When Edward the Confessor was crowned in 1042 he was claimed to have become celibate. This instantly brought up problems of succession to the throne. So, claims were made to it even before Edward was dying. The person with probably the strongest claim to the throne was William the Bastard, as his contemporaries knew him, nowadays referred to as William the Conqueror or William Duke of Normandy. His first claim was after the fleeing of the Godwin´s. The Godwin´s fled England due to their dwindling military support after their inaction and the trial against Godwin, which he would certainly lose. After their fleeing Robert de Jumieges claims Edward made William heir to the English Throne.
The Next claim from Williams´s camp for the throne was made on the bases of his family connection with the king. Firstly his wife was related to the King´s of Wessex which Edward the Confessor was a member therefore having a hereditary right to the throne. Also Edwards mother, Emma, was a Norman and raised her son in Normandy of which William the Conqueror is Duke. Another major family connection is that William was actually Edwards´s cousin, and as Edward had no son was one of his closest family links.
In 1051, during the exile of the Godwin family, it is undoubted William came over from Normandy to visit Edward in his court in England. It is also likely during this visit Edward made it clear to Duke William he was heir to the English throne. However it is thought this promise meant little to Edward and meant a lot more, or considered more important, by the young Norman Duke.
The next claim is one of the most important yet controversial made by Edward. It involves the visit of Harold. Edward certainly sent Harold to France to visit William but the reasons for this vary form source to source. According to the Norman Chroniclers Harold was shipwrecked in Ponthieu and held by the local ruler, he was held to ransom until Duke William came to his aid and managed to free him. After his release he campaigned in Brittany with William, during this time it is alleged to have put his hands within William´s, in the system of Feudalism this is a sign of accepting oneself to be the vassal. Therefore Harold was accepting William as his superior. Harold also swore on the ancient relics of Bayeux that he would be Williams´s man and to help him in his quest for the throne no matter what occurred. Therefore if and when Harold took the throne he was going against his oath, which made him perjurer and a liar.
The final two claims on which William claimed the English throne were based on religion. William realized that if he were to gain the throne by conquering or being heir he would need the support of the papal. This is because in that time and under feudalism the church was required to win battles and was incredibly powerful. Going back to my introduction I mentioned when Edward was coroneted and asked to become celibate by St Peter, he was also told by the Saint that God would arrange an appropriate successor to the throne. Now William has God on his side after gaining the support of the Pope via means of promising land to the Papacy if he was successful and by the way he had put the pope under pressure by conquering the surrounding land of the Vatican.
The final point is related to religion as William announced that Archbishop Stigand who had been excommunicated by the pope crowned Harold. Therefore Harold´s Kingship was theoretically void as he had not been properly coroneted.
However when considering all of Williams claims to the throne we must remember from which sources we gained the information from. We receive an incredibly biased view of the period due to the fact the Normans won the day and they choose what were written in the chronicles of history. All of the sources are pure Norman Propaganda maybe justifying their invasion or accounting for their claims to the throne.
William the Bastard was not the only contender to the throne of England. Harold Godwinson also made a valid claim, based mainly on the words of Edward the Confessor on his deathbed. It was recorded that under Edward´s dyeing breath he named Harold as the heir to his throne. This was far more important than when Edward named Duke William heir 11 years before his death as, if both stories are true, this was his final decision when it mattered the most. Though this is Harold Godwinson´s only direct claim to the throne there are other reasons why he felt he should have been named heir to the throne. At the time in question and after he returned from exile Harold was the single most powerful man in England on a par with the king, he owned directly and indirectly most of the land in England. Feudalism is based on power and power in feudal England was land. So Harold was incredibly powerful and if succession to the throne were based on this he would certainly be the number one candidate.
Harold was also made to be in king, he had the natural characteristics of a king:
“To a contemporary Harold appeared of fine physique, a good captain and a brave soldier, magnanimous and affable, patient like all his family………a strong ruler of his earldom, and a stern lover of justice.”
(The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216 Frank Barlow)
So from this aspect it is clear he was bred for Kingship and was conceived as a ready successor to Edward by the contemporaries. This was further shown by his actions during the early 1060´s. During this period he began building up a legendary status as a great warrior and a worthy leader of men, this was due to the troublesome Welsh who were continuingly stirring up troubles in the Marches of England and Wales.
These are the few surviving claims Harold had to the throne, however had more of the Anglo Chronicles remained after the Norman Conquest others may well have been illustrated. After the deaths of Earl´s Ralf and Leofric during the period of 1053 to 1057 it was reported in one of the few remaining Anglo Chronicles that Edward began looking outside of England and Normandy for Possible heirs to his throne, this brought up the name of Atheling. Firstly Edward invited Edward Atheling son of Edmond Ironside to come to England. Though Edward Atheling made it to England he died under suspicious circumstances before he could actually meet the king. After his death his son Edgar became another option for King Edward. However, he was still a young boy at this time roughly eight years old, also during the time were everyone was vying for the throne he could never drum up any support for his case from the earls, which he desperately needed. These three people had the strongest claims to the throne however others also put forward their case.
Harold Hardrada made one such claim; he was the King of Norway and felt he had a strong claim due to him being the son of one of the Kings of Wessex. He was the descendant of King Cnut who had ruled over England and on this bases Hardrada felt he had a stake. Another claimant to the throne was Tostig. Tostig was the son of Godwin and the brother of Harold Godwinson. He had different claims to the throne from his brother. Queen Emma, wife of Edward the Confessor, had always favored Tostig from the beginning and argued the case for Tostig´s coronation from the time Edward fell ill.
As I have outlined there were many people attempting for the throne of England. However if we were to narrow the choices down to actually possible claimants we would choose William the Bastard and Harold, son of Godwin. These two were really the only two in the race. We must also bare in mind had Harold gained the throne the amount of reasons he based his claim to the throne on would be greater then the amount there are and likewise the number of Williams reasons would have been reduced or degraded. This is because history is written by the winners not the losers, as Harold was in this case.