The Rise of Edward the Confessor: The Story of the Man Who But For a Quirk of Fate, Might Never Have Been King

How Edward Became King

Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 1 : le roi Édouard le Confesseur
Bayeux Tapestry, Scene 1: King Edward the Confessor and Earl Harold. Source: Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Author: Myrabella

Edward, son of Æthelred must have been one of if not the luckiest Anglo-Saxon kings to take the throne of England. He starts out with his chances of succeeding his father looking very hopeful up to the age of about eight. Then his luck ran out with the coming of Danish invaders, Svein and Cnut. His father Æthelred, chased out of England, returns again only to die in the midst of the Danish invasion. With Edward’s older brother Edmund¹ on the throne in Wessex and Cnut in charge of the Danelaw, his chances of ever becoming king were looking slim, and they got even slimmer when Edmund, the courageous Ironside, dies from his battle wounds leaving the kingdom to Cnut as agreed by the treaty the two men had made. As if things couldn’t get any worse, they are compounded when his dear mother, Emma, decides to get into a new marriage bed with Cnut, followed by two more children, leaving poor old Edward and his brother, Alfred, out in the cold in Normandy.
The years go by, and Edward spends it in exile, cultivating a hatred for his mother, that will last a life time. And who could blame him? After all, she abandons the interests of her sons by Æthelred to marry this Cnut chap who is years younger than her and not willing to play stepdaddy to two young lads one little bit. Emma seems quite happy about this, or perhaps, struck with a short memory problem, forgets her children from her former marriage also including a girl, Goda. Most likely, Emma negotiates her own terms for her marriage, seeing as her brother, in a fit of pique, more-or-less disowns her when she sails back to England to marry Cnut, and it would seem that within those terms there is no room for Edward or Alfred in this happy new family. So Emma, as far as her eldest son is concerned, bangs the first nail into her coffin, and there are more nails to bang in over the coming years.

emmacnut1
Emma and Cnut – public domain

Despite her neglect of her eldest children, Emma of Normandy was quite a woman for her time. Born somewhere between 985 and 989 she was shipped off to England in 1002 to marry Æthelred who was to earn the nomenclature Unready for prosperity. In becoming the second Mrs Unready, Emma was the first Norman queen of England. If her treatment of her children by Mr Unready is anything to go by, she obviously didn’t like her first husband. He was, no doubt, a lot older than her having grown up children of his own. She may had loved her first children dearly, but it still didn’t stop her from running to Cnut without securing something for them. Cnut probably needed her as much as she needed him, however, whether Cnut was unwilling to agree to her sons having a stake in the crown, or whether Emma was agreeable to forgoing their rights, is unsure. Whatever the machinations, I imagine that it was part of the nuptial contract that Emma forego her children’s rights, but she probably secured the succession for any children she had by Cnut over his children by any others. To give credit to her, she pulled off an amazing coup by becoming Cnut’s queen, ousting the backside of her rival, Ælfgifu², from his bed and replacing it with her own, getting her hands on that crown for the second time running.

bayeux-060
Norman knights supported by archers attack the English at the Battle of Hastings. Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry – 11th century

Edward probably spends the next twenty-five years living in Normandy being educated with his brother and being brought up as knights. He seems to make several friends, one of them being Robert Champart who may have travelled to Normandy with him later when his half-brother, Harthacnut, recalls him to assist with his government. It is not known exactly how he carried on his affairs in Normandy or what his relationship was like with Duke Robert or his young son, William. William would have only been in his infancy when Edward himself was a young man and Edward did not seem to have had much to do with him during the dangerous years of William’s succession to his father. It is unlikely that the Norman propaganda in later years that promulgated their relationship as cordial and supportive was true. Edward is not mentioned in the sources as being part of his administration which seems to have been carried out by close members of the senior duke’s family and that of the boy’s mother’s. If he had been, I’m sure that it would have been documented and used to their advantage. They may have known each other distantly, but there is no evidence to state that there was any love between them and by the time Edward sailed for England, the young duke would have been no older than twelve or thirteen. Edward may have studied at Jumièges, as his relationship with Robert Champart of Jumièges might suggest. Or he might have lived at the Abbey of Fécamp as his gifts to them during his reign might also suggest. William Calculus, a monk of Jumièges stated that Edward and Ælfred completed their schooling in the ducal court, which William of Poitiers, Archdeacon of Lisieux also repeats. No doubt, however, that whatever the case, the brothers were most likely brought up as young noble men would have been. Initially as pages, then learning squirely duties where they would also have learned to sing, dance, and fight on horseback as chevaliers.

