We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
 Edgar (943/4–975), manuscript drawing [centre, with Æthelwold (left) and Dunstan (right)] Edgar (943/4–975), manuscript drawing [centre, with Æthelwold (left) and Dunstan (right)]
Edgar [called Edgar Pacificus] (943/4–975), king of England, was the younger son of and his first wife, Ælfgifu. His mother, who died in 944, was venerated as a saint at Shaftesbury, a house connected with her mother Wynflæd (d. c.950), a ‘religious woman’ or vowess (AS chart., S 485). Edmund's second wife, Æthelflæd of Damerham, survived him, subsequently marrying Æthelstan Rota (‘the Cheerful’), ealdorman of south-east Mercia. She seems to have had no part in the rearing of her stepsons, who were brought up by their paternal uncle, (r. 946–55), but her brother-in-law was made ealdorman of Essex by , Edgar's elder brother.

Eadred, who was unmarried, entrusted the infant Edgar to the care of Ælfwynn (d. 986), wife of , ealdorman of East Anglia. Another influence on Edgar's childhood was his paternal grandmother , widow of . It was she who, in 954, persuaded Eadred to give the royal vill of Abingdon to Æthelwold, who refounded its church as a Benedictine house, and it was there that Edgar was educated. Those most concerned with Edgar's upbringing were thus adherents of the Benedictine reform movement, which perhaps explains why that movement came to fruition during his reign. As a result, Edgar received lavish praise from its exponents, notably his old tutor, Æthelwold, and, in the next generation, Wulfstan, archbishop of York (d. 1023), who composed a poem in his honour, incorporated into the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (text D, s.a. 959).

Yet Edgar remains an enigmatic figure. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has but ten entries for his reign, and most of the other contemporary and near-contemporary sources relate not so much to the king as to the Benedictine reformers and their affairs. It was this lack of material which led Sir Frank Stenton to characterize Edgar's reign as ‘singularly devoid of recorded incident’ (Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, 368). In such circumstances it is tempting to flesh out the chronicle's story by drawing upon the accounts of twelfth- and thirteenth-century historians, but their additional material is often mere embroidery, based on the legends and stories which accumulated around the bare names of historical characters. Given these problems it is impossible to write a continuous history of Edgar's reign, and only a few of the better-documented aspects can be discussed with profit.

Succession to the kingdom

Edgar attained his majority in 957, in which year he became king of the Mercians. This is presented by the biographer of St Dunstan as a coup against King Eadwig, and even Æthelwold, who was more sympathetic to Eadwig, complains that he ‘dispersed the kingdom and divided its unity’ (English Historical Documents, 1.847). On the other hand, the chronicler Æthelweard (d. 998?), Eadwig's brother-in-law, claims that he ‘held the kingdom continuously for four years’ (Chronicle of Æthelweard, 55), and throughout the period Eadwig used the title ‘king of the English’, while Edgar remained only ‘king of the Mercians’ (and occasionally of the Northumbrians also).

The only hint of a difference of opinion between the brothers is their treatment of Dunstan, expelled by Eadwig, but welcomed home by Edgar to receive the Mercian bishoprics of London and Worcester, and it may be that the division of 957 was simply a recognition of Edgar's position as his brother's heir. Indeed the D version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that he became king of the Mercians in 955, at the same time that Eadwig became king of the West Saxons, and he is called regulus in a Mercian charter, albeit of uncertain authenticity, of 956 (AS chart., S 633). An agreed partition is also suggested by the fact that the ecclesiastics and lay magnates who attest the charters of the respective kings divide on a geographical, not a factional basis. Moreover, when Edgar succeeded to the kingship on the death of Eadwig (1 October 959), he retained most of the men whom Eadwig had promoted; only Brihthelm, archbishop-elect of Canterbury, was ousted in favour of Dunstan. It is particularly noteworthy that Edgar appears to have been on good terms with his brother's widow, Ælfgifu, who is described as his kinswoman in the charters recording his grants to her (AS chart., S 737–8), and whose brother, the chronicler Æthelweard, was promoted to the ealdordom of the western shires, perhaps in 973.

