- Pauline Stafford
Eadgifu (b. in or before 904, d. in or after 966), queen of the Anglo-Saxons, consort of Edward the Elder, was the daughter of Sigehelm, a Kentish ealdorman killed at the battle of the Holme in 903. She was the wife of King Edward the Elder and the mother of two kings, Edmund and Eadred, and of two daughters, Eadburh, who became a nun at Winchester and was venerated as a saint, and Eadgifu.
Edward married Eadgifu c.919; she was his third wife. When he died in 924, it was the sons of earlier marriages who came to the throne and Eadgifu disappears from court. By 939, however, all her stepsons were dead, apparently without offspring, and Eadgifu's sons now reigned in turn. Her triumphant return to court is signalled in her prominence in the witness lists of charters; during the reign of Edmund, the king, his mother, and his brother appear almost as a triumvirate. Eadgifu's influence remained great when her second son, Eadred, came to the throne in 946: indications from charter witness lists that her power waned slightly after 952 may simply reflect the special nature of these ('Dunstan B') charters. The death of Eadred in 955 saw another turn in Eadgifu's fortunes. In the course of the ensuing struggle for the throne between her grandsons, she was first deprived of all her lands by the eldest of them, Eadwig, who became king, and later restored by the younger, Edgar, after he came to the throne of Wessex in 959. These shifts suggest she may herself have taken sides in this struggle, probably against Eadwig. Her future was at stake; the marriage of Eadwig to Ælfgifu threatened Eadgifu's position at court and required that her landed endowment be given to the new queen. Although she recovered some lands, and Edgar made generous gifts to his grandmother, his own marriages meant that her days as a queen were over. She was rarely at court after 959 and probably lived in religious retirement. Her last appearance has a typically familial context, at the great gathering of the royal family in 966, attested in the witness list of Edgar's charter for the refoundation of New Minster, Winchester. The presence of the elderly dowager queen added to the demonstration of family unity at such a potentially divisive moment. Eadgifu probably died and was buried at Winchester but the date is unknown.
Eadgifu is remembered as a friend and ally of saintly churchmen; she persuaded Æthelwold to remain in England and she tried to get a bishopric for Dunstan. In one grant by Eadred to his mother, she is described as 'famosa famula Dei' ('celebrated handmaid of God'; AS chart., S 562). This secondary supportive role is a cliché of saints' lives and only a partial picture. Eadgifu's wide interest in the foundation and endowment of churches—she was remembered as a benefactor at Christ Church, Canterbury—and in land acquisition, particularly in eastern England, show a queen actively involved in the extension of West Saxon power. Such an extension was the motive for her marriage, since she was a wealthy woman. Her father had left his 'ancestral inheritance' at Cooling and ‘Osterland’ in Kent to her: Cooling had been given a century earlier by Cenwulf, king of the Mercians, to his thegn Eadwulf, perhaps one of Sigehelm's forebears (AS chart., S 1211, 163). Farleigh, Kent, which Sigehelm received from King Alfred (AS chart., S 350), also passed through Eadgifu's hands (AS chart., S 1212). The augmentation of her wealth by her sons and grandsons is further testimony to her involvement in royal rule. Eadred, for example, gave her land at Felpham, Sussex, during his lifetime and bequeathed to her the royal vills at Amesbury, Wiltshire, Basing, Hampshire, and Wantage, Berkshire, and all his booklands in Surrey, Sussex, and Kent. She may even have acted as a sort of regent in Kent, where the will of one thegn (AS chart., S 1511) was apparently arranged before her, in company with Oda, archbishop of Canterbury (and so between 941 and 958). Eadgifu's political career, its peaks and vicissitudes, were shaped by dynastic politics. She is an example of the potential power, and of the accompanying vulnerability, such politics meant for an early medieval queen.
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- F. E. Harmer, ed., Select English historical documents of the ninth and tenth centuries (1914)
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- A. Campbell, ed. and trans., Encomium Emmae reginae, CS, 3rd ser., 72 (1949), 62–5
- P. A. Stafford, ‘The king's wife in Wessex, 800–1066’, Past and Present, 91 (1981), 3–27
- D. N. Dumville, Wessex and England from Alfred to Edgar (1992)
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- W. Stubbs, ed., Memorials of St Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, Rolls Series, 63 (1874)
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- AS chart., S 350; 562; 1211, 163; 1212; 1511
- Edward [called Edward the Elder] (870s?–924), king of the Anglo-Saxons
- Edmund I (920/21–946), king of England
- Eadred [Edred] (d. 955), king of England
- Eadburh [St Eadburh, Eadburga] (921x4–951x3), Benedictine nun
- Eadwig [Edwy] (c. 940–959), king of England
- Edgar [called Edgar Pacificus] (943/4–975), king of England
- Ælfgifu (fl. 956–966), consort of King Eadwig