Saint Edward

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his summarizes the life and times of St. Edward the Confessor❟ patron saint of kings❟ difficult marriages❟ and separated spouses.

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dward was born in about 1003❟ the son of King Ethelred II the Unready❟ and of Emma❟ the daughter of Duke Richard I of Normandy. Edward lived in England until 1013❟ when Vikings took the English throne: his family escaped to Normandy. He returned to England in 1041❟ and was elected King in 1042 when the Viking dynasty died out. In 1045 he married Edith❟ daughter of Earl Godwin: they had no children. Edward reigned until his death in 1066❟ living a life renowned for generosity❟ piety❟ and beneficent rule. He was buried in Westminster Abbey❟ which he had built. He was canonized in 1161.

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e is remembered on October 13th❟ often with this prayer: ❝ O God❟ who called your servant Edward to an earthly throne that he might advance your heavenly kingdom❟ and gave him zeal for your Church and love for your people: mercifully grant that we who commemorate him this day may be fruitful in good works❟ and attain to the glorious crown of your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord❟ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit❟ one God❟ for ever and ever.❞

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he following examines his life in more detail; the images are from an early 13th century manuscript about his life:

Battle at Stamford Bridge

 Battle of Stamford Bridge 

His Life

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Vikings take Powerdward lived in violent times. After a long history of Saxon kings❟ the English throne had become a prize sought by ambitious Normans❟ Saxons❟ and Vikings. Edward❜s father❟ King Ethelred the Unready❟ gained and kept his throne by the sword. The people suffered greatly: heavy taxes were levied to bribe the Vikings to leave England at peace; but the Viking raids continued. Ethelred married Emma of Normandy❟ a daughter of Richard I❟ Duke of Normandy❟ to gain Duke Richard❜s support against the Vikings; this marriage would later help give the Normans❟ who coveted England❟ one reason to claim the English throne.

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Vikings take Powernto this time of tumult❟ Edward was born❟ a very different kind of man: he had no ambition except for the welfare of his people; he won the throne by election❟ not by the sword; and he gave his subjects a time of peace❟ prosperity❟ and good government that was remembered by the people for centuries.

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Vikings take Powerdward was born in Islip❟ Oxfordshire❟ in about 1003. He spent his early years in relative peace at Ely Abbey: this abbey❟ founded in 673 by St. Etheldreda❟ was one of the richest and most influential abbeys of the time. (Ely Abbey still exists❟ known today as Ely Cathedral.) In 1013❟ however❟ when Edward was about 10❟ Ethelred and his family were forced to flee into exile when Sweyn Forkbeard❟ the Viking King of Denmark❟ seized the English throne.

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Vikings take Powerdward and his brother Alfred were taken to the court of his uncle❟ Duke Richard II of Normandy❟ where they would be able to live in safety. Edward was to live in Normandy for nearly half his life. During this time he quite naturally grew very close to the Normans: this became a problem later❟ when he was King; he would antagonize the Saxons by introducing Normans and their ways into England.

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Vikings take Powerdward❜s father Ethelred died soon after they had fled to Normandy. Edmund Ironside❟ Edward❜s elder half-brother❟ was briefly King: however❟ the Viking prince❟ Canute❟ fought Edmund❟ killed him❟ and made himself King. Edward❜s mother Emma then married Canute❟ agreeing that her future children by King Canute would be the heirs to the English throne.

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Vikings take Poweruring his sojourn in Normandy❟ Edward came to be very pious. He made a vow of chastity❟ and spent much time at prayer❟ assisting at services❟ and helping in church activities. He developed the reputation of having a saintly character: this later would help persuade the Saxons to choose Edward as King.

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Vikings take Powering Canute the Great died in 1035: his successor should have been Edward❜s half-brother Hardicanute❟ son of Canute and Emma❟ but Hardicanute was in Denmark when Canute died❟ and the throne was seized by Hardicanute❜s illegitimate brother❟ Harold Harefoot. Harold cruelly oppressed the English people. In 1036 Edward and his brother Alfred tried to free their people❟ but failed: Edward escaped to Normandy; Alfred was betrayed❟ captured❟ blinded❟ tortured❟ and murdered.