The royal court

One of the dominant influences at Edgar's court was his old tutor Æthelwold, elevated in 963 to the bishopric of Winchester. Æthelwold was a close friend of , widow of Ealdorman Æthelwold of East Anglia, whom Edgar married in 964 or 965. Little is known of Edgar's first wife, Æthelflæd Eneda, save that she was the mother of his eldest son, , and it is not certain that he was actually married to , the mother of his daughter, , both of whom were later venerated as saints; the king's devotion to the Benedictine reform movement should not be taken as evidence of high personal morals. In contrast to Edgar's earlier consorts, Ælfthryth emerges as a force to be reckoned with, and her family were favoured by the king; her father, , was made ealdorman of Devon by Edgar, and her brother Ordwulf became one of the most influential advisers to her younger son, . She was also connected with the family of , ealdorman of Mercia (d. 983); his eldest brother, , ealdorman of Hampshire [see under ], seems to have been the godfather of one of her children, perhaps the elder son, Edmund, who died in 971.

All the major figures of the Benedictine movement were favoured by Edgar. Dunstan was promoted to the archbishopric of Canterbury at Brihthelm's expense, receiving the pallium on 21 September 960, and in 971 Oswald became archbishop of York, without relinquishing the bishopric of Worcester which he had received in 962. He was closely associated with , Edgar's foster brother, the youngest son of Æthelstan Half-King, whom Edgar appointed to the ealdordom of East Anglia on the death of his elder brother, Æthelwold. Oswald and Æthelwine were associated in the refoundation of Ramsey as a Benedictine community, and Oswald was responsible for the foundation of a monastic church (St Mary's) at Worcester, a house for the training of monks at Westbury-on-Trym, Gloucestershire, and (with Ealdorman Æthelweard) the refoundation of the abbey of Pershore in Worcestershire. Æthelwold is most famous for his expulsion of the monks from the Old Minster at Winchester, but he concentrated his attention on the eastern shires, founding or refounding the houses of Peterborough, Ely, Crowland, and Thorney. Edgar's surviving charters show the extent of the massive transfer of land into the hands of the reformed monasteries in this period, a transfer which was the cause of much dispute when the king's hand was withdrawn.

Law and administration

Four of the surviving Old English law codes have been attributed to Edgar, but I Edgar, also known as the hundred ordinance, omits the name of the issuing king and may belong to the time of Eadred. It describes the operation of the court belonging to the hundred, which, by the late Old English period, functioned as a subdivision of the shire. Even the most privileged landowners (and their men) were bound to attend the courts of the shire and hundred, and their emergence as units of judicial, fiscal, and military organization testify to the growing powers of the West Saxon kings. It is difficult, however, to say precisely how and when the English shires were created. All the West Saxon shires are recorded by the ninth century, but it was only after the expansion of Wessex in the tenth century that the shires of midland England were established and the process may not have been complete until the eleventh century, when most of them are named for the first time. The individual hundreds cannot logically predate the shires to which they belong, though they may, of course, have been created out of already existing units. The hundred ordinance thus describes an institution which had been taking shape for some time and was to develop further in the future. It refers back to earlier legislation promulgated by Edgar's father, Edmund, and some of the expedients it describes were already in place in the times of and Edward the Elder.

The two codes known as II and III Edgar probably represent a single act of legislation, promulgated at Andover. The date is uncertain, but III Edgar refers back to the hundred ordinance. Ecclesiastical matters are the concern of II Edgar, notably the payment of church dues, whether tithe, churchscot, or Peter's Pence; as with the hundred ordinance, reference is made to a previously existing code (domboc), possibly that of . The code II Edgar is particularly noteworthy for its testimony to the building by secular magnates of ‘estate-churches’, which impinged on the rights of tithe and burial dues enjoyed by the old minster churches. Eventually the estate churches (or at least some of them) were to form the basis for the parishes of the later middle ages.

Matters of secular interest appear in the second part of the code, III Edgar. Its main concerns are the accessibility of justice, the prevention of unjust judgments (a perennial theme), and the establishment of surety (borh). Its final clause is an attempt to standardize weights and measures and includes the command that ‘one coinage is to be current throughout all the king's dominion [anweald], and no man is to refuse it’ (English Historical Documents, 1.397). This was not the first such decree (Æthelstan had made a similar stipulation) but modern opinion agrees that Edgar's reforms set a new standard for the production of a uniform coinage throughout England, at least south of the Tees.

