St. Edward the Martyr,
King of the English
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:
Queen Aelfthrith hated Edward because he had been elected King when she had hoped her own son, Aethelred, would take the throne; and she plotted to have him murdered. One day, the young King was hunting near the Royal Palace of Corfe, in Dorset, where Queen Aelfthrith and Prince Aethelred were staying. Being weary and thirsty, King Edward turned away from his hunting party and rode off to drop in on them and take a rest. When he rode up to the palace gate, Aelfthrith herself came out to greet him with a kiss. The two were on friendly terms as far as the King knew and, without dismounting, he asked his step-mother for a drink. Queen Aelfthrith sent for a cup of wine and the exhausted Edward drank eagerly. But as he drank, Aelfthrith gave a sign to one of her servants, who stepped forward, drew his dagger and stabbed the King in the back! The King cried out in pain, but managed to set his spurs to his horse in an attempt to escape to the safety of his comrades. He slipped from his horse though and, with his leg caught in the stirrup, he was dragged along until the combination of the knife-wound and inflicted head injuries killed him.
Queen Aelfthrith sent out her men to follow the King’s bloody trail and retrieve the body. She ordered it buried in Wareham Priory, but not in holy ground or with any Royal pomp. A light from heaven is later said to have shone over King Edward’s humble grave and many miracles were reported there. As a good youth, unjustly and cruelly killed, people looked on him as a saint and called him Edward the Martyr. On 20th June AD 980, St. Dunstan translated the body to Shaftesbury Abbey. 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.
Partly Edited from S. Baring-Gould's "The Lives of the Saints" (1877)..
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