To whom did Edward the Confessor leave his crown?

As Edward the Confessor lay dying, even as his great building project of Westminster Abbey came near its completion there was the question of who should inherit the kingdom.  There were four possible contenders:

Edgar_the_ÆthelingFirst:  Edgar the Atheling son of Edward the Exile, who was the son of Edmund Ironside – Edward the Confessor’s older half brother by their father’s first wife Aefgifu.  But Edgar, who was only fourteen, was too young to rule independently and there were troubled times ahead. One source noted that Edward is said to have murmured something about being too young on his deathbed.  Despite this, initially, his claim would be supported by Earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria but the Witan preferred an adult to be in charge with William Duke of Normandy across the Channel preparing an invasion fleet.  In the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings edgar would be elected king by the Witan.  His nominal rule lasted two months until he was captured by William at Berkhamstead. He was never crowned and  lived in William the Conqueror’s court as a “guest” until he fled to Scotland in 1068 where his sister, Margaret, was married to Malcolm III of Scotland.

Saint_Margaret_of_Scotland.pngThat was fine until 1072 when King William of England  and Malcom of Scotland signed the Treaty of Abernathy and Edgar was forced to seek protection from King Philip I in France. He eventually returned to England where he received a pension of £1 a day.  In 1097  Edgar led an invasion into Scotland and later still he went on a crusade to the Holy Land. He died in 1125.  His sister Margaret, pictured right, is a saint.

Second: Harold Hardrada was a relation of King Cnut. Cnut’s son Hardicnut or Harthacnut, who had no immediate heir,  had promised the throne to King Magnus of Norway – Hardrada was Magnus’s son. Hardrada claimed that the pact had devolved to him and now he wanted to claim the kingdom.  When Harthacnut died in 1042 Edward was already in England and Magnus was not in a position to make his claim.  Harold Hardrada had a reputation for being successfully violent and a large army to go with it so felt that he would be able to succeed in his bid for the crown.

Hardrada also had the support of Harold Godwinson’s brother Tostig.  Tostig was the third son of Earl Godwin and had acquired the Earldom of Northumbria but had been forced to hand it back to Morcar (let’s not go there- this post is already quite long enough).  Tostig’s role in the north of England had been similar to Harold’s in the south before the death of King Edward but he had not been very popular with the locals.  His status can be seen by the fact that he was married to Judith of Flanders. Her mother was Eleanor of Normandy – making Emma of Normandy, Edward the Confessor’s mother, her aunt, demonstrating that once again everybody in History is related one way or another (read Geoffrey Tobin’s very informative comments at the end of the post about Edward the Confessor to find out exactly how intertwined the families of England, Normandy, Brittany and Pontieu were).  Tostig, resentful of his demotion from the earldom of Northumbria and irritated by Harold’s promotion decided that he would like to be king so started to create trouble.  To cut a long story short the fyrd or militia was called out. Tostig went to Denmark and from there to Norway where he met with Harold Hardrada and came to an agreement.

As it happened the wind favoured Hardrada’s invasion.  By the 20th September 1066 Hardrada was in York.  By the 25th September King Harold had made a lightening march north and confronted Hardrada’s forces at the Battle of Fulford.  Hardrada who had been so confident of success that he’d brought the contents of his treasury with him was killed in a battle which his forces lost.  King Harold noted that luck must have deserted the Norwegian.

 

William-I-of-EnglandThird: William, Duke of Normandy.  He claimed that not only had Edward designated him to be the next king but that Harold had sworn under oath that he would support William in his claim to the throne.  There was also the relationship that existed between Normandy and England.  Emma of Normandy was the great aunt of William and Edward had spent most of his early life in exile in the Norman court.  When William invaded he carried a Papal flag at the head of his army.  The invasion was a crusade – God was on William’s side.  He and his wife Matilda had even dedicated one of their daughters to the Church to ensure success.

king haroldFourth: Harold Godwinson – It seems that Edward, to answer the question posed at the start of the post, gave the care of the English into Harold’s hands as he lay dying. Certainly this is what the Bayeux Tapestry suggests (He seems to have forgotten  the pact of 1051 that Norman Chroniclers reference as the starting point to William’s claim).

Harold was not part of the Royal House of Wessex although there were suggestions that his mother Gytha had been a bit closer to King Cnut than was entirely proper.  Harold’s older siblings all had Danish names and big brother Swein (who died in 1052) claimed that he was Cnut’s son.  Gytha had not been overly amused and had produced witnesses to testify that Earl Godwin was Swein’s father.

