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  • Print publication year: 1989
  • Online publication date: May 2010

5 - The children of Edgar

Summary

EDITH AT WILTON: THE ROYAL PATRON

Goscelin's Vita Edithe provides a finely drawn portrait of a royal child who, renouncing her secular status, became an exile from her earthly home and sought instead the heavenly and immortal land, ‘showing in the preservation of chastity that she sought the virgin's son and seeking by a pilgrim's life on earth to win a heavenly spouse above’. Goscelin, like Osbert of Clare, makes of his subject a hagiographical stereotype, whose sanctity is founded upon a conventional antithesis between the uirgo regia and the sponsa summi regis. And in so doing Goscelin, like Osbert, seriously obscures the historical role of a saint whose posthumous reputation was founded less upon the pleasant theory of royal piety than upon the hard fact of royal patronage.

I have suggested in my analysis of St Edburga's cult that the hagiographical model of Edburga's sanctity as derived from an ecclesiastical role both divorced from and antithetical to that implied by her royal birth tells only a part of the truth. It breaks down because Edburga's life was spent in a religious community closely associated with the West Saxon royal house, predominantly aristocratic in composition and thoroughly au fait with the dealings of the royal and aristocratic world. Within that community there could be no real renunciation of secular status and no real antithesis between uirgo regia and sponsa summi regis: the path to the heavenly bridal chamber lay not through the renunciation of the attributes of royalty but through their redeployment within the monastic context.