MONARCHS of BRITAIN
Saxon Kings - House of Wessex
Egbert (802-39 AD)
Known as the first King of All England, he was forced into exile at the court of Charlemagne, by the powerful Offa, King of Mercia. Egbert returned to England in 802 and was recognized as king of Wessex. He defeated the rival Mercians at the battle of Ellendun in 825. In 829, the Northumbrians accepted his overlordship and he was proclaimed "Bretwalda" or sole ruler of Britain.
Æthelwulf (839-58 AD)
Æthelwulf was the son of Egbert and a sub-king of Kent. He assumed the throne of Wessex upon his father's death in 839. His reign is characterized by the usual Viking invasions and repulsions common to all English rulers of the time, but the making of war was not his chief claim to fame. Æthelwulf is remembered, however dimly, as a highly religious man who cared about the establishment and preservation of the church. He was also a wealthy man and controlled vast resources. Out of these resources, he gave generously, to Rome and to religious houses that were in need.
He was an only child, but had fathered five sons, by his first wife, Osburga. He recognized that there could be difficulties with contention over the succession. He devised a scheme which would guarantee (insofar as it was possible to do so) that each child would have his turn on the throne without having to worry about rival claims from his siblings. ®thelwulf provided that the oldest living child would succeed to the throne and would control all the resources of the crown, without having them divided among the others, so that he would have adequate resources to rule. That he was able to provide for the continuation of his dynasty is a matter of record, but he was not able to guarantee familial harmony with his plan. This is proved by what we know of the foul plottings of his son, ®thelbald, while ®thelwulf was on pilgrimage to Rome in 855.
Æthelwulf was a wise and capable ruler, whose vision made possible the beneficial reign of his youngest son, Alfred the Great.
Æthelbald (858-60 AD)
While his father, Æthelwulf, was on pilgrimage to Rome in 855, Æthelbald plotted with the Bishop of Sherbourne and the ealdorman of Somerset against him. The specific details of the plot are unknown, but upon his return from Rome, Æthelwulf found his direct authority limited to the sub-kingdom of Kent, while Æthelbald controlled Wessex.
Æthelwulf died in 858, and full control passed to Æthelbald. Perhaps Æthelbald's premature power grab was occasioned by impatience, or greed, or lack of confidence in his father's succession plans. Whatever the case, he did not live long to enjoy it. He died in 860, passing the throne to his brother, Æthelbert, just as Æthelwulf had planned.
Æthelbert (860-66 AD)
Very little is known about Æthelbert, who took his rightful place in the line of succession to the throne of Wessex at around 30 years of age. Like all other rulers of his day, he had to contend with Viking raids on his territories and even had to battle them in his capital city of Winchester. Apparently, his military leadership was adequate, since, on this occasion, the Vikings were cut off on their retreat to the coast and were slaughtered, according to a contemporary source, in a "bloody battle."
Æthelred (866-71 AD)
Anglo-Saxon king of Wessex, and son of King Æthelwulf, who ruled England during a time of great pressure from the invading Danes. He was an affable man, a devoutly religious man and the older brother of Alfred the Great, his second-in-command in the resistance against the invaders. Together, they defeated the Danish kings Bagseg and Halfdan at the battle of Ashdown in 870.
Alfred, the Great
Youngest son of King Æthelwulf, Alfred became King of Wessex during a time of constant Viking attack. He was driven into hiding by a Viking raid into Wessex, led by the Dane, Guthorm, and took refuge in the Athelney marshes in Somerset. There, he recovered sufficient strength to be able to defeat the Danes decisively at the Battle of Eddington. As a condition of the peace treaty which followed, Guthorm received Christian baptism and withdrew his forces from Wessex, with Alfred recognizing the Danish control over East Anglia and parts of Mercia. This partition of England, called the "Danelaw", was formalized by another treaty in 886.
