The Viking Kings
Harold I Harefoot
Although King Canute left England to Hardicanute, his son by Emma of Normandy, the throne was seized by his half-brother Harold Harefoot, Canute's son by either his mistress or his first wife (It is not clear which), Elgifu of Northampton. Harold had been born around 1012. He was said to have acquired the name Harefoot for his speed, and the skill of his huntsmanship.
Harold apparently had an illegitimate son, Elfwine, who was later to become a monk.
Canute had intended to divide his dominions between his three sons. He left Norway to his eldest son, Sweyn, and Denmark to Harold. On Canute's death, Harold promptly took possession of his father's treasure and received the support of Earl Leofric of Mercia and the majority of the Danes. The great council, or Witangemot, meeting at Oxford, confirmed Harold as King, but Ethelnoth, Archbishop of Canterbury, refused to crown him. Ethelnoth is said to have placed the royal sceptre and crown on the altar of a church, possibly at Canterbury Cathedral and offered to perform the ceremony without using any of the royal regalia. He ardently refused to remove the regalia from the altar and forbade other bishops from doing so. Harold rejected the Christian religion in protest, refusing to attend church services while he remained uncrowned.
Queen Emma of Normandy, who had the support of the nobles of Wessex and particularly Earl Godwine, an extremely powerful nobleman who was married to Canute's sister, managed to retain control of Wessex, where Emma acted as regent in the absence of Hardicanute, who himself remained in Denmark. Emma made vigorous attempts to unseat Harold in favour of her son.
On hearing the news of Canute's death, the sons of Ethelred the Redeless, Edward and Alfred, in exile in Normandy, gathered a fleet and sailed for England. On approaching Southampton, the elder of these, Edward, found the town up in arms against him, unwilling to accept any son of the weak and hated Ethelred. Edward had little choice but to return to Normandy.
Harold's reign was short and brutish. Godwine, accepting the situation, switched sides and deserted Emma of Normandy. Alfred the Atheling, while on a visit to his mother in England, was on his way to Winchester to see her, he was captured by Earl Godwine and his followers dispersed. Alfred was delivered to an escort of men loyal to his step-brother, Harold Harefoot. He was transported on a ship to Ely, where he was blinded while on board. He suffered an agonizing death at Ely soon after due to the trauma of the wounds. This event would later affect the relationship between his brother Edward the Confessor and Godwin, during the former's reign, Edward held Godwin responsible for the death of his brother.
Emma was forced into exile, taking refuge in Flanders and was joined there by Hardicanute. Together they began to make plans for an invasion of England, having gathered a fleet of sixty warships. The early death of Harold on 17th March, 1040 at Oxford, made it possible for his half-brother Hardicanute to enter England peacefully. An Anglo-Saxon charter attributes the onset of a sudden illness of Harold to divine judgment.
Harald Harefoot was buried at Westminster, but his body was subsequently exhumed by his half-brother, Hardicanute, and treated with much indignity, it was beheaded and thrown into a fen bordering the Thames. It was later recovered by fishermen and reburied in the churchyard of St Clement Danes.