History Coursework Essay
Is it right to describe that Edward the Confessor as a failure?
There were many problems in Edward’s reign from 1042-1066. Stafford argues that some of his problems had no obvious solutions. Some historians argue that Edward was not a failure, as he was able to maintain a good relationship with the Godwines. He was also able to solve the problem of not having enough supporters and was able to defend his kingdom in case of any invasion in England. According to Barlow, Edward was also able to maintain peace within his kingdom in the latter part of the reign. This view is supported by ASC and the Vita. However, other historians argue that Edward was a failure as he was unable to deal on the long term with the power of the Godwines and was unable to solve the problem of the succession. Edward’s failure is shown with the succession issue as both the Norman sources and English sources have in agreement that Edward did not have a consistent policy on the succession.
Some historians argue that Edward should not be described as a failure. This was shown, as he was able to defend England in case of any invasion from other countries. This view is agreed by Barlow who describes Edward defending England and Denmark making an alliance with Swein against Magnus of Norway. Barlow says that “Edward always took command whenever possible of an invasion.” This view is supported by the author of Vita 2 who describes Edward as, “the protector of his land and people.” Barlow says that Ailred3 agrees with this view. This shows that the evidence is trustworthy. According to Barlow, Edward dealt with foreign policy, by stopping William from forming an alliance with Flanders. This was because Flanders and Normandy had maritime power and if they formed an alliance, they would have been able to share maritime power and help Swein, Magnus or Harold Hardrada from invading England. Therefore Edward stopped this alliance from being formed to protect his country, by promising William the throne in 1051. Due to all these sources agreeing with Edward’s determination to prevent invasion from his kingdom, it is probable that this piece of interpretation of Edward is reliable, showing that Edward was not a failure. Barlow describes Snorri Sturluson1 saying that Edward was “nicknamed Edward the Good, which describes him well…By the English he is regarded as a saint.” Barlow mentions that Enconium Emmae2 says that Edward had courage, determination and possessed all the desirable qualities, which is similar to how a poem3 in the chronicle describes Edward according to Barlow. This therefore shows Edward was not a failure.
Barlow argues that Edward maintained control over the secular church by appointing who, he wanted to become bishop or abbot without being influenced by the earls, such as Godwine who requested Aelric to be bishop. Barlow4 agrees and his view is also supported by Vita, ‘the earl suffered a defeat in pressing his request.’ Instead Edward did not accept Godwines request but chose Robert of Jumièges instead. This shows that Edward was not a failure as he had control over the earls, whereas in the past the kings would appoint bishops and abbots of the earls’ choice. Therefore this shows Edward as a success as he appointed bishops and abbots who he felt would be best adapted for the job. Edward appointed Hermann, who was Lotharingina, to Wiltshire in 1045. He also appointed Leofric an Englishman to Devon and Cornwall in 1046, Heca, an Englishman, to Sussex in 1047, Ulf, a Norman, to Dorchester in 1049 and Robert of Jumièges to London in 1051and later he was transferred to Canterbury. This evidence is shown by Barlow1and supported by ASC (C),2which also mentions that the bishopric given to Heca was later given to Stigand. Therefore it is probable that this piece of evidence is reliable. This shows Edward as not a failure due to his effective leadership in appointing abbots and bishops selectively.
Edward solved the problem of having a lack of supporters, by embarking on a Normanisation Policy in 1051. Edward gave Ralph land, Robert of Fitswimarc estates; Fecamp of Normandy coasts in Sussex and Osbern was given Bosham. Stafford3 in addition includes Englishmen and Lotharingians where also appointed. The Normanisation Policy was embarked to improve his political position by balancing the power of the Godwines and increasing the number of his supporters; this shows Edward was not a failure. Schama4 supports this view as he says that Edward was able to build up a circle of supporters. In 1051 Edward reduced the Danish fleet by paying off nine out of fourteen ships, due to the navy supporting the Godwines. This evidence is shown by Barlow5 and supported by ASC (C)6. Edward was also able to abolish the Heregeld in the same year according to Barlow, which meant that he gained more support from the thegns.
