Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles
QUEENS OF ENGLAND
BEFORE THE NORMAN CONQUEST.
TAGGARD & THOMPSON,
This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2007
QUEENS OF EDWARD "THE ELDER," AND EDMUND "THE PIOUS."
Romantic tale of Athelstan's mother—The loves of Egwina and Edward—Dream of the Shepherd's daughter—The nurse of the King's children—Adoption of Egwina—The bright light—Edward's second wife Elfleda; her seven children—His third wife Edgifa—Edgifa's lawsuit and will—Athelstan and Beatrice—Goda's dishonesty—Education of the family of Edward the Elder—Eadburga the nun; her choice—Edward's death, and his son Ethelwerd's—Athelstan named as successor—He provides for his family—Beatrice marries Sihtric, King of Northumberland—Edgifa marries Charles the Simple—Her trials and story—Edgifa and Elfgifa sent to Germany—Their marriage-list of the sisters—Hugh the Great and Edilda—The marriage presents—Revived fortunes of Edgifa and her son, Louis d'Outremer—Restoration and imprudence—Harshness of Louis to his mother—The widow of Edward the Elder still goes on with her lawsuit—Edmund the Pious—St. Dunstan—The precipice—Elfgiva—Legend—Explanation of the dream—Edmund assassinated—Reay Cross on Stanmore—Monasteries—Edred and St. Dunstan—Edwy the Tyrant; his ill-usage of his grandmother—Edgar re-establishes her in her rights—She bestows her property on the church—Her death.
THE marriage of Edward the Elder with the beautiful maiden Egwina is not an ascertained fact; but she was the mother of one of the greatest and the most worthy of the Kings of England, and the preference of Alfred for him above his other grandchildren, as well as of Edward above all his sons, might lead to the conclusion that he was considered legitimate, although his birth was brought forward as a reproach to the good and learned Athelstan by the disaffected among his subjects. The legend of the loves of Egwina and Edward is told by several chroniclers: by William of Malmesbury, who at the same time calls her "illustris foemina;" and Florence, who does the same, naming her "mulier nobilissima." It is, therefore, by no means improbable that she really was the wife of Prince Edward. The story is thus told:—
In the time of King Alfred there was a shepherd's daughter, a young maiden of extraordinary beauty, who had so singular a vision in her sleep that it became the theme of the whole neighbourhood, and reached the King's ears. She dreamt that as she lay on her bed, a bright light, as of a full moon, shone forth from her body and illumined all England. The nurse of King Alfred's children was told of this dream, which by her was repeated to the Queen, who told it to her husband. Alfred was so much struck with the fact, that he had the maiden sent for, and received her into his house, adopting her from that time and treating her as his own child. She remained, therefore, under the nurse's care.
Prince Edward who was not at the time at home, returned in due course, and visiting his nurse, was astonished and delighted with the addition to the family. The extreme beauty of Egwina, which seemed to make an impression on all, did not fail to fascinate the young prince. Whether Egwina's birth was known to King Alfred to be noble, and that, aware of her having been concealed as the shepherd's daughter, he did not oppose the passion of his son, or whether they were united before he knew of it, is not ascertained. Athelstan, and a sister called Beatrice, were born to Edward; and from the first, his subjects then, and the world since, might agree that he was the bright light of his mother's dream, for he filled all England with a glory never known before. [Lappenberg, Fl. Wigorn, William of Malmesbury.]
Egwina appears to have died immediately after the birth of her daughter, and Edward was free to make what alliance he pleased. Very soon after her death, he married Elfleda, daughter of the Saxon Earl, Etheline. He had not then succeeded to the crown, but in 901 he was crowned, with his queen, in great pomp, at Kingston-upon-Thames.
Elfleda bore seven children to her husband, and Edward found himself a widower for the second time, for her life seems to have ended prematurely. He, however, in a short time appears again as a husband, having married a lady of high birth, named Edgifa, the daughter of Earl Sighelm.
This Queen, almost immediately after marriage, became involved in the intricacies of a lawsuit. Her father Sighelm had engaged part of his land in a mortgage, and after his death it was redeemed by the oath of Edgifa, which by the Saxon laws was considered as equivalent in value to the worth of the money which Sighelm had paid to the mortgagee, but for which he had neglected to obtain a charter of release. [Palgrave.] The Queen's will, which may be seen in the Appendix to Lye's Saxon Dictionary, where it is translated from the Anglo-Saxon into Latin, throws much light on this singular transaction, and on the habits of Queen Edgifa's days.
