Essential Wessex: Edward, King and Martyr

Edward, the boy king of England from 975 until his death three years later while still a teenager, was famously murdered at Corfe Castle and buried at Shaftesbury Abbey. The circumstances of his death are unclear, but a substantial body of legend built up around it. He was commonly seen as a martyr, and is recognised as a saint by the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The pious version of the story states that he was a wise and good leader, generous to the church. But he was resented by his wicked stepmother, Queen Elfreda, who wanted to place her biological son Ethelred (later known as the Unready) on the throne. Elfreda arranged for him to be murdered and his body thrown into a marsh. But God sent a light to reveal the whereabouts of the body.

Today, historians dispute how much involvement, if any, Elfreda had in his death. Relics said to be those of the saint are now kept by the fundamentalist “True Orthodox” monastery at Brookwood in Surrey, though the remains in question have been identified as those of a man aged around 30, and not a teenage boy.

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