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.

 

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

 

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.