Edward the Confessor

King of the English 1043-1066


Geoff Boxell

"…he was a proper figure of a man, of outstanding height, and distinguished by his milky white hair and beard, full face and rose cheeks, thin white hands and translucent long fingers; in all the rest of his body he was an unblemished royal person. Pleasant, and always dignified, he walked with his eyes cast down, most graciously affable to one and all. If some cause aroused his temper, he seemed as terrible as a lion, but he never revealed his temper by railing. To all petitioners he would either grant graciously or graciously deny, so that his gracious denial seemed the highest generosity. In public he carried himself as a true king and lord; in private with his courtiers as one of them, with royal dignity unimpaired.,."

Vita Edwardi Regis: The Life of King Edward who rests at Westminster

Edward the Confessor is an enigma, and was so even during his own lifetime. There are many who would argue that he was a weak man, the plaything of powerful earls and churchmen. Others claim that he was a saint. Yet others say that he was a clever and thoughtful man who saw that the English needed the discipline of the Normans and sought to bring this about.

The truth will never be known. What we do know of Edward comes from a variety of mixed sources. There is the later Norman propaganda, written to exonerate their invasion and conquest. There are the Norse sagas that seem confused as to why he did not back either the Norwegian or Danish kings as his heirs. A key source, the Vita Edwardi, was written at the behest of his queen, Edith. The 'Vita' is generally accepted as being of two parts. The first part being written prior to the Norman Conquest and telling of Edward and his reign from the perspective of the Godwin family who provided Edward with his most powerful earls and his wife. The second half was written subsequent to the Conquest and takes on the form of a hagiography, designed to turn Edward into the saint he was proclaimed to be by the Church in 1161. The contemporary Anglo-Saxon Chronicle shews a man who although often subject to the influence of his Witan, the church, and coose friends, could nevertheless act independently, have bouts of temper and was capable of strong action.

Born in 1005 (?), Edward was the eldest of the three children born to King Æþelræd II and his second wife, Emma the daughter of Duke Richard of Normandy. As a comment on his inability to stick to a decision, Æþelræd was given the nickname, Æþelræd Unræd (noble counsel, no counsel). Today this is normally corrupted to Ethelred the Unready. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that during many of the campaigns during Æþelræd's reign: '… when the Danes were in the east, the English army was in the west, and when they were in the south, our army was in the north…', so perhaps Unready is just as good a nickname.

Although there had been renewed trouble with the Danes since 980, Æþelræd's real problems started in 1006 when he ordered a massacre of them on St Bride's day. Amongst the slain was Gunhild, a sister of King Swein Forkbeard of Denmark. Swein, and his son Knute, arrived the following year to wreck revenge on England and its King. The war that resulted was chaotic with Danes fighting on the English side and English fighting on the Danes side, whilst as often as not Æþelræd preferred to buy the Danes off rather than fight them. The situation deteriorated to the point where, in 1013 Æþelræd and his family fled to Normandy for refuge, leaving Swein to be proclaimed King of the English. The situation did not last as Swein died at the beginning of 1014 and the young Knute took his army to Denmark to enforce his claim to the Danish throne. Æþelræd returned to rule England, but left his wife and young family in Normandy. When Knute returned to England later in the year, the English had a new hero to lead them, Æþelræd's son, Edmund, soon to be called, 'Ironside'.

Æþelræd died in April 1016 and Edmund succeeded him. After much success, Edmund suffered defeat at Ashingdon. However, such had been the scope of his earlier successes both on and off the battlefield, the result was an agreement between Edmund and Knute to divide the land along the old lines of the Danelaw. Then in November, Edmund suddenly died and Knute was declared king. Edmund's sons were sent into exile, and his half brothers, Edward and Ælfred with their sister Goda, remained in Normandy. Not so their mother, Emma. She married her late husband's enemy, the new King of the English, Knute!

Knute died in 1035 at Shaftsbury, England. He left two sons who disputed the vacant crown; Harðeknute, his son by Æþelræd's widow, Emma, and Harold Harefoot by his handfast wife, Ælfgifu of Northampton. Harðeknute was in Denmark, where his father had installed him as regent. Harold was in England with his mother's kin. The English Witan met, but was divided over who was to be the new King of the English. In the end it was Harold who managed to snatch the crown. With his brother still in Denmark, where he was securing his hold on the Danish throne, Harold struck seizing the English national treasury at Winchester, a city that formed part of Queen Emma's dower lands.

