1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Edgar, King

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EDGAR (Eadgar), king of the English (944-975), was the younger son of Edmund the Magnificent and Ælfgifu. As early as 955 he signed a charter of his uncle Eadred, and in 957 the Mercian nobles, discontented with the rule of his elder brother Eadwig, made him king of England north of the Thames. On the death of his brother in October 959 Edgar became king of a united England. Immediately on his accession to the throne of Mercia Edgar recalled St Dunstan from exile and bestowed on him first the bishopric of Worcester, and then that of London. In 961 Dunstan was translated to Canterbury, and throughout Edgar’s reign he was his chief adviser, and to him must be attributed much of the peace and prosperity of this time.

The reign of Edgar was somewhat uneventful, but two things stand out clearly: his ecclesiastical policy and his imperial position in Britain. Edgar and Dunstan were alike determined to reform the great monastic houses, and to secure that they should be restored once more to their true owners and not remain in the hands of the secular priests or canonici, whose life and discipline alike seem to have been extremely lax. In this reform Edgar was helped not only by St Dunstan but also by Oswald of Worcester and Æthelwold of Winchester. The priests of the old and new monasteries at Winchester, at Chertsey and at Milton Abbas were replaced by monks, and in monastic discipline the old rule of St Benedict was restored in all its strictness.

The coronation of Edgar was, for some unexplained reason, delayed till the Whitsunday of 973. It took place with much ceremony at Bath, and was followed shortly after by a general submission to Edgar at Chester. Six, or (according to later chroniclers) eight kings, including the kings of Scotland and Strathclyde, plighted their faith that they would be the king’s fellow-workers on sea and land. The historical truth of this story has been much questioned; there seems to be little doubt that it is true in its main outlines, though we need not accept the details about Edgar’s having been rowed on the Dee by eight kings.

Two isolated and unexplained incidents are also recorded in the chronicle: first, the ravaging of Westmorland by the Scandinavian Thored, son of Gunnere, in 967; and second, the ravaging of Thanet by Edgar’s own command in 970.

Edgar’s death took place in the year 975, and he was buried at Glastonbury. By his vigorous rule and his statesmanlike policy Edgar won the approval of his people, and in the Saxon chronicle we have poems commemorating his coronation and death, and describing his general character. The only fault ascribed to him is a too great love for foreigners and for foreign customs. Edgar strengthened the hands of the provincial administration, and to him has been attributed the reorganization of the English fleet. The characteristic feature of his rule was his love of peace, and by efficient administration he secured it.

Edgar formed an irregular union in 961 with Wulfthryth, an inmate of the convent at Wilton, who bore him a daughter Eadgyth. He next married Æthelflæd, “the white duck,” daughter of Earl Ordmær, who bore him a son, afterwards known as Edward the Martyr. Finally he was united to Ælfthryth, daughter of Earl Ordgar, who became the mother of the Ætheling Edmund (d. 971) and of Æthelred the Unready.

Authorities.Saxon Chronicle (ed. Plummer and Earle, Oxford), sub. ann.; Vita Sancti Oswaldi (Historians of the Church of York, ed. Raine, Rolls Series); William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum (ed. Stubbs, Rolls Series); Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum, vol. iii. Nos. 1047-1319; F. Liebermann, A.-S. Laws, i. 192-216; “Florence of Worcester” (Mon. Hist. Brit.); E. W. Robertson, Historical Essays, pp. 189-215.

(A. Mw.)