Edward was born in sometime in 1003, to Æthelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy, in Islip, Oxfordshire. He had one full brother, Alfred, and a sister, Godgifu, but also had a couple of half-brothers, Æthelred’s sons by a former wife.
During his childhood, England was the target of Viking raids and invasions under Sweyn Forkbeard and his son, Cnut (later referred to Canute – he of the ‘trying to hold back the waves’ fame). Following Sweyn's seizure of the throne in 1013, Emma fled to Normandy, followed by Edward and Alfred, and then by Æthelred. Sweyn died in February 1014, and leading Englishmen invited Æthelred back on the condition that he promised to rule 'more justly' than before, and Edward and Alfred returned to England with their father. Unfortunately, Æthelred didn’t reign long and died in April 1016.
He was succeeded by his son, and Edward's older half-brother, Edmund Ironside, who carried on the fight against Sweyn's son, Canute, who was already king of Denmark, also wanted to sit on England’s throne. Edmund died in November 1016, and Canute became England’s undisputed king.
Edward once again was forced into exile with his brother and sister, and in 1017 his mother married Canute. In the same year Canute had Edward's last surviving elder half-brother, Eadwig, executed, leaving Edward as the leading Anglo-Saxon claimant to the throne.
Edward spent a quarter of a century in exile, probably mainly in Normandy, although there is no evidence of his location until the early 1030s. Robert I, Duke of Normandy attempted an invasion of England to place Edward on the throne in about 1034, but it was blown off course to Jersey. He also received support for his claim to the throne from a number of continental abbots, particularly Robert, abbot of the Norman abbey of Jumièges, who was later to become Edward's Archbishop of Canterbury. Edward was said to have developed an intense personal piety during this period, but modern historians regard this as a product of the later medieval campaign for his canonisation. He appeared to have a slim prospect of acceding to the English throne during this period, and his ambitious mother was more interested in supporting Harthacnut, her son by Canute.
Canute died in 1035, and Harthacnut succeeded him as king of Denmark. It is unclear whether he intended to keep England as well, but he was too busy defending his position in Denmark to come to England to assert his claim to the throne. It was therefore decided that his elder half-brother Harold Harefoot should act as regent, while Emma held Wessex on Harthacnut's behalf.
In 1036 Edward and his brother Alfred separately came to England. Emma later claimed that they came in response to a letter forged by Harold inviting them to visit her, but historians believe that she probably did invite them in an effort to counter Harold's growing popularity. Alfred was captured by Godwin, Earl of Wessex who turned him over to Harold Harefoot. Harold had Alfred blinded by forcing red-hot pokers into his eyes to make him unsuitable for kingship, and Alfred died soon after as a result of his wounds. The murder is thought to be the source of much of Edward's later hatred for the Earl and one of the primary reasons for Godwin's banishment in 1050/1.
In 1037, Harold was accepted as king, and the following year he expelled Emma, who retreated to Bruges. She then summoned Edward and demanded his help for Harthacnut, but he refused as he had no resources to launch an invasion, and disclaimed any interest for himself in the throne. Harthacnut, his position in Denmark now secure, did plan an invasion, but Harold died in 1040, and Harthacnut was able to cross unopposed with his mother to take the English throne.
In 1041, Harthacnut invited Edward back to England, probably as heir because he knew he did not have long to live. Edward met "the thegns of all England" at Hursteshever, probably modern Hurst Spit opposite the Isle of Wight. There he was received as king in return for his oath that he would continue the laws of Canute.
Edward finally succeeded Harthacnut, thus restoring the rule of the House of Wessex after the period of Danish rule, and was among the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England. Usually considered the last king of the House of Wessex, he ruled from 1042 to 1066.
Historians disagree about Edward's fairly long (24-year) reign. His nickname, Edward the Confessor, reflects the traditional image of him as unworldly and pious. Some regard Edward’s reign as leading to the disintegration of royal power in England and the advance in power of the House of Godwin, due to the infighting that began after his heirless death. Others portray Edward as a successful king, one who was energetic, resourceful and sometimes ruthless, arguing that the Norman conquest shortly after his death tarnished his image.
When Edward died in 1066, he was succeeded by Harold Godwinson, who was defeated and killed in the same year by the Normans under William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.
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