Edward the Confessor


At last we come to the compelling character of Edward the Confessor. Recalling that Aethelred’s second wife was Emma of Normandy, we can begin to see the threads of Norman and Saxon ancestry weaving their way through the fabric of English history.

Edward went to a familiar place, Normandy, in 1013, with his family, when they fled in the face of Canute’s invasion and subsequent rule. Hardacanute, however, had a certain fondness for his half-brother and recalled him.

This is where the plot thickens.

Canute, it turned out, had divided the local power between three men who served as earls (or eorls, depending on your linguistic point of view). One of those men was Siward of Northumbria. Another was Leofric of Mercia (yes, Lady Godiva’s husband). It is the third earl that we are concerned with here, for he was Godwin of Wessex.

Because of his mother and his time in Normandy, Edward rather liked having Norman ways and people around at his court. This didn’t really sit well with many of his followers, especially those who had just gotten used to the idea of a Danish king and didn’t exactly relish having another set of foreigners telling them what to do.

Edward would have none of that complaining, however, and ignored requests to tone down the Norman affectations. Godwin it then fell to muster support for a movement against the king. This was not a violent movement, mind you; rather, it was just a political one, which can sometimes be more damning. Godwin’s son, Harold, was involved as well and would inherit a lifelong intense dislike of Norman ways and people.

Godwin had a further reason to despise Edward: The king’s queen was none other than Edith, Godwin’s only daughter. Edith was the subject of a massive dispute that resulted in Edward’s sending her off a monastery.

It was the promotion of a Norman, Robert Champart, to the post of Archbishop of Canterbury, however, that prompted Godwin to finally act. He and his son raised a group of insurgents and tried to start a rebellion. Edward’s support was still strong at this time, however, and so the rebellion was put down, with the king showing mercy and banishing the Godwins.

Less than a year, Godwin and Harold were back. By this time, enough of the English public had expressed disfavor in the king and his Norman “friends” and the king was savvy enough to know when to allow certain things to change that he actually welcomed Godwin and Harold back into his graces and his government, so long as they agreed to put down their arms and accept Edward’s promise to look and act more English.

A wily political to the end, Edward named Harold as his successor, knowing full well that he and his father would be strong enough to keep the English together against what was sure to be more growing discontent, both from within and from without. Edgar the Aetheling, Edward’s grandson and legitimate heir, didn’t like this too much but couldn’t find much support to do anything about it.

Edward, then has set the stage for the Norman Conquest:

He has installed many Normans in key posts at the English court.
He is descended from a Norman mother.
He has angered his own bloodline by naming another man king.

Footnote: Edward will also be remembered for having built a beautiful cathedral that got its name from its location. This was Westminster (the minster of the church being built west of London), and it became the crowning place for English monarchs, starting with one William of Normandy.