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Death of Edward the Confessor 1066: a year of battles From king to conqueror Wealth of a nation
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Discover the story behind it

The Death of Edward the Confessor

The Bayeux tapestry showing the death and funeral of Edward the Confessor - opens in a new window

The death and funeral of Edward the Confessor. Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry, 11th century.
By special permission of the City of Bayeux
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Edward the Confessor, the King of England, died on 5th January 1066. Before his death, it was decided that Harold Godwinson, the Earl of Wessex should be the next king. He had no royal blood but he was the most important noble in the land. On the very same day that Edward the Confessor was buried, in the same cathedral, Harold was crowned King of England. King Harold knew that keeping the throne was not going to be easy. Two other men claimed that it belonged to them. One was William of Normandy who said that Edward had named him as his successor. The other was Harold Hardrada, the Viking King of Norway. He claimed the throne through his connections with King Cnut and his son, rulers before Edward.

Edward the Confessor accuses Earl Godwin of the murder of his brother, Alfred Aetheling; E 36/284

Image from the Abbreviatio (abridgement) of Domesday Book c.1241. The early part of this document shows scenes from the life and miracles of Edward the Confessor. (Catalogue ref: E 36/284) 
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Edward Confessor’s shrine in Westminster Abbey

Edward the Confessor’s shrine in Westminster Abbey, © Dean and Chapter of Westminster
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In December 2005, archeologists using radar under Westminster Abbey discovered the original ancient burial tomb of Edward the Confessor.

1066: a year of battles

The Bayeux Tapestry showing the death of Harold

The death of Harold. Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry, 11th century. By special permission of the City of Bayeux
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Shortly after Harold became king, Harold Hardrada invaded the north of England. King Harold defeated Hardrada at the battle of Stamford Bridge. News then reached King Harold that his other rival for the throne, William of Normandy, had landed at Pevensey on the south coast of England. King Harold and his army had to quickly march south. His soldiers were tired and with no trains or planes to make it easier, some dropped out, too exhausted to continue. To replace them, King Harold recruited about 7,000 ordinary peasants along the way. He still had his Saxon housecarls, a strong core of fierce soldiers.

On 14 October 1066, the English and Norman armies clashed in a battle just outside Hastings. The English had more men, but the Normans had mounted knights (cavalry) and archers. For a while things were going in the favour of the English. They had positioned themselves in a strong defensive position on high ground but lost this advantage when they chased after the Normans who they thought were fleeing in fright. Instead, William regrouped his army and surrounded Harold’s men, cutting them to shreds.

Map to show important locations in 1066

Important locations in 1066.

Thousands of the English were slaughtered, including King Harold. Legend has it that he was shot in the eye by an arrow, but many historians now believe that Harold was hacked to death. William, Duke of Normandy was the victor. To prove it, he was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066. Useful link for the Battle of Hastings

From king to conqueror

Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle © 1995 Rod Hampton.
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After the Battle of Hastings William was king in name only. He did not have full command of the country. He only controlled a tiny corner of England. What is more, most of the English did not want him as their king. Numerous rebellions broke out. William showed no mercy in putting a stop to each one. In Yorkshire he was especially harsh. Homes were burnt to the ground, animals and crops destroyed and hundreds of people were killed. Hundreds more were left to die from starvation.

William did not trust the English. He took all the land and important jobs in the Government and Church away from them and divided it up amongst his Norman friends. He built castles for his Norman soldiers to use as bases. Most of all, castles made the English feel so scared that they did not think about causing trouble.

Wealth of a nation

A picture to show a Domesday manor

A picture to show a Domesday manor. “The Children’s Book of Domesday England © Kingfisher Publications Plc. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, all rights reserved”.
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Invading and conquering England had been expensive. However, a shortage of money was not William’s only problem. By 1085 many Normans had begun to disagree amongst themselves over the land they had been given as a reward for helping conquer England. William wanted to settle these disputes once and for all.

In December 1085, William met his Great Council (a team of advisors) in Gloucester to discuss how to solve these problems. At the meeting William decided to order a survey. It would list all the landowners and their tenants and the lands they held. It would describe any other people who lived on the land from villagers to slaves. It would describe how the land was used, if it was used for woodland, meadow or animals. All buildings such as castles, churches or mills were to be recorded.

The survey would show William the wealth of his kingdom. Importantly for him, William could find out how much money he could raise in taxes from his people.

This survey resulted in Domesday Book.

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