Saxon King: Edward the Confessor


Edward the Confessor

Edward, the son of King Ethelred II and Emma of Normandy, was a direct descendant of King Alfred the Great.  Edward was educated at an English monastery, and when the Danes invaded, his mother Emma fled to Normandy with her children, and it was here Edward developed strong ties with Normans.

With the death of King Ethelred II in 1016, Emma returned to England and married the new Danish King: Cnut the Great.  The son of Emma and Cnut; Hardecnut succeeded his father as King and then proceeded to bring back his half-brother; Edward from Normandy to England in 1041.

Hardecnut, King of England died in 1042 and was succeeded by his half-brother Edward, who was crowned Edward the Confessor at Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Sunday.

Edward, King of England from 1042-1066, kept the kingdom in a state of relative peace.  However the latter years of his reign were plagued by who would be successor.

Edward, famous for his piety, was canonized in 1161.

His most lasting contribution to English history, was the building project that turned the Benedictine Abbey in Westminster into the great religious and political centre of the kingdom; Westminster Abbey.

Edward, may have been King, but he found it difficult to assert his own authority over the earls of his kingdom, especially one Godwin of Essex.  He who had been chief adviser to King Cnut, who had been rewarded with large expanses of land and much wealth.  Godwin’s influence across Edward’s kingdom, increased further when Godwin demanded that Edward marry his daughter; Edith.  Edward, needed Godwin’s military support and was forced into agreeing to this marriage.  Edith was the main pawn in Godwin’s game to rule England.

Edward appointed the Norman, Robert of Jumieges as the new Archbishop of Canterbury in 1051, and straight away this caused a rift with Godwin.

When Godwin failed to support Edward’s brother-in-law in a dispute with the citizens of Dover, Edward banished him, and promised William the Duke of Normandy, that he would be his heir, to the English throne.  In 1052 Godwin returned to England, and with support from the earls of Mercia and Northumbria, forced Edward to name Stigand as Archbishop of Canterbury instead of Robert of Jumieges.  Edward withdrew to concentrate on the building of Westminster Abbey.

Shortly before his death in 1066, he changed his successor to the English throne, from William, the Duke of Normandy, to Godwin’s son Harold.  As news reached William that Edward had died and the English throne had passed to Harold, William of Normandy invaded England, to claim what was rightfully his in the Battle of Hastings.

Edward’s death in 1066 precipitated the Norman Conquest that ended Anglo-Saxon rule and ushered in a new period of English history; The Dark Ages.

Wikipedia Image


Medieval Queen: Emma of Normandy


Emma of Normandy was an intriguing medieval woman born around 990 AD to parents; Richard I of Normandy and Gunnor a Dane.  Emma was both Viking and Norman, and her great grandfather, a Viking named Rollo, was founder of the lands known as Normandy.

In 1002, aged just twelve she left France for England, she was destined to marry Aethelred II (Ethelred) of England.  This marriage would create an alliance between France and England.  Emma being a descendant of both Viking and Norman would marry an English King and bear a Norman child.


King Aethelred II

King Aethelred’s intentions of this marriage, was to prevent the Normans from joining forces with Vikings and take on the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

Aethelred escorted his young bride to Canterbury, where they were married and she was crowned Queen in 1002, and duly given an English name; Aelfgifu, after the Kings grandmother.

For hundreds of years, Vikings had raided Britain’s coastlines, and many had chosen to settle here, taking an Anglo-Saxon wife.  So it was fair to say, a large proportion of the population were Danes or descendants thereof.

On the 13th November 1002, St.Brices Day, marked Aethelred’s response to these Viking raids upon his lands, with large scale massacre’s of the Danes living in Britain.

The Viking response to such actions, led by Swein Forkbeard, inflicted a brutal attack upon Britain.  Exeter, the Queens property was destroyed, showing she was not exempt from these attacks.  However, she being of Viking and Norman blood, her reputation amongst her subjects lay in tatters, their trust in her, all but gone.

