On What Basis were the various claims to the throne made in 1066?
When Edward the Confessor was crowned in 1042 he was claimed to have become celibate. From that day on there was constant talk, and at some times feuds, over who would step in to replace the man that was the King of England. Even at such an early stage in Edward’s reign there was already bids and claims coming from all directions to succeed him. In the race to become King there were on a minor scale four claims to the throne. However the two major claimants were that of William the Duke of Normandy and the prestige Harold Godwinson. The claims to the throne had been narrowed down to five by historians, however at the time just about anyone with a piece of land was placing their bid on ruling the country. The other four whom would have believed had an almost given right to become king were: Harold Hardraader the half brother to Olaf (King of Norway), Edward Atheling son of Edmund Ironside (King of England 1016), Swein Estherithson the closest family descendant of the respected and renowned Cnut (King of England 1016-1035) and last and more than likely most doubtful Tostig the somewhat more popular of the Godwins’ family in Edwards eyes certainly.
William the Conqueror a young, wise and experienced Duke solely believed that on the day Edward died he would step in and gain full control of England. This was a belief, which had been mounted on many events in his short-lived life. William was desperate to become King and in all Norman sources there is constant writings of how he was cheated out of Edward’s succession. William was very clever in gaining support for his claim and he showed this when Harold went on his voyage to Normandy. William knew that in order to make his claim that bit stronger than his counterpart Harold he had to gain the support of the one person no man could defeat, this was the Pope. In doing so he had to trick Harold into swearing an oath over holy relics that he would be William’s man and not make any attempt to deny what at the time felt was rightfully his. An oath, which if broken would mean one of the biggest sins in the Catholic Church and would result in the possibility of a holy war with the pope. Not only through this oath did William put the Pope under pressure and gain the Pope’s support, but also through the fact that he had conquered all of the surrounding land of the Vatican and had promised land to the Papacy if he were to be successful.
William however based a lot of the emphasis of his claim on the promise from Robert of Jumieges which vowed that Edward had made it his personal duty to make sure that William would succeed him on to the throne of England. A contribution to support the promise was the hostages gained in the crisis of 1051-52. Nevertheless unknown to William the promise was in fact false and merely a cunning lie by Robert of Jumieges to cause a conflict and have himself as Archbishop of Canterbury when William were to win his inevitable crusade. According to the Norman sources this event was the truth however due to further Anglo-Saxon studying and modern historians have proved that there was no way possible this could have been the truth. When all these attempts to claim the throne had failed William did not stop there. William’s final point is related to the archbishop of Stigand who had been excommunicated by the Pope who crowned Harold. This therefore entailed that Harold’s kinship was theoretically void, as he had not been properly coroneted.
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However when considering all of William’s claims to the throne we must remember from which sources we have relied on to gain this information. There are incredibly biased views from the Norman’s on this event whom all favoured William’s claim above anyone else’s.
In contrast to every claim William had there was a reason why Edward would not want to have him take over his throne when he died. For starters William was very young when the two last met. This meant Edward had no clue as to whether William could fight in battle or control a group of twenty men, let alone a country. Secondly when Edward was living and growing up in Normandy he was supposed to have had a terrible time and even had a disliking for many of the Norman citizens and landowners. Why he would want a Norman as the King of his country seems slightly obscure. Thirdly during the crises of 1051-52 it would have appeared a little time consuming and impractical to go through the trouble to meet up with William and promise that he would one-day rule England. Which of course is a key feature of the Norman’s sources on the event.
If we were to take all claims for the throne into perspective then we must consider the claim of Harold Hardraader. Harold Hardraader was a brave, bold and indomitable character who was fearless as a child. There is a legend that sums him up which reads “When he was asked at an early age what he most wanted he said Warriors!” Harald had a slightly disfunctional upbringing with him fleeing to Kiev and then fighting as a Varangian guard in Byzantium. However something which can definitely be said about his personality and his experience from his journeys was that he was very greedy and was lured in very easily by the possibility of there being a large amount of money coming his way. This was one of the main reasons as to why he first considered being the King of England. At the time there was a lot of wealth in England and in comparison to Norway where he shared his kinship with his nephew Magnus a relatively easier country to rule over. When looking at the claims to the throne in 1066, in particular the claim from Harald must be put in conjunction with the claim from Tostig. For if it was not for Tostig’s intervention than Harald would never first even thought of trying to be the King of England. Together they would have seemed a formidable partnership however they lacked what on most occasions was the deciding factor, and that was the support from the Witan. After Tostig's controversial and catastrophic exile from the country because of consistent pressure on Edward from the Northumbrian rebels Tostig needed someone with an individual reputation and someone who would be feared on the battlefield. On his search he stumbled across Harald Hardraader who had just recently ended a long war campaign against Denmark. After losing to Denmark Harald saw this as a great opportunity to earn some real respect on the greatest level and dominate a country of mass importance. With Tostig's vengeful feelings at boiling point they began their claim for the throne. Harald had the potential to become a great King. Not only a strong powerful figure but also very resourceful and could improvise superbly in times of trouble. Someone with great battle field experience which is a lot more than what can be said for claimants such as Edward Atheling, Harald would have been a potential choice to defend the country against the force of the Norman’s. Tostig also had experience with the political side of matters, having been an earl of Northumbria for some time and as Walker quotes “Tosti ruled the Earldom successfully for almost ten years.” He could easily have handled that area sufficiently. Another factor, which would have contributed to the claim of Tostig and Harald, was that Tostig was a keen favourite of Edward the Confessor who took a close liking to him on the instance they met. Edward who had many problems and held many grudges with the Godwin family looked upon Tostig as a friend and was very sad to see him exiled in the events of the Northern rebellion.
