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Table of Contents
Following the death of King Edward the Confessor in 1066, five candidates claimed the English throne. Three strong claimants to the English throne were Harold of Wessex, William of Normandy, and Edgar Atheling. The succession crisis ended in bloodshed and began the Norman rule of England.
See the fact file below for more information on Claimants to the Throne in 1066 or alternatively, you can download our 30-page Claimants to the Throne in 1066 worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR AND ENGLAND
- Edward was the eldest son of King Aethelred the Unready to his second wife, Emma, the sister of Richard II of Normandy. The marriage was arranged to improve the English and Norman relations. When Aethelred of Wessex died in 1016, the throne was shortly fought between Aethelred’s eldest son Edmund Ironside and Cnut the Great of Denmark.
- Cnut the Great succeeded and became king of England in 1016. At Cnut’s death in 1035, another succession dispute occurred between Aeflgifyu of Northampton, Cnut’s first wife, and Alfred, son of Emma, Cnut’s second wife. Alfred was murdered, and in 1042, his brother Edward, who was in exile in Normandy, was crowned the king of England.
- Despite the lack of a strong rival, Edward the Confessor was a king who survived under the protection and support of influential earls. As a result of spending much of his life in Normandy, Edward had no power base in England, and he sought the support of powerful English earls, including Godwine, Leofric, and Siward.
- In addition to giving lands to Godwine Earl of Wessex and his sons, Edward married his daughter Edith in 1045, solidifying a strong alliance. However, the marriage failed to produce a male heir. In 1053, Godwine died and was succeeded by his eldest son Harold.
- While pleasing the English earls, Edward maintained good relations with the Norman court led by Duke William.
- When Edward the Confessor died childless on January 5, 1066, this marked one of the most significant succession crises in the history of the English throne.
CLAIMANTS TO THE THRONE
- According to the Vita Ædwardi Regis, Edward the Confessor entrusted the protection of the Kingdom of England to his wife and brother-in-law Harold Godwinson in his deathbed.
- The Bayeux Tapestry depicted Edward pointing at a man, and many presumed it was Harold. On January 6, 1066, the Witan convened Harold Godwinson as Edward’s successor. Harold’s kingship was challenged by William II, Duke of Normandy, Harald Hardrada of Norway, Edgar Aetheling of Wessex, and Sweyn of Denmark.
- Harold Godwinson reigned as king of England between January 5, 1066, and October 14, 1066. He was a son of Godwin of Wessex and Gytha Thorkelsdottir, and his family had marital connections to Cnut the Great and Sweyn II of Denmark. In addition to Harold, Godwin and Gytha had several children, including Sweyn, Tostig, Gyrth, Leofwine, Wulfnoth, Edith, Gunhild, and Aelfgifu.
- When Edward the Confessor married Edith, Harold became Earl of East Anglia. Harold’s landholding expanded in 1047 following the exile of his older brother Sweyn. In 1053, he succeeded his father as Earl of Wessex and became one of the most powerful earls in England.
- In 1064, Harold’s ship was wrecked on the coast of Ponthieu. He was taken by Count Guy of Ponthieu and exiled at Beaurain. Following the request of William of Normandy, Harold was released. Some believed that Harold swore his fealty to William in Rouen, and scholars suggest that William assumed that he was offered the succession.
- Upon hearing of Harold’s coronation, several factions, including William of Normandy and Hardrada of Norway, organized their troops and planned an invasion of England.
- Sources were unreliable since, at the time, the English succession was neither chosen by the reigning monarch nor inherited. A successor was chosen by the Witenagemot, composed of the kingdom’s highest notables.
William of Normandy
- Also known as William the Bastard, William was the Duke of Normandy from 1035 until 1087. He was the son of Robert I of Normandy to his mistress Herleva. Because of his illegitimate status, William had a hard time succeeding his father. He established himself by defeating a rebellion and imposing his authority over Normandy.
- William’s marriage to Matilda of Flanders resulted in a powerful alliance. Upon the death of Edward the Confessor, William claimed the throne of England from various points. First, Edward’s mother, Emma, was the sister of William’s grandfather Richard II of Normandy, making them first cousins once removed. Second, he claimed that Edward previously promised the throne to him. Lastly, Harold swore his fealty to him after rescuing him from Ponthieu.
- Edgar Aetheling was the son of Edward the Exile and the only surviving male member of the royal House of Cerdic of Wessex.
