Edgar Ætheling

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Edgar Ætheling
Edgar the AEtheling.jpg
Edgar, from an illuminated tree of the family of Edmund Ironside
King of the English (disputed)
Reign15 October – 10 December 1066
Predecessor Harold Godwinson
Successor William the Conqueror
Bornc. 1051
Kingdom of Hungary
Diedc. 1126 (aged c. 75)
House House of Wessex
Father Edward the Exile
Mother Agatha

Edgar Ætheling (also spelt Æþeling, Aetheling, Atheling or Etheling) [1] or Edgar II (c. 1051 – c. 1126) was the last male member of the royal house of Cerdic of Wessex (see House of Wessex family tree). He was elected King of England by the Witenagemot in 1066, but never crowned.

Cerdic of Wessex leader of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain; first king of Saxon Wessex

Cerdic is cited in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a leader of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, being the founder and first king of Saxon Wessex, reigning from 519 to 534 AD. Subsequent kings of Wessex were each claimed by the Chronicle to descend in some manner from Cerdic. His origin, ethnicity, and even his very existence have been extensively disputed.

Witenagemot Historical council in Anglo-Saxon England

The Witenaġemot, also known as the Witan, was a political institution in Anglo-Saxon England which operated from before the 7th century until the 11th century. The Witenagemot was an assembly of the tribe whose primary function was to advise the king and whose membership was composed of the most important noblemen in England, both ecclesiastic and secular. The institution is thought to represent an aristocratic development of the ancient Germanic general assemblies, or folkmoots. In England, by the 7th century, these ancient folkmoots had developed into convocations of the land's most powerful and important people, including ealdormen, thegns, and senior clergy, to discuss matters of both national and local significance.


Family and early life

Edgar was born in the Kingdom of Hungary, where his father Edward the Exile, son of Edmund Ironside, had spent most of his life, having been sent into exile after Edmund's death and the conquest of England by the Danish king Cnut the Great in 1016. His grandfather Edmund, great-grandfather Æthelred the Unready, and great-great-grandfather Edgar the Peaceful were all kings of England before Cnut the Great took the crown. [2] Edgar's mother was Agatha, who was described as a relative of the German-Roman Emperor or a descendant of Saint Stephen of Hungary, [3] but whose exact identity is unknown. He was his parents' only son but had two sisters, Margaret and Cristina. [4]

Kingdom of Hungary former Central European monarchy (1000–1946)

The Kingdom of Hungary was a monarchy in Central Europe that existed from the Middle Ages into the 20th century. The Principality of Hungary emerged as a Christian kingdom upon the coronation of the first king Stephen I at Esztergom around the year 1000; his family led the monarchy for 300 years. By the 12th century, the kingdom became a European middle power within the Western world.

Edward the Exile son of King Edmund Ironside and of Ealdgyth

Edward the Exile, also called Edward Ætheling, was the son of King Edmund Ironside and of Ealdgyth. He spent most of his life in exile in the Kingdom of Hungary following the defeat of his father by Cnut the Great.

Edmund Ironside King of the English, Wessex dynasty

Edmund Ironside was King of England from 23 April to 30 November 1016. He was the son of King Æthelred the Unready and his first wife, Ælfgifu of York. Edmund's reign was marred by a war he had inherited from his father; his cognomen "Ironside" was given to him "because of his valour" in resisting the Danish invasion led by Cnut the Great.

In 1057, the childless king of England, Edmund Ironside's half-brother Edward the Confessor, who had only recently become aware that his nephew was still alive, summoned Edward back to England with his family to take up his place at court as heir to the throne. [3] The returning exile died in uncertain circumstances shortly after his arrival in England. [5] [6] Edgar, a child, was left as the only surviving male member of the royal dynasty apart from the king. [7] However, the latter made no recorded effort to entrench his great-nephew's position as heir to a throne that was being eyed by a range of powerful potential contenders, including England's leading aristocrat Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, and the foreign rulers William II of Normandy, Sweyn II of Denmark and Harald III of Norway.

Edward the Confessor 11th-century Anglo-Saxon King of England and saint

Edward the Confessor, also known as Saint Edward the Confessor, was among the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England. Usually considered the last king of the House of Wessex, he ruled from 1042 to 1066.

