“Edward the Confessor,” or, “My Overly-Impassioned Defense of the Middle Ages Will Never Allow Me to Become an Accepted and Functioning Member of Society.”Posted: June 7, 2011
Ok, much like MRG, I’m going to start this off with some excuses. Hey, what better way? Anywho, I have not contributed to this blog because of many reasons. Namely, work (I clean toilets in hotels. I know, you’re saying to yourself, “Why doesn’t she just come up with brilliant entries and offensively crude slang terms for women while she pursues her mindless cleaning?” Answer: because instead I’m generally consumed with irrational rage/depression, prompted by the fact that my tip from any particular room is less likely to be monetary and more of the used condom variety.) (Also, fun fact, my official title really is, comically enough, “chambermaid.” Most people don’t believe me when I tell them that. Lord knows why.).
But, thanks to the wonders of a marathon True Blood viewing over the past few days (Admittedly, I’m not a big vampire fan, but what I do like, is high production values, southern-gothic revival, style over substance, supporting characters that are more interesting than main characters, and the hilariously prominent gap between Anna Paquin’s teeth.), and since HBO has no qualms about a lot of sex in their programming, I’m back in the ‘for shame mindset,’ shall we say.
So I return to my roots–The Middle Ages. It’s been far too long since we’ve touched on that great forgotten epoch, and in honor of the fact I did not fail either of my medievally-persuaded classes this past semester, I feel almost completely somewhat fully qualified to speak in a commanding tone on the general subject. Well, the tone is metaphorically commanding, considering that this is print, but whatever, you get it, let’s move on.
Now, in no way to belittle any other posts from me or my fellow bloggers, MRG and LHB, but I feel as though we have touched far too little on sex scandals with braod-reaching historical significance. It occurs to me also, that maybe people see these dramatic word-portraits we paint as being less than serious. I understand, this is a humor blog, BUT, as Flannery O’Connor said, “A comic novel is very serious, for all comic novels that are any good must be written about matters of life and death.” So let’s get involved in some geopoliticalass scandal, shall we?
I’ll set the scene: England. 1042. Shit’s so real it hurts. Since the late 8th century the country has experienced continuous coastal assfucking from the Vikings, been occupied, tried to fight back, got raped some more, segregated the land like it was the Jim Crow South (too soon?), got raped a lot more, etc. Anyway, things eventually settled into an uneasy-to-say-the-least arrangement in which (this is a gross oversimplification) the native Angles-Saxons managed to reorder their country and include the Viking Danes who had settled there, though there is a definitely ethnic divide. A lot of money changed hands, and a lot of blood with spilt by guys with names like Sweyn Forkbeard and Ethelred the Unready to reach this arrangement. The English crown has been in dispute for over a century, and was juggled from generation to generation between an Anglo-Saxon or Danish family. A major component in all of this has been the fact that the Anglo-Saxons AND the Danes have also been dipping their wicks into Normandy, the closest section of France to England.
IMPORTANT: Normandy is the darkhorse in this whole thing. The one who sneaks up and wins the triple crown, or takes over a country, you know, whatever’s convenient.
So to check our parts and make sure we know where we are—we’ve got a lot of political backstabbing going on between two groups who are overtly trying to live side by side, but actually would prefer to just push the others casually off the Cliff of Dover. People don’t like each other. People want to kill each other. People feel like the other side is getting to cut the last piece of cake AND pick which half they want. Things Fall Apart. The Center Cannot Hold. Feelings Are Getting Hurt.
Enter Edward the Confessor (This was before English kings got Roman numerals, so we give them nifty little nicknames to delineate). Before he took the throne, there were many other claimants- some from abroad thanks to marriage, and a couple in Eddy’s own back yard… An Anglo-Saxon, Edward had succeeded a Dane named Cnute (whose name has various other, even dirtier spellings) and his two short-reigning sons. Cnute was Edward’s stepfather, because his second wife had been Edward’s mom, Emma of Normandy (see, it’s all coming together now). Edward’s father and Cnute had both married her to not only strengthened their ties to Normandy, which was real verdent and shit, but also their descendants’ claims to the throne. But even though Edward had a legitmate claim to the English crown, that did not mean succession was in any way easy. Actually it was really really not easy. Picture how much you didn’t want to share a toy in kindergarten. Now picture that that toy is a country and everybody in kindergarten is willing to kill you/your family for that toy. Ta-da! That’s the essence of the early Middle Ages.
See, thing about Edward is, he’s been called one of the weakest kings in English history, namely because he left the country without an heir in a time of crisis. I’m talking no heir- not even a ladybaby. Historians tend to argue that he was either gay or extremely religous (hence the moniker, “Confessor”), and that’s why his royal loins sired no fruit. But, having lived much of his life in terrified exile, running from the Saxons, Edward was in fact incredibly resourceful. He was an excellent warrior and close with his arguably brilliant mother, Emma, even after his father died and she was remarried to Canute. Edward restored the English monarchy through political accumen rather than force (even though he had the chance on several occasions in the 1030s). I personally believe Edward to have been a pretty fucking good guy, and his reign was also one of the longest during the period, considering kings were dropping like preteen panties at a Justin Bieber tour. And nobody, not even a member of the Brit royal family is going to be that much of a complete dickwad and take a vow of celibacy when the situation of his country was so precarious. No, I see a larger, far more scandalous reason Edward never produced an heir, and I also spy tragedy on yonder horizon. To explain:
Edward knew one of the potential claimants to his throne was the son of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, named Harold (There’s several Harolds mixed up in this whole thing, but he’s easy to remember since his last name is, logically enough, Godwinson.). Godwin had helped Edward get to the throne because he was an advisor of Edward’s father, and the highest ranking lord in the country at the time, but he himself had no legitimate claim to the throne, so that’s why he didn’t swoop in like a giant douchvulture and take the crown for himself. Instead, Godwin tried to get in good with Edward, for the sake of his own progeny. He might have thought Edward was going to be controlled once he was on the throne, but no dice.
