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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Alfred the Great

Alfred was born in Wantage in 849 A.D. The fifth son of Aethelwulf and Osburh. As had happened with his father and uncles all the male siblings had taken their turn in ruling, this was done in order to keep the line strong and eliminate the need for child rulers.

In 870 A.D the Danes attacked the only remaining independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom – Wessex; commanded by King Aethelred and his younger brother Alfred. The following year in the battle of Ashdown Alfred routed the Viking army in a difficult uphill assault, however following other defeats for Wessex Aethelred died.

In 878 A.D the Danish king Guthrum seized Chippenham in Wilthshire and used it as a base from which to harass and devastate Wessex. Many either surrendered or left, people from Hampshire moved to the Isle of Wight. Alfred with only a small retinue of thanes and Aethelnoth the earldorman of Somerset as his ally, withdrew to the Somerset tidal marshes to reassess his strategy.

Alfred adopted the Viking tactics by building a fortified base at Athelney in Somerset and summoning a mobile army of men, he used guerrilla tactics against the Danes. In May 878 he defeated them at the Battle of Edington.

Realising that he couldn’t route them completely from England he concluded a treaty of peace at Wedmore. As part of the treaty King Guthrum converted to Christianity with Alfred as his godfather, and the Danes returned to East Anglia where they settled as farmers.

Alfred also negotiated a partition treaty with the Danes, the frontier of which ran along the Roman road of Watling Street to the east of this line people were under the rule of Danelaw.

The Viking threat had by no means gone away and so to consolidate alliences against the Danes Alfred married his daughter Aethelflaed to the earldorman of Mercia and his daughter Aelthryth to the Count of Flanders, which was a strong navel power at the time. He himself married Eahlswith a Mercian noblewoman.

Further to this he completely reorganised defences. Firstly he organised the thanes and the existing militia known as the fyrd, on a rota basis so that he could raise a ‘rapid reaction force’ if needed; but allowed them to tend their farms at other times. Second he built defended settlements across the south of England, these were fortified market places known as burhs, where we today get our term ‘borough’. Settlers received plots of land and in return they manned the defences in time of war. This system can still be seen in the street plan of Cheapside to the Thames in London.

He also realised that all this would need to be accurately recorded and so the ‘Burghal Hildage’ was created.

Other than his military duties Alfred worried about the deterioration of learning and religion due to the influence of the Pagan Vikings. He had been educated as a child and had even learned Latin when about thirty years old. To improve literacy he arranged and took part in himself the translation (from Latin to Anglo-Saxon) of books he thought “needful for a man to know”. These books covered history, philosophy including Gregory the Greats ‘Pastoral Care’ (a handbook for bishops) He was also the patron for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which was added to for the next three hundred years.

He also saw the need for administrative and legislative regulation and so with the help and guidance of his advisors he had assembled the best of all that had gone before, keeping what was considered good and fair and eliminating the rest, these became known as the ‘Laws of Alfred 885 – 899.

By the time of his death in 899 A.D he was appearing on the Charters and coinage as ‘Alfred King of the English’. He was buried in Winchester at a site long lost, but at the time of writing there are moves a foot to find his burial site. It is also worth noting that to date he is the only British monarch of either gender to be know as ‘The Great’.