[Here we see Harold Godwinson as he appears on the Bayeux Tapestry.]
On this day in 1066 Harold Godwinson became the last Saxon to be crowned King of England, when he underwent essentially the same ritual at Westminster Abbey he would today: anointing, swearing an oath under God, inviting all those present to challenge his claim, and finally being invested with coronation regalia as a symbol of his regal authority.
Harold's claim to the throne has been hotly disputed over the past nine centuries; while both he and his successor had been promised the crown by Edward the Confessor, Harold seems to have figured that since he was both a Saxon and present (and since then, as now, possession is nine-tenths of the law) he got the Witenagemot to proclaim him their rightful king and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stigand, to crown him over the other claimant - a man whose belief in his own claim would within the year earn him the eternal sobriquet William the Conqueror for his audacious invasion of the island, capture of the throne, and the eventual destruction of England's native Saxon aristocracy...
As Earl of Wessex Harold's claim was supported by most of his fellow peers, including his sister Edith of Wessex, whose sexless role as Queen consort had caused this mess by failing to provide the kingdom an heir; William's claim came from the Confessor himself during a visit William made to London in 1052. Since Edward the Confessor was in many ways a Norman sell-out, but also a scatterbrained if pious man, he may in fact have promised the throne to both of them at different times to save his own hide.
Harold might just have held his throne if not for the Danes... Forced to fight them at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, he was then compelled to march his weary men south in just four days to counter the invasion of his rival at the Battle of Hastings in October 1066. There Harold made a brave stand, but died in battle, forever changing the course of English history.
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