Did England’s first crowned queen, Elfrida, kill her stepson, Edward the Martyr?

King Edgar the Peaceable of England (959-975) died a young man still, perhaps no older than thirty-two. He left two surviving sons, (one of his sons, Edmund, having died in 971 at a young age.) Neither of his surviving children was an adult and they both had different mothers. Edward, the child of a woman perhaps named as Æthelflæd, and Æthelred, the surviving child of Edgar and his queen, Elfrida, who had ruled at Edgar’s side for about a decade. Edward was probably no older than fifteen in 975, Æthelred perhaps as young as eight. While the kingdom of the English might well have endured years of peace, the same could not be said for the royal court.

The factionalism of the great Benedictine monastic reform movement has much to do with this. As part of the reform movement, a huge amount of land changed hands. As ever, religion was a mask for what was happening at a more basic level. It could just as easily be interpreted as a land grab. In the wake of the death of the king, ‘Attacks on church property were widespread. From York to Kent and Sussex, from the Severn valley to the Fens the death of Edgar was a signal to those who wished to recover property.’[1] Whether Edgar intended for his royal son, born to a consecrated mother and father to succeed after him or not might have been irrelevant when faced with two opposing parties – one supporting the older Edward and one Æthelred, both of whom had religious men as their supporters. 

Essentially, both sons would have been too young to rule England. King Eadwig, their uncle, had hardly provided good and secure rule during his brief reign from 955-959, when he was no older than fifteen. But, there was no other choice unless note was made of the family of Ælfgifu, wife to Eadwig, and her collection of brothers, the most famous of whom was Æthelweard, an ealdorman who is thought to have written a Latin translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle referred to as the Chronicon. The family claimed descent from Æthelred I (865-871), Alfred’s older brother. 

Edward was chosen to rule with the support of one of these two powerful factions, and Edward’s coronation was conducted by Archbishop Dunstan. Yet some believed Æthelred should be king, no matter his young age, and Æthelred’s support was led by Ealdorman Ælfhere of Mercia. Ealdorman Ælfhere had gained his position under King Eadwig, and had remained powerful despite the seeming division of England back into its constituent parts of Mercia and Wessex in 958 and 959. Perhaps this then, might have been a solution – a division of England once more. Yet ‘questions of division or underkingship were replaced by a straightforward struggle for the throne of the entire kingdom.’[2]

Young Edward was murdered. What we don’t know, unlike with the murder of his