Edward the Elder

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Edward the Elder
King of the Anglo-Saxons[1]
Edward the Elder - MS Royal 14 B VI.jpg
Edward the Elder, from a 14th century Illuminated manuscript
Reign 26 October 899-17 July 924
Born 870
Died 17 July 924
Place of death Church of St. Lawrence in the Square, Winchester, England[2]
Predecessor Alfred the Great
Athelstan
Successor Ælfweard and Athelstan.
Consort to 3
Children 14 Children
Royal House House of Wessex
Father Alfred the Great
Mother Ealhswith

Edward the Elder (c. 874-877-17 July 924) was a West Saxon nobleman. He was the King of Wessex but assumed the title King of the Anglo-Saxons. He was king from 899 until his death in 924.


Atheling[change | change source]

Edward was the son of Alfred the Great and Ealhswith.[3] She was a daughter of Ethelred, also called Mucill, Ealdorman of the Gaini.[3] He was born about the year 870.[4] As one of at least three athelings, it was not absolutely certain he would be king after his father.[a][6] His cousin, Aethelheim, was older and was the son of Alfred's older brother Athelred of Wessex.[6] When he was about four years old Edward was sent to Rome. There, in a ceremony, he was given a sword, belt and given the rank of consul.[7] This is one of several things Alfred did to make Edward the first choice among the Athelings who would succeed him as king. By a past agreement Alfred had control of most of the royal estates. He could leave all or some to Edward. In the 880s, Alfred made a will giving most of the royal estates to his son Edward, and left his two nephews only modest lands in the eastern part of the realm. This meant that if Ethelhelm were selected as king over Edward, he might not have enough income to support himself as king.[5]

King of Wessex[change | change source]

Edward ruled from time of his father's death on 26 October, 899. But he wasn't coronated until Whitsunday (8 June) of 900.[b][9] His reign began with his cousin Athelwold, son of King Athelred, seizing the royal manors of Wimborne and Christchurch.[10] When Edward confronted him Athelwold fled. He left behind a nun he had abducted. Athelwold was accepted by the Danes of Northumbria. There he was elected King of York.[11] In 901 Athelwold was in Essex with a fleet he raised over seas.[10] In 902 he convinced a Danish army in East Anglia to raid into Wessex and Mercia with him. In response Edward led his army into East Anglia and destroyed the countryside. Edward ordered his troops to retire back to Wessex, but the Kentish men disobeyed his orders and stayed behind.[12] The Danish army quickly caught up with them. In the battle that followed, Ethelwald was killed.[11]

An Anglo-Saxon coin brooch (silver), dated c. 920, imitating a coin of Edward the Elder. Discovered in Rome, now in the British Museum.

Edward continued his wars against the Danes.[13] He received a great deal of aid from his sister, Ethelflaeda. She had married Ethelred of Mercia and at his death she became the leader of the Mercians. Together Edward and Ethelflaeda defeated the Danes in numerous battles.[13] But Ethelflaeda also built a line of fortresses on the Mercian Frontier. This was what her father Alfred the Great had done on the Wessex borders with the Danish held territories.[13] Edward began to use these fortresses differently. Not just for defense of his own lands he used them to hold captured lands.[14] Edward and his sister were very successful against the Danes. So much so they quit raiding into Wessex and Mercia.[14] Freed of wars with the Daneds, Edward could attend to other issues. He brought Strathclyde and parts of Northumbria under his control. He also brought Mercia under his direct rule after his sister Ethelflaeda died.[14] The appearance of the Viking leader Ragnvald in York slowed his progress. But by the end of his reign he had control of all lands south of the River Humber.[14] In a treaty Ragnvald, the kings of Strathclyde and the Scots recognized his rule.[14]

In 924 Mercian nobles wanting to be free of Edward's rule made an alliance with the Welsh.[15] Edward quickly put down the rebellion and placed a garrison in the town of Chester.[15] But this expedition proved to be his last. Edward died 17 July 924.[15] Before the end of the year his son Athelstan was recognized as the rightful king.[15]

