Murder and miracle: the story of Edward the Martyr

The West Bailey at Corfe Castle, Dorset

For some, Corfe Castle will forever be associated with dark deeds, miraculous events and the murder of a king who became a saint.

The West Bailey contains the earliest surviving building in the castle, the Norman Old Hall, thought to occupy the site of an even older Saxon hall, and it is here the drama is said to have unfolded on 18 March 978. 

The teenage King Edward was visiting his stepmother Elfryda and half-brother Ethelred at Corfe Castle. What happened next is shrouded in the mists of time. 

Some say Edward was murdered on the orders of his stepmother and quickly buried, with little pomp, at nearby Wareham.


Power struggle

Certainly Edward and Ethelred had been on opposite sides of a succession dispute following the death of their father, Edgar, and Elfryda may have plotted to put her own son on the throne.

Ethelred did, in fact, become king and is remembered as Ethelred the Unready.

Within a year, however, Edward’s remains were disinterred and were said to be miraculously preserved – a sign of sainthood to contemporary Christians.



The boy-king was reburied at Shaftesbury Abbey and a cult soon developed around his memory. His remains came to be regarded as sacred relics and were hidden during the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII.

Bones, said to be Edward's, were discovered in the ruins of the abbey in 1931 and are today enshrined in the Orthodox Church of St Edward the Martyr in Brookwood, Surrey.

Edward is still revered as a saint and his feast day is celebrated on 18 March, the anniversary of his death.