In her will, Edgifa declares to the Archbishop of the Convent of Christ's Church, at Canterbury, how the land of Cowling came to her, viz.—" That her father had granted to her the land and deed, as he rightfully acquired it, and his ancestors granted it to him. It happened that her father borrowed thirty pounds of Goda, and delivered to him this land as surety for the money, and he held it seven years. Then it happened that all the Kentish men were in the war at Holme. But Sighelm, her father, was unwilling to set out for the wars in any one's debt, and therefore repaid to Goda the thirty pounds, and bequeathed the land to Edgifa, his laughter. When he had fallen in battle, then Goda denied the payment of the money, and kept possession of the land for six years. Then Berksige Deyring, [A Saxon lawyer?] persisted in affirming it, till at length the nobles who were there, counselled Edgifa to purge the land of her father of so great a sum of money; and she accordingly made oath, in the presence of the whole people at Arlesford, and there cleared her father concerning the repayment, by oath, of the thirty pounds. She was not, however, allowed to enter on possession of the land, until her friends had prevailed upon King Edward to prohibit Goda from holding it any longer, on pain of losing all he possessed; whereupon he gave it up. It happened afterwards, in course of time, that the King expressed so much displeasure to Goda, that he gave him in an account of the deeds and lands which he possessed. And the King, therefore, delivered him and all his privileges, with the deeds and lands, to Edgifa, to dispose of as she pleased. Then she said, that she dared not, for fear of God, so retaliate on him as he had deserved of her; and she restored to him all his lands, except two caracutes at Osterland. But she would not return the deeds until she knew how far he would abide by them in respect to the lands which were to be his." These were, doubtless, the lands held by mortgage from Sighelm; and that Edgifa understood the character of the man whom she had to oppose in this legal contest, is evident by the subsequent events, as the will itself declares, to which we shall have occasion to advert hereafter.
Edgifa had two sons by Edward, Edmund and Edred, and two daughters. Of the second marriage one son remained, and six daughters. Of the first, Athelstan and Beatrice, who were educated at a distance from Edward's court, under the care of his sister, the Lady of Mercia; there, though separated from their step-mother Edgifa, they preserved a tender affection for her, and for the numerous offspring of Edward, their father; of which many proofs occurred after the death of the King. [Turner's Anglo-Saxon.]
Edward, in the careful education of his children, followed the example of his father's wisdom. His daughters have been compared to those of Charlemagne, with whom a similar course was adopted. Their early years were devoted to the acquirement of solid knowledge, and the accomplishments prized at the period were theirs; nor was the use of the distaff and spindle neglected by the Princesses; so that their minds and bodies were always occupied—the surest method by which good conduct can be preserved. Very precious and elaborate specimens in "raiments of wrought needlework" and early English embroidery, are said to have been produced by the diligence of these "King's daughters." [The skill of the daughters of Edward in spinning and weaving is praised in the highest terms by our historians, and they were likewise instructed with the greatest possible care in the art of needlework: so renowned was their talent with the distaff that the term "spinster" is said to have been derived from these royal ladies. With such noble examples before them for contemplation, it is not to be wondered that we learn that the leisure hours of the Saxon women (even of the first rank) were spent in spinning and such like servile employments; neither was it any dishonor for the lady of the house to be among her maids, helping them and performing the duties of the house in common with them, while the lord was with his men, assisting and overlooking them; many instances of which may be brought to prove the ancient simplicity and plainness of their manners.—Strutt's Saxon Antiquities.]
The sons of Edward had equal means afforded them of gaining the information necessary to constitute good princes.
A story is related of Eadburga, the youngest of Edgifa's daughters, when only three years of age. The princess was led by her father into a room; in which the King had previously placed in one part a quantity of rings and bracelets; and a chalice, with a book of the Gospels, in another. The child was desired by her father to make her choice between them, when disregarding the vain ornaments of a transitory existence, she ran to those objects dedicated to religion. Edward, tracing in the infantine act a predilection for the service of Heaven, exclaimed with fervour, as he clasped her in his arms, "Go whither the Divine Spirit calls thee: follow with happy footsteps the spouse whom thou hast chosen!" [William of Malmesbury.] Accordingly the royal child was consigned to the care of her grandmother, Queen Elswitha, who resided at the convent at Winchester. She dwelt, for many years after, among that holy sisterhood, distinguishing herself by acts of piety and humility. [Lingard.] Monkish chroniclers relate of her rare humility, that "she would at night, secretly remove the socks [Socca, or socks, were sometimes made of leather, as it appears these of the nuns were, by the "anointing" mentioned.] worn by the several nuns, and after having washed and carefully anointed them, replace them on the beds of her sleeping companions." ["In the eighth and ninth centuries, the Anglo-Saxons wore stockings reaching halfway up the thigh, called by writers of the period "hose;" the most general material being linen, although "skin hose" and "leather hose" are likewise often mentioned. Over these stockings bands of cloth, linen, and leather, were worn, commencing at the ankle and terminating a little below the knee, generally bound round the leg like the haybands of a modern ostler, but sometimes crossing each other, as they are worn to this day by the people of the Abruzzi and the Appenines. In some illuminations of the period a sort of half-stocking is represented over the hose, instead of the bandages, having the tops generally embroidered, and these appear to have been called socca, or socks. They wore boots or buskins, but generally shoes (sceo or scho); slippers also appear to have been worn, called slype-sceo and unhege-sceo. The shoe is mostly painted down the instep, secured by a thong, the material being commonly leather, but the Anglo-Saxon princes and high ecclesiastical dignitaries are often represented with shoes of gold covered with precious stones. The shoemaker's seems to have been a comprehensive trade, and to have united some that are now very distinct businesses. He says in an ancient Anglo-Saxon dialogue: "My craft is very useful and necessary to you. I buy hides and skins, and prepare them by my art, and make of them shoes of various kinds, and none of you can winter without my craft." He subjoins a list of the articles he fabricates:—"Ankle-leathers, shoes, leather hose, bottles, bridle thongs, trappings, flasks, boiling vessels, leather—neck-pieces, halters, wallets, and pouches."] Long after her death, the acts of Eadburga were fondly recounted by the religious of the nunneries of Winchester, and Pershore in Worcestershire, at which last place her "sacred relics had been deposited, but were afterwards exhumed by Bishop Ethelwold and placed in a rich shrine, the Abbess Elfleda having covered them with gold and silver."
