May 11, 973: Second coronation of King Edgar

Coin of King Edgar The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle marks Edgar's second coronation, at Bath, on Pentecost (11 May) 973, by breaking into verse. The verse is fairly pedestrian, but something momentous was afoot. Another version of the Chronicle records that after the coronation itself, the king and his navy went to Chester, and six kings met him there (other contemporary sources say eight kings), and pledged alliance with him. A twelfth-century historian records that these eight kings rowed Edgar along the river Dee, with Edgar holding the rudder, symbolically very much in charge -- the kings might row, but Edgar would determine where they were going. The site of the coronation itself was a place to conjure with: most tenth-century royal consecrations were at Kingston, but Bath boasted impressive Roman remains, and the shadow not of West Saxon origins, but of the old united Roman Britannia.

There was a serious point behind the grandstanding. In 955, King Edmund (946-55) died leaving behind two claimants to the throne, Eadwig (955-9) and Edgar (957-75), and a couple of years later the country was partitioned between them. In 975, when Edgar died, also leaving behind two claimants (Edward the Martyr and Æthelred), there was no question of dividing the kingdom. The last non-English lord of York (Erik Bloodaxe) ruled in Edmund's time -- it was in Edgar's time that Northumbria was firmly bound into the kingdom of England, and at about the time of the second coronation that a uniform coinage was (for the first time) extended over the whole country, and regional variants (like the coin pictured here) were suppressed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, on a strikingly modern note, says that he was a good king but he had one fault, of loving evil foreign customs and bringing harmful foreigners into the country. But from our vantage point it is only under Edgar that the "country" of England finally took the shape it has largely maintained to the present day.