The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Great Britain >> England >> History to 1154
Edward "the Confessor"

aka King Edward III of England (1042-1066)

Edward the Confessor

Edward was born in 1003, the son of Ethelred II "the Unready" and Emma, the daughter of Richard I of Normandy. He was half-brother to King Edmund Ironside, Ethelred's son by his first wife, and to King Hardicanute, Emma's son by her second marriage with Canute. The family was exiled to Normandy after the Danish invasion of 1013, but returned the following year and negotiated Ethelred's reinstatement. After Ethelred's death in 1016 the Danes again took control of England, and Edward and his family were again forced into exile.

Upon Canute's death in 1035 his illegitimate son, Harold, seized the throne, the legitimate heir Hardicanute being in Denmark at the time. Edward and his brother Alfred were persuaded to make an attempt to gain the throne. The attempt ended with the death of Alfred at Harold's hands and Edward once again being exiled to Normandy. On Hardicanute's sudden death in 1042, Edward was called by acclamation to the throne, and was welcomed even by the Danish settlers owing to his gentle saintly character.

In 1045, Edward married Edith, daughter of Godwin, Earl of the West Saxons. The couple never had children, as Edward had taken a vow of chastity.

In 1051, a number of Normans were killed in a brawl in Dover, Kent. Edward still had influential friends in Normandy and he wanted the people of Dover punished. Edward ordered Earl Godwin to do this, but Godwin refused and raised an army against the king instead. Two other senior noblemen, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria, remained loyal to Edward, and outnumbered, Godwin agreed to leave England and live with his family in Flanders.

Between 1051 and 1052, Edward increased the number of Normans who advised him at court. This angered the Witan -- a body of English advisors made up of the most important noblemen in England -- and in 1052, Earl Godwin returned to England with an army. Edward was unable to raise an army to fight Godwin as no nobleman was willing to support the king. Edward was forced to send back to Normandy his Norman advisors and he had to return to Godwin all his estates and accept him back into the kingdom. Godwin died in 1053, and his title was taken by Harold who became known as Harold of Wessex. He was the most powerful nobleman in England.

The rest of Edward's reign was peaceful and prosperous. Skirmishes with the Scots and Welsh were only occasional and internal administration was maintained. The financial and judicial systems were efficient and trade was good. Edward undertook no wars except to repel an inroad of the Welsh, and to assist Malcolm III of Scotland against Macbeth, the usurper of his throne.

Edward died on January 4, 1066, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, which he had founded. Shortly before his death, Edward named Harold as his successor even though he may already have promised the crown to a distant cousin, William, Duke of Normandy. The subsequent fight for succession led to the Norman invasion of October 1066.

Edward was canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1161.

tomb of King Edward III
tomb of King Edward III


Westminster Abbey

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Great Britain >> England >> History to 1154

This page was last updated on July 24, 2017.