Emma abandoned her son Harðeknute and sought help from her sons by Æþelræd living in exile in Normandy. The two Æþelings came, though whether to help their mother, or push their own claims before the Witan is unclear. Edward and a force of French (possibly containing some Normans, but more likely to be men of the Vexin supplied by his nephew, Walter, who was the Count of that region) landed at Southampton in an apparent attempt to reach his mother. He was rebuffed by local opposition and returned to Normandy. His younger brother, Ælfred, meantime went to London, a stronghold of Harold's with a force of men from Boulogne, where his sister's second husband was Count. Whatever Ælfred's intentions, to Harold this could only be seen as a hostile move.

What happened to Ælfred was to stay with his brother Edward, and dog Earl Godwin of Wessex and his kin. The arrival of another Æþeling complicated a situation that had seemed to be resolving itself. Perhaps because of his reception in London, Ælfred moved south with his small following, possibly intending to join his mother at Winchester. At Guildford Earl Godwin either detained or placed Ælfred under his protection. King Harold Harefoot sent his hearthtroop to arrest Ælfred. There must have been some action as the records say that they slew Ælfred's men before taking him under arrest. Later, at Ely, Ælfred was blinded. The act was badly done, for Ælfred died of an infection.

In 1037 Harold Harefoot was recognised as king over all England, and Emma went into exile at Bruges in Flanders. There her son, Harðeknute and a war fleet joined her. That spring Harðeknute intended to invade England and claim the throne. Before he left, Harold Harefoot died in bed.

Now king, Harðeknute invited his half brother, Edward to leave Normandy and join him in ruling England. A year later, in 1042, Harðeknute died.

Under the leadership of Earl Godwin of Wessex, the Witan proclaimed the newly arrived Edward as king. Just to make sure he got into the new king's good books, especially after his involvement in the arrest of the Æþeling Ælfred's arrest, Godwin presented Edward with a fully equipped and crewed ship. He also had to gather his oath sayers and swear that he had no part in the blinding of Edward's brother, Ælfred.

The following year one of Edward's first acts was to use the support of the three great earls of England, Siward of Northumberland, Leofric of Mercia, and Godwin of Wessex, to deprive his mother, Emma, of her lands and treasure. Edward rewarded the earls. Godwin's reward was to have minor earldoms given to his sons, Swein, the eldest, and Harold, and his nephew Beorn. The seal was set on the alliance between Edward and Earl Godwin when in 1045 he married Godwin's daughter, Edith.

As Edward had been raised mainly in Normandy he relied on Godwin to guide and advise him in his rule of England. However, Edward brought with him many Normans he had befriended whilst in exile and gave them positions of power. With the exception of his nephew, Ralf, whom he later made an earl, the newcomers were not given great titles. Two Normans were appointed stallers (originally a post that obtained and maintained the king's horses, but later a high ranking court official), Robert Fitzwimarch and Ralf. But it was in the church where the king introduced many foreign faces, appointing church many new abbots and three bishops. As Sees became available he made Herman, a German who had been the king's chaplain, Bishop of Sherborne, Ulf Bishop of Dorchester and Robert of Jumieges, Bishop of London. The last named was Edward's most favoured advisor and confidant.

English, or rather Anglo-Danish appointments included Swein, Earl Godwin's son Earl of South Mercia, and Beorn, Godwin's nephew, Earl of Northamptonshire. To consolidate his position, and remove a possible threat, he exiled Gunnhild, the widow of Harold, the son of Thorkell the Tall, Earl of East Anglia in Knute's time. To oversee the area, he appointed Harold, Earl of East Anglia. The same year, Edward ordered a fleet to be assembled to face a perceived threat from King Magnus of Norway, who claimed that Harold Harefoot had named him heir to the English throne. Before Edward's resolve could be tested, Magnus became embroiled in a war with his cousin Swein Ulfson for the Danish throne.

