This Month in History

Detail of miniature from the New Minster Charter, 966, showing King Edgar

The Coronation of King Edgar the Peaceful

11 May 973

Coronations today tend to mark the beginning of a monarch’s reign, but the coronation of Edgar the Peaceful instead marked its pinnacle; the point when he was the most powerful he could possibly be.

King Edgar the Peaceful was, by all accounts, a truly remarkable person. He was less than five feet tall, and was extremely charismatic and charming. He became king in October 959 after the death of his older brother Eadwig, aged just 16 years old. His brother had not been a popular king; his reign was characterised by conflict with his nobles and with the Church, and by losing the kingdom of Northumbria to the Viking leader Eric Bloodaxe. Edgar’s reign, by comparison, was filled with stability and relative harmony in the Church, and some big developments in the governing of the country. It was he who divided England up into shires, and then each shire into hundreds. He encouraged trade and protected the currency, and his laws were so well-respected that his more famous successor, King Canute, frequently wrote to his lords insisting that Edgar’s laws be upheld.

In private, Edgar was far less peaceful. He was married twice, first to Elfleda, whom he later divorced to marry Elfrida. Elfrida was crowned with Edgar at Bath, and she is the first consort since Judith of France to be referred to as a ‘Queen’. Edgar in fact killed Elfrida’s husband to marry her. Earl Ethelwald reputedly advised the king against marrying the beautiful lady, but then married her himself. Unsurprisingly King Edgar did not take kindly to this, and had no qualms about rectifying the issue. He had four children, all but one of which seem to have been illegitimate.

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