A.D. 925.—At the time of Edward's death he was residing at "Farndon, in Mercia," [Saxon Chronicle.] which is by some supposed to be Faringdon, in Berkshire. [Lysons's Mag. Brit.; Holinshed, Raleigh.] A few days later the King was followed to the tomb by Prince Ethelwerd, the son of Elfleda, his former Queen. Both father and son were interred with regal solemnity in the New Monastery of Winchester, near the remains of Alfred the Great, whom Ethelwerd is said to have greatly resembled in person, manners, and literary attainments. The double loss must have fallen heavily on the bereaved Queen and her family. Ethelwerd, the deceased Prince, had been a youth of great hopes, and perhaps Edward had anticipated his early death; for a few days before he expired, he summoned Athelstan to his presence, and having declared his desire that he should succeed him on the throne, piously admonished him as to his future conduct and mode of government. Thus Edgifa beheld Athelstan, the son of the shepherdess Egwina, raised by his father's will to the throne, in preference to her sons Edmund and Edred, still infants, as well as to the exclusion of Edwin, the surviving brother of Ethelwerd. The choice of Edward seems to have been grounded in this instance on the predilection of his father, the wise Alfred, for this his favourite grandchild, and Athelstan was accordingly crowned, with but one dissenting voice, at Kingston. [Athelstan is said to have first worn a crown of pure gold.]
It was the first care of Athelstan to provide for the future welfare of the numerous family of the deceased King. Within the course of a few months, his sister Beatrice was given away in marriage, some think, sacrificed, to Sihtric, King of the Northumbrian Danes, who was only baptized on the occasion, and died within a year, when much confusion ensued for the succession.
The first and third daughters of Elfleda, Edward's second Queen, devoted themselves to a life of celibacy: these were Edfleda, "who assumed the sacred robes of a nun; and Ethelhilda, who continued to wear a humble lay habit: both renounced the pleasures of this world, and were at their death interred near the remains of their mother at Winchester." Their sister Edgifa was married, during King Edward's life, to Charles the Simple, King of France, and the same year of Athelstan's accession, returned an exile with her son, and placed herself under the protection of the English King.
Edgifa is said to have been distinguished above her sisters for merit and genius. Through the treason of Robert, Count de Vermandois, Charles the Simple had been imprisoned in the Castle of Peronne; while Raoul, son of Richard, Duke of Burgundy, caused himself to be proclaimed King, and crowned at Soissons, A.D. 923, though he acted only as Regent during Charles's imprisonment. Edgifa had made every possible effort to procure the release of her husband, but in vain. She fled to secure her son's life, and after a six years' captivity, the unfortunate Charles died in his prison, worn out with sorrow and misery. Edgifa returned in sorrow to the home of her childhood, and continued to reside there with her son Louis.
Henry I., son of Conrad, King of the Germans, and Emperor of the Romans, had demanded for his son Otho, a sister of Athelstan in marriage. The English King had four sisters, available alike in beauty, though of dissimilar ages, two of whom he sent to the Emperor; these were Edgifa and Elgiva, children of Elfleda. The Emperor Henry bestowed the former on his own son Otho, who succeeded him in the empire, so that the Princess became eventually Empress of Germany. Her sister Elgifa was given in marriage by her father-in-law, the Emperor Henry, [Holinshed.] to a personage who is always named as "a Duke who resided near the Alps." Where this undefined locality might be, historians, copying each other, are content to remain ignorant.
Another of the daughters of Edward was given by Athelstan to Louis, Prince of Aquitaine.
The numerous daughters of Edward the Elder may be thus enumerated:
Beatrice, Queen of Northumberland, wife of Sihtric.
Edfleda, and Ethelhilda, nuns.
Edgifa, Queen of Charles the Simple.
Edgifa, wife of Otho, Empress of Germany.
Elgiva, married to "a Duke near the Alps."
Edgiva, wife of Louis, King of Aquitaine.
Elfleda, wife of Louis, King of Provence.
Eadburga, nun at Winchester; and
Edilda, married to Hugh the Great, Count of Paris.
