Written by Vladimir Moss


An Exercise in Prophetic Interpretation


     The time is very early in 1066, the most dramatic and fateful year in the whole of English and British history. The place is the palace of Westminster in London, where all the chief men of the land are gathered for the twelve-day feast of Christmas and for the consecration of King Edward’s great new church dedicated to the Apostle Peter. And perhaps also to elect a new king: for the good King Edward, renowned for his gifts of prophecy and miracle-working, and known in later ages as “the Confessor” to distinguish him from his holy uncle, King Edward the Martyr (+978), is dying childless.

     There could hardly have been a more dangerous time for the kingdom to be without an obvious heir. First, there has just been a semi-rebellion of the northern province of the country, Northumbria, against their Earl Tostig, a scion of the most powerful family in the land, the Godwins, and brother of Edward’s Queen Edith. When Edward’s chosen mediator, Earl Harold, the senior member of the Godwin family, decided in favour of the Northumbrians and against his brother Tostig, the furious earl fled the kingdom, vowing revenge. Secondly, there were several foreign contenders for the English throne, among them the Danish King Swein, the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada, the greatest warrior of the age, and – Duke William “the Bastard” of Normandy. Thirdly, and most seriously, the English Church was in a kind of semi-schism from its Mother Church in Rome because the canonical English primate, the Norman Archbishop Robert of Canterbury, had run away from his see, and King Edward had given his pallium (omophorion) to the English Bishop Stigand. Rome would not act against England as long as the revered King Edward was alive; but anything was possible after his death…

     King Edward fell into a coma. What happened next was recorded by an     unknown monk of Canterbury, writing only shortly after the events he describes, of which he may even have been an eye-witness: “When King Edward, replete with faith, perceived that the power of the disease was forcing him to his end, with the commendation and prayers of the most important of God’s faithful he resigned himself to the funeral rites…

     “While he slept those in attendance felt in his sleeping body the travail of an unquiet soul, and woken by them in their terror, he spoke these words. (Up till then, for the last two days or more, weakness had so tired him that when he spoke scarcely anything he said had been intelligible.) ‘O eternal God,’ he said, ‘if I have learned those things which have been revealed to me from Thee, grant also the strength to tell them. But if it was only an illusion, let my former sickness burden me according to Thy will.’ And then, as they who were present testify, he used such resources of eloquence that even the healthiest man would have no need of more.

     “’Just now,’ he said, ‘two monks stood before me, whom I had once known very well when I was a young man in Normandy, men of great sanctity, and for many years now relieved of earthly cares. And they addressed me with a message from God.

     "’”Since,” they said, “those who have climbed to the highest offices in the kingdom of England, the earls, bishops and abbots, and all those in holy orders, are not what they seem to be, but, on the contrary, are servants of the devil, on a year and one day after the day of your death God has delivered all this kingdom, cursed by Him, into the hands of the enemy, and devils shall come through all this land with fire and sword and the havoc of war.”

     "’Then I said to them, “I will show God's designs to the people, and the forgiveness of God shall have mercy upon the penitents. For He had mercy on the people of Nineveh, when they repented on hearing of the Divine indignation.”

     "’But they said, “these will not repent, nor will the forgiveness of God come to pass for them.”

     “’”And what,” I asked, “shall happen? And when can a remission of this great indignation be hoped for?”

     “’”At that time,” they answered, “when a great tree, if cut down in the middle of its trunk, and the part cut off carried the space of three furlongs from the stock, shall be joined again to the trunk, by itself and without the hand of man or any sort of stake, and begin once more to push leaves and bear fruit from the old love of its uniting sap, then first can a remission of these great ills be hoped for.”’

