After the deaths of Earl’s Ralf and Leofric during the period of 1053 to 1057 it was reported in one of the few remaining Anglo Chronicles that Edward began looking outside of England and Normandy for possible heirs to his throne, this brought up the name of Atheling. Firstly Edward invited Edward Atheling son of Edmund Ironside to come to England. Though Edward Atheling made it to England he died under suspicious circumstances before he could actually meet the King. After his death his son Edgar became another option for King Edward. However he was still a young boy at this time roughly eight years old.
In addition, whereas in the case of the young William of Normandy becoming Duke at such a young age, he would never have come across the same circumstances as the new king of England would have, after succeeding the throne after Edward and would almost definitely have been a baptism of fire. Also during this time where everyone was vying for the throne he could never drum up any support for his case from the earls, which he desperately needed. If there were to be a succession to the throne purely for family links to Edward than it would have had to be Edward.
However putting his career into perspective he had little if any battle experience and very little knowledge of how to run a country under threat of a crusade from the Norman’s. The opinion that Edward Atheling was not up to the challenge of ruling a country in potential crisis was one of the reasons why Harold almost saw it as his personal duty to succeed Edward at the throne. Harold Godwineson was a man at the height of his power in 1066. After defeating the Welsh and impressing many abroad fighting in Bretton Harold had, already at such a young age, established himself a potential ruler who could lead in politics and on the battlefield.
To his faithful citizens in Wessex and across the country he was better known as “Dux Angloram” and “Sub-regulus”. At the time in question Harold was the single most powerful man in England on a par with the King, he owned directly and indirectly most of the land in England. ‘Feudalism is based on power and power in feudal England was land. So Harold was incredibly powerful and if succession to the throne were based on this then he would certainly be the number one candidate. “To a contemporary Harold appeared of fine physique, a good captain and a brave soldier, magnanimous and affable, patient like all his family…
A strong ruler of his earldom, and a stern lover of justice. ” So from this aspect it was clear that he was bred for kinship and was conceived as a ready successor to Edward by his contemporaries. Harold’s reputation alone could probably have secured a seat in the throne of King Edward’s however he also had other claims which backed up the opinion he was the obvious successor. The strongest claim to a throne in those days was a ‘Verba Novissma’ (deathbed promise). This was put above all the rest of the claims for the pure reason that it was the last words of a dying King and a promise, which had to have been upheld.
Harold could also have argued his case in that he was the only man to know the inside knowledge on William the conquerer’s tactical force and battlefield might. After spending a longer than expected stay as a guest in William’s quarters Harold went on several battlefield expeditions fighting alongside William’s renowned armies. The Norman’s were known for the battlefield ferocity and force both with their sheer number of forces and the selective breeding of their cavalry. Only Harold really knew the force of William’s battlefield experience and could use this to counter his weaknesses.
And what is more is the fact that William knew this and therefore was so desperate to succeed the throne of England. In addition Harold was the only real claim with the support of the Witan, Earls’ (considering most of them were family members) and the church. With the support of these three you could not go wrong. Considering the Witan had the deciding vote this support was crucial, as well was the huge popularity of the earldoms who could fight alongside Harold in battle. And finally the Church was key as he needed someone of high esteem in the Religion to coronate him.
This like the deathbed request is where Harold stood above all over claims to the throne. Last but by no means least Harold was related to Edward through the marriage of Edith and the confessor. This secured any family feuds were a thing of the past. The final claim to the throne came from the illustrious King of Denmark who had built on his ever-increasing reputation by defeating the Norwegians in a battle, which lasted for many years. Swein Estherithson was the closest blood descendant to Cnut the superbly orchestrated King of England from 1016 to 1035.
Swein in fact had a Post-Obitium (promise to the throne after death) from Edward, which was considered quite an important claim. In contrast Magnus and Swein also had an agreement that the winner of their ongoing feud would take the throne of England. Eventually Swein managed to fight off Norwegian resistance and was victorious. In comparison with all previous promises made between various other claimants this seemed quite irrelevant. In respect of all the claims made to the throne in 1066 it had to be beyond exceptional doubt that the true, most probable and practical claim came from the most powerful man in England, Harold Godwinson.
“It was a blend of two main qualities, an apitude for war with a desire for peace” which gave him the credentials to succeed the confessor. Known to many already as the sub-regulus he was destined for greatness. It was inevitable to many that it was only a matter of time until he got his fame and respect which his father fought so hard to gain. William the conqueror also lay good claim to the throne however in many historians’ opinions he lacked the decisive vote of the witan and the military might of the earldoms. In the case of Harald Hardraader, Tostig and Swein they were mere outcasts in the real race for kinship.
They lacked land, support, close relatives to Edward and respect of the English people. Edward Atheling was a different matter as he may have stood a very good chance of becoming King. Having been personally called over all the way from Hungary to visit Edward and talk of these matters he must have had good reason to do so. Suspicious and unfortunate circumstances however put a sudden halt to his claim and his son was too young to take into consideration. In conclusion there was one claim that stood out above the rest the Verba Novissium had much greater authority than all the claims put together.