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Edward the Confessor (c. 1003 – 1066)

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.

17 thoughts on “Edward the Confessor (c. 1003 – 1066)”

  1. Interesting stuff about Edward “the Confessor”. Though imy opinion, he could hardly have been the “easiest” person in the world to be around, and as far as I can tell, he was hardly suited to ruling the England of that day and age. It was fortunate for him, that he had some reasonably strong “advisors”(mostly the Godwin family). In any case, I always find your blog interesting and informative!
    Anne G

  2. Robert, it’s a period around which I’ve strongly considered writing an historical fiction novel. Once my historical fantasy series is complete, my plans are to start on novel based on the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings, most likely starting with Edward the Confessor’s reign. I’ll have to dig deeper and narrow the focus of my research, so you may see more posts on this subject / period sometime in the future. I’m skeptical to say “near” future, because I’m planning to start revising my novel again around the end of this month.

    Anne, thanks for adding me to your blogroll. It is an honor indeed! I’ve been following your blog for quite some time. A link to your site is also posted in my blogroll. As for Edward the Confessor — based on my preliminary research — he seemed to be a ruler more concerned with prayer than with swords, leaving the affairs of the state and war to others like Godwin. In that sense (the military sense), I would say he was not a particular strong leader. Though he might not have been as pious, either, as he wanted people to believe. Some historians and biographers claim his childless marriage was not because he purposefully abstained from sexual relations.

  3. Sara,

    Where do I begin? I’ll do my best to explain it “briefly.”

    First off (to address the genre), I would classify my series as historical fantasy for two reasons: historical in the sense that it is based on an actual time period, being late 12th / early 13th England and France. But fantasy in the sense that it is not based on any actual historical event or person or place. All of those aspects are fictionalized.

    There are two main kingdoms in my novel, one of them an island kingdom to the north, and the other, a continental kingdom to the south across the channel. As befitting of the medieval time period, war and chaos seem to rule; the nobles (kings, earls, counts, barons, lords) war against one another, but there is one man who emerges as the ruler of the continental kingdom, and he is the “antagonist.” A man with the mentality of Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, his desire is for one thing, and that is to rule the entire continental lands, eradicate any claimants to the throne, and also bring the island kingdom under his control. It is a story of deception and vengeance and betrayal, for throughout the medieval world, this was common among nobles who wished to increase their status and wealth by allying with the side they believed stood the greater chance of victory. Wealth was in land, and the easiest way to increase your wealth was to go to war and take over your neighbors’ lands. This was a common practice in medieval France, a decentralized nation with a figurehead king, a monarch in truth who had very little power over his subjects — nobles who held duchies and counties of their own and had their own small armies. So you had a lot of infighting among the barons trying to conquer each others’ principalities.

    Duke William of Normandy was a great example of a man who, in reality, arguably had more power than the King of France, as William controlled the duchy of Normandy and the entire Kingdom of England at one time, though medieval England was seen by France as insignificant, an outpost on the edge of the world. France was the heart of the civilized world, the greatest nation to rise since the fall of the Roman Empire, forged by great leaders such as Clovis and Charlemagne.

    This is the backdrop of my novel. The two kingdoms — the island kingdom and the continental kingdom — have a dislike for one another, and so when the antagonist, a noble without royal blood and without rightful claim to the throne, begins to take over the divided principalities of the continental kingdom, many of the nobles switch allegiances to him, and some try and form a weak alliance with one another, while others remain neutral, so there is a great divide among the many lords and barons, dukes and counts. While across the channel, the island kingdom waits and watches.

    Medieval England was not nearly as divided as medieval France. William the Conqueror, after defeating Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, began a campaign of castle construction throughout the kingdom, and he set up Norman rulers (his friends and relatives) to govern and administer these many estates, and thus brought the people under his control, and due to these efforts, England became more of a central monarchy, though it was still divided into many shires and could not avoid the inevitable fighting that came on the heels of a king’s death, such as the with the death of King Henry I and the subsequent battle for the throne between Stephen of Blois and Matilda.

    The church at that time was very powerful, and you cannot study the medieval period without noticing the incredible influence it had on Western Europe. I’ve tried to include this element in my novel as well, a corrupt church run by corrupt leaders, who will do anything they can to protect and increase their power and impose their will on the people. Even kings would bend at the knee of the Pope, and if they didn’t, they were excommunicated, though in truth, that meant very little to some kings. Religion plays an important part in my novel, for without religion, characters are not very human.

    The novel not only has outwardly religious characters but also contains spiritually symbolic elements that will be noticeable to the astute observers. I like how C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien use spiritual elements in their writings, and I wanted to use that style in my own writing, though I wanted to be much more subtle than Lewis, nothing quite as obvious as Lewis’ use of Aslan as a representative of Christ. Lewis tends to hit you over the head with it. I want my readers to think and dig deep to find the underlying meanings.