The code which has attracted the greatest attention is IV Edgar, issued at ‘Wihtbordesstan’, probably in the early 970s. Interest has focused on the code's recognition of Danish legal particularism: the Danes are to have ‘such good laws as they best decide on’, and Edgar is said to have made this concession ‘because of your loyalty, which you have always shown me’. The identity of the ‘Danes’ in question is made clear towards the end of the code, when the king commands that ‘Earl Oslac and all the host [here] who dwell in his aldormanry are to give their support that this may be enforced’ (English Historical Documents, 1.400). There is a striking contrast between this language and the instructions to the ealdormen Ælfhere and Æthelwine, in west Mercia and East Anglia respectively, who are simply told to distribute the copies of the decrees which will be sent them. The ‘Danes’ whose customs were to be respected were the inhabitants of the former kingdom of York, now incorporated into the ealdordom of Northumbria, over which Oslac presided. But the legal integrity of the former kingdom was limited; IV Edgar legislates specifically for ‘all the nation, whether Englishmen, Danes or Britons, in every province of my dominion’ (English Historical Documents, 1.399).

The assimilation of Danish York must have been one of the major priorities in the 950s and 960s. It was probably in this period that the short-lived ‘confederacy of the Five Boroughs’ (Lincoln, Stamford, Nottingham, Derby, and Leicester) was established as a regional system of defence for the southern provinces of the old kingdom, though whether this was the work of Eadred or of Edgar is debatable. By the early eleventh century the confederacy had been abandoned and the region had been shired on the West Saxon pattern, but Yorkshire and the north midlands are distinguished from southern England by a common administrative structure; each shire is divided not into hundreds but into wapentakes, and each wapentake was further divided into units known confusingly as ‘hundreds’ or ‘small hundreds’. The different names, however, describe the same thing; the functions of the wapentake and its court are identical to those of the hundred, and the ‘small hundreds’ are comparable to the tithings of the south, groups of men mutually responsible for each other before the law.

The meeting at Chester, 973

In 973, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Edgar was consecrated king on 11 May (Pentecost), at Bath. Debate has centred on the reasons for the delay in crowning the king and alternative explanations have been advanced; that Edgar waited until he was thirty, the canonical age for consecration to the episcopate, or that the ceremony in 973 was a second consecration, symbolizing Edgar's attainment of ‘imperial’ rule over all the nations of Britain. Reservations have been expressed in respect of both solutions: all versions of the chronicle make it clear that Edgar was twenty-nine (in his thirtieth year) at the time of the ceremony, and there are no indications of any territorial expansion which might enhance Edgar's authority in the years leading up to 973. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Edgar's consecration is that the chronicle troubles to record it; it does not mention the consecrations of Alfred, Edward the Elder, Æthelstan (though his consecration at Kingston, Surrey, is recorded by the Mercian register), Edmund, Eadred, or Eadwig. Moreover it records the consecrations of only three of Edgar's successors, Æthelred II, Edward the Confessor, and Harold II.

The fact that the earliest versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (the A and B texts) record the consecration in alliterative verse suggests that there was something unusual about the 973 ceremony. Some indication of what that might be is supplied by the D and E texts (representing the ‘northern recension’ of the chronicle text). Both record that immediately after his coronation, Edgar ‘took his whole naval force [sciphere] to Chester, and six kings came to meet him, and all gave him pledges that they would be his allies on sea and on land’ (ASC, s.a. 972, texts D and E). Ælfric of Eynsham has a more nearly contemporary reference to what seems to be the same event, though without place or date: ‘And all the kings who were in this island, Cumbrians and Scots, came to Edgar, once eight kings on one day, and they all submitted to Edgar's direction’ (English Historical Documents, 1.853).