Silver_penny_of_Harold_I_(YORYM_2000_683)_obverse
York Museums Trust (Yorkshire Museum)

Meanwhile, whilst Edward was going about his activities in Normandy, Cnut ups and dies in November of 1035. The country is split into to 2 factions, with those supporting Cnut’s son by Ælfgifu, Harold Harefoot in the north and those supporting his son, Harthacnut, by Emma in the south. Nobody thought about the two sons of Æthlefred languishing in exile over the water in Normandy – or perhaps they did, and found Edward wanting, if anyone had bothered to look into his character that is, as it was to become clear later, Edward was hardly the epitome of a king in such a warrior society as this, despite his knightly upbringing. Æthelred did have other sons that the English might have looked to should they have no desire to plant the troublesome offspring of Cnut on the throne, but by this time, they were all dead, and any issue from them may have been obscure or missing, as was the most famous amongst them, Edmund’s sons³, at this time, abroad in exile.
So, with Harthacnut held up in Denmark, unable to get back to England to claim his throne, his half-brother, Harold, is proclaimed Protector for his in his absence. Harold hurries to Emma in Winchester and seizes the Royal treasury and regalia from her. The next blow to her is Godwin, who had been a supporter of Harthacnut and Emma, accepts that his lot would be better served by switching sides and Emma, vulnerable and concerned for her own position is thought to have reached out to her first-born sons in Normandy. Edward and Ælfred, whether in harmony or not, cross separately with a contingent each to meet their mother in England. Ælfred is killed by Harold Harefoot’s henchmen after being handed over by Godwin. The Earl of Wessex intercepted had Ælfred on his way to parley with Harold. Edward is said to have landed in Southampton but is either repulsed or perhaps sent a messenger from his mother which warns him and he scuttles back home the way he came. Emma later claims that Harefoot forged a letter to sent to her sons to lure them to England and as in Ælfred’s case, eventual death. It was Earl Godwin who was the loser in this debacle. Whatever his reasons for intercepting Ælfred, he was to be blamed for the rest of his life by Edward for the death of his brother: an accusation that was said to have haunted Godwin until his death.
Harold Harefoot eventually has a timely death which coincides with Harthacnut’s return to England shortly after to take up his post as king. When he heard about the death of his half-brother, Ælfred, the first thing  he did was to dig up Harold Harefoot’s corpse and toss it in a ditch, so incensed was he. But he wasn’t to live for too long either, even though he was only about twenty-four at the time, he might have had some insight into his health. Not having married or fathered any known sons, he was advised to invite his older brother from across the sea in Normandy, to join him and be one of his counsellors. Edward had by now given up any thoughts of being king, so the summons must have come as a surprise.

Queen Emma, wife of Ethelred II and Cnut, receives the book from its author, watched by her sons Harthacnut and Edward (King Edward the Confessor)
Emma receives the Encomium from its author, flanked by Harthacnut and Edward, 11th century (c) British Library Board/Bridgeman Imageson

This must have seemed like a miracle to Edward, who, as the Vita Ædwardi Regis claims was sworn in as the future king when Emma was pregnant. The will of God had been that Edward would be their king all along, and that God had postponed the event in order to punish the people for their sins. Despite the auspisiousness of the prophecy, this was given to add meaning to Edward’s long-awaited kingship, thus rationalising the development of his saintly persona. Edward was now elevated to the highest status one could ever achieve. Just a few weeks prior to his invitation from his half-brother, Edward had been in the unlikely position of ever becoming king. Now, he was the king’s heir. Edward, without doing anything, had achieved the seemingly impossible. He had started out in a goodly position. His mother’s pre-marriage contract arranged by her brother, the Duke of Normandy, would have seen to it that any of her sons borne of Æthelred’s seed would have taken precedence over any of his sons from another woman’s womb.
Harthacnut, it was said as per the Encomium Emma, was inspired by brotherly love, because he obviously loved Edward even though he’d never given him a thought throughout his life, invited Edward to come and hold the kingdom with him. Edward hopefully didn’t rush into this rashly, after all, he’d only waited 25 years, but he obeyed the summons and ‘Emma and her two sons among whom there was true loyalty,’ ehem, *coughs, ‘amicably share the kingdom’s revenues.’ Poitiers chose to believe that William of Normandy, then only a mere twelve or thirteen, had something to do with helping the exile get back home to his rightful place.