Harold Godwinson 11th-century Anglo-Saxon King of England

Harold Godwinson, often called Harold II, was the last crowned Anglo-Saxon king of England. Harold reigned from 6 January 1066 until his death at the Battle of Hastings, fighting the Norman invaders led by William the Conqueror during the Norman conquest of England. His death marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule over England.

Earl of Wessex

Earl of Wessex is a title that has been created three times in British history, twice in the pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon nobility of England and once in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. The region of Wessex, in the south and southwest of England, had been one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, whose expansion in the tenth century created a united Kingdom of England.

Succession struggle

When King Edward the Confessor died in January 1066, Edgar was still in his early teens, considered too young to be an effective military leader. [7] This had not previously been an insurmountable obstacle; the earlier kings of England Eadwig, Edgar the Peaceful and Edward the Martyr had all come to the throne at a similar age, while Æthelred the Unready had been significantly younger at his accession. However, the avaricious ambitions that had been aroused across north-western Europe by the Confessor's lack of an heir prior to 1057, and by the king's failure thereafter to prepare the way for Edgar to succeed him, removed any prospect of a peaceful hereditary succession. War was clearly inevitable and Edgar was in no position to fight it, while he was without powerful adult relatives to champion his cause. Accordingly, the Witenagemot elected Harold Godwinson, the man best placed to defend the country against the competing foreign claimants, to succeed Edward. [3]

Eadwig King of the English

Eadwig, also spelled Edwy, sometimes called the All-Fair, was King of England from 955 until his premature death.

Edgar the Peaceful Anglo-Saxon king of England

Edgar, known as the Peaceful or the Peaceable, was King of England 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.

Edward the Martyr King of the English

Edward the Martyr was King of England from 975 until he was murdered in 978. Edward was the eldest son of King Edgar the Peaceful but was not his father's acknowledged heir. On Edgar's death, the leadership of England was contested, with some supporting Edward's claim to be king and others supporting his younger half-brother Æthelred the Unready, recognized as a legitimate son of Edgar. Edward was chosen as king and was crowned by his main clerical supporters, the archbishops Dunstan of Canterbury and Oswald of Worcester.

Following Harold's death at the Battle of Hastings against the invading Normans in October, the Witenagemot assembled in London and elected Edgar king. [8] The new regime thus established was dominated by the most powerful surviving members of the English ruling class: Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, Ealdred, Archbishop of York, and the brothers Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria. The commitment of these men to Edgar's cause, men who had so recently passed over his claim to the throne without apparent demur, must have been doubtful from the start. The strength of their resolve to continue the struggle against William of Normandy was questionable, and the military response they organised to the continuing Norman advance was ineffectual. When William crossed the Thames at Wallingford, he was met by Stigand, who now abandoned Edgar and submitted to the invader. As the Normans closed in on London, Edgar's key supporters in the city began negotiating with William. In early December, the remaining members of the Witan in London met and resolved to take the young uncrowned king out to meet William to submit to him at Berkhamsted, quietly setting aside Edgar's election. [9] Edgar, alongside other lords, did homage to King William at his coronation in December.

Battle of Hastings Battle between English and Normans on 14 October 1066

The Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066 between the Norman-French army of William, the Duke of Normandy, and an English army under the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson, beginning the Norman conquest of England. It took place approximately 7 miles northwest of Hastings, close to the present-day town of Battle, East Sussex, and was a decisive Norman victory.

Normans European ethnic group emerging in the 10th and 11th century in France

The Normans are an ethnic group that arose in Normandy, a northern region of France, from contact between Viking settlers and indigenous Franks and Gallo-Romans. The settlements followed a series of raids on the French coast from Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, and they gained political legitimacy when the Viking leader Rollo agreed to swear fealty to King Charles III of West Francia. The distinct cultural and ethnic identity of the Normans emerged initially in the first half of the 10th century, and it continued to evolve over the succeeding centuries.

