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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.

 

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Edward the Confessor

Edward the confessor drawn.jpgKing Edward was born sometime between 1003 and 1005 at Islip in Oxfordshire. His father was the unfortunate Ethelred the Unready.  It should be “Unraed” which means ill counselled or sometimes he’s described as “the Redelss” which means more or less the same thing.  If Edward has a reputation for saintliness then his poor old father has a reputation for being the most incompetent king in English history – which is saying something. He had the misfortunate to be king at the time when the Scandinavians were flexing their muscles again and after a long period of peace the English were not in any state to resist.  The Anglo Saxon Chronicles of the period talk a lot about flight and being beaten.

The policy of buying off hairy Viking brutes with large axes is called paying Danegeld.  The Saxons had used the method before but after the Battle of Maldon in 991 it became much more commonplace.  And, of course, in paying off one bunch of raiders it didn’t mean that another independent group would arrive or that the first lot wouldn’t turn up for another bite of the cherry.  It went from bad to worse when a Dane called Sweyn Forkbeard arrived with the intention of invading rather than looting.

Ethelred was understandably feeling somewhat harried but it was perhaps a little bit excessive to order the death of all the Danes living ins kingdom especially as the Wantage Code of 991 had been agreed so that the Danes who lived in England would feel greater loyalty to the Saxon rulers.  On 13 November 1002 there was an attack on all the Danish settlers in the kingdom.  This is known as the St Brice’s Day Massacre and had the obvious effect of making all the surviving Danes rally towards Sweyn as averse to the monarch of their adopted country. Sweyn took the opportunity to destroy Exeter – a stronghold of the Saxons.

More sensibly in 1002 Ethelred had arrived at an agreement with the Normans to prevent the Danes from using the Normandy coast as a harbour and jumping off point for their endeavours.  As you might expect this agreement was cemented by a royal marriage. Emma of Normandy was sent to become Ethelred’s wife.

In 1011 the Danes captured Canterbury and its archbishop.  They carted the unfortunate archbishop to Greenwich where they had their encampment.  Archbishop Aelfheah refused to allow himself to be ransomed so the Danes killed him by throwing discarded ox  and cattle bones at him.  Eventually someone put him out of his misery by hitting him over the head with the butt of an axe.

Emma of Normandy.jpgIn 1013, the area known as Danelaw decided that Swyn and his son Cnut would make excellent rulers. This freed up the way for the Danes to invade Wessex at which point Aethelred fled to the Isle of Wight in the first instance leaving Emma to take her two small sons Edward and his younger brother Alfred home to Normandy (shown pictured left) – a young Edward is seated behind his mother.

Sweyn Forkbeard died in 1014 leaving Cnut to rule. Ethelred returned at this point in proceedings to try and retrieve the situation but he also died in 1016. Emma remained in England despite the fact that her children were in her brother’s kingdom. Emma now married Cnut – ignoring the fact that Cnut had a wife called Aelfgifu who he had married on 1006. So, Emma became queen for a second time. She had a son called Harthacnut and set about forging a more united kingdom for the Saxons and the Danes.

All this time Edward was in Normandy where his cousin Robert was now the duke.  It was Robert who demanded that Edward should be allowed to return home and that with Ethelred dead that Edward was the rightful king – although this did bypass the fact that Edward and Alfred were the product of a second marriage and that other older sons were available.  It was only when Robert died andWilliam became Duke of Normandy that the political situation changed.  The Normans did not now have the leisure to interfere in English affairs and it looked as though Edward and Arthur would be left kicking their heals.

In 1035 Cnut died.  Emma had negotiated as part of her marriage alliance with Cnut that any sons she might have would have a better claim to the kingdom than sons by other women. She took the precaution of commandeering the treasury. Unfortunately Harthacnut was in Denmark when Cnut popped his clogs so whilst Emma waited in Winchester for the arrival of her son, Cnut’s other wife Aelfgifu lobbied for her own son Harold Harefoot to become king. Ultimately there was a meeting in Oxford as both sons had a claim to the throne and both of them had their own group of supporters. Harthacnut still had not returned to England – so inevitably Harold Harefoot had the upper hand simply because he was on the scene.