BUT, in 1036, before Edward was king, Edward and his older brother Alfred, the heir-apparent after Cnute’s sons, were invited by their mother to come to England from Normandy. Cnute had died the year earlier, and she was out of favor with his donkeydick son, Harold Harefoot, so she wanted some support in the form of her strapping young warrior sons. The brothers traveled separately for safety, and when Alfred touched foot on English soil, guess who Harry H. sent to roll out the welcome wagon? GODWIN, EARL OF FUCKING WESSEX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1!!!!11
Godwin kidnaps Alfred, blinds him and tortures him for like 5 days until he dies. In a dramatic retelling of the aftermath, Godwin somes to Harold with his deed:
Godwin- “Bro, just solved your succession problem!”
Harold Harefoot- “Fuck yeah, dude! Wanna do a couple jagerbombs?” But midway through
Godwin- “Fuck yeah!” (pops his cowl and partakes joyously of the jagerbombs)
Harold- “Oh shit, I forgot about Edward, Alfred’s punkass little brother.”
Godwin- “Naw, no big, man. He had like a skirmish or something then went back to Normandy like a bitch. You’re cool.”
(they continue to partake of the jagerbombs. end scene)
Wrong, fuckers. Edward never forgets.
When Edward ascends the throne less than 10 years later in 1142 and Godwin tries to get all nice-nice up in his shit by offering his daughter, Edward said, “Of course I’ll marry Edith and help put one of your loyal descendants on the throne!”
(^that’s what he said when Godwin left the room.)
most definitely probably ignores a shitload of various contemporary factors, but it was shown that Edward did not have an easy relationship, even in a professional capacity, with Godwin. They disagreed on matters of policy both domestic and foreign, and Edward had Godwin banished in 1051. Edward and Edith were married in 1043, less than a year after he became king, and when her father was bannished, so was she. Forserious, it is entirely possible that Edward, who was a devout Christian, affected a vow of chastity for his own spiritual purity. But I’m gonna call bullshit.
By not putting his p in Edith’s v, Edward felt there was little legitimate claim for the Godwinsons to his throne (there were in fact five son in the family). Harold Godwinson, who did infact succeed Edward in 1066, then promptly got an arrow in his eye, was possibly probably mildly maybe in Edward’s good graces because his superdouche of a brother, Tostig, tried to bring England into a civil war, and Harold was like, “let’s not do that.” The best record we have of the time comes actually from Normandy, post-1066, called the Bayeaux Tapestry. Details are interpretive in many cases, but it seems as though, on his deathbed, Edward gave his family over to Harold for protection- except, yeah, ok, but Edward’s ‘family’ was his estranged wife Edith, Harold’s sister. That’s like taking a book off of someone’s shelf and handing it to them as a gift, saying, “From me to you. No, no, I insist. You deserve to have this.” So like I said, it’s a little hazy in here.
One of my greatest goals in life is to try and change the way society views medieval history (That, and to get a credit card that says “JAF, Esquire,” but I think I need to have a law degree or a penis for that.). Our modern perception of the Middle Ages was crafted largely by the Renaissance and Enlightenment “historians” who were ready to assume that medieval people were both dumber than the “letters to the editor” page of the newspaper, as well as stunted, insensitive and with the emotional depth of a tea kettle (unless it came to prancing about in forest and fen with tights and a harp, and then medieval people were really tops). In essence- that they were less developed than Reniassance or Enlightenment historians.
But come on, guys! There is so much fire and life in this stuff! If you were Edward, why would you not want to give the ultimate “fuck you” to the son of the bastard who killed your brother? If you’re Harold why would you not sell your brother down the river for a chance at the throne of England? If you’re Edith, who very possibly helped author the Bayeux Tapestry, why would you not want to legitimize your brother’s claim to the throne, and make your withholding husband look like a weak little bitch for the rest of history?
We’re human: we felt just as much in 1011 as we do in 2011, and we can’t all do the nobelest thing. Edward left his country without an heir, purposefully, one way or another, and for selfish reasons. But, in the wake of a leaderless England, the Normans were able to seize power, and while the immediate effect was devastating, it is certainly one of the most significant events in world history, and possibly the most important for the English-speaking world. The language, culture, customs and country became what it is because of the Norman influence, but Wikipedia can expound on that if you feel the need for further investigation. My main point appears to have been that a sex scandal can effect not simply a few people but the entire course of history, so never sell short the effect of doin’ the nasty (or not, apparently).