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St Edward the Martyr
King of the English
Reign 8 July 975 – 18 March 978
Predecessor Edgar
Successor Ethelred the Unready
Father Edgar
Mother Æthelflæd or Wulfthryth
Born circa 962
Died 18 March 978
Corfe Castle, Dorset, England
Burial Wareham, Dorset

Edward the Martyr (Old English: Eadweard) (c. 962 – 18 March 978), was king of the English from 975 until he was murdered in 978. Edward was the eldest son of King Edgar, but not his father's acknowledged heir. On Edgar's death, the leadership of the England was divided, some supporting Edward's claim to be king and other supporting his much younger half-brother Æthelred. Edward was chosen as king and was crowned by his main clerical supporters, Archbishops Dunstan and Oswald of Worcester.

Edward's reign began inauspiciously when a comet was sighted. A famine followed. The great nobles of the kingdom, ealdormen Ælfhere and Æthelwine quarrelled and civil war almost broke out. In the so-called anti-monastic reaction the nobles took advantage of Edward's weakness to dispossess the Benedictine reformed monasteries of lands and other properties which King Edgar had granted to them. Edward's short reign was brought to an end by his murder at Corfe in circumstances which are not altogether clear.

Edward's body was reburied with great ceremony at Shaftesbury Abbey early in 980. In 1001 his remains were moved to a more prominent place in the abbey, probably with the blessing of his half-brother King Æthelred. Edward was already reckoned a saint by this time. A number of lives of Edward were written in the centuries following his death in which he was portrayed as a martyr, generally seen as a victim of his stepmother Queen Dowager Ælfthryth. He is today recognized as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican Communion.



His date of birth is unknown, but it is likely that he was a teenager when he succeeded his father in 975, and was the eldest of Edgar's three children.[1] All that can be said with certainty of Edward's parentage is that he was King Edgar's son, but not the son of Queen Ælfthryth. This much and no more is known from contemporary charters.[2]

For further information on Edward's mother it is necessary to rely on later sources of questionable reliability. The earliest such source is a life of Dunstan by Osbern of Canterbury, probably written in the 1080s. Osbern writes that Edward's mother was a nun at Wilton Abbey whom the king seduced.[3] When Eadmer wrote a life of Dunstan some decades later, he included an account of Edward's parentage obtained from Nicholas of Worcester. This denied that Edward was the son of a liaison between Edgar and a nun, and instead presented him the son of one Æthelflæd, daughter of Ordmær, "ealdorman of the East Anglians", whom Edgar had married in the years when he ruled Mercia, that is between 957 and Eadwig's death in 959.[4] Yet further accounts are offered by Goscelin in his life of Edgar's daughter Saint Edith of Wilton, and in the histories of John of Worcester and William of Malmesbury.[5] Summarising these various accounts Edward's mother probably was a noblewoman named Æthelflæd, surnamed Candida or Eneda—"the White" or "White Duck".[6]

A charter of 966 describes Ælfthryth, whom Edgar had married in 964, as the king's "lawful wife", and their son Edmund as legitimate son of the king. Edward is merely the king's son.[7] The contradictions regarding who Edward's mother was, and the fact that Edmund appears to have been regarded as the legitimate heir until his death in 971, suggests that Edward was probably illegitimate.[8]

Disputed succession

Edmund's brother Æthelred may have inherited his position as favoured heir.[9] Edgar's intentions may have been signalled by the fact that on a charter to the New Minster at Winchester, the names of Ælfthryth and her son Æthelred appear ahead of Edward's name.[1] Edgar's actual plans for the succession can only be conjecture as he died, still a young man aged about 32, on 8 July 975, leaving two sons, neither yet an adult.[10]

Edgar had been a strong ruler who had forced monastic reforms on a probably unwilling church and nobility, aided by the leading clerics of the day, Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, Oswald of Worcester, Archbishop of York, and Bishop Æthelwold of Winchester. The endowment of the reformed Benedictine monasteries with the lands required for their support had seen many lesser nobles dispossessed outright and leases and loans of land rewritten to the benefit of the monasteries. Secular clergy, many of whom will have been members of the nobility, had been expelled from the new monasteries. While Edgar lived, he strongly supported the reformers, but following his death the discontents which these changes had provoked came into the open.[11]

