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King Eadred

Winchester Cathedral

Eadred came to the throne in May 946 following the death of King Edmund, his brother, who was killed in a fight with a thief. Although by this point many of the landmarks favoured by historians for the formation of England had passed, English society remained violent and divided. There was still much tension between various English factions, and between the English and the Danes who had moved into eastern England during Scandinavian invasions of the ninth century. These divisions were clear from the beginning of Eadred's reign, when Northumbria attempted to regain its traditional independence from the kingdom which we could loosely call England. And yet, even as the endless fighting and squabbling continued, there was a suggestion that things had changed. This development is illustrated by the colourful character of Erik Bloodaxe, who led the Northumbrians struggle for independence. By the 940s the old beserker Vikings of the 800s were very last century, but that's what Erik was, or at least aspired to be. He comes over as something of a Monty Python character, lost in an historical fantasy.

 

Erik had been thrown out of his native Norway. He had been in contention for the kingship there, but Norway's nobles much preferred his milder brother Hakon. So, no doubt cursing his degenerate countrymen, Erik left for England, hoping to find kindred spirits amongst the wild Northumbrians. Archbishop Wulfstan of York was an enthusiastic supporter of Northumbrian separatism, and initially thought that Erik was just what Northumbria needed. Immediately Erik was chosen as leader. Only then did Wulfstan and his fellow northerners realise what they had saddled themselves with; an obsolete Viking warrior who was, quite frankly, a bit of an embarrassment. You could not take him to meetings. He could even, it seems, do a good job militarily. In 948 Eadred attacked Northumbria. As the Northumbrian resistance collapsed, Erik was thrown out, as he had been from Norway. Times had changed. Northumberland accepted its defeat, and England entered an unprecedented twenty five years of peace. Archbishop Wulfstan of York who had been imprisoned for his part in the Northumbrian rising, was released. Of course England didn't suddenly become an idyllic Eden. Eadred slaughtered the entire population of Thetford in 952 after an abbot had been killed there. But relatively speaking, in comparison with past decades and centuries, this was a peaceful time.

Eadred died on 23rd November 955, leaving a sum of money to guard against famine, or to buy off an enemy army. Eadred died childless. This meant that the line of succession passed back to Eadred's predecessor Edmund. Edmund had had two boys before he died. These boys, now teenagers, both wanted the throne. The older boy, fifteen year old Eadwig was elected, but this lively youth wasn't to the taste of the clergy. At his coronation feast Eadwig slipped away to flirt with a woman and her daughter, who both had thoughts of a royal marriage in mind. Archbishop Oda, Abbot Dunstan, and Bishop Cynesige caught Eadwig on the sofa with the ladies. Dunstan dragged Eadwig back to the hall, jamming the young man's crown back on his head as he did so. Eadwig actually married one of the women he flirted with on the sofa that evening, but he didn't have time to settle down. He died on 1st October 959, and was replaced by his younger brother Edgar. Edgar would become known as Edgar the Peaceable and would continue the peaceful rule of Eadred.

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