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Vikings take Powering Harold Harefoot died in 1041❟ so Hardicanute was finally able to ascend the throne❟ where he proved himself as brutal and hated as Harold. However❟ Hardicanute reigned for only a short time❟ dying in 1042❟ leaving no heir: this ended the brief Viking dynasty in England. Edward was finally able to sail back to England❟ where he was to live for the remainder of his life.

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Vikings take Powerdward was elected King in 1042❟ after Hardicanute❜s death. (In this era the English and Scandinavian kings were normally elected unless the throne was taken by force.) Edward was chosen partly due to his saintly character❟ and partly because he had the strongest claim to the throne: the Viking dynasty was extinct; Edward was the son of one king❟ Ethelred II❟ and a half-brother to both King Edmund Ironside (the previous Saxon king) and King Hardicanute (the last Viking king).

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Vikings take Powering Edward did not wish to marry: he had long before made a vow of chastity. But he was persuaded by his advisors to marry❟ and in 1045 he married Edith❟ daughter of Earl Godwin of Wessex: she had to agree❟ however❟ to honour his vow; they would therefore have no children. Edith was reputed to be virtuous❟ which made her a good match for Edward.

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Vikings take Powerdith❜s father❟ Earl Godwin❟ however❟ was far from virtuous. He was ambitious and ruthless: he coveted the crown for his family❟ and was a major power in England. Godwin❟ it was found❟ had taken part in the betrayal of Edward❜s brother❟ Alfred. Godwin schemed to put one of his sons on the throne. And Godwin rebelled against Edward❟ for which crime he and his family❟ including Edith❟ were outlawed. But Edward was forced to reïnstate them: Godwin was too influential❟ and had the support of too many Saxons❟ who were angry with Edward❜s Normanization of England.

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Vikings take Powerdward❜s reign was one of peace and prosperity. He managed the country well. He resolved internal conflicts without bloodshed. He engaged in no wars❟ except to defend England from Viking and Welsh raids❟ and to help King Malcolm III of Scotland regain the throne which Macbeth had taken from Malcolm❜ father❟ King Duncan. Edward ended the ❛Danegelt❜❟ the brutal tax levied to bribe the Vikings. He ended the taxes raised to support the court❟ instead using money raised from his own estates. He listened to complaints❟ and dispensed justice fairly. He was generous in giving to the poor and to the church. Only his Norman affinities created discontent.

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Vikings take Powerany miracles were attributed to Edward. He was said to have had visions❟ giving him foresight into events that would take place❟ or into actions that he should take. He was also said to have healed the blind❟ the crippled❟ and the diseased; even after his death❟ people came to his tomb to be cured of their ailments.

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Vikings take Powerdward promised to build an abbey for St. Peter in Westminster. He fell ill❟ however❟ and died early in 1066❟ a week after the abbey was dedicated. Edward❜s body rests in his abbey❟ now better known as Westminster Abbey❟ where also rest many other great figures in English history. Edward was canonized in 1161: he is referred to as St. Edward the Confessor; ❛Confessor❜ denoted someone whose life proclaimed their faith❟ but whose death was not a martyr❜s death.

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Vikings take Powerfter Edward❜s death❟ violence briefly returned to England. Though in many ways he was a very good king❟ in one critical sense he was not: he failed to select a credible successor. He had no children. He promised the throne to the Duke of Normandy❟ but this was rejected by the Saxons. Later it seemed as if he might be succeeded by a nephew❟ a son of Edmund Ironside❟ but the nephew died. On Edward❜s death-bed he bequeathed the crown to Earl Godwin❜s son❟ Harold. But Harold had no royal blood. This resulted in a disputed throne and two invasions of England in 1066. The first was by the Viking King❟ Harald Hardrede: it was repulsed at great cost at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. The second was by William of Normandy: this resulted in Harold Godwinson❜s death at the Battle of Hastings❟ and an end to the Saxon kings. The next dynasty was Norman❟ established by William the Conqueror.

For more information, please refer to the links page.

Footnotes

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ost images on this page are from an early 13th century manuscript about St. Edward. We are indebted to Cambridge University for preserving and publishing this important work.

