Edith of Wessex
Edith of Wessex married King Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor also known as St. Edward the Confessor , son of Æthelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy, was one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England and is usually regarded as the last king of the House of Wessex, ruling from 1042 to 1066....

 of England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 on 23 January 1045. Unlike most wives of kings of England in the tenth and eleventh centuries, she was crowned queen, but the marriage produced no children. Later ecclesiastical writers claimed that this was either because Edward took a vow of celibacy
Celibacy is a personal commitment to avoiding sexual relations, in particular a vow from marriage. Typically celibacy involves avoiding all romantic relationships of any kind. An individual may choose celibacy for religious reasons, such as is the case for priests in some religions, for reasons of...

, or because he refused to consummate the marriage because of his antipathy to Edith's family, the Godwins. However, this is dismissed by modern historians. In the view of Edward's biographer, Frank Barlow
Frank Barlow (historian)
Frank Barlow CBE FBA FRSL was a British historian, known particularly for biographies of medieval figures.Barlow studied at St John's College, Oxford. He was Professor of History at the University of Exeter from 1953 until he retired in 1976 and became Emeritus Professor...

, "The theory that Edward's childlessness was due to deliberate abstention from sexual relations lacks authority, plausibility and diagnostic value." The principal source on her life is a work she herself commissioned, the Vita Ædwardi Regis
Vita Ædwardi Regis
The Vita Ædwardi Regis qui apud Westmonasterium Requiescit or simply Vita Ædwardi Regis is a historical work completed by an anonymous author c. 1067 and commissioned by Queen Edith, wife of King Edward the Confessor. It survives in one manuscript, dated c. 1100, now in the British Library...

or the Life of King Edward who rests at Westminster, which is inevitably biassed.

Edith was the daughter of Godwin
Godwin, Earl of Wessex
Godwin of Wessex , was one of the most powerful lords in England under the Danish king Cnut the Great and his successors. Cnut made him the first Earl of Wessex...

, the most powerful earl in England. Her mother Gytha
Gytha Thorkelsdóttir
Gytha Thorkelsdottir , also called Githa, was the daughter of Thorgil Sprakling . She married the Anglo-Saxon nobleman Godwin of Wessex....

 was sister of Ulf, a Danish earl who was Cnut the Great's brother-in-law. Edith was brought up at Wilton Abbey
Wilton Abbey
Wilton Abbey was a Benedictine convent in Wiltshire, England, three miles from Salisbury on the site now occupied by Wilton House. A first foundation was made as a college of secular priests by Wulfstan, Ealdorman of Wiltshire, about 773, but after his death was changed into a convent for twelve...

. She was an educated woman who spoke several languages, skills she probably acquired at Wilton. She remained attached to it, and in later years rebuilt its church.

In 1051 Godwin and his sons fell out with Edward and fled the country. Edith was sent to a nunnery, possibly because she was childless and Edward hoped to divorce her. When the Godwins effected their return through force in 1052, Edith was reinstated. In later years, she became one of Edward's inner group of advisers. In the Vita Edwardi, according to Barlow, "although she is always placed modestly behind the throne, the author does not minimize her power or completely conceal her will. Whenever we catch sight of her elsewhere, we see a determined woman, interfering, hard, probably bad-tempered".

As the king's wife, she was responsible for his regal presentation. She commissioned works for his personal ornament, and had at least one goldsmith among her tenants. When he died, the Domesday Book
Domesday Book
Domesday Book , now held at The National Archives, Kew, Richmond upon Thames in South West London, is the record of the great survey of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086...

 shows that she was the richest woman in England, and the fourth wealthiest individual, after the king, Stigand
Stigand was an English churchman in pre-Norman Conquest England. Although his birthdate is unknown, by 1020, he was serving as a royal chaplain and advisor. He was named Bishop of Elmham in 1043, and then later Bishop of Winchester and Archbishop of Canterbury...

, Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

, and her brother Harold
Harold Godwinson
Harold Godwinson was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England.It could be argued that Edgar the Atheling, who was proclaimed as king by the witan but never crowned, was really the last Anglo-Saxon king...

. She held land valued at between £1,570 and £2,000 per annum.

The Vita Edwardi emphasised her piety. She helped Giso, the Bishop of Wells, secure the endowments of his see, and gave lands to Abingdon Abbey
Abingdon Abbey
Abingdon Abbey was a Benedictine monastery also known as St Mary's Abbey located in Abingdon, historically in the county of Berkshire but now in Oxfordshire, England.-History:...