29695369-836263919890464-8021269606948967769-n
Edward’s Coronation

It’s possible that whilst Emma was in Bruges waiting for Harthacnut to withdraw from his issues in Denmark, some sort of reconciliation between the two brothers and their mother was made. Perhaps Emma at last felt the burden of guilt lay heavily on her shoulders, or perhaps it was Harthacnut’s idea, wanting to meet his brother and form a bond with him.
As it happened, the two brothers may have had just about enough time to get to know each other and form some sort of friendship before Harthacnut died, binging on drink in 1042 at the wedding of Tovi the Proud. He was said to have stood up to make a speech and then keeled over in what one can only imagine was some sort of stupor. He was never to recover. There is no suggestion that poison was involved, despite the fact that Harthacnut was not very well liked. In any case, the miracle that Edward had needed all his life if he was ever to be king, had finally happened. God’s will had been done, the English were punished enough, and Edward was now their king at last. The man who ought never to have been king, was elevated to that exulted place at last.

Notes

¹ King Edmund II known as the Ironside for his strength and courage.

²Ælfgifu of Northampton was Cnut’s first alliance, the daughter of an important Northern Anglo-Saxon family. She was the mother of Cnut’s two sons, Svein and Harold.

³ Edmund’s sons, Edward and Edmund, were sent abroad when they were infants to be done away with on Cnut’s orders. Luckily for them, the king of Sweden took pity on them and at least one of them survived into adulthood. Edward Edmundson was to become the subject of a mission by King Edward to find himself an heir.

References

Barlow F. 1997 Edward the Confessor, Yale University Press, Newhaven and London

Swanton M. 2000 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles Phoenix Press, London.

Walker W. I. 2004 Harold, the Last Anglo-Saxon King

Chapter Sixteen: The End of England as it was in 1066

d787e0f5591ce0fe0cafa9a0066761c3

So, we have come, finally, to the end of the road that took us on our journey to the Battle of Hastings. By the end of December, William was now Harold’s successor,  refusing to acknowledge Harold’s reign at all. William, the Bastard of Normandy, had finally got his wish: to rule the most coveted kingdom in the world. In his lifetime, William had managed to achieve what might have been to some lesser resilient  men, an impossible dream. As a young boy  he endured dangers that no child should have to suffer, with attempts being made on his life and having to hide in peasants hovels. As a young man, he fought for the right to rule his duchy, and later he had to endure the king of France’s treachery, leading invasions into his Norman territories. The king of France had once been William’s protector and ally, but had betrayed him, joining forces with Geoffrey Martell, who had once been their mutual enemy.

william-and-his-brohters
William and his brothers

 

By the time he reached his prime, well into his thirties, he had been able to assert power in Normandy and drew Brittany into his enclave. It was about this time, that he must have begun thinking about the supposed ‘promise’ that William had perceived that his cousin, Edward, King of England, had offered him. Whether Edward had been flippant, or had been manipulated into agreeing to make William his heir, or whether William had believed that Edward had agreed, or whether Edward had agreed, then later changed his mind, we will never know, but the evidence that Eadmer gives us is very telling. Personally, I believe there may have been some manipulation of Edward during that visit in the autumn of 1051, by both William, and Robert Champart, then Archbishop of Canterbury. In later years, as the Norman regime began to dwindle in power in England, I think it is fair to say that Edward’s influences were erring more to the English and we see how William had also used cunning to manipulate Harold into swearing an oath to support his claim.

King Edward
Edward the Confessor

 

Edward was a weak king in many ways, but in others he was stubborn, and strong willed. He had only been able to assert himself over his nobles, on one occasion when he had the whole of the Godwin family exiled; and his queen, Godwin’s daughter, banished to a nunnery. It didn’t take the  other English nobles long to be alarmed at Edward’s growing faction of Norman officials and they refused to resist Godwin’s return from exile, compelling Edward to reinstate the family back into power. Edward had never forgotten the part Godwin had played in the death of his brother, Alfred, who was brutally blinded by agents acting for Harold Harefoot and for whom Godwin had been serving at the time. Although Godwin had protested his innocence, and had been proclaimed innocent by a jury of twelve men, Edward would forever hold him responsible.  It was at an Easter feast that Edward was to bring up the subject of the death of Alfred again, and Godwin, frustrated at having the accusation flung in his face once more, was beset by a stroke, dying a few days later. Edward, hopefully because he was feeling guilty, offered the family his own personal apartments to nurse him in.

8108743289_533da8ff10_k

The earldom of Wessex, was then passed on to Harold, which left East Anglia free to be  Alfgar of Mercia’s once more. As his father’s successor, Harold was able to start asserting his own authority in the once ancient kingdom. Wessex was a powerful and wealthy earldom and Harold was able to endorse his rise to power by becoming the king’s right hand man.

