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
QUEEN OF EDGAR "THE PEACEABLE.
Edgar's volatile Character—Wulfreda, the nun—Ethelflede the Fair, mother of Edward—Her death, and Elfrida's beauty—Ethelwold's mission—His deception, and marriage to Elfrida—Misrepresentation to the king—Ethelwold's son—Hunting—The tribute of wolves' heads—The concealed beauty—Ethelwold's confession to his wife—Her resolve—Her conquest—The murder in the forest—Marriage of Edgar and Elfrida—St. Dunstan—Elfrida's power—Contentions—Ventriloquism—Ely—Ordwulf, the giant—Dissolute clergy—Coronation at Bath—King Edgar's death—Edward the Martyr—His cruel murder—Ethelred's tears: the whipping with wax candles—Pledging—Miracles—Penitence of the Queen postponed—Saxon verses—Dunstan's anathema—Murder of Brithnoth, Abbot of Ely—Ethelred asserts his will—Elfrida returns to Warewell—Her religious edifices—Wulfreda ejected from Barking—Death of Elfrida—Royal grant to the convent.
THE severity of St. Dunstan, which had been so inveterate towards the unfortunate Edwy, relaxed singularly in regard to his successor, Edgar, whose habits and propensities do not appear to have differed much from those of the King, his brother, whom he superseded. But he was so young that time was before the ambitious churchman to mould him to his wishes, and to secure all that he desired for the good of the Church, and for the well-governing of the country; for Dunstan was a man of too intelligent a mind to sacrifice one to the other.
Many romantic tales are related in ballads and Saxon poems, of the volatile affections of the young King. He is accused of having carried off a nun, or at least a novice, from the Abbey of Wilton, where she was residing, and forcibly detaining her. This fair one is called Wulfreda, [Malmesbury, Brompton, Osbern.] and she became the mother of a daughter, who afterwards dedicated herself to a religious life; she having herself retired to the Monastery of Barking, founded by Edgar, in expiation of his act.
The first wife of Edgar is called Ethelflede the Fair, or the White; and sometimes also, for some unexplained reason, the Duck; [Lappenberg.] she was the mother of Prince Edward, who succeeded Edgar on the throne; but she died early, and it was soon afterwards that Elfrida became his wife.
The extraordinary beauty of the only daughter and heiress of the aged Ordgar, Ealdorman of Devonshire, made her hand the prize coveted by many a youthful Saxon noble; and such lively pictures of the young lady's beauty had reached the court of Edgar, that the heart of that monarch, apparently extremely susceptible, was set on fire by the reports.
He instantly formed the design of securing to himself so great a treasure, and directed Ethelwold, his minister and friend, who was at most times his confidant and adviser, a noble whom "he much loved and trusted," to repair to the residence of Elfrida's father, and ascertain whether her beauty was indeed such as had been reported. The secret object of this mission was revealed to the courtier in these words: "Go to the noble Baron Ordgar of Devonshire, see if his daughter be as fair as men speken of; and if it be so, I will have her unto my wife."
Ethelwold obeyed;—he discovered that report had not exaggerated, but rather fallen short of the truth in its picture of the charming Elfrida, and so much was he enraptured with the young lady on their first interview, that, wholly forgetting his object in seeing her had been to advance the suit of another, and that other his sovereign, he earnestly desired to obtain the lovely heiress for himself. He accordingly, without betraying the real object of his visit, proposed to her father that a union should take place between himself and the lady; and Ordgar, who was not ignorant that the noble Ethelwold, besides being a fair young knight, worthy, and, moreover, "well with the King," was a man certain of his fortunes, being the favorite of his royal master, considered the proposal so advantageous, that he accorded his consent to the match, provided also that the King himself was agreable to it, [Caxton's Chronicle.] a point which involved some difficulty to the lover of Elfrida.
Edgar had, in earliest infancy, been placed by his father, King Edmund, under the care of Alfwenna, a noble lady, [Lingard; Parkins's Norwich. The name Alf-wenna, signifying "Half-Queen," implies very high rank and power in its possessor.] the mother of Ethelwold, who, in consequence, had, with three younger brothers, been the playmates in childhood, and trusty friends and companions in riper years, of their future sovereign: indeed, it was to the powerful influence of Athelstan, the husband of Alfwenna, an East Anglian nobleman, whose royal descent and extensive authority had procured for him the denomination of "Half-King," that Edgar was mainly indebted for his elevation to the throne of Northumberland and Mercia during his brother Edwy's lifetime, and subsequently, for the kingdom of all England. To testify his gratitude, Edgar erected East Anglia into an Earldom, Athelstan being the first who enjoyed the title and authority of Earl over that district, an honour afterwards enjoyed by Ethelwold at his death. [Athelstan assumed the religious habit of a monk at Glastonbury prior to his decease; his wife, Edgar's foster-mother, was buried in Charteris Nunnery, in Cambridgeshire, an establishment of her own foundation.]
Knowing how high the suitor for his daughter's hand stood with the King, the Ealdorman felt no doubts, when the Earl engaged to obtain the desired consent to his proposed nuptials with Elfrida: it was a task which required, under his circumstances, very nice management, yet he succeeded to his utmost desire; for, on his return to court, he so much undervalued the charms of Elfrida, as completely to put an end to the King's anxiety about her: he represented her as "handsome enough in the face, but a deformed cripple in body." Edgar at once, on this, expressed his indifference to the match without reserve; whereupon Ethelwold rejoined:—"—Sir, she is her father's heir, and I am not rich of lands; and if you would consent, and grant that I might have her, then should I be rich enough." "In God's name," quoth the King, "I consent thereto." Then Ethelwold thanked the King, and returned into Devonshire, and after having "spoused the damsell," he dwelt in that country. [Caxton, William of Malmesbury.]
Not long after Elfrida's marriage, her husband, in an evil hour, informed her of all that he had done to deceive King Edgar, who had desired to marry her, and to obtain her for his own wife, confiding in her professed affection, that she would hear the tale with pleasure; but as soon as she was made acquainted with these particulars, "she loved him no more, from that time forwards, as she had done before." [Caxton.] In due time she presented Ethelwold with a son, who repaired to court, and solicited Edgar to become sponsor for the infant, which was granted, and the child was named Edgar. Ethelwold, after this condescension on the part of the King, felt more secure than ever from suspicion. The English courtiers had, however, viewed with envy and dissatisfaction the Earl's rich advancement by his marriage; and it was whispered at court, that whatever pecuniary advantages Ethelwold had obtained, his gain was at least an hundred-fold greater in having espoused "the fairest woman that ever was seen." [Ibid.] Thus, Edgar too soon became acquainted with the truth, and felt a redoubled curiosity to behold the woman whose beauty, celebrated before, had become so much more renowned as Earl Ethelwold's wife.
