Eadwig: Teen King With a Short Reign


Eadred died childless, so the problem of succession rose its ugly head again. Eadwig, nephew to Eadred, was chosen to be king, largely because he was the oldest of the clan who bore the Wessex blood. This was good enough at the time, and the practice remained unchanged for a great number of years afterward.

He was 16; and having a teenager’s hormones, he was given to behavior that his church-based advisers found detestable. One would have thought that, growing up in the religious environment that he did, he would have calculated his actions a bit better, given that he was inheriting a quite large kingdom at a time when his people still needed a symbol to which they could look up and admire. But such is the power of biology that youth had to be served.

Historians tell us that on the day of his coronation, Eadwig was nowhere to be found and had to be dragged away from a dalliance with a young woman in order to be crowned. This young woman, Aelfgifu, later became Eadwig’s wife (and, by extension, queen); and the influential Bishop Dunstan, who did the dragging away, was later exiled. Such is the power of kings.

Eadwig was not exactly a favorite with all of his people. This was especially true in the northern parts of Anglo-Saxon England, specifically Mercia and Northumbria. In fact, Eadwig’s brother Eadgar revolted him, with the support of the people of Mercia and Northumbria, in 957, a mere two years after Eadwig had become king in the first place.

This division of the kingdom stuck, sadly for Eadwig, and he died as king of only (what his ancestors would call) half a kingdom, at age 20.

While he was alive, though, he made quite a name for himself by making generous grants to the church and to religious institutions. He is also known (perhaps better) by the name Edwy.

It is perhaps telling that this division of Germanic England was able to succeed at all, given that not too many years before the whole of the coastal lands and much of the eastern interior were being ravaged by invaders from the east. It is quite a testament to the staying power of the victories of Alfred the Great, Edward, Athelstan, and Edmund that such a political division could take place and stay in place during what until very recently had been quite a turbulent time in ancient British history.