Eadred

Summary

Eadred († November 23, 955) was king of England from 946 until his death.

Family and youth

Eadred came from the House of Wessex. He was the youngest son of King Edward the Elder (899-924) and his third wife Eadgifu († 966

Eadred already appeared during the reign of his half-brother Æthelstan (924-939) and his brother Edmund I (936-946), whose deeds he signed as regis frater (“brother of the king”) as a witness. He was not married and left no descendants.

Dominion

After King Edmund I (936-946) was assassinated on May 26, 946, Eadred succeeded him. He was crowned by Archbishop Odo of Canterbury at Kingston upon Thames on August 16, 946. The coronation was attended not only by numerous bishops but also by the South Wales king Hwyel Dda with his brothers Morgan and Cadwgan, and four earls with the Scandinavian names Orm, Morcar, Grim and Coll.

Eadred took over numerous advisors from his brother and predecessor Edmund, some of whom had already assisted his predecessor, his half-brother Æthelstan (924-939). This gave a certain permanence to English politics. Among the most important advisors were the clergy Archbishop Odo of Canterbury (941-958), Bishop Ælfsige of Winchester (951-959), Abbot Dunstan of Glastonbury (945-956), and Bishop Cenwald of Worcester (929-957). Æthelstan Half-King, the ealdorman of East Anglia, was Eadred”s principal secular advisor. His mother Eadgifu, who appears as a witness in charters, also played a major role. But Eadred also took new people, such as Ælfhere, later Ealdorman of Mercia, into his circle of confidants. Toward the end of his reign, Eadred installed Æthelwold as abbot of Abingdon (c. 954-963) and converted the decaying secular abbey into a Benedictine monastery.

Eadred”s will shows the hierarchy of advisors and the composition of the royal household. He bequeathed 240 gold mancusa to Archbishop Odo of Canterbury, 120 to each bishop and ealdorman. His discþegn (Latin dapifer, seneschal, truchsess), his hræglþegn (also burþegn, Latin camerarius, chamberlain) and his biriele (Latin pincerna, cupbearer) each received 80 mancusa.

Eadred enjoyed high prestige, but his hegemonic supremacy in England was not unchallenged. The source situation makes it difficult to reconstruct the events. Chronicles dealing with this period were written well after the events and often contradict each other, as well as contemporary charters.

The kingdom of Jórvík (Northumbria) had already submitted to Eadred”s half-brother Æthelstan (924-939) in 927. Under Olaf Cuaran (927, 941-944, 947-949

Olaf Cuaran seems to have asserted himself as king in 947 with Eadred”s consent or acquiescence. Olaf was close to the English kings: King Edmund had been his godfather and his coins resembled English models. His pagan rival Erik Blutaxt, on the other hand, had coins minted with traditional “Viking” motifs. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Olaf was expelled by the Northumbrians in 952; however, 949 is more likely. Presumably, the subjugation of Archbishop Wulfstan and the Northumbrian nobility, recorded for 947, also took place in 949. In the following years Eadred seems to have exercised the rule over York himself. He authenticated several charters in 949 and 950 and used the title “King of the English, Northumbrians, Pagans and Britons.”

Then the Northumbrians broke their oath of allegiance to Eadred and chose Erik Bloodaxe as their king. Eadred responded to this insubordination with a punitive expedition in which the important monastery at Ripon was burned to the ground. On the return march, Eadred”s rearguard was attacked and cut down at Castleford. When Eadred threatened to invade Northumbria again with his entire force and “completely destroy” the country, the Northumbrians, or at least the circle around Archbishop Wulfstan, renounced Erik and paid Eadred for his losses. Probably in this connection Eadred appropriated the relics of St. Wilfrid († 709) resting at Ripon and brought them to Canterbury. The dating of these events is the subject of controversy: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives the year 948, the Historia Regum 950. Archbishop Wulfstan, to whom the destroyed monastery at Ripon was close, was deposed by Eadred in 952, imprisoned at Juthanbyrig (Jedburgh in Roxburghshire),

The Northumbrian kingship became extinct when Erik Blutaxt was expelled in 952, as the Historia Regum records. Osulf of Bamburgh was installed by Eadred as the first Earl of Northumbria. When Erik Bloodaxe was assassinated at Stainmore (Eden district of Cumbria) in 954 at Osulf”s instigation, the reconquest of Northumbria was complete.

Towards the end of his life, Eadred”s health deteriorated drastically. He was no longer able to chew and could only slurp his food. In addition, he suffered from an inability to walk or paralysis. In his last years, he seems to have delegated royal powers to Dunstan and other dignitaries: He signed less than a third of the charters himself from 953 to 955. He finally succumbed to his illness at the age of just over 30 on November 23, 955, at Frome (Somerset). Eadred was buried in Winchester Cathedral.

King Eadred died unmarried and without leaving any descendants. He was succeeded as king by his nephew Eadwig, the elder son of his brother Edmund.

Sources

  1. Eadred
  2. Eadred