Dissembling the resentment which agitated his bosom, Edgar, who was accustomed to devote much of his time to the chase, devised a hunting-party, [Edgar was remarkably fond of the chase; so much so that he would frequently hunt on a Sunday. Dunstan reproved him for this, and he owned and amended his error. In his reign it was a too common habit with the clergy to neglect their duties, and mix with the laity in the pleasures of gaming, hunting, dancing, and singing, besides which they lived openly with their concubines or wives. As might be expected, the habits in such a court were not very select. Edgar himself was most devoted to the hunting of the wolf, and he rendered an essential benefit to the country by imposing on Judwal, King of Wales, an annual payment of 300 wolves' heads; in the fourth year this payment ceased, for the want of wolves. It was usual to pay this Welsh tribute at Winchester, whence Wolvesey Castle has derived its name.—Hume, Malmesbury.] for which the real object was an excuse to visit Devonshire, of which Elfrida's father was Earl, and in which county Ethelwold had hitherto secluded his wife in a state of the strictest privacy, with the hope of guarding her beauty from the monarch's eye. The Earl himself formed one of the party on this momentous occasion. As they approached the house in which Elfrida dwelt, the King informed Ethelwold of his intention to behold the lady whose charms he had heard so highly extolled. The alarmed noble vainly endeavoured to dissuade the King from his purpose; but, unable to succeed, as a last resource hastened forward to apprise Elfrida of the dreaded honour. Some say that the terror felt by Ethelwold at this hour of expected discovery, first wrung from his lips the confession to his wife of the artifice his affection had led him to employ, for the sake of obtaining her hand, while he earnestly besought that she would array herself as unbecomingly as possible, to conceal her beauty from Edgar's eye.
The Earl had misjudged his wife's character, in making this appeal to her good feelings. Hers was not a nature to forgive the man who had robbed her of a crown, and bestowed on her merely the coronet of an earl's wife. The knowledge of the King's approaching visit awakened all her ambition, and she resolved not to let the opportunity escape of securing his attention. She had secretly pined in the retirement to which Ethelwold's prudence had consigned her. She had sighed, but hitherto in vain, to exhibit her beauty and wealth, in all their pomp, at the splendid court of the monarch, who was a known admirer of female loveliness. The moment so auspicious was at hand, and if lost might never be renewed. Her heart full of contempt, amounting almost to hatred, for the man who knelt to sue her to adopt the course he desired, she promised to comply with his wish, but her promise was merely a deception to put her husband off his guard. When Edgar arrived, attended by his agitated friend, Elfrida, to his distraction, appeared before her sovereign in a dress resembling that of a bride. The vesture was as rich and costly as she could render it; her golden hair was finely combed, and part of it hanging down in luxuriant curls; her head was crowned with jewels, and a chain of diamonds about her neck gave splendour to her unparalleled beauty. [Heywood's History of Women.] The enraptured monarch had no sooner beheld the lovely apparition, than he resolved, cost what it might, to obtain so rich a treasure. For the time, however, he dissembled his anger against Ethelwold, and seeming to think lightly of her beauty, bade her farewell with apparent indifference. His first step was to order a place of entertainment to be prepared for Elfrida and her husband, in return for their hospitality, near the wood in which they were to hunt, and to which he might repair when his sports were over.
On his return to the spot prepared for his accommodation, King Edgar beheld Elfrida holding in her arms her infant son, his namesake and godson, whom Ethelwold presented to him. On this the sovereign embraced and kissed Elfrida the mother, and became from that moment so much distracted with love, that he could obtain little rest, ever meditating how to obtain her. His schemes were at last determined, and the King acted accordingly. Eight days after, a parliament was called at Salisbury, at which all the magistrates of the land were present. Then Edgar subjected to their consideration his project for the safe custody of Northumberland from the incursions of the Danes; and it was settled that Ethelwold should be appointed governor of York and the adjacent country. This was a deeply planned scheme, apparently intended to honour the Earl to whom he had so recently made a visit, but who was not intended to reap the fruits of the promotion. [Dugdale.] The Earl was found shortly after murdered, in the Forest of Wherwell, in Hampshire, where it was supposed he had been attacked by robbers when passing through its gloomy shades; but there is no doubt that they were armed men instructed by King Edgar to lie in wait for his former favourite, who, by his orders, barbarously murdered him. Another account given is, that the King's own hand dealt the fatal stroke; that Ethelwold, in passing through the forest, encountered, either by chance or design, his formerly attached but now revengeful master; that the King and Earl conversed for some time with apparent cordiality, till, on arriving at the thickest part of the wood, Edgar suddenly drew his dagger and stabbed the Earl to the heart. [It is added, that a natural son of Ethelwold passed closely at the time, when the King asked "How it pleased him?" To which the youth servilely replied, "Very well! if it so please your grace, for whatsoever pleaseth you, ought not to displease me!" The answer saved his life; and Edgar afterwards tried to extenuate his murder of the father by lavishing favours on his son.]
While some accounts fix the Forest of Wherwell as the scene of the gloomy tragedy, others point out Harewood Forest, in the north of England, as memorable for the murder of the unfortunate Earl, which indeed is noted by the traditions of the neighborhood. Mason the poet thus describes the spot:
"A darkling dell, which opens in a lawn,
Thick set with elms around,"
and in his well-known play, has represented the Countess Elfrida as an angel of light and goodness, full of truth and constancy. Warner, who visited the scene of the Earl's murder, describes it in his work as being half a mile beyond the ancient Castle and Forest of Harewood.
There is an ancient ballad or "Song of King Edgar, showing how he was deceived of his love," which contains these lines:
" Thus he that did the king deceive,
Did by desert his death receive."
No sooner was the news of the murder brought to court, than Edgar "sent for the widow of the glorious Ethelwold, Lord of the East Angles, [Flor. Wigorn.] to come to London, and straightway made her his Queen; [Parkins's Hist. of Norwich.] and on the same day that the nuptials were solemnized, the King and Queen Elfrida appeared together in public, both of them wearing crowns on their heads; by which act the people plainly perceived who was the author of the Earl's death, and consequently made no exertions for the discovery of the murderer." [Gaillard's Rivalite.]
