Edward the King
And so Edward was consecrated King of England in London at Pascha, 1043. “Great was the joy that the English had,” writes an early French chronicler. “For the Danes had held them cheap, and often humiliated them. If a hundred met a single Dane, it would go badly for them if they did not bow to him. And if they met upon a bridge, they waited; it went badly for them if they moved before the Dane had passed. As they passed, they made obeisance, and whoever failed to do this was shamefully beaten if caught. So cheap were the English held. So much did the Danes insult them.” (89)
The long years of exile in Normandy seem to have changed the fiery warrior of London Bridge. He was a man, writes William of Malmesbury, “from the simplicity of his manners, little calculated to govern, but devoted to God, and in consequence directed by Him; for while he continued to reign, there arose no popular commotions which were not immediately quelled. There was no foreign war; all was calm and peaceable, both at home and abroad, which is more an object of wonder, because he conducted himself so mildly that he would not utter a word of reproach to the meanest person…. In the meantime, the regard which his subjects entertained for him was extreme, as was also the fear of foreigners; for God assisted his simplicity, that he might be feared who knew not how to be angry.” (90)
And yet the inner fire was still there, though well controlled. “If some cause aroused his temper,” write William of Malmesbury, “he seemed terrible as a lion, but he never revealed his anger by railing. To all petitioners he would either grant graciously or graciously deny, so that his gracious denial seemed the highest generosity. In public he carried himself as a true king and lord; in private with his courtiers as one of them, but with royal dignity unimpaired. He entrusted the cause of God to his bishops and to men skilled in canon law, warning them to act according to the case, and he ordered his secular judges, princes and palace lawyers to distinguish equitably, so that, on the one hand, righteousness might have royal support, and, on the other, evil, when it appeared, its just condemnation. This good king abrogated bad laws, with his witan [parliament] established good ones, and filled with joy all that Britain over which by the grace of God and hereditary right he ruled.” (91)
Indeed in later centuries, when the English groaned under the exactions of their Norman kings, they appealed for a return to the just laws of the good King Edward. “In the exaction of taxes he was sparing, as he abominated the insolence of collectors: in eating and drinking he was devoid of the addiction to pleasure which his state allowed: on the more solemn festivals, though dressed in robes interwoven with gold, which the queen had most splendidly embroidered, yet still he had such forbearance as to be sufficiently majestic, without being haughty; considering in such matters rather the bounty of God than the pomp of the world. There was one secular enjoyment in which he chiefly delighted; which was hunting with fleet hounds, whose baying the woods he used with pleasure to encourage: and again, the flying those birds, whose nature it is to prey on their kindred species. In these exercises, after hearing Divine service in the morning, he employed himself whole days. In other respects he was a man by choice devoted to God, and lived the life of an angel in the administration of his kingdom: to the poor and to the stranger, more especially foreigners, and men of religious order, he was kind in invitation, munificent in his presents, and constantly exciting the monks of his own country to imitate their holiness. He was of middle height, his beard and hair swan-white; his countenance florid; fair throughout his whole person; and his form of admirable proportion.” (92)
EDWARD THE MIRACLE-WORKER
Moreover, according to the anonymous biographer, who learned it “from the joint testimony of good and fitting men”, God glorified King Edward with the gift of miracles.
“A certain young woman, already provided with a husband, but gladdened with no fruits of the marriage, had an infection of the throat and of those parts under the jaw which… are called glands. These had so disfigured her face with an evil smelling disease that she could scarcely speak to anyone without great embarrassment. She was informed in a dream that if she were washed in water by King Edward she would be cured of this most troublesome pox. She then, with the certainty of faith, revealed the dream`s instructions. And when the king heard of it, he did not disclaim to help the weaker sex, for he had the sweetest nature, and was always charming to all suitors. A dish of water was brought; the king dipped in his hand; and with the tips of his fingers he anointed the face of the young woman and the places infected with the disease. He repeated this action several times, now and then making the sign of the Cross. And believe in wonder one about to relate wonders! The diseases parts that had been treated by the smearing of the king softened and separated from the skin; and, with the pressure of the hand, worms together with pus and blood came out of various holes. Again the king kneaded with his holy hand and drew out the pus. Nor did he shrink from the stench of the sick woman until with his healing hand he had brought out all that noxious disease. Then he ordered her to be fed daily at the royal expense until she could be fully restored to health. And hardly had she been at court a week, when, all foulness washed away, the grace of God moulded her with beauty. And she, who formerly through this or some other sickness had been barren, in that year became pregnant by the same husband, and lived henceforth happily enough with all around her. Although this seems new and strange to us, the Franks aver that Edward had done this often as a youth when he was in Neustria, now known as Normandy.
“Likewise a certain blind man was going about claiming that he had been advised in sleep, that if his blind face were washed in the water with which the king rinsed his hands, he would both overcome the blindness and restore his lost sight. When Edward heard of this from his privy councillors, at first he contradicted and blamed them for believing it to be true. But when they demanded urgently that he should not resist God`s will, at length he courteously agreed. It was then, as they say for certain, the day of the vigil of the festival of All Saints, when the king, having made his morning ablutions, entered the chapel. Meanwhile his servants washed the blind man with the same water, and conducted him after the king into the house of prayer. When the king left after the canonical hours had been solemnly sung in honour of all the saints, word was brought to him by his couriers that he who was blind now saw. The king, therefore, with pious curiosity, came unto him in the chapel, and, calling him to him, inquired whether he could indeed see. This the man began to affirm and gave thanks to God. To test the truth of his words, however, the king, as pure as a dove, stretched forth the palm of his hand, and asked for an account of his action. `You stretch out your hand, oh my lord king,` the man replied. Once more the king, grasping his forefinger and middle finger like a pair of horns before the man`s eyes, asked what he did. And the man answered what he saw. Also, a third time, the king, grasped his beard in his hand, again asked him what he did. And the man furnished correctly the information that he sought. Then the king considered that he had been sufficiently examined, and went forward for a little prayer; and, having trice bowed his knee before the altar, he gave thanks to God and entrusted the man to his servants to be maintained as long as he lived at the royal charge. The man lived for a long time at court, a witness to the virtue he had received by the glory of God.” (93)
“Again,” writes Osbert of Clare, “it was revealed by a sure vision to a man who had been completely blind for three years, and who sprang from the citizens of Lincoln town, that he would recover the sight of both eyes from.. Edward. For he was ordered to be washed in the water poured on the king`s hands, and so be freed at length from the darkness of his former blindness. The blind man hastened quickly to court, and asked the king` servants to grant him that which he had not had for a long time. And so, when his face had been washed in the same way as the previous blind man, he was restored to health, and the renewed glory of his former condition was given back to him. There still survives to this day a witness who saw him long ago as a blind man and afterwards knew him clear-sighted, with the darkness dispelled.
