Edward the Confessor, one of the last Saxon kings of England, ruled from 1042 to 1066 and was followed by an uncertain time in English history. He is also known for his faith which led to his canonisation. Ultimately, his failure to leave an heir to the throne eventually led to the Norman invasion of England in 1066.
Here are some interesting facts about King Edward the Confessor!
Edward the Confessor Facts
1. He had close connections with Normandy
Edward was the son of King Ethelred the Unready and Queen Emma, who was the daughter of the Duke of Normandy. When the Danes invaded England in 1013, the family escaped to Normandy and Edward spent 25 years there. When he became King, many of his closest advisors were Normans as a result, an interesting fact about Edward the Confessor.
2. He wasn’t all that powerful as a King
While Edward was King of England, the real power lay with the three most powerful Earls during his time: Leofric of Mercia, Siward of Northumbria and Godwin of Wessex.
However, Edward favoured his Norman advisors, which didn’t endear him to these three or to any of the other Earls.
3. His chief rivalry was with his father-in-law!
Earl Godwin of Wessex had become one of the most powerful Earls in England during the reign of Edward’s predecessor, the Danish king Cnut the Great. His daughter Edith of Wessex married Edward the Confessor in 1045.
In 1035 when Cnut died, his kingdoms were divided among three rivals, of which Alfred Aetherling was one (and also the brother of Edward). He claimed the throne from Harold Harefoot who had taken over, and was supported by Earl Godwin. It’s reported that Godwin either captured Alfred himself or deceived him, pretending to be his ally and then handing him over to Harold, but one way or another Alfred was blinded and died, and Edward believed Godwin to be guilty of this. This led to a rivalry that was never forgotten, despite the fact that Edward married Godwin’s daughter, a crazy fact about Edward the Confessor.
4. He didn’t want to have children with his wife
Perhaps because of the tensions with his father-in-law, Edward the confessor didn’t want to have children with Edith of Wessex, his wife. This further complicated matters when he died, even though the throne of England was not hereditary at the time.
5. He caused a succession crisis by promising the throne to several heirs
Although the throne of England was not hereditary and therefore Edward had no right to promise it to anyone, it seems he made different promises which created a succession crisis after his death. He probably deemed Harold Godwinson as his successor, and the latter negotiated to become King Harold II after Edward’s death. However, he didn’t last long and was killed at the Battle of Hastings in the same year (1066). Harold was the son of Earl Godwin of Wessex, who had more or less taken over control from Edward even while he was alive.
There is a medieval claim that Edward had decided to be celibate before he married, and would have always wanted William the Conqueror to succeed him, given his sympathy for the Normans. It is believed Edward would have offered William the succession during a period when Godwin was exiled, having fallen out with Edward.
The Normans claimed that Edward has sent Harold Godwinson to Normandy in 1064 to confirm William’s succession. This led to William the Conqueror invading at the Battle of Hastings in the end. On his deathbed, Edward the Confessor is believed to have given the throne to Harold, but William later claimed that his promise would take precedence.
6. He built Westminster Abbey
An interesting fact about Edward the Confessor is that he ordered the Westminister Abbey, one of the most famous landmarks of London today, to be built. It is the first Norman Romanesque church in England and building started in 1042 as a royal burial church. The church was finished after Edward’s death in 1090, but demolished in 1245 to make way for King Henry III’s new building which is the one we can see today.
Even though Edward wasn’t particularly interested in the arts, the building of Westminster Abbey helped develop English Romanesque architecture and made him into an important patron of the church.
7. He was the first and only king of England to become a saint
Known for being a quick-tempered character and fond of hunting, Edward the Confessor doesn’t come across as a very saintly personality. He seemed to prefer clerks to monks for the most important bishop appointments, and didn’t come across as a very unworldly character, despite his decision to be celibate which is unusual.
After 1066, however, there was a subdued cult of Edward as a saint, and the prior of Westminster Abbey campaigned for his canonisation in order to increase the wealth and power of the abbey. By 1161, Pope Alexander III was convinced by the full support of Henry II and the English hierarchy to canonise Edward. This may have been influenced by the fact that the Pope himself had benefited from the English king’s support in a disputed election to the papacy!
Edward was called “Confessor” which means someone who had lived a saintly life but had not become a martyr.
8. He was the original national saint
Along with Edmund the Martyr and Gregory the Great, Edward the Confessor was regarded as the English national saint until 1348. At this time, however, King Edward III preferred Saint George who was a more war-like figure, and he established the Order of the Garter with St George its patron.
Edward the Confessor was important to the Normans who claimed their right to succession in England and that Edward was the last legitimate Anglo-Saxon king. His death left England without a clear successor and paved the way for the Battle of Hastings and crucial changes in English history. His life was quite interesting, and now you know the top 8 facts about King Edward the Confessor!
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