Harold crowned King of England
Edward the Confessor died on January 5 1066 , leaving no children as his heirs – indeed, it is doubted whether the saintly Edward ever consummated his marriage to Edith, eldest daughter of Earl Godwin.
The question of succession was complicated in the extreme, with no less than five claimants to the throne. Harold Godwinson cut through this complexity by persuading, or possibly coercing, the great council, the Witan, to declare him king. Harold acted with unseemly haste, knowing he faced opposition from several quarters, and was crowned the day after Edward died, on the very day the Confessor was buried.
Harold’s claim was based on the dying Edward supposedly having named him as heir. It was also backed very practically by Harold having been the de facto ruler of the country for some time before Edward died. Harold was a proven war leader, and the country one way or another faced a war in the coming months, so Harold was a logical choice given that certainty.
Harold was also attractive to the royal advisors because he was not Norman – there had been much conflict during Edward’s reign as the pro-Norman king favoured Norman advisors, and even appointed a Norman to the Archbishopric of Canterbury (displaced by Harold in favour of his own – Saxon – man).
The other claimants to the throne were Harald Hardrada, ruler of Norway, Tostig, Harold’s brother, Edgar the Atheling, and Duke William of Normandy .
Edgar had a good claim to the throne, as grandson of Ethelred the Unready , but was in his early teens. Had he been chosen by the council the country would have surely faced a civil war as well as invasion.
Duke William’s claim was, like Harold’s, based on his having been named as heir by Edward. It is likely that Edward had forced Harold to go to Normandy and swear allegiance to his future king, an oath said to have been taken over holy relics. Edward had been grateful to the Normans for succour during a period of exile there, and had assimilated Norman habits at that time.
Harald Hardrada’s claim was distinctly tenuous - via his dead nephew and a long dead Danish ruler of part of the country. Harald allied himself to Tostig Godwinson, who claimed Edward had promised him the crown – and it is possible this had been the case, for Tostig was the favourite brother of Edward’s wife Edith.
Harald and Tostig would invade the North in September 1066, taking York before being defeated by the surprise attack of King Harold II at Stamford Bridge on September 25 . The death of the two claimants in that battle cleared the field, for William as much as for Harold Godwinson. But the decisive action was to come three weeks later, near Hastings on the southern coast.
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