Edward the Confessor
gigatos | June 4, 2022
Edward the Confessor (c. 1003 – January 5, 1066), also known as St. Edward the Confessor, was king of England between 1042 and 1066; son of Etelhard II the Indecisive and Emma of Normandy. He was one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England and is generally regarded as the last king of the house of Wessex.
Edward succeeded Canute Hardeknut, son of Canute the Great, and restored the rule of the house of Wessex, after the period of Danish rule since Canute conquered England in 1016. When Edward died in 1066, he was succeeded by Haroldo Godwinson, who was defeated and killed that same year by the Normans, commanded by William the Conqueror, during the Battle of Hastings.
He is traditionally described as naive and pious and it is believed that his reign was notable for the disintegration of royal power in England and the advance in power of the Godwin family. However, his biographers Frank Barlow and Peter Rex disagree, as for them Edward was an efficient, dynamic, resourceful and sometimes ruthless king, but whose reputation has been unfairly tarnished by the Norman Conquest that took place shortly after his death. Other historians consider this image to be only partially true, but not at all so in the last phase of his reign. In the opinion of Richard Mortimer, the return of the Godwins from exile in 1052, “signified the effective end of their exercise of power”. The difference in their level of activity compared to the first part of their reign “implies a withdrawal from responsibilities”.
Edward is called a confessor in the sense of confessor of the faith, as someone who is believed to have lived a holy life but was not a martyr is called in the Christian tradition, in Latin: S. Eduardus Confesor rex Anglorum, as opposed to S. Eduardus Martyr rex Anglorum. He was canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1161 and is commemorated on October 13 by the Church of England and the Catholic Church in England and Wales. St. Edward was one of the national saints of England until King Edward III adopted St. George as his patron saint in about 1350.
Edward was the seventh son of Etelhard II the Indecisive and the first with his second wife, Emma of Normandy. He was born between 1002 and 1005 in Islip, Oxfordshire, (the earliest records in which he appears date from 1005), and had a brother, Alfred, and a sister, Godgifu. In the documents he was always listed behind his older brothers, showing that his rank was below theirs.
During her childhood, England was the target of Viking raids and invasions commanded by Svend I of Denmark and his son, Canute. After Svend seized the throne in 1013, Emma fled to Normandy with Edward and Alfred and was later followed by Etelredo. Svend died in February 1014 and the English leaders invited Etelredo to return, on the condition that he pledge to rule “more justly” than before. Etelredo accepted and sent Edward with his ambassadors.
Etelredo died in April 1016 and was succeeded by Edward”s older half-brother, Edmund Ironside, who continued the fight against Svend”s son Canute, and according to Scandinavian tradition, Edward fought alongside Edmund. According to Scandinavian tradition, Edward fought alongside Edmund; as he is supposed to have been at most thirteen years old at the time, that part of the story is disputed. Edmund died in November 1016 and Canute became the undisputed king. Edward returned again to exile with his brother and sister, but his mother did not like the marginalization and in 1017 she married Canute. That same year, Canute executed Eadwig Etheling, Edward”s only surviving older half-brother, leaving Edward as the leading Anglo-Saxon pretender to the throne.
Edward spent a quarter of a century in exile, probably most of it in Normandy, although there is no evidence of his location until the early 1030s. He possibly received support from his sister Godgifu, who married Drogo de Mantes, count of Vexin, around 1024. In the early 1030s, Edward appears as a witness in four official documents in Normandy, signing two of them as king of England. According to the Norman chronicler William of Jumièges, Robert I, Duke of Normandy attempted to invade England to place Edward on the throne about 1034, but was diverted off course to Jersey. He also received support in his claim to the throne from some continental abbots, particularly Robert, of the Norman abbey of Jumièges, who later became Edward”s Archbishop of Canterbury. Edward is said to have developed an intense personal piety during this period, but modern historians believe this was a product of the medieval campaign waged for his canonization. According to Frank Barlow, “his lifestyle seems to have been that of a typical member of the rural gentry.” During this period he seemed to have little prospect of accession to the English throne and his ambitious mother was more interested in supporting Canute Hardeknut, her son with Canute.