, but the monks of Evesham alleged that she had the relics of many monasteries brought to Gloucester so that she could select the best for herself. When Gervin, abbot of Saint-Riquier
Saint-Riquier is a commune in the Somme department in Picardie in northern France.-Geography:The commune is situated northeast of Abbeville, on the D925 and D32 crossroads.-Abbey:...

, who was visiting the English court, rejected her kiss of greeting, she took offence. Edward reproved her, and she accepted the rebuff, even going on to urge English churchmen not to kiss women, although they did not object to the custom.

She was close to her brother Tostig
Tostig Godwinson
Tostig Godwinson was an Anglo-Saxon Earl of Northumbria and brother of King Harold Godwinson, the last crowned english King of England.-Early life:...

, and in 1055 she and Harold secured his appointment as Earl of Northumbria
Earl of Northumbria
Earl of Northumbria was a title in the Anglo-Danish, late Anglo-Saxon, and early Anglo-Norman period in England. The earldom of Northumbria was the successor of the ealdormanry of Bamburgh, itself the successor of an independent Bernicia. Under the Norse kingdom of York, there were earls of...

. His rule was unpopular, and in 1064 Edith was accused at court of engineering the murder of the Northumbrian noble Gospatrick in Tostig's interest. In 1065 Tostig was probably hunting with King Edward when the northerners rebelled and elected Morcar, Harold's brother-in-law, as earl. Tostig charged Harold with conspiring with the rebels, a charge which Harold purged himself of with a public oath. Edward demanded that the rebels be suppressed, but to his and Edith's fury Harold and the English thegns refused enforce the order. Morcar was confirmed as earl and Tostig forced into exile.

Upon Edward's death, on 4 January 1066, he was succeeded by Edith's brother, Harold Godwinson
Harold Godwinson
Harold Godwinson was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England.It could be argued that Edgar the Atheling, who was proclaimed as king by the witan but never crowned, was really the last Anglo-Saxon king...

. At the Battle of Stamford Bridge
Battle of Stamford Bridge
The Battle of Stamford Bridge took place at the village of Stamford Bridge, East Riding of Yorkshire in England on 25 September 1066, between an English army under King Harold Godwinson and an invading Norwegian force led by King Harald Hardrada of Norway and the English king's brother Tostig...

 (25 September 1066) and the Battle of Hastings
Battle of Hastings
The Battle of Hastings occurred on 14 October 1066 during the Norman conquest of England, between the Norman-French army of Duke William II of Normandy and the English army under King Harold II...

 (14 October 1066), Edith lost four of her remaining brothers (Tostig, Harold, Gyrth
Gyrth Godwinson
Gyrth Godwinson was the fourth son of Earl Godwin, and thus a younger brother of Harold II of England. He went with his eldest brother Swegen into exile to Flanders in 1051, but unlike Swegen he was able to return with the rest of the clan the following year...

 and Leofwine
Leofwine Godwinson
Leofwine Godwinson was a younger brother of Harold II of England, the fifth son of Earl Godwin.When the Godwin family was exiled from England in 1051 he went with Harold to Ireland...

). Her brother Wulfnoth
Wulfnoth Godwinson
Wulfnoth Godwinson was a younger brother of Harold II of England, the sixth son of Godwin.He was given as a hostage to Edward the Confessor in 1051 as assurance of Godwin's good behaviour and support during the confrontation between the earl and the king which led to the exile of Godwin and his...

, who had been given to Edward the Confessor as a hostage in 1051 and soon afterwards became a prisoner of William the Conqueror, remained in captivity in Normandy. Edith was therefore the only senior member of the Godwin family to survive the Norman conquest
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

 on English soil, the sons of Harold having fled to Ireland.

Carola Hicks, an art historian, has recently put her forward as a candidate for the author of the Bayeux Tapestry
Bayeux Tapestry
The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth—not an actual tapestry—nearly long, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings...


After Edward's death Edith read the lives of English saints, and gave information about St Kenelm to his hagiographer, Goscelin
Goscelin of Saint-Bertin was a Benedictine hagiographical writer, born between 1020–1035 and who died shortly after 1107...

. She died at Winchester on 18th December 1075. Matthew Paris
Matthew Paris
Matthew Paris was a Benedictine monk, English chronicler, artist in illuminated manuscripts and cartographer, based at St Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire...

records a tradition that her death brought an end to an illness from which she had been suffering at some length. She was buried together with her husband in Westminster Abbey and her funeral was arranged by William. The northern author of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Manuscript D, reports:
"Edith the Lady died seven nights before Christmas in Winchester, she was King Edward's wife, and the king had her brought to Westminster with great honour and laid her near King Edward, her lord."
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