Royal dynasties of England proudly claimed that their earliest ancestor was the pagan war god Woden. This sense that they belonged to one ancient family have made it an unconscious ambition of of Anglo-Saxon kings to forge a single kingdom, they admired the feats of overlords whom they called “Bretwalda” The West Saxons, whose kings were to realize this ambition, produced the second Bretwalda, Caewlin(560-93), Ceawlin’s predecessors Cedric (490-534) and Cynric (534-60), began to push westwards from Wessex heartland of the middle Thames.
Wessex was under the over lordship of Northumbria and Mercia in turn from 626-70 but recovered under King Ine (688-726). It was then subject to the Mercian Kings Aehelbald and Offa, but with the accession of Egbert (802-839) Wessex never looked back. Egbert annexed Kent, Sussex and Surrey and turned the tables on Mercia, defeating one king in 825 and briefly expelling another four years later. His next target was Northumbria, which acknowledged his over lordship as Bretwalda. But by now, all the English kings faced a new threat: Vikings, who had been carrying out brutal plundering raids since the 790s. Egbert was defeated by a Danish army in 836, and although he beat them in turn in 838, the shock must have been considerable to other less powerful kings. The Vikings hung like a cloud over the reigns of Egbert’s son Aethelwulf (839-58) and Aethelwulf’s sons. The stage was thus set for the arrival of Aethelwulf’s fifth and youngest son, whose fame was to resound through history like no English king before him. His name was Alfred.
Wessex Winter 871. After a year of nine major engagements and countless skirmishes with Danish forces, King Alfred of Wessex has finally bought off the battle-hardened Danes at least for the time being. The invaders set their mark on his reign as soon as it began in April - they scattered his army whilst he was attending the funeral of his brother, King Aethelred at Wimborne - but now the new king has at last gained some respite from conflict. The young king, who has still to celebrate his 23 rd birthday, grew up in a hard and dangerous world, increasingly menaced by fierce Vikings.
But his was a close-knit pious Christian family with a vision of the wider world beyond the horizons of Wessex. Taken to Rome at the age of four by his father, King Aethelwulf, the infant Alfred was received by the pope.
From an early age Alfred had suffered bouts of ill health. One suggestion is that his affliction is chronic haemorrhoids but there is speculation that he may be an epileptic; or the victim of a venereal disease contracted before his marriage three years ago to Mercian princess Ealhswith.
East Anglia 902. King Alfred’s son, Edward has emerged triumphant as king of Wessex after the death of his cousin and rival, Aethelwold, in battle with Edward’s Kentish allies. When Edward succeeded in October 899, Eathelwold seized the royal palace at Wimborne in Dorset after kidnapping a nun for his gratification . He then sought refuge with the Danes, begging them to help him overthrow his cousin. In response to Danish attacks Edward launched a punitive strike into the Danelaw. The Kentish forces were defeated in the battle at Holme, but not before they had killed both Eathelwold and his ally, the Danish king of East Anglia.
Cumbria 12 July 927. King Athelstan has overcome the Danish kingdom of York and now holds sway over the whole of England. At a ceremony today at Eamont Bridge near Penrith, the overlordship of King Alfred’s grandson was acknowledged by the chief rulers of the north: King Constantine II of the Scots, the king of Strathclyde and the lord of the English enclave of Bamburgh. They also promised to wipe out all pagan practices. Athelstan who is 33, grew up in the household of his aunt Aethelflaed, the ruler of the Mercians. Three years ago he succeeded his father Edward as king of a united Mercia and Wessex.
Monarch Dies at the Peak of his Fame. Gloucester 27 October 939. King Athelstan died today in the bedchamber of his palace at Gloucester. He was just 44 but in his 14 year reign he had brought most of England under his rule and acquired an international fame unsurpassed by any previous English monarch.
New King is Forced to give up Conquests. Leicester 940. King Edmund, 18 years old and less than a year into his reign, has presided over a severe blow to the prestige of the royal line of King Alfred and the re-partitioning of England. In a peace treaty brokered by the archbishops of York and Canterbury he has been forced to concede the land between Watling Street and the Humber to Olaf Guthfrithson, the king of the Dublin Norse. At a stroke he has given away many of the conquests of his half-brother Athelstan.
After his defeat at Brunanburh in 937, Olaf waited until the death of Athelstan last October before invading once more across the Irish sea with his Norse men. He probably judged that the young King Edmund would be no match for him. Edmund was no push over but found the Northumbrians supported Olaf.
Gloucester 26 May 946. King Edmunds’s renowned bravery and gallantry have cost him his life. The king was foully murdered at Pucklebury today when he rode to help his steward, who was being attacked by Leofa, a banished thief.
King Edmund having met an untimely death, left two sons both too young to rule. Therefore his brother Eadred will succeed.
Winchester 955. Although he is only 30, King Eadred is ill and has turned his thoughts to what will happen after his death.
In his will Eadred specifies that £1600 should be kept aside to pay off an invading heathen army; he is obviously not convinced that the Scandinavian -
threat is over. The money, which is also for the relief of famine, has been left to the people of England and will be held in trust by prominent churchmen. The king has also made bequests to members of his household.
Eyebrows were raised when the young king appeared to grow bored with the celebration and slipped away - taking with him Aelfgifu a young woman whom he is known to favour and her mother. Both are said to harbour hopes of marrying the young king. When two senior clerics entered the king’s chamber they encountered all three truants on a sofa, their clothes dishevelled, and the crown of England lying on the floor
Mercia December 957. Disillusioned with King Eadwig has finally found concrete expression. The nobles of Mercia like those of Northumbria, have renounced his rule, but in loyalty to the Wessex royal line they have chosen his younger brother Edgar in his place. Edgar is just 14 years old.
