Edward the Elder (Martyr)

Edward was the second child of Alfred after his sister Aethelflaed who married the ruler of Mercia. However this did not make him the automatic successor to his father, on Alfred’s death Edwards cousins Aethelwold and Aethelhelm claimed the throne, the were the sons of Alfred’s older brother Aethelred.

Although Athelhelm disappears from the records shortly after and it is presumed he died, Aethelwolf rose to claim the throne and began what has become known as Aethelwolds’ revolt.

He seized Wimborne in Dorset, where his father was buried; and Christchurch (then in Hampshire now in Dorset). Edward marched to Bradbury in Dorset and offered battle however Aethelwold refused. Just as Edward was about to take Wimborne by force Aethelwold left in the night and joined the Danes in Northumbria, where he was announced as king. In the meantime Edward was crowned king at Kingston Upon Thames on 8th June 900 A.D.

In 901 A.D Aethelwold came with a fleet to Essex and encouraged the Danes in East Anglia to rise up. The following year he attacked Mercia and northern Wessex. Edward retaliated by ravaging East Anglia, but when he retreated south the men of Kent disobeyed the order and were intercepted by the Danes. They met at the battle of Holme on the 13th December 902 A.D. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles the Danes “ kept the place of slaughter” in other words they slaughtered the men of Kent, but they also suffered heavy losses including Aethelwold and a king by the name of Eoric – possibly of the East Anglian Danes.

Over the next few years Edward extended the control of Wessex over the whole of Mercia, East Anglia and Essex and conquering lands occupied by the Danes. He also brought the residual autonomy of Mercia to an end on the death of his sister Aelthelflaed who had ruled since the death of her husband, and in the process he deposed his niece Aelfwynn who was the names successor to her mother.

He had already annexed London and Oxford and the surrounding lands of Oxfordshire and Middlesex by 911 A.D. By 918 A.D all the Danes south of the Humber had submitted to him, and by the end of his reign the Danes the Welsh and the Scots had acknowledges him as “ father and Lord”.

Edward also reorganised the church in Wessex creating the bishoprics at Ramsey, Sonning, Wells and Crediton. Although he is not thought to have been a particularly religious man, even being reprimanded by the Pope to pay more attention to his religious duties.

He died leading an army against a Welsh Mercian rebellion on 17th July 924 A.D at Fardon-on-Dee and was buried at the Minster he had established
In Winchester. After the Norman Conquest the Minster was replaced by Hyde Abbey which in turn was destroyed during the reformation. His last resting place is marked with a stone slab marked with a cross that lies within the outline of the old Abbey in a public park.

Edward had in the region of thirteen children from three wives, although the exact number of children is disputed. Several of his sons succeeded him, while most of his daughters were married off around Europe and two became nuns.

One last thing, the tern Edward the ‘Elder’ was first used in Wulfstans ‘Life of Aethelwold’ written sometime in the latter 10th century to distinguish him from the later Edward ‘The Martyr’.


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