Edgar the Atheling

Edgar_the_ÆthelingEdgar is Edward the Exile’s son born in 1050 or 1051.  On his father’s death in February 1057, probably by poisoning, he and his great-uncle King Edward (the Confessor) became the last remaining male descendants of Cerdic (essentially the founder of the royal house of Wessex) – hence the Atheling title meaning of ‘noble  or royal blood.’ As such Edgar was an appropriate candidate for the English crown.  King Edward took Edward the Exile’s family into the English court and cared for them.  Had Edward lived a little while longer Edgar might have been the natural heir to the crown just as his father had once been viewed in a similar way.

On King Edward’s death in January 1066 Edgar was a contender for the throne. Initially he was supported by the Earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria at the Witan (council) which met to select the king.  However, across the Channel, Duke William of Normandy was making his own claim to the crown based on his relationship with Edward, promises made and a certain well-known oath made by Harold. In reality a youth without experience either leading men nor of war was not an ideal choice for a country about to be invaded.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings the Witan selected Edgar to replace King Harold who famously died during the battle. Technically Edgar rather than King Harold was the last pre-conquest king of England but he was never crowned and besides which spent most of the nominal two months he was king on the run from Duke William.  Eventually he submitted to William in Berkhamstead in December 1066.

Edgar lived in William’s court where he was well treated but was, understandably,  kept by William as a hostage to his new subjects good behaviour.  He went to Normandy with the duke in 1067 but when he returned in 1068 he became involved with the earls Edwin and Morcar once more and soon found himself up to his neck in insurrection.  He fled to Scotland very soon afterwards – unlike the folk of York who had to live with the consequences of William’s irritation.

However, Edgar did have a secret weapon that kept him firmly on the political map – his sister Margaret, blogged about in an earlier post, who’d won the heart of King Malcolm (Canmore) of Scotland when the Atheling’s family fled to Scotland in 1067.  Malcolm agreed to support Edgar in his bid for the English throne.  They didn’t have long to wait.  In 1069 the people of the north rose against William once more – history repeated itself.  Edgar fled once more into Scotland.  This process was repeated once more by which time everyone must have been heartily fed up – there wasn’t much left in some parts of the North either.  The Domesday Book shows a marked drop in the value of rents from pre-conquest to post-conquest revenues in many parts of Yorkshire.  Though as with everything there are two sides to every story. One of William’s sidekicks – a chap called Alan the Red- who’d acquired rather a lot of real estate probably ensured his own lands weren’t terribly badly ‘harrowed’.  Not withstanding this salient point it is always worth mentioning that William the Conqueror was allegedly troubled on his deathbed by his unfriendly actions in the north (its a good story anyway though not necessarily fair to William.)

Eventually King Malcolm III signed the Treaty of Abernethy (1072) and that was the end of Edgar’s Scottish sojourn. The Atheling was forced to seek protection from King Philip I in France – Edgar was not a lucky lad.  En route to his new host he was shipwrecked and had to flee back to Scotland.  Malcolm sat his brother-in-law down and had a long chat with him then waved Edgar over the border into England into William’s hands.

The Conqueror treated the troublesome atheling well. He received a pension of £1 a day from 1074 onwards.  Clearly the relationship between Duke William and Edgar must have eased further over time because Edgar went to South Wales campaigning on William’s behalf. He was present at William Rufus’s coronation, went on diplomatic missions for William II and became embroiled in the unseemly squabble over the English crown that raged between William and his elder brother Robert.

In the end Edgar sided with Robert once too often after having spent most of his adult life steering difficult political waters to remain on good terms with everyone.  William Rufus is the king who had the unfortunate accident with an arrow in the New Forest. The English crown should have gone to his brother Robert (known as Curthose) but, hey, little brother Henry was right there while Robert was abroad.  Having got his hands on the crown and the royal treasury he did what anyone would do in the circumstances…became King  Henry I.

Edgar, who had been on a crusade with Robert was at the Battle of Tinchebray in 1106 – it didn’t do Robert much good- he was captured and imprisoned for the rest of his life.  On the other hand Edgar was welcomed back to court by Henry I who had handily married Edgar’s Scottish niece Edith.  Edith – who clearly wanted to win friends and influence people dropped the Saxon Edith and became the Norman Matilda.

Edgar died in 1125 having spent his latter years away from court. He was probably due a few quiet years!

St Margaret of Scotland

margaretMargaret, the sister of Edgar the Atheling, was the child of Edward the Exile  and Agatha, a German princess.  She was born in Hungary in 1046.  When Edward the Confessor took the throne he invited the last of the Royal House of Wessex to return from their exile.  Edward, Agatha and their children – Edgar, Margaret and Christina cam back to England but Edward died in suspicious circumstances shortly after their arrival.

