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Edgar the Ætheling: Anglo-Saxon prince, rebel and crusader

  • Nicholas Hooper (a1)

In the years which followed the Norman Conquest, the Old English aristocracy was largely deprived of its lands and offices, both lay and ecclesiastical. The resistance of the English nobility to the Norman Conquest made a large contribution to its own eclipse, but it is rarely that we are afforded a glimpse of the fortunes of an individual. The historian may, however, dwell in some detail on the career of one man, Edgar the Ætheling. Episodes from his life are preserved in a variety of works composed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contains several entries relating to his activities after 1066, and the D version shows a special interest in Edgar and his family. Among Latin histories, those of John of Worcester, William of Malmesbury and Orderic Vitalis follow his activities, although none of these authors was well informed about his life. Edgar appears not to have made a strongly favourable impression upon any of them: to the anonymous compilers of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle he was the rightful heir to the throne of England, but to both William and Orderic he was indolent. There is little difficulty involved in bringing together the known episodes of his life, and although his royal blood makes him a far from typical example the picture that emerges gives a useful insight into how one Englishman fared in the unstable political climate of the years immediately preceding the Norman Conquest, and in its aftermath. It is intended here to assemble the evidence for the life of Edgar and to treat him not as a footnote to history, which is how he has often fared at the hands of historians, but as a character of no small importance in the history of the Norman Conquest of England.

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1 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (= ASC) 1057 D; Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel, ed. Charles Plummer (Oxford, 1892–9) 1, 187–8 (text); The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: a Revised Translation, ed. D. Whitelock et al. (London, 1961; rev. 1965), p. 133 (translation). The Togdrapa on Cnut by Sighvat the Scald relates ‘and thereupon Cnut killed or drove away Æthelred's sons, every one’; see EHD (= English Historical Documents c. 500–1042, ed. D. Whitelock, 2nd ed. (London, 1979)), p. 337. For Edmund's marriage and death, see ASC1015, 1016 CDE, and Chronicon (= Florentii Wigorntnsis Monachi Chronicon ex Chronicis), ed. B. Thorpe (London, 18481849) 1, 170 and 179. Other abbreviations used in the notes are: GR (= Willelmi Malmesbiriensis Monachis De Gestis Regum Anglorum Libri Quinque), ed. W. Stubbs, Rolls Ser. (London, 18871889), and OV (= The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, ed. M. Chibnall (Oxford, 19691980)). I am grateful to Simon Keynes, David Bates and Allen Brown for their constructive criticisms in the preparation of this paper.

2 Chronicon 1, 181. GR 1, 218 says that the boys went to Sweden and then Hungary; see also Ailred of Rievaulx, Genealogie Regum Anglorum, ptd Patrologia Latina, ed. J.-P. Migne (Paris, 1844–64) (hereafter PL), 195, cols. 711–58, at 733. Excerpts from Ailred's tract were entered soon after 1197 in Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, Peniarth 382D (Hengwrt 101), a copy of Henry of Huntingdon's Historia Anglorum; three of the four marginal additions were ptd Henrici Archidiaconi Huntenduntnsis Historia Anglorum, ed. T. Arnold, Rolls Ser. (London, 1879), pp. 295–7. I am grateful to Diana Greenaway for help with this. The Worcester information about Salomon is mistaken – he was crowned in 1057 and ruled 1063–74; Stephen I was king 993–1038.

3 L'Estorie des Engleis by Geffrei Caimar, ed. A. Bell, Anglo-Norman Text Society 14–16 (Oxford, 1960), 142–8, lines 4481–664.

4 Ronay, G., ‘Edward Ætheling, Anglo-Saxon England's Last Hope’, Hist. Today 34 (1984), 4351, at 46, suggests that Gardimbre is a corrupt form of the Scandinavian term Garðariki, meaning ‘the land of towns’ (Russia).

5 Tschan, F. J., Adam of Bremen: History of the Archbishops of Hamburg–Bremen, (New York, 1959), p. 92; Die Gestze der Angelsachsen, ed. Liebermann, F. (Halle, 19031916) 1, 664, ‘ad terram Rugorum, quam nos vocamus Russeiam’; also Liebermann, F., Über die Leges Edwardi Confessoris (Halle, 1903), pp. 37–8.

6 Vajay, S. de, ‘Agatha, Mother of St Margaret Queen of Scotland’, Duquesne Review: a Journal of the Social Sciences 7. 2 (1962), 7187, at 72. For the conquest of Norway, see ASC 1028 DEF.