The leading figures had all been supporters of the reform, but they were no longer united. Relations between Archbishop Dunstan and Bishop Æthelwold may have been strained.[12] Archbishop Oswald was at odds with Ealdorman Ælfhere, Ealdorman of Mercia,[13] while Ælfhere and his kin were rivals for power with the affinity of Æthelwine, Ealdorman of East Anglia.[14] It is said that Dunstan questioned Edgar's marriage with Queen Dowager Ælfthryth and the legitimacy of their son Æthelred.[15]

These leaders were divided as to whether Edward or Æthelred should succeed Edgar. Neither law nor precedent offered much guidance. The choice between the sons of Edward the Elder had divided his kingdom, and Edgar's elder brother Eadwig had been forced to give over a large part of the kingdom to Edgar.[16] It is certain that the Queen Dowager supported the claims of Æthelred, her son, aided by Bishop Æthelwold, and that Dunstan supported Edward, aided by his fellow archbishop Oswald. It is likely that Ealdorman Ælfhere and his allies supported Æthelred and that Æthelwine and his allies supported Edward, although some historians suggest the opposite.[17]

The arguments employed by the factions are largely unknown, although later sources suggest that perceptions of legitimacy played a part, as did the relative age of the two candidates. In time, Edward was anointed by Archbishops Dunstan and Oswald at Kingston upon Thames, most likely in 975.[18] There is evidence that the settlement involved a degree of compromise. Æthelred appears to have been given lands which normally belonged to the king's sons, some of which had been granted by Edgar to Abingdon Abbey and which were now forcibly repossessed for Æthelred by the leading nobles.[19]

Edward's reign

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, after recording Edward's succession, reports that a comet appeared and that famine and "manifold disturbances" followed.[20] The "manifold disturbances", sometimes called the anti-monastic reaction, appear to have started soon after Edgar's death. During this time the experienced Ealdorman Oslac of Northumbria, effective ruler of much of northern England, was exiled in circumstances which are unknown.[21] Oslac was followed as ealdorman by one Thored, either Oslac's son of that name or the Thored Gunnar's son mentioned by the Chronicle in 966.[22] Edward, or rather those who were wielding power on his behalf, also appointed a number of new ealdormen to positions in Wessex. Little is known of two of these men, and it is difficult to determine which faction, if any, they belonged to. Edwin, probably ruling in Sussex, and perhaps also parts of Kent and Surrey, was buried at Abingdon, an abbey patronised by Ælfhere. Æthelmær, who oversaw Hampshire, held lands in Rutland, perhaps suggesting links to Æthelwine. The third ealdorman, Æthelweard, today best known for his Latin history, ruled in the west. Æthelweard was a descendant of King Æthelred of Wessex and probably the brother of King Eadwig's wife. He appears to have been a supporter of Edward rather than of either faction.[23]

A penny minted during Edward's reign at Stamford, Lincolnshire, one of the Five Burghs

It appears that in some places the secular clergy who had been driven from the monasteries returned, driving the regular clergy out in their turn. Bishop Æthelwold had been the main enemy of the seculars, and Archbishop Dunstan appears to have done little to aid his fellow reformer at this time.[24] More generally, the magnates took the opportunity to undo many of Edgar's grants to monasteries and to force the abbots to rewrite leases and loans to favour the local nobility. Ealdorman Ælfhere was the leader in this regard, attacking Oswald's network of monasteries across Mercia.[25] Ælfhere's rival Æthelwine, while a staunch protector of his family monastery of Ramsey Abbey, treated Ely Abbey and other monasteries harshly.[26] At some point during these disorders Ælfhere and Æthelwine appear to have come close to open warfare. This may well have been related to Ælfhere's ambitions in East Anglia and to attacks upon Ramsey Abbey. Æthelwine, supported by his kinsman Ealdorman Byrhtnoth of Essex and others unspecified, mustered an army and caused Ælfhere to back down.[27]

