Birthday: August 7, 942
Died At Age: 32
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Edgar I
Born in: Wessex
Famous as: King of England
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Elfthryth, wife of Edgar, Wulthryth
father: Edmund I
mother: Elfgifu of Shaftesbury
children: Edith of Wilton, Edward the Martyr, Ethelred the Unready
Died on: July 8, 975
Who was Edgar the Peaceful?
King Edgar was the ruler of England whose fame spread far and wide as ‘the Peaceful’ emperor. However, the cognomen ‘the Peaceful’ does not refer to his calm temperament but to the fact that his reign was very peaceful for the people in his kingdom. It is also because he is credited for uniting and stabilizing the British empire. After ascending the throne in his teens, he came to be known as a handsome and powerful leader. He acquired several parts of Britain and brought them under one rule, which eradicated multiple skirmishes caused due to rivalries amongst kings. He brought about several reforms in the Church of England with help of St. Dunstan, his most trusted advisor. King Edgar’s strong leadership qualities ensured a safe environment for his people. His coronation at Bath is still considered an avant-garde ceremony that is replicated during the enthronement of British monarchs until now. Edgar died at a very young age but not without gaining the love and admiration of his subjects. His death marked the end to the Anglo-Saxon period in England. He was survived by four children.
Childhood & Early Life
Edgar the Peaceful was born circa 942 to Edmund I and Elder Saint Elgiva of Shaftesbury. The name Edgar is derived from the Saxon name ‘Eadgar’ in which ‘ead’ refers to rich and ‘gar’ means spear. Edgar had an older brother named Eadwig, who ruled England until his death.
Edgar spent his childhood in East Anglia and studied under Abbot of Abingdon. Since a very young age, Edgar became popular amongst the middle-English and Danes. Like the other family members in the House of Wessex, Edgar stood barely five feet tall. However, he possessed a charming personality and handsome looks.
After the demise of King Edmund, his uncle Eadred became King of England in 946. He was succeeded by Edgar’s older brother Eadwig. Eadwig was seen as an inept king solely because of his inability to maintain harmony with the nobles and the Church. During his reign, the Mercians and Northumbrians snapped their ties with the English. After his untimely demise, Edgar became the new king of England in October 959 at the tender age of 16 years.
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Ascension & Reign
After Edgar the Peaceful assumed the throne, his first order was to free St Dunstan from exile, who then became the ‘Bishop of Worcester’ and an adviser to the king.
Initially, St Dunstan did not agree to crown Edgar as the king because he disapproved of Edgar’s promiscuous behaviour. However, he later became the king’s adviser and worked in that capacity until the end of his reign.
Under Edgar’s rule, the Kingdom of England was established and began to flourish. The seeds of political unity sown by his predecessors bloomed under his reign.
As a young leader, he showed great interest in reforming the English church. With St Dunstan’s help, he restored several monasteries that were damaged during the Danish invasions and brought several changes in the monastic communities. He terminated secular clergies and church officials were given more independence in decision-making. He also created the Soke of Peterborough, thus granting the abbot of St Peter’s a good deal of independence.
He understood the importance of defending the coastal shores; therefore, he boosted the naval strength by building an army of 3,600 ships that kept England safe from the Danish intrusion.
With ealdormen’s support, he established and ran his kingdom efficiently, thereby creating a thick blanket of safety for his people.
He brought about several crucial changes in the administrative structure, which benefitted his kingdom immensely. He promoted fair trade practises and fiercely protected the currency.
Even though Edgar was a capable and popular choice for the king’s position, his official coronation took place much later.
In 973, Edgar’s coronation took place at Bath. He along with his then wife Elfrida were anointed as the king and the queen respectively. It was the first time in history that a couple was officially announced as the king and queen of England. This ceremony has since then remained unchanged, and all the kings and queens of England follow almost the same process during their coronation.
Post ceremony, the kings of Britain pledged their allegiance to Edgar at Chester. In a display of power, Edgar took a ride from River Dee to the monastery of St. John the Baptist, and he was followed by all his sub-kings.
Edgar the Peaceful passed away on 8 July 975 at Winchester, the ancient capital of Wessex, at the age of 33 years. His mortal remains were buried at Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset.
Family & Personal Life
Edgar the Peaceful first married his childhood friend Athelfleda who bore him two sons named, Edward and Edmund. But the couple separated when Edgar wanted to marry his second wife, Elfrida.
Elfrida was the daughter of Ordgar, ealdorman of Devon. Upon hearing about her beauty, Edgar sent Athelwald, Ealdorman of East Anglia, to ask her hand in marriage. However, enamoured by her beauty, Athelwald ended up marrying her and falsely reporting to Edgar that she was an unsuitable match for him. When the king discovered the truth, he killed the earl in 963 to marry Elfrida. The ‘Dead Man's Plack’ was erected in Longparish, Hampshire, in 1825 as a commemoration of this incident. Together, the couple had a son named Ethelred II who succeeded Edward to the throne.
Apart from his two marriages, Edgar had illicit relationships with several mistresses. One of his mistresses was a nun named Wulfrida, whom he had supposedly abducted from the Wilton Abbey. She bore him a daughter named Edith or Eadgyth. She was later named abbess of Wilton while her daughter became a nun and came to be known as Edith of Wilton.