The affairs of France remaining unchanged, it became the policy of Athelstan to reconcile himself with the successful ruler. [Lappenberg.] Charles the Simple was still in captivity, and Hugh the Great, called Count of Paris, was all powerful. Negotiations were, therefore, entered into for the marriage of his youngest sister Edilda.
Adulf of Flanders, grandson of King Alfred, through his daughter Elswitha, and nephew of Athelstan, conducted the embassy, and in the name of Hugh, brought over an immense number of precious gifts, which he displayed before the nobles at Abingdon.
These presents consisted of Oriental spices, hitherto unknown in England, brilliant gems, especially emeralds, many fleet horses and other gifts worthy of being more especially described. [William of Malmesbury.] Amongst them, "a vase composed of onyx, and sculptured with such a subtle artistic hand, that as it was looked upon, the harvest-field pourtrayed upon it seemed to incline in waving bends upon its surface, the vines to bud forth, as if with a rich germinating juice, and its engraven men to move, as if endowed with life; whilst its shining and polished surface reflected, as if it were a mirror, the mimic face and form of the beholder." Another present was "the sword of Constantine the Great, bearing the name of that Emperor, inscribed in letters of gold; while upon its pommel, rising up above the rich plates of gold, was to be seen one of the four nails used in the crucifixion." This valuable gift was accompanied with the lance of Charlemagne, used in his wars against the Saracens, and the famous pennon which had belonged to that Emperor, by whom it was displayed in his war in Spain. "A diadem, rich with thick gold and precious jewels, the lustre of which dazzled the eyes of the beholders." A particle of the true cross, enclosed in crystal, and of the crown of thorns, encased in a similar manner, were also among the offerings of the princely suitor.
Athelstan received the bearers of these treasures with great courtesy, and having accepted the proposal of Hugh for the Princess his sister, directed that the holy cross and sacred crown should be deposited in the Abbey of Malmesbury. [William of Malmesbury.]
Edilda, said to have been the most beautiful of all the sisters, was united to Hugh the Great, A.D. 926: this was a tie which doubly united the nations of France and England, and entailed singular consequences; for when Charles the Simple died, A.D. 929, at the castle of Peronne, two competitors alone remained for the French crown, the Count de Vermandois and Hugh the Great.
At this time, the abilities of Edilda's sister, the exiled Queen Edgifa, were once more called into action. She resolved to make one more effort in behalf of her child, in whom she hoped to see the royal line restored. She applied to William, Duke of Normandy, a generous prince, allied by blood to the royal family of France, and who saw in the enterprise much advantage to be gained to himself. The Duke by his credit with the French nobles, engaged them to recall Louis. The French, either from love to their ancient masters, or fearing the troubles which the, competition of Herbert and Hugh would cause, sent deputies to England, to bring back the son of Edgifa. This princess, rendered cautious by experience, hesitated before delivering the young Louis into the hands of the deputies, at the head of whom was William, Archbishop of Sens. She exacted from him, in his own name, and that of the nobles and the nation, not only hostages, but a promise to be more faithful to him than they had been to Charles the Simple: the conditions were accepted, and the Princess gave up her son; nor had she cause to repent it. Edgifa herself accompanied him in triumph to Boulogne, where, on their arrival, they were met by Hugh the Great and other French nobles, who united in taking the oath of fealty to him, and received him with every demonstration of joy, while the people sincerely rejoiced in the return of their sovereign. The sincerity of the nobles at this juncture is, however, questionable; for Edgifa is said to have returned to England, to obtain succours from her brother, King Athelstan, and herself heading the forces, a complete revolution was effected; Louis was triumphantly placed upon the throne, and peace restored to the kingdom. The spectacle was thus afforded of the grand-daughter of the Great Alfred heroically emulating her ancestor, by leading an army composed of English and French indifferently. Louis, only seventeen years of age, was proclaimed King at Boulogne, and afterwards conducted to Laon to be crowned, which ceremony was performed on the 20th of June, A.D. 936, by Artold, Archbishop of Rheims, in presence of more than twenty bishops, Hugh the Great, and the rest of the nobility of France. There is no reason to doubt that both the widowed Queen of Charles, and her sister Edilda, the wife of Hugh, were present at this triumphant ending of long disappointments. The coronation was rendered still more interesting by the marriage, at the same time, of Louis to his young cousin Gerberga, daughter of the Emperor Otho. [De Menin's Treatise on the Anointing and Coronation of the Kings and Queens of France.]
Edgifa finding the nobles sought to govern in her son's name, and that, fearing she might obtain the regency, they were opposed to her residing in France, retired into England, where she remained at Athelstan's court till 938, when Louis, who resided at Laon, sent for her to assist him with her advice. She therefore returned to the court of Louis d'Outremer,—for so he was called from his sojourn in England. In France, however, Edgifa became involved in a new series of troubles, from her too open friendship with the House of Vermandois, always odious and displeasing to the reigning family. With singular imprudence, she allowed herself to become attached to Herbert, [Historic Anecdotes.] the second son of that Count of Vermandois who had made her husband his prisoner at Peronne, where he died.