Like Ælfric, the twelfth-century historian John of Worcester has eight kings, rather than the six of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but unlike Ælfric he goes on to name them: Kynath, king of Scots; Malcolm, king of the Cumbrians; Maccus, ‘king of many isles’; Dufnal; Siferth; Huuual; Iacob; and Iuchil. William of Malmesbury has a similar though not identical list, and the names of the first three kings are also recorded in an early twelfth-century Durham compilation. Stenton believed it unlikely that John of Worcester's list of kings could be mere invention, since there was no ‘glaring anachronism’ and most of those named could be identified as contemporaries of Edgar: Kenneth II of Scotland (r. 971–95), Malcolm of Strathclyde (r. 975–97), Maccus Haroldson, king of the Sudreys (Man and the Hebrides), who was killed c.977, Iago (Iacob) ab Idwal Foel of Gwynedd (r. 950–79), and Hywel ab Idwal Ieuaf (r. 979–85), his nephew and eventual supplanter. In addition Iuchil (Iudethil in William of Malmesbury's version) might represent an Englishman's attempt at the name Idwal, borne by one of Iago's brothers, Idwal Fychan (d. 980). It is true that Malcolm's father Donald did not die until 975, in Rome, but he might already have relinquished power to his son, especially if he is to be identified (as Stenton suggested) with the Dufnal (Dunmail, Donald) of John of Worcester's list. Stenton concluded that ‘no Anglo-Norman writer, inventing a list of names with which to garnish an ancient annal, could have come as close as this to fact or probability’ (Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, 369–70).

William of Malmesbury's account of the meeting differs from that of John of Worcester both in detail (Maccus, for instance, appears as ‘prince of the pirates’) and in context, for he gives no indication of place or date, and does not associate it with his description of Edgar's consecration. These differences suggest that the two chroniclers were using a common source, rather than copying from each other. Since both are known to have used the archives of Christ Church, Canterbury, it may be significant that seven of John of Worcester's kings, excepting only Hywel ab Idwal Ieuaf, attest a spurious charter of Edgar, restoring rights in the port of Sandwich to Christ Church, Canterbury (AS chart., S 808). The charter is undated, but was issued on Whit Sunday (Pentecost), at Bath: the day and place at least of Edgar's consecration. It is undoubtedly a forgery and the context is probably the long-running dispute between Christ Church and St Augustine's, Canterbury, over the port of Sandwich, a dispute which was particularly virulent between 1116 and 1127, when both John of Worcester and William of Malmesbury were engaged upon their respective histories. It has been assumed that the charter's attestations are based on John of Worcester's description of the rowing on the Dee but it is equally possible that the reverse is true, or at least that the compiler of the charter used the same source as did John of Worcester and William of Malmesbury.

What that source might be is another matter. The attestations of two kings, Siferth and Iacob (Iago ab Idwal of Gwynedd), are also found in a genuine charter of Eadred dating from 955 (AS chart., S 566), preserved at Peterborough Abbey, a house which had connections with Canterbury, but not apparently with Worcester or Malmesbury. The charter's draftsmen, however, may have been associated with Worcester, and the Siferth who appears there cannot have been at Chester in 973, for, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records, he committed suicide in 962. It may be (as Ælfric of Eynsham indeed implies) that Edgar received approaches from a number of other kings, at various times in his reign, and that the list which appears in John of Worcester and elsewhere has simply conflated the names of all those known to have been involved in negotiations with Edgar at whatever date.

That some particularly important meeting took place at Chester in the summer of 973 is not in doubt, but its significance needs close examination. Any West Saxon account of a meeting between Edgar and the other kings of Britain would present the English ruler as the dominant figure. It is noticeable that whereas the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle suggests no more than that the kings made a treaty with Edgar (trywsodon), Ælfric's language implies that they did homage (gebugon) to him. It is this aspect of the event which is emphasized by the twelfth-century historians who used and interpreted the chronicle texts; Henry of Huntingdon, for instance, says that the six kings ‘pledged the loyalty that was owed to him [Edgar] as lord, to serve him … according to his overlordship’ (Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum (OMT), 13), and John of Worcester, who demotes the kings to subreguli, also makes them swear fealty as well as co-operation.

It is from John of Worcester that there comes the celebrated description of how the ‘subkings’ rowed Edgar on the Dee:
with them, on a certain day, he boarded a skiff; having set them to the oars, and having taken the helm himself, he skilfully steered it through the course of the river Dee and, with a crowd of ealdormen and nobles following in a similar boat, sailed from the palace to the monastery of St John the Baptist, where, when he had prayed, he returned with the same pomp to the palace. As he was entering it, he is reported to have declared to his nobles at length that each of his successors would be able to boast that he was king of the English, and would enjoy the pomp of such honour with so many kings at his command. (John of Worcester, Chron., 2.424–5)
John of Worcester is the source of most subsequent accounts of this incident, depicted on a commemorative 4½p stamp issued in 1974 by the Isle of Man, one of whose kings was (allegedly) among the oarsmen. William of Malmesbury merely says that the eight kings were ‘exhibited … on the Dee in triumph’ (De gestis regum, 1.165); like Ælfric, Malmesbury gives neither the date nor the occasion of the incident.

