In the early part of his reign. Edward the Confessor (r. 1042–66), maintained a precarious authority over his kingdom by playing the powerful earls against one another. His judgement faltered, however, in 1051, when his predilection for appointing Normans to senior ecclesiastical positions provoked a confrontation with the Witan, his council of nobles, led by Godwin, earl of Wessex. Edward was forced to back down, and thereafter devoted most of his energies to hunting and religious projects, notably the building of Westminster Abbey. Although Godwin died in 1053, the deaths of rival earls (Siward of Northumbria, Leofric of Mercia, and Ralph of Hereford) left his sons in control of most of the country by the end of the decade. Harold succeeded his father Godwin as Earl of Wessex, while his brothers Tostig took Northumberland, Gyrth East Anglia and Leofwine the South East. Only Mercia remained outside of Harold’s direct or indirect control, leaving him comfortably placed to succeed the childless Edward until a fateful shipwreck on the Norman coast in 1064.
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