Saint Edward, Martyr

March 18

Today is the feast day of Saint Edward the Martyr.  Ora pro nobis.

Edward was the eldest son of King Edgar the Peacemaker by his first wife, the beautiful Ethelflaeda Eneda (White-Duck). The lady died shortly after the birth of her son and, after her death, Edgar remarried Aelfthrith, daughter of Ealdorman Ordgar of Devonshire. She bore him two sons, Edmund, who died young, and Aethelred. Edward was thirteen years old when his father died in AD 975. An admirable youth, upright in all his dealings and fearing God, he was elected to the throne by the Witan, largely under the influence of St. Dunstan and Ealdorman Aethelwin of East Anglia.

On 18th March AD 978, when Edward was only sixteen, he was assassinated under controversial circumstances. In reality, this surrounded a magnetic power struggle, led by the Mercian anti-monastic party who favoured Edward’s half-brother. However, legend tells a very different story. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle does not record the King’s assassin, only that he was killed at eventide at Corfe Castle in Dorset. Henry of Huntingdon says that King Edward was killed by his own people. Florence of Worcester, that he was killed by his own people by order of his step-mother, Queen Aelfthrith. William of Malmesbury says he was killed by Ealdorman Aelfhere of Mercia; but in recording his death, Malmesbury also attributes the crime to Aelfthrith and tells the now traditionally accepted story.

Whilst hunting in Dorsetshire he happened (March 18, 979) to call at Corfe Castle where she lived. There, whilst drinking on horseback a glass of mead offered him at the castle gate, he was stabbed by an assassin in the bowels. He rode away, but soon fell from his horse, and being dragged by the stirrup was flung into a deep morass, where his body was revealed by a pillar of light. He was buried first at Wareham, whence three years later, his body, having been found entire, was translated to Shaftesbury Abbey by St. Dunstan and Earl Alfere of Mercia, who in Edgar’s lifetime had been one of his chief opponents.

Many miracles are said to have been obtained through his intercession. Elfrida, struck with repentance for her crimes, built the two monasteries of Wherwell and Ambresbury, in the first of which she ended her days in penance. The violence of St. Edward’s end, joined to the fact that the party opposed to him had been that of the irreligious, whilst he himself had ever acted as a defender of the Church, obtained for him the title of Martyr, which is given to him in all the old English calendars on March 18, also in the Roman Martyrology.

Relics excavated amongst the ruins, and believed to be his, were for many years the subject of a legal dispute. However, they now reside in the Eastern Orthodox Church in Brookwood (Surrey).

St. Edward is usually depicted with a youthful countenance, having the insignia of royalty, with a cup in one hand and a dagger in the other. Sometimes he has a sceptre instead of the cup; and at other times a falcon, in allusion to his last hunt.

Image: Miniature d’Édouard le Martyr dans une généalogie royale du XIVe siècle. (3)

Research by REGINA Staff


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