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Harold II
HAROLD II. (c. 1022—1066), king of the English, the second son of Earl Godwine, was born about 1022. While still very young (before 1045) he was appointed to the earldom of the East-Angles. He shared his father’s outlawry and banishment in 1051; but while Godwine went to Flanders, Harold with his brother Leofwine took refuge in Ireland. In 1052 Harold and Leofwine returned. Having plundered in the west of England, they joined their father, and were with him at the assembly which decreed the restoration of the whole family. Harold was now restored to his earldom of the East-Angles, and on his father’s death in 1053 he succeeded him in the greater earldom of the West-Saxons. He was now the chief man in the kingdom, and when the older earls Leofric and Siward died his power increased yet more, and the latter part of Edward’s reign was virtually the reign of Harold. In 1055 he drove back the Welsh, who had burned Hereford. In 1063 came the great Welsh war, in which Harold, with the help of his brother Tostig, crushed the power of Gruffyd, who was killed by his own people. But in spite of his power and his prowess, Harold was the minister of the king rather than his personal favourite. This latter position rather belonged to Tostig, who on the death of Siward in 1055 received the earldom of Northumberland. Here, however, his harshness soon provoked enmity, and in 1065 the Northumbrians revolted against him, choosing Morkere in his place. Harold acted as mediator between the king and the insurgents, and at length agreed to the choice of Morkere, and the banishment of his brother. At the beginning of 1066 Edward died, with his last breath recommending Harold as his successor. He was accordingly elected at once and crowned. The men of Northumberland at first refused to acknowledge him, but Harold won them over. The rest of his brief reign was taken up with preparations against the attacks which threatened him on both sides at once. William challenged the crown, alleging both a bequest of Edward in his favour and a personal engagement which Harold had contracted towards him— probably in 1064; and prepared for the invasion of England. Meanwhile Tostig was trying all means to bring about his own restoration. He first attacked the Isle of Wight, then Lindesey, but was compelled to take shelter in Scotland. From May to September the king kept the coast with a great force by sea and land, but at last provisions failed and the land army was dispersed. Harold then came to London, ready to meet which ever enemy came first. By this time Tostig had engaged Harold Hardrada of Norway to invade England. Together they sailed up the Humber, defeated Edwin and Morkere, and received the submission of York. Harold hurried northwards; and on the 25th of September he came on the Northmen at Stamford Bridge and won a complete victory, in which Tostig and Harold Hardrada were slain. But two days later William landed at Pevensey. Harold marched southward as fast as possible. He gathered his army in London from all southern and eastern England, but Edwin and Morkere kept back the forces of the north. The king then marched into Sussex and engaged the Normans on the hill of Senlac near Battle (see HASTINGS). After a fight which lasted from morning till evening, the Normans had the victory, and Harold and his two brothers lay dead on the field (14th of October 1066).

Contributed by Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911
31 May 2006

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