October 13 – His reign was one of almost unbroken peace

October 13, 2011

St. Edward the Confessor

King of England, born in 1003; died 5 January, 1066.

St. Edward the confessor

God often gives bad princes in his wrath; but in a good king he bestows a great public blessing on a nation. A wise king is the upholding of his people. (1) As the judge of the people is himself, so are his officers: and what manner of man the ruler of the city is, such also are they that dwell therein. An unwise king destroyeth his people; but through the prudence of them that are in authority, the city shall be inhabited. (2) The happiness of the reign of St. Edward the Confessor is itself a panegyric of his virtue.

This prince was son of King Ethelred II who left by Elgiva, his first wife, Edmund Ironside, who was his successor; and, by his second wife, Emma, daughter to Richard I and sister to Richard II the third and fourth Dukes of Normandy, he had Alfred and Edward. In his unhappy and weak reign, the Danes, who from the time of King Athelstan had, for about sixty years, left this island unmolested, committed in all parts of it most horrible ravages. To redeem the country from these vexations, Ethelred engaged to pay them a tax, called Danegelt, of forty thousand pounds a-year, which was raised at the rate of twelve pence upon each hide of land, or as much as could be tilled with one plough in a year. Swein or Sweno, King of the Danes, conquered all England soon after, in 1015; but died the same year, leaving here his son Knute or Canute.

Ethelred, who had fled into Normandy, returned upon his death and recovered his kingdom; but, dying in 1016, left Mercia and some other parts in the hands of the Danes. Edmund Ironside, after several battles, came to an agreement, which was concluded in the isle Alney, in the Severn, near Gloucester, by which he consented to divide the kingdom with Canute, yielding up to him the kingdoms of Mercia, Northumberland, and the East-Angles. Shortly after, he was treacherously assassinated by the contrivance of Edric Strean, a Dane, Count of Mercia, on whom he had bestowed the greatest favours, and by whom he had been before often betrayed.

Combat between Canute the Dane and Edmund Ironside.

Canute took this opportunity to seize the whole kingdom, and ordered the late king’s two infant sons, Edmund and Edward, to be conveyed into Denmark, there to be privately made away with. The officer who conducted them was moved to compassion, and carried them into Sweden, where the king sent them to his cousin Solomon, king of Hungary. When they were grown up, Solomon gave in marriage to Edmund one of his own daughters, and to Edward his sister-in-law Agatha. Emma was retired with her two sons, Alfred and Edward, into Normandy. Canute demanded her of her brother, Duke Richard, in marriage, and his request was agreed to. But the two princes remained in Normandy, where Richard II. was succeeded, 1026, by his son Richard III. He reigned only one year, and by his death his brother Robert became duke of Normandy, who, at his death left no other issue than a bastard, known afterwards by the name of William the Conqueror.

Edith of Wessex, wife of St. Edward the Confessor

Canute reigned in England nineteen years, and was magnificent, liberal, valiant, and religious, though no virtues could excuse his ambition. Dying in 1036, he left Norway to his eldest son, Sweno, England to his son Harold, and Denmark to his son Hardicanute, whom he had by Emma. The two Saxon princes, Alfred and Edward, came over from Normandy to see their mother at Winchester. Godwin, duke or general of West-Sex, who had been the chief instrument in establishing Harold’s interest in that part of England, agreed with the king that the two princes should be invited to court, in order to be secretly made away with. Emma was startled at this message, which was sent to them at Winchester, and was apprehensive of a snare; she therefore contrived to send only Alfred, and, upon some pretences, to keep Edward with her. Godwin met Alfred at Guilford, where the young prince was seized, put first into the castle, and thence conducted to Ely, where his eyes were pulled out: he was shut up in a monastery, and died a few days after.

Edward made haste back into Normandy, and Emma retired to the Count of Flanders, and lived at Bruges. King Harold dying in winter, 1039, her son Hardicanute landed in England with forty Danish ships, and was acknowledged king. Prince Edward came from Normandy, and was received by him with honour. At his request Count Godwin was brought to his trial for the murder of Prince Alfred; but was acquitted upon his making oath that he was not privy to his death. Hardicanute, an unworthy prince, died suddenly at the marriage entertainment of a certain Dane at Lambeth, in the third year of his reign, 1041. Sweno, another son of Canutus, was still living, and king of Norway; but the oppressions which the English had groaned under for many years, inspired them with a vigorous resolution of restoring the crown to their own princes. The calamities of the most furious war, and the want of power to make any resistance, had obliged them to bear the Danish yoke forty-four years. But they were harassed beyond expression under three or rather four Danish kings (including Sweno) with continual cruel exactions; and so great was the tyranny of these masters, that if any Englishman met any Dane upon a bridge, he durst not go over it till the Dane had passed first; and whoever did not respectfully salute a Dane on the road, was severely punished on the spot. On the other side, the virtues of Prince Edward silenced even the enemies of his family, and the voice of the whole kingdom was unanimous in demanding that he should be placed upon the throne of his ancestors. Leofric, earl of Mercia, Siward, earl of Northumberland, and Godwin, earl of Kent and governor of the whole kingdom of West-Sex, were the leading men in this resolution, and were the most powerful persons in the nation. (3)

Statue of St. Edward the Confessor in St Alban’s Cathedral.

St. Edward was nursed in the wholesome school of adversity, the mistress of all virtues to those who make a right use of it. The heart of the young prince seemed almost naturally weaned from the world by an early feeling experience of its falsehood, deceitfulness, and miseries. This also led him to seek comfort in the only true channel; which is virtue and the divine love. Though educated in the palace of the Duke of Normandy, he was always an enemy to vanity, pleasure, and pride; so diligently did he fortify his mind against the contagion of a court in which these vices reigned. The arms by which he triumphed over them were, at the same time, the means by which he grounded his heart in the rooted habits of the contrary virtues. From his infancy it was his delight to pray much, to assist as often as possible at the divine sacrifice of the altar, to visit churches and monasteries, and converse with the most holy and perfect among the servants of God. He was modest in his comportment, and sparing in his words; not out of ignorance or slowness of parts, for all historians assure us, that in wisdom and gravity he much surpassed his years; but out of sincere humility, love of recollection, and just apprehension of the snares and dangers of too great forwardness and volubility of speech. His character from his youth was the aggregate of all Christian and moral virtues; but that which particularly distinguished him was an incomparable mildness and sweetness of temper; the fruit of the most sincere humility, and tender universal charity. By this test of genuine virtue, and mark of the spirit of our divine Redeemer, it manifestly appeared how perfectly the saint was dead to himself. Ambition could find no place in a heart crucified to the world, and to all the false interests of the passions. He had learned in the school of Christ how empty, how false all worldly honours are, how heavy their burden is, and how grievous the charge that attends them. If, where a person has no other aim in them but what is directed to the honour of God, and the utility of others, they may be lawful and holy; it is a certain principle in morality that it is a most fatal and criminal passion for a person to rest in them, or to love them for themselves, or to seek or please himself in them. A man must be grounded in perfect humility, and has need of an extraordinary strength and grace to bear the weight of honour, and not suffer his heart to cleave to it. The height of dignity exposes souls to great dangers, as the highest trees are assailed by the greatest storms. So that a much greater virtue is required to command than to obey; and a Christian ought to learn from the example which Christ has set us, that it is often the safest way to endeavour to fly such posts; and that no one ought to receive a place of honour, without being well assured that it is the will of God that calls him to it, and without being resolved to live upon that pinnacle always in fear and trembling, by having constantly the weight of his obligations, and the fear of the divine judgments before his eyes. Those who open a door to any secret ambition in their hearts, are justly abandoned by God, who says of them: The kings have reigned, but not by me: they have been princes, and I knew it not. (4) St. Edward was called to the crown by the right door, and placed by God on the throne of his ancestors, and had no views but to the advancement of the divine honour, and to the comfort and relief of a distressed people. So far was he from the least spark of ambition, that he declared he would by no means accept the greatest monarchy, if it were to cost the blood of a single man. The very enemies of the royal family rejoiced to see Edward seated on the throne. All were most desirous, after so much tyranny, wars, and bloodshed, to have a saint for king, in whom piety, justice, universal benevolence, and goodness would reign, and direct all public councils. With the incredible joy of the whole kingdom he was anointed and crowned on Easter day in 1042, being about forty years old.

The Coronation Chair, sometimes known as St Edward’s Chair, was named after St. Edward the Confessor, and was kept in his shrine of St Edward’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey. Under the seat it contains the Stone of Scone, sometimes called Jacob’s Pillow Stone, upon which the Kings of Scotland were crowned from time immemorial.