Just to side track a little bit, Swein was a busy boy with regard to Welsh politics. He also abducted the Abbess of Leominster – a lady called Aedgifu- with the intent of acquiring land.  He was made to return the abbess and then he fled to Flanders. He travelled from there to Denmark where he blotted his copybooks and was required to leave in a bit of a hurry so he returned home in 1049.  He managed to persuade his brother Harold and his cousin Beorn that he was a changed man. They agreed to take him to King Edward to plead his case.  Unfortunately he then murdered Beorn and had to flee again.  He was outlawed again but allowed back home in 1050.  The following year the entire Godwinson family managed to irritate King Edward and Swein was given his marching orders with the rest of his clan.

Swein ultimately repented of his sins and went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  When he returned someone killed him but he left one son, a lad called Hakon, who managed to find himself in the Duke of Normandy’s custody along with another brother of Harold’s called Wulfnoth.  It is thought that Harold was going on a mission either to negotiate their release in 1064 when his boat was blown off course, landed in Ponthieu and was captured by Count Guy of Ponthieu.  William, Duke of Normandy demanded that Guy, who was his vassal, send Harold to him in Rouen immediately.

However, back to where I was supposed to be.  Harold was the senior earl in the country – no matter what Edwin and Morcar might think- he owned large tracts of land and vast wealth.  His sister was Queen Edith, King Edward’s wife.  Unusually Edith had been crowned when she became queen – the Saxons don’t seemed to have bothered with that sort of thing much. After King Edward’s dispute with the Godwinsons had been forgiven in 1052 Harold and his brother Tostig had more or less been responsible for running the country.  Ultimately the Witan decided that Harold was the man for the job so appointed him as their monarch after Edward the Confessor. He ruled for nine months and nine days until he was defeated and killed in his turn at the Battle of Hastings on the 14th October 1066.

 

Edgar the Atheling

Edgar_the_ÆthelingEdgar is Edward the Exile’s son born in 1050 or 1051.  On his father’s death in February 1057, probably by poisoning, he and his great-uncle King Edward (the Confessor) became the last remaining male descendants of Cerdic (essentially the founder of the royal house of Wessex) – hence the Atheling title meaning of ‘noble  or royal blood.’ As such Edgar was an appropriate candidate for the English crown.  King Edward took Edward the Exile’s family into the English court and cared for them.  Had Edward lived a little while longer Edgar might have been the natural heir to the crown just as his father had once been viewed in a similar way.

On King Edward’s death in January 1066 Edgar was a contender for the throne. Initially he was supported by the Earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria at the Witan (council) which met to select the king.  However, across the Channel, Duke William of Normandy was making his own claim to the crown based on his relationship with Edward, promises made and a certain well-known oath made by Harold. In reality a youth without experience either leading men nor of war was not an ideal choice for a country about to be invaded.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings the Witan selected Edgar to replace King Harold who famously died during the battle. Technically Edgar rather than King Harold was the last pre-conquest king of England but he was never crowned and besides which spent most of the nominal two months he was king on the run from Duke William.  Eventually he submitted to William in Berkhamstead in December 1066.

Edgar lived in William’s court where he was well treated but was, understandably,  kept by William as a hostage to his new subjects good behaviour.  He went to Normandy with the duke in 1067 but when he returned in 1068 he became involved with the earls Edwin and Morcar once more and soon found himself up to his neck in insurrection.  He fled to Scotland very soon afterwards – unlike the folk of York who had to live with the consequences of William’s irritation.

However, Edgar did have a secret weapon that kept him firmly on the political map – his sister Margaret, blogged about in an earlier post, who’d won the heart of King Malcolm (Canmore) of Scotland when the Atheling’s family fled to Scotland in 1067.  Malcolm agreed to support Edgar in his bid for the English throne.  They didn’t have long to wait.  In 1069 the people of the north rose against William once more – history repeated itself.  Edgar fled once more into Scotland.  This process was repeated once more by which time everyone must have been heartily fed up – there wasn’t much left in some parts of the North either.  The Domesday Book shows a marked drop in the value of rents from pre-conquest to post-conquest revenues in many parts of Yorkshire.  Though as with everything there are two sides to every story. One of William’s sidekicks – a chap called Alan the Red- who’d acquired rather a lot of real estate probably ensured his own lands weren’t terribly badly ‘harrowed’.  Not withstanding this salient point it is always worth mentioning that William the Conqueror was allegedly troubled on his deathbed by his unfriendly actions in the north (its a good story anyway though not necessarily fair to William.)

Eventually King Malcolm III signed the Treaty of Abernethy (1072) and that was the end of Edgar’s Scottish sojourn. The Atheling was forced to seek protection from King Philip I in France – Edgar was not a lucky lad.  En route to his new host he was shipwrecked and had to flee back to Scotland.  Malcolm sat his brother-in-law down and had a long chat with him then waved Edgar over the border into England into William’s hands.

