Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Friday, January 06, 2006

Dead King Watch: Edward the Confessor



It was the 940th anniversary of the death of Edward the Confessor yesterday, but I was rather, er, distracted by GG on BB to post about it then. Sorry. Edward is often seen as a rather saintly figure - probably because he liked collecting relics and gave money freely to churches and monasteries. In fact he was said to be 'very slothful, and to have an unsteady attention to duty with fits of ill-timed energy and to be devoid of sound judgement'.

Edward was the son of Ethelred the Unready and Emma, daughter of Richard II of Normandy and he spent the first 25 years of his life in Normandy. At that time, most of England was under Danish occupation under the King Canute - but when he died in 1042, Canute's sons were unable to hold the dominions together and the Godwins were able to restore the English line. In 1043, Edward became King. When I discussed the Magna Carta of 1215 earlier in Dead King Watch, someone ('Chris') commented that they were told that Magna Carta 'was largely a re-issue of the Accession Charter of Henry I, which itself was lifted wholesale from the Accession Charter of Edward the Confessor and noted they didn't 'think anybody has ever accused Edward the Religious Nutcase of being a proto-democrat'. Edward the 'Religious Nutcase' certainly does not deserve to be remembered as a 'proto-democract' - as AL Morton notes, Henry's reaffirmation of old laws were 'mistakenly attributed' to Edward - possibly because of the odd veneration now being given to Edward during Henry's reign - from which the label 'the Confessor' dates.

In fact, as Morton notes, Edward was 'a pious half-wit' who on his return to England 'brought a train of Norman monks and nobles to whom he gave the best and richest bishoprics and lands. The history of his reign is one of constant struggle between the Norman influence at court and the power of the Godwins. The permeation of England by the Normans was one of the main reasons for the ease in which their conquest was carried through'. Given this rather treacherous role, it seems odd that Edward remains the patron saint of the Royal Family to this day.

On his death in 1066, both the Godwins and the Normans thus laid claim to the throne, and Harold Godwinson was sadly defeated by William the Bastard.

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8 Comments:

At 11:16 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to confirm the sad fact that Harold's family was removed from the throne. Who knows what this world would look like today if his family had been allowed to continue in charge.

 
At 12:28 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

So you retrospectively support the Norman conquest of England?

Are you a 'cheese-eating surrender monkey' by any chance?

 
At 2:58 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I certainly am not, I am simply someone who has quite selflishly decided that my life would possible be a little better if the Norman Conquest had never happened and that Harold and his namesakes (even to this day) were still running things

 
At 6:18 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Hmm... I think I can work out who you are now...

 
At 10:53 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah the penny drops. put that in your dialectical materialistic pipe and smoke it.

 
At 11:55 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

You said you normally posted as g.o.m. - that's why the penny took some time to drop...

 
At 5:29 pm, Anonymous g.o.m. said...

fair point, i thought that would be tooooo obvious. It is an interesting point about how the views of kings change. I remember reading some very trenchant opinion about how Edward the Confessor was a tremendous king who put in place many of the key elements of the English government system - you know the sort "thousand years of democracy" and all that jazz. Your piece suggests he was something of a nit-wit.

 
At 9:21 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

But then as a 'Godwin', you would say that wouldn't you...

 

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