EDWARD was born at Islip, near Oxford. He was the son of that King Ethelred who is called `the Unready,' who ruled so unwisely that the Danes managed to conquer England and become kings of it. Little Edward's mother, after Ethelred died, married again - the Danish King Canute - and in the wars and civil wars of those days Edward was sent for safety into France, and was brought up at the Norman court.
It was not till he was nearly forty that, as the other royal princes and the Danes who wanted the crown of England had died or been murdered, Edward was sent for to become King of England. He was a tall, gentle man, who was fond of hunting and hawking and outdoor sports of all kinds as well as of books and learning; but, above all, he tried to live the kind of life which he knew Christ would wish. He could not of course, become a monk, because he knew that it was his duty one day to be King; but, he determined, if ever he was called back to England he would try to be a `father to his people' and show what a Christian king could be; and in a land where, for years, they had been fighting and murdering for power and money, they should have a king who cared for neither.
When he became King he found that most of his own money came from a tax called the Danegeld which his father, many years ago, had made people pay so that he could give it to the Danes to stop them attacking him. There had been no need for the tax for a long time, because the Danes had actually been ruling England, but those in power went on collecting it, and making the poor people pay it. The year that Edward came back they made a special effort to get as much money as they could. They thought the new King would be pleased, and reward them for it. So the chief noble took Edward into a room of the palace where a great heap of gold pieces were lying.
"That, your Majesty, is the money we have collected for you," he said. "You will be pleased that it's a bigger amount this year than it has ever been."
"Where does it come from?" asked the King.
"The poor people?"
"Some of them are poor, yes. But they all pay the tax so that the land shall be protected."
"But," said the King, "there is no enemy now for them to be protected from. In my father's time this money was not kept by him. It was paid to the Danes. I shall not keep it either."
"What will you do with it, your Majesty?" asked the nobles.
"Give it back to the people you stole it from," said the King. "See that it is all returned to the poor from whom it was taken."
When Edward had been in exile in Normandy he had made a vow that, if he ever came back to the throne of England, he would make a pilgrimage to Rome; and he started putting his own money aside to pay for this. But, as he saw how difficult it was to rule the country, he started to wonder whether it would be wise for the King to be away for such a long time as the pilgrimage would take. So he sent to the Pope to ask if he might be allowed not to fulfill his vow.
The Pope said he could be excused from coming to Rome on one condition - that he would spend the money he had saved and any more he might raise to building a great church in his capital dedicated to St. Peter. This Edward was only too delighted to do, and he spent much money and time and thought on it. And that is how Westminster Abbey came to be built, where today at the very center of it St. Edward lies buried in his shrine.
One day, early in his reign, he was present at the dedication of another church, which had just been built in Essex in honor of St. John the Evangelist. An old beggar came up to him and asked him for alms. Edward (as was usually the case) had no money with him, but he immediately took a gold ring from his finger and gave it to the old man., who thanked him and went away. Many years later some English pilgrims in Jerusalem met the same beggar, who explained to them that he was St. John the Evangelist, and had come to the opening of the church built in his honor and that he wanted them to take the ring back to King Edward with the message that within six months he would die and be taken to Heaven.
They brought the ring back to the King, who immediately recognized it, and who began to prepare himself for death. He lived just long enough to know that the building of his great church at Westminster was finished, though he was too ill to be at the opening of it, and he was the first person to be buried there. In pictures of St. Edward the Confessor, in books or in stainedglass windows, he is usually shown holding the ring which was sent back to him in such a miraculous way.
Before he died he warned the courtiers and nobles round him that their wickedness would bring great trouble on the country. In that same year, 1066, England was conquered by the Normans, and the ordinary people, oppressed and killed once more, mourned for the days of `good King Edward.'
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