Saint Edward

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his summarizes the life and times of Saint 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❟ daught­er to Duke Richard of Nor­man­dy. His family fled to Normandy in 1013 when Vikings seized the Eng­lish throne. Edward re­turn­ed to Eng­land in 1041❟ and was elect­ed King in 1042 when the Viking dy­nas­ty died out. He mar­ried Edith❟ Earl God­win❜s daughter❟ in 1045: 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 founded. 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; 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 their 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 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❟ with no ambition except for his peoples❜ welfare. 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 Saint Ethel­dre­da❟ was one of the richest and most in­flu­en­tial abbeys of the time. (Ely Abbey still exists❟ now named 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 quite 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: but the Viking prince❟ Canute the Great❟ fought Ed­mund❟ killed him❟ and made himself King. Edward❜s mother Em­ma then mar­ried Canute❟ agreeing that her future chil­dren by 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❟ who 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. He proved to be as brutal and hated as Harold❟ but 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 rest 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 Powerdward 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❟ hence they would 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. Ambitious and ruthless❟ and a major pow­er in England❟ he co­vet­ed the throne for his family. 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 settled 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❜s 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 during his life­time. He was said to have had visions❟ giv­ing him foresight into events that would take place❟ and 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 Saint 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 Saint 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. Although in many ways he was a very good king❟ in one cri­ti­cal sense he was not: he had 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 invasion was by the Viking King❟ Harald Hard­rede: it was re­pulsed at great cost at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. The se­cond in­va­sion was by William of Nor­mandy: this re­sult­ed in Harold❜s death at the Battle of Hastings❟ and an end to the Saxon kings. The next dy­nas­ty was Nor­man❟ established by Wil­liam the Conqueror.

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Second KIng Edward Crownor some time Westminster Abbey claimed it had Ed­ward❜s re­ga­lia, including his crown, which was used during coro­na­tions beginning in 1220 until it was de­stroyed by Parliamentarians in 1649 during the English Civil War. A si­mi­lar crown was made in 1661 for King Charles II: this crown has been used in a few co­ro­na­tions since, including that of Elizabeth II.

For more information, please refer to the links page.

Footnotes

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ost of the images on this page are from an early 13th century manu­script about Saint 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 devious actions proved that he was neither.
  • Edith of Wessex (Edward the Confessor❜s wife❟ and 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.