Harold Godwinson’s succession as King of England

Portrait of Harold Godwinson
Harold Godwinson

When Edward the Confessor died in 1066, the Witan, England’s high council, met and decided who should be the next King of England. They chose Harold Godwinson, a leading member of the council.

Who was Harold Godwinson?

  • Son of Earl Godwin of Wessex.
  • Earl of Wessex when his father died in 1053.
  • Brother-in-law of King Edward the Confessor.
  • Trusted by King Edward to control affairs in England in the 1060s.
  • He and his brothers controlled most of the key provinces of England before 1066.

The Witan believed that Harold was the best person to defend England against threats from outside, like the Normans and Vikings in 1066.

How important were the Godwinson brothers in Edward the Confessor's kingdom?

  • After Earl Godwin’s death in 1053 his second son Harold became Earl of Wessex. This gave him control over all of Southern England.
  • Harold’s younger brothers Leofwine and Gyrth controlled London and East Anglia.
  • Harold had a good relationship with King Edward the Confessor. Edward realised that Harold was a much more honest leader than his father. Earl Godwin had tried to control Edward, but Harold Godwinson appears to have been a loyal follower.

Why did the Witan elect Harold as Edward's successor?

The Witan was a council made up of the most powerful men in England. Their priority was to ensure England remained safe from civil war and foreign attack. Harold had proved himself to be a strong leader with great military and diplomatic ability having spent many years ruling England on Edward’s behalf.

The Witan believed that the one blood claimant, Edgar Atheling, who was only a teenager at the time, was too young to bear the challenges of the kingdom.

Harold Godwinson establishes himself as England’s king in 1066

  • Harold was crowned King in Westminster Abbey on the same day as Edward’s burial. The Witan encouraged the powerful men of England to support Harold against the external threats from Norway and Normandy in 1066.
  • Harold went straight to the North of England when he became king. He married the sister of the two powerful northern earls, Edwin and Morcar.
  • Harold’s alliance with the northern earls meant that he did not have to worry about civil war and could concentrate on building up forces to fight William of Normandy.

The death of Edward the Confessor and the succession of Harold

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