The Vikings made concerted attacks upon Britain, and by 1009 all able bodied men were called upon to defend these shores against the Viking onslaught.  Their efforts, against savage warriors failed, as by 1011, large parts of southern Britain were now under Viking control.

Swein Forkbeard and his son Cnut landed in the northern parts of the country, and were met with little opposition, as they submitted to these Vikings.

Emma, the wife of a failed King, demanded protection of her brother, Richard in Normandy, whilst Aethelred fled to the Isle of Wight.

Swein and his sons, Harold and Cnut, pushed away the Anglo-Saxon dynasty and became the first Viking rulers of Britain.  Swein became King on the 25th December 1013, and made Gainsborough in Lincolnshire his capital.

Just five weeks later, Swein died and Aethelred returned to his kingdom to salvage what he could from a ravaged country.  In 1016 King Aethelred died.

Emma may have had no love for her husband Aethelred, but his death left her not knowing what future lay ahead for her.

The people of London, chose Edmund as their new King.  Edmund sensed Cnut the Dane poised to fight for the crown, but offered a compromise, they split the land in two… Edmund died before the deal had been completed.


King Canute (Cnut)

Cnut became King in 1016, and took Emma as his wife, his trophy between old and new.

Cnut showed his commitment, by bringing Anglo-Saxon and Danes together.  Emma provided good judgement, as they formed a close working relationship.  One of her most trusted advisors in matters concerning the church was Stigand, who would become Archbishop of Canterbury.

Saying that, she had to be careful and watchful of Earl Godwine a close and trusted advisor to Cnut.

Emma bore Cnut a son; Harthacanute and a daughter, Gunnhild, future contenders to the English crown.

Cnut ruled Britain as well as Denmark, which meant Emma watched over his kingdom during his long absences.

Many precious gifts were bestowed upon the church, but most remembered has to be the “Golden Cross” at Winchester.

In 1035, Cnut died without naming his successor, and Emma found herself in a precarious situation once again.

Emma moved into the royal quarters at Winchester, surrounding herself with Cnut’s belongings…  Who would be the next King, would determine her safety.

Cnut’s first wife; also named Aelfgifu proposed her son Harold Harefoot, whilst Harthacanute remained in Denmark, fighting to protect his Danish kingdom.  The decision was made by Noble Lords who allocated the north to Harold and the south to Harthacanute.

Emma’s sons by Aethelred; Edward and Alfred sailed to England with their armies.  The Earl of Godwine intercepted Alfred who had landed in Kent, to accompany him to Winchester, to meet with his mother and brother.

It was a ploy orchestrated by Earl of Godwine, who had Alfred taken prisoner and accused of acts against Anglo-Saxons at London, then taken to Ely where his eyes were gouged out… he died later of his wounds.

Edward headed back to the safety of Normandy, upon hearing of Alfred’s death.

In 1040 Harold died and Harthacanute dug up his body, beheaded it, and tossed it into the River Thames.

Upon the death of Harthacanute in 1042, the Earl of Godwine fought off claims by descendants of Swein Forkbeard.  Edward “Edward the Confessor” was crowned King with Earl Godwine running much of the country on his behalf.

On the 3rd April 1043, Emma takes up her position, by taking command of Edward’s treasury at Winchester.  Edward did not take kindly to his mother assuming this position, and took the treasury keys from her, and suggests she moves out, for she is not welcome at Winchester Castle.

In 1052 Emma died, and was buried alongside her second husband; Cnut in Winchester.

In 1066 Emma’s son, Edward the Confessor died childless leaving no successor, and Harold Godwine, son of Earl Godwine elected by Nobles and Church leaders became King.

On the 14th October 1066, one of the most significant dates in English history, witnessed Emma’s great nephew William, the Duke of Normandy “William the Conqueror” successfully take on Harold II at the “Battle of Hastings” and claim the English crown.

(Image) Emma of Normandy: Polyvore
(Image) King Aethelred II: Wikipedia
(Image) King Canute (Cnut)

The Origin of the Normans


Viking Ships

So where did the Norman’s originate from and become a major force upon the lands of England?

