William I

Edward the Confessor

Cnut married Emma (daughter of the Duke of Normandy) and their only son was Harthacnut. Emma had previously been married to Aethelred II and their union produced a son – Edward, who spent 25 years in Normandy. As could be expected, this man became more Norman than English and was unknown to most of the people in the land of his birth. However, Edward joined the household of Harthacnut in 1040. Harthacnut died in 1042 and his half-brother, Edward, was chosen as the next king by the leading nobles in England.

Edward, later known as ‘the Confessor’, married Edith, who was the daughter of Godwin, Earl of Wessex – the most powerful man in England. For some time the new king was dominated by Godwin, whose family was enriched by great estates. As could be expected, this annoyed some of the other great earls, including Leofric of Mercia and Siward of Northumbria. Additionally, in Edward’s court were many of his Norman friends and they, too, regarded Godwin as being over-mighty.

In 1051 Edward felt confident enough to take action and Earl Godwin and his family were sent into exile. Soon afterwards Edward is said to have designated William Duke of Normandy as his successor. This spell of success proved to be brief, for in 1052 popular support restored Godwin. This led to Normans being driven from Edward’s court and terms being dictated to the king. The following year Earl Godwin died and his son, Harold, became Earl of Wessex.

Edward died in January of 1066 and Harold was anointed King Harold II of England. A strong hand was needed, as England was now threatened by Harold of Norway and William of Normandy. If William attacked then it would be somewhere on the south coast, so many men were sent to watch out for invaders.

Before moving on I’ll provide some details about William’s life leading up to 1066 in the following pages:

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