Edmund I (920/921 – May 26, 946) was King of the English from October 27, 939 until his death on May 26, 946.
Family and early life
Edmund’s father, Edward the Elder, had three wives, eight or nine daughters, several of whom married Continental royalty, and five sons. Æthelstan was the only known son of Edward’s first wife, Ecgwynn. His second wife, Ælfflæd, had two sons: Ælfweard, who may have been acknowledged in Wessex as king when his father died in 924 but who died less than a month later, and Edwin, who drowned in 933. In about 919 Edward married Eadgifu, the daughter of Sigehelm, ealdorman of Kent. Edmund, who was born in 920 or 921, was Eadgifu’s elder son.
Her younger son Eadred succeeded him as king. Edmund had one or two full sisters. Eadburh was a nun at Winchester who was later venerated as a saint. The twelfth-century historian William of Malmesbury gives Edmund a second full sister who married Louis, prince of Aquitaine; she was called Eadgifu, the same name as her mother. William’s account is accepted by the historians Ann Williams and Sean Miller, but Æthelstan’s biographer Sarah Foot argues that she did not exist, and that William confused her with Ælfgifu, a daughter of Ælfflæd.
Marriages and children
Edmund probably married his first wife Ælfgifu around the time of his accession to the throne, as their second son was born in 943. Their sons Eadwig and Edgar both became kings of England. Ælfgifu’s father is not known, but her mother is identified by a charter of Edgar which confirms a grant by his grandmother Wynflæd of land to Shaftesbury Abbey.
Ælfgifu was also a benefactor of Shaftesbury Abbey; when she died in 944 she was buried there and venerated as a saint. Edmund had no known children by his second wife, Æthelflæd, who died after 991. Her father Ælfgar became ealdorman of Essex in 946. Edmund presented him with a sword lavishly decorated with gold and silver, which Ælfgar later presented to King Eadred. Æthelflæd’s second husband was Æthelstan Rota, a south-east Mercian ealdorman, and her will survives.
Death and succession
On May 26, 946 Edmund was killed in a brawl at Pucklechurch in Gloucestershire. According to the post-Conquest chronicler, John of Worcester:
While the glorious Edmund, king of the English, was at the royal township called Pucklechurch in English, in seeking to rescue his steward from Leofa, a most wicked thief, lest he be killed, was himself killed by the same man on the feast of St Augustine, teacher of the English, on Tuesday, May 26, in the fourth indiction, having completed five years and seven months of his reign. He was borne to Glastonbury, and buried by the abbot, St Dunstan.
The historians Clare Downham and Kevin Halloran dismiss John of Worcester’s account and suggest that the king was the victim of a political assassination, but this view has not been accepted by other historians.
Like his son Edgar thirty years later, Edmund was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. The location may have reflected its spiritual prestige and royal endorsement of the monastic reform movement, but as his death was unexpected it is more likely that Dunstan was successful in claiming the body. His sons were still young children, so he was succeeded as king by his brother Eadred, who was in turn succeeded by Edmund’s elder son Eadwig in 955.