     “When those who were present had heard these words – that is to say, the queen, who was sitting on the floor warming his feet in her lap, her brother, Earl Harold, and Rodbert, the steward of the royal palace and a kinsman of the king, also Archbishop Stigand and a few more whom the blessed king when roused from sleep had ordered to be summoned – they were all sore afraid as men who had heard a speech containing many calamities and a denial of the hope of pity.  And while all were stupefied and silent from the effect of terror, the archbishop himself, who ought either to have been the first to fear or give a word of advice, with folly at heart whispered in the ear of the earl that the king was broken with age and disease and knew not what he said. But the queen, and those who had been wont to know and fear God in their hearts, all pondered deeply the words they had heard, and understood them quite otherwise, and correctly. For these knew that the Christian religion was chiefly dishonoured by men in Holy Orders, and that… the king and queen by frequent admonition had often proclaimed this.”[1]

     King Edward died on January 5, 1066. The next day he was buried and his brother-in-law, Harold, was crowned with the agreement of all the chief men of the kingdom and of Edward himself – but not of Duke William, who, supported by Pope Alexander II, declared him a usurper and starting gathering a huge army to invade England. The nine years and nine days of King Harold’s reign were filled to the brim with activity of all kinds, and especially - war. Four times the king had to summon his forces from all over England to defend the land against various external threats. King Swein was seen off; King Hardrada and Tostig were crushed in the great battle of Stamford Bridge in September – the last victory of Orthodox Christianity over Viking paganism. However, in October the exhausted Harold was defeated and killed at Hastings by William, fighting under a papal banner and with some relics of St. Peter around his neck. After devastating the south-east, William entered London and on January 6, 1067, exactly one year and one day after King Edward’s death, he was crowned as the first Catholic king of England. Then he set off on the terrible three-and-a-half-year campaign that destroyed English Orthodox civilization and has been called the first European genocide. The Antichrist had come to England. 

     So the first part of King Edward’s prophecy had been fulfilled with precision. But what of the second part? What does the tree signify? And what is the meaning of the branch, and its reunification with the trunk? 

     It is usually thought – by those few who believe in the prophecy, not dismissing it as the ravings of a comatose madman – that the return of the branch to the trunk means the marriage, in the year 1100, of King William’s fourth son, Henry I of England, to Matilda, daughter of King Malcolm of Scotland and his wife Margaret, a princess of the Old English dynasty of King Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor, on the grounds that the trunk of the tree represents the Old English dynasty while Matilda represents the branch of that dynasty that returned to power in England through her marriage to Henry I after a journey of three “furlongs” – that is, three decades, or three generations, of English kings.

     However, there is a major problem with this interpretation, namely: what, if anything, changed as a result of this marriage? And the answer is: nothing important. The Norman dynasty was followed by another French-speaking dynasty, that of the Plantagenets; there was no real return of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy, and English traditions remained trampled upon. So the prophesied  “remission of the great evils” brought upon the country by the Norman-Papist conquest of 1066 simply did not take place.

     Nor, from a spiritual point of view, can it take place unless and until the English return to the faith of their Anglo-Saxon forbears – which, in spite of an increased interest in Anglo-Saxon England, and a growth in the number of Orthodox Christians in the country, still seems a distant prospect…


     Let us ponder another interpretation… The trunk represents Orthodox monarchism. Its splitting in half represents the war between the old regime under King Harold and its successor under King William. The branch is Harold’s daughter Gytha, and its travelling “three furlongs” - the flight of King eastwards in three stages: first to Flanders, then to Denmark, and finally to Kiev. The reunification of the branch with the trunk represents the reunification of Orthodox monarchism in its Eastern and Western variants through the marriage of Gytha to the future Great Prince Vladimir Monomakh of Kiev.

     Let us look at this story more closely…

     Now the history contains many “rags to riches” stories, demonstrating how God can raise anyone He chooses from the dung-hill to the heights of earthly power and glory. Among these, one of the most dramatic is that of Princess Gytha. When her father was killed at Hastings on October 14, 1066, defending his kingdom against the Roman Catholic Duke William of Normandy, she and her whole family were in danger of extinction by the cruel and vengeful William. But God not only protected her life. He raised her to the throne of the Great Princedom of Kiev, marrying her to Great Prince Vladimir Monomakh, – a marriage celebrated in modern times by an epic poem in Russian[2] -through whom she united the blood of the English Royal Family to that of the Russian Riurik dynasty.