"But," say the chroniclers, "on the morrow morning after their marriage and public appearance with their crowns, Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, came into the King's lodging-chamber, and boldly asked him 'who that was that he had with him?' and it being answered 'the Queen,' the good Archbishop plainly replied, 'that it was against the laws of God and holy Church, to be united to one whose son he had been godfather to, in respect of their spiritual kindred; after which time," continues the historian, "Elfrida never loved St. Dunstan; yet he ceased not to admonish the King of that fault, though to little purpose." [Malmesbury. Dugdale.]
At this very time, when the marriage festivities were going on, began a series of misfortunes to the country in the shape of pestilence and conflagrations. London was devastated by the latter scourge, and the Cathedral of St. Paul was reduced to ashes. Of course the monks did not fail to attribute these events to the indignation of Heaven. Nevertheless, population increased; Edgar remained popular with his subjects, for his public acts were all deserving of praise, and showed both energy and wisdom. He has been blamed for the favour he showed to the Danish settlers, but his expeditions against the Welsh and other disaffected nations, were satisfactory, and brought him both fame and profit.
The date of Elfrida's marriage is fixed by the Saxon Chronicle in 965, an obvious mistake, as her name appears appended to a charter in the year 964; it is therefore very likely that Roger of Wendover is correct in assigning the nuptials to the year 963.
The solemn coronation of Elfrida soon followed her marriage, notwithstanding the reproaches of Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury. It is not, however, certain that Edgar was crowned with her then, but at a later period she shared with him that solemn pageant of royalty. Thus having reached the height of her ambition, Elfrida endeavoured to extinguish her remorse, and atone for her crimes, by erecting a monastery on the spot where Ethelwold had been slain. Aylwin, his brother, had succeeded to the Earldom of East Anglia; he was founder of the Abbeys of Ramsey and Huntingdon, where his statue may yet be seen. [Parkins.] The last Earl of East Anglia was Harold, the son of Godwin, and it is somewhat remarkable that his wife was not only, by her marriage to him, Countess of East Anglia, but exchanged that title, like Elfrida for the more exalted one of Queen of England.
Notwithstanding her ambition, Elfrida could hardly expect to receive higher honours than those accorded to the former consort of Edgar, Ethelflede the Fair, who, in some records of Edgar's reign, is styled only "the King's wife," but never the Queen. [Carter and Dugdale. Selden's Titles of Honour.]
Yet while the other consorts of those sovereigns of the heptarchy who had maintained their independence after Edgar, were permitted to enjoy that title which Elfrida had bought at so high a price, it was not in her nature to be content with the honours due to the husband only, and reflected from him. Elfrida had worn the crown on her wedding-day, and thus attired, sat like Judith in her chair of state by the side of Edgar; and though we find her afterwards styled frequently "the King's wife," she had also the enviable title of Regina accorded to her. A charter granted by Edgar to the Church of Worcester, A.D. 964, the year after his marriage, was signed by Elfrida thus: "Ego Elfyred Regina consensi et signo crucis confirmavi;" while another to the Church at Ely, was also attested by her as "Regina." [Cott. Lib.]
In King Edgar's Charter of Privilege to Hyde Abbey, by Winchester, which is yet extant, in a hand of that age, in letters of gold, may also be found the signature of Queen Elfrida. First appear the manors and donations of Edgar, Dunstan, Edmund, and Edward; then the subscription of the Queen, who takes precedence of Edgifa, the King's grandmother, that venerable friend and patron of the pious and good during several reigns, the aged relict of King Edward the Elder.
"I, Alfdrid, the lawful wife of the aforesaid King, by my bequest establishing monks in the same place, with the King's permission, have made the mark of the cross." Then follows:—
"I, Eadgifa, grandmother of the aforesaid King, have confirmed this excellent work by the sign of the cross."
The fact of the words "with the King's permission" being inserted, shows that it was not a common custom for the King's wife to attest these charters. In this last document the name of Regina is omitted.
After the second innovation of the law for Elfrida, it ceased to be regarded in Wessex, and from that time forward we find the Saxon Queens of England were, as a matter of right, crowned, anointed, and seats of state provided for them by the side of their husbands on the most public occasions, besides which they bore the title of "Regina" or "Queen."
The Book of Grants, presented by Edgar himself to the Cathedral of Winchester, bearing the date A.D. 966, and written entirely in letters of gold, in the old Saxon character, contains a curious and ancient illumination. The book is in the Cottonian Library, marked "Vespasianus A. VII.," and an engraving from it may be seen in Strutt's Regal and Ecclesiastical Antiquities, where the following description is given:—
"Edgar is here delineated as piously adoring our Blessed Saviour, who appears above seated on a globe, to show his empire, and supported by four angels, emblems of the four gospels; under his feet are two folding-doors, intended, perhaps, to represent the entrance into the bottomless pit, which is so placed to convey the idea of his triumph over Death and Hell; in his left hand he holds the book of judgment, which is to be opened in the last day."
Strutt supposes the figures on the right and left of the King to be Cuthbert, the Saint of Durham, and Etheldreda, Abbess of Ely. On the opposite page is a Saxon inscription in capital letters of gold, thus translated into modern English:—
"Thus sits that God alone who made the heavens
Whilst humbly Edgar the king pays his adoration."
To quote further from Strutt, "as there has been extraordinary pains taken in the writing and ornaments of this book, and as it was written (which appears by the date) at the very time of Edgar, it is more than barely probable that this is not only an exact delineation of the habit of that monarch, but also (to the best of the illuminator's power) a true portrait of him." The following is the description of the colours of the original:—" The garment of our Saviour is a dark blue, and the lighter robe is gold; so also is the oval he sits in, the book he holds, and the doors under his feet. The angels are dressed in white, and the shadowed part is gold, as well on the habit as on the wings. The king's cloak is a dark blue, edged with gold, his coat a deepish crimson, and his hose a dark brown; his book and crown are gold. The saints, on each side of him, are in blue, and the lighter-coloured part of their garments is gold, as well as the ornaments they hold, and the glory over their heads."
Edgar was one of the greatest friends the Church ever had in this country. He is said to have built forty monasteries, to have completed Glastonbury, which his father had founded, and to have adorned the religious edifices of Abingdon, Thorney, Burgh, and Ramsey, besides founding a building for nuns in Winchester.
