947-54. Eadred and the Northumbrians

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in 947 Eadred came to Tanshelf, where Wulfstan, archbishop of York, and all the councillors of the Northumbrians pledged themselves to the king. Very shortly afterwards, they betrayed their oaths, and took the Norwegian Erik Bloodaxe as their king. In 948 Eadred ravaged Northumbria, and burnt down St Wilfrid's minster at Ripon. While Eadred was on his way home, the army of York overtook him at Castleford and inflicted heavy losses. This so enraged Eadred that he threatened to march back into Northumbria and destroy it utterly, at which point the Northumbrians deserted Erik and paid Eadred compensation. In 949 Olaf Cuaran came back to Northumbria, and the implication seems to be that he was accepted as king, because in 952 the Northumbrians drove out King Olaf and took back Erik. Also in 952 Eadred ordered the imprisonment of Archbishop Wulfstan of York. In 954 the Northumbrians drove out Erik, and Eadred finally succeeded to Northumbria. Contemporary sources do not record what happened to Erik, but Roger of Wendover in the 13th century records that he was betrayed by Earl Oswulf and treacherously killed by Earl Maccus at Stainmore.

The information of the Chronicle is contradicted on one point by the evidence of contemporary charters, some of which (the so-called "alliterative" charters) include very detailed royal titles. Such charters survive for the years 946 (S 520), 949 (S 544, 548-50), 950 (S 552a), 951 (S 556-7), and 955 (S 566, 569), and Eadred is specifically called king of the Northumbrians in charters for 946, 949, 950, and 955. (The fact that he is not called king of Northumbria in 951 may well be a tacit admission that he had lost the province by that time, but the charters give no evidence on the control of Northumbria between 946-9 and 951-5.) Since Eadred was in control of Northumbria in 950, either Olaf's arrival should be moved from 949 to 950 or at least some part of Northumbria remained loyal to Eadred in the first year of Olaf's presence.

A second point of apparent contradiction between the Chronicle and the charters comes in the note in the Chronicle under 954 that Wulfstan received a bishopric again, in Dorchester. This has been taken to mean that Wulfstan was incarcerated from 952-4, which would be contradicted by the fact that he witnesses a charter in 953 (S 560). However, Eadred may well have preferred to have the treacherous archbishop of York under house arrest at his own court rather than up in Northumbria consorting with foreign kings, which would account for Wulfstan's arrest in 952, his witnessing of a charter in 953, and his restoration to his bishopric in 954 after Erik had been exiled for the last time and the crisis was over.

952. Eadred orders slaughter in Thetford

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes this slaughter in the borough of Thetford was made in vengeance for the abbot Eadhelm, who had been slain in Thetford.

November 23, 955. Eadred dies
Eadwig, Edmund's son, succeeds to England
c. January 26, 956. Eadwig consecrated king
Eadwig dispossesses Eadgifu, exiles Dunstan

Eadwig was the son of King Edmund and Ælfflæd (q.v.), and the nephew of King Eadred. His reign looks like an energetic attempt to distance himself from the advisors of the previous generation, and set up a new group of advisors who were loyal to him; the attempt failed, and history has judged him somewhat harshly as a result.

The tension in Eadwig's reign is apparent from the beginning. Eadred's will has survived (S 1515), and granted large sums of money as well as estates to several religious houses and to his mother Eadgifu. The money cannot be traced, but there is no evidence that any of the religious houses held the estates they were bequeathed, and more positive proof that the will was disregarded comes from a charter of Eadgifu's issued in 959 (S 1211), in which she notes that when Eadred died she was robbed of all her property, and it was only returned on King Edgar's accession in 959. It also seems from the wording of his will that Eadred intended his body to rest somewhere other than the Old Minster at Winchester, where he was buried. (The will mentions, but does not name, the place where he intended to be buried, and seems to distinguish it from Winchester which he mentions in another context.)

Within months of his accession Eadwig had also quarrelled with Dunstan, abbot of Glastonbury, who had been a favourite of Eadred's and may have taken on some of the production of charters in Eadred's illness in 953-5 (q.v.). Dunstan witnesses only a handful of Eadwig's charters, from early in 956 (see Keynes, pp.49 and 59). The earliest Life of St Dunstan explains the exile with a story that Eadwig left his coronation feast to pursue his own pleasures, and was dragged back by St Dunstan, as a result of which Dunstan won the enmity both of the young king and of the two noblewomen who were his companions, and had his possessions seized and was exiled shortly thereafter (chapters 21-3; extracts in EHD 234, p.901). While there is nothing inherently unlikely in this account, it must be remembered that since Eadwig exiled the protagonist of his story, the author of the Life of St Dunstan would be duty-bound to show him in the worst light possible. (For a different light on the coronation feast, see the account in J. K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.) One wonders, for instance, if some of the treasures of Dunstan that were seized according to the Life were in fact treasures of King Eadred which Dunstan had failed to return to Eadred's successor Eadwig, or if Dunstan and Eadwig fought over the overturning of Eadred's will (especially if Eadred had originally intended to be buried at Dunstan's Glastonbury).

With the possessions of Dunstan and Eadgifu (and quite possibly other important courtiers of previous administrations) in hand, Eadwig was in a position to benefit new followers. There are an unprecedented sixty or so charters from 956 (for most years, five or fewer charters survive), and the most likely explanation is that Eadwig, having dispossessed the old guard, was trying to create a group of followers whose first loyalty was to him. A less flattering explanation would be that Eadwig was being manipulated by courtiers who had not advanced under Edmund and Eadred in a settling of old scores. The Life of St Dunstan (chapter 24; EHD 234, p.901) is predictably dismissive, saying that Eadwig acted foolishly, getting rid of wise and cunning counsellors and replacing them with the ignorant and those like himself. Æthelwold, in his account of King Edgar's establishment of monasteries (EHD 238), suggests that Eadwig had through the ignorance of childhood dispersed the kingdom and divided its unity, and distributed the lands of churches to rapacious strangers.

Barbara Yorke has demonstrated that some of the people favoured by Eadwig, his wife Ælfgifu among them, were a close-knit family descended from Alfred's older brother Æthelred, and suggested that the older established families, such as those of Æthelstan "Half King" (chief ealdorman in Eadwig's time and foster-father of Edgar) and Dunstan himself, were alarmed by these developments and moved to stop them (Yorke, pp.75-7). If Ælfgifu is correctly identified as a descendent of King Æthelred (q.v.), Edgar himself might have been still more alarmed, as a child born of two royal parents might have been seen as more throne-worthy than Edgar himself. This was probably part of the reason for Æthelbald's revolt when Æthelwulf came back with a Frankish princess as a bride in 856, and it is unlikely that Edgar was any happier with the situation a hundred years later.

However and by whomever they were put in motion, moves to stop Eadwig were forthcoming. In 957, Eadwig's brother Edgar was given enhanced power as the king of the Mercians, though the evidence of charters and coins suggest that Eadwig was still in overall charge of the kingdom. Also in that year or the next (q.v.), Eadwig was divorced from his wife Ælfgifu, ostensibly because they were too closely related. It is unlikely that the relationship was suddenly discovered in 957, so "consanguinity" was probably a cover for more pragmatic motives. Eadwig died without issue in 959, and his brother Edgar succeeded to the whole kingdom.

