ST. EDWARD THE CONFESSOR, KING OF ENGLAND
By Vladimir Moss
The holy King Edward was born near the beginning of the eleventh century. His father was the English King Ethelred, and his mother – the Norman princess Emma. When Queen Emma was pregnant with him, “all of the men of the country,” as his earliest, anonymous biographer records, “took an oath that if a man child should come forth as the fruit of her labours, they would await in him their lord and king who would rule over the whole race of the English.”
In spite of this promise, Edward’s claim to the throne was laid aside in favour of those of Ethelred’s six sons by an earlier marriage – in particular, Edmund Ironside, who became king in 1015 and was killed in the same years, and the Danish King Canute’s sons by Elgiva of Northampton (Harold I) and Queen Emma (Hardacanute). It must therefore have seemed a great miracle to his contemporaries that Edward should finally, when already in middle age, have succeeded to the throne of his fathers, reigning in peace for another twenty-four years. It must have seemed, moreover, that God was taking pity on His people again after the heavy chastisement of the Danish yoke (1016-1042); for, as the anonymous biographer writes, “just as a father, after chastising his children, is a peace with them again, shows himself a soothing comforter, so God’s loving kindness, sparing the English after the heavy weight of his rebuke, showed them a flower preserved from the root of their ancient kings, and both gave them the strength and fired their minds to seek this flower for the kingdom as well as for their salvation.”
When Edward was still in his cradle, he was brought to the monastery of Ely by his parents, “and was offered,” according to the monastery’s chronicler, “above the holy altar… Moreover, as the elders of the church who were present and saw it used to tell, he was brought up there in the monastery with the boys for a long time, learning the psalms and hymns of the Lord with them.”
Some have doubted whether an English king could have been dedicated his son to a life of monastic chastity in this way. But he was not regarded as the immediate heir: in the charters of the latter period of Ethelred’s reign, his name is added at the bottom of the list of princes. Moreover, so close were the links between the English royal family and the monasteries that both Kings Edgar and Edward the Martyr were brought up by monks, while the daughters of Kings Alfred and Edward the Elder, and the sister of Edward the Martyr, were dedicated as nuns. It is therefore not impossible that the future King Edward was brought up by monks, at least until the royal family was forced to flee to Normandy in 1013. And his later virginal life, even in marriage, is certainly not inconsistent with a vow made by his parents when he was only a child.
The fruits of the boy’s pious upbringing were soon evident. On February 2, 1014, King Swein of Denmark was miraculously killed by St. Edmund while he was ravaging East Anglia. This event was made known by revelation to Prince Edward, although he was only a boy of twelve at the time.
But when Edward had this revelation, his father King Ethelred and the whole of the royal family were in exile in Normandy, expelled by their subjects, who had been exasperated by his failed policies against the Danes, and especially by the fruitless payment of ever larger amounts of tax, the Danegeld. Archbishop Wulfstan of York saw in this and other betrayals the root cause of the people’s failure to repel the pagan Danes: “For there are here in the land great disloyalties towards God and towards the state, and there are also many here in the country who are betrayers of their lords in various ways. And the greatest betrayal in the world of one’s lord is that a man betray his lord’s soul; and it is also a very great betrayal of one’s lord in the world, that a man should plot against his lord’s life or, living, drive him from the land; and both have happened in this country. They plotted against Edward [the Martyr] and then killed him… Many are forsworn and greatly perjured, and pledges are broken over and again; and it is evident in this nation that the wrath of God violently oppresses us…”
The English repented and recalled their king from exile. However, on April 23, 1016, he died “after a life of much hardship and many difficulties. Then, after his death, all the councillors of England chose Edmund [Ironside, his eldest son by his first wife] as king, and he defended his kingdom valiantly during his lifetime.”
The seven short months of Edmund’s reign are among the most dramatic in English history, matched only by the nine months of Harold Godwinson’s in 1066. The pattern of events, moreover, was very similar to that later drama: great extremes of heroism and treachery, culminating in the crucifixion of a conquered country. Thus immediately after the witan proclaimed Edmund king in London, the bishops and chief men of Wessex assembled and unanimously elected Canute, the son of King Swein, as king. Meeting him at Southampton, writes Florence of Worcester, “they repudiated and renounced in his presence all the race of Ethelred, and concluded peace with him, swearing loyalty to him, and he also swore to them that he would be a loyal lord to them in affairs of Church and state.”
