The struggle between Normans and Englishmen began with the accession of Edward in 1042, although the actual subjugation of England by force of arms was still twenty-four years distant. The thought of another Danish king was now hateful. "All folk chose Edward to King." As the son of Ethelred and Emma, the brother of the murdered and half-canonised Alfred, he had long been familiar to English imaginations. Edward, and Edward alone, stood forth as the heir of English royalty, the representative of English nationality. In his behalf the popular voice spoke out at once, and unmistakably. His popular election took place in June, immediately on the death of Hardicanute, and even before his burial. Edward, then, was king, and he reigned as every English king before him had reigned, by that union of popular election and royal descent which formed the essence of all ancient Teutonic kingship.
HE was crowned at Winchester, April 3, 1043. But by virtue of his peculiar character, his natural place was not on the throne of England, but at the head of a Norman abbey, for all his best qualities were those of a monk. Like his father, he was constantly under the dominion of favourities.
It was to the evil choice of his favourities during the early part of his reign that most of the misfortunes of his time were owing, and that a still more direct path was opened for the ambition of his Norman kinsman. In the latter part of his reign, either happy accident or returning good sense led him to a better choice. Without a guide he could reign but could not rule, but the good fortune of his later years gave him, in Harold, the wisest and noblest of all guides.
The second son of Godwin lived to be the last of our kings, the hero and martyr of our native freedom. The few recorded actions of Harold, Earl of the East Angles, could hardly have enabled men to look forward to the glorious career of Harold, Earl of the West Saxons, King of the English.
Tall in stature, beautiful in countenance, of a bodily strength whose memory still lives in the rude pictorial art of his time, he was foremost alike, in a warrior's age, in the active courage and in the passive endurance of the warrior.
Great as Harold was in war, his character as a civil ruler is still more remarkable, still more worthy of admiration. The most prominent feature in his character is his singular gentleness and mercy. Never, either in warfare or in civil strife, do we find Harold bearing hardly upon an enemy. From the time of his advancement to the practical government of the kingdom there is not a harsh or cruel action with which he can be charged.
Such was the man who, seemingly in the fourth year of Edward, in the twenty-fourth of his own age, was invested with the rule of one of the great divisions of England; who, seven years later, became the virtual ruler of the kingdom; who, at last, twenty-one years from his first elevation, received, alone among English kings, the crown of England as the free gift of her people and, alone among English kings, died axe in hand on her soil in the defence of England against foreign invaders.
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