Historical People: The Life and Reign of King Edward the Confessor


Introduction:

England has been ruled by many monarchs throughout history, beginning with King Egbert of Wessex, during the medieval era. Quite a few monarchs came to reign with the name of King Edward,beginning with King Edward the first and ending with King Edward the VIII. One of the famous King Edwards was King Edward the Confessor, ruling from 1042-1066. The title of “the Confessor” came about because of the king’s deep religious views and his vow of celibacy, even though he eventually married. King Edward the Confessor is known as the last king of the House of Wessex. His coronation took place on April 3, 1043; where the crown was placed upon his head, and he officially took an oath. Many modern historians recognize King Edward the Confessor as a king of prosperity and influence. He was later recognized as a saint in the year of 1166 by the Catholic Church after his death at the age of 61.

His Early Years

King Edward the Confessor was born in 1003 in Islip, Oxfordshire in England. His parents were King Ethelred the Unready and Emma, the daughter of the Duke of Normandy. The king came from a large family, for he had many step brothers and sisters. Some of his step brothers included Harold Harefoot, Harthacnut, and Edmond Ironside. He had a blood brother by the name of Alfred and a sister named Goda. After his father died, his mother remarried, wedding Canute the Great of Denmark. The king spent his early years as a child with his parents living in exile in Normandy. His father had fled there after he was defeated in battle against the Danes. He and his brother Alfred were raised as Princes of Normandy, learning their ways and customs. They stayed in exile until his father was asked to return to England by the step-brother, Hardicanute. Their time in exile lasted a year, from 1013 to 1014.

The King’s Early Reign

King Edward took the crown and throne after the death of his half brother, King Hardecanute in 1042. The first 11 years of his rule as a king was peaceful and prosperous. It was also during this time that he and King Godwin were in opposition with each other because Godwin was considered to be the real King of England in some circles. However, that did not stop King Edward from marrying Godwin’s daughter. He married Edith Godwin in 1045, even while he was feuding with her father. The result of this feud led to Godwin’s land being taken away from him, causing him and his sons to flee from England. However, when Godwin returned in 1052, the magnates insisted that King Edward the Confessor come to terms and make a deal to avoid a civil war. He agreed and Goodwin was given back ownership of his land.

The Crisis of 1051-52

The rift that took place with the crisis of 1051-1052 happened between King Edward and Godwin, when the latter was accused of conspiring to kill the king. It seems the two men were at odds with one another over who was to be employed in the king’s cabinet. King Edward favored having Normans at his side; showing a bit of prejudice towards other candidates with different backgrounds. One person in particular was a relative of Godwin who the king had rejected and appointed a Norman Bishop to take his place. Also during this time period, the two furthered their conflict when Alfred, the king’s brother, was killed at the hands of Godwin. Godwin asked the king for a pardon and was turned down. The event caused Godwin to flee to Ireland to escape the king’s wrath.

His Later Reign

The latter part of King’s Edward’s reign was spent getting rid of his enemies. He had made a promise to the Pope to make pilgrimage to Rome, but could not keep his promise. However, he was released from that vow under the conditions of restoring or building a monastery to St. Peter. He honored that promise by building a new Norman style church at Westminster. At the end of his reign and before his death, the king was highly respected by his people. He was said to be a peace-loving king and one who preferred donating to charity rather than fighting in a battle.

His Death and His Successor

King Edward became ill right after he had built the new monastery. He did not get to attend the ritual of Holy Innocents’ Day, which took place on December 20, 1065 honoring the new church. Edward the Confessor died on January 5th, just a few days later. His burial took place at the high alter of his newly constructed church.

After his death, Harold Godwinesson of Wessex, brother-in-law of King Edward, and Duke William of Normandy, cousin of King Edward, both claimed that the throne belonged to each of them. However, during the Battle of Hastings, when William and the Normans invaded England, Harold was killed and it was then that William took the crown and the throne. His crowning took place at the confessor’s church in Westminster Abby in 1066.

Conclusion

Throughout his 24 year reign of England, King Edward the Confessor faced much opposition while his kingdom remained prosperous and successful. Even though he fought the physical battles of war, over and over again, death did not come on the battle fields, nor did it come through the assassination attempts made on his life. He even faced treachery from his mother and still managed to bring peace and stability to England. He was a survivor, a saint and above all, he was one who suffered for his beliefs and faith when faced with worldly temptations.

For more information of the life and times of King Edward the Confessor, please consult the following links.

  • Edward the Confessor King This is a biographical sketch of memorable Christians of the Past. The article gives a description of what the king was like and how he differs from other kings of England.
  • History of the Monarchy: Edward the Confessor On this page, you will find that the information is from the official website of the British Monarchy. It discusses in detail the life of King Edward the Confessor from his exile to his death.
  • Edward the Confessor’s Abby On this page you will find information on the king that begins when he was 9 years old. It covers his family life, his exile and his sainthood.
  • Edward the Confessor: King of England An interesting article discussing the life and times of King Edward from childhood to adulthood. It also gives brief interesting stories about the king that are legendary today. For instance, “The Story of the Thief.”
  • Biography of Edward the Confessor Article displays a short biography of the king. It gives a brief explanation of his later years as king.
  • Saint Edward History This is a very well written article on King Edward. Article has a color photo of the Church of England as well as a statue of the king. Article speaks of the legends that surrounded King Edward the Confessor.