E is for Edgar the Etheling

This is my contribution to ABC Wednesday and for Round Ten I am focusing on people from the past, some famous, others less so.

Edgar the ÆthelingIf asked who became King of England after the Battle of Hastings, most people, myself included, would say William the Conqueror, but in fact, it was Edgar the Etheling (or Ætheling to be correct, which means Prince).

There was no automatic succession to the English throne in 1066 and the king was elected by the Witangemot, or ‘wise-meeting’, a council of religious and political leaders.

After Harold Godwinson was killed at Hastings, the Witangemot gave the crown to Edgar, the great-nephew of the previous king, Edward the Confessor.

But Edgar was only fifteen years old and with William knocking on the gates of London, the Witan decided that discretion was the better part of valour, rescinded their decision and surrendered the boy to William.

That should have been the last we heard of Edgar, but he was made of sterner stuff.

He had been born in Hungary, the son of Edward the Exile who had lived there for most of his life after his own father, Edmund Ironside, had been defeated and killed in the conquest of England by King Cnut of Denmark in 1016.

Varangian GuardEdgar was able to escape captivity in Normandy and became known as Edgar the Outlaw. He made several attempts to recover the English throne, invaded Scotland, attempted to conquer parts of Italy and Sicily and generally made a nuisance of himself throughout Europe.

He took part in the First Crusade of 1098 and may have joined the Byzantine elite band of axe-wielding, sea-going mercenaries known as the Varangian Guard.

Based in Constantinople and feared across the Mediterranean, the Varangian Guard was mostly made up of exiled Englishmen.

But Edgar’s story was to have a peaceful ending. When William the Conqueror’s fourth son, Henry I, married Edgar’s niece he pardoned the former boy king and Edgar died in Scotland in 1126 at the venerable age of seventy-five.

Unmarried and childless, Edgar was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

11 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 15th February 2012

    EXCELLENT history that I did not know!
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Leslie 15th February 2012

    Loving the history! I’ve read quite a bit about English history and found it fascinating that the succession was not always familial.

    abcw team

  • Meryl 15th February 2012

    Egads! Reminds me of the Horrible Histories I read to my kids. Really cool stuff though!

  • chrisj 15th February 2012

    Great piece of history. You must have done some good research. I don’t think this is found in regular history books. I find I’m liking English History more and more the older I get. Probably because I will be part of it one day!

  • Jennifer 15th February 2012

    I didn’t know any of that, always good to learn something new.
    Witangemot – I guess that’s where J.K. Rowling got the name of the wizards’ court Wizengamot.

  • Helen Mac 15th February 2012

    I am having fun guessing who you might come up with next. Never would I have guessed Edgar the Etheling!
    ABC Wednesday Team

  • john 15th February 2012

    we had a king called Ethel!

  • Historical Pudding 16th February 2012

    Good job we don’t have to add descriptions after modern day royalty or we might have Philip the Buffoon and Charles the Impatient, Elizabeth the Everlasting and William the Bald. In the blogosphere there’d be Gray the Almighty, Rhodes the Uncertain and Pudding the Magnificent.

  • rhymeswithplague 16th February 2012

    Shooting (may I call you Shooting?), this is a wonderful post. I love English history too even though I, unlike chrisj above, will never be part of it someday. More’s the pity.

    As for Pudding the Magnificent, he will be called Pudding the Presumptuous by historians of the future who do their homework carefully. Philip will be Philip the Tall, and Charles will be Charles the Big-Eared. Elizabeth the Everlasting is just about perfect.

  • Aldreda 16th February 2012

    I really love reading a kind of history of one thing, Just like an ethics that involved the story of mankind.

  • Reader Wil 16th February 2012

    I had no idea that Edgar was King before William the Conqueror! Thanks for this informative post!


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