Edward the Confessor

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Depiction of King Edward on the Bayeux Tapestry ( 11th century )

Edward the Confessor ( English Edward the Confessor ; * around 1004 in Islip , Oxfordshire ; † January 5, 1066 in London ) was the penultimate Anglo-Saxon King of England from 1042 to 1066 and is venerated as a saint .


Eduard was the son of Æthelred the Unadvised from the House of Wessex and the Norman duke's daughter Emma . His siblings were Alfred Ætheling († 1036) and Goda (also Guda, Godgifu; * 1004, † around 1047; ⚭ 1. Drogo of Mantes ⚭ 2. (1035) Eustach II of Boulogne ). Of the numerous half-siblings on his father's side, the half-brother Edmund II. Iron Side (* around 989; † 1016) was briefly King of England in 1016.

Edward's widowed mother Emma married Canute the Great in 1017 . From this marriage she had other children, who were thus his half-siblings: Hardeknut (* 1018 † June 8, 1042), Edward's predecessor as King of England, and Gunhild (* 1019 † July 18, 1038), the wife of the Duke of Bavaria and later German emperor Heinrich III. Through this connection Sven (around 1016-1036), Jarl of Norway (1029-1035), and Harald Harefoot (around 1016-1040, King of England 1037-1040) became his stepbrothers.

He married Edith von Wessex , daughter of Count Godwin von Wessex in 1045 , but the marriage remained childless.



The alleged coat of arms of Edward the Confessor was first depicted in the Chronica Majora by Matthew Paris (13th century).

After Sven Gabelbart landed in England with his son Canute the Great and his armed forces in 1013, elthelred fled with his wife Emma and their sons Eduard and Alfred to his brother-in-law Richard II the Good in Normandy. After Sven Gabelbart's death on February 3, 1014, the English did not recognize his son Knut as king, but called Æthelred back from exile. Æthelred sent Eduard with an embassy to England to prepare for his accession to the throne. After Æthelred's death in 1016, his half-brother Edmund Eisseite succeeded the throne, but he died that same year.

During the reign of his stepfather, the Anglo-Scandinavian King Canute the Great (1016-1035), Eduard spent most of the time at the court of his uncles, the Dukes of Normandy (Richard II. 996-1027, Richard III. 1026-1027 and Robert the great 1027-1035).

After the death of Canute the Great, Eduard and his brother Alfred tried in 1036 or 1037 to gain power in England. Emma was then living in Winchester with Hardeknut's bodyguard, but King Harald I Harefoot sent an army to steal her treasures; Emma fled penniless to Count Baldwin V the Pious in Bruges in Flanders . Alfred was captured, blinded, and died by Godwin of Wessex ; his entourage was slaughtered or mutilated. Godwin denied his guilt and was acquitted, while Edward the Confessor returned to Normandy .

His younger half-brother, King Hardeknut, brought Eduard, the last son of Æthelred and his mother, back to England from exile in Normandy in 1041 and appointed him heir to the kingdom.


Seal of Eduard

When Hardeknut died on June 8, 1042, Eduard was proclaimed king even before Hardeknut was buried. On April 3, 1043 Edward was solemnly anointed king by Archbishops Edsige of Canterbury and Ælfric Puttoc of York at Old Minster in Winchester .

The Earls Leofric of Mercia , Godwin of Wessex and Siward of Northumbria were the most powerful men in England. With them and their followers Edward rode to Winchester and robbed his mother Emma of all her wealth, then he expropriated her of her lands, because he thought she had not sufficiently promoted his interests. He deposed their counselor Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury.

Eduard was very religious and admired the tightly organized Duchy of Normandy in France. After spending 25 years abroad, he was alienated from domestic conditions. Under Edward, changes in the ruling structure began, which only fully developed under the Norman kings, for example the direct royal appointment of clerics to administrative posts and bishop's seats based on the model of the Ottonian imperial church system in the Holy Roman Empire .

Eduard sponsored church institutions and had the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter, today's Westminster Abbey , built. He lived very modestly in order to be able to support the poor, abolished the Danegeld (1051) and passed mild laws. His exemplary, deep religiosity and his exemplary charity had a great influence on the spread of Christianity. The legend tells how he cured a gout patient.