Family[change | change source]

Edward's first wife was Egwina.[16] Together they had:

  • Athelstan (c.893–939), succeeded as King of England.[16]
  • A daughter who married Sihtric Cáoch, Viking king of York.[16]

Edward married secondly, Elfleda, a daughter of Æthelhelm.[16] Together they had:

As his third wife, Edward married Eadgifu, the daughter of Sigehelm.[16] Together they had:

Notes[change | change source]

  1. The rules of succession were somewhat flexible at this time. Being the king's son did not guarantee succession. The new king was selected from among the eligible Athelings (sons and grandsons of former kings).[5] Generally an adult heir was preferred over a child heir.[5] primogeniture (right of the eldest son to inherit from his father) was not yet established in England.[5]
  2. Confusion over the year Alfred died and Edward began his reign comes from how the Anglo-Saxon calendar was different from the modern Gregorian calendar. Since the time of Bede (c. 672–735), the Anglo-Saxon calendar year began on September 24th of the year. Since king Alfred died on 26 October, the chroniclers of that time placed it in the calender year 900. Whitsunday or 8 June of that year fell within the same twelve-month period. So to the chroniclers 26 October and the following 8 June were both in the year (900). Corrected to our calendar, Alfred died 26 October 899 and Edward was coronated on 8 June 900.[8]

References[change | change source]

  1. Simon Keynes, 'Edward, King of the Anglo-Saxons', Edward the Elder, 899-924, eds. N. J. Higham; D. L. Hill (London; New York: Routledge, 2001), p. 40
  2. "Edward the Elder". Find a grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=22392. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Asser's Life of King Alfred, trans. L.C. Jane (London: Chatto and Windus, 1908), p. 155
  4. John Cannon; Ralph Griffiths, Oxford Illustrated History of the Brittish Monarchy, Revised Edition (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 656
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Barbara Yorke, 'Edward as Ætheling', Edward the Elder, 899-924, eds. N. J. Higham; D. H. Hill (London; New York: Routledge, 2001), p. 30
  6. 6.0 6.1 Barbara Yorke, 'Edward as Ætheling', Edward the Elder, 899-924, eds. N. J. Higham; D. H. Hill (London; New York: Routledge, 2001), p. 25
  7. Barbara Yorke, 'Edward as Ætheling', Edward the Elder, 899-924, eds. N. J. Higham; D. H. Hill (London; New York: Routledge, 2001), p. 29
  8. Murray L. R. Beaven, 'The Regnal Dates of Alfred, Edward the Elder, and Athelstan', The English Historical Review, Vol. 32, No. 128 (Oct., 1917), pp. 530-31
  9. Murray L. R. Beaven, 'The Regnal Dates of Alfred, Edward the Elder, and Athelstan', The English Historical Review, Vol. 32, No. 128 (Oct., 1917), p. 530
  10. 10.0 10.1 Frank Stenton, Anglo Saxon-England (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 321
  11. 11.0 11.1 W. S. Angus, 'The Chronology of the Reign of Edward the Elder', The English Historical Review, Vol. 53, No. 210 (Apr., 1938), p. 194
  12. Frank Stenton, Anglo Saxon-England (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 322
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster, A History of England, Third Edition (London; New York: Cassell & Co., Ltd., 1899), p. 66
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 W. S. Angus, 'The Chronology of the Reign of Edward the Elder', The English Historical Review, Vol. 53, No. 210 (Apr., 1938), p. 195
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Frank Stenton, Anglo Saxon-England (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 339
  16. 16.00 16.01 16.02 16.03 16.04 16.05 16.06 16.07 16.08 16.09 16.10 16.11 16.12 16.13 16.14 Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Band II (Marburg, Germany: J. A. Stargardt, 1984), Tafel 78

Other websites[change | change source]