7 De Vajay, ‘Agatha’, pp. 72–3, followed by Ronay, ‘Edward’, p. 47. It is difficult to understand why Sweden should have been a safe haven, for we know that Swein and Cnut recruited some of their warriors from here; cf. Jansson, S. B. F., The Runes of Sweden (London, 1962), pp. 4858.

8 ASC D shows a great interest in Margaret and Scottish affairs, and may have been intended for a Scottish court. It may also have had access to a life of St Margaret; cf. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. Whitelock, p. xvi. Turgot, in his Life of St Margaret, discusses the queen's descent from a noble family, which included Edgar, Edmund Ironside and Edward the Confessor. He ignored her father and his exile; the life is ed. Hinde, J. H. (Surtees Society 51 (London, 1867), 234–54) and trans. Anderson, A. O., Early Sources for Scottish History AD 500–1286 (Edinburgh, 1922) 11, 5988. Ailred of Rievaulx, who spent perhaps a decade of his early life at the court of King David (1124–53), the son of Margaret, also wrote only of Sweden and Hungary; cf. Genealogie (see above, n. 2), and The Life of Ailred of Rievaulx by Walter Daniel, ed. Powicke, F. M. (Oxford, 1950), pp. xxxiii, xxxixxli and xcxcii.

9 Chronicon 1, 181. ASC 1057 D knows only of Edward.

10 Fest, S., ‘The Sons of Edmund Ironside, Anglo-Saxon King, at the Court of Saint Stephen’, Archivum Europae Centro-Orientalis 4 (1938), 1154–46, argued that she was a daughter of St Stephen of Hungary and Gisela, the sister of Emperor Henry II. Ritchie, R. L. G., The Normans in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1954), pp. 389–92, suggested instead that she was a daughter of Henry's brother Bruno; cf. also Barlow, F., Edward the Confessor (London, 1970), p. 216, n. 2. It has also been suggested that Agatha was the daughter of one of the half-brothers of Emperor Henry III; see de Vajay, ‘Agatha’, followed by Ronay, ‘Edward’, p. 48.

11 ASC 1067 D. For Margaret, see Baker, D., ‘A Nursery of Saints: St Margaret of Scotland Reconsidered’, Medieval Women, ed. Baker, D., Stud. in Church Hist. Subsidia 1 (Oxford, 1978), 119–41; for Christina, see ASC 1086 E, and The Heads of Religious Houses in England and Wales 940–1216, ed. Knowles, D. et al. (Cambridge, 1972), p. 219.

12 For the events of 1051–2, see Stenton, F. M., Anglo-Saxon England, 3rd ed. (Oxford, 1971), pp. 561–8; Brown, R. A., The Normans and the Norman Conquest (London, 1969), pp. 118–27;Barlow, , Edward the Confessor, pp. 214–39; and John, E., ‘Edward the Confessor and the Norman Succession’, EHR 94 (1979), 241–67.

13 ASC 1052 D, 1048 D (= 1051). D says that Godwine gathered men in order to punish Eustace who had sought the protection of Edward; E says that he refused to harry Dover because the townsmen were not at fault.

14 The Life of King Edward who Rests at Westminster, ed. F. Barlow (London, 1962), pp. 1623. The vita was written during the period 1066–January 1067 (Ibid. pp. xxv ff.).

15 Guillaume de Poitiers: Histoire de Guillaume le Conquerant, ed. R. Foreville (Paris, 1952), pp. 30–2. This work was written c. 1073–4.

16 Guillaume de Jumièges: Gesta Normannorum Ducum, ed. J. Marx (Paris, 1914), p. 132; completed c. 1071.

17 John, ‘Edward the Confessor’, contends that Edward always had a firm commitment to the Norman succession; but see Barlow, , Edward the Confessor, pp. 51–2.

18 ASC 1052 D (= 1051); Chronicon 1, 207. It should be noted that Douglas, D. C., William the Conqueror (London, 1964), pp. 58–9, 169, and Appendix B, has argued that William may have been too occupied in Normandy to have made this visit; but it seems inconceivable that D's account of the visit if fictional.

19 John, ‘Edward the Confessor’, pp. 255–6; but see Brown, , The Norman Conquest, p. 124, n. 80.

20 ASC 1054 D; Chronicon 1, 212; see also The Vita Wulfstani of William of Malmesbury, ed. R. R. Darlington, Camden 3rd. ser. 40 (London, 1928), 1516, and Barlow, F., The English Church 1000–1066, 2nd ed. (London, 1979), p. 87, n. 6. For Harold's visit to Flanders, see Grierson, P., ‘A Visit of Earl Harold to Flanders in 1056’, EHR 51 (1936), 90–7; but cf. Körner, S., The Battle of Hastings, England and Europe, 1035–1066, Bibliotheca Historica Lundensis 14 (Lund, 1964), 205–6 and 213–15.