“The glorious king ordered a royal palace to be built at Brill, whereupon a great crowd of rustics poured into the wood with axes. It was summer time, when men, after they had filed their bellies, are quick to rest, and then, in the afternoon, hasten back more eagerly to work. Among the other labourers on the royal building was a young man named Wulfwi, who, from his greediness for wheat, was surnamed `Spillecorn`. He rose from sleep having lost his sight, and remained blind for nineteen years. At length God`s mercy looked upon him, and he who had lacked sight for so long a time regained it through a heavenly visitation. A citizen`s wife approached this man who laboured under so wondrous a disability, and told him in clear words what she had learned about him in vision. `Dear man,` she said, `visit eighty churches, bare-footed and wearing only woollen clothes; and thus you will experience the merit of the saints, whose patronage you seek with faith, in the purging of your blindness; but the privilege is reserved especially to St. Edward the king that the water in which he washes his hands should restore to you the light of your eyes.` No sluggard after hearing this, the visited that number of churches, and finally he put his case to the king`s chamberlains. These made no haste to seek out the king and acquaint him with the poor man`s requirements. `For the poor is always despised`; and when money runs out the name and fruits of friendship are wont to perish. The mendicant, however, battered diligently at the door of God`s mercy, in order to recover the sight of his eyes through.. Edward the king. At length, worn out by the insistence of the blind man, a chamberlain went straight to the prince and related from beginning to end the vision which had been told the poor man. `Mother of God,` said the king, `my Lady and ever virgin Mary, stand witness that I shall be exalted beyond measure [`I shall be very grateful`, according to another version] if God should work through me that of which the vision told.` Then the king dipped his fingers in the liquid element and mercifully touched the sightless eyes. And lo! Blood poured copiously through the hands of the prince. The man, cured of his blindness, cried out, and filled with great joy, exclaimed, `I see, O king, your bright countenance. I see the gracious face of life. God had given me light, and Edward the anointed.` The man of God, contemplating this deed, gave thanks to Almighty God, by whose mercy a day of brightness had dawned for the blind man. This miracle was performed by the dispensation of the Lord, just as it had once been revealed to him by the woman`s vision, at the royal house called Windsor… To the blind man miraculously made to see, he entrusted the custody of his chief palace for the term of his life.
“… When one of the courtiers had witnessed this great miracle, in which a blind man was freed from darkness by the king, he endeavoured reverently to steal what remained of the king`s washing water. Having carried the water out of doors, he came upon four beggars, of whom three were burdened with the loss of their eyes, and on the fourth only one eye was bright. But the courtier, a man of faith, washed their blindness, and the power of God restored to them, in the court of the great king, the seven lost eyes.” (94)
THE REBELLION OF EARL GODWIN
The only serious blot on the life of King Edward, according to his biographers, was his relationship with his mother, Queen Emma – although as we shall see, he repented of his harshness towards her. In 1043, the king, with Earl Godwin, Leofric and Siward, came to Winchester and imprisoned her. Then, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, they “deprived her of all her innumerable treasures, because she had been too strict with the king, her son, in that she had done less for him than he wished, both before his accession and afterwards…” (95) It seems that she was also accused of plotting with King Magnus of Norway.
However, as Frank Barlow writes, “Emma, when reduced to poverty and despair, had a dream in which [St. Mildred] promised to help her because she, with Cnute, had patronized the translation of St. Mildred from the Isle of Thanet to St. Augustine`s, Canterbury. Whereupon Emma borrowed 20s., sent it by means of her thegn [retainer], Aethelweard Speaka, to Abbot Aelfstan of St. Augustine`s, and, miraculously, the king`s heart was changed. Edward `felt shame for the injury he had done to her, the son acknowledged the mother, he restored her to her former dignity and he who had proclaimed her guilty begged her pardon.` Everything she had possessed was restored to her; her accusers and despoilers were confounded.” (96)
Nor is this the only time that the queen was exonerated through the intercessions of the saints. Thus Canon Busby writes: “She had been accused of unchastity in association with Bishop Alwyn [Aelfwine] of Winchester. In order to prove her innocence she was obliged to undergo the ordeal of walking over nine red-hot ploughshares placed on the pavement of the nave of the Cathedral. The Cathedral annalist says: “The news was spread throughout the Kingdom that the Queen was to undergo this ordeal; and such was the throng of people who flocked to Winchester, that so vast a concourse on one day was never seen before. The king himself, Saint Edward, came to Winchester; nor did a single noble of the Kingdom absent himself, except Archbishop Robert, who feigned illness and, being inimical to the Queen, had poisoned the King`s mind against her, so that if her innocence were proved he might be able to make his escape without difficulty. The pavement of the church being swept, there was placed upon it nine red-hot ploughshares, over which a short prayer was said, and then the Queen`s shoes and stockings were drawn off, and laying aside her mantle and putting on her veil, with her garments girded closely round her, between two bishops, on either hand, she was conducted to the torture. The bishops who led her wept, and, though they were more terrified than she was, they encouraged her not to be afraid. All persons who were in the church wept and there was a general exclamation “O Saint Swithun, Saint Swithun, help her!” The people cried with great vehemence that Saint Swithun, rescue me from the fire that is prepared for me. Then followed a miracle. Guided by the bishops she walked over the red-hot ploughshares, she felt neither the naked iron nor the fire.” (97)
Edward`s suspicions of his mother may have been the result of her close links with Earl Godwin of Wessex, the murderer of his brother Prince Alfred. The king, as we have seen, owed the smoothness of his accession to the throne in large part to the support of Godwin, and it was probably in gratitude for this support that he had agreed to marry his daughter Edith. However, he had never really lost his distrust for the powerful earl, and in 1051 the latent tensions between the two men flared into open conflict.
