In the 11th Century, when barren wives are customarily cast aside, how does Edith of Wessex not only manage to stay married to King Edward the Confessor, but also become his closest advisor, promote her family to the highest offices in the land, AND help raise her brother to the throne? And why is her story only told in the footnotes of Edward’s history?
Not everyone approves of Edward’s choice of bride. Even the king’s mother, Emma of Normandy, detests her daughter-in-law and Edith is soon on the receiving end of her displeasure. Balancing her sense of family obligation with her duty to her husband, Edith must also prove herself to her detractors.
Edward’s and Edith’s relationship is respectful and caring, but when Edith’s enemies engineer her family’s fall from grace, the king is forced to send her away. She vows to do anything to protect her family’s interests if she returns, at any cost. Can Edith navigate the dangerous path fate has set her, while still remaining loyal to both her husband and her family?
As is usual for historical women, Queen Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor, has been given short shrift by historians. She was undoubtedly a pawn in her father’s power struggles, for Earl Godwin of Wessex had a tenuous relationship with the king and needed a strong bond to stay on top of the political game. What stronger tie than marriage? Naturally, Edith’s feelings had nothing to do with the arrangement and, like it or not, she had to play her part. Even though her family—except for Tostig—treated her like a pawn in their dynastic game and Emma, the queen mother, made no effort to hide her hatred of the Godwines, Edith was able to hold her head high. King Edward appreciated her company, and they were able to forge a comfortable partnership—maybe even love. Alas, her primary duty, to give birth to an heir, remained unaccomplished and Edith was well aware that her status was as queen was in jeopardy—especially when her family fell out of favor. Edith’s barrenness was always at the top of the list of objections:
The corridor leading to the king’s rooms was filled with yelling, and a wide berth was left around the door by his carls. No one wanted to be near the entrance when the occupants exited, judging by the harsh words being exchanged between Archbishop Robert, Emma, and the king.
“You must divorce her. Now.”
Edward Edward strode around the room before stopping before Robert and pointing a finger at him. “No. How dare you even suggest such a thing. You are a man of God, and you are advising I put my mortal soul in peril by breaking one of the laws of the church?”
“Your majesty, in this case the act is justified, and you will be forgiven.”
“I swear by all that is holy, Robert, if you say one more word…”
“The woman is barren. You need an heir.” Emma’s voice, despite being low, carried over the king’s words.
Poor Edith couldn’t get a break. But as she survived each challenge she became stronger and more confident. From being a frightened girl and a threatened wife, she emerged as a figure to be reckoned with, even beyond the death of her husband. Excellent tale about a forgotten queen.