Anglo-Saxon Kings of England 924-1066

 

There were a total of 13 Anglo-Saxon Kings of England starting with King Aethelstan in 924 and ending with Edgar Aetheling who was proclaimed King following the death of Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in October 1066. There were also 3 Danish Kings during this period – Sweyn Forkbeard, his son Canute and his son, Harthacnut.

The Anglo-Saxon Kings of England 924 – 1066

 

King Aethelstan 924 – 939

King Aethelstan - the first of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of England

Aethelstan was born in 894, the grandson of King Alfred the Great and son of Edward the Elder by his first wife, Ecgwynn. He realised his grandfather’s dream of uniting all of England under one ruler and earned the submission of the Welsh and also King Constantine of Scotland in 937 after defeating the Scots at the Battle of Brunanburh. Aethelstan died 27th October 939.

 

King Edmund I 939 – 946

King Edmund I

Edmund was born around 920, the son of King Edward the Elder by his third wife, Eadgifu, and the half-brother of King Aethelstan. Edmund initially struggled to maintain control of all England and lost the north to the Danes. However, by 944 he had regained control of all England. In 946 he was killed by a thief named Leofa in Pucklechurch. Although he had two sons, Eadwig and Edgar, they were considered too young to rule and the crown passed to Edmund’s younger brother, Eadred.

 

King Eadred 946 – 955

King Eadred

Eadred was the younger brother of King Edmund. He was born around 923 to Edward the Elder by his third wife, Eadgifu. He became King on 26th May 946, following the murder of his brother. Like his elder brother, Eadred initially lost the north of England to the Danes but reunited the kingdom in 954 when the Northumbrians accepted him as King. Eadred did not have good health and died on 23rd November 955 at the age of 32 years. He had not married and had no children, so the throne passed to his nephew, Eadwig.

 

King Eadwig 955 – 959

King Eadwig

Eadwig was born around 940, the son of King Edmund I by his first wife Aelfgifu. He was a teenager when he became King in 955 and quickly fell out with the influential Abbot Dunstan. It is alleged that during the coronation feast, Dunstan caught Eadwig partly dressed in a compromising position with a young lady and her mother. The conflict between the two was so bad that Eadwig exiled Dunstan. In 957 the rule of England was divided between Eadwig, who ruled Wessex, and his younger brother, Edgar who ruled the rest of England. The reasoning for this seems to be that the people outside Wessex would not accept Eadwig, possibly because his rule promoted his favourites. Eadwig died on 1st October 959 and his brother took over rule of the whole country.

 

Edgar (the Peaceful) 959 – 975

King Edgar the Peaceful

Edgar was born around 944, the son of King Edmund I by his first wife Aelfgifu, and the younger brother of King Eadwig. He is known as the Peaceful because he reversed many of his brother’s charters and policies and restored good relations between the Crown and the Church. There were also no Viking invasions during his reign. Edgar married three times and had four children. Edgar died on 8th July 975 leaving two surviving sons, Edward by his first wife Aethelflaed and Aethelred by his third wife Aelfthryth.

 

King Edward (the Martyr) 975 – 978

King Edward the Martyr

Edward was the eldest son of King Edgar and was born around 962. He was chosen to succeed his father over his younger half-brother Aethelred, which greatly angered Aethelred’s mother, Aelfthryth, who believed her son should be King. On 18th March 978, King Edward decided to pay a visit to his step-mother and half-brother at Corfe Castle. When he arrived he was stabbed and killed by a number of men loyal to Aelfthryth. He was succeeded by his half-brother Aethelred.

 

King Aethelred (the Unready) 978-1013

Aethelred the Unready

Aethelred was born around 966, the son of King Edgar by his third wife Aelfthryth. He succeeded as King on 18th March 978 after his half-brother Edward was murdered by men loyal to his mother. His nickname, Unready, (Unread) means ill-advised or poorly counselled. His mother, Dunstan, now Archbishop of Canterbury and Aethelwold, Bishop of Winchester acted for the young King and continued to be influential after he reached his majority.

Very soon after Aethelred’s accession the Danish Vikings began attacking and raiding England. Following Saxon defeat at the Battle of Maldon it was agreed to pay the Vikings £10,000 to leave England alone. A few years later the payment required had risen to £22,000. Around the turn of the Millennium the raids and attacks began again and another hefty payment was made.

In 1002 Aethelred decided to exact revenge and ordered that all Danes living in England be slaughtered. Exact numbers of those killed during the St Brice’s Day Massacre are not known, but among the dead was the sister of the Viking leader Sweyn Forkbeard, who began a series of attacks on England. In 1007, Forkbeard accepted a payment of £36,000 from Aethelred to maintain peace. However, he returned and invaded in 1013. By late 1013, the Anglo-Saxons were unable to resist and Aethelred, his second wife Emma of Normandy and their children fled to Normandy and Sweyn became King of England.

