Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Pop History Moment: The Death of Edward the Confessor

For most of us, our death causes a period of grief among a select handful of family and friends, the grief passes, and the survivors move on; there are a thankfully small number, though, whose deaths cause unimaginable suffering, military invasion, and the end of a way of life that had endured for a thousand years.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe death of Edward the Confessor (on this day in 1066) was, naturally enough, of the latter kind. When the son of Ethelred the Unready finally went to his reward, he showed plenty of his father's decisiveness by leaving an unsettled succession; since determining the succession is any dying King's most important job, it's safe to say Edward didn't do his utmost to fulfill his coronation oath - that is, to protect the realm and its subjects.

By temperament and training, Edward had always been partial to Normans, and often favoured them for the Kingdom's top jobs over Saxons; when he chose Robert of Jumi├Ęges for Archbishop of Canterbury, well, it's a good thing they didn't have Private Eye in those days, because it was the scandal of the age, seeing as it overrode the express wishes of his own powerful father-in-law, Godwin, Earl of Wessex.

In the end, the Witenagemot chose Harold Godwinson, a Saxon nobleman (Earl of Wessex since 1053, and brother of the Queen) who claimed he'd been promised the throne on Edward's death bed; this rankled the ire of the Duke of Normandy - a man still known as William the Bastard - who had by some means or other extracted the same promise from the feckless, if pious, King (either in 1052 when William visited London, or else in 1064, as a reward for rescuing Edward from a shipwreck).

Then there was a third claim, from King Harald III of Norway... All of which made 1066 a very turbulent year indeed.
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