Very few charters survive from Edward's reign, perhaps as few as three, and the absence of a sizable body of charters such as are found in the reign of Edgar and Æthelred leave much of Edward's reign in obscurity. All of the surviving charters concern the royal heartland of Wessex, two dealing with Crediton where Edward's former tutor Sideman was bishop.[28] Whereas during Edgar's reign dies for coins were cut only at Winchester and distributed from there to other mints across the kingdom, during Edward's reign this system no longer prevailed. Dies were now cut locally at York and at Lincoln. The general impression is of a reduction or breakdown of royal authority in the midlands and north.[29] Nonetheless, the machinery of government evidently continued to function as councils and synods continued to meet during Edward's reign, at Kirtlington in Oxfordshire after Easter 977, and again at Calne in Wiltshire the following year. The meeting at Calne saw the death and injury of some councillors when the floor of the room in which they were meeting collapsed.[30]


The version of Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which contains the most detailed account records that Edward was murdered, probably at or near the mound on which the ruins of Corfe Castle now stand, in the evening of 18 March 978, while visiting Ælfthryth and Æthelred. It adds that he was buried at Wareham "without any royal honours". The compiler of this version of the Chronicle, manuscript E, called the Peterborough Chronicle, says:

Corfe Castle from below

No worse deed for the English race was done than this was, since they first sought out the land of Britain. Men murdered him, but God exalted him. In life he was an earthly king; after death he is now a heavenly saint. His earthly relatives would not avenge him, but his Heavenly Father has much avenged him.[31]

Other recensions of the Chronicle report even less detail, the oldest text stating only that he was killed, while versions from the 1040s say that he was martyred.[32] Of other early sources, the life of Oswald of Worcester attributed to Byrhtferth of Ramsey adds that Edward was killed by Æthelred's advisors who attacked him when he was dismounting. It agrees that he was buried without ceremony at Wareham.[33] Archbishop Wulfstan II alludes to the killing of Edward in his Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, written not later than 1016. A recent study translates his words as follows:

And a very great betrayal of a lord it is also in the world, that a man betray his lord to death, or drive him living from the land, and both have come to pass in this land: Edward was betrayed, and then killed, and after that burned ...[34]

Later sources, further removed from events, such as the late 11th century Passio S. Eadwardi and John of Worcester, claim that Ælfthryth organised the killing of Edward, while Henry of Huntingdon has her kill Edward herself.[35]

Ælfthryth looks on as Edward is stabbed to death: from a Victorian edition of Foxe's Book of Martyrs

Modern historians have offered a variety of interpretations of Edward's killing. Three main theories have been proposed. Firstly, that Edward was killed, as the life of Oswald claims, by nobles in Æthelred's service, either as a result of a personal quarrel, or to place their master on the throne.[36] Although it may be a trope of hagiography, the life of Oswald portrays Edward as an unstable young man who, according to Frank Stenton: "had offended many important persons by his intolerable violence of speech and behavior. Long after he had passed into veneration as a saint it was remembered that his outbursts of rage had alarmed all who knew him, and especially the members of his own household."[37]

The second case is much the same as the first, except that Ælfthryth would be in some manner implicated, either beforehand by plotting the killing, or afterwards in allowing the killers to go free and unpunished.[38] A third alternative, noting that Edward in 978 was very close to ruling on his own, proposes that Ealdorman Ælfhere was behind the killing so as to preserve his own influence and to prevent Edward taking revenge for his actions earlier in the reign.[39]

Reburial and early cult

Edward's body lay at Wareham for a year before being disinterred. This was initiated by Ælfhere, perhaps as a gesture of reconciliation. According to the life of Oswald, Edward's body was found to be incorrupt when it was disinterred. The body was taken to the Shaftesbury Abbey, a nunnery with royal connections which had been endowed by King Alfred the Great and where Edward and Æthelred's grandmother Ælfgifu had spent her latter years. Edward's remains were reburied with lavish public ceremony. Later accounts, such as the Passio S. Eadwardi have more complicated accounts, including the concealment of Edward's body in a marsh, where it was revealed by miraculous events. The Passio dates the reburial to 18 February.[40]

The Great Seal of Shaftesbury Abbey, where Edward's relics lay until the English Reformation

