– I am proud to add my contribution to this year’s wonderful Christmas Blog Hop Event from the Historical Writers Forum. See more participants future and past below –
King Edward, later coined as The Confessor king, and although he does achieve a canonization, he is awarded the nomenclature ‘Confessor’ rather than a sainthood, more due to his supposed piety rather than any martyrdom. For Edward, the early ‘winter’ months that we would now refer to as autumn or fall, was a time for hunting, eating well, and pursuing more leisurely sports rather than the serious business of running a kingdom, time off which he deserved as a hardworking monarch. After all, he had spent all year dealing with various administration issues and the petty squabbles of the lesser nobles in his kingdom even sometimes having to endure a conflict or two along the Welsh borders. But in September of the year 1065, the king who’d hitherto reigned for twenty three years, was beset by a northern rebellion, resulting in the exile of Tostig Godwinson, reputed to be the king’s favourite. It would be important to note that Tostig was also the queen’s favourite brother, she being a Godwin also, with many siblings.
It was Tostig’s brother, Harold Godwinson who had forced Edward’s hand in exiling his beloved champion. Harold had been sent on king’s orders to deal with the northern rebels. These men had never really wanted a southerner as Earl for their realm of Northumbria, and Tostig had met much opposition in his ten years as their lord, often complaining and revolting at his harsh line in taxes and his dealings with them, but now the excrement had really hit the fan and they wanted him out and instead were demanding as their new earl, Morcar, the son of the late Alfgar of Mercia. Morcar, just a young teenager at the time, would be an easier piece of clay to mold to their ways than Tostig had been. Edwin, Morcar’s older brother, the Earl of Mercia, also young and pliable, was enlisted to support his brother’s cause. They marched south, causing havoc in their wake and here is where Harold played his hand, in getting rid of his brother, Tostig. Not willing to see the kingdom ripped asunder on behalf of his brother, Harold chose the Mercian brothers cause instead of Tostig, after a scene where he accuses his brother of betrayal, leaves the kingdom, an outcast.
Edward was devastated. He was shattered by his counsellors’ refusal to use arms to restore Tostig to his office. Harold’s refusal to help Tostig must have felt like perfidy, though to Harold, it would have been the sensible thing to do. To encourage a civil war at such a time when Harald Hardraada was looking to expand his Norwegian empire by adding England to it would have been pure folly. The loss of Tostig, seems to have broken Edward and, as expounded by the Vita Ædwardi Regis, he ‘became so ill, his mind was affected until his death’. With Tostig’s outlawing, Edward was to suffer the first of a series of strokes that would lead to his death.
There must have been a strange tinge of unease and trepidation to the Christmas preparations of those following weeks that Edward took to his sick bed. Up until the Tostig episode, Edward, though aged, had been quite robust and still able to go hunting in his favourite hunting ground, the Forest of Dean. Harold had been building a hunting lodge in Archenfield, the land he had conquered from Gruffudd as a result of his and Tostig’s joint incursion into Wales two years before. It was said that Harold had been intending to gift the hunting lodge to the king, therefore Edward had at that time, been of stout heart and mind. But an unfortunate incident was to foil Harold’s attempts to ingratiate himself with the king: in August, 1065, Welsh raiders burned the lodge to the ground and slaughtered all the workers there.
There are a number of theories that we could speculate upon as to what might have influenced Harold in his decision making when he mediated for the king with the Mercian brothers, one that Harold might have believed that Tostig, jealous of Harold, had paid the Welsh to burn the lodge. Harold, jealous of his brother in return, might have felt that he needed to usurp his brother as king’s favourite and wanted to gift the king this lodge in order to do so. Therefore when a month later the northern rebellion occurred, Harold might have seen an opportunity for revenge and thereby backed the earls instead of Tostig, getting rid of a possible obstacle in Edward’s favour. This is all speculation of course. The Godwin brothers were renown for squabbling. Perhaps Harold felt he deserved better, perhaps the evidence is just circumstantial. Who knows. But it is interesting none the less. I must say that Harold’s refusal to back Tostig, his own brother, is very telling and you may make of it what you will.
Tostig’s removal from the kingdom, coincided with the start of Edward’s illness which seems to have been the trigger. The king began to worsen as the following weeks went by. As Christmas approached, it must have been clear that Edward was not going to recover from such a serious illness. He was on his way out and not coming back. And something had to be done.
One would hardly imagine that a kingdom’s administration would have been totally unprepared for such an event such as the king’s demise. With possible war on the horizon, it would barely seem rational that plans for the aftermath of Edward’s passing had not been made. The speed with which Harold was crowned Edward’s successor was obviously a fait accompli. So, whilst Edward lay sick in his bed in those weeks after Tostig’s departure, the wise men of the kingdom, the witan, must have come up with a plan. Most likely this would also have included the queen, who, according to Poitiers in his Gesta Guillelmi, was said to have loved Tostig and hated Harold. Because of the nature of Tostig’s downfall and Harold’s perceived refusal to help him, she probably did hold a grudge against him and may not have been happy with the decision to enthrone him, but he was her best chance of surviving as an influential player in this Anglo-Saxon Game of Thrones. She would have been able to remember what had happened to her predecessor, Emma of Normandy, whose power greatly diminished when her second husband died.
