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(d. 971)
  • C. P. Lewis

Ordgar (d. 971), magnate, was a prominent landowner in the west country in the middle of the tenth century and maternal grandfather of King Æthelred II. Although apparently without any official position at the court of King Eadwig (r. 955–9), he was clearly a figure of some importance, because in 956 his daughter Ælfthryth married Æthelwold (II), eldest son of Ealdorman Æthelstan Half-King. He witnessed King Edgar's charters as a thegn from 962. Ælfthryth was widowed in 962 or 963, and in 964 married the king. The charter by which Edgar endowed his new wife with an estate in Berkshire was the last which his new father-in-law witnessed as a mere thegn, since Edgar made him an ealdorman later in 964. Later tradition called him ealdorman of Dumnonia, probably meaning Devon and Cornwall, and a connection with the latter shire is evident from the fact that he is known to have freed one of his slaves at the altar of St Petroc in Bodmin. As a thegn, Ordgar had witnessed only a handful of Edgar's charters between 962 and 964; as an ealdorman he was named on almost all of those issued between 964 and 970, a period when he must have been among the king's closest advisers. Ordgar died in 971 and was buried at Exeter. In the twelfth century William of Malmesbury claimed that he had founded and been buried at Tavistock Abbey, through a confusion with his son Ordwulf, the real founder of Tavistock, and with a later Ordgar who was buried there. Although Ordwulf did not become an ealdorman, he was a figure of great importance in the reign of Æthelred.

Ealdorman Ordgar featured as a rich widower with lands in every town and village between Frome and Exeter in a tale elaborated by Geoffrey Gaimar in the twelfth century, which centred on Ordgar's beautiful daughter Ælfthryth, King Edgar, and the deceitful knight Æthelwold, who wooed the girl for himself. In Gaimar's version the story begins with Ælfthryth and her doting father, Ordgar, playing chess when Æthelwold arrives. Ælfthryth's two marriages clearly formed a foundation for the story, though it adds nothing credible to knowledge of Ordgar or anyone else.


  • H. P. R. Finberg, ‘The house of Ordgar and the foundation of Tavistock Abbey’, EngHR, 58 (1943), 190–201, esp. 190–91
  • H. P. R. Finberg, ‘Childe's tomb’, Lucerna: studies of some problems in the early history of England (1964), 186–203, at 190–92, 198
  • C. Hart, ‘Athelstan “half king” and his family’, The Danelaw (1992), 569–604, esp. 582–6, 589–91, 601–3
  • John of Worcester, Chron., 2.414–17, 420–21
  • Willelmi Malmesbiriensis monachi de gestis pontificum Anglorum libri quinque, ed. N. E. S. A. Hamilton, Rolls Series, 52 (1870), 202–3
  • L'estoire des Engleis by Geffrei Gaimar, ed. A. Bell, Anglo-Norman Texts, 14–16 (1960)
John of Worcester, ed. R. R. Darlington & P. McGurk, trans. J. Bray & P. McGurk, 2–3; OMT (1995–) [vol. 1 forthcoming]
English Historical Review