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From Anglorum basileus to Norman Saint: The Transformation of Edward the Confessor

From Anglorum basileus to Norman Saint: The Transformation of Edward the Confessor

By Lynn Jones

Haskins Society Journal, Vol.12 (2002)

Introduction: We are familiar with the image of Edward the Confessor as presented in the Bayeux Tapestry: old, frail and fading fast. Familiar too is the later version ofEdward, such as that seen in the fourteenth-century Wilton Diptych – still old, but now imbued with sanctity. But what of other conceptions of Edward? In the following pages I explore the transformation of the visual and textual expression of Edward’s rule (1043-66) through the reign of Henry II (1154-89). I argue that during his lifetime Edward appropriated foreign iconography and ideology in order to equate his rule with that of his imperial counterparts in Germany and Byzantium. The subsequent Norman development of the cult of Edward altered traditions associating him with foreign courts, particularly Byzantium. New legends were introduced and existing ones revised to better reflect the current ideal of pious rulership and to buttress claims of Anglo-Norman royal legitimacy.

The only surviving depiction of Edward before his 1043 investiture is found in an illuminated encomium commissioned by and celebrating Emma, Edward’s mother (BM Add. MS 33241, fol. 1V). The frontispiece depicts Emma seated on an architectural throne wearing jeweled robes and a large crown made more prominent by foliate projections. The author of the encomium kneels before her, presenting his text for her approval. Behind him, peeking out from the architectural frame is Harthacnut, and squeezed behind him is Edward. Harthacnut is larger in scale than his elder half-brother and wears a crown similar to that worn by Emma but without the projections, while Edward sports a simple headband. Other than these two details the artist made little effort to indicate Harthacnut’s status as king, or indeed to differentiate between the two brothers. It is Emma who thoroughly dominates the page. She is twice as large as her middle-aged sons, is shown with greater frontality and has all eyes intently fixed upon her.

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See also Edward the Confessor, King of England

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