Claim to The English Throne
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The Claim of William the Conqueror to the English Throne

William


he whole reason for the Battle of Hastings in 1066 stems from a promise made by Edward the Confessor to William in 1051. As stated in other sections, this promise was considered as binding by William but was construed somewhat differently by others, especially Harold Godwinson.

Did William have a valid claim ?


he simple answer appears to be none. The justification seems to have originated from later documents by the French chroniclers, William of Jumieges who wrote the History of the Normans in 1070 and William's biographer William of Poitiers who completed his work in 1077. The whole crux of their argument rests on the promise made by Edward the Confessor in 1051.

Why did Edward the Confessor make such a promise ?


he answer was one of gratitude. When the Danish King Canute ruled the country, the Saxon royal family fled to the continent and were sheltered in Normandy. Edward had a great affinity for the place, as he had spent most of his formative years there. It is not surprising therefore, that the celibate King Edward would do such a thing. With no heir to the throne and no prospect of one, he sent William of Jumieges, who was at this time the Archbishop of Canterbury, to Normandy with his decision.



The effect of the decision


hen his decision became general knowledge is not known. He must have understood all too clearly the effect it would have in England. he would have a difficult task persuading the nobility, especially the Godwins who were opposed to any form of foreign infiltration. Edward had introduced many of his trustees to England and installed them in positions of power already. Even the home of English Christianity was run by a Norman, Robert of Jumieges. Nevertheless, a grudging acceptance had slowly developed. Even Godwin accepted that he could do little to change the mind of Edward, even if he wanted to. A childless king would have allowed all sorts of possibilities for his son's aspirations.

Harold Godwinson the objector


he acceptance of Edward's decision was not shared by Harold. He had always been the dominant son in the Godwin family and was The Earl of East Anglia at the time. He possibly saw a chance that he could be King himself someday. On a personal level, he was always very friendly with Edward and was visited on a regular basis by Edward and his wife at the Godwin's home at Bosham. Edward understood that Harold being the main dissenter, needed to be persuaded that he was serious in his promise to William. To this end, he summoned Harold in 1064 and ordered him to go to Normandy to confirm his pronouncement on his behalf. His oath of allegiance made under pressure over holy relics to William in Normandy, effectively made him his vassal.

Perspective


arold's oath of allegiance was seen quite differently on either side of the English Channel. In Normandy, Harold swearing over holy relics was all that was needed for William's chroniclers to justify his kingship in later documents. On the English side it was seen as an oath made under pressure and had no legal or binding authenticity.


The legalities of William's claim


hat seems to have occurred is the misuse of precedent and royal protocol, combined with the selected massaging or deletion of historic fact. It was later used to justify the Norman case. the argument comes down to whether Edward had any legal jurisdiction to offer the Crown to William. There is no precedent for this to have happened under Anglo Saxon law. The nearest you can come to designation is the choice that was made by the Witan, which was generally one of necessity for the furtherance of the countries good. A unilateral decision by the monarch had never occurred even to bequeathing his throne to another Saxon. The Normal English way, was by birth ( primogeniture ),by the Witan or by force.


Why did William feel he legally had a claim?


ifferent countries cultures have different ways of choosing their leaders. Where as no precedent was set for English Kings to nominate their heirs, this was not the case in Normandy. From the time of Rollo, it was usual for the incumbent to name his successor before his death. Usually it would have been the eldest son, but not always. The logic was that the nobles would swear an oath of allegiance to him before the present incumbent died. This had its advantages in that you knew who you were going to get years in advance. This process of grooming was less developed in England. This was how it was done in Normandy, so William would probably have seen nothing wrong with the process. Possibly, neither would Edward who, as mentioned above spent many years in Normandy.


Altering the records


t is interesting to note the way history was distorted and facts twisted by the Norman chroniclers to justify the invasion in 1066 and William's Kingship. William of Poitiers made a suggestion that Harold was never a true king of England at all because he was consecrated by Archbishop Stigand, who was the replacement in 1052 for the Norman, Robert of Jumieges, who was removed before his death under the jurisdiction of Godwin. Stigand was immediately excommunicated. This fact gave the Normans the ammunition to declare Harold a usurper, and hence, not a true king. Unfortunately for William, Harold had realised that this may have caused a problem, had ensured that Ealdred, the Archbishop of York, had carried out the ceremony (as he had also done for William). Even in the Bayeux tapestry, the propaganda shows Stigand next to Harold during the ceremony. The above facts was the justification for Rome to offer the Papal Banner to William in 1066.
 
