Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: Edgar II

Edgar II, known as Edgar the Atheling, was elected King for a brief period in the fateful year of 1066.

He was the son of Edward the Exile and grandson of Edmund Ironside, and was born in Hungary in 1053.

Edward had been banished by Cnut, and he had lived with his family abroad for many years. In 1057, Edward the Confessor learned that his kinsfolk were still alive, and sent for them to return to England, as Edward the Exile was clearly the rightful heir to the throne.

Shortly after arriving in England, however, Edward the Exile died in mysterious circumstances, probably murdered by or on the orders of Harold Godwinson, who himself harboured ambitions of becoming King.

Edward the Confessor took on the responsibilty of bringing up the young family, which consisted of Edgar and his sisters Margaret and Christina. The clear intention was that Edgar would succeed as King, but that if this happened while he was still a child, then Harold would act as regent.

In fact, when the old King died at the beginning of 1066, Edgar was still only 13. Harold took over as King, but there were a number of other claimants, including William of Normandy, Harald Hardraada of Norway and Sweyn of Denmark.

Harold defeated the forces of Harald Hardraada and his own brother Tostig at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, but lost to William at the Battle of Hastings in Sussex, at which he lost his own life.

The Witan thereupon elected the young Edgar as King, although this may well have been simply a token of defiance. He did not have a lot of support, his only significant supporters being Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Earls Edwin and Morcar.

Edgar met William at Berkhamsted, while the Conqueror's forces were approaching London, and submitted to him, swearing an oath of fealty.

William treated Edgar with respect, and took him back to Normandy as part of his court.

However, Edgar joined the rebellion of Edwin and Morcar in 1068, and when this was defeated he fled to the court of Malcolm III of Scotland. Shortly afterwards, Malcolm married Edgar's sister Margaret, and agreed to support Edgar's claims to the throne of England.

In 1069, Edgar came to an agreement with Sweyn, the King of Denmark, who also believed that he was England's rightful King. Together they invaded Northumbria and captured York, but William defeated them and embarked on the savage Harrowing of the North.

Edgar fled back to Scotland, but only until 1072, when Malcolm and William made an agreement which included the banishment of Edgar.

In 1074, Edgar finally made peace with William, who in truth had treated him very well, but he still harboured dreams of regaining the English throne.

He supported Robert, Duke of Normandy, in his campaign to wrest the throne from his brother William II, and helped his nephew Edgar to become King of Scotland.

In 1099, he went off on Crusade, and in 1106 was taken prisoner by Henry I while again fighting for Robert of Normandy at Tinchebrai. Robert was held prisoner at Gloucester for the rest of his life, but Edgar was again pardoned.

This time Edgar retired to his country estate in Hertfordshire, but returned to Scotland in about 1120, and died about 1130. He had never married.

Edgar had two sisters.

St. Margaret married Malcolm III of Scotland, and died at Edinburgh Castle in 1093, being buried at Dunfermline Abbey. Her remains were later translated to Madrid, with her head being buried at Douai. She was canonised in 1250.

Christina became a nun, firstly at Wilton Abbey and later at Romsey Abbey. She died about 1100.

Edgar the Atheling had a long and turbulent life, although the details of it are largely forgotten today. He was the last hope of the old English aristocracy, and with him died any prospect of the old Royal family regaining power.