Undeterred by this treachery to the ancient royal dynasty that had served England so well, King Edmund raised no less than five armies against the Danes, and was finally killed, on November 30, not by a Dane, but by the ubiquitous traitor of his father’s reign. He was buried beside his grandfather, King Edgar the Peaceable, at Glastonbury. And so the whole of England passed into the hands of Canute the Dane…
The young Prince Edward, lover of monasticism though he was, had shown great valour as a warrior in this period. Thus we read in a Scandinavian source that, during a battle for London between the English and the Danes, “Thorkel the Tall had taken the one part of the town; many of his host had fallen there. Then Earl Thorkel the Tall went to King Canute to win the other part of the town, and as luck would have it, just saved his life, for Edward, King Ethelred’s son, struck at that time a blow which men have held in memory in after days. Thorkel thrust Canute off his horse, but Edward smote asunder the saddle and the horse’s back. After that, however, the brothers had to take to flight, and Canute exulted in his victory, and thanked King Olaf for his help.”
Canute was to become an exemplary defender of the Church; but at the beginning of his reign he acted like the inveterate pagan that he still was, inflicting the last and largest ever Danegeld tax on the nation, while disposing of all his possible political opponents. Thus Prince Edwy, St. Edward’s half-brother, was killed, while his brothers Edward and Edmund were sent “to the king of the Swedes to be killed.” The Swedish king, however, was a Christian, baptized by the English missionary bishop St. Sigfrid. So he would not acquiesce in Canute’s demand, in spite of the treaty he had with him. Instead, “he sent them to the king of the Hungarians, Solomon by name, to be preserved and brought up there…”
To avoid the same fate, St. Edward and his brother Alfred were forced to return to Normandy.
Soon the princes had another shock. In July, 1017 King Canute married Emma, King Ethelred’s widow. To her sons in exile in Normandy it must have come as a shock that their mother should marry the conqueror of their country and the murderer of their brothers, while letting them languish alone in exile. This may explain, at least in part, the difficult relations King Edward had with his mother at the beginning of his reign.
Now on the death of King Canute, the throne of England passed to his son by Elgiva of Northampton, Harold, while Denmark was ruled by his son by Queen Emma, Hardacanute. Initially, Emma hoped that her son Hardacanute would become king; and, supported by the powerful Earl Godwin of Wessex, she even had coins struck in Hardacanute’s name at her base in Winchester, while the coins in currency north of the Thames bore Harold’s name. However, when it became clear that he was not going to come to England from Denmark, she turned to her sons in Normandy. She wrote to them to leave Normandy and join her at Winchester. Edward came first, but was forced to return after a battle in the Southampton area. Then came his brother Alfred.
The murder of Prince Alfred – probably by Earl Godwin – was one of the excuses William of Normandy used for the invasion of 1066. The years which followed the murder, until Alfred’s brother Edward ascended the throne, were among the most wretched in English Orthodox history. The Danish rule, which had been tolerable under Canute, now became an oppressive yoke. In 1038 Archbishop Athelnoth “the Good” died, followed, seven days later, by Bishop Athelric of Selsey: “for he had besought God that he should not live long in this world after the death of his most beloved father, Athelnoth.” In the next two years these losses were compounded by the deaths of Bishops Alfric of Elmham, Beorhtheah of Worcester, Beorhtmaer of Lichfield and Edmund of Durham, who were succeeded by men of much lower spiritual stature. Thus to York came Alfric Puttoc, or the Hawk, who was angry when, in 1038, the vacant see of Worcester was not also given to him, as it had been, by an exceptional measure, to two of his predecessors. Instead the king gave it to a favourite of Godwin’s, Lifing of Crediton, who now held three sees simultaneously. Nor was this the only case of sees held in plurality or through simony. Elmham was given to a king’s chaplain, Stigand (later archbishop of Canterbury). “But he was afterwards ejected, and Grimcetel was elected for gold, and held then two dioceses.”
However, as the spiritual atmosphere darkened, a revelation was given to one of the last of the holy bishops – Brihtwald of Ramsbury. He was once weeping over the plight of the people, “and asked,” records King Edward’s anonymous biographer, “that God’s mercy should look favourably upon them. At that time he passed the watches of his weeping in the monastery of Glastonbury, and weary after so many tears the man of God fell asleep. When lo! In the Holy of Holies he saw the blessed Peter, the first of the Apostles, consecrate the image of a seemly man as king, mark out for him a life of chastity, and set the years of his reign by a fixed reckoning of his life. And when the king even at this juncture asked him of the generations to come who would reign in the kingdom, Peter answered, ‘The kingdom of the English is of God; and after you he has already provided a king according to His will.’”
The “seemly man” marked out for a life of chastity was King Edward. And the prophecy began to be fulfilled when King Harold’s successor Hardacanute died suddenly while drinking at a marriage feast in 1042. Supported by the most powerful man in the realm, Earl Godwin, Prince Edward was recalled from exile. And so Edward was consecrated king of England in London at Pascha, 1043. “Great was the joy that the English had,” writes an early French chronicler. “For the Danes had held them cheap, and often humiliated them. If a hundred of them met a single Dane, it would go badly for them if they did not bow to him. And if they met upon a bridge, they waited; it went badly for them if they moved before the Dane had passed. As they passed, they made obeisance, and whoever failed to do this was shamefully beaten if caught. So cheap were the English held. So much did the Danes insult them.”
