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Edgar the Aetheling: Failure or Survivor?

Giaconda's Blog

edgar-the-aetheling-1

You could argue that Edgar was set up to fail from the start. As the last male heir of the ancient royal House of Cerdic of Wessex; Edgar had the bloodline but little else to support his claim to the English throne when his great uncle, Edward the Confessor, died in January 1066.

edgar-2 Edgar’s father, Edward the Exile who raised his children in Hungary for some time

His father, Edward the Exile, had mysteriously died shortly after being recalled to court by Edward the Confessor, to be his heir thus leaving Edgar’s claim unprotected by a strong male relative at the tender age of 6. His mother, Agatha, may have been related to the German Emperor but was far from assistance and before long would be surrounded by powerful men who were all set to devour each other in a violent contest of military strength in order to lay hands…

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Royal burials at St George’s Chapel….

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This article is quite interesting, although Richard only gets a brief mention, for moving Henry VI from Chertsey to Windsor. Edward IV is in there, of course, and Henry VII’s endeavours too, although he’s not buried there, of course. Wasn’t it grand enough for him? Whatever, he built himself an extravagant but truly beautiful resting place in Westminster Abbey.

Royal Burials: St George’s Chapel

See also our previous article.

Whilst researching my new biography of Henry III, a tantalising thought began to emerge from bits of evidence.

Was Henry III autistic?

https://mattlewisauthor.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/was-henry-iii-autistic/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Henry-III-Son-Magna-Carta/dp/1445653575

Hastings 950: Remembering the End of an Age

Giaconda's Blog

Over the summer holidays I visited Battle Abbey with my family. We also found our way to Pevensey Bay and Hastings during our trip to re-trace the footsteps of King Harold’s last stand against Norman invaders almost 950 years ago.

Pevensey was atmospheric and eery on an overcast morning with a steely glint on the waves and the slipping pebbles underfoot. We sat on the breakwater and imagined what it would have been like to sight ships on the horizon and dread what they would bring and where they might make landfall. We thought about the effort of unloading supplies and weapons and war horses on a beach like Pevensey and how difficult to would have been to get these up the shifting track ways of pebbles with the threat of an armed response from local defenders and of how treacherous the English channel has proven to be to would-be invaders…

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The Success of the Usurper by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

For some years I have set my novels in the last years of Plantagenet reign, or the first years of the Tudor dynasty.

 UsurperWilliam
William the Conqueror

Many authors of historical fiction prefer to set their books in the Georgian or Regency periods, but tor me the Plantagenet dynasty was one of the most interesting and longest lasting that has ever ruled in England. Both Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties included amazing figures of mystery, fear and tyranny. Indeed, both dynasties were founded on blatant usurpation. William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, invaded England and won the throne in 1066. Thus the Plantagenet dynasty was born in murder and brutality.

William’s claims were never valid. Whether or not his story of promises were true, at that time the English throne was never given by right to the man arbitrarily named by the previous king. The English had a different system and chose the man of noble blood whom they considered best suited. Therefore the Plantagenet dynasty had no initial right to rule England, but of course William claimed that by right of conquest. And so William I was followed by many kings of murderous ambition, great renown, courage, responsibility, honest endeavour, and violent determination.

 UsurperHenry
Henry Tudor

The same occurred with the Tudors. Henry VII had no right whatsoever to the English throne. He had barely a single drop of English royal blood. It has sometimes been claimed that he was the true claimant of the Lancaster line (begun earlier by Henry IV, including Henry V, and Henry VI before the Yorkists once again claimed the crown) but even that is inaccurate. Henry VII was descended from a bastard line and barred from the royal inheritance, but even if that major difficulty was ignored, his claim was still only about the 15th in the Lancastrian line of descent.

Just like William the Bastard, Henry Tudor invaded England with a largely foreign army, and won the English throne by right of conquest. A usurper indeed, but he founded a dynasty of renown including some of the most interesting and fearful of sovereigns. For lovers of English history, it is often the Tudor period that fascinates the most. In those years of the Tudor family monarchy came the first two queens who ever ruled in their own right. A distinct lack of offspring brought the dynasty to an abrupt close, but not until they had sealed their names in history – written in blood.

Amongst the Plantagenets, many kings have gained a terrible and fearsome reputation. However, some of those reputations seem rather suspect when carefully examined. Indeed, there were different expectations in those times and a king had to be a great warrior, do great deeds and win the awe and admiration of his people. Brutality was common, executions were rife and poverty was the common order. It is hard to judge past actions and characters by modern standards.

