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Edward the Confessor (c. 1003 – 1066)

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He was the pious king, the saintly king, one of the last Anglo-Saxon rulers to sit the English throne. He was St. Edward the Confessor, the son of King Ethelred II and Emma, the daughter of Richard II of Normandy. Exiled due to Danish invasions and unrest among the English nobility, Ethelred’s family took refuge at the court of Richard II in 1013. Three years later, Ethelred died, leaving his son Edmund (“Ironside”) as King of England. Later that year, Edmund also died, and the Danes took back complete control of England under the leadership of Canute. Emma and her other two sons remained in exile for the next two decades.

In 1041, Harthacnut (son of Canute) named Edward as his successor, and the following year he was crowned king with widespread support. The majority of Edward’s reign was peaceful. He did face opposition from the likes of King Magnus I of Norway, who threatened to invade England, claiming he was the rightful successor to the throne based on an agreement with Harthacnut; and also, rivalries abounded among some of England’s great earls such as Godewine and Leofric. Edward further complicated matters by inviting some of his Norman friends to court.

In truth, through the early years of Edward’s reign, the real ruler of England was the powerful noble Godewine. Edward had married Godewine’s daughter, Edith, in 1045, by whom he never had any children. This lack of children would cause even greater problems after Edward’s death, culminating in a final clash for the English throne between the last Anglo-Saxon king, Harold Godwinson, and his rival Duke William of Normandy, the distant cousin of Edward.

By 1049, relations had soured between Edward and Godewine, and two years later, with the support of Leofric of Mercia, Edward  exiled Godewine. A year later, Godewine returned, and the two men were reconciled in order to deal with the threat of another Norse invasion. In 1053, Godewine died, and his son Harold (Godwinson) became Earl of Wessex and one of Edward’s most trusted advisors.

For the last half of his reign, Edward allowed Harold and other powerful nobles to prosecute wars against Wales and also handle many of the domestic affairs. One of Edward’s most crowning achievements was the consecration of a church to St. Peter built at Westminster Abbey, which is where Edward was buried following his death on the 4th of January 1066. In the wake of his death, both Harold Godwinson and William of Normandy claimed Edward had promised them the throne, which would ultimately lead to its final conclusion at the Battle of Hastings.


BBC. “Edward the Confessor, (c. 1003 – 1066).” The BBC Online. (accessed August 12, 2009).

English, Edward D. “Edward the Confessor, Saint.” Encyclopedia of the Medieval World, vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc.
ItemID=WE49&iPin=EMW0463&SingleRecord=True (accessed August 12, 2009).

Additional Reading:

Frank Barlow, ed., The Life of Edward the Confessor Who Rests at Westminster, (London: Thomas Nelson, 1962); Frank Barlow, Edward the Confessor (London: Eyre Methuen, 1979); Peter A. Clarke, The English Nobility under Edward the Confessor (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994). Eyre Methuen, 1979); Peter A. Clarke, The English Nobility under Edward the Confessor (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).

Steven Muhlberger. “Edward the Confessor and His Earls.”

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Part 4: A.D. 1015 – 1051 and Part 5: A.D. 1052 – 1069.

Catholic Encyclopedia. St. Edward the Confessor.