Harold Harefoot
King of England
File:Harold Harefoot.jpg
Reign November 12, 1035March 17, 1040
Born c. 1015
Died March 17, 1040
Buried St Clement Danes, Westminster, England
Predecessor Canute the Great
Successor Harthacanute
Father Canute the Great
Mother Ælgifu

Harold Harefoot, also Harold I, (c. 1015–March 17, 1040) was King of England from 1035 to 1040. He was said to be the son of Canute the Great, King of England, of Denmark, of Norway, some of Sweden, by his handfast wife Aelgifu of Northampton, although there was some skepticism that he was Canute's son.[1] He earned the name "Harefoot" for his speed, and the skill of his huntsmanship.[citation needed]

Upon Canute's death (November 12, 1035), Harold's younger half-brother Harthacanute, the son of Canute and his queen, Emma of Normandy, was legitimate heir to the thrones of both the Danes and the English, but was unable to travel to his coronation, because his Danish kingdom was under threat of invasion by King Magnus I of Norway and King Anund Jacob of Sweden. England's magnates[2] favoured the idea of installing Harold Harefoot temporarily as regent, due to the difficulty of Harthacanute's absence, and despite the opposition of Godwin the Earl of Wessex and the Queen, they succeeded.

Harold survived an attempt to unseat him led by his half-brothers Alfred Aetheling and Edward the Confessor, Emma's sons by the long-dead Ethelred the Unready, in 1036. Harold died at Oxford on March 17, 1040,[1] just as Harthacanute was preparing an invasion force of Danes, and was buried at the abbey of Westminster,[3], largely rebuilt by Edward the Confessor. His body was subsequently exhumed, beheaded, and thrown into a fen bordering the Thames when Harthacanute assumed the throne in June, 1040.[4] His supporters later rescued the body, to be buried in a church fittingly named St Clement Danes.

Assumes the throneEdit

In 1037, Emma of Normandy fled to Bruges, in Flanders, and Harold "was everywhere chosen as king".[1] Harold himself is somewhat obscure; the historian Frank Stenton considered it probable that his mother Aelgifu was "the real ruler of England" for part or all of his reign.[5]

With the north at least on Harold's side, in adherance to the terms of a deal, which Godwin was part of, Emma was settled in Winchester, with Harthacanute's huscarls. Harold soon "sent and had taken from her all the best treasures" of Canute the Great[6], and the Kingdom of Enlgand was practically his.

According to the Encomium Emmae, though, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to crown Harold Harefoot. There is evidence that Aelgifu of Northampton was attempting to secure her son's position through bribes to the nobles.[3]

Alfred and Edward's invasionEdit

In 1036, Alfred Atheling, Emma's son by the long dead Ethelred, returned to the kingdom from exile in Normandy with his brother Edward the Confessor, with some show of arms. With his bodyguard, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle he intended to visit his mother, Emma, in Winchester, but he may have made this journey for anything other than a family reunion. As the "murmur was very much in favour of Harold", Alfred was captured on the direction of Godwin, now apparently on Harold's side at this point, and the men loyal to Harefoot blinded him. He subsequently died soon after due to the severity of the wounds, his bodyguard similarly treated.[6]


Harold apparently had a son, Elfwine, who became a monk on the continent when he was older.[3] Aelfgifu of Northampton disappears with no trace at this space in time. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Harold Harefoot ruled for 4 years and 16 weeks, by which calculation he would have begun ruling a fortnight after the death of Canute. [7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1035–40, M. Swanton translation (1996).
  2. "Earl Leofric and almost all the thegns north of the Thames, and the men of the fleet in London"
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Tim Bolton, "Reign of King Harold Harefoot", The Literary Encyclopedia, May 5, 2006.
  4. This may have been motivated partly in response to the murder of Alfred, Harthacanute's half-brother, and partly for his perceived theft of the crown.
  5. Stenton, page 421.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford University Press (1998 paperback), pages 420–421; quoted segments from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
  7. ASC manuscript E, 1039 (1040); for the calculation, see Swanton's translation, page 161, note 18.

External linksEdit

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