3 – Revolutions, Conquests and Murder!

Ethelstan’s conquest of the whole of England brought to life an island nation that would, over time, become one of the most powerful empires in the world, to rival that of Rome and the Byzantines.

But Ethelstan’s early successes were hampered by his death in 939. Having died childless, Ethelstan’s half-brother Edmund I ascended the throne.

Edmund was the eldest son of Edward the Elder and his third wife, Eadgifu. Born around 920 or 921, Edmund was only 18 or 19 when he came to power.

A penny minted for Edmund I

Ethelstan, who like his father Edward and his grandfather Alfred, had fought off the Vikings on numerous occasions and eventually united the kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria and East Anglia into one English kingdom.

The Vikings though saw an opportunity upon Ethelstan’s death. The Danes of York chose to recognize Anlaf Guthfrithson (King of Dublin) as king of York. Guthfrithson used his power and influence to gain further control south of York, taking the five boroughs of north-east Mercia.

The five boroughs were ceded by Edmund at the treaty of Leicester in which Edmund was forced to accede to Guthfrithson’s demands through the mediation of the Archbishop of York, Wulfstan and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It seemed as though the English dream was short-lived. However, in 941 Guthfrithson died and this allowed Edmund to restore the losses he incurred.

In 942 he restored the five boroughs to the English domain and with Guthfrithson’s cousin, Anlaf Sihtricson ascending to the throne, Edmund had him baptised in 943, suggesting that he accepted Edmund’s overlordship.

Edmund died in May of 946, through a brawl at Pucklechurch in Gloucestershire with some historians thinking that this was a planned assasination.

Edmund’s death brought his younger brother, Eadred, to the throne. Eadred, who ruled for just nine years from 946 to 955, achieved something which his brother could not do and which something Ethelstan had done to some extent – and that was to bring Northumbria under total English control.

Charter S535 written by Eadred – 948AD

Eric Bloodaxe, who was king of Norway from 930 to 934, at some point came to Northumbria and set himself up as king.

Eadred, in response, launched a destructive raid on Northumbria including burning the Ripon monastery and eventually drove out Eric Bloodaxe in 954.

Eadred, who most likely suffered from the same disease as his grandfather Alfred, died in November 955 and since he was a batchelor, was succeeded by his nephew, Edmund’s son, Eadwig.

Eadwig’s rule lasted just less than four years, coming to the throne at the age of 15. His rules was blighted with disputes with the nobles and men of the church.

Charter S594 for Eadwig – 956AD

Upon Eadwig’s death, his younger brother ascended the throne. Edgar was just 16 when he became king of the English and ruled until his death in 975.

Edgar would be known as Edgar the Peaceful as he consolidated his political authority and unity which created a time of relative stability in the kingdom.

Edgar’s formal coronation in Bath in 973 was performed by the Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury and this coronation formed the basis of the current coronation ceremony we see today.

Edgar’s death in 975 brought his eldest son Edward the Martyr to the throne. Edward was not his father’s acknowledged heir with some supporting his younger half-brother, Ethelred, as the legitimate son of Edgar.

Edward’s reign was short as he was murdered in 978 which then brought Ethelred to the throne. Ethelred was known as Ethelred the Unready, although his epithet does not derive from the modern word “unready” but more from the Old English “unraed” which means “poorly advised”.

Corfe Castle – where Edward was murdered

Ethelred was just 12 when he came to the throne and it is thought that it was his own supporters that orchestrated his older half-brother’s murder, however, he would have been too young to have had any involvement in the heinous crime.

Ethelred’s reign was a rise in conflicts with the Danes again, with Viking raids rising in the 980’s. Following the Battle of Maldon in 991, Ethelred paid tribute to the Danish king, however in 1002, Ethelred ordered what became known as the St Brice’s Day massacre in which Danish settlers were struck down.

In 1013, King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark invaded England, most probably because it is believed that his sister, Gunhilde was part of the massacre. Ethelred fled to Normandy, resulting in Sweyn Forkbeard claiming the throne of England.

Sweyn Forkbeard died a year later, in 1014, leaving the door open for Ethelred to return to English shores and resuming his kingship.

Ethered passed away in April 1016, leaving his son, Edmund Ironside to rule England. However, with the all-powerful Cnut the Great rampaging through England, winning a decisive victory at the Battle of Assandun in October 1016.

Edmund died just a month later, his reign lasting just seven months, leaving Cnut the Great to rule all of England and become the first true, all-conquering foreign ruler of England.

**With the House of Wessex’s rule having ended with Edmund Ironside’s death, we will take a look at the 26-year House of Jelling rule before a short Wessex return, leading up to the infamous Battle of Hastings in 1066 – the start of an unbroken royal line that takes us to the present day.

Author: Brendon

1 thought on “3 – Revolutions, Conquests and Murder!

  1. Bloody informative and well written.
    The best possible experience one can enjoy if at all interested in the history of GB and the Royal family.
    Thank you for the effort.

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