Statue of Alfred in Winchester
Alfred created a series of fortifications to surround his kingdom and provide needed security from invasion. The Anglo-Saxon word for these forts, "burh", has come down to us in the common place-name suffix, "bury." He also constructed a fleet of ships to augment his other defenses, and in so doing became known as the "Father of the English Navy." The reign of Alfred was known for more than military success. He was a codifier of law, a promoter of education and a suppor|er of the arts. He, himself, was a scholar and translated Latin books into the Anglo-Saxon tongue. The definitive contemporary work on Alfred's life is an unfinished account in Latin by Asser, a Welshman, bishop of Sherbourne and Alfred's counsellor. After his death, he was buried in his capital city of Winchester, and is the only English monarch in history to carry the title, "the Great."
Edward I, the Elder
Son of Alfred the Great, Edward immediately succeeded his father to the throne. His main achievement was to use the military platform created by his father to bring back, under English control, the whole of the Danelaw, south of the Humber River.
Æthelstan (924-40 AD)
The grandson of Alfred the Great, Æthelstan succeeded his father, Edward the Elder, to the throne of Wessex. He was the first English sovereign ever to be crowned on the King's Stone at Kingston-upon-Thames in 925. Incorrectly claimed by some to be the first King of All England, Æthelstan was a great warrior, nonetheless, whose fame stemmed from his conquests in Cornwall and Wales, and his defeat of a combined force of Scots, Welsh and Vikings at the battle of Brunanburh in 938. Æthelstan was a patron of monastic communities and especially supported the monastery at Malmesbury, where his tomb can be found, today.
Effigy of Æthelstan in Malmesbury Abbey
Edmund I (940-46 AD)
Son of Edward the Elder, succeeded his half-brother, Æthelstan, with whom he had fought at Brunanburh. Combated the Norse Vikings in Northumbria and subdued them in Cumbria and Strathclyde. He entrusted these lands to an ally, Malcolm I of Scotland. Edmund met his death when he was killed at Pucklechurch, in Gloucestershire, by a robber.
Eadred (946-55 AD)
King of Wessex and acknowledged as overlord of Mercia, the Danelaw and Northumbria. A challenge to Eadred, which serves to illustrate one of his chief qualities, developed in the north, in the early 950's. Eric Bloodaxe, an aptly named, ferocious, Norse Viking who had been deposed by his own people, established himself as king of Northumbria at York, apparently with the fearful acquiescence of the Northumbrians. Eadred responded by marching north with a considerable force to meet the threat. He proceeded to ravage the Norse-held territories, then moved back to the south. He was attacked on the way home by Eric's forces. Eadred was so enraged that he threatened to go back to Northumbria and ravage the entire land.
This prospect frightened the already frightened Northumbrians into abandoning Eric Bloodaxe. It must be that they viewed Eadred as more formidable than a bloodthirsty Viking, who had been thrown out of a society known for its bloodthirstiness, because he was too bloodthirsty and tyrannical for them. In any case, according to the "AngloSaxon Chronicle", " the Northumbrians expelled Eric."
As to his personal side, William of Malmesbury provides some illumination. He says that Eadred was afflicted with some lingering physical malady, since he was, "constantly oppressed by sickness, and of so weak a digestion as to be unable to swallow more than the juices of the food he had masticated, to the great annoyance of his guests." Regarding his spiritual side, apparently the pillaging, ravaging and laying waste that he did, had no deleterious effects on him. As Malmesbury states, he devoted his life to God, "endured with patience his frequent bodily pains, prolonged his prayers and made his palace altogether the school of virtue." He died while still a young man, as had so many of the kings of Wessex, "accompanied with the utmost grief of men but joy of angels."
Eadwig [Edwy] (955-59 AD)
On the death of Eadred, who had no children, Eadwig was chosen to be king since he was the oldest of the children in the natural line of the House of Wessex. He became king at 16 and displayed some of the tendencies one could expect in one so young, royalty or not. Historians have not treated Eadwig especially well, and it is unfortunate for him that he ran afoul of the influential Bishop Dunstan (friend and advisor to the recently deceased king, Eadred, future Archbishop of Canterbury and future saint), early in his reign.