- When Edward the Confessor died, Edgar was in his early teens. Edgar had only hoped for a peaceful hereditary succession with no adult male relative to guide him and a lack of military experience. However, the Witenagemot elected Harold Godwinson as Edward’s successor.
- Following Harold’s death at the Battle of Hastings, Anglo-Saxon leaders considered electing Edgar as king. Before claiming the throne, their first concern was to defeat William of Normandy. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria initially supported Edgar. However, as the Normans marched near London, the English ruling class began to submit to the invaders.
- In 1067, William took Edgar and a few English nobles to Normandy. Abortive rebellions and alliances were organized, but Edgar failed to claim the throne. Edgar took refuge in the court of Malcolm III of Scotland, the husband of Edgar’s sister Margaret, until 1072. His ambition to regain the English throne ended when William invaded Scotland and forced Malcolm III to abandon Edgar.
- Harald III was the king of Norway between 1046 and 1066. At 15, Harald fought with his brother Olaf Haraldsson to reclaim the Norwegian throne, but they were defeated by Cnut the Great’s forces and decided to move to Constantinople.
- While serving as commander of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire, Harald accumulated considerable wealth.
- When Harald was in Constantinople, his nephew Magnus the Good reclaimed the Norwegian throne, and Harald went to Norway and shared kingship with Magnus. In 1046, Magnus died, passing the throne to Harald. In 1064, Harald reclaimed the Kingdom of Denmark from Sweyn II but renounced it later.
- When Edward the Confessor died, Harald allied with Tostig (Harold Godwinson’s brother) to claim the English throne. In September 1066, Harald and about 10,000 troops raided the coast of Northumbria and Mercia. Despite his initial successes, Harald was killed by Harold’s forces in the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
- Historians suggest that the death of Harald marked the end of the Viking Age in England.
- The last significant claimant to the English throne was Sweyn II, King of Denmark, from 1047 until 1076. Sweyn was the son of Ulf Thorgilsson and grandson of Sweyn I Forkbeard. Sweyn’s mother, Estrid, was the daughter of Sweyn I and sister to Cnut the Great.
- Following the defeat of Harald and Harold by William in 1066, Sweyn turned his attention to England.
- In 1069, he allied with Edgar Aetheling to attack William I. However, after capturing York, Sweyn accepted a truce with William I and abandoned Edgar, who was exiled to Scotland.
- Sweyn II’s claim to the English throne was through his uncle, Cnut the Great, who ruled England from 1016 until 1035.
REASONS FOR THEIR CLAIM
- In the 11th century, blood tie was not an essential factor for the succession to the English throne. However, if considered, Edgar Aetheling had the closest family tie with Edward the Confessor. All except Harald Hardrada were connected to Edward by family ties.
- A more unconfirmed claim to the English throne was promised. Some accounts suggest that Edward pledged to William in 1051, then Harold in his deathbed. William also argued that Harold swore fealty to him in 1064. Many believed that the stronger claim through a promise was Harold since it was the latest before Edward’s passing.
- At the time, the degree of political power was the most influential for the succession to the English throne. All claimants except Edgar had experience in the military and a solid power base. Harold was supported by the Witan and some of the most influential English nobles. Harald was the king of Norway, while William was the Duke of Normandy.
END OF THE CRISIS
- On September 25, 1066, the alliance of Tostig and Harald was defeated by Harold’s forces at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. The death of Tostig and Harald left the other claimants, William and Edgar.
- On September 28, 1066, William’s forces landed at Pevensey. With an exhausted army, Harold marched south of England.
- Near the end of the Battle at Hastings, Harold was killed. As a result, the English army retreated. On Christmas Day 1066, William was crowned King of England. William’s victory at Hastings marked the end of Anglo-Saxon kings and the beginning of Norman rule in England. He became known as William the Conqueror.
Claimants to the Throne in 1066 Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle that includes everything you need to know about Claimants to the Throne in 1066 across 30 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use worksheets that are perfect for teaching about Claimants to the Throne in 1066, the five royals who fought over the English throne following the death of King Edward the Confessor in 1066.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Claimants to the Throne in 1066
- Power of a King
- I Should Be King
- My King
- Royal Succession
- Who’s Who?
- Plus and Minus
- A Throne
- Edward the Confessor
- British Monarchy Today
- The Victor of 1066
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