Canute died in 1035 and Hardeknut succeeded him as king of Denmark. It is unclear whether he intended to hold England as well, but he was too busy defending his position in Denmark to travel there to make any claims valid. It was therefore decided that his older half-brother, Haroldo Harefoot, would act as regent, while Emma retained Wessex on behalf of her son. Edward and his brother Alfred arrived separately in England in 1036. Emma later claimed that they came in response to a letter inviting them to visit her, which had been forged by Haroldo, but historians believe that she probably invited them in an effort to counter Haroldo”s growing popularity. Alfred was captured by Godwin, Earl of Wessex, who handed him over to Haroldo Harefoot. Haroldo blinded Alfred by applying a red-hot poker against his eyes with the intention of making him unfit to reign; and shortly thereafter he died as a result of the wounds. This murder is believed to be the source of much of Edward”s later hatred of the earl and one of the main reasons for Godwin”s banishment in the autumn of 1051. Edward is said to have held a successful skirmish near Southampton and then returned to Normandy. He thus showed his prudence, although he had some reputation as a soldier in Normandy and Scandinavia.
Haroldo was accepted as king in 1037 and the following year expelled Emma from England, who retreated to Bruges. Emma summoned Edward and asked for his help for Hardeknut, but he refused because he had no resources to initiate an invasion and furthermore denied having any interest in claiming the throne for himself. When Hardeknut felt his position in Denmark secure, he planned an invasion, but Haroldo died in 1040 and Hardeknut was able to reach England unopposed in the company of his mother to take possession of the English throne.
Hardeknut invited Edward to visit England in 1041, probably thinking to name him his heir because he knew he had little time to live. According to the 12th-century Quadripartitus, a compilation considered convincing by historian John Maddicott, he was summoned through the intervention of Bishop Elfwine of Winchester and Earl Godwin of Wessex. Edward met “the thegns of all England” at Hursteshever, probably Hurst Head, the stony beach of a coastal strand off the Isle of Wight, where Hurst Castle would later be built. There he was received as king in exchange for his oath that he would continue Canute”s laws. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Edward was sworn in as king alongside Hardeknut, but a document issued by Hardeknut in 1042 describes him as the king”s brother.
After the death of Canute Hardeknut on June 8, 1042, Godwin, the most powerful of the English earls, supported Edward succeeding him to the throne. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes the popularity he enjoyed at the time of his accession to the throne-“before he was buried, all the people in London chose Edward as king.” Edward was crowned at Winchester Cathedral, the royal seat of the West Saxons, on April 3, 1043.
Edward complained that his mother “had done for him less than he would have wished before he became king and also afterwards.” In November 1043, Edward rode to Winchester with his three principal earls, Leofric of Mercia, Godwin of Wessex, and Siward of Northumbria, to deprive her of her estates, possibly because she was holding on to the treasure belonging to the king. Emma”s advisor, Stigand, was deprived of the Bishopric of Elmham in East Anglia. However, their grants were soon restored to them. Emma died in 1052.
Edward”s position when he acceded to the throne was weak. An effective reign required keeping on good terms with the three principal earls, but loyalty to the ancient house of Wessex had been eroded by the period of Danish rule and only Leofric was descended from a family that had served Etelhard. Siward was probably Danish and although Godwin was English, he was one of the men who allied himself with Canute the Great, and even married Canute”s sister. However, in his early years Edward restored the traditional strong monarchy, proving, in Frank Barlow”s opinion, that he was “a vigorous and ambitious man, a true son of the impetuous Etelred and the formidable Emma.”
