18th March 978. Edward the Martyr.

Thomas Hardy reflecting on the ruins of Shaftesbury Abbey: ‘Vague imaginations of its castle its three mints its magnificent apsidal abbey the chief glory of south Wessex, its shrines, chantries, hospitals, all now ruthlessly swept away… throw visitors…into pensive melancholy’. Only a few stones remind us of the great Abbey today.

King Edward later known as the Martyr, of the House of Wessex, ruled from 975 to 978.

After the death Today in 978 of Edward the Martyr,  in which his step-mother Queen Elfrida was implicated, wanting the throne for her 7 years old son Ethelred, the relics of Edward were transferred from Wareham to Shaftesbury Abbey.(1)

Elfrida in an act of repentance was to build two monasteries at Wherwell and Ambresbury.

Shaftesbury, one of four Dorset towns mentioned in the Burghal Hidage, after the death of Edward became a place of pilgrimage, being renamed Edwardstowe, before reverting to its original name after the Reformation.

It was in 880 that Shaftesbury was founded, probably by Alfred whose daughter Aethelgifu was the first Abbess of the Benedictine Nunnery, the richest in England, benefiting as most abbeys, did from pilgrimage, endowments and Chantries.

However in 1424 the summons to parliament to which the Abbey was entitled by tenure was omitted on grounds that only men could serve: sexism 15thc style!

Angel from Shaftesbury.

Great Seal of Shaftesbury Abbey.








At the Dissolution of the Nunnery in 1539 the relics of Edward were hidden, not to be recovered until 1931 by Mr. Wilson-Claridge.

The Martyr’s identity was circumstantially confirmed by osteologist Dr T.E.A. Stowell in 1970 who suggested a boy had died in similar circumstances to Edward.

Sir Thomas Arundell 1st Baron Arundell of Wardour after the suppression bought Shaftesbury Abbey and most of the town until charged with treason and exiled, when it was acquired by Anthony Ashley Cooper 7th Earl Shaftesbury and later the Grosvenors. Another case of how wealth cascaded down in Britain to the present.

(1) Edward was son of Edgar the Peaceful and uncle to Edward the Confessor.




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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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