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Harold III of Anglia (The Kalmar Union)

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Harold III
Harold III Anglia (The Kalmar Union).png
Harold III
King of Anglia
Reign 8th February, 1191 - 16th December, 1212
Predecessor Cnut IV
Successor Charles II
Spouse Adelaide of Guelders
Full name
Harold Cnutsson
House Estridsson
Father Cnut IV
Mother Catherine of Denmark
Born 8th April, 1163
Ghent, Flanders
Died 16th December, 1212
Ryssel, Flanders

Upon the death of his father in 1191 Harold III was quickly proclaimed by the earls of Anglia and lords of Flanders as the natural successor. Endowed as a child with lands on both sides of the channel he had proven himself a fine and competent administrator and had enthusiastically embraced a program of castle building in Flanders and Artois to hold Anglian possessions. In his final years Cnut IV had signalled his intention to join the Third Crusade to retake Jerusalem from Saladin but illness prevented him. Harold offered to take his place but, apparently 'full of sorrow' Cnut pleaded with his eldest not to go. In the end his younger brothers Charles and Sweyn would indeed go and were in Cyprus when word reached them of Cnut's death.

Harold lavished attention on several towns in his continental realm while his wife Adelaide of Guelders set up lay monasteries and beguinages. Several leper colonies were founded on the couple's patronage.

While Cnut had had good relations with the Empire, especially Frederick I Harold quarrelled frequently with his continental neighbours. He also took a jealous interest in his northern neighbours too and disapproved of Scotland's growing relationship with Holland. The desire to hold Zeeland, or at least some of its taxation rights, and to dissuade its rulers in forging links with Scotland led him into two separate wars with Dirk VII, count of Holland. These were expensive for what was achieved and caused minor disruption back in Anglia whose nobles were beginning to resent the expenditure on Flemish property. However they did firmly cement an alliance with Brabant and a less long-lived one with the Bishop of Utrecht.

His activities in the Low Countries brought him into dispute with Otto IV which in turn soured relations with his returning brother. While Charles and Sweyn's efforts in the muted failure that was the Third Crusade had been short they had spend several years in Cyprus effectively turning it into a crusader kingdom and earning the enmity of the Byzantines. The brothers went their separate ways in 1195; Sweyn remaining there and becoming the trusted regent for William II of Sicily. He would die in a revolt in 1203. Charles meanwhile was captured by Byzantine forces as he made his way home. A trade released Charles into the charge of Otto IV in 1200. Charles would fight for Otto in several battles against the forces of Philip of Swabia as they struggled for the Imperial throne. Harold meanwhile was dangerously close to declaring allegiance with Philip. In order not to widen the war Charles was released from service in 1208 and he returned to England to retake his birthright of Northumbria.

Northumbria however had been given by Harold to the Magnusson family to look after and they were not about to relinquish the profitable earldom. Harold ducked the issue, leaving it to the Archbishop of Jorvik to sort out the mess. The brothers were soon at war over the kingdom, and by proxy, Anglian support for the two German anti-kings Philip and Otto. Charles soon had the support of much of the North of Anglia whose nobles felt distanced from Harold and were angry at the newcomers he had appointed. Harold meanwhile could rely on Flanders, Artois and the southern half of Anglia and enjoyed a larger treasury to fund an army. However Charles was tactically superior and his smaller force was able to hold territory. Actual battles were avoided however and for the remaining years of Harold's reign Anglia was effectively split in two. It is lucky that Wessex and France were busy with the Twenty Years War otherwise the consequences of this civil war could have been much worse.

Harold died in 1212 just as Scotland invaded Charles' lands and victory was potentially in sight. He and Adelaide were childless and as the surviving brother Charles was reconciled to the nobles he had previously fought with and he was crowned king in early 1213.

The careers of Cnut IV's two sons Harold and Charles are often held in contrast to each other. Harold; the stay at home loyal son interested in the minutiae of court life, against Charles; the crusader more concerned with his own aggrandizement than stability. The fact they actually took up arms against one another certainly underscores their differing ambitions however many historians are nowadays stressing the continuation between the reigns.

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