Edgar submitted to William the Conqueror but became involved in a rebellion in 1068.  His family fled England.  They initially, possibly, intended to return to Hungary but bad weather drove their vessel to Scotland where Margaret married the King, Malcolm Canmore at Dunfermline Abbey in 1069.  Incidentally Canmore translates according to Alison Weir as ‘big head.’

The widowed king who was aged about forty loved his young Saxon bride and trusted her advice.  Queen Margaret became known not only for her piety but also for her learning. Malcolm could not read but such was his love for his wife that he would send her books to be ornamented with covers of gold.  She wielded so much power that she changed the way that the Scottish court behaved and dressed.  She bought the sophisticated continental behaviour of her childhood to Canmore’s court which included closer links with the Roman Catholic church.  During this time Mass was said in Latin in Scotland rather than Gaelic.  She was also the patron of Benedictine monks who arrived on Scottish shores for the first time.  Malcolm allow this wife to support the church and to guide the policies as to its practice.  She supported monks, hermits and spent much of her time and money providing charity to the poor and to orphaned children.

Inevitably relations with William of England were difficult.  Malcolm took advantage of the difficulties that William faced in his early years to extend the border of Scotland south so that it included most of Cumberland.  Malcolm was killed at the Battle of Alnwick along with Margaret’s eldest son Edward in 1093.  She died three days after receiving the news of her bereavement in Edinburgh Castle which was being besieged by Malcolm’s brother Donald Bane on 16th November. Margaret’s remaining sons escaped from the castle in a thick mist along with the body of their mother which they carried to Dunfermline Abbey where it was buried as she had wished.  It was she who’d commissioned the ferry that crossed the Firth of Forth taking pilgrims to the abbey.

Margaret bore Malcolm Canmore  eight children including Edward.    Her daughter Edith married one of William the Conqueror’s sons (King Henry I) and took on the Norman name Matilda.  Her other daughter Mary married the Count of Boulogne and her daughter (Margaret’s granddaughter married King Stephen becoming yet another Queen Matilda.)  One son, Ethelred, became the Abbot of Dunkeld while four more sons became kings of Scotland in their turn – Edmund, Edgar, Alexander I  and  David I.

For further information including St Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh Castle the Freelance History Writer http://thefreelancehistorywriter.com  has a great entry about the life and times of a Saxon Princess who became a queen and a saint.

 

 

Edward I and Alexander III

Prior to the death of Alexander III of Scotland in 1286, relations between the two kingdoms had been amicable.  Alexander III of Scotland was married to Edward’s sister Margaret – not in itself a guarentee of peace , just look at Henry VIII’s relationship with his brother-in-law James IV of Scotland.  Certainly Edward shared Alexander’s grief when on  Alexander’s eldest son, also named Alexander, died aged 20 without children.

The Scottish king’s younger son had died in 1281, and his daughter, Margaret, in 1283, leaving him with an infant granddaughter, also called Margaret, living in Norway.  The grieving king had not only lost his sons he’d also lost his wife in 1275.  After ten years as a widower he remarried.  There was, after all, a need for an heir.

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Jedburgh Abbey

Alexander married Yolande de Dreux at Jedburgh Abbey and then famously charged out from a council meeting into a dark and stormy night to be with his young bride.  He fell from his horse and was killed.  His only heir was his granddaughter Margaret, The Maid of Norway.  She was just three years old. Her mother, also called Margaret wife to King Eric II of  Norway, had died giving birth to her.

In September 1290, The seven-year-old Queen of Scots left her home in Norway but died en route to Scotland of sea sickness.  With her died an arranged marriage to Prince Edward of England and a stable relationship between the two kingdoms.

There were now many competing claims to the Scottish throne.  In 1292 Edward agreed to oversee the selection between competing claims to the Scottish throne, on condition he is acknowledged as Lord Superior of Scotland. Thirteen competitors were narrowed down to two.  In the end  John Balliol was selected rather than Robert Bruce.  Balliol did homage to Edward I of England following in the footsteps of Malcolm Canmore who had sworn fealty to William the Conqueror but it gained King John no popularity in Scotland.

The stage was set for rebellion by King John’s subjects and war between the two nations – a war that would shape the landscape and people of the border region for centuries to come.

For more information:

http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandshistory/warsofindependence/deathofalexanderiii/index.asp

http://thefreelancehistorywriter.com/2013/01/11/margaret-maid-of-norway/

Resources:

Ridpath, George. (1979) Border History. Edinburgh: The Mercat Press

Sadler, John. (2006) Border Fury England and Scotland at War 1296-1568. London: Pearson Education Ltd