St. Edward the Confessor, King
Born at Islip (near Oxford) c. 1004; died January 5, 1066; canonized 1161.
Edward was the son of Ethelbert the Unready (or Ethelred III), king of the
English, and Emma, sister of Duke Richard I of Normandy. After Edward's
father was defeated by the Danes under Sweyn and his son Canute, Edward and
his mother fled to Normandy in 1013. Canute remained in England and in 1016
married Emma, who had returned to England after Ethelred's death.
Edward spent his life from age ten until 1041 in exile in Normandy,
returning to England only when Canute the Great died. The following year he
succeeded to the throne with the support of Earl Godwin, when his
half-brother Hardicanute died.
His elder brother Alfred, had been brutally murdered by Godwin, Earl of
Kent. Nevertheless, for reasons of state, in 1044 Edward married Godwin's
daughter Edith, who turned out to be the opposite of her father.
Edward's reign was outwardly peaceful and he was a peace-loving man; but he
had to contend with the ambitious and powerful Godwin's opposition and other
grave difficulties (rivalry between Norman and Saxon courtiers), and he did
so with a determination that hardly supports the common picture of Edward as
a tame and ineffectual ruler. His was a good ruler and remitted odious
His anonymous contemporary biographer gives a convincing portrait of him in
his old age that has obscured the evidence concerning his middle life. The
chronicler as that though physically tall and strong, Edward was unambitious
and somewhat lacking in energy, and it seems that his character and
temperament were more suited to the cloister than to the throne.
When Robert, the former abbot of Jumieges whom he had brought with him from
Normandy and had promoted to the archbishop of Canterbury in 1051, declared
Godwin to be an outlaw, Edward did little to support him. Godwin took refuge
in Flanders but returned the following year with a fleet ready to lead a
rebellion. Armed revolt was avoided when the two men met and settled their
differences; among them was the archbishop Robert returned to France and was
replaced by Stigand. After Godwin's death in 1053, his son Tostig, earl of
Northumbria, led an unsuccessful revolt and was exiled by Edward to the
continent. On the other hand a chronicler speaks of 'the king's just and
religious administration' and to the people he was 'good King Edward.'
The belief that Edward was a saint was supported by his general reputation
for religious devotion and for generosity to the poor and infirm, by the
relation of a number of miracles and, too, by the assertion that he and his
wife were so ascetic as always to have lived together as brother and sister.
Edward and Edith were certainly childless; but that this was due to
life-long voluntary abstinence is unlikely in the circumstances of their
marriage and is not supported by adequate evidence.
Frugal in his own life, he was generous to monasteries and churches and gave
freely to the poor. In commutation of a vow that he had made to undertake a
pilgrimage to Rome he rebuilt the abbey at Westminster, where his relics
still rest behind the high altar.
According to legend, as Saint Edward was returning from Mass one day, he
gave his ring as an alms to Saint John the Baptist, who appeared to him as a
poor pilgrim. Twenty-four years later, two English pilgrims returning from
the Holy Land met another pilgrim who introduced himself to them as Saint
John. Through them he sent word to King Edward that he thanked him for his
alms. Through the pilgrims he promised the king that in six months Edward
should be with him forever. The message brought joy to the royal heart.
As predicted, Saint Edward died at Westminster on January 5, 1066. He was
succeeded by Harold, the son of Godwin, whose brief reign ended with the
Battle of Hastings. "Weep not," said Edward to his queen as he lay on his
deathbed, "I shall not die but shall live. Departing from the land of the
dying, I hope to see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living."
His emblem is a finger ring, which he is sometimes shown handing to a
King Edward is generally shown in royal robes, holding a
sceptre surmounted with a dove
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