Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: Edwy

Edwy was born in 941. He and his younger brother Edgar were the sons of King Edmund.

When their father was murdered, however, in 946, they were little boys, and far too young to be Kings. Edmund’s brother Edred succeeded him, and turned out to be a formidable monarch, even though he is largely forgotten today.

When Edred in turn died in 955, Edwy, by this time fourteen years old, succeeded to the throne. He was crowned at Kingston-on-Thames.

At his coronation, Edwy outraged the ecclesiastical contingent, and the lay nobles were not too pleased, either. He disappeared from the ceremony, and a group of churchmen, including the redoubtable St. Dunstan, discovered him in a compromising position, not only with a young lady but also with her mother. Dunstan frogmarched the young King back, which probably did not endear him to Edwy.

Edwy did actually marry the young lady concerned, whose name was Elgiva, but the marriage was annulled within a year on the grounds of consanguinity, as Edwy and Elgiva were third cousins. There is a suggestion that the ruling council, and especially Oda, the Archbishop of Canterbury, were anxious for Edwy not to father children.

In 957, Edwy, tired of being harangued by Dunstan, had him banished from England.

Shortly after this, his younger brother Edgar was appointed King of Mercia and Northumbria. Edwy’s ineffectiveness and lack of morality had got too much for the council, and Edgar was much more popular, but deposing seems to have been out of the question.

Edwy died in 959, still only 18. It has always been assumed that he died of the family malady, but his extreme unpopularity suggests that his death may not have been entirely natural.

It may be that Edwy suffered from depression, knowing full well that he could not live up to the greatness of his illustrious forebears. Although most writers give a negative opinion of him, his brother-in-law, Ethelweard the Chronicler, called him “Edwy the All-Fair”, denoting not only physical beauty, but also a pleasant and gentle disposition.

Edwy’s death was at Gloucester, and he was buried, like many others of his family, at Winchester Cathedral.

Edgar then assumed kingship of the whole country.