Harold Godwinson

Who was Harold Godwinson?
Harold Godwinson was the Earl of Wessex and the most powerful noble in England at the death of Edward the Confessor. He became King Harold II of England but lost the Battle of Hastings to William, Duke of Normandy.
Who was Harold Godwinson's family?
Harold was part of the powerful Anglo-Saxon Godwin family.
  • His father, Godwin, was a thegn who was made Earl of Wessex by King Cnut and grew very powerful.
  • His brothers, including Tostig, Leofwine and Gyrth, were also powerful Anglo-Saxon earls.
  • His wife, Edith the Fair, owned large amounts of land in East Anglia.
Where was Harold Godwinson based?
Harold was Earl of Wessex, a large area of land in the south of England.
How did Harold Godwinson get on with his brother?
Harold's relationship with his brother, Tostig , deteriorated in the 1060s.
  • In 1062, they led a joint attack on the Welsh king, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.
  • In 1065, Harold refused to support Tostig when Northumbria rebelled against him.
  • Tostig was exiled and plotted with Harald Hardrada to overthrow Harold.
Why did Harold Godwinson support the Northumbrian rebels against his brother?
Historians aren't sure why Harold Godwinson acted against his own brother, Tostig, in the Northumbrian revolt, but there are some suggestions:
  • He agreed with other earls that Tostig was to blame for running Northumbria badly.
  • Edward was old, and Harold was more focused on becoming king than on promoting his family's interests.
  • Tostig was a possible rival for the throne if Edward died.
  • Harold needed a united kingdom to fight off the threats from Denmark and Normandy.
What was Harold Godwinson's Norman Embassy?
In 1064, Harold travelled to Normandy, in an embassy on behalf of King Edward. It was a significant visit.
Why did Harold Godwinson go to Normandy?
Harold Godwinson travelled to see William, Duke of Normandy, in 1064 on a mission for King Edward. However, the exact reason for his visit is unclear.
  • The Normans claimed that King Edward asked Harold to talk to William about succeeding him as king, and that Harold swore allegiance to William.
  • The Anglo-Saxons claimed that Harold went to negotiate the release of his brother and nephew (Wulfnoth and Hakon), who were William's hostages.
What happened on Harold Godwinson's journey to Normandy?
Harold's journey to Normandy was eventful.
  • He travelled to France, but was blown off course and landed at Ponthieu.
  • He was taken prisoner by Count Guy of Ponthieu.
  • William demanded that Count Guy hand Harold over to him.
What did Harold Godwinson do in Normandy?
Whilst in Normandy, Harold and William worked together fairly successfully. Harold performed a number of tasks for William.
  • He stayed with William.
  • He delivered Edward's message to William.
  • He fought with William in two military campaigns.
  • He received gifts of armour and weapons as a sign of William's gratitude.
  • The Normans claimed that, by the end of the visit, Harold was prepared to take an oath of allegiance to William.
Did Harold Godwinson swear an oath to William?
While in Normandy, Harold made an oath to William, on two holy relics.
  • The Normans claimed that this was an oath of allegiance, with Harold promising to support William's claim to the throne.
  • However, while Harold did not dispute that he took an oath, he did not agree that he supported William's claim to the throne.
What was the significance of Harold Godwinson's visit to Normandy?
Harold's visit to William, and his oath, were significant for a number of reasons.
  • It demonstrated how much Edward the Confessor trusted and relied on Harold.
  • It showed how close England and Normandy were, which boosted William's claim to the throne.
  • It allowed the Normans to claim that Harold was an oath-breaker when he took the throne after Edward's death.
Why did Harold Godwinson think he should be king?
Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, had several reasons for claiming the throne when Edward the Confessor died in 1066.
  • He was Edward's brother-in-law.
  • He had great military power and a history of military success.
  • He had influence and support among the earls and thegns.
  • He had been the king's trusted advisor and right-hand man. He had even acted as 'sub regulus' (deputy king) for Edward.
  • He claimed that Edward, on his deathbed, had nominated him to be king.
What were the strengths of Harold Godwinson's claim to the throne?
Harold Godwinson was one of the strongest claimants to the crown of England in 1066.
  • He had the support of thegns, earls and the Witan in England. This gave him considerable support from the military power of England.
  • He had been nominated as Edward's successor by the king himself, on his deathbed, and had witnesses to support his claim.
What were the weaknesses of Harold Godwinson's claim to the throne?
There were reasons why Harold's claim to the throne was opposed.
  • William, duke of Normandy challenged his claim that Edward had wanted Harold as king.
  • Harold wasn't related to the king by blood.
When did Harold Godwinson take power?
On 6th January 1066 - the day of Edward's burial - Harold Godwinson was crowned Harold II of England.
Why was Harold Godwinson made king in 1066?
Harold was, essentially, in the right place at the right time.
  • He moved fast and seized his opportunity.
  • The Witan agreed that he should be king.
Why did the Witan choose Harold Godwinson?