     We know very little about Princess Gytha’s early life. She was born probably in the late 1040s to Earl Harold Godwinson, later King Harold II, and his common-law wife, Edith “Swan Neck”, a beautiful and wealthy English aristocrat. Although Harold and Edith were not married in church, but more danico, “in the Danish way”, such marriages had a legal status, and there is every indication that it was a loving and stable relationship, producing many children, which only ended early in 1066, when King Harold, to please the Church and probably also for political reasons, married Alditha, the sister of Earls Edwin and Morcar.

     Gytha’s grandparents were Earl Godwin of Wessex and Countess Gytha. Godwin was an Englishman from Sussex who fought bravely for King Edmund Ironside until his death on the field of battle in 1016 at the hands of the Danes under King Cnut “the Great”, who then subdued the whole of England. But Cnut respected his new dominion; he was baptized and did his best to unite the English and the Danes. Thus he promoted Godwin and married him to his sister-in-law Gytha. In the years that followed, the Anglo-Danish Godwin family increased in power and wealth under both Danish and English kings. Godwin’s daughter Edith married King Edward the Confessor, and his son Harold became king on Edward’s death in January, 1066.

     A portrait of Countess Gytha can still be seen in a stained-glass window of her family’s church of St. Nectan at Stoke in North Devon.[3] It was there that St. Nectan’s fragrant relics were uncovered, following a revelation to the local priest, in the first half of the eleventh century. St. Nectan appears to have become the family’s protector; for one of St. Nectan’s miracles was worked on behalf of Earl Godwin.[4]

     The Normans viciously attacked the Godwin family, falsely accusing King Harold of being a usurper and finally killing him at Hastings - “because of the sins of people”, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts it. The grieving Countess Gytha, accompanied by Edith Swan-neck, pleaded with William to give her her son’s body in exchange for its weight in gold. William refused…

     The formidable old countess now proceeded to organize the resistance to the usurper King William from her estates in the south-west of England, and especially from the ancient Roman city of Exeter. But it was difficult for her: not only Harold, but also her other sons Earls Gyrth and Leofwine had been killed at Hastings, and she had only her grandsons Godwine and Edmund left to lead the armies. In 1067, Exeter fell after a long siege, and the Dowager-Queen Edith, King Harold’s sister, surrendered to William; while Queen Alditha, King Harold’s wife, fled to Chester, another old Roman city in the north of England, with her baby son Harold. Meanwhile, probably the nearest adult claimant to the English throne, Edgar the atheling, whose family had spent some time in Valaam, in the north of Russia, during Cnut’s reign, fled to King Malcolm (the victor over the famous King Macbeth) in Scotland.

     The grandsons continued the struggle, however. Their ultimate failure, writes Ian W. Walker, “was due in the main to William’s reaction to the very real threat they posed. His campaign in the south-west decisively nipped their schemes in the bud. Subsequently, they were forced to base themselves abroad and use mercenary troops, making it difficult for them to win any real support in England. Another significant factor was their failure to win the support of their cousin, Swein of Denmark, who was clearly intent on pursuing his own claim to the throne rather than supporting that of his cousins. The fact that many of Harold’s key supporters had fallen at Hastings, and that the Normans controlled a large part of the family lands in the south-east severely handicapped them. The brothers’ inexperience in warfare was also a contributory factor to their failure, although the long defence of Exeter and their victory over Eadnoth [the staller, who had served the Godwins, but changed sides after Hastings] suggest this was not decisive. Perhaps if either Gyrth or Leofwine, with their greater authority and experience, had survived the battle at Hastings things might have been different.

     “The brothers’ bid for the throne was over, but this was not the end of the story. A considerable amount is known about the fate of the remnants of King Harold’s family after their final withdrawal from England in 1069. The elderly Countess Gytha, with Harold’s sister Gunnhild, probably settled in quiet retirement at St. Omer in Flanders, where Count Baldwin VI apparently received them charitably as relatives of] his aunt Judith [wife of Earl Tostig Godwinson, killed with the Norwegian King Harald at Stamford Bridge in 1066] and in spite of their rivalry with his brother-in-law, William of Normandy. Countess Gytha’s remaining treasure may have helped to persuade Baldwin to provide them with refuge. Thereafter, the royal ladies performed good works, and the death of the king’s sister, Gunnhild, was recorded at Bruges in 1087. She bequeathed a psalter with Anglo-Saxon glosses to St. Donation’s in Bruges and this book, known as ‘Gunnhild’s Psalter’, was still there in the sixteenth century. She also donated a collection of religious relics to St. Donation’s, most notably the mantle of St. Bridget. A copy of [Abbot] Aelfric’s works donated to St. Bertin’s may, perhaps, have been a legacy of Countess Gytha.