21 See ASC 1057 D, and Keynes, S., ‘The Crowland Psalter and the Sons of King Edmund Ironside’, Bodleian Library Record 11 (1985), 359–70. Ronay, ‘Edward’, p. 49, gives the date of return as 31 August and says Edward died within forty-eight hours. There is no authority for these beliefs.

22 The suggested emendation is that of Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. Whitelock, p. 133 and n. 11.

23 Ronay, ‘Edward’, p. 49. The death has been called ‘one of the great unsolved mysteries of the period’ (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. Whitelock, p. 133, n. 6). Stenton, , Anglo-Saxon England, p. 571, detected ‘a strong suggestion of intrigue behind the scenes’; butcf. Barlow, Edward the Confessor, p. 217.

24 Most of the Old English aristocracy must have preferred a representative of the royal house. John, ‘Edward the Confessor’, p. 257, argues fora natural death, but suggests that Edward refused to see his cousin because this was an interference in his plans for Freeman, William E. A., The Norman Conquest (Oxford, 1868) 11, 412–13, eloquently defended Harold of having had any part in the death.

25 ASC 1057 D: ‘alas, that was a miserable fate and grievous to all this people that he so speedily ended his life when he came to England to the misfortune of this poor people’. The interest D shows in this annal in the family of Edward the Exile suggests that it was composed after the Conquest; cf. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. Whitelock, p. 133, n. 6 and p. xvi. See also Körner, Battle of Hastings, pp. 207–8.

26 Barlow, , Edward the Confessor, pp. 217–18.

27 ASC 1058 D; Chronicon 1, 217. It seems more likely that his purpose was to carry news and reassurance to the Hungarian court than to seek out further exiled æthelings (pace Barlow, , English Church, p. 88).

28 GR 11, 297, says that Edward commended Edgar to the magnates as his heir; Ailred, Genealogia (PL 195, col. 734) and Henry of Huntingdon (Historia Anglorum, ed. Arnold, pp. 198–9) say that there was a party which desired to see Edgar crowned.

29 OV v, 272, gives Edgar's age as being the same as that of Robert Curthose. In view of the later friendship between the two princes and Edgar's visits to Normandy, it is possible that Orderic, who wrote in Normandy in the second quarter of the twelfth century, is to be trusted. For Robert, see Douglas, , William The Conqueror, pp. 185–6.

30 When Eadwig became king he was fifteen; Edward the Martyr and Æthelred were even younger, aged about thirteen and ten respectively; Edgar was fourteen when he was chosen to be king of the Mercians in 957; see Hart, C., ‘Athelstan “Half-King” and his Family’, ASE 2 (1971), 115–44, at 129, n. 3.

31 William of Malmesbury says that the northerners initially opposed Harold but were won over by Bishop Wulfstan; cf. Vita Wulfstani, ed. Darlington, pp. 22–3. He also claims (GR 11, 307) that Edwin and Morcar coveted the throne for their family.

32 ASC 1066 D. The support given to Edgar by London may be compared with its support for Æthelred and Edmund (ASC 1012, 1016 E). William of Poitiers says that the uncanonical Archbishop Stigand led Edgar's supporters, although he later has him submitting to William at Wallingford, well before the other English leaders, and denying the ætheling (Hisloire de Guillaume, ed. Foreville, pp. 214 and 216). In like manner, he says that Harold was crowned by Stigand (p. 146), while another source says that Ealdred officiated at the coronation (Chronicon 1, 224). On the Bayeux Tapestry Stigand is shown, although he does not actually crown Harold (see Brooks, N. P. and Walker, H. E., ‘The Authority and Interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry’, Proceedings of the Battle Conference I, ed. Brown, R. A. (Woodbridge, 1979), pp. 134), at 201; The Bayeux Tapestry, ed. F. M. Stenton (London, (1965). pl. 34).

33 ASC 1066 D; ‘Edwin and Morcar promised him that they would fight on his side; but always the more it ought to have been forward the more it got behind …’

34 ASC 1066 E, a twelfth-century Peterborough interpolation (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. Whitelock, pp. 142–3).

35 ASC 1066 D. William may originally have hoped to create a genuine Anglo-Norman regime (Brown, , Norman Conquest, p. 206) but he was less successful than Cnut at integrating his followers into English society.