William was obviously of the belief that he was in line for the throne, but Edward had not confirmed this by the time he was dead, although William would have everyone believe that he had sent the powerful earl of Wessex, (Harold) with gifts and a message that Edward had not forgotten his promise of all those years ago. And this was their insistence, despite the fact that Edward had sent a mission to Europe to search for his nephew, Edward the Exile so that he could have an heir of the same blood as The House of Wessex. Therefore, if anyone should have been in line for the throne, it should have been Edward the Exile’s son, Edgar the Atheling. William did not seem to have any regard for anyone else’s claim, rightful or not.

edgar

But it was Harold Godwinson, King Edward’s brother-in-law, who got the job in the end, though Edward seems to have enjoyed keeping everyone in the dark until he was on his deathbed. It was most likely that in an effort to stop the succession of William, the Witan accepted Harold’s claim, or they may have persuaded him sometime before Edward’s death, and had him crowned as soon as possible. Edgar’s claim seems to have not even been considered, and with the storms brewing south of the channel and from the north, it seemed sensible to choose a man who had been tried and tested and found not wanting. Harold, though not as experienced in warfare as William, nor was he as ruthless, was the most experienced of the English nobles, not only in battle tactics, but also in diplomacy and politics. Why would they have picked a young, untried boy over a man such as he?

It is quite clear that the English had no desire to have William rule them. He was a Norman through and through, and if Harold was not of royal blood himself, he was still an Englishman, born of an English father and a Danish mother, which might also endear him to those who lived in the Danelaw. The Normans were very different from the English, and the Anglo-Danes. At least those who were of Danish descent had a common culture and law code, they could understand each other, they shared a common history. The Normans, despite their Scandinavian blood, were completely alien to the men and women of England, sharing no such common history with the English and had absorbed French culture and law so much into their psyche, that they had become more French than Norse by 1066. One can see that to an Englishman, common or noble, it would be far more desirable to be ruled by someone who understood their language, their customs and their needs. And Harold had seen the ruthlessness of the Normans in action, had been on campaign with William into Brittany whilst he was there in 1064, in the hope that he could free his kin from William’s bondage. Instead, Harold had been manipulated by William, having no choice but to become William’s vassal, selling himself into the bargain in return for his freedom, and only succeeding in returning to England with Hakon, his nephew, and not with Wulfnoth. Harold’s youngest brother, Wulfnoth, was to stay in the care of William, remaining a hostage until Harold had secured William on the throne. One cannot imagine the torment that outcome must have had on Harold, whose intentions in going to Normandy had been entirely for a different reason. Later, when he took the crown, he knew his brother’s fate to be sealed. Whether Harold lived or died, Wulfnoth would never be free.

Fgallery2-1
Harold swears oath to William on holy relics

 

And as events led to Hastings, culminating in the death of England’s chosen king, those who were waiting in London to hear the outcome of the battle, would look to their boy king, Edgar Edwardson, grandson of Edmund Ironside of the House of Wessex. Would things have turned out differently if Harold had supported Edgar as regent? Most likely not. William would still have come for his crown, and Hardrada, too, would still have come. With Edgar on the throne, William would still have laid his claims, despite Edgar’s  being the stronger. After all, he paid no mind to Edgar, even though the lad had been proclaimed king, post Hastings, by the surviving English. Such was this Norman invader’s arrogance, he would dismiss the claims of a boy whose right was greater than his own, and proclaim himself the true, righteous king, chosen by God; for had he not the papal banner that proved God was on his side? Edgar, it seems, was soon dropped by those who had raised him up to be king, in favour of the Conqueror. The boy who would be king, never had a chance.

pigs-chapter3-2
English swineherds

 

William, however, was not loved by the English. He spent the first five years of his rule putting down rebellion after rebellion. Soon, there would be scant numbers of English nobility and most official administration posts, both secular and ecclesiastic would be taken up by newly appointed foreigners. French only would be spoken at court by the ruling classes who saw the spoken English as far too rustic for their tongues. English was soon exchanged for Latin, which became the language of the clerics, where English had once been used freely. But one thing that didn’t change, were the people of England themselves, who forever remained and would remain as English as they had always been.

Primary Sources 

Eadmer: Historia Novorum in Anglia

Vita Edwardi Regis

Further Reading

Barlow F. (1970) Edward the Confessor, Eyre Methuen LTD, Great Britain.

Barlow F. (2003) The Godwins, Pearson Education LTD, Great Britain.

Howarth D. (1978) 1066 The Year of the Conquest, Viking Press, New York.

Swanton M. (2000)  The Anglo Saxon Chronicles (new ed) Phoenix Press, Great Britain.

