Edith of Wilton was born in 962 as the daughter of King Edgar the Peaceful and Wilfrida. Her mother Wilfrida had been living in the nunnery at Wilton Abbey when she was carried off by King Edgar and they were married around 961.
According to William of Malmesbury, Wilfrida was a reluctant wife who, “did not develop a taste for repetitions of sexual pleasure, but rather shunned them in disgust.” Wilfrida returned to Wilton Abbey soon after the birth of their daughter. She was escorted there by Edgar and the court, and with great ceremony, Wilfrida and her young daughter laid aside their clothes and possession. Young Edith was credited with choosing a veil from the many splendid clothes laid out. Wilfrida probably received a large settlement, and her actions left King Edgar open for a new marriage.
Edith received her education from the nuns of Wilton Abbey, and her mother eventually became the abbess of the Abbey. She was probably well aware of her royal status and dressed like it. The Bishop of Winchester apparently once upbraided her on her clothes, and Edith responded that “a mind is by no means poorer in aspiring to God will live beneath a goatskin. I possess my Lord, who pays attention to the mind, not to the clothing.” When a servant dropped a lit candle into one of her chests of clothing, her fine furs and imperial purple clothes were found undamaged.
Edith is known to have painted and to have written her own prayers. She would have also known how to sew and to embroider, and she made a vestment for the church at Wilton. She had some comfort in the form of a “cauldron in which her bath was heated,” and she had her own private zoo at Wilton. Many of the animals there were reportedly so tame that they would eat out of her hand.
Edith was given the authority of Winchester, Barking and another religious when she was about 15, but she did not wish to be away from her mother. When her father died and was succeeded by her half-brother Edward, she dreamt that one of her eyes fell out, and she believed that her dream foretold Edward’s death. Edward was murdered after a reign of just three years.
In 978, Edith erected a church dedicated to Saint Denis, and the Archbishop of Canterbury (later Saint Dunstan) attended the consecration when he noticed how Edith crossed herself. He took hold of her right thumb and said, “Never shall this thumb decay.” Edith died on 16 September, probably in the year 984, when she was about 23 years old. Her body was placed in the church of Saint Denis, and her thumb was later found to incorrupt. It was later enshrined separately.
Wilfrida survived her daughter for about 13 years, and she was present when Edith was elevated to sainthood.1