Conflicts with Scandinavia

At the beginning of Edward's rule there were clashes with Norway and Denmark. Adam von Bremen wrote that Eduard concluded a peace treaty with the Danish Jarl Sven Estridsson around 1043 in order to ward off his claims to the throne over England. Snorri Sturluson described the incident differently as follows: Magnus I the Good , as the Danish king and successor to Canute the Great, also raised a claim to English kingship and is said to have demanded a declaration of submission from Eduard the Confessor in 1044/1045. This threat to possibly intervene militarily in England was apparently taken seriously, because English sources report that Eduard, as a precautionary measure, gathered a fleet near Sandwich in 1044 to offer resistance to Magnus. He did the same with a mighty army in the same place the next year. According to the saga writers, the matter ended peacefully when Eduard pointed out that like Magnus he was anointed by bishops and would not submit, which is why Magnus had to kill him, which Magnus had devoutly refrained from. English sources say that Magnus refrained from invading England because he was attacked by Sven Estridsson.

Eduard the Confessor married Edith, the daughter of Godwin, in 1045, who received numerous estates as dowry. It is said that he lived chastely with his wife . Godwin's sons Swegn , Harold (East Anglia) and Beorn were bestowed earldoms. As early as 1046 Eduard made his nephew Ralf of Mantes as the successor of the fled Swegn Earl in Herefordshire and raised two Bretons to Earls to watch over Harold.

The Danish King Sven Estridsson asked Eduard in 1047 for help in a campaign against Magnus of Norway. The royal advisors were at odds, and so Eduard stayed out of this conflict. After Magnus' death, Eduard signed a peace and alliance treaty with his successor Harald Hardråde .

When Emperor Heinrich III. In 1049 led a campaign against Count Baldwin V of Flanders, Eduard was one of the imperial allies alongside the Danish King Sven, but did not intervene actively in the fighting. At the Synod of St. Remy in 1049, at the next Pope Leo IX. numerous bishops and abbots attended, Eduard sent Bishop Dudoc, Abbot Wulfric of St. Augustine and Abbot Elfwin of Ramsey to report to him on the decisions.

Nobility revolt in England

Edvvard Rex , King Edward, depiction on the
Bayeux Tapestry

He established an English central administration, which he shared with numerous Normans, such as B. his longtime confidante Robert von Jumièges as Archbishop of Canterbury occupied. This provoked resistance from the Anglo-Saxon nobility. They made a conspiracy and killed one of King Sven's brothers, who were dukes in England, one, Björn († 1049), on the spot, the other, Asbjorn, but they expelled them and all their people from the country. And then they held England in their power, while Edward was content with the life and the empty title of king.

When followers of Edward's brother-in-law Eustach II of Boulogne kill some Englishmen in Dover in 1051, the situation escalated. The leaders of the revolt were Edward's father-in-law Godwin von Wessex, who was also the most powerful vassal in England, who had already killed Edward's brother Alfred in the turmoil surrounding Knut's successor, and his sons Swegn and Harald . Eduard called the Earls Leofric of Mercia, Siward of Northumbria and his nephew Earl Rodulph to help, who also dug armies. The armies met at Gloucester. The Godwins demanded the extradition of Eustach. Hostages were taken and further negotiations agreed in London. While Eduard received further reinforcements, Godwin's army began to disintegrate. Godwin and his sons Tostig , Swegn and Gyrth fled to Baldwin V in Flanders, his sons Harald and Leofwine fled to Ireland. Eduard disowned his wife Edith, Godwin's daughter. Edward's contact with the Normans was intensified in the same year by a visit from Duke Wilhelm of Normandy. During this visit Eduard is said to have chosen him as his successor.

King Edward's coin

King Griffin of Wales took advantage of England's weakness and sacked Herefordshire in 1052. Harald and Leofwin also returned from Ireland and sacked Somersetshire and Dorsetshire. Godwin came from Flanders and gathered allies in Kent, Sussex, Essex and Surrey before Harald and Leofwin also joined him. Eduard also gathered an army, but the two parties were reconciled again in London, mainly because Eduard could not do without the support of the powerful and popular Earl.

Eduard made Godwin's son Tostig his favorite, took his abandoned wife back in and promoted Harald, who later became Harald II of England, like his own son. Numerous Normans, including Robert von Jumièges, Archbishop of Canterbury, were expelled from the country.

Conflicts with Scotland and Wales

Malcolm III Canmore allied himself in 1054 with Earl Siward of Northumbria and Edward the Confessor and defeated Macbeth , who was the first Norman mercenary in Scotland, at Dunsinane .

