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The Murder of King Edward

According to legend it was here at Corfe Castle that the young King Edward, only sixteen years of age, was murdered by his stepmother Elfrida in 978 so that her own son might take the crown of England as his own.

The legend tells us that the young king stopped here while hunting and was shown great hospitality by Elfrida during his stay who offered him a farewell cup of wine as he was departing having pre-arranged that one of her retainers would stab him in the back while he drank.

There is little to support this legend but much to discredit it; the hill on which the castle now stands was then in the possession of Shaftesbury Abbey; the Domesday Book makes no mention of a castle on the site; and, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in dealing with Edwards murder, records its site as ' domus Elfridae' at 'Corfes Geat'.

A.D. 979. This year was King Edward slain at even-tide, at Corfe-gate, on the fifteenth before the kalends of April, and then was he buried at Wareham, without any kind of kingly honours. There has not been 'mid Angles a worse deed done than this was, since they first Britain-land sought. Men him murdered, but God him glorified. He was in life an earthly king; he is now after death a heavenly saint. Him would not his earthly kinsmen avenge, but him hath his heavenly Father greatly avenged. The earthly murderers would his memory on earth blot out, but the lofty Avenger hath his memory in the heavens and on earth wide-spread. They who would not erewhile to his living body bow down, they now humbly on knees bend to his dead bones. Now we may understand that men's wisdom and their devices, and their councils, are like nought 'gainst God's resolves. This year Ethelred succeeded to the kingdom; and he was very quickly after that, with much joy of the English witan, consecrated king at Kingston.

To continue with the tradition; the fataly wounded, the young king spurred his steed to gallop away towards Wareham but soon fainted and fell from his mount to be trapped in the stirrup. His body is said to hae been found along the Wareham road where there is now a cottage called St Edward's Cottage, hidden for a time before being buried in Wareham. Later the body was removed to be buried amidst much ceremony at Shaftesbury.

A plaque on the wall of the churchyard in the village commemorates a thausand years since the murder of Edward the Martyr.

The murdered King was canonised as Edward the Martyr and this is the dedication carried by the parish church at Corfe. The wicked step-mother? Well, some accounts say that she retired to a nunnery at Bere Regis to atone for her sins and ended her days there as abbess. Her son did succeed the murdered Edward as Ethelred the Unready but his was not a happy lot as his reign became a period of fierce conflict with the Danes who over-ran the country many times. His sons, Edmund Ironside and Edward the Confessor were both kings.

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