In the first part of this post, we identified two characters, pertinent to the events of 1066, who were absent from King Edward’s deathbed. The first, being Tostig Godwinson, who was mostly discussed in the last post, and William of Normandy, Edward’s cousin once removed. As his title suggests, William was a Norman. He was related to Edward through his great aunt Emma, who was Edward’s mother, also from Normandy. If the Norman version of events are to be believed, William was Edward’s dear, dear friend and heir. They had grown up together (despite their large age gap) and Edward had promised William that he would make him his heir once he became king of England, even though at that time, Edward had no idea he would ever be king. If all this was true, surely the English would have sent for William, the minute it became clear that Edward was gravely ill. After all, Edward’s health had been on the decline since October 1065, when he’d had the first stroke. And although the king made a reasonable recovery, it seems he wasn’t the same after that first episode. The stroke had followed a conflict between Harold and Tostig, the former siding with the northerners who wanted to replace Tostig with Morcar of Mercia. As we discussed in the last post, Tostig was close to Edward and the loss of him would have been very painful for Edward.
Given Edward’s age and his recent illness, it would not be unreasonable to have thought that some correspondence with Normandy would have occurred – had the Witan agreed to the naming of William as Edward’s successor, as the Norman sources wanted everyone to believe. But the likelihood of the Witan agreeing, seems somewhat untenable, and considering the events that were to unfold in the decade or more that followed the supposed meeting with William in 1051, highly impossible.
According to the Norman chronicles, Harold had been sent to Normandy by Edward to confer on William the succession. Harold had sworn on holy relics to support William and be by his side when the time came for the duke to claim his kingdom. This event lends support to the Normans’ claim that Harold, Edward and the Witan, had agreed to accept William as their king after Edward’s demise. So why did Harold steal William’s crown if this had been the case? Did Harold cross his fingers when he placed his hands on the relics and swore to William, that he would support him as his vassal in England, and help him gain the crown? Did Edward really send Harold to Normandy to discuss the succession with William? And would the Witan agree to accept a foreigner, with no ties whatsoever to England, no lands in England or English blood to bolster his claim?
And what of the Englishman Eadmer’s tale of Harold’s trip to Normandy, which tells an entirely different story. Eadmer disagrees that Harold was sent to Normandy by Edward. Eadmer, a monk of Christchurch, would have had first hand access to information about the Godwinsons doings, and in his telling of Harold’s trip to Normandy, he states that Harold crossed the sea to William’s court, not to discuss the succession with William, but to request the freedom of his kinsmen, Haakon and Wulfnoth. But if we look at it from the Norman point of view: Edward had promised his crown to William in a meeting with him in 1051 or 52, and later sent Harold across the channel with gifts and a message from the king, that the promise still stood, and considering he was getting old, and not in great health, he wanted to settle his affairs before he died.
Still looking at it from the Norman perspective, there are a number of reasons as to why William stayed in Normandy as Edward lay dying. It seems unlikely that he was oblivious to Edward’s declining health. Perhaps he had been sent for the first time Edward had been ill, but when his cousin recovered, he decided not to come. Perhaps the weather was not conducive to a channel crossing; we know how difficult it was in the summer months for him to cross the channel in 1066, so most likely, the weather in late December would have been just as difficult, if not worse. However, if he was unable to attend due to reasons other than bad weather, perhaps a representative could have been sent, one of his brothers or his close advisers, or even one of the many Normans already based in England at the time. But no representative appears to have attended the death, nor the funeral, to act on William’s behalf as one might have expected, and we cannot discount the fact that if William had been sent for, he may not have made it in time for Edward’s funeral. William, it seems, was, to all intents and purposes, left out of the equation, which if you compare it to Harthacnut’s invitation to Edward twenty plus years before, to come to England and be his heir, seems a little incongruous with what one would have expected of a king to his heir. Nor had Edward been in a hurry to confirm his successor that Christmas of 1065. If William had already been decided upon, then he would have been sent for, of that I am sure of.
The Norman sources imply that Harold made sure that William was not informed of the deterioration in Edward’s health and took the crown for himself, disregarding his promise and oath given to the duke when he had visited him in Normandy. And this was true. William did not know about Edward’s death until after Harold’s coronation.
Edward, as we know, and this is not disputed later by the Norman writers, did not name his ‘heir’,William, as his successor on his deathbed or at any other time near to that event. There is also scant evidence, apart from an entry in only one of the chronicles, that Edward had met with William in 1052, when Harold was in exile. Edward, not very helpfully, waited until he was almost dead, to spit the words in his dying breath that Harold Godwinson was the man he would commend the care of his kingdom and his wife to. No one, not even the Normans, ever disputed that this meant he wanted Harold to wear his crown and sit on his throne. He does not say, “I give you my kingdom to look after until William gets here.”
“I commend this woman and all the kingdom to your protection… and do not deprive her… of any honour she has received from me. I also commend to you all those men who have left their native land for love of me and served me faithfully. Take an oath of fealty from them, if they wish… or send them with safe conduct across the Channel to their own homes with all they have acquired in their service from me.”
So by now, I think that we can safely say that William was not wanted at the funeral? And it seems that whatever had occurred during William’s visit to England in 1052, had been purposely pushed to the far corners of Edward’s memory. Edward, most likely, as we can glean from his actions in the years following this meeting, naively hoped that his discussion with his cousin, would fade to dust in the minds of the Normans and, of course, William himself. It has been said that the visit never took place at all. There is only one source that mentions it and not in great detail. In fact it says nothing about what was discussed between William and the king at all. I doubt not that the Norman duke came to England, spent a nice sojourn with his cousin, the English king, who dined and wined him, discussing, over dinner, important issues from Viking incursions launched from Norman ports, to Edward marrying a sister or daughter of his guest, and even possibly considering William to be a contender for the throne. One can imagine the king agreeing to anything at that time, to please his great friend, Archbishop Champart, who had much to do with the ousting of Godwin and his sons into exile.
