GODWIN'S CLAN - 11: AFTER THE RIFT - Harold's Kingship - Strengthening Ties

Was Eadgytha 'Svaneshals' (Swan-neck) forsaken in order to unite the kingdom?

Eadgytha 'Svanneshals'(Swan-neck) and Aeldgifu, Queen to Harold and daughter of Aelfgar of Mercia - rival house to Godwin's Wessex dynasty. Harold made the match hoping to stave off civil war. It succeeded in that respect. There was a big 'But'...
Eadgytha 'Svanneshals'(Swan-neck) and Aeldgifu, Queen to Harold and daughter of Aelfgar of Mercia - rival house to Godwin's Wessex dynasty. Harold made the match hoping to stave off civil war. It succeeded in that respect. There was a big 'But'... | Source

A new king, a fresh outlook - a new kingdom?

Harold's coronation from a Victorian etching - Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury should have performed the rite. He had been refused his pallium by Pontiff Alexander as he still held Winchester, so Ealdred of York crowned the new king
Harold's coronation from a Victorian etching - Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury should have performed the rite. He had been refused his pallium by Pontiff Alexander as he still held Winchester, so Ealdred of York crowned the new king
The crown of King - later Saint - Eadward worn by Harold on his coronation
The crown of King - later Saint - Eadward worn by Harold on his coronation
Handsome coin issue of Harold II's
Handsome coin issue of Harold II's
One more of Harold II's coins, a silver penny bearing the inscription 'Rex Anglorum', King of England'
One more of Harold II's coins, a silver penny bearing the inscription 'Rex Anglorum', King of England'

'Sub-regulus' for much of King Eadward's reign,

Harold was crowned on January 6th, AD1066. The entombment of the old king undertaken earlier the same day, the day after his death. The coronation of Harold was unusual firstly inasmuch as he was not of the blood-line of Cerdic, and secondly that it took place in Eadward's West Minster - the first of many - instead of at St Paul's in the City of London several miles to the east. Harold and the other members of the Witan, the king's council of church and nobility, felt that in order to stave off rebellion in the wake of the old king's death the crowning should take place as quickly as possible after Eadward's entombment.

Had Harold been crowned as was usual at Saint Paul's Cathedral it would have been awkward to get everyone from Thorney in the morning, after the funeral, across what was then open land in the dead of winter. What was more they would have had the steep Ludgate Hill to negotiate to the cathedral. What could have been better than everyone staying put in the relative warmth of the abbey church?

Harold may have wished for his subjects to associate him with his predecessor in the way Duke William of Normandy would almost a year later. Also, Archbishop Ealdred of York followed a new coronation order, based on that of the German emperors, rather than that followed at Eadward's coronation in March, AD1043. That the Archbishop of York should perform the rites was unusual in itself, but as Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury had been refused his pallium Harold wished his own reign to begin on the right footing. Again, within the year William would also insist on Eadred carrying out his coronation for the same reason. Norman sources claim Stigand performed the coronation, trying to discredit Harold's right to the kingship. Because of Stigand's lack of a pallium he had consecrated no bishops during his office as Archbishop of Canterbury, giving Ealdred a hectic schedule. One of Harold's first acts was to receive Norman delegates, who demanded the throne be yielded to their duke as Eadward's rightful heir. Harold made it clear to them that William had extracted the oaths under duress, not only that he had hidden the bones of two saints in the caskets his hands had rested on when taking an oath. That he was effectively the duke's prisoner since being released to him by his vassal Guy of Pointhieu for silver and land.

Only Northumbria opposed Harold's kingship, fearful he would reinstate Tostig. Harold attempted to overcome their fears by travelling to York with a small company - including Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester, a man widely venerated. Harold's skills in diplomacy finally overcame their worries about seeing Tostig returned and wreaking vengeance on the rebels. The Northumbrians gave Harold their trust and allegiance.

It may have been at this time that Harold wedded Aeldgifu, widow of Gruffyd ap Llewellyn and sister of earls Eadwin and Morkere. Her marriage to Harold, he felt, would bind the brothers to him. However the Chronicle mentions nothing of this, merely that Harold returned from York and celebrated Easter on April 16th at the West Minster. In the eyes of his subjects Harold's position was thus secured.

There are few extant documents from his reign. A single writ written in Latin survives, outlining the rights of Giso the Bishop of Wells. It was addressed to Abbot Aethelnoth of Glastonbury in the usual manner, as well as to Tofig 'the Proud', shire reeve (sheriff) of Somerset and all the thegns of the shire. No diplomas survive from his reign. Such documents would have borne Harold's seal, but this has been 'lost' as well, possibly discarded by his successor's administrative clerks on William's instruction. A few scenes on the Bayeux Tapestry seem to have been derived from existing manuscript sources and there is similarity between the portrayal of King Eadward on his seal and that of Harold in the Tapestry.

There is another reason for the lack of documents from Harold's reign, namely that in comparing almost a hundred writs and diploms from eadward's reign - being an average of four per year - with just the one of Harold's. There is nothing unusual in this; however there would have been some documents issued since it was the norm for land-holders to seek confirmation of their lands from a new king. Following William's coronation the value of any of Harold's confirmations would have been on limited value. Most would have been quickly rescinded and landholdings transferred to his own nobles.

