A succession crisis was sparked following the death of Edward the Confessor, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England.
Edward was crowned King of England in 1042 and earned a reputation as a pious and gentle ruler largely thanks to later religious writers in Westminster who lobbied for his canonisation. The term ‘Confessor’ was consequently applied to recognise him having lived a saintly life but dying without martyrdom.
Edward’s death instead came about after a period of illness that began sometime after the Northumbrian revolt of October 1065 that led to the exile of Tostig, one of the king’s favourites. Assumed by many to have been the effect of a series of strokes, Edward died on 5 January the following year having missed the consecration of his new church, Westminster Abbey, on 28 December.
His death was so problematic because Edward and his wife, Edith, had never had any children. Numerous explanations for this have been put forward, but ultimately the fact that he died without an obvious heir produced a succession crisis that was to bring about the end of Anglo-Saxon rule in England.
At the time there were no clear rules for royal succession and, although the opinion of the previous king was a factor in deciding the next ruler, it relied just as much on support from the Church and the nobility and the contender’s own military might. While Harold Godwinson, the strongest of England’s earls, claimed that Edward had entrusted the kingdom to him while on his deathbed, William of Normandy maintained that Edward had previously promised the throne to him. Along with Harald Hardrada, a Dane with direct links to the kings who had ruled England before Edward, the stage was set for a series of battles that culminated at Hastings in October 1066.