Anglo-Saxon Kings of all England
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∆thelstan (924-939 AD)
∆thelstan was a great military leader, like his grandfather Alfred. With ancestry in the royal lines of both Wessex and Mercia, he was the first West Saxon king who could command the support of the the greater part of the Anglo-Saxon population. He was also the first English sovereign to be crowned on the King's Stone at Kingston-upon-Thames in 925 AD. During his reign he managed to secure the rulership of the whole English nation, to force Welsh and Scottish kings to submit to him and to cow the Dublin Vikings. Needless to say, his reputation among the English was great, while his successful campaigns brought only jealousy and resentment among his neighbouring rulers. In 937 an alliance of Scots, Irish Vikings and the Viking rulers of the kingdom of York decided to remove the threat he posed to them. They met at a place called Brunanburh, and the ensuing battle was so decisive a victory for ∆thelstan that five enemy kings lay dead upon the field before the slaughter stopped. ∆thelstan was a supporter of several monastic communities; he was buried at Malmesbury, Wiltshire, where his tomb can still be seen.
Edmund I (939 - 946 AD)
Edmund was the eldest son of King Edward the Elder by his third wife, Eadgith. At the age of sixteen, he fought valiantly alongside his brother King ∆thelstan at the battle of Brunanburhin AD 937, expelling the ruling Norse from Northern England. The site of this battle is still unknown. Since it involved Viking kings and adventurers from Dublin and York, as well as Scots, a location near Chester has often been championed, but recent research favours a hillfort overlooking a tributary of the River Humber. ∆thelstan had been the first king whose rule extended to the entirety of England, and Edmund was the first to succeed to this territory. A Viking leader called Olaf Guthrithson, abetted by separatist feeling in York and the northern counties, re-took York soon after and raided throughout the Midlands, so Edmund marched North and besieged Olaf and Archbishop Wulfstan of York in Leicester. Wulfstan and the Archbishop of Canterbury eventually negotiated a settlement whereby the border between York and Wessex was set at Watling Street. When Olaf Guthfrithson was killed raiding northern Northumbria in AD 941, Edmund swiftly moved in to take the Five Boroughs of the East Midlands from his successor, Olaf Sigtryggson, at the same time as he was crushing the Welsh revolt of King Idwal of Gwynedd. By 944, Edmund felt secure enough to move on York itself, where he overcame and expelled both Olaf Sigtryggson and his rival, Ragnall Guthfrithson. Olaf retired to Dublin. The following year, Edmund ravaged Strathclyde and killed its troublesome king, Donald mac Donald. He returned the kingdom to its Scottish overlord, Malcolm I, thus establishing Northumbria as the northern limit of Anglo-Saxon England.
Eadred (946 - 955 AD)
King Eadred was king of England from 946 until his death. He was a son of King Edward the Elder by his third marriage, to Eadgith, daughter of Sigehelm, the ealdorman (governor) of Kent. Eadred succeeded his brother, King Edmund I, and enjoyed several military successes over the Vikings. Eadred was a religious man but in poor health. He died on November 23, 955, at Frome, Somerset, and was buried in the Old Minster at Winchester. He died a bachelor and thus had no legitimate offspring; he was succeeded by his nephew, Edwig. During Eadred's reign, the kingdom of York was seized by the Viking invader, Eric Bloodaxe, who had been forced from power in Norway.
Eadwig (955 - 959 AD)
Eadwig (or Eadwy) succeeded his uncle, Eadred, as king at a young age. Due to his obstinacy and youthful indiscretion, he immediately met resistance from leading churchmen, especially the fearsome St.Dunstan. On one occasion, Eadwig was absent from an important meeting; Dunstan went to investigate and found him alone with a young female, whereupon the cleric seized the king and dragged him off to the meeting-room. Eadwig later plundered Dunstan's monastery with the intention of seizing him; Dunstan fled the country instead. Unfortunately for the king, Dunstan fled to Flanders where he took up with the powerful Benedictine order, and introduced a series of ecclesiastical reforms on his return to England. The rift with the church was healed in time, but Eadwig did not live long enough to repair his reputation and he remains an obscure king of England.
Edgar (959 - 975 AD)
Edgar 'the Peaceable' was the younger son of Edmund I of England. Edgar was elected king in the territory north of the Thames by a conclave of English nobles, and set himself to succeed to the English throne. With Edwig's death in October 959, Edgar immediately recalled his ally Dunstan from exile and made him Bishop of Worcester, London and finally the Archbishop of Canterbury. Edgar's reign was a peaceful one, and it saw the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England at its height of economic and military potential. The symbolic coronation of Edgar at Bath was an important step; other kings of Britain came and gave their allegiance to Edgar shortly afterwards at Chester. Six kings in Britain, including the kings of Scotland and of Strathclyde, pledged their faith that they would be Edgar's liegemen on sea and land.
Edward the Martyr (975 - 978 AD)
Edward was the son of King Edgar and one ∆thelflśd. His succession to the throne was contested by supporters of his younger half-brother, ∆thelred, but Edward was acknowledged by the Witan (council of governors) and crowned king by the leading churchmen, Dunstan and Oswald of Worcester. He was treacherously murdered after a short reign, allegedly by servants of his stepmother, ∆lfthryth (Elfrida), at Corfe Castle. Edward became known as "the Martyr" because of his violent death, the fact that the party opposed to him had been irreligious, and the fact that he himself had acted as a defender of the Church. Many miracles were reported at the tomb of St Edward and he is recognized as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican Communion.
