Edward the Elder in the British Monarchy

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King Edward the ElderEdward the Elder was an Anglo-Saxon king who inherited the throne from his father, Alfred the Great.

Of the five children born to Alfred the Great, who survived to adulthood, Edward was the oldest son. The exact date of Edward’s birth is not known, but he is believed to have been born some time in the mid to late-870s.

Edward the Elder’s Childhood

According to Bishop Asser, Edward was educated at court, along with his youngest sister. His second sister is described in the primary sources as being weak and sickly. She may have been intended for a religious life and eventually became abbess of Shaftsbury.

Edward’s first appearance in the primary sources is believed to have occurred in 892. Edward’s name is mentioned in a royal charter granting land to Ealdorman Ethelhelm near Pewsey in Wiltshire, where Edward is referred to as “filius regius,” or the king’s son. Even though he was Alfred’s son, his inheritance of Alfred’s crown was not guaranteed until the 890s. The reason for this is because the sons of Alfred’s older brother, Ethelred I, were considered to have a strong claim to the throne of Wessex.

King Edward the Elder

Following Alfred’s death, sometime around the year 900, Ethelwold, the son of King Ethelred I, tried to claim the throne. Ethelwold attacked and captured Wimborne and Christschurch in Dorset. When Edward marched on Wimborne, in an attempt to force Ethelwold to do battle, Ethelwold withdrew from IWimborne, to Northumbria, where he was recognized as the rightful king by the Danes. Around the same time, Edward was crowned king at Kingston Upon Thames.

In the year 901, Ethelwold attacked Essex with a fleet of ships, and encouraged the Danes in East Anglia to rebel against Edward’s rule. Edward once again raised an army and attacked Ethelwold. He was eventually able to put down the rebellion and secure his claim to the throne of Wessex after Ethelwold and the king of the East Anglian Danes were killed in the fighting.

Edward’s Relations with the Danes

Edward’s diplomatic relations with northern Britain continued to be problematic for a number of years during the early part of his reign. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Edward was forced to seek peace with East Anglian and Northumbrian Danes. He is also described as having regained the city of Chester, which suggests that Edward was still at war.

In 909, Edward dispatched an army to harass Northumbria. Not long afterward, the Danes responded by attacking Mercia. However, they were defeated by a combined Mercian-West Saxon Army at the Battle of Tettenhall. As a result of Edward’s victory at Tettenhall, the ability of the Northumbrian Danes to make war was completely destroyed. They never raided south of the River Humber again.

Following his victory over the Northumbrians, Edward began to build a series of fortresses at Hertford, Witham, Bridgnorth, Tamworth, Eddisbury and Warwick. The primary sources claim that some of these fortifications were built by Alfred the Great, however, the fact that their dimensions are almost identical suggests that they were all built by Edward.

Under Edward’s reign Mercia, East Anglia and Essex fell under Wessex’s sphere of influence. Edward also took control of lands formerly occupied by the Danes. Edward’s rule also saw the end of what had remained of Mercian internal autonomy. By 911, Edward had also annexed London and Oxford, as well Oxforshire and Middlesex. In 918, all of the Danes living in southern England were all under Edward’s rule. Additionally, by the time of Edward’s death, the Scots, the Welsh and the Norse acknowledged him as “father and lord.” The recognition of Edward’s kingship in Scotland made it possible for Edward’s successors to claim tribute from Scotland.

Edward also reorganized the church in Wessex, creating new bishoprics in Ramsbury and Sonning, as well as Wells and Crediton. In spite of this, Edward may not have been very religious. He is known to have been sent a reprimand by the Pope for not paying more attention to his religious duties.

The Death of Edward the Elder

Edward was killed in battle at Farndon-Upon-Dee, trying to put down a Mercian-Welsh rebellion on July 17, 924. Edward was initially buried in the New Minster at Winchester Cathedral. During the rule of William the Conqueror, Edward’s body was moved north of Winchester to Hyde Abbey. Today his grave is marked by a stone slab engraved with a cross in the middle of a public park.

Edward was succeeded, first briefly by his son Elfweard, and then by Athelstan the Glorious.

Sources

Nash Ford, David Early British Kingdoms Sept.2/09

England: Anglo-Saxon Consecrations: 871-1066” Higham, N.J. Edward the Elder, 899–924, 2001 Lappenberg, Johann; Benjamin Thorpe, translator (1845). A History of England Under the Anglo-Saxon Kings. J. Murray. pp. 98,99.

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