The king had promoted to the see of Canterbury a Norman, Bishop Robert of London, in preference to Godwin`s candidate (and relative), the Canterbury monk Alfric. The new archbishop quarrelled with Godwin, accusing him of encroaching on church lands in the Canterbury diocese. Then, in September, Count Eustace of Boulogne, the king`s brother-in-law, came to Dover with a small detachment of men. A riot between the Englishmen and Count Eustace`s men ensued, in which several people were killed. Godwin took the side of the men of Dover, which was in his earldom, and, having with his sons assembled a large military force, demanded of the king that he give up Count Eustace and his companions. However, the king, supported by the forces of Earls Siward, Leofric and Ralph, refused.
Through the mediation of Earl Leofric, a military confrontation was avoided, and it was agreed that the king and Godwin should meet in London. But before they could meet, Godwin, seeing that his support was waning, fled. Then the king and the witan ordered the banishment of him and his five sons. Moreover, the king renounced his queen, Godwin`s daughter, and she retired to the convent of Wherwell.
After Godwin`s expulsion, the earldom of his eldest son Swein was given to Earl Odda, and it looked for a time as if King Edward would really be able to rule his kingdom through subordinates whom he trusted, but, even in exile, Godwin`s power was still great. “If any Englishman had been told that events would take this turn,” wrote the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he would have been very surprised, for Godwin had risen to such great eminence as if he ruled the king and all England.” (98)
So the next year Godwin attempted to win back his former position by force. Helped by his sons Harold and Leofwine, who had levied troops in Ireland and landed in the West Country, he marched on London. Once again, a military confrontation was avoided, and both sides disbanded their troops. But this time the advantage was with Godwin, and the king fully restored to him and his sons, except Swein, all the honours they had forfeited. (99) The king took back his queen, while Archbishop Robert, mounting a horse and dropping his pallium in the process, fled to the continent.
Peace was restore, but in circumstances so detrimental to the king`s authority, and accompanied by the fickleness of such a large part of the people, that the omens for the future looked grim…
In the very year of Godwin`s rebellion, 1052, a sign was manifested signifying the holiness of the royal line of Wessex of which King Edward was the heir, and the evil of those who would attempt to contest its authority. For the body of Edward`s grandfather, King Edgar the Peaceable, was found to be incorrupt by Abbot Ailward of Glastonbury. Moreover, the irreverence with which the holy body was handled indicated how irreverently the royal authority of St. Edward was soon to be treated.
“For when,” writes William of Malmesbury, “the receptacle which he had prepared seemed to small to admit the body, he profaned the royal corpse by cutting it. When the blood immediately gushed out in torrents, shaking the hearts of the by standers with horror. In consequence his royal remains were placed upon the altar in a shrine, which he had himself given to this church, with the head of St. Apollinaris and the relics of the Martyr Vincent; which having purchased at great price, he had added to the beauty of the house of God. The violator of the sacred body presently became distracted; and not long after, as he was going out of the church, he met his death by a broken neck. But the display of royal authority did not cease with that: it proceeded further, a blind lunatic being cured there…” (100)
At about the same time the relics of the Martyr-King Edmund of East Anglia were uncovered and found to be incorrupt by Abbot Leoftsan of Bury St. Edmund`s, which further helped to demonstrate the holiness of the royal rank that Godwin had so dishonoured by his actions. (101)
In 1053, however, when he was at the height of his power, Godwin himself died in dramatic circumstances that suggested Divine retribution. He choked on a piece of bread after swearing to the king: “Let God Who knows all things be my judge! May this crust of bread which I hold in my hand pass through my throat and leave me unharmed to show that I was innocent of your
brother`s death! (102) “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord!”
THE AFFAIR OF ARCHBISHOP STIGAND
We now come to affair of Archbishop Stigand, which was to have such fatal consequence for England. As we have seen, in 1052 Archbishop Robert fled to the continent, leaving his pallium behind. With the acquiescence of the king, but in face of the furious opposition of successive popes, Bishop Stigand of Winchester was allowed to take up the pallium and serve as archbishop in Robert`s place. The question is: was he a true archbishop? And: if so, could the English Church be said to have been under the pope`s jurisdiction during his archbishopric, that is, from 1052?
The fact that Stigand had not received his pallium from the pope may not have seemed important; for a generation before both Archbishop Wulfstan of York and King Canute had protested against the supposed necessity of English bishops` travelling the long and difficult journey to Rome for the pallium. Moreover, it was an historical fact that before 735 no English archbishop had done this. But Archbishop Robert was still alive and had not been formally deposed…
Frank Barlow had shed some light on this problem. “Three aspects of the story need investigation,” he writes. “Was England aware of Stigand`s incapacity as archbishop, of his suspension from his Episcopal office, and of his excommunication?