According to history; Viking sea-raiders came in their longship’s from Scandinavia, creating a state of fear as they attacked the lands of Western Europe… They plundered; they killed and took captives to sell into a life of slavery.

Vikings under their leader Hrolf, pillaged the lands of North-Eastern France, around the area of the Seine River in 911.  The threat they imposed led to King Charles of the Franks, negotiating a treaty at St.Clair-sur-Epte in 911.  Effectively giving the lands bound by the rivers Brestle, Epte, Avre and Dives, by 924 they received Bayeux, Exmes and Sees, and in 933 the Cotenin and Avranchin, making up the lands of Normandy.

These Viking’s had come from the land’s of the north.  Two generation on and their lifestyle had changed.  They had taken under their wing so to speak, the language, religion, laws, customs and politics of the Franks.  They were referred to as the Northmen of Normandy, only later to be known as Normans.

Their desire for conquest, led Normans to pursue military goals abroad.  Normans went to Spain to fight the Moors; to Byzantium to fight the Turks; to Sicily in 1061 to fight the Saracens; and England in 1066.

The Norman Duke, William I, friend of Edward the Confessor, the Saxon English King who reigned from 1042-1066, and who supposedly promised the throne to William upon his death.

William I had no choice in his eyes, when Harold II claimed the English throne, which had been promised to him.  So these two armies met to decide who should be the rightful King of England.  The Norman style of fighting against the Anglo-Saxons… there was no real contest as William I… William the Conqueror became King of England in 1066.  It was a brutal time, as thousand’s were slaughtered in battle, and more died through famine and disease.

Norman England added to Norman France created a powerful and rich territory across Europe.

The last ruling Norman Monarch, should not have been King Stephen, for he stole it from Queen Matilda, the rightful heir of King Henry I; her father.  At that time England was a male dominated society, which would not crown a woman as the outright successor.  Matilda, was her father’s daughter, if she wasn’t going to reign, made sure her son Henry II; leader of the Plantagenet Dynasty would be the next King of England.

The legacy left by the Norman’s has to be its Churches, Cathedrals and Castles, many of which were built out of stone, that stretched across this land of ours:


Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral – Winchester Cathedral

The Nave Arcade of Norwich Cathedral (1094-1145)

The West Front of Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire (1108)

The Nave of Rochester Cathedral built by Gundulf (1080)

Tower of London – Windsor Castle

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Cambridge.  Built by the Knight’s Templar, a monastic order founded in 1115 to protect pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem.

William I ran England using the “Feudal System” where the King owned everything.  So that meant he rented everything to his Barons, and they provided him with as army when required.  These Baron’s leased out land to farmer’s etc, and so the Domesday Book of 1086 was produced, creating an inventory of the country…

The Bayeux Tapestry was instigated by William’s half brother; Odo and produced by Queen Matilda.  It provides one with a visual record of events in 1066.

The New Forest, which to-day is a National Park, was formerly lands located to the North-East of Southampton and commandeered by William I, as his exclusive hunting grounds.

Viking Ships Painting: Wikipedia

The Norman Conquest of England


Battle of Hastings

The Battle of Hastings, took place on the 14th October 1066; The Saxons led by King Harold against the Norman army led by Duke William of Normandy.

William the Conqueror

King William I

In little over two months, Harold the last Saxon King of England, lost his life on the battlefield.  William, saw the English throne in his grasp, and went on to capture Dover, Canterbury and London.  He was crowned King of England on the 25th December 1066 and the Saxon era was over, and the Norman Conquest was beginning.

Resistance by Saxon’s to these Norman’s was mostly limited to the outer reaches of the kingdom.  With the Church and Government in his grip, it wouldn’t be long before these remaining Saxon’s accepted the rule of the Norman’s.

William had taken this land with only a small invasion force… he had to control some two million Saxon’s until more Norman troops arrived.  Nobles, Lords and Landowners, who might have stood up against the Norman’s, were lying with their armies on the battleground at Hastings.