Æthelweard in his version of the Chronicle notes that Eadwig was called "All-Fair" by the common people on account of his great beauty, and that he ruled for four years and deserved to be loved. However, since Æthelweard may have been the brother of Eadwig's wife Ælfgifu (q.v.), his comments should probably command as much caution as those of the Life of St Dunstan.

A. Campbell (ed.), The Chronicle of Æthelweard (London: 1962)

S. Keynes, The Diplomas of King Æthelred "The Unready" 978-1016: A Study in their Use as Historical Evidence (Cambridge: 1980)

B. Yorke, "Æthelwold and the Politics of the Tenth Century", Bishop Æthelwold: His Career and Influence (Woodbridge: 1988), pp.65-88

957. Edgar becomes king of the Mercians

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that the ætheling Edgar succeeded to the kingdom of the Mercians. The earliest Life of St Dunstan portrays this division as a result of Eadwig's misgovernment, and notes that the river Thames formed the boundary between the two kingdoms (chapter 24). Contemporary charters confirm this line of division, as bishops and ealdormen with responsibilities south of the Thames remained at Eadwig's court, while those with sees or territory north of the Thames moved to Edgar's court (see Keynes). This division seems too neat geographically to be the result of the popular uprising suggested in Dunstan's Life. On Eadwig's death in 959, the two courts recombined as if the division had never happened.

Charters suggest that Eadwig was still considered to be the king of the English: while his royal style avoids the flourishes seen in his earlier charters, where he may be "King of the English and of the other surrounding peoples" (e.g. S 588 of 956), he remains solidly rex Anglorum, with its implication "King of [all of] the English" (e.g. S 660 of 959). Further support for this is seen in the coins, which seem to have been issued in Eadwig's name over the whole country in 955-9, even in those parts ruled by Edgar after 957 (see CTCE, pp.278-80).

It is an interesting coincidence that Æthelstan "Half King", chief ealdorman of Eadred's reign and also in the first part of Eadwig's, and incidentally Edgar's foster-father, continued to witness charters until the division in 957, at which point he retired to become a monk at Glastonbury. (The nickname "Half King" is first reported in Byrhtferth's Life of St Oswald of the end of the 10th century. That Æthelstan was Edgar's foster-father is noted in the Ramsey Chronicle; see Hart, p.579.) It is tempting to wonder whether Æthelstan was looking after Edgar's interests at court, and deliberately stayed on until Edgar was safely enthroned in Mercia and Northumbria, at which point he felt his work was done and he could retire.

C. Blunt, I. Stewart, S. Lyon, Coinage in Tenth-Century England (Oxford: 1989)

N. Brooks, "The Career of St Dunstan", in N. Ramsay and others (edd.), St Dunstan: His Life, Times and Cult (Woodbridge: 1992), pp.1-23

C. Hart, "Athelstan 'Half King' and his Family", The Danelaw (London: 1992), pp.569-604

S. Keynes, "England 900-1016", in T. Reuter (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History III (Cambridge: forthcoming)

W. Stubbs, Memorials of St Dunstan (London: 1874) [A new edition of the Life of St Dunstan is being prepared by M. Lapidge and M. Winterbottom]

B. Yorke, "Æthelwold and the Politics of the Tenth Century", Bishop Æthelwold: His Career and Influence (Woodbridge: 1988), pp.65-88

957/8. Archbishop Oda divorces Eadwig from Ælfgifu

One version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Archbishop Oda separated King Eadwig and Ælfgifu, because they were too closely related. (The date given is 958, but since the previous annal, dated "957", gives events of 956, and the following annal, dated "959", gives events of 959, it is not clear whether the divorce actually took place in 957 or 958.) Since the relationship between them was most likely known when they were married (and indeed, one would expect that Oda of Canterbury performed the marriage), it seems more likely that this divorce stemmed from political reasons than religious ones. It may even be that Eadwig and Ælfgifu were not in fact too closely related by the church definition.

There is no other information on the kinship of Eadwig and Ælfgifu in Eadwig's reign. In Edgar's reign, a woman called Ælfgifu who is described as a matrona (i.e., a married woman) and a kinswoman of Edgar (as Eadwig's queen would be, by marriage) receives two estates in 966 (S 737 and 738), and her will also survives, though unusually it mentions no living husband or descendents (S 1484). If it is assumed that this Ælfgifu was Eadwig's queen, then we can determine precisely how closely related Eadwig and Ælfgifu were, because the Ælfgifu of the will was the sister of Æthelweard the Chronicler, who records that he was the great-grandson of King Æthelred (865-71). This would make Ælfgifu the great-granddaughter of Æthelred, and since Eadwig was the great-grandson of Æthelred's brother Alfred, the two would fall within eight "degrees of propinquity".

This gets a bit technical. The old Roman system recognized a cognatio, or kindred, as people within seven "degrees of propinquity". To find out the number of degrees, one counts up to the nearest common ancestor and then back down again. Pope Gregory II, in the 721 Synod of Rome, stated simply that marriage was forbidden within the cognatio, or within seven degrees of propinquity: on which basis Eadwig and Ælfgifu would be perfectly legitimate.

The Germanic system, in contrast, counted the number of generations from the common ancestor: on that basis, Ælfgifu and Eadwig, sharing a great-great-grandfather, would be in the fourth generation. Synods in the second half of the 8th century (e.g. Compi?gne and Verberie) translate Gregory's ruling by declaring marriage null and void within the first three generations.

The crux comes with the first Anglo-Saxon legislation on the subject, in a code of Æthelred from 1008, which states that marriage is forbidden "within six degrees, that is to say, four generations" (VI Æthelred 12). This is not in fact the same thing: six degrees would be three generations. The distinction only matters to people within the fourth generation, but unfortunately for them, Eadwig and Ælfgifu fell into that category. If a similar law had been in place in the 950s when Eadwig and Ælfgifu got married, one might imagine that they were given the benefit of the doubt as not being within six degrees. And perhaps it was only when Eadwig began making changes and antagonizing people (q.v.) that people remembered, and chose to apply, the stricter interpretation of the letter of the law.

M. Deanesly and P. Grosjean, "The Canterbury Edition of the Answers of pope Gregory I to St Augustine", The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 10 (1959), pp.1-49

N. Brooks, The Early History of the Church of Canterbury (Leicester: 1984), pp.225-6

October 1, 959. Eadwig dies
Edgar, Eadwig's brother, succeeds to all England
Dunstan becomes archbishop of Canterbury

On Eadwig's death, divorced from his wife and with no heirs, his brother Edgar succeeded to all England, which reunited as if the split of 957 had never been. Unusually for the 10th century there is no record of Edgar's consecration a few months after his accession, but this is probably because he sacked the archbishop of Canterbury who had been elected in Eadwig's reign and installed Dunstan instead. Dunstan went to Rome to get his pallium, perhaps to cover his entirely uncanonical transfer to Canterbury from another see (in fact, from two other sees, Worcester and London, which he had received from Edgar in 957-9; see Brooks, p.21), and the papal privilege for Dunstan survives and is dated 21 September 960 (Whitelock, Councils & Synods, no. 25). So Edgar may not have been consecrated king before Dunstan's return in late 960 or early 961, years for which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is blank. Given the excellent relations between Edgar and the English church, and the fact that consecration strengthened the position of the king, it is most unlikely that Edgar would have remained unconsecrated for long after Dunstan's return (see Nelson, pp.297-300).

