Britannia: Edward III, the Confessor
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Edward III, the Confessor

The penultimate Anglo-Saxon king, Edward III was the oldest son of Æthelred II and Emma. He had gone to Normandy in 1013, when his father and mother had fled from England. Edward stayed there during the reign of Canute and, at that king's death in 1035, led an abortive attempt to capture the crown for himself, but was, for some reason, recalled to the court of Hardacanute, his half-brother.

Canute had placed the local control of the shires into the hands of several powerful earls: Leofric of Mercia (Lady Godiva's husband), Siward of Northumbria and, the most formidable of all, Godwin of Wessex. Through the influence of Godwin, Edward took the throne at the untimely death of Hardacanute in 1042. In 1045, he married Godwin's only daughter, Edith.

Resulting from the connections made during Edward's years in Normandy, he surrounded himself with his Norman favorites and was unduly influenced by them. This Norman "affinity" produced great displeasure among the Saxon nobles. The anti-Norman faction was led by (who else?) Godwin of Wessex and his son, Harold Godwinsson, who took every available opportunity to undermine the kings favorites. Edward sought to revenge himself on Godwin by insulting his own wife and Godwin's daughter, Edith, and confining her to the monstery of Wherwell. Disputes also arose over the issue of royal patronage and Edward's inclination to reward his Norman friends.

A Norman, Robert Champart, who had been Bishop of London, was made Archbishop of Canterbury by Edward in 1051, a promotion that displeased Godwin immensely. The Godwins were banished from the kingdom after staging an unsuccessful rebellion against the king but returned, landing an invasionary force in the south of England in 1052. They received great popular support, and in the face of this, the king was forced to restore the Godwins to favor in 1053.

Edward's greatest achievement was the construction of a new cathedral, where virtually all English monarchs from William the Conqueror onward would be crowned. It was determined that the "minster" should not be built in London, and so a place was found to the "west" of the city (hence "Westminster"). The new church was consecrated at Christmas, 1065, but Edward could not attend due to illness.

On his death bed, Edward named Harold as his successor to the throne, instead of the legitimate heir, his grandson, Edgar the Ætheling. The question of succession had been an issue for some years and remained unsettled at Edward's death in January, 1066. The question would be neatly resolved, however, by William of Normandy, just nine months later.

There is some question as to what kind of person Edward really was. After his death, he was the object of a religious cult (a later English monarch, Henry III, was an ardent devotee) and was canonized in 1161. Some seem to think that Edward was a deeply religious man and a patient and peaceable ruler. Others say, probably correctly, that he was a weak, but violent man, and that his reputation for saintliness was overstated, possibly an intentional misconception foisted on posterity by the monks of Westminster.    Copyright ©1999, LLC