     “It seems likely that King Harold’s sons escorted these ladies to Flanders, as it would have been rather risky for them to navigate the Norman-controlled Channel alone…The presence of these exiles must have caused King William considerable unease. Indeed, the arrival of this group in Flanders, perhaps in late 1069 or early 1070, may have prompted William to depose Bishop Aethelric of Sussex on 24 May 1070, in case he became a fifth column in support of their return. He was, after all, a relative of the family and based in the ancient family heartland just across the Channel from them. Therefore, it became imperative to remove him for political reasons. It seems likely that this was the reason for Papal concern about this particular deposition, as expressed in a number of later Papal letters. On 16 July 1070 Baldwin VI died and a succession dispute broke out between his infant sons, supported by King William, and his brother, Robert the Frisian. This dispute ended on February 22, 1071 at the battle of Cassel, the victory falling to William’s enemy, Robert, who became the uncontested Count of Flanders. The threat of a descent by Harold’s sons on Sussex from a hostile Flanders may have contributed to the unusual organization of the Norman castellanries in the Sussex rapes.

     “It was probably from Flanders, where they had accompanied or followed the ladies of the family, that King Harold’s sons, Godwine and Edmund, journeyed to the court of their cousin, Swein of Denmark, accompanied by their sister Gytha. This is recorded by Saxo Grammaticus, who, although writing much later, seems to portray a not improbable situation and whose account is perhaps confirmed by two independent sources. The latter record an embassy to Denmark by Godwine the younger, mistakenly identified as Harold’s brother rather than his son, which sought King Swein’s aid against William. The brothers may have hoped that their arrival in Denmark would finally secure Swein’s backing for their restoration. If so, they were swiftly disillusioned, as Swein’s own recent invasions of England had proved fairly disastrous and he was in no hurry to repeat them. Thereafter Swein’s death in 1074 or 1076 ushered in a period confusion, which was not fully resolved until well into the next century. The final fate of Godwine and Edmund is unknown, but Gytha, according to later Scandinavian sources, was sent by Swein to marry the Russian Prince of Smolensk, Vladimir Monomakh. The date of the event is unclear but it probably occurred in 1074 or 1075. It has been objected that no Russian source records the name of Vladimir’s first wife and Vladimir’s own testament records her only as the mother of his son George. However, this is not unusual and many women are unnamed in Russian sources, including Vladimir’s own Byzantine mother, and the fact of the marriage appears to be generally accepted. 

     “Prince Vladimir was then around twenty-six years old and ruler of the city of Smolensk in Western Russia. He held an important but not key position in the complex hierarchy of Russian princes. At this time, Russia consisted of a series of principalities each based on a major city and each ruled by a member of the dynasty of St. Vladimir. The principalities were arranged in a rough hierarchy with Kiev at the summit, usually ruled by the senior prince. Vladimir probably welcomed his marriage as providing him with a royal connection. It also brought with it an alliance with the Danes, which might prove very useful in dissuading the neighbouring Poles from invading Russia.

     “The marriage proved fruitful and in 1076 Mstislav, the first of a number of sons, was born to Gytha in Novgorod. Two years later, Vladimir was promoted to the position of Prince of Chernigov, following the expulsion of his cousin, Oleg, from the city. He successfully ruled this, the second city in Russia and an important bastion, for some sixteen years, defending it against a series of attacks from the steppe nomads. Finally, in 1094, he was expelled by Oleg with the aid of nomad allies and he moved to his father’s city of Pereyaslavl. It is likely that Gytha accompanied her husband throughout this period and shared is successes and failures. She appears to have provided him with a large number of children, perhaps as many as eight sons and three daughters. In this respect, Gytha appears to have been as fruitful as her mother, Edith ‘Swan-neck’, and her grandmother and namesake, Gytha…

     “Gytha died on 7 May 1107 before her husband attained the pinnacle of his career by becoming Grand Prince of Kiev in 1113. The eldest of her sons, Mstislav, born in Novgorod in 1076, was widely known in the Norse world by her father’s name, Harold. He went on to succeed his father as Grand Prince of Kiev in 1125, ruling the city until his own death in 1132.”[5]

     Great Prince Mstyslav-Harold also has the name of Theodore (perhaps his name in Holy Baptism), and is numbered among the saints of the Russian Church, being commemorated on April 15.


