Holy Martyr King Edward of England




Edward was the oldest son of English King Edgar, who reigned from the year 957. Edgar, like his
famous great-grandfather King Alfred the Great, was remembered as a monarch who served God
and his people with faith and justice. During his reign, England not only achieved stability among the
other realms of Europe, but experienced a time of real prosperity. The land became ever more
united as one people, and with a king like Edgar, the people looked forward confidently to its future.
European chroniclers of the time were unanimous in recognizing England to be a land in the full
bloom of culture nurtured by Christianity. We might add that this Christianity was Orthodox and
continued to be so until the Norman invasion, which brought to the land a new foreign government
and to the English Church a crushing blow, conceived and executed with the blessings of proud and
intolerant Rome.
Edwards’s mother died early, and his king and father married Elfrida (Aelfthryth), a widow of some
importance, who bore Edgar another son, Ethelred (Aethelred). Edward’s half-brother was five years
younger than he. According to the country’s laws, the legitimate heir to the throne was the king’s
eldest son, in this case, Edward. However, his stepmother conceived a truly diabolical plan to make
her son Ethelred the next king of England at any price.
It is important to note that during Edgar’s reign, church reforms intended to bolster monasticism
were initiated. The proposed reform contemplated that English monasteries institute the Rule of
Venerable St. Benedict of Nursia, a famous Orthodox organizer of communal monastic life, who
brought to the West the traditions of Eastern Orthodox monasticism, with which he was quite
familiar. His name was later taken by one of the West’s greatest monastic orders, the Benedictines.
The spiritual leader and principal promoter of those reforms in England was St. Dunstan, Archbishop
of Canterbury, who had been the prior of the famous monastery of Glastonbury. The people
considered St. Dunstan a person of unusually great authority. He composed and performed the rite
of coronation over Edgar, who then appointed Dunstan to be his closest advisor.
King Edgar, known as the Peacemaker, successfully ruled England for eighteen years before
departing to the Lord in 975. After his death, his eldest son Edward ascended to the English throne.
At the time, the boy-king was no more than 12 years of age, but he immediately showed himself to
be worthy of continuing his father’s work. Beneficial church reforms, led as before by St. Dunstan,
continued apace under the new king.
However, not everyone in England regarded the changes in the Church, and especially their support
by young King Edward, with a pure heart and without dark thoughts. Many of the important and
wealthy political leaders regarded the Church as a means of dishonestly enriching themselves and of
gaining various types of political opportunities. They formed something of a party in opposition to
the reforms. Its formal head was Elver, Count of Mercia, but its soul was Edward’s stepmother, the
widowed Queen Elfrida. Supporters of King Edward and Holy Hierarch St. Dunstan were St. Oswald,
Archbishop of York, and Lord Brihtnoth, a person of influence in the kingdom.
Edward’s opponents held so much hatred for him that they decided to hurry to achieve what they
desired. These people preferred operating more in the dark than in the light, which explains why the
young king trusted them and with a light heart accepted his stepmother’s invitation to visit, with
only a small retinue, at Corfe Castle, Dorchester, where Elfrida and her son Ethelred lived. On March
18, 979, Edward arrived at the place of his downfall.

