Thoughts on the Character of Edward the Confessor

There is so little known about Edward the Confessor as a person.  Most of what we know about him is not actually him but the time he lived in.  This, I feel, has made many people “infer” his character and what he was like.  In addition, his later chroniclers probably distorted his image to fit the image of a saint or some other purpose.  As a result, a real picture of Edward the Confessor as a human being cannot be created.  All that we have consist of bits and pieces.  We will never know what he was like completely.  Despite that, my interest in Edward the Confessor – the man – made me look closer to see if I can see something.  Certainly, I am no expert but these are my initial thoughts:

He was known to be very religious.  This seems to of begun in his early years of exile (whether he was religious before that I don’t know).  They say that when he was in Normandy he made friends with two monks there and this had a big impact on him.  Since then he liked to keep the company of monks.  He seemed to be very ‘monkish’ all the rest of his life.  I’ve often described him as a “monk-king”.  I’ve often wondered if he became religious as a refuge from the insecurity of his exile or if he was genuinely a religious man at that time.  No one knows.  I’ve often wondered if he wanted to be a monk , deep down, but was ‘forced’ to be a king.  Perhaps he was a ‘reluctant king’?

Due to his religious nature he appears to of been humble.

He was chaste.  This shows his monkish nature again.  He did not want to marry but married to satisfy his kingly position (again showing a conflict between the monk and the king).  He made an agreement, with his wife Edith, that they would not consummate the marriage.  And so, like a monk, he remained a virgin.  My understanding is that Edith, herself, later confirmed the marriage was never consummated.  Of course, it was this chasteness that caused problems for England later, as he left no heir to the throne.

He despised greed. He apparently did not put a lot of store in riches and there are several accounts of his giving away expensive things (people who robbed coffer and the ring).

His favourite saint was St. Peter.  He also appears to had a reverence for St. Paul.

Accounts from the ‘vita’ described how he’d have ‘visions’, often while at dinner.  These were often describing events or were prophetic.

They say that his eyes were always fixed on the ground.  Was this due to religious humility or a personal characteristic?  We will never know.

He had a Kingly mien.  He knew his position in life.

He often did things and would retract them.   He displayed this with his mother and with Godwin.  Perhaps, this shows a very forgiving character?  It could also describe a weak person who didn’t uphold things.

He seemed to do things blindly (perhaps that’s why he often retracted things?).  A good example is how he intended being married knowing that he wanted to live a chaste life.  In addition, supposedly they wanted him to marry specifically to have a heir, so they don’t have the Danish try to claim the throne again.  He agreed knowing he wouldn’t have a heir.

He may have been talked into being a king.  If this is true, it may suggest he was a little gullable and easily persuaded.  It may also mean that he knew it was something that had to be done, showing a deep sense of responsibility.

The accounts show that common people would have dreams or visions telling them to go to Edward.  This seems to suggest that, even while he was alive, he was known to be saintly.  It seems that I recall accounts from Norway describing Edward as the ‘saintly king’.

It was while he was alive that his miraculous healing powers became known, and this by a blind person washing their eyes with the water Edward used to wash his hands.

His healing powers continued for centuries after his death.

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