John of Worcester in the 12th century regularly calls Edgar Rex Anglorum pacificus (in annals for 964, 967, 969, 972, 973). If John is recording a nickname Edgar bore in his lifetime, it is much more likely pacificus meant "the Peace-making" than "the Peaceable": the ravaging of Thanet on the king's orders in 969, and the violent reaction after his death in 975, both suggest that the peace of Edgar's reign came from strict control backed by military force, not serenity of character.

The show of violence probably helped to keep the country free of Viking activity, which seems to have ceased between 954, when Erik Bloodaxe finally left York, and 980, when the Vikings returned in Æthelred's reign. It is probably also the case that Edgar worked to keep the Northumbrians happy, so that they would be less eager to welcome Scandinavian adventurers: one of his law codes recognizes that the Danes can make their own laws (IV Edgar 2.1; see EHD 41), and his ravaging of Thanet in 969 may have been because the people of Thanet had robbed some merchants from York. That the rest of the country may have been less than happy with this approach is suggested by a note in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under 959, which in the midst of a general panegyric on Edgar's reign notes that he did one misdeed too greatly: he loved unseemly foreign manners, and brought heathen customs into the land too firmly (a possible reference to IV Edgar?), and brought foreigners and harmful people into the country.

Edgar is remembered as the champion of the monastic reform movement. The most dramatic act was probably the move in 964 spearheaded by Edgar and Æthelwold to oust (perhaps forcibly) the priests from the Old Minster and the New Minster in Winchester, and from Chertsey and Milton Abbas, and have them replaced with monks. There were many more monasteries founded or refounded in Edgar's reign, and Æthelwold offers enthusiastic praise in his account of Edgar's establishment of monasteries (EHD 238). The king's position is put uncompromisingly in the splendid gold-lettered refoundation charter for the New Minster at Winchester, probably also drafted by Æthelwold (S 745, issued in 966 to commemorate and reinforce the installation of monks in 964). While the charter is partly for the New Minster, it is also a general statement that Edgar expelled clerics and installed monks in monasteries throughout his kingdom, for the pragmatic reason that the prayers of the monks were effective while those of the secular clerics were not.

Edgar's family relations are complicated, as he was twice or perhaps three times married. He was involved with (perhaps not married to) Wulfthryth, who later became a nun and abbess of Wilton: their daughter was St Edith (see Ridyard, pp.42-3). He was (first?) married to Æthelflæd, and with her or by Wulfthryth had a son Edward. In 964/5 he married Ælfthryth, and with her had two sons, Edmund (who died in 971) and Æthelred. The New Minster refoundation charter of 966 (S 745) makes quite clear that Ælfthryth's children would be preferred over Æthelflæd's (in the witness-list, Edward is called clito, "ætheling", but his younger half-brother Edmund witnesses above him as legitimus clito, "legitimate ætheling"), but it is not surprising that a conflict broke out on Edgar's death in 975. Edward the Elder, who had also had three wives and sons by different mothers, left a similar problem at his death in 924. (For more on Ælfthryth and Æthelflæd, see Yorke, p.81.)

962. "A very great mortality"; great fire in London

The mortality and the fire are mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the plague also appears in the Irish annals. One of Edgar's law codes (IV Edgar: see EHD 41) is presented as a response to the sudden pestilence which caused great hardship far and wide in the kingdom; it is tempting to associate it with this plague, and so date it to 962 or shortly afterwards.

963. Æthelwold becomes bishop of Winchester

B. Yorke (ed.), Bishop Æthelwold: His Career and Influence (Woodbridge: 1988)

964. Æthelwold and Edgar expel secular clerics from monasteries in Winchester, Chertsey, Milton

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Edgar drove the priests from the Old and New Minsters of Winchester, and from Chertsey and Milton Abbas, and had them replaced with monks. The Life of St Æthelwold from the end of the 10th century notes that Æthelwold expelled secular clerics from the Old and New Minsters (chapters 18 and 20), but that the king sent one of his agents, Wulfstan of Dalham, who used royal authority to command the canons either to give way to the monks or become monks themselves (on Wulfstan, see Lapidge and Winterbottom, p.32 n.2).

M. Lapidge and M. Winterbottom (edd.), Wulfstan of Winchester: Life of St Æthelwold (Oxford: 1991)

964/5. Edgar marries Ælfthryth

A couple of manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle record this event in 965, but two charters show that Ælfthryth may already have been queen in 964 (S 731 is a 12th-century forgery, but S 725 may be authentic). For more on Edgar's family, see entry on 959.

966. Thored, Gunnar's son, ravages Westmorland
Oslac succeeds to ealdormanry of Northumbria

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that Thored, Gunnar's son, ravaged Westmorland (part of British Strathclyde), and in the same year Oslac succeeded to the ealdormanry. This annal may be misdated, like the 964 annal on Edgar's marriage: while Oslac appears fairly regularly in charters after 966 (from 968 to 975), he also seems to witness charters as ealdorman earlier, in 963 and 965. Oslac was exiled in 975.

967. Ælfhere ravages Gwynedd

The Annales Cambriae record that the Saxons, led by Ælfhere (ealdorman of Mercia), ravaged the kingdom of the sons of Idwal (Gwynedd).

969. Edgar orders ravaging of Thanet

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions this event without explanation. Roger of Wendover, writing in the 13th century, explains that it was because merchants from York were taken prisoner on Thanet and robbed of their goods. If this explanation were accepted it might point to antagonism between the English of old Wessex and English Mercia and the Anglo-Danish peoples of the Danelaw, the sort of mood which led to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's comment under 959 that Edgar was too welcoming to foreigners and foreign customs.

971. Edgar's son Edmund dies

The death of Edmund, elder son of Edgar and Ælfthryth, is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The title of legitimus clito which was given to Edmund in the 966 New Minster foundation charter (S 745; see entry on 959) presumably descended to Edmund's younger brother Æthelred.

May 11, 973. Edgar's (second) consecration, at Bath

Edgar's consecration at Bath at Pentecost in 973 is reported in a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and described at some length in Byrhtferth's Life of St Oswald. He was probably consecrated shortly after his accession (see entry on 959), which would make this his second consecration.

It may be that Edgar was laying claim to a larger realm, or a larger vision of his realm, than his predecessors, just as one of the reasons for Edward the Elder's foundation of the New Minster in 901 may have been a desire to give tangible expression to his kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons. It is worth noting that Edgar's consecration took place at Bath, not Kingston-upon-Thames, which was the site for most of the known royal consecrations in the 10th century (see Keynes, pp.270-1). Kingston was an old West Saxon royal estate in Surrey, while Bath was not only an Alfredian burh (fortress) on the Mercian / West Saxon border, but a town whose impressive Roman remains were still visible in the 10th century (see Nelson, p.301), and may have conjured up images of old Roman Britannia.

