Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: Edmund II

Edmund, known to posterity as Edmund Ironside, was the second son of Ethelred the Unready. He was born in 989.

When Ethelred fled the country in 1013, his elder sons, Athelstan, Edmund, Edgar and Edred, stayed in England and continued gurerilla warfare against the forces of the new king, Sweyn.

They all fought valiantly, but Athelstan, the English heir, Edgar and Edred were all killed during the fighting in 1014.

When Ethelred returned on Sweyn's death in 1014, promising to rule more strongly and wisely, Edmund hoped to help his father consolidate the kingdom again. But the pair quarrelled, Edmund feeling that a strong hand was needed.

Ethelred became stronger, and in his usual way spiteful, only when Sweyn's son Cnut left England to secure the throne of Denmark. He had Sigeferth and Morcar, two thanes of Lindsey who had submitted to Sweyn, executed.

Sigeferth's widow, Edith, was imprisoned at Malmesbury, but Edmund rode to her rescue, not only freeing her but also marrying her, at Malmesbury straight away.

This endeared Edmund to the Danelaw of Mercia, but served to divide England, as he was clearly going against his father's wishes, and Ethelred retained his notional suport in Wessex.

Cnut returned to England in 1015 , looking to regain what his father had won, and of course found the country in considerable disarray. Edmund's army was prepared for a fight, but Ethelred's men would only fight if their king personally led them, a situation which rarely applied, particularly as he was by now genuinely ill.

Ethelred died on 23rd April 1016, and the English unanimously declared Edmund to be king. He was crowned at Old St. Paul's in London.

The armies of Edmund and Cnut fought five times during the year, but the fighting was generally inconclusive.

Cnut besieged London, but Edmund successfully resisted the siege.

A battle at Penselwood in Kent proved indecisive.

Edmund had the upper hand at Sherstone, near Malmesbury, but lost his advantage when the notorious Edric Streona (now on the side of Cnut) convinced the English that their king was dead.

The really decisive battle was at Ashingdon, near Rochford in Essex on 18th October. Cnut's forces were encamped on the hill at Canewdon, and Edmund's army on the hill at Ashingdon. The battle was fought on the plain between the two hills, and this time, with the aid of Edric, Cnut was victorious.

A short and half-hearted battle was fought at Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, by the River Severn, after which Edmund and Cnut agreed to negotiate.

They did so within days, and at the Treaty of Olney it was agreed that Cnut would control Mercia and Northumbria, while Edmund would retain Wessex, including London.

Edmund had been badly wounded at Ashingdon, and died on 30th November. His wounds must have made him weak, but the evidence points to murder. It was said, and this seems likely, that he was disembowelled from below while on the toilet at Oxford, and persistent talk put the personal blame fairly and squarely with Edric Streona.

He was buried at Glastonbury Abbey.

With Edmund's death, Cnut was universally accepted as King of England, and the infant sons of Edmund, together with other English princes, were sent to safety abroad.

His sons were twins, Edward and Edmund, born in 1016.

Edward became generally known as Edward the Exile. He spent most of his life in Hungary, before returning to England during Edward the Confessor's reign, when it became clear that the king would have no children of his own. He died, however, in London in 1057.

Edward had three children. Edgar the Atheling was briefly elected king as Edgar II after the Battle of Hastings. Margaret married Malcolm III of Scotland, and is known as St. Margaret of Hungary. She was buried at Dunfermline. Christina became a nun, first at Wilton and later at Romsey.

Edmund Ironside's other son, Edmund, died in Hungary as a teenager.