Most of my historical novels are set during the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III. This was a controversial time, and has become even more controversial since experts argue over the rights and wrongs of York against Lancaster, the Wars of the Roses, and in particular regarding the guilt or innocence of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III. After many years of studious and careful research, I consider Richard III an interesting figure who had too little time to prove himself. I believe that he was no usurper, and was probably innocent of most other accusations hurled against him. But that is the fascination of history for we cannot be positive. Contemporary evidence is scarce, and propaganda was rife.

But my new book, Fair Weather, is set during the reign of King John in the early 13th century. This was another king plastered with a terrible reputation, and many claim this to be unjust. But he is not a main character in my novel – which has a time-slip plot with an element of the paranormal. I adored writing this book for it combines the freedom and wild exciting escapism of time-travel – the dark threat of murder and alchemy – and the significant atmosphere of the early Plantagenet time period. I love wandering those dark narrow cobbled lanes in my dreams – exploring the markets – the taverns – and the villages. I follow the ordinary folk and I share their lives. So different to my own. London Bridge had only recently been built – one of the greatest stone bridges of the world at that time. And it plays a large part in my story. That’s where I shall go first when my new time-machine is delivered by Amazon right to my front door. In the meantime my novel Fair Weather is almost a time-machine in itself.

Old England and its Saxon traditions was obliterated by the brutality of the Norman invasion and the usurpation of William the Bastard. But then that same Plantagenet dynasty was finally brought to an end by the next act of usurpation, when invasion brought the Tudor dynasty to power. So whether you love or hate these old royal houses, it cannot be denied that they fashioned England until the early 1600s, and were families of charisma, colour – and threat.

 

Edmund Ironside

Edmund II (Ironside) is a curiosity among English Kings. He reigned for barely seven months, succeeding his father Ethelred II (Unraed) on St. George’s Day 1016 but dying “in suspicious circumstances” on St. Andrew’s Day the same year. He was the half-brother of Edward the Confessor and grandfather of Edgar the Atheling, thus the ancestor of every English monarch from 1154. As the grandfather of St. Margaret of Wessex, second wife of Malcolm III, he was the ancestor of every Scottish monarch from 1093 (except Donald Bain, Malcolm’s brother).

Edmund’s reign began from a bad position as the northern part of England was occupied by the Danes. Sveyn Forkbeard, their King, had temporarily supplanted Ethelred in 1013 but he died the following year and Ethelred’s authority was restored. Edmund, Ethelred’s third but eldest surviving son, fought alongside him and continued the struggle after his death, raising an army and defeating the Danes, under Sveyn’s son Cnut, at least twice near London until he suffered a reverse at Assandun in October 1016 and re-divided England with Cnut. He died the following month, possibly poisoned by Eadric Streona, his brother-in-law, and Cnut became King of all England. In any event, Cnut had Eadric executed at Christmas the following year.

Assessing Edmund as a King and commander is, therefore, even more difficult than with Richard III, his descendant. Another connection is that a play from c.1590, reputedly written by Shakespeare, is named Edmund Ironside, heavily featuring Cnut and Eadric. A sequel, Hardicanute, named for Cnut’s son and successor but one, is now lost.

Putting things right

I am going to start with a statement that too many historians prefer to ignore: England existed before 14 October 1066 and existed as a single kingdom for some of that time.

So why do our monarchs’ regnal numbers ignore this? Edward the Confessor died at the beginning of that very year. Edward the Martyr earned his nickname at Corfe Castle under a century earlier. Edward the Elder succeeded Alfred under two centuries before the twilight of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy. All reigned as part of the House of Wessex which outlasted the other heptarchs yet, when that name resurfaced under the crown in 1272, its bearer bore the number one (I).

Is it time to correct this? Should Prince George of Cambridge have sons with Saxon names and they succeed in due course, should they take adjusted regnal numbers eg Edmund III, Egbert IV? Should new editions of all general history books adjust the numbers of the Edwards to date?

Images of Power: Royal iconography during the Plantagenet period

Giaconda's Blog

Combining my two great loves, history and art, I want to look at some of the imagery used to depict Plantagenet kings during the period and taking a few examples examine what the visual language may be telling us about how kingship was viewed and how the kings themselves wanted to be perceived.

Imagery as propaganda – of course, imagery linked to concepts of status and power – certainly, imagery as a means of establishing a link with another age – well that’s much more subjective yet many of us might admit to studying the faces of those kings whether it be on their tomb effigies or in portraits which have survived and longing to understand them or to read something of their drives and motivations from the shading and stance, the lines on their faces and the expression of their gaze. This is a very understandable human response to the mystery…

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