Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor was the next to last of the Anglo-Saxon kings of England. He founded Westminster Abbey in London. When Edward died, disputes over who was to be king of England led to the Norman Conquest.
Edward was born around 1002 in Islip in Oxfordshire. He was the son of the Anglo-Saxon king of England Ethelred the Unready and his wife Emma of Normandy. In 1013 the Danish king Sweyn (Sven) Forkbeard invaded England. The young Edward was forced to flee to Normandy where he grew up at the court of the Duke of Normandy. Sweyn’s son became King Canute II (Cnut II) of England in 1016, and he married Emma. Canute was followed as king by his sons Harold I and Hardecanute. Before Hardecanute died in 1042 he invited Edward, his half-brother, to return to England from Normandy, and he named Edward as the next king.
KING OF ENGLAND
Edward became king in 1042 with the support of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, one of England’s most powerful Anglo-Saxon nobles. In 1045, Edward married Godwin’s daughter Edith, but in 1049 Edward and Godwin quarrelled. Rather than put the country through civil war, Godwin went into exile. Edward now began to make contacts with Normandy, where he had spent his childhood, and he appointed several Normans as his advisers. In 1051, William, Duke of Normandy, visited Edward. Edward is supposed to have promised William that he would be the next English king. But the Normans were not popular in England, and in 1052 Edward was forced by Godwin, returning from exile, to get rid of his Norman advisers. Godwin’s sons Harold and Tostig became two of Edward’s closest advisers.
As a result of the power of Godwin and his sons, Edward had little influence in ruling England. His wife wrote a history of his life that suggested that Edward was more interested in religion than government. He built a magnificent new church near London, which had become the capital city of England. This church is today known as Westminster Abbey. Although it has been rebuilt several times, parts of Edward’s original church still survive, such as the central nave. He spent his life in prayer and received his nickname “the Confessor”. He was made a saint in 1161.
During his later years, Edward suffered from bad health, and he was too ill to attend the official opening of his new church in 1065. In the same year Tostig started a rebellion in the north of England and Edward had to send him into exile. Edward died in 1066. His brother-in-law Harold was declared King Harold II of England. Within a few months Harold had been overthrown by William, Duke of Normandy in the Norman Conquest, and Anglo-Saxon England was brought to a brutal end.