Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Edith (962?-984)

EDITH or EADGYTH, Saint (962?–984), the daughter of King Eadgar and Wulfthryth (Wulfrid or Wulftrud), was born in 962 or late in 961. Her mother, though at that time not a professed nun, had worn the veil at Wilton before the king made her his mistress, and appears to have been united to him by ‘handfasting’ [see under Edgar]. After the birth of her child she refused to yield to his wish that they should complete the contract by a regular marriage, and, taking her child with her according to custom, went back to Wilton, is said to have become abbess of the house (Monasticon, ii. 323, 324; but compare Robertson, Hist. Essays, 202), and lived there until her death. Eadgyth was therefore brought up at Wilton. She was a learned young lady, and early in life received the veil from Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester. When she was fifteen her father offered to make her abbess of three houses; but she refused, for she would not leave her mother. An illustration of the laxity which prevailed among such highborn nuns with regard to the rule of their order is afforded by the fact that the saintly Eadgyth would occasionally dress with great magnificence. On one occasion Æthelwold took her to task for this, but she answered the bishop by reminding him that St. Augustine had said that ‘pride could lurk even in rags.’ She built a church at Wilton dedicated to St. Dionysius, and is said to have been noted for her attachment to the sign of the cross. Archbishop Dunstan had warning of her approaching end, and attended her deathbed. She died on 16 Sept. 984, in her twenty-third year, and was buried by Dunstan in the church she had built. Thirteen years later Dunstan, finding that many miracles were worked at her tomb, caused it to be opened, and discovered certain parts of the saint's body undecayed. The saint, it is said, appeared to him and explained the special meaning of the miracle. In after years Cnut chanced to be at Wilton, and hating, it is said, the English saints, mocked at the reverence paid to St. Eadgyth, declaring that he would never believe in the sanctity of the daughter of Eadgar, a man ‘given up to vices and the slave of lust.’ Archbishop Æthelnoth reproved him for his impiety; but the king commanded the virgin's tomb to be opened, that he might see what proof of her holiness she could bring. On this being done the virgin seemed to the king as though she was about to fly upon him. He repented in great terror, and in every part of England her ‘day’ was kept with much reverence (Gesta Pontiff. 190).

[Gotselin's Vita S. Eadgithæ, Mabillon's Acta SS. sæc. v. 636 sq.; Florence of Worcester, sub an. 964 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum, c. 158 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Gesta Pontificum, 189, 190 (Rolls Ser.); Dugdale's Monasticon, ii. 316, 323 sq.; Kemble's Codex Dipl. 585; Robertson's Historical Essays, 176, 202.]

W. H.