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Edward the Elder то Edward the Martyr: 899-978
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Edward the Elder то Edward the Martyr: 899-978Edward the Elder (899-925) Edward the Elder (born c. 870) consoli¬dated Alfred’s kingdom, with the help of his elder sister, Aethelflaed. She married the king of Mercia and seems to have ruled that Midlands kingdom from 910 until her death in 917. Together, Edward and Aethelflaed inflicted a series of defeats on the Vikings. A renowned soldier, Edward was also keen to govern well; he ‘used books frequently’ and improved the coinage. On his death in 925, his son Athelstan (born c. 895) succeeded him.

Athelstan (925-39)
The royal house of Wessex reached a highpoint under Athelstan, Rex Totius Britanniae (‘King of all Britain’). His defeat of allied Scots, Welsh and Irish Vikings at Brunanburh, possibly Cumbria, in 937 won him the loyalty of all the British rulers, though York (Jorvik) retained its own Viking kings until 954.

Athelstan’s court issued a flow of charters and legal documents. The king forged links with foreign rulers through marriage - one of his sisters married the Emperor Otto of Germany; another became wife to Hugh Capet, ruler of the Franks. To cement these alliances, Athelstan was an enthusiastic receiver and giver of jewels, gold and silver, particularly sacred relics.

Edmund (939-46) and Eadred (946-55)
Athelstan’s brother Edmund the Elder (born c. 922) reigned for seven years before meeting an untimely end. During a feast, a gate-crasher named Leof drew a knife and in the resulting struggle Edmund was fatally stabbed. The murderer was ‘cut to pieces’. Edmund’s brother Eadred had to fight off more trou¬blesome Danes; he was also in constant ill health (the chronicles report he could not eat meat).

Eadwig (955-59) and Edgar (959-75)
All the sons of Edward the Elder having reigned in turn, the Crown now passed to the sons of Edmund. Eadwig (Edwy), no more than 13 on becoming king in 955, had a court split by factional conspiracies. The young king - said to be singularly handsome - died before he was 20.

His brother Edgar was just 14 when crowned at Bath, but survived and pros¬pered. Edgar confirmed the English supremacy in Britain, winning allegiance from six Welsh and Scottish kings who are said to have rowed him in state along the River Dee. His reign saw the peak of Saxon achievement in art and scholarship, during which Dunstan of Canterbury, Oswald of York and Ethelwold of Abingdon reformed the monasteries. His court at Winchester was among the most admired in Europe.

'Athelstan king of earls, the lord and rewarder of heroes

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle celebrating King Athelstan

Edward the Martyr (975-78)
King Edgar died in 975 and was buried at Glastonbury. His son Edward was only 13 and an immediate target for his step¬mother Aelfthryth, eager to advance her own son Ethelred. She invited Edward to Corfe, where he was murdered in 978. Edward became a symbol of martyred innocence, elevated to sainthood, but the golden age of the Saxon kings was over.

Athelstan and St Cuthbert
King Athelstan, a keen collector, presents a copy of Bede’s works to St Cuthbert.

Edward the Elder то Edward the Martyr: 899-978

Edgar’s coronation
The coronation of King Edgar by Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, shown in the Edgar Window at Bath Abbey.

Edward the Elder то Edward the Martyr: 899-978

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