Edgar the Peacemaker, king of England (957/9 - 8 July 975)

Edgar (d. 8 July 975), son of King Edmund and fostered by Athelstan Half King, was king of the Mercians and Northumbrians during the reign of his brother Eadwig (957-59), and king of England (959-75) after Eadwig's death. Edgar is best known for his elaborate consecration ceremony in 973 and for his active and enthusiastic support of the monastic reform movement. John of Worcester records that Edgar was called pacificus, which should probably be rendered "the peacemaker" rather than "the peaceable". The violent reaction after Edgar's death and the fact that Thanet was ravaged on his orders in 969 suggest that the peace of his reign was the result of strict control backed up by military force rather than serenity of character. The show of violence probably also helped to keep Edgar's reign free of foreign invasion: no Viking activity is recorded in England between 954, when Erik Bloodaxe finally left York, and 980, when the second wave of Viking attacks began.

Edgar's consecration in 973, marked in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle by a poem and described at length in Byrhtferth's Vita Oswaldi, was clearly a grand event. It took place at Bath rather than the more usual Kingston: Kingston was in the West Saxon heartlands, but Bath was on the old West Saxon / Mercian border and also a former Roman settlement, perhaps evoking the old Roman "Britannia" claimed in the charters of English kings since Athelstan. In another carefully arranged show of royal power that same year, six or eight Celtic kings acknowledged Edgar's overlordship and rowed him along the river Dee while he held the rudder. Another important event in 973 was a thorough reform of the coinage, with the establishment of new mints and recoinages (in which old coins were recalled and a new issue released) every six years: this system, established by Edgar, survived with little change into King Stephen's reign.

Almost certainly 973 was Edgar's second consecration, repeating on a grander scale an earlier consecration in 960 or 961. It has been argued that Edgar's original consecration was delayed until his thirtieth year in 973, by analogy with the canonical age for becoming a bishop. But in 959 it cannot have been certain that Edgar would reach his thirtieth year (his father Edmund died at 25, his brother Eadwig probably younger), and it is unlikely that Edgar or his allies would deliberately avoid a means of strengthening his authority. As Ælfric said, the people may choose a king, but once he has been consecrated he has dominion over his people, and they cannot shake off his yoke.

That Edgar's yoke was to favour the monastic reformers, and fall heavily on the secular clergy, is shown by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 964, which states that Edgar drove secular priests from Winchester, Chertsey, and Milton Abbas, and had them replaced with monks. This action, a major step in the monastic reform, was planned by Æthelwold, but would have required Edgar's active support. The account of King Edgar's establishment of the monasteries, probably written by Æthelwold, and also the proem of the Regularis Concordia, show clearly the mutual esteem that existed between Edgar and his monastics.

Edgar was twice or perhaps three times married. He was involved with Wulfthryth, who was probably not his wife and later become a nun and abbess of Wilton; their daughter was St Edith. His first wife was Æthelflæd Eneda, and either Wulfthryth or Æthelflæd bore Edward the Martyr. By late 964 Edgar had married his second wife, Ælfthryth, who was mother of Edmund (who died around 971) and Æthelred the Unready. Like Edward the Elder, Edgar left sons by different mothers, and it was probably clear that this was a succession crisis waiting to happen. Efforts seem to have been made to avert it: the gold-lettered refoundation charter of New Minster from 966 gives Ælfthryth's son Edmund clear primacy over his half-brother Edward (Edward is a clito or ætheling, but Edmund is the legitimus clito), but this was not enough to prevent conflict on Edgar's death in 975, when his son Edward succeeded.

Edgar was buried at Glastonbury. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 959 contains a generally favourable summing-up of his reign, but notes one flaw, that he brought heathen manners and harmful foreigners into England. Similar charges were brought against Edward the Confessor; in Edgar's case they may relate to his lawcode IV Edgar, which admits the legal separateness of the Danelaw.