By Vern Bullough
Edward the Confessor (d. 1066)
Those who do not subscribe to the notion that sexual activities are an important factor in history have to ignore individuals like Edward, the king of England (1043-1066). Edward, it is believed, had what in theological terms was called a chaste marriage. That is, he did not engage in sexual activities with his wife (or other women) but pledged himself to lifelong chastity, as did his wife Edith. William of Malsmesbury, the medieval historian, who wrote nearly a century after Edward's death, reported that the king acted toward his wife so delicately that he neither removed her from his bed nor "knew her after the manner of men." Malmesbury wasn't certain whether Edward did this from a vow of chastity or from his dislike for her family, but the tradition has long held to the former explanation. It was his chastity which led to his being made a saint in 1161. Some of Edith's contemporaries were more suspicious of her virginity than his, and although they believed she did not have sex with her husband they wondered about other men in her life, but as she lay dying some time after the death of her husband, she swore to the bystanders that she would die as a virgin.
The royal decision to remain celibate, while it won approval from his monks for whom Edward built Westminster abbey, changed the nature of English history. His refusal to leave an heir lead to a struggle to succeed him between Harold Fairhair, elected king by the nobles of England, Harold Hardrada of Norway, and William the Bastard of Normandy. William won and goes down in history as William the Conqueror. He brought his French speaking supporters with him, changing the nature of the English language as well as the history of England. Many of the modem historians who have studied his reign have concluded that Edward would have made a far better monk than king.