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Edward the Confessor (1003 – January 5, 1066), son of Ethelred the Unready, was the penultimate Anglo-Saxon King of England and the last of the House of Wessex, ruling from 1042 until his death. His reign marked the continuing disintegration of royal power in England and the aggrandizement of the great territorial earls, and it foreshadowed the country's later connection with Normandy, whose duke William I was to supplant Edward's successors Harold Godwinson and Edgar Aetheling as England's ruler.

He succeeded his half-brother Harthacanute, who had successfully regained the throne of England after being dispossessed by his half-brother, Harald Harefoot. Edward and his brother Alfred Aetheling, both sons of Emma of Normandy by Ethelred the Unready, had previously failed to depose Harold in 1036. When Edward died in 1066 he had no son to take over the throne so a conflict arose as three people claimed the throne of England.

Edward was canonised in 1161 by the Roman Catholic Church, which regards Edward the Confessor as the patron saint of kings, difficult marriages, and separated spouses. His feast day is January 5.

Early years[]

Edward was born in 1003 in Islip, Oxfordshire. His palace was in Brill, Buckinghamshire. In 1013, he and his brother Alfred were taken to Normandy by their mother Emma of Normandy, sister of Normandy's Duke Richard II, to escape the Danish invasion of England. Despite his piety, it seems that he was a warrior of considerable skill.

During the fighting in London against Canute, he is said to have attacked the Dane, who was saved by Thorkell the Tall pulling him from his horse. The book relates that Prince Edward broke through the saddle and killed the horse with his axe. Edward developed an intense piety in his quarter-century of Norman exile, while England formed part of a great Danish empire.

After an abortive attempt with Alfred in 1036 to displace Harald Harefoot from the throne, Edward returned to Normandy. Alfred, however, was captured by Godwin, Earl of Wessex who then turned him over to Harold Harefoot, who blinded him to make him unsuitable for kingship. Alfred died soon after as a result of his torture. Edward would later say that the only way in which Godwin could be forgiven was if he brought back the murdered Alfred, an impossible task.

The Anglo-Saxon lay and ecclesiastical nobility invited Edward back to England in 1041; this time he became part of the household of his half-brother Harthacanute (son of Emma and Canute), and was sworn in as king alongside him. Following Harthacanute's death on June 8, 1042, Edward ascended the throne. Edward was crowned at the cathedral of Winchester, the royal seat of the West Saxons on April 3 1043.


Edward's reign was marked by peace and prosperity. Westminster Abbey was founded by him between in 1049 on land upstream from London, and was consecrated on December 28, 1065.

But Edward's effective rule in England required coming to terms with three powerful earls: Godwin, Earl of Wessex, who was firmly in control of the ‘’thegns’’ of Wessex, which had formerly been the heart of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy; Leofric, Earl of Mercia, whose legitimacy was strengthened by his marriage to Lady Godiva, and in the north, Siward, Earl of Northumbria. Edward's sympathies for Norman favorites frustrated Saxon and Danish nobles alike, fuelling the growth of anti-Norman opinion led by Godwin, who had become the king's father-in-law in 1045. The breaking point came over the appointment of an archbishop of Canterbury: Edward rejected Godwin's man and appointed the bishop of London, Robert of Jumièges, a trusted Norman.

Matters came to a head over a bloody riot at Dover between the townsfolk and Edward's kinsman Eustace, count of Boulogne. Godwin refused to punish them, Leofric and Siward backed the King, and Godwin and his family were all exiled in September 1051. Queen Edith was sent to a nunnery at Wherwell. Earl Godwin returned with an army following a year later, however, forcing the king to restore his title and send away his Norman advisors. Godwin died in 1053 and the Norman Ralph the Timid received Herefordshire, but his son Harold accumulated even greater territories for the Godwins, who held all the earldoms save Mercia after 1057. Harold led successful raiding parties into Wales in 1063 and negotiated with his inherited rivals in Northumbria in 1065, and in January 1066, upon Edward's death, he was proclaimed king.

Relations with his Mother[]

Edward's mother was Emma of Normandy, second wife of his father, Ethelred the Unready. She remarried King Canute and Edward and his brother Alfred were sent away to Normandy, whilst Canute attempted to assassinate all the sons of Ethelred and his first wife, Aelgifu. Emma's son Harthacanute preceded Edward.

When Edward succeeded, Queen Emma supported another candidate Magnus the Noble and Edward had his mother arrested. Later she survived trial by ordeal on a charge of adultery with a bishop.

Death and Aftermath[]

Upon the Death of Edward, the Norman position was that William had been designated the heir, and that Harold had been publicly sent to him as emissary from Edward, to apprise him of Edward's decision. Harold's party asserted that the old king had made a deathbed bestowal of the crown on Harold. However, Harold was approved by the Witenagemot who, under Anglo-Saxon law, held the ultimate authority to convey kingship.

Edward had married Godwin's daughter Edith on January 23, 1045, but the union was childless. The reason for this is the subject of much speculation. Possible explanations include Edward, having taken vow of chastity, considering the union a spiritual marriage, the age difference between Edward and Edith engendering a filial rather than spousal relationship, Edward's antipathy toward Edith's father, or infertility.

Edward's nearest heir would have been his nephew Edward the Exile, who was born in England, but spent most of his life in Hungary. He had returned from exile in 1056 and died not long after, in February the following year. Thus Edward made his great nephew Edgar Atheling his heir, but Edgar had no secure following among the earls: the resultant succession crisis on Edward's death without a direct "throne-worthy" heir — the "foreign" Edgar was a stripling of fourteen — opened the way for Harold's coronation and the invasions of two effective claimants to the throne, the unsuccessful invasion of Harald Hardrada in the north and the successful one of William of Normandy.

Edward's reign marked a transition between the West Saxon kingship of England and the Norman monarchy which followed Harold's death. Edward's allegiances were split between England and his mother's Norman ties. The great earldoms established under Canute grew in power, while Norman influence became a powerful factor in government and in the leadership of the Church. When Henry II came to the throne in 1154, he united in his person at last the English and Norman royal lines.