So offended and jealous was Louis at his mother's conduct, that he caused her residence at Laon to resemble a sort of honourable imprisonment. At last she contrived to escape from her guardians there, and some time after, although she had attained a mature age, married her youthful lover Herbert, then only twenty, at St. Quentin, for which act her son dispossessed her of the royal revenues she had so long enjoyed. [Rivalite de la France et de l'Angleterre.] The following year, Edgifa gave birth to a son, Stephen of Troyes, but died in 953, in her confinement with a daughter, the Princess Agnes of Lorraine. Such was the fate of the sister of Athelstan, her son's policy inducing so much harshness to a mother to whom he owed his crown, his early safety, and careful education.
Lothaire, the grandson of Edgifa by Louis d'Outremer and Gerberga, succeeded his father at the end of a long reign of thirty-eight years, and was followed by another son of his own, Louis the Fifth, the last of the Carlovingian race; but during the reigns of these three nominal kings, the real power was held by Hugh the Great, who had married Edilda, and afterwards by their son, Hugh Capet, who, on the death of Louis the Fifth, seized the crown, A.D. 987, being the first sovereign of that royal house whose late misfortunes resemble those of the Stuarts. From Hugh Capet, was lineally descended Eleanor de Montfort, the wife of Llewelyn, the last of the Welsh Princes, from whom Henry VII. claimed his maternal descent.
The widowed Edgifa, Queen of Edward the Elder, during all these changes of fortune, was still unable to establish her claim to her patrimonial inheritance. After her husband died, the dispute was renewed, as we learn from the statement in the Queen's will, to which we return, as it runs through the web of this complicated history: "Then King Edward died, and Athelstan came to the throne. Then Goda, availing himself of the opportunity, went to King Athelstan, and besought him to require of Edgifa the restoration of his deeds, which he did; and she restored him all, except the deeds of Osterland; and he with his own hand released to her that paper (or deed), and humbly gave her thanks for the rest, and moreover he gave her his oath that the compact should stand good to her children, born and unborn, for ever. And this was done in the sight of Athelstan and of his nobles, at—, near Lewes. And Edgifa held the land and deeds during the lives of his two sons, who succeeded him." [Lives of the Saints.]
On the death of Athelstan, after a sixteen years' reign, A.D. 941, the Queen of Edward the Elder had the satisfaction of beholding her eldest son Edmund raised to the throne, who had obtained the surname of "the Pious." The new monarch was then in the twentieth year of his age, [Turner says eighteen: Antiquities of Glastonbury.] having been only four years old at the time his father died. The coronation took place at Kingston; and the same year, 941, Edmund was united to Elfgiva, by whom he became father of Edwy and Edgar, who afterwards sat on the throne. The birth of this last prince, in 943, took place at a vill close by Glastonbury, which from that circumstance derived the name Edgarlei, which it still retains. At the time Prince Edgar was born, St. Dunstan is said to have heard voices which seemed high up in the air, and which sounded as if intoning a psalm and giving utterance to these words: "Peace shall prevail amid the Church of the English during the time of the boy who has been born, and of our Dunstan." [Flor. Wigorn.]
Glastonbury was especially favoured by Edmund. It is said that one day, when the King was out hunting, he set forward with his dogs in advance of his suite in the pursuit of a herd of deer which had been roused by their horns, and that stag and hounds, reaching a steep precipice, plunged into the abyss and were dashed to pieces; the King, eager in the chase, dashed after them so furiously that he was unable to check his horse, and on the moment when death stared him in the face, he uttered a mental prayer that if he could be saved, St. Dunstan, whom alone of all people living he had injured, should receive ample compensation. The horse arrived on the very edge of the precipice, stopped suddenly, [Ibid.] and the King's life was saved, as he believed, by the intercession of the holy man. Returned home, Edmund sent for Dunstan, and commanded him to ride with him to Glastonbury. There, having first offered up his prayers, Edmund took Dunstan by the right hand and led him to the sacerdotal throne, on which he placed him with these words:—" Be thou the Prince in this place, its potent possessor, and the most faithful abbot of this church; and whatsoever may be here wanting to thee, either for the advancement and increase of divine worship, or for the sustentation and administration of the sacred monastic rule, I will, with a devout heart and royal munificence, supply thee." Dunstan accordingly laid the foundation of a glorious church, and as soon as the building was completed, assembled in it a company of monks. Edmund bestowed a charter of privilege on the abbey, A.D. 944. This charter was inscribed in golden letters in a copy of the Evangelists, presented by Edmund to the church, a beautiful illustration of Saxon art. In the charter, after the King had signed his own name, the following persons attested the deed, Eadred, the King's brother, and Edgifa, his mother, in these words: "I, Edgifa, mother of the King, have confirmed the aforesaid gift." [Hearne Monasticon, vol. i.; Warner.]