In 1001, Edward's relics, for by now he was reckoned a saint, were translated to a more prominent place within the nunnery at Shaftesbury. The ceremonies are said to have been led by the then-Bishop of Sherborne, Wulfsige III, accompanied by a senior cleric whom the Passio calls Elsinus, sometimes identified with Ælfsige, he abbot of the New Minster, Winchester. King Æthelred, preoccupied with the threat of a Danish invasion, did not attend in person, but he issued a charter to the Shaftesbury nuns late in 1001 granting them lands at Bradford on Avon which is thought to be related. A 13th century calendar of saints gives the date of this translation as 20 June.[41]

The rise of Edward's cult has been interpreted in various ways. It is sometimes as a purely popular movement, or as the product of a political attack on King Æthelred by former supporters of Edward. Alternatively, Æthelred has been seen as one of the key forces in the promotion of Edward's cult and that of their sister Eadgifu. As well as the charter granting land to Shaftesbury at the elevation of Edward's relics in 1001, it has been suggested that Æthelred legislated the observation of Edward's feast days across England in a law code of 1008. It is, however, not quite certain that this innovation, seemingly drafted by Archbishop Wulfstan II, dates from Æthelred's reign, and it may instead have been promulgated by King Cnut. David Rollason has drawn attention to the increased importance of the cults of other murdered royal saints in this period. Among these are the cults of King Ecgberht of Kent's nephews whose lives form part of the Mildrith Legend, and those of the Mercian Saints Kenelm and Wigstan.[42]

Later cult

During the sixteenth century, under King Henry VIII, the monasteries were dissolved and many holy places were demolished, but Edward's remains were hidden so as to avoid desecration.[43] In 1931, the relics were recovered by Mr. Wilson-Claridge during an archaeological excavation; their identity was confirmed by Dr. T.E.A. Stowell, an osteologist. In 1970, examinations performed on the relics suggested that the young man had died in the same manner as Edward.[44] Mr. Wilson-Claridge wanted the relics to go to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. His brother, however, wanted them to be returned to Shaftesbury abbey. For decades, the relics were kept in a bank vault in Woking, Surrey because of the unresolved dispute about which of two churches should have them.[45]

In time, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia won out and placed the relics in a church in Brookwood Cemetery, in Woking. The St Edward Brotherhood of monks was organized there as well.[44] The church is now named St Edward the Martyr Orthodox Church, and it is under the jurisdiction of a traditionalist Greek Orthodox jurisdiction. In the Orthodox Church, St Edward is ranked as a Passion-bearer, a type of saint who accepts death out of love for Christ.[44] Edward is recognized as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.[44][46] His feast day is celebrated on 18 March, the day of his murder.

