13th October 2021
Today the church celebrates the feast day of Edward the Confessor
who is most familiar to history as the king whose death in 1066 triggered the unrest
that ultimately paved the way for the Norman conquest.
But how much do we know about the life and rule of this Anglo-Saxon king?
The last but one of the Anglo-Saxon kings of England, Edward was known for his
religious faith (he is known as 'the Confessor' because of his life was
characterised by piety and religious belief.
Although England was quiet and relatively prosperous during his reign,
his failure to leave an heir led to the Norman invasion of England in 1066.
Born about 1004, Edward was the son of King Æthelred II and Queen Emma.
He should have inherited the throne, but in 1016 Cnut of Denmark
conquered England and drove him out.
Edward and his family escaped to Normandy.
His mother, Emma, was a Norman and daughter of the Duke of Normandy.
Edward spent almost twenty-five years in Normandy and when he became King
he reigned from 1042 to 1066; many of his closest advisors were Normans.
After returning from exile in France Edward was crowned at Winchester in 1042;
his wife Edith had her own coronation as consort.
Much of his reign was peaceful and prosperous;
those who lived through the bloodshed and turmoil of the conquest that followed
looked back fondly to Edward's time. People had more money in their pockets too.
The evidence is in the numbers of individual coin losses which are found by
More have been found from Edward's reign than from comparable periods under
his predecessors. Edward quickly set about defending the coast from the Viking
attacks which had plagued England during his father's reign.
Establishing a new system for raising fleets, he ended England's reliance
on crews of Danish mercenaries. Instead the provisioning of ships was entrusted
to ports on the South East coast; these were granted privileges in return.
Skirmishes with the Scots and Welsh were only occasional
and internal administration was maintained.
The financial and judicial systems were efficient and trade
was good. However, Edward's introduction to court of some
Norman friends prompted resentment, particularly in the
houses of Mercia and Wessex, which both held considerable
power. The English throne was not hereditary and the power
to appoint new kings lay with the witan, a group of
royal advisors. Edward had no right to promise the throne
to anyone; but Edward is said to have promised Duke William of Normandy
the throne but then, on his deathbed, may have signalled that he accepted
Harold Godwinson's claim.
Edward was known for his religious faith and people believed that he could cure
the sick simply by touching them. This form of healing is called the king's touch.
Though Anglo-Saxon England venerated numerous kings, queens and princesses,
Edward is our only canonised monarch.
He alone met the stricter standards which, by the 1160s, were precluding more
doubtful candidates. Canonised by the Pope in 1161, he continued, as he had
started, as a embodiment of the divine mystique of kingship.
He became the favourite saint of Henry III (1216-72), and Richard II (1367 -1400)
who became his devoted admirers.
Edward rests, to this day, in Westminster Abbey, which he first founded (in the
Norman style) on the sight of a small Benedictine monastery close to his royal
palace by the banks of the river Thames on land known as Thorney Island;
surrounded by the tombs of monarchs who hoped his glory might rub off on them.
In the later Middle Ages Edward was a favourite saint of English kings such as
It may be interesting to watch,
or just listen to a song
"Yet Not I But Through Christ In Me"
sung by CityAlight