Edward the Elder
Edward the Elder
Son and successor of Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Elder (died 924) continued his father's spirited defense of Anglo-Saxon domains against Danish invaders. He also greatly increased the power of the West Saxon monarchy.
Nothing of importance is known of Edward before his succession to the West Saxon Kingship in 899, on the death of his father, Alfred. At that time Wessex and its dependent kingdoms were in no immediate danger of invasion by the Danes, who had harassed England for over a century and whom Alfred had twice beaten off decisively. Nonetheless, the colonies established by the Danes in northern and eastern England were a constant threat to the Anglo-Saxons, and Edward fought occasional, inconclusive battles with the colonists during the first decade of his reign. On one occasion, shortly after his accession, his cousin Ethelwold, frustrated in his attempt to claim the rule of Wessex for himself, raised an army in Danish England and attacked Edward's lands. Edward raided East Anglia in retaliation and killed Ethelwold.
In 909 Edward sent an army to attack the Northumbrian Danes. When they retaliated the following year, the Danes were so conclusively defeated that they ceased to be a factor in the Anglo-Danish wars for some years. Edward then began a systematic campaign to subdue East Anglia and the Danish midlands with the help of his sister, Ethelfleda (Aethelflaed), Lady of the Mercians, widow of a Mercian king dependent upon Wessex. Her chain of fortresses constructed throughout northern Mercia and Edward's intelligent use of the militia system created by Alfred enabled the King to consolidate his annual gains against the Danes and to turn the chronic disunity of the colonists against themselves.
When Ethelfleda died in 918, Edward assumed closer control over Mercia. In the same year several of the princes of western Wales accepted Edward as their lord. By the end of 918 the last Danish strongholds had surrendered. Now all England south of the Humber was under Edward's authority.
In the later years of his reign Edward fought battles against new adversaries—Viking raiders stationed in Ireland who attacked the western coast of Mercia. In 920 Edward campaigned against the raiders, and at the end of the summer all the kings of Britain acknowledged his overlordship. Thereafter, Edward remodeled the administrative structure of Mercia, creating several new shires. His last battle was fought against a rebellious force of allied Mercians and Welshmen—two groups traditionally restless under West Saxon domination.
Edward died on July 17, 924, and was succeeded by his son Athelstan, who consolidated his father's considerable military and political achievements.
The known facts of Edward's life and reign are preserved in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, edited and translated by G. N. Garmonsway (1953). F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (1943; 2d ed. 1947), provides the most lucid and thorough modern commentary. For other useful background see the chapter on Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, in Peter Cleomoes, ed., The Anglo-Saxons (1959). □