    From a fantasy perspective, I wanted my story to be real and dark and gritty, so there are no magical elements in it as you find with almost all fantasy. I’m a huge fan of George R.R. Martin, and I love his story telling ability, his complex plots and subplots, and his characters. And most of all, I love his subtle use of magic. It is a fabric of his story, a believable thread that plays an important role, a supernatural spiritual role, and one that comes off as believable. Personally, I don’t believe in having magic in fantasy just for the sake of having it. It must make sense.

    To answer your question about publishing, I still have not arrived at the point of seeking an agent or representative for publication. I have a test group of readers currently reading my novel, and they are supposed to provide feedback to me by the end of this month. My plan is to begin my fourth revision by the start of September (based on their input), and I hope to have a polished manuscript ready to be sent out by the end of next year (2010).

    Thanks so much for asking, and I hope my answer was not too long-winded. I could go on and on about it, given the time 🙂

  4. Steven:

    It really sounds like you have something interesting going on there. And, if my research is right, more or less, I think you have the situation pretty much down perfectly, so it will be interesting to see your novel in print or whatever.

    My own noovel(actually, it’s developed into a trilogy), and I’m planning a “prequel” because of the way one of the characters developed), is set in real historical time with real and fictional characters. There are some “fantasy” elements in it, but they are, shall we say, subservient to my telling a certain kind of story in a certain way, and keeping historical events as far as is known, exactly as they were. No “alternative” history for me! But since there is some “fantasy”(actually kind of based on scientific elements), I”m calling this effort “romantic historical science fiction”. If anyone is interested, I will be sure to let everyone know a bout the progress of this work.
    Anne G

  5. Steven:

    I’d also like to add that my “prequel” takes place mostly in the time of Edward “the Confessor”. From my readings, I have come to the conclusion that whatever else he was, Edward could well be considered a “case”; by “case” I mean of the sort thet Dr. Freud, had he existed in the 11th century, would have loved to get on his couch and “analyze”. Edward seems to have been rather “oddball” in some ways, and not really suited to ruling England or anywhere else.
    Anne G

  6. Anne,

    Is Edward the Confessor one of the characters in your novel?

    As far as characters go, I’ve read that all character motivations are contingent upon a basic set of factors. For example, love and vengeance are two.

    This is something I’ve definitely considered when crafting my own characters. If I were to categorize my protagonist’s main motivation, I would say he is mostly compelled by vengeance. His father and brothers were killed in battle, and though he was never truly close to them, he feels driven by his duty of the blood price to take vengeance on his family’s killer, the antagonist. It is this “obligation” that directs him, not necessarily his love for them. In fact, he doesn’t exude a sense of love of at all when thinking about his father and brothers; it’s almost a feeling of indifference, or even a burden he carries.

    My protagonist is also plagued by an internal spiritual struggle. He was close to his mother, but his mother’s spiritual beliefs were viewed as heretical by the leaders of the universal religion. During the medieval period, as I assume you know, there were various “heretical” sects that popped up and that Catholicism attempted to crush: the Cathars, the Waldensians, the Hussites, etc. My protagonist’s mother, during her life, followed one of these types of groups, and it served as a constant rift between his mother and father. My protagonist wants to believe his mother was not a heretic, he wants to trust she was right in what she believed, but he agonizes over accepting her ideologies as his own.

  7. Steven:

    Edward “the Confessor” isn’t a character in what I’m working on now, but he will be in the “prequel”, which I’m going to try to get started for NaNoWriMo, just to see where it goes.

    I’m not the kind of person who takes much interest in “religious” questions, even in the Middle Ages; I guess that’s just my family background. And the way you look at conflicts for characters, is certainly one way of looking att or organizing things, and there’s nothing wrong with it if you want to go that route. My characters tend to be more complex than just seeking “love” or “revenge”. People are more complex than that, I think. But that’s just my 2 cents.
    Anne G

  8. I agree people are more complex than those basic factors. Those are just broad categories almost all motivations fall under in some way. There are more than just love and vengeance (or hate), but I can’t recall all of them at the moment. Greed or selfishness is one. Praise could be another.

    For example, if a friend asks you to help them move and is going to pay you for your time, and you agree to help them, what is the person’s motivation for helping his/her friend? Is it love for a friend? Is it greed (money)? Is it the praise (words of affirmation) he/she will receive from the friend after the job is done? Do you expect something in return (again selfishness)? Is it a combination of these factors (which is by no means an extensive list of factors)? How does the person’s motivation change if the friend does not offer to pay him/her?

    If you were writing this scene, what would be the person’s motivation for helping his/her friend? The person’s actions, non-verbal cues, and words will tell us a lot about his/her motivations.

    What are your thoughts?

  9. Steven:

    It would kind of depend on what I was writing Personally, I really shy away from “simplistic” reductions of motivation in characters, b ecause people are complex beings, and I like to portray them that way. Their motivations may well be “mixed” and in conflict. If that is the case, I try to show that in some way.

    On the o ther hand, I also recognize that for some of us, reducing complex emotional states down to “basics” may well work for some people and some writers. Everyone is different in their approach, and what works for one person may not work as well for another.
    Anne G

  10. This is an interesting discussion topic. I should probably create another post separate from this one to open up a thread solely for characters and motivation.

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