Walker I (2004)  Harold, the Last Anglo Saxon King (paperback edition) Sutton Publishing LTD, Gloucs.

Chapter Fifteen: The Conqueror is Crowned

“And Earl William went back to Hastings again, and waited there to see if he would be submitted to; but when he realised that no one was willing to come to him, he went inland with all of his raiding army which was left to him… ” The Anglo Saxon Chronicle D

Whilst London was celebrating their new king, Edgar, and spoiling for a fight, William, ignorant of these new events, marched his army back to Hastings where he hoped the English would start turning up in their droves to honour and submit to him. He waited there for a fortnight, but none came to him, which may have surprised him, though it was hardly a surprise, I suspect, to the English, seeing how he had dealt so mercilessly with their king. So, realising that the big welcome fanfare was not going to arrive any day soon, William decided to march out of Hastings with his army, to see what was what. This was probably the first act the English had performed or rather not performed, that endeared  them to him, not.

William chose to go east to Romney, where Poitiers states, some of his fleet had landed by mistake and were slaughtered by the inhabitants. For this heinous act, William punished the town, probably by burning it. He then moved onto Dover, which surrendered to him; but that didn’t stop the Normans  plundering and burning it anyway, an act that Poitiers insists was accidental and caused by the greedy lower ranks of the duke’s army. Apparently the duke paid compensation for this later.

William, now with Dover in his hands, remained there about a week or so to strengthen the fortifications and perhaps to  wait for the overseas reinforcements that are mentioned in the D Chronicle. Whilst holed up in Dover, the over crowded town became a sick bed for most of the army. Running out of supplies, they may have had to resort to drinking the water and an outbreak of dysentery occurred. Many of these men who had survived the horrors of Hastings, were now dying of the agonising illness. Even William was not unaffected, and became ill himself, but made of stronger stuff than his men, the Norman duke decided to push on, for the army needed to forage for more supplies. William wanted to aim for London, perhaps because he had heard, by now, that Edgar had been proclaimed king.  He left those who were too ill to continue behind in Dover and continued on. As he went, leading citizens from the towns of the south east came to submit to him, as Canterbury did before he even got to its gates. This must have pleased the conqueror no end, but London was a different matter, though. The people of London were too riled to do any organised submitting at this stage, however I am sure William was hoping to change their minds, one way or another.

norman-england-6

Soon, the dowager queen, Edith, would submit Winchester to the king, and by the end of October, the whole of Kent and much of the South East had submitted. The route that William had taken, according to Gravett (2000), was from Hastings to Dover, to Canterbury, and along the trackways  of the ancient ridgeway which runs from Wiltshire down to the east coast of Kent. After a failed attempt to take London, a large party of Normans set fire to the buildings on the south bank of the Thames and then caught up with the main body. Avoiding London for now, William marched onto Wallingford where he was given passage by the thegn of that burgh, Wigod. There they set up camp about mid November. It was here that Stigand and his followers came to submit, having changed his mind about betting on Edgar. William set up a castle in Wallingford and being satisfied that he had the obeisance of the people in that area, moved on north towards Luton, sending out columns of men as they went, to ravage the countryside for food, and quite likely, to let London know what was coming. He finally turned south east again, stopping first at Little Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire where he received the obeisance of Ealdred, Edgar and the thegns of London, around mid December. Perhaps, too, came the Northern earls, though some say the brothers Edwin and Morcar may have submitted after the coronation at Barking after fleeing back to Northumbria.

William was hesitant, it is said, to be crowned just yet, mostly because of the obvious unrest that still presented itself in the kingdom. He was unsure of the North’s response to the conquest and there was still a large amount of survivors and members of the fyrd who hadn’t made it to Hastings in time, filling the streets of London. But he was either convinced by his own barons, or the English magnates, that England needed a king to prevent any more military opposition and sent on ahead to the capital to make the necessary preparations.

zpage077

The Coronation took place in Westminster Abbey, in the traditional format of former English kings, and as the Worcester Chronicle says:

“…Archbishop Aldred consecrated him (William) king in Westminster; and he gave his hand on it, and on Christ’s book, and also swore, before he (Aldred) would set the crown on his head, that he would hold this nation as the best of any kings before him did, if they would be loyal to him.”

But it all went a bit wrong when the audience, as part of the service, was required to participate by calling out their affirmations,  and began shouting out, first in English, and then in French, and the Norman guards outside assumed that this was treachery on the part of the English, and started setting fire to the houses outside the church. Interesting that they did this, as the shouting was coming from inside the church! Still, the Normans were suckers when it came to  opportunities to show off their pyrotechnic skills. In any case, chaos ensued outside the Abbey and many lives were lost as the fires took hold and men tried to put them out. People were also trampled in the streets trying to flee the fracas.