The long years of exile in Normandy seem to have wrought a profound change in the former fiery warrior of London Bridge. He was a man, writes William of Malmesbury, “from the simplicity of his manners, little calculated to govern, but devoted to God, and in consequence directed by Him; for while he continued to reign, there arose no popular commotions which were not immediately quelled. There was no foreign war; all was calm and peaceable, both at home and abroad, which is the more an object of wonder, because he conducted himself so mildly that he would not even utter a word of reproach to the meannest person…. In the meantime, the regard which his subjects entertained for him was extreme, as was also the fear of foreigners; for God assisted his simplicity, that he might be feared who knew not how to be angry.”
And yet the inner fire was still there, though well controlled. “If some cause aroused his temper,” writes William of Malmesbury, “he seemed terrible as a lion, but he never revealed his anger by railing. To all petitioners he would either grant graciously or graciously deny, so that his gracious denial seemed the highest generosity. In public he carried himself as a true king and lord; in private with his courtiers as one of them, but with royal dignity unimpaired. He entrusted the cause of God to his bishops and to men skilled in canon law, warning them to act according to the case, and he ordered his secular judges, princes and palace lawyers to distinguish equitably, so that, on the one hand, righteousness might have royal support, and, on the other, evil, when it appeared, its just condemnation. This good king abrogated bad laws, with his witan established good ones, and filled with joy all that Britain over which by the grace of God and hereditary right he ruled.”
Indeed, in later centuries, when the English groaned under the exactions of their Norman kings, they appealed for a return to the just laws of the good King Edward.
“In the exaction of taxes he was sparing, as he abominated the insolence of collectors: in eating and drinking he was devoid of the addiction to pleasure which his state allowed: on the more solemn festivals, though dressed in robes interwoven with gold, which the queen had most splendidly embroidered, yet still he had such forbearance as to be sufficiently majestic, without being haughty; considering in such matters rather the bounty of God than the pomp of the world. There was one secular enjoyment in which he chiefly delighted; which was hunting with fleet hounds, whose baying the woods he used with pleasure to encourage: and again, the flying those birds, whose nature it is to prey on their kindred species. In these exercises, after hearing Divine service in the morning, he employed himself whole days. In other respects he was a man by choice devoted to God, and lived the life of an angel in the administration of his kingdom: to the poor and to the stranger, more especially foreigners, and men of religious order, he was kind in invitation, munificent in his presents, and constantly exciting the monks of his own country to imitate their holiness. He was of middle height; his beard and hair swan-white; his countenance florid; fair throughout his whole person; and his form of admirable proportion.”
Moreover, according to the anonymous biographer, who learned it “from the joint testimony of good and fitting men”, God glorified King Edward with the gift of miracles.
“A certain young woman, already provided with a husband, but gladdened with no fruits of the marriage, had an infection of the throat and of those parts under the jaw which.. are called glands. These had so disfigured her face with an evil smelling disease that she could scarcely speak to anyone without great embarrassment. She was informed in a dream that if she were washed in water by King Edward she would be cured of this most troublesome pox. She then, with the certainty of faith, revealed the dream’s instructions. And when the king heard of it, he did not disdain to help the weaker sex, for he had the sweetest nature, and was always charming to all suitors. A dish of water was brought; the king dipped in his hand; and with the tips of his fingers he anointed the face of the young woman and the places infected with the disease. He repeated this action several times, now and then making the sign of the Cross. And believe in wonder one about to relate wonders! The diseased parts that had been treated by the smearing of the king softened and separated from the skin; and, with the pressure of the hand, worms together with pus and blood came out of various holes. Again the king kneaded with his holy hand and drew out the pus. Nor did he shrink from the stench of the sick woman until with his healing hand he had brought out all that noxious disease. Then he ordered her to be fed daily at the royal expense until she could be fully restored to health. And hardly had she been at court a week, when, all foulness washed away, the grace of God moulded her with beauty. And she, who formerly through this or some other sickness had been barren, in that year became pregnant by the same husband, and lived henceforth happily enough with all around her. Although this seems new and strange to us, the Franks aver that Edward had done this often as a youth when he was in Neustria, now known as Normandy.
