1902 Encyclopedia > Edward III (Eadward III), King of the Anglo-Saxons

Edward III
(also known as: Eadward III; Edward the Confessor)
(reigned 1043-1066)

King of the Anglo-Saxons

EDWARD, or EADWARD III., king of the Anglo-Saxons, surnamed, on account of his reputation for superior sanctity, the Confessor, was the son of Ethelred II. and Emma, daughter of Richard I. of Normandy, and was born at Islip, Oxfordshire, probably in 1004. On the election of Swend to the throne of England in 1013, Emma with her husband and family took refuge in Normandy ; and Edward, notwithstanding the marriage of Emma to Canute in 1017, continued to reside at the Norman court, until he was recalled to England by Hardicanute in 1041. Hardicanute died in 1042, and " before the king was buried, all folk chose Edward to be king at London; " but partly from his own unwillingness to accept the crown, and partly from the opposition of the Danes who came into England with Canute, his coronation did not take place till April 1043. The chief agent in overcoming his scruples, and in quelling all murmurs of opposition against his election, was Godwin the West Saxon earl, whose influence was at that time paramount in England. The exact nature of the rela-tions between Godwin and Edward has been the subject of considerable discussion; but the most probable view of the matter is that, until after the marriage of Edward to Edgitha, daughter of Godwin, in 1045, these were on the whole cordial and friendly, but that gradually the king's preference of Normans to Anglo-Saxons, his necessary friendship with Leofric of Mercia and Siward of Northumbria, and his growing dread of Godwin's ambitious character, led to misunderstanding and distrust. It was, probably, at the instigation of Godwin that Edward, on his accession to the throne, deprived his mother Emma of her possessions, and caused her to live in retirement at Winchester, and that he banished from the kingdom the chief Danish partisans who opposed his election. For the first eight years his reign was comparatively tranquil, the only circumstances worthy of mention being a threatened invasion by Norway, the ravages committed by pirates in Kent and Essex, and the outlawry of Sweyn, son of Godwin, for the seduction of the abbess of Leominster. In 1051, Eustace, count of Boulogne, in endeavouring to quarter his followers on the town of Dover, was resisted by the burghers, and a quarrel ensuing, several Normans were slain. The king, on hearing Eustace's account of the affair, without further inquiry, commanded Godwin to chastise the town by military execution. Godwin demanded a trial; but the king, incited it is said by Robert, archbishop of Canterbury, summoned a meeting of the Witan at Gloucester, not for the purpose of inquiring into the affair at Dover, but to pass judgment on Godwin for his contumacy. Ultimately, Godwin thought it prudent to leave the country and take refuge in Flanders. It was during his absence that William, duke of Normandy, visited England; and if this prince did not then receive the promise of the crown from Edward, his ambition to possess it and his hopes of success were doubtless confirmed by his visit. There seems to have been general regret at Godwin's absence; and encouraged by the assurances he received from England, he gathered a fleet, and uniting with Harold, appeared before London. The king endeavoured to oppose him, but was obliged to yield to the wishes of his subjects, and Godwin and his sons were reinstated in their possessions. When her father left England, Edgitha had been deprived of her property and sent to the royal abbey of Wherwell, but on his return she was restored to her former position. Godwin died in 1053, and after his death Harold attained to great influence, and virtually ruled the kingdom in the name of Edward. Towards the end of 1065 Edward's health began rapidly to fail. He had rebuilt the ancient abbey of Westminster, and his only wish was to be present at its consecration, which was to take place on the 28th December, but over-exertion on some previous festival days was too much for his remaining strength. His share in the ceremony had to be performed by deputy, and he died 5th January 1066. It was his last wish that Harold should succeed him on the throne. The virtues of Edward, it has been said, were monastic rather than kingly. His aims were just and righteous, and he showed his interest in his subjects by the preparation of a digest of the laws of the kingdom, and by the repeal of the Danegeld, or war tax; but his weak character and his feeble interest in worldly matters caused the real government of the kingdom during his reign to be placed almost entirely in the hands of favourites.

See Palgrave's History of the Anglo-Saxons, Green's History of the English People, and especially Freeman's Norman Conquest, vol. ii.

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