In 1046 trouble with the South Welsh saw Earl Swein raiding South Wales in alliance with Gruffyðð, Prince of North Wales. On his way home with his victorious army, he stopped at Leominster where he took the abbess and declared his intention to marry her. It took most of the year to persuade him to part with her and accept the fact that the king had exiled him for his actions. Soon after his exile, his cousin, Swein Ulfson asked King Edward for 50 ships to be sent to help him against Magnus of Norway. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that 'it was thought unwise by all the people, and it was prevented'. Given that the Witan and the king were against it, any attempt by Earl Godwin to gain succour for his nephew was doomed to fail. Magnus used his large war fleet to defeat Swein but died later that year. Magnus was succeeded by Harald Hardrada, and the war to hold onto Denmark continued. Swein Godwinson and a force of English left their refuge in Bruges and went to Denmark to help Swein Ulfson in his war to free Denmark from the Norwegians. After his exile, Earl Swein Godwinson's lands were divided and added to Harold's and Beorn's.

In 1048 German raiders struck Essex and Edward sent the Earl of East Anglia with a fleet sent to deal with them. The raiders were amongst many that used Flanders as a base for raiding, with the blessing of its Count, Baldwin. In 1049, with Magnus of Norway dead and Swein of Denmark still entangled with Harald Harrada, King Edward allied himself with the German Emperor, Henry. With the English fleet blockading Flanders, and the Germans attacking by land, Baldwin capitulated and expelled the pirates. In the midst of all this Swein Godwinson came home having worn out his welcome in Denmark.

Swein sought reconciliation with Edward. He was opposed by his own brother Harold and cousin Beorn, who no doubt did not want to give up the land they had gained by Swein's exile. Edward gave him four days to leave England and Swein withdrew to the Godwin family holding of Bosham.

At this point news was received of enemy shipping movements and Godwin, his sons Harold and Tosti and his nephew Beorn, together with the rest of the fleet sailed to intercept. Whilst weather bound at Pevensey they were joined by Swein, who had ridden there with some followers from Bosham. Swein persuaded his cousin Beorn to accompany him to a meeting with King Edward. Once there, Swein had Beorn seized, bound, and taken on board his ship. It may have been Swein's intention to use Beorn as a hostage, but the end result was Beorn's death and burial in an unmarked grave. On hearing what had happened King Edward and the fleet named Swein 'nithing', that is a person of no value. Swein's men must have had similar feelings as six of his eight ships deserted him. Swein went back into exile in Flanders.

Over the winter Godwin worked on King Edward to allow his son back, and with his earldom to boot. The earlier problem of the land had disappeared with the late Beorn's earldom being split between Harold and the king's nephew, Ralf to compensate for that lost to Swein. Ralf brought many of his countrymen from the French Vexin into those parts of his new lands that bordered Wales. Meantime, either through infertility or celibacy, Edward remained childless.

Edward took the bold, or foolish, step in 1050 of disbanding the fleet, a move that proved popular as it allowed the king to abolish the Danegeld that had been paid by the folk of the country since the time of King Æþelræd Unræd. Although a drain on the country's finances, the fleet, by its very presence had averted the avarice eyes of Norse and Flem from looking too closely at England. His reason may have been the strong standing that Godwin and his sons had with the fleet. Edward may have been tiring of the Godwin influence. If this were so, his Norman intimates, headed by Robert of Jumieges, Bishop of London, no doubt influenced him. Later that year, Eadsige, Archbishop of Canterbury, died. The monks sought to have one of their number, Æþelric a kinsman of Godwin, made the new Archbishop. Godwin supported them. Edward instead made Robert of Jumieges Archbishop. It was not long before the Norman was in dispute with Godwin over certain landholdings that the previous Archbishop had leased to Godwin in exchange for services rendered. Frustrated by lack of success through the courts, Robert turned to whispering in King Edward's ear that perhaps, despite his earlier acquittal, Godwin was responsible for the blinding and subsequent death of the king's brother, Ælfred. Swein's dispute over areas of control with the king's nephew, Ralf; Archbishop Robert's dispute over holdings with Godwin; King Edward's doubts over Godwin's role in his brother's death. The pot simmered; it overflowed in the summer of 1051.

That summer, Edward was visited by his former brother-in-law, Eustace Count of Boulogne. At the end of the visit, Eustace went to Dover to take ship. On his arrival he demanded free board and quarter for himself and his men. This was contrary to the common law of England, and the folk of Dover refused and a fight ensued with several deaths on both sides. Eustace returned to the king and complained about the folk of Dover. Edward summoned Godwin and ordered him to ravage Dover as a punishment. Godwin, aware of his folk's rights, refused. Edward called the Witan to stand in judgment of Godwin. For good measure, Edward raised the hoary old chestnut of Godwin being implicated in Æþeling Ælfred's murder. The fact that Eustace and his men had entered Dover armed indicates that they had planned mischief. Eustace was being threatened by an alliance of his neighbours, William of Normandy and Baldwin of Flanders. If he could do Edward of England a favour, such as bringing down an over powerful earl, he would have an alliance of his own to counter the threat, and Edward would be freer to rule England as he saw fit.