Some Nobles opened their arms, and welcomed these Norman’s onto English soil, like the Saxon Lord of Wallingford; Wigod, who went on to assist William’s entrance into London.

England has seen invaders of the past, come and go, like Cnut and the Danes.  It is this, that made some believe, William and the Norman’s would be short lived, like Stigand, the then Archbishop of Canterbury.

William’s new Kingdom of Britain was not as free of rebellion as he had hoped; resistance continued for many years.  In January 1069, the Yorkshire inhabitants made up of Scandinavian descendants, rebelled against these Norman’s, and William and his army quelled the flames of rebellion.

In the autumn of 1069, King Swein of Denmark landed in Yorkshire, firing the rebellion against the Norman’s once again… The Danes were forced to withdraw.

William was determined to put an end to rebellions from the north of his kingdom.  He ordered his men to burn houses, crops and slaughter all livestock between the River Humber and Durham.  There followed many years of famine in the north; thousand’s starved to death, and it took years for the land to recover from this horrific event.

Meanwhile, Danish forces sailed south, plundering Peterborough and made the Isle of Ely their base.  Some rebels led by Hereward the Wake joined the Danes.  In June 1070, the Danes left, having made a treaty with William and by 1071 the Saxon rebels in the Fens had surrendered, and Hereward had escaped capture.

King Malcolm III of Scotland (1058-1093) offered exile to Anglo-Saxon Nobles, and assisted their attempts in re-claiming northern parts of England in 1069… There was a price to pay!

Malcolm was looking to the future, by marrying Margaret; daughter of Edward the Aetheling and sister of Edgar Aetheling as his Queen.  She bore him four sons; Edward, Edgar, Edmund and Ethelred.  These four sons with English names, could be used in claiming a seat on the English throne… one would say he was very devious in his outlook.

William marched north with his army in 1072, and confronted Malcolm at Abernethy… would they battle, a question both men more than likely asked themselves.  Yet it was Malcolm who made the first step towards peace; one a King of Scotland, and the other King of England.  Malcolm accepted that William was Lord over his Lothian province; these lands which were once part of England in Northumbria.

A battle had been averted, but William was wary of this Scottish foe, leading him to order the strengthening of the border between their two countries with castles.

Once William had been crowned King of England in 1066, he granted English Landowners and Lords, who had been loyal to his cause, that they could keep their lands.

After 1070, many Saxon landowners, had lost faith in their new King, which led William to instigate a police of Normanization; Norman’s took over their lands.

William needed land to compensate his loyal Norman followers.  What better way, confiscate these Saxon lands… was it a wise move? For it led to numerous revolts up and down the country.

William and his Barons forced marriages to Norman’s by Saxon widows and daughters inheriting estates.

He didn’t stop there with his reforms, replacing Stigand the Archbishop of Canterbury with his own man; Lanfranc, formerly Abbot of Caen.  Then Latin and Norman French became the accepted languages used by the Church and Government.

These Norman’s who had invaded England weren’t farmers, they were warriors at heart, and their origin was Viking.  The King gave them land; they returned the service with highly trained and armed knights, to do battle for their King.

These Norman Lords built castles to emphasise their presence and authority in these former Saxon lands.  Early defences were built from earthen mounds and stockades, later stone versions were the norm, like Windsor Castle.

In 1085 William started a survey of these lands, which led to “The Domesday Book” of 1086, which informed the Crown, the wealth of his lands.

Wikipedia Images

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne


Lindisfarne Priory

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, is located off the north-eastern coast of England.  It became a centre for Celtic Christianity under the Saints of Aidan, Cuthbert, Eadfrith and Eadbert, with a reputation for healing the sick, using herbs.

The old English name was Lindisfarena, as recorded by the Parker Chronicle and Peterborough Chronicle of 793.  How the name Lindisfarne originated is unknown, but it may be Celtic in origin.  For Lindis means stream or pool, a reference to a small river or lake on the island.  Faren, from the nearby Farne Islands … But is no more than pure guess work.