As the signature of the King's wife is not there, this grant probably took place after the decease of that most excellent woman, whose remains were interred at Shipton, or Shaftesbury, [The Monastery of Shaftesbury is said to have been built by Elfgiva, Queen of Edmund, in conjunction with her son Edgar, for nuns, and at her death she was not only interred there, but miracles are said to have been afterwards wrought at her tomb. Shaftesbury, once a village, but now a city, was built on the declivity of a hill, and a stone, transferred from an old wall to the chapter-house of the monastery, had this inscription:—" In the year of our Lord's incarnation. 880, King Alfred, in the eighth year of his reign, founded this city." Some say that Elfgiva did not die till 971 or 972, and that in the last of these dates she attested a charter to Glastonbury. In the days of Malmesbury and Ethelwerd miracles were still worked at the tomb of St. Elfgiva. "She was much afflicted by her wicked son Edwy, but comforted by his brother Edgar. God was pleased, for some years before her death, to try her with long and tedious illnesses, with which she was purified like gold in the furnace, and fitted for the heavenly palaces, to which she was called A.D. 971. Her festival is celebrated on the 18th of May, according to Britannia Sancta, which calls her the mother of Edwy and Edgar."] and she became venerated as a saint for her many virtues. Her solicitude for the relief of the indigent, and charity in procuring the liberty of slaves, are particularly noticed by our monkish chroniclers, whose pages are filled with testimonials to her goodness. Of her, William of Malmesbury declares: "She was a woman always intent on good works, endowed with such piety and sweetness, as privately to redeem prisoners, and readily to bestow on the poor even her most precious garments. This Queen is said to have been remarkable for the beauty of her person, and so skilful, and admirable in the works wrought by her hands, according to the fashion of her times, that even envy itself, finding no fault, was compelled to praise. Malmesbury assures us that St. Elfgifa was not only eminent for her virtues during life, but for her miracles after death. He declares that she was favoured with the gift of prophecy, and in his work entitled "De Gestis Pontificium" may be seen an account of the miracles of this Queen, originally in metre, but written there in prose, and according to the author's own statement, when "he was young," before A.D. 1125. [William of Malmesbury, Miraculae S. Elfgifae.]
One of these miracles is thus given, but as it concerns Edgar, her youngest son, who could have been only an infant, either the good Queen must have survived the date usually assigned as that of her death, for many years, or else it must have been performed by her step-mother Queen Edgifa. The widow of Edward the Elder was so popular with the English, that many of the subsequent Queens of England, till Emma of Normandy, who died shortly before the Conquest, assumed hers as a sort of surname in addition to their own; thus Emma was called Emma Elfgiva, [It will have been observed that the letters f and v are used indifferently in Saxon.] or the "Help-Giver." The legend stands thus:—Edgar one day, out hunting, pursued the chase to the extremity of the forest, and alighting there to await his friends, threw himself on the ground beneath the shade of a wild apple-tree beside a stream, where he fell asleep. A female hound, apparently large with whelp, came to rest at the monarch's feet, and aroused the sleeper. The hound was mute, but the whelps within barked as if for joy. The surprised King, raising his eyes, beheld two apples successively fall into the stream, which in doing so caused a sound to be emitted from the splashing bubbles of the disturbed waters, resembling the words, "Well is thee! well is thee!" ["Wel his the."] Shortly after the King perceived a small empty pitcher, followed by a large one filled with water, floating down the stream, and as if the waters were like to a whirlpool, the larger strove to empty its contents into the smaller one, but without success, for it escaped empty from every such attempt, though it dashed saucily against the side of the larger vessel.
On Edgar's return, he sought his mother, to whom he knew God had revealed many things, and desired the meaning of what he had seen. The Queen directed her son to tranquillize his mind, and having delayed her reply till the following morning, addressed her son in these words:" The barking of the whelps, while the mother was quiescent, signifies that those who are now in power and doing well (though evil-disposed), will remain silent; but that, after thy death, worthless, wicked, debauched spendthrifts, as yet unborn, will be found to arise and bark against God's Church.
"As to the one apple falling in quick succession after the other, so that from their collision as they fell a sound was emitted, which seemed to convey the words, 'Well is thee;' this signifies, that from thee, who are now as a tree shading all England, shall issue two sons; and those who favour the pretensions of the second shall destroy the first, and then the promoters of their opposing parties shall say of each of the young Princes, 'Well is thee,' because he who is dead shall be reigning in heaven, and he who is living shall be reigning in this world.
"Then as to the larger pitcher not being able to fill up the smaller with its contents, that is intended to designate the nations of the Northmen, which are more numerous than the English, and who will, after thy death, attack England; and although they will make many attempts to supply the losses suffered in their ranks, by fresh accessions of their compatriots, shall never be able to fill up with their soldiers this corner of the world. On the contrary, our Angles, even when they seem to be most completely subdued, will have vigour and strength enough to expel them, and the land shall be theirs, as it is in accordance with the will of God, and so shall remain until the time pre-appointed by Christ." [William of Malmesbury; Gest. Pont. Ang.]
