Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harold (d.1040)

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HAROLD, called Harefoot (Kemble, Codex Dipl. iv. 56) (d. 1040), king of the English, is said to have been the son of Cnut or Canute [q. v.] and Ælfgifu of Northampton (q. v. for story that Harold was the son of a shoemaker; see A.-S. Chron. Worcester, Abingdon; Flor. Wig. an. 1035). His father may perhaps have intended that he should be considered heir to the throne of Denmark, and have placed him there under the charge of Earl Thurkill in 1023, though if this arrangement was made it did not hold good; for he seems generally to have resided in England, and it is said, though without any apparent ground, that his father made him under-king of the country (Saxo, p. 196; Freeman, Norman Conquest, i. 474, 531). It is also said that he was underking over part of Scotland (Knytlinga Saga, c. 27); and while this seems untrue, it is doubtless founded on some circumstance connected with the submission to Cnut of Macbeth and Jehmarc, Icings of parts of Scotland largely occupied by Danes and Norwegians. No provision seems to have been made for him by his father; for 'Swend had possession of Norway, and Harthacnut, who was reigning in Denmark, was by his father's wish to succeed in England. Nevertheless,when Cnut died, in 1035, Harold became a candidate for the English crown, and his claim was upheld by Leofric, earl of Mercia, by the shipmen of London, and by all the most powerful men north of the Thames that is to say, by all the specially Danish part of the people. As Ælfgyfu-Emma, the widow of Cnut, upheld the cause of her son Harthacnut, Harold sent to Winchester, where she lived, and despoiled her of her treasures. A meeting of the witan was held at Oxford, and a compromise was effected. Harold was to reign north of the Thames, and apparently be over-king of the whole kingdom, while to the south Hartha-cnut was to be king (A.-S. Chron. Peterborough, an. 1036). His mother ruled for Harthacnut in his absence, and Earl Godwine was her minister. The story that Ætholnoth, archbishop of Canterbury, refused to crown Harold is scarcely worthy of credit (Encomium Emmce, iii. 1), though it is quite possible that the coronation was performed by a northern bishop. Harold is said to have lured the sethelings Eadward [see Edward or Eadward, called the Confessor] and Alfred [q. v.] over to England by means of a forged letter, which he wrote to them in the name of their mother, and which the author of the ' Encomium Emmae ' professes to preserve (ib. c. 3). When they came over he caused Ælfred and his companions to be intercepted as the setheling was on his way to speak with him, and to be cruelly slain. As Harthacnut tarried in Denmark, his party gradually turned from him, and in 1037 Godwine made his peace with Harold, who was chosen king over all England (A.-S. Chron. Worcester, Abingdon; Flor. Wig.) There is reason to believe that he showed favour to the party of Godwine (Norman Conquest, i. 563), to whose desertion of Harthacnut, to say nothing of the murder of Alfred, he was largely indebted. As soon as he obtained the rule over Wessex he banished Queen Emma. In 1039 the Welsh made a raid into Mercia, and slew several men of high rank, and the next year Duncan, king of Scots, perhaps in revenge for an invasion of Cumbria lay Earl Eadulf, son of Uhtred, laid siege to Durham, but was routed, apparently, by the inhabitants (Symeon, Hist. Eccl. Dunelm. iii. 9; Celtic Scotland, i. 400). Harthacnut was preparing to invade England when Harold, who had for some time been lying sick at Oxford (Kemble, Codex Dipl. u. s.), died there on 17 March 1040 (Florence, sub an., says that he died in London), and was buried at Westminster. His body was disinterred by order of Harthacnut, was perhaps beheaded, and thrown either into a fen or into the Thames. It was found by a fisherman, who brought it to London, where it was honourably buried by the Danes in their burying-ground at St. Clement Danes (A.-S. Chron. Worcester, Abingdon; Flor. Wig.; Will. Malm. Gesta Pontificum, p. 250). Harold does not appear to have had any wife or children. He is said by the writer of the 'Encomium,' a violently hostile witness, to have been openly irreligious, and to have scandalised the English by preparing for hunting and engaging in other trivial pursuits when he ought to have been at mass (iii. 1). In church matters his reign was marked by one or two notable instances of simony and plurality.

[Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Rolls Ser.); Florence of Worcester (Engl. Hist. Soc.); William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum, c. 188 (Engl. Hist. Soc.), Gesta Pontiff, p. 250 (Rolls Ser.); Encomium Emmæ, ed. Pertz; Kemble's Codex Dipl. iv. 56; Symeon of Durham, i. 90 (Rolls Ser.); Knytlinga Saga, Ant. Anglo-Scand, ed. Johnstone, p. 144; Skene's Celtic Scotland, i. 400; Freeman's Norman Conquest, i. 474, 533-72, where a full account is given.]

W. H.