     Let us now return to King Edward’s prophecy, and examine whether the interpretation of the branch and its fruit as Princess Gytha and her progeny is viable. There are two obvious objections to it. The first is that the association of the prophecy with the distant country of Russia seems far-fetched and artificial; the second is that the “remission of the great evils” spoken of in the prophecy has not been fulfilled in any obvious way.

     In answer to the first objection, let us first pay heed to an interesting theory put forward by, among others, the Russian priest Fr. Stefan Krasovitsky. This theory consists in the assertion that in the eleventh century most of northern Europe, in a vast arc stretching from Kievan Rus’ in the East to Scandinavia in the north to England in the West, was in fact a single cultural area comprising three ethnic groups, the Russians, the Scandinavians and the Anglo-Saxons, united by a single warrior elite of Scandinavian origin – known as “Northmen” in both England and Russia, but better known as “Vikings” today – who had conquered the Russians in the East and the Anglo-Saxons in the West. The cultural unity of the area was strengthened by the Christianization of its pagan elements – Scandinavia by English missionaries and its trio of Christian Olafs (Olag Trygvasson of Norway, Olaf the Saint of Norway and Olof Skotkonung of Sweden, father of St. Anna of Novgorod), and Russia by the Byzantines.

     Much has been made of the fact that Russia, unlike Western Europe, derived its faith from the Eastern Orthodox, while England and Scandinavia later came under the religious control of the Roman Catholic papacy. This is indeed a very important fact – caused in no small part by William of Normandy’s destruction of Anglo-Saxon Orthodoxy after the Battle of Hastings, which had a knock-on effect for the whole of Western Europe. But in the period we are discussing, England – and therefore also its ecclesiastical dependency, Scandinavia – was an Orthodox country in full communion and constant contact with the Eastern patriarchates. This meant that in the period in question England and Scandinavia were united as never before – not only culturally, but also religiously. Perhaps the best proof of that is that after 1066 English warriors and aristocrats migrated in large numbers to Constantinople and (in the person of Princess Gytha) to Russia – but not at all to the ancient haunt of English exiles, Old Rome.

     Therefore just as it was natural for the Russian Orthodox after 1917 to emigrate to other Orthodox countries such as Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia, so it was natural for Gytha after 1066 to emigrate to Russia. There, in spite of obvious differences, she would have felt cultural and religious affinities. She might even have been able to speak the Scandinavian language of the elites, if not the Slav language of the lower classes.

     Moreover, there were clear precedents for Gytha’s decision. In 1028, when he was driven out of his Norwegian kingdom by King Cnut, St. Olaf, of Norway decided to flee to Sweden and thence to the court of his kinsman, Yaroslav of Kiev. Moreover, a generation earlier, King Olaf Tryggvason had been given refuge by St. Vladimir of Kiev. Perhaps the closest precedent is that of St. Anna of Novgorod. The daughter of King Olof Skotkonung of Sweden, and baptized by an English bishop, St. Sigfrid of Vaxjo, she married Prince Vladimir Yaroslavovich of Novgorod, thereby making the same transition from Western Orthodox monarchism to Eastern Orthodox monarchism that Gytha made a little later.

     The symbolism of the flowering of the branch can also be successfully interpreted in accordance with this interpretation. For the marriage of Vladimir and Gytha did produce fruit – their six children. Moreover, in the person of their eldest son Mystislav the fruit was truly holy. Thus the “bearing of fruit from the old love of its uniting sap” represents Gytha’s bearing of good fruit in the person of her eldest son, St. Theodore-Mystislav-Harold, Great Prince of Kiev, whose triple-barreled name – Greek, Russian and English - represents not only the three blood-lines he inherited from his parents, but also the continuing vitally of Christian name in its three historical manifestations – the First Rome in the West, the Second in Constantinople and the Third Rome in Russia.

