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.

 

Edwin of Mercia

Edwin became Earl of Mercia in 1062 after his father and grandfather. He and his younger brother Morcar who was the Earl of Northumbria played a key role in Harold Hardrada’s failed campaign to take England in 1066. They opposed him at the Battle of Fulford Gate on the 20th September (which they lost) and the Battle of Stamford Bridge five days later that gave King Harold (their brother-in-law) victory over King Harold Hardrada of Norway.

 

Sadly for King Harold (of arrow in the eye fame) the two brothers also played a key role in the Battle of Hastings by taking a very slow journey south and not turning up until it was all over. Florence of Worcester commented that they ‘withdrew’. On one hand they did have to march rather a long way having just fought two battles in a very short space of time but on the other hand rather than share the loot after Stamford Bridge as was the custom of the time King Harold had it all collected together in York and appeared to have every intention of keeping it for himself which may have left the two earls feeling somewhat peeved.

 

Evidence of Edwin’s failure to take part in the Battle of Hastings is reflected in the fact that he still owned property at the time of the Domesday Book.

Having said that, it is an indicator of William the Conqueror’s desire for peace within his new kingdom that Edwin not only retained his land but also his title. Following Hastings, Edwin and Morcar supported Edgar the Atheling in his claim to the throne. William had to chase them around the southeast for two months before they finally submitted at Berkhamstead. In 1067 Edwin was one of the hostages who accompanied William back to Normandy.

 

Obviously things didn’t pan out to Edwin and Morcar’s liking because they rebelled against William in 1068 and again in 1071. The Orderic Vitalis claims that one of Edwin’s gripes was that William had promised Edwin one of his own daughter’s in marriage but appears to have had second thoughts about having Edwin for a son-in-law.

 

The 1068 rebellion saw William building castles and stamping his authority on the land.  The earls submitted once again to William and he graciously welcomed them back into the fold but then in 1069 William appointed Robert de Comines to the job of Earl of Northumberland. Understandably Edwin’s brother Morcar was a little disgruntled by this turn of events. The North rose up against William. In fact all kinds of rebellions against Norman rule sprang up like forest fires in the first years of William’s reign.  It’s perhaps not surprising that William’s avowed intent to be a good lord to his new Saxon subjects eroded.

It was during Hereward the Wake’s rebellion in East Anglia in 1071 that Edwin was betrayed to the Normans by his own retinue and killed.

Edwin’s lands extended north from Gloucester up into modern West Yorkshire and beyond.  His territory also included Craven.  Following Edwin’s death the lands were broken up. Robert de Romilly was given the lands in Craven.  He built a motte and bailey castle that would eventually become home to the Cliffords – Skipton Castle.

Sadly I can’t find a good image to use for this post but I shall keep looking.  You never know what might turn up.

The Heimskringla Saga

reading linkEngland became a prize for the taking when Edward the Confessor died on 5th January 1066 England.  The man on the scene, Harold Godwinson lost no time staking his claim but his brother Tostig, furious not to be reinstated to the Earldom of Northumbria attempted to take the throne for himself.  First he crossed the channel with a fleet of sixty  ships from Flanders.  He initiated his attempted invasion by attacking Harold’s lands on the south coast.

Harold proved equal to the occasion when Tostig finally fled he had only twelve vessels remaining.  Harold 1: Tostig 0.

Tostig fled via Scotland to Denmark and then on to Norway where he and King Harold Hardrada – the Hard Rider- prepared another invasion.  In September 1066, when the wind stood against William of Normandy’s invasion fleet, a Scandinavian armada  of some three hundred and thirty ships sailed first for Scotland and then down the east coast towards the Humber Estuary pausing only to do nasty things to Scarborough.

On the 20th September 1066 having sailed up the Humber  and making anchor at Riccall, Hardrada advanced on York.

The Earls of Northumbria and Mercia (Morcar and Edwin) met the Scandinavians in battle just outside York.  The Battle of Fulford Bridge saw an English defeat.  The earls were lucky to escape with their lives.  The best primary account of the battle can be found in the Heimskringla Saga.

It also offers the best account of the Battle of Stamford Bridge which is sometimes described as Harold’s Saga.  Harold hearing of the invasion made a forced march north and caught Hardrada and his brother by surprise and proceeded to beat them – having first of all overcome a beserker who occupied the bridge at Stamford Bridge until one of Harold’s men crept under the bridge and speared him from below (nasty but typical of sagas). Harold 2: Tostig 0.

Having said all that the words of the saga weren’t committed to paper – or parchment- until 1225 by Snori Sturlson, a story teller and historian in the the Scandinavian skaldic tradition, who wrote a chronicle of the Kings of Norway.  As A L Binns  comments:

The earliest survIving Norse account of the events of 1066 is
probably the brief passage from Grkneyinga saga. The four long
Old Norse accounts of Stemford Bridge here compared for the first
time in English are by no means independent either of each other,
or of English sources. So one should not think of a single account
(usually Heimskringla, of which many translations already exist) as
‘the saga account’; and one should not regard them as contemporary
sources, but rather the work of historians who had very definite
views on the characters and motives ofthe participants and selected
their material in order to express them.

Binns, A.L. (1966). East Yorkshire in the Sagas. Hull: East Yorkshire Local History Society p.5

The full text including the sagas can be accessed by clicking on the image at the start of this post.  I’ll be using this image in future to sign post links to a range of texts – and indeed any other images of folks reading that I come across.