During this time, Harold would have been garnering support amongst the most significant members of the nobility. With Earls Leofric, and Ælfgar now passed, it was now up to Harold to curry favour with Ælfgar’s teenage sons, Edwin and Morcar. To some extent he’d already done so by support in Morcar’s appointment to Northumbria. It seems likely that they must have been in some sort of negotiation with Harold regarding a marriage alliance with their sister, Aldith, the widow of the deposed Welsh King, Gruffudd. This meant Harold would have had to put aside his long time wife Edith Swanneck. One must wonder how this felt for both of them. It does appear though, that perhaps they did continue their relationship, as the story goes that Edith was his go to when he stopped in Waltham on his way back to London from Stamford Bridge.
How the young earls felt about Harold, whose clan was often at odds with their own, we cannot know, but they might recall that Harold’s negotiations during the Welsh problems had always led to their father being reinstated and back in power. I suspect that if Edward had had his way, Ælfgar wouldn’t have been. Harold’s main gripe seems to have been against Gruffudd, and once Ælfgar was dead, he and Tostig piled into Wales and devastated it from south to north and probably encouraged the ousting and execution of Gruffudd by his own men! Of course that was in the good old days when they were friends – Harold and Tostig that is.
Its quite likely that Morcar and Edwin would have supported Harold in his quest for the kingship that Christmas, and perhaps thrown in their sister, Aldith, as part of the deal. Of course, all the other earls were Godwins too – Leofwine and Gyrth – who were Harold’s younger brothers after Tostig. There can be no doubt who they would have supported. But as an aside, we must not forget young Waltheof, a fledgling earl, whose father had been Siward the Strong, Earl of Northumbria before Tostig was appointed. He had been too young to take up his father’s mantle in Northumbria when the old man left this world. Now he was around fifteen, sixteen, and had been given some responsibility as Earl of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire, perhaps in preparation for higher status. Amongst the other members of the witan would have been archbishops Stigand and Ealdred, both Godwin supporters, not to mention the leading bishops and abbots, and abbesses also, and other leading wealthy and powerful noblemen from the shires up and down the kingdom. With the witan’s seal on the table, all Harold really needed now as a stamp of approval was for Edward to express his consent, something that would be needed when the time came to argue the case against William.
For the nobles of England, gathered in the Great Hall that Christmas, at King Edward’s palace on Thorney Island, it must have come as a surprise that Edward was dying, for he had always been quite a robust creature in his lifetime, being a man who loved the outdoors and the thrill of the hunt. He had not been a warrior king, this is true, he left that side of his administration to his very capable deputy, Harold Godwinson, but he had never shown signs of serious weakness of health issues unto then, and to know that their king’s life was coming to an end, must have been a great astonishment to all for although he’d been in ill health since that fateful day in October when Tostig was exiled, it would have taken some time for the news to reach the length and breadth of England before Christmas.
At first, Edward had seemed to recover from the initial onset of illness but was beset on Christmas Eve by another episode. Somehow he managed to attend the Christmas Day service, attending the celebrations though quite unwell. The day after he was confined to his bed, and by the 28th of December, he was too ill to attend the consecration of his life’s ambition, the Abbey of Westminster, a monument he built in dedication to St Peter, his favourite saint. And so on the eve of the king’s dying, there had been no proclaimed heir apparent who would take the throne by default once the king had drawn his last breath.
One might have thought that the Aetheling Edgar would have been a contender, but he seems to have been out of sight and mind, not listed as being at court that Christmas. He may have been finishing his education elsewhere, perhaps in Winchester in the household of the queen in her dower lands. It is not known, but he might have been put forward at the witanemegot, but it was hardly likely that he would have won their vote, for he was only young, somewhere between twelve and fourteen years old. Harold could have acted as regent , much in the way he’d acted as Edward’s first minister. If it was considered, it was obviously not the outcome anyone wanted. England’s powers that were, wanted a strong, experienced man and not an untried boy in charge, regardless of who was pulling the strings. Harold may have felt he deserved the crown, after his loyalty and hard work to attain precedence over all others during his career. To save England from what was coming, the crown may have been the deal.
It seems sad now to think that poor Edward was approaching his death right when he needed to stay alive to see his precious church of St Peter – Westminster Abbey – at last consecrated. The church had been his life’s work. His darling. His precious. And now there he was – dying. They say that when people are at the end of their lives, they somehow find the strength to stay for that special arrival, or occasion. My own father had been more-or-less unconscious all week until my brother flew in from Australia to see him and then he perked up for a day before sadly taking his leave from us the next day. This could be said of Edward, who managed to find the strength to see Christmas through in his new Romanesque-style church but not the final consecrated on the 28th December. He certainly must have struggled those last days, for evidently he was unable to partake much of his food, and after Christmas day, he took to his bed and never arose again. By the time the twelve days of Christmas was over, he was gone from this world and the Kingdom of England had a new king, one not chosen because he had the blood of Wessex, but because he was the most competent man at the time.
6th Dec Jen Black a Viking Christmas
13th Dec Sue Barnard: A Light in the Darkness
20th Dec Judith Arnopp: A Tudor Christmas
21st Dec Tim Hodkinson: A Viking Christmas
24th Paula Lofting https://paulaloftinghistoricalnovel.worpress.com
25th Alex Marchant https://alexmarchantblog.wordpress.com