Elfrida was present, A.D. 969, at a witenagemote of considerable importance, held at Winchester in the royal palace. In that year Edgar gave instructions to St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Sts. Oswald and Ethelwold, the Bishops of Worcester and Winchester, to expel all the clerks from the larger monasteries of Mercia, and replace them with monks. This expulsion was in consequence of the dissolute life they led. The clerks who were expelled, desired to prefer a complaint against the severity of Dunstan, in the King's own presence; and they were met by the Archbishop in the witan at Winchester, the King, Queen, nobles, and clergy being assembled on the occasion. After Dunstan had uttered his defence, the clerks prayed to be restored, and those who held possession of their offices removed. Dunstan spoke not, but hung down his head as if in reverie; [It appears evident that this scene was got up by Dunstan, whose knowledge of mechanics, ventriloquism, optics, &c., enabled him easily to impose on the uninformed personages with whom he had to do. The charge of magic has always been made against the learned in the sciences in all unenlightened times, and it was a great temptation to one who had a great end to gain, the feeling that he could so well deceive, without a chance of detection.] but it is said that at this moment a figure of our Lord, affixed to the standard of the cross, appeared in an elevated position in the palace, and a voice was heard saying, "Let it not be done—let it not be done; well have ye judged, ill would ye change." The King and all present, at first astonished and terrified to death almost by this extraordinary appearance, filled the air with their shouts, and assented to the sacred decision.
Ethelwold, one of the three prelates appointed to survey the monasteries, was a pupil of Dunstan, and some of the expelled monks had tried to deprive him of life by poison. It was Ethelwold, who, by Edgar's order, commenced the restoration of the monasteries which had either fallen into decay or been ruined by the Danes. [Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, in a great famine, sold all the sacred vessels of his church to relieve the poor, saying, "That there was no reason why the senseless temples of God should abound in riches, and lively temples of the Holy Ghost should want them." —Howel, Med. Hist. Ang.] Ely was the first monastery repaired; it had been destroyed by the Danes, A.D. 970, and instead of filling it with nuns as before, Ethelwold placed in it a company of monks, under Brithnoth, one of his own society or establishment, whom he constituted abbot. Brithnoth governed Ely in that capacity eleven years, at the end of which his history becomes identified with that of Queen Elfrida, as will be seen in the course of this memoir. The restoration of Medehamstede, after it had laid waste for nearly a hundred years, was commenced in the same year as that of Ely by Ethelwold, and when completed it received the name of Peterborough, which has descended to modern times. [Chron. Peterburgens; Ingulphus: Vit. S. Ethelwold.] Leland relates that Edgar assisted Ethelwold in rebuilding Medehamstede, by the persuasion, some say, of his first wife, Ethelflede the White; but the date of the restoration of this abbey proves that it was Elfrida, and not Ethelflede, by whose counsel he acted. When St. Paul's, in London, was endowed by Edgar with twenty-five mansions and a considerable sum in money, Ethelflede is said to have added her own donation of two lordships, which royal gifts were afterwards confirmed by Ethelred and Canute. These, and the donation of the island of Portsea, to the New Minster, at Winchester, have been attributed to Ethelflede, but appear much more like the acts of Elfrida, who was desirous of purchasing peace with the Church which she had offended. That Elfrida, as well as Edgar, took an active part in the restoration of clerical institutions is evident. In the Cottonian Library is extant a reformation of the monastic life of both sexes, written in King Edgar's time, wherein he takes care of the monks, and his wife Elfrida of the nuns.
Elflede" [The name is written at times, Egelfleda and Eneda; also Ethelfleda and Elfleda.] "Candida" (the White), Edgar's first wife, had left him two children, Edward, afterwards surnamed the Martyr, and a daughter called Editha, who entered into the seclusion of a conventual life. [Gaillard's Rivalite, &c.]
The children of Edgar by Elfrida were two sons, of whom the eldest, Edmund Atheling, died in his father's lifetime, A.D. 971, and was interred with princely honours in the Monastery of Rumsey, Hampshire." [Ramsey and Rumsey were quite different places, though each was distinguished by a convent; that of Ramsey was in Huntingdonshire, and built by Elfrida's brother.] The youngest of the royal children bore the name of Ethelred, to which was afterwards added the surname of "the Unready," and with his mother's beauty, he inherited some, at least, of her bad qualities.
Not long after the death of her son Edmund, Elfrida lost her father, Earl Ordgar, who was interred at Exeter. In the year of his decease, A.D. 971, this nobleman [Turner, Roger of Wendover.] had commenced an abbey at Tavistock, in Devonshire, which he filled with monks. The edifice itself was on a very grand scale, and not completed till 981; it was finished by Ordulf, the Queen's brother, a person described as of gigantic size and stature, whose figure, and also some of his bones, were exhibited there; but the Danes destroyed the building, about ten years after its completion. Malmesbury records, amongst other instances of the personal strength of Ordulf, that when the drowsy warder of Exeter delayed on one occasion to open the gates, he burst them open, demolishing also the stone jambs on which they hung. Elfrida seems to have accompanied her husband on most occasions of importance, and probably the King's leisure intervals were passed in her society, though his infidelities are said to have been great. We are told that the Saxon princes had a palace situate to the north of St. Albans, the site of which is now occupied by King's Bury, to which they were wont to resort at times for their favourite amusement of fishing. "At this royal abode there was a great fishpool, of about twenty acres, which, by the festivities displayed on it, was a great inconvenience to the neighbouring Abbey, till Abbot Ailric procured it, in exchange for a cup of rich workmanship, of King Edgar. He had afterwards the embankment cut away, and the waters dispersed; but the situation is still pointed out by Fish Pool Street, in the lower part of St. Albans." The palace itself was not finally demolished till the reign of King Stephen. [Britton and Brayley.]
The dissolute lives of the clergy during this reign have been already noticed, and, indeed, a great laxity of morals appears to have prevailed among all classes. At this time there were so many Danes in the country, who gave themselves up to drinking and idolatry to such an excess, that they were hardly governable. To repress the vice of drunkenness, the Winchester measure was instituted. Edgar ordained a size, by certain pins in the pot, with a penalty to any that presumed to drink deeper than the mark. Gold and silver nails were also ordered by Dunstan for this same purpose, and were put into the drinking-vessels to prevent inebriety and quarrels. These pins, nails, or pegs, were fastened in the pots, whence the phrase "to drink to the pin," a feat only acquired by long practice. [The custom of drinking to the pin is thought to have been introduced by the Danes themselves, who fixed a pin inside of their wassail-bowl.—Hardy's Notes on William of Malmesbury.]