Though he ascended the throne in the most difficult times of distraction and commotions, both foreign and domestic, and by his piety and simplicity might seem fitter for a cloister than such a crown, yet never was any reign more happy. The very Danes that were settled in England, loved, respected, and feared his name; and to him it was owing, that though they had looked upon England as their own by a pretended right of conquest, and though they were so numerous as to be able to hold the whole nation in the most barbarous subjection for forty years past, and filled the kingdoms of Northumberland, Mercia, and the East-Angles with their colonies, yet they made not the least opposition or disturbance, and from that time were never more mentioned in England. It is certain, from the silence of all our historians, that no massacre was made of them by the English in the reign of St. Edward, as Pontanus, the Danish historian pretends. Such an attempt could not but have been as dangerous as it would have been barbarous and unjust, and must have made a much greater noise than that which happened under Ethelred II. when their power and numbers were much less. Nor is it to be doubted but, mingling with the English, they became incorporated with them; except some who might, from time to time, return into their own country. Sweno, king of Norway, son of Canute the Great, equipped a fleet to invade England. Edward put his kingdom in a good posture to repulse him, and sent Gulinda, a niece of Canute’s, into Denmark, lest, by staying in England, she might favour the invasion. In the mean time another Sweno, king of Denmark, made an irruption into Norway, which obliged the Norwegian to lay aside his expedition against England; and he was soon after dethroned by Magnus, the son of Olaus the Martyr, whom Canute the Great had stripped of Norway. In 1046, certain Danish pirates, in twenty-five vessels, landed first at Sandwich, then on the coasts of Essex; but the vigilance of Godwin, Leofric, and Siward obliged them to leave this island in peace; nor did they ever return again. This happened a little above two hundred years after their first invasion, in the reign of Egbert, about the year 830. (5)

A statue of St Edward the Confessor outside a Catholic Church in Surrey.

The only war the saint ever undertook was to restore Malcolm, king of Scotland, to which a glorious victory immediately put an end; and we have seen that the only attempt which was ever formed against him by the Danes failed of itself. At home Earl Godwin, and some other ambitious spirits, complained he kept several Normans, whom he had brought over with him, about his person. But the holy king with great prudence brought them to reason, or obliged them to leave his dominions for a time, without bloodshed; so that the little clouds which began to gather in his time, were immediately scattered without embroiling the state. A sensible proof how formidable the affection of a whole people renders a prince, and how great a happiness it is to a nation when a king who is truly the father of his subjects, reigns in their hearts. The example of St. Edward’s virtues had a powerful influence over many that were about his person in teaching them to curb their passions. It is frequently the ambition of sovereigns which awakens that of their subjects; and a love of riches sharpens a violent love of vanity and luxury, and produces pride, which passions break forth in various vices, which weaken, undermine, and destroy a state. No prince ever gave stronger or more constant proofs than St. Edward of a heart entirely free from that canker. He seemed to have no other desire than to see his people happy, and to ease their burdens; and no prince seems ever to have surpassed him in his compassion for the necessities of others. Having no inordinate passions to feed, he knew no other use of money than to answer the obligations of justice, to recompense the services of those that deserved well of the state, and to extend his liberality to monasteries and churches, and, above all, to the poor. He delighted much in religious foundations, by which the divine service and praises might be perpetuated on earth to the end of time; but he would never think of plundering his people to raise these public structures, or to satisfy his profuse alms. His own royal patrimony sufficed for all. At that time kings had their estates; taxes were not raised except in time of war or on other extraordinary emergencies. (6) St. Edward never found himself under any necessity of having recourse to such burdensome methods. He remitted the Danegelt, which in his father’s time had been paid to the Danish fleet, and had been ever after paid into the royal exchequer. On a certain occasion the lords of the kingdom understanding that the king’s exchequer had been exhausted by his excessive alms, raised upon their vassals a large sum, unknown to him, and one Christmas begged his majesty to accept that free present of his grateful subjects to clothe his soldiers, and defray other public expenses. St. Edward, surprised to see such a heap of money gathered into his exchequer, returned his thanks to his affectionate subjects, but expressed a great abhorrence of what he called a pillaging of the poor, and commanded that it should be returned every farthing to those that had given it. His great alms and actions of pious liberality showed what the sole retrenching of luxury and superfluity may do. His whole deportment showed how much he was master of himself. He was never morose, never appeared transported with anger, puffed up with vanity, or fond of pleasure. His conversation was agreeable, and accompanied with a certain majesty; and he delighted much to speak of God and spiritual things.

St. Edward had conceived from his youth the greatest esteem and love for the precious treasure of purity, and preserved this virtue both in mind and body without stain. St. Aëlred testifies, that, in his youth, through the warmth of his constitution, the subtle artifices of the devil, and the liberties of a court in which he lived a stranger, he sustained violent assaults; but resisted this enemy so manfully, that in all his battles he was gloriously triumphant. Humility, a life of prayer and mortification, a diligent flight of all dangerous occasions, and the practice of all manner of good works were the weapons by which he diligently armed himself against these temptations. Bearing always in mind that, A man’s enemies are those of his own household, he chastised his body by an abstemious life in the midst of dainties; for to pamper it on such occasions is as if, when a house is on fire, a man should throw dry wood on the flames. He watched all the avenues of his soul, keeping his eyes and his other senses under the strictest restraint, and an habitual government, that they should never steal any unguarded glances or other dangerous liberties; and he shunned all superfluous converse with persons of the other sex, from which at least the secret corners of the heart contract something which impairs that perfection of purity, by which the affections are entirely shut up against all creatures, and rendered fit to invite the embraces of the heavenly spouse. His triumph seemed, by rooted victorious habits both of purity and of humility, and those other virtues by which it is preserved, to be become easy and secure, when, being placed on the throne, he was entreated both by his nobility and people to take a royal consort. Earl Godwin, whose immoderate power and wealth seemed to raise him above the level of his fellow-subjects, moved every engine to make the choice fall upon his daughter Edgitha, a lady totally unlike her father, being most remarkably virtuous and abstemious; for beauty, understanding, and all accomplishments, she was the miracle of her sex. Edward seeing that reading, studying, and devotion were her whole delight, hoped she would be easily engaged to become his wife upon condition always to live in holy virginity, in imitation of the mother of God and St. Joseph; it not being in his power otherwise to marry, he having long ago consecrated himself to God by a vow of perpetual chastity, as St. Aëlred assures us.

The good king earnestly recommended the matter to God, joining much fasting and almsdeeds to devout prayer, before he disclosed his purpose to the virgin. She readily assented to his religious desire, so that, being joined together in holy wedlock, they always lived as brother and sister, and their example was afterwards imitated by St. Henry and St. Elzear. To ascribe this resolution of St. Edward to an aversion to earl Godwin, is a slander repugnant to the original writers of St. Edward’s history, and to the character of his virtue, with which so strange a resentment, and so unjust a treatment of a virtuous lady whom he had made his queen, would have been very inconsistent. Godwin was the richest and greatest subject in the realm; Canute had made him general of his army, and earl of Kent, and had given him in marriage, not his sister, as Tyrrel and some others mistake, but his sister-in-law, or the sister of count Ulpho, his brother-in-law, as Pontanus calls her. He was afterwards high-treasurer, and duke of West-Sex, that is, general of the army in all the provinces that lay south of Mercia, then called West-Sex. That part of his estate in Kent which was overflowed by the sea, retains from him the name of Godwin sands. An unbounded ambition made him often trample on the most sacred laws, divine and human. Swein, his youngest son, being convicted of having offered violence to a nun, was banished by St. Edward into Denmark, but pardoned some years after. Godwin, for repeated disobedience and treasons, was himself outlawed, unless he appeared according to a summons sent him before the king at Gloucester, who had assembled there an army under the earls Leofric and Siward. Godwin refused to stand his trial, and returning from Flanders, whither he had first fled, marched with an armed force towards the king. But Edward, whose army was much superior in strength, through the mediation of certain friends, pardoned him in 1053, and restored him to his estates and dignity. During the rebellion of Godwin it was judged necessary that the queen his daughter should be confined in the nunnery of Warewell, lest her dignity might be made use of to encourage or give countenance to the vassals and friends of the earl. (7) Notwithstanding this precaution of state prudence, from the regard which St. Edward showed to his queen even after the death of earl Godwin, and when the king lay at the point of death, it is evident that they had for each other the most affectionate and sincere esteem, and tender chaste love.

