Edward the Confessor had a circuitous path to the English throne. The eldest son of Æthelred the Unready by his second wife Emma, he was twice forced into exile as a boy by the Scandinavian conquest of England. After a quarter of a century on the Continent, he was invited to return by the childless Harthacnut, whom Edward succeeded on the throne upon Harthacnut’s death in 1042. Though Edward spent over two decades on the throne, his rule became notable only in retrospect, as he was the last king of the House of Wessex and, nearly a century later, canonized by the Catholic Church as a saint, the only English king ever to enjoy such treatment.
For such a historic king, I expected there to be more biographies of him than is the case. Yet the options are disappointingly few. I will start with Frank Barlow’s biography of Edward for the English Monarchs series. Judging from other sources, it seems to be the standard work on Edward’s life, though if that is because of its quality or because the lack of new material on his life remains to be seen.
After that I’m going to try something different by reading two near-contemporary biographies of Edward. The first of these is the anonymous Vita Ædwardi Regis, or Life of King Edward. Written around 1100, it is easily the oldest biography of a monarch that I am evaluating for this site, and I’m especially interested to see how royal biographies were written nearly a millennia ago. After that I will read Aelred of Rievaulx’s The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor, which was written after Edward’s canonization and is the only literal example of a hagiography that I will read for this project. That fact alone has me looking forward to it with interest.
The last of the four biographies of Edward that I will read is Peter Rex’s 2008 book King & Saint: The Life of Edward the Confessor. I hoped that I would also have James’s Campbell’s biography of Edward for the Penguin Monarchs series as an option, but from what I can gather it seems that Campbell passed away before completing the manuscript. Because of this Rex’s book represents the most modern take on Edward’s life, and if it’s anything like Rex’s biography of Edward it should be a highly accessible work.