Edgar also commanded a new coinage, the old having been so reduced, by the fraud of cheating clippers, that scarcely any piece was found to be of worth, when its value was tested in the scales. [That the byzant or besant, an ancient Greek coin of gold, which was named from ancient Byzantium, and issued by the Greek emperors, was used in England, is proved by the fact that St. Dunstan purchased of King Edgar the estate of Hindon, in Middlesex, for 200 byzants. The coin was generally current in England before the Norman Conquest, and has been introduced in armorial bearings. The value of one byzant, according to Dr. Henry, was nine shillings and fourpence.—Notes to Le Grand's Fabliaux.] There is no doubt that London and Winchester were frequently chosen residences of Edgar and Elfrida, and most probably Worcester, where their son Ethelred II. afterwards erected a tower, called "King Edgar's Tower," because the statues of that King and his two Queens, Elfleda and Elfrida, are placed on its eastern front. [Green's History of Worcester.]
In 972 Edgar and Elfrida were solemnly crowned at St. Peter's, Bath, the ceremony being performed by Dunstan, on the 11th of May, the feast of Pentecost. St. Oswald assisted in the ceremonies of consecrating and anointing Edgar and his Queen. For seven years previously Edgar had laid aside his crown, a penance imposed by Dunstan, for his crime in carrying off the nun Wulfreda of Wilton; he now resumed the insignia of royalty in public, and surrounded by his peers, to whom, on this occasion, he presented the customary gifts. The royal robes, worn by Edgar at his coronation, are described as of immense value, on which account the King afterwards bestowed them on Glastonbury, as a decoration for the altar.
"Much bliss there was, by all enjoyed,
On the happy day named Pentecost;
Crowds of priests, and throngs of monks,
In council sage were gathered there." [Saxon Chronicle.]
Not long after this grand event, Edgar, who seems to have been to the full as fond of pomp and parade as his consort Elfrida, summoned his subreguli at Chester. [Edgar was, in person, small and thin, [a picture of him may be seen in Wynkyn de Worde,] which caused Kenneth to remark with surprise that so many provinces should yield obedience to a man so insignificant. The speech reached the ears of Edgar, who led his guest apart into a wood, and producing two swords, bade him choose one of them. "Our arms," said the king, "shall decide which ought to obey the other; for it will be base to have asserted that at a feast, which you cannot support with your sword." Kenneth, in much confusion, remembered his hasty observation, and "apologised for it as a joke."—Turner.] Kenneth, King of Scots, was among the first to do him homage, and was followed by his nephew, Malcolm of Cumbria, and Maccus, King of Mona and the Isles, by the Princes of Galloway, and the Cymric tribes. [Palgrave.] During this meeting at Chester, Edgar one day purposed to go by water to the Abbey of St. John the Baptist, and obliged eight of these tributary princes to row him in a barge upon the Dee, Kenneth MacAlpine being one of the number. This king had received Lothian from Edgar, on condition that he should annually attend Edgar's principal feasts, and do him homage for that district. The English king gave him several houses for his entertainment during his journey, and made him many handsome presents, such as one hundred ounces of pure gold, many silken ornaments, and rings with precious stones.
Amid all the honours accorded to royalty, the highest in such a gay and glorious court, Elfrida must have had her heart's utmost desires fulfilled; but her triumph was not destined to last; and could she have foreseen how little real happiness was to be gained by her crime, even her first steps in that career had perhaps been stayed. Her successes and glories were terminated, in the twelfth year of their marriage, by the King's death, who was then only in the thirty-second year of his age, though the sixteenth of his reign. He died July 8th, 975, and was interred at Glastonbury, with every regal honour. The tomb was, at a later period, 1052, opened [The opening of the tomb is said to have been attended with several miracles. Not only was the royal corpse fresh and incorrupt, but the abbot, seeing it was too large for the receptacle prepared for it, having profanely hacked it with a steel instrument in his hand, to his own horror, and that of the spectators, torrents of blood burst forth from the wound. The abbot afterwards became insane, and died a violent death—Saxon Chronicle.] by Abbot Ailward, when the King's remains were re-interred within a large shrine covered with gold and silver, and inlaid with beautifully moulded images in ivory, which had been Edgar's own present to the Church.
Immediately the King's death became known, two mighty factions arose, which threatened to lead to a civil war. The King's will had declared that the crown should devolve on Edward, the son of his first wife, an amiable Prince, then in the thirteenth year of his age; but the ambitious Elfrida desired to secure the throne to her son Ethelred, then but a child of about seven, and objected to Edward's claim, that his mother either had not been lawfully married to Edgar, or that the young prince was born before their coronation, and that he was illegitimate, besides which the Queen alleged he was of a harsh and cruel disposition. [Brit. Sancta, Lingard.] As Elfrida had always possessed great influence with the late King, she had acquired many friends, who now became partizans in favour of Ethelred's succession [Hume.] but many of the nobles who were acquainted with her imperious temper, dreaded the consequences of her being placed as Regent at the head of the State, which must have been the case if Ethelred was elected king, and of this number was the Queen's old enemy, Dunstan, still the most powerful person in the kingdom, to whom even monarchs had been forced to submit. It was this prelate who stepped forward in the emergency, to carry into effect the claims of Edward, knowing that he was supported by the wishes of the people generally, and by Oswald and other bishops and nobles, who desired the late King's will to be respected. Dunstan, indeed, was the last person in the world who was willing to suffer such a diminution of his own power as would have been the result of Ethelred's advancement, when his mother Elfrida was directly his opponent; he accordingly convened an assembly of nobles at Kingston, for the purpose of crowning and anointing Edward. The faction of Elfrida, among whom was Alfer, Duke of Mercia, formally declared against the ceremony taking place; the Queen herself, who was present, objected on account of the Prince's illegitimacy, which rendered her son the legal heir. [Brit. Sancta, Osbern, and Capgrave.] At this crisis Dunstan appeared, bearing in his hands the banner of the crucifix, accompanied by young Edward, whom he presented to the lords as their rightful monarch, declaring that he would himself be responsible for their Prince's conduct, whom he would regulate as his father's tutor and prime-minister. This promise of Dunstan united the wavering minds of the assembled lords, and Edward was received with universal joy. [Holinshed.] Taking the youth by the hand, Dunstan marched directly to the church, accompanied by the other bishops, and followed by a great crowd of people, where he anointed him King, in spite of the opposition of Elfrida and her party, who were overwhelmed with grief at the priest's triumph. [Henry.]
