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Kings and Queens of England

The House of Wessex 899-1016

Edward I, the Elder

Son of Alfred the Great, Edward immediately succeeded his father to the throne. His main achievement was to use the military platform created by his father to bring back, under English control, the whole of the Danelaw, south of the Humber River

 

Aethelstan

The grandson of Alfred the Great, Æthelstan succeeded his father, Edward the Elder, to the throne of Wessex. He was the first English sovereign ever to be crowned on the King's Stone at Kingston-upon-Thames in 925. Incorrectly claimed by some to be the first King of All England, Æthelstan was a great warrior, nonetheless, whose fame stemmed from his conquests in Cornwall and Wales, and his defeat of a combined force of Scots, Welsh and Vikings at the battle of Brunanburh in 938. Æthelstan was a patron of monastic communities and especially supported the monastery at Malmesbury, where his tomb can be found, today.

 

Edmund I

Son of Edward the Elder, succeeded his half-brother, Æthelstan, with whom he had fought at Brunanburh. Combated the Norse Vikings in Northumbria and subdued them in Cumbria and Strathclyde. He entrusted these lands to an ally, Malcolm I of Scotland. Edmund met his death when he was killed at Pucklechurch, in Gloucestershire, by a robber.

 

Eadred

King of Wessex and acknowledged as overlord of Mercia, the Danelaw and Northumbria. A challenge to Eadred, which serves to illustrate one of his chief qualities, developed in the north, in the early 950's. Eric Bloodaxe, an aptly named, ferocious, Norse Viking who had been deposed by his own people, established himself as king of Northumbria at York, apparently with the fearful acquiescence of the Northumbrians. Eadred responded by marching north with a considerable force to meet the threat. He proceeded to ravage the Norse-held territories, then moved back to the south. He was attacked on the way home by Eric's forces. Eadred was so enraged that he threatened to go back to Northumbria and ravage the entire land.

This prospect frightened the already frightened Northumbrians into abandoning Eric Bloodaxe. It must be that they viewed Eadred as more formidable than a bloodthirsty Viking, who had been thrown out of a society known for its bloodthirstiness, because he was too bloodthirsty and tyrannical for them. In any case, according to the "AngloSaxon Chronicle", " the Northumbrians expelled Eric."

As to his personal side, William of Malmesbury provides some illumination. He says that Eadred was afflicted with some lingering physical malady, since he was, "constantly oppressed by sickness, and of so weak a digestion as to be unable to swallow more than the juices of the food he had masticated, to the great annoyance of his guests." Regarding his spiritual side, apparently the pillaging, ravaging and laying waste that he did, had no deleterious effects on him. As Malmesbury states, he devoted his life to God, "endured with patience his frequent bodily pains, prolonged his prayers and made his palace altogether the school of virtue." He died while still a young man, as had so many of the kings of Wessex, "accompanied with the utmost grief of men but joy of angels."

 

Eadwig

On the death of Eadred, who had no children, Eadwig was chosen to be king since he was the oldest of the children in the natural line of the House of Wessex. He became king at 16 and displayed some of the tendencies one could expect in one so young, royalty or not. Historians have not treated Eadwig especially well, and it is unfortunate for him that he ran afoul of the influential Bishop Dunstan (friend and advisor to the recently deceased king, Eadred, future Archbishop of Canterbury and future saint), early in his reign. An incident, which occurred on the day of Eadwig's consecration as king, purportedly, illustrates the character of the young king. According to the report of the reliable William of Malmesbury, all the dignitaries and officials of the kingdom were meeting to discuss state business, when the absence of the new king was noticed. Dunstan was dispatched, along with another bishop, to find the missing youth. He was found with his mind on matters other than those of state, in the company of the daughter of a noble woman of the kingdom. Malmesbury writes, Dunstan, " regardless of the royal indignation, dragged the lascivious boy from the chamber and...compelling him to repudiate the strumpet made him his enemy forever." The record of this incident was picked up by future monastic chroniclers and made to be the definitive word on the character of Eadwig, mainly because of St. Dunstan's role in it.

Dunstan was, after that incident, never exactly a favorite of Eadwig's, and it may be fair to say that Eadwig even hated Dunstan, for he apparently exiled him soon after this. Eadwig went on to marry Ælgifu, the girl with whom he was keeping company at the time of Dunstan's intrusion. For her part, " the strumpet" was eventually referred to as among "the most illustrious of women", and Eadwig, in his short reign, was generous in making grants to the church and other religious institutions. He died, possibly of the Wessex family ailment, when he was only 20.

 

Edgar

Edgar was 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 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 formally crowned in 973 and received the ceremonial submission of all the other kings in Britain. He wisely recalled (St.) Dunstan from exile and made him Archbishop of Canterbury and his closest personal advisor. His reign was prosperous and peaceful and he is generally credited with the revival of the English church.

 

Edward II

Elder son of King Edgar, he succeeded to the throne as a boy of 12, and in so doing, aroused rival claims on behalf of his even younger half-brother, Æthelred II, the Unready. He was murdered by members of Æthelred's household at Corfe Castle in 978.

 

Aethelred II

He succeeded to the throne after the murder of his half-brother, Edward II, the Martyr, at the age of ten. His reign was plagued by poor advice from his personal favorites and suspicions of his complicity in Edward's murder. His was a rather long and ineffective reign, which was notable for little other than the payment of the Danegeld, an attempt to buy off the Viking invaders with money. The relentless invasions by the Danish Vikings, coupled with their ever-escalating demands for more money, forced him to abandon his throne in 1013. He fled to Normandy for safety, but was later recalled to his old throne at the death of Svein Forkbeard in 1014. He died in London in 1016.

 

Edmund II, Ironside

Edmund was King of England for only a few months. After the death of his father, Æthelred II, in April 1016, Edmund led the defense of the city of London against the invading Knut Sveinsson (Canute), and was proclaimed king by the Londoners. Meanwhile, the Witan (Council), meeting at Southampton, chose Canute as King. After a series of inconclusive military engagements, in which Edmund performed brilliantly and earned the nickname "Ironside", he defeated the Danish forces at Oxford, Kent, but was routed by Canute's forces at Ashingdon, Essex. A subsequent peace agreement was made, with Edmund controlling Wessex and Canute controlling Mercia and Northumbria. It was also agreed that whoever survived the other would take control of the whole realm. Unfortunately for Edmund, he died in November, 1016, transferring the Kingship of All England completely to Canute.

 

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