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Edward dealt with the power of the Godwines, by realising the importance of giving land to the Godwines. This is shown in the Vita7, which describes Edward’s importance in marrying Godgifu, as this would give him a, ‘firmer hold on his hereditary rights in England.’ Edward controlled the amount of land given to him, stopping him from becoming over mighty. In two occasions Edward was able to put Swein into exile without being influenced by Godwine. The first time was because of raping Abbess of Leominister and second time for murdering his cousin Beorn. This shows Edward was not a failure, as he was not persuaded by Godwine when trying to force him not to put Swein into exile. In addition to this in 1051 Edward was able to put the Godwines into exile. He was also able to earn support from Leofric and Siward. According to ASC (D)1, it says, ‘it was such a king, that he was able to put Godwin into exile.’ However, this could be an exaggeration as the author of ASC (D) wrote later and already knew that Godwine was going to return and according to Campbell2, ASC (D) was mildly critical of the Godwines, therefore it could be possible that the source says this to exaggerate the failure of Godwine. Therefore it could be argued that Edward was very successful in putting a man like Godwine into exile, whereas other kings might not be able to do this.
Edward should not be described as a failure as he was able to reform the church. According to Stafford3, Edward took his ecclesiastical rights and duties as a king seriously and rewarded friends and followers as Edgar had done before him. Stenton4 supports this view, as he mentions that Edward showed religious interests, especially intending to found Westminister Abbey. There is evidence from Schama 5 and supported by Stafford of Edward reforming the church.
It could be argued that Edward was a success, with the Scots and the Welsh. With the Scots, Malcolm opposed King Macbeth. Edward sided with Macbeth and Macbeth was able to kill Malcolm. Malcolm married Margaret, who became popular in Scotland. This enabled peace to be achieved with Scotland. According to Barlow, Edward was able to maintain peace within the kingdom, ‘between 1063 and 1065 the English kingdom was at peace.’ This view is somewhat supported by the ASC, as criticism dries up, and by the author of Vita1 who writes that, ‘King Edward passed his life in security and peace.’ Therefore it could be argued that Edward was a success for maintaining peace within his kingdom. Edward’s success was also shown with the Welsh. Gruffyd Ap Llewellyn attacked England c.1050 and in response, Edward probably maintained his Offa’s dyke. Edward created a marcher earldom at Hereford, and put Ralph of Mantes in charge. Edward also often held court at Gloucester, which was close to Wales, thus demonstrating Edward’s interest in Welsh Affairs. According to Barlow2, Edward had no ambition to widen his empire as his policy towards Scotland and Wales, like his Scandinavian policy, was purely defensive. Schama3 supports this view as he mentions that Edward was concerned with defending the western borders of Mercia and Wessex against expansion by the Welsh princes.
However, some historians argue that Edward should be described as a failure as he was not able to deal with the power of the Godwines. This was especially because the Godwines ruled a great deal of land. Swein was made an earl in 1050, with an earldom compromising the Mercian Shires of Hereford, Gloucester and Oxford and the Wessex shires of Berkshire and Somerset. Harold was earl of East Anglia in 1045 and Beorn was given the Eastern Midlands. This was all in addition to Godwine’s ealdom which extended along the South coast from Kent to Cornwall. Due to all this power that the Godwines had, this was a threat to Edward, who was forced to depend on the Godwines’ power by giving them earldoms. This view is agreed with Barlow1, who mentions dependence of Godwine was also needed due to Edward’s lack of loyal support. William of Malmesbury and Florence of Worcester2 support this view of Edward given by Barlow, which suggests that this evidence is dependable. Therefore this shows Edward as a failure. William of Malmesbury to some extent is most probably reliable as he was writing much later, and probably had access to more sources. However, according to Stafford3, ‘post-1066 sources not merely selected and judged, but suppressed or even fabricated’ what really happened, therefore it is more probable that the evidence given by William of Malmesbury is inaccurate as he may have suppressed what actually was happening.