It wasn’t long before the crowds inside the church heard the clamour and rushed out of the church in panic, leaving William standing there inside the church, visibly shaken, to continue the service with just a few monks and bishops. London, which was in an extreme state of high tension, was like a tinder box waiting to go off. The hostilities between the English and Normans were palpable. The Normans, still imbued with a lust for harrying and looting, used this episode as an excuse to fulfil their blood lust. This was a sad day for Londoners who, had stood where England’s darling, Harold, had stood, only a year ago to cheer him as England’s saviour. Such were the fates imposed upon the English that terrible year. But, though the man be crowned, there was still a long way to go before he could sit on the throne, secure in the knowledge his kingdom was won.

Thus ended the year of the Conquest, a new king, a new regime. Death, destruction and cruelty were about to hit the English on a scale of which England would not have seen since the Viking incursions of the 9th century.

Primary Sources

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Worcester D

Guy de Amiens  Carmen de Hastingae Proelio

William Poitiers Gesta Guillelmi

Further Reading

Gravett C Hastings 1066 The Fall of Saxon England, Osprey Publishing Ltd, UK.

Morris M. (2012) The Norman Conquest Hutchinson, London.

Swanton M. (2000)  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (new ed) Phoenix Press, Great Britain.

Chapter Fourteen: Behold Our New King, Edgar the II!

In London, it was said that the streets were ‘teeming’. There were so many men, survivors of Hastings, and the armies that had been summoned by Harold, but had not quite made it to the battle, that there was hardly room for them all to be accommodated. The people of London were defiant. William of Normandy might have killed their king and many of their leading nobles, but those men and women of the city and all those who had come there, stood with the hope that they ‘might live there in freedom, for a very long time,'(Carnen de Haestingae Proelio). And as Poitiers says ‘it was their highest wish that they have no king who was not a compatriot.’

 

londinium-sorrell1
An artist interpretation of early Anglo Saxon London

 

Archbishop Ealdred of York had journeyed with the brothers, Edwin and Morcar from Yorkshire, to London, most likely hoping  to have met with the victorious King Harold back from Hastings having beaten the Normans, or to have awaited his orders to join him in the campaign to rid the Normans from their country. A council of nobles was called and it was decided that the young atheling, Edgar, should be pronounced king, ‘just as was his noble right’ (Anglo Saxon Chronicle).

Edgar Atheling was around fourteen or fifteen at this time, untried, untested and inexperienced in matters of state, kingship and war, although as a ward of the old King Edward and Queen Edith, would most likely have had some grooming in these affairs. It is interesting that he stayed behind in London. If he had gone into battle at Hastings like most boys of his age had probably done, it would have been mentioned, and one must wonder whether this was because some thought had been given as to who might succeed Harold, should he be killed at Hastings. Perhaps, unofficially, Harold had arranged for him to be his heir and successor, because of his bloodline, as opposed to his own sons. There may have been a lot of support for Edgar, when the king had died, and this might have been a compromise in the deal that allowed Harold to become king. At such worrying times, it would have seemed more expedient to have an experienced veteran on the throne, than a young boy, just in his adolescence.

 

ulf05
C/O Regia.org

 

Few people in England had known about Edgar’s existence before 1057. His father, Edward, had been a fugitive as an infant, from King Cnut’s ill wishes back in the earlier half of the 11thc. Edward’s father had been Edmund Ironside, half brother of Edward the Confessor. Both of them had been born to the same father. Edmund had defended England whilst still an atheling and when he had been proclaimed king after the death of his father, Ethelred The Unraed. Edmund had been a respected warrior, hence his name ‘Ironside’, but after  The Battle of Assandun, an agreement between King Cnut and Ironside meant that England was divided into two territories, one for each of them. Not long after that battle, however, Ironside died and his wife, Ealdgyth, fled with her two sons, one of whom was later to become known as Edward the Exile. It was this Edward the Exile, that was brought to England from Hungary where he had been given refuge and married a Hungarian noble woman, Agatha. He and his family had been sought out on behalf of the Confessor, as it had become worryingly clear that England had no heir to the throne. There had been some who had recalled that Edmund’s children had gone into exile, and so Bishop Ealdred had travelled to Europe to seek him out. However, after only being in England a few days, the Exile died before he could even meet the king. It was not known what caused his death, but the Anglo Saxon (Worcester Chronicle D) makes this observation

We do not know for what cause it was arranged that he might not see his relative King Edward. Alas! That was a cruel fate and harmful to all this nation, that he so quickly ended his life after he came to England, to this misfortune of this wretched nation.

