Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Edgar Atheling

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EDGAR Atheling, or EADGAR the Atheling (fl. 1066), king-elect, son of Eadward the Exile and Agatha, a kinswoman of Gisla, queen of Hungary and of the Emperor Henry II, was probably born in Hungary before 1057. In that year his father, the surviving son of Edmund Ironside [q. v.], came over to England in accordance with an invitation sent by Edward or Eadward the Confessor, who designed to make him his heir, but he died shortly after his arrival without having seen the king. The story that the Confessor recommended the ætheling to the nobles as his successor, and that there was a party who upheld his right at the Confessor's death, is plainly erroneous (Gesta Regum, iii. 238). It has been asserted that on this occasion Eadgar had ‘no constitutional claim upon the votes of the witan beyond any other male person in the realm’ (Norman Conquest, iii. 7), though the assertion appears open to question, for constitutional usage certainly restricted the choice of the witan to the members of the kingly house. When the news of the defeat and death of Harold reached London in October 1066, the two archbishops, the northern earls, Eadwine and Morkere, and other great men, together with the citizens and seamen of the city, chose Eadgar, who was then a youth, as king, and pledged themselves to go out to battle with him (Flor. Wig. i. 228; William of Poitiers p. 141). Some opposition to his election is said to have been offered by the bishops (Gesta Regum, iii. 247), among whom must no doubt be reckoned William, the Norman bishop of London. His election was a disappointment to the brothers Eadwine and Morkere, who had tried to persuade the Londoners to choose one or other of themselves, though when they found that this was hopeless they agreed in the general choice. Nevertheless they withdrew their forces from the city and marched back to Northumberland. Their desertion left Eadgar helpless. The Conqueror reduced and wasted the country to the south and west of the city, and in December Eadgar, who does not appear to have been crowned, with Ealdred [q. v.], archbishop of York, and other bishops and all the chief men of London, met him at Berkhampstead and made submission to him (A.-S. Chron. Worcester. William of Poitiers, p. 141, places this scene ‘ad oppidum Warengefort,’ and Mr. Parker, in the Early History of Oxford, p. 191, endeavours to explain the discrepancy). William received the ætheling graciously, gave him the kiss of peace, and it is said gave him a large grant of land, and treated him as an intimate friend, both on account of his relationship to the Confessor and to make some amends to him for the dignity he had lost (Orderic, p. 503; Will. of Poitiers, p. 148). The next year he took him with him to Normandy along with other noble Englishmen, whom he thought it was scarcely safe to leave behind him in England (ib. p. 150), and Eadgar must have returned with him in December.

In the summer of 1068 Eadgar left the court and went northwards, apparently intending to take part in the rising of Eadwine and Morkere. (The chronological order of the events of this year is confused; it is fully discussed in Norman Conquest, iv. 768 sqq.) The earls submitted to the king at Warwick, and William marched on towards York. Then the ætheling, his mother, and his two sisters, Christina and Margaret, with Earl Gospatric, Mærleswegen, and the most noble men of Northumberland, not daring to meet his wrath, and fearing lest they should be imprisoned as others were, took ship and escaped to Scotland, where they were hospitably received by Malcolm Canmore, and spent the winter there (A.-S. Chron. 1067, Worcester; Flor. Wig. ii. 2; Orderic, p. 511). Early in 1069 the North broke out into revolt, and Eadgar, accompanied by the nobles who shared his exile, left Scotland, and was received at York, and there all the Northumbrians gathered round him. The rebels besieged the Norman castle, and the king was forced to march to its relief; he crushed the revolt, and the ætheling again took shelter in Scotland. When he heard that the Danish fleet had entered the Humber in the September of the same year, he and the other English exiles joined it with a fleet that they had gathered. He narrowly escaped falling into the hands of the enemy, for while the Danish ships were in the Humber he sailed with a single ship, manned by his own followers, on an independent plundering expedition. The king's garrison from Lincoln fell upon his company, took them all save him and two others, and broke up his ship (Orderic, p. 514). He and his party seem to have remained with the Danish fleet during the winter as long as it stayed in the Humber (Norman Conquest, iv. 505), and when it sailed away he, his mother, his sisters, and the Northumbrian lords set sail for Scotland, and put in at Wearmouth, where they found Malcolm, who was ravaging the district, and who again gave them a hearty welcome, promising them a safe shelter as long as they chose to remain with him (Symeon). They returned with him to Scotland, and Malcolm sought to make Margaret his wife. Eadgar and all his men long refused their consent, though at last they yielded, ‘because they were come into his power’ (A.-S. Chron. Worcester, 1067). In 1074 Eadgar was in Flanders. He had, perhaps, been obliged to leave Scotland after Malcolm had done homage to William at Abernethy, two years before (Norman Conquest, iv. 518), and no doubt chose Flanders as his place of refuge on account of the hostility between Count Robert and William. In the summer of that year he came over to Scotland to visit Malcolm and his sister, the queen. While he was with them Philip of France wrote to him, bidding him come to him and offering to give him the castle of Montreuil, which from its situation would have enabled him to give constant annoyance to their common enemy, William, and to act in conjunction with the Count of Flanders. When he set sail the king and queen gave him and his men many rich gifts, vessels of gold and silver, and cloaks of ermine and other skins. They were shipwrecked apparently on the coast of England, their ships and almost all their treasures were lost, and some of them fell into the hands of the ‘Frenchmen’ [Normans]. Eadgar and the rest returned to Scotland, ‘some ruefully going on foot, and some wretchedly riding’ (A.-S. Chron. Worcester, 1074). Malcolm advised him to send over to William, who was then in Normandy, and make his peace. This he accordingly did, and the king and queen, having again given him many treasures, sent him from their kingdom with honour. He was met at Durham by the sheriff of York, who escorted him to Normandy. William received him graciously and gave him some means of sustenance. It was probably about this time that he received two small estates which he held in Hertfordshire at the time of the Domesday Survey (Norman Conquest, iv. 571, 745; Domesday, 142 a). He also had an allowance of a pound of silver a day. It is said that at William's court he was held to be indolent and childish, and that he was foolish enough to give up his pension to the king in exchange for a single horse (Gesta Regum, iii. 251). At last, in 1086, finding that he was slighted by the king, he obtained leave to raise a force of two hundred knights, and with them he went to serve with the Normans in Apulia (Flor. Wig.)

On Eadgar's return from Apulia he resided in Normandy, where Duke Robert gave him lands and treated him as a friend. In 1091 William Rufus, who was then reigning in England, compelled the duke to take away his land and to send him out of the duchy (ib.) He again took shelter in Scotland, and accompanied Malcolm when he invaded Northumberland the same year. William and Malcolm met on the shores of the Firth of Forth, and Eadgar on the side of the Scottish king, and Duke Robert on the side of his brother, arranged a peace between them (A.-S. Chron.) Eadgar was reconciled to William, and returned to Normandy with the duke on 23 Dec. He was in England in the spring of 1093, and was sent by the king to invite Malcolm to a conference at Gloucester. When Malcolm was slain on 13 Nov., his kingdom was seized by Donald Bane, and his children were forced to flee to England, where, it is said, they were sheltered by their uncle, the ætheling (Fordun, v. 21). To this period of his life probably belongs the story which tells how he was accused by a certain English knight named Ordgar of plotting against the king. William believed the accusation, and its truth was to be decided in Norman fashion by combat. Eadgar had some difficulty in finding a champion. At last an English knight, Godwine of Winchester, was moved by the thought of his descent from the ancient line of kings, and offered to do battle as his representative. The two knights fought on foot, and, after a long and desperate conflict, Godwine brought the accuser to the ground. Ordgar tried to stab him with a knife, which, contrary to his oath and to the laws of the duel, he had hidden in his boot. It was snatched from him, and then, seeing that all hope was gone, he confessed that he had charged the ætheling falsely, and died of the many wounds he had received (ib.) The story is probably true, at least in its main outline (William Rufus, ii. 114 sq., 615 sq., where this Godwine is identified with the father of Robert, who accompanied Eadgar on his crusade: see Gesta Regum, iii. 251, and below). In 1097 Eadgar obtained the king's leave to make an expedition into Scotland for the purpose of setting his nephew and namesake on the throne. He set out at Michaelmas, defeated Donald in a hard-fought battle, in which Robert, the son of the ætheling's champion Godwine, is said to have performed extraordinary feats, and secured the kingdom for Eadgar (Fordun; A.-S. Chron.) He then returned to England, and in 1099 went to the Crusade. With him served Robert, the son of ‘a most valiant knight’ named Godwine, evidently none other than Godwine the champion. In the course of the war Robert was shot to death by the Turks for refusing to deny Christ. His death seems to have brought Eadgar's crusading to a close. On his homeward way he is said to have received many gifts from the Greek and German emperors, who would willingly have kept him with them, but he loved his own land too well to live away from it (Gesta Regum, iii. 251). He returned to England in the reign of Henry I, and during the last war between Henry and his brother Robert left the king and went over to help the duke. He was taken prisoner at the battle of Tinchebrai on 28 Sept. 1106. The king freely released him, and he spent the remainder of his days in obscurity in the country, perhaps on his Hertfordshire property. It is not known when he died, but he was evidently alive when William of Malmesbury wrote the third book of his ‘Gesta Regum,’ probably not long before 1120. An ‘Edgar Adeling,’ mentioned in the Pipe Roll (Northumberland) in 1158 and 1167, must of course have been a different person, as the ætheling who was the son of Eadward the Exile would have been at least 110 if he had lived until 1167 (Norman Conquest, iii. 794). Eadgar is not known to have had wife or child.

[Anglo-Saxon Chron. (Rolls Ser.); Florence of Worcester (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Will. of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Symeon of Durham (Rolls Ser.); William of Poitiers, Giles; Orderic, Duchesne; Fordun's Scotichronicon, Hearne; Freeman's Norman Conquest, iii, iv, v. passim, and Reign of William Rufus contain all that is to be known about Eadgar.]

W. H.