The Conqueror treated the troublesome atheling well. He received a pension of £1 a day from 1074 onwards.  Clearly the relationship between Duke William and Edgar must have eased further over time because Edgar went to South Wales campaigning on William’s behalf. He was present at William Rufus’s coronation, went on diplomatic missions for William II and became embroiled in the unseemly squabble over the English crown that raged between William and his elder brother Robert.

In the end Edgar sided with Robert once too often after having spent most of his adult life steering difficult political waters to remain on good terms with everyone.  William Rufus is the king who had the unfortunate accident with an arrow in the New Forest. The English crown should have gone to his brother Robert (known as Curthose) but, hey, little brother Henry was right there while Robert was abroad.  Having got his hands on the crown and the royal treasury he did what anyone would do in the circumstances…became King  Henry I.

Edgar, who had been on a crusade with Robert was at the Battle of Tinchebray in 1106 – it didn’t do Robert much good- he was captured and imprisoned for the rest of his life.  On the other hand Edgar was welcomed back to court by Henry I who had handily married Edgar’s Scottish niece Edith.  Edith – who clearly wanted to win friends and influence people dropped the Saxon Edith and became the Norman Matilda.

Edgar died in 1125 having spent his latter years away from court. He was probably due a few quiet years!

Edward the Exile

220px-Edward_the_Exile4/5th January 1066

King Edward the Confessor dies at the Palace of Westminster, according to the Bayeaux Tapestry with his wife Edith the sister of Harold Godwinson at his side. Although he had promised to support William, Duke of Normandy’s claim to the English throne, Harold allowed himself to be elected King as soon as Edward is dead. However these two weren’t the only claimants to the English throne.  There were also:

  • Edgar the Atheling
  • Tostig, Harold Godwinson’s brother
  • Harold Hardrada, King of Norway.

Edgar the Atheling’s claim to the throne came from his bloodline.  King Ethelred the Unready or ‘the Redeless’ who died 23rd April 1016 was his great grandfather.  He was the chap who paid the Vikings huge sums of Danegeld to go away but they never did.

Edgar’s grandfather was Edmund Ironside who briefly succeeded his father but who died in November that year, probably assassinated, and than replaced by the Scandanavian King Cnut or Canute.  Canute went on to marry Ethelred’s widow, Emma of Normandy (who just to confuse matters nicely was also the mother of Edward the Confessor – so Edmund Ironside was  Edward the Confessor’s half-brother.  There’s nothing like keeping it all in the family- makes me glad I’m descended from a long line of peasants.)

But back to Edgar and his family tree.  Edmund Ironside, assassinated and quietly buried in Glastonbury Abbey, left  two sons -Edward and Edmund (Obviously history was going through the letter E at the time). Florence of Worcester writes that the brothers were twins.  They went first to Sweden on the orders of King Canute who sent with them a nice letter suggesting that it would be perfectly acceptable for the royal orphans to have a nasty accident – according to Florence of Worcester again.  Apparently Canute’s half-brother who was king of Sweden drew the line at murdering small children and sent them on their way to Kiev.  They eventually ended up in Hungary where the  queen was an aunt of some description on their mother’s side and where they lived in relative obscurity but as handy pawns in a hugely complicated game of early medieval politics.  Edmund died but Edward married Agatha, a niece of Henry III, Emperor of Germany, by whom he had three children. There was one son – Edgar born in 1050 who made a claim to the English throne on the death of Edward the Confessor and then again after the Battle of Hastings.  There were also two daughters, Margaret and Christina.

From here the plot thickens somewhat- if it hasn’t been convoluted enough already.  England went through a series of kings with lively Norse attitudes to life – from Canute via Harold Harefoot to Harthacnut.  Both the later were Canute’s sons and seemed to have retained an essential Viking approach to life. For instance Harthacnut had Harold Harefoot excavated from his grave and his corpse thrown into a nearby fen.  Harthacnut who had a wider reputation for being a rather nasty piece of work aside from his approach to family was Edward the Confessor’s half-brother.  Eventually the Scandinavian types expired without issue – Harthacnut choked at a wedding feast.

Edward the Confessor was then invited back to be king.  He’d spent most of his life in Normandy by this time.  His dress was Norman and his chosen advisors were Norman but Earl Godwin of Wessex soon put paid to that sort of behaviour until he was briefly exiled in 1051.  Edward (the Confessor) took the opportunity to invite his half-nephew Edward (that’s Edmund’s son – the one married to Agatha) to come back to England with his family, delighted not only that Edward was alive but also that he was a solution to problem forming around the pro-Norman and pro-Saxon factions at court.