In 1043, Svend, son of Godwin, was appointed earl of a region in the southwest Midlands, and on January 23, 1045, Edward married Edith, Godwin”s daughter. Shortly thereafter, Haroldo and Beorn Estrithson, Edith”s brother and cousin respectively, also obtained earldoms in southern England. Godwin and his family subordinately ruled all of southern England. However, Svend was banished in 1047 for kidnapping the abbess of Leominster. In 1049 he returned to try to regain his earldom, but is said to have faced opposition from Haroldo and Beorn, probably because they had been granted Svend”s land in his absence. Svend murdered his cousin Beorn and returned again to exile. Raul the Timid received the earldom of Beorn, but the following year Svend”s father succeeded in having it returned to him.
Edward”s land wealth exceeded that of the larger counties, but it was scattered among the southern counties. He had no personal area of influence and seems not to have attempted to build one. In 1050-51 he even paid for the fourteen foreign ships that constituted his permanent navy and abolished the tax paid for it. However in ecclesiastical and foreign affairs he was able to follow his own policy. King Magnus I of Norway aspired to the English throne and in 1045 and 1046, fearing invasion, Edward took command of the fleet at Sandwich, Kent. Beorn”s older brother, Svend II of Denmark, “offered himself to Edward as a son,” hoping for help in his own battle with Magnus for control of Denmark, but in 1047 Edward refused Godwin”s request to send help to Svend, and it was Magnus”s death in October of that year that saved England from attack and allowed Svend access to the Danish throne.
Modern historians reject the traditional view that Edward employed mainly his Norman favorites, but he had foreigners in his household, including a few Normans, who became quite unpopular. Chief among them was Robert, abbot of the Norman abbey of Jumièges, who had known Edward since the 1030s and came to England with him in 1041, becoming bishop of London in 1043. According to the Vita Edwardi, he became the “most powerful confidential advisor to the king”.
In ecclesiastical appointments, Edward and his advisors showed a bias against candidates with local connections, and when the clergy and monks of Canterbury elected a relative of Godwin as archbishop of Canterbury in 1051, Edward rejected him and appointed Robert de Jumièges, who claimed that Godwin was in illegal possession of some archiepiscopal property. In September, Edward was visited by his brother-in-law, Godgifu”s second husband, Eustace, Earl of Boulogne; his men provoked a brawl at Dover, Edward ordered Godwin, as Earl of Kent, to punish the citizens, but he sided with the populace and refused. Edward took the opportunity to subjugate his most powerful earl. Archbishop Robert accused Godwin of plotting to kill the king, just as he had killed his brother Alfred in 1036, and Leofric and Siward supported the king and called his vassals. Svend and Harold called on their own vassals, but neither side wanted a fight, plus Godwin and Svend apparently each had a son as hostage, who had been sent to Normandy. The Godwin position disintegrated, as they were unwilling to fight the king. When Stigand, who was acting as an intermediary, conveyed the king”s taunt that Godwin could have peace if he returned Alfred and his companions to him alive and well, Godwin and his sons fled to Flanders and Ireland. Edward disowned Edith and sent her to a nunnery, perhaps because she failed to bear children, and Archbishop Robert urged her to divorce him.
Svend made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (dying on the way back), but Godwin and his other sons returned with an army a year later and received considerable support, while Leofric and Siward did not support the king. Both sides were concerned that a civil war would leave the country at risk of foreign invasion. The king was furious, but was forced to relent and return Godwin and Haroldo their counties, while Robert de Jumièges and other Frenchmen fled, fearing Godwin”s revenge. Edith was reinstated as queen and Stigand, who again had acted as an intermediary between the two parties in the crisis, was appointed archbishop of Canterbury in Robert”s place. Stigand retained the bishopric of Winchester and his pluralism was a continuing source of conflict with the pope. Edward”s nephew, Earl Ralph, who was one of his main supporters in the crisis of 1051-52, may have received the territory of Svend in the county of Hereford around this time.
