When King Magnus of Norway and Denmark died in 1045, he declared that his uncle Harald Hardrada should rule Sweden and Sweyn II should reign over Denmark. The two men had been allied in war against him, but on his deathbed with no better heirs he appointed them to stop the bloodshed. However they simply started fighting each other, as Harald went to war with Sweyn over Denmark. If you recall, Magnus and King Harthacnut of England had not so long ago signed a treaty over Denmark and Norway, before Magnus controlled both, that made each the other’s heir. Harald Hardrada wanted to recreate Cnut’s North Sea empire for himself, and he wanted the old treaty to mean that he had a claim to the English throne Harthacnut had once sat upon. Denmark was not his only goal.
In either 1053 or 1057, Edward the Confessor learned about the existence of his relative Edward the Exile or Edward Ætheling (“crown worthy”). This other Edward was a surviving son of Edmund Ironside and had a stronger claim to the throne than the Confessor himself. King Edward invited his distant nephew back to England along with his Hungarian wife and young son Edmund, presumably to make the younger Edward his heir. Unfortunately Edward the Exile died almost immediately after arriving. The numerous natural early deaths (age 50 or younger) in the Wessex family line have caused historians to speculate on the possibility they carried one or more congenital disease.
Meanwhile, William the Bastard Duke of Normandy had very good reason to think he was Edward’s presumed heir. During the English king’s falling out with his Godwin in-laws, the Norman Duke had held a Godwin son and grandson as civilized hostages to ensure no further misdeeds. William claimed that the childless Edward promised to make him, his cousin once removed on his mother’s side, the heir to the English throne. Some people immediately objected on the grounds of Williams low birth: his father was a duke and he’d inherited, but his mother had been a loose woman, an unmarried mother, a bastard maker.
Construction on the cathedral King Edward commissioned was nearly complete on the December, 1065 day he walked through Northumbria with Queen Edith, Tostig, Harold Godwinson, and their retinue. Rebels rose up against them and Tostig cut down 200 men. He accused Harold of conspiring with the rebels, and of undermining his and Edith’s rule as earls. But no one would stand for Tostig and the king was forced to expel his favorite. He never recovered from the experience, becoming too ill to attend the opening ceremony of Westminster Abbey. He slipped into a coma, and regained consciousness only long enough to entrust England’s “protection” to Harold and Edith. This was a maddeningly vague word, not a helpfully precise word like “crown” or “throne” or “reign”.
King Edward the Confessor died January 5, 1066 with no known heir. While the succession issue was usually resolved through primogeniture, inheritance by the oldest son, in truth English law did not say that it was an inherited power. Nor did it say the king could promise it away, to Normans or brothers in-law or by treaty. By law, the position of king was elected by the witengamot of clerics and secular leaders, all men. That body chose Harold Godwinson over the boy Edmund Ætheling and with that, the Earl’s legacy exceeded him. All the nobility were already gathered for the Christian Feast of Epiphany celebrated on January 6th, so the coronation of Harold II was held during that ceremony the very next day.