This public acknowledgment of Edward by Dunstan proves the validity of his mother's marriage, and the base artifice Elfrida had employed against him. Had he really been illegitimate, as an author observes who was of that opinion himself, [Holinshed says, Edward was born of a nun named Elfleda, and not of Edgar's Queen.] Elfrida might justly be excused for desiring the true heir to become king.
Even after the coronation was over, the Queen still continued to strive by all possible means to get Ethelred's claim acknowledged, and so far inveigled Edward by her flattery, that he suffered her to order all the affairs of the kingdom, retaining for himself merely the title of King. At the same time he was, if possible, still more devoted to St. Dunstan and his followers than his father had been, so that the nation had every hope the reign would be prosperous and happy. All these expectations were, however, frustrated by the Queen's ambition, who could not rest tranquil. She opposed Dunstan in all ways, and her friends, the opponents of the Church in general, destroyed the monasteries which Edgar had built. It will be remembered that the enemies of Dunstan and Ethelwold, among the clergy, had been ejected, on account of dissolute conduct, from their offices. Elfrida, to strengthen the party of Ethelred, declared herself openly their patroness, the highest affront which could have been offered to Dunstan; besides which she tried to bias the minds of the great in favour of her son. Mercia and Earl Alfer sided with her and with those who protected the disgraced clergy. Essex and East Anglia, with their Earls, sided with the King and Dunstan, to whose will he was subject, and who therefore was possessed of great power, yet had to cope with one who was as ambitious as himself, and perhaps even more unprincipled as to the means of gratifying the passion. There was every prospect of a civil war, when Elfrida perceived another method of attaining her object; she joined in a conspiracy to assassinate Edward, and accident shortly after furnished her with an opportunity of effecting her purpose. [Gaillard's Rivalite, and others. Knyghton and Burke say the Queen herself did the deed.]
The young King had shown, from the first, every mark of respectful attention to Elfrida, to whom he had presented the county of Dorset as a dowry, affixing to it a royal dignity. [Turner.]
The monarch was returning from a hunting excursion in Dorsetshire, near Wareham, not far from which stood Corfe Castle, the residence of his mother-in-law and of her son Ethelred. While his companions were earnestly pursuing the game, Edward was left alone, and perceiving the walls of the castle in the distance, he hastened thither to pay his respects with his accustomed courtesy to his mother-in-law, who, on perceiving him, with feigned affability welcomed, and invited him to alight and refresh himself. This, however, Edward declined, but requested a cup of wine to be brought him, and at the same time inquired for his brother. Whether Elfrida had premeditated this treachery towards her son-in-law, or whether the favourable opportunity—suggested this act of cruelty, remains uncertain; she, however, commissioned one of her creatures' to stab the King in the back, while in the act of drinking. Edward, finding himself wounded, spurred his horse to rejoin his friends, but from loss of blood fell from his seat, and one of his feet being caught in the stirrup, he was dragged for some time by the affrighted animal, who being at length arrested near a house on the road side, the mangled corpse was found there by some domestics of the Queen, who had tracked him thither by the blood, and by commands previously received from Elfrida, they threw the body into a well. [Gaillard's Rivalite, &c.] As Roger of Wendover relates, "The wicked woman Alfdritha, and her son Ethelred, ordered the corpse of the king and martyr, St. Edward, to be ignominiously buried at Wareham, in the midst of public rejoicing and festivity, as if they had buried his memory and his body together; for now that he was dead, they grudged him ecclesiastical sepulture, as when he was alive they robbed him of royal honour." The young Ethelred, however, deserved not the blame even of a participation in this cruel transaction; for he had tenderly loved the King his brother, and wept bitterly on hearing the news of his death. Elfrida, unable to pacify him, was so much offended, that it is added, "having no rod at hand, in the violent paroxysm of her anger, she seized some tapers that stood before her, and beat the boy so severely that she had almost killed him, too, upon the spot. So terrified was the child that he never after could endure to have any of those sort of candles lighted before him." [Holinshed.] The tapers of the middle ages were from five to seven pounds weight, and being placed in candlesticks of silver, formed an ornament for the bedchamber of ladies. King Alfred, it is well known, caused his candles to be adapted to the measurement of time. Elfrida's correction was, therefore, by no means of a gentle kind.
A MS. Psalter, preserved in the Royal Library at the British Museum, having been formerly presented to Queen Mary in 1553, by Baldwin Smith, a citizen of London, contains an engraving which represents Edward hunting, and his visit to Corfe Castle. The same attendant who offers the King a cup of drink, is seen there stabbing him with a dagger. One of our modern customs, that of pledging each other at table, arose from the circumstances attending the death of Edward. The old Saxon mode of pledging, when two persons drank together, was as follows:—" The person who was going to drink, asked any one of the company that sat next him, whether he would pledge him. On which, he answering that he would, held up his sword or knife to guard him whilst he drank; for while a man is drinking he necessarily is in an unguarded posture, exposed to the traitorous stroke of some hidden or secret enemy; this practice originated from the treacherous conduct of Elfrida to her son-in-law." [Strutt.]