By the mid 1050s, Edward managed to structure counties to prevent the Godwins from becoming dominant. Godwin died in 1053 and although Haroldo succeeded him in the earldom of Wessex, none of his other brothers were appointed earls by that date. At that time the Godwins were weaker than they had ever been since Edward”s accession to the throne, but a succession of deaths around 1055-57 completely changed the picture. In 1055, Siward died, but his son was considered too young to command Northumbria and Tostig, Haroldo”s brother, became Earl of Northumbria. In 1057 Leofric and Ralph died, and Leofric”s son Elfgar succeeded him as Earl of Mercia, while Haroldo”s brother Gyrth was made Earl of East Anglia. Godwin”s fourth surviving son, Leofwine, received an earldom in the southeast that was taken from Haroldo”s territory. In compensation, Haroldo received territory from Ralph. By 1057 the Godwin brothers had subordinate control of all of England except Mercia. It is not known whether Edward approved of this transformation or had to accept it, but thereafter it appears that he began to retire from active politics, devoting himself to hunting, which he practiced every day after attending church.
In the 1050s, Edward pursued an aggressive and generally successful policy towards Scotland and Wales. Malcolm Canmore was exiled to Edward”s court after Macbeth killed and seized the Scottish throne. In 1054, Edward sent Siward to invade Scotland, he defeated Macbeth, and Malcolm, who had accompanied him on the expedition, took control of southern Scotland. By 1058, Malcolm had killed Macbeth in battle and regained the Scottish throne. In 1059, he visited Edward, but in 1061 he began raiding Northumbria with the aim of incorporating it into his territory.
In 1053, Edward ordered the murder of Rhys ap Rhydderch, prince of South Wales, in retaliation for an incursion into England, and Rhys”s head was delivered to him. In 1055, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn established himself as ruler of all Wales and allied with Aelfgar of Mercia, who had been outlawed for treason. They defeated Earl Ralph at Hereford and Harold had to amass forces from almost all over England to drive the invaders back into Wales. Peace was achieved when they accepted the return of Aelfgar, who was thus able to inherit the earldom of Mercia after the death of his father in 1057. Gruffydd swore to Edward to be a faithful vassal king. Aelfgar appears to have died in 1062 and his son Edwin was allowed to succeed him as Earl of Mercia, but Haroldo launched a surprise attack on Gruffydd. Gruffydd managed to escape, but when Haroldo and Tostig attacked again the following year, he retreated and was killed by Welsh enemies. Edward and Haroldo were thus able to impose vassalage on some Welsh princes.
In October 1065, Tostig, Haroldo”s brother and Earl of Northumbria, was hunting with the king when his thegns in Northumbria revolted against his regime, which they claimed was oppressive, and killed about 200 of his followers. They nominated Morcar, brother of Edwin of Mercia, as earl and invited the brothers to join them on their march south. They met Haroldo at Northampton and Tostig accused Haroldo before the king of conspiring with the rebels. Tostig seems to have been a favorite of the king and queen, who demanded that the rebellion be suppressed, but neither Haroldo nor anyone else fought to support Tostig. Edward was forced to send him into exile, and the humiliation may have caused a series of fits that led to his death. He was too weak to attend the dedication of his new church at Westminster on December 28, which by then was not yet complete.
Edward probably entrusted the kingdom to Haroldo and Edith shortly before he died on January 4 or 5, 1066. On January 6 he was buried in Westminster Abbey and Haroldo was crowned the same day.
Beginning with William of Malmesbury in the early twelfth century, historians have speculated about Edward”s intentions regarding the succession. One school of thought is compatible with the Norman thesis which proposes that Edward always intended William the Conqueror to be his heir, accepting the medieval claim that Edward had decided to be celibate since before he married, but most historians consider that he expected to have an heir with Edith, at least until his quarrel with Godwin in 1051. William may have visited Edward during Godwin”s exile and it is thought that he may have promised to make him his heir at this time, but historians disagree as to the seriousness of the promise or whether he later changed his mind.