36 Histoire de Guillaume, ed. Foreville, p. 238. OV v, 272, says that Edgar and William's son Robert were virtually foster-brothers.

37 Edgar is not credited with any land in 1066. In 1086 he held Bark way and Hormead in Hertfordshire, assessed at 1½ hides and 6¾ hides respectively; both were held of him by Godwine. See Domesday Book, ed. A. Graham Farley (London, 1783) (hereafter DB) 1, 142 r.

38 ASC 1067 D. Edwin and Morcar witnessed two charters of William dated Whitsun 1068; see Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum 1, ed. H. W. C Davis (Oxford, 1913), nos. 22 and 23, given on the occasion of the coronation of Matilda. Edgar's absence from the witness-lists suggests that he had already left court. Ailred, , Genealogie (PL 195, cols. 734–5) thought that the family was attempting to return to Hungary when shipwrecked; Gaimar, (L'Estorie des Engleis, ed. Bell, lines 4647–55) wrote that Edgar, with his mother and sisters, was travelling from Hungary to England for the first time when driven ashore in Scotland.

39 ASC 1067 D; OV 11, 214. According to Orderic, Edwin and Morcar were angered by William's refusal to honour his promise to marry his daughter to Edwin.

40 William sent the bishop of Durham to Malcolm in order to prevent an invasion (OV11 218). Orderic is likely to have had access here to the lost conclusion to the work of William of Poitiers (Ibid. pp. xx–xxi).

41 ASC 1068 DE; OV 11, 222. For Edgar's companions, cf. Kappelle, W. E., The Norman Conquest of the North: the Region and its Transformation, 1000–1135 (London, 1979), p. 112.

42 OV 11, 226, says that during the winter of 1069–70 Edgar went into Lindsey with a ship but was driven off with heavy losses by the king's familia.

43 ASC 1067 D.

44 ASC 1072 DE, 1075 D. For Flanders, cf. Stenton, , Anglo-Saxon England, p. 607.

45 ASC 1075 D. Edgar was now William's client; William, of Malmesbury (GR 11, 310) wrote that Edgar was in receipt of a daily stipend of one pound of silver, but does not say in whose reign this was paid. Edgar witnesses none of William I's charters.

46 ASC 1085 E (= 1086). The annalist added the prayer ‘… and may almighty God grant him honour in the future’.

47 For a recent summary, see J. Godfrey, ‘The Defeated Anglo-Saxons take Service with the Eastern Emperor’, Proceedings of the Battle Conference I, ed. Brown, pp. 63 74. Orderic (OV 11, 266) lamented the fate of the exiled English who were fated to wander in foreign lands.

48 Chronicon 11, 19, the only source for this, says that Edgar was accompanied by 200 milites. ASC D ends in 1079; see Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. Whitelock, p. xvi.

49 I am grateful to Graham Loud for information on the state of the south Italian sources. The years after 1085 are possibly the worst covered of all the Norman period; the main chronicles had either just finished (Amatus, William of Apulia), had yet to start (Falco of Benevento) or had local interests only or were ill-informed (Geoffrey of Malaterra, the Bari annals of Lupus Protospatharius and the Montecassino chronicle). For events, see OV 11, xxii–xxiii; Norwich, J. J., The Normans in the South (London, 1967), pp. 243–66. Robert Curthose went to Italy during his second exile, but had probably returned to Normandy by the time of Edgar's expedition; see David, C., Robert Curthose (London, 1920), pp. 37–9.

50 ASC 1091 E. OV iv, 182 and 184–6, associates Edgar with Robert of Bellesme and William of Arques, a monk of Molesme, as Robert's closest companions.

51 Haskins, C. H., Norman Institutions (London, 1925), pp. 6678, lists thirty-nine charters, notices and attestations from a reign of fifteen years. Nearly all date from the early portion of his rule, and only seventeen were issued in the duke's name. William the Monk appears in Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum 1, ed. Davis, nos. 288, 308 and 310, dating from 1088–9.

52 ASC 1091 E; cf. also David, Robert, pp. 53–63. William's behaviour towards Edgar is difficult to comprehend – it would seem that he was less of a nuisance in Normandy than at large.

53 ASC 1091 E. The charter is no. 318 in Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum 1, ed. Davis. See also Barlow, F., William Rufus (London, 1983), p. 290.

54 ASC 1093 E. Edgar seems to have been sent to Scotland as a token of faith: William summoned Malcolm to Gloucester and sent him hostages, followed by Edgar. Barlow, , William Rufus, pp. 309–10, suggests that Edgar might have been brought to England specifically for this mission.