“There is no doubt that during Edward`s reign Stigand was not recognised as an archbishop except in 1058 after the receipt of his pallium [which, however, he received from an “anti-pope”, Benedict X, thus forming the basis for another of the charges that the papal legates levelled against him in the council of 1070]. Until that year he consecrated no bishop. By 1061, when two bishops went to Rome for consecration, his incapacity was again notorious. The Normans, too, were either aware of the position or learned it in England.William, who needed traditional and legitimate coronation, must have disregarded Stigand with the greatest reluctance. But from 1067 to 1070 he seems to have been accorded full metropolitan respect by the Normans. Expediency or William`s arbitrariness may have been the cause.
“On the other hand, there is no evidence that anyone regarded Stigand as suspended from his Episcopal office. He appears in all the witness-lists to `royal` diplomas. He is known to have blessed abbots in 1061, 1065, and 1066… There is no strictly contemporary evidence that he was at any time shunned by the English kings, prelates, or laity…” (103)
The whole matter is greatly complicated, as we have seen, by the fact that the Roman papacy was anathematised by the Orthodox Church of the East in 1054, which meant that the anathemas that the popes launched against Stigand from that time were null and void. Thus even if we agree that Stigand`s position was strictly uncanonical, it must also be admitted that it was providential, in that it meant a loosening of the ties between England and Rome at precisely the moment when the latter was falling into heresy and schism. Stigand had the other, not inconsiderable advantage that he was accepted by both sides in the near-civil war that had only just come to an end; so he could serve as a peacemaker between the king and Godwin`s faction.
King Edward`s decision to support Stigand as against his friend Archbishop Robert and the pope himself may seem surprising in view of his close co-operation with Pope Leo in his reforming councils since 1049. (109) It maybe that he thought that the unity of the English Church and nation at this critical hour was the overriding priority – and if, so then in view of what happened after his death, we must believe that he was right. It was at this point that the king`s reputation for holiness may have played a critical part in saving his nation; for however much the popes fulminated against the “schismatic” Stigand, they never said a word against King Edward, and were forced to wait until after his death before launching an anti-English crusade…
THE PAPAL EMBASSY
The traditionally turbulent Anglo-Danish north had been remarkably quiet during Godwin`s rebellion. This had much to do, no doubt, with the firm hand of Earl Siward of Northumbria. However, in 1053 Earl Siward died and was buried in the church which he had dedicated to St. Olaf outside York. Since his son had been killed in a battle against King Macbeth of Scotland, (105) he was succeeded by one of Godwin`s sons, Tostig. Then, in 1057, the good Earls Leofric and Odda, who had been the foremost defenders of the Church in the Midlands, also died. (106)
England`s spiritual heart was beating more faintly now; and from now on pressure on the sickly organism from without – specifically, from Rome – began to increase. Thus it was at about this time that one of the bishops-elect, Walter of Hereford, decided to go to Rome to be consecrated. If, as seems likely, he as trying to avoid the “schismatic” Archbishop Stigand, then he avoided Stigand only to fall into the hands of the much more surely schismatic Pope Nicholas! (107)
In 1061 this visit was followed by that of the archbishop-elect of York, Aldred, who went to Rome for his pallium in the company of Earl Tostig of Northumbria and several other English nobles. But “he found Pope Nicholas at first no friend to his desires,” writes William of Malmesbury, “for Aldred was not minded to give up [the diocese of] Worcester. Aldred was so bound by ties of love to Worcester that it was dearer to him than the dignity of the archbishopric. So, after long disputation, Aldred returned homeward and came to Sutri. Earl Tostig who was with him was threatening that for this [refusal by the pope] there would be no more paying of Peter`s Pence from England.”
However, in the course of their journey home, Aldred and Tostig “were attacked by robbers and stripped, to the great horror of beholders, and made their way back to Rome. Their sufferings so far melted the rigour of the apostolic see, that Aldred received the pallium of York, having pledged himself to resign Worcester provided that he could find a better priest in the diocese to put in his place.” (108)
It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if Aldred had returned to England without the pallium. It is quite possible that, following the example of Stigand, and with King Edward`s support, he would have assumed the archbishopric anyway, thus placing both of England`s metropolitan sees in schism from Rome. But the robbers – and Pope Nicholas` sense of realpolitik – saved the day for Rome.
And to reinforce his authority in England, the new pope now sent two cardinals with Aldred on his journey home – this was the first papal legation to England since the council of Chelsea in 787. They stayed with Prior Wulfstan at Worcester, and, impressed by his piety, suggested him for the bishopric of Worcester. “By these praises,” we read in Wulfstan`s life by William of Malmesbury, “they aroused the goodwill of King Edward in whom the trafficker in benefices and the covetous man never found anything to forward their designs. The Archbishop of Canterbury and York gave their support to the Cardinals, the one of kindness, the other of knowledge; both by their sentence. With them in praising Wulfstan were the Earls Harold and Elfgar, men more famed for warlike courage than for religion. They bestirred themselves vigorously in his cause, sending mounted messengers on Wulfstan`s behalf, who rode many miles/kms in little time to hasten on the matter. So [Wulfstan] was presented to the Court, and bidden to take upon him the office of Bishop. He earnestly withstood them, crying out that he was unequal to so great a charge, while all men cried that he was equal to it. So entirely was the whole people agreed, that it were not wrong to say that in all those bodies there was, concerning this matter, but one mind. But, to be brief, the cardinals and archbishops would have lost their labour, had they not pleaded against his unwillingness the duty of obeying the Pope. To that plea he must needs yield… So King Edward well and truly invested Wulfstan with the Bishopric of Worcester… Not long after he was consecrated at York by [Archbishop Aldred]: because Stigand of Canterbury was under the Pipe`s interdict.” (109)
The new Bishop Wulfstan was the one Englishman, besides the king himself, who, by the reputation of his asceticism and miracle-working, and the power of his preaching, could have inspired his countrymen to rebel against then now schismatical papacy if had chosen to do so. But it maybe wondered whether the legates` choice of Wulfstan for the bishopric (although they did not consecrate him) made him, so to speak, “the pope`s man” at this time. As we shall see later, he served his country well in 1066 when he galvanised support in the North for the new King Harold; but after 1066 he sadly succumbed to the new Norman-papist regime.