Edward Etheling, son of Edmund II of England, was the most suitable to be considered Edward”s heir. After the death of his father, while still a child, he was taken to Hungary; in 1054, Bishop Ealdred of Worcester visited Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor, to secure his return, probably in order to become Edward”s heir. The exile returned to England with his family in 1057, but died almost immediately. His son Edgar, then five years old, was educated at the English court. He was designated Etheling, meaning worthy of the throne, which may denote that Edward considered making him his heir and was briefly declared king after Haroldo”s death in 1066. However, Edgar was not present in the witness lists of Edward”s official documents and there is no evidence in the Domesday Book that he was an important landowner, suggesting that he was marginalized at the end of Edward”s reign.
After the mid-1050s, it appears that Edward withdrew from public affairs, became increasingly dependent on the Godwins, and may have become reconciled to the idea that one of them would be his successor. The Normans claimed that Edward sent Haroldo to Normandy in 1064, intending to confirm the promise that William would be his successor. The strongest evidence comes from a Norman apologist, William of Poitiers. According to his account, shortly before the Battle of Hastings, Haroldo sent an emissary to William, who admitted that Edward had promised him the throne, but argued that the pledge was nullified by his deathbed promise to Haroldo. In response, William did not dispute the deathbed promise, but argued that Edward”s previous promise took precedence.
According to Stephen Baxter, “Edward”s handling of succession issues was dangerously confused and contributed to one of the greatest catastrophes the English have ever suffered.”
Edward”s Norman affinity is most clearly seen in the most important building project of his reign, Westminster Abbey, the first Norman Romanesque church in England. It was begun between 1042 and 1052 as a church for royal burials, consecrated on December 28, 1065, and completed years after Edward”s death, around 1090. It was demolished in 1245 to make way for a new building ordered by Henry III, which still stands today. It was very similar to the abbey of Jumièges, which was built around the same time. It is likely that Robert de Jumièges was closely involved in both buildings, although it is not clear which is the original and which is the copy.
Edward seems to have been uninterested in books and the arts, but his abbey played a vital role in the development of English Romanesque architecture, demonstrating that he was an innovator and a generous patron of the church.
Edward the Confessor was the first Anglo-Saxon and the only king of England to be canonized, but he was part of a tradition of English royal saints (not canonized), such as Eadburh of Winchester, a daughter of Edward the Elder, Edith of Wilton, daughter of Edgar the Peaceful, and Edward the Martyr. With his propensity for fits of rage and his love of hunting, Edward is considered by many historians to have little chance of being a saint and are of the opinion that his canonization had political overtones, although some argue that his cult began so early that he must have had something credible to build on.
Edward displayed a worldly attitude when it came to making church appointments. When he appointed Robert of Jumièges archbishop of Canterbury in 1051, he chose the chief artisan Spearhafoc to replace Robert as bishop of London. Robert refused to consecrate him, saying that the pope had forbidden it, but Spearhafoc held the bishopric for several months with Edward”s support. After the Godwins fled the country, Edward expelled Spearhafoc, who fled with a large supply of gold and jewels he had been given to make Edward a crown. Stigand was the first archbishop of Canterbury not to be a monk in nearly a hundred years and is said to have been excommunicated by several popes because he held Canterbury and Winchester in plurality. Several bishops sought consecration abroad because of the irregularity of Stigand”s position. Edward generally preferred clerics to monks for the more important and wealthier bishoprics, and it is likely that he accepted gifts from candidates for bishoprics and abbeys. However, his appointments were generally respectable. when Odda of Deerhurst died without heirs in 1056, Edward seized the lands Odda granted to Pershore Abbey and gave them to his foundation of Westminster; historian Ann Williams states that “in the 11th century the Confessor did not have the reputation as a saint that he later enjoyed, largely through the efforts of the Westminster monks.”
