Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: Edward the Elder

Edward the Elder was the second son of Alfred the Great, and was born in 871, about the time that his father took over as King.

Edward succeeded to the throne in 899 and was crowned at Kingston-on-Thames, his elder brother Edmund having died in childhood. He had, during the periods of war during his father’s reign, commanded sizeable portions of the army, so his people were accustomed to his authority.

His accession, however, did not go unchallenged. His cousin Ethelwold, son of King Ethelred, who had been a baby at the time of Alfred’s succession, disputed Edward’s right to be King.

Ethelwold attacked Wimborne in Dorset, but was chased away by Edward’s soldiers. He fled to York, and was accepted as King of Jorvik, the previous King having fortuitously just died.

After being deposed and reinstated in Jorvik, Ethelwold joined forces with the Danish armies in East Anglia and Essex. They crossed the River Thames in 902 but were beaten back, and Ethelwold was killed at the bloody Battle of the Holm.

Edward continued his war with the Danes, but no sooner had he got them under reasonable control, the Norse arrived, intent on conquest, having been expelled from Dublin.

Edward’s sister, Ethelfleda, had married Ethelred, Ealdorman of Mercia, and when he died she was herself recognised as Lady of the Mercians. In conjunction with Ethelfleda, a great general in her own right, Edward established a chain of fortified towns, known as “burghs”. These included Runcorn, Stafford, Tamworth, Warwick, Hertford, Witham and Maldon.

These burghs were extremely useful, not only for defence, but also as bases for the English army. There were many battles, with the English gradually gaining the upper hand, with particularly inspiring victories at Leicester, Nottingham and Bedford.

Ethelfleda was the major force in restoring the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw - Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Lincoln and Stamford - to English rule. She died, however, in 918, at Tamworth in Staffordshire and was buried at Gloucester Cathedral.

Edward then assumed personal control of Mercia, as Ethelfleda’s daughter Elfwynn was a little girl at the time.

He also assumed personal control over the defeated Danes in East Anglia and Essex, while the Welsh princes recognised him as their overlord.

In the North, his authority was recognised officially, but from time to time there were rumblings and uprisings. Donald of Strathclyde and Constantine of Scotland also acknowledged his overlordship, probably to ensure his help if they were themselves attacked.

Edward died in 924 at Farndon-on-Dee in Cheshire, and was buried at Winchester Cathedral. It was later in the same century that he acquired the title “the Elder”, to distinguish him from the murdered boy king Edward the Martyr.

He was succeeded in Wessex, very briefly, by his son Elfward, and in Mercia by his son Athelstan.

Edward was married three times.

His first wife was Egwina, who bore him three children. Athelstan became a great King. Alfred died in childhood. St. Edith married Sihtric, King of Northumbria. After his death, she became a nun at Polesworth Abbey, and soon after Abbess of Tamworth Abbey.

Egwina died in 901.

Edward’s second marriage was to Elfleda, the daughter of Ealdorman Ehelhelm. They had ten children. Edwin, King of the temporarily revived Kingdom of Kent, drowned in the English Channel, and it was rumoured that Athelstan had ordered his murder. Elfward was briefly King of Wessex. Elfleda was a nun at Winchester. Edgiva married Charles III, King of France, and later Heribert III, Count of Troyes. Edhilda married Hugh Capet, Count of Paris.

Edith married Otto I, the Duke of Saxony. Elfleda was a nun at Winchester. Elgiva married Boleslaw II, Duke of Bohemia. Ethelfleda became Abbess of Romsey Abbey. Ethelhilda was a lay sister at Romsey Abbey.

Elfleda died in 920, and was buried at Winchester Cathedral.

Edward’s third marriage was to Edgiva, daughter of Sighelm, Ealdorman of Kent. She bore Edward five more children. Edmund became King. St. Edburga was a nun at Nunnaminster Abbey at Winchester. Edgiva married Louis II, King of Arles. Edred became King. Thyra married Gorm the Old, King of Jutland.

Edgiva survived Edward and lived until 968, when she was buried at Canterbury Cathedral.

Edward the Elder was one of our most successful Kings from a military point of view, leaving the nation in a strong position. Four of his sons – Elfward, Athelstan, Edmund and Edred – followed him as Kings.