Alfred the Great, Glastonbury, Holy Roman Emperor, Holy Roman Empire, King Edmund I of England, King of the English, Louis IV of France, Otto the Great
Edmund I or Ædmund I (920/921 – May 26, 946) was King of the English from 27 October 939 until his death. He was the elder son of King Edward the Elder and his third wife, Queen Eadgifu, and a grandson of King Alfred the Great. After Edward died in 924, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Edmund’s half-brother, Æthelstan. Edmund was crowned after Æthelstan died childless in 939.
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 the English. 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 Ædred. Æthelflæd’s second husband was Æthelstan Rota, a south-east Mercian ealdorman, and her will survives
Æthelstan had succeeded as the King of the English south of the Humber and he became the first king of all England when he conquered Viking-ruled York in 927, but after his death Anlaf Guthfrithson was accepted as king of York and extended Viking rule to the Five Boroughs of north-east Mercia.
King Æthelstan died at Gloucester on October 27, 939 and was succeeded by his half-brother who became King Edmund I of the English.
After Æthelstan’s death, the men of York immediately chose the Viking king of Dublin, Olaf Guthfrithson as their king, and Anglo-Saxon control of the north, seemingly made safe by the victory of Brunanburh, collapsed. The reigns of Æthelstan’s half-brothers Edmund (939–946) and Eadred (946–955) were largely devoted to regaining control.
Edmund was initially forced to accept the reverse, the first major setback for the West Saxon dynasty since Alfred’s reign, but he was able to recover his position following Anlaf’s death in 941.
In 942 Edmund took back control of the Five Boroughs and in 944 he regained control over the whole of England when he expelled the Viking kings of York. Eadred had to deal with further revolts when he became king, and York was not finally conquered until 954. Æthelstan had achieved a dominant position over other British kings and Edmund maintained this, perhaps apart from Scotland.
The north Welsh king Idwal Foel may have allied with the Vikings as he was killed by the English in 942. The British kingdom of Strathclyde may also have sided with the Vikings as Edmund ravaged it in 945 and then ceded it to Malcolm I of Scotland. Edmund also continued his brother’s friendly relations with Continental rulers, several of whom were married to his half-sisters.
Edmund inherited strong Continental contacts from Æthelstan’s cosmopolitan court, and these were enhanced by their sisters’ marriages to foreign kings and princes. Edmund carried on his brother’s Continental policies and maintained his alliances, especially with his nephew King Louis IV of West Francia and Otto I, King of East Francia and Emperor whose empire evolved into the Holy Roman Empire.
Louis IV was both nephew and brother-in-law of Otto, while Otto and Edmund were brothers-in-law. There were almost certainly extensive diplomatic contacts between Edmund and Continental rulers which have not been recorded, but it is known that Otto sent delegations to Edmund’s court. In the early 940s some Norman lords sought the help of the Danish prince Harald against Louis, and in 945 Harald captured Louis and handed him to Hugh the Great, Duke of the Franks, who kept him prisoner. Edmund and Otto both protested and demanded his immediate release, but this only took place in exchange for the surrender of the town of Laon to Hugh.
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, 26 May, 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.