All’s (Edith the) Fair in Love and War

If you walk along the seafront at St Leonards on Sea, eventually you will arrive at West Marina Gardens. Here, you’ll find a statue of a woman, cradling a man’s head in her arms (pictured above). This statue, titled ‘Edith Finding the Body of Harold on the Battlefield of Hastings’, was  commissioned by Thomas Brassey in the 1870s and completed by the sculptor Charles Wilke in 1875.

It depicts a significant moment in the narrative of the Battle of Hastings in 1066: the moment when Edith Swanneck, the common-law wife of Harold Godwinson, identifies his body through ‘marks known only to her’.

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The statue of Edith and Harold in West Marina Gardens, St Leonards on Sea.

Harold was the last crowned Anglo-Saxon King of England before the Norman Conquest. The brother-in-law of Edward the Confessor, he successfully repelled an attack from Harald Hardrada, a rival, Viking claimant to the throne, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Harold Godwinson then marched his army south to meet William of Normandy (later known as ‘William the Conqueror’) in the green, Sussex countryside on 14 October 1066.

The Normans defeated Harold Godwinson’s Anglo-Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings. Popular legend says Harold was killed by an arrow to the eye; it is, however, more likely that he was hacked to death on the battlefield. (There is some debate about whether the arrow on the Bayeux Tapestry was added at a later date for dramatic effect.)

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Section from the Bayeux Tapestry showing Harold Godwinson, with the arrow in his eye.

So what is so significant about the statue? It is the only statue in Britain to depict Edith Swanneck (also known as Edith the Fair). It is a statue produced by a sculptor who regularly submitted, and had works accepted into, the Royal Academy exhibitions. The sculpture also has connections with the Brassey family, who established the Brassey Institute (now Hastings Museum).

But most significantly, the statue depicts a woman, playing a significant role in a major event in British history. Surely, for this reason alone, the statue needs the care and attention from the authorities that it deserves?

If you would like to sign the petition, you can click here to add your name to it. The campaign’s ultimate aim is to receive funding for a canopy or ‘roof’ for Edith. Hastings Borough Council recently granted permission for a plaque to be installed in front of the statue, and for campaign creator Ian Jarman to begin the long cleaning process – more here.

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