Edward could be argued as a failure with the Godwines, as he was unable to stop the Godwines from rebelling in 1051. Godwine believed in the impregnability of his position, and that he could challenge the king with impunity. Barlow and Loyn agree with this view and ASC (D) 4shows Godwine’s impregnability as he chose to fight against Edward, after being already contumacious. Stafford5 believes that Barlow’s narrative of Edward’s reign is unaffected by the events of 1066. She mentions that he was reliable as he ‘turned especially to the allegedly contemporary ASC’. Therefore it is most probable that Barlow is giving an accurate account. Therefore, it is right to describe Edward as a failure, as he was unable to make Godwine fear him.
Edward’s achievement of putting Godwine into exile was only a short-term success as Edward was unable to expel them in 1052. Edward was not able to expel the Godwines as he did not have support from Siward and Leofric. Historians such as Barlow and Stenton agree that Edward had no alternative but to allow the Godwines to return in 1052. In addition Godwine had much support from Wessex and the London citizens. Stafford1 describes that he ‘was not swept back on a tide of popular enthusiasm.’ However, the Vita2 contradicts the view of Stafford and agrees with ASC (D) mentioning ‘the whole city went out to help and protect the earl.’ According to Stafford3, Ralf and Odda were supposed to receive reinforcements and help resist the Godwine’s army, but by the time Edward’s army had assembled, Godwine’s army had already arrived London. Therefore, it is likely to describe Edward as a failure as he was unable to mobilize an army, lacking as he did the support of Leofric and Siward.
Harold became Earl of Wessex, after Godwine died in 1053. Edward was unable to stop Harold from becoming over mighty and allowed him to gain more land. Tostig was then appointed to Northumbria in 1055 after Siward’s died, and in 1057 Harold took over from Ralf in the Welsh marchers. By 1057 therefore all the earldoms except for Mercia were in the hand of the Godwines, so was a failure as he was unable to stop Harold from becoming over mighty. Campbell4 agrees with the view and supported by Stenton5, ‘Harold had a great deal of influence in southern England, where the centre of national authority lay.’ Furthermore, Edward was unable to deal with Welsh and Scottish Affairs, but instead had to depend on Harold. In 1062 Harold was given a role in attacking Gruffyd, which he devastated. The ASC describes Edward as being “Sub’regnulus”, as Harold was acting the king, whereas Edward was becoming the figurehead showing Edward’s failure. Campbell6 and Schama1 argue that due to Harold’s power increasing, Harold was able to have ambitions for the succession.
Edward could be described as a failure after the 1057 watershed, which saw the death of his main supporters. Vita2 and Loyn3 agree that Edward became politically inactive. Siward died in 1055, Leofric and Edward the Exile and Ralph of Hereford, Edward’s main supporter died in 1057. This caused Edward’s position to weaken as he had lost the support from rivals to the Godwines. Edward became disillusioned because there were four earldoms that were in the hands of the Godwines and Aelfgar in Mercia, supported the Welsh. In the past Edward had relied on the rivalry between the Godwines and Leofric to prevent the Godwines from becoming over mighty. However now he had to rely on the internal divisions within the Godwines themselves. Edward’s weakness is shown as he watched the events that occurred between Harold and Tostig and accepted them because he lacked the power to make Harold support his brother. Edward’s failure is shown further in these 1065 events. Edward made Harold take in charge, but due to Harold’s main aim, which was to become king of England, he wanted Morcar’s and Edwin’s support therefore he went against his brother and Edward had no alternative but to allow Morcar to rule Northumbria.