Much depended now on the character of Wulfstan`s close friend, Earl Harold, the new head of the Godwin clan and the most powerful man in England after the king. We have seen him supporting his father in rebellion against the king in 1051; but this may have been the result of family pressure rather than proof of a rebellious disposition. From 1052 he appears as completely loyal to the king, even as against the interests of his brothers; and the king appears to have trusted him in a way he never trusted his father. Unlike his father, he gave generously to the Church. And his religious feelings, already in evidence through his love for Bishop Wulfstan, were further stimulated by his healing through a holy relic which had been revealed some years earlier and had passed into the possession of his earldom. (110)
THE QUESTION OF THE SUCCESSION
King Edward was childless; so the question of who should succeed him became more pressing as he grew older. The king and his witan thought of Prince Edward, the son of King Edmund Ironside and the king`s own nephew. After the Danish conquest of England in 1016, Edward and his family had gone into exile, first in Ladoga (111) and Kiev in Russia, and then in Hungary. When they heard that he was alive, the English immediately sent an embassy headed by Bishop Aldred to the German Emperor Henry III in order to secure the princes` return from Hungary. Aldred failed because of Henry`s conflict with Hungary; but on the deaths of the emperor in 1056, the king tried again, sending, probably, Earl Harold, to perform this difficult and important task.
In 1063 Earls Harold and Tostig conducted a highly successful campaign by land and sea to subdue Prince Gruffydd of North Wales, who had been encroaching on English territory. The subjection of the Welsh further enhanced the prestige of Earl Harold, who, as well as being the biggest landowner of the country and the king`s brother-in-law, was now at this time who thought that he, rather than the younger and inexperienced Prince Edgar, should succeed the old King Edward.
But in 1064 Earl Harold made a great blunder. The story is related with variants and inconsistencies in the Norman sources and on the Bayeux tapestry, but is not related at all in the pre-Conquest English sources. Nevertheless, this much is clear: that Harold sailed from Bosham in Sussex on a mission to the continent, that he was storm-driven onto the coast of Ponthieu, where he was captured by Count Guy, that William of Normandy ransomed him from Guy and treated him kindly at first, but that later he was persuaded, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, to make an oath over a box of artfully concealed holy relics in Rouen that he would support William`s claim to the English throne.
Now William`s claim was based, in the first place, on his blood relationship to Queen Emma, King Edward`s mother. But his case rested mainly on his assertion that in 1052 King Edward had promised him the throne on his death. The Norman sources further assert that in 1064 Harold was sent to Normandy by King Edward in order to confirm his earlier promise to William and in order that Harold should swear fealty to him.
Most modern historians doubt that King Edward made this promise. Not only is there no English evidence for it: such a testament had no precedent in English history: (115) the English sources are unanimous in asserting that King Edward nominated Harold as his heir on his deathbed. Thus Nicholas Higham writes: “The Bayeux Tapestry shows the old king, distinguished by his crown, shaggy hair and beard, as he extends his hand to the kneeling brother-in-law Harold. Edward`s Life, written soon after, suggests Edward commended `this woman [the queen] and all the kingdom to your protection and every version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle offers something similar.” (116)
Ian Walker writes: “We have seen that it is unlikely that any such promise [to William] was given by Edward, but rather that it was probably invented and imparted to William by Robert of Jumieges, Archbishop of Canterbury, following his exile in 1052. If this was the case, could Edward nevertheless have intended to make William his heir at this later date? This is highly unlikely. In 1051 Edward had no clearly established heir, although he did have a number of potential heirs, all with better qualifications than William. Now, he had secured a suitable and established heir in the person of his nephew, Atheling Edgar. As a result of this change in circumstances the reasons adduced against the nomination of William as heir in 1051 apply with even greater force to any such nomination in 1064. He remained a man with only distant links to the English dynasty and little or no support in the country, although he was now secure in possession of his duchy and much more widely known and regarded than in 1051. In addition, William`s recent conquest of Maine had resulted in the imprisonment and death of Edward`s nephew, Count Walter of the Vexin, Count Walter died in suspicious circumstances while in William`s custody, allegedly by poison, something unlikely to endear him to Edward. William of Poitiers hints that Edward was close to death and this was why he now sent Harold to pledge his kingdom. There is no support for this in English sources, which show that the king was still healthy enough to go hunting in autumn 1065. The suggestion that Edward intended William as his heir in 1064 seems less credible even than the case for this in 1051.” (117)
