Edmund Ironside Biography

(King of the English from 23 April to 30 November 1016)

Born: 990

Born In: England

Updated On : October 31, 2022Edmund Ironside was the king of England during a brief period of a little over 7 months in 1016. He was the third son of King Ethelred the Unready. A significant part of his life was invested in fighting the Danish forces led by various Viking leaders, mostly Cnut the Great. Until he became the ruler, he was at the helm of his father’s army, standing against the conquest of the Danes. His father’s constant fear of losing the throne and inability to maintain a robust military administration put them at loggerheads. However, until his father’s death, Edmund continued to support Ethelred in holding the fort. Eventually, he ascended to the throne. Nevertheless, the struggle with Cnut, the rival claimant to the crown, persisted. After a peace treaty, he stayed in power for a few weeks until his mysterious death.
Quick Facts

Nick Name: Ironside

Also Known As: Edmund II

Died At Age: 26


Spouse/Ex-: Ealdgyth

father: Æthelred the Unready

mother: Ælfgifu of York

siblings: Edward the Confessor

children: Edmund Ætheling, Edward the Exile

Born Country: England

Emperors & Kings British Men

Died on: November 30, 1016

place of death: Oxford, England

Childhood & Early Life
Edmund was born to King Ethelred the Unready and his first wife, Elfgifu. His date of birth is debatable and is presumed to be in the year 990.
He was close to his elder brother Athelstan. Both brothers felt threatened by their stepmother Emma’s ambitions for her children.
After the death of Athelstan, he gained possession of the sword which had earlier belonged to King Offa of Mercia.
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During the late 10th century and the early 11th century, the Danish invaders tried to overthrow Edmund’s father, Ethelred.
According to historians, Edmund fought alongside his father’s army between 1010 and 1013.
Sweyn Forkbeard, the then-king of Denmark, captured England, while Ethelred escaped to Normandy. However, the whereabouts of Edmund during this period have not been recorded.
Forkbeard’s reign over England did not last long, as he died in February 1014. His son, Cnut the Great, was declared as the successor to the throne of England, with the acceptance of The Five Boroughs of the Danelaw.
However, the Witan were in favor of restoring Ethelred as the king and made a pact with him.
In 1014, Ethelred’s men defeated Cnut’s army in a surprise attack, compelling Cnut to flee, and reinstated Ethelred as the monarch.
The following year, Sigeferth, the chief thegn of the Seven Burghs, was killed by Eadric Streona, Ealdorman of Marcia. Ethelred ordered the capture of Ealdgyth, the widow of Sigeferth. She was to be brought to ‘Malmesbury Abbey.’ Going against his father’s wishes, Edmund seized Ealdgyth and married her. He also appropriated Sigeferth and his family’s land, which was impounded by his father. After he unofficially named himself the earl of the East Midlands and rebelled against his father in 1016, Edmund’s relationship with Ethelred deteriorated.
In the latter half of 1015, Cnut built a Danish army of 10,000 soldiers and set sail to recapture England on 200 longships. He took control of Wessex. Edmund led his father’s army in most of the battles.
In early 1016, Edmund’s efforts to stop the advancement of Cnut’s forces proved futile, as the army disbanded due to the absence of their king and the London citizenry. Edmund’s failure led to the fall of Warwickshire and parts of Mercia.
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The English army regrouped after the king took the initiative, only to meet with failures.
Meanwhile, Edmund, along with Uhtred, the earl of Northumbria, captured Staffordshire, Shropshire, and Cheshire. However, as Cnut’s ally took control of Northumbria, Uhtred surrendered to him, and Edmund retreated to safety behind the walls of London.
Ethelred died on April 23, 1016. Following this, Edmund, with the support of a small number of citizens and councilors in London, ascended to the throne. However, a larger group of Witan wanted Cnut to take over the reins. This development led to a power struggle between the two formidable warriors.
Edmund and Cnut fought several battles against each other to establish one’s superiority over the other.
Before Cnut’s men could encircle London to lay a siege, Edmund left for Wessex to raise an army and fought inconclusive battles at Penselwood in Somerset and Sherston in Wiltshire. However, he managed to relieve London for a short period, paying a heavy price in the bargain.
Edmund built a new army from Wessex and thwarted the second attempt of the Danes to capture London. In the ensuing battle in Otford, the Danish forces were compelled to move to Kent.
The Battle of Assandun was fought between Edmund and Cnut on October 18, 1016. Soon, Streona’s betrayal led to the defeat of Edmund. Cnut pursued Edmund to Gloucestershire, where the duo reached an agreement to share the territories.
According to the treaty, Edmund kept Wessex, while Cnut gained control over Mercia. The agreement also had a rider that, after the death of one of the rulers, the territory of the deceased would automatically come under the reign of the living monarch.
Family, Personal Life, & Death
Edmund’s mother is belived to have died in the year 1000. Ethelred then got married to Emma of Normandy.
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He had six siblings, including two elder brothers, Athelstan and Egbert, who died in 1014 and 1005, respectively. This made him the successor to his father’s throne.
He had three younger brothers, Eadred, Edgar, and Edwig. His four sisters were, Eadgyth, Elfgifu, Wulfhilda, and the Abbess of Wherwell Abbey.
He had three half-siblings, Edward the Confessor, Alfred, and Goda.
Through his marriage to Ealdgyth, he had two sons, Edward the Exile and Edmund Atheling.
Edmund breathed his last on November 30, 1016, under mysterious circumstances. He was buried in ‘Glastonbury Abbey’ in Somerset.
He was named “Ironside” because of his courageous fightback against Cnut.
Cnut took part in the death anniversary observation of Edmund and spread a cloak adorned with peacocks on his tomb. He is believed to have done this to help Edmund attain salvation, as peacocks represented resurrection.
According to historian M.K. Lawson, the degree of fight Edmund put up against the Danish could only be matched by Alfred the Great.
It is believed that William Shakespeare had composed the play ‘Edmund Ironside.’
The 1970 TV movie ‘The Ceremony of Innocence’ featured John Horn as Edmund.
In Justin Hill’s novel ‘Shieldwall,’ the first installment of the ‘Conquest Trilogy,’ Edmund appeared as one of the main characters.

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