Edward the Confessor

Who was Edward the Confessor?
Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor ruled England from 1042 to 1066. When he died there was disagreement about who should succeed him to the throne.
How strong was Edward the Confessor?
Edward the Confessor generally managed to keep control, but problems developed during his reign.
  • His earls and thegns were a powerful military force, and he relied on them to protect England from attack.
  • He was a respected law-maker, who made decisions that kept the King's Peace and prevented in-fighting.
  • He was very religious. Edward built Westminster Abbey, and reflected the Anglo-Saxon view of the king as an agent of God.
  • However, he was not a warrior king, and did not win battles that allowed him to hand out land and money to his earls.
  • Under Edward, Earl Godwin of Wessex and his family grew so strong that they had more military power than Edward.
What was Edward the Confessor's relationship with Normandy?
Although the Normans were a threat to England, Edward the Confessor had a strong relationship with them.
  • His mother Emma, was a Norman.
  • He went into exile in Normandy from 1016 to 1041, when the Vikings took over England.
  • When he became king in 1042, Edward brought Norman advisers and supporters back to England with him.
  • The Normans claimed that Edward promised the throne to William, duke of Normandy in return for his support against Earl Godwin.
What happened when Edward the Confessor died?
When Edward the Confessor died in January 1066, the Witan crowned Harold Godwinson as king.
Why did Edward the Confessor's death lead to a succession crisis?
Because Edward the Confessor died without an heir, it was not clear who should succeed him. The problem was that there was no definite way of choosing a successor.
  • It helped to be a relative of the previous king, but it was not a guarantee.
  • The Saxons thought that the previous king's dying words (novissima verba) were more important than any previous promises.
  • However, the Normans considered that earlier promises were stronger, and could not be overturned.
  • Ultimately, the Witan had to approve the next king, so it was possible for any potential king to influence their decision.
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