Why, then, did Harold make the journey? One Anglo-Norman source suggests that he was simply on a fishing trip and landed on the wrong side of the Channel. However, the eleventh-century Canterbury Monk Edmer of Canterbury, using sources close to the family, has a more plausible story, namely, that Harold “asked leave of the king to go to Normandy to set free his brother and nephew who were being held there as hostages” (Godwin had given these hostages to the king after his abortive coup in 1051). In support of this theory is the fact that Harold did return with one of the hostages, his nephew Hakon. William continued to hold Harold`s brother, Wulfnoth… Edmer continues: “The king said to [Harold]: “I will have no part in this; but, not to give the impression of wishing to hinder you, I give you leave to go where you will and to see what you can do. But I have a presentiment that you will succeed in bringing misfortune upon the whole kingdom and discredit upon yourself. For I know that the Duke is not so simple as to be at all inclined to give them [the hostages] up to you unless he foresees that in doing so he will secure some great advantage to himself.” (118)
The king`s prophetic spirit did not fail him; and according to a twelfth-century tradition, a great blow was miraculously struck at the oak in Rouen where Harold made his oath to support William`s claim to the throne – an oath, which, since he broke it when he himself became king, led to his and his country`s downfall. “For the oak, which was once a tree of great height and beauty,… is stated, wonderful to relate, to have shed its bark, and to have lost its greenness and its foliage. A sight well worth seeing, for a tree which a little time before was remarkable for the number and thickness of its leaves, shrivelled up from the roots, as quickly as did the gourd of Jonah and the olive of that other prophet and all its branches became white.” (119)
Just as the Lord`s withering of the fig tree signified the falling away of the Jewish synagogue, so the withering of the oak at Rouen signified the falling away of the English Church…
THE REBELLION OF EARL TOSTIG
In 1065 a serious rebellion against King Edward`s rule broke out in the North. As we have seen, the traditionally turbulent Anglo-Danish North had been remarkably quiet during Godwin`s rebellion in 1052-52. This had much to do, no doubt, with the firm but just government of Earl Siward; but his successor, Earl Tostig, while no less firm, appears to have been considerably less just. According to the anonymous biographer, several members of the witan “charged that glorious earl with being too cruel; and he was accused of punishing disturbers more for desire of their property which would be confiscated than for love of justice.” But the same author excused Tostig on the grounds that “such.. was the cruelty of that people and their neglect of God that even parties of twenty or thirty men could scarcely travel without being either killed or robbed by the multitude of robbers in wait.” (120)
However, that there was probably some justice in the accusations appears from the fact that St. Cuthbert once intervened on behalf of a man condemned by Tostig, as Barlow describes in this summary of Simeon of Durham`s account: “[Tostig] had succeeded in arresting a man named Aldan-hamal, a malefactor notorious for theft, robbery, murder and arson. The criminal was condemned to death, despite attempts by kinsmen and friends to bribe the earl; and while in fetters at Durham awaiting execution, when all efforts at rescue had failed, his conscience was smitten, he repented of his crimes, and he promised St. Cuthbert that if he could go free he would make full atonement. St. Cuthbert heard his prayer, struck off his fetters, and allowed him to make a lucky escape into the church. The guards, under Tostig`s thane Barcwith, went in pursuit and considered breaking open the doors of the cathedral, for freedom of sanctuary, they thought, would allows all thieves, robbers, and murderers to laugh in their faces. But Barcwith was immediately struck down by heaven for his impiety and within an hour or two died raving mad; and Earl Tostig, terrified by his fate, pardoned the criminal and, later, held him in esteem.” (121)
The immediate cause of the rebellion appears to have been an extra tax imposed by Tostig on his earldom. (122) The rebels seized York while Tostig was hunting with the king in Wiltshire, and proceeded to slaughter his officials and seize his treasury. They then summoned Morcar, younger brother of Earl Edwin of Mercia, and with him as their “earl” marched south to plead their case with King Edward, ravaging Tostig`s lands on the way. Earl Edwin joined them at Northampton, and there Earl Harold also some as the emissary of King Edward.
Harold was in a most difficult position. His natural desire was to support his brother against the rebels. But that would have led to civil war, which Harold now drew back from, just as his father and King Edward had done during the earlier crisis of 1051-52. In his meeting with the king at Oxford he counselled agreeing to the terms of the rebels. With great sorrow and reluctance, the king complied: Tostig was deposed, the rebels were pardoned and Morcar was confirmed as Earl of Northumbria. In the following month Earl Tostig and his wife fled to her brother, Count Baldwin of Flanders. (123) Tostig was bitter that the king had not supported him against the rebels. But he especially blamed his brother Harold, claiming that the Northumbrians “had undertaking this madness against their earl at the artful persuasion of his brother, Earl Harold.” (124) Harold denied this on oath; and since he gained nothing from the affair except the undying enmity of his brother, who fought against him in 1066, he must be believed.
The most serious result of the rebellion was the breakdown in health of the king, who had wanted to fight the rebels, but had been prevented by bad weather, his inability to raise enough troops and the reluctance of those around him to engage in civil war. “Sorrowing at this, he fell ill, and from that day until the day of his death he bore a sickness of the mind. He protested to God with deep sorrow, and complained to Him, that He was deprived of the due obedience of his men in repressing the presumption of the unrighteous; and he called down God`s vengeance upon them…” (125)
THE PROPHETIC MOSES
In the second half of his reign, as the situation within the country worsened, the holy King Edward turned more and more to heavenly pursuits, and his prophetic gifts manifested themselves in still greater abundance.
