Sons and brothers battle it out in the Anglo-Saxon Game of Thrones

Over 450 years after the Romans left Britons to fend for themselves the people they left behind had gone West (no, I don’t mean they were all dead, they had literally gone into the West) and the Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Danes and other assorted “visitors” had taken over most of the area that is now known as England.

Alfred the Great (the one who burned the cakes) had finally pushed the Danes back into the small area of Danelaw and by 886 had finally become King of the Anglo Saxons.

Things went reasonably well while Alfred was in charge and on his death in 899. His son Edward then ruled for about 25 years to be succeeded by his son Aethelstan who styled himself King of England.

The reigns of the next few kings of England were often quite short and for some time it was brother succeeding brother (sometimes half-brother).

On the death of Aethelstan the north of England fell back into Viking hands but the dead king’s brother Edmund succeeded him in 939 and took the north back. He died young in 946 and his sons were considered too young to take over so his brother Eadred ruled for nine years. As he was unmarried he was succeeded by King Edmund’s son Eadwig who was 16 when he was crowned and a “bit of lad”. He was allegedly prised out of his bed on coronation day, taken from the arms of a “strumpet”. . . and her mother/.

He was dead by the age of 20 (causes unknown) and was succeeded by his younger brother Edgar who appears to have been less of a roisterer than his brother and who reigned for 16 years.

After his coronation he took an army north to Chester and met with “six kings of Britain” including the King of Scots, King of Strathclyde and princes of Welsh districts. They are alleged to have sworn allegiance to him by rowing him in his state barge across the River Dee.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if this was true then the Scots and Welsh would probably have dumped him into the water as the tide was going out and he would have been swept out to sea.

Still, the story made his successors happy.

Edgar’s eldest son Edward succeeded his father after 16 years. He was just 12 and there was a dispute about succession with followers of his much younger half-brother, Aethelred. Civil war was looming and then Edward was murdered and his step-mother claimed the throne for her boy.

At the age of 10 Aethelred didn’t really seem ready to rule – a problem highlighted by the fact that less than three years after becoming king he fled to Normandy as the Danes led by Sweyn Forkbeard invaded following the massacre of a large number of Danish settler.

Forkbeard was acclaimed as king following Aethelred’s departure but died five weeks later and the young English king returned but spent the remaining few years of his reign battling with Sweyn Forkbeard’s son Cnut.

When he died he was succeeded by Edmund (known as Ironside) who did a deal with Cnut by splitting the kingdom between them. Edmund got Wessex and Cnut got the rest.

The deal was that when one died the other would become King of England.

Soon afterwards Edmund died (what a surprise) and Cnut ruled England for almost 20 years. He also married Emma of Normandy, the widow of Aethelred.

There’s that Normandy cropping up again.

Cnut was succeeded in 1035 by his bastard son Harold the Harefoot (apparently he was a speedy and skilled hunter) when he stole the throne while his half-brother Harthacnut was busy fighting to save his Danish kingdom.

Harold ruled for five years and then died just as his brother Harthacnut was heading for England with a large invasion fleet.

Harthacnut was the last Danish king of England and had told his mother, Emma of Normandy, that her son by her first husband, Aethelred, would be king. The young Edward was allowed to return from exile in Normandy.

Within two years Harthacnut died and Edward (known as Edward the Confessor) became king, returning the Royal House of Wessex line to the throne of England.

So everybody was happy. The Vikings had mostly gone home, Edward ruled England and the Anglo-Saxons were top dog once more.

Well, not everybody was happy, but we’ll look at that next time.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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