Edmund married a second wife, as we learn from the Saxon Chronicle, who survived him; this second consort was Elfleda of Damerham, daughter of Ealdorman Elgar, [Saxon Chronicle.] who adopted the name of Edgifa, in consequence of which circumstance great confusion occurs, in the Chronicles attributing to one Queen the acts of the other, so that it is difficult to distinguish them.
When only in his twenty-fifth year, A.D. 946, the young monarch Edmund was slain by a robber, named Leolf, at Puckle-kirk, in Gloucestershire, [Saxon. Chronicle.] on the occasion of his celebrating the mass-day of St. Augustine, which was customary with the Saxons.
Edmund had formerly enacted some severe laws against thieves, and pecuniary punishments proving inefficient, had commanded that the oldest in every gang should suffer the extreme penalty of death. [Rapin.] This was the first time that the life of man had been taken for theft, and it cost Edmund his own.
Leolf was a notorious robber, banished for his crimes. He suddenly presented himself to the King, forcing his way into the palace, whence Edmund indignantly ordered him to be expelled; he fiercely resisted the cup-bearer, to whom the order was given, and who endeavoured to obey the royal mandate. On this, the exasperated monarch rushed on Leolf and seized him by the hair, when the robber drew his dagger and stabbed the youthful prince to the heart. Edmund did not die instantly, but the wound in his breast proved mortal. The assassin was despatched forthwith by the royal attendants. [Hume, Raleigh, Lingard.]
Edmund the Pious, after a short reign of six years, [Britton and Brayley.] thus died in 946, leaving his two children so young, that in a council held to settle the succession, they were adjudged unfit to reign, and the crown awarded to their uncle Edred.
It was in the reign of Edmund, the son of the sainted Edgifa, that the celebrated Reay Cross, or:Ray Cross, was placed on Stanmore, on the confines of Westmoreland and Yorkshire, bearing upon it the arms of England and Scotland sculptured on the opposite sides. It was erected in testimony of Edmund's grant of Cumberland (which district he had obtained by the conquest of Dunmaile, its King) to Malcolm, King of Scots, on the condition that Malcolm should hold it of him, and protect the northern parts of England by sea and land against hostile incursions. From this circumstance the eldest sons of the Scottish monarchs from that time were styled "Governors of Cumberland," [Camden's Britannia, 1594.] and the Cross was placed as a memorial of the divisions of the two kingdoms.
Queen Edgifa is frequently noticed during the reign of her younger son Edred. Having heard that St. Ethelwold, Abbot of Glastonbury, had resolved to go to France to study the Holy Scriptures, the Queen, considering the Prelate's absence would be no small loss to the kingdom, prevailed upon her son to stay his journey, and make him Abbot of Abingdon in Berkshire. She assured Edred that Ethelwold had not only wisdom enough to suffice for himself, but to guide others, and that he needed not to seek in foreign lands for what he possessed already, and she begged him not to let so great a man depart the country; the King was delighted to hear this assurance from his mother, and acted on her suggestion. [Wolstan Vit. S. Ethelwold.] It was Edred who, in the latter part of his reign, repaired the Abbey of Abingdon, which had been built by King Ina, but had fallen to decay and ruin. [Magna Brit.] In this great undertaking the Abbot and monks were assisted by grants of money from the royal treasures, and the most material benefit was conferred upon them by the donations of the Queen-Mother.
Ethelwold, who by Edgifa's influence had been made Abbot of Abingdon, was afterwards made Bishop of Winchester.
At the time when Edred was endeavouring to persuade his friend and adviser Dunstan, Abbot of Glastonbury, to accept the see of Winchester, which he had declined, as being unfit for it, Edred entreated his mother, Queen Edgifa, to invite the prelate to dinner and add her persuasions. "I know," said the King, "dearest mother and Queen of the broad empire of the English, that our mutual friend Dunstan loves you the most of living beings, and that he takes an especial delight in the good works that you do; because, whatever he counsels you for the sake of eternal life to perform, that you are sure willingly to accomplish, whether it be in giving alms for the subsistence of the poor, or in the bestowal of donations for the advancement of churches. [Lives of the Saints.] Therefore is it, that I have confident hope that if you beseech him to do that which it is becoming in me to ask, and in him to perform, he cannot justly refuse a compliance with your request. It is a thing perfectly manifest to all persons, that he ought to hold the highest rank in the priesthood. This is as plain to us as that we are his inferiors in wisdom, and in all that duly merits honour and respect in this life, as we are sure that he who is King of the English is a more powerful monarch than any of the other kings of the earth. Address him, then, with that winning eloquence which belongs to women: struggle, in order that the grace which you have obtained in his eyes, may gain from the servant of God a compliance which cannot but tend to aid in releasing us from the bonds of sin."