The left panel of the Wilton Diptych, where St. Edward (centre), with St. Edmund the Martyr (left) and St. John the Baptist, are depicted presenting Richard II to the Heavenly Host.

Many actions of kings, in public trials and certain affairs of state, are rather the actions of their counsel than their own. This is sometimes necessary that no room be left to suspect that scandalous public crimes are by an unjust connivance passed over with impunity, or that any essential part of the duties and protection which a prince owes his people, is neglected. This accounts, in some measure, for the good king’s behaviour towards his mother, in the famous trial which she underwent. The fact is related by Brompton, (8) Knyghton, (9) Harpsfield, and others, though no mention is made of it by Ingulphus or any others who lived nearest the time. Certain wicked men who desired to engross alone the confidence of the king, and the entire administration of the government, set their wits to work to invent some wicked plot for ruining the queen-mother in the opinion of the king. Ambition puts on every shape to obtain its ends, and often suffers more for the devil than would gain a high crown in heaven. These courtiers could play the hypocrites, and had no hopes of surprising the religious king but under some pretence of piety.

Queen Emma often saw Alwin, the pious bishop of Winchester, by whose advice she governed her conscience. She was therefore accused of having had criminal conversation with him. Her chastity must have been very perfect and very wary, that calumny itself could find no other but so holy a man to fasten upon. Robert, archbishop of Canterbury, formerly abbot of Jumiege, whom Edward had brought over with him from Normandy, was drawn into a persuasion of her guilt. Her enemies loaded her, moreover, with invectives and accusations for having consented, not only to marry Canute, the enemy of her former husband’s family, but also to have favoured Hardicanute, to the prejudice of the right of her children by her first husband, and of the whole Saxon line, to whose exclusion from all share in the kingdom she consented in the articles of this second marriage, agreeing that the crown of all England should be settled on her issue by Canute; though Canute himself altered this settlement by will, so far as to leave only Denmark to Hardicanute, and England to Harold, whom he had by a former wife or concubine: for he looked upon his possession of England as founded in the right of conquest. The law of nations allows this to give a title when it is in itself just, or the fruit of a just and necessary war, which a prince undertakes after all other ways of doing justice to his people and crown had been tried and failed, and which he always carried on in the dispositions of peace the moment he could obtain the just rights he was obliged to pursue by that violent method. But Canute’s possession, especially of West-Sex, (under which name was then comprised also Sussex and whatever lying on the south side of the Thames was, by Canute’s partition, left to the English Saxons) was an unjust usurpation; and, for Emma voluntarily to concur to the exclusion of the rightful heirs, was an inexcusable and unnatural step, for which only her repentance could atone. To this charge, however, Edward seemed altogether insensible; and perhaps never was any man more remarkably so, even toward strangers, with regard to private or personal injuries.

The accusation of sacrilege and incontinency disturbed him, and filled him with horror and grief beyond measure, being, on the one side, unwilling to believe so atrocious a crime, and, on the other, afraid of conniving at such a scandal. He therefore suffered the bishops to take cognizance of the cause in an assembly which they held at Winchester; and, in the mean time, the bishop was confined in that city, and Emma in the royal nunnery of Warewell in Hampshire. In the synod several bishops wished, to the king’s great satisfaction, that the cause might be dropped: but the archbishop of Canterbury insisted so warmly on the enormity of the scandal, and the necessity and obligation of penance and a public reparation, that the synod was worked up to the severest resolutions.

The injured queen could only have recourse to God, like another Susanna, against the malice of her perjured accusers, and, in proof of her innocence, trusting in him who is the protector of the oppressed, offered herself to the trial of Ordeal.(10) Accordingly, after the night had been spent in imploring the divine protection through the intercession of St. Swithin, Queen Emma walked blindfold and barefoot over nine red-hot ploughshares, laid in St. Swithin’s church in Winchester, without receiving the least hurt, so that when she was gone over them she asked how far she was from her purgation? Upon which her eyes were uncovered, and looking behind her upon the ploughshares which she had passed over, she burst into praises of God for her wonderful deliverance.(11) The king, who, anxious for the event, had not ceased all this while earnestly to recommend it to God, seeing this testimony of heaven in favour of the innocence of his dear mother, full of gratitude to her deliverer, cast himself at her feet, begged pardon for his fault of credulity, and in satisfaction received the discipline from two bishops who were present.

In acknowledgment for this miraculous favour he bestowed on the church of St. Swithin at Winchester, the isle of Portland and three manors: queen Emma gave to it nine manors, and bishop Alwyn nine others according to the number of ploughshares, which were kept as a memorial in that monastery. The archbishop Robert returned to Normandy, and retired to his monastery of Jumiege, after having, first, in penance, performed a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s tomb at Rome. The king commanded all his mother’s goods and estates which had been seized, to be restored to her. She afterwards died at Winchester in 1052.

The following year was remarkable for the death of Earl Godwin, who fell down dead whilst he was at supper with the king at Winchester,(12) or, according to Brompton,(13) at Windsor, in 1053.  Harold succeeded his father Godwin in the earldom of Kent, and in his other dignities.(14) Griffith, prince of South Wales, having made inroads into Herefordshire, the king ordered Harold to curb him, which he executed. This Griffith some years after was taken prisoner, and put to death by Griffith-ap-Shewelyn, King or Prince of North Wales, who sent his head to Harold, and presents to King Edward, who was so generous as to bestow the kingdom of the former which his troops had conquered, on the late prince’s two brothers, Blechgent and Rithwalag, who swore allegiance to Edward.(15)

In 1058 the king suffered a great loss by the death of the pious and most valiant Earl Siward. So great was this soldier’s passion for arms that in his agony he regretted as a misfortune his dying on his bed like a cow, and calling for his armour, expired as soon as he had it on. The year before, by the king’s orders, he had led an army into Scotland, with which he discomfited the usurper Macbeth, and restored Malcolm III to the throne. In this war, upon receiving news that his son was killed in the battle against Macbeth, he only asked whether he was wounded before or behind, and being assured that he fell fighting valiantly, and was wounded before, he comforted himself, saying, he wished not a more glorious death for his son or himself.(16) It is rare for so strong an inclination to arms to be under the influence and direction of virtue; which, however, was the character of this brave soldier. He was buried in the monastery of Saint Mary at York.(17)

The earldom of Northumberland was given first to Tosti, a son of the late Earl Godwin; and he being soon after banished for his oppressions and crimes, to Morkard, a grandson of Leofric, Earl of Mercia or Chester. The death of Siward was followed by that of Leofric, who was the most prudent and religious counsellor of St. Edward, being for his wisdom, the Nestor of his age, and by his piety a perfect model of Christian perfection. His immense charities to the poor, the great number of churches which he repaired or built, and the great monastery which he founded at Coventry, were public monuments of his zeal and beneficence, which virtues were proved genuine by his sincere humility and devotion. The exemptions and privileges which his pious and charitable lady Godiva obtained of him for the city of Coventry, have commended their memory to the latest posterity in those parts. 18 In the pious and wise counsels of this great man, St. Edward, who most frequently resided at Islip, found his greatest comfort and support. His son Alfgar was made Duke of Mercia, but fell short of his father’s reputation.

A statue of Our Lady, above the side entrance at Westminster Abbey.

The laws framed by St. Edward were the fruit of his wisdom, and that of his counsellors. Under the heptarchy King Ethelbert in 602, and King Wihtred in 696, published laws, or dooms for the kingdom of Kent; Ina in 693 for West-Sex, and Offa, about the year 790, for the Mercians.(19) After the union of the heptarchy, from these former laws Alfred formed a new short code in 877: Athelstan, Edmund, Edgar, and Ethelred did the like. Canute added several new laws. Guthrun, the Danish king, who was baptized, and made an alliance with King Alfred, published with him laws for the Danes who then ruled the East-Angles and Northumbrians.

Edward the Confessor reduced all these laws into one body, with amendments and additions; which code from this time became common to all England, under the name of Edward the Confessor’s Laws, by which title they are distinguished from the posterior laws of the Norman kings; they are still in force as part of the common law of England, unless in things altered by later statutes:(20) they consisted in short positive precepts, in which judges kept close to the words of the law, being not reasoned away either by the judges or advocates, says Mr. Gurdon. In them punishments were very mild; scarcely any crimes were capital, and amercements and fines were certain, determined by the laws, not inflicted at the will and pleasure of the judges. The public peace and tranquillity were maintained, and every one’s private property secured; not by the rigour of the laws, but by the severity and diligence with which they were executed, and justice administered. Whence Mr. Gurdon says:(21) “This king’s religious and just administration was as much or more valued by the people than the text of the laws.” It is the remark of the same ingenious author in another place:(22) “Edward the Confessor, that great and good legislator, reigned in the hearts of his people. The love, harmony, and good agreement between him and the great council of the nation,(23) produced such a happiness as to be the measure of the people’s desires in all succeeding reigns; the law and government of King Edward being petitioned for, and strenuously contended for, by the English and Norman barons.”