Certainly other events of the year involve conspicuous displays of royal power and unity over the whole country. Two manuscripts of the Chronicle note that after the consecration at Bath the king took his whole naval force to Chester, where six kings met him and pledged to be his allies on sea and on land. Ælfric in his nearly-contemporary Life of St Swithun says there were eight kings, Cumbrians and Scots (extract at EHD 239(g)), and John of Worcester in the 12th century names them as Kenneth of Scotland, Malcolm of Cumbria, Maccus of the Isles, and five others, Dufnal, Siferth, Hywel, Iacob, and Iuchil, and adds the detail that the eight kings rowed him along the river Dee, while Edgar held the rudder. It was likely in the same year (q.v.) that a reform of the coinage removed the regional variation that had existed and standardized Edgar's coinage across the whole kingdom. (See further Nelson, pp.302-3.)

That a real change had occurred between the 950s and 973 that might justify such a ceremony is suggested by the fact that in 975, as also in the 950s, there were two princes who seemed to expect to inherit the kingship, but there was no question in 975 of dividing the kingdom. The partition of the kingdom in 1016 was the result of English defeat in battle after over three decades of Viking raids, and is more analogous to the Vikings sharing out Mercia with Coenwulf in 877 than a partition between rival princes on the same side; in 1035, when there were two claimants to the throne on a more equal footing, there was again no question of division.

S. Keynes, The Diplomas of King Æthelred "The Unready" 978-1016: A Study in their Use as Historical Evidence (Cambridge: 1980)

J. Nelson, "Inauguration Rituals", Politics and Ritual in Early Medieval Europe (London: 1986), pp.283-307

c.973. Edgar's coinage reform
c.973-1066. Late Anglo-Saxon coinage


In about 973, quite probably as another manifestation of royal power to be associated with the second consecration, Edgar implemented a reform of the coinage. This enforced a standard coinage over the whole kingdom, replacing the regional variants which had existed. Over the next half-century new types of coin (i.e., coins with new designs on the obverse and reverse) were introduced every six years or so, and earlier types were taken out of circulation. (In addition to the standard six-year issues, a few types, such as the Agnus Dei coins which appear to belong only to 1009, were issued for much shorter periods.) The relative chronology of the types is well-understood: the absolute chronology, however, has been the subject of a great deal of debate over the past thirty years. In the most developed version of the system, presented by Michael Dolley, changes took place every sixth year at Michaelmas, but several alternative systems have been suggested. Further, there is no irrefutable evidence of dating except where a change of type coincides with a change in reign, so that the king's name changes. It is probably simplest to assume that changes took place approximately every six years.

In the second quarter of the 11th century, changes of type took place about twice as often: there are three types to fit into the seven years of the reigns of Harold and Harthacnut (1035-42), and ten types to fit into Edward the Confessor's twenty-four years (1042-66).

The best recent summary of the subject is Metcalf's Atlas of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Coin Finds (1998).

Table of types and dates (type names describe the designs on the coins):

Edgar's Reform type (Small Cross)c.973-5
Edward's Small Cross975-8
Æthelred's First Small Crossc.978-9
Æthelred's First Handc.979-85
Æthelred's Second Handc.985-91
Æthelred's Benediction Handc.991
Æthelred's Cruxc.991-7
Æthelred's Small Cruxc.995-7
Æthelred's Intermediate Small Crossc.996 or earlier
Æthelred's Long Crossc.997-1003
Æthelred's Helmetc.1003-9
Æthelred's Agnus Deic.1009
Æthelred's Last Small Crossc.1009-16
Cnut's Quatrefoilc.1016-23
Cnut's Pointed Helmetc.1023-9
Cnut's Short Crossc.1029-35
Harold Harefoot's Jewel Cross1036-c.1038
Harold Harefoot's Fleur-de-Lisc.1038-40
Harthacnut's Jewel Cross1036-7
Harthacnut's Arm-and-Sceptre1040-2
Edward's Pacx1042-c.1044
Edward's Radiate Small Crossc.1044-6
Edward's Trefoil Quadrilateralc.1046-8
Edward's Short Cross (Small flan)c.1048-50
Edward's Expanding Crossc.1050-3
Edward's Pointed Helmetc.1053-6
Edward's Sovereign / Eaglesc.1056-9
Edward's Hammer Crossc.1059-62
Edward's Facing Bust / Small Crossc.1062-5
Edward's Pyramidsc.1065-6
Harold Godwinesson's Pax1066

More detailed notes: Reform c.973

The only documentary reference to the coinage reform comes in the 13th-century work of Roger of Wendover, who notes that Edgar "ordered a new coinage to be made throughout the whole of England, because the old was so debased by the crime of the clippers that a penny hardly weighed a halfpenny in the scales". It is generally agreed that "the crime of the clippers" was a 13th-century problem and Roger's introduction of it to the 10th century is an anachronism: Dolley and Metcalf have shown that Edgar's pre-reform coinage was not noticeably lighter than the reform coinage (1961, p.166, n.2). This also discredits Roger's comment about the weight, but it may be that Roger was misinterpreting a source which noted that the silver content of Edgar's coins was about half what it had been in Alfred's day (as demonstrated by Blackburn, 1991 p.156). It has been argued that the whole comment can be dismissed, as a borrowing from earlier or later law codes which include phrases like "he ordered a new coinage to be made throughout the whole of England" (Brand 1984 pp.12-3), but this founders against the numismatic evidence that a new coinage was introduced towards the end of Edgar's reign.

Roger of Wendover mentions the coinage reform under the year 975, but as it appears in a general retrospective of Edgar's reign placed after the note of his death this cannot be used as dating evidence, any more than the panegyric on Edgar's reign which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts in the year of his accession, 959. As the standardizing of the coinage would involve a significant assertion of royal power, it is tempting to associate it with all the other carefully-orchestrated conspicuous displays of royal power around Edgar's second coronation in 973, but there is admittedly no documentary evidence.

Stewart (1990 p.462) and Jonsson (1987 p.84) discuss the possibilities and problems of dating the reform from the numismatic evidence, the surviving Small Cross coins of Edgar, Edward, and Æthelred. Based on the fact that some moneyers seem to have got through several coin dies (the patterns used to stamp new coins) in Edgar's part of the issue, Jonsson concludes that the new coinage must have begun a few years before 975, and agrees that c.973 appears likely. Stewart suggests c.972 based on the surviving number of coins, though he admits that this is based on assumptions that the surviving material is representative and that coinage was at a steady rate, neither of which is necessarily true (there might, for instance, have been a larger-than-usual production in 973 to launch the new system).

Short of a newly-discovered piece of documentary evidence to fix the dating more precisely (for instance, a dated law code of Edgar to promulgate the reform), c.973 seems the most reasonable estimate for the date of Edgar's reform.

Small Cross to First Hand c.979

The first type, Small Cross, was used by Edgar, Edward the Martyr, and Æthelred. It was replaced early in Æthelred's reign (far fewer coins of Æthelred survive than of Edgar or Edward) by the First Hand type.

The more precise date c.979 is based on the contents of a hoard found at Chester in 1914, which contained 111 Small Cross coins (of Edgar, Edward, and Æthelred) and 11 First Hand coins. If this hoard was deposited in response to the Viking raids on Cheshire of 980 (see Metcalf and Dolley, 1961 pp.152-3), then the very small proportion of First Hand coins in the hoard would imply that the type had just been introduced in 980, hence c.979 for the changeover date.

