18 March 978: King Edward is murdered at Corfe

The teenage monarch is viciously stabbed in the back


On 18 March 978, a brutal murder was committed at Corfe in Dorset – and the victim was Edward, king of the English. “No worse deed for the English race was done than this,” the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle lamented.

The main suspect for the assassination was Edward’s stepmother, Ælfthryth, widow of his father, King Edgar. Certainly she had a motive: with Edward dead, his younger half-brother – her son, Æthelred – would inherit the English throne. It has been suposed that she invited the young king to Corfe to participate in a hunt, with murder in mind.

That March evening, as the hunters gath- ered, mounted and ready to ride out, Ælfth- ryth offered Edward a cup of wine. Turning to sip from the cup, he was stabbed in the back by her servants. As he fell from his steed, bloodied but still alive, Edward’s foot became caught in the stirrup – and, when the horse fled, he was dragged to his death.

The murdered king was buried quickly and unceremoniously at Saint Mary’s Church in nearby Wareham; soon afterwards, though, his remains were disinterred and moved to the more-prestigious Shaftesbury Abbey. Following reports of various miracles at his tomb, he was then canonised – becoming known as Edward the Martyr. | Written by Helen Carr

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