Edward the Martyr

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The troublesome genealogy that was prevalent throughout ancient history rose its ugly head again in 975, when King Eadgar died and left his son, 12-year-old Edward, as heir. Edward was the son also of Eadgar’s first wife, Aethelflaeda. Eadgar had other children, of course, as did most monarchs of that age; and one of his other sons was Aethelred, Edward’s half-brother. Now, it should be said that Aethelred was even younger (7) than Edward at this time, so the usual jealousies of an older brother for his younger sibling’s sudden success do not come into play here. However, jealousy there was, quite a bit, in fact, and so Aethelred got himself some powerful friends and had his half-brother murdered. This is why Edward is called Edward the Martyr.

Actually, Aethelred’s powerful friends included the late king’s new wife, Elfrida, who had quite a bit of power in her own right. But because Edward was Eadgar’s rightful heir, the young descendant had the backing of St. Dunstan and other members of the clergy, as well as the nobles, no doubt who wanted to maintain their prestige and status by continuing to align themselves with the ruling elite. So for three years, Edward ruled, growing up all the time, keeping favor with the church and the nobility and currying favors with all who sought them, until Elfrida had had enough. When the king happened to stop by her own Corfe Castle, she served him a glass of mead and had an assassin stab him. Stunned, he spurred his horse, which carried him in such a fit that young Edward was soon thrown from the saddle but stuck in a stirrup; he was dragged along the ground for the last few moments of his life and thrown into a morass.

Thus it was that Aethelred, age 10, ascended to the throne. Edward, meanwhile, was buried at Wareham and then Shaftesbury; and no sooner was he buried than miracles began to occur, among them a spring from which flowed water that could heal the blind and the astonishing feat of crumbling relics being restored to their full form.

Elfrida, meanwhile, was so shocked by the severity and menace of what she had done that she had built the two monasteries of Wherwell and Ambresbury, in the first of which she ended her days in penance. Her son, meanwhile, sat on the throne at a precarious time in British History: The Germanic menace was brewing again. Was Aethelred ready?