Regenbald the Chancellor, Abbot Wulfwold of Bath and the 'burh' of London all sought verification of their rights from William in AD1067. The process od issuing documents began very shortly after his succession. The process reached its peak in Domesday in AD1086, where Harold is mentioned as 'comes', (Latin: count) and all land listed.

Nevertheless some souces do acknowledge Harold's dealings. John of Worcester wrote later that he had set about quashing unjust laws, replacing them with sound ones. He also imprisoned outlaws. such praise is unusual in the light of other Norman attempts to dirty his name, or just gloss over gis achievements. We know from Domesday also that several men were deprived of their land for misdemeanours. Leifman and Godwin lost their lands on Hayling Island and Soberton in Hampshire; Eadmer, Wiflet and Aelfric lost their lands at Haresfield, Down Hatherley and Sandhurst, as well as Harescombe and Brookethorpe - all in Gloucestershire.

The best evidence for the normal working of Harold's administration stems from his coin issue, having survived better than his written documention. In his brief reign Eadward's last coinage was replaced with an exemplary new design, which can be seen in issues from forty-six mints around the kingdom, with Harold shown as 'Rex Anglorum' - king of the English. Many of Eadward's moneyers carried on their business under Harold - as most of them would do further under William.

Appointments made by Harold are also on record. A few state and curch appointments were made during his reign. Ealdred the Provost of Abingdon was appointed to the abbacy in January after Abbot Ordric's death; Thurstan was given the abbacy of Ely after Wulfric died less than two months before Harold's defeat by William. Earl Siward's son Waltheof was given a new earldom created from the southernmost Danelaw shires: Middil Aengla (Middle Anglia), the name given by the early Angles to Mercia. King Eadward had held back this part of Tostig's earldom from Morkere. The appointment of Waltheof to part of Tostig's lands was to assure the Northumbrians that Harold did not aim to restore Tostig to the earldom. The second major appointment by Harold during AD1066 was that of Maerleswein - the shire reeve of Lincolnshire - to 'stallari' (marshall, similar to the present Lord Lieutenancy). After the battle of Gate Fulford on September 20th and before Stamford Bridge five days later Harold is said to have taken part of Morkere's administration and given it to Maerleswein to teach Morkere a lesson for not calling on him for help to fight off Harald Sigurdsson and Tostig. However, consensus at the time was that Harold did this to help the earl and not as a replacement.

Aside from these new appointments Harold kept most of Eadward's servants and administrators in their posts. At the time of his last victory King Harold had under him six stallari: Ansgar, who was also shire reeve of Middlesex, Robert fitzWimarch (latterly Wymark), Ralph, Aelfstan, Bondig and Eadnoth (who would die fighting Harold's sons when they landed in Somerset the following year). It was felt politic by both Harold and William that in keeping 'old faces' in their posts as little disturbance to the continuity of the reign was inflicted in times of trouble. For Harold this was chiefly because he never really had the time to stand back and take stock. On the other hand he had worked well with these men, and probably saw no point in giving their posts to new or younger men. Over two decades as Earl of Wessex Harold had fostered good relations with many of Eadward's appointees and stalwarts. Their loyalty to him was maintained by keeping them 'on-side'.

Having won over the north, Harold returned to London to take part in the Easter Feast at the West Minster with his new queen, Aeldgifu on April 16th. he festival gave Harold the chance to show off his new standing and glory to his subjects. As King Eadward had done in AD1043, Harold saw through a time of worship, feasting and royal business. He would have worn the crown and received the nobles who gave him their oaths of loyalty. Gifts would have been given out to confirm their fealty. The West Minster would have been the best place for these affairs of state, being close to the hub of the kingdom at the time everyone awaited invasion from Normandy.


William spread the propaganda of Harold taking an oath of loyalty to him on the bones of two saints. He secured the blessing of the pontiff Alexander for his 'crusade' to right the English Church in 1066, to bring it under Rome's control. Meanwhile he would see to his kinsman Eadward's crown going to the rightful heir, himself. Harold was advised by his own counsel, Eadred, by then Archbishop of York that an oath taken under duress was invalid. Nevertheless Harold lived under a cloud until his death. Did he believe Norman propaganda? He had no need to fear William, and after hearing of Harald Sigurdsson's defeat at Stamford Bridge near York William knew not to take his rival lightly...


Harold, the Last Anglo-Saxon King of England

An oath taken leads to the end of a reign - how?

Harold, the oath and the beginning of his problems. This episode would come back to haunt him until his dying day
Harold, the oath and the beginning of his problems. This episode would come back to haunt him until his dying day | Source
The battle, geography and positioning of the opposing armies in the small valley between Caldbec Hill and Telham Hill near Hastingsaldbec
The battle, geography and positioning of the opposing armies in the small valley between Caldbec Hill and Telham Hill near Hastingsaldbec
Harold, the statue at the western corner of Waltham Church in NW Essex
Harold, the statue at the western corner of Waltham Church in NW Essex | Source

Next - 12: "The Long Hair'd Star"

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Comments 3 comments

old albion profile image

old albion 4 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Excellent and informative. Research is obvious, photographs are excellent. Thank you. voted up.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Thanks Albion. I like to get my facts and dates right (got plenty of research material to choose from in my library)! There's another one in the series now, the last of the pre-Conquest pages, "HARALD, The Hammer Strikes". It might be worth my while doing a question: "When would you say William's Conquest began?"


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Just a little rider: that title should read: "HARDRADI, The Hammer Strikes". Apologies!

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