Edward was not able to solve the problem of the succession. The king had no children and according to Schama4, Edward refused to consummate the marriage with Godgifu. Edward did not have a consistent succession policy; he changed his mind as circumstances changed. Edward promised Swein of Denmark the throne because according to Adam of Bremen5 in 1047 threatened to invade England. ‘Edward made peace with the despot, designating him to be, on his death, the next heir to the English throne, even if Edward had sons.’ However, this piece of evidence suggested by Adam of Bremen is unreliable, as it is not corroborated by other sources. Therefore it is likely that his claim was invalid. Then in 1051, according to William of Jumièges1, Edward promised William of Normandy the throne. The ASC2 does not mention Edward promising William of Normandy the throne. Therefore, it is possible that William of Jumieges’s evidence should not be trusted, as he was a panegyrist, writing an encomium of William. The ASC (D) 3 supports William of Jumieges’ evidence by referring to William coming to England. William the faced baronial rebellion at the time and would not have come to England unless it was something as important as being promised the throne. Therefore, it could be argued that Edward was a failure, as he should not have promised William the throne if he had already promised Swein the throne and by doing this, this made the succession more complicated. After Godwine returned in 1052, William’s promise to the throne became less acceptable as Godwine did not wanted Norman king and the Witan would not accept William. Therefore this caused further complications to the succession, which could partially be blamed on Edward. According to William of Poitiers4 and William of Jumièges5 and supported by Bayeux Tapestry6 and Guy of Amiens7, Edward sent Harold to promise an oath of his own free will to confirm William’s claim to the throne in 1064. However Barlow8 questions the trustworthiness of these accounts. Schama9,
Stafford 9and Campbell10 support this view, as they believe that the Norman chronicles were retrospective propaganda. Eadmer11, believes that Harold was forced to swear the oath. Although, Eadmer’s account to some extent is unreliable as he
depends on other people’s sources. Wace1 supports Eadmer’s view. If the Norman Chronicles are correct, then William had the most valid claim to the throne, but due to the unreliability of the sources and arguments given by Eadmer, this makes William’s valid claim only in 1051. This was a long time ago and was unaccepted by the Godwines when they returned in 1052. This shows Edward’s failure as more complications were made to the succession issue.
Due to Edward losing supporters in 1057, Edward did not know what to do. He became politically inactive and thought that his last choice who he wanted as king was Edward the Exile, who was in Hungary. Due to the death of Edward the Exile, this made matters worse. On Edward’s deathbed, according to the ASC2 and Florence of Worcester3, Edward designated the throne to Harold. However, according to Barlow4, Edward’s vision was not very good, and he was disillusioned and sick and could have said anything. The Bayeux Tapestry5 supports this view, by showing Edward pointing to a figure, which is understood to be Harold, but there is no explanation why he does this. Also Schama6 believes that it is unlikely Edward did this, as he would set aside the claim of his own great-nephew Edgar Atheling. However, if Edward did promise the throne to Harold on his deathbed, Edward has caused even more complications. Therefore it could be argued that on the short-term Edward did solve the succession issue, as he promised a number of people the throne, however on the long-term this made matters worse. The crisis of 1066 leading to the Battle of Hastings could be argued to be Edward’s fault, as both William and Harold fought against each other, as they both believed that they had the right to the throne. According to Barlow7, Edward was ‘the man responsible for the disasters of 1066.’ Towards the end to Edward’s reign, he became politically inactive and according to Barlow1, ‘he left matters to God,’ and there are no contemporary English sources that report any action of Edward in relation to the succession. Therefore this shows Edward as a failure as he gave up completely.
Overall, to some extent Edward was a success. This is shown, as he was able to gain more supporters by adopting a Normanisation Policy, abolishing the Heregeld, and by paying off nine ships out of fourteen, all in 1051. He also maintained the peace however, this was all short-term success as Edward was not able to expel the Godwines in 1052 and due to this many of the Normans fled such as Robert of Jumièges. Although Edward was able to control the Godwin’s at first on the long term he was not successful, as he was unable to prevent Harold from becoming over mighty. Finally, Edward was a failure with the succession issue, as he did not have a consistent approach, and he made the problem of the succession even more complicated.
