Edward The Confessor

Edward the Confessor was an Anglo-Saxon King of England. He was the last king from the House of Wessex. Edward was a stepson of Canute the Great and after the death of his half brother Harthacnut, the son of Canute; he briefly resumed the rule of House of Wessex. He is remembered as a pious ruler who was resourceful and energetic.

He successfully defended his kingdom against invasions but after his death, his successor Harold Godwinson was unable to withstand a ruthless Norman conquest and within months England had fallen to the hordes of William the Conqueror. Almost a hundred years after his death, Edward the confessor was canonized by Pope Alexander III. He remained patron saint of England till 1350, when King Edward III approved Saint George as the patron saint of England.

Edward The Confessor

Early Life: Edward was born in 1003 AD in Oxfordshire, England. He was son of Ethlred King of English and his second wife Emma of Normandy. He was also the stepson of Canute the Great as his mother married Canute in 1017. During his childhood, England faced several invasions by Danish ruler Sweyn Forkbeard and his son Canute. In 1013, when Edward was only ten years old, Sweyn successfully invaded England.

Edward and his family took refuge in Normandy. In 1014, Sweyn died and Ethelred came back to briefly rule England. Edward’s elder half brother Edmund succeeded Ethelred after his death in 1016. Edmund resisted Canute’s attempts of re-invasion and Edwards fought alongside him but in 1016 Canute became undisputed King of England. Edmund died and Edward went into exile with his siblings. However; his mother Emma of Normandy did not accompany them and married the new king instead. Edward spent next twenty five years in exile, mostly in Normandy.

He tried to forge alliances with local earls and rulers to support his claim to the throne. However, it was not until 1041, when his half brother Harthacnut came to power that he was invited back to England and was given a position of authority. In 1042, Harthacnut died and Edward succeeded him.

Edward’s Reign: Edward came to power as a weak monarch. Of the three powerful earls, only one had leaning towards the House of Wessex. The other two were more titled in favor of Danes. However, Edward successfully strengthened his hold over state and consolidated his power.

One of the first things he did after taking over was depriving his mother Emma of her title and authority. According to historians he blamed her for his lonely childhood and sufferings. He successfully invaded Scotland and Wales in 1050s and added them to his holdings. During Edward’s rule, Earl Godwin became increasingly powerful and rebellious. Edward was not happy with the increasing power and confrontational attitude of Godwin.

He sent Godwin and his family into exile in Flanders. By 1051, Edward had a number of Norman advisors in his court. Some historians believe that he had also promised Norman King William the Conqueror to make him his successor. Godwin did not approve of Edward’s closeness to the Normans. In 1052, Godwin sent an army under the command of his sons Harold and Tostig. Edward could not raise an army to fight Godwin’s forces as no earl was willing to support him. As a result, Edward had to send back Normans from his court and had to return Godwin all his confiscated estates.

After this, Edward remained severely dependent on Godwins and Witan, a counsel of earls for running the affairs of state. In 1053, Godwin died and his son Harold rose to prominence.

Later Life and Death: In his later life, Edward became a weak monarch. Much of his powers were exercised by Witan and his army was commanded by Harold Godwinson. Edward spent much of his last years in building Westminster Abbey in London.

In 1066, Edward died in London. He had no heir so Harold Godwinson succeeded him. However, Harold’s reign was short lived and he was defeated and killed by William the Conqueror, the same year in Battle of Hastings.