Harold, Francis (c.1617–1685), Franciscan priest and historian, was born in Limerick. Though he claimed to be of Hiberno-Norse royal stock, nothing is known of his immediate family. His mother was a member of the Wadding family of Waterford and his father may have been the Patrick Harold recorded as possessing a house on the High Street in Limerick in 1640. Correspondence relating to family affairs survives from a brother, Patrick Harold, and a sister-in-law, Katherine Galway. His extended family included several distinguished Franciscan friars and scholars. His uncle Friar Luke Wadding (qv) was the founder of St Isidore's College, Rome, and the most illustrious of the seventeenth-century Irish Franciscans. The gifted and versatile Clonmel-born scholar Friar Bartholomew Barron (qv) was a cousin, as was Friar Thomas Harold. Three of his nephews, Anthony, Thomas, and Francis Harold, also became Franciscans.
It is not known where in Ireland Harold received his early education, but he began his clerical studies on 9 January 1639 at St Isidore's College, Rome, under the direction of Bonaventure Barron, and was ordained priest on 22 December 1640. During this first sojourn in Rome he compiled an Index sanctorum for his uncle's use, which was transcribed into two large volumes in 1647. Alexander VII requested two copies of this work and Harold also supplied him with manuscript copies of the sermons of St Bernardine of Siena. He was appointed to the Irish Franciscan College, Prague, and lectured in Scotist philosophy in the archiepiscopal seminary there from 1642 to 1645 before proceeding to teach theology in Vienna and Graz. His philosophy course was published in Prague in 1645. He returned to Rome in 1651, at the behest of his uncle and on the instructions of the minister general of the order, Friar Pedro Manero, and lectured in theology at St Isidore's where he was also appointed librarian. His Conclusiones theologicae, a theological work on the nature of God, the incarnation, and the sacraments, was published in Rome in 1654.
As Wadding's powers were failing Harold assisted his uncle in research for, and production of, the Annales minorum, Wadding's monumental work of Franciscan historiography. He was appointed historiographer of the Franciscan order at Wadding's request on 22 April 1655. The appointment was confirmed by papal authority in January 1671 and renewed in May 1675, when he was also appointed a lector jubilatus, the highest academic honour conferred by the Franciscans. He was also permitted the services of a lay secretary. In 1666 he was appointed one of the Roman procurators responsible for Franciscan affairs in Ireland. His failure to be elected guardian of St Isidore's disappointed him and he became embroiled in a number of disputes within the order and the Irish province. Illness and disagreements with other members of St Isidore's community marked his latter years.
As a historian Harold was no match for his uncle, in terms of either the quantity or the quality of his scholarship. In response to widespread demand for Wadding's work, in 1661 he published the Epitome annalium ordinis minorum, an abridged version of the original eight-volume Annales minorum. He also included his own tract on the holy land and an account of the Irish hagiographical researches of Friar Hugh Ward (Aodh Buidhe Mac an Bhaird) (qv) and his associates in St Anthony's Irish Franciscan College, Louvain. The Epitome was prefaced by a biography of Wadding, including a moving account of his death, and this Vita Fr Lucae Waddingi was reproduced in subsequent editions of the Annales minorum. The Epitome annalium published in French in 1680–82 by Friar Sylvester Castet seems to have been a direct translation of Harold's work, and Friar Giovanni de Luca incorporated much of his research without acknowledgement in the second edition of the Annales minorum (1740).
Harold published Lima limata (1673), an account of the province of Lima, Peru, as described by Archbishop Turibio Alfonso de Mongrovejo (d. 1606), as part of the campaign for the archbishop's beatification, which occurred in 1679. The following year Harold published a life of the archbishop and it is probable that these works were undertaken at the request of the postulator of the cause. His work contributed to the subsequent canonisation of Turibio in 1726 and his proclamation as patron saint of Peru.
In a catalogue of his published and unpublished writings compiled towards the end of his life Harold includes a number of biographical sketches and notes for editions of texts by Franciscan writers. His life and edition of the letters of Blessed Albert of Sarteano were posthumously seen through the press in 1688 by his successor as historiographer, Friar Patrick Duffy. Other work included accounts of cardinals Borromeo, Albergati, and Ximénes and notes for editions of the works of St Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, John of Wales, Luke Wadding, and Bonaventure John of Mantua. His historical writings included material on the Irish Franciscans and Trinitarians and notes on Irish bishops and churches. He also conducted a correspondence with the Bollandist scholar Daniel Papebroch, SJ. He died 18 March 1685 at St Isidore's, Rome, and was buried in the crypt of the friary church. There is a likeness of Harold in a fresco in the aula maxima of St Isidore's.