The attempts of successive Norman kings to impose their suzerainty on Scotland gave twelfth-century English commentators ‘a vested interest in rewriting Anglo-Scottish history in a way that showed the Dark-Age Scottish realm as a client kingdom of Wessex’ (Smyth, 237), and the same could be said of their presentation of the Welsh princes. A glance at the events immediately preceding the meeting at Chester may serve to show it in a rather different light.

To take the Welsh princes first, the Annales Cambriae record that in 967 ‘the English laid waste the kingdom [regionem] of the sons of Idwal [Foel]’, and the Brut y tywysogyon adds that the English were led by Ælfhere. No English source mentions this incursion into Gwynedd, but any English expedition into Welsh territory in 967 was likely to have been commanded by Ælfhere, ealdorman of Mercia from 956 to 983; he is duly recorded in 983 as the ally of Hywel ab Idwal Ieuaf against Einion ab Owain of Brycheiniog. In the late 960s Gwynedd was also experiencing internal dissension; it was in 969 that Ieuaf ab Idwal was imprisoned by his brother Iago. Furthermore, the Annales Cambriae record a raid on Môn (Anglesey) in 971, perpetrated by ‘the son of Harold’ (named as Maccus by the Brut y tywysogyon), and a second attack in 972 by Godfrey, son of Harold, resulted in the subjection of the island. Finally, in 973, the Annales Cambriae record ‘a great gathering of ships at Chester by Edgar, king of the Saxons’ (Annales Cambriae, s.a. 973). If John of Worcester is to be believed, this gathering was attended both by Maccus, ‘king of the islands’ (Man and the Hebrides), and by the princes of Gwynedd: was one of its purposes to negotiate a truce between them, and between both parties and the English king?

Something similar may lie behind the presence of the Scots and Cumbrians at Chester in 973. Again the starting point is an English incursion, this one recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which reports that Thored Gunnar's son ravaged Westmorland in 966. No context is given, and Stenton believed that Thored's raid was no more than ‘an act of private violence’ (Stenton, ‘Pre-conquest Westmorland’, 219). It could, however, be argued that Thored's action was an attempt to stem the southward advance of the Strathclyde rulers. They and their Scottish overlords had been encroaching upon the formerly English lands west of the Pennines, an encroachment demonstrated in 971, when Kenneth II began his reign with a plundering raid across Cumbria which reached as far east as Stainmore and as far south as the Chester Dee. The Scots kings also had their eyes on Bernicia east of the Pennines, governed in the 960s and 970s by Oslac, as earl of Northumbria, and Eadulf Yvelcild of Bamburgh, whose son had been captured by Kenneth in a raid of 972.

By the 970s, the build-up of pressure on the northern frontiers of his kingdom demanded from Edgar some kind of diplomatic, if not military solution. Seen in this context, the meeting of 973 looks less like an imperial durbar than a conference of the ‘great powers’ to sort out their numerous interlocking disagreements. It may have been on this occasion, rather than in 975, that Edgar ‘ceded’ Lothian (northern Bernicia) to Kenneth of Scotland, though the area had probably been in Scots hands by the 950s, and any agreement between Edgar and Kenneth probably represents a mutual recognition by the kings of their respective spheres of influence. The choice of Chester as a meeting place may have been influenced by its position as the chief centre for trade between England and viking Dublin; which may in turn help to explain the choice of Bath, convenient for the Severn estuary and the sea route around Wales, as the site for Edgar's elaborate consecration (or reconsecration). For the most striking thing about the Chester meeting, noticed by the Annales Cambriae as well as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, is the demonstration of English sea-power. If Edgar had an edge over the other rulers in Britain, it was not so much as an imperial overlord, but as the possessor of a fleet strong enough to enforce obedience.