First Hand to Second Hand c.985

Dolley suggested that Second Hand was introduced by 986, on the grounds that a hoard found at Iona with both First and Second Hand coins should be associated with the Viking raid on Iona of 986 (Petersson 1969 pp.75-6). As Petersson notes, the association is plausible but not certain. Stewart (1990 p.478) argues that the mid-980s is a likely time for the introduction of Second Hand, whether or not the Iona context is correctly identified.

Some numismatists have argued that Second Hand was not a distinctive new type, but only a variant of First Hand. They have practically the same reverse design (the Hand of God descending from a cloud, flanked by alpha and omega), which, it is argued, would make it needlessly difficult for moneyers to tell the issues apart. However, it is likely that political iconography (the Hand of God emphasizing divine support for Æthelred's reign) would be considered more important than the convenience of moneyers. It should also be remembered that the Hand types occur near the beginning of the reform, quite possibly before all the details had been worked out: perhaps it was the experience of confusion between First and Second Hand which ensured that more substantial changes were made between types in subsequent issues.

Another curious point about Second Hand is that very few coins of the type survive from northern mints: there are only two known from York, and none from Lincoln. If the currently-known finds are an accurate reflection of the situation in the tenth century, it may be that these mints were closed in the Second Hand period, or that they did not receive new dies to produce Second Hand. It is worth noting that there are seven known First Hand coins from York with blundered inscriptions, which might suggest that First Hand dies were re-used in York after the withdrawal of the issue elsewhere. The English narrative histories shed no light on northern affairs in the later 980s, but the reference in the Annals of Ulster to a raid on Iona in 986 show that there were Vikings in the area, and a series of unrecorded punishing raids on Northumbria that disrupted mint activity would help explain the scarcity of northern Second Hand coins.

Second Hand to Crux c.991?

Crux to Long Cross c.997?

The evidence for the dating of these changes is much less clear than elsewhere in the series, because there is no point where numismatic evidence can clearly be linked with historical records. See Metcalf's Atlas for further discussion.

Jonsson (p.191) makes the interesting suggestion, not taken up elsewhere, that the introduction of Crux should be placed in 993, the year which marks the end of Æthelred's "irresponsible phase". 993 might also mark the end of the tenure of Earl Thored of Northumbria (who last witnesses a charter in 992), and might therefore be an appropriate moment for strong royal control and the single currency to be reintroduced in the north of England. This suggestion would tie the change of type much more closely to the political background, but as our knowledge of the period is so incomplete, and as the numismatic evidence is so inconclusive, it cannot be insisted upon.

Long Cross to Helmet c.1003

The change from Long Cross to Helmet is traditionally dated to about 1003, because the Wilton mint was closed temporarily between the end of Æthelred's Long Cross issue and the first issue of Cnut, and this has been associated with the destruction of Wilton recorded by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under 1003 (Dolley and Metcalf, p.153). Three of the four Wilton moneyers are recorded at a new mint in Salisbury, whose first issue is Æthelred's Helmet type.

The dating is not conclusive: other towns were destroyed in 1003-4 but their mints still produced Æthelred's Helmet type (Metcalf, Atlas p.126, lists Exeter, Norwich and Thetford), which shows that the mints either were not destroyed in the first place or could be started up again fairly quickly. The move of the mint from Wilton to the more defensible hill-fort site of Salisbury (Old Sarum, not modern Salisbury) is plausibly associated with the recorded burning of Wilton in 1003, but this is as usual a case of a plausible explanation rather than proof.

Helmet to Last Small Cross c.1009

An argument supporting this dating was advanced by Lyon (1966), who noted that Last Small Cross coins of Oxford and Wallingford were very rare, and suggested that the mints were in fact closed for part or most of the Last Small Cross period. He associated this with the burning of Oxford noted by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under 1009.

The burning of Oxford in 1009 provides a plausible context for a break in production of the Oxford mint, though as the evidence of Exeter, Norwich and Thetford shows (all three ravaged in 1003-4 but still producing Æthelred's Helmet issue), this is not proof. One could argue that the effects of Vikings attacks on already-battered areas would become more severe as the years of raiding went on, and that the English administrative systems would become less able to cope with emergencies. So it is plausible, if not demonstrable, that the destruction of Oxford in 1009 would have had more far-reaching effects than that of Exeter in 1003.

Later issues (Cnut, Harold, Harthacnut, Edward)

After Æthelred's reign, it becomes more difficult to date the changes of coinage, because there are fewer deposited hoards with externally-dated reference points. The relative chronology, the order of the types, is known and accepted, but in most cases the only available evidence for dating is on the change of reign. Thus the two changes of type in Cnut's reign are spaced one-third and two-thirds of the way through his reign, and Edward's reign is divided into two- and three-year periods to fit his ten types into his twenty-four years. It is reasonable to assume roughly equal periods for the issues in Cnut's and Edward's reigns because there are no huge imbalances in the number of surviving coins of different types, such as might suggest that one issue was larger (and so perhaps issued over a longer period) than the others.

The more exact dating of the issues of Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut is possible because both narrative and numismatic sources offer clearer information. In 1036 Harold became regent of all England for himself and his half-brother, and coins of the Jewel Cross type appear in the names of both Harold and Harthacnut. In 1037 Harold became sole ruler, so presumably Harthacnut's Jewel Cross issue ceased: however, there are so many more of Harold's Jewel Cross coins than of Harthacnut's that it seems likely that his issue continued into the following year. The next issue, Fleur-de-Lis, was solely in Harold's name and so can be dated from the end of Harold's Jewel Cross (presumably 1038) until his death in 1040, and the issue after that, Harthacnut's Arm-and-Sceptre, was solely in Harthacnut's name so can be dated to his reign after Harold's death, 1040-2.

M. Blackburn, "Æthelred's coinage and the payment of tribute", in D. Scragg (ed.), The Battle of Maldon AD 991 (Oxford: 1991), pp.156-69

J. Brand, Periodic Change of Type in the Anglo-Saxon and Norman Periods (Rochester: 1984)

M. Dolley, "Roger of Wendover's Date for Eadgar's Coinage Reform", British Numismatic Journal 49 (1979), pp.1-11

M. Dolley and M. Metcalf, "The Reform of the Englsih Coinage under Eadgar", in M. Dolley (ed.), Anglo-Saxon Coins (London: 1961), pp.136-68

K. Jonsson, The New Era: The Reformation of the Late Anglo-Saxon Coinage (London: 1987)

S. Lyon, "The Significance of the Sack of Oxford in 1009/10 for the Chronology of the Coinage of Æthelred II", British Numismatic Journal 35 (1966), pp.34-7

M. Metcalf, An Atlas of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Coin Finds 973-1086 (London: 1998)

B. Petersson, Anglo-Saxon Currency: King Edgar's Reform to the Norman Conquest (Lund: 1969)

K. Jonsson (ed.), Studies in Late Anglo-Saxon Coinage (Stockholm: 1990), esp. articles by B. Petersson ("Coins and weights. Late Anglo-Saxon pennies and mints c.973-1066") and I. Stewart ("Coinage and recoinage after Edgar's reform")

973. Edgar cedes Lothian to Kenneth of Scotland (?)

The earliest source for this is the 13th-century account of Roger of Wendover. See discussion at Stenton, p.370. If it took place, then Edgar's cession of the English lands between the Tweed and the Forth to gain the allegiance of the Scottish king is another demonstration that the English recognized the northern border of Northumbria as the northern limit of the kingdom of England, like Eadred's grant of Strathclyde to Malcolm of Scotland in 945. It would also be our only hint of the negotiations and politicking that may have been behind the formal show of eight Celtic kings submitting to Edgar after his consecration at Bath on May 11, 973.

F. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, 3rd edn (Oxford: 1971)

July 8, 975. Edgar dies
Edward (the Martyr), Edgar's son, succeeds to England

Edgar died in 975 and left two sons, by different mothers. The older, Edward, was son of Wulfthryth or Æthelflæd and was probably somewhere between eleven and sixteen (born before the second marriage of 964, but not much before because Edgar himself was only about 20 in 964; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes he was 29 in 973). The younger, Æthelred, was son of Ælfthryth, and probably nine or younger (as the second son of a marriage of 964). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Edward succeeded.

The succession of the oldest son is not in itself surprising, though it was not guaranteed in Anglo-Saxon England, as is seen from the succession of Æthelstan's younger brother Ælfweard after the death of Edward the Elder in 924. What makes the succession of Edgar's son Edward surprising is the fact that there had been clear signs while Edgar was alive that the kingship was expected to pass to a son of Ælfthryth (see note under Edgar's accession, 959). While the Chronicle notes no dissent to Edward's succession, the near-contemporary Life of St Oswald notes that there was a conflict, with some nobles preferring the king's elder son, and others the younger, partly because the younger seemed gentler in speech and deeds while the older inspired terror both with words and with blows (extract at EHD 236, p.914). The Life does not give the names of nobles in the opposing camps, but some of the parties can be reconstructed: Æthelwold bishop of Winchester, Ælfthryth Edgar's widow, and Ælfhere ealdorman of Mercia were on Æthelred's side, while Dunstan archbishop of Canterbury, Æthelwine ealdorman of East Anglia and Byrhtnoth of Essex favoured Edward (see Keynes, Diplomas, p.166, and Yorke, pp.81-5). Since the two princes were both very young, it is likely that family loyalties played at least as much part in the choosing of sides as the perceived throne-worthiness of either boy.

There was continuing unrest in Edward's reign, but it is hard to know how much of this is resistance to Edward and how much a more general reaction to a loosening of the repressive control of Edgar's reign. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in Mercia and elsewhere, nobles including Ealdorman Ælfhere plundered and destroyed many of the monasteries founded in Edgar's reign. But it seems that the establishment of the monasteries had sometimes encroached on secular rights, and the nobles were more probably trying to recover what they saw as their own property than to blot out the monastic reform. A charter of Æthelred's records that some of the land Edgar granted to the monastery at Abingdon had been land set aside for the æthelings, and that after Edgar's death and Edward's accession it was recovered and given to Æthelred for his use (S 937; translated as EHD 123). (For further examples, see Keynes, "900-1016", p.00.)

Aside from the unrest, almost nothing is known of Edward's reign. He was murdered in 978.

S. Keynes, The Diplomas of King Æthelred "The Unready" 978-1016: A Study in their Use as Historical Evidence (Cambridge: 1980), pp.163-6

S. Keynes, "England 900-1016", in T. Reuter (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History III (Cambridge: forthcoming)

B. Yorke, "Æthelwold and the Politics of the Tenth Century", Bishop Æthelwold: His Career and Influence (Woodbridge: 1988), pp.65-88

975. Oslac of Northumbria exiled

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Oslac was deprived of his lands and driven from the country, but without details. It is unknown whether he had supported either Edward or Æthelred in the succession crisis, or whether his exile was part of the throwing off of Edgar's more repressive controls. One of Edgar's codes does note Oslac's responsibility for enforcing the laws within his ealdormanry (IV Edgar 15; EHD 42, p.437).

976. Great famine in England

March 18, 978. Edward the Martyr killed

There has been some confusion on the dates of Edward's murder and Æthelred's consecration, but it seems likeliest that Edward died in 978 and Æthelred was consecrated in 979; see Keynes, p.233 n.7. One version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle adds the details that the killing took place at Corfe in the evening of 18 March, and that Edward was buried at Wareham without royal honours. In the following year Ealdorman Ælfhere (of Mercia) fetched the king's body from Wareham and bore it with great honour to Shaftesbury.

The nearly-contemporary Life of St Oswald adds the details that the murder was committed by some zealous thegns of Æthelred, who surrounded and killed Edward when he had come to visit his half-brother Æthelred and Ælfthryth (see EHD 236, pp.914-5). The Life calls Edward a martyr of God, and adds that he was taken to the house of an unimportant person and left there under a mean covering, until a year later Ælfhere came and found the body uncorrupted and buried it honorably.

The late 11th-century Passion of St Edward adds that it was Ælfthryth who plotted the killing, so that her son could be king (Fell, pp.3-4; on the date, see Fell, p.xx). This may be a truth that was known at the time and suppressed in the Life of St Oswald for fear of royal displeasure, but could just as well be the first stage in the transformation of Ælfthryth from a historical person into a fairy-tale wicked stepmother (at the extreme end of which she is reduced to using magic potions and torturing abbots with hot irons; see Wright, pp.158-60). At this distance, without clearer information, the mystery of who plotted Edward's death remains unsolved. (See further Keynes, pp.166-74.)

A cult of St Edward soon developed: Æthelred called his half-brother a saint in a charter of 1001 (S 899), and stated that St Edward's festival was to be celebrated over all England on 18 March in one of his law codes (V Æthelred 16, issued 1008; see EHD 44, p.444, and references at Ridyard, p.157 n.71).

C. Fell, Edward King and Martyr (Leeds: 1971)

S. Keynes, The Diplomas of King Æthelred "The Unready" 978-1016: A Study in their Use as Historical Evidence (Cambridge: 1980), pp.163-74

S. Ridyard, The Royal Saints of Anglo-Saxon England: A Study of West Saxon and East Anglian Cults (Cambridge: 1988), pp.44-50 and 154-75

D. Rollason, "The cults of murdered royal saints in Anglo-Saxon England", Anglo-Saxon England 11 (1982), pp.1-22

C. Wright, The Cultivation of Saga in Anglo-Saxon England (London: 1939)

978. Æthelred, Edgar's son, succeeds to England
May 4, 979. Æthelred consecrated king

Æthelred came to power in 978 after the murder of his half-brother Edward on 18 March 978; he was probably twelve or younger. From the regnal years of some of his charters we know he was already acting as king in 978, but he seems not to have been consecrated until 979 (see Keynes, Diplomas, p.233). We have no means of knowing why there was a delay of over a year between Æthelred's accession and his coronation, but if Edward's body was really hidden and in an uncertain location for a year after the death it was perhaps thought inappropriate to consecrate a successor; it may not even have been absolutely certain that Edward was dead.

From a study of Æthelred's charters, Simon Keynes has divided the internal affairs of the reign into four periods (see Keynes, Diplomas). In his teenage years (978-84) he seems to have been carefully guided by his mother Ælfthryth and Æthelwold, the bishop of Winchester. Æthelwold died in 984 and his mother disappeared from his charters until 993; in this period, called by Keynes the period of "youthful indiscretion", Æthelred seems to have been manipulated by counsellors to alienate church lands in ways that by 993 he admits he regrets. In 993 a new group of witnesses became prominent in the charters, Æthelred was making amends to the churches, and were it not for the Viking raids from without this might have come down to us as a period of peace and prosperity. In about 1006 there seems to have been another abrupt change in the witnesses of charters, coincident with the emergence in 1007 of Eadric as ealdorman of Mercia. Eadric is increasingly prominent in the closing years of Æthelred's reign.

