|Edith the Fair|
Edith discovering the body of Harold Godwinson
Edith Swannesha (Old English: Ealdgȳð Swann hnesce, "Edith [the] Gentle Swan"; c. 1025 – c. 1086), also known as Edith Swanneschals or Edith the Fair,[note 1] is best known as the consort of King Harold II of England. She is also commonly known as Edith Swanneck (or Swan-Neck) but this comes from a historical misinterpretation that her nickname represented Old English swann hnecca, "swan neck". She is sometimes confused with Ældgyth, daughter of Ealdorman Ælfgar of Mercia, and Harold's Queen consort.
Consort of King Harold
She bore Harold several children and was his common law wife (according to Danish law, by a civil "handfast" marriage) for over 20 years.[note 2] Though she was not considered Harold's wife by the Church, there is no indication that the children she bore by Harold were treated as illegitimate by the culture at the time. Indeed, one of Harold Godwinesson's and Edith the Fair's daughters, Gyda Haraldsdatter (Harold's daughter), also known as Gytha of Wessex, was addressed as "princess" and was married to the Grand Duke of Kiev, Vladimir Monomakh.
Though King Harold II is said to have lawfully married Edith of Mercia, the widow of the Welsh ruler Gruffydd ap Llywelyn whom he had defeated in battle, that marriage in spring 1066 is seen by most modern scholars as one of political convenience. Mercia and Wales were allied against England, and the marriage gave the English claim in two very troublesome regions, and also gave Harold Godwinesson a marriage deemed "legitimate" by the clergy, unlike his longtime common law marriage with Edith the Fair.
Edith the Fair was remembered in history and folklore chiefly because it was she who identified Harold's body after the Battle of Hastings. The body was horrifically mutilated after the battle by the Norman army of William the Conqueror, and, despite pleas by Harold's mother for William to surrender Harold's body for burial, the Norman army refused, even though Harold's mother offered Harold's weight in gold. It was then that Edith the Fair walked through the carnage of the battle so that she might identify Harold by markings on his chest known only to her. It was because of Edith the Fair's identification of Harold's body that Harold was given a Christian burial by the monks at Waltham Abbey. This legend is recounted in the well-known poem by Heinrich Heine, "The Battlefield of Hastings" (1855), which features Edith the Fair (as Edith Swan-Neck) as the main character and claims that the 'marks known only to her' were love bites.
The relationship between Harold Godwinson and Edith Swanneschals is the subject of several novels
- Helen Hollick - Harold the King
- G. A. Henty - Wulf the Saxon (1894)
- Julian Rathbone - The Last English King (1997)
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton- Harold, the Last of the Saxons (1848)
- G K Holloway - 1066: What Fates Impose (2013)
- Carol McGrath - The Handfasted Wife (2013)
The German poet Heinrich Heine wrote Das Schlachtfeld von Hastings (published 1851). In this poem, Edith and two monks search on the battlefield the body of king Harold.
- Her first name is also spelled Ealdgyth, Aldgyth, or Eddeva, and sometimes appears as Ēadgȳð and Ēadgifu.
-  At this time there were a range of spousal relationships, from outright concubinage to fully recognized, church-sanctioned marriages. There are no contemporary sources for Harold's marriages, just the writings of later Norman chroniclers, who had a more church-centered view, and also had motivation to diminish the status of Harold's children. Consequently, the exact status of the relationship between King Harold and Edith the Fair is unclear.
- Ardagh, Philip. Philip Ardagh's Book of Kings, Queens, Emperors and Rotten Wart-Nosed Commoners.
- Poole, Russell Gilbert (1998). Old English Wisdom Poetry. D.S.Brewer. p. 238. ISBN 978-0859915304.
- Jones, Kaye (2011). 1066: History in an Hour. p. 32.
- Jones, Kaye (2011). 1066: History in an Hour. p. 33.
- Mason, Emma (2004). The House of Godwine: The History of a Dynasty. p. 178.
- A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World, 3500 BC - 1603 AD by Simon Schama, BBC/Miramax, 2000 ISBN 0-7868-6675-6
- The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 06: Masterpieces of German Literature Translated into English in Twenty Volumes by Kuno Francke www.gutenberg.org/etext/12473
- Great Tales from English History: The Truth About King Arthur, Lady Godiva, Richard the Lionheart, and More by Robert Lacey, 2004 ISBN 0-316-10910-X
- House of Godwine: The History of Dynasty by Emma Mason, 2004 ISBN 1-85285-389-1
- Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists Who Came to America Before 1700 by Frederick Lewis Weis, Lines: 176-2, 176A-4, 177-1
- 'Who Was Eddeva?' by J.R. Boyle, F.S.A.; Transactions of East Riding Antiquarian Society, Volume 4 (1896); pages 11-22