 

King Sweyn Forkbeard 1013-1014 (Danish line)

Sweyn Forkbeard

Sweyn Forkbeard was born on 17th April 963, the son of Harald Bluetooth, King of Norway and Denmark. He became King of England in December 1013 after King Aethelred the Unready fled to Normandy. His reign was short-lived and he was not crowned, because he died on 3rd February 1014. Although he wanted his son, Canute to succeed, the Witan would not accept him and called for King Aethelred to return.

 

King Aethelred (the Unready) 1014-1016

Aethelred the Unready

King Aethelred had fled to Normandy with his second wife, Emma and their children after Sweyn Forkbeard conquered England. He returned after the death of Sweyn in February 1014 and launched an attack on Canute forcing the Dane to leave the country. However, Canute returned in 1016 determined to take the English throne. Aethelred was now 50 years old and in conflict with his eldest son by his first wife, Edmund Ironside.

Edmund led the fighting against Canute but was pushed back to London. Aethelred died on 23rd April 1016 and Edmund succeeded as King.

 

King Edmund II (Ironside) 1016

Edmund Ironside

King Edmund II was born around 990, the son of King Aethelred the Unready by his first wife, Aelfgifu of York. He was known as Ironside due to his military prowess. He succeeded as King after his father died on 23rd April 1016. At the time of his succession he was embroiled in war against Canute, the son of King Sweyn Forkbeard. After Canute’s victory at the Battle of Assandun in October 1016, an agreement was reached whereby Edmund would rule Wessex and Canute the rest of the Country. It was determined that when one died the other would rule all of England. When Edmund died on 30th November 1016, Canute succeeded as King. Edmund’s two young sons, Edward and Edmund, were taken to the continent. King Aethelred’s children returned to Normandy.

 

King Canute (the Great) 1016-1035 (Danish line)

King Canute the Great

Canute was born around 990, the son of Sweyn Forkbeard. The will of his father determined that Canute should rule England and his brother Harald should rule Denmark. When Sweyn died Harald succeeded as King of Denmark but the English Witan would not accept Canute. Harald, King of Denmark and Olaf King of Sweden, supplied Canute with troops for his invasion of England. Erik Hakonarson, ruler of Norway joined Canute for his invasion.

After securing victory over the Saxons at the Battle of Assandun in October 1016, Canute and Edmund divided England and Canute ruled the North. Canute succeeded as King of England after Edmund Ironside died on 30th November 1016.

Canute married King Aethelred’s widow, Emma of Normandy in July 1017 and they had two children, Harthacnut and Gunnhilda. In 1018, Canute’s brother, Harald, died and he became King of Denmark. In 1028 he succeeded to the Norwegian throne. Canute the Great died on 12th November 1035. His son Harthacnut was designated his successor in Denmark and England while Magnus the Good succeeded in Norway.

 

King Harold I (Harefoot) 1037-1040

Harold Harefoot

Harold, known as Harefoot because he was a fast runner, was born around 1015, the son of King Canute by his first wife Aelfgifu of Northampton. In 1016, Canute put aside his first wife and married Emma of Normandy, the widow of King Aethelred the Unready. When Canute died in 1035, his son, by Emma, Harthacnut was designated King of England and Denmark. As Harthacnut was unable to travel to England for his coronation due to instability in Denmark, Harold acted as regent but pressed the Witan to crown him King.

In 1036, Emma’s sons by her first marriage to King Aethelred the Unready, Edward and Alfred, planned an invasion, possibly with a view to taking the throne. Alfred landed and was met by Earl Godwin who subsequently blinded him and sent him to the Isle of Ely to die. Edward retreated back to Normandy. By 1037, Harthacnut has still not managed to travel to England and the Witan agreed to crown Harold instead. When Harold died in 1040, Harthacnut was able to travel and finally became King of England.

 

King Harthacnut 1040-1042 (Danish Line)

King Harthacnut

Harthacnut was born around 1018, the son of King Canute by his second wife, Emma of Normandy. In 1026 he was taken to Denmark and placed in the care of Canute’s brother-in-law Earl Ulf, as a figurehead for his father. In 1035 Harthacnut succeeded his father as King of England and Denmark, but when he was unable to return to England, his half-brother Harold was crowned instead and ruled until his death in 1040.

Harthacnut was then finally able to return to England and take his place as King of England. He had been horrified by the murder of his half-brother and ordered that Harold’s body be dug up and beheaded. Harthacnut was not married and had no children and at some point, possibly while he was in Denmark, had offered the throne to the Norwegian King Magnus the Good. However, when his health began failing in 1041, he invited his half-brother Edward, known as the Confessor, to England and nominated him as his heir. When Harthacnut died on 8th June 1042, Edward succeeded as King.

 

Edward (the Confessor) 1042-1066

Edward the Confessor

Edward, known as the Confessor, was born around 1003, the son of King Aethelred the Unready by his second wife, Emma of Normandy. After Sweyn Forkbeard conquered England in late 1013, Edward and his family fled to Normandy. The family returned to England following the death of Sweyn in February 1014 and the restoration of King Aethelred. However, two years later, Aethelred and his eldest son Edmund Ironside were dead and the throne taken by Canute. Edward, his brother Alfred and sister Godgifu were sent back to Normandy where they were raised with the Emma’s family.

