England before the Norman Conquest

Harold Godwinson : Earl of Wessex and King of England

Silver penny of Harold II [Yorkshire Museum, York]After becoming Earl of Wessex in 1053 Harold Godwinson was able to gather more and more power in the hands of his own family. In 1055 his brother Tostig became Earl of Northumbria and in 1057 another brother, Gyrth, became Earl of East Anglia. Only the earldom of Mercia eluded the Godwinsons. Harold proved himself an effective war leader against the Welsh in 1055-6 and again in 1062-3, ending the career of their leader Grufydd ap Llewellyn. In 1057 a possible claimant to the English throne, the son of King Edmund 'Ironside', died leaving only an infant son. As a result HaroldThe Anglo-Saxon tower of Bosham church (Sussex). [Photo: Patrick Ottaway] probably saw himself as the next king, but the rising power of Duke William of Normandy was to prove too strong for him. In 1064 or 1065 Edward the Confessor sent Harold to Normandy, according to Norman sources to offer William the succession, but this is uncertain. Harold set off from Bosham in Sussex and was driven by a storm to the land of the Count of Ponthieu where he was captured. He was ransomed by William and then joined William's campaign against the Bretons. Norman sources, including the Bayeux Tapestry, claim that Harold then swore an oath to support William's claim to the throne of England.

In 1065 an uprising in Northumbria expelled Tostig from his earldom. Harold refused to support his brother against Morcar, the new earl. This led to Tostig's bitter enmity to Harold which probably contributed to the king's downfall in the following year. Edward the Confessor died on 5th January 1066. It was claimed in England that on his death bed he had promised the throne to Harold who had himself crowned at Westminster on January 6th with the consent of the English aristocracy.

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