Kingston upon Thames 956. King Eadwig has launched his reign with a sordid sex scandal on the very day of his coronation.
Winchester 959. With a sigh of relief, the ancestral kingdom of the West Saxons has greeted the death of the licentious 19-year-old King Eadwig by joining the rest of the English in acknowledging his pious younger brother Edgar as their king. The widespread hope now is for a period of peace and prosperity. One of Edgar’s first tasks will, be to heal the rift with the church made by his elder brother, and he has already made it known that Dunstan, the leading church reformer, forced to live abroad until Eadwig’s death will return to the bishopric of Worcester.
Finally, 14 years into his reign, Edgar has been crowned King of England. But it was no ordinary coronation that took place in Bath abbey today. In this ceremony, the brainchild of Archbishop Dunstan, the climax came, not when the crown was placed on Edgar’s head but when he was anointed.
The death at 31 of King Edgar on July 8, 975, has given rise to fears that with him England has buried peace and prosperity. Edgar leaves two young sons, Edward aged 13, and Aethelred aged 8, whose claims are already being vigorously upheld by rival factions. Archbishop Dunstan, with the majority of the nobles, back Edward, Edgar’s son by his first marriage.
Corfe, Dorset March 978. Two years of increasing disorder and confusion have been brought to a tragic end by the treacherous murder of the young King Edward who was 15 and not much loved for his violent rages. He rode into the courtyard of his mother Aelfthryth and was accepting the respects of his half-brother Aethelred’s retainers when he was stabbed to death.
Evil Counsel Flees his Kingdom. Normandy 1013. After reigning for 34 years King Eethelred II has lost his crown to King Sweyn of Denmark. And fled to his wife’s Norman homeland. Ethelred never seemed to recover from the stigma of becoming king through the murder of his elder half-brother, King Edward.
Many regarded it as an appalling sacrilege against one ordained by God, and although Aethelred was too young to be implicated, his mother was not. This may help to explain his weak leadership and the deep mistrust between him and his nobles. The situation was made worse by poor decision-making and an unwillingness to listen to advice.
England 1019. The kingship of Cnut has been a revelation to the English. Enormous benefits have flowed from his accession and no one could have guessed that such a young man - he is still only 24 - could rule so wisely or prove so tough.
For the first twelve months after his take-over on the death of King Edmund Ironside in 1016, Cnut treated England as a conquered land . He divided the country into four military districts and murdered likely rivals and various malcontents.
Once stability was restored, he dismissed his fleet, and agreed a return to the much admired legal code of King Edgar and announced plans for an Anglo-Danish state to marry the wealth of England with the armed might of Denmark.
Died 1040, King of the English (1037–40), illegitimate son of Canute and Ælfgifu of Northampton. On his father’s death (1035) he disputed the succession of his half brother Harthacanute to the English throne. A compromise was reached (1036) by which Harold would be regent while Harthacanute would remain in Denmark, but in 1037 Ælfgifu succeeded in having her son recognized as king. His brief reign was one of bloodshed and confusion, and he died as Harthacanute was preparing to invade England claiming his throne.
King Cnutsson, Hardicnut of Denmark Born: 1018 Father: Sveynsson, Canute II the Great, King of England & Denmark Mother: Emma of Normandy Reigned: 1040-1042. King of Denmark 1035-1042
Died: 8 June 1042, Lambeth, London
On Cnut's death his rightful heir Harthacnut was away in Denmark. Harold had a rival claimant, Aetheling, son of Ethelred, but he had him blinded and killed. He also exiled Cnut's wife Emma.
Hardicnut came to the throne on Harold's death. Hardicnut's short and unpopular reign was noted for its violence. He had his brother's body ( Harold) flung into a bog. He collapsed at a drunken wedding banquet and died shortly afterwards.
Winchester 16 November 1043. King Edward, who was crowned at Easter, dropped in on his mother, Queen Emma, today with three of his mightiest lords. But this was no courtesy call. The king stripped her of all her lands and possessions and announced that he was sacking her chief confidant, Bishop Stigand. Rumours are afoot that Emma had backed King Magnus of Norway, who claims the English throne.
Winchester 1059. King Edward is now an elderly man of 54 and has decided that the abbey of St. Peter at Westminster, two miles upstream from London, will be his last resting place. Work has already begun on a great new church in the grandest continental style. The abbey, a rather poor monastery on marshy land, might at first sight seem an odd place for a royal burial although King Harold “Harefoot” was buried there in 1040.
York, 2 October 1066. Today, barely a week after his resounding victory at Stamford Bridge, news has reached King Harold that Duke William of Normandy, his remaining rival for the throne, has landed in Sussex with an invasion fleet. He is heading south
East Sussex 14 October 1066. King Harold is dead, fallen in a day of savage fighting against Duke William of Normandy. The battered remnants of Harold’s army have dispersed into the dusk. The King’s army of about 7,000 marched 250 miles from York - Sussex in 11 days.
Hertfordshire December 1066. Duke William’s triumph is complete. The English have bowed to the inevitable and formally offered him the throne left vacant by the death of Harold at Hastings.
His most obvious bequest to his two nephews who are his heirs - he is unmarried - is a united kingdom, but he has also left a fabulous treasure with an estimated worth of several thousand pounds.
The British Monarchy has evolved over almost 2 millennium. This web site explores the history, chronology, and the multifarious and fascinating characters of the individual kings and queens from ad 839 until ad 2000
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