Edward the Exile, also known as Edward Ætheling, was a prince and a direct descendant of the Wessex kings. Born in 1016, he was the son of King Edmund Ironside and Ealdgyth.
However, his life took a tragic turn when his father was defeated by Cnut the Great in the Danish conquest of England in the same year. After this, Edward and his brother Edmund were sent into exile, where they spent most of their lives.
Exile and Fate
Initially, Edward and Edmund were sent to the Swedish court of Olof Skötkonung with orders to have them murdered. However, Olof refused to kill them, and their fate is subject to speculation.
Some say that they were sent to the Hungarian royal court of King Stephen I, while others suggest that they were sent to the Kievan court of Yaroslav the Wise. It is believed that they were joined by another exiled prince, Andrew of Hungary, in the Kievan principality in the 1030s.
Prince Andrew returned to Hungary in 1046 to retake the throne, and Edward and Edmund likely accompanied him and fought with his army. They may have even been present at his coronation.
It is possible that Edward was granted an estate in Hungary before King Stephen‘s death in 1038, which would suggest that he was in Hungary much earlier than previously thought.
Return to England
In 1056, Edward the Confessor recalled Edward the Exile to England and made him his heir. At the time, the old Anglo-Saxon monarchy was in a state of crisis, and Edward the Ætheling offered the last chance of an undisputed succession within the Saxon royal house.
The Confessor was personally devout but politically weak and childless, and he was unable to make an effective stand against the powerful and ambitious sons of Godwin, Earl of Wessex. From across the Channel, William, Duke of Normandy, also had an eye on the succession.
Edward the Exile appeared at just the right time. Approved both by the king and by the Witan, the Council of the Realm, he offered a way out of the impasse, a counter both to the Godwinsons and to William, and one with a legitimacy that could not be readily challenged.
Edward the Confessor sent Ealdred, Bishop of Worcester, to the court of the German emperor to negotiate with the king of Hungary for Edward‘s return. Although Ealdred was initially unsuccessful, Harold Godwinson‘s journey to Flanders and possibly on to Germany and Hungary in 1056 was probably undertaken to further negotiations.
Edward the Exile finally arrived in England in 1057 with his wife and children, but died within a few days, on 19 April, without meeting the king. He was buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral.
Family and Ancestors
Edward the Exile‘s wife was named Agatha, and their children included Edgar Ætheling, Saint Margaret of Scotland, and Cristina. Edgar was elected King of England after the Battle of Hastings but submitted to William the Conqueror.
Margaret married King Malcolm III of Scotland, and Cristina was an abbess at Romsey Abbey. Edward‘s grandchild Edith of Scotland, also called Matilda, married King Henry I of England, continuing the Anglo-Saxon line into the post-Conquest English monarchy.
Edward the Exile was a direct descendant of the Wessex kings, including Alfred the Great. All four of his male-line ancestors shown in the family tree were kings of England before Cnut the Great took the crown and sent Edward into exile.
His lineage is traced back to the arrival of Cerdic of Wessex in AD 495, almost a century after the withdrawal of the Western Roman Empire army legions from Hadrian’s Wall.
Although Edward the Exile‘s reign was short-lived, his legacy continued through his descendants. His grandson, Edith of Scotland, also known as Matilda, married King Henry I of England, thereby continuing the Anglo-Saxon line into the post-Conquest English monarchy.
In conclusion, Edward the Exile was an exiled prince whose return to England offered a way out of a succession crisis in the Anglo-Saxon monarchy. Although he died shortly after his return, his legacy lived on through his descendants, who continued the Anglo-Saxon line into the post-Conquest English monarchy.
His life is a reminder of the complexities of medieval politics and the impact that even an exiled prince could have on the course of history.