Eduard appointed Toste Godwinsson in 1055 to succeed the late Siward as Earl of Northumbria. The unjustly banished and deposed Earl Ælfgar allied with his son-in-law Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Wales, put the English army under Edward's nephew Rodulph to flight and sacked Herefordshire. Harald Godwinson drove away the intruders on Edward's behalf. After peace was made, Ælfgar was reinstated. In 1056 Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Wales invaded England again and peace was made again .

Earl Ælfgar of Mercia was removed from office a second time in 1058. Again he allied himself with Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Wales and retook his county, also with the help of a Norwegian fleet.

While Toste and Ealdred , the Archbishop of York , were ambassadors in Rome in 1061, where Ealdred received the pallium from Pope Nicholas II , the Scots attacked under Malcolm III. Canmore Northumbria.

After repeated attacks by Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Wales, Eduard sent his Earls Harald and Toste Godwinson to subjugate Wales in 1063. After Gruffydd ap Llywelyn's death in 1064 Eduard set up his half-brothers Bleddyn and Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn as vassal kings .

Depiction of Edward's burial on the Bayeux Tapestry with the inscription:
HIC PORTATVR CORPVS EADWARDI REGIS AD ECCLESIAM S [AN] C [T] I PETRI AP [OSTO] LI - “Here the body of King Edward is carried to the Church of the Holy Apostle Peter "

Earl Toste ruled Northumbria so despotic that a rebellion broke out in 1065 and Edward had to banish him. Edward's health deteriorated steadily from 1065; he could not even attend the consecration of Westminster Abbey which he had founded. On January 5, 1066 he died childless in London and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Shortly before his death, Eduard bowed to the nobility and determined Harald II Godwinson, Godwin's second son, to be viceroy and thus his successor ; in the Norse saga this happened on his deathbed. The Witan , the supreme council of the Anglo-Saxons made up of nobles and clergy, confirmed Edward's decision by electing Harold Godwinson as heir to the throne.



Edward's Norman character and his preference for Norman nobles were prerequisites for the conquest of England by William I. The conqueror even explicitly referred to the fact that the childless Edward himself had designated him as his successor. This can no longer be proven or refuted today. In any case, Eduard's failure to officially name a successor led to a civil war after his death that made it easier for Wilhelm to assert his claim to power at the Battle of Hastings .


Eduard is said to have healed sick people during his lifetime. The Vita Ædwardi Regis , which his widow Edith von Wessex had at least partially written after his death, emphasized in the second part the miracles and miracle-like events that are said to have occurred during his lifetime. His grave in Westminster Abbey became a national shrine, where legend has it that many sick people have recovered.

Edward was from Pope Alexander III. canonized in 1161. On October 13, 1163, his remains were moved to a new shrine by Thomas Becket , Archbishop of Canterbury, in the presence of King Henry II . Over a hundred years later, King Heinrich III. make a new shrine for the new Westminster Abbey he was building. Work on this shrine took several years to complete and continued during the Second Barons' War . Also on October 13th, in 1269, the sons of Henry, Princes Edward and Edmund , and Richard of Cornwall transferred the remains of Edward the Confessor to his new shrine in a splendid ceremony .

In art he is shown carrying a sick person. He is the patron of England and the English kings and is invoked against scrofula .

  • Catholic Memorial Day: January 5th
  • Anglican Memorial Day: October 13th



  • Frank Barlow : Edward the Confessor Yale University Press, New Haven 1997, ISBN 0-300-07156-6 . (authoritative biography)
  • Bruce R. O'Brien: God's peace and king's peace: the laws of Edward the Confessor. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 1999, ISBN 0-8122-3461-8

Web links

Commons : Eduard the Confessor  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Historia regum Anglorum et Dacorum
  2. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
  3. a b Hamburg Church History Book 2, chap. 74
  4. Heimskringla: Magnúss saga góða, chap. 38-39
  5. Hamburg Church History Book 3, chap. 13
  6. a b c Heimskringla, Haralds harðráði saga Sigurðarsonar chap. 77 ff
  7. ^ HW Ridgeway: Henry III (1207-1272). In: Henry Colin Gray Matthew, Brian Harrison (Eds.): Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , from the earliest times to the year 2000 (ODNB). Oxford University Press, Oxford 2004, ISBN 0-19-861411-X , ( oxforddnb.com license required ), as of 2004
  8. Edward the Confessor in the Ecumenical Lexicon of Saints
predecessor Office successor
Hardiknut King of England
Harald II