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On this day in history in 978, died Saint Edward the Martyr.
Edward was a Saxon nobleman who was elected king of England on account of his piety, and who was assassinated by his stepmother.
Edward was born in 963, the son of Edgar, King of England. On his father’s death in 975, Edward's accession to the throne was disputed by a faction led by his stepmother, Queen Elfrida, who wished her son, Ethelred, to take the throne. However, Edward was supported by Archbishop Dunstan, who described him as ‘a young man of great devotion and excellent conduct’, and he was elected by the Witan, an early form of Parliament, as King Edward, or Eadweard, II.
On Edward's accession to the throne, some prominent noblemen, led by Aelfhere, ealdorman of Mercia, launched a series of violent attacks against the monasteries, jealous of lands which they possessed. Some of the monasteries were destroyed and the monks slaughtered or forced to flee, but Edward took up arms to defend the church. Aelfhere and his men plotted to remove him and replace him with his younger brother Ethelred.
On 18th March 978, Edward was hunting near Wareham in Dorset, and thought to visit his 10 year old brother Ethelred, at nearby Corfe Castle. The king, left his retinue behind, and arrived alone at the castle. While he was still mounted on his horse, his stepmother, Elfrida offered him a glass of mead, and while he was drinking, treacherously stabbed him in the back. The body of the murdered king slipped from the saddle, and was dragged, with one foot in the stirrup, until it fell into a stream at the foot of Corfe Castle.
Elfrida ordered the body to be hidden in a cottage inhabited by a blind woman. During the night, a heavenly light appeared in the cottage, and the woman suddenly received her sight. The first thing she saw was the body of the murdered king. At this ran out into the street, telling all the neighbours of the miracle and the corpse she had found. Elfrida panicked and had the body buried in a marsh. A year later, a pillar of fire was seen over the marsh, lighting up the whole area, alerting the villagers who raised the body. Immediately a spring of healing water rose up nearby. The body was taken to the church of the Most Holy Mother of God in Wareham and buried at the east end.
After a subsequent series of miracles, the body was translated to Shaftesbury Abbey, to be placed within the chancel. In 1001 the tomb was seen to rise from the ground, and Edward’s brother, Ethelred, now king, instructed the clergy to place the body with the relics of other martyrs. Edward was canonized in 1001, and Shaftesbury was renamed Edwardstowe, only reverting to its original name after the Reformation. When Henry VIII, dissolved the monasteries, the remains were hidden to avoid desecration, and only discovered by archaeologists in 1931. They now rest in Russian Orthodox Church, in Brookwood. [Brookwood Cemetery, Cemetery Pales, Brookwood, Woking, Surrey GU24 0BL]
Campbell, James. The Anglo-Saxons. (Penguin History) (Paperback)
Blair, John. The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society. (Paperback)
Stenton, F M. Anglo-Saxon England. (Oxford History of England) (Paperback)
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