Edward the Elder

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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.

Further Reading

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). □

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Edward the Elder, d. 924, king of Wessex (899–924), son and successor of Alfred. He fought with his father against the Danes. At Alfred's death (899) Edward's succession was disputed by his cousin Æthelwold, who allied himself with the Danes of Northumbria and East Anglia. The death of Æthelwold in battle (902) put an end to that war, but later fighting with the Danes recommenced. Aided by his sister Æthelflœd, Lady of the Mercians, Edward undertook a series of advances against the Danes, systematically building fortresses to cover his positions. At the same time he repelled Viking attacks on the shore of England. After Æthelflœd's death (918) he asserted his full authority over Mercia and thus became ruler of all England S of the Humber River. He was also accepted as overlord by several Welsh rulers and by English Northumbria, and he is supposed to have received the submission of Constantine II of Scotland. The right of the overlordship of Scotland, based on Edward's position, was asserted by later English kings. Edward was succeeded by his son Athelstan. Two other sons, Edmund and Eldred, also ascended the throne.

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Edward the Elder (d.925) King of Wessex (899–925), son and successor of Alfred the Great. Edward completed the reconquest of the s Danelaw (918), and was considered overlord by the rulers of Northumbria and Wales (920).