Edgar († July 8, 975 in Winchester) was king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria from 957 to 959. After the death of his elder brother Eadwig, he became king of all England from 959 until his death.
His epithet pacificus, first named by John of Worcester in the 12th century, was mostly translated as “the peacemaker” in older literature. In more recent literature, the translation peacemaker is increasingly preferred. The devastation of the Isle of Thanet in 969 on Edgar”s orders and the riots after his death indicate that “peace” was maintained during his reign by strict control and military presence rather than by Edgar”s “peaceful” character. Presumably, the demonstrated willingness to use violence was one of the reasons that no Viking raids or invasions occurred during his reign. Erik Blutaxt, the last Viking king of the kingdom of Jórvík, had been murdered in 954, and another wave of attacks did not begin again until 980.
Edgar”s life is poorly recorded. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has only ten entries on him, and for most other contemporary and contemporaneous sources, the ecclesiastical reformers are more prominent than the king. The material of the chroniclers from the 12th and 13th centuries is not very illuminating, since it is mostly legend-like embellished narratives that connect little more than the name with the historical king.
Edgar was 943
The unmarried Eadred gave Edgar for education to Ælfwynn († 986), the wife of Ealdorman Æthelstan Half-King of East Anglia. His grandmother Eadgifu, the widow of Edward the Elder, also played an important role. She persuaded Eadred about 954 to give the decaying secular Abingdon Abbey to Abbot Æthelwold (c. 954-963) and convert it into a Benedictine monastery. It was in this monastery that Edgar”s further education took place. Thus he became acquainted at an early age with the Benedictine reform, which was to prevail in England during his reign.
About Edgar”s first wife Æthelflæd Eneda is only known that she was the mother of his son Edward the Martyr. It is uncertain whether he had a munthe (full marriage) or peace marriage with Wulfthryth, his second wife and mother of his daughter Eadgyth (Edith of Wilton). Wulfthryth later became abbess of Wilton Monastery, which Eadgyth also entered. Wulfthryth and Eadgyth were later venerated as saints. Around 964
King Eadred died in 955 unmarried and without leaving any descendants. He was succeeded as king by his nephew Eadwig, the elder brother of Edgar. Eadwig was unpopular. Even benevolent contemporaries accused him of profligacy. When Edgar, who was about 14 years old, “came of age” in 957, a division of the empire occurred. Edgar was elevated to King of Mercia and Northumbria, while Eadwig continued to hold the title “King of the English”. However, it cannot be excluded that the division took place already in 955. This would be supported by the fact that Edgar signed a charter, albeit a questionable one, in 956 as regulus (subordinate petty king). In any case, the division seems to have been consensual and was possibly intended merely to designate Edgar as Eadwig”s successor. Only one disagreement is known to have occurred between the brothers: Eadwig banished Dunstan, the abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, in 956. After a year”s exile on the mainland, Dunstan returned to England and was installed by Edgar as bishop of Worcester (957-959) and bishop of London (958-960). The secular and ecclesiastical dignitaries known from charters, most of whom remained in office after Eadwig”s death on October 1, 959, indicate a geographical rather than political division.
After Eadwig”s death, Edgar became sole king. He maintained good contacts with Ælfgifu, his brother”s widow, and, as rex totius Brittanniae (“king of all Britain”), gave her larger estates. Before 973, he made her brother, the chronicler Æthelweard, “ealdorman of the western provinces,” which probably means Wessex.
Probably Edgar”s most influential advisor was his old teacher Æthelwold, whom he elevated to Bishop of Winchester in 963. Unlike his earlier wives, Ælfthryth also represented a power factor. Her family enjoyed Edgar”s favor. He made her father Ordgar ealdorman of Devon in 964, and her brother Ordwulf later became the principal advisor to his youngest son Æthelred. She maintained close contacts with Ælfhere († 983), ealdorman of Mercia, and his elder brother Ælfheah, ealdorman of Hampshire, who was probably Edmund”s godfather.
In terms of church policy, Edgar promoted the representatives of the Cluniac reform. Through his intervention, Dunstan, whom Edgar had already made Bishop of Worcester (957-959) and London (958-960) at the beginning of his reign, was appointed to replace the ousted Brihthelm in 959.
Four of the surviving Old English law codices are commonly attributed to Edgar. In the hundred ordinance (possibly going back to Eadred. In this law, the legal and fiscal duties of the hundred, a subdivision of the shire, are regulated.
Codices II and III are of unknown date and were probably promulgated together in Andover. Codex II deals with church taxes and proper churches. The second part of Codex III is devoted to secular matters, such as access to justice, prevention of miscarriages of justice, and sureties. Finally, provisions are made for the standardization of coins, measures and weights. Something similar had already been ordered by Æthelstan (924-939), but according to modern historians it was Edgar”s reforms that led to a uniform coinage system, at least south of the Tees.
Of particular importance is Codex IV, probably issued in the 970s in Wihtbordesstan (unidentified place). Edgar recognized the “good” legislation of the “Danes” in Northumbria because Earl Oslac was “always loyal” to him. In fact, royal influence in the north was limited. The assimilation of the only 952
Edgar”s coronation took place with great pomp on May 11, 973 (Pentecost) in Bath. Why the coronation took place so late is the subject of controversial discussions: Some historians hold the view that Edgar had already been coronated in 960
According to the sources, immediately after the coronation Edgar sailed with his fleet to Chester, where six or eight kings submitted to him. According to a list believed to be authentic by John of Worcester, a 12th-century chronicler, these were Kenneth II († c. 975), Maccus Haroldson († c. 977), Iago ab Idwal (Gwynedd, 950-979), his brother Idwal Fychan († 980), and his nephew Hywel ap Ieuaf (974
Already the contemporary Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Ælfric Grammaticus († 1020) emphasize the strength of the English fleet, with which Edgar annually circumnavigated his kingdom as a demonstration of power. Chroniclers of the 12th and 13th centuries even put the fleet at 3600 or 4800 ships, which is certainly exaggerated.
Presumably, the organizational form of the sipessocna, scypsocne or scypfylleð (approximately “ship district”), according to which 300 hidas (homesteads) had to pay for the upkeep of a ship, documented under his son Æthelred (978-1016), goes back to Edgar. How many of these sipessocna there were is unknown; the five known were owned by monasteries or bishoprics; Oswaldslow (Worcestershire) in the bishopric of Worcester is the best attested. Edgar probably also hired Vikings with their boats as mercenaries, which was not uncommon in those days.
Death and succession
Edgar died unexpectedly on July 8, 975 at the age of 31 or 32 and was buried in Glastonbury Abbey. His eldest son Edward the Martyr succeeded him.