See also


  1. ^ a b Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 7.
  2. ^ Hart, "Edward", p. 783; Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 2.
  3. ^ Hart, "Edward", p. 783; Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 3.
  4. ^ Williams, Æthelred the Unready, pp. 3–4.
  5. ^ Hart, "Edward", p. 783; Williams, Æthelred the Unready, pp. 4–5.
  6. ^ Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 6.
  7. ^ Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 2; John, Reassessing Anglo-Saxon England, p. 120. However, a genealogy created at Glastonbury Abbey circa 969 gives Edward precedence over Edmund and Æthelred; Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 8. Ælfthryth was the widow of Æthelwald, Ealdorman of East Anglia and perhaps Edgar's third wife; Stafford, Unification and Conquest, pp. 52 & 57.
  8. ^ Hart, Cyril (2007), "Edward the Martyr", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press,, retrieved 9 November 2008  
  9. ^ Miller, "Edward the Martyr"; Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 7. Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 8, dissents from this view.
  10. ^ Miller, "Edward the Martyr".
  11. ^ John, Reassessing Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 113–9; Hart, "Edward", pp. 783–4; Miller, "Edgar"; Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 2–4; Fisher, "Anti-Monastic Reaction", pp. 254–245 & 266.
  12. ^ Hart, "Edward", 784.
  13. ^ Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 9; Williams, "Ælfhere".
  14. ^ Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 4–5 & 9; Hart, "Æthelwine" .
  15. ^ Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 7 & 8.
  16. ^ Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 9–12.
  17. ^ While Higham, Miller and Williams suggest that Ælfhere supported Æthelred, Hart makes Æthelwine and his party the supporters of Æthelred.
  18. ^ Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 10; Miller, "Edward the Martyr". Dales, Dunstan, p. 100, suggests that the inauguration may have taken place in March 976.
  19. ^ Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 10; this seizure is recorded in charter S 937.
  20. ^ Swanton, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 121, Ms. D & E, s.a. 975 & p. 122, Ms. C, s.a. 976.
  21. ^ Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 11; Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 10; Fisher, "Anti-Monastic Reaction", p. 268; Dales, Dunstan, p. 100; Swanton, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 121, Ms. D, s.a. 975.
  22. ^ Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 24; Swanton, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 119, Ms. E, s.a. 966.
  23. ^ Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 11–12; Williams, Æthelred the Unready, pp. 9–10, 17 & 22.
  24. ^ Hart, "Edward", p. 784.
  25. ^ Williams, "Ælfhere". Ælfhere was remembered as a generous patron and protector of the reformed Glastonbury Abbey.
  26. ^ Fisher, "Anti-Monastic Reaction", pp. 266–267; Hart, "Æthelwine". Dales, Dunstan, p. 101.
  27. ^ Williams, Æthelred the Unready, pp. 10–11.
  28. ^ Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 11; Hart, "Edward", p. 784; Swanton, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 122, Ms. C, s.a. 977.
  29. ^ Hart, "Edward", p. 784; Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 11 & 13.
  30. ^ Swanton, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 122, Ms. E, s.a. 977 & p. 123, Ms. C, s.a. 978; Dales, Dunstan, p. 102; Hart, "Æthelwine"; Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 13.
  31. ^ Swanton, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 123, Ms. E, s.a. 979, also in Ms. D; Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 11; Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 17–18.
  32. ^ Swanton, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 121. Ms. A, s.a. 978 & Ms. C, s.a. 978.
  33. ^ Williams, Æthelred the Unready, pp. 11–12; Hart, "Edward", pp. 784–785; Miller, "Edward the Martyr".
  34. ^ Melissa Bernstein Ser's translation in her Electronic Sermo Lupi ad Anglos.
  35. ^ Williams, Æthelred the Unready, pp. 12–13; Miller, "Edward the Martyr"; Dales, Dunstan, p. 103.
  36. ^ So, for example, Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 12; Dales, Dunstan, p. 103.
  37. ^ Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, p. 372; as a trope, see Williams, Æthelred the Unready, pp. 8–9.
  38. ^ Thus Hart, "Edward", p. 785; Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 14.
  39. ^ For this, see Higham, Death of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 12; John, Reassessing Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 119–121 notes this and sees Ælfhere's part in Edward's reburial as being a penance for the killing.
  40. ^ Stafford, Unification and Conquest, p. 59; Ridyard, Royal Saints, pp. 155–156; Hart, "Edward", p. 785; Williams, Æthelred the Unready, p. 16; Miller, "Edward the Martyr". It is possible that the Passio S. Eadwardi is based in part on an earlier life compiled at Shaftesbury.
  41. ^ Williams, Æthelred the Unready, pp. 15–16; Ridyard, Royal Saints, pp. 156–157. Æthelred's charter is S 899.
  42. ^ Williams, Æthelred the Unready, pp. 14–17; Rollason, Mildrith Legend, pp. 53–57; Hart, "Edward", p. 785; Miller, "Edward the Martyr"; Ridyard, Royal Saints, pp. 154–175.
  43. ^ Serfes, Nektarios, The Life Of Among The Saints Edward The Martyr, King Of England, Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church,, retrieved 2007-09-26  
  44. ^ a b c d "St Edward the Martyr", Necropolis Notables (The Brookwood Cemetery Society),, retrieved 2007-09-21  
  45. ^ Longford, Elizabeth (1991), Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, pp. 29–30, ISBN 0-19-282851-7  
  46. ^ "About St Edward's", St Edward King and Martyr (St Edward King and Martyr),, retrieved 2007-10-05  