It was a period of uncertainty.  This was the time that the sons by her first marriage to Ethelred, Edward and Alfred, returned to England to see if they could snaffle a kingdom whilst Cnut’s sons were busy.  Edward made landfall in Southampton and then went to Winchester where he met with his mother. Alfred arrived in Kent.

Unfortunately Earl Godwin had his own vested interests to consider and they did not involve the sons of Ethelred the Unready.  He met with Alfred and said that he would escort Alfred to Winchester. Instead he captured Alfred and blinded him. Edward seeing which way the tide had turned fled back to Normandy.

In 1037 Emma was forced to leave England. Harold Harefoot was king. Ultimately Harthacnut did not have to worry about invading England because after three years as ruler Harold Harefoot died rather unexpectedly whilst celebrating a wedding.

Harthacnut would not have won a popularity contest. He died unexpectedly as well.

Earl Godwin now decided that Edward was a better bet than some of the other possible claimants to the Crown.  Edward was crowned on 3rd April 1043 in Winchester.  The price for Godwin’s support was marriage to his daughter Edith – who had originally been named after her mother but changed to the more Saxon sounding Edith upon marriage – something that occurred in 1045 when Earl Godwin was at the height of his powers. Edith was about twenty-two whilst Edward was somewhere close to forty as we aren’t totally sure which year he was born. Rather unusually Edith had her own coronation. Anglo-Saxon kings don’t seem to have crowned their spouses very much.

Godwin had done very nicely from the rule of Cnut.  He also had a Danish wife  called Gytha who just so happened to be Cnut’s sister through marriage and a brood of sons – something which Edward the Confessor lacked. His sons Swein and Harold both became earls in their own right and they were brothers-in-law of the king just as Godwin was the king’s father-in-law. The trouble was that Edward did not look towards Scandinavian countries for alliances.  He turned to Normandy. Matters came to a head in 1051 when Edward insisted on appointing a Frenchman to the archbishopric of Canterbury.  There was then a spot of trouble in Dover which Godwin refused to put down followed by a stand off at Gloucester when Godwin had a rant about foreigners.

Edward who was not always the saintly but weak man that history often portrays him  called out the militia which meant that Godwin and his sons found themselves on the wrong end of an army – including some of their own tenants.  Edward then outlawed Swein who had some very questionable attitudes to women and property.  He demanded that Harold and Godwin explain themselves or face the consequences.  Godwin fled and was declared an outlaw – I’m not sure if any of this enhanced Edward’s relationship with his wife- especially when he confiscated Godwin’s property and sent Edith to a nunnery where she remained until 1052.

There is some evidence that by 1051 Edward had agreed to William becoming the next king of England but it is also true to say that Edward contacted the exiled son of Edmund Ironside, who was Edward the Confessor’s older half-brother by Ethelred’s first wife, and invited him to return from Hungary.  His name was also Edward.  History tends to call him Edward the Atheling or more pointedly Edward the Exile.  Edward the Atheling received his letter from his uncle inviting him home in 1056 having sent someone to find him on 1054.  He arrived with his wife Agatha, his daughter Margaret and his son Edgar.  This exiled family was a way for Edward the Confessor to get one over on Earl Godwin because not only did the king want to support his own family but the Witan (England’s council) liked the idea of England being ruled by the Saxon ruling house rather than a power hungry Godwin who’d done very nicely thank you out of Cnut’s reign. Unfortunately Edward the Atheling died unexpectedly on 19th April 1057 without ever meeting Edward the Confessor. The inevitable suspicion is that some unscrupulous person must have poisoned the Atheling leaving Edgar who was too young to be of political signficance.

Which brings us back to Earl Godwin and his brood.  Godwin had returned from exile in 1052 along with his son Harold who’d spent the time in Ireland.  Together they were able to march on London and force Edward to reinstate them.  Godwin died the following year but Harold was now nicely positioned to make a claim on the crown assuming that athelings dropped like flies whenever they came near his brother-in-law King Edward.

Meanwhile Edith was allowed to return to court when her father and brother regained the upper hand as Edward lacked the men or will to overcome them a second time.  Clearly the time spent contemplating her situation hadn’t improved the relationship between husband and wife.  Historians speculate as to the nature of their marriage.  It has been suggested that Edward refused to consummate the union because the bride was forced upon him by the family who had betrayed his brother, blinded him and left him to die.