Cambridge University

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his page refers to people by names used today❟ but their actual names were somewhat different. Here is a list of today❜s names❟ their original names❟ and their meanings. Caution: those with older browsers may have fonts which lack special characters appearing here.

  • Duke Richard I of Normandy (father of Emma❟ Edward the Confessor❜s mother) also known as Richard Sans Peur : “Richard” means “powerful leader”; “Sans Peur” means “fearless”.
  • Duke Richard II of Normandy also known as Richard Le Bon : “Richard” means “powerful leader”; “Le Bon” means “the good”.
  • Earl Godwin of Wessex (father of Edith❟ Edward the Confessor❜s wife) also known as Godwine❟ Goodwin❟ Godwyn or Goodwyn : “Godwin” and its variants meant “friend of God” or “good friend”❟ though his actions proved that he was neither.
  • Edith of Wessex (Edward the Confessor❜s wife❟ and the daughter of Earl Godwin of Wessex) : “Edith” meant “prosperous in war”.
  • King Canute the Great also known as Cnut or Knud or Knut the Great❟ and in Norse as “Knútr inn ríki” : “Canute” and its variants meant “knot”.
  • King Edmund Ironside (half-brother of Edward the Confessor) : “Edmund” (or Eadmund) meant “prosperous protection”; “Ironside” was a nickname referring to his great strength.
  • King Edward the Confessor : “Edward” (or Eadweard) meant “guardian of prosperity”; “Confessor” denotes someone whose life proclaimed their faith❟ but who wasn❜t martyred.
  • King Ethelred II the Unready (father of Edward the Confessor)❟ in Old English “Æþelræd Unræd”. “Ethelred” (Æþelræd) meant “noble counsel” or “noble advice”; the nickname “the unready” (Unræd)❟ given to him long after he died❟ meant “poorly advised”: he was named thus because he got poor advice from his counsellors.
  • King Harald III of Norway also known as Harald Sigurdsson or Harald Hardrada or Harald Hardrede : “Harald” meant “army ruler”; “Sigurdsson” meant “son of Sigurd”; “Hardrada or Hardrede” meant “stern counsel or hard ruler”.
  • King Hardicanute (son of King Canute the Great and of Emma❟ mother of Edward the Confessor❟ hence a half-brother to Edward the Confessor) also known as Harthacnut❟ Harthacanute❟ Hardicanute❟ Hardecanute❟ and in Norse as Hörthaknútr : “Canute” and its variants meant “knot”; “Hardi” and its variants meant “the hardy”❟ hence “Hardicanute” was “Canute the Hardy”.
  • King Harold II of England (son of Earl Godwin of Wessex)❟ also known as Harold Godwinson : “Harold” meant “army ruler”; “Godwinson” meant “son of Godwin”.
  • King Harold Harefoot (son of King Canute the Great and of Ælfgifu of Northampton) : “Harold” meant “army ruler”; “Harefoot” is a nickname which referred to his speed and prowess as a hunter.
  • King Macbeth of Scotland❟ originally Mac Bethad mac Findlaích❟ also known as Rí Deircc : “mac Findlaích” meant “son of Findlaích”; “Rí Deircc” meant “The Red King”.
  • King Malcolm III of Scotland❟ originally Máel Coluim mac Donnchada❟ also named King Malcolm Canmore : “Malcolm or Máel Coluim” meant “devotee of Saint Columba”; “Canmore” is a nickname which meant “great chief❟ or big head❟ or long-neck”.
  • King Sweyn Forkbeard (father of King Canute)❟ also known as Sweyn (or Sveinn or Swegen) Tiugeskaeg (or Tjúguskegg)❟ and also as Svein Otto Haraldsson : “Tiugeskaeg” or “Tjúguskegg” meant “forked beard”; “Haraldsson” meant “son of Harald”.
  • King William I of England❟ also known as Duke William II of Normandy❟ William the Conqueror (in French❟ Guillaume le Conquérant)❟ and William the Bastard (in French❟ Guillaume le Bâtard) : “William” meant “will❟ or helmet❟ or protection”; “Conqueror” (or le Conquérant) refers to his role as conqueror of England; “Bastard” (or le Bâtard) refers to the fact that he was illegitimate.