Barlow, Edward the Confessor, Pg79, Longman, 1970.
2 R.Allen Brown, The Vita Edwardi Regis, Edward Arnold, 1984
3 Barlow, Edward the Confessor, pg.133, Ailred based his book on Geneology of the kings of the English of the English. ‘ he defended his kingdom more by diplomacy than by war.’ Longman, 1970.
1 Barlow, Edward the Confessor, pg134, Longman, 1970 (Snorri Sturuson, King Harald’s Saga, caps. 75, 77.)
2 Barlow, Edward the Confessor, pg128, Longman, 1970. Barlow says that the Enconium Emmae was written between 1040 and 1042, and was hostile to Edward. Therefore, describing Edward having these desirable qualities probably shows reliability. In 1036
3 Barlow, Edward the Confessor, pg.129, Longman, 1970. (The poem was in Chron.CD, 1065). Barlow also says that the poem also mentions other qualities of Edward that has not been mentioned before, such, as since being in exile, he was still determined, when he became king. This shows that Edward was not a failure.
4 Barlow, Edward the Confessor, pg.105, Longman,1970. Barlow also says that “he had opposed local connexions, refused advice offered to him, and routed opposition.’’
1 Barlow, The Feudal Kingdom of England, pg 49, Longman, 1999
2 The Anglosaxon Chronicle C, pg166
3 Stafford, Unification and Conquest, pg89
4 Schama, A History of Britain, pg.77, BBC Worldwide Ltd, 2001
5 Barlow, The Feudal Kingdom of England, pg.48, Longman, 1999
6 Anglo Saxon Chronicle, C, pg 171
7 Edited and translated by Frank Barlow, The life of King Edward, pg 25, Oxford University Press, 1992.
1 Anglo Saxon Chronicle D
2 James Campbell, Anglo Saxon England, pg 222
3 Pauline Stafford, Unification and Conquest, pg 89
4 Frank Stenton, Anglo Saxon England, pg.572, Oxford University Press, 2001.
5 Simon Schama, A History of Britain, pg. 81 Schama also includes, that he built, ‘Norman Romanesque basilica,’ and ‘Edward was also taking advantage of the movement that placed abbeys and monasteries under direct royal patronage.’ BBC Worldwide Ltd, 1992.
1 Edited and translated by Barlow, The Life of King Edward,
2 Barlow, Edward the Confessor, pg 202, Yale University Press,1997
3 Schama, A History of Britain, pg. 78, BBC Worldwide Ltd, 1992.
1 Barlow, The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216, pg 45. Longman, 1999.
2 Stafford, Unification and Conquest, pg.86, Stafford says, ‘William of Malmesbury tells how Edward was so uncertain of his situation that he considered returning to Normandy and was only persuaded to remain in England by Godwine, who offered to bolster his security,’ and a similar thing is said by Florence of Worcester, according to Stafford.
3 Stafford, Unification and Conquest, pg 83
4 Anglo Saxon Chronicle D
5 Stafford, Unification and Conquest, pg 84
1 Pauline Stafford, Unification and Conquest, pg. 91
2 R.Allen Brown, The Vita Edwardi Regis, pg. 43-46, Edward Arnold
3 Pauline Stafford, Unification and Conquest, pg.91.
4 Campbell, Anglo Saxon England, pg229.
5 Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, pg. 572. Oxford University Press, 2001.
6 Campbell, Anglo Saxon England, pg. 229.
1 Schama, A History of Britain, pg. 82
2 Barlow, Edward the Confessor, pg. 253 Barlow says that the Vita believed that Edward suffered from a mental illness. Yale University Press, 1997.
5 Adam of Bremen, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg,, pg. 108
1 Wilkinson and Cantrell, The Normans in Britain, pg. 7 (William of Jumieges account), Macmillan Education LTD, 1987.