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Edward the Confessor
EDWARD, "The Confessor" (d. 1066), so called on account of his reputation for sanctity, king of the English, was the son of Æthelred II. and Emma, daughter of Richard, duke of Normandy, and was born at Islip in Oxfordshire. On the recognition of Sweyn as king of England in 1013, Æthelred, with his wife and family, took refuge in Normandy, and Edward continued to reside at the Norman court until he was recalled in 1041 by Hardicanute. He appears to have been formally recognized as heir to the throne, if not actually associated in the kingship, and on the death of Hardicanute in 1042 "all folk received him to be king," though his actual coronation was delayed until Easter 1043. A few months later Edward, in conjunction with the three great earls of the kingdom, made a raid on the queen-mother Ælfgifu, or Emma, seized all her possessions and compelled her to live in retirement.
In the earlier years of the reign the influence of Earl Godwine was predominant, though not unopposed. His daughter Edith or Eadgyth became Edward's queen in 1045. But the king's personal tastes inclined much more to foreigners than to Englishmen, and he fell more and more into the hands of favourites from beyond the sea. Between Godwine, representing the spirit of nationalism, and these favourites (especially their leader Robert of Jumieges, successively bishop of London and archbishop of Canterbury) there was war to the knife. In 1046 Magnus, king of Norway, who had succeeded Hardicanute in Denmark and claimed to succeed him in England as well, threatened an invasion, but the necessity of defending Denmark against his rival Sweyn Estrithson prevented him from carrying it into effect. In 1040, Godwine's son Sweyn, who had been outlawed for the seduction of the abbess of Leominster, returned and demanded his restoration. This was refused and Sweyn returned into exile, but not before he had with foulest treachery murdered his young kinsman Beorn. He was, however, inlawed next year. The influence of Godwine, already shaken, received a severe blow in 1051 in the appointment of Robert of Jumieges to the archbishopric of Canterbury, and the same year saw the triumph of the foreigners for the moment complete. Edward, indignant at the resistance offered by the men of Dover to the insolence of his brother-in-law Eustace of Boulogne and his French followers, ordered Godwine to punish the town. Godwine refused. The king at the prompting of the archbishop then summoned a meeting of the witan, at which the old charge against Godwine of complicity in the murder of the Ætheling Alfred was to be revived. About the same time came news of a fresh outrage by the foreigners. Godwine gathered his Forces and demanded redress, while the earls Leofric of Mercia and Siward of Northumbria hastened to the side of the king. Civil war seemed imminent, but at length a compromise was effected by which the matter was referred to a meeting of the witan to be held at London. At the appointed time Godwine presented himself at Southwark. But his followers were rapidly deserting him, nor would the king give hostages for his security. Alarmed for his safety, he fled to Flanders, while his son Harold went to Ireland. But their exile was brief. The tale of Godwine excited universal sympathy, for it was realized that he represented the cause of national independence. Encouraged by assurances from England, he sailed thither, and joining forces with Harold sailed along the south coast and up the Thames. The king would have resisted but found no support. Yielding to circumstances, he allowed himself to be reconciled, and Godwine and his house were
restored to their old position. The queen at the same time was brought back from the monastery of Wherwell, whither she had been despatched after her father's flight. The foreigners had already ignominiously fled the country, and henceforth the influence of Godwine, and, after his death, of Harold, was supreme.
In 1063 Harold made a great expedition into Wales, in which he
crushed the power of King Gruffyd, who was killed by his own
people. But despite his prowess and his power, he was the
minister of the king rather than his personal favourite. This
latter position belonged to his younger brother Tostig, who on
the death of Siward in 1055 was appointed earl of Northumbria.
Here his severity and arbitrary temper rendered him intensely
unpopular, and in 1065 his subjects broke into revolt. They
elected Morkere as their earl, then marching south demanded
Tostig's banishment. Edward desired to crush the revolt by force
of arms, but he was overborne and forced to submit. The
election of Morkere was recognized, and Tostig went into exile.
Intensely mortified at this humiliation, the king fell sick, and
henceforth his health failed rapidly. He was unable to gratify
his intense desire to be present at the consecration of his new
abbey of Westminster, the foundation of which had been the chief
interest of his closing years, and on the 5th of January 1066
The virtues of Edward were monkish rather than kingly. In the qualities of a ruler he was conspicuously deficient; always dependent on others, he ever inclined to the unworthier master. But the charm of his character for the monastic biographer, and the natural tendency to glorify the days before the Norman oppression began, combined to cast about his figure a halo which had not attached to it in life. Allowed to keep her property by William the Conqueror, his widow, Edith, passed the remainder of her life at Winchester, dying on the 19th of December 1075.
A number of lives of Edward are brought together
in a volume of the Rolls Series entitled Lives of Edward the Confessor,
and edited by Dr H. R. Luard (London, 1858). Of these by far the
most valuable is the contemporary Vita Edwardi, which would appear
from internal evidence to have been written by an unknown writer
soon after the Norman Conquest - some time between 1066 and 1074.
The other chief authorities for the reign are (i) the Saxon Chronicle,
(C. Plummer, Oxford, 1892-1899); (2) Florence of Worcester, ed.
B. Thorpe, English Historical Society (London, 1848-1849). Reference may also be made to J. M. Kemble, Codex diplomaticus aevi
Saxonici (London, 1839-1848).
(C. S. P.)
contributed by Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911
8 April 2006