Harold II (or Harold Godwinsson) was the son of Earl Godwine, who had been an advisor to English kings Canute, Harold I Harefoot, Hardicanute and Edward the Confessor. Edward had taken a vow of chastity and had no children (though he was married to Harold's sister Edith); Godwin got Edward to promise the throne of England to Harold. Unfortunately, at one point when Edward was on the outs with Godwin and his family, he also promised the kingship to his great-nephew, William of Normandy. After Godwin had died and Harold was the earl of Essex, he happened to be shipwrecked on the French coast and was rescued by William, who tricked Harold into promising to support William's claim to the throne.

In January 1066, Edward died, and the nobles of England elected Harold king. Harold was beset by troubles on all sides -- worry about his exiled brother Tostig trying to come back to England, worry about Norse invaders, and worry about William. In September, Harold's forces were able to beat the alliance of Tostig and the Norwegian king Harald Hardradi/Hardrada who invaded in the north, but after this victory Harold was met with the news that William had invaded in the south. His weary army had to go fight another enemy; the two sides met up at the Battle of Hastings, where Harold was killed and William took the throne with no further opposition.

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