King Harold II Godwinson 1022 – 1066

Harold Godwinson

Family tree for King Harold II known as Godwinson who was defeated at the Battle of Hastings showing:


Short Biography

King Harold II, known as Godwinson, was born around 1022 and died at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October 1066. He was the second son of Earl Godwin of Wessex, the most powerful noble in England, and brother-in-law to King Edward the Confessor. 

Earl Godwin  incurred the wrath of King Edward after he refused to punish the people of Dover for the deaths of his Norman knight friends following a drunken brawl in 1051. Edward exiled the Godwin family and took Harold’s brother Wulfnoth and nephew Haakon hostage. In 1052, the family raised an army and invaded England. Edward the Confessor was forced to restore the family to their titles and possessions because he could not match their force. Harold’s elder brother Sweyn went on Crusade and died on the journey. The death of Sweyn meant that Harold was now heir to the earldom of Wessex. Harold became Earl of Wessex following the death of his father in 1053 and was supportive of King Edward the Confessor.

Journey to Normandy

 In 1064 Harold made a journey across the Channel. Harold was shipwrecked off the coast of Ponthieu after his ship was blown off course and he was brought before William of Normandy. Some sources indicate that he was held under house arrest, but it may have been that his ship needed repairs, or he may have remained in Normandy to negotiate release of his brother and nephew. Indeed, it may have been that this was the reason for the journey. While in Normandy, Harold rode into battle with William and, after the defeat of Conan of Brittany, Harold was knighted for his service.  Shortly afterwards Harold returned to England with his nephew Haakon. William later claimed that before Harold left Normandy, he had sworn an oath to support William as successor to Edward the Confessor. Anglo-Saxon sources do not record this oath.

King of England

Edward the Confessor died on 5th January 1066, Harold and his sister, Edith both stated that Edward had nominated Harold as his successor as he lay dying. Harold was backed by the Witan and he was crowned on 6th January. He knew that William would challenge his appointment as king and stationed men on the south coast.

In 1045 Harold had married Edyth the Fair, known as Swanneck. They were married by the Danish hand-fasting ceremony which was not recognised by the Church. Harold needed the support of the northern earls if he was to remain king and in March 1066 he married Ealdgyth, the sister of Earl Morcar of Northumbria and Earl Edwin of Mercia.


The challenge to Harold’s rule came in the Autumn of 1066. First to invade was Harald Hardrada of Norway who landed at the Humber estuary. Harold immediately raised an army and defeated the Viking army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25th September.

William of Normandy landed on the south coast just three days later. When Harold learned of this he rode south to London calling for men to join his army and muster on Caldbec Hill. The Normans and Anglo Saxons met in battle on 14th October 1066. The Anglo-Saxons took a defensive stance holding a shield wall, while the Normans made cavalry and infantry attacks. The battle lasted all day but in the late afternoon Harold was killed. The traditional story that he was killed by an arrow in his eye is now thought to be false, it is more likely that an arrow struck him near his eye and while reeling from the shock, he was cut down. 

By December 1066 William had subdued the south and was crowned King of England on 25th December 1066. It would be three more years until he conquered the rest of the country


First published 2017; updated and re-published Aug 09 2020 @ 12:45 am – Updated – Sep 23, 2021 @ 2:10 pm

Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2017 – 2020). King Harold II Godwinson 1022 – 1066. Available: Last accessed October 3rd, 2021