Stigand 11th-century Archbishop of Canterbury

Stigand was an Anglo-Saxon churchman in pre-Norman Conquest England who became Archbishop of Canterbury. His birth date is unknown, but by 1020 he was serving as a royal chaplain and advisor. He was named Bishop of Elmham in 1043, and was later Bishop of Winchester and Archbishop of Canterbury. Stigand was an advisor to several members of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman English royal dynasties, serving six successive kings. Excommunicated by several popes for his pluralism in holding the two sees, or bishoprics, of Winchester and Canterbury concurrently, he was finally deposed in 1070, and his estates and personal wealth were confiscated by William the Conqueror. Stigand was imprisoned at Winchester, where he died without regaining his liberty.

Exile and war against the Normans

William kept Edgar in his custody and took him, along with other English leaders, to his court in Normandy in 1067, before returning with them to England. Edgar may have been involved in the abortive rebellion of the Earls Edwin and Morcar in 1068, or he may have been attempting to return to Hungary with his family and been blown off course; in any case, in that year he arrived with his mother and sisters at the court of King Malcolm III Canmore of Scotland. [10] Malcolm married Edgar's sister Margaret, and agreed to support Edgar in his attempt to reclaim the English throne. [11] When a major rebellion broke out in Northumbria at the beginning of 1069, Edgar returned to England with other rebels who had fled to Scotland, to become the leader, or at least the figurehead, of the revolt. However, after early successes the rebels were defeated by William at York and Edgar again sought refuge with Malcolm. [12] In late summer that year, the arrival of a fleet sent by King Sweyn of Denmark triggered a fresh wave of English uprisings in various parts of the country. Edgar and the other exiles sailed to the Humber, where they linked up with Northumbrian rebels and the Danes. Their combined forces overwhelmed the Normans at York and took control of Northumbria, but a small seaborne raid which Edgar led into the Kingdom of Lindsey ended in disaster, and he escaped with only a handful of followers to rejoin the main army. Late in the year, William fought his way into Northumbria and occupied York, buying off the Danes and devastating the surrounding country. [13] Early in 1070, he moved against Edgar and other English leaders who had taken refuge with their remaining followers in a marshy region, perhaps Holderness, and put them to flight. Edgar returned to Scotland. [3]

Normandy Administrative region of France

Normandy is the northwesternmost of the 18 regions of France, roughly referring to the historical Duchy of Normandy.

Malcolm III was King of Scots from 1058 to 1093. He was later nicknamed "Canmore". Malcolm's long reign of 35 years preceded the beginning of the Scoto-Norman age. Henry I of England and Eustace III of Boulogne were his sons-in-law, making him the maternal grandfather of Empress Matilda, William Adelin and Matilda of Boulogne. All three of them were prominent in English politics during the 12th century.

York Historic city in the north of England

York is a city and unitary authority area in North Yorkshire, England, the population of the council area which includes nearby villages was 208,200 as of 2017 and the population of the Urban area was 153,717 at the 2011 census. Located at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss, it is the county town of the historic county of Yorkshire. The city is known for its famous historical landmarks such as York Minster and the city walls, as well as a variety of cultural and sporting activities, which makes it a popular tourist destination in England. The local authority is the City of York Council, a single tier governing body responsible for providing all local services and facilities throughout the city. The City of York local government district includes rural areas beyond the old city boundaries. It is about 20 miles north-east of Leeds.

He remained there until 1072, when William invaded Scotland and forced King Malcolm to submit to his overlordship. [10] The terms of the agreement between them included the expulsion of Edgar. [14] He therefore took up residence in Flanders, whose count, Robert the Frisian, was hostile to the Normans. However, he was able to return to Scotland in 1074. Shortly after his arrival there, he received an offer from Philip I, King of France, who was also at odds with William, of a castle and lands near the borders of Normandy from where he would be able to raid his enemies' homeland. He embarked with his followers for France, but a storm wrecked their ships on the English coast. Many of Edgar's men were hunted down by the Normans, but he managed to escape with the remainder to Scotland by land. Following this disaster, he was persuaded by Malcolm to make peace with William and return to England as his subject, abandoning any ambition of regaining his ancestral throne. [15]

Italian venture

Disappointed at the level of recompense and respect he received from William, in 1086 Edgar renounced his allegiance to the Conqueror and moved with a retinue of men to Norman Apulia. [16] [10] The Domesday Book, compiled that year, records Edgar's ownership of only two small estates (Barkway and Hermead) in Hertfordshire. [17] This is probably because Edgar had given up his English properties when he left for Italy, not intending to return. In that case the recording of the Hertfordshire estates under his name is likely to be an anomaly, reflecting a situation which had recently ceased to apply. [18] The venture in the Mediterranean was evidently not a success; within a few years Edgar returned to England.

