It is the likely case that William the Conqueror and Edward the Confessor, King of England, had an agreement that the English crown should pass to William upon Edward’s death should he die without heirs. This is not entirely surprising as Edward’s mother, Emma, was of the Norman bloodline – her father Richard I The Fearless was William’s great-grandfather – and Edward, who had spent his boyhood in the Norman court during the Viking Cnut’s reign over England, invited William to his court in 1051.
By contrast, Harold Godwinson’s tenuous claim, which he persevered with after Edward the Confessor’s death in 1066, even though it is believed that he gave fealty to William in Normandy after being rescued from a shipwreck in 1064, rested on two factors. First, the death-bed confession of a dying Edward, who, Harold stated, had changed his mind about the succession. There were no other witnesses to this (or to Edward’s earlier promise to William, for that matter). At the time the Witan, the great council of the Saxon earls, was clinging on to the time-honoured right to vote for their leader and Harold went to the Witan to tell them that it should be him, ‘because Edward said so’. The Witan went along with him, unsurprisingly as Harold, brother of Edward’s wife, was one of the foremost Saxon earls, whereas William Duke of Normandy was not – and he was a bastard to boot, with his mother’s father low-born.
Duke William’s other strength lay in the lineage of his wife, Matilda, a descendant of both Alfred the Great of England and Charles the Great (Charlemagne) – a card sufficient to trump Harold several times over, whose sister’s marriage gave him his only claim to the royal House of Wessex.