See also

Family of Edward I * and Ecgwyn

Husband: Edward I * (871-924)
Wife: Ecgwyn (c. 875- )
Children: Athelstan (893- )
Marriage 0893

Husband: Edward I *


Edward I *

Name: Edward I *
Sex: Male
Nickname: Edward the Elder
Father: Alfred * of WESSEX (849-900)
Mother: Ealhswith * of MERCIA (838-905)
Birth 0871 Wessex, England
Occupation King of England
Title King of England
Death 17 Jul 0924 (age 52-53) Farrington, Berkshire, England

Wife: Ecgwyn

Name: Ecgwyn
Sex: Female
Father: -
Mother: -
Birth c. 0875

Child 1: Athelstan

Name: Athelstan
Sex: Male
Birth 0893

Note on Husband: Edward I *

Edward the Elder (Old English: E-adweard se Ieldra; c. 874–877[1] – 17 July 924) was an English king. He became king in 899 upon the death of his father, Alfred the Great. His court was at Winchester, previously the capital of Wessex. He captured the eastern Midlands and East Anglia from the Danes in 917 and became ruler of Mercia in 918 upon the death of Æthelflæd, his sister.


All but two of his charters give his title as "king of the Anglo-Saxons" (Anglorum Saxonum rex).[2] He was the second king of the Anglo-Saxons as this title was created by Alfred.[2] Edward's coinage reads "EADVVEARD REX."[3] The chroniclers record that all England "accepted Edward as lord" in 920.[4] But the fact that York continued to produce its own coinage suggests that Edward's authority was not accepted in Viking-ruled Northumbria.[5] Edward's eponym "the Elder" was first used in Wulfstan's Life of St Æthelwold (tenth century) to distinguish him from the later King Edward the Martyr.


Edward was the second surviving child and elder son born to Alfred the Great and his Mercian queen, Ealhswith. Edward's birth cannot be dated with certainty. His parents married in 868 and his eldest sibling Æthelflæd was born soon afterwards as she was herself married in 883. Edward was probably born rather later, in the 870s, and probably between 874 and 877.[6]


Asser's Life of King Alfred reports that Edward was educated at court together with his youngest sister Ælfthryth. His second sister, Æthelgifu, was intended for a life in religion from an early age, perhaps due to ill health, and was later abbess of Shaftesbury. The youngest sibling, Æthelweard, was educated at a court school where he learned Latin, which suggests that he too was intended for a religious life. Edward and Ælfthryth, however, while they learned the English of the day, received a courtly education, and Asser refers to their taking part in the "pursuits of this present life which are appropriate to the nobility".[7]


The first appearance of Edward in the sources is in 892, in a charter granting land at North Newnton, near Pewsey in Wiltshire, to ealdorman Æthelhelm, where he is called filius regis, the king's son.[8] Although he was the reigning king's elder son, Edward was not certain to succeed his father. Until the 890s, the obvious heirs to the throne were Edward's cousins Æthelwold and Æthelhelm, sons of Æthelred, Alfred's older brother and predecessor as king. Æthelwold and Æthelhelm were around ten years older than Edward. Æthelhelm disappears from view in the 890s, seemingly dead, but a charter probably from that decade shows Æthelwold witnessing before Edward, and the order of witnesses is generally believed to relate to their status.[9] As well as his greater age and experience, Æthelwold may have had another advantage over Edward where the succession was concerned. While Alfred's wife Ealhswith is never described as queen and was never crowned, Æthelwold and Æthelhelm's mother Wulfthryth was called queen.[10]


When Alfred died, Edward's cousin Æthelwold, the son of King Æthelred of Wessex, rose up to claim the throne and began Æthelwold's Revolt. He seized Wimborne, in Dorset, where his father was buried, and Christchurch (then in Hampshire, now in Dorset). Edward marched to Badbury and offered battle, but Æthelwold refused to leave Wimborne. Just when it looked as if Edward was going to attack Wimborne, Æthelwold left in the night, and joined the Danes in Northumbria, where he was announced as King. In the meantime, Edward is alleged to have been crowned at Kingston upon Thames on 8 June 900 [11]


