Harold, 1022?–1066, king of England (1066). The son of Godwin, earl of Wessex, he belonged to the most powerful noble family of England in the reign of Edward the Confessor. Through Godwin's influence Harold was made earl of East Anglia. He went into exile with his father in 1051, returning to help him regain power the next year. His succession (1053) to the earldom of Wessex and to Godwin's great estates made Harold the most powerful figure in England except for the king, and he aspired to become heir to the throne. He gained glory by a successful campaign against the Welsh leader Gruffydd ap Llywelyn in 1062–63. Shortly after this (probably in 1064), Harold was apparently shipwrecked on the coast of Ponthieu and was surrendered by the count of Ponthieu to William, duke of Normandy (later William I of England). Harold then, possibly under coercion, took an oath to support William's candidacy to the English throne. When the Northumbrians revolted (1065) against Harold's brother Tostig and chose Morcar in his place as earl of Northumbria, Harold took Morcar's part. The family was thus divided when Edward the Confessor died (1066), after naming Harold his heir instead of William. Harold was also the choice of the council to be king. William of Normandy immediately undertook an invasion. At the same time, Tostig, with Harold III of Norway, invaded England in the north. Harold went north and soundly defeated them (Sept. 25, 1066) at the battle of Stamford Bridge, in which both Tostig and Harold III were slain. Then the harassed king hurried south to oppose William, who had landed at Pevensey. Harold established his forces in hastily built earthworks near Hastings. They fought valiantly but were finally put to rout, and Harold was killed.
See biography by P. Compton (1961); F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (3d ed. 1971).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.