“Likewise a certain blind man was going about claiming that he had been advised in sleep, that if his blind face were washed in the water with which the king rinsed his hands, he would both overcome the blindness and restore his lost sight. When Edward heard of this from his privy councillors, at first he contradicted and blamed them for believing it to be true. But when they demanded urgently that he should not resist God’s will, at length he courteously agreed. It was then, as they say for certain, the day of the vigil of the festival of All Saints, when the king, having made his morning ablutions, entered the chapel. Meanwhile his servants washed the blind man with the same water, and conducted him after the king into the house of prayer. When the king left after the canonical hours had been solemnly sung in honour of all the saints, word was brought to him by his courtiers that he who was blind now saw. The king, therefore, with pious curiosity, came unto him in the chapel, and, calling him to him, inquired whether he could indeed see. This the man began to affirm and gave thanks to God. To test the truth of his words, however, the king, as pure as a dove, stretched forth the palm of his hand, and asked for an account of his action. ‘You stretch out your hand, oh my lord king,’ the man replied. Once more the king, grasping his forefinger and middle finger like a pair of horns before the man’s eyes, asked what he did. And the man answered what he saw. Also, a third time, the king, grasped his beard in his hand, again asked him what he did. And the man furnished correctly the information that he sought. Then the king considered that he had been sufficiently examined, and went forward for a little to pray; and, having thrice bowed his knee before the altar, he gave thanks to God and entrusted the man to his servants to be maintained as long as he lived at the royal charge. The man lived for a long time at court, a witness to the virtue he had received by the glory of God.”
“Again,” writes Osbert of Clare, “it was revealed by a sure vision to a man who had been completely blind for three years, and who sprang from the citizens of Lincoln town, that he would recover the sight of both eyes from.. Edward. For he was ordered to be washed in the water poured on the king’s hands, and so be freed at length from the darkness of his former blindness. The blind man hastened quickly to court, and asked the king’ servants to grant him that which he had not had for a long time. And so, when his face had been washed in the same way as the previous blind man, he was restored to health, and the renewed glory of his former condition was given back to him. There still survives to this day a witness who saw him long ago as a blind man and afterwards knew him clear-sighted, with the darkness dispelled.
“The glorious king ordered a royal palace to be built at Brill, whereupon a great crowd of rustics poured into the wood with axes. It was summer time, when men, after they have filled their bellies, are quick to rest, and then, in the afternoon, hasten back more eagerly to work. Among the other labourers on the royal building was a young man named Wulfwi, who, from his greediness for wheat, was surnamed ‘Spillecorn’. He rose from sleep having lost his sight, and remained blind for nineteen years. At length God’s mercy looked upon him, and he who had lacked sight for so long a time regained it through a heavenly visitation. A citizen’s wife approached this man who laboured under so wondrous a disability, and told him in clear words what she had learned about him in a vision. ‘Dear man,’ she said, ‘visit eighty churches, bare-footed and wearing only woollen clothes; and thus you will experience the merit of the saints, whose patronage you seek with faith, in the purging of your blindness; but the privilege is reserved especially to St. Edward the king that the water in which he washes his hands should restore to you the light of your eyes.’ No sluggard after hearing this, the visited that number of churches, and finally he put his case to the king’s chamberlains. These made no haste to seek out the king and acquaint him with the poor man’s requirements. ‘For the poor man is always despised’; and when money runs out the name and fruits of friendship are wont to perish. The mendicant, however, battered diligently at the door of God’s mercy, in order to recover the sight of his eyes through… Edward the king. At length, worn out by the insistence of the blind man, a chamberlain went straight to the prince and related from beginning to end the vision which had been told the poor man. ‘Mother of God,’ said the king, ‘my Lady and ever virgin Mary, stand witness that I shall be exalted beyond measure [‘I shall be very grateful’, according to another version] if God should work through me that of which the vision told.’ Then the king dipped his fingers in the liquid element and mercifully touched the sightless eyes. And lo! Blood poured copiously through the hands of the prince. The man, cured of his blindness, cried out, and, filled with a great joy, exclaimed, ‘I see, O king, your bright countenance. I see the gracious face of life. God has given me light, and Edward the anointed.’ The man of God, contemplating this deed, gave thanks to Almighty God, by Whose mercy a day of brightness had dawned for the blind man. This miracle was performed by the dispensation of the Lord, just as it had once been revealed to him by the woman’s vision, at the royal house called Windsor… To the blind man miraculously made to see, he entrusted the custody of his chief palace for the term of his whole life.
“… When one of the courtiers had witnessed this great miracle, in which a blind man was freed from darkness by the king, he endeavoured reverently to steal what remained of the king’s washing water. Having carried the water out of doors, he came upon four beggars, of whom three were burdened with the loss of their eyes, and on the fourth only one eye was bright. But the courtier, a man of faith, washed their blindness, and the power of God restored to them, in the court of the great king, the seven lost eyes.”
The only serious blot on the life of King Edward, according to his biographers, was his relationship with his mother, Queen Emma – although, as we shall see, he repented of his harshness towards her. In 1043, the king, with Earls Godwin, Leofric and Siward, came to Winchester and imprisoned her. Then, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, they “deprived her of all her innumerable treasures, because she had been too strict with the king, her son, in that she had done less for him than he wished, both before his accession and afterwards…” It seems that she was also accused of plotting with King Magnus of Norway.
