Edward the Confessor and Earl Godwine

Edward the Confessor became King of England in 1042 after the death of Harthacnut, the son of Canute. Edward was the son of Athelred (Ethelred) the Unready and Emma. What was the relationship between Edward the Confessor the King of England and the powerful Earl Godwine and his family?

  • Edward's links to Normandy
  • Earl Godwine's power
  • Expulsion of Godwine and his family
  • Invasion by Earl Godwine

Edward the Confessor and Supporters

Edward the Confessor was the King of England from 1042 until 1066. When Edward the Confessor died in 1066 he left no sons or daughters to become the ruler of England. This started a dispute over who should become the next English king. This lead to the invasion by William the Conqueror. Edward had strong links to Normandy and had been influenced by his Norman friends.

Eustace of Boulogne married Godgifu, the sister of Edward the Confessor. When Eustace was killed at Dover in a fight between Norman sailors and town locals Edward the Confessor ordered Godwine to punish the townspeople. Godwine refused.

Earl Godwine and Supporters

Godwine, Earl of Wessex was a Saxon who was given the title of Earl of Wessex by King Canute. His daughter married Edward the Confessor.

Harold Godwinson was the son of Earl Godwine. Harold became the Earl of Wessex when his father died 1053. Harold was nominated as the new King of England when Edward the Confessor died in January of 1066.

Edith was the daughter of Earl Godwine and her marriage to Edward the Confessor meant Earl Godwine had a powerful influence over the King.

Sweyn Godwinson was the son of Earl Godwine. Sweyn murdered his cousin and was exiled to Flanders by Edward the Confessor.

Edward's links to Normandy

Athelred, Emma and Edward escaped to Normandy when the Danes invaded and Sweyn became king of England. Emma was the daughter of Richard, the Duke of Normandy. Edward spent all of his childhood in Normandy and his main spoken language was French. Edward knew more about Norman customs and people than he did about the English. When he became King of England Edward's links with Normandy also meant that many of the important people in his court where Normans. The Norman language and customs began to be used in England.

Earl Godwine's power

Godwine was the Earl of Wessex and Kent. This put him in a powerful position but his influence on the King was further increased when his daughter Edith married Edward the Confessor. Godwine had several sons who themselves had gained important positions. Harold was his eldest son and was the Earl of East Anglia. Edward's control of the country was shared with Earl Godwine and his sons. Earl Godwine objected to the influence that Edward's Norman friends at court were having on the King and the country.

Expulsion of Godwine and his family

An incident occurred in 1051 that lead to the expulsion of Earl Godwine and his family. Edward's brother-in-law, Eustace of Boulogne, was visiting the King and when travelling back to Normandy via Dover was involved in a dispute with the local English people. A fight broke out and several Normans were killed. Eustace complained to Edward about the treatment he and his friends had received. Edward was unhappy with the conduct of the English in Dover even though they may not have started the dispute. Edward told Earl Godwine to punish the locals as Dover was under his control. Godwine refused and Edward raised an army and confronted the Earl resulting in the expulsion of Godwine and his family. As Queen Edith was Godwine's daughter, Edward had her confined to a convent.

Invasion by Earl Godwine

In 1052 Earl Godwine and his sons sailed into London with an invasion fleet. The English people were happy to see the Earl return as while he had been away the Norman influence in the King's court had increased. Edward risked a civil war if he opposed the Godwines and in any case did not have enough ships and men to oppose the Earl. Godwine demanded that he and his sons should be reinstated into their previous positions of power and that Edward's Norman advisors at court should be removed. Edward had to accept the demands. This put the Godwines back at the centre of power in England.

Earl Godwine died in April of 1053 and his eldest son Harold became the Earl of Wessex. Harold would become King of England when Edward the Confessor died.


1045 Jan Edward marries
   Edward married Edith, the daughter of Earl Godwine. Godwine was then in an extremely powerful position being related to the King of England.
1049 Sweyn exiled for murder
   Sweyn Godwineson was exiled from England by Edward the Confessor to Flanders for murdering his own cousin, Earl Beorn.
1050 Sweyn pardoned
   Sweyn Godwineson was pardoned and allowed to return to England.
1051 Edward expels the Godwine family
   An incident occurred when Eustace II Count of Boulogne visited Edward the Confessor, his brother-in-law. The incident occurred in Dover where a fight broke out between the Norman visitors and the locals. Several people were killed. The area of Dover was under the control of the Godwine family and Edward the Confessor, who blamed the people of Dover for the fight, told Godwine to deal with them. Godwine refused to obey Edward's order and in response Edward raised an army and forced the Godwine family into exile.
1052 May Godwines invade England
   Godwine, Earl of Wessex, his son Harold and a large fleet sailed up the Thames to London forcing Edward to reinstate them into their previous positions of power.
1053 Apr Harold becomes Earl of Wessex
   Godwine, Earl of Wessex, died and Harold inherited his title.

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