Wednesday, 2 May 2012

House of Wessex (restored, second time)

House of Mercia : House of Wessex : House of Denmark : House of Wessex (restored) : House of Denmark (restored)

England, having seen the raids, battles, and invasion from the Vikings for several centuries, now was briefly back in the hands of a saxon restoration, with Edward having been invited back to the throne. But a decisive point in English history was fast approaching as we approach closer to the battle that is perhaps the most famous in England, the Battle of Hastings, and as a result, this post is longer, for which I apologise.

Edwards's Attributed Arms
Edward the Confessor 1042 - 1066: Was the seventh son of Æthelred the Unready and the first of Emma of Normandy, and is usually known to be the last King of the House of Wessex.  His time as King is seen as when the royal power began to ebb away whilst the House of Godwin attempted to increase their powerbase.

Edward's position as King, was weak and to rule effectively he needed to appease the three leading earls at that time (Leofric of Mercia, Godwin and Siward of Northumbria), but loyalty to the ancient house of Wessex was no more as this had been eroded by the period of Danish rule, and only Leofric was descended from a family which had served Æthelred. Siward was probably Danish, and although Godwin was English, he was one of Cnut's new men, married to Cnut's former sister-in-law.

1043 saw the beginning of Godwin's attempt to increase his powerbase as his eldest son Sweyn was appointed to an earldom in the south-west midlands, and in 1045 Edward married Godwin's daughter Edith. Soon afterwards, another of Godwin's sons, Harold and his Danish cousin Beorn Estrithson, were also given earldoms in southern England and effectively allowed Godwin, via his family, control of southern England, albeit in the King's name.

Edward, despite having the greatest of wealth, landwise, over the other Earls, showed no interest in solidifying his powerbase, as they were situated in the Earldoms in southern England.

Meanwhile, King Magnus of Norway aspired to the English throne, and in 1045 and 1046, fearing an invasion, Edward took command of the fleet at Sandwich. Beorn's elder brother, Sweyn of Denmark had become as a son to Edward, hoping for his help in his battle with Magnus for control of Denmark, however Edward rejected Godwin's demand in 1047, that he send aid to Sweyn, and it was only upon Magnus's death in October that saved England from attack and allowed Sweyn to take the Danish throne.

Edward was canonized in 1161 by Pope Alexander III, and is commemorated on 13 October by the Catholic Church of England and Wales and the Church of England. He was regarded as one of the national saints of England until King Edward III adopted Saint George as patron saint in about 1350.

Penny depicting Harold
Harold Godwinson 1066: Harold’s reign was a short one and was to become only the first of three English Kings to have been killed in warfare.

When Harold’s father, Godwin, died in 1053, he became Earl of Wessex, and as the province covered the southernmost third of England, was the most powerful figure in England after the King.  He also became Earl of Hereford in 1058, and continued his father’s stance in opposing the increasing Norman influence in England during Edward the Confessor’s reign.

Having been shipwrecked in Ponthieu in 1064, Harold was captured and held hostage by Count Guy I of Ponthieu at his castle at Beaurain.  Duke William arrived soon after and order Harold be turned over to him.  Harold then accompanied William to battle against William’s enemy, the Duke of Brittany and won. Harold was awarded with weapons and arms and knighted him.  The famous Bayeux Tapastry shows Harold swearing an oath, on sacred relics, to support William’s claim to the crown of England.

Harold’s brother, Tostig doubled the taxation in 1065 which threatened to plunge England into civil war and Harold sided with the Northumbrian rebels against his brother and replaced him with Morcar which strengthened his ‘acceptability’ as Edward’s successor but fatally divided his family driving Tostig into an alliance with King Harald Hardrada of Norway.

In 1065, King Edward fell into a coma without signifying an heir, and whilst he breifly regained consciousness, he ambiguously commended his widow and the kingdom to Harold’s protection, and died on 5 January 1066.  The Witenagemot however, met the following day and selected Harold to succeed and was crowned the same day.

Harold, upon hearing that Duke William of Normandy was amassing an invasion force, assembled his troops on the Isle of Wright, but disbanded them after eight months of waiting with provisions running out, and returned to London on 8 September 1066. 

On that very same day, Tostig was joined by Harald Hardrada and invaded landing his fleet at the mouth of the River Tyne.  They defeated Edwin of Mercia, and Morcar of Northumbria at the Battle of Fulford, near York on 20 September, but were taken by surprise five days later at the Battle of Stamford Bridge where Harold had force marched his men for four days from London.

Spot where Harold Died
Harold, then needed to march his troops back 241 miles towards the Sussex coast as news that William had landed.  The two armies met at Senlac Hill, near Hastings (near the present town of Battle), where after nine hours of fighting, and most likely 30 minutes away from victory, Harold was killed and his forced routed. 

The spot where Harold died is now the site of Battle Abbey.

Edgar the Ætheling 1066: Edgar was born in Hungary and was the only son of Edward the Exile (King Edmund II Ironside) and Agatha.

King Edward (the Confessor) summoned Edward the Exile back to England on hearing that he was still alive, but died two days after arriving, having been most likely murdered. Edgar, 6 at the time, was the only last surviving male member of the royal dynasty apart from the King.

Upon King Edwards death, Edgar (in his teens) was considered to be too young to be an effective military leader, and due to the King’s failure to announce an heir, war was inevitable, and so Harold was appointed by the Witenagemot as best placed to become King and defend the country.

However, following Harold death at Hastings, the Witenagemot convened in London and elected Edgar King. The regime which was established was dominated by the most powerful surviving members of the English ruling class, however their commitment  to the cause was doubtful at best, as most were overlooked to be King, and William’s victory over Harold challenged their resolve to continue the struggle.

As the Normans closed in on London, the remaining Witenagemot members met in December and resolved to take the uncrowned King to meet William and to submit him at Berkamstead.

The crowning of King William I (the Conqueror), on 25 December 1066, ushers in the Normandy era.

And it is from the reign of William, that he and his descendants took regnal numbers to distinguish monarchs as opposed to nicknames, although this custom did not die out totally.

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