Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Edwy

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EDWY or EADWIG (d. 959), king of the English, the eldest son of Eadmund and St. Ælfgifu, could scarcely have been more than fifteen when he succeeded to the throne on the death of his uncle Eadred [q. v.] in 955. He was remarkably beautiful, and was called the 'Handsome' (Pancali) by his people (Æthelweard, 520). His accession was followed by the downfall of the party that had been in power during the last reign, and Eadgifu, his grandmother, was despoiled of all her possessions. At his coronation, which took place at Kingston in January 956, he left the banquet for the society of two ladies, Æthelgifu, who was, it has been suggested, his foster mother (Robertson), and her daughter Ælfgifu [q. v.], whom Æthelgifu wished him to marry. This marriage would have been uncanonical, and Dunstan and Bishop Cynesige forced him to return to the hall [see under Dunstan and Ælfgifu]. At the instigation of Æthelgifu he drove Dunstan into exile, and either in 956 or 957 married Ælfgifu (Chron. de Abingdon, i. 218; Kemble, Codes Dipl. 1201). the government was carried on foolishly, and the people of the northern part of the kingdom considered that they were treated unjustly. The power had passed into the hands of the nobles of Wessex, and it is therefore likely that the Mercians and Northumbrians had cause to complain. In 957 they made an insurrection. Archbishop Oda, who disapproved of the marriage with Ælfgifu, and Eadgar, the king's younger brother, withdrew from the court, and Eadgar was chosen king by the northern people. Eadwig appears to have advanced to meet the insurgents, and to have retreated before them at Gloucester, where, according to a late story, Æthelgifu or Ælfgifu was taken and put to death (Osbern, Eadmer, Vita Odonis). A meeting of the 'witan' was held, in which the kingdom was divided between the brothers, and Eadwig was left only with the portion to the south of the Thames. In 958 Oda separated Eadwig and Ælfgifu, 'because they were too near akin' (A,-S, Chron.), and the archbishop returned to Eadwig's court (Kemble, Codex Dipl. 472). The West-Saxon nobles, and especially the members of the royal house, remained faithful to him. In the first year of his reign, possibly at his coronation (Stubbs), Eadwig had made grants to the monasteries of Wilton, Abingdon, and Worcester (Kemble, Codex Dipl. 436, 441, 451), and we may safely reject the story of Osbern that he engaged in a general persecution of the monks. Indeed, the revolt against him had nothing to do with the dispute between the seculars and regulars, which did not begin until the next reign. Nevertheless it seems probable that the party in power disliked and put a stop to the earlier reform of the monastic houses, which had been carried out by Dunstan with signal success at Glastonbury', and the king's personal quarrel with Dunstan must naturally have inclined him to look with disfavour on his work. Glastonbury was certainly seized, and the condition of Winchester when Æthelwold became bishop there seems to show that any reforms that had been carried out by Ælfheah were undone by his successor (Stubbs). There is also some reason to believe that Ælfsine and Brithelm, who were in turn appointed to the see of Canterbury by Eadwig, belonged to the West-Saxon and anti-Dunstanite party as regards both ecclesiastical and civil matters. Eadwig died on 1 Oct. 959, and was buried at Winchester. He left no children. He was probably beloved by the lower class in the south, for Henry of Huntingdon, whose chronicle often preserves popular traditions and sympathies, speaks well of him and laments his early death. Dunstan is said to have had a vision in which he saw the king's soul carried off by devils, and to have delivered him by his prayers.

[Anglo-Saxon Chron.; Florence of Worcester; Æthelweard, Mon. Hist. Brit.; Henry of Huntingdon (Rolls Ser.); Memorials of Dunstan (Rolls Ser.). see Introd. lxxxviii–xcvii; Vita Odonis, Anglia Sacra, ii.; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum, c. 147, Gesta Pontificum, p. 147 (Rolls Ser.); Kemble's Codex Dipl. vol ii.; Robertson's Historical Essays, 168, 180, 192; Hook's Archbishops of Canterbury, i. 375 sq; Allen's Royal Perogative, 220; Hallam's Middle Ages, ii. 264.].]

W. H.