An early 19th century view across the Thames by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. St Paul’s Cathedral dominated the London skyline until the mid 20th century.

The saint’s historians relate, as an instance of his extreme lenity and goodness, that as he seemed one day asleep in his chamber, he saw a servant boy come twice and steal a considerable quantity of money out of a great sum which Hugoline, the keeper of his privy purse, had left exposed: and that when the boy came a third time, he only bade him take care, for Hugoline was coming, who, if he caught him, would have him severely whipped, and he would lose his booty. When Hugoline came in, and burst into a rage for the loss, the king bade him be easy, for the person who had taken the money wanted it more than they did. Some moderns censure this action. But we must observe that the king, doubtless, took all care that the thief should be made sensible of his sin, and did not imagine he would return to the theft; also that he regarded it merely as a personal injury which he was always ready to forgive; and that this single private instance of such a pardon was not imprudent, or would have any influence on the administration of public justice. Saints are always inclined to pardon personal injuries; and in these cases easily persuade themselves that levity may be used without offending against prudence. No prince seems to have understood better than St. Edward what he owed to the protection of his people, to the laws, and to public justice; in administering which, he walked in the steps of the great King Alfred, and proposed to himself as a model his severity in inspecting into the conduct of his judges. William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, came into England, to pay a visit to the king his cousin in 1052, the year before Godwin’s death.(24)

St. Edward during his exile in Normandy had made a vow to perform a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s tomb at Rome, if God should be pleased ever to put an end to the misfortunes of his family. When he was settled on the throne he began to prepare suitable gifts and offerings to make to the altar of the apostle, and to put things in order for his journey. For this purpose he held a great council, in which he declared his vow, and the obligation he lay under of returning thanks in the best manner he was able to the divine clemency, propounded the best methods to be taken for securing commerce and the public peace, and affectionately commended all his dear subjects to the divine mercy and protection. The whole assembly of the governors and chief men of the provinces made strong expostulations against his design. They commended his devotion, but with tears represented to him that the kingdom would be left exposed to domestic divisions and to foreign enemies; and had already before their eyes slaughters, civil wars, armies of fierce Danes, and every other calamity. The king was moved by their entreaties and reasons, and consented that the matter should be referred to Leo IX who then sat in St. Peter’s chair. Aëlred, Archbishop of York, and Herman, Bishop of Winchester, with two abbots, were dispatched to Rome on this errand. The pope, considering the impossibility of the king’s leaving his dominions exposed to such grievous dangers and calamities, dispensed with his vow upon condition that, by way of commutation, he should give to the poor the sum he would have expended in his journey, and should moreover build or repair and endow a monastery in honor of St. Peter. King Edward having received this brief, after due deliberation, pitched upon a spot where to erect this royal abbey.

Westminster Abbey, London – north facade, Gothic style

Sebert, king of the East-Angles, nephew to St. Ethelbert, upon his conversion, founded the cathedral of St. Paul’s in London, and also, according to Sulcard, without the walls on the west of that city, a monastery in honor of St. Peter, called Thorney, where a temple of Apollo is said to have stood in the time of the Romans, and to have been thrown down by an earthquake. But, from the silence of Bede, Mr. Widmore thinks this little monastery was built something later, and by some private person. It is first mentioned in a charter of King Offa, in 785. This monastery was called Thorney, and being destroyed by the Danes, was restored by King Edgar.  St. Edward, invited by the situation and other circumstances, repaired and endowed the same in a most magnificent manner out of his own patrimony, and obtained of Pope Nicholas II the most ample exemptions and privileges for it dated in 1059.(25) From its situation it was called Westminster, and is famous for the coronation of our kings, and the burial of great persons, and was, at the dissolution, the richest abbey in England.

William of Malmesbury,(26) St. Aëlred, Brompton, and others relate, that St. Edward, whilst he resided in a palace near this church, cured an Irishman named Gillemichel, who was entirely a cripple, and was covered with running sores. The king carried him on his back, and set him down sound, though Sulcard takes no notice of this miracle. The same historians mention, that a certain woman had a swelling in her neck, under her chin, full of corruption and exhaling a noisome smell. Being admonished in a dream, she addressed herself to the king for his blessing. St. Edward washed the ulcerous sore and blessed it with the sign of the cross; after which the sore burst, and cleansed itself, and the patient was healed. Malmesbury adds, that it was the constant report of such as well knew the life of Edward, that he had healed many of the same disease whilst he lived in Normandy. Hence was derived the custom of our kings touching for the cure of that species of scrophulous tumour called the king’s-evil. Peter of Blois, in 1180, wrote in a letter from the court of Henry II that the king had touched persons in this manner.(27) In the records of the Tower it appears, that in 1272, Edward I gave gold medals to those whom he had touched for this distemper, as Mr. Becket acknowledges. Queen Elizabeth laid aside the sign of the cross in the ceremony, in which she was imitated by the three succeeding kings, though they all continued the practice; and Charles I in 1650, by a pompous proclamation, invited all who stood in need of it, to repair to him, that they might be made partakers of the heavenly gift.(28)

Westminster Abbey nave with its fan-vaulted ceiling

King Edward resided sometimes at Winchester, sometimes at Windsor or at London; but most ordinarily at Islip, in Oxfordshire, where he was born.(29) Formerly noblemen lived on their estates amidst their tenants and vassals, and only repaired to court on certain great festivals, or when called by the king upon extraordinary occasions. Christmas being one of the chief feasts on which the nobility waited on the king, St. Edward, when the buildings were finished, chose that solemnity for the dedication of the new church at Westminster. The ceremony was performed with great devotion and the utmost pomp, the bishop and nobility of the whole kingdom assisting thereat, as Sulcard testifies. The king signed the charter of the foundation, and of the immunities and privileges granted to this church, to which were annexed the most dreadful spiritual comminations against those who should ever presume to infringe the same.(30)

Next to the prince of the apostles, this holy king had a singular devotion to St. John Evangelist, the great model of holy purity and divine charity; and it is related in his life, that he was forewarned by that glorious Evangelist of his approaching dissolution, in recompense of his religious devotion, in never refusing any just and reasonable request that was made him for the sake, or in the name of that saint. The pious king, by his munificent foundation hoped to erect a standing monument of his zeal for the divine honour, and of his devotion to the holy apostle St. Peter, and to establish a seminary of terrestrial angels, by whom a perpetual holocaust of divine praise and love might be paid to God with chaste affections disengaged from the world, and all earthly things, for all succeeding ages, when he should be no longer on earth to praise God here himself: also by the fervour of many pious servants of God he desired to supply the defects and imperfection of his own devotion in the divine love and service. At the same time he renewed with the utmost fervour the entire oblation, which he had never failed all his life continually to make of his heart, and of all that he had or was to the divine glory, begging he might be made, through the divine mercy, an eternal sacrifice of love. In these dispositions, he sung with holy Simeon: Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. Being taken ill before the ceremony of the dedication was over, he hastened the same and continued to assist at it to the end. He then betook himself to his bed, and by the most perfect exercises of devotion and the sacraments of the church, prepared himself for his passage to eternity.

In his last moments, seeing his nobles all bathed in tears round his bed, and his affectionate and virtuous queen sobbing more vehemently and weeping more bitterly than the rest, he said to her with great tenderness: “Weep not, my dear daughter; I shall not die, but shall live. Departing from the land of the dying, I hope to see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.”(31) Commending her to her brother Harold, and certain other lords, he declared he left her an untouched virgin.(32)

The burial of King Edward the Confessor.

He calmly expired on the 5th of January, in 1066, having reigned twenty-three years, six months, and twenty-seven days, in the sixty-fourth year of his age. Never was king more sincerely or more justly regretted by his subjects; and to see the happiness of the good Confessor’s reign revived, was the constant and highest object of all the temporal wishes of their posterity for many succeeding ages.

The tomb of St. Edward the Confessor, which contains his incorrupt body. He is the only Saint buried in Westminster Abbey and one of the few that were not destroyed by Henry VIII.

