Edward the Martyr

Edward was born in 962 AD, during the Anglo-Saxon period of England.  England was not even forty years old at this time.  He was the oldest of King Edgar the Peaceful’s three children, but he was not the son of Queen Ælfthryth, the third wife of Edgar. The monasteries, which were really important to medieval Christian life had been reformed,  with more discipline about following the rules they professed to believe. Under King Edgar, the church and the government worked well together. 

The royal succession was not the same as it is now.  Sometimes another son, a brother, or an uncle of the recently deceased King would become the next king.  Edward was thirteen when his father died at the age of 32 in 975.  He succeeded his father, who died at age 32 in 975. Edward was known to be King Edgar’s son, but his succession to the throne of England was disputed.

Edgar had been a strong ruler who had forced monastic reforms on an unwilling church and nobility.  He gave the reformed Benedictine monasteries land to support themselves.  This meant he had rewritten leases and loans for some of the lesser nobles.  Weak clergy had been expelled from some of the monasteries.  After his death, those who had been unhappy came to light.  These leaders were divided as to whether Edward or Æthelred should succeed Edgar.  The Queen Dowager supported  the claims of her son Æthelred, helped by Bishop Æthelwold.  Archbishop Dunstan and Archbishop Oswald supported Edward

Eventually, Edward was anointed by Archbishops Dunstan and Oswald in 975.  There is evidence that the settlement involved a degree of compromise. Æthelred appears to have been given lands that normally belonged to the king’s sons.   King Edward and Archbishop worked to bring Edward and  Æthelred and their supporters together. 

After Edward’s succession, there was a famine and an anti-monastic reaction started soon after Edgar’s death. In some places, the secular clergy who had been driven from the monasteries returned, driving the regular clergy out. This seemed to be the opportunity to undo many of Edgar’s grants to monasteries and to force the abbots to rewrite leases and loans to favor the local nobility.
On March 18, 978, King Edward was out hunting with some companions in southern England. He became separated from his party and eventually came to his brother Ethelred’s castle. The Queen Dowager saw the young king approaching and conspired to kill him. She came out to greet him and handed him a chalice of wine. One of her servants then kissed Edward in greeting, and as the King turned, the servant plunged a knife in his back.

After Edward’s death, the former queen and her party quickly hid the body in the nearby home of a blind woman. The next night the woman was cured of her blindness and credited it to the intercession of the recently-deceased King. This was the first of a flood of miracles that swept the land over the next century and were attributed to St. Edward, King the Martyr, as he was now known. The people proclaimed him a martyr because they saw his unflagging defense of the Church as the cause of his death.  When Edward’s body was moved it was found to be incorrupt when it was disinterred, which was taken as a miraculous sign.