A Historiography of Chastity in the Marriage of Edith of Wessex and Edward the Confessor
Hagman, Maren (Macalester College)
Honours Project, (2011)
In a scene in TheKing’sSpeech,the 2011winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, Colin Firth as the stammering King George V prepares for his coronation in Westminster Abbey with his speech therapist Lionel Logue, portrayed by Geoffrey Rush. In one moment, while George has his back turned, Lionel steals into the coronation chair to provoke George’s anger and ease his stammer. When George does turn around, he snaps: “You can’t sit there! Get up!” Lionel asks, “Why not? It’s a chair.” George answers, “That is not a chair. That is Saint Edward’s chair!” Lionel continues to ask why he should leave the seat for George, and by implication his right to the throne, to which George exclaims “Because I have a voice!” (for which Firth deserved and won his own Academy Award for Best Actor).
I begin with this scene because it demonstrates the power the figure of Saint and King Edward the Confessor still has on popular imagination and English kingship. His place in the English history books as the last Anglo-Saxon, known for his piety and his upholding of English Common Law, has enshrined him in English national consciousness for a millennium. Due to that enduring relevance, Edward’s life has been constantly reinterpreted. Edward’s marriage to Edith of Wessex in particular has engendered dynamic and sometimes contradictory interpretation. Indeed, the story should be simple, as only the bare bones of their marriage are known and few details of his wife’s life are known.