THE TRAGEDY OF HAROLD II

Death of Harold II at the Battle of Hastings
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Earlier in September, Harold had been forced to disband his southern army because he had run out of supplies and because his troops had to return to the harvest. Thus, William was free to cross the English Channel unopposed. Finally blessed with favourable winds, William sailed from Normandy on the evening of September 27—28, landed without incident at Pevesney, and set up camp at Hastings.

Harold, having just defeated Harald and Tostig, marched southward in all haste, reaching London on October 6. There his army, exhausted by the forced marches across England, rested a few days before setting out to Hastings. Despite the surprise, the outcome of the battle was far from certain. But William managed to rally his mounted knights, who turned and cut their pursuers to pieces.

The deaths of Harold—killed by an arrow in the eye, according to the Bayeux Tapestry—and other Anglo-Saxon leaders finally won the day for William. It is unclear whether Harold really died in this way, however; indeed, legends from the 12th century maintain that he was not killed at Hastings. According to one such tale, Harold spent two years recovering from wounds he received at Hastings before going on pilgrimage in France and England. He returned as an old man and lived as a hermit at Dover and Chester, where he revealed his true identity just before dying.

Despite his brief reign, Harold was a key figure in English history and a talented leader in peace and war. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind. Your contribution may be further edited by our staff, and its publication is subject to our final approval. Unfortunately, our editorial approach may not be able to accommodate all contributions. Our editors will review what you've submitted, and if it meets our criteria, we'll add it to the article.

Please note that our editors may make some formatting changes or correct spelling or grammatical errors, and may also contact you if any clarifications are needed. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Harold Godwineson, Harold Godwinson.

Top 10 facts about King Harold II

Learn More in these related Britannica articles: The reign of Edward the Confessor and the Norman Conquest. Harold succeeded his father Godwine as earl of Wessex in ; Tostig was made earl of Northumbria in ; and their younger brothers were also provided with earldoms. He was ransomed by…. Harold was able to keep his militia on guard throughout the summer but dismissed it early in September, when he ran….

It was Harold rather than Edward who subjugated Wales in and negotiated with the rebellious Northumbrians in Consequently, Edward on his deathbed named Harold as his successor, even though he allegedly had already promised…. New alliances role in England In United Kingdom: Invasion of England In house of Normandy.

Death of Harold II at the Battle of Hastings

Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students. Help us improve this article! Contact our editors with your feedback. You may find it helpful to search within the site to see how similar or related subjects are covered. It is a story originally written down by a scribe prior to the late twelfth century when the existing manuscript was made at Waltham Abbey. That author references a shorter primary source which had itself been written by someone with first hand knowledge obtained directly from the last person to have had dealings with Harold Godwinesson: Even as fiction, it is a brilliant story.

It contains clever turns of plot and character which anticipate Sir Walter Scott's great novel Ivanhoe.

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Christian devotion is the linchpin of all medieval literature, providing both plot and characters with motivation and fulfillment. Such religious emphasis can be tiresome to the modern reader, but it must have been relentlessly interesting to an audience one thousand years ago. The usual acceptance of that story is based entirely upon the official record, as found in the AngloSaxon Chronicle and in the Bayeaux Tapestry. Nothing further, not even an arrow through the eye, is mentioned in the AngloSaxon Chronicle , the only contemporary AngloSaxon record we have of the Battle of Hastings in But, it can be stated without question that the scribe who recorded that event in the annual entry did not know from personal firsthand knowledge that King Harold had died at Hastings Field.

He accepted current wisdom as fact. There would have been no reason for him to doubt the official version of Harold's death. Chief among the proofs was the fact that the dead King had been buried; where, though, nobody could agree on. Was it on a Hastings cliff top, or at Waltham Abbey, or neither of these places? Was Harold even recognisable in death? Few of the Norman host would have known what he looked like, even before his face was mutilated in death. If his alleged corpse had been dismembered and the face mutilated, only his clothing identified him to them.

Even if fictional, the tale in the Vita Haroldi was possibly playing upon actual doubt.

