Æthelred II the Unready, Canute II of Denmark, Canute III of Denmark, Canute the Great, Edmund Ironside, Edward the Confessor, Emma of Normandy, Hardicanute, King of Edward, King of Norway, King of the English, Magnus the Good, Pope Alexander III
Edward the Confessor (c. 1003 – 5 January 1066) was an Anglo-Saxon English king and saint. Usually considered the last king of the House of Wessex, he ruled from 1042 until his death in 1066.
Edward was the seventh son of Æthelred the Unready, and the first by his second wife, Emma of Normandy daughter of Richard I the Fearless Duke of Normandy and Gunnor. The names of Gunnor’s parents are unknown, but Robert of Torigni wrote that her father was a forester from the Pays de Caux and according to Dudo of Saint-Quentin she was of noble Danish ancestry. Gunnor was probably born c. 950. Her family held sway in western Normandy and Gunnor herself was said to be very wealthy.
Edward was born between 1003 and 1005 in Islip, Oxfordshire, and is first recorded as a ‘witness’ to two charters in 1005. He had one full brother, Alfred, and a sister, Godgifu. In charters he was always listed behind his older half-brothers, showing that he ranked beneath them.
During his childhood, England was the target of Viking raids and invasions under Sweyn I Forkbeard and his son, Canute II, both Kings of Denmark. Following Sweyn’s seizure of the English throne in 1013, Emma fled to Normandy, followed by Edward and Alfred, and then by Æthelred. Sweyn died in February 1014, and leading Englishmen invited Æthelred back on condition that he promised to rule ‘more justly’ than before.
Æthelred agreed, sending Edward back with his ambassadors. Æthelred died in April 1016, and he was succeeded by Edward’s older half-brother Edmund Ironside, who carried on the fight against Sweyn’s son, Canute.
In October 1016 Canute and Edmund agreed to divide England between them, but Edmund died a month later, leaving Canute as undisputed King of the English.
With the death of Edmund Iron Side thus left Eadwig Ætheling the heir to the English throne. Eadwig Ætheling (sometimes also known as Eadwy or Edwy) (died 1017) was the fifth of the six sons of King Æthelred the Unready and his first wife, Ælfgifu of York. It is most probable that Ælfgifu was a daughter of Thored, Earl of southern Northumbria. But her parentage remains unknown.
Eadwig Ætheking was banished in 1016 and then outlawed in 1017 by Canute however he was reconciled with Canute the same year and allowed to live in England, but was executed at the instigation of Canute, possibly after attempting to rally resistance in the south west. The Anglo-Saxon claim to the throne then passed to the elder son of Æthelred’s second marriage, the future Edward the Confessor. Eadwig was buried at Tavistock Abbey a place built by his uncle Ordwulf.
King Canute II the Great died on November 12, 1035 in Shaftesbury, Dorset. In Denmark he was succeeded by Hardicanute, sometimes referred to as Canute III. Magnus I took control of Norway. In England Canute II was succeeded by Harold Harefoot.
Harold Harefoot was the son of Canute II the Great and Ælfgifu of Northampton, a daughter of Ælfhelm, ealdorman of southern Northumbria, and his wife Wulfrun. Ælfhelm was killed in 1006, probably at the command of King Æthelred the Unready, and Ælfgifu’s brothers, Ufegeat and Wulfheah, were blinded.
Harold was elected regent of England following the death of his father in 1035. He initially ruled England in place of his brother Hardicanute, who was stuck in Denmark due to a rebellion in Norway which had ousted their brother Sweyn. Although Harold had wished to be crowned king since 1035, Æthelnoth, Archbishop of Canterbury, refused to do so.
It was not until 1037 that Harold, supported by earl Leofric and many others, was officially proclaimed king of the English. The same year, Harold’s two step-brothers Edward the Confessor and Alfred returned to England with a considerable military force. Alfred was captured by Earl Godwin, who had him seized and delivered to an escort of men loyal to Harefoot. While en route to Ely, he was blinded and soon after died of his wounds.
Harold I Harefoot died at Oxford on March 17, 1040, just as his half-brother Hardicanute was preparing an invasion force of Danes, and was buried at Westminster Abbey. Hardicanute had been horrified by Harold’s murder of Alfred, and his mother, Emma of Normandy, demanded vengeance.
Harold’s body was subsequently exhumed, beheaded, and thrown into a fen bordering the Thames when Hardicanute assumed the throne in June 1040. The body was subsequently recovered by fishermen, and resident Danes reportedly had it reburied at their local cemetery in London. The body was eventually buried in a church in the City of Westminster, which was fittingly named St. Clement Danes.
Hardicanute succeeded as King of the English in 1040 died suddenly on June 8, 1042 after a reign of two years. Hardicanute was succeeded in Denmark by Magnus I the Good, King of Norway, an illegitimate son of King Olaf II Haraldsson (later St. Olaf), by his English concubine Alfhild. Hardicanute was the last Dane to rule England.
Edward the Confessor succeeded to the English throne on the death of his half-brother – Hardicanute. Edward the Confessor restored the rule of the House of Wessex after the period of Danish rule.
On January23, 1045 Edward married Edith the daughter of Earl Godwin, the most powerful earl in England. Her mother Gytha was sister of Ulf, a Danish earl who was Cnut the Great’s brother-in-law. She was probably born in or before 1027. Edith was originally named Gytha, but renamed Ealdgyth (or Edith) when she married King Edward the Confessor. Soon afterwards, her brother Harold and her Danish cousin Beorn Estrithson were also given earldoms in southern England.
When Edward died in 1066, he was succeeded by his wife’s brother Harold Godwinson, who was defeated and killed in the same year by the Normans under William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. Edward’s young great-nephew Edgar the Ætheling of the House of Wessex was proclaimed king after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 but was never crowned and was peacefully deposed after about eight weeks.
Historians disagree about Edward’s fairly long 24-year reign. His nickname reflects the traditional image of him as unworldly and pious. Confessor reflects his reputation as a saint who did not suffer martyrdom as opposed to his uncle, King Edward the Martyr.
Some portray Edward the Confessor’s reign as leading to the disintegration of royal power in England and the advance in power of the House of Godwin, because of the infighting that began after his death with no heirs to the throne.
Biographers Frank Barlow and Peter Rex, on the other hand, portray Edward as a successful king, one who was energetic, resourceful and sometimes ruthless; they argue that the Norman conquest shortly after his death tarnished his image. However, Richard Mortimer argues that the return of the Godwins from exile in 1052 “meant the effective end of his exercise of power”, citing Edward’s reduced activity as implying “a withdrawal from affairs”.
About a century later, in 1161, Pope Alexander III canonised the king. Edward was one of England’s national saints until King Edward III adopted Saint George (George of Lydda) as the national patron saint in about 1350. Saint Edward’s feast day is 13 October, celebrated by both the Church of England and the Catholic Church.