Godwin felt the trap closing, gathered the Wessex Fyrd, and summoned his sons, Swein and Harold with their hearth troops and supporters. He also made arrangements to marry his son Tosti to Judith, daughter of Baldwin of Flanders. Edward gathered his own supporters, Eustace, Archbishop Robert, his nephew Ralph (later know as 'the Timid"), and the French he had settled in the Hereford Marcherlands. Also supporting him were the English earls, Leofric of Mercia and Siward of Northumberland who, no doubts were happy to see the rival house of Godwin get its wings clipped.

On 01 September, Edward was at Gloucester when he was informed that Godwin and his armed host were at nearby Beverstone. Godwin demanded the opportunity to refute the charges made against him in regards to Ælfred's murder. He also wanted Eustace to stand trial for his actions in Dover. Edward stalled, summonsed the northern earls and cried treason! Godwin's bluff was called when the earls with their shire Fyrds arrived. Civil War loomed. The fact that this did not occur may shew that both sides well remembered the dark days of Æþelræd Unræd. Negotiations took place, hostages given (Godwin's youngest son, Wulf and Swein's son Hakon for two) and a meeting arranged to be held at London to resolve the crisis. The Godwins were at Southwark. There, their army begin to melt away as those who held land from the king or the church had their loyalty swayed. Others followed and soon the Godwins had only their hearth troops left. Edward, seeing their diminishing power, now declared Swein Godwinson 'outlaw'. He then commanded Godwin and Harold to appear before him. Godwin asked for guarantees, Edward refused. Godwin was now in an impossible position: if he went to Edward, his safety was at risk, if he stood his ground it could come to armed conflict. He had been out manoeuvred and prepared for exile.

In early October Godwin and the rest of his sons were declared outlaws and given five days to leave the country. The men of Dover were left unpunished. Godwin, his wife Gytha, and his sons Swein, Tosti and Gyrth boarded ship at Bosham and left for Flanders. Harold and Leofwine Godwinson sailed from Bristol for the Norse stronghold of Dublin in Ireland.

One of Edward's first moves was to replace Spearhafoc, the English Bishop of London with William, a Norman friend of Archbishop Robert's. Spearhafoc was a monier and is thought to have 'bought' the bishopric. Robert had not long returned from Rome, where a movement to reform the church was gathering momentum, so he may well have used King Edward's religious sensibilities to further his own ends. Earl Leofric's son, Ælfgar received much of Harold's earldom of East Anglia, whilst Earl Siward received the rest. Odda of Deerhurst, one of Edward's kinsmen, was appointed to a new earldom in the southwest carved from the lands held by Swein and Godwin. Edward's nephew, Ralph, received the remains of Swein's earldom. The French of the Marcherlands picked up the scraps. Having rewarded those who had supported him against Godwin, Edward, at the instigation of Archbishop Robert, put his wife and queen, Edith Godwinsdaughter, into a convent at Wilton and started divorce proceedings. This act may speak against the rumour of his being celibate as by changing his wife he may still have produced sons of his own to succeed him.

That year, also, William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, according to one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, came to visit his distant relative, King Edward. This visit has been linked, though not by the Chronicle itself, to later Norman accounts of William's claim to the English throne. Interestingly the primary Norman sources, William of Jumieges and William of Poitiers do not make any mention of it, nor do the other versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Given the problems that William was having in Normandy at the time, his visit probably never took place and the entry in the 'D' version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle may be a later Norman adjustment!

Meantime, Godwin in Bruges and Harold in Dublin received English exiles and started to gather a force of mercenaries for their return to England. Swein, however, left on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a journey he never returned from, dying at Lycia near Constantinople on the return leg. Seeing the threat from Godwin and his sons, Edward gathered a fleet of 40 ships under the command of his nephew Earl Ralf and his another kinsman Earl Odda. However, the professional fleet had been laid off in 1050 and most of the ships Edward gathered came from Wessex and East Anglia, the power bases of Godwin and Harold.