From 1055 onwards the Godwinsons – Harold in the south (he had inherited his father’s Sussex estates) and Tostig in the North were more or less responsible for the running of the kingdom.  Edith can be found issuing charters and patronising monastic houses – in particular Wilton where she was educated and spent her time in exile from court.

In 1064 Harold made a mysterious trip to Normandy.  It might have been a bid to ransom members of his family or it might have been a bid to sort out who would wear England’s crown after Edward died.  Either way, Harold ended up taking part in a campaign against Conan II of Brittany and apparently swearing to support Duke William to become Edward the Confessor’s successor.

When Edward the Confessor died on 5 January 1065 he had just finished work on Westminster Abbey which is featured in the Bayeux Tapestry – a workman is in the middle of affixing a weather vane to it to indicate how complete it was.  These days he has a reputation for holiness thanks in part to William of Malmesbury who wrote, in the 1120s, about Edward and miracles associated with him either in his life time or at his tomb.  It was from texts like this that the concept of the king being able to cure scrofula or “the king’s evil” is derived.

Inevitably Edward the Confessor is usually remembered as the king who died and triggered the Norman Conquest.

Morris, Marc. (2013) The Norman Conquest. London:Windmill Books

 

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Medieval Tiles in Great Malvern Priory

IMG_7766The rounded apse at the east end of the church is covered in fifteenth century tiles.  The tiles were produced by master craftsmen in workshops and kilns set up on site between 1450 and 1500.  The guide book notes that originally there would have been approximately 50,000 tiles decorating the priory.  Only a fragment of them remain but, even so, Great Malvern’s collection can hardly be bettered by any other parish church. There are over one hundred different designs and each of them has a meaning.

One tile carries a coat of arms and five birds.  These birds or martlets as they are known in heraldry represent Edward the Confessor.  It is a reminder that the land upon which the priory was built was given by the king to his abbey in Westminster. Amongst the heraldic tiles the badges of the Duke of Buckingham, Mortimer, Beauchamp (Richard Beauchamp was the earl of Warwick at the time of the rebuilding), Despenser (Richard’s wife was Isabel Despenser), Clare, Talbot and Bracy can be spotted along with the royal arms and the fleur-de-lys reflecting Henry VI’s patronage.  Tiles are dated to 1453 and 1456 – tiles being dated 36 H VI – meaning the thirty-sixth year of Henry VI’s reign i.e. 1456; the year after the First Battle of St Albans.  1453 was significant in that it was the year that Henry VI suffered his first break down setting in motion an escalating conflict between the House of York and that of Lancaster.  These tiles can be found on the apse which is known as the “Benefactors Wall” – think of these tiles as the sponsors’ logos. The tiles are not in their original position. The Victorians removed them from the floors and placed them here during their renovation work. They also commissioned replicas by Minton which now adorn the chancel floor.DSCF2427.jpg

As you might expect there are tiles that carry scriptural messages in symbolic form such as   a fish, the instruments of the passion,  Mary crowned represented by the letter M surmounted by a crown, pelicans which were the medieval symbol of self-sacrifice and also tiles with texts.  The most striking of the latter is the so called ‘leper’s tile’ or ‘Job Tile’ which quotes from Job -“have pity on me my friends for the hand of God has struck me.”

IMG_7767There are even tiles that bear the name of the tiler – WHILLAR- who made that particular batch.  There’s one with a Latin inscription which reads “Mentem sanctum, spontaneuni honorer Deo, et patrie liberacionem.” As well as honouring the Lord it is also, apparently, an early form of fire insurance as this was supposed to help prevent fire. Even more practically there is a tile (immediately above this paragraph)  with a message from the monks which tells pilgrims to give their money now rather than making a bequest in their wills on account of the fact that once you’re dead you don’t know what will happen.

DSCF2428.jpgIt is interesting to note that the monks or the tilers did a healthy business selling their wares to local churches and landowners in the vicinity or even further afield – there are Great Malvern tiles in St David’s in Pembrokeshire. And, of course, once their work was finished the tilers would take their wooden stamps and go in search of work elsewhere.

Double click on the image of the Benefactors’ Wall  (not taken by me although the rest of the photographs in this post are mine) to open a new web page to view more images of the tiles and further information about the priory and its publications.

benefactors wall.jpg

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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.

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