Edgar (Old English: Ēadgār, [æːɑdɣɑːr]; c. 943 – 8 July 975), known as the Peaceful or the Peaceable, was King of the English from 959 until his death. He was the younger son of Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, and came to the throne as a teenager, following the death of his older brother Eadwig. As king, Edgar further consolidated the political unity achieved by his predecessors, with his reign being noted for its relative stability. His most trusted advisor was Dunstan, whom he recalled from exile and made Archbishop of Canterbury. The pinnacle of Edgar's reign was his coronation at Bath in 973, which was organised by Dunstan and forms the basis for the current coronation ceremony. After his death he was succeeded by his son Edward, although the succession was disputed.

Early years and accession

Edgar was the son of Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury. Upon the death of King Edmund in 946, Edgar's uncle, Eadred, ruled until 955. Eadred was succeeded by his nephew, Eadwig, Edmund's eldest son.

Eadwig was not a popular king, and his reign was marked by conflict with nobles and the Church, primarily St Dunstan and Archbishop Oda. In 957, the thanes of Mercia and Northumbria changed their allegiance to Edgar.[3] A conclave of nobles declared Edgar as king of the territory north of the Thames.[4] Edgar became King of England upon Eadwig's death in October 959, aged about 19.

Government

One of Edgar's first actions was to recall Dunstan from exile and have him made Bishop of Worcester and Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, subsequently Bishop of London and later, Archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan remained Edgar's advisor throughout his reign. While Edgar may not have been a particularly peaceable man[citation needed], his reign was peaceful. The Kingdom of England was well established, and Edgar consolidated the political unity achieved by his predecessors. By the end of his reign, England was sufficiently unified that it was unlikely to regress back to a state of division among rival kingships, as it had to an extent under the reign of Eadred. William Blackstone mentions that King Edgar standardised measure throughout the realm.[5] According to George Molyneaux, Edgar's reign, "far more than the reigns of either Alfred or Æthelstan, was probably the most pivotal phase in the development of the institutional structures that were fundamental to royal rule in the eleventh-century kingdom".[6] Indeed, an early eleventh century king Cnut the Great states in a letter to his subjects that ''it is my will that all the nation, ecclesiastical and lay, shall steadfastly observe Edgar's laws, which all men have chosen and sworn at Oxford''.[7]

Benedictine reform

A coin of Edgar, struck in Winchcombe in Gloucestershire (c. 973-975).

The Monastic Reform Movement that introduced the Benedictine Rule to England's monastic communities peaked during the era of Dunstan, Æthelwold, and Oswald (historians continue to debate the extent and significance of this movement).[8]

Dead Man's Plack

In 963, Edgar allegedly killed Earl Æthelwald, his rival in love, near present-day Longparish, Hampshire.[9] The event was commemorated by the Dead Man's Plack, erected in 1825.[9] In 1875, Edward Augustus Freeman debunked the story as a "tissue of romance" in his book, Historic Essays;[10] however, his arguments were rebutted by naturalist William Henry Hudson in his 1920 book Dead Man's Plack and an Old Thorn.[4]

Coronation at Bath

Edgar was crowned at Bath and along with his wife Ælfthryth was anointed, setting a precedent for a coronation of a queen in England itself.[11] Edgar's coronation did not happen until 973, in an imperial ceremony planned not as the initiation, but as the culmination of his reign (a move that must have taken a great deal of preliminary diplomacy). This service, devised by Dunstan himself and celebrated with a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, forms the basis of the present-day British coronation ceremony.

The symbolic coronation was an important step; other kings of Britain came and gave their allegiance to Edgar shortly afterwards at Chester. Six kings in Britain, including the King of Scots and the King of Strathclyde, pledged their faith that they would be the king's liege-men on sea and land. Later chroniclers made the kings into eight, all plying the oars of Edgar's state barge on the River Dee.[12] Such embellishments may not be factual, and what actually happened is unclear.[13]

Marriages and children

Edgar is believed to have married first Æthelflæd the White, daughter of Ordmaer, Ealdorman of the East Anglians, between 957 and 959. Their only child was:

After Æthelflæd's death about 962, Edgar abducted and married Wulfthryth of Wilton. He carried her off from the nunnery at Wilton Abbey. They lived as husband and wife at his residence in Kemsing for 2 years. It is unclear if they actually married or not. After the birth of one daughter, Wulfthryth was returned to Wilton Abbey, along with their child, and became a nun, eventually Abbess. Edgar and Wulfthryth's only child was:

About 964/965 Edgar married, possibly for a third time, to Ælfthryth, widow of Æthelwald, Ealdorman of East Anglia, Edgar's adopted brother. Ælfthryth was the daughter of Ealdorman Ordgar and his wife, a member of the royal family of Wessex. Legend has it that Edgar heard of Ælfthryth's great beauty and sent Æthelwald to arrange marriage for him (Edgar) but Æthelwald instead married her himself. In retaliation Æthelwald was killed 'in a hunting accident' and Edgar married her as he had wanted. It is not known if this is true or simply romantic fiction. Edgar and Ælfthryth had two sons:

After the death of Edward the Martyr in 978, Æthelred was not yet old enough to rule on his own and Ælfthryth acted as regent.

Death

Edgar died on 8 July 975 at Winchester, Hampshire. He was buried at Glastonbury Abbey.[14] He left two sons, his successor Edward, who was probably his illegitimate son by Æthelflæd, daughter of ealdorman Ordmaer,[15] and Æthelred, the younger, the child of his wife Ælfthryth. Edgar also had a possibly illegitimate daughter by Wulfthryth, who later became abbess of Wilton. She was joined there by her daughter, Edith of Wilton, who lived there as a nun until her death. Both women were later regarded as saints.[16][17]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b c Pauline Stafford, Queen Emma & Queen Edith, Blackwell 2001, pp. 324–325
  2. ^ Stafford, op. cit., p. 91
  3. ^ "Edgar the Peaceful (c. 943–975) – King of England", BBC, January 13, 2005
  4. ^ a b Hudson, William Henry (1920). Dead Man's Plack and an Old Thorn.
  5. ^ Blackstone, "Of the King's Prerogative" Bk. 1, Ch. 7
  6. ^ Molyneaux, George (2015). The Formation of the English Kingdom in the Tenth Century. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-19-871791-1.
  7. ^ Trow, Cnut, pp.168–69.
  8. ^ Lehmberg, Stanford (2013). A History of the Peoples of the British Isles: From Prehistoric Times to 1688. Routledge. p. 29. ISBN 978-1134415281.
  9. ^ a b "Deadman's Plack Monument – Longparish – Hampshire – England". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 8 September 2011.
  10. ^ Freeman, Edward Augustus (1875). Historic Essays. MacMillan & Co. pp. 10–25.
  11. ^ Honeycutt, Lois (2003). Matilda of Scotland: a Study in Medieval Queenship. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. p. 35.
  12. ^ Huscroft, R (2013). The Norman Conquest: A New Introduction. Routledge. p. 21. ISBN 978-1317866275.
  13. ^ Scragg, D. G. (2008), Edgar, King of the English, 959-975: New Interpretations, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, p. 121, ISBN 978-1843833994, Precisely what happened at Chester has been irretrievably obscured by the embellishments of twelfth-century historians
  14. ^ ODNB
  15. ^ Fisher, D. J. V. (1952). "The Anti-Monastic Reaction in the Reign of Edward the Martyr". The Cambridge Historical Journal. 10 (3): 254–270. doi:10.1017/S147469130000295X.
  16. ^ Yorke, Barbara (2004). "Wulfthryth (St Wulfthryth) (d. c.1000), abbess of Wilton". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/49423. Retrieved 17 November 2012. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  17. ^ Williams, Ann (2004). "Edgar (called Edgar Pacificus) (943/4–975)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/8463. Retrieved 16 May 2012.(subscription or UK public library membership required)

Further reading

  • 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.
  • Rex, Peter (2007). Edgar, King of the English 959-75. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus.
  • Scragg, Donald (ed.). Edgar, King of the English, 959–975: New Interpretations. Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies. Manchester: Boydell Press, 2008. ISBN 1-84383-399-9. Contents (external link).
  • Sobecki, Sebastian. "Edgar's Archipelago." In The Sea and Englishness in the Middle Ages: Maritime Narratives, Identity and Culture, ed. Sobecki. Cambridge: Brewer, 2011. 1–30.

External links

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Eadwig
King of the English
959–975
Succeeded by
Edward the Martyr