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Edgar the Peaceful

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Title: Edgar the Peaceful  
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Subject: Edward the Martyr, Edward the Confessor, Eadwig, Edmund I, Edgar the Ætheling
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Edgar the Peaceful

A contemparary portrayal of King Edgar in the New Minster Charter.
King of the English
Reign 1 October 959 – 8 July 975
Predecessor Eadwig
Successor Edward
House House of Wessex
Father Edmund, King of England
Mother Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury
Born 943/944
Died 8 July 975 (aged 31/32)
Winchester, Hampshire
Burial Glastonbury Abbey
Religion Chalcedonian Christianity

Edgar the Peaceful, or Edgar I (Old English: Ēadgār; c. 7 August 943 – 8 July 975), also called the Peaceable, was king of England from 959 to 975. Edgar was the younger son of Edmund I.


Edgar was the son of Edmund I and Elfgiva, thus making him the grandson of Edward the Elder, great-grandson of Alfred the Great, great-great grandson of Æthelwulf of Wessex, great-great-great grandson of Egbert of Wessex. Upon the death of King Edmund in 946, Edgar's uncle, King Edred ruled until 955. Edred, in turn was succeeded by his nephew, Edmund's son and Edgar's older brother Eadwig.

Eadwig was not a popular king and his reign was marked by conflict with the nobles and the Church - chiefly St Dunstan and Archbishop Odo. In 957 the thanes of Mercia and Northumbria switched their allegiance to Edgar.[3] His cognomen, "The Peaceable", was not necessarily a comment on the deeds of his life, for he was a strong leader, shown by his seizure of the Northumbrian and Mercian kingdoms from his brother in 958. A conclave of nobles held Edgar to be king north of the Thames.[4] With the death of Eadwig in October 959, Edgar consolidated his holdings with Wessex, previously held by his brother.


One of Edgar's first actions was to recall Dunstan from exile and have him made Bishop of Worcester (and subsequently Bishop of London and later, Archbishop of Canterbury). Dunstan remained Edgar's advisor throughout his reign. While Edgar may not have been a particularly peaceable man, his reign was peaceful. The Kingdom of England was well established, and Edgar consolidated the political unity achieved by his predecessors. By the end of his reign, England was sufficiently unified in that it was unlikely to regress back to a state of division among rival kingships, as it had to an extent under the reign of Eadred. Blackstone mentions that King Edgar standardised measure throughout the realm.[5]

Benedictine reform

A coin of Edgar, struck in Winchcombe c.973-75.

The Monastic Reform Movement that introduced the Benedictine Rule to England's monastic communities peaked during the era of Dunstan, Æthelwold, and Oswald (historians continue to debate the extent and significance of this movement).[6]

Dead Man's Plack

In 963 he reputedly killed his rival in love, Earl Æthelwald, near present-day Longparish, Hampshire,[7] an event commemorated in 1825 by the erection of Dead Man's Plack.[7] In 1875, Edward Augustus Freeman debunked the Æthelwald story as a "tissue of romance" in his Historic Essays,[8] but his arguments were rebutted by the naturalist William Henry Hudson in his 1920 book Dead Man's Plack and an Old Thorn.[4]

Coronation at Bath (973)

Edgar the Peaceful sits aboard a barge manned by eight kings, as it moves up the River Dee.

Edgar was crowned at Bath and anointed with his wife Ælfthryth, setting a precedent for a coronation of a queen in England itself.[9] Edgar's coronation did not happen until 973, in an imperial ceremony planned not as the initiation, but as the culmination of his reign (a move that must have taken a great deal of preliminary diplomacy). This service, devised by Dunstan himself and celebrated with a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, forms the basis of the present-day British coronation ceremony.

The symbolic coronation was an important step; other kings of Britain came and gave their allegiance to Edgar shortly afterwards at Chester. Six kings in Britain, including the King of Scots and the King of Strathclyde, pledged their faith that they would be the king's liege-men on sea and land. Later chroniclers made the kings into eight, all plying the oars of Edgar's state barge on the River Dee.[10] Such embellishments may not be factual, and what actually happened is unclear.[11]

Death (975)

Edgar died on 8 July 975 at Winchester, Hampshire. He left behind Edward, who was probably his illegitimate son by Æthelflæd (not to be confused with the Lady of the Mercians), and Æthelred, the younger, the child of his wife Ælfthryth. He was succeeded by Edward. Edgar also had a possibly illegitimate daughter by Wulfthryth, who later became abbess of Wilton. She was joined there by her daughter, Edith of Wilton, who lived there as a nun until her death. Both women were later regarded as saints.[12][13]

From Edgar's death until the Norman Conquest, there was not a single succession to the throne that was not contested. Some see Edgar's death as the beginning of the end of Anglo-Saxon England, followed as it was by three successful 11th century conquests — two Danish and one Norman.


"[H]e was extremely small both in stature and bulk..."[14]


For a more complete genealogy including ancestors and descendants, see House of Wessex family tree.

Diagram based on the information found on WorldHeritage


  1. ^ a b c Pauline Stafford, Queen Emma & Queen Edith, Blackwell 2001, pp. 324-325
  2. ^ Stafford, op. cit., p. 91
  3. ^ "Edgar the Peaceful (c943 - 975) - King of England", BBC, January 13, 2005
  4. ^ a b  
  5. ^ Blackstone, "Of the King's Prerogative" Bk. 1, Ch. 7
  6. ^ Lehmberg, Stanford (2013). A History of the Peoples of the British Isles: From Prehistoric Times to 1688. Routledge. p. 29.  
  7. ^ a b "Deadman's Plack Monument - Longparish - Hampshire - England". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  8. ^ Freeman, Edward Augustus (1875). Historic Essays. MacMillan & Co. pp. 10–25. 
  9. ^ Honeycutt, Lois (2003). Matilda of Scotland: a Study in Medieval Queenship. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. p. 35. 
  10. ^ Huscroft, R (2013). The Norman Conquest: A New Introduction. Routledge. p. 21.  
  11. ^ Scragg, D. G. (2008), Edgar, King of the English, 959-975: New Interpretations, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, p. 121,  
  12. ^   (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  13. ^  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  14. ^ From the Gesta Regum Anglorum of William of Malmesbury (c.1080–1143)

Further reading

  • Scragg, Donald (ed.). Edgar, King of the English, 959–975: New Interpretations. Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies. Manchester: Boydell Press, 2008. ISBN 1-84383-399-9. Contents (external link).
  • Keynes, Simon. "England, c. 900–1016." In The New Cambridge Medieval History III. c.900–c.1024, ed. Timothy Reuter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 456-84.
  • Sobecki, Sebastian. "Edgar's Archipelago." In The Sea and Englishness in the Middle Ages: Maritime Narratives, Identity and Culture, ed. Sobecki. Cambridge: Brewer, 2011. 1-30.

External links

  • Medieval Sourcebook: Anglo-Saxon Dooms: laws of King Edgar, a fragment
  • Edgar of England At Find A Grave
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of the English
Succeeded by
Edward the Martyr
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