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

 

Accord of Winchester

I watched the new programme about the year in the life of the York Minster last night and was fascinated to discover that King William the Conqueror was illiterate – not even able to sign his name.  The Accord of Winchester which was signed on the  27th of May 1072 making the Archbishop of Canterbury more important than the Archbishop of York has the king’s cross next to his name.  But why was there a need for an accord?

William the Conqueror might have thought that the Battle of Hastings was it so far as his hostile takeover bid for England was concerned.  However there were rebellions throughout his new realm from Exeter where King Harold’s mother encouraged the locals to express their resentment to the border between England and Wales where Wild Edric was …well…just wild.   In East Anglia, Hereward the Wake proved himself to be intransigent and in the north they were just plain stroppy.

In addition to the headache of governing a belligerent population there was also the small question of the church in England.  Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury who had been King Canute’s chaplain and who had become a key political player in the power struggles between Edward the Confessor and Earl Godwin was initially kept on but by 1070 William had decided enough was enough.  The archbishop was removed and imprisoned in Winchester (he was also Bishop of Winchester) and replaced by Lanfranc.

In York Archbishop Ealdred who’d been in place since 1060 having previously been Bishop of Worcester and who’d been one of the principal men sent to bring Edward the Exile home to England from Hungary on King Edward’s orders now backed the wrong men.  He crowned King Harold and supported Edgar the Atheling’s claim to the throne but ultimately made his submission to William and crowned him in Westminster on Christmas Day 1066.  Ealdred went to Normandy as a hostage along with Edgar the Atheling in 1067.  Perhaps conveniently for William the archbishop died a couple of years later enabling the Norman king to shoehorn Thomas of Bayeaux into post in 1070.

Presumably William thought that he’d got supportive clerics at hand.  What he hadn’t bargained for was that each man wanted to be the most important cleric in the kingdom and each argued that his diocese should take precedence over the other. Eventually William arrived at his conclusions and the Accord of Winchester was signed in 1072 – it was briefly reversed in 1127.

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.