∆thelred II (978 - 1016 AD)
King ∆thelred II succeeded to the throne at the age of ten after the murder of his half-brother, Edward the Martyr. His was a long reign, which in modern times has been notable for little other than the payment of the Danegeld, an attempt to buy off the Viking invaders with money. This policy had been employed by Edward the Elder and Alfred the Great, but both these rulers had used the respite from attack to build their forces for renewed conflict, while ∆thelred seems to have squandered the opportunity. The leading men of the country, some of whom were of Anglo-Danish descent, saw in him an irresolute ruler and withheld their support; this further weakened his position. In 991 AD a vast force of Scandinavians assembled to attempt the extraction of wealth from England; the English resistance was spirited but unsuccessful, and the decision was taken to pay the Danegeld; ever larger armies demanded ever more money, and ∆thelred's kingdom was soon paying for its own destruction. This forced ∆thelred to abandon his throne in 1013 and flee to Normandy where his wife, Emma, had kin. The death of Svein Forkbeard in 1014 prompted his recall although he died two years later. .
Cnut (1016 - 1035 AD)
Knut Svenson (also known as Canute or Cnut) attempted to seize the English throne on the death of ∆thelred; for several years he contended with Edmund Ironside, until the latter's death. Cnut was initially unpopular due to the fear that he would tax England excessively and use English warriors in his Scandinavian campaigns, but he was careful to support the church and behave like an English king, and his reign was marked by prosperity and relative harmony based on military strength. Cnut married ∆thelred's widow, Emma, and purged the English nobility of its disloyal and self-serving members, such as Eadric Streona of Mercia, and paid off his invasion force. The almost two decades of Cnut's reign marked a shift in English attitudes, as Cnut was king of England, Denmark and Norway; he ruled over a North Sea Empire. At his death, he was buried in Winchester Cathedral.
Harold I (1035 - 1040 AD)
Harald 'Harefoot' was for a few years King of England, being the son of Cnut and ∆lgifu, Cnut's English wife. He assumed regency at the death of Cnut on behalf of his half-brother, Hardicanute (Harthacnut), who was then both King of Denmark and the legitimate heir to the throne of England. In 1037, Harold was elected king and ruled until he died in 1040 AD, while his half-brother was preparing to invade England to claim the crown.
Harthacnut (1040 - 1042 AD)
Harthacnut was the son of Cnut and Emma of Normandy. He ruled in Denmark as Cnut III from 1035 to 1042, and added England to his possessions in 1040. Harthacnut was undiplomatic and haughty: he raised severe taxes to pay for his fleet, broke faith with his nobles and had his half-brother's body disinterred and thrown into a marsh. He invited another half-brother, Edward, son of Emma, to join the English court from Normandy, and was apparently grooming him to succeed due to his own lack of legitimate heirs. He died of a stroke in 1042 at Lambeth and was buried at Winchester.
Edward the Confessor (1042 - 1066 AD)
Edward, the son of ∆thelred and Emma, grew up at the Norman court where he idled his days away at hunting and other pastimes; as an exile from England, he felt he had little prospect of achieving power and contented himself with a quiet life of recreation. When he was recalled to England, he brought with him some Norman nobles as companions, and their presence soon caused friction. When Edward succeeded to the throne in 1042, the Norman influence was a major cause of contention between the king and the major English nobles, led by the powerful Earl Godwine who held as much land and wealth as the king himself. The friction which the behaviour of the Normans engendered almost cost Edward his throne, and he reluctantly agreed to strip his friends of their titles and send them home; however, it was understood that Edward would rather have seen Normans at court than the over-mighty Godwine and his sons, all of whom were wealthy, aggressive and dangerous. Edward's childless state at his death caused political turmoil: William, Duke of Normady, claimed to have been nominated as Edward's heir long before; Harold, son of Godwine, claimed to have been nominated on the king's deathbed; a third claimant was Harald Harūraūa, king of Norway, who saw himself as the heir of Cnut and therefore eligible for the throne. The three competing claims were to be tested in the autumn of 1066.
Harold II (1066 AD)
Edward the Confessor named Harold Godwineson as his successor, a move which was supported by the English church and nobility. There were powerful enemies circling England in 1066 and the country could not afford to fall into the hands of Edward's grandson, Edgar the ∆theling, who was still a child. William, Duke of Normandy, later claimed that Harold had promised to support William's claim to the English throne, but the truth of this allegation will never be known. Harold's brother, Tostig, had been exiled since the autumn of 1065 and had joined with Harald Harūraūa of Norway in a bid to overthrow Harold; it seems doubtful that Harald would have meekly stepped aside to allow the English prince to become king. Harūraūa's fleet landed in Yorkshire in September 1066 and routed a local force that came against them, and a more powerful northern army under two earls; Harold marched north, caught the Norwegians unawares and slaughtered them so that a mere handful of ships were needed to transport the remnant home. Within days, Willaim of Normandy's force landed in Sussex; Harold marched his men south to intercept the Normans, knowing that if they reached London their chances of success would be enhanced. Harold's and William's armies met at the hill of Senlac on 14th October, and by the end of the day Harold lay dead among his most trusted warriors. William's was the last successful invasion of England, beginning a twenty-year reign of terror and devastation for the country.
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