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Edgar the Etheling

Edgar the Etheling (1051 – 1126) was born in Hungary. His father, Edward the Exile, spent most of his life there after the Danish king Cnut conquered England and defeated Edward’s father King Edmund II Ironside. Edgar was the last member of the house of Cerdic of Wessex. After Edward the Confessor’s death in 1066, Edgar had a legitimate claim to the throne over Harold Godwineson and William the Conqueror, but he was never crowned King of England.

After Harold’s death, we find in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that there were prominent people in England who wanted Edgar to succeed Harold as king:

There was slain King Harold, and Leofwin his brother, and Earl Girth his brother, with many good men: and the Frenchmen gained the field of battle, as God granted them for the sins of the nation. Archbishop Aldred and the corporation of London were then desirous of having child Edgar to king, as he was quite natural to them; and Edwin and Morkar promised them that they would fight with them.

And later in that same section…

The monks then chose for abbot Provost Brand, because he was a very good man, and very wise; and sent him to Edgar Etheling, for that the land-folk supposed that he should be king: and the etheling received him gladly. When King William heard say that, he was very wroth, and said that the abbot had renounced him: but good men went between them, and reconciled them; because the abbot was a good man.

In 1067, Edgar along with his mother, Agatha, and two sisters, Margaret and Christina, and others fled to Scotland seeking protection at the court of King Malcolm III. Malcolm welcomed them, and in turn, he later married Margaret.

In 1068, it is noted in the Chronicle that King William gave Northumbria to Robert Comine. The people of Northumbria rebelled against Robert and killed him in the town of Durham, along with 900 other men. Edgar Etheling then came with all the Northumbrians to York, but William the Conqueror, learning of this, set out with a large army and routed Edgar’s army. Edgar then returned to Scotland.

The following year in 1069, King Sweyne of Denmark invaded England. According to the Chronicle:

Soon after this came from Denmark three of the sons of King Sweyne with two hundred and forty ships, together with Earl Esborn and Earl Thurkill, into the Humber; where they were met by the child Edgar, and Earl Waltheof, and Merle-Sweyne, and Earl Gospatric with the Northumbrians, and all the landsmen; riding and marching full merrily with an immense army: and so all unanimously advanced to York; where they stormed and demolished the castle, and won innumerable treasures therein; slew there many hundreds of Frenchmen, and led many with them to the ships; but, ere that the shipmen came thither, the Frenchmen had burned the city, and also the holy minster of St. Peter had they entirely plundered, and destroyed with fire. When the king heard this, then went he northward with all the force that he could collect, despoiling and laying waste the shire withal; whilst the fleet lay all the winter in the Humber, where the king could not come at them.

In 1074, Edgar had been in Flanders but returned to Scotland when William sailed across the channel to Normandy. King Malcolm and Margaret received Edgar fondly and gave him many gifts. Around that same time, King Philip of France sent a letter to Edgar promising to give him the castle of Montreuil, and so Edgar headed back to France, but on his way down the coast of England, a storm shipwrecked his crew, and Edgar had to return to Scotland. He lost most of the treasure Malcolm had given him, and some of his men were captured by the Normans.

After this incident, Edgar sent a request to William for a treaty, and William accepted. Edgar then traveled to William’s court in Normandy, where the King of England received him.

Due to the sake of time, I will skip forward to Edgar’s later life.

In 1106, King Henry I of England, the youngest son of William the Conqueror, defeated his older brother, Robert Curthose, and Edgar at the Battle of Tinchebray. Robert was imprisoned for the remainder of his life, while Edgar was released and pardoned. Edgar’s niece, Edith (or Matilda), the daughter of Malcolm and Margaret, married Henry in 1100, which might have had something to do with Henry’s pardoning of Edgar. It is generally believed Edgar died sometime in 1125, though the location of his grave is unknown. The last mention I could find of him in the Chronicles related to his defeat at the Battle of Tinchebray:

Edgar Etheling, who a little before had gone over from the king to the earl, was also there taken, whom the king afterwards let go unpunished. Then went the king over all that was in Normandy, and settled it according to his will and discretion. This year also were heavy and sinful conflicts between the Emperor of Saxony and his son, and in the midst of these conflicts the father fell, and the son succeeded to the empire.

*Main source: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

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