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Peterborough talk on 1066 challenges traditional views

In a lecture at Saint Peter’s & All Souls Church, Peterborough, historian Oliver Wessex challenged traditional views on the 1066 succession crisis, arguing St Edward the Confessor aimed to keep the throne within his own dynasty. Fr Adam Sowa reports.

In an intimate gathering of about 25 parishioners at Saint Peter’s & All Souls Roman Catholic Church, both parishioners and guests enjoyed a lecture on the events that shaped the most pivotal year in English history: 1066 AD.

Organised by Fr Adam Sowa MS, the lecture titled “Unravelling the Succession Crisis of 1066 AD: A New History of The Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest” was delivered by the visiting historian and scholar, Oliver Wessex.

Wessex, known for his scholarly work on The House of Cedric, England’s first royal family and the life of Saint Edward the Confessor, embarked on a journey through time, exploring the intricate details of Anglo–Saxon England and the reign of Edward the Confessor. However, the crux of the lecture revolved around the tumultuous succession crisis of 1066, a subject that has intrigued historians for almost a millennium. 

The lecture opened with a statement regarding the credibility of Norman, Scandinavian and English sources, especially the claim that Edward the Confessor had always intended William of Normandy to be his successor. Wessex highlighted the differing opinions among historians, some of whom accept the Norman case, while others argue that Edward the Confessor considered various candidates throughout his reign, such as Harold Godwinson, Ralf of Mantes or Eustace of Boulogne.

Challenging the established narratives, Wessex presented a thought–provoking perspective. He argued that Edward the Confessor’s intentions for succession were far from undecided. Instead, he asserted that Edward the Confessor consistently desired a member of his own dynasty to succeed him. Initially, his focus rested on a son, but upon realising the impossibility of producing an heir with his wife and queen Edith, Edward shifted his attention to his nephew, Edward the Exile. Tragically, the premature death of Edward the Exile led to the ultimate choice of his grandnephew, Edgar the Ætheling, as the designated successor.

Wessex’s meticulous research draws from a wealth of evidence, including diplomatic sources, the Domesday Book, law codes, traditions, customs, practices, chronicles, manuscripts, conventions, diplomas, writs, and numerous other historical documents. This research paints a picture of Edward the Confessor as a determined and strategic leader with the goal of securing his country and dynasty’s future. Furthermore, Wessex argues that the political manoeuvrings of Harold Godwinson in the final weeks of Edward the Confessor’s life created the succession crisis, ultimately leading to the downfall of Edward’s wider dynastic and personal legacy.

In his closing remarks, Wessex emphasised the need to reevaluate the evidence supporting the claims of William of Normandy and Harold Godwinson. He contended that Edward the Confessor’s role in shaping the future of the English monarchy has been overlooked and underestimated. It was the personal ambitions of Harold Godwinson, without a blood claim to the throne, that triggered the Norman Conquest.

As the lecture concluded, it became evident that Oliver Wessex had offered a unique and compelling perspective on the events of 1066. His comprehensive analysis shed light on the significance of Edward the Confessor’s influence in shaping the course of English history and the far–reaching consequences of the succession crisis.