However, as Frank Barlow writes, “Emma, when reduced to poverty and despair, had a dream in which [St. Mildred] promised to help her because she, with Cnut, had patronized the translation of St. Mildred from Thanet to St. Augustine’s, Canterbury. Whereupon Emma borrowed 20s., sent it by means of her thegn, Aethelweard Speaka, to Abbot Aelfstan of St. Augustine’s, and, miraculously, the king’s heart was changed. Edward ‘felt shame for the injury he had done her, the son acknowledged the mother, he restored her to her former dignity and he who had proclaimed her guilty begged her pardon.’ Everything she had possessed was restored to her; her accusers and despoilers were confounded.”
Edward’s suspicions of his mother may have been the result of her close links with Earl Godwin of Wessex, the murderer of his brother Prince Alfred. The king, as we have seen, owed the smoothness of his accession to the throne in large part to the support of Godwin, and it was probably in gratitude for this support that he had agreed to marry his daughter Edith. However, he had never really lost his distrust for the powerful earl, and in 1051 the latent tensions between the two men flared into open conflict...
In 1065 a serious rebellion against King Edward’s rule broke out in the North. Now the traditionally turbulent Anglo-Danish North had been remarkably quiet during Godwin’s rebellion in 1051-52. This had much to do, no doubt, with the firm but just government of Earl Siward; but his successor, Earl Tostig, while no less firm, appears to have been considerably less just.
According to the anonymous biographer, several members of the witan “charged that glorious earl with being too cruel; and he was accused of punishing disturbers more for desire of their property which would be confiscated than for love of justice.” But the same author excused Tostig on the grounds that “such… was the cruelty of that people and their neglect of God that even parties of twenty or thirty men could scarcely travel without being either killed or robbed by the multitude of robbers in wait.”
However, that there was probably some justice in the accusations appears from the fact that St. Cuthbert once intervened on behalf of a man condemned by Tostig, as Barlow describes in this summary of Simeon of Durham’s account: “[Tostig] had succeeded in arresting a man named Aldan-hamal, a malefactor notorious for theft, robbery, murder and arson. The criminal was condemned to death, despite attempts by kinsmen and friends to bribe the earl; and while in fetters at Durham awaiting execution, when all efforts at rescue had failed, his conscience was smitten, he repented of his crimes, and he promised St. Cuthbert that if he could go free he would make full atonement. St. Cuthbert heard his prayer, struck off his fetters, and allowed him to make a lucky escape into the church. The guards, under Tostig’s thane Barcwith, went in pursuit and considered breaking open the doors of the cathedral, for freedom of sanctuary, they thought, would allows all thieves, robbers, and murderers to laugh in their faces. But Barcwith was immediately struck down by heaven for his impiety and within an hour or two died raving mad; and Earl Tostig, terrified by his fate, pardoned the criminal and, later, held him in esteem.”
The immediate cause of the rebellion appears to have been an extra tax imposed by Tostig on his earldom. Just before the rebellion, in March, 1065, the relics of Martyr-King Oswin of Deira (Durham) had been discovered, and the holy Bishop Ethelwine of Durham had presented Countess Judith, Tostig’s wife, with a hair of the holy martyr. Could this have been a prophetic warning not to rise up against the lawful king?
The rebels seized York while Tostig was hunting with the king in Wiltshire, and proceeded to slaughter his officials and seize his treasury. They then summoned Morcar, younger brother of Earl Edwin of Mercia, and with him as their “earl” marched south to plead their case with King Edward, ravaging Tostig’s lands on the way. Earl Edwin joined them at Northampton, and there Earl Harold also came as the emissary of King Edward.
Harold was in a most difficult position. His natural desire was to support his brother against the rebels. But that would have led to civil war, which Harold now drew back from, just as his father and King Edward had done during the earlier crisis of 1051-52. In his meeting with the king at Oxford he counselled agreeing to the terms of the rebels. With great sorrow and reluctance, the king complied: Tostig was deposed, the rebels were pardoned and Morcar was confirmed as Earl of Northumbria. In the following month Earl Tostig and his wife fled to her brother, Count Baldwin of Flanders.
Tostig was bitter that the king had not supported him against the rebels. But he especially blamed his brother Harold, claiming that the Northumbrians “had undertaken this madness against their earl at the artful persuasion of his brother, Earl Harold.” Harold denied this on oath; and since he gained nothing from the affair except the undying enmity of his brother, who fought against him in 1066, he must be believed.
The most serious result of the rebellion was the breakdown in health of the king, who, according to the anonymous biographer, had wanted to fight the rebels, but had been prevented by bad weather, his inability to raise enough troops and the reluctance of those around him to engage in civil war. “Sorrowing at this, he fell ill, and from that day until the day of his death he bore a sickness of the mind. He protested to God with deep sorrow, and complained to Him, that He was deprived of the due obedience of his men in repressing the presumption of the unrighteous; and he called down God’s vengeance upon them…”
In the second half of his reign, as the situation within the country worsened, the holy King Edward turned more and more to heavenly pursuits, and his prophetic gifts manifested themselves in still greater abundance.
