Edward was the son of Ethelred II ‘the Unready’ and Emma, the daughter of Richard I of Normandy. The family was exiled in Normandy after the Danish invasion of 1013, but returned the following year and negotiated Ethelred’s reinstatement. After Ethelred’s death in 1016 the Danes again took control of England. Edward lived in exile until 1041, when he returned to the London court of his half brother, Hardecanute. He became king in 1042.
Much of his reign was peaceful and prosperous. Skirmishes with the Scots and Welsh were only occasional and internal administration was maintained. The financial and judicial systems were efficient and trade was good. However, Edward’s introduction to court of some Norman friends prompted resentment, particularly in the houses of Mercia and Wessex, which both held considerable power.
For the first 11 years of Edward’s reign the real ruler of England was Godwine, Earl of Wessex. Edward married Godwine’s daughter Edith in 1045, but this could not prevent a breach between the two men in 1049. Two years later, with the support of Leofric of Mercia, Edward outlawed Godwine and his family. However, Edward’s continued favouritism caused problems with his nobles and in 1052 Godwine and his sons returned. The magnates were not prepared to engage them in civil war and forced the king to make terms. Godwine’s lands were returned to him and many of Edward’s Norman favourites were exiled.
When Godwine died in 1053, his son Harold took over. It was he, rather than Edward, who subjugated Wales in 1063 and negotiated with the rebellious Northumbrians in 1065. Consequently, shortly before his death, Edward named Harold as his successor even though he may already have promised the crown to a distant cousin, William, Duke of Normandy. He died on 4 January 1066 and was buried in the abbey he had constructed at Westminster
who set your servant Edward
upon the throne of an earthly kingdom
and inspired him with zeal for the kingdom of heaven:
grant that we may so confess the faith of Christ
by word and deed,
that we may, with all your saints, inherit your eternal glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.