Defence of the realm

The encomium on Edgar which is incorporated into the annal for 975 in the D and E texts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claims that ‘nor was there fleet so proud nor host so strong that it got itself prey in England’ (ASC, s.a. 975, texts D and E) during his reign, a claim echoed by Ælfric the Homilist's statement that ‘no fleet was ever heard of except of our own people who held this land’ (English Historical Documents, 1.853). Great claims were made for Edgar's sea-power by the twelfth-century historians. John of Worcester attributes to him a fleet of 3600 ships which were assembled every year after Easter, 1200 on the east coast, 1200 on the west, and 1200 on the north, so that the king could circumnavigate the island (clockwise) each summer, in a show of force ‘for the defence of his kingdom against foreigners and to train himself and his men in military exercises’. William of Malmesbury has a similar account (though without the numbers) and the thirteenth-century historian Roger of Wendover added a fourth fleet, bringing the total number of ships to 4800.

The exaggeration of later commentators may be set aside, but it is easy to believe that Edgar had a substantial fleet at his disposal. It may have been in his time that the foundations were laid for the naval organization evident from the reign of his son Æthelred II. The Leges Henrici primi, a twelfth-century legal tract, alleges that the English shires were divided into shipsokes (sipessocna), and though the term is not used in any pre-conquest source, its statement has been linked with the entry for 1008 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when ‘the king [Æthelred II] ordered that ships should be built unremittingly over all England, namely a warship from 310 hides’ (ASC, s.a. 1008, text C). There are problems with the interpretation of this annal, but it is generally taken to relate to the 300-hide ship-providing units recorded elsewhere, notably in a contemporary letter of Æthelric, bishop of Sherborne (AS chart., S 1383). How widespread such units were is uncertain; the five possible examples which are known are all connected with important religious houses.

The best-documented shipsoke is the triple hundred of Oswaldslow, Worcestershire, attached to the bishopric of Worcester; a second triple hundred in the same shire, which certainly owed ship service by 1066, belonged to Pershore Abbey. The charter which fathers the creation of Oswaldslow upon Edgar (AS chart., S 731) is a twelfth-century forgery, and Edgar's charter of 972 (AS chart., S 786), which restores its land to the refounded abbey of Pershore, is also spurious. Nevertheless, it can be argued that Edgar was responsible for the creation of both triple hundreds. Pershore's triple hundred cannot logically predate its refoundation as a Benedictine abbey in the late tenth century; and since it seems that the reformed community collapsed almost immediately, reviving only in the 1020s (and then briefly), it is difficult not to believe that its endowment could have been acquired only at the moment of its refoundation, probably in Edgar's reign. Moreover, neither Pershore's triple hundred nor Oswaldslow was territorially discrete, each consisting rather of a scatter of lands belonging to the religious house in question and interpenetrating each other to an extent which suggests that they were created at the same time. If Pershore's triple hundred dates to Edgar's time, so also must Oswaldslow.

Edgar's fleet may have been drawn from other sources than the English shires. In his panegyric upon Edgar mentioned above, Archbishop Wulfstan tempers his praise with one complaint: ‘Yet he did one ill-deed too greatly: he loved evil foreign customs and brought too firmly heathen manners within this land, and attracted foreigners and enticed harmful people to this country’ (ASC, s.a. 959, text D). Wulfstan can scarcely be speaking of the continental churchmen who visited England during Edgar's reign. William of Malmesbury, amplifying Wulfstan's words, specifies Saxons (Germans), Flemings, and Danes, from whom the English learnt, respectively, ferocity, effeminacy, and drunkenness, in none of which they had indulged heretofore. Malmesbury may well have been thinking of his own times rather than the tenth century, but Wulfstan's reference to ‘heathen manners’ suggests men of Scandinavian origin. It is probable that, like Alfred before him, Edgar was hiring viking stipendiaries and their ships, an expedient which was to be used by his son also.

Edgar's legacy

In his account of Edgar's annual circumnavigations, John of Worcester adds that the king was accustomed to make similar perambulations by land, ‘through all the English provinces’ in winter and spring, in order to establish ‘justice’ (iustitia). It seems that Edgar's arm was not only long but also heavy; certainly the faction-fighting and other disturbances which marked the brief reign of his elder son, Edward the Martyr, suggest the sudden loosening of a tight and masterful grip. Edgar was only thirty-one or thirty-two when he died, on 8 July 975, and his death was perhaps unexpected. He was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. The vicissitudes which befell his younger son, Æthelred II, coupled with the plaudits of the reformers whom Edgar had patronized, ensured that his reign came to symbolize a golden age of peace and plenty, exemplified by the epithet Pacificus, which first appears in the twelfth-century chronicle of John of Worcester; whether things were so comfortable for those who lived through it probably depended upon the point of view.