Once, at Holy Pascha, the king returned after the Divine Liturgy to his seat at the royal banquet in Westminster. “While the rest were greedily eating,” writes William of Malmesbury, “and making up for the long fast of Lent by the newly provided viands, he, with mind abstracted from earthly things, was absorbed in the contemplation of some Divine matter, when presently he excited the attention of the guests by bursting into profuse laughter: and as none presumed to inquire into the cause of his joy, he remained silent as before, till satiety had put an end to the banquet. After the tables were removed, and as he was unrobing in his chamber, three persons of rank followed him; of these Earl Harold was one, the second was an abbot, and the third a bishop, who, presuming on their intimacy with the king, asked the cause of his laughter, observing that it seemed just cause for astonishment to see him, in such perfect tranquillity of mind and occupation, burst into a vulgar laugh while all others were silent. ‘I saw something wonderful,’ said he, ‘and therefore I did not laugh without a cause.’ At this, as is the custom of mankind, they began to inquire and search into the matter more earnestly, entreating that he would condescend to disclose it to them. After much reluctance, he yielded to their persevering solicitations, and related the following wonderful circumstance, saying that the Seven Sleepers in Mount Coelius [Ephesus] had now lain for two hundred years on their right side, but that, at the very hour of his laughter, they turned upon their left; that they would continue to lie in this manner for seventy-four years, which would be a dreadful omen to wretched mortals. For everything would come to pass, in those seventy-four years, which the Lord had foretold to His disciples concerning the end of the world: nation would rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there would be earthquakes in divers places, pestilences and famine, terrors from heaven and great signs; changes in kingdoms; wars of the Gentiles against the Christians, and also victories of the Christians over the pagans. Relating these matters to his wondering audience, he descanted on the passion of these sleepers, and the make of their bodies, thought totally unnoticed in history, as readily as though he had lived in daily intercourse with them. On hearing this, the earl sent a knight, the bishop a clergyman, and the abbot a monk, to… the Emperor of Constantinople, giving them at the same time what is called a holy letter, that the martyr-relics of the Seven Sleepers should be shown to the delegates of the king of England. It fell out that the prophecy of King Edward was proved by all the Greeks, who could swear that they had heard from their fathers that the men were lying on their right side, but after the entrance of the English into the vault, they published the truth of the foreign prophecy to their countrymen. Nor was it long before the predicted evils came to pass; for the Hagarenes, Arabs and Turks, nations averse to Christ, making havoc of the Christians [at the battle of Manzikert in 1071], overran Syria, Lycia and Asia Minor, altogether devastating many cities, too, of Asia Minor, among which was Ephesus…”
Thus the reputation of King Edward, already renowned for his holiness in England and Western Europe, was beginning to spread even to the Orthodox East – whither so many exiled English families would soon have to flee.
On another occasion, as Ailred of Rievaulx tells the story, the king attended the service for the consecration of a church at Havering in Essex. As he was coming out of the church, a beggar met him and asked for alms. Edward did not have any money on him at the time; but since he never liked to send beggars away empty-handed, he gave him the costly ring which was on his finger. Some time later, some English pilgrims were in trouble near Bethlehem in the Holy Land. A beggar came up to them and asked them what the matter was. When they had explained it to him, he helped them. Then he gave them a ring and asked them to give it to their king in England, with a message from St. John that for his chaste life he was to inherit the joys of Paradise in six months’ time. Edward received the message with joy, realizing that the beggar to whom he had given the ring was St. John the Evangelist and Theologian. And in six months’ time he reposed in peace.
The ring was found again when St. Edward’s tomb at Westminster was opened in 1102. A sweet fragrance filled the church, and the body was found to be completely incorrupt.
In 1163 the tomb was opened again. Frank Barlow writes: “They saw, a little obscured by the mortar and dust which had fallen down, the saint wrapped in a cloth of gold, at his feet purple shoes and slippers, his head and face covered with a round mitre, likewise embroidered with gold, his beard, white and slightly curled, lying neatly on his breast. Joyfully they called over the rest of the party, and as they cleared out the dirt from the tomb, they explored everything gently with their hands. To their relief nothing had changed. The body was still intact and the vestments were only a little dulled and soiled. Six of the monks lifted the body, laid it on a carpet, wrapped it in a precious silk cloth, and placed it in a wooden coffin or feretory, which they had prepared. Everything they found with the body was transferred to the new shrine, except the ring, which Laurence [the abbot of Westminster] removed to preserve as a memorial and as a sign of his personal devotion to the saint.”
And so the holy king approached his departure from this life. One more public act of his reign remained to be performed: the dedication of his favourite project, the Abbey of St. Peter at Westminster. This act was of great symbolic importance; for according to tradition, the original church built on the site in St. Mellitus’ time had been dedicated, not by hand of man, but by angels; and now the last man of truly angelic life in the land of the Angles, the virgin King Edward, came to lay the last stone in the edifice of Anglo-Saxon Christianity. Built to atone for his inability to keep a vow he had made to go on pilgrimage to Rome, it became the last monument of English Orthodoxy before its engulfment by the papist heresy.