On 24 June 1052, Godwin made a sortie across the Channel, possibly to test the defences, more likely to see what support he could count on from the men of Wessex. After recruiting in Dungeness and Hastings he retreated to Pevensey when the royal fleet sailed from Sandwich seeking him. A violent storm sent the royal fleet to seek shelter. The fleet under Godwin used the storm as cover for a return to Bruges. Edward was not happy, called the fleet to London, dismissed the earls and paid off the ships and crews. He may have intended to assemble a new fleet whose loyalty and skills were less suspect, but before he could, Godwin, with an enlarged fleet, possibly containing ships that had earlier been in the royal fleet, landed at the Isle of Wight. Here he gathered support and supplies and ravaged the lands of those who would not turn to him. From there he sailed to Portland where he did the same, re-imposing his authority as Earl of Wessex.

Shortly after Godwin's departure from the Isle of Wight, Harold and Leofwine left Dublin with nine ships and ravaged Porlock to provoke Odda, who now had responsibility for the area. The local Fyrd was called out, but they were easily defeated. They then sailed round Lands End and joined their father off of Wight. From there the combined fleet sailed up the Channel and onto London, gathering men and ships as they went.

Edward summoned the earls and their hosts. Whilst Ralph and Odda responded, Leofric and Siward were noticeable by their absence. It may be that they were uncomfortable with the way in which Edward had dealt with Godwin and his kin. More likely they may have been uncomfortable with the increased power of Edward's French and Norman friends. Thus, Edward found himself out numbered.

On arrival at his holding of Southwark, Godwin talked directly to the men of London and persuaded them to support him. After sailing under London Bridge, Godwin's forces disembarked and, as in 1051, two armies faced each other across the Thames. Again there appeared to be little desire for Englishmen to shed English blood. With Bishop Stigand acting as intermediary, a truce was made and a meeting of the Witan called. Before it could meet, the Norman bishops Ulf and William, led by Archbishop of Canterbury Robert, fled taking with them Edward's hostages, Godwin's son Wulf and grandson Hakon. It was not, however uneventful. Some of the royal thegns and the men of London alike fought in the streets with the Norman Bishops and their men to prevent the breach of trust. The Frenchmen of the Welsh Marches also fled, first to their castles, and thence to Scotland.

The taking of the hostages to Normandy by William of Jumieges would not appear to have been at the instigation of the king. The possibility of his being forced to flee a country now hostile to him must have persuaded Robert to ensure his own safety on the trip by taking the hostages with him. On arriving in Normandy holding two close family members of the Godwin kin may well have seeded the thought in the fertile mind of that ambitious prelate of persuading William the Bastard to claim the English throne on King Edward's death. He was a proud man, and being ejected from his See of Canterbury would not have sat well with him; he would have wanted it back. With Wulfnoth and Hakon in his hands he may have felt that he had the Godwinsons neutalised, and himself free to persue his own ambitions for retribution.

The Witan, when it met, included Leofric and Siward. Godwin yet again cleared himself, on oath, of involvement in Æþeling Æfred's death and of treasonable intent by himself and family in 1051. The Witan and the reluctant King accepted the oath. Godwin and his family, except Swein, still returning from pilgrimage at that time, were restored to their lands and positions. This affected Leofric considerably, but an arrangement was held that, should Harold be appointed to Wessex on his father's death, Leofric's son, Ælfgar, would take over East Anglia. The Witan held that the crisis of 1051 had been caused by 'bad counsellors', and thus Archbishop Robert, Bishops Ulf and William and the Frenchmen of Herefordshire were outlawed. However, it needs to be said that not all the Frenchmen were exiled, only those who were deemed to have promoted injustices. Eventually, even Bishop William was allowed to return. Stigand's reward was to be made Archbishop of Canterbury, replacing Robert, who had abandoned the post.

On Easter Monday 1052, during a royal feast, Godwin, Earl of Wessex, suffered a stroke, and died three days later on 15 April. His son Harold was appointed to replace his father as Earl of Wessex. As the Earldoms at that time were not hereditary, this shews that Edward must have had considerable confidence in the young man's ability as Wessex was the royal heartland and, with its long coastline facing France, the key to England. If Edward had favoured William of Normandy as his heir, making the half-French Ralf Earl of Wessex would have made more sense. Such was his trust in Harold, Edward even created a new title for him: Die Gratia, Dux Anglorum. Until now no one had been Duke of England, and no one but the king had ever been said to hold his position till now, 'By the Grace of God'. Harold was King Edward's right hand man and trusted counsellor.

