This simplified family tree show Edward's ancestors and his relationship to William the Conqueror who would become King of England within a year of Edward's death.
Early years in Normandy
The Danes, led by Swein Fork-Beard and his son Canute, had been attacking England since 994 and in 1013 finally took control of the Danelaw area. Aethelred accepted defeat and fled to Normandy with Emma, Edward and their other children. In Normandy Alfred and Edward were brought up as Norman princes and learnt Norman ways and customs. Swein's control of England was short-lived as he died in February of 1014. Swein had specified that his son Canute should become King of England after his death, but the Witan council sent a message to Aethelred in exile asking him to return. Athelstan sent messengers to England along with Edward to discuss terms for his return. Athelstan did return and Canute left England for Denmark where he was needed to ensure his rule there. Athelstan reigned until 1016 to be followed by his son Edmund (Ironside). Edmund died in the same year and the English throne was taken by the Dane Canute and then by his son Harthacanute.
Becomes King of England
In 1042 Harthacanute died without providing a male heir. This opened the way for Edward to become King and the return of the Saxons.
Edward's control of the country was shared with the powerful Earl Godwin of Wessex. The Godwin family of Wessex had become a powerful force in the court of Edward the Confessor and Edward even married Earl Godwin's daughter Edith. In 1051 an incident occurred when Eustace II of Boulogne visited Edward the Confessor, his brother-in-law. The incident occurred in Dover where a fight broke out between the Norman visitors and the locals. Several people were killed. The area of Dover was under the control of the Godwin family and Edward the Confessor, who blamed the villagers for the fight, told Godwin to deal with them. Godwin refused to obey Edward's order and in response Edward raised an army and forced the Godwin family into exile. It is possible that Edward's expulsion of the Godwin family, and a promise sent to William Duke of Normandy to become the next king of England, was a need to free himself from the Godwin family and their attempts to take the English throne. At this time Edward sent Godwin's youngest son and grandson to Normandy as hostages in case the Godwins tried to return. To complete the Godwin's fall from grace, Edward also sent Edith, his own wife and daughter of Earl Godwin to live in a nunnery.
With the removal of the Godwin family the power vacuum that was created began to be filled with foreigners that created some bad feeling in England. A few months after the Godwins had been expelled, Duke William of Normandy was invited to England on a state visit. It may be during this visit that Edward promised William the English throne after his death. Edward was aware that he and Edith were unlikely to have a child and the only other contenter was Edward, the Exile, a descendent of Aethelred the Unready by his first wife Aelfgifu. Edward the Exile was living in Hungary and may not have been concidered suitable as an English king.
The Godwins return
The exile of the Godwins lasted less that a year. In May of 1052 they landed in England and forced Edward to negotiate. He agreed to take the whole Godwin family back and remove any foreign influencers. Earl Godwin died a year after his return and his title was taken by Harold his eldest son. While Edward withdrew and concentrated on religious matters and the construction of Westminster Abbey, Harold concentrated on the protection of the country.
Still concerned with who should be the next king of England, Edward the Confessor invited Edward the Exile to England. No sooner as he had arrived, he had died, possibly murdered by the Godwins. The Exile left a young son, Edgar, who could be a future contender for the English throne. Around a year before his death, Edward the Confessor sent Harold to the court of Duke William in Normandy. In a meeting depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry Harold is supposed to have repeated Edward's wish that William should become the next king of England.
Edward died in January of 1066. Harold, with the consent of the Witan, claimed the English throne for himself, but by the end of the year he would be killed at the Battle of Hastings.