By Revd Stephen Griffiths and Paul Wiggin (Reprinted from The Link, Winter 2023)
Around 1000 years ago a remarkable woman was born, whose story has largely been forgotten. The daughter of the influential Earl Godwine of Wessex and his Danish wife Gytha, Edith was destined for a royal future as the Queen of one king, Edward the Confessor, and the sister of another king, the ill-fated Harold.
Over the last few years we have been exploring the possibility of celebrating Edith’s life at All Saints Oakham. Many of our more famous kings and queens are remembered in particular places. Despite being buried in Westminster Abbey, next to Edward the Confessor’s impressive shrine, Edith has no such place where her story is told. So why should she be especially remembered in Rutland?
Queen Edith is woven into the history of Rutland as the last Queen to hold many of the manors of our county as her personal possession. Her legacy gently echos down the centuries to the present day, with her name preserved in one of the Rutland villages she held, Edith Weston. Successive Queens in the Anglo-Saxon era were awarded the income from a wide variety of estates and manors in order to fund their household and interests. Rutland was a key part of this dower land, which may explain why it escaped being fully merged into the major counties which were being established around this time.
With the help of Pauline Stafford, the leading expert and writer on Queen Edith, we aim to bring Edith’s story to life in time for the 1000th anniversary of Edith’s birth, and with Paul Wiggin’s artwork and other historic illustrations we can capture something of the Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian and Norman cultures in which she lived. This will,we hope, add a little more to the historic landscape that we enjoy in our area.
Rutland was not Edith’s sole interest by any means. She was raised at the nunnery in Wilton, Wiltshire, which lay close to the West Saxon royal court. She later had its wooden monastic church rebuilt in stone. She had influence in church affairs, guiding the choice of bishops and as a patron to churches. She oversaw the transformation of King Edward’s royal regalia, including the making of a new crown and seal. In her lifetime England was a crucible for the competing claims of Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian and Norman rulers. With loyalties to all three ruling dynasties Queen Edith emerges from these tumultuous times as an astute and diplomatic survivor. Though not a saint, Queen Edith lived out the Christian virtues and values of her time, promoting faith and education, and providing sanctuary for her young adopted family.
Picture by Paul Wiggin – based on Edith’s coronation from Aelred’s 13th century Life of Edward
Queen Edith’s life sheds important light on Rutland’s royal and social history, adding to what we already know and cherish from our heritage. As we navigate the complexities of our own times, the story of Queen Edith shows us how our vocation and our choices combine to create our destiny.