And so, it was left to little Edgar, then aged about five, to wear the mantle of atheling, a title which was given to princes or anyone with royal blood who was considered throneworthy. Having been endowed with the title, did not mean that Edgar would definitely be raised to the throne upon Edward’s death, what it did entitle him to, was to be considered for the throne. The end decision was in the hands of the Witan.

 

7da55e866318eb878c3fe65f1eaa6dc2
Battle of Assundon

 

There is not much known about Edgar’s early years. He and his father came to England in 1057, possibly brought over by a delegate that may have included Harold, and perhaps Bishop Ealdred. There is evidence to state that Harold was in Europe in this time and could well have been part of the contingent that brought the family back to England. It is not known in whose care Edward the Exile was in when he died, but it may well have been Harold’s who most certainly had the means to accommodate the family.

Edward and Edith are known to have care of the children of nobles, among these, may have been the children of such members of the aristocracy as, Harold, son of Ralph de Mantes, the king’s nephew. Edgar and his sisters I am sure would have also been wards, and perhaps their mother, Agatha, one of Edith’s ladies. Much more is known about the adult Edgar, who, despite being let down by his country, did his best to fight William and although he never won his crown, he was a brave contender for the throne. And if anyone had a right to be king, it was Edgar, not William, who won by right of Conquest, and nothing more.

edgar%20ii%20atheling

For those who would like to know more about Edgar you can find books about him on Amazon such as Martin Lake’s blog and also Martin’s books about Edgar, the true king of England

Primary Sources

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles Translated and edited by Michael Swanton.

Guy de Amien Carmen de Haestingae de Proelio.

William Poitiers Gesta Guillelmi.

Further Reading

Morris M. (2012) The Norman Conquest Hutchinson, London.

Walker I. W. (1997) Harold The LAst Anglo-Saxon King Sutton Publishing, Stroud.

 

Chapter Thirteen: The Aftermath of the Battle

And so, the battle culminated in the end of Harold Godwinson’s reign. The Battle of Hastings, as it has largely been referred to, resulted in wiping out nearly all of the surviving sons of Godwin except for the youngest son, Wulfnoth, who, fortunately for him, was at least alive ( if not kicking) somewhere in Normandy at the time of the battle. For those who may not be endowed with the full story, Wulfnoth Godwinson had been taken to Normandy in around 1052, most probably by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Champart along with Wulfnoth’s nephew, Hakon. It is thought that Champart had plotted to put William of Normandy on the throne and had brought the boys with him when escaping the wrath of Godwin. Wulfnoth and Hakon, were at the time, hostages for Edward, left behind by Godwin when he had fled into exile. But when Godwin returned and fought his way back to power once more, Champart decided it was a good time to return to his native Normandy, taking the boys with him to use as pawns in the 11th century game of thrones. Was this the time in history that the seeds of William’s hopes were planted, leading him to believe for many years that one day England would be his?

edith_discovering_the_body_of_harold

As the sun came down over Battle Hill, later known as Senlac, Harold’s body lay among the rest of the dead, mutilated beyond recognition, so much so, that they had to bring his wife, more Danico, Lady Edith Swannehaels, to the field to identify him the next morning. His brothers Gyrth and Leofwin were said to have  been found slain near his body. The king’s ornately decorated banner of the Fighting Man, made, possibly, by the loving hands of Edith, snatched from Harold’s personal bodyguard as they fought bravely to save it, just as they’d desperately tried to save their lord. And in doing so, they had died, their blood and guts spilled over the earth, mingling with the blood of their king. The Carmen was to bemoan that the English ideology of fighting to the death with their lord was the undoing of them. To the English, this was loyalty and honour, which, as we see in centuries to come, would still be an intrinsic part of English nature.

english-flee

Once the word had gone round that Harold was dead, it was, as is usual when this point is reached in battle, for those who were still alive, to throw their swords down and surrender to whatever fate the victor decides, or to run for their lives. It was known that many did flee, even those who were severely injured, crawling their way to imagined safety. Some of the worst collapsed in the woods and as Poitiers reports somewhat theatrically, their corpses blocked the escape of their comrades. He also tells us that William and the Count of Ponthieu led the pursuit into the night, viciously slashing at the escapee’s backs and trampling over their bodies. But the fleeing English weren’t the only ones to die; as the Norman pursuers rushed into unknown terrain in the darkness, they went headlong into an old ancient rampart. As they rode up against it, on horseback and in full armour, they fell on top of one another, horse and rider, crushing each other to death. Sometime later, the Battle Abbey Chronicle was to refer to this pit as the Malfosse: the evil ditch.