References and further reading

  • Fisher, D. J. V. (1952), "The Anti-Monastic Reaction in the Reign of Edward the Martyr", Cambridge Historical Journal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 10 (3): 254–270,, retrieved 2007-12-09  
  • Dales, Douglas J. (1988), Dunstan: Saint and Statesman, Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, ISBN 0-7188-2704-X  
  • Fell, Christine (1971), Edward, King and Martyr, Leeds Texts and Monographs, Leeds: University of Leeds School of English, ISBN 0-902296-07-8  
  • Hart, Cyril (2004), "Æthelwine [Ethelwine, Æthelwine Dei Amicus] (d. 992)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press,, retrieved 2008-05-14  
  • Hart, Cyril (2004), "Edward [St Edward called Edward the Martyr] (c. 962–978)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 17, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 783–785,, retrieved 2008-05-14  
  • Higham, Nick (1997), The Death of Anglo-Saxon England, Stroud: Sutton, ISBN 0-7509-2469-1  
  • John, Eric (1996), Reassessing Anglo-Saxon England, Manchester: Manchester University Press, ISBN 0-7190-4867-2  
  • Loyn, H. R. (2000), The English Church, 940-1154, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, ISBN 0-582-30303-6  
  • Miller, Sean (1999), "Edgar", in Lapidge, Michael, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 158–159, ISBN 0-631-22492-0  
  • Miller, Sean (1999), "Edward the Martyr", in Lapidge, Michael, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford: Blackwell, p. 163, ISBN 0-631-22492-0  
  • ed. by Nigel Ramsay .... (1992), Ramsay, Nigel; Sparks, Margaret; Tatton-Brown, T. W. T., eds., St Dunstan : his life, times and cult, Woodbridge: Boydell, ISBN 0-85115-301-1  
  • Ridyard, Susan J. (1988), The Royal Saints of Anglo-Saxon England: A Study of West Saxon and East Anglian Cults, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-30772-4  
  • Ser, Melissa Bernstein (1996), The Electronic Sermo Lupi ad Anglos,, retrieved 2008-11-08  
  • Stafford, Pauline (1989), Unification and Conquest: A Political and Social History of England in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries, London: Edward Arnold, ISBN 0-7131-6532-4  
  • Stafford, Pauline (1999), "Ælfthryth"", in Lapidge, Michael, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford: Blackwell, p. 9, ISBN 0-631-22492-0  
  • Stenton, Frank (1971), Anglo-Saxon England (3rd ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280139-2  
  • Williams, Ann (2004), "Ælfhere (d. 983)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press,, retrieved 2008-05-14  
  • Williams, Ann (2003), Æthelred the Unready: The Ill-Counselled King, London: Hambeldon & London, ISBN 0-85285-382-4  

External links

English royalty
Preceded by
King of the English
Succeeded by
Ethelred the Unready

Simple English

Edward the Martyr
King of England
Coint of Edward the Martyr
Reign July 8, 975 - March 18, 978
Born 962
Birthplace Wessex, England
Died March 18, 978
Buried Brookwood Cemetery, Wareham, England
Predecessor Edgar
Successor Ethelred the Unready
Father Edgar
Mother Ethelfleda

King Edward the Martyr or Eadweard II (c. 962March 18, 978/979) followed his father Edgar as King of England in 975, but was murdered after a reign of only a few years.

He was declared a holy martyr that means canonised as Saint Edward the Martyr in 1001. That seemed fair as Edward was thought to be a very good Christian who died for his faith and it was thought that the murderers were "irreligious" men.


Motive and details of his murder

Edward's stepmother, Queen Elfrida was against his accession to the throne as she wished her son, Ethelred, to become king instead. But Edward was supported by more people - including St Dunstan - and was confirmed by the Witan.

King Edward was said to be "a young man of great devotion and excellent conduct. He was completely Orthodox, good and of holy life. Moreover, he loved above all things God and the Church. He was generous to the poor, a haven to the good, a champion of the Faith of Christ, a vessel full of every virtuous grace."

On King Edward's accession to the throne there was a great famine in the land and violent attacks were stirred up against monasteries by a prominent noblemen who wanted the lands which his father King Edgar had endowed to them. Many of these monasteries were destroyed, and the monks forced to flee. But the King stood firm together with archbishop Dunstan to defend the Church and the monasteries. For this, some of the nobles decided to remove him and replace him with his younger brother Ethelred.