Once, at Holy Pascha, the king returned after the Divine Liturgy to his seat at the royal banquet in Westminster. “While the rest were greedily eating,” writes William of Malmesbury, “and making up for the long fast of Lent by the newly provided viands, he, with mind abstracted from earthly things, was absorbed in the contemplation of some Divine matter, when presently he excited the attention of the guests by bursting into profuse laughter: and as none presumed to inquire into the cause of his joy, he remained silent as before, till satiety had put an end to the banquet. After the tables were removed, and as he was unrobing in his chamber, three persons of rank followed him; of these Earl Harold was one, the second was an abbot, and the third a bishop, who, presuming on their intimacy with the king, asked the cause of his laughter, observing that it seemed just cause for astonishment to see him, in such perfect tranquillity of mind and occupation, burst into a vulgar laugh while all others were silent. `I saw something wonderful,` said he, `and therefore I did not laugh without a cause.` At this, as is the custom of mankind, they began to inquire and search into the matter more earnestly, entreating that he would condescend to disclose it to them. after much reluctance, he yielded to their persevering solicitations, and related the following wonderful circumstances, saying that the Seven Sleepers in Mount Coelius [Ephesus] had now lain for two hundred years on their right side, but that, at the very hour of his laughter, they turned upon their left; that they would continue to lie in this manner for seventy-four years, which would be a dreadful omen to wretched mortals. For everything would come to pass, in those seventy-four years, which the Lord had foretold to His disciples concerning the end of the world: nation would rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there would be earthquakes in divers places, pestilence and famine, terrors from heaven and great signs; changes in kingdoms; wars of the Gentiles against the Christians, and also victories of the Christians over the pagans. Relating these matters to his wondering audience, he descanted on the passion of these sleepers, and the make of their bodies, thought totally unnoticed in history, as readily as though he had lived in daily intercourse with them. on hearing this, the earl sent a knight, the bishop a clergyman, and the abbot a monk, to Maniches the Emperor of Constantinople, (126) giving them at the same time what is called a holy letter, that the martyr-relics of the Seven Sleepers should be shown to the delegates of the king of England. It fell out that the prophecy of King Edward was proved by all the Greeks, who could swear that they had heard from their fathers that the men were lying on their right side, but after the entrance of the English into the vault, they published the truth of the foreign prophecy to their countrymen. Nor was it long before the predicted evils came to pass; for the Hagarenes, Arabs and Turks, nations averse to Christ, making havoc of the Christians [at the battle of Manzikert in 1071], overran Syria, Lycia and Asia Minor, among which was Ephesus…” (127)
Thus the reputation of King Edward, already renowned for his holiness in England and Western Europe, was beginning to spread even to the Orthodox East – whither so many exiled English families would soon have to flee.
On another occasion, as Ailred of Rievaulx tells the story, the king attended the service for the consecration of a church at Havering in Essex. As he was coming out of the church, a beggar met him and asked for alms. Edward did not have any money on him at the time; but since he never liked to send beggars away empty-handed, he gave him the costly ring which was on his finger. Some time later, some English pilgrims were in trouble near Bethlehem in the Holy Land. A beggar came up to them and asked them what the matter was. When they explained it to him, he helped them. Then he gave them a ring and asked them to give it to their king in England, with a message from St. John that for his chaste life he was to inherit the joys of Paradise in six months` time. Edward received the message with joy, realizing that the beggar to whom he had given the ring was St. John the Evangelist and Theologian. And in six months` time he reposed in peace. (128)
The ring was found again when St. Edward`s tomb at Westminster was opened in 1102. A sweet fragrance filled the church, and the body was found to be completely incorrupt. On the finger of his hand was the ring. (129)
In 1163 the tomb was opened again. Frank Barlow writes: “They saw, a little obscured by the mortar and dust which had fallen down, the saint wrapped in a cloth of gold, at his feet purple shoes and slippers, his head and face covered with a round mitre, likewise embroidered with gold, his beard, white and slightly curled, lying neatly on his breast. Joyfully they called over the rest of the party, and as they cleared out the dirt from the tomb, they explored everything gently with their hands. To their relief nothing had changed. The body was still intact and the vestments were only a little dulled and soiled. Six of the monks lifted the body, laid it on a carpet, wrapped it in a precious silk cloth, and placed it in a wooden coffin or feretory, which they had prepared. Everything they found with the body was transferred to the new shrine, except the ring, which Laurence [the abbot of Westminster] removed to preserve as a memorial and as a sign of his personal devotion to the saint.” (130)
And so the holy king approached his departure from this life. One more public act of his reign remained to be performed: the dedication of his favourite project, the Abbey of St. Peter at Westminster. This act was of great symbolic importance; for according to tradition, the original church built on the site in St. Mellitus` time had been dedicated, not by hand of man, but by angels; (131) and now the last man of truly angelic life in the land of the Angles, the virgin King Edward, came to lay the last stone in the edifice of Anglo-Saxon Christianity. Built to atone for his inability to keep a vow he had made to go on pilgrimage to Rome, it became the last monument of English Orthodoxy before its engulfment by the papist heresy.
A great assembly of men from all parts of the land assembled to celebrate Christmas and then the dedication of the Church of Christ. Then, as the Monk Sulcard relates, “on Christmas Eve itself, the most kindly king began to get worse. Concealing the fact, however, he spent Christmas Day both in the church and in the palace rejoicing with his nobles. But on the morrow, when he could hide it no longer, he began to rest apart, and sent messengers to bid his court be of good cheer and to carry out the dedication of his monastery through fitting persons.” (132)
The dedication of the abbey church took place on Holy Innocents Day, 1065, as the innocent sufferer lay on his deathbed.
The anonymous biographer, writing from eye-witness testimony, continues the story: “When King Edward, replete with faith, perceived that the power of the disease was forcing him to his end, with the commendation and prayers of the most important of God`s faithful he resigned himself to the funeral rites…
“While he slept those in attendance felt in his sleeping body the travail of an unquiet soul, and woken by them in their terror, he spoke these words. (Up till then, for the last two days or more, weakness had so tired him that when he spoke scarcely anything he said had been intelligible.) `O eternal God,` he said, `if I have learned those things which have been revealed to me from Thee, grant also the strength to tell them. But if it was only an illusion, let my former sickness burden me according to Thy will.` And then, as they who were present testify, he used such resources of eloquence that even the healthiest man would have no need of more.
“Just now,” he said, `two monks stood before me, whom I had once known very well when I was a young man in Normandy, men of great sanctify, and for many years now relieved of earthly cares. And they addressed me with a message from God.
“Since,” they said, “those who have climbed to the highest offices in the kingdom of England, the earls, bishops and abbots, and all those in holy orders, are not what they seem to be, but, on the contrary, are servants of the devil, on a year and one day after the day of your death God has delivered all this kingdom, cursed by Him, into the hands of the enemy, and devils shall come through all this land with fire and sword and the havoc of war.”
“Then I said to them, I will show God`s designs to the people, and the forgiveness of God shall have mercy upon the penitents. For He had mercy on the people of Nineveh, when they repented on hearing of the Divine indignation.”
