Edward the Confessor: Facts About the Anglo-Saxon King of England

Here are some facts about Edward the Confessor.

  • Edward the Confessor was born between the years 1002 and 1005 in Islip, Oxfordshire. His father was King Ethelred the Unready and his mother was Emma of Normandy.

  • Following the death of Edmund Ironside (Edward’s brother) and the execution of Eadwig (Edward’s half-brother) in 1017, Edward was the leading Anglo-Saxon with a claim to the throne of England (currently held by King Cnut, son of the Viking raider Sweyn).
  • Edward’s mother, Emma of Normandy, decided not to support her son’s claim, and she married Cnut in 1017. They had a son called Harthacnut.
  • Edward spent more than twenty years in exile. It is thought that he spent most of this time in Normandy.
  • King Cnut died in 1035. His son, Harthacnut was due to succeed him as King of England, but he was too busy making good his claim to the throne of Denmark to come to England. Harold Harefoot,  Harthcnut’s half-brother, was sent to England to act as regent, and Emma of  Normandy was to hold Wessex for Harthcnut. In 1036, Edward the Confessor and his brother Alfred came out of exile and arrived in England.
  • Alfred was captured by Godwin (the Earl of Wessex). He was blinded by Harold Harefoot and eventually died from his wounds. Edward is thought to have fought a minor battle near Southampton, but he soon retreated to Normandy.
  • Harold Harefoot became King of England in 1037. He died in 1040, and Harthacnut succeeded him.
  • Harthacnut invited Edward the Confessor back to England in 1041 (they both had the same mother, Emma of Normandy).
  • Harthacnut died in 1042 and Edward became King of England. His claim was supported by Godwin, Earl of Wessex, and he was crowned at Winchester Cathedral.

Edward the Confessor

  • His position as King of England was a precarious one. He didn’t have a personal powerbase (the lands owned by the monarch were spread all over England) and he relied upon the support of Godwin.
  • In 1045 Edward married Edith, Godwin’s daughter, and he gave earldoms to Harold Godwinson (Edith’s brother) and Beorn Estrithson (her cousin).
  • Edward made Robert of Jumieges, a Norman, Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • Edward the Confessor died on either the 4th January or 5th January 1066. He suffered a series of strokes.
  • He was buried on 6th January 1066 in Westminster Abbey. Harold Godwinson was crowned King of England on the same day.
  • It is unclear exactly who Edward the Confessor intended to succeed him as King of England. Some historians believe that he wanted William the Conqueror to be his heir, whereas others suggest that he meant Harold Godwinson to be monarch.
  • Edward the Confessor ordered the building of Westminster Abbey. It was constructed in the Norman style and was intended to be a royal burial church. The construction was completed in 1090, years after Edward’s death.
  • Edward the Confessor appears in the Bayeux Tapestry.
  • Edward was a keen hunter.
  • Edward is called ‘the Confessor’ because is said to have lived a saintly life, but wasn’t martyred (killed for his beliefs).

What next? Find out what happened in 1066 following the death of Edward the Confessor, learn more about the Normans or learn all about the Anglo-Saxons.

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