It’s 1066, and chaos ensues; The great King Edward the Confessor has finally confessed his last, and with no heirs to the throne, England has suddenly become a minefield, with zelous claimants streaming in from all parts of the word, the Pope himself throwing a few punches! Tensions are high. The Witan tug furiously at their beards, and the question on every noble, monk and peasant’s tongue is: “Who will succeed the holy Edward’s station as king of the Anglo-saxons?”

The year 1066 ultimately led Anglo-saxon England down the trapdoor, and brought Norman England to the light. The battles during this tumultuous year determined the fate of the English and the future of this thriving nation. It’s well-known for the battle of Hastings, but many other events took place to mark this year down in the historical timeline, and make it a table-turning event, right next to the year sliced bread was invented!

BEFORE EDWARD KICKS THE BUCKET

Godwin (the earl of wessex and the greatest pivotal englishman next to the king), launches a rebellion in 1051, alongst with his mates. The rebellion is against King Confessor who’s starting to favoritize the Normans in his court - (now really Edward, you must be fair to all your subjects!) As a result Harold began to lose his influence over the people, and that really stuck a sore thorn in his ego.

So in 1051, he brings his men to the king ready to demand justice, and all seems in Godwin’s favor - but wait, there’s more! King Edward the Confessor is not as unprepared as Godwin thinks, for all his innocent confessing in the church (for all we know, he could’ve have been holding war councils with the nuns and monks over the altar), and his forces outnumber Godwin who is forced to step down.

Godwin is exiled in 1051, as a result, but that doesn’t keep him away for long; in 1052, Godwin makes a comeback, with a greater force of men, forcing Edward to admit defeat, and give Godwin back his title of Earl of wessex.

Godwin really did win, after all!

In 1053, Godwin (sadly) dies, and his son Harold Godwinson takes over his father's mantle, acting as subregulus for the elderly King Confessor, and basically being an all-round awesome court member. King Edward dies, on the 5th of January, 1066, with no progeny to his name. As a religious king, he rarely went near his wife, or fathered any heirs. So who would be king?

THE WITAN HOLD A MEETING.

The witan, who were the king’s advisers, were now solely responsible for choosing the best candidate as king. They carefully weighed out the pros and cons of each claimant, and laughed through their beards at the ridiculous ones. They needed someone who was English (preferably), had military prowess, and leading experience. If they had blood relation, or any-sort-of-relation to the king was an added bonus, but then, one can’t be too picky! There were four main claimants, recognised by historians; Harold Godwinson (hey we know that guy!), Edgar Atheling, Harald Hadrada, and William Duke of Normandy. Who were these men, and what right did they have to the crown?

THE INHERITANCE TRIALS:

The first candidate Harold, had excellent military prowess, from leading the english army, and acted as subregulus for King Edward (may he rest in peace). He also knew all the juicy tricks and tips to gain control of the people.

Harold was English, and his sister was even married to the late King! (Which made him the King’s brother-in-law. I mean, if that’s not a relation to the king; I don’t know what is!) Harold claimed that King Edward had proclaimed him as the next king on his deathbed - the good ol’ dying wish. The Witan had their socks blown off - Harold had everything going for him! There was another claimant with relation to the king; Edgar Atheling. He was the distant cousin of King Edward the Confessor. However, the guy was only 14, and had no experience in leading or military whatsoever. Talk about an ambitious youth! The Witan, unfortunately for him, laughed Edgar out of court.

From beyond England, there were foreign claimants such as Harald Hadrada, a Scandinavian dude who believed it was his right to become king as successor to his Scandinavian ancestors, such as Canute and Harthcanute who ruled England before Edward. He was a strong militant figure, and ruler of Scandinavia so he was an eligible candidate. He was not English, though, and had no relation to the King but through his ancestor Harthcanute. The Witan had to put their heads together and had a group discussion about Hardrada.

And finally there was William, Duke of Normandy, who claimed that Edward the Confessor had promised the throne to William in 1051, when he’d pledged Norman support during Godwin’s little rebellion. He claimed that Harold was lying about the dying wish gig, and had actually promised to uphold such a vow between king and William in 1064. Consequently, William was fuming and fuelled on by his support from Pope Alexander, brought with him the papal banner, proclaiming God was on his side. William declared holy war if he was denied. As a deeply religious country, the Witan took Williams' threat seriously, and were unwilling to go against what seemed like a god-tied oath. William was a strong ruler, had great support, and experience fending off against various rebellions in his time, including his cousin, Guy, when he was only 20.

AND THE WINNER IS…

The Witan had to make a quick decision, to ensure the stability of England. What they needed was a king with his kingly bottom on the throne to deter invaders from attacking what seemed like an unstable country, and to restore peace amongst the Anglo-saxons. (And an hierless king was all the gossip amongst peasants back then). On the 6th of January 1066, before King Edward was even cold in his grave, the new king was crowned in Westminster abbey. That king was our mate Harold Godwinson, brother-in-law, and ex-subregulus to old Edward. Whether or not Harold had the strongest claim to the throne, the Witan saw fit to appoint him as quickly as possible, because he was familiar, and English, which is always convenient. Meanwhile William Duke of Normandy was fuming, rallying his Normans together to invade England, and take his rightful place as king of England. It would all culminate in the final battle, so to speak. Harold would meet William at Hastings, and an arrow would find its way to Harold's kingly optic.

Historians may argue over whether or not Harold was lying about Edwards dying wish, or William’s not-so-dying wish. People may ponder over the whereabouts of that young un’ Edgar Atheling, and whether we’d seen the last of him. Skeptics may raise eyebrows as to the credibility of the Witan, or if they were licensed to make such decisions. The important thing is this is history. It’s in the past now.