The following year Earl Siward entered Scotland at the side of his son-in-law, Malcolm Clanmore to depose the then King of Scots, Thorfinn MacBethog (McBeth). The old Dane succeeded, though at great personal cost. Amongst the dead were his son, Osbeorn and his nephew Siward. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that on Siward's side many Huscarls were also slain, including some of King Edward's, so that, although not officially sanctioning the expedition, Edward actively supported it.

With the nation settled again, and Harold as his main advisor, King Edward turned his thoughts to a successor. Edward's closest relative was his nephew, Ralph, Earl of Hereford. However, his line of decent was through his mother, and his military shewing was poor, having been an ineffectual leader of the fleet against Godwin and his sons. Ralf was also half French. So was another close relative, Walter of the Vexin. Rather than nominating William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, as post Conquest Norman sources would have us believe, Edward sought out Edward Æþeling, the brother of King Edmund Ironside. Edward Æþeling the Exile, had fled with his family to Hungary, where he had prospered. Bishop Ealdred of Worcester set out in 1054 to track down the Æþeling at the edge of the Holy Roman Empire. However, internal politics in the Empire meant that he was unsuccessful. In the meantime, Earl Siward of Northumberland had died.

Siward's eldest son, Osbeorn, had died during the Scottish campaign. His only remaining son was Waltheof, a child. The north needed a firm hand, so Edward appointed Harold's brother, Tosti Godwinson, to the empty position. Earl Ælfgar of East Anglia thought that the earldom should have been his, especially as Tosti had not held a position of importance before. His complaints upset Edward, who outlawed him!

Ælfgar fled to Ireland where he raised a force of mercenaries, which sailed to Chester to await payment. The exiled earl also spent time persuading his new son-in-law Gruffiðð to join him in an attack on England. The Welsh king, however, had a more pressing problem; Gruffiðð ap Rhyððerch of South Wales. With the help of Ælfgar's 18 ships of mercenaries, the North Welsh king made a raid into South Wales, which resulted in his killing his rival. The allies now turned on Hereford. The choice of target was probably dictated by Ælfgar's need to avoid armed conflict with his father, Leofric Earl of Mercia. Opposing them was the Earl of Hereford, the king's nephew Ralf. Ralf decided to make the defending English force fight on horseback. This break with normal English military tactics, where horses were only used for transport, led to a monumental defeat, and Ralf getting the nickname 'Ralf the Timid'. With the shire Fyrd shattered, King Edward looked elsewhere for a force to defend England's borders. He called on Harold, Earl of Wessex.

Harold moved cautiously. After raiding across the Welsh border, he returned to fortify Hereford. He then opened negotiations with the invaders. The terms were that Ælfgar was to be reinstated as Earl of East Anglia, Gruffiðð gained the marcherland of Archenfield, and Ælfgar accepted Tosti as Earl of Northumberland. Although it was not an ideal solution for King Edward, it at least broke the dangerous alliance of Ælfgar and Gruffiðð. The new Bishop of Hereford was Leofgar, a man better suited to the battlefield than the pulpit. Riding at the head of the Herefordshire Fyrd he conducted aggressive raids against the Welsh. On his last one he died in battle along with a large part of his force. Earls Harold and Leofric, together with Bishop Ealdred of Worcester, gathered an army and threatened action against the North Welsh. The Welsh king, Gruffiðð, sat down and talked with them. The Welshman was recognised as King of all Wales in exchange for him recognising Edward as his overlord. In the same year Odda, who had resigned his earldom to become a monk, died.

Edward was still without issue and getting desperate to secure an heir. He still wanted Edward Æþeling to return to England to succeed him. In 1056 he again he sent an emissary to the Holy Roman Emperor, this time it was Earl Harold. The new German Emperor had settled the dispute with Hungary, and he opened negotiations with Andrew I of Hungary at the Imperial Christmas gathering at Regensburg on the Danube. Neither Andrew nor Edward Æþeling were keen at first. Eventually Harold's diplomacy was successful and he brought Edward Æþeling back with him to England. They arrived home just after Earl Leofric died. Unfortunately Edward Æþeling joined him within a matter of days. Fortunately the Æþeling had brought his family with him, including his son, Edgar. King Edward promptly named Edgar to be the new Æþeling, and his heir apparent. The succession of Earl Leofric was also easily solved; his son, Ælfgar, who had served his apprenticeship as Earl of East Anglia, would succeed him. The replacement in East Anglia was another Godwinson, Gyrth.