What is interesting here, is the fact that in the official Norman version of this history, Harold's corpse was reportedly dismembered, and the Duke caused it to be "gathered together, and wrapped what he had gathered" in royal purple. Who hacked the corpse into pieces? Was it possible that the Saxon's own royal housecarls hastily improvised the faked remains of a not-quite dead Harold? Was the injured King actually whisked from the battlefield incognito by his personal bodyguard?

If the King had not been mortally wounded in the field, there is absolutely no doubt that his loyal troops would have concealed that fact, if it was within their power to do so, to preserve him from assassination. According to the Vita Haroldi , when Lady Gytha, the dowager Baroness of Wessex, demanded her son's body for burial, the Conqueror would not, or could not, consent.

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The alleged body had been disposed of somehow. If indeed King Harold yet survived, it was no longer as King, but as refugee. William made his conquest irreversible.

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Through the immediate and repeated taxation of England, using the military hundreds exchequer set up by Alfred the Great, he was able to finance an enormous mercenary army of occupation. The soldiery of France came into his service, and all of his Norman and French underlords received titles to former English manors and earldoms. They would fight for their own land if not for his.

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All across England, each of them built castles with keeps and dungeons from which they would sally forth under arms to terrorise the local English peasantry. Organised revolts were crushed with a scorched earth policy.

King Harold: Fact or Fiction (Anglo Saxon Documentary) - Timeline

The rich populations round about York were punished for their revolt: Every man, beast and construction, and even the very vegetation, was removed for hundreds of square miles, and York itself burnt off the face of the earth. The area remained impoverished into the twentieth century.

Meanwhile, according to the Vita Haroldi , King Harold was nursed back to health by a Saracen woman skilled in the medical trade, the Arabs at that time excelling all other peoples both in surgery and in the use of pharmaceuticals. Having finally recovered, he secretly went overseas in , to Germany to rally support for a counter-revolution.

In this, he failed completely. He found no support forthcoming, either from the Saxons or from the Danes, whose Royal House the Godwine family had once served so well. This retirement overseas in coincides the sudden departure of his mother. It is possible that she would have gotten word of his safe arrival, and gone to meet him there.

For years afterwards, having no choice but to remain in Europe, a furtive exile, Harold Godwinesson kept up a constant pilgrimage from shrine to shrine, eventually reaching Rome itself.

Harold Godwinson

Through this exile, he was forced to reinvent his own character from that of the proud AngloSaxon nobleman to that of the humble supplicant of the universal Church. Eventually, he resigned himself to the life of a penitent, and resolved then to return secretly to England and live quietly there as a religious hermit.

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In addition, his mother was a Norman, and he had close connections to Norman churchmen. There is much speculation about this voyage. Retrieved 9 November Although Harald was termed a King, he really ruled as more of a warlord, and was mostly involved with his subjects in the areas of raiding foreign lands and making war. Legends grew up that Harold had not died at Hastings but instead fled England or that he later ended his life as a hermit at Chester or Canterbury. There were legends of Harold's body being given a proper funeral years later in his church of Waltham Holy Cross in Essex , which he had refounded in A Norman account of the battle, Carmen de Hastingae Proelio "Song of the Battle of Hastings" , said to have been written shortly after the battle by Guy , Bishop of Amiens, says that Harold was killed by four knights, probably including Duke William, and his body dismembered.

Harold landed back home in England near Dover, and hid in a cave there. He decided to head north to the Welsh marcher lands.

We look back at the Kings and Queens who have ruled Great Britain over the last 950 years.

Harold Godwinson (c. – 14 October ), often called Harold II, was the last crowned Anglo-Saxon king of England. Harold reigned from 6 January . Harold II, also called Harold Godwineson or Harold Godwinson, (born c. — died October 14, , near Hastings, Sussex, England), last Anglo-Saxon king.

He did not find a kind reception inside Wales, and retreated to a hideout near Chester, where he spent the rest of his life as a hermit. When he went out in public, he wore a veil over his face, as the most extreme religious hermits would do. His motive in imitating that particular habit may have been to protect his identity from accidental discovery. The role of the hermit provided a perfect cover for the fugitive King.

Apparently, a few, who got to know the old hermit well, began to suspect who he really was. He cagily never admitted anything to his friends there. But, he never outright denied his identity, and let them know that he had been at Hastings himself when Harold fell, and that he had been bound to King Harold more than to anything else in this life.