Edward and Alfred attempted an invasion of England in 1036 but after Alfred was captured and killed by blinding, Edward returned to Normandy where he remained until Harthacnut invited him to England in 1041.

Edward succeeded as King on 8th June 1042. He was a virtual stranger to England and needed the support of the nobility, particularly Earl Godwin of Wessex, the man who had murdered his brother on the order of King Harold. In 1045 Edward married Godwin’s daughter Edith. Godwin’s sons were also given positions.

King Edward maintained contact with his Norman friends and had close links with his sister’s family in Boulogne. In 1051 he was visited by Eustace of Boulogne and his entourage. On their return journey the visitors got into an affray in Dover and a number were killed by the local people. King Edward demanded that Godwin exact punishment on Dover. Godwin refused, his land and titles were confiscated and the family exiled. Godwin’s youngest son Wulfnoth and grandson Hakon were taken prisoner. Around this time Edward was also visited by William Duke of Normandy and may have promised him the throne as he and Edith had no children.

The following year the Godwin family returned with an army. Nobody wanted a civil war and Godwin and his family had their land and titles restored. The two hostages remained prisoners and were sent to Normandy. Earl Godwin died in 1053 and his son, Harold became Earl of Wessex.

In his later years Edward devoted his time to overseeing the building of Westminster Abbey, leaving the running of the country to Harold Godwinson. In 1056 he summoned Edward, the exiled son of King Edmund Ironside, to return to England. Edward, his wife and children, returned in 1057 but Edward the Exile died soon afterwards. His young son Edgar became heir to the throne.

Edward became ill in December 1065 and shortly before his death on 5th January 1066 he promised the throne to Harold Godwinson as Edgar was deemed to young to lead the country.

 

King Harold II (Godwinson) Jan – Oct 1066

King Harold II

Harold was born around 1022, the second son of Earl Godwin and Gytha Thorkelsdottir. Harold’s father rose to power during the reign of King Canute, after switching allegiance in 1016 and marrying the sister of Canute’s brother-in-law in 1018.

When Edward the Confessor became King in 1042, Earl Godwin became one of his chief advisors. Harold’s sister Edith married the King in 1045. Harold’s elder brother, Sweyn, was exiled in 1047 after abducting the Abbess of Leominster. When Earl Godwin died in 1053, Harold succeeded as Earl of Wessex. Harold’s brother Tostig was created Earl of Northumbria in 1055 but was not popular. When Northumbria rebelled against Tostig’s rule Edward sent Harold Godwinson to mitigate and Tostig was exiled. Tostig never forgave his brother.

In 1064 a ship carrying Harold and other noblemen was shipwrecked off the coast of Normandy. The party were taken to Duke William of Normandy and Harold supported William in battle against Conan of Brittany. It is believed that Harold also attempted to negotiate the release of his brother and nephew who had been taken hostage in 1051 when the Godwin family briefly fell out of favour with the King. When Harold returned to England he had his nephew Hakon with him. His brother remained in captivity. William would later claim that before he left, Harold swore on Holy relics to uphold William’s claim to the English throne.

Edward the Confessor died on 5th January 1066 having nominated Harold to succeed. Harold Godwinson was crowned King Harold II the following day. Harold knew that William Duke of Normandy was likely to invade and stationed militia along the south coast. By early September it seemed unlikely that the invasion would take place that year and the men were dismissed to help bring in the harvest.

On 8th September England was invaded, not by William, but by Harald Hardrada, supported by Harold’s brother Tostig. Hardrada also believed he had a claim to the English throne through the promise made by Harthacnut to King Magnus of Norway. Hardrada and Tostig defeated the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Fulford on 20th September. As soon as he learned of the invasion and defeat Harold raised an army and marched north. The invaders were defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25th September. Hardrada and Tostig were both killed.

While celebrating the victory at York, Harold learned that William had invaded on the south coast. He and his housecarls rode south to London calling for men to join them along the way. In London it was suggested that Harold’s brothers Gyrth and Leofwine march south to face the Normans while Harold remain in London. However, Harold refused, confident that he could beat the Normans.

The battle took place on Senlac Hill on 14th October 1066. The two sides battled all day. As dusk was falling King Harold was struck down and killed.

 

King Edgar Aetheling Oct – Dec 1066

Edgar Aetheling

Edgar Aetheling was born around 1052 was the son of Edward the Exile and grandson of King Edmund Ironside. Edward and his brother Edmund were taken to the continent in 1016 after the death of their father and the accession of King Canute. Edward married a Hungarian princess named Agatha.

In 1056 Edgar, his sisters Margaret and Cristina and their parents made the journey back to England arriving in 1057. Edgar’s father died within a year of their return.

When King Edward the Confessor died in 1066, Harold Godwinson was made King over Edgar, who, at 14 years old was considered too young to rule.

After the death of Harold at the Battle of Hastings, the Witan declared Edgar to be King. When William and his forces reached London the Witan and Edgar were forced to submit. William was crowned King of England on 25th December 1066.