The Anglo-Saxon elites, secular and religious, paid a full price for their self-absorption with the wave of dispossessions that followed the Norman Conquest. (It’s hard not to wonder if the Conquest came as something of a relief to the lower classes, though if it did, of course, they had no voice to say so.) Meanwhile, the main reason for the precarious peace of Edward’s lifetime is probably not his saintly life, as early biographers would have it, or his diplomatic skills, as in Licence’s interpretation, but simply that all his half-brother competitors had died or been killed. Licence does his best for his subject but the story he tells, especially in modern circumstances, is instructive rather than satisfying or (at least as regards Edward) entirely convincing. It shows a country in dire need of reform from the top down, and the country eventually got it. But not from Edward.
In putting flesh back on Edward’s bones Licence has brought a new succession story to popular attention. Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn have fresh competition in the women, the darkness and the mysteries of Edward’s life and legacy.