“But they said, these will not repent, nor will the forgiveness of God come to pass for them.”
“And what,” I asked, “shall happen? And when can a remission of this great indignation be hoped for?”
“At that time,” they answered, “when a great tree, if cut down in the middle of its trunk, and the part cut off carried the space of three furlongs from the stock, shall be joined again to the trunk, by itself and without the hand of man or any sort of stake, and begin once more to push leaves and bear fruit from the old love of its uniting sap, then first can a remission of these great ills be hoped for.”
“When those who were present had heard these words – that is to say, the queen, who was sitting on the floor warming his feet in her lap, her brother, Earl Harold, and Rodbert, the steward of the royal palace and a kinsman of the king, also Archbishop Stigand and a few more whom the blessed king when roused from sleep had ordered to be summoned – they were all sore afraid as men who had heard a speech containing many calamities and a denial of the hope of pity. And while all were stupefied and silent from the effect of terror, the archbishop himself, who sought either to have been the first to fear or give a word or advise, with folly at heart whispered in the ear of the earl that the king was broken with age and disease and knew not what he said. But the queen, and those who had been wont to know and fear God in their hearts, all pondered deeply the words they had heard, and understood them quite otherwise, and correctly. For these knew that the Christian religion was chiefly dishonoured by men in Holy Orders, and that.. the king and queen by frequent admonition had often proclaimed this.” (133)
King Edward died on 5th January, 1066. The first part of his prophecy was fulfilled exactly; for one year and one day after his death, on 6th January ,1067, Duke of Normandy, having been crowned as the first Catholic king of England, set off on the three-and-a-half-year campaign which destroyed the face of the country – the Antichrist had come to England!
Modern historians have accused King Edward of weakness. Humility and chastity in the midst of a corrupt and adulterous generation are not properly thought of as signs of weakness, but rather of great spiritual strength and grace. However, let us concede that St. Edward had a certain weakness: like Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, whom he resembled so closely, his weakness was that he trusted people too much, and was constantly being betrayed by them.
In 1013 he and his father had been betrayed by the people when they drove him into exile in Normandy. In 1016 the people had again betrayed his brother King Edmund, forcing him into exile again. In 1017 his mother had married the country`s conqueror and abandoned him with his brother Prince Alfred in a foreign land. in 1036 his brother had been murdered, and only a few years later, in 1045, he had been forced to marry the daughter of his brother`s murderer. He had trusted Archbishop Robert, who was the only man to share his perception of the danger posed by Earl Godwin but the people enforced the expulsion of Robert and the reinstatement of Godwin. He had trusted Earl Harold, but Harold refused to fight against his rebellious brother Tostig. He had trusted the English when they recalled him from exile in 1043, thereby ending the hated Danish yoke; but the people had often, like the stiff-necked Israelites, longed to return to the spiritual Egypt, as when the Northumbrians, demanded a return to the laws of the Danish Canute.
And yet as the English Moses lay on his deathbed there were still a few, those who had been his closest attendants, who wept for him. To these he said, as the anonymous biographer recounts it: “`Do not weep, but intercede with God for my soul, and give me leave to go to Him. For He will not pardon me that I should not die Who would not pardon Himself that He should not die.` Then he addressed his last words to the queen who was sitting at his feet, in this wise, `May God be gracious to this my wife for the zealous solicitude of her service. For she has served me devotedly, and has always stood close to my side like a beloved daughter. And so from the forgiving God may she obtain the reward of eternal happiness.` And stretching forth his hand to his governor, his brother, Harold, he said, `I command this woman and all the kingdom to your protection. Serve and honour her with faithful obedience as your lady and sister, which she is, and do not despoil her, as long as she lives, of any honour she got from me. Likewise I also commend these men who have left their native land for love of me, and have up till now served me faithfully. Take from them an oath of fealty, if they should so wish, and protect and retain them, or send them with your safe conduct safely across the Channel to their own homes with all that they have acquired in my service. Let the grave for my burial be prepared in the minster in the place which shall be assigned to you. I Ask that you do not conceal my death, but announce it promptly in all parts, so that all the faithful can beseech the mercy of Almighty God on me, a sinner.` Now and then he also comforted the queen, who ceased not from lamenting, to erase her natural grief. `Fear not,` he said, `I shall not die now, but by God`s mercy regain my strength.` Nor did he mislead the attentive, least of all himself, by these words, for he has not died, but has passed from death to life, to live with Christ.
“And so, coming these and like words to his last hour, he took the Viaticum from the table of heavenly life and gave up his spirit to God the Creator on the fourth [more accurately: the fifth] of January… Then could be seen in the dead body the glory of a soul departing to God. For the flesh of his face blushed like a rose, the adjacent beard gleamed like a lily, his hands, laid out straight, whitened, and were a sign that his whole body was given not to death but to auspicious sleep. And so the funeral rites were arranged at the royal cost and royal honour, as was proper, and amid the boundless sorrow of all men. They bore his holy remains from his palace home into the house of God, and offered up prayers and sighs and psalms all that day and the following night. Meanwhile, when the day of the funeral ceremony dawned, they blessed the office of the interment they were to conduct with the singing of masses and the relief of the poor. And so, before the altar of St. Peter the Apostle, the body, washed by his country`s tears, is laid up in the sight of God. They also cause the whole of the thirtieth day following to be observed with the celebration of masses and the chanting of psalms and expended many pounds of gold for the redemption of his soul in the alleviation of different classes of the poor. Having been revered as a saint while still living in the world, as we wrote, at his tomb likewise merciful God reveals by these sign that he lives with Him as a saint in heaven. For at the tomb through him the blind receive their sight, the lame are made to walk, the sick are healed, the sorrowing are refreshed by the comfort of God, and for the faith of those who call upon Him, God, the King of kings, works the tokens of His goodness.” (134)