William the Conqueror, who ascended the throne in October the same year St. Edward died, caused his coffin to be enclosed in a rich case of gold and silver. His queen Edgitha survived the saint many years. Ingulf, a learned Norman monk, whom the Conqueror made abbot of Croyland, and who was intimately acquainted with her, very much extols her learning, humility, invincible meekness, and extensive goodness towards all ranks.(33) All our historians give her the same great and amiable character. Whence Speed calls her a lady of incomparable piety. When she lay on her death-bed, she assured upon oath many that were present, that she had lived with the king Edward only as sister, and died a maid.(34) By the Conqueror’s order she was buried by St. Edward, and her coffin was covered with plates of silver and gold.(35 )

The St Edward’s Sapphire, which was the gem on St. Edward’s ring, survived through Oliver Cromwell’s reign and disassembly of the crown jewels and was recut into its present form for Charles II after the restoration. Queen Victoria had the gem set into the finial cross of the Imperial State Crown. St. Edward, who had great devotion to St. John the Evangelist, was very generous towards his subjects. One day on his way to Westminster Abbey he was accosted by a beggar. The King’s immediate reaction was to search his pockets for some money to hand the beggar. Upon finding his pockets empty the king, without hesitation, slipped the sapphire ring off his finger and presented it to the beggar. The beggar thanked the generous monarch and departed. Many years later, two pilgrims from the Holy Land returned the ring to the king saying they had met St John the Evangelist who told them he had received the ring from the king, many years earlier in the guise of a beggar.

In 1102, the body of St. Edward was found entire, the limbs flexible, and the clothes fresh. Soon after a certain Norman, whose name was Ralph, and who was an entire cripple, recovered the use of his limbs by praying at his tomb, and six blind men were restored in like manner to their sight; which miracles, with some others, being duly proved, the saint was canonized by Alexander III in 1161,(36) and his festival began to be kept on the 5th of January. Two years after, a solemn translation of his body (which was found incorrupt, and in the same condition as formerly) was performed by St. Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury, in presence of King Henry II and many persons of distinction on the 13th of October; on which day his principal festival is now kept. The national council of Oxford, 1222, commanded his feast to be kept in England a holyday.

Out of respect to the memory of St. Edward, the kings of England to this day, at their coronation, receive his crown, and put on his dalmatic and maniple, as a part of the royal robes, though even the crown has been since changed, and now only bears St. Edward’s name, being made in imitation of his.(37)

A replica of the original St. Edward’s Crown. The original crown was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s order during the English Civil War, the crown was re-created in 1661 for the coronation of King Charles II. After the Coronation, St. Edward’s Crown is replaced with the Imperial State Crown, which is the crown the Monarch wears when leaving the Abbey.

St. Edward was a saint in the midst of a court, and in a degenerate age. Such an example must convince us, that for any to impute their want of a Christian spirit and virtue to the circumstances of their state or situation, is a false and foolish pretence: a proof of which is, that if these were changed, they would still remain the same persons. The fault lies altogether in their own sloth and passions. One who is truly in earnest, makes dangers and difficulties a motive of greater vigilance, application, and fervour, and even converts them into the means of his greater sanctification. Temperance and mortification may be practised, the spirit of true devotion acquired, and all virtues exercised by the divine grace, even in an heroic degree, where a desire and resolution does not fall short. From obstacles and contradictions themselves the greatest advantages may be reaped: by them patience, meekness, humility, and charity are perfected, and the soul is continually awaked, and quickened, into a lively sense of her duty to God.

Ancient Coronation Chair and Regalia of England. The bottom left crown is St. Edward’s Crown. Next to St. Edward’s Chair is St. Edward’s Star. It is carried in procession before the Sovereign before the Coronation.


Note 1. Wisd. vi. 26.

Note 2. Ecclus. x. 2, 3.

Note 3. Edward, the son of Edmund Ironside, nephew to St. Edward the Confessor, was the next heir of the Saxon line; whence some modern English condemn the accession of the Confessor, who certainly could derive no right from the unjust Danish conquest, as Bedford, or whoever was the author of the book entitled Hereditary Rights, &c., pretends. But it is evident from Mr. Earberry (Occasional Historian, n. 4,) that during the reign of the English Saxons, when the next heir was esteemed by the states unfit in dangerous or difficult times, the king’s thanes advanced another son or brother of the deceased king, so as never to take one that was not of his family. Often, if the heir was a minor, an uncle was made king; and, upon the uncle’s death, though he left issue, the crown reverted to the former heir, or his children, as the very inspection of a table of their succession shows. (See Mr. Squire’s Diss. on the English Saxon Government, an. 1753.) Cerdic, founder of the kingdom of the West-Saxons, in 495, from whom the Confessor descended, was the tenth from Woden, according to the Saxon Chronicle, published by Bishop Gibson, from an original copy which formerly belonged to the abbey of Peterborough, was given by Archbishop Laud to the Bodleian library at Oxford, and is more correct than the copies in the Cotton library, and at Cambridge, made use of by Wheloc. This most valuable chronicle derives also the pedigrees of Hengist and his successors in Kent, and of the kings of Mercia and Northumberland, from Woden, whom Bede calls the father of the royal Saxon lineage in England, or of the chief kings in the heptarchy; he must have preceded the reign of Dioclesian. Some take him to have been the great god of this name honoured by the Saxons; others a mighty king who bore the name of that false god. That the regal succession in the heptarchy was hereditary, and when interrupted, again restored, is manifest from the above chronicle. The Norman carried so high his claim of conquest, as to set himself above all established laws and rights, and to exclude his son Robert from the crown; but the succession was deemed hereditary, after Stephen at least. The unanimous sense and approbation of the whole nation, and of all foreign states, in the succession of St. Edward, demonstrates the legality of the proceedings by which he was called to the crown; which no one, either at home or abroad, ever thought of calling in question; so clear was the law or custom in that case. The posture of affairs then required that the throne should be immediately filled before a Dane should step into it. Edward Atheling was absent at a great distance, and unequal to the difficulties of the state; nor could matters be brought to bear that his arrival could be waited for. St. Edward afterwards sent for him with his whole family, in 1054, and treated him as his heir; and after that prince’s death, behaved towards his son Edgar in the same manner, who was also styled by him Atheling or Adeling. The Greek title Clyto, or Illustrious, given to the prince royal by our ancestors, was by them changed into the Saxon word Atheling, from Adel, Noble, the termination ing signified a person’s descent, as Malmesbury takes notice. (l. 1, de Reg. c. 3.) Thus Edgaring was the son of Edgar; and in France, Meroving and Carloving, son of Meroveus and Charles.
The spelling of our saint’s name was altered upon his accession to the throne; till that time it is constantly spelled in the Saxon Chronicle Eadward, even two years before; but in 1042, Edward, which is observable also in his coins; though Eadmund and Eadward are found in later MSS. This is one of the arguments by which Bishop Gibson (pref.) shows this chronicle to have been one of the public registers which were written by persons deputed to record all transactions of the times, and preserved in the royal monasteries, as the Scoti-chronicon informs us. The Saxon Chronicle ends in 1154. On it see Nicolson’s English Historical Library, p. 114.

Note 4. Ose. viii. 4.

Note 5. For this deliverance from the Danes the festival of Hoctide or Houghtide, is thought to have formerly been kept in England as a day of rejoicing on the 8th of June, or on the Wednesday on which Hardicanute died. It was celebrated with dancing and drawing cords across the highway, to stop people till they paid some money. See John Rouse, De Regibus Angliæ ed. Hearne.

Note 6. Impositions of taxes were made regular in the reigns of Edward III in England, and Philip of Valois in France. See in the ingenious History of Taxes the gradual progress that has been made in them. The great estates of the crown have been, for the greatest part, alienated.

Note 7. From this circumstance some moderns falsely pretend that the king had an aversion to his queen. Whereas the historians who wrote nearest that time, assure us that he always treated her as queen, and with the highest regard and tenderness, no way imputing to her the crimes of her father. This short removal of her person from court was an action of state prudence, the circumstances of which cannot be known at this distance of time; nor can we judge better of it than from the known characters of those who were the authors of it. No sooner was her father pardoned but she was recalled to court, and all respect shown her, as formerly. Had there been any coldness between her and the king he would have certainly treated her otherwise. He pardoned the father perhaps as much on her account as out of motives of clemency. Leofric and Siward were an overmatch for Godwin in power, and the weakness of his efforts in this rebellion shows his attempt to have been no less rash than wicked, in which his own vassals would probably have forsaken him. Leofric and Siward were both persons eminent for virtue and prudence, the former, one of the wisest, most munificent, and religious statesmen, the latter, one of the bravest and most experienced soldiers this island ever produced. When Swein or Sueno, Godwin’s son, had offered violence to a nun in 1046, the father’s power was not sufficient to protect him; though, after he had been long an exile in Denmark, the father being supported by the joint supplications of Leofric and others that were at the head of affairs, obtained his pardon. But, for a murder of Count Beorn, his kinsman, he was afterwards obliged to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and from Milan thither barefoot. He died in Lycia on his return, in 1052.

