Edgar the Ætheling

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Edgar (the) Ætheling[1] (ca 1051 – ca 1126) was the last male member of the royal house of Cerdic of Wessex (see House of Wessex family tree). He was proclaimed, but never crowned, King of England in 1066.

Contents

Family and early life

Edgar was born in Hungary, where his father Edward the Exile, son of King Edmund II Ironside, had spent most of his life, having been sent into exile after Edmund's death and the conquest of England by the Danish king Cnut in 1016. His mother was Agatha, who was described as a relative of the German Emperor, but whose exact identity is unknown. He was his parents' only son but had two sisters, Margaret and Cristina.

In 1057 the childless king of England, Edmund Ironside's half-brother Edward the Confessor, who had only recently become aware that his nephew was still alive, summoned Edward back to England with his family to take up his place at court as heir to the throne. The returning exile died in uncertain circumstances shortly after his arrival in England.[2] Edgar, still a small child, was left as the only surviving male member of the royal dynasty apart from the king. However, the latter made no recorded effort to entrench his grand-nephew's position as heir to a throne which was being eyed by a range of powerful potential contenders including England's leading aristocrat Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and the foreign rulers William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, Sweyn II Estrithson, King of Denmark and Harald III Hardrada, King of Norway.

The succession struggle

When King Edward died in January 1066 Edgar was still in his early teens, too young to be an effective military leader. This had not previously been an insurmountable obstacle: the earlier kings of England Eadwig, Edgar the Peaceful and Edward the Martyr had all come to the throne at a similar age, while Æthelred the Unready had been significantly younger at his accession. However, the avaricious ambitions which had been aroused across north-western Europe by Edward the Confessor's lack of an heir prior to 1057, and by the king's failure thereafter to prepare the way for Edgar to succeed him, removed any prospect of a peaceful hereditary succession. War was clearly inevitable and Edgar was in no position to fight it, while he was without powerful adult relatives to champion his cause. Accordingly, the Witenagemot elected Harold Godwinson, the man best-placed to defend the country against the competing foreign claimants, to succeed Edward.

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