by Susan Flantzer
Born about 940, Eadwig, sometimes called Edwy, was a teenaged King of the English for less than four years. He was the elder of the two sons of Edmund I, King of the English and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury. Eadwig had one younger brother:
- Edgar the Peaceful, King of England (circa 943 – 975), married (1) Æthelflæd (mistress?), had one child Edward the Martyr, King of England (2) Saint Wulfthryth (mistress?), had one daughter (3) Ælfthryth, had two sons including Æthelred II the Unready, King of England
On May 26, 946, Eadwig’s father King Edmund I was murdered while celebrating the feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury at a royal hunting lodge in Pucklechurch, north of Bath, England. Because Edmund’s two sons were very young, he was succeeded by his 23-year-old brother Eadred. When King Eadred died on November 25, 955, his successor was his 15-year-old nephew Eadwig, the elder son of his brother King Edmund I.
The young king almost immediately began arguing with his uncle Eadred’s advisors, particularly with Dunstan, a future Archbishop of Canterbury and saint, who was then Abbot of Glastonbury. According to The Life of St. Dunstan, written around the year 1000 by a monk known only as “B”, the feud with Dunstan began on the day of Eadwig’s coronation in 956. Eadwig had left the coronation banquet and Oda, Archbishop of Canterbury sent Dunstan to find Eadwig. The young king had tired of the banquet and had retired to his apartments with a young woman he had fallen in love with, Ælfgifu, and her mother Æthelgifu. Ælfgifu was Eadwig’s third cousin and this relationship would have precluded marriage on the grounds of consanguinity. When Eadwig refused to return to the banquet, the infuriated Dunstan dragged him back to the banquet. Soon after, Eadwig secretly married Ælfgifu and exiled Dunstan.
In 957, the Mercians and Northumbrians revolted and chose Eadwig’s brother Edgar as king of the country north of the River Thames. The south of England, however, remained loyal to Eadwig. Edgar’s advisers recalled Dunstan from his exile and he was made Bishop of Worcester in 957 and then Bishop of London the following year. In 958, Archbishop Oda annulled Eadwig’s marriage for consanguinity, a decision that was likely more political than religious. A child of Eadwig and Ælfgifu would certainly have had a better claim to the throne than Eadwig’s brother Edgar. This would have affected the power of Oda, Dunstan and of course Edgar.
On October 1, 959, Eadwig died at around the age of nineteen in Gloucester in what some consider suspicious, but certainly unknown, circumstances. He was buried in the New Minster in Winchester but nothing is known about the later fate of his remains. As Eadwig did not have children, his brother Edgar succeeded him and reunified England. Eadwig’s former wife Ælfgifu appears to have reconciled with King Edgar and made substantial donations to monasteries. She was buried in the New Minster in Winchester upon her death.
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