The island measures 2¼ miles x 1½ miles, comprising of some 1,000 acres, and located two miles off the north-east coast of England, and close to Scotland’s border.  Access is at low-tide only, by crossing the sand and mud flats.

An Irish monk; Saint Aidan was dispatched on a pilgrimage, from the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland to Northumbria, at the request of King Oswald (604-642) to restore Christianity to the area.

So it was in 634 a priory was founded, and became the only seat of a bishopric in Northumbria for best part of thirty years.

Bishop Finian built the first church on the site, which was constructed of timber and thatched reeds.  Some years later Bishop Eadbert removed the thatch, and the walls and thatch were covered in lead.

Lindisfarne, became known as a holy place, and Monks from the Irish community of Iona settled there.

Saint Cuthbert, patron saint of Northumbria was a monk originally, and later became abbot of the monastery, and eventually Bishop of Lindisfarne.  The oldest piece of writing; An anonymous life of Cuthbert, about the man and his miracles was written at Lindisfarne between 685-704 AD.

Originally buried at Lindisfarne, his remains were exhumed in the late 9th century when he was moved to Durham Cathedral along with Bishop Eadfrith and Bishop Eadbert.

Saint Cuthbert’s shrine at Durham Cathedral became the centre of pilgrimage, attracting people far and wide visiting the shrine of this man of God.

In 1539-1539, was a hard time for our religious buildings, it was the time of the “Dissolution of the Monasteries” tearing down and destroying much, within our churches, cathedrals and priory’s.

In 1827, Saint Cuthbert’s grave was opened, and enclosed within were a number of artefacts dating back to his time on Lindisfarne:

A Pectoral Crosss, made of gold and mounted with garnets and tracery, as worn against the chest.

An Elephant’s ivory comb.  An embossed silver Travelling Altar.

Other items were removed from the shrine in 1104.

A Paten; a silver or gold plate as used for bread during communion.

Scissors.  A Gold and Onyx Chalice.  St.Cuthbert’s Gospel, decorated and embossed with leather bindings.

In the year 735, the Northern Ecclesiastical Province of England was formed, with the Archbishopric located at York, and became head for Hexham, Lindisfarne and Whithorn.  Lindisfarne’s diocese consisted of; Strathclyde, Lothian, Northern Northumbria and Cumbria.

Around 698-721 AD, an illustrated set of gospels were produced in latin (Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) believed to have been the works of Bishop Eadfrith, and duly named the “Lindisfarne Gospels.”

A 10th century Monk named Aldred, added Anglo-Saxon gloss to the text, to enhance the works.  The gospels themselves were bound by Ethelwald, and a hermit named Billfrith, covered them in a metal case.  These exquisite gospels, nearly thirteen hundred years old can be found in the British Library.

The year 793, and recorded records spoke of excessive winds, lightning and fiery dragons across the skyline.  This was followed by a period of famine across the land.

Without warning, Vikings, a race of seafaring and barbaric fighters landed on Lindisfarne, destroying all that lay in their path.  These heathens poured out blood of the saints around the altar.  By 866 they had battled their way across England with little resistance.

Any remaining monks fled the island of Lindisfarne and carried the bones of Saint Cuthbert with them.

The Lindisfarne Priory was rebuilt by the Normans in 1093 as a Benedictine House, located on a different site, whilst the original priory site was used for the parish church built out of stone.  Remains of the Saxon church still exist as the chancel wall and arch.  The nave was extended in the 12th century.

In 1492 during the “Wars of the Roses,” it is said 400 troops seeked shelter on Lindisfarne during a storm at sea, and surrendered to the Yorkists.

Like so many monastic buildings, the “Dissolution of the Monasteries,” in 1539, left the buildings on the island ransacked, until the restoration of 1860.

The restored church is built of coloured sandstone, and the north aisle is referred to as the “Fisherman’s Aisle,” which houses the altar of St.Peter.  The south aisle formerly held the altar of St.Margaret of Scotland, but now houses the church organ.

Wikipedia Image