     However, as with the first interpretation, so with this second one, a formidable problem is presented by the phrase “remission of great evils”. What could this refer to? As we have seen, there was certainly no remission of great evils in England. Nor is it at all clear that anything of the sort happened in Russia. So let us turn, finally, to a third possible interpretation that will, hopefully, make sense of the whole of King Edward’s prophecy. 


     The third interpretation is as follows. The great tree represents the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Orthodox Church. Until 1054 this Church in East and West was one. However, in 1054 it was split in two by the mutual anathemas exchanged by Pope Leo IX of Rome and Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople. In the West those who wished to escape the Roman Catholic menace and remain in Orthodoxy had to flee eastwards, to Byzantium or Russia. However, for a long time this migration was undertaken only by a handful of people – Princess Gytha and St. Anna of Novgorod are two early examples; St. Anthony the Roman, St. Macarius the Roman, St. Procopius of Lubeck and the holy Royal Martyrs Tsaritsa Alexandra and Grand Duchesss Elizabeth are later examples. However, in the twentieth century this trickle of migrants became a flood. Western Orthodoxy was reborn. Only what was needed now to be reunited with the trunk of the Orthodox Church was not a physical migration but a spiritual one. For many tens of thousands of Eastern Orthodox Christians migrated to the West, where westerners could join them without leaving their homelands.

     Very many westerners have made this spiritual voyage without being preached to, but only as a result of their personal researches and intuition or a personal meeting with Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church. This effortless conversion is what is meant by the words of the prophecy that the branch will be rejoined to the trunk “by itself and without the hand of man or any sort of stake”. As for the distance of “three furlongs” that the branch departs from the tree, this may signify the three religious revolutions, or heretical upheavals, that have taken the Western peoples further and further away from Orthodoxy: first the Roman Catholic revolution of the late eleventh century, then the Protestant revolution of the sixteenth century, and then the Ecumenist revolution of the twentieth century. Indeed, it has been only since the foundation of the ecumenical movement after the First World War that the conversion of Western heretical Christians to Orthodoxy has begun to take place on a large scale. Indeed, this conversion has been a powerful witness in itself to the falseness of the ecumenist heresy: far from accepting that they are already in the True Church, and that the Church can embrace all kinds of contradictory beliefs within itself, these western converts have witnessed by their words and actions that the Truth is only in Orthodoxy and that they are prepared to abandon their former beliefs and churches in order to join it.

   As for this branch putting forth leaves and bearing fruit, as the prophecy indicates, this has only just begun. Nevertheless, some green leaves are already discernible: by common consent, the American Fr. Seraphim Rose and the Chilean Jose Munoz were exceptional Orthodox Christians. We may hope that in the not so distant future there will be further spiritual fruits in more and more Western Orthodox Christians. And then the last part of the prophecy – the “remission of great evils”, that is, the removal of heresy and all the evils of contemporary western civilization – will be fulfilled…

     Of course, this third interpretation of St. Edward’s prophecy is as speculative as the first two. But it has the advantage over the first two of accounting for more parts of the prophecy. Moreover, would it not be appropriate that the last recognized saint of the West should on his deathbed pronounce a prophecy about the resurrection of Western Orthodoxy?   


February 3/16, 2018.



[1]Anonymous, Vita Aedwardi Regis.

[2] Igor Avtamonov, Vladimir Monomakh i Gita Garol’dovna, Los Angeles, 1988.

[3] Stoke belonged to the wealthy estate of Harland, which in the Domesday survey of 1086 is recorded as having belonged to Countess Gytha before 1066. See John Morris (ed.), Domesday Book. 9. Devon, Chichester: Phillimore, 1985, 100 d.

[4] See the 12th century Gotha manuscript life of St. Nectan translated by G.H. Doble, The Saints of Cornwall, Truro: Holywell Press, part 5, pp. 59-79.

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