 

Edward the Atheling also known as Edward the Exile for pretty obvious reasons returned to England in 1057.  He was the solution to Edward the Confessor’s lack of children and the fact that the Normans under Duke William and the Godwinssons (Earl Godwin’s disgrace  didn’t last long) were all set to fight over the kingdom.  Edward the Exile was of noble blood and was the son of Edmund Ironside so had he lived might have been able to hold the English crown.  The Witan (Edward’s council) seconded the invitation as they also recognised the need for an heir that would avoid bloodshed.  In addition to which coming from Hungary, Edward the Exile had no links to Normandy.

When Edward finally did arrive in England, Florence of Worcester says “We do not know for whatever reason that was done that the atheling was not allowed to see his relation, Edward King.”  It’s a shame that chroniclers can sometimes be so tight lipped.  Why was Edward not allowed to meet Edward?  It’s all a matter of supposition.

And sadly it didn’t get any better, two days after his boat docked Edward the Exile was dead.  His death is shrouded in mystery but generally speaking most historians seem to agree that it was murder. None of the chroniclers mention that Edward the Exile was in ill health.  A man with such a good claim to the throne was inevitably going to make enemies and it is highly likely that someone somewhere decided to remove Edward before he became a problem.  In all good murder mysteries the advice is to look in the direction of the person who benefits – so that’ll be William of Normandy or Harold Godwinson assuming that Edward got on well with his wife and hadn’t left anyone feeling particularly aggrieved in Hungary.

The Bury Psalter, an eleventh century text, contains a family tree showing some of the descendants of Edward the Exile.  One daughter, Christina became a nun but the other one – Margaret- became St Margaret of Scotland having fled to Scotland in 1067 where she eventually married King Malcolm. As for Edward’s son, Edgar the Atheling his was a life of rebellion, captivity and ultimately death on crusade.

St Margaret of Scotland

margaretMargaret, the sister of Edgar the Atheling, was the child of Edward the Exile  and Agatha, a German princess.  She was born in Hungary in 1046.  When Edward the Confessor took the throne he invited the last of the Royal House of Wessex to return from their exile.  Edward, Agatha and their children – Edgar, Margaret and Christina cam back to England but Edward died in suspicious circumstances shortly after their arrival.

Edgar submitted to William the Conqueror but became involved in a rebellion in 1068.  His family fled England.  They initially, possibly, intended to return to Hungary but bad weather drove their vessel to Scotland where Margaret married the King, Malcolm Canmore at Dunfermline Abbey in 1069.  Incidentally Canmore translates according to Alison Weir as ‘big head.’

The widowed king who was aged about forty loved his young Saxon bride and trusted her advice.  Queen Margaret became known not only for her piety but also for her learning. Malcolm could not read but such was his love for his wife that he would send her books to be ornamented with covers of gold.  She wielded so much power that she changed the way that the Scottish court behaved and dressed.  She bought the sophisticated continental behaviour of her childhood to Canmore’s court which included closer links with the Roman Catholic church.  During this time Mass was said in Latin in Scotland rather than Gaelic.  She was also the patron of Benedictine monks who arrived on Scottish shores for the first time.  Malcolm allow this wife to support the church and to guide the policies as to its practice.  She supported monks, hermits and spent much of her time and money providing charity to the poor and to orphaned children.

Inevitably relations with William of England were difficult.  Malcolm took advantage of the difficulties that William faced in his early years to extend the border of Scotland south so that it included most of Cumberland.  Malcolm was killed at the Battle of Alnwick along with Margaret’s eldest son Edward in 1093.  She died three days after receiving the news of her bereavement in Edinburgh Castle which was being besieged by Malcolm’s brother Donald Bane on 16th November. Margaret’s remaining sons escaped from the castle in a thick mist along with the body of their mother which they carried to Dunfermline Abbey where it was buried as she had wished.  It was she who’d commissioned the ferry that crossed the Firth of Forth taking pilgrims to the abbey.

Margaret bore Malcolm Canmore  eight children including Edward.    Her daughter Edith married one of William the Conqueror’s sons (King Henry I) and took on the Norman name Matilda.  Her other daughter Mary married the Count of Boulogne and her daughter (Margaret’s granddaughter married King Stephen becoming yet another Queen Matilda.)  One son, Ethelred, became the Abbot of Dunkeld while four more sons became kings of Scotland in their turn – Edmund, Edgar, Alexander I  and  David I.

For further information including St Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh Castle the Freelance History Writer http://thefreelancehistorywriter.com  has a great entry about the life and times of a Saxon Princess who became a queen and a saint.