In 901, Æthelwold came with a fleet to Essex, and encouraged the Danes in East Anglia to rise up. In the following year he attacked English Mercia and northern Wessex. Edward retaliated by ravaging East Anglia, but when he retreated south the men of Kent disobeyed the order to retire, and were intercepted by the Danish army. The two sides met at the Battle of the Holme on 13 December 902. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Danes "kept the place of slaughter", but they suffered heavy losses, including Æthelwold and a King Eohric, possibly of the East Anglian Danes.[12]


Relations with the North proved problematic for Edward for several more years. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions that he made peace with the East Anglian and Northumbrian Danes "of necessity". There is also a mention of the regaining of Chester in 907, which may be an indication that the city was taken in battle.[13]


In 909, Edward sent an army to harass Northumbria. In the following year, the Northumbrians retaliated by attacking Mercia, but they were met by the combined Mercian and West Saxon army at the Battle of Tettenhall, where the Northumbrian Danes were destroyed. From that point, they never raided south of the River Humber.


Edward then began the construction of a number of fortresses (burhs), at Hertford, Witham and Bridgnorth. He is also said to have built a fortress at Scergeat, but that location has not been identified. This series of fortresses kept the Danes at bay. Other forts were built at Tamworth, Stafford, Eddisbury and Warwick. These burhs were built to the same specifications (within centimetres) as those within the territory that his father had controlled; it has been suggested on this basis that Edward actually built them all.[14]



Edward extended the control of Wessex over the whole of Mercia, East Anglia and Essex, conquering lands occupied by the Danes and bringing the residual autonomy of Mercia to an end in 918, after the death of his sister, Æthelflæd. Æthelflæd's daughter, Ælfwynn, was named as her successor, but Edward deposed her, bringing Mercia under his direct control. He had already annexed the cities of London and Oxford and the surrounding lands of Oxfordshire and Middlesex in 911. By 918, all of the Danes south of the Humber had submitted to him. By the end of his reign, the Norse, the Scots and the Welsh had acknowledged him as "father and lord".[15] This recognition of Edward's overlordship in Scotland led to his successors' claims of suzerainty over that Kingdom.


Edward reorganized the Church in Wessex, creating new bishoprics at Ramsbury and Sonning, Wells and Crediton. Despite this, there is little indication that Edward was particularly religious. In fact, the Pope delivered a reprimand to him to pay more attention to his religious responsibilities.[16]


He died leading an army against a Welsh-Mercian rebellion, on 17 July 924 at Farndon-Upon-Dee and was buried in the New Minster in Winchester, Hampshire, which he himself had established in 901. After the Norman Conquest, the minster was replaced by Hyde Abbey to the north of the city and Edward's body was transferred there. His last resting place is currently marked by a cross-inscribed stone slab within the outline of the old abbey marked out in a public park.


Edward had four siblings, including Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, and Ælfthryth, Countess of Flanders.


King Edward had about fourteen children from three marriages (or according to some sources, an extramarital relationship and two marriages).


Edward first married Ecgwynn around 893. Conflicting information is given about her by different sources, none of which pre-date the Conquest.[17][18] Their children were


The future King Athelstan (c.893 – 939)

(perhaps, else by Ælfflæd) a daughter (named Eadgyth (St. Edith) by some chroniclers) who married Sihtric Cáech and later became a nun.


In 899, Edward married Ælfflæd, a daughter of Æthelhelm, the ealdorman of Wiltshire.[19] Their children were


Eadgifu (902 – after 955), who married Charles the Simple

Ælfweard of Wessex (904–924), whose death occurred 16 days after Edward's. Later sources sometimes portray him as Edward's successor, at least in part of the kingdom.[20]

Eadgyth (910–946), who married Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor

Eadhild, who married Hugh the Great, Duke of the Franks and Count of Paris

Ælfgifu who married "a prince near the Alps", sometimes identified with Conrad of Burgundy or Boleslaus II of Bohemia

Eadflæd, who became a nun

Eadhild, who also became a nun

Edwin of Wessex


Edward married for a third time, about 919, to Eadgifu,[19] the daughter of Sigehelm, the ealdorman of Kent. Their children were


The future king Edmund (922–946)

The future king Eadred (died 955)

Saint Edburga of Winchester (died 960)

Eadgifu, married "Louis, Prince of Aquitaine", whose identity is disputed, as is the very existence if this daughter.