After 1066, a subtle cult towards Edward as a saint began, possibly discouraged by the early Norman abbots of Westminster, which gradually increased in the 12th century. Osbert of Clare, the prior of Westminster Abbey, then began to campaign for Edward”s canonization, with the aim of increasing the wealth and power of the abbey. By 1138, he turned the Vita Edwardi, the life of Edward commissioned by his widow, into the life of a conventional saint. He seized on an ambiguous passage that might have meant that his marriage was chaste, perhaps to give the idea that Edith”s infertility was not his fault, to claim that Edward had been celibate. In 1139, Osbert went to Rome to request Edward”s canonization with the support of King Stephen, but he lacked the full support of the English hierarchy and Stephen had quarreled with the church, so Pope Innocent II postponed the decision stating that Osbert lacked sufficient testimonies of Edward”s sanctity. There is also record that the village of Islyp, considered the birthplace of the king, was also built a chapel dedicated to his local worship, while the abbots of Westminster were installed with a manor house in this town, in an apparent attempt to consecrate the place as a secondary point of pilgrimage after the abbey itself built by Edward.
In 1159, a disputed election to the papacy took place and Henry II”s support helped secure the recognition of Pope Alexander III. In 1160, the new abbot of Westminster, Laurence, took the opportunity to renew Edward”s application. This time he had the full support of the king and the English hierarchy and a grateful pope issued the bull of canonization on February 7, 1161, as a result of the combined interests of Westminster Abbey, King Henry II and Pope Alexander III. He was called a “confessor” as one who is believed to have lived a saintly life but was not a martyr is called in the Christian tradition.
In the 1230s, King Henry III became attached to the cult of St. Edward and commissioned a new life for Matthew of Paris. Henry III also built a large new tomb for Edward in the rebuilt Westminster Abbey. He also named his eldest son in his honor.
Until about 1350, Edmund the Martyr, Gregory the Great and Edward the Confessor were regarded as English national saints, but Edward III preferred the more warlike figure of St. George and in 1348 founded the Order of the Garter and named St. George its patron saint. The order was housed at Windsor Castle and the chapel of St. Edward the Confessor was dedicated to St. George, who was acclaimed patron saint of the English people in 1351. Edward was never a popular saint, but he was important to the Norman dynasty, which claimed to be the successor of Edward, the last legitimate Anglo-Saxon king.
The tabernacle of St. Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey remains where it was after the final transfer of his body to the east chapel of the sanctuary on October 13, 1269, by Henry III. The day of his transfer, October 13 (his first transfer had also been on that date in 1163), is considered his feast day and each October the abbey has a week of feast and prayer in his honor. For some time from the abbey it was claimed that they had a set of gala accessories that Edward had left behind to be worn at all future coronations. After Edward”s canonization, they were considered holy relics and were subsequently used at all English coronations from the 13th century until they were destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.
October 13 is an optional feast day for Edward the Confessor in the Catholic Church of England and Wales, and the Church of England”s calendar of saints marks it as a minor feast day. Edward is considered a patron saint of difficult marriages.
The Vita Edwardi Regis states that: “(He) was a very correct type of man, of exceptional height and distinguished by his milky white hair and beard, large face and rosy cheeks, fine white hands and long translucent fingers; in the rest of his body he was an impeccably real person. Pleasant, but always dignified, he walked with his eyes lowered, very gently affable with everyone. If any matter provoked his temper, he seemed as terrible as a lion, but he never manifested his anger by insulting.” This, as historian Richard Mortimer points out, “contains obvious elements of the ideal king, expressed in flattering terms – tall and distinguished, affable, dignified and just.”
Edward was supposedly incapable of accepting bribes. According to Ramsey”s Liber Benefactorum, the abbot of the monastery decided that it would be dangerous to submit a claim brought by “a certain powerful man” to public competition, but that the latter was able to obtain a favorable judgment by giving Edward twenty gold marks and his wife five.