Norman and Scottish dynastic strife

After King William's death in 1087, Edgar supported William's eldest son Robert Curthose, who succeeded him as Duke of Normandy, against his second son, William Rufus, who received the throne of England as William II. [3] Edgar was one of Robert's three principal advisors at this time. [19] The war waged by Robert and his allies to overthrow William ended in defeat in 1091. As part of the resulting settlement between the brothers, Edgar was deprived of lands which he had been granted by Robert. These were presumably former possessions of William and his supporters in Normandy, confiscated by Robert and distributed to his own followers, including Edgar, but restored to their previous owners by the terms of the peace agreement. The disgruntled Edgar travelled once again to Scotland, where Malcolm was preparing for war with William. [3] When William marched north and the two armies confronted one another, the kings opted to talk rather than fight. The negotiations were conducted by Edgar on behalf of Malcolm, and the newly reconciled Robert Curthose on behalf of William. The resulting agreement included a reconciliation between William and Edgar. However, within months Robert left England, unhappy with William's failure to fulfil the pact between them, and Edgar went with him to Normandy. [20]

Having returned to England, Edgar went to Scotland again in 1093, on a diplomatic mission for William to negotiate with Malcolm, who was dissatisfied with the Norman failure to implement in full the terms of the 1091 treaty. This dispute led to war, and within the year Malcolm had invaded England and had been killed along with his designated heir Edward, eldest of his sons by Margaret, in the Battle of Alnwick. Malcolm's successor, his brother Donald Bán, drove out the English and French retainers who had risen high in Malcolm's service and had thus aroused the jealousy of the existing Scottish aristocracy. This purge brought him into conflict with the Anglo-Norman monarchy, whose influence in Scotland it had diminished. William helped Malcolm's eldest son Duncan, who had spent many years as a hostage at William I's court and remained there when set at liberty by William II, to overthrow his uncle, but Donald soon regained the throne and Duncan was killed. [21] [ non-primary source needed ] Another effort to restore the Anglo-Norman interest through sponsorship of Malcolm's sons was launched in 1097, and Edgar made yet another journey to Scotland, this time in command of an invading army. Donald was ousted, and Edgar installed his nephew and namesake, Malcolm and Margaret's son Edgar, on the Scottish throne. [22] [3]

First Crusade

Orderic tells us that Edgar was the commander of an English fleet which operated off the coast of the region of Syria in support of the First Crusade, whose crews eventually burned their dilapidated ships and joined the advance by land to Jerusalem. [23] [ non-primary source needed ] This is doubtful, for this fleet is known to have arrived off the Syrian coast by March 1098; since Edgar invaded Scotland late in 1097, he could not have made the voyage in the time available. It may be though that he travelled overland to the Mediterranean and joined the fleet en route; this is the view taken by Runciman. [24] William of Malmesbury recorded that Edgar made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1102, and it may be that Orderic's report is the product of confusion, conflating the expedition of the English fleet with Edgar's later journey. Some modern historians have suggested that at some point during these years Edgar served in the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire, a unit which was at that time composed primarily of English emigrants, but this is unsupported by evidence. William of Malmesbury stated that on his way back from Jerusalem Edgar was given rich gifts by both the Byzantine and the German emperors, each of whom offered him an honoured place at court, but that he insisted on returning home instead. [25] [ non-primary source needed ]

Later life

Back in Europe, Edgar again took the side of Robert Curthose in the internal struggles of the Norman dynasty, this time against Robert's youngest brother, who was now Henry I, King of England. He was taken prisoner in the final defeat at the Battle of Tinchebray in 1106, which resulted in Robert being imprisoned for the rest of his life. Edgar was more fortunate: having been taken back to England, he was pardoned and released by King Henry. [26] [27] His niece Edith (renamed Matilda), daughter of Malcolm III and Margaret, had married Henry in 1100. Edgar is believed to have travelled to Scotland once more late in life, perhaps around the year 1120. He lived to see the death at sea in November 1120 of William Adeling, the son of his niece Edith and heir to Henry I. Edgar was still alive in 1125, according to William of Malmesbury, who wrote at the time that Edgar "now grows old in the country in privacy and quiet". [4] The general consensus is that Edgar died shortly after 1125. The location of his grave is not known.