A great assembly of men from all parts of the land assembled to celebrate Christmas and then the dedication of the church to Christ. Then, as the Monk Sulcard relates, “on Christmas Eve itself, the most kindly king began to get worse. Concealing the fact, however, he spent Christmas day both in the church and in the palace rejoicing with his nobles. But on the morrow, when he could hide it no longer, he began to rest apart, and sent messengers to bid his court be of good cheer and to carry out the dedication of his monastery through fitting persons.”
The dedication of the abbey church took place on Holy Innocents Day, 1065, as the innocent sufferer lay on his deathbed. The anonymous biographer, writing from eye-witness testimony, continues the story: “When King Edward, replete with faith, perceived that the power of the disease was forcing him to his end, with the commendation and prayers of the most important of God’s faithful he resigned himself to the funeral rites…
“While he slept those in attendance felt in his sleeping body the travail of an unquiet soul, and woken by them in their terror, he spoke these words. (Up till then, for the last two days or more, weakness had so tired him that when he spoke scarcely anything he said had been intelligible.) ‘O eternal God,’ he said, ‘if I have learned those things which have been revealed to me from Thee, grant also the strength to tell them. But if it was only an illusion, let my former sickness burden me according to Thy will.’ And then, as they who were present testify, he used such resources of eloquence that even the healthiest man would have no need of more.
“’Just now,’ he said, ‘two monks stood before me, whom I had once known very well when I was a young man in Normandy, men of great sanctity, and for many years now relieved of earthly cares. And they addressed me with a message from God.
"’”Since,” they said, “those who have climbed to the highest offices in the kingdom of England, the earls, bishops and abbots, and all those in holy orders, are not what they seem to be, but, on the contrary, are servants of the devil, on a year and one day after the day of your death God has delivered all this kingdom, cursed by Him, into the hands of the enemy, and devils shall come through all this land with fire and sword and the havoc of war.”
"’Then I said to them, “I will show God's designs to the people, and the forgiveness of God shall have mercy upon the penitents. For He had mercy on the people of Nineveh, when they repented on hearing of the Divine indignation.”
"’But they said, “these will not repent, nor will the forgiveness of God come to pass for them.”
“’”And what,” I asked, “shall happen? And when can a remission of this great indignation be hoped for?”
“’”At that time,” they answered, “when a great tree, if cut down in the middle of its trunk, and the part cut off carried the space of three furlongs from the stock, shall be joined again to the trunk, by itself and without the hand of man or any sort of stake, and begin once more to push leaves and bear fruit from the old love of its uniting sap, then first can a remission of these great ills be hoped for.”’
“When those who were present had heard these words – that is to say, the queen, who was sitting on the floor warming his feet in her lap, her brother, Earl Harold, and Rodbert, the steward of the royal palace and a kinsman of the king, also Archbishop Stigand and a few more whom the blessed king when roused from sleep had ordered to be summoned – they were all sore afraid as men who had heard a speech containing many calamities and a denial of the hope of pity. And while all were stupefied and silent from the effect of terror, the archbishop himself, who ought either to have been the first to fear or give a word of advice, with folly at heart whispered in the ear of the earl that the king was broken with age and disease and knew not what he said. But the queen, and those who had been wont to know and fear God in their hearts, all pondered deeply the words they had heard, and understood them quite otherwise, and correctly. For these knew that the Christian religion was chiefly dishonoured by men in Holy Orders, and that… the king and queen by frequent admonition had often proclaimed this.”
King Edward died on January 5, 1066. The first part of his prophecy was fulfilled exactly; for one year and one day after his death, on January 6, 1067, Duke William of Normandy, having been crowned as the first Catholic king of England, set off on the three-and-a-half-year campaign which destroyed the face of the country - the Antichrist had come to England!
Modern historians have accused King Edward of weakness. Humility, gentleness and chastity in the midst of a corrupt and adulterous generation are not properly thought of as signs of weakness, but rather of great spiritual strength and grace. However, let us concede that St. Edward had a certain weakness: like Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, whom he resembled so closely, his weakness was that he trusted people too much, and was constantly being betrayed by them.
In 1013 he and his father had been betrayed by the people when they drove him into exile in Normandy. In 1016 the people had again betrayed his brother King Edmund, forcing him into exile again. In 1017 his mother had married his country’s conqueror and abandoned him with his brother Prince Alfred in a foreign land. In 1036 his brother had been murdered, and only a few years later, in 1045, he had been forced to marry the daughter of his brother’s murderer. He had trusted Archbishop Robert, who was the only man to share his perception of the danger posed by Earl Godwin – but the people forced the expulsion of Robert and the reinstatement of Godwin. He had trusted Earl Harold, but Harold refused to fight against his rebellious brother Tostig. He had trusted the English people when they recalled him from exile in 1043, thereby ending the hated Danish yoke; but the people had often, like the stiff-necked Israelites, longed to return to the spiritual Egypt, as when the Northumbrians demanded a return to the laws of the Danish Canute.
