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18 September 2014
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Battle of Hastings: A Surprise Defeat?

By Michael Wood
Dynastic failure

Image of Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor 
The situation came about through dynastic failure - the failure to secure the English succession. Ethelred the Unready had died in 1016 after a disastrous reign. He was succeeded by Canute (Cnut), the son of King Sweyn of Denmark. This marked the beginning of a period when England was ruled by Scandinavian kings and looked, once more, across the North Sea to its old connections with the Viking world.

Then the Anglo-Saxon line was re-established by Ethelred's son Edward (the Confessor, who had been brought up in exile in Normandy). He came to the throne in 1042, but never had children.

'... predatory wolves used to hang around waiting for such opportunities.'

The dynastic crisis which everyone had anticipated finally came in January 1066, when Edward the Confessor died. If there was one thing a king should never do in the Dark Ages and early Middle Ages, it was to die without children. Succession crises were to be avoided at all costs because predatory wolves used to hang around waiting for such opportunities.

William, Duke of Normandy was one such predator, and Harold Hardrada, King of Norway was another. Both looked at this, the richest country in western Europe, with its vast coinages and its great sheep fields and its big towns. It was a good prize. And unfortunately for the English, both went for it - at the same time.

Published: 2004-11-18

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