Harold Godwinson | 10 Facts About The English Emperor


Harold Godwinson is known for providing the last stand against Duke William’s invasion of England. He famously fought him for nine hours in the Battle of Hastings. Here are 10 interesting facts about the last Anglo Saxon King of England.


#1 His mother was sister in law of King Cnut the Great

Cnut the Great
Cnut the Great, King of England (1016 -1035)

Harold was born in a powerful Anglo-Saxon family in 1022 in Wessex, United Kingdom. His father Godwin was the Earl of Wessex while his mother Gytha Thorkelsdottir was the sister in law of King Cnut the Great, who ruled over England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden. Harold was one of the nine children born to his parents. Harold’s sister Edith later married Edward the Confessor, who had become King of England, with the help of their father, after the death of Cnut’s son Harthacnut.

#2 Harold helped his exiled father to regain his earldom

In 1051, Harold’s father Godwin was exiled from the kingdom as he refused to obey the King regarding some issue. Harold accompanied his father into exile. However, the following year they returned with an army which gathered local support. This forced Edward to restore Godwin’s earldom.


Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor

#3 In 1053, he became the Earl of Wessex

Godwin died in 1053 and Harold succeeded him as the Earl of Wessex (the southern third of the kingdom) hence becoming the most powerful man in England after the King. In 1058 he also became Earl of Hereford.

#4 Harold’s oath was used by William to get Papal support to invade England

In 1064, Harold was shipwrecked on the coast of Normandy. There he was captured but Duke William rescued him. Harold accompanied William while he fought against his enemy, Conan II, Duke of Brittany. William gave weapons and arms to Harold and knighted him. Norman sources say that Harold swore an oath to support William’s claim to the throne of England. Later, William (the Conqueror) used this oath to secure Papal support for his invasion of England.

Portrait of William the Conqueror
Portrait of William the Conqueror


#5 Harold Godwinson became King of England in 1066

Harold claimed that before dying King Edward commended him to take care of his wife and his kingdom. There is some controversy regarding this as the only proper witness to this was the king’s wife, who was Harold’s sister. This claim was refuted by the Duke of Normandy, William I who claimed that the King had asked him to be his successor. Anyway on 6 January 1066, the day after King Edward’s death, Harold Godwinson was crowned King of England.

Harold Godwinson
Portrait of Harold Godwinson


#6 He killed his brother Tostig in the Battle of Stamford Bridge

In September 1066 Harald Hardrada of Norway, who also claimed the English crown and Harold’s outlawed brother Tostig, together invaded Northumbria and defeated the local forces. When the news got to Harold, he marched north, defeated the invaders and killed Tostig and Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

Battle of Stamford Bridge Painting
Painting of the Battle of Stamford Bridge by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1870)


#7 Harold was killed in the famous Battle of Hastings

After the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold moved south to intercept William I (William the Conqueror) of Normandy. The two armies clashed in the famous Battle of Hastings on October 14. After 9 hours of intense fighting, Harold was killed and his forces retreated.

The Battle of Hastings
Tom Lovell’s painting of the Battle of Hastings


#8 There are two accounts of his death

In one account of his death, Harold was killed and brutally dismembered by four knights. In the other he was shot in the eye with an arrow. The former one is supported by the fact that it was written shortly after the battle. The latter is supported by the fact that it is depicted as such in the Bayeux Tapestry with inscription ‘Harold the King is killed’. Some even suggest that both accounts are accurate as he was first hit by an arrow and then mutilated.

Harold's death depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry
Harold’s death depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry


#9 Harold had two wives, both called Edith

In 1040s, when Harold was the Earl of East Anglia, he had a relationship with a woman known as Edith Swannesha (Edith the Fair). They married but it was not sanctioned by the Church. Such marriages were known as more Danico, or ‘in the Danish manner’ but were accepted by most laypeople in England. Harold was married to Edith for about twenty years and had six children with her. In January 1066, Harold married Edith, the daughter of the Earl of Mercia. She bore him two sons (probably twins).

Edith Swannesha or Edith the Fair
Edith Swannesha discovering the body of Harold


#10 Harold Godwinson was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England

The term Anglo-Saxon refers to settlers from the German regions of Angeln and Saxony, who made their way over to Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire around AD 410. They ruled over Great Britain during the fifth to eleventh centuries. Harold Godwinson was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England and his death marked the end of their rule. By the time of William the Conqueror’s death in 1087, England’s Anglo-Saxon rulers were dead, exiled, or had joined the ranks of the peasantry.

13 thoughts on “Harold Godwinson | 10 Facts About The English Emperor”

  1. England is good as it is today and without the Battle of Hastings, it might not go through bloodline and there will probably still be battles about who is king or queen


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