And yet as the English Moses lay on his deathbed there were still a few, those who had been his closest attendants, who wept for him. To these he said, as the anonymous biographer recounts it: “’Do not weep, but intercede with God for my soul, and give me leave to go to Him. For He will not pardon me that I should not die Who would not pardon Himself that He should not die.’ Then he addressed his last words to the queen who was sitting at his feet, in this wise, ‘May God be gracious to this my wife for the zealous solicitude of her service. For she has served me devotedly, and has always stood close to my side like a beloved daughter. And so from the forgiving God may she obtain the reward of eternal happiness.’ And stretching forth his hand to his governor, his brother, Harold, he said, ‘I commend this woman and all the kingdom to your protection. Serve and honour her with faithful obedience as your lady and sister, which she is, and do not despoil her, as long as she lives, of any honour she got from me. Likewise I also commend these men who have left their native land for love of me, and have up till now served me faithfully. Take from them an oath of fealty, if they should so wish, and protect and retain them, or send them with your safe conduct safely across the Channel to their own homes with all that they have acquired in my service. Let the grave for my burial be prepared in the minster in the place which shall be assigned to you. I ask that you do not conceal my death, but announce it promptly in all parts, so that all the faithful can beseech the mercy of Almighty God on me, a sinner.’ Now and then he also comforted the queen, who ceased not from lamenting, to erase her natural grief. ‘Fear not,’ he said, ‘I shall not die now, but by God’s mercy regain my strength.’ Nor did he mislead the attentive, least of all himself, by these words, for he has not died, but has passed from death to life, to live with Christ.
“And so, coming these and like words to his last hour, he took the Viaticum from the table of heavenly life and gave up his spirit to God the Creator on the fourth [more accurately: the fifth] of January… Then could be seen in the dead body the glory of a soul departing to God. For the flesh of his face blushed like a rose, the adjacent beard gleamed like a lily, his hands, laid out straight, whitened, and were a sign that his whole body was given not to death but to auspicious sleep. And so the funeral rites were arranged at the royal cost and royal honour, as was proper, and amid the boundless sorrow of all men. They bore his holy remains from his palace home into the house of God, and offered up prayers and sighs and psalms all that day and the following night. Meanwhile, when the day of the funeral ceremony dawned, they blessed the office of the interment they were to conduct with the singing of masses and the relief of the poor. And so, before the altar of St. Peter the Apostle, the body, washed by his country’s tears, is laid up in the sight of God. They also cause the whole of the thirtieth day following to be observed with the celebration of masses and the chanting of psalms and expended many pounds of gold for the redemption of his soul in the alleviation of different classes of the poor. Having been revered as a saint while still living in the world, as we wrote, at his tomb likewise merciful God reveals by these signs that he lives with Him as a saint in heaven. For at the tomb through him the blind receive their sight, the lame are made to walk, the sick are healed, the sorrowing are refreshed by the comfort of God, and for the faith of those who call upon Him, God, the King of kings, works the tokens of His goodness.”
St. Edward’s body still lies in Westminster Abbey. The papist church celebrates his memory on the day of his repose, January 5, and the day of his translation, October 13.
Holy Father Edward, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; Liber Eliensis; Encomium Emmae Reginae; Florence of Worcester, Chronicle; Anonymous, Vita Aedwardi Regis; Edmer, Historia Novorum in Anglia; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, Vita S. Wulfstani; Sulcard, The History of Westminster; Ailred, Vita Sancti Edwardi, P.L. CXCV, col. 769; Osbert of Clare, Vita Aedwardi Regis; Geoffrey Gaimar, L’Estoire des Engleis; Benedictine Breviary, October 13, supplement; V. Moss, Saints of England’s Golden Age, Etna, Ca. Center for Traditionalist Studies, 1997, pp. 59-60, 93-96; Saints of Anglo-England, Seattle: St. Nectarios Press, volumes I, II and III; Ian Walker, Harold, the Last English King, Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1997; Gabriel Ronay, "Edward Aetheling: Anglo-Saxon England's Last Hope", History Today, January, 1984, vol. 34, pp. 34-51; J. Robertson, Anglo-Saxon Charters, Cambridge University Press, 1956; A.S. Napier, “An Old English Vision of Leofric of Mercia, Philological Transactions, 1908, pp. 180-187; Frank Barlow, The English Church, 1000-1066, London: Longmans, 1979; Canon Busby, Saint Swithun, Winchester, 1971; Michael Swanton, Anglo-Saxon Prose, London: Dent, 1975; M. Ashdown, English and Norse Documents, Cambridge, 1930)