Æthelred's reign is however much better known for the Viking raids, which resumed in 980. They seem to have become more serious in 991, when after the battle of Maldon it was first decided to pay tribute to the Vikings to try to get them to leave. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records five "national" payments in Æthelred's reign (?10,000 in 991, ?16,000 in 993, ?24,000 in 1002, ?36,000 in 1007, ?48,000 in 1012), but there were probably also many unrecorded "local" payments (like the ?3,000 from Canterbury and East Kent in 1009). Sometimes these payments did gain the English a respite, but the escalating amounts and the repeated return visits show that the situation was out of control. Æthelred was driven from the country at the end of 1013; though he returned early in 1014 and drove the Vikings out, they returned the following year. At his death in 1016 the Danish Vikings were over-running the country, and by the end of that year Cnut the Dane was king of all England.

Most of our narrative sources for Æthelred come from the end of the reign and so are understandably grim. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for Æthelred's reign seems to have been written after Cnut's conquest, and may project more gloom than was actually present in the earlier years (a contemporary annal for 1001 survives from one version of the Chronicle, and is much less doom-laden than the annal for 1001 in the sequence composed after 1016). Wulfstan of York's Sermo Lupi ad Anglos of 1014 reads like a catalogue of all that is wrong with England, but like the Chronicle it is reporting on a society after three decades of invasion, and this should not be extended back over the thirty-eight years of Æthelred's reign. Wulfstan is also writing in a self-centred tradition in which foreign invasions are explained not by the needs or desires of the foreigners, but by the sins of the natives, which have caused God to turn his face from them and allow them to be chastised. In this context it is not surprising that Wulfstan does not mention the flowering of literature (works by Ælfric, by Byrhtferth of Ramsey, by Wulfstan of Winchester), illuminated manuscripts (see The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art, nn.33-58), and other artwork (Golden Age, nn. 74-5, 118-9) that can be dated to the turn of the 10th/11th centuries.

Æthelred was twice married, and all his sons were given the names of earlier English kings. By his first wife, Ælfgifu, he had Æthelstan (who died in 1014 and left a will, S 1503, EHD 129), Ecgberht, Edmund Ironside (who was king in 1016), Eadred, Eadwig (killed by Cnut in 1017), Edgar, Edith (who married Ealdorman Eadric after 1006), Ælfgifu, and perhaps three other daughters. (Two 12th-century sources state that Æthelred's first wife Ælfgifu was the daughter of an ealdorman, but since they name different ealdormen, Æthelberht and Thored, and it is not clear which is more trustworthy, Ælfgifu's parentage remains uncertain. See Barlow, Edward the Confessor, p. 28 n. 5.) In 1002 Æthelred married Emma of Normandy, and they had three surviving children: Edward (the Confessor, who became king in 1042), Alfred (killed in 1036), and a daughter, Godgifu, who married Drogo the count of the Vexin, and then after Drogo's death in 1035 married Eustace the count of Boulogne.

Æthelred's nickname, "the Unready", only appears centuries after his death. It is first recorded in the late 13th century as "Unrad", a comment on his reign meanaing "no counsel" or "ill-advised counsel", and intended as a contrast to the literal meaning of Æthelred's name, "noble counsel". By the fifteenth century the pun was no longer understood and the meaning came closer to the modern "Unready" (see Keynes, "Declining Reputation", in Hill 1978). Since Æthelred himself admits in 993 that counsellors had been able to take advantage of his ignorance, and later in his years of maturity he placed his trust in the treacherous Eadric, it seems undeniable that he was at times a poor judge of character.

J. Backhouse and others, The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art, 966-1066 (London: 1984)

F. Barlow, Edward the Confessor, 2nd edn (London: 1997)

D. Hill (ed.), Ethelred the Unready: Papers from the Millenary Conference (Oxford: 1978)

S. Keynes, The Diplomas of King Æthelred "The Unready" 978-1016: A Study in their Use as Historical Evidence (Cambridge: 1980)

S. Keynes, "The Vikings in England", The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings (Oxford: 1997), pp.48-82

980. Return of the Vikings: Southampton, Thanet, and Cheshire ravaged

981. Vikings ravage Devon and Cornwall

982. Vikings ravage in Portland (Dorset), burn London

983. Ælfhere of Mercia ravages Dyfed

The Annales Cambriae record that the Saxons, led by Ælfhere (ealdorman of Mercia), ravaged the lands of Einion ab Owain (Dyfed).

984. Æthelwold of Winchester dies
Beginning of Æthelred's "irresponsible phase"

985. Ealdorman Ælfric exiled

985-7. Abbo of Fleury teaches at Ramsey

986. Æthelred lays waste the diocese of Rochester

986. Vikings raid Iona

988. Vikings ravage Watchet (Somerset)

March 1, 991. Peace treaty between England and Normandy

From a letter from Pope John XV of this date (translated at EHD 230) we learn that there were strained relations between Æthelred of England and Richard of Normandy in the late 980s or early 990s. (The letter is the only surviving record of these difficulties.) The Pope received many reports of this enmity and finally sent a legate, Leo of Trevi, with letters for both Æthelred and Richard. Both kings confirmed the peace at Rouen on 1 March 991, and it was set out in these terms: that if either of them or any of their people did wrong to the other, it should be atoned for with fitting compensation, that the peace should remain forever unshaken, and that the duke should receive none of the king's men, or of his enemies, nor the king any of the duke's, without their seal.

The stricture against the duke of Normandy receiving Æthelred's enemies may suggest that the Vikings had been using Normandy as a base for their raids against England in the 980s.

S. Keynes, "Introduction to the 1998 Reprint" of Alistair Campbell (ed.), Encomium Emmae Reginae (Cambridge: 1998), at p.xvi

August 10/11, 991. Battle of Maldon
Tribute payment to the Vikings: ?10,000

D. Scragg (ed.), The Battle of Maldon, AD 991 (Oxford: 1991)

992. English fleet gathered at London
Ealdorman Ælfric deserts

993. Vikings sack Bamburgh, and Lindsey and Northumbria
English army gathered, but leaders flee
Æthelred has Ælfgar, son of Ealdorman Ælfric, blinded

September 993. Olaf and Sveinn come to London with 94 ships, but are repulsed
Vikings ravage along the coast and Essex, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, etc
Tribute payment to the Vikings: ?16,000
Vikings winter at Southampton

993. End of Æthelred's "irresponsible phase"

997. Vikings attack Cornwall, Wales, Devon

998. Vikings attack Dorset, terrorize Isle of Wight, Hampshire, Sussex

999. Vikings ravage West Kent

1000. Æthelred ravages Cumberland

Summer 1000. Vikings to Normandy

1001. Vikings ravage Hampshire, Devon, etc.

1002. Tribute payment to the Vikings: ?24,000

Spring 1002. Æthelred marries Emma of Normandy

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that the Lady (hlæfdige), Richard's daughter (daughter of Richard I, count of Rouen 942-6), came to England. Emma of Normandy was given the English name Ælfgifu (which is, confusingly, also the name of Æthelred's first wife); she was witnessing the king's charters already by the second half of 1002.

