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King Edward's promise of throne to Duke William
Its been a while since I was asked to substantiate my statement that Edward
promised the throne to William. It is a very murky topic, with not much to
go on, except that William believed it. Adding to the confusion was the fact
that Edward made statements off the cuff at times to keep people off guard.
He supposedly promised the throne also to Svein Estrithson, King of Denmark,
and a nephew by marriage, just to piss off his wife's family. His wife Edith
was a member of the Godwineson family.
Edward and the Godwine family (Harold was Earl Godwine's son) were in a
power struggle from ca 1046 to 1051, when the Godwinesons lost and were
exiled. But, they were able to return within a year. Edward, not wanting the
civil war that it would have taken to defeat them, accepted their return. At
that point, several of Edward's supporters were then exiled, including
Archbishop Robert of Jumieges. Robert was exiled to the Continent, and was
in Normandy ca 1052 to ca 1054 when he died there.
In Normandy, Robert said something that either made William think he had a
legitimate claim to the throne or let William make what was said to be a
legitimate claim. Robert may have acted on Edward's behalf, or on his own
trying to get back in power. Or, it may have been another of Edward's
capricious statements, maybe made with 'plausible deniability' (to use one
of today's terms). Who knows. Certainly it was not crystal clear then,
except in the claim William made.
What is known for certain is the power struggle and the exiles -- and some
sort of treaty between William and Edward in the Mid-Lent Council of 1051.
What needs to be remembered is that the victors write the history. Later
Norman accounts of "the promise" say that Edward promised the throne to
William for three reasons. First, that William and his family helped Edward
get the throne and provided many benefits and honors to Edward. Second, that
William was kin to Edward. And third, that William was the most suitable of
Edward's kin to take the throne. *IF* such a promise was really made, it
would have specified that William was in line for throne only if a more
suitable successor from closer in Edward's family was not found.
William certainly made the claim, whether it was legitimate or not, to be
Edward's successor. Harold reinforced it in his trip to the Continent in ca
1064. He was shipwrecked and then captured by the Bretons. William 'rescued'
him, but he was still a virtual prisoner of William. It was then that
William made Harold promise to support his claim to the throne. Knowing
about the Godwineson family, it is hard to imagine that Harold could have
made the promise of support without his life being in danger. Such a
promise, made under duress, would not have been something Harold could have
been held to. But William hid the holy relics under something Harold was
touching, so the promise then took on a more serious tone.
How legitimate either "promise" is considered depends, I guess, on what side
you take today in events that happened 940 years ago.
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