Today, 8 Jul 2012, is the memorial of St Edgar the Peaceful, king of England, (a.k.a. Eadgar the Peaceable, Edgar I) who ruled from 959 till his death in 975. While many Saints might seem well beyond us in virtue, St Edgar wasn’t one of them. Several parts of his life are blush-worthy, and yet he left behind a legacy full of goodness. He might have made a poor start, and a less than stellar middle, but he certainly was at rights with God at the end when he died, where it counts the most.
St Edgar the Peaceful arrived in this world between 942 and 944 and had a rocky start in life. Within a year of his birth his mother was dead, and within three years his father was stabbed to death. Left a royal orphan, he was raised by an uncle who acted as regent until his older brother was old enough to take over the reigns of the kingdom. When his brother died, Edgar became king in 959
At this stage Edgar was definitely the king of Wessex. Through probably foul means as well as fair, he managed to bring the additional kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria under his rule, and then laid claim to the title of King of England. No one else had ever had clout enough to claim that title before. Under one large kingdom, the smaller kingdoms no longer had any reason to make war on each other, and thus greater peace and stability was enjoyed by all.
It is always instructive to see what people do when real power is placed in their hands. In Edgar’s case he recalled the exiled St Dunstan back to England, obtaining his appointment as bishop of Worcester. The next thing Edgar did was to encourage monastic life, realising that more often than not a priest living under the Benedictine rule was likely to be holier than a diocesan priest. Not content with moral encouragement, Edgar also set aside a lot of land for Church and monastic use. As a wise ruler, Edgar could see that the more holy people he had in his kingdom and the more people he had praying in monasteries then the more the fruits of God’s kingdom would abound in the earthly kingdom ; love, joy , peace, patience, kindness etc (Gal 5:22).
Certainly Edgar’s marital virtues left a lot to be desired. His first wife died young, presumably something to do with childbirth complications. Apparently he abducted and seduced a nun, making her pregnant, and when he found a beautiful woman he fancied he wasn’t above killing her husband ‘by accident’ on a hunt and marrying her himself. That’s not playing by God’s rules at all. But even here, after all this mess, there is good fruit. The only son from his first wife is St Edward the Martyr, and the daughter born to the nun is St Edith.
During Edgar’s reign there was stability, and the courts and legal system worked. These contributed to a flourishing in education and literature – things that don’t happen when war breaks out. He may not have been squeaky clean in some areas of his life, but he did rule in such a way that goodness, peace and virtue came to his subjects. Only a good tree can produce sound fruit. (Matt 7:16-19)
On 8 July 975, King Edgar yielded up his soul to God at Winchester, and afterwards was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. Even here he was wise, making sure that the monks of Glastonbury would be reminded each time they saw his tomb to pray for his soul. All of us would be fortunate indeed if we had so much good done on earth to plead for mercy for us at the judgment seat of God.
St Edgar the Peaceful, pray for us