Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Edgar the Atheling, Part 1: Before the Norman Conquest

When people think of the succession crisis in England in 1066, many only recall three of the claimants to the English throne: Harold Godwinson, Harald Hardrada and William of Normandy. Yet, one often forgotten was the closest blood relative to Edward the Confessor, his name being Edgar the Atheling (Atheling meaning belonging to a noble family). Edgar was even proclaimed, though never crowned King of England. Although this article will mainly be focused on Edgar, it would be ignorant  not to acknowledge another often forgotten, claimant to the English throne, Sweyn Estidsson of Denmark, who also had a relatively strong claim.

Edgar the Atheling was born in 1051 in Hungary, his father was Edward the Exile and his mother was Agatha, who was described as a relative to the Holy Roman Emperor. Edward the Exile, was the son of King Edmund II Ironside. Edmund had succeeded Ethelred the Unready as King of England when he died on the 23rd April 1016. However, Edmund was eventually defeated by King Cnut of Denmark and he died on the 30th November 1016 (the circumstances being unknown). John of Worcester suggests that Cnut sent Edmund's sons, Edward and Edmund, to Sweden, where his brother reigned, with the hope of them being murdered. However, the two children were spared and eventually ended up in Hungary. Edward eventually gave birth to Edgar, who he would return to England with in 1057 after being summoned to England in 1057 by Edward the Confessor. It is possible that Edward may have going to be name Edmund his heir, after all he had only recently gained knowledge of his nephew still being alive. However, soon after Edmund arrived in England with his son, he died under unknown circumstances. This left Edgar, Edmund's son as the closest living heir to Edward the Confessor, as Edmund (the son of Edmund Ironside) had died by 1054.Little is known of what happened to Edgar from this point until 1066.

                                              Edgar in an illuminated family tree of Edmund Ironside

When the  Edward the Confessor died in January 1066, Edgar did not succeed him, despite being his closest blood relative (Edward did not have any sons). Instead, the Witenagemot ( an assembly of the ruling class) had elected Harold Godwinson as king. Harold Godwinson was the most powerful noble in England and had considerable military experience, while Edgar was only in his early teens when Edward died and therefore too young to be an effective military ruler. Previous, monarchs had became king at a similar age, such as Eadwig, Edward the Peaceful and Edward the Martyr and Ethelred the Unready had succeeded even at an age significantly younger to Edgar. But, the situation in 1066 was not normal, England faced possible invasions from Norway, Denmark and Normandy and therefore England needed a strong military leader. It then was no surprise that the Witan elected Harold Godwinson as King instead of the young Edgar (who one may assume was most likely considered at the least). However, with the death of Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings in October 1066, Edgar the Atheling was once again a prime candidate for becoming King of England.


"The Ayling Story | Edgar Atheling." The Ayling Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2014

.Binns, Stewart. "Stewart Binns on Edgar the Atheling." Historical Novel Society RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2014.

"Edgar the Aetheling Claim." Edgar the Aetheling Claim. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2014.

Image Credit goes to Wikipedia

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