London History Bulletin – January 5

Edward the Confessor died on January 5, 1066. This London History Bulletin tells the tale.


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London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

It’s January 5th.

January 5th, 1066.

King Edward the Confessor has just given up the ghost. Except it may not have been January 5th. He may have died on January 4th. Historians don’t know for sure which day it was.

What we do know is that he expired in his royal palace at Westminster. And he we know that he was so poorly – he’s believed to have suffered a series of strokes – that he was unable to attend the dedication of his new church – Westminster Abbey – on December 28th. He was buried before the high altar of Westminster Abbey on January 6th.

What else? Edward was born between 1003 and 1005 at Islip, near Oxford. He was the seventh son of the warrior king King Aethelred II, but the first from his father’s second marriage.

That second marriage was to Emma, the sister of Richard, the Duke of Normandy.

So Edward was of Anglo-Norman stock.

In the words of historian Frank Barlow, Edward’s youth was conditioned by warfare. The kingdom had become the target for Viking raids, colonization and, in the end, conquest. And Æthelred’s marriage to Emma, designed to secure the support of established Scandinavian raiders and settlers against the new wave, in the event only added an even more lethal Norman involvement to the Norwegian and Danish interest in England.

The Norman support was of no avail. The Danes took possession of the kingdom in 1016. 

Aethelred, Emma and their children fled to Normandy. Edward spent 25 years in exile.

25 years on he returned a stranger. That he was able to restore the traditional strong monarchy after a quarter of a century of usurpation and 25 years in exile is a measure of his abilities and his mettle.

Edward’s obituary notice, a poem, in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is an unqualified encomium. It said, “he lived in royal splendour, blithely courageous, a ruler of heroes, lavish with his riches, the master and protector of a wide empire. He was a good man, wise and strong in counsel. At his death he consigned the kingdom to a suitable successor. Angels led his righteous soul to heaven.” 

Anything else?  Yes, some miracle cures were said to have occurred at his tomb shortly after his burial. 

He was also credited with some cures during his lifetime, including one of a young woman who was suffering from scrofulous glands of the neck, a disease which became known as the king’s evil. And that the touch of a king would cure it. 

In 1102 Gilbert Crispin, abbot of Westminster, had the grave opened and the corpse inspected by, among others, Gundulf, bishop of Rochester.

Edward was canonised on February 7th, 1161.

In the 13th century, Henry III, an ardent worshipper of Edward, rebuilt Westminster Abbey and had a splendid new tomb constructed to which the saint was translated on 13 October 1269. Needless to say, that’s the tomb we see on our Westminster Abbey tour. Henry III also named his eldest son and successor after the Confessor. For good measure, Henry III was the first English king to have regularly ‘touched’ for the king’s evil, a custom which surely stemmed from the miracle attributed to the Confessor.

And a couple of other visuals for you.  When you’re in front of the great west front of Westminster Abbey look for the memorial to the old boys of Westminster School who lost their lives in the Crimean War and the Indian mutiny. At the very top of the column is a statue of St George slaying the dragon. Just beneath St George, enthroned, are four monarchs. The one facing Westminster Abbey is Edward the Confessor. And do look for Edward’s coat of arms. It’s a cross flory surrounded by five martlets or martins.

They birds are shown without feet or legs. For some reason they believed that the martlet was missing those two important appendages. A bird that doesn’t have legs and feet cannot come to rest. It’s necessarily forever on the move. And that was deemed to be a good representation of Edward the Confessor because he was forever questing, tireless in his attempts to get closer to God. 

You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin. 

Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative. 

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for. 

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea. As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. See ya tomorrow.

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