Note 8. Chron. inter 10 Scriptor.

Note 9. De Eventibus Angliæ, ib. t. 2, p. 2329.

Note 10. Ordeal is derived from the Saxon Or, Great, and Deal, Judgment. (See John Stiernhook, l, 1, de Jure Sueonum Vetusto, c. 8; Hicks, Dissertatio Epistol. p. 149; also Spelman and Du Cange’s Glossaries, both in the new edit.) This trial was instituted to come at the truth of facts not sufficiently proved. First, the person accused purged himself by oath, if the judge and accuser admitted him to oath, and thought this satisfactory; sometimes this oath was confirmed by twelve others called Compurgators, who swore they believed it true. In trials where the oath was not admitted, the great purgation was ordered: this was of three sorts: the first, by red-hot iron (which the person accused held in his hand or walked over barefoot); the second by boiling water, into which a person dipped his hand as far as the wrist or elbow to take out a stone; the third, by cold water, or swimming persons, which practice was chiefly used in pretending to discover wizards and witches; and whereas it was originally employed only by judges, it became in the reigns of James I and the two Charles’s, in frequent use among the common people. (See the notes on Hudibras, and Hutcheson against Witchcraft.) By the MS. history of miracles performed at the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury, written in the reign of Henry II it appears that the king’s foresters and other officers and country judges, at that time frequently made use of this trial of water in examining criminals. On the prayers, fasts, etc. that preceded and accompanied the administration of Ordeal trials, see various forms transcribed from Textus Roffens, in the end of the Fasciculus Rerum, published by Mr. Brown. Such trials are allowed by the laws of King Edgar, c. 24, 62, and his successors to the end of the Conqueror’s reign; though Agobard, the learned archbishop of Lyons, who died in 840, and is honoured at Lyons among the saints on the 6th of June, wrote a book Against the Judgments of God, wherein he proves such trials to be tempting God, and contrary to his law, and to the precepts of charity. See his works published by Baluze. (t. 1, p. 301.) These trials were condemned by the council of Worms in 829. See on them Baluze, (Capitul. Regum Franc. t. 2, pp. 639, 654; Goldast. Constit. Imper. t. 2, p. 301,) and chiefly Dom Bernard Pez. (Anecdotorum Thesaurus Novus, Augustæ Vindelic, an. 1721, t. 2, part 2, pp. 635, 648.) Alexander II formerly the Conqueror’s own ghostly father, absolutely forbade them by a decree extant. (Causa 2, quæst. 5, c. 7.) A council at Mentz, in 847, having enjoined the ordeal of plough-shares to suspected servants, Pope Stephen V condemned it in an epistle to the Bishop of Mentz. (Causa 2, quæst. 5, c. 20.) All such trials were before condemned by St. Gregory the Great. (Cap. Mennam. c. 2, qu. 5.) Such practices, for which there is no warrant of a divine institution, or promise of a supernatural interposition, are superstitious and tempting God. They sprung up among the northern nations, but were condemned by the see of Rome whenever any notice of them reached it. The first legal prohibition of Ordeal, mentioned by Sir H. Spelman in England, is in a letter from King Henry III to his justices itinerant in the north, in the third year of his reign: some great lawyers say it was suppressed by act of parliament that year. (See Johnson’s English Canons, an. 1065.) A purgation by oath was called in law Legal Purgation; that of Ordeal Vulgar Purgation. (See Gonzales in Decretales.) Where these trials prevailed by the sanction of certain particular bishops, examples are recorded of God favouring the simplicity and piety of some persons with a miraculous protection of the innocent. Of this, amongst others, a remarkable instance is recorded in the monk Peter, surnamed Igneus, at Florence, in 1067. See Macquer, Fleury, etc. l. 61, n. 27, p. 183, t. 13.)
Purgations by single combats of the accuser and the accused person were instituted by the Burgundians, introduced in England by the Conqueror, and continued later than Henry III though always condemned at Rome. See Gerdil. Tr. des Combats Singuliers, c. 11, 71. 167.

Note 11. Brompton, Knyghton, Tho. Rudborne, etc. See Harpsfield, Parker, in vit. Roberti archiep. Alford ad an. 1047.

Note 12. Ralph of Disse, in chron. p. 476, etc.

Note 13. P. 944.

Note 14. Such dignities were at that time titles of high offices and governments. The Roman emperors had in their courts, besides several great officers of the state, certain select noblemen who were called the Companions of the Emperor, Comites imperatoris. Suetonius mentions them as early as the reign of Tiberius. Constantine the Great, having formed the government of the empire upon a new model, gave to many officers of his court the title of Count, as the Count of the privy purse, of the stable, etc. also to many governors abroad, as the Count of the East. etc. Those who had the command of the armies in a certain country were called dukes or generals, as the Duke of Egypt. Pepin, Charlemagne, and all the other Carlovignian princes, gave these titles, though at first very rarely, to some whom they vested with a limited and dependent kind of sovereignty in some country. Thus Charlemagne created a duke of Bavaria. Feudatory laws were unknown to the world till framed by the Lombards in Italy, the first authors of feudatory lands and principalities. Pepin and Charlemagne began to introduce something of them in Germany and France, where they were afterwards exceedingly multiplied in the reigns of weak princes, and by various accidents. The emperor Otho I instituted the title of count, duke, etc. which till then had denoted high posts of command and jurisdiction, to be frequently borne merely as badges of honour, and to be hereditary in illustrious families: which example was immediately copied in France and other kingdoms.
In England, the Saxon title and office of ealderman of a country was changed in the ninth age into the Danish title of Earl: which office was of its own nature merely civil; the military governor or general of the army was called by the Saxons, Heartogh; which title is given to Hengist, etc. in the Saxon Chronicle, and was afterwards exchanged for that of duke. On these earls or viceroys sometimes a kind of limited sovereignty was conferred. Such was bestowed by Alfred on his son-in-law Ethelred, Ealderman or earl of Mercia, as William of Malmesbury testifies. A homage being reserved to the king, these provinces were still regarded as members or districts of the kingdom, though such earls were a kind of petty kings. Under our Norman kings such sovereign earldoms or duchies were distinguished amongst us by the epithet of Palatines.
The kings of France of the third race made several governments hereditary under the title of Counties, etc. reserving to the crown some homage or acknowledgment as for fiefs. The Normans introduced hereditary titles of honour in England, substituting barons instead of king’s thanes, who long held capital estates and vassalages in fee. Earls and dukes frequently retained long after this some jurisdiction in the counties which gave them their honours. I have had in my possession an original MS ordinance of John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, in which, by an act which is called perpetual, he commands that every musician who shall play on any instrument within the limits of his county of Salop, shall pay a small sum to a certain chapel of our Lady, under pain of forfeiting their instruments, with other ordinances of the like nature. This pious and excellent nobleman was killed at Northampton fighting for Henry VI in 1460, and was buried in St. Mary’s chapel in the church of St. Cuthbert at Worksop, as is mentioned by Rob. Glover (in Geneal. istorum Comitum) and Thoreton in his Nottinghamshire. See Selden, On Titles of Honour, Op. vol. 2. Also, Janus Anglorum, On English Distinctions of Honour, vol. 3, and Spelman’s Glossary, ed. noviss.
The title of Dominus appeared at first so insolent and haughty that Augustus and Tiberius would not allow it to be given them. Caligula first assumed it. Shortly after it was given, not only to emperors, but likewise to all governors and courtiers. In France it was long given only to kings; and the epithet of Senior to noblemen, equivalent to the English Ealderman. From Dominus was derived Dam, which in France was long used only of God and the king. At length it became common to all noblemen: but for some ages has been reserved to the female sex. From Senior came Seigneur, Sieur, Sire, and Messire. In the reigns of Lewis XII [Louis XII] and Francis I in France Sire was a vulgar title; whence our English Sir. Sire since that time has been appropriated to the French kings. The Franks for many ages took no titles but the names of their manors or residence, as of Herstal, etc. See Glatigny, Œuvres Posthumes.—Discours sur les Titres d’Honneur. Paris, 1757.

