In London, it was said that the streets were ‘teeming’. There were so many men, survivors of Hastings, and the armies that had been summoned by Harold, but had not quite made it to the battle, that there was hardly room for them all to be accommodated. The people of London were defiant. William of Normandy might have killed their king and many of their leading nobles, but those men and women of the city and all those who had come there, stood with the hope that they ‘might live there in freedom, for a very long time,'(Carnen de Haestingae Proelio). And as Poitiers says ‘it was their highest wish that they have no king who was not a compatriot.’
Archbishop Ealdred of York had journeyed with the brothers, Edwin and Morcar from Yorkshire, to London, most likely hoping to have met with the victorious King Harold back from Hastings having beaten the Normans, or to have awaited his orders to join him in the campaign to rid the Normans from their country. A council of nobles was called and it was decided that the young atheling, Edgar, should be pronounced king, ‘just as was his noble right’ (Anglo Saxon Chronicle).
Edgar Atheling was around fourteen or fifteen at this time, untried, untested and inexperienced in matters of state, kingship and war, although as a ward of the old King Edward and Queen Edith, would most likely have had some grooming in these affairs. It is interesting that he stayed behind in London. If he had gone into battle at Hastings like most boys of his age had probably done, it would have been mentioned, and one must wonder whether this was because some thought had been given as to who might succeed Harold, should he be killed at Hastings. Perhaps, unofficially, Harold had arranged for him to be his heir and successor, because of his bloodline, as opposed to his own sons. There may have been a lot of support for Edgar, when the king had died, and this might have been a compromise in the deal that allowed Harold to become king. At such worrying times, it would have seemed more expedient to have an experienced veteran on the throne, than a young boy, just in his adolescence.
Few people in England had known about Edgar’s existence before 1057. His father, Edward, had been a fugitive as an infant, from King Cnut’s ill wishes back in the earlier half of the 11thc. Edward’s father had been Edmund Ironside, half brother of Edward the Confessor. Both of them had been born to the same father. Edmund had defended England for his father and himself, when he had been proclaimed king. Edmund had been a respected warrior, hence his name ‘Ironside’, but after The Battle of Assandun, an agreement between King Cnut and Ironside meant that England was divided into two territories, one for each of them. Not long after that battle, however, Ironside died and his wife, Ealdgyth, fled with her two sons, one of whom was later to become known as Edward the Exile. It was this Edward the Exile, that was brought to England from Hungary where he had been given refuge and married a Hungarian noble woman, Agatha. He and his family had been sought out on behalf of the Confessor, as it had become worryingly clear that England had no heir to the throne. There had been some who had recalled that Edmund’s children had gone into exile, and so Bishop Ealdred had travelled to Europe to seek him out. However, after only being in England a few days, the Exile died before he could even meet the king. It was not known what caused his death, but the Anglo Saxon (Worcester Chronicle D) makes this observation
We do not know for what cause it was arranged that he might not see his relative King Edward. Alas! That was a cruel fate and harmful to all this nation, that he so quickly ended his life after he came to England, to this misfortune of this wretched nation.
And so, it was left to little Edgar, then aged about five, to wear the mantle of atheling, a title which is given to princes or anyone with royal blood who is considered throneworthy. Having been endowed with the title, did not mean that Edgar would definitely be raised to the throne upon Edward’s death, what it did entitle him to, was to be considered for the throne. The end decision was in the hands of the Witan.
There is not much known about Edgar’s early years. He and his father came to England in 1057, possibly brought over by a delegate that may have included Harold, and perhaps Bishop Ealdred. There is evidence to state that Harold was in Europe in this time and could well have been part of the contingent that brought the family back to England. It is not known in whose care Edward the Exile was in when he died, but it may well have been Harold’s who most certainly had the means to accommodate the family.
Edward and Edith are known to have care of the children of nobles, among these, may have been the children of such members of the aristocracy as, Harold, son of Ralph de Mantes, the king’s nephew. Edgar and his sisters I am sure would have also been wards, and perhaps their mother, Agatha, one of Edith’s ladies. Much more is known about the adult Edgar, who, despite being let down by his country, did his best to fight back at William and although he never won his crown from William, he was a brave contender for the throne. And if anyone had a right to be king, it was Edgar, not William, who won by right of conquest, which seems was an ok thing in olden times.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicles Translated and edited by Michael Swanton.
Guy de Amien Carmen de Haestingae de Proelio.
William Poitiers Gesta Guillelmi.
Morris M. (2012) The Norman Conquest Hutchinson, London.
Walker I. W. (1997) Harold The LAst Anglo-Saxon King Sutton Publishing, Stroud.