Edgar Atheling, First Crusade, Henry I of England, Kings and Queens of England, Malcolm III of Scotland, William II of England, William Rufus, William the Conqueror
William kept Edgar in his custody and took him, along with other English leaders, to his court in Normandy in 1067, before returning with them to England. Edgar may have been involved in the abortive rebellion of the Earls Edwin and Morcar in 1068, or he may have been attempting to return to Hungary with his family and been blown off course; in any case, in that year he arrived with his mother and sisters at the court of King Malcolm III Canmore of Scotland. Malcolm married Edgar’s sister Margaret, and agreed to support Edgar in his attempt to reclaim the English throne. When a major rebellion broke out in Northumbria at the beginning of 1069, Edgar returned to England with other rebels who had fled to Scotland, to become the leader, or at least the figurehead, of the revolt.
However, after early successes the rebels were defeated by William at York and Edgar again sought refuge with Malcolm. In late summer that year, the arrival of a fleet sent by King Sweyn of Denmark triggered a fresh wave of English uprisings in various parts of the country. Edgar and the other exiles sailed to the Humber, where they linked up with Northumbrian rebels and the Danes. Their combined forces overwhelmed the Normans at York and took control of Northumbria, but a small seaborne raid which Edgar led into the Kingdom of Lindsey ended in disaster, and he escaped with only a handful of followers to rejoin the main army. Late in the year, William fought his way into Northumbria and occupied York, buying off the Danes and devastating the surrounding country. Early in 1070, he moved against Edgar and other English leaders who had taken refuge with their remaining followers in a marshy region, perhaps Holderness, and put them to flight. Edgar returned to Scotland.
Many of Edgar’s men were hunted down by the Normans, but he managed to escape with the remainder to Scotland by land. Following this disaster, he was persuaded by Malcolm to make peace with William and return to England as his subject, abandoning any ambition of regaining his ancestral throne.
Disappointed at the level of recompense and respect he received from William, in 1086 Edgar renounced his allegiance to the Conqueror and moved with a retinue of men to Norman Apulia.
Norman and Scottish dynastic strife
After King William’s death in 1087, Edgar supported William’s eldest son Robert Curthose, who succeeded him as Duke of Normandy, against his second son, William Rufus, who received the throne of England as William II. Edgar was one of Robert’s three principal advisors at this time. The war waged by Robert and his allies to overthrow William ended in defeat in 1091. As part of the resulting settlement between the brothers, Edgar was deprived of lands which he had been granted by Robert. These were presumably former possessions of William and his supporters in Normandy, confiscated by Robert and distributed to his own followers, including Edgar, but restored to their previous owners by the terms of the peace agreement. The disgruntled Edgar travelled once again to Scotland, where Malcolm was preparing for war with William. When William marched north and the two armies confronted one another, the kings opted to talk rather than fight. The negotiations were conducted by Edgar on behalf of Malcolm, and the newly reconciled Robert Curthose on behalf of William. The resulting agreement included a reconciliation between William and Edgar. However, within months Robert left England, unhappy with William’s failure to fulfil the pact between them, and Edgar went with him to Normandy.
Having returned to England, Edgar went to Scotland again in 1093, on a diplomatic mission for William to negotiate with Malcolm, who was dissatisfied with the Norman failure to implement in full the terms of the 1091 treaty. This dispute led to war, and within the year Malcolm had invaded England and had been killed along with his designated heir Edward, eldest of his sons by Margaret, in the Battle of Alnwick. Malcolm’s successor, his brother Donald Bán, drove out the English and French retainers who had risen high in Malcolm’s service and had thus aroused the jealousy of the existing Scottish aristocracy. This purge brought him into conflict with the Anglo-Norman monarchy, whose influence in Scotland it had diminished. William helped Malcolm’s eldest son Duncan, who had spent many years as a hostage at William I’s court and remained there when set at liberty by William II, to overthrow his uncle, but Donald soon regained the throne and Duncan was killed.
Another effort to restore the Anglo-Norman interest through sponsorship of Malcolm’s sons was launched in 1097, and Edgar made yet another journey to Scotland, this time in command of an invading army. Donald was ousted, and Edgar installed his nephew and namesake, Malcolm and Margaret’s son Edgar, on the Scottish throne.
Orderic tells us that Edgar was the commander of an English fleet which operated off the coast of the region of Syria in support of the First Crusade, whose crews eventually burned their dilapidated ships and joined the advance by land to Jerusalem is doubtful, for this fleet is known to have arrived off the Syrian coast by March 1098; since Edgar invaded Scotland late in 1097, he could not have made the voyage in the time available. It may be though that he travelled overland to the Mediterranean and joined the fleet en route; this is the view taken by Runciman.
William of Malmesbury recorded that Edgar made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1102, and it may be that Orderic’s report is the product of confusion, conflating the expedition of the English fleet with Edgar’s later journey. Some modern historians have suggested that at some point during these years Edgar served in the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire, a unit which was at that time composed primarily of English emigrants, but this is unsupported by evidence. William of Malmesbury stated that on his way back from Jerusalem Edgar was given rich gifts by both the Byzantine and the German emperors, each of whom offered him an honoured place at court, but that he insisted on returning home instead.
Back in Europe, Edgar again took the side of Robert Curthose in the internal struggles of the Norman dynasty, this time against Robert’s youngest brother, who was now Henry I, King of England. He was taken prisoner in the final defeat at the Battle of Tinchebray in 1106, which resulted in Robert being imprisoned for the rest of his life. Edgar was more fortunate: having been taken back to England, he was pardoned and released by King Henry. His niece Edith (renamed Matilda), daughter of Malcolm III and Margaret, had married Henry in 1100. Edgar is believed to have travelled to Scotland once more late in life, perhaps around the year 1120. He lived to see the death at sea in November 1120 of William Adeling, the son of his niece Edith and heir to Henry I. Edgar was still alive in 1125, according to William of Malmesbury, who wrote at the time that Edgar “now grows old in the country in privacy and quiet”.The general consensus is that Edgar died shortly after 1125. The location of his grave is not known.
There is no evidence that Edgar married or produced children apart from two references to an “Edgar Adeling” found in the Magnus Rotulus Pipae Northumberland(Pipe rolls) for the years 1158 and 1167.
Historian Edward Freeman, writing in The History of the Norman Conquest of England, says that this was the same Edgar (aged over 110), a son of his, or some other person known by the title “Ætheling”. This is the only evidence that the male line of England’s original royal family continued beyond Edgar’s death.
English history is nothing if not complicated. How anyone keeps track of who is who and who did what to whom I don’t know. My head hurts after reading all that. Fascinating though.
I began studying all of this back in the late 1970s with a goal of trying to keep track of who’s who!
Wow, seriously… That’s a long time. The Norman Conquest is one of my favourite periods of English history, that and the Romans. Mind you, that said, I love all the history of the UK 🇬🇧 it’s so complicated and so utterly fascinating