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In comparison with other kings, Harold Godwinson (or sometimes Godwineson) has been overlooked by academic biographers, doubtless because of his brief reign and his famous defeat by the Normans. Although any examination of the conquest and William will include Harold, his part in such an account of 1066, and the events up to the conquest, has to be secondary to William. In the Douglas biography of William the Conqueror Harold barely rates a mention and his life is discussed in one chapter, and mostly where it intersects with William. Readers who have Professor Barlow’s ‘Edward the Confessor’, or either of the two English Monarchs William the Conqueror titles - by David Douglas or David Bates - will find an adequate summary of Harold included, but it will leave the reader wishing for more detail. Some of this detail can be found in Barlow's study on the Godwin dynasty in his book 'The Godwins' (Longman, 2001). The climax to the book is Harold's ascent to the throne. Barlow's study illustrates the importance of this family in the politics of Edward's reign and why Harold was in a position to become king. Barlow shows that Harold was born great, rather than had greatness thrust upon him.

However, a new study of Harold is coming. The recent English Monarchs biography of Edward the Confessor by Tom Licence will be followed up by the author's biography of Harold. The staff web page for Professor Licence at the University of East Anglia bears the news that he has been commissioned by Yale University Press for this new and most welcome book. No date of publication is given for the title, but an indication might be had from the Confessor book which took seven years to see print after being commissioned. If the same occurs with this new Harold book, work on which commenced in 2021, it might be expected by 2028 or perhaps less; the same web page states that he was awared a "...Research Fellowship for three years to write the biography...". If a three-year period brings the book close to completion it could be ready in 2024 or 2025.  The book's status regarding the English Monarchs series is yet to be advised by Yale, although the author's website says that it will be in the series.

In lieu of this forthcoming biography, two well-regarded biographies are available where Harold is the focus, should the reader wish to have a Harold-centric account of England in the middle of the Eleventh Century. ‘Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King’ (1997) by Ian W. Walker is highly recommended as a substitute for an absent Yale text. It carefully examines Harold’s role and position in the English court of Edward the Confessor, his assumption of the crown and the events in England during 1066. It still can be found both in hardback and paperback at an affordable price. Additionally, ‘Harold II : The Doomed Saxon King’ (2005) by Peter Rex is available as a hardback and paperback. Peter Rex has written other studies of the era, the most notable of which are those on Edgar the Peaceful, Hareward the Wake and William the Conqueror.

Emma Cavell (Department of History, University of Tasmania), reviewing Walker’s book in Parergon, Volume 16, Number 1, July 1998, described it as “...the first much-needed academic biography of Harold Godwineson”, but also comments that Walker sets his aim at recreating a positive image of Harold as an English hero largely from English sources rather than the more common portrait of him inherited from Norman and later sources. She concludes that the book is “...essential reading for all historians of the Norman Conquest” and that it succeeds in demonstrating that Harold deserves his place in English history.

A new study of Harold will also be of interest to readers; the Battle and District History Society has published 'Harold Godwinson: the life, death, mythology, family, and legacy of King Harold, who died at Battle in 1066' by Keith Foord. The author has been advised by none other than Professor David Bates, not only the author of the Yale English Monarchs biography of William the Conqueror but also the Honorary President of Battle and District Historical Society. The Society is very active in the furtherance of studies of 1066; it has an monthly program of speakers and Professor Bates will present a lecture in February 2022. Tom Licence, author of the recent English Monarchs biography of Edward the Confessor addressed the Socitey in September and another prominent historian Andrew Roberts presented a lecture in October.

You might find in some forums that the Peter Rex title is listed as part of the English Monarchs series. This is incorrect. The book is published by Tempus Publishing (The History Press) and is definitely not a Yale English Monarchs title.

Yale has refreshed the Conqueror's biography; the new English Monarchs Edward the Confessor was published in August 2020; and an exciting new find in 2019 of two and a half thousand coins from 1066 has reinvigorated interest in Harold. While these finds will have come too late for the Licence biography of Edward they will surely underpin any future study on Harold's brief time as king. There has never been a more propitious time for a Harold Godwinson book. Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror have their new book. A book on the king in the middle is well overdue.

An arrowing experience for Harold.

An 11th Century image of King Harold from a well known work, held in Bayeux.

There has always been debate about the manner of Harold’s death.

See here for further reading.

Harold Godwinson


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