He rode on horseback into the castle courtyard and was met with gestures of welcome by Elfrida’s
people. Suddenly they seized their king by the arms, and one of the servants stabbed Edward in the
chest with a dagger. The blow apparently was so powerful that the young king fell from his saddle.
One of his legs was caught in the stirrup, and as his terrified mount horse burst through the castle
gate and ran toward the woods, it dragged the body of the mortally wounded Edward along the
ground. When the king’s entourage finally managed to bring the horse to a halt, they saw that young
King Edward was dead.
At Elfrida’s order, his body was quickly buried without due ceremony at the little church in
Wareham, several miles from Corfe Castle, the site of the perfidious act. In but a short time, another
boy, 11 year-old Ethelred, was declared king of England.
No one in England doubted that King Edward had been murdered at the order of those whose
identities everyone knew. However, the voice of St. Dunstan, the king’s faithful friend, was stifled,
and unfortunately all England remained silent. No one was called to account before a court for the
treasonous murder. The only thing St. Dunstan could do for his king he did in 981, when he managed
to bring his precious remains to the Shaftesbury Monastery, founded by Edward’s great-great-
grandfather, England’s King Alfred the Great. Two years had passed since the murder, but the
procession taking Edward to his new place of burial was greater than any England had ever
God’s judgment is unlike that of human courts. Betrayed by his servants on earth, the young King
Edward, with his love for God’s Church and with his own blood, found good will in the Lord’s eyes. As
tradition tells us, miracles at his grave began to happen the night after his cruel murder. An old blind
woman, in whose poor hut Edward’s body awaited burial, suddenly gained her sight! Soon, a healing
spring burst forth near the Royal Martyr’s first grave. It became a site of pilgrimage. When Edward’s
body was transferred to Shaftsbury, he began to be universally venerated. The veneration was so
extensive that twenty years later, in 1001, King Ethelred ordered that a new and rich reliquary be
prepared for his brother’s honorable relics. Pilgrims would even come from the continent to
venerate the Passion-bearer. Seven years later Alphege, the new Archbishop of Canterbury and
future hieromartyr, speaking for the Anglican Church, officially declared Edward a saint. In time, the
monastery where his holy relics reposed became known as St. Edward’s Abbey, and remained in
existence until the beginning of the Reformation in England in the 16th century. Over the course of
several centuries, the Saint was revered by many Christian peoples.
We remember that Ethelred became king at the age of only 11, and can suppose that this happened
only thanks to his mother’s desires and machinations. Ethelred is recorded in history as Ethelred the
Unready. Thus did the people respond to his not too successful rule, which constantly brought his
land into bloody wars with the invading Danes. It is significant that this king, who was a usurper –
albeit an involuntary one – had around him no wise councilors to whom he could turn for advice and
support. The days of the old, glorious England were almost over and perhaps the murder of King
Edward provided the mystical jolt that fundamentally changed the fate of that land. One must admit
that, to Ethelred’s credit, all his life he venerated King Edward as a saint. The chroniclers recorded
the actual words Ethelred spoke over the holy relics of his brother and predecessor: “It pleased the
Lord to glorify him in our days, manifesting a multitude of signs and wonders after his blood was
Ethelred ruled over England for a long time – for an entire 38 years – and died in 1016. He named his
first-born son Edward.

St. Dunstan took no part in King Ethelred’s affairs, but continued his ascetic labors for the good of
the Church. He reached the end of his earthly path in 988, when at the other end of Europe, the
lamp of Orthodoxy was being lit for Rus’.
We have yet to mention the fate of the cause of the Royal Martyr’s death, his stepmother Elfrida. By
the prayers of St. Edward, God did not cast her aside. Elfrida sincerely repented of her evil acts.
Using her own funds to establish two convents, the former queen left the stormy world and settled
down as a simple nun in one of them; there she died in 999.
Orthodoxy, which is universal, is bound neither by time nor distance, and the Saints of ancient
Orthodox Britain, Ireland and Gaul are our Saints as well, Saints who are ready to help us today if our
soul should respond with memory, love, and prayer, to the podvig of their lives, which they gave
over to Christ.
In conclusion, a few words about the fate of King Edward’s holy relics. For a long time, they were
thought to have been lost. However, quite recently, in the 1930s, an English amateur archaeologist
found them. It was later convincingly established that these were the actual relics of the Saint.
What for us Orthodox is the greatest cause for joy is that he decided to give this great holy treasure
to one of the English parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia – the Church of St.
Edward in Brookwood, in the County of Surrey.
Holy Martyr King Edward is commemorated on March 18.












Holy Martyr King Edward of England