Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: Edred

Edred tends to be a fairly shadowy figure on the margins of English history, but he deserves to be much better known.

Certainly, he was a strong ruler, who earned much respect in his lifetime, like better known members of his family such as Egbert, Alfred, Edward the Elder, Athelstan and Edmund I.

Edred was born in 923, the son of Edward the Elder and his third wife Edgiva.

He was preceded as King by his brothers Elfward (very briefly), Athelstan and Edmund.

When Edmund died in 946, stabbed by an outlaw at Pucklechurch in Gloucestershire, his sons, Edwy and Edgar, were much too young to be Kings, so the succession went to Edred. He was crowned, as had become the custom, at Kingston-on-Thames.

Edred, like so many of his family, suffered all his life from a debilitating disease, which in his case rendered him incapable of keeping down solid food. This obviously left him physically weak, but he compensated for this with a strong resolve and bravery in battle, while accepting his illness with a considerable amount of piety.

Shortly after his coronation, Edred travelled to the North, and was assured of loyalty by Wulfstan, the Archbishop of York, who had long worked for an independent Northern Kingdom with himself as spiritual leader.

Once Edred had returned South, however, Wulfstan’s party invited Erik Bloodaxe, former King of Norway and the archetypal bloodthirsty Viking, to be King of York. Erik had already made himself King of Orkney.

Edred, understandably furious at this, returned and laid waste to much of Yorkshire, including a savage Sack of Ripon, where he destroyed the cathedral created by St. Wilfrid. He obviously felt that he had done enough to keep the Northumbrians cowed, but he was wrong.

Returning towards Mercia, his army was attacked at Castleford by Erik’s troops. Edred turned back, and threatened to lay waste to the whole of the North. Wulfstan and his friends knew that Edred was capable of this, so they capitulated, and ejected Erik.

But only a few months later, the former King of York, Olaf Sihtricsson, was welcomed back as King. This time, Edred made a deal. Olaf was to remain on the throne of York, provided that he kept watch and defended England from invaders, in particular Erik Bloodaxe.

Wulfstan, however, expelled Olaf in 952 and reinstated Erik as King.

By this time Edred had had enough. In 954 he successfully invaded the Kingdom of York, imprisoned Wulfstan and expelled Erik, who tried to make his way back to Orkney, but was followed and slain by the rival Norse Earl Maccus at Stainmore, near Barnard Castle.

The people of the North had also had enough, and English, Danes and Norse all accepted Edred as King.

Meanwhile, he had laid waste in 952 to Thetford in Norfolk, after the townspeople had murdered an Abbot.

Edred was considerably influenced by St. Dunstan, the future Archbishop of Canterbury. It was at Dunstan’s suggestion that he tried to negotiate with the Danes instead of continually fighting. He also encouraged Dunstan in his revival of the monasteries, which at this time were the major seats of learning. Furthermore, he advanced the career of St. Ethelwold, who later was to be Bishop of Winchester.

Edred died in 955 at Frome in Somerset, and was buried at Winchester Cathedral. His bones are in one of the mortuary chests.

In his will, he left a great deal of money to the Church, and also left money to be used for famine relief or, if necessary, to buy off an invading army.

Edred had never married, and had no children. He was succeeded by his nephew Edwy, his brother Edmund’s son.