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Edwy of England

Edwy All-Fair or Eadwig (941?–October 1, 959) was the King of England from 955 until his death. The eldest son of King Edmund and Saint Elgiva, Edwy was chosen by the nobility to succeed his uncle Edred as King. His short reign was marked by ongoing conflicts with his family, the Thegns, and especially the Church, under the leadership of Saint Dunstan and Archbishop Odo.

Feud with Dunstan

According to one legend, the feud with Dunstan began on the day of Edwy's consecration, when he failed to attend a meeting of nobles. When Dunstan eventually found the young monarch, he was cavorting with a noblewoman named Ethelgive and refused to return with the bishop. Infuriated by this, Dunstan dragged Edwy back and forced him to renounce the girl as a "strumpet." Later realizing that he had provoked the king, Dunstan fled to the apparent sanctuary of his cloister, but Edwy, incited by Ethelgive, followed him and plundered the monastery. Though Dunstan managed to escape, he refused to return to England until after Edwy's death. The contemporary record of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports Edwy's accession and Dunstan fleeing England-but does not tell why Dunstan fled. Thus this report of a feud between Edwy and Dunstan could either have been based on a true incident of a political quarrel for power between a young king and powerful church officials who wished to control the king and who later spread this legend to blacken his reputation, or it could be an urban legend; the Chronicle also tells of Odo putting aside the King's marriage on the grounds Edwy and his wife were "too related".

The account of the quarrel with Dunstan and the Bishop of Lichfield at the coronation feast is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and later the later chronicle of Florence (or John) of Worcester) and was written by monks supportive of Dunstan's position. The "cavorting" in question consisted of Edwy (then only 16) being away from the feast with his foster-sister (Elgiva) and foster-mother, (Ethelgiva). He later married Elgiva who was the sister of AEthelweard the Historian. She was the daughter of Eadric of Washington. His brother was Athelstan Half-King who was Edwy's brother Edgar's foster father. Edgar also married his foster sister. Aethelweard and Eadric were the sons of Aethelthryth, who was the son of Aethelhelm (possibly the same as Aethelhelm, Archbishop of Canterbury who in turn was the son of King Aethelred I. Edwy was the son of King Edmund the Magnificent, grandson of King Edward the Elder, greatgrandson of King Alfred the Great, and greatgreatnephew of King Aethelred I. Due to this somewhat tenuous relationship, Archbishop Oda annulled the marriage between Edwy and Elgiva. Elgiva was mutilated in the face and sold into slavery in Ireland.

Annulment of Marriage

The annulment of the marriage of Edwy and Elgiva is unusual in that it was against their will and clearly politically motivated by the supporters of Dunstan. The Church at the time held that any union within 9 degrees of consanguinilty was incestuous. In a population of 1-1.5 million people most of the marriages within England at the time would have been void, but only amongst the aristocracy would such a full family tree be known. Edgar's relationship with his wife was precisely the same as Edwy's and the consanguinity of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip is slightly closer.

Civil War

Dunstan, whilst in exile became influenced by the Benedictines of Flanders and a pro-Dunstan, pro-Benedictine party began to form around Athelstan Half-King's domain of East Anglia supporting Edwy's younger brother Edgar. Frustrated by the king's impositions and supported by Archbishop Odo, the Thanes of Mercia and Northumbria switched their allegiance to Edwy's brother Edgar in 957. Edwy was defeated in battle at Gloucester, but rather than see the country descend into civil war, an agreement was reached among the nobles by which the kingdom would be divided along the Thames, with Edwy keeping Wessex and Kent in the south and Edgar ruling in the north.

King of Wessex

In the few remaining years of his reign, Edwy ruled his realm more wisely and made significant gifts to the Church. His reign is distinguished by a large number of gifts and charters seemingly designed to bolster his support in Wessex. He died, however, at the age of eighteen or nineteen, and was succeeded by his brother and rival, Edgar, who reunited the kingdom. His cause of death is unknown, but followed swiftly after the return of Elgiva, whom the Irish had taken pity upon. As she attempted to return to Edwy, her party was set upon by brigands and she was murdered. Edwy died about the same time in circumstances which remain unclear.

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