 



Coronation of William

Coronation of William on the 25th December 1066



Harold's Claim To The English Throne.


Harold


e have spent some time attempting to defeat the Norman's argument which justifies their case for the English throne. We must now ask whether Harold had any better claim.


Who was Harold ?


he life of Harold is discussed fully in other sections, but not his legitimacy to the English throne. Harold Godwinson was the son of Earl Godwin. Godwin was the chief power broker in Wessex, which in itself was the most powerful kingdom in England. Godwin came to prominence during the reign of King Canute. They became good friends and this led to Godwin becoming entitled. He had no royal blood in him. Harold Godwinson, his eldest son, was the sister of Edith. Edith married Edward the Confessor.



Not entitled


he only relationship Harold had with the royal line was by marriage. What made it worse was that his father had a hand in arranging Edith's marriage. This was a political marriage which we assume was to further the aspirations of the Godwin family. If it were not for another two claimants ( discussed later ), Harold could have been considered the natural choice and would probably have been elected officially by the Witan. From an early stage, it may have been the Intention of Godwin that his son would eventually become the king, especially as no heir apparent could seriously threaten him.

A King in uncertain terms


n indication of the insecure ground Harold was standing on was indicated by the Anglo Saxon Chronicle where it uses the phrase that- Harold had been designated, elected and anointed. The word designated is important as it indicates that even then, it considered the legitimacy of Harold's coronation to be somewhat suspect. The coronation of Harold immediately after Edward's death is suspicious, as normally there used to be a period between the death of a monarch and the crowning of another.


Out of Context


he exclamation allegedly spoken to Harold by Edward the Confessor on his deathbed is in itself subject to question. He is supposed to have offered his wife and kingdom to Harold. Why should he change his mind when he had stuck to his guns for the previous fifteen years?. Did he ever say these words? Who was round Edward on his deathbed who would have been brave enough to contradict the all powerful Godwinson's? If he did say these words, what did they mean? It is thought that these dying comments were more of a command than a carte blanche statement for Harold to be King of England. They may have been an order for Harold to act as William's vassal until his arrival to ensure a smooth transition. Whatever Edward meant, Harold took it one way. A collision course was set.
 
 

The Claim of Edgar Aetheling to the English Throne.


Edgar Aetheling


dward had a half brother named Edmund II Ironside of England. Edmund had a son named Edward the Aetheling. He in turn had a son named Edgar the Aetheling. When Canute came to power Edward was dispatched to the Hungarian court for his own protection. On Edward and Edgar's return in 1054, Edward died in strange circumstances. Edgar stayed in Edward the Confessor's court for his own protection.


Why did they return ?


his is a difficult question to answer. Their safety was assured in Hungary, yet they still returned. It could not have been at the invitation of Edward the Confessor because he had nominated William as his heir. The sight of the Aethelings would have been the last thing he would have wanted. He could possibly have invited them back as a trap, which might have explained the death of Edward Aetheling, as the younger Edgar would not be seen as a threat to the Confessor's plans for William. He had plenty of time to dispose of Edgar in his court. The more likely scenario was an invitation by the Godwin family as a ploy to unsettle the King and William. If Edgar did have any aspirations to the throne, they came to nothing, because he later pledged his allegiance to William, after he became King of England. The power of the Godwin family should not be underestimated. In some respects, Edward the Confessor could be considered almost a puppet King of England.
 
 

Other Possible Claimants to the English Throne.

Sweyn Estridson


e was the grandson of Sweyn Forkbeard and nephew of Canute. He could have made a valid claim as ancestor of two past kings. Sweyn Forkbeard and Canute took England by force, were not Saxon. Sweyn Estridson ( Sweyn Estrithson ) had problems in his own country with the threat of invasion from Norway, so he never made a claim for the English throne. He did support William in his.


Magnus of Norway


pact was made between Harthacanute and Magnus that indicates that either would have become King of England if one or the other died childless. Harthacanute died very young and Magnus was involved in a dispute with Denmark. He never pushed his claim.


Harald Hardrada


ardrada was a pirate of the first order. If he was ever to have become the King of England, he would have had to have taken it by force. He was killed by Harold at Stamford Bridge, prior to the Battle of Hastings.
 



 
 
 

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copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
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