Eadgifu outlived her husband and her sons, and was alive during the reign of her grandson, King Edgar. William of Malmsbury's history De antiquitate Glastonie ecclesiae claims that Edward's second wife, Ælfflæd, was also alive after Edward's death, but this is the only known source for that claim.

Note on Wife: Ecgwyn

Ecgwynn or Ecgwynna (fl. 890s), was the first consort of Edward the Elder, later king of the English (r. 899–924), by whom she bore the future King Æthelstan (r. 924–939), and a daughter who married Sihtric Cáech, Norse king of Dublin and Northumbria. Extremely little is known about her background and life. Not even her name is given in any sources until after the Norman Conquest. The first to record it is William of Malmesbury, who presents it in Latinised guise as Egwinna and who is in fact the principal source for her existence.[1]



1 Married life

2 An anonymous daughter

3 Family background

3.1 Succession

3.2 Noble consort or lowly concubine

4 Notes

5 References

5.1 Primary sources

5.2 Secondary sources

6 Further reading


Married life


Ecgwynn's marriage to Edward the Elder appears to have been consummated before his accession to the throne (899). If Æthelstan was aged thirty when he was elected king (924), as William of Malmesbury claims he was,[2] the year of his birth would have been 893 or 894.[3] By this time, Edward had reached majority and one of his priorities would have been to secure the continuation of Alfred's line.[4] No sources report what became of Ecgwynn afterwards, though two events are directly relevant. First, William writes that on King Alfred's instigation, Æthelstan was sent to be raised at the Mercian court of his aunt Æthelflæd.[5] Second, it is known that by 901, Edward had taken to wife Ælfflæd, a daughter of ealdorman Æthelhelm.[6] The reason for this decision is unclear. It may simply have been that Ecgwynn was no longer alive in 899 and that it was therefore only natural that Edward looked for a fresh bride.[3] It is also possible that Edward's first marriage was thought to lack the political import that was needed to buttress his position as king of the English.[7] Alfred may have been responsible for arranging the first marriage and so his death in 899 would have afforded Edward and his counsellors room to follow a different course.[8]

An anonymous daughter


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that King Æthelstan married his sister to Sihtric Cáech (d. 927), king of Northumbria, and that the nuptials were celebrated at the Mercian royal centre at Tamworth on 30 January 926.[9] William notes that she was Ecgwynn's daughter, but was unable to discover her name in any of the sources available to him.[1] It is only later sources which offer suggestions, whose value remains uncertain. Roger of Wendover (d. 1236) and Matthew Paris (d. 1259) thought that she was the St Edith (Eadgyth) who according to the Old English saints' list known as Secgan, was buried at the nunnery of Polesworth (Warwickshire), not far from Tamworth.[10] Another late source drawing upon earlier material, the early 13th-century Chronicle by John of Wallingford, names Sihtric's wife Orgiue, possibly for Eadgifu or Eadgyth,[11] and claims that their son was Olaf king of Northumbria, i.e. Amlaíb Cuarán.[12] These data have garnered a mixed response from modern historians. Some scholars favour Roger's identification or at least the possibility that her name was Eadgyth,[13] while Barbara Yorke argues that the name Eadgyth is unlikely to belong to two of Edward's daughters, the other being a daughter by Ælfflæd, and prefers to identify Edith of Polesworth with an earlier namesake.[14]

Family background


Ecgwynn's own family background and social status cannot be identified with any certainty. What little evidence there is appears in the main to be coloured by a controversy which surrounded Æthelstan's succession, contested as it probably was by supporters of Edward's sons by Ælfflæd.



William of Malmesbury claims that Alfred had intended the throne to go to Æthelstan, and to give ceremonial expression to his grandson's status as successor, personally invested him with a cloak, belt and sword.[2] Moreover, Alfred is said to have ensured his education at the Mercian court of his aunt Æthelflæd.[5] A Latin acrostic poem, possibly contemporary (c. 893/4 x 899), in which a young Æthelstan appears to be addressed as future ruler, would seem to lend credence to the idea that Æthelstan's eligibility for kingship was already acknowledged in the 890s.[15]