The Witan agreed that Harold Godwinson should become king on the 5th January 1066, the day of Edward's death. There were a number of reasons for this.
  • They were already gathered for the opening of Westminster Abbey in London.
  • They were aware of the threat from Normandy, and wanted a warrior king who could take swift action.
  • They were likely to object to a Norman king - as Godwin had objected to Edward's Norman advisers.
What challenges did Harold Godwinson face as king?
As soon as he became king, Harold faced threats and challenges.
  • Other English earls might not agree with the choice, particularly those from Mercia, which was Wessex's rival.
  • Northumbria might not accept Tostig's brother as king.
  • Tostig was in Europe, bitter and angry at Harold and looking for allies.
  • William of Normandy was reported to be building an invasion fleet.
What did Harold Godwinson do after his coronation?
Immediately after his coronation, Harold took swift action to deal with the threats to his rule.
  • He travelled to York, to ensure that he had the support of Northumbrian members of the Witan, who had not been in London. This was to ensure that the north would remain loyal.
  • To strengthen his position, he married the sister of the earls Edwin and Morcar.
  • He gathered a large army and fleet from the fyrd, and positioned them on the south coast of England to guard against an invasion from Normandy.
  • He kept the army in one place all summer, until the autumn when it was time for them to stand down and return home.
How did Tostig react when Harold Godwinson was crowned?
Since his exile, Harold's brother Tostig had been gathering support and plotting revenge.
  • He gained support in Flanders, where his wife was from, and sailed a fleet to England in May 1066.
  • When he found out about the strength of Harold's army, Tostig diverted his path to Lincolnshire.
  • In Lincolnshire, a fight with the Mercians destroyed most of his fleet.
  • Tostig fled to Scotland and began to plot with Harald Hardrada.
Which battles did Harold Godwinson fight in 1066?
In 1066, Harold Godwinson led his army into 2 significant battles:
What did Harold Godwinson do once he was king in 1066?
Once he was king, Harold took decisive action to defend England from threats.
  • He assembled his army on the south coast to wait for a Norman attack.
  • He responded to news of a Viking attack by taking his army north to defeat Harald Hardrada at Stamford Bridge.
  • He returned with his troops to London on hearing news of William's attack on the south.
  • He led his troops out to meet the Norman army at Hastings.
  • He fought and lost against William's Norman army at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October 1066.
What were Harold Godwinson's tactics in the Battle of Hastings?
At the Battle of Hastings, the Anglo-Saxons' main tactic was to capture the high ground, and use the shield wall to form an impenetrable defensive position. This tactic depended on the shield wall holding in the face of attack.
What advantages did Harold Godwinson have at Hastings?
Harold and the Anglo-Saxon army had some advantages at the Battle of Hastings. Two of the most important were:
  • Holding the high ground at the top of Senlac Hill.
  • The shield wall.
Did poor discipline lead to Harold Godwinson's defeat?
There was poor discipline in Harold's army which led to a weakening of the shield wall. Harold's foot soldiers, the fyrd, broke ranks to chase retreating Normans. This allowed the Norman cavalry to encircle them and cut them down.
Did Harold Godwinson's poor timing lead to his defeat?
Some historians believe that Harold summoned the fyrd too early. The long wait over the summer meant he was forced to disband the army before the Normans arrived.
Was Harold Godwinson's lack of readiness a reason for his defeat?
Harold marched out to meet the Normans before the fyrd had completely reassembled. Norman intelligence was better than the Anglo-Saxons', and they weren't ready when the Normans attacked on the morning of 14th October.
Did Harold Godwinson leave his army exposed out of London?
Harold also decided to meet William in the English countryside, instead of remaining within well-defended London and letting the Normans besiege it. This is seen as a mistake, although there were arguments for and against the strategy.
Why should Harold Godwinson have waited in London instead of going to Hastings?
Harold waited in London for 5 days, to allow his troops to arrive before marching on Hastings. It can be argued the decision to leave London was a mistake.
  • It would have been more difficult for William to besiege London than to fight a battle in open countryside.
  • Harold could have waited for the full levy of the fyrd to arrive.
  • Harold would have been unable to surprise William anyway, because of the intelligence William received from his spies.
  • Harold may have shown poor judgement by rushing into battle because he was angry at reports of Norman brutality in the English countryside.
Why was it better for Harold Godwinson to leave London?
There are a number of reasons why it leaving London to meet the Normans at Hastings was the best decision Harold could have made.
  • Wessex was Harold's home, and it was his responsibility to protect his people from Norman brutality.
  • It was possible for the Anglo-Saxons to gain the element of surprise over the Normans, or to trap them at Hastings.
  • William and the Normans were skilled and experienced in sieges. On the other hand, the Anglo-Saxons had little knowledge of defending a city.
  • Edwin and Morcar may have refused to help Harold against William, and therefore leaving London made less of a difference to Harold's available forces.
How did Harold Godwinson die?
Harold was killed at Hastings, possibly by an arrow in the eye. This was a random event that had a huge impact on the outcome of the battle.
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