Note 15. See Echard’s Hist. of Engl. t. 1, p. 122, and Percy Enderbie’s British and Welch History, p. 215.

Note 16. Brompton in Chron.

Note 17. Ibid.

Note 18. See Brompton in Chron. and Dugdale’s Warwickshire by Lye.

Note 19. See these laws extant in Sir H. Spelman’s Concilia Brit. in Lambard, Saxon Leg. more correct in Wilkins, Conc. M. Britann. See also Hicks, Diss. Epist. Wheloc, and Johnson’s Canons.

Note 20. The laws of Edward the Confessor were with great solemnity confirmed by William the Conqueror in the fourth year of his reign. (Conc. t. 9, p. 1020, 1024.) These are comprised in twenty-two articles. It appears by the partiality shown to the Normans that certain clauses were added by him. Ingulf, at the end of his history of Croyland, has inserted fifty other laws of the Confessor, merely civil, which are published by Selden. (Not. in Eadmer, Hist. Novor. p. 116, 123.) These were also ratified by the Conqueror, who, as Eadmer testifies, (Hist. Novor. l. 1, p. 29,) afterwards introduced in England many Norman laws, though they are not now to be distinguished from those of his successors. Sir Thomas Craig, in his celebrated Jus Feudale, observes that the principal statutes of the English law are borrowed from the usages of France, and principally of Normandy. (See Journ. des Scav. 1716, p. 634.) The Conqueror caused those of the Confessor to be translated into French, in which language he would have causes pleaded. For the Normans were at that time become French both by their language and manners.
The great survey of all the lands, castles, etc. in England was made by the Conqueror in the eighteenth or twentieth year of his reign, and two authentic copies drawn, one of which was lodged in the archives at Westminster, the other at Winchester cathedral, as Tho. Rudborne informs us. (Angl. sacra, t. 1, p. 259.) This register or survey, called by the English The Red Book, or more frequently Dooms-day Book, often quotes the usages and survey of Edward the Confessor, as appears from the curious and interesting extract of English Saxon customs copied from this MS by Mr. Gale. (Angl. Script. 15, t. 2, p. 759.) Alfred first made a general survey, but this only comprised Shires, Hundreds, and Tenths or Tythings. The survey of the Confessor perhaps was of this nature. That of the Conqueror was made with the utmost rigour and such minute accuracy, that there was not a hyde of land, (about sixty-four acres) the yearly revenue or rent whereof, and the name of the proprietors which were not enregistered, with the meadows, arable land, forests, rivers, number of cattle, and of the inhabitants in towns and villages, etc.

Note 21. History of the Parliament, t. 1, p. 47.

Note 22. Ib. p. 37.

Note 23. The Wittena-Gemot or Mycel Synod, that is, Council of the Wites, or Great Council, was the assembly of the States of the Nation. How far its authority extended, or of what persons it was composed, is much controverted. Its name, derived from the Wites, seems only to imply the great thanes or lords and governors; yet Ina, Egbert, Alfred, Edgar, Canute, etc. in their charters and laws mention the permission, approbation, and consent of the people; which some take for an argument in favour of the commons having had a share in the great assembly of the nation. The Conqueror had certainly no council by which he could be controlled in anything. Nevertheless the ancient statutes concerning the holding the parliament in England, ascribed in the preface to Edward the Confessor, are there said to have been corrected and approved by the Conqueror. In them is regulated the manner of assembling this court in twenty-five articles; but it seems not to be doubted but several of them are added in posterior reigns after the Conqueror. They are extant in D’Achery’s Spicilegium, t. 12, p. 557. Though the name of Parliament was new and French, this court was looked upon in the wars of the barons as a restoration of the great council of the nation under the English Saxons, though doubtless the form was considerably altered. And the little mention that is made of this Wittena-Gemot in the Saxon Chronicle, seems to indicate that its transactions were not then so famous. As to the other chief English Saxon courts, the Shire-Gemot or Folk-Mote was held twice a year to determine the causes of the county. In it the bishop and the ealderman presided; in the absence of the former, an ecclesiastical deputy of the latter, the high sheriff, held their places. The Conqueror excused the bishops from assisting at this court; but they had their own court for ecclesiastical matters. Every thane of the first class had a court, in which he determined matters relating to his vassals. This was the original of the Court Baron under the Normans, though causes which were formerly tried here, for near three hundred years, are reserved to the king’s courts; and those which were judged by the ealderman, or earl, or his sheriff, &c. are long since determined by itinerant royal judges. The king presided in his own court, and in his absence the chancellor: to this lay appeals from all Shire-Gemots, &c. In this court Alfred condemned to death forty-four judges of inferior courts, convicted of neglect in the administration of justice; though mild in his laws he was rigid in their execution. To this council of the king succeeded the court of King’s Bench, and Common Pleas. See Lambard, On the laws of the ancient English, Selden, Spelman, Somner, Drake, and particularly Squires.

Note 24. The Norman historians pretend that St. Edward, some say on that occasion, others before he was king, promised to settle upon him the kingdom of England; others say, he gave it him by will. But the whole seems a Norman fiction to abate the national prejudices against the Conqueror. Why was no such will or promise ever produced? How could Edward pretend to make an unprecedented alteration in the settlement: and this without so much as laying it before the council of the nation? On the contrary, he certainly called over his nephew Edward as his heir, in 1057, and thought of no other till Edward’s death, which happened the same year, as our best historians agree. After his death he treated Edgar with the greatest affection and distinction with no other view; gave him the title of Etheling or Edeling, appropriated to the heir of the crown, or at least to princes of the blood, says Speed. Brompton writes that “he loved Edgar as if he had been his own son, and thought to leave him the heir of England.” (inter 10 Scriptor. p. 946.) The manner in which the same author mentions the disappointment of Edgar, and those who favoured his just cause by the usurpation of Harold, and again by the conquest of the Norman, evinces the same. (p. 957, 961.) St. Aëlred (alias Ethelred) shows clearly this to have been the intention of St. Edward. (l. de Geneal. Regum Angliæ inter 10 Scriptor. t. 1, p. 366.) The same may be clearly proved from Turgot, (who lived then in England, was afterwards bishop of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, and died at Durham in 1115,) also from Fordun, and even from the inconsistent authors who seem to give most credit to this idle pretension of the Norman, who himself relied on no other title than that of conquest. Harold indeed, when at sea he was driven accidentally on the coast of France, and was conducted to the duke, promised him his interest to set the crown on his head. Whence the guilt of perjury was complicated with his usurpation.

Note 25. Westminster Abbey was last of all rebuilt in the reign of Henry III (Widmore, p. 9 and 42.) Sir Christopher Wren complains, that the Norman architects, who had been accustomed to work the soft Caen stone, chose here soft stone, like that of Rigate in Surry, which takes in water, and when frozen, scales off; whereas good stone, like that of Burford in Oxfordshire, gathers a crust, and defends itself. Hence these walls are much decayed and the stones fall off in great scales. Even in Henry the Seventh’s chapel, almost the finest Gothic piece of architecture in the world, the tender Caen stone is already eaten by the weather. For the vicissitude of heat and cold, drought and moisture, rots materials; whereas timber will bear constant moisture or cold; otherwise Venice and Amsterdam would fall. See Mr. Widmore’s History of Westminster Abbey in 1751: also his inquiry into the first foundation. This monastery was converted by Henry VIII into a collegiate church of canons, and in 1541 into an episcopal see, Thomas Thurley being the short-lived only bishop. Queen Mary restored this abbey to the monks: Elizabeth, in 1560, made it a collegiate church, with a dean and twelve prebendaries, besides a great school, with forty king’s or queen’s scholars. See Dugdale’s Monastic. t. 1, p. 55. Stow’s Survey of London and Westminster, from p. 497 to 525. Also Maitland, Tanner’s Notitia Monastic. Widmore’s History of Westminster Abbey, in 1751. On the profanations committed by the fanatics in this church, see Appendix to the Antiquities of Westminster Abbey, p. 6.
King Edward the Confessor also bestowed several estates on the episcopal see of Exeter, which he erected, or rather translated from Crediton and Cornwall, which two sees he united; and upon the death of Lewin, who was bishop of them both, he nominated Leofric first bishop of Exeter, in 1044, that these churches might not be exposed to the insults of pirates. See part of this king’s charter for the erection of this see in Leland’s Itinerary, t. 3, p. 49, 51, 53.