The friends of the deceased King soon discovered the remains of their murdered sovereign, and having burnt the body, interred the ashes at Wareham. [Gaillard, &c.] But the deed was not destined to be thus passed over, for "the innocent victim "of Elfrida "was ennobled with the grace of miracles." [Roger of Wendover.] The King's body, on the night of the murder, [In 1245, Pope Innocent IV. ordained that the day of Edward's murder should be kept as a festival the exact date of the event was March 18th, 979 (Brit Sancta). He had reigned three years.] had been carried into a cottage where a poor woman dwelt, who was maintained by the charity of Elfrida: she was blind, but is said to have been restored suddenly to sight. This miraculous circumstance, being reported next morning to the Queen, much affrighted her. [Brit. Sancta. A church was afterwards built upon the spot, to commemorate the restoration of the blind woman to sight.] The report of the miracle spread, and multitudes are said to have resorted to the tomb, whereon such a celestial light was shed, that the lame were enabled to walk, the blind to see, and the dumb to speak; all who laboured under any infirmity being healed. [Roger of Wendover.] "Among the rest, the murderess took her journey thither. Having mounted her horse, she urged him to go forward, when, lo! he who before outstripped the winds, and was full of ardour to bear his mistress, now, by the will of God, stood immovable; nor could her attendants move him at all with their shouts and blows: their labour was still in vain, when another horse was put in his place." [Ibid.] Neither the horse which the Queen rode, nor any other, would approach the spot, in spite of whips and spurs, and every other means tried to make them go forward. On which the murderess perceived "how great had been her offence against God, in shedding the blood of the innocent; and she repented deeply of her sin, [Holinshed, Roger of Wendover.] and gave up her intention of visiting the tomb, resolving to pass the rest of her days in penance and prayer:" of this resolve she evidently put off the accomplishment. So many miracles indeed were wrought by the sainted King, who, for his death, was surnamed "the Martyr," that it was thought desirable to transfer his relics to a more fitting receptacle. Some say, this holy ceremony was performed by his sister St. Editha; others relate that Earl Elfery, who was one of the most forward partizans of Elfrida, and had been one of those who destroyed the monasteries of the monks, bitterly repenting of his fault, removed the King's sacred body from that mean place, three years after, with great solemnity, to the monastery at Shaftesbury. ["Though, even this way, he did not escape condign punishment, being eaten with worms in the following year."—Roger of Wendover.]
The Saxon Chronicle [Saxon Chronicle; Brit. Sancta.] notices Edward's murder in these terms:—
There has not been 'mid Angles
A worse deed done
Than this was,
Since they first
Men him murdered,
But God him glorified.
He was in life
An earthly king;
He is now after death
A heavenly saint.
Him would not his earthly
But him hath his Heavenly Father
The earthly murderers
Would his memory
On earth blot out,
But the Lofty Avenger
Hath his memory
In the heavens
And on earth wide spread.
They who would not erewhile
To his living
Body bow down,
They now humbly
On knees bend
To his dead bones.
Now we may understand
That men's wisdom,
And their devices,
And their councils,
Are like nought'
Gainst God's resolves."
Ethelred "Atheling," or the "Noble," for whom Elfrida had been guilty of so great a crime, was too young at the time to be considered an accomplice in her guilt, yet it was with no small repugnance that the prelates and thanes bestowed on him a crown bought with the price of blood. [The usual atonement for murder, called the Weregild, was paid by Elfrida ax the time of Edward's death.—Lingard.] Dunstan more especially felt this, yet was compelled to anoint Ethelred, a measure not to be avoided. The ceremony of inauguration took place at Kingston-on-Thames, Sunday, April the 24th. [A.D. 979.] The new monarch, who is described as "a rare youth of a graceful person, fair countenance, and lofty stature, received the royal diadem from Dunstan of Canterbury, and Oswald of York, in the presence of ten bishops and the rest of the assembled clergy and nobles." [Roger of Wendover.] Dunstan is said on this occasion to have been moved, by a prophetic spirit, to declare to the young Prince, all the calamities to which the kingdom would be exposed during his reign in the following words:—" Because thou hast aspired to the crown by the death of thy brother, whom thy mother hath murdered, therefore hear the word of the Lord: the sword shall not depart from thy house, but shall furiously rage all the days of thy life, killing thy seed, till such time as thy kingdom shall be given to a people whose customs and language the nation thou now governest know not: neither shall thy sin, the sin of thy mother, and the sin of those men who were partakers of her counsels, and executors of her wicked design, be expiated but by a long and most severe vengeance." [Holinshed.] Dunstan survived this event nine years, at the end of which he died, A.D. 988, after having witnessed the reigns of five monarchs, and part of that of a sixth, viz., Ethelred.
This last event took place many years before the decease of Elfrida, who survived her worst enemy and greatest rival. Indeed, it was probably the ascendency of the Queen's faction which embittered and shortened Dunstan's life; for Edward the Martyr, ruled by his counsels, would have carried on everything as Edgar his father had left it; but, as Dunstan had perceived from the first, the ascendency of the mother of Ethelred, and such as took part with her under her son's authority, was likely enough "to turn all upside down." [Holinshed.] One of the motives attributed to Elfrida for the commission of Edward's murder, was her desire to subvert the authority of Dunstan. In this, however, she was unsuccessful, and gained only the popular aversion; for neither remorse nor hypocrisy could ever reinstate her in the public opinion.
But even yet Elfrida's crimes were not ended: in the year 981 another murder stained her guilty hand. Turner remarks as singular, the fact that this circumstance of the murder of Brithnoth, first Abbot of Ely, by Elfrida, should have escaped historians in general, being merely noticed in the following manner in the history of Ely [Gale's Scriptores Hist. Elieni.] :— It happened that, on a certain day, the Abbot Bridnod set out for King Ethelred's court, on affairs of the Church. When near Geldesdune, on his way through the wood called New Forest, he is said to have turned aside in search of some secluded spot for prayer, where, by accident, he discovered the Queen lstritha engaged under a tree, in her practices of witchcraft. The Queen uttered an expression of consternation at being detected, but the holy man, inwardly troubled, retreated as quickly as possible from the spot, and proceeded on his way to the court. Here he was magnificently received by the King, and having speedily accomplished the purpose of his journey, was on the point of returning home, rejoicing in the royal munificence. Not willing, however, to shame the Queen, though abhorrent, he first went to seek an interview with her, which she, when aware of his coming, desired might be strictly private, under a pretext of her requiring spiritual counsel. Summoning some women of her household, devoted to her will, she gave orders that he should be put to death. That no wound might appear on the body, the perpetrators were instructed to pierce him beneath the armpits with bodkins till he expired. Whereupon she cried out as if terrified by a sudden calamity. The servants and companions of the Abbot run to the spot, and hear with groans, of the previous arrival and sudden death of their master: with much grief and lamentation they place his body on a vehicle, and convey it back to Ely, where, not detecting any visible marks of violence, they commit it to the tomb. Thus was the first abbot of the holy church of Ely martyred, [Some records place the event in A.D. 981.] by the contrivance of a good-for-nothing woman, preferring to fall into human hands, rather than to transgress the divine law, earning for his soul eternal joy in heaven, where he shall reign with all saints.
