Edward the Confessor dies

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Edward the Confessor dies

The 5th of January 1066 AD

The death of Edward the Confessor brought to an end a period of peace and stability in England, and presaged the violent conquest of the country by William of Normandy .

Edward’s reign had been relatively long by the standards of the time. He came to the throne in 1042 on the death of his half-brother Harthacanute, who had been deposed for a time by Harold Harefoot.

Edward had spent 15 years in exile in Normandy, a time that seems to have had an enormous influence on him. He became more religious, his famous piety said to date from this period of his life. And he felt at ease with the Normans, making several Norman lords his close confidants when he became king, a fact resented by the English nobility. Robert of Jumièges, the Norman Bishop of London , became Archbishop of Canterbury against the express wishes of the powerful Godwin, Earl of Wessex.

It may be that peace was able to prosper in England during Edward’s reign because of his weakness. Earl Godwin of Wessex was the power in the land early in Edward’s rule, and though he was forced in to exile with his family for a brief time the nobility pressured the king to let him return and to have his lands again. At this juncture some of the Normans who held sway over the king were forced out of his court.

Edward’s name was used for hundreds of years after his reign as a byword for justice in taxation – he was able to live off the income from his lands and other possessions, and so taxes at this time were reasonable – he stopped the collection of money for the Danegeld that had ceased long ago, another action that endeared him to the ordinary people of England.

When Godwin died in 1053 his son Harold, Edward’s brother-in-law, was thrust to the fore, leading the English army that suppressed a Welsh rising in 1063, and negotiating successfully with the rebels in Northumbria two years after that.

It has been suggested that Edward took a vow of celibacy, and that his marriage to Edith, daughter of Earl Godwin, was childless because he kept his vow. We cannot know, but the fact is he had no son to follow him.

To say that Edward left the succession unclear is a gross understatement. William Duke of Normandy had a claim as a distant relation, supposedly nominated by Edward (in a message William claimed was brought to him by Harold). Edgar Atheling, Edward’s nephew, was nominated by him at another time, but he was a boy of 14 when Edward died. And Harold claimed the dying king had chosen him as successor on his deathbed. To make matters still more complicated, Harold’s exiled brother Tostig also claimed Edward had chosen him. And the Dane Harald Hardrada also laid claim to the throne.

The English were sick of Norman influence, and the Witan, the council of 60 Lords and Bishops that formally chose the king, came out for Harold, passing over the more justifiable claim of Edgar. Whatever their choice conflict would have arisen. Within months England was invaded in the north by Hardrada and Tostig, and in the south by William. Harold ’s reign would be a short one.

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