April 19, 1057: Death of Edward the Exile

There were three kings called Edward in Anglo-Saxon England. King Edward the Elder ruled from 899 to 924; he became known as "the Elder" to differentiate him from the second King Edward, the Martyr, who ruled from 975 until his murder in 978. The third King Edward, the Confessor, ruled from 1042 to 1066, and was recognized as a saint in the twelfth century largely due to the efforts of the monks of Westminster (which he founded). If things had gone a little differently in the late 1050s, Edward the Confessor might have been followed by a fourth King Edward, Edward the Exile.

Edward the Exile was the son of Edmund Ironside, grandson of King Æthelred. After Cnut the Dane conquered England in 1016, Cnut sent Edward the Exile to Hungary, with orders that he be killed there. Edward, like Hamlet, managed somehow to escape this fate and married Agatha, a kinswoman of the emperor. He might have lived and died peacefully in Hungary were it not for the childless marriage of Edward the Confessor.

In 1045 Edward the Confessor married Edith, daughter of Earl Godwine. This should have secured the succession, but when the marriage proved childless, another legitimate heir had to be produced from somewhere, because the Viking conquest of England in 1016 ensured that there would be Scandinavian (and, in the event, Norman) claimants for the throne on Edward's death. Edward the Exile returned in 1057, probably the result of a year-long embassy by Bishop Ealdred of Worcester in 1054, but was unable to meet with King Edward before he died. There is no clear record of how or why he died; one version of the Chronicle, by noting that "we do not know for what reason Edward [the Exile] was not allowed to visit his kinsman King Edward", may suggest that political intrigue between factions at court prevented a peaceful solution of events, with echoes of Godwine's interception of Prince Alfred in 1037 and also, again, of Hamlet.

Review the history, 1016-66.