There is no evidence that Edgar married or produced children apart from two references to an "Edgar Adeling" found in the Magnus Rotulus Pipae Northumberland (Pipe rolls) for the years 1158 and 1167. [28] Historian Edward Freeman, writing in The History of the Norman Conquest of England , says that this was the same Edgar (aged over 110), a son of his, or some other person known by the title "Ætheling". This is the only evidence that the male line of England's original royal family continued beyond Edgar's death. [3]

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  1. The Old English term Aetheling , in contemporary spelling Æþeling, denotes a man of royal blood.
  2. Ronay 1989, p. 10.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "The House Of Wessex". www.englishmonarchs.co.uk. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  4. 1 2 Connolly, Sharon Bennett (10 December 2016). "Edgar – The Boy Who Wouldn't Be King". History... the interesting bits!. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  5. Whittock, Martyn; Whittock, Hannah (2016). 1018 and 1066: Why the Vikings Caused the Norman Conquest. Ramsbury, Wilts: Crowood. ISBN   9780719820502 . Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  6. https://historytheinterestingbits.com/2016/12/10/edgar-the-boy-who-wouldnt-be-king/
  7. 1 2 "Claimants to the English throne in 1066". www.bbc.com. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
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  11. Tyler, Moses Coit (1899). Library of Universal History. New York. p. 1841. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  12. Rollason, David (2003). Northumbria, 500-1100: Creation and Destruction of a Kingdom. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. p. 283. ISBN   9780521813358 . Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  13. Aird, William M. (1998). St Cuthbert and the Normans: The Church of Durham, 1071-1153. Woodbridge: Boydell. p. 75. ISBN   9780851156156 . Retrieved 27 June 2017.
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  15. Clemoes, Peter; Keynes, Simon; Lapidge, Michael (1985). Anglo-Saxon England, Volume 14. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. p. 205. ISBN   9780521038386 . Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  16. Clemoes. Anglo-Saxon. p. 206.
  17. Hale, Betty. "History of Prince Edgar & his Claim to the English Throne". Britannia. Archived from the original on 10 December 2006. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  18. Donald Henson, The English Elite in 1066: gone but not forgotten (Thetford 2001), pp. 24–6
  19. Aird, William M (2008). Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy: C. 1050-1134. Woodbridge,Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer. p. 128. ISBN   978-1-84383-310-9.
  20. Aird, William M (2008). Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy: C. 1050-1134. Woodbridge,Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer. pp. 144–145. ISBN   978-1-84383-310-9.
  21. Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, pp. 227–8, 230; Florence of Worcester, pp. 152–4
  22. Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, pp. 234; Florence of Worcester, p 157
  23. Orderic, vol. 5, pp. 270–3
  24. Runciman History of the Crusades 1968 (1951) Vol 1, p. 227, p. 228 note, and p. 255)
  25. William of Malmesbury, A History of the Norman Kings (1066–1125), with the Historia Novella or history of his own times (1126–1142), tr. John Sharp (London 1854), pp. 237–8
  26. Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, p. 241
  27. Timpson, Trevor. "'England's darling' and Scotland's saint", BBC News, 20 October 2016
  28. Freeman, Edward A. The History of the Norman Conquest of England (1869), Vol. III p.766 citing Hodgson, J., and Hinde, J. H. History of Northumberland (1820–1858), Part III, Vol. III, pp. 3, 11
Edgar Ætheling
Born:ca 1051 Died:ca 1126
English royalty
Preceded by
Harold Godwinson
King of England
Reason for dispute:
Proclaimed but not crowned,
due to Norman Conquest
Succeeded by
William the Conqueror