On March 18, 978 the king was hunting with dogs and horsemen near Wareham in Dorset. Then he decided to visit his young brother Ethelred who was being brought up in the house of his mother Elfrida at Corfe Castle, near Wareham. He arrived alone at the castle. When still on his horse Elfrida offered Edward a glass of mead, and when he was drinking it, he was stabbed in the back by one of the queen's party. Ethelred himself was then only ten years old, so was not responsible for the murder. An other tale comes from Henry of Huntingdon who tells that Elfrida herself committed the murder :

"Edward was treasonably slain by his own family... it is reported that his stepmother, that is the mother of King Ethelred, stabbed him with a dagger while she was in the act of offering him a cup to drink."


File:Genealogy england bis
Diagram based on the information found on Wikipedia

History of his relics

The story of the relics of St Edward began at the moment of his death (martyrdom). Immediately following the murder, the body of the murdered king slipped from the saddle of his horse and was dragged with one foot in the stirrup until it fell into a stream at the base of the hill upon which Corfe Castle stands (From that time people thought that the stream had healing properties - particularly for the blind). The queen then ordered that the body be quickly hidden in a hut nearby. Within the hut however, there lived a woman blind from birth whom the queen supported out of charity. During the night, a wonderful light appeared and filled the whole hut and struck with awe, the woman cried out: "Lord, have mercy!" and suddenly received her sight. At this she discovered the dead body of the king. The church of St. Edward at Corfe Castle now stands on the site of this miracle. At dawn the queen learned of the miracle and was troubled and again ordered the disposal of the body, this time by burying it in a marshy place near Wareham. But a year after the murder a column of fire was seen over the place where the body was hidden, lighting up the whole area. This was seen by some of the inhabitants of Wareham, who raised the body. Immediately a clear spring of healing water sprang up in that place. Accompanied by what was now a huge crowd of mourners, the body was taken to the church of the Most Holy Mother of God in Wareham and buried at the east end of the church. This took place on February 13, 980.

Because of a series of following miracles, the relics were brought to the abbey at Shaftesbury. When the relics were taken up from the grave, they were found to be whole and not destroyed. The transport of the relics was done in a great procession on February 13, 981 and arrived at Shaftesbury seven days later. There the relics were received by the nuns of Shaftesbury Abbey and were buried with full royal honours on the north side of the altar. On the way from Wareham to Shaftesbury, a further miracle had also taken place; two crippled men were brought close to the bier and those carrying it lowered the body to their level, and the cripples regained full health at once. (This procession and these events were re-enacted 1000 years later in 1981). In 1001 the tomb in which the saint lay was said regularly to rise from the ground. King Ethelred was filled with joy at this and instructed the bishops to raise his brother's tomb from the ground and place it into a more fitting place. As the tomb was opened a wonderful fragrance issued from it - such that all present "thought that they were standing in Paradise". The bishops then took away the sacred relics from the tomb, and placed them in a casket in the holy place of the Saints together with other holy relics. This elevation of the relics of St. Edward took place on June 20, 1001.

St. Edward was officially glorified by the All-English Council of 1008, presided over by St. Alphege, archbishop of Canterbury (who was later also martyred by the Danes in 1012). King Ethelred ordered that the saint's three feast days (March 18, February 13 and June 20) should be celebrated throughout England. Shaftesbury Abbey was rededicated to the Mother of God and St. Edward. Shaftesbury was apparently renamed "Edwardstowe", only reverting to its original name after the Reformation. Many miracles were recorded at the tomb of St. Edward, including the healing of lepers and the blind.

During the sixteenth century, under King Henry VIII, monasteries were dissolved and many holy places were demolished, but St. Edward's remains were hidden so as to avoid desecration. In 1931, the relics were recovered by Mr. Wilson-Claridge during an archaeological excavation; their identity was confirmed by Dr. T.E.A. Stowell, an osteologist. In 1970, examinations performed on the relics suggested that the young man had been knifed in the back whilst riding his horse and had then been dragged along the ground by the terrified animal with his foot caught in a stirrup. In about 1982, Mr. Wilson-Claridge donated the relics to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which placed them in a church in Brookwood Cemetery, in Woking, Surrey. The St. Edward Brotherhood of monks was organized there as well. The church is now named St Edward the Martyr Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christians recognize Edward and other Westerners whose sainthood was declared before the formal split between Orthodox and Catholics in the 11th century.

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