An incident, which occurred on the day of Eadwig's consecration as king, purportedly, illustrates the character of the young king. According to the report of the reliable William of Malmesbury, all the dignitaries and officials of the kingdom were meeting to discuss state business, when the absence of the new king was noticed. Dunstan was dispatched, along with another bishop, to find the missing youth. He was found with his mind on matters other than those of state, in the company of the daughter of a noble woman of the kingdom. Malmesbury writes, Dunstan, " regardless of the royal indignation, dragged the lascivious boy from the chamber and...compelling him to repudiate the strumpet made him his enemy forever." The record of this incident was picked up by future monastic chroniclers and made to be the definitive word on the character of Eadwig, mainly because of St. Dunstan's role in it.
Dunstan was, after that incident, never exactly a favorite of Eadwig's, and it may be fair to say that Eadwig even hated Dunstan, for he apparently exiled him soon after this. Eadwig went on to marry ®lgifu, the girl with whom he was keeping company at the time of Dunstan's intrusion. For her part, " the strumpet" was eventually referred to as among "the most illustrious of women", and Eadwig, in his short reign, was generous in making grants to the church and other religious institutions. He died, possibly of the Wessex family ailment, when he was only 20.
Edgar (959-75 AD)
Edgar was made King of Mercia and Northumbria in 957 and succeed to the throne of Wessex at his brother, Eadwig's, death in 959. With this, Edgar was King of Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex (the three most powerful kingdoms in England at that time), simultaneously and could be considered the first ruler of a United England. Some of his predecessors were Kings of All England by virtue of being King of Wessex and, at the same time, enjoying a temporary military ascendancy over the other kingdoms.
He was formally crowned in 973 and received the ceremonial submission of all the other kings in Britain. He wisely recalled (St.) Dunstan from exile and made him Archbishop of Canterbury and his closest personal advisor. His reign was prosperous and peaceful and he is generally credited with the revival of the English church.
Edward II, the Martyr
Elder son of King Edgar, he succeeded to the throne as a boy of 12, and in so doing, aroused rival claims on behalf of his even younger half-brother, ®thelred II, the Unready. He was murdered by members of ®thelred's household at Corfe Castle in 978.
Æthelred II, the Unready (978-1016 AD)
Æthelred succeeded to the throne after the murder of his half-brother, Edward II, the Martyr, at the age of ten. His reign was plagued by poor advice from his personal favorites and suspicions of his complicity in Edward's murder. His was a rather long and ineffective reign, which was notable for little other than the payment of the Danegeld, an attempt to buy off the Viking invaders with money. The relentless invasions by the Danish Vikings, coupled with their ever-escalating demands for more money, forced him to abandon his throne in 1013. He fled to Normandy for safety, but was later recalled to his old throne at the death of Svein Forkbeard in 1014. He died in London in 1016.
Edmund II, Ironside
Edmund was King of England for only a few months. After the death of his father, Æthelred II, in April 1016, Edmund led the defense of the city of London against the invading Knut Sveinsson (Canute), and was proclaimed king by the Londoners. Meanwhile, the Witan (Council), meeting at Southampton, chose Canute as King. After a series of inconclusive military engagements, in which Edmund performed brilliantly and earned the nickname "Ironside", he defeated the Danish forces at Oxford, Kent, but was routed by Canute's forces at Ashingdon, Essex. A subsequent peace agreement was made, with Edmund controlling Wessex and Canute controlling Mercia and Northumbria. It was also agreed that whoever survived the other would take control of the whole realm. Unfortunately for Edmund, he died in November, 1016, transferring the Kingship of All England completely to Canute.
©2007 Britannia.com Design and Development by