S. Keynes, "Introduction to the 1998 Reprint" of Alistair Campbell (ed.), Encomium Emmae Reginae (Cambridge: 1998)

November 13, 1002. St Brice's Day Massacre: Æthelred decrees death of all Danes in England

1003. Sveinn and his army take Exeter, harry Wessex to Wilton and Salisbury, then return to sea

1004. Sveinn lands with fleet in East Anglia, sacks Norwich, Thetford
English under Ulfcytel Snilling attack; lose, but hard fight

1005. Great famine in England
Sveinn and his fleet return to Denmark

1006. Danish fleet returns, takes Sandwich, Isle of Wight
Much devastation (Hampshire, Berkshire, Reading, Wiltshire)

1007. Tribute payment to the Vikings: ?36,000

1007. Eadric Streona appointed ealdorman of the Mercians

1008. Æthelred orders concentrated ship-building

1009. English fleet stationed off Sandwich
After internal conflicts, remnants of fleet stationed at London

August, 1009. Thorkell's army arrives at Sandwich
Canterbury and East Kent buy off the Vikings for ?3,000
Vikings move on to Isle of Wight, ravage Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire
November, 1009. Vikings take winter quarters on the Thames, in Kent, often attack London

January (?), 1010. Vikings burn Oxford
May, 1010. Vikings storm Ipswich, defeat Ulfcytel
Vikings burn Thetford and Cambridge, Bedford and Tempsford, Northampton, etc.

1011. Danish raids all over;
Ælfheah, archbishop of Canterbury, captured; later martyred

April, 1012. Tribute payment to Vikings: ?48,000
Thorkell swears allegiance to Æthelred

1012. Eadric ravages Dyfed

The Annales Cambriae record that Eadric and Ubis (?), the Saxons, ravaged Menevia (Dyfed).

1013. Danish Sveinn returns with his fleet
Sveinn accepted as king by most of England
Sveinn besieges London

Christmas 1013. Æthelred escapes to Normandy
London surrenders

February 3, 1014. Death of Sveinn
Crews of Danish ships elect Cnut
English approach Æthelred in Normandy

April 1014. Æthelred returns, puts Cnut to flight

1015. Eadric betrays and kills Sigeferth and Morcar of the Seven Boroughs
Edmund Ironside, Æthelred's son, marries Aldgyth, Sigeferth's widow, against his father's wishes
Edmund takes submission of the Seven Boroughs

August 1015. Cnut's fleet returns to England
Edmund and Eadric raise armies against the Danes
Eadric turns coat to follow Cnut
West Saxons submit to Cnut

1016. Edmund joins forces with the Northumbrian Uhtred
Edmund and Cnut ravage
Cnut's army closes on York, and Uhtred and the Northumbrians submit to Cnut

April 23, 1016. Æthelred dies
Edmund Ironside chosen as king by London, and besieged there
Cnut chosen as king by the rest of England at Southampton (?)
Edmund retakes Wessex
Battles of Penselwood, Sherston, Brentford -- Eadric switches sides

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Æthelred died on St George's day (April 23), and that after that Edmund was chosen as king by all the counsellors who were in London. The allegiance of the rest of the country is not discussed in the Chronicle, but John of Worcester in the 12th century explains that the chief nobles of the rest of the country renounced the line of Æthelred and concluded a peace with Cnut at Southampton. The facts that in the Chronicle's account the Vikings could besiege Edmund in London with impunity, and that Edmund had to re-take possession of Wessex, tend to support John of Worcester's statement.

Edmund did break out of London and take back Wessex, and receive the submission of the West Saxons. Shortly afterwards he fought Cnut's army at Penselwood near Gillingham, and then again after midsummer at Sherston -- the Chronicle notes that in the battle of Sherston Eadric Streona and Ælfmær Darling were supporting the Danes. Edmund then gathered the West Saxon army and took them to London and relieved the siege and sent the Danes back to their ships. Two days later, Edmund fought the Danes at Brentford and put them to flight, and then he returned to Wessex and collected his army.

Once Edmund had left the Danes besieged London again, but they were successfully repulsed, and went instead into Mercia, and ravaged there, and gathered again in the Medway. Edmund brought his army to Kent, and fought the Danes at Otford according to John of Worcester, and the Danes fled to Sheppey. Eadric switched back to Edmund's side at Aylesford, and the Chronicle records Edmund's acceptance with the doleful comment, "no greater folly was ever agreed to than that was". The Danes meanwhile went back inland into Essex. Edmund overtook them in Essex at the hill called Ashingdon, and fought them there on October 18.

The fate of the other members of Æthelred's family after his death in April 1016 is less certain. A contemporary German observer, Thietmar of Merseburg, records that Emma and her two sons were in besieged London, and that the Danes offered Emma peace if she would give up her sons and pay an appropriate ransome. Thietmar adds that after long deliberation Emma agreed to this, but in the confusion the two brothers slipped away. Later Norse sources credit Edward (the future Confessor) with fighting alongside Edmund Ironside in the battles of 1016, though his presence was probably only symbolic (he can have been no more than 13 years old, since his parents were married in 1002). Edward makes no impression on the contemporary English sources, and a charter he witnesses at Ghent at Christmas 1016 suggests that he was in Flanders by the end of 1016, perhaps on his way back to Normandy after Edmund's death and Cnut's triumph in November 1016. It is uncertain where the other children of Æthelred and Emma (Alfred and Godgifu) were in the course of 1016, but all three of them were in Normandy after 1016 (see further entry on 1033/4).

F. Barlow, Edward the Confessor, 2nd edn (London: 1997)

S. Keynes, "The Æthelings in Normandy", Anglo-Norman Studies 13 (1991), pp.173-205

October 18, 1016. Battle of Ashingdon: Cnut defeats Edmund
Terms at Alney: Edmund keeps Wessex, Cnut takes everything else

On October 18, Edmund's army overtook Cnut's at Ashingdon in Essex and they fought there. Eadric betrayed the English by starting a rout with the Magonsæte (the people of Herefordshire), and the Chronicle notes that he thereby "betrayed his liege lord and all the people of England". Cnut won the victory and casualties on the English side were heavy -- the Chronicle names a bishop, an abbot, three ealdorman (Ælfric of Hampshire, Godwine of Lindsey, Ulfcytel of East Anglia), and continues "all the nobility of England were there destroyed".

Edmund survived, and Cnut followed him with his army to Gloucester. Eadric and other counsellors advised that the kings should be reconciled, so hostages were exchanged and a meeting took place at Alney, at which the kings established their friendship with an oath, fixed the payment for the Danish army, and divided the kingdom so that Edmund would succeed to Wessex and Cnut to Mercia (and presumably the rest of England).

Then the Danish army went to their ships, and the Londoners came to terms with them and bought peace from them, and the Danish army took up winter quarters in London.

In 1020, Cnut and Archbishop Wulfstan and Earl Thorkell and many bishops returned to witness the consecration of a minster at Ashingdon, commemorating the site of the victory much as William would later establish the abbey at Battle.

November 30, 1016. Edmund dies
Cnut becomes king of all England

The Chronicle records Edmund's death on St Andrew's day (November 30), and adds that he was buried at Glastonbury. Cnut then succeeded to the whole of England.