Ann Williams

Sources  

ASC, s.a. 955–75 · John of Worcester, Chron. · J. Williams ab Ithel, ed., Annales Cambriae, Rolls Series, 20 (1860) · T. Jones, ed. and trans., Brut y tywysogyon, or, The chronicle of the princes: Peniarth MS 20 (1952), 8–10 · M. O. Anderson, Kings and kingship in early Scotland (1973), 252 · F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, 3rd edn (1971), 364–71 · D. Roffe, ‘The origins of Derbyshire’, Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, 106 (1986), 102–22 · A. P. Smyth, Warlords and holy men: Scotland, AD 80–1000 (1984) · G. W. S. Barrow, The kingdom of the Scots: government, church and society from the eleventh to the fourteenth century (1973), 148–61 · J. E. Lloyd, A history of Wales from the earliest times to the Edwardian conquest, 3rd edn, 1 (1939); repr. (1948), 350–51 · N. Hooper, ‘Some observations on the navy in late Anglo-Saxon England’, Studies in medieval history presented to R. Allen Brown, ed. C. Harper-Bill, C. J. Holdsworth, and J. L. Nelson (1989), 203–13 · B. Yorke, ‘Æthelwold and the politics of the tenth century’, Bishop Æthelwold: his career and influence, ed. B. Yorke (1988), 65–88 · Ælfric's Lives of saints, ed. W. W. Skeat, 1, EETS, 82 (1885), 468–9 · F. M. Stenton, ‘Pre-conquest Westmorland’, Preparatory to ‘Anglo-Saxon England’: being the collected papers of Frank Merry Stenton, ed. D. M. Stenton (1970), 218–23 · A. J. Robertson, ed., The laws of the kings of England from Edmund to Henry I (1926), 16–39, 299–310 · F. Liebermann, ed., Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen, 1 (Halle, 1898), 192–215 · Willelmi Malmesbiriensis monachi de gestis regum Anglorum, ed. W. Stubbs, 2 vols., Rolls Series (1887–9), vol. 1, p. 165 · Symeon of Durham, ‘De primo Saxonum adventu libellus’, Symeonis Dunelmensis opera et collectanea, ed. H. Hinde, SurtS, 51 (1868), 203 · A. O. Anderson, ed. and trans., Early sources of Scottish history, AD 500 to 1286, 2 vols. (1922); repr. with corrections (1990) · Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum, ed. D. E. Greenway, OMT (1996) · [Roger of Wendover], Rogeri de Wendoveri chronica, sive, Flores historiarum, ed. H. O. Coxe, EHS, 1 (1841), s.a. 975 · F. E. Harmer, ed., Anglo-Saxon writs (1952), 266–70 · R. H. M. Dolley and D. M. Metcalf, ‘The reform of the English coinage under Edgar’, Anglo-Saxon coins: studies presented to F. M. Stenton, ed. R. H. M. Dolley (1961), 136–68 · N. Lund, ‘King Edgar and the Danelaw’, Medieval Scandinavia, 9 (1976), 181–95 · O. Fenger, ‘The Danelaw and Danish law’, Scandinavian Studies in Law, 16 (1972), 85–96 · W. H. Stevenson, ‘The great commendation to King Edgar in 973’, EngHR, 13 (1898), 505–7 · A. Williams, ‘An introduction to the Worcestershire Domesday’, The Worcestershire Domesday, ed. A. Williams and R. W. H. Erskine (1988), 1–31, esp. 13–18 · B. O'Brien, ‘Forgery and the literacy of the early common law’, Albion, 27 (1995), 1–18 · P. H. Sawyer, From Roman Britain to Norman England (1978), 127–8 · The chronicle of Æthelweard, ed. and trans. A. Campbell (1962) · English historical documents, 1, ed. D. Whitelock (1955)

Likenesses  

manuscript drawing, 966 (charter of Edgar to the New Minster, Winchester), BL · manuscript drawing, BL, Cotton MS Tiberius A.iii, fol. 2v [see illus.] · manuscript drawing, BL, Cotton MS Vespasian A.viii, fol. 2v · silver penny, BM