most powerful figure in England after the king.

For some twenty years Harold was married to Edith Swannesha and had at least six children by her. The marriage was widely accepted by the laity, although Edith was considered Harold’s mistress by the clergy; however, their children were not treated as illegitimate. About January 1066, Harold married Edith of Mercia who had two sons — possibly twins — named Harold and Ulf, both of whom survived into adulthood and probably lived out their lives in exile.

At the end of 1065, king Edward the Confessor ailed and fell into a coma without clarifying his preference for his succession. On January 5, 1066, he died, but not before briefly regaining consciousness and commending his widow and the kingdom to Harold’s “protection”.

In early January of 1066, hearing that Harold had been crowned King, William, Duke of Normandy, began plans to invade by building 700 warships and transports on the Normandy coast. Initially William could not get support for the invasion but, claiming that Harold had sworn on sacred relics to support his claim to the throne after having been shipwrecked in Ponthieu, William was given the Church’s blessing and nobles flocked to his cause. In anticipation of the invasion, Harold assembled his troops on the Isle of Wight but, claiming unfavourable winds, the invasion fleet remained in port.

On September 8, with provisions running out, Harold disbanded the army and he returned to London. On the same day Harald III of Norway, who also claimed the English crown joined Tostig and invaded, landing his fleet at the mouth of the River Tyne. Invading what is now Yorkshire, Harald Hardrada and Tostig defeated the English earls Edwin and Morcar on September 20. They were in turn defeated and slain by Harold’s army five days later at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold having led his army north on a forced march from London in four days

On September 27 the Norman fleet finally set sail for England arriving the following day at Pevensey on the coast of East Sussex. Harold now again forced his army to march 241 miles (386 kilometres) to intercept William, who had landed perhaps 7000 men in Sussex. The two armies clashed at the Battle of Hastings which is the very setting for this year’s Sarasota Medieval Fair!

So how did it all end? Who was victorious? Join us on November 14, 15, 20 and 21 to find out!  For tickets and information go to http://www.sarasotamedievalfair.com .

Published in: on July 1, 2009 at 6:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. Gut!

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