From greatness to disaster. Alfred to Athelred

Ethelred_the_Unready

Æthelred the Unready from a thirteenth century copy of the Abingdon Chronicle.

Alfred was succeeded by his son, Edward the Elder who ruled until 924. Edward had campaigned against the Danes during his father’s life time just as Alfred had been his brother’s lieutenant before he in his turn became king.

Edward didn’t automatically become king.  Applicants for the Crown were required to present themselves to the Witan.  Although Edward was the son of Alfred his cousins who had been bypassed when Alfred became king because of their youth were now men. Eadweard and Ethelwald both wanted to become the next king of Wessex.

Ethelwald fermented rebellion and seized Crown lands but was swiftly kicked into touch.  He reacted by taking himself off to Norse ruled Northumbria before returning at the head of an army in 905 when he was killed. Unfortunately for Edward the Elder the battle was actually won by the Danes so he had to negotiate a settlement.  Borders and boundaries became rather fluid after that.

Edward was able to work with his sister Æthelflæd, The Lady of the Mercians to secure territory from the Danes.  Howel the Good of Wales eventually accepted Edward’s overlordship as did the Kings of the Scots and Strathclyde when they met Edward at Bakewell in 920.  Edward died in 924 following a Mercian uprising.

Edward certainly extended the Cerdic line.  He had somewhere in the region of  eighteen children including his son Æthelstan who succeeded his father and ruled until his own death in 939. Unlike his father who the Mercians regarded as a king of Wessex, Æthelstan who had been reared in Mercia was accepted there before he was made king of Wessex.  In 927 he was victorious over the Vikings in York making him effectively the ruler of England (remember Scotland was somewhat larger at that time extending down through Cumbria into Lancashire.) In 934 he invaded Scotland.

Æthelstan wished to extend law and order.  He built on the legal reforms of his grandfather Alfred which is understandable as he had a rather larger kingdom than his predecessors.  When he died rather than being buried in Winchester he was interred in Malmesbury Abbey and succeeded by his brother Edmund.

It was not a peaceful time and Edmund was eventually murdered.  He was succeeded by his brother Ædred who was king from 946 to 955.  In 954 Ædred effected the removal of Eric Bloodaxe from the Kingdom of Northumbria.  When he died the following he was succeeded by his nephew, Æthelstan’s son, Ædwig.  He was only fifteen.  Four years later he was dead. Poor Ædwig had a bit of a reputation allegedly having been caught by St Dunstan consorting with two ladies of ill repute on the night of his coronation. More likely the tale arose out of the feud between the secular and clerical world for the control of the king’s ear.

After Ædwig’s death his brother Edgar became king.  Edgar is known as Edgar the Peaceful. He ruled from 959 (he was sixteen at the time) until 975. He relied upon St Dunstan for advice. He honed the laws and set about standardising currency.  He wasn’t without scandal though.  He allegedly killed a rival in love and when he was crowned in Bath had his wife crowned alongside him – a first for the kings of Wessex. The coronation took place in 973 – rather than at the start of his reign. We will be returning to Edgar’s problematic love life in due course.

Edgar was succeeded by his son Edward in 975.  Edward was murdered in 978 where upon he became known to history as Edward the Martyr and modern historians are increasingly keen to point the finger of blame at his step-mother Ælfthryth who was Edgar’s second or third wife.   Edward had been virtually of age when he became king and had the support of the Church.  The death of Edward at Corfe left the way clear for Ælfthryth’s son Æthelred to become king even though he was still a child.

Æthelred was king from 978 until 1013. Initially his mother was his regent. Æthelred the Unready or ill-advised had Viking problems.  He’s the chap who paid vast sums of Dane-geld to the marauding Norse not understanding the free lance relationship they had with their leaders or the fact that handing over great wages of coin was actually somewhat counter productive.

In 1013 King Sweyn Forkbeard invaded England and Æthelred fled to Normandy. Sweyn died the following year. Æthelred returned and ruled until he died in 1016.

He was succeeded by his son Edmund Ironside. It was a short reign from April to November 1016.  The summer of 1016 was a summer of battles.

 

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