Discover King Edward the Elder and Aethelflaed

King Edward the Elder was the son of Alfred the Great, and king of Wessex from 899-924. He was also nominally King of England from 918-924, through his success at overthrowing Viking settlements across the Danelaw.

Edward spent most of his reign building burghs, and using those to subdue the locals. Working closely with his sister, Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, Edward would become overlord of both Wessex, Mercia and all the land south of the Humber. With Powys, Scots and Strathclyde recognising him as overlord too, Edward was in all but name, King of all England.

Born 871
Parents Alfred the Great & Ealhswith
Married Egwynn (probably), Elfleda & Edgiva
Children 15, 5 sons & 10 daughters inc Aelfweard, Aethelstan & Eadred
Died 17 July 924, Farndon-on-Dee (53), buried at Winchester

Reign 899 – 924 (25)
Crowned 8 June 900, Kingston upon Thames (29)
Predecessor Alfred the Great (father)
Successor (Aelfweard (son), died 2 weeks after Edward). Aethelstan (son, legitimacy disputed in Wessex)
House Wessex

Events of King Edward the Elder’s Life

Edward is born to Alfred the Great and Ealhswith.

Edward is now experienced enough to command forces during Viking invasions of Kent.

At Farnham, on the hill north of the town, Edward intercepts and defeats a Viking raid.

Edward’s son, Aethelstan, is born.

Alfred dies, and the crown passes over Edward’s cousin, Aethelwold, to Edward. Aethelwold was seen to be less experienced. In retaliation, Aethelwold siezes Wimborne Minster and Twynham (Christchurch). Edward breaks the siege, but Aethelwold escapes to Northumbria.

Edward becomes King Edward of Wessex, and is crowned at Kingston upon Thames.

Aethelwold attacks Cricklade, but retreats to East Anglia when Edward arrives. On their return, Edward’s Kentish troops are attacked by Aethelwold’s forces. In the skirmish, Aethelwold and the East Anglian Danish king, Eorhic, were killed, ending any threat to Edward’s throne. (903 is the date given by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but some historians think this is incorrect, and should be 902).

King Edward the Elder confirms peace with Danish East Anglia and Northumbria.

A large Danish army invade Mercia. Edward marches to Tettenhall (Wolverhampton) to help his sister Aethelflaed, to confront them. On 5 August, the Battle of Tettenhall ends with Edward and Aethelflaed heavily defeating the Vikings.

King Edward the Elder succeeds to the border towns of London and Oxford, after the death of Ealdorman Aethelred of Mercia, Aethelflaed’s husband.

King Edward the Elder and Lady Aethelflaed work together to build burghs (fortified towns) across their lands, following their father’s footsteps. One of these burghs was in Hertford, which lay beyond the border into the Danelaw.

Edward marches into Essex, from his new burgh at Hertford, and establishes a new burgh at Witham to subdue the local Danes. He then marches north, and drives off Viking forces at Northampton and Leicester. New invaders arrive at Bristol from Brittany, and begin ransacking Welsh villages. When they attempt the same in Hereford, Edward’s forces defeat them, killing their leader, Hroald.

New burghs are established in Buckingham and Bedford.

Viking raids begin in Maldon, Towcester and Aylesbury, and a new Danish fortification is built at Tempsford. Edward swiftly stamps out the raids, and storms Tempsford, killing the local Danish king and some Jarls.

Edward the Elder builds another burgh at Stamford. Leicester submits to Aethelflaed, but in the summer, Aethelflaed dies, leaving Mercia mourning their Lady. Edward swiftly secures Tamworth. Edward wins the trust of the Mercians, and soon controls their army. He promises his son, Aethelstan, who grew up in Mercia’s court, would one day be king of Mercia. This further secures his position in Mercia. The Five Boroughs in the Danelaw soon become subjugated by Edward. Powys, Dyfed recognise King Edward the Elder as their overlord.

Thelwall, Nottingham, Manchester and Bakewell are re-fortified. All of England, below the River Humber, is controlled by Edward. Ragnall of York (grandson to Ivar the Boneless), Constantine King of the Scots and Donald King of Strathclyde all submit to Edward’s rule. Now, in effect, King Edward the Elder is overlord of all of England. However, Ragnall of York only nominally submitted to Edward, and in 921 he dies. His successor, Sihtric, refuses to submit to English rule.

Edward’s son, Edmund I, is born.

Edward’s son, Eadred, is born.

King Edward the Elder dies on 24 July at his royal estate in Farndon, outside of Chester. He is taken south, and buried in New Minster, Winchester. Edward’s second eldest son, Aelfweard, succeeds him, as his mother was deemed legitimate, but he dies 2 weeks later. The crown then passes to Edward’s eldest son, Aethelstan, who’s mother’s legitimacy is questioned. Had Edward and Egwynn married in secret? Mercia rejoice at Aethelstan’s succession, but Wessex disputes the appointment.

Interesting Facts About King Edward the Elder

Sibling Cooperation
Edward would not have succeeded half as well as he had, without the help from his sister, Aethelflaed. She was a Queen in her own right, at the Mercians adored her. This relationship enabled Wessex and Mercia to work as one, and defeat the persistent invasions and raids from the Vikings.

Edward has been know since his death, as King Edward the Elder. This epithet was applied simply to distinguish him from other King Edwards who came after him, like Edward the Martyr.

Edward’s cousin, Aethelwold (son of Alfred’s older brother, King Aethelred) swiftly laid a claim to the crown of Wessex, after Alfred died. Edward was forced to respond, and did so with force, prompting Aethelwold to flee to the Danes.

By building dozens of burghs (fortified settlements) across the land, including beyond the Danelaw border, Edward was able to subdue much of the population. By following in his father’s footsteps, both he and his sister, Aethelflaed achieved so much through the stability the burghs gave them.

Edward was no stranger to a large family. He married 3 times (although the first was disputed, and may or may not have happened in secret), and fathered at least 15 children!

Battles Fought by King Edward the Elder

Skirmish at Farnham
In 893, victory for Edward against a Viking raiding party.

Battle of Holme
In 902/3, defeat for Wessex against the Vikings, led by Aethelwold, on 13 December. Despite the defeat, Edward was victorious in that Aethelwold and the Danish king Eorhic were killed, ending the threat to Edward’s crown.

Battle of Tettenhall (Wednesfield)
On 5 August 910, a great victory for King Edward the Elder over the Danish Vikings. With a combined army of Edward’s Wessex troops and Aethelflaed’s Mercian troops, they inflicted heavy losses on the Danes. Two or three Danish kings were killed, along with thousands of men.

Skirmishes in Witham, Northampton, Leicester and Hereford
In 914, a number of skirmishes took place. Wessex and Mercia were victorious in stamping out the attacks.

Skirmishes in Maldon, Towcester, Aylesbury and Tempsford
In 917, more skirmishes took place. Edward was victorious in those, and successfully stormed the fortification at Tempsford.

FAQs About the King and Lady

Who was King Edward the Elder?
He was the Anglo-Saxon King of Wessex from 899-924. Son of King Alfred the Great and brother to Lady Aethelflaed. He was nominally the ruler of all of England.

How old was King Edward the Elder when he died?
He was 53 years old. He died at his royal estate in Farndon-on-Dee on 17 July 924.

How did Aethelflaed unite England?
Lady Aethelflaed was adored by her Mercian subjects. She was seen as a warrior queen in her own right. Her influence and leadership helped her brother, Edward the Elder, to unite all of England. They would not have been able to achieve that without each other.

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