Edward the Confessor (c. 1004–January 4/5, 1066) was the penultimate Anglo-Saxon king of England, ruling from 1042 until his death.1 His reign foreshadowed the country's later connection with Normandy, whose duke William I was to supplant Edward's successor Harold as England's ruler.
The king Ethelred the Unready, Edward and his brother Alfred were taken to Normandy by their mother Emma, sister of Normandy's duke Richard II, to escape the Danish invasion of England in 1013. During his quarter-century of exile, Edward developed a familiarity with Normandy and its leaders which was to influence his later rule.
Returning to England with Alfred in an abortive attempt (1036) to displace Harold Harefoot from the throne, Edward escaped to Normandy after Alfred's capture and death. He was invited back to England in 1041, this time as co-ruler with his half-brother Harthacanute (son of Emma and Canute), on whose death on June 8, 1042, he ascended the throne. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle makes clear the popularity he enjoyed at his accession – "before [Harthacanute] was buried, all the people chose Edward as king in London". Edward was crowned at Winchester Cathedral on April 3, 1043.
Edward's sympathies for Norman favourites frustrated Saxon and Danish nobles alike, fuelling the growth of anti-Norman opinion led by Godwin, Earl of Wessex, who had become the king's father-in-law in 1045. Exiled in September 1051, Godwin returned with an armed following a year later, forcing the king to restore his title. Godwin died in 1053, but his son Harold accumulated even greater territories, and in January 1066 took the throne upon Edward's death.
Edward married Edith of Wessex on January 23, 1045. It was a spiritual marriage , with Edward refusing to consummate it for religious reasons.
William of Normandy, who had visited England during Godwin's exile, claimed that the childless Edward had promised him the succession to the throne, and his successful bid for the English crown put an end to Harold's nine-month kingship following a 7000-strong Norman invasion.
Edward was known as the last English King, but it should be noted that 'English' (or Englisc) at the time meant descended from the Anglo-Saxons, not native to England. Edward, or more especially the medieval cult which would later grow up around him under the later Plantagenet kings, had a lasting impact on English history. Westminster Abbey was founded by Edward between 1045 and 1050 on land upstream from the City of London, and was consecrated on December 28, 1065. Centuries later, Westminster was deemed symbolic enough to become the permanent seat of English government under Henry III. The Abbey contains a shrine to Edward which was the centrepiece to the Abbey's redesign during the mid-thirteenth century.
Historically, Edward's reign marked a transition between the 10th century 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.
After Edward's death, when he was sanctified, there were two types of saints: martyrs and confessors. Martyrs were people who died in the service of the Lord and confessors were people who died natural deaths. Since Edward died a natural death, he was stylised Edward the Confessor.
There is some question as to the kind of man Edward the Confessor was. He was canonised in 1161, but it was possibly a political cult. Some sources say he was a weak but cruel and merciless king; others say he was kind and gave to the poor.
- The numbering of English monarchs starts from scratch after the Norman conquest, which explains why the regnal numbers assigned to English kings named Edward begin with the later Edward I (ruled 1272–1307) and do not include Edward the Confessor.
Last updated: 10-11-2005 20:08:03