Note 26. L. 2, de Reg. c. 13.

Note 27. Petr. Bles. ep. 150, ad Clericos, Aulæ regiæ, p. 235, n. 6. See Alford, Annal. ad an. 1062.

Note 28. That the kings of France cure the Strumæ or King’s evil, by their touch with the sign of the cross, is confidently affirmed by the bold critic Dr. Thiers, (Tr. des Superstitions, l. 6, c. 4, p. 106,) though he calls the like notion of the seventh son a vulgar error, (ib. p. 107,) which is confirmed by the author of the Remarks, (ib.) in the Dutch edition. Guibert of Nogent, in 1100, (l. 1, de Pignor. Sanct. c. 1, p. 331,) tells us, that King Lewis [Louis] the Big cured the Strumæ by his touch with the sign of the cross, which it seems he had often seen him do. He adds, that this king’s father, Philip, lost that privilege by his crimes; and that he knows that the King of England attempted nothing of that kind. But herein a foreigner may have been mistaken. William of Nangis says, that St. Louis first used the sign of the cross in touching such diseased persons; but it appears from Guibert that he only restored the use of it. Pope Boniface VIII in his bull for the canonization of St. Louis, says: “Among other miracles, he conferred the benefit of health upon those that were afflicted with the king’s-evil.” Philip of Valois cured fourteen hundred of these patients. Francis I touched for this distemper at Bologna, in presence of the pope, in 1515, and whilst he was prisoner in Spain. No one pretends that all that are touched are cured; for several are touched more than once, as F. Le Brun remarks, who maintains this privilege to be miraculous. (Hist. Critique des Superstitions, l. 4.) Patritius Armachanus, (that is, Jansenius of Ipres,) in his furious invective against the French, entitled Mars Gallicus, acknowledges this privilege in their kings. In England, the learned Bradwardin confidently ascribes this privilege to Edward III (De Causa Dei, fol. 39.) Since the revolution, only Queen Anne has touched for this distemper. Brompton, in 1198, is said to be the first author who openly derives this gift from St. Edward the Confessor.

Note 29. Mr. Hearne, our most learned and inquisitive antiquarian, in his edition of Leland’s Itinerary, takes notice that the palace of St. Edward at Islip stood on the north-east side, in a place still called Court Close, where the remains of a moat, though filled up, are still visible. At some distance stood his chapel, still in being, though employed to a profane use. The font in which St. Edward was baptized at Islip, is shown in the gardens of the late Sir George Brown, at Kiddington.

Note 30. The learned Dr. Hickes (in Dissert. epist. p. 64,) pretends that Edward the Confessor was the first king of England who used a seal in his charters, such as we find in his charter given to Westminster Abbey, kept among the archives of that church, and on one of his diplomas shown in the monastery of St. Denys near Paris. This is the origin of the broad seal in England. Montfaucon exhibits three or four rough seals found on some of the charters of the Merovingian kings, the oldest of which is one of Theodoric I. (Antiq. de la Monarchie Françoise, t. 1, p. 191.) The ancient kings of Persia and Media had their seals. (Dan. vi. 17; xiv. 13, 16; Esther iii. 10.) They are also mentioned by profane authors. The Benedictins in their new French Diplomatique (t. 4, p. 100, etc.) present us the prints of the heads or seals of all the ancient kings of France, from Childeric, father of Clovis; of the German emperors and kings from Charlemagne, especially from St. Henry II. in the eleventh century, in imitation of the emperors of Constantinople; of the kings of Denmark, Bohemia, Hungary, etc. from the twelfth century. These authors prove against Hickes, Dugdale, (in his Antiq. of Warwickshire,) etc. that seals were used by the kings of England before St. Edward, Ethelbert, Edgar, St. Dunstan, even Offa during the heptarchy. St. Edward brought the more frequent use of the royal seal from France; yet he often gave charters attested by the subscription of many illustrious witnesses, with a cross to each name, without any royal seal; which was the ancient custom, and continued sometimes to be used even after the Conquest. Menage and the editors of the new Latin Glossary of Du Cange, (t. 6, p. 487,) by a gross mistake attribute to the Conqueror the first use of the royal seal in England. He only made it more solemn and common. Ingulphus, (p. 901,) the Annals of Burton, (p. 246,) etc. are to be understood that seals were not used by particulars before the Conquest: but they do not comprise the court: hence we learn the sense of that common assertion of our historians and lawyers that St. Edward was the first institutor of the broad seal.
At first kings used for their seal their own image on horseback: afterwards great men used their arms, when these became settled and hereditary. About the time of Edward III, seals became common among all the gentry. Nisbet and Mackenzie observe that they served in deeds without the subscription of any name till this was ordered in Scotland by James V in 1540; and about the same time in England. See Bigland’s Observations on Parochial Registers, p. 81.

Note 31. Brompton in Chronic. p. 950.

Note 32. St. Edward, in his last illness, gave a ring which he wore to the Abbot of Westminster, as William Caxton, in the reign of Henry VI relates in his MS Chronicle of England. It is said, in the life of the saint, to have been brought to the king by a pilgrim, as an assurance of his death being at hand, given in a vision by St. John Evangelist, though this circumstance was unknown to Sulcard. This ring of St. Edward’s was kept some time in Westminster Abbey, as a relic of the saint, and applied for curing the falling-sickness. In imitation of this, the succeeding kings were accustomed to bless rings on Good Friday against the the cramp and the falling-sickness, till the change of religion. See Polydore Virgil, (Hist. l. 8,) Harpsfield. (Sæc. 11, c. 3.) The late king at arms, the learned and ingenious Mr. Anstis, (Rules of the Gart. t. 2, p. 223,) proves the custom of our kings blessing these rings on Good Friday from John of Ipres, in the reign of Edward III and from several MSS accounts of the comptrollers of the king’s household. In the chapel of Havering (so called from having this ring) in the parish of Horn-Church, near Rumford, in Essex, (once a hunting seat of the king’s,) was kept till the dissolution of abbeys, the ring given by the pilgrim to St. Edward; which Mr. Weaver says he saw represented in a window of Rumford church. The miracles chiefly produced for the canonization of St. Edward, were wrought after his death, but long before the reign of Henry II., not then trumped up to serve that occasion.

Note 33. P. 895.

Note 34. Malmesb. l. 2, Reg. c. 19.

Note 35. Underneath St. Edward’s chapel was buried, without any monument or inscription, Maud, the most holy Queen of England, daughter to St. Margaret, and wife to Henry I and mother to the Empress Maud, married to the Emperor Henry V and mother of our Henry II. Queen Maud walked to church every day in Lent bare-foot and bare-legged, wearing a garment of sackcloth; she likewise washed and kissed the feet of the poorest persons, and gave them alms. The priory of Christ Church without Aldgate, and the hospital of St. Giles in the Fields were founded by her.

Note 36. See Baron. ad eum ann. Alford, Annal. t. 4, p. 101.

Note 37. Watts in Glossario M. Parisii, p. 282, and the Account of the Regalia.


From William of Malmesbury, (de Reg. Angl. 2, c. 13,) whom Sir H. Saville calls the best historian of our nation, and who wrote in 1140; Matthew of Westminster, or whoever compiled the Flores Hist. Angl. from Matthew Paris, etc.; the life of St. Edward, C. written by St. Aëlred, abbot of Rieval, who died in 1166, of which work the most complete and accurate edition is that of Roger Twysden, (inter 10 Angl. Scriptores, Londini, an. 1652, t. 1, p. 370.) An accurate account of his death is given by Sulcard, a monk of Westminster, in the reign of the Conqueror, who wrote, by order of his abbot, Vitalis, a short history, (De Constructione Westmonasterii,) of which two beautiful MS copies were lent me from the Cotton Library, and the archives of Westminster. See also Ingulphus, published by Gale, Brompton by Twysden, Knyghton, ibid. Hoveden and Matt. Paris, ad an. 1066. Harpsfield, Sæc. xi. c. 3. Likewise the historians of Normandy, Odericus Vitalis in Hist. Normann. Gulielmus Pictav. de Gestis Gul. Ducis, etc. The Letter of Innocent II on the Canonization of St. Edward anno 1138, ap. Wilk. Conc. Br. t. 1, p. 419; the bull of Alexander III. ibid. p. 434; that of Gregory IX in 1227; and Rymer’s Fœdera, t. 1, p. 297.

Adapted from The Lives of the Saints, by Rev. Alban Butler, 1866, Volume X: October.


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