Tenth Century Anglo-Saxon Kings

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Edmund the Magnificent, Eadred, Eadwig and Edgar the Peaceable

King EadredAlso known as Edmund I, Edmund the Magnificent ruled England from 939 until his death in 946.

Following the death of Edward the Elder, Edmund I was left with numerous problems. King Olaf III of Denmark attacked Northumbria and the English Midlands. The following year, Edmund recaptured Northumbria. However, King Olaf of York, Edmund’s godson, was driven from his kingdom and fled to Ireland. In 945, Edmund conquered Strathclyde, in Scotland, ceding the territory to King Malcolm I as part of a mutual defence treaty.

One of Edmund’s last known political acts concerns his role leading up to the coronation of Louis IV, the King of France. The son of King Charles the Simple, Louis had lived in England until he was ready to claim the French Crown. In the summer of 945, Louis was captured by Norsemen living in Rouen. They released Louis into the custody of Hugh the Great, who also held him captive. Primary sources claim that Louis’s mother asked Edmund for help. Edmund sent Hugh several angry letters, which were ignored. Following this incident Edmund disappears from the primary sources until his death in 946.

Very little is known about Edmund’s death. Legends state that Edmund was feasting with a group of nobles, on the Feast Day of St. Augustine, when he spotted an exiled thief named Leofa in the crowd. Edmund attacked Leofa and in the scuffle, both men were killed. Following Edmund’s death, Eadred became King.

King Eadred

Eadred was crowned on August 16, 946 by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Eadred’s reign lasted less than five years, and for most of that time his attention was occupied by Northumbria and the West-Saxon Hegemony. Exactly how these events played themselves out is not known for sure due to numerous discrepancies in the primary sources. What is known is that a pair of Scandinavian princes tried to set themselves up as the Kings of Northumbria.

In 947, Olaf returned to Britain after giving up the throne of Dublin, and resumed his position as the King of Northumbria. Exactly what Eadred thought of these events is not known, but he seems to have at least tolerated Olaf’s rule. Olaf’s resumption of the kingship was short lived, however, as he was once again forced to flee, this time by Eric, Son of Harald.

It is at this point that Eric Bloodaxe, the former King of Norway, enters the picture. Eadred’s response was immediate and harsh. Eadred launched a massive raid on Northumbria. Despite suffering heavy losses at the Battle of Castleford, Eadred threatened more such raids if Eric Bloodaxe was not deposed. The threat of an independent Northumbrian King would not end until 952, when Northumbria was divided among a number of earls.

Toward the end of his life, Eadred suffered from an unknown digestive condition. He died in Somerset on Christmas Day, 951. He was buried in the Old Minster, in Winchester.

Following, Eadred’s death, his nephew Eadwig became king.

King Eadwig

Like the reigns of Edmund and Eadred, Eadwig’s reign was short and marked by conflicts with his family and the Church.

According to legends, the feud between St. Dunstan and Eadwig began on the day of Eadwig’s coronation, when he failed to attend a meeting of noblemen. Eadwig was eventually found cavorting with a young noblewoman, and refused to return. Dunstan grew angry and forced Eadwig to denounce her as “strumpet.”

Angered by Dunstan, Eadwig plundered the monastery in response. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Dunstan fled England and did not return until after Eadwig’s death.

There may be truth to this story, as it appears in a number of sources. However, it is more likely that Dunstan was angry with Eadwig’s dissolute attitude toward the Church. Eadwig gave numerous gifts of land, but was not very religious.

Around the same time, Eadwig’s marriage was forcibly annulled by Dunstan’s supporters. They argued that Eadwig’s marriage was not valid because both Eadwig and his wife could trace their families back to a common ancestor. At that time England had a population of less than two million people and most families had common ancestors, rendering this argument invalid.

Toward the end of his reign, Eadwig ruled more wisely and continued to give to the Church. Following his death in 959, Edgar the Peaceable became King.

King Edgar the Peaceable

Edgar recalled Dunstan from exile and appointed him Bishop of Worcester. Dunstan initially refused to crown Edgar after he abducted a nun, who later bore him a daughter. Despite this, Dunstan became one of Edgar’s closest advisors.

Edgar was crowned in Bath in 973 as the culmination of his reign. The ceremony devised by Dunstan was used for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952.

Edgar died on July 8, 975. He was succeeded by St. Edward the Martyr, but Edgar’s death has been called the end of Anglo-Saxon England because there was no smooth succession until the arrival of William the Conqueror.

Sources

Annals, ED. Philippe Lauer, Annals of Flodoard.Paris: Picardy, 1905.

Sawyer, P. “The last Scandinavian rulers of York.” Northern History 31 (1995): 39-44.

Stenton, Frank Merry. Anglo-Saxon England. 3d ed. Oxford, 1971. 360-3.

Williams, Ann. “Edgar (943/4–975).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Keynes, Simon. “England, c. 900–1016.” In The New Cambridge Medieval History III. c.900–c.1024, ed. Timothy Reuter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 456-84.

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