The next morning, Poitiers was to record in poetic prose this poignant phrase referring to the carnage of the day before:

‘Far and wide the earth was covered with the flower of the English nobility and youth, drenched in blood.’

William allowed his men time to bury the dead and left the English to bury their own. He wanted the body of Harold to be dealt with and did not want him taken somewhere where his remains would attract pilgrimages and sainthood. The bodies of the English warriors had been stripped of all their effects and valuables, and due to the horrific mutilations inflicted on them, it was difficult to identify him. According to the Waltham Chronicle, Lady Edith Swannehaels (Swan neck) was called for and brought to the field to identify her husband’s body, which must have been an horrific ordeal. His face was  said in later sources to have been terribly mutilated, hacked by the swords of those who had wanted to boast they’d a hand in the ‘killing’ of the King of England. He had been disemboweled and castrated, ‘hacked to pieces’. It was said that the Lady Edith  knew him by the marks on his body. What marks these were, one can only speculate, for we are not told. Tattoos, perhaps? Or lovebites? Or maybe moles or scars. Nonetheless she was able to identify him, probably hoping that she could give him a deserving burial. But it seemed that William was to deny him even this in his death, just as he had denied him his life on the battlefield.

Harold’s mother, it is said, offered the duke the weight of her son’s body in gold if he would allow her to take it. William refused, telling one of his retainers, William Malet, to take the king’s body and bury him on a hill under a pile of stones, so that he could continue to watch for enemy invaders. This sounds like the stuff of legend. William was a deeply pious man, it seems hard to believe he wouldn’t have afforded this man, who he had once supposedly greatly respected, a Christian burial. However, we have no solid, non contradictory evidence to support this. Whether or not the aforesaid story is fable or has some truth to it, where Harold’s remains ended up has been the subject of speculation for a long time. Waltham Abbey claimed that it had been secreted there, and a later excavation at Bosham, Harold’s childhood home, has found remains belonging to a man around a thousand years old, suggesting that this could also be him. There are remarkable stories that he survived the battle and wondered around an old hermit. Some people seem to have a hard time accepting someone has actually gone, died, dead, caput.

061014-080-battle1066

William had Harold’s own personal standard sent to the pope in thanks for his support. The pope had given him a banner which William used on the day and this must have had a great psychological affect on the morale of the duke and also his opponent, who was by no means an irreligious man. For William, however, the affect would have been positive, for Harold, not quite so positive. He’d heard that he had been excommunicated by the pope sometime during the muster and no doubt seeing a papal banner blowing in the wind on the battlefield hadn’t helped to ease that anxiety. These were days when the outcomes of conflict were decided by God. One can only imagine the profound disappointment Harold must have felt and the injustice of it all, for he’d not had the chance to put his case before the pope as William had done.

download

Thousands of men died, perhaps as many as 50% of who participated, the majority being English. William had his men rolled into a mass grave, but did not deign to give burial to those English who had no one to take care of their bodies, but did give permission for the English relatives to come and claim their men. It has been said that people came for years to search for their loved ones and give them a decent burial. This must have made it difficult to identify them, seeing as most of them had been stripped of everything they owned. Battle Hill must have been known as a place of sorrow for years to come.

William allowed his men to camp for the next few days to recover, before moving on with the next stage of the conquest, to take Dover, Rochester and London. He was expecting the rest of the English to submit to him but Edgar the Atheling was announced as king in London by the leading bishops and the young northern earls, Edwin and Morcar. London was full of men who’d marched south to support Harold, but had obviously got there too late. Some of the lucky survivors of Hastings, may also have made it back with the news of how the day had gone, shocked and distraught. Apparently the streets were teeming with men who would have no other king who wasn’t a compatriot. But of course, William was unaware of this and instead of rushing on to London, killing and devastating the land as he went, he waited patiently for a fortnight for his new subjects to come to him and surrender. When they didn’t, he decided that he would have to go to them and made ready to move.

btdetailmedium

William may have been the victorious conqueror of the men he had defeated at Hastings, but it would be some years yet that he could actually consider himself, Conqueror of all the English. Apart from Hastings and Pevensey, the rest of the cities and towns had yet to be taken. The battle for England was only just beginning.

Primary Sources

Guy de Amiens  Carmen de Hastingae Proelio

William Poitiers Gesta Guillelmi

Further Reading

Morris M. (2012) The Norman Conquest Hutchinson, London.