Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: Harold I

Harold I, known as Harold Harefoot, was King of England for a brief period in the 11th century.

He was born at Northampton in 1016, the second son of Cnut and his handfast wife Elfgiva. At the time, it was suggested that Harold and his brother Sweyn had not actually been fathered by Cnut.

His nickname Harefoot probably referred to his fleetness of foot, rather than, as has sometimes been suggested, any deformity.

It was understood that Harthacnut, Cnut's son by Emma of Normandy, would succeed Cnut in England. However, when Cnut died in 1035, Harthacnut was out of the country in Denmark and unable to secure the throne.

Harold was accepted as regent for Harthacnut, alongside Emma and Earl Godwin.

In 1036, Prince Alfred, one of the younger sons of Ethelred the Unready and Emma, returned to England from exile in Normandy. His official reason was to visit his mother, but Harold surmised, probably correctly, that he was seeking support for a bid for the throne in his own right.

Alfred and his supporters were captured and imprisoned at Ely, and Alfred, under the direction of Godwin and probably by him personally, was blinded, so brutally in fact that it killed him.

Harold used all this uncertainty to insist that the country should have a proper king, and in 1037 usurped the throne and had himself crowned at Oxford.

One of his first acts as king was to demonstrate his own security by banishing Emma, who settled at Bruges..

There is little doubt that Harold was a spoiled and selfish young man, who had scant effectiveness as a king. Little is recorded of his reign, beyond a dispute with the church over some land at Sandwich.

Harthacnut was planning an invasion when Harold died at Oxford in 1040, and it was suspected that his end had been hastened by poison. He was buried at the old church which was later to become Westminster Abbey, but Harthacnut had his body exhumed, beheaded and thrown into nearby marshes. He was later reburied at St. Clement Danes in the Strand in London.

Harold married a lady named Elgiva and had a young son, Elfwin, who was raised abroad and became a monk in Aquitaine.