King of Kings has a number of characters, and some might be surprised to find Lady Eadgifu amongst them, but she was an incredibly important historical character, and I couldn’t leave her out of the narrative set at the English court.
Lady Eadgifu was the third wife of Edward the Elder (r.899-924), king of the Anglo-Saxons. Edward the Elder was the father of King Athelstan, and a whole host of daughters, as well as five sons. Lady Eadgifu would, it seems, have been young when she married the aging Edward the Elder, and that meant that she long outlived him, and also, that her three children (possibly four, but I’ve opted for three) were young when their father died. And two of these children were sons, Edmund (born c.921) and Eadred (born c.923). Her daughter, Eadburh, is thought to have been the oldest of the three children, born c.919.
While Lady Eadgifu, from what’s known (and it isn’t much, as there are few surviving charters from the end of Edward’s reign) perhaps had little role to play while her husband lived, other than wife and mother to the king’s children, following his death, she became increasingly significant. She was the daughter of an ealdorman, who perhaps died just before her birth, and her family are said to have had connections with Kent. Indeed, it’s often stated that she brought her husband Kent with their union. By that, what’s often meant, is the loyalty of the Kentish people. Remember, at this time, we’re still just before the creation of ‘England’ as we would now recognise it.
Sadly, very little is known about Lady Eadgifu (and she’s not alone in this – many of the royal women ‘disappear’ at points in the historical record, and on occasion, are entirely lost.) We know about a land dispute she was involved in, and also much more information for after Athelstan’s reign.
Indeed, it has been said that
‘Nor is it surprising that Eadgifu, as the consort of the previous king, served little role in her stepson’s court.[i]
[i] Firth, M. and Schilling, C. ‘The Lonely Afterlives of Early English Queens’, in Nephilologus September 2022, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11061-022-09739-4, p.7
However, Barbara Yorke believes that,
‘the enhanced position [of Lady Eadgifu] may also have been developed specifically for the widowed Eadgifu as part of an alliance with her stepson Æthelstan [Athelstan] in which she supported his position and he recognised her sons as his heirs.’[i]
[i] Yorke, B. ‘The Women in Edgar’s Life,’ in Edgar, King of the English, 959-975 Scragg, D. ed (The Boydell Press, 2008), p.146
And it is this option that I’ve decided to explore in King of Kings. Lady Eadgifu was wife to a king. She would have known her worth, even when faced with a stepson as the king of the English, and another stepson, and stepdaughters, who perhaps didn’t share any love for their, potentially, younger stepmother. Will Lady Eadgifu work with or against Athelstan? Read on to find out.
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