The Queen-Mother, in obedience to the words of her son, invited Dunstan to come to her, and sought, by her arguments, to induce him to relax in his resolution, but he remained unmoved. "I am unwilling," said he, "lady, that thou shouldst ask of me aught that it would hurt my conscientious feelings to concede, or the refusal to concede which may give offence to thee. I am not ignorant how difficult it is for each of us to plead his cause before the tribunal of Christ, much less how difficult it will be for a man to obtain an acquittal in those cases in which he has acted as the adviser or the judge of others. If, however, these considerations cannot produce any impression upon thy mind, I would desire to add another, and such as may be esteemed that which mainly must prevent me from receiving a bishopric. I see that my lord, the King, suffers under a constant languor, that his life is endangered by it, that he cannot endure to be parted from me for a moment, because he has made me as if the father of a sovereign, and the master of an entire kingdom."
As the Queen-Mother still persisted in urging him to accept the mitre, notwithstanding his repeated refusals, he, somewhat agitated, said to her "Most assuredly, the episcopal mitre shall never cover my brows in the days of this thy son." [Osbern, Vit. St. Dunstan; Acta Sancta; Aug. Sacra.]
From this conversation Dunstan departed, with his mind much agitated. The next day, however, he informed the King that, after his interview with Edgifa, he had, on his return home, beheld a vision of St. Peter, who struck him, saying, "This is the punishment for your refusal, and a token to you not to decline hereafter the primacy of England." The King, not perceiving his friend's artifice, who desired to be all or none, interpreted the vision to his own mind, asserting that it foretold he was to be Archbishop of Canterbury. [Turner's Anglo-Saxons.]
In 955, the death of Edred deprived Edgifa of her son, and Dunstan of a firm friend. His nephew Edwy, eldest son of Edmund, succeeded him, a prince then in his sixteenth year. He not only manifested an open antipathy to the clergy, but deprived many prelates of their benefices, and even went so far as to banish Dunstan from the kingdom. These measures gave great umbrage to the people; but they were still more displeased, and loudly and vehemently did they express their indignation, when they beheld the manner in which Edwy treated his aged grandmother, the venerable Queen Edgifa. Upon some unknown pretext, she was despoiled of all she possessed, and reduced to a state of indigence and privacy. [Lingard.] Eadmer, writing of the injuries Edwy inflicted on his grandmother, says, "He afflicted immensely his mother, the glory of all —England, the consoler of churches, and the supporter of the oppressed, and after having taken away from her the property belonging to her, cruelly and barbarously degraded her from her previous dignity." For this ill-treatment no other cause is apparent than the favour with which the Queen had always regarded the clergy.
As regards her patrimonial estate, we find that the Queen's own Charter runs thus:—" At length Edred died, and Edgifa was despoiled of her whole inheritance. When Leofric and Leofstan, the two sons of Goda, seized from Edgifa the two aforesaid lands at Cowling and at Osterland, and said to the young Edwy, who had then been elected, that they were more rightfully theirs than hers. And so it was settled until Edgar." The reign of the oppressor was, however, prematurely brought to a close. The people rebelled against Edwy, and placed his brother Edgar, a boy of twelve years of age, on the throne, which caused Edwy to die of grief soon after.
Edgar was no sooner made king than he annulled all the oppressive acts of the preceding government. Attention was forthwith paid to the injuries of Edgifa, who now recovered her often-disputed patrimony. [Ibid.] The Queen's Charter says of King Edgar, that "he and his nobles decreed that they (viz. Leofric and Leofstan, the sons of Goda) had committed a wicked robbery, and they decreed the inheritance to be hers, and had it restored. Then Edgifa received by the King's permission, and in presence of him and all his bishops, the said deeds, and laying her hand on the altar, gave the land to the Church of Christ, viz., to the convent (of Christ's Church at Canterbury), and for the quiet of her soul; and denounced that Christ, with the whole assembly of heaven, would bring evil on him for ever, who should at any time pervert or make void this bequest. Thus this inheritance came to the convent of the Church of Christ." No doubt the harassed Queen saw that this was the only plan of securing the property, as the Church would guard its own. Appended to an antique picture of Queen Edgifa are the following lines commemorative of her donations to the Church; in it her name is written, as is sometimes the case in our old authors, Eddeva or Edyve:
"Edyve, the good queene and noble mother
To Ethelstane, Edmund, and Eldred,
Kinges of England, every each after other,
To Christ's Church of Canterbury did give indeed,
Monketon and Thorndenn, the monkes there to feede;
Meyham, Cleene, Cowlinge, Osterland,
East Farleugh, and Lenham, as we beeleve;
The yeare Dom. MLXI. of Christ's incarnation."
In the subscriptions of King Edgar's Charter of Privilege to Hyde Abbey, by Winchester, which is yet remaining in the valuable library of Sir Robert Cotton, are contained also the signatures of Elfrida, that monarch's queen, and Edgifa, his aged grandmother. They are written in letters of gold, in a hand of that age: "Ego Edgifu, praedicti regis avia hoc opus egregiam crucis taumate consolidavi." Selden observes that Edgifa durst not style herself any other than "the king's grandmother," on account of the law passed in Wessex through the crimes of Eadburga; for so "avia," as well as "avea," denoted, of which many instances in those times are on record.
Edgifa died August 25th, A.D. 963. [Notes to Lye's Saxon Dictionary, whence the Queen's will has been extracted.]