What do you do when you end up in a job for which you are totally unsuitable? This was what happened to Edward the Confessor who was king of England from 1042 to 1066. He really didn’t have the normal qualities associated with being a king. He had many gentler qualities, though, and as a result he gave England over 20 years of peace as well as the beautiful church called Westminster Abbey.
Those attending the 2pm SLT service in the Cathedral on Tuesday learnt a little more about this king turned saint. The readings were Psalm 72:1-7, 2 Samuel 23:1-5, 1 John 4:13-16, Mark 10:42-45.
Imagine that you are an employer and you have a vacancy in your company. It is a very important position and it’s critical that you get the right person. You advertise the post and the application forms come flooding in. Those applying have done their best to portray themselves as just the person you need for the job. Before committing yourself to interviewing anyone, you send off to their referees for references.
One particular person seems to have some very poor references indeed. Listen to these comments:
“He has neither the appetite nor the ability suitable for the office.”
“He has poor judgement and a childlike nature.”
“He is listless and ineffectual.”
“I consider him weak and indecisive”
“He is very weak, influenced by various factions.”
“He has a lack of military ability and reputation.”
Having read this lot, and with a choice of candidates before you, I would think it highly unlikely that you would even bother to interview, let alone employ, this person for your very important position.
When I was doing some research on King Edward the Confessor, those are some of the comments I found regarding his personal qualities. Hardly ideal king material you would think. And yet, Edward became king of England in 1042, succeeding his half-brother Harthacnut.
During Edward’s reign all did not go well, as might be expected. He had grown up in Normandy and mostly kept Norman nobles around him. His court became a hotbed of intrigue as Norman lords and those of the powerful houses of Mercia and Wessex jostled for position. This intrigue was to continue after his death, leading to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 which became the way to settle the dispute over who should succeed Edward.
Unusually for a king, Edward did not get involved in many wars. There was a campaign to repel the Welsh and he also helped Malcolm III of Scotland when Macbeth attempted to usurp his throne. Otherwise Edward worked to avoid foreign wars.
Edward’s marriage in 1045 was a failure. He was persuaded by his nobles to marry Edith, daughter of Earl Godwin but he insisted that she agree to live with him as his sister. He had taken a vow of celibacy. By 1051 he had argued with his father in law and Edith had gone to a convent.
It would be legitimate to ask why we choose to remember a failure today. Why celebrate the life of someone who was just not up to the job?
Despite Edward’s weaknesses, his reign resulted in England having over 20 years of peace and prosperity with excellent trade. Even during the time of the skirmishes with the Welsh and the Scots, administration of the affairs of the country continued well. Edward managed the country prudently and this provided efficient financial and judicial systems in the country. Despite having powerful neighbours, he did not allow them to dominate him. He managed to resolve some of the internal difficulties with the nobles by his own gentleness and diplomacy.
Edward lived at a time when kings were in general crude, rough men. They were often cruel towards other people and oppressed the poor and less powerful. Edward had a very different style. This is an extract from his Charter of 1063:
“It is our duty courageously to oppose the wicked and take good men as models, by enriching the churches of God, relieving those oppressed by wicked judges, and by judging equitably the powerful and the humble.”
Edward had a reputation as a kindly king. He worked for the welfare of the people rather than for his own ambition. He freed the people from paying the much hated “Danegelt” which was originally a tax levied to pay off the Vikings to prevent them invading but was no longer needed. Edward gave a great deal of money in alms to poor people and for religious purposes. He paid this out of his own money rather than through taxation. He made himself available to his subjects if they were seeking a resolution to their grievances. In the years after his reign the contentment of Edward’s reign led to nostalgia for “the good St. Edward’s laws”.
Not only was Edward kind, he was also pious. He never neglected public or private worship. When he had been in exile in Normandy he had made a vow to go on pilgrimage to Rome to visit St Peter’s tomb if his fortunes ever changed. Once they had changed, his advisors considered it unwise to leave the country for such a long period. As an alternative, the pope allowed Edward to rebuild or found a church. Edward chose to enlarge the Church of St Peter on Thorney Island, which was a low lying marshy area beside the River Thames. This became known as Westminster Abbey. From1052 until 1065 Edward made the building of this great church his major project and looked on it as his greatest achievement.
Westminster Abbey was consecrated on 28th December 1065 but Edward was too ill to attend, having suffered a ‘malady of the brain’, possibly a stroke or a brain haemorrhage in the November. Edward died on the night of 4th -5th January 1066. He was buried in the newly completed Abbey.
Edward was canonised in 1161. He was called ‘confessor’ as this was how saints who died a natural death was designated at that time. The Roman Catholic Church lists St Edward the Confessor as the patron saint of kings, of difficult marriages and of separated spouses. From the end of the reign of Henry II until 1348, Edward was the patron saint of England but was then replaced by Saint George. He is still the patron saint of the British royal family.
Despite lacking some of the qualities that the world would consider vital for his role as king, Edward was a successful monarch in his own way, and much loved by his people. The fact that he is still remembered shows that he made a lasting impact in England.
A friend of mine was the priest in a busy parish. When he came to retire, many people contacted him to wish him well and to share memories of his ministry among them. He told me that no one mentioned his great presentations to the clergy chapter, or his 5 year plan, or his fund raising efforts, or the brilliant PCC (vestry) meetings he chaired. What they did mention were those little words of encouragement, the visit when they were ill, the shopping he did for them, the prayers he said with them, the time he spent listening and so on.
As Mother Teresa said: ‘In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor