Lesson #5 in Kings and Queens of England and Scotland. The stories are becoming longer as we travel through the years so it will probably only be one king to a page from now on.
EDGAR 959-975) (Eadgar)
Born: ? 943
Succeeded as King of the English in 959 at the age of about 16 having already been proclaimed King of Mercia in 957.
Younger brother of predecessor Edwy and younger son of King Edmund I.
Married: 1. Ethelflaed; 2. Wulfryth; 3. Elfthryth.
Children: of Ethelflaed: EDWARD; of Wulfryth: Eadgyth of Elfthryth: (Elfrida), Eadmund, ETHELRED.
Died: 8 July 975 aged about 32, having reigned for 16 years. Buried at Glastonbury.
Young Edgar had been in rebellion against his brother and had taken over Mercia at the age of 14, two years before he officially occupied the English throne. This was an age when some young men could work off their frustration in satisfyingly positive ways. Edgar was also said to have abducted his second wife from a nunnery and only to have married her after she had served a term as his mistress. Making some recompense for this affront to the Church, he gave his royal backing to a notable monastic revival in England- he himself founded forty religious houses - which was important for its cultural overtones. Scholarship and architecture owed much to the new institutions for their blossoming at this period.
Edgar was fortunate in having the energetic advice of no less than three English saints who were living at the time. They were Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, Oswald, Archbishop of York, and Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester who were all later canonised - a fact which in itself pays a remarkable tribute to the prestige of Edgar's reign. Edgar was the last of the strong line of Saxon kings fathered by Alfred, who broadened Alfred's laws and propagated Alfred's culture.
Territorially he extended the sphere of influence of the English throne, hastened the integration of the Danes with the English and stage-managed the publicised recognition of English majesty. The last was notably achieved at a deliberately delayed coronation service at Bath at Whitsuntide in 973, 14 years after Edgar's accession, where the king was solemnly anointed and crowned to receive the blessing of the future Saints. In the same year he received the homage of seven Welsh and Scottish kings, in the picturesque public-relations function (or invented non-event) when they were said to have rowed him on the river Dee at Exeter.
St Ethwold and St Dunstan were by this time proclaiming Edgar as "King of the English and of the other people living within Britain". The combination of the activities of an able young king with three strong-minded prelates who wanted to exalt the office of king for what they saw as the advantage of the Church was very powerful. It contributed towards the emasculation of a vigorous and meddling aristocracy and did much (through ecclesiastical propaganda) to advance the philosophy of the divine right of approved kings, who were the channel of all God's blessings except the Holy Mass. It was an English doctrine which was to bear long-term rather than immediate fruit - but it was in writing which could be quoted later.
It never fails to amaze me how young some of these men were when they became king and although many died at quite a young age, they managed to do so much to further the cause of England.