January Artwork of the Month: King Edward the Confessor

Search collection
Advanced search

04 January 2016

Edward the Confessor, one of the last Anglo-Saxon Kings of England died in Westminster on 5 January 1066.  He died a mere week after the new Abbey he had built at Westminster had been consecrated, and was buried there the day after his death.

Edward the Confessor was the son of Ethelred II 'the Unready' and Emma of Normandy.  He succeeded to the throne in 1042, having already lost several family members to a long-running conflict with Sweyn Forkbeard and Harthacnut, the son of Canute the Great. 

Having lived large parts of his life in Normandy, Edward brought Norman connections with him when he ascended the throne, and one of the chief challenges of his reign was balancing his unpopular Norman connections with the ambitions of the houses of Mercia and Wessex.  These tensions would erupt after his death, when the Norman William the Conqueror launched an invasion of England, possibly – although opinions are divided on this point – at Edward’s invitation.

His reputation for piety, bolstered by his reconstruction of Westminster Abbey, was so strong that Edward the Confessor was canonised as a saint in 1161.  His feast day is still marked by English Churches, and, he is known as the patron saint of difficult marriages.

The new Palace of Westminster was rebuilt in the 1840s and 1850s, but blank wall spaces remained well into the twentieth century, and one such spot was in St Stephen’s Hall.  The empty space was not filled until the 1920s, when two large mosaic panels by Robert Anning Bell were unveiled.

St Stephen's Hall stands on the site of the royal Chapel of St Stephen, where the House of Commons sat until the Chapel was destroyed by the fire of 1834.  The hall closely matches the dimensions of the old Chapel, and brass studs in the floor mark the former position of the Speaker's Chair and the Table of the House.

The mosaic panel at the east end of the hall depicts St Stephen holding a stone, in allusion to his martyrdom, with King Stephen and Edward the Confessor at his side.  The mosaic was unveiled in 1925.
The artwork is Bell’s initial sketch for the mosaic.

Image: ‘King Stephen Saint Stephen King Edward the Confessor’, watercolour drawing by Robert Anning Bell (WOA 1988)

Further information

Share this page