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New Minster Charter 966 detail Edgar.jpg
Contemporary portrayal in the New Minster Charter
King of the English
Reign 1 October 959 – 8 July 975
Predecessor Eadwig
Successor Edward the Martyr
Born 943 or 944
Died 8 July 975 (aged 30-32)
Winchester, Hampshire, England
Burial Glastonbury Abbey
Spouse Æthelflæd
Issue Edward, King of England
Æthelred, King of England
House Wessex
Father Edmund, King of England
Mother Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury

Edgar (Old English: Ēadgār c. 943 – 8 July 975), known as the Peaceful or the Peaceable, was King of the English from 959 until his death. He was the younger son of Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, and came to the throne as a teenager, following the death of his older brother Eadwig. As king, Edgar further consolidated the political unity achieved by his predecessors, with his reign being noted for its relative stability. His most trusted advisor was Dunstan, whom he recalled from exile and made Archbishop of Canterbury. The pinnacle of Edgar's reign was his coronation at Bath in 973, which was organised by Dunstan and forms the basis for the current coronation ceremony. After his death he was succeeded by his son Edward, although the succession was disputed.

Early years and accession

Edgar was the son of Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury. Upon the death of King Edmund in 946, Edgar's uncle, Eadred, ruled until 955. Eadred was succeeded by his nephew, Eadwig, Edmund's eldest son.

Eadwig was not a popular king, and his reign was marked by conflict with nobles and the Church, primarily St Dunstan and Archbishop Oda. In 957, the thanes of Mercia and Northumbria changed their allegiance to Edgar. A conclave of nobles declared Edgar as king of the territory north of the Thames. Edgar became King of England upon Eadwig's death in October 959, aged about 19.


One of Edgar's first actions was to recall Dunstan from exile and have him made Bishop of Worcester and Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, subsequently Bishop of London and later, Archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan remained Edgar's advisor throughout his reign. While Edgar may not have been a particularly peaceable man, his reign was peaceful. The Kingdom of England was well established, and Edgar consolidated the political unity achieved by his predecessors. By the end of his reign, England was sufficiently unified that it was unlikely to regress back to a state of division among rival kingships, as it had to an extent under the reign of Eadred. William Blackstone mentions that King Edgar standardised measure throughout the realm. According to George Molyneaux, Edgar's reign, "far more than the reigns of either Alfred or Æthelstan, was probably the most pivotal phase in the development of the institutional structures that were fundamental to royal rule in the eleventh-century kingdom". Indeed, an early eleventh century king Cnut the Great states in a letter to his subjects that ''it is my will that all the nation, ecclesiastical and lay, shall steadfastly observe Edgar's laws, which all men have chosen and sworn at Oxford''.

Benedictine reform

Edgard king of England 959 975
A coin of Edgar, struck in Winchcombe in Gloucestershire (c. 973-975).

The Monastic Reform Movement that introduced the Benedictine Rule to England's monastic communities peaked during the era of Dunstan, Æthelwold, and Oswald (historians continue to debate the extent and significance of this movement).

Dead Man's Plack

In 963, Edgar allegedly killed Earl Æthelwald, his rival in love, near present-day Longparish, Hampshire. The event was commemorated by the Dead Man's Plack, erected in 1825. In 1875, Edward Augustus Freeman debunked the story as a "tissue of romance" in his book, Historic Essays; however, his arguments were rebutted by naturalist William Henry Hudson in his 1920 book Dead Man's Plack and an Old Thorn.

Coronation at Bath

Edgar was crowned at Bath and along with his wife Ælfthryth was anointed, setting a precedent for a coronation of a queen in England itself. Edgar's coronation did not happen until 973, in an imperial ceremony planned not as the initiation, but as the culmination of his reign (a move that must have taken a great deal of preliminary diplomacy). This service, devised by Dunstan himself and celebrated with a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, forms the basis of the present-day British coronation ceremony.

The symbolic coronation was an important step; other kings of Britain came and gave their allegiance to Edgar shortly afterwards at Chester. Six kings in Britain, including the King of Scots and the King of Strathclyde, pledged their faith that they would be the king's liege-men on sea and land. Later chroniclers made the kings into eight, all plying the oars of Edgar's state barge on the River Dee. Such embellishments may not be factual, and what actually happened is unclear.

Marriages and children

Edgar's first wife (or consort) was Æthelflæd Eneda (the 'white duck'), daughter of Ealdorman Ordmaer, who acquired land in Devon. They married sometime before he became king, about 957. She was the mother of Edward the Martyr (born c. 962 - died 978) Wulfthryth of Wilton, who was educated at Wilton Abbey became his second consort. It is disputed whether they married, but Barbara Yorke argues that they did. Wulfthryth returned to Wilton Abbey by 964, and became Abbess. Edgar and Wulfthryth's only child was Edith of Wilton also known as Saint Edith.

About 964/965 Edgar married again, his third relationship, to Ælfthryth, widow of Æthelwald, Ealdorman of East Anglia, Edgar's adopted brother. Ælfthryth was the daughter of Ealdorman Ordgar and his wife, a member of the royal family of Wessex. Legend has it that Edgar heard of Ælfthryth's great beauty and sent Æthelwald to arrange marriage for him (Edgar) but Æthelwald instead married her himself. In retaliation Æthelwald was killed 'in a hunting accident' and Edgar married her as he had wanted. It is not known if this is true or simply romantic fiction. Edgar and Ælfthryth had two sons, Edmund Atheling (born c. 966 - died c.970) and Æthelred the Unready (born c. 968 - d. 23 April 1016) After the death of Edward the Martyr in 978, Æthelred was not yet old enough to rule on his own and Ælfthryth acted as regent.


Edgar died on 8 July 975 at Winchester, Hampshire. He was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. He left two sons, his successor Edward, who was probably his illegitimate son by Æthelflæd, daughter of ealdorman Ordmaer, and Æthelred, the younger, the child of his wife Ælfthryth. Edgar also had a possibly illegitimate daughter by Wulfthryth, who later became abbess of Wilton. She was joined there by her daughter, Edith of Wilton, who lived there as a nun until her death. Both women were later regarded as saints.

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