There had been an interconnection between Normandy and England since 991, when a treaty was devised at an assembly of English and Norman bishops and nobles, under sponsorship of the pope. The agreement was, that neither the king nor the duke would side with the other’s enemies. This special relationship was cemented when Aethelred married Emma, Duke Richard II’s sister. And even when Emma, following Aethelred’s death decided to hook up with the evidently more appealing, Cnut, bulging with testosterone as one might imagine a Scandinavian warrior of the time, Richard maintained good terms with his brother-in-law. However by the time William’s father, Robert, became duke, relationships had soured and Cnut and Robert seemed to have disliked one another immensely, or had rubbed each other up the wrong way, somehow. This may, in part, have been caused by Robert’s apparent repudiation of Estrith, Cnut’s sister. From Robert’s point of view, he may have been worried by the growing power of Cnut’s empire and it seemed he turned his support to the two English athelings, Alfred and Edward, dumped by their mother, Emma, with their relations in Normandy, for a better option. It was said that Robert had been planning an expedition to invade England on their behalf, but this never came to fruition. Whatever the reasons, both Cnut and Robert were dead by 1035.
Evidence shows in the form of attestations, that from 1028, the English athelings, the future Edward the Confessor and his brother, the tragic Alfred, were ‘close’ to Duke Robert and William would have seen them both at court, growing up. By the time Edward was to sail across the sea, an invitation extended to him by his half-brother, the new king, Harthacnut, William was aged about thirteen or fourteen. What the relationship between the young duke and his second cousin, Edward, who was by this time aged about 40, was like, we cannot tell, but perhaps it was reasonably cordial, hence Edward’s welcome of him to his court some 12 or so years later. I doubt if there was a great love between them, however, from Edward’s perspective, otherwise it might not have been so easy for Edward to forget the promise he had made to William in the years following their meeting in 1052.
To understand the reasons why Edward decided to sweep the promise to William under the carpet, we must look to what preceded the visit. Edward was surrounded by fellow Normans, and since his crowning in 1042, gradually more and more of his fellow countrymen were being instated into official positions, pushing out many Englishmen and taking over lands that were once held by natives. For example, Steyning was given over to the Abbot of Fécamp in France. This favouritism shown towards the Norman interlopers did not go down well with the English and Anglo Danes. Edward’s favourite at the time was Robert Champart, who had been Abbot of the Abbey de Jumièges in Normandy. He was invested with the Archbishopric of Canterbury which was known to have irritated Godwin, as the Godwin camp had nominated Stigand for the post.
Champart and Godwin did not get on. And it was easy for the king to take sides, because he held a deep grudge against Godwin and thought him responsible for the murder of his brother Alfred in c 1035. So with the Archbishop whispering nasties about Godwin in the king’s ears, along the lines of, “well, sire, he killed your brother, and now he wants to take care of you, and take your crown!” It was not difficult to turn the tide of fame and glory against Godwin. Edward, prey to Champart’s plotting, grew in confidence and when his brother-in-law, Eustace of Boulogne and his men, caused a fraças in Dover on his way home to the continent after visiting the king, Edward seized his chance to rid himself of his enemy. In a surprising show of strength, Edward ordered Godwin to punish the people of Dover, whom he felt had attacked the French rather than the other way round. Dover was in Godwin’s jurisdiction, but Godwin, protesting that this was unjust, was ordered to hand over all the king’s thegns he had commended to him and leave the country in 3 days. Godwin tried a stand off, but his supporters were not happy to go against their king and so Godwin had no choice but to flee with his family.
The Godwinsons were exiled for a year. During that time, he gathered support in Flanders whilst Harold was in Ireland, drumming up aid there. Whilst this was going on, William, we are told in one of the Anglo Saxon Chronicles, accepted an offer to attend the king at his court, and he came across the sea with a number of followers, where, it is said, he was offered their heirdom to England. However, a year later, in a massive turn of fortune, the Godwinsons came storming back from exile like a whirlwind of destruction and after raiding along the coasts, they went before the king, and Edward had no choice but to reinstate them. Those Normans implicated in influencing the king were accused of treason and forced to flee, including Champart. So the exilers were exiled by the exiled.
It did not take Godwin long to rise to power again, his oldest surviving son, Harold, was now Earl of East Anglia and his daughter, Edith, was reinstated as the queen. Godwin was on the look out for more lands for his remaining sons of which he had three. There was now a huge shift in power, back to the English. The hated Normans had been ousted, although there were some Normans who Edward was allowed to keep in his service. The incident was a huge example of how a king could be overpowered by one of his subjects. When William came to power over ten years later. He would make sure, that none of his subjects were allowed to have that kind of power, ever again.
In the years that followed Godwin’s exile and William’s visit, Edward would show that the promise he had made to William, had been but a whisper in the wind. For in 1056, he was convinced by the Witan to send Bishop Eadred on a mission to find the long lost son of his half-brother, Edmund Ironside. The English had realised that the royal couple were not going to produce an heir any time soon and so, recalling that Edward, son of Edmund, had been sent as a babe in arms to the continent when Cnut came to power. This was an heir that would be considered throneworthy, an atheling. Unlike William, this heir had the blood of Wessex running through his veins.
And so this concludes the evidence as to why William was not invited to the funeral.
In the next chapter, we will be looking at the week the sky was lit up by the Hoary Star and what it meant for the doomed English.