"As to the Queen, no one presumed even to whisper a suspicion, or bring an evil report upon her. And this matter might have continued to be hidden from all, had not she herself, by the divine mercy, been seized with compunction for her witchcrafts and abominable practices, and especially for the death of the glorious King Edward, her eldest son, to whose murder, (to make a way to the throne for Ethelred, her subsequent issue) she confessed, and for which deed she raised, at her own expense, the Convent of Werewelle. Here she spent the remainder of her days in grief and penitence, and detailed with groans and anguish, the manner in which she had slain Bridnod, Abbot of Ely, as above related." [Rog. of Wend.]
Elfrida's motive in this act, was as usual, her desire for power. The whole of the isle of Ely, had been purchased of King Edgar for a small sum, by Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, one of the Dunstan party, who in the year 970, placed in the monastery he had renewed, an abbot and monks, for whom he obtained many privileges from the monarch, with whom he was a great favorite. This abbot was Bridnoth, one of his own monks. Elfrida, after Ethelred's advancement to the throne, still maintained her spleen against Dunstan. Brithnoth had come to court on this occasion concerning matters connected with his church, and having succeeded in his mission, was about to depart with a joyful heart, when the Queen interfered and caused the Abbot's assassination. The "magic practices" he was said to have witnessed, were probably some of the Danish rites, or she had been consulting the wise-women on her own future destiny and that of Dunstan. Brithnoth had ruled Ely eleven years from his first appointment, and on his death, Elsy, or Elfsy, was appointed abbot in his place, by King Ethelred. [Dugdale.] The brotherhood of Ely had their suspicions on the suddenness of their former abbot's decease, but the power of Elfrida silenced all. Not long after Brithnoth's murder, we find that, at the invitation of Bishop Ethelwold, the young King and his mother went, with several of the nobility, to visit the church of Ely, and took the opportunity to go in procession to the tomb of St. Etheldreda; when the young monarch, having a great love and affection for the Saint, promised, in the presence of all who were there assembled, to become from henceforth her devoted servant. In consequence, Ethelred afterwards, on several occasions testified great kindness and regard for that church, and as a particular mark of favour, was "pleased to grant that the head of the church of Ely should hold and enjoy the office and dignity of Chancellor in the King's court: the like he also granted to two other churches, viz., St. Augustine's in Canterbury, and Glastonbury, thus dividing the chancellorship between the abbots of those three monasteries, who were to enjoy the office by turns." [Dugdale; who places the visit of Ethelred in his brother's reign; but as Bridnoth was dead, and Elfsy abbot, it was plainly during his own.]
Elfrida was obviously desirous of making her peace with the offended clergy through the grants of Ethelred, then but twelve years of age. Of course it was she who held the administration of Church and State affairs, for a weakness of character was apparent in Ethelred from an early age, which was in a great measure attributable to the tyrannical and arbitrary influence maintained over him by his mother. As the King grew older this influence gradually declined, until Elfrida, finding herself the object of popular aversion, became aware that her power was at an end: on which, pretending to be moved by her conscience, she determined to bid farewell to the court, [Lingard.] and to close her days in a monastery, the usual resource of baffled ambition in these days. She accordingly founded in 986, the Monastery of Werewell, ["Wherwell."—Dugdale.] in expiation of the deaths of her first husband, Earl Ethelwold, and her son-in-law, Edward the Martyr; and within the walls of this edifice, of the Benedictine order, the yet beautiful Elfrida, renouncing her worldly grandeur, the incentive to her many crimes, exchanged the robes of royalty for sackcloth, and having professed herself a nun, dwelt in mourning and great penitence, a great part of her remaining life; [Dugdale, Brit. Sancta.] here she practised every kind of austerity. "Her flesh, which she had nourished in delicacy, she mortified with haircloth at Wherwell," [Roger of Wendover, Holinshed.] sleeping on the ground, and afflicting her body with all kinds of sufferings, [Clavis Calendaria.] such as fasting and various kinds of penance. Although the weregild, the price of murder, had been paid, the guilty Queen was a prey to remorse and apprehension, and among other self-inflicted punishments, is said to have "worn armour, made of little crosses, which she thought could alone secure her front an imaginary phantom, or evil spirit, which incessantly haunted her imagination." [Lingard.] Nor was private mortification enough; Elfrida tried to atone for her misdeeds by the publicity of her repentance, yet could she never reinstate herself in public opinion. [Holinshed, Gaillard, Bicknell, Lysons's Magna Brit.] She expended large sums on the poor, and in building churches and monasteries, to the amount of her whole patrimony. [Dugdale.] Elfrida founded a monastery at Andover, and another at Ambresbury in Wiltshire, a town on the Upper Avon. This last was founded A.D. 980, in expiation of the murder of Edward the Martyr; it was of the Benedictine order, and commended to the patronage of St. Mary, and St. Meliorus, a Cornish saint, whose relics were preserved there. [Britton and Brayley.]
Another abbey, or rather a small nunnery, was erected by her at Reading, on the spot now occupied by St. Mary's Church, being the third edifice founded in 980, the year after King Edward's death: [Leland, Camden, Speed.] Henry I. suppressed this A.D. 1120, but the following year built a magnificent abbey there for two hundred Benedictine monks, which he dedicated to the honour of God, our Lady, and St. John the Evangelist, and appropriated to its use the revenues of the earlier foundation.
Elfrida's rapacity is seen in all her actions. Wulfreda, the injured nun of Wilton, had presided many years over the Monastery of Barking, when some dissensions arose between her and the priests of Barking, who referred their cause to Elfrida, requesting her to eject Wulfreda, and assume the government in her own person. To this proposal Elfrida readily assented, and on the Queen's assuming the presidency of the Monastery of Barking, Wulfreda was forced to retire to a religious house, which she had founded at Horton, in Devonshire. [Britton and Brayley.] Elfrida presided at Barking for twenty years, at the end of which, while still residing there, she was seized with a violent sickness, and in the probable dread of approaching dissolution, repenting the injury she had done Wulfreda, she caused her to be reinstated in her former situation. Seven years afterwards Wulfreda died in London, whither she had retired to avoid the Danish army then invading England. This retaliation of Elfrida on her former rival in the King's affections, at so distant a period, marks how deeply the feelings of jealousy and revenge were implanted in her bosom.
Elfrida retired from Barking to Wherwell, where she died in 1002, in a state of extreme penitence, and at a very advanced age. [Dugdale.] King Ethelred granted Wherwell, in the year of his mother's death, a charter of confirmation, on account of its being the place in which she ended her days, and which contained her last remains. [Ibid.]