There was another important death that year. On 21 December, Ralf the Timid, Earl of Hereford, died. Ralf's son, another Harold, was an infant, the remaining Godwinsons were too inexperienced to be given the marcher earldom, and Ælfgar would not be welcomed by the men of Herefordshire given his activities a few years earlier. The solution was to divide the earldom in three; Harold gained the Welsh border counties, Ælfgar some of the eastern counties and Leofwine Godwinson the eastern counties.

 Ælfgar was not happy with the increased power of the Godwinsons, nor possibly the exclusion of his son Edwin from an earldom, even though he was but a boy. In 1057 he turned again to Gruffiðð of Wales, sealing the alliance by giving the Welsh King his daughter Alditha for his wife. Ælfgar may only have been protecting his back on the Welsh border, whilst providing himself with a potential source of military support should he be in dispute with either King Edward or the Godwinsons. Edward saw it as a threat and banished him.

Ælfgar fled to Gruffiðð where the allies gained assistance from a Norwegian fleet under the leadership of King Harald Hardrada. The Norse raided the north-western coast of England whilst the Welsh raided the border. The Norwegians, ships full of plunder, sailed away. In the subsequent peace talks, Earl Harold again arranged for Ælfgar to be given back his earldom and Gruffiðð more English borderlands.

The alliance ended when Ælfgar died sometime after August in 1062. He must have died in December, for as soon as Christmas was over, King Edward let Harold strike at Gruffiðð, presumably before the news of Ælfgar's death could reach his Welsh ally. Using a mounted force, Harold struck at Gruffiðð's palace at Rhuddlan in North Wales. He missed his prey, but used the opportunity to burn the buildings and the Welsh King's fleet. As a trophy the earl brought the prow and stern posts of solid gold and laid them at the feet of King Edward. Now that the Welsh had no fleet, and with Harald Hardrada againg involved in Danish affairs, Edward and Earl Harold determined to smash Gruffiðð once and for all, and regain those lands they had had to concede to him over the years.

With the king's blessing, the brothers, Earl Harold and Earl Tosti launched a joint land/sea operation. In the spring of 1063, under Harold's overall command, they struck. Harold led a fleet that sailed from Bristol and raided along the Welsh coast, distracting the Welsh forces whilst Tosti, with a mounted force, entered North Wales from the Chester area. Harold sailed north to take and devastate the Isle of Anglesey, the granary of North Wales. He then sailed parallel to the coast, supporting his brother's land forces. A Welsh chronicle records his light forces devastating all Wales and erecting memorial stones recording their victories. Gruffiðð and his shrinking forces fled inland to the fast of Snowdon, where he continued to harass the English forces.

The campaign isolated Gruffiðð from his supporters and forced the Welsh to submit, give hostages and pay tribute. They also outlawed and renounced their king. Earl Harold kept the pressure on and Gruffiðð's own supporters lost faith in him. On 5 August they brought Gruffiðð's head to Harold, who took it and brought it to Edward. In Gruffiðð's place his brothers Bleððyn and Rhiwallon were allowed to rule in North Wales after acknowledging Edward as their overlord and agreeing to pay tribute. South Wales was left for local dynasties to squabble over. The English regained their lost marcherlands and gained some new ones. So great was the devastation the Welsh suffered that Edward agreed to let Welsh women marry English men; there being so few of their countrymen left.

With the country at peace and with the capable Harold effectively running it and overseeing the actions of the earls, Edward indulged his hobbies. Although always a keen huntsman, much of his time was given to his pet project of building Westminster Abbey on Thorney Island, in the marshes just outside London. Always a devoted son of the church, Edward out did any of his earlier efforts when he built the Westminster, which he dedicated to his patron saint, St. Peter. Using Norman stone masons and English carpenters, he built one of England's best known cathedrals, though it was not completed until shortly after his death.

In the autumn of 1064 occurred the inexplicable visit of Harold to Normandy. The visit is not mentioned by any English sources. As the Norman sources were written after the events of 1066, their interpretation of what may have happened, are therefore suspect. However the visit is also mentioned in the Norse Hemingsþattr, which was written down some 300 years later and may, therefore, have taken in the Norman stories. After spending much time in Normandy, Harold returned to England with his nephew Hakon, but without his brother, Wulf. Shortly after that King Edward had a prophetic dream of the tree of England being 'split asunder, not to be rejoined'.

