The future of England hung on the key factor during the 1060's- who would succeed the aging and childless English (half-Norman) King, Edward the Confessor. By late 1065, it was clear Edward was dying, and so there were several claimants to the contested crown;-
* Duke William of Normandy: This dominant and ruthless nobleman had proved himself a fearsome and cunning opponent in Politics and warfare, at which his multi-skilled army excelled, and was a distant kinsman of the aging king of England, who alledgedly had promised him the succession back in 1051, when William is rumoured to have visited England.
Some scholars say that William was too busy fighting to protect his Dukedom and couldn't have afforded the time to visit Edward at that turbulent time in Normandy.
The oath of 1064 (see Harold Godwinson) is still a contentious issue amongst scholars.
* King Harald Hardraada('Hard Ruler') Sigurdsson of Norway: This feared and famous warrior-king had always coveted the English crown by virtue of the crown having been 'promised' by King Edward back in the mid-1040's, to his half-nephew and predecessor, Magnus.
He was a ferocious opponent and had been a commander in the notorious Varangian Guard for the Byzantine Emperor, before sailing back to Norway a wealthy man, gaining the throne and resuming war with the below Danish king until both exhausted sides entered a weary truce in the early 1060's. This enabled both nations to look again at England....
* King Swein Estrithsson of Denmark: This kinsman of Earl Harold (below) had been also claimed he had been 'promised' the crown by Edward in the mid-1040's, but like his Norse enemies, with whom he was locked in two decades of bitter warfare until the early 1060's, it was only bitter internecine fighting in Scandinavia that prevented him from invading England to stake his claim until 1069, when he finally did launch an invasion against (Norman) England at the invitation of the rebel English nobles.
* Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex: This provenly capable and popular Anglo-Danish nobleman warrior and royal ambassador, son of King Edward's former right-hand man, the wealthy and influential English Earl Godwin, had always loyally served King Edward through thick and thin from the 1040's, and especially 1053 when his father Godwin died.
He had even opposed his own brother, Earl Tostig of Northumbria, and -representing the ailing Edward, who ironically was fond of Tostig and opposed to rebellion- agreed a pact with a huge advancing revolt of a coalition of Northumbrian noblemen in late 1065.
It is suggested by some that Harold was a realist, seeing that he would have to seize the coveted crown (actually in January 1066 he was elected by the witan, popularly) and thus sought to appease the northerners, whom he knew he would need once England was threatened?
The Normans simply state that he 'usurped' the crown instead of their Duke (ie. in 1064 Harold had been shipwrecked in France and was a 'guest' of William's, swearing an 'oath' in Normandy to back William's claim to English kingship)? But was it a valid 'oath' when the Normans admit it was conducted "over hidden relics"?
* Aethling Edgar: Sometimes called the 'true' Cerdic heir, the English-born son of Edward 'the Exile' (spirited away from England to Hungary as a youth to avoid execution under the new viking regime of Canute, dying as he returned to his estranged land in 1057) grandson of King Edmund 'Ironside' (reigned and died 1016), he was overlooked by the all-saying Witangemot (Councils of the rich and powerful etc) in the desperate times of the succession debate of 1066 due to his mere youth (c.14yrs) and lack of military experience. He seems not to have resisted or opposed Harold Godwinson, and later rebelled against King William I (despite being granted modest lands in 1067) and later went on the 1st Crusade.
Troublesome commanders to consider:-
* Tostig Godwinson, former Earl of Northumbria (above) and younger brother of Earl/King Harold. He, a southerner and thus innately unpopular anyway, but had ruled their region sternly with 'harsh laws', had supposedly profited by corruption and had had local nobles slain in cold blood.
He had thus been ousted by the Englishmen who had risen whilst he was away in the south of England (his own brother Harold negotiating a deal with the Northern noble rebel leaders at Oxford on 'behalf' of the king).
Burning for revenge against his 'treacherous' brother Harold, and eager to regain his lost earldom, he and his family had fled to the father of his wife Judith (the auntie of Duke William's wife, Mathilda), Baldwin of Flander's court, where he resolutely tried to persuade several contestants to raise a fleet to invade England- alledgedly Duke William and his cousin, Swein of Denmark, but finally he became the subject of Harald of Norway, who had his own claim to press. Tostig was slain along with Hardraada at the battle of Stamford Bridge, Sept 25th 1066, fighting against his brother Harold.
* Malcolm III 'Canmore' ('Big Head') of Scotland. This former child exile, who had been raised in the English court after being ousted by Macbeth's ascension to the throne, had been put on his Scottish throne as a young adult with the military aid of King Edward of England (via earl Siward of Northumbria) in the 1050's.
He soon decided to launch huge raids into Northumbria/Cumbria despite Tostig's apparently tough stance, but the latter did nothing military, they even became 'sworn brothers' whilst at Edward's court, yet Malcolm didn't support Tostig in 1065, nor Harold in 1066 (apparently offering an uneasy truce and harbour to Harald Hardraada's huge veteran invasion fleet of September 1066), and went on to marry Margaret (later Saint), the sister of the above aethling, Edgar. He was killed at Alnick in 1093 along with his eldest son, Queen Margaret died of grief days later.