1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Edward the Elder

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EDWARD,The Elder” (d. 924), king of the Angles and Saxons, was the second son of Alfred the Great, and with his sister Æthelflæd was carefully educated at the court of his father. During his father’s lifetime he took an active part in the campaigns against the Danes, especially in that of 894, and as early as 898 he signs a charter as “rex,” showing that he was definitely associated with his father in the kingship. He succeeded his father in October 899,[1] but not without opposition. The Ætheling Æthelwold, son of Alfred’s elder brother Æthelred, seized Wimborne and Christchurch. Edward advanced against him, and Æthelwold took refuge among the Danes in Northumbria. In 904 Æthelwold landed in Essex, and in the next year he enticed the East Anglian Danes to revolt. They ravaged all southern Mercia and, in spite of Edward’s activity, returned home victorious, though Æthelwold fell in the battle of the Holme. In 905 or 906 Edward made a peace with the East Anglian and Northumbrian Danes at “Yttingaford,” near Linslade in Buckinghamshire, perhaps the peace known as “the Laws of Edward and Guthrum.” In 909 and 910 fresh campaigns took place owing to southerly raids by the Danes, and victories were won at Tettenhall and Wednesfield in Staffordshire.[2] From 907 onwards Edward and his sister Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians, were busy strengthening their hold on Mercia and Wessex. Forts were built at Lincoln (907), “Bremesbyrig” (910), “Scergeat” and Bridgenorth (912), and when in the year 911 Æthelflæd’s husband Æthelred died, Edward took over from Mercia the government of London and Oxford, with the lands belonging to them, i.e. probably Oxfordshire and Middlesex. The policy of constructing “burhs” or fortified towns was continued. Hertford was fortified in 911, Witham in 912, while Æthelflæd fortified Cherbury in Shropshire, “Weardbyrig” and Runcorn (all in 915). In 913 the Danes in Eastern Mercia gave considerable trouble, and in 914 a fresh horde of pirates, coming from Brittany, sailed up the Severn. They raided southern Wales, but were hemmed in by the English forces and besieged until they promised to leave the king’s territory. Edward watched the southern shores of the Bristol Channel so carefully that the Danes failed to secure a hold there, and were ultimately forced to sail to Ireland. In the same year Edward fortified Buckingham and received the submission of the jarls and chief men of Bedford. In 915 he fortified Bedford itself, Maldon in 916, and Towcester and “Wigingamere” in 917. In the last-mentioned year Edward captured and destroyed the Danish stronghold of Tempsford, and later in the year he took Colchester. An attack by the Danes on Maldon failed, and in 915 Edward went to Passenham and received the submission of the men of the “borough” of Northampton. The Danish strongholds of Huntingdon and Colchester were now restored and repaired, and Edward received the submission of the whole of the East Anglian Danes. Before midsummer of this year Edward had fortified Stamford, and on the death of his sister he received the submission of the Mercians at Tamworth. There also three kings of the North Welsh took Edward as their lord. Nottingham was now fortified; Thelwall in Cheshire (919) and Manchester soon followed; Nottingham was strengthened by a second fort; Bakewell was fortified and garrisoned, and then came the greatest triumph of Edward’s reign. He was “chosen as father and lord” by the Scottish king and nation, by Rægenald, the Norwegian king of Northumbria, by Ealdred of Bamborough, and by the English, Danes or Norwegians in Northumbria, and by the Strathclyde Welsh.

With the conclusion of his wars Edward’s activity ceased, and we hear no more of him until in 924 he died at Farndon in Cheshire and was buried in the “New Minster” at Winchester. He was thrice married: (1) to Ecgwyn, a lady of rank, by whom he had a son Æthelstan, who succeeded him, and a daughter Eadgyth, who married Sihtric of Northumbria in 924. This marriage was probably an irregular one. (2) To Ælflæd, by whom he had two sons—Ælfweard, who died a fortnight after his father, and Eadwine, who was drowned in 933—and six daughters, Æthelflæd and Æthelhild nuns, and four others (see Æthelstan). (3) To Eadgifu, the mother of Kings Edmund and Edred, and of two daughters.

Authorities.Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ed. Plummer and Earle, Oxford); Florence of Worcester (Mon. Hist. Brit.); William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum (Rolls Series); Simeon of Durham (Rolls Series); Ethelweard (Mon. Hist. Brit.); Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum, Nos. 588-635; D.N.B., s.v.

(A. Mw.)


  1. See Stevenson’s article in Eng. Hist. Rev. vol. xiii. pp. 71-77. The whole chronology of this reign is very difficult and certainly is often impossible of attainment.
  2. It is possible that these battles are one and the same; the places are within 2 to 3 m. of each other.