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Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1

Edward the Martyr - His Election to the Throne through the influence of Dunstan - Doubts as to his Legitimacy - His Reign and Death.
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Edgar left two sons and a daughter. The eldest son, Edward, son of Elfleda, surnamed "The Fair," was by many deemed illegitimate; and a numerous party of the nobility were for raising his brother, the son of the queen Elfrida, to the throne; and in all probability would have succeeded, but for the promptitude and courage of Dunstan, who, in the assembly held on the death of the late king, took Edward by the hand, led him towards the church, attended by the other bishops and a great crowd of people, and anointed the young prince king, without regarding the opposition of the party against him. The nobles deplored their falling once more under the government of that imperious prelate; but, seeing the people ready to support him, they were compelled to submit.

Edward was but fourteen years old when he began to reign under the guardianship of Dunstan, who immediately took all the power into his hands; and, as soon as he was fixed in the regency, exerted every possible means to maintain the monks in possession of the benefices they had acquired in the last reign, and made use of the king's authority to that end. But he met with greater opposition than In one of these councils held at Winchester, the majority being against the monks, they would have infallibly lost their cause, if, on a sudden, a crucifix that hung aloft in the room had not pronounced these words with an audible voice: "It shall not be done; it shall not be done. You have decided the matter well hitherto, and would be to blame to change." Astonished at this oracle, the most obstinate immediately voted for the monks.

The dispute between the regular and secular clergy gave rise to great contentions in the kingdom, many of the nobility bitterly resenting the induction of the monks into the benefices. At last a council was called, at which Archbishop Dunstan presided. The assembly had not long been met before the floor of the apartment gave way - the only portion which remained intact being the beams which supported the chair of the primate, whose preservation was regarded as a miracle by the common people and the party who acted with Mm. After such" a manifestation of the divine will, for such it was considered, all further opposition ceased; the principal opponents of the measure having perished. A shrewd suspicion has been entertained that Dunstan knew beforehand what was about to occur, even if he had not secretly prepared the catastrophe, seeing that he Lad warned the king not to attend the meeting.

The most remarkable circumstance attending Edward was his death, which took place on March 18, 978, after a reign of three years.

He had been hunting in the neighbourhood of Corfe-Castle, the residence of his mother-in-law, Elfrida, and resolved to pay her a visit. The queen hastened to receive him, and pressed him earnestly to alight; this the prince, who most probably had good reasons to suspect her feelings towards him, declined, observing that he had merely time to accept a draught of wine. In the act of drinking it, he was stabbed in the back by an assassin whom Elfrida had bribed to commit the crime which was to elevate her son Ethelred to the throne.

Finding himself wounded, the youthful monarch set spurs to his horse and fled; but, fainting from loss of blood, fell, and perished miserably. The parties sent after him by the murderess easily traced the route he had taken by the track of blood. The body was brought back to Corfe-Castle and thrown into a well, where it was afterwards found, and removed first to Wareham and afterwards to Shaftesbury where it was interred in a church founded by King Alfred.

Shortly after his death the monks spread the report that miracles were worked at his tomb; the blind were said to have received their sight, the lame to recover the use of their limbs. Elfrida, to atone for her crime, founded two convents, in one of which, at Andover, she retired, and passed the rest of her days in penitence.

Edward was canonised by the Roman Church, and is generally known as St. Edward the Martyr.

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Pictures for Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1

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