However, Edward may have entertained other plans when his second wife Ælfflaed had borne him sons. While his intentions are unknown, it appears to have been Ælfweard, Edward's eldest son by Ælfflæd, who on 17 July 924 succeeded his late father in Wessex, while the Mercians chose Æthelstan for their king. By some mishap, Ælfweard died within a month and Wessex was ceded to Æthelstan, who thereby obtained his father's entire kingdom. His accession in Wessex, however, met with considerable resistance. One indication of this is that his coronation at Kingston-upon-Thames was delayed until 4 December the following year (925).[16] William notes explicitly that “a certain Ælfred” at Winchester opposed the succession on grounds that Æthelstan was a concubine's son and hence an illegitimate son.[17] Such allegations seem to have served the interests of a royal contender, especially Edwin, Ælfflæd's eldest surviving son.[16] In a royal charter for a thegn (minister) called Ælfred, Edwin subscribes as cliton “ætheling”, witnessing after Æthelstan, which implies that he was recognised as his heir to the throne.[18] The circumstances of his death in 933 suggest that any peaceful understanding which may have existed between the half-brothers had come to an end. The Annals of St. Bertin compiled by Folcuin the Deacon note laconically that Edwin, “driven by some disturbance in his kingdom”, attempted to sail to the Continent, but was caught in a storm and drowned.[19]

Noble consort or lowly concubine


The written and oral sources consulted by William of Malmesbury for his accounts of Æthelstan's parentage seem to reflect the political stances which polarised during these succession struggle(s).[20] To begin with, there is the account favoured by William himself. Possibly paraphrasing from a non-contemporary Latin poem in praise of Æthelstan, he describes Ecgwynn as “a distinguished woman” (illustris femina) and John of Worcester follows suit, giving the similar description “a very noble woman” (mulier nobilissima).[21]


William was also aware of rumours (though he rejected them) that Æthelstan's mother was a concubine, as propagated by “a certain Ælfred” who headed a group opposed to the succession.[17] By the early 12th century, such rumours had given rise to fully-fledged popular traditions which reduced her to a low-born mistress, if still one of noble appearance. William cites an anecdote about Æthelstan's conception which he overheard from popular song (cantilena) and to which he gave only little credence himself. One day, when out of old affection, Edward the Elder visited his former nurse (nutrix), a reeve's wife, he met a beautiful shepherd's daughter who had been raised like a noblewoman. Edward slept with the unnamed girl, who bore him the future king called Æthelstan.[22]


These slurs may represent a later development of stories in favour of Ælfflæd's sons, but there is evidence to suggest that the status difference between Edward's first two wives had been an issue at an earlier stage.[23] A distant but near-contemporary poet writing in the 960s, Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, tells that Æthelstan's mother was lower in status (generis satis inferioris) than Ælfflæd, whose daughter Eadgyth married Otto I.[24] Since she wrote her Life in praise of Otto I, Eadgyth and their descendants, presumably based on sources sympathetic to the latter, not a small degree of bias may be assumed.[6] On the other hand, if Ecgwynn had been set aside in favour of Ælfflæd, then the political importance of the latter's family may have played a large part.[7]


Further near-contemporary evidence comes only indirectly by inference from later kinsmen whose precise connectedness is impossible to specify. According to his first biographer, Dunstan was related to a certain Æthelflæd, a lady of royal rank who was herself a niece of King Æthelstan, to Bishop Ælfheah of Winchester, to Bishop Cynesige of Lichfield, and to various men at court (including his brother Wulfric).[25] Dunstan's father Heorstan, who lived near the “royal island” of Glastonbury, cannot be shown to have been a prominent figure in the kingdom, although sources for Edward's reign are notoriously scanty.[26] Since Æthelstan, Dunstan and Heorstan all share the rare onomastic element -stan, it has been tentatively suggested that they derived their kinship through Ecgwynn.[27]



^ a b William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum II ch. 126.

^ a b William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum II ch. 133.

^ a b Yorke, “Edward as ætheling.” p. 33.

^ The date coincides roughly with Edward's first recorded military achievement (893) and with the first charter witnessed by him, S 348 (AD 892). Miller, "Edward the Elder."; Yorke, “Edward as ætheling.” p. 33.

^ a b William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum II ch. 125 and 133.

^ a b Miller, “Edward the Elder.”

^ a b Yorke, Bishop Æthelwold. p. 70.

^ Nelson, “Reconstructing a royal family.” p. 64 and 64 note 89.

^ Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (MSS B and B, Mercian register) 924; (D) 924-5 for 925-6.

^ Yorke, Nunneries and the Anglo-Saxon royal houses. pp. 77-8; Hudson, Viking Pirates and Christian Princes. pp. 28-9.

^ Hudson, “Óláf Sihtricson.” The same name was also borne by another of Edward's daughters; Hudson, Viking pirates and Christian princes. p. 29.

^ Hudson, Viking pirates and Christian princes. p. 28.

^ Thacker, “Dynastic monasteries.” pp. 257-8; Miller, “Edward the Elder.” Hudson, Viking pirates and Christian princes, p. 29, considers it possible that her name was Eadgyth (and hence also a source for confusion with namesakes).

^ Yorke, Nunneries and the Anglo-Saxon royal houses. pp. 77-8.

^ Lapidge, “Some poems as evidence for the reign of Athelstan.” 68-9; Yorke, Bishop Æthelwold. p. 70.

^ a b Yorke, Bishop Æthelwold. p. 71.

^ a b William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum II ch. 131.

^ S 1417 (AD 924 x 933); Yorke, Bishop Æthelwold. p. 72.

^ Whitelock, English Historical Documents no. 26, pp. 346–7.

^ Yorke, “Edward as ætheling.” p. 33; Yorke, Bishop Æthelwold. p. 70.

^ William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum II ch. 126; John of Worcester, Chronicon AD 901; Yorke, Bishop Æthelwold. p. 69.

^ William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum II ch. 139.

^ Yorke, Bishop Æthelwold. p. 69.

^ Hrotsvitha, Gesta Ottonis II, 75-97: pp. 206-7. Note that neither Ecgwynn nor Ælfflæd are mentioned by name.

^ Brooks, “The Career of St Dunstan.” pp. 5-7; B, Vita S. Dunstani § 10.

^ Brooks, “The Career of St Dunstan.” pp. 5-7.

^ Yorke, Bishop Æthelwold. pp. 66-7.



Primary sources


Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. D. Dumville and S. Keynes, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Collaborative Edition. 8 vols. Cambridge, 1983

Tr. Michael J. Swanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. 2nd ed. London, 2000

Author 'B.', Vita S. Dunstani, ed. W. Stubbs, Memorials of St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury. (Rolls Series.) London, 1874; pp. 3-52.

Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, Gesta Ottonis, ed. P. von Winterfeld, Hrotsvithae opera. (Monumenta Germanica Historica; Scriptores rerum Germanicarum; 34.) Berlin, 1902. Available from the Digital MGH.

William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum, ed. and tr. R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, William of Malmesbury. Gesta Regum Anglorum: The History of the English Kings. (Oxford Medieval Texts.) 2 vols.; vol 1. Oxford, 1998.


Secondary sources


Brooks, Nicholas. “The Career of St Dunstan” in: St Dunstan; His Life, Times and Cult, ed. N. Ramsay et al. Woodbridge, 1992.

Hudson, Benjamin T. "Óláf Sihtricson (c. 926–981)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. Retrieved on 2008-12-14.

Hudson, Benjamin T. Viking Pirates and Christian Princes: dynasty, religion, and empire in the North Atlantic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005 ISBN 0-19-516237-4.

Miller, Sean. "Edward [Edward the Elder] (870s?–924)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. Accessed: 2008-7-22. See also Sean Miller's article at

Nelson, J. L. “Reconstructing a Royal Family: reflections on Alfred” in: People and Places in Northern Europe, 500-1600: essays in honour of Peter Hayes Sawyer, ed. I. Wood and N. Lund. Woodbridge, 1991; pp. 47-66.

Thacker, Alan. “Dynastic Monasteries and Family Cults: Edward the Elder's sainted kindred” in: Edward the Elder, 899-924, ed. N. J. Higham and David Hill. London: Routledge, 2001. 248-63.

Yorke, Barbara. Bishop Æthelwold; his Career and Influence. Woodbridge, 1988.

Yorke, Barbara. "Edward as Ætheling" in: Edward the Elder, 899-924, ed. N. J. Higham and David Hill. London: Routledge, 2001; pp. 25-39.


Further reading


Ann Williams, "Some notes and considerations on problems connected with the English royal succession, 860-1066." Anglo-Norman Studies. Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1 (1978): 144-67.