After the deaths of Earl’s Ralf and Leofric during the period of 1053 to 1057 it was reported in one of the few remaining Anglo Chronicles that Edward began looking outside of England and Normandy for possible heirs to his throne, this brought up the name of Atheling. Firstly Edward invited Edward Atheling son of Edmund Ironside to come to England. Though Edward Atheling made it to England he died under suspicious circumstances before he could actually meet the King. After his death his son Edgar became another option for King Edward. However he was still a young boy at this time roughly eight years old. In addition, whereas in the case of the young William of Normandy becoming Duke at such a young age, he would never have come across the same circumstances as the new king of England would have, after succeeding the throne after Edward and would almost definitely have been a baptism of fire. Also during this time where everyone was vying for the throne he could never drum up any support for his case from the earls, which he desperately needed. If there were to be a succession to the throne purely for family links to Edward than it would have had to be Edward. However putting his career into perspective he had little if any battle experience and very little knowledge of how to run a country under threat of a crusade from the Norman’s.
The opinion that Edward Atheling was not up to the challenge of ruling a country in potential crisis was one of the reasons why Harold almost saw it as his personal duty to succeed Edward at the throne. Harold Godwineson was a man at the height of his power in 1066. After defeating the Welsh and impressing many abroad fighting in Bretton Harold had, already at such a young age, established himself a potential ruler who could lead in politics and on the battlefield. To his faithful citizens in Wessex and across the country he was better known as “Dux Angloram” and “Sub-regulus”. At the time in question Harold was the single most powerful man in England on a par with the King, he owned directly and indirectly most of the land in England. ‘Feudalism is based on power and power in feudal England was land. So Harold was incredibly powerful and if succession to the throne were based on this then he would certainly be the number one candidate. “To a contemporary Harold appeared of fine physique, a good captain and a brave soldier, magnanimous and affable, patient like all his family…a strong ruler of his earldom, and a stern lover of justice.” So from this aspect it was clear that he was bred for kinship and was conceived as a ready successor to Edward by his contemporaries. Harold’s reputation alone could probably have secured a seat in the throne of King Edward’s however he also had other claims which backed up the opinion he was the obvious successor. The strongest claim to a throne in those days was a ‘Verba Novissma’ (deathbed promise). This was put above all the rest of the claims for the pure reason that it was the last words of a dying King and a promise, which had to have been upheld. Harold could also have argued his case in that he was the only man to know the inside knowledge on William the conquerer's tactical force and battlefield might. After spending a longer than expected stay as a guest in William’s quarters Harold went on several battlefield expeditions fighting alongside William’s renowned armies. The Norman’s were known for the battlefield ferocity and force both with their sheer number of forces and the selective breeding of their cavalry. Only Harold really knew the force of William’s battlefield experience and could use this to counter his weaknesses. And what is more is the fact that William knew this and therefore was so desperate to succeed the throne of England. In addition Harold was the only real claim with the support of the Witan, Earls’ (considering most of them were family members) and the church. With the support of these three you could not go wrong. Considering the Witan had the deciding vote this support was crucial, as well was the huge popularity of the earldoms who could fight alongside Harold in battle. And finally the Church was key as he needed someone of high esteem in the Religion to coronate him. This like the deathbed request is where Harold stood above all over claims to the throne. Last but by no means least Harold was related to Edward through the marriage of Edith and the confessor. This secured any family feuds were a thing of the past.
The final claim to the throne came from the illustrious King of Denmark who had built on his ever-increasing reputation by defeating the Norwegians in a battle, which lasted for many years. Swein Estherithson was the closest blood descendant to Cnut the superbly orchestrated King of England from 1016 to 1035. Swein in fact had a Post-Obitium (promise to the throne after death) from Edward, which was considered quite an important claim. In contrast Magnus and Swein also had an agreement that the winner of their ongoing feud would take the throne of England. Eventually Swein managed to fight off Norwegian resistance and was victorious. In comparison with all previous promises made between various other claimants this seemed quite irrelevant.
In respect of all the claims made to the throne in 1066 it had to be beyond exceptional doubt that the true, most probable and practical claim came from the most powerful man in England, Harold Godwinson. “It was a blend of two main qualities, an apitude for war with a desire for peace” which gave him the credentials to succeed the confessor. Known to many already as the sub-regulus he was destined for greatness. It was inevitable to many that it was only a matter of time until he got his fame and respect which his father fought so hard to gain. William the conqueror also lay good claim to the throne however in many historians’ opinions he lacked the decisive vote of the witan and the military might of the earldoms. In the case of Harald Hardraader, Tostig and Swein they were mere outcasts in the real race for kinship. They lacked land, support, close relatives to Edward and respect of the English people. Edward Atheling was a different matter as he may have stood a very good chance of becoming King. Having been personally called over all the way from Hungary to visit Edward and talk of these matters he must have had good reason to do so. Suspicious and unfortunate circumstances however put a sudden halt to his claim and his son was too young to take into consideration. In conclusion there was one claim that stood out above the rest the Verba Novissium had much greater authority than all the claims put together.