The first sign of a split was the revolt in 1065 against Earl Tosti by the Northumbrians. Tosti had spent much of his early time during his ten-year tenure establishing a close relationship with the thegns and churchmen of the earldom. In his later years, however, it seems he spent too much time attending to the affairs of King Edward, and left the running of Northumberland to his Huscarls. He had also become drawn into local politics. Tosti was also said to be behind the murder of Gospatric Uhtredson, an important Northumbrian thegn at Edward's court. This and other killings was used by the northern thegns as the justification for their rebellion. But there was another underlying reason: money.

The northern shires had been subjected to a lower tax regime than those in the south. Tosti had tried to redress this anomaly, possibly driven to do so by the cost of the Welsh campaign. The result was a revolt that involved 'all the thegns of Yorkshire' so the various versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tell us. The tax, and the fact that his men were using arbitrary justice to enforce collection led that autumn to the thegns of Yorkshire and many others from throughout Northumberland to seize and occupy York and kill Tosti's men, including two of his Huscarls.

Having sacked the treasury the northern thegns then declared Tosti outlaw and sent for Morcar, the young brother of Earl Edwin of Mercia, to be the new earl. Their choice f an outsider, with no Northumbrian connections may have been influenced by the fact that Tosti was a favourite of King Edward and his brothers ruled most of England. Proclaiming Morcar earl would ally them with the next most powerful family in the land.

Lead by 'Earl' Morcar they were joined at Northampton by Earl Edwin and supporters and some Welsh allies. From there they moved south seeking out Tosti's personal holdings to plunder. There Harold, who had been sent by King Edward, possibly at Tosti's instigation met them. As a sign of good faith he did not have an armed following with him.

Tosti's position, and that of King Edward, was to get back his earldom, at the risk of civil war if need be. The position of Harold and his brothers and fellow earls, Leofwine and Gyrth, is unknown, but after he spoke with the rebels, Harold realised that it would be impossible for Tosti to retain Northumberland. The consensus needed by an earl to rule had gone and, rather than being opposed by a faction, Tosti was opposed by all the local thegns. Either Tosti had to give up the earldom, or there had to be a civil war.

Harold returned to King Edward at Oxford. There, in council, Harold advised against military action and for agreeing to the rebels' demands. The arguments went on for some time. Edward was finally swayed, possibly intending to later compensate his brother-in-law with other land holdings, but Tosti was furious and accused Harold of fermenting the revolt, an accusation that was patently untrue. For the first time since Swein's death, the Godwinsons were divided with Tosti and Queen Edith on one side and Harold, Leofwine and Gyrth on the other and King Edward stuck in the middle.

With the Edward's blessing, Harold went to Northampton and told Morcar he was now officially Earl of Northumberland and the rebels that they were pardoned, and the new tax assessments revoked. Meantime Tosti, rather than wait and see what alternative power-base King Edward would grant him, argued so much with Edward that he found himself exiled. Tosti took ship with his wife and family and sought refuge at Bruges with his other brother-in-law, the arch mischief-maker, Count Baldwin of Flanders.

It was now November and Edward's health, possibly eroded by the recent crisis, started to deteriorate and it became obvious the he would soon die. The problem arose of who would be the next king of the English. Up till now the heir apparent was Edgar the Æþeling, and under normal circumstance he would have been acceptable with Harold continuing as Dux Anglorum and running the country till the boy was old enough to rule on his own. But circumstances had changed. In addition to rival claims from Harald Hardrada of Norway and William of Normandy, there was now an irate Tosti to deal with.

The traditional Witangamot and celebration held at Christmas saw all five earls, both archbishops, eight bishops and most of the country's leading thegns gathered to attend the king for what was obviously the last time. On 05 January 1066 King Edward summonsed the Witan to his deathbed. There he commended his kingdom and the protection of his queen to Harold. He then bound his foreign servants to take out oaths of loyalty to Harold. On King Edward's death the Witan acclaimed Harold King of the English, and no one opposed them.

"But the prudent king had settled the realm on high-born men, on Harold himself, the noble earl; who in every season faithfully counselled and never gave to any what might be wanted by the nation's king.'

Part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 1066