55 ASC 1092, 1093 and 1094 E; Two Chronicles, ed. Plummer 11, 281. Duncan also attests the charter of 1091 (cited above, n. 53). As he had remained at the court of William Rufus after his release in 1087, it is likely that the influence of his stepmother Margaret excluded him from Scotland.

56 ASC 1097 E. The charter is dismissed as spurious in Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum 1, ed. Davis, no. 363, but its authenticity has been established by Duncan, A. A. M., ‘The Earliest Scottish Charters’, Scottish Hist. Rev. 37 (1958), 125–35. Cf. also Barlow, , William Rufus, p. 353.

57 ASC 1096 E.

58 GR 11, 431 and 399.

59 OV v, 270.

60 Runciman, S., A History of the Crusades (Cambridge, 1951) 1, 227 and 228, n. 1.

61 David, Robert, pp. 230–44, collected the relevant material. The letter of the clergy and people of Lucca states that their citizen Bruno sailed to Antioch with the English vessels during the winter of 1097–8; see Hagenmayer, H., Die Kreuzzugsbriefe aus den Jahren 1088–1100 (Innsbruck, 1901), p. 165. Raymond of Aguilers, a participant in the crusade, describes the role of the English fleet, numbering some thirty ships, in the siege of Antioch; see Recueildes historiens des croisades: historiens occidentaux (Paris, 1866) 111, 290–1. However, another eye-witness, the anonymous author of the Gesta Francorum (ed. R. Hill (London, 1962)) found no place for the English ships.

62 Runciman, , Crusades 1, 164–5.

63 GR 11, 310.

64 OV v, xii–xiii.

65 It is possible that Robert was at Lattakieh during December 1097 and January 1098, and on other occasions during the following spring and summer; see David, , Robert, pp. 238–40.

66 David, , Robert, pp. 190200; OV v, 273.

67 GR 11, 310.

68 Cf. above, n. 34.

69 John of Fordun's Chronicle of the Scottish People, ed. W. F. Skene, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 18711872) 1, 220–2, where the story appears to be dated around 1093, i.e. when Edgar was in England and helping Rufus with Malcolm.

70 Fordun's Chronicle, ed. Skene 1, 224–5.

71 Freeman, E. A., William Rufus, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1882) 11, 615–18 tried to identify Godwine of Winchester and Ordgar from DB; the main difficulty is to reconcile Fordun's Godwine of Winchester with the Hertfordshire tenant of Edgar.

72 GR 11, 310.

73 ASC 1106 E. Henry married Edith/Matilda soon after his accession (ASC 1100 E); for his reasons, see Kapelle, The Norman Conquest of the North, pp. 196–7.

74 David, , Robert, pp. 179–80 and 186–9.

75 GR 1, 278; for the time when William was at work, see Gransden, A., Historical Writing in England c. 550–c. 1307 (London, 1974), p. 168. The whereabouts of Edgar's estates is unknown.

76 The Great Roll of the Pipe for the Second, Third and Fourth Years of the Reign of King Henry II, ed. J. Hunter (London, 1844), p. 177. Pipe Roll 5 Henry II, ed. J. H. Round, Pipe Roll Soc. 1 (London, 1884), 13, and Pipe Roll 13 Henry II, Pipe Roll Soc. 11 (London, 1889), 75, for the years 1158–9 and 1166–7, refer to an Edgzr Ætheling accounting for further sums.

77 GR 11, 309–10; OV v, 270–2.

78 Cf. Stenton, F. M., ‘English Families and the Norman Conquest’, TRHS 4th ser. 26 (1944), 117; Searle, E., ‘Women and the Legitimisation of Succession at the Conquest’, Proceedings of the Battle Conference III, ed. Brown, R. A. (Woodbridge, 1980), pp. 159–70, at 164–5; A. Williams, ‘A Vice-Comital Family in pre-Conquest Warwickshire: Æthelwine the Sheriff and his Kin’ (forthcoming), for the Arden family.

79 On the other hand there is the example of Toki son of Wigod who was shot from a crossbow at the battle of Gerberoi after he had given his horse to King William (ASC 1079 D).

80 ASC 1085 E: ‘but may almighty God grant him greater honour in the future’. ASC 1100 E, notes that Edith was descended from the ‘rightful royal house of England’. Cf. also ASC 1066 E and above, n. 54.

81 OV 11, 272.

82 OV 1, 1–6 and 40.

83 N&Q 10 (1860), 3–4.

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