NameEdgar (The Peaceful) King of England
Birth943, Wessex, England
Death8 Jul 975, Wessex, England
BurialGlastonbury Abbey, England
MotherSaint Elgiva (Alfgifu) (~922-944)
Misc. Notes
Made King of Mercia and Northumbria in 957, and succeed to the
throne of Wessex at his brother, Eadwig's, death in 959. With this, Edgar
was King of Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex (the three most powerful
kingdoms in England, at that time), simultaneously, and could be
considered to be the first ruler of a united England. Some of his
predecessors were Kings of All England by virtue of being King of Wessex
and, at the same time, enjoying a temporary military ascendancy over the
other kingdoms.
He was known as "the Peaceable" largely because the victories and
campaigns of his forebears had finally brought a measure of stability and
freedom from outside attack. The time was ripe for a reformation of the
church which was largely the work of St. Dunstan, whom Edgar recalled
from exile. In the stakes for recognition as the first King of England
Edgar also has some claim. "His reign was prosperous and God granted him
to live his days in peace; he did his duty and laboured zealously in its
performance. Far and wide he exalted God's praise and delighted in His
law, improving the security of his people more than all the kings who
were before him within the memory of man."
It was only after 14 years on the throne that he was eventually
crowned in a ceremony of great significance using a new order of service
which was the work of Dunstan and which long remained in use. "In this
year, Edgar, ruler of the English was consecratewd King by a great
assembly, in the ancient city of Acemannesceastee, also called Bath by
the inhabitants of this island. On that blessed day, called and named
Whit Sunday by the children of men, there was great rejoicing by all. As
I have heard, there was a great congregation of priests and a goodly
company of monks, and wise men gathered together."
He led all his fleet to Chesterand there six (eight) kings came to
him to make their submission and pledge themselves to be his fellow
workers by sea and land. He "called them to enter into a barge upon the
waters of the Dee, and placing himself in the forepart of the barge at
the helm, he called those eight high princes to row the barge up and down
the water, showing thereby his princely perogative and royal
magnificenec, in that he might use the service of so many kings that were
his subjects. And thereupon he said (as hath been reported) that then
might his sucessors account themselves Kings of England, when they
enjoyed such perogative of high and supreme honour."
He reputation was still high when he died. "In this year Edgar
passed away ruler of the English, friend of the West Saxons and protector
of the Mercians. That was known far and wide throughout many nations,
Kings honoured the son of Edmund far and wide over the gannet's bath, and
submitted to the sovreign, as were his birth right. No fleet however
proud no host however strong, was able to win booty for itself in
England, while that noble King occupied the royal throne."

Coronation delayed until 973 (at Bath); with Dunstan reformed monastic houses on Rule of St.Benedict; m. (1) Aethelflaed ("the white duck"), dau. of Earl Ormaer, & had Edward the Martyr; m. (2) Aelfthryth, dau. of Earl Ordgar, & had Aethelred II; also had daughter by Wulfthryth, "an inmate of the convent at Wilton", who declined marriage. Edgar's reign "is often regarded as the highest point of effective power reached by the Old English monarchy...a time of peace for the greater part of England." He is fame is due "to his lavish patronage of the church, and to the encouragement which he gave to the great men, Dunstan, Ethelwold, and Oswald, who in his reign were reviving monastic life in England." {-Encycl.Brit.,'56,8:484.} Edgar reigned 10-959 to 975.

The Saxon name Eadgar means "rich in spears" (Eadgar the Peaceable), which was undoubtedly recognition of his inheritance of military power.  When Edgar's uncle Eadred died in 955, his brother Edwy became king in Wessex whilst Edgar was appointed to the kingship of Mercia and Northumbria.  He was only twelve at the time and did not assume full authority until he was about fifteen, by which time he was welcomed, as Edwy was a weak and unpopular king.  Edgar had been raised in East Anglia, in the household of Athelstan, the caldorman of the old territory of the Danelaw, which covered all of East Anglia and Danish Mercia.  As such Edgar was already a popular prince amongst the middle-English and Danes and was readily accepted as king, whereas Edwy was seen as a weak and troublesome youth.  By November 957 the Mercians and Northumbrians had renounced their allegiance to Edwy.  Both kings were advised (or controlled) by a strong council, which had led to conflict with Edwy who had expelled bishop Dunstan.  When Edgar came of age he recalled Dunstan and was enthusiastic about his ideas for reforming the English church.  When Edwy died in October 959, Edgar also became king of Wessex and as the archbishopric of Canterbury was vacant with the recent death of Oda, Dunstan was appointed to that see.  With the support of the king, Dunstan introduced a major programme of monastic reform, not all of which was happily accepted at the time, but which brought Saxon England in line with developments on the continent.  All secular clergy were ejected, and the church officials were granted considerable independence from the crown.  The most extreme of these was the creation of the soke of Peterborough, where the abbot of St Peters had almost total independence.  Many of the monasteries that had been destroyed during the Danish invasions were restored.  It was only a period of peace that could allow such rebuilding and change.  Edgar, for all that he was not a soldier or strategist to match his father or grandfather, was able to work alongside strong and well organized ealdormen in governing the kingdom and in ensuring its safety.  All the time England seemed in capable hands, the Norse and Danes bided their time.

In 973 Edgar gave a demonstration of authority.  Although he probably had a formal coronation when he became king of Wessex, Dunstan believed there was a need for a major ceremony similar to those of the King of the Franks and the German Emperor.  The ceremony was delayed for some years because Dunstan was unhappy with Edgar's dissolute life.  For all he supported the church reform Edgar was not a particularly religious man.  There were rumours about his private life, which may have some base of truth.  He had married a childhood friend, Athelfleda, early in life, but it seems that either she died in childbirth around the year 961 or the two became separated because of Edgar's amorous adventures with Wulfryth.  Stories were later attached to the episode that Edgar had seduced a nun, but although Wulfryth later became a nun, the real story seems to be that he fell in love with a lady who bore him a child, but she either chose to enter (or was banished to) a nunnery and they probably never married.  Edgar then became romantically entangled with Elfrida, who was already married, and again the scandalmongers hinted that the two might have planned the murder of her husband, Edgar's onetime foster-brother Athelwald in 964, in order to marry.  Elfrida later came to epitomise the image of the wicked stepmother in her relationship with Edgar's youngest child, Edward (the Martyr).  All of these shenanigans caused Dunstan to counsel Edgar to change his ways.  Perhaps as he passed from youth into adulthood he became less reckless, and in 973 Dunstan agreed to a major ceremony at Bath.  The coronation had double significance.  For the first time a Saxon king was crowned as king of all the English, a title used by previous monarchs but never as part of their coronation.  Edgar was thus the first genuine king of England.  At the same time Elfrida was also crowned, the first queen of the English.  This ceremony has remained essentially the same in content ever since.  Following the coronation, Edgar put on a display of force.  His army marched along the Welsh border from Bath to Chester, showing his authority over the Welsh, whilst his fleet sailed through the Irish Sea, also demonstrating his subjugation of the Norse who still held power in that area at Dublin and on Man.  At Chester eight kings of Wales and the north assembled to make their submission to him.  A later chronicler suggested that these eight kings then rowed Edgar along the river Dee with him at the helm.  Strong though that image is, it is unlikely.  It is more probable that there was a ceremonial voyage along the Dee with Edgar at the helm, and the other kings in submission.  The coronation and ceremony were immensely significant.  Although Edgar's position had been achieved by his predecessors, he was able to capitalise on it and demonstrate his authority over all of Britain with the exception of Orkney.  Not all monarchs were present, the most noticeable absentee being Owain Ap Hywel of Deheubarth, though his absence was due to domestic strife rather than lack of respect.  Thorfinn Skull-Splitter was not present, but as he owed his allegiance to the Norwegian crown, he might be excused - although, interestingly, Magnus Haraldsson of Man and the Isles was present.

The ceremony marked the end of a peaceful and prosperous reign, and it was fortunate that the English could not see ahead as Edgar's was the last reign of peace and harmony.  The Saxon world would thereafter start to disintegrate and within less than a century be almost wiped away.


References: [AR7],[Weis1]
Birth945, Lyford Castle, Devonshire, England
Death17 Nov 1002, Wherwell Abbey, Hampshire, England
FatherOrdgar Earl of Devon (~900-971)
Last Modified 25 Jun 2003Created 4 Sep 2012 using Reunion for Macintosh