Edgar

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Edgar (943-975), king of England (959-975), the younger brother of Edwy had been chosen king in Mercia and Northumbria in 957. On Edwy’s death, and the accession of Edgar to the throne of Wessex, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were united under one ruler. Edgar immediately recalled St. Dunstan who had lived in exile during his brother’s reign and, two years later, appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury.

In the years between 955 and 980 the country enjoyed a respite from Scandinavian raids. Edgar and Dunstan, in one of the most harmonious partnerships between church and state in English medieval history were able to instigate and oversee widespread reforms. Dunstan, aided by strong allies within the church and with the full support of the king, revitalised the monastic culture in what is known as the Benedictine reformation, enriching the culture and influencing standards of education and the use of the language.

Edgar recognised his Christian Danish subjects, and accepted the validity of their customs and language in those parts where they had settled. This decision, as much as any other single act has given the English language a good part of its unique variety as the two languages integrated. (It is of interest that his one “misdeed”, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicler, is this acceptance of “alien customs and heathen practices”.)

In 973, in the city of Bath, after 14 years as ruler, Edgar was ceremoniously crowned in a public event containing both ecclesiastical and lay elements, some of which are precedents for the modern ceremony.. As much as anything it had imperialist implications, and the ceremonial act was followed by the show of force – a naval expedition to Chester where it has been said that he was rowed to and from the royal palace on the River Dee by 6 (or 8 - or the story itself may be apocryphal) British kings accepting his overlordship.

He died suddenly in 975, leaving a strong and united England. History has been kind to Edgar. Ruling at a time of relative peace (there are two one-line references in the Chronicle to his forces “ravaging” parts of his realm which may indicate rebellion or some sort of incursion, but that is all) he was able to oversee social and fiscal reforms that had a lasting effect. Dunstan’s reforms rekindled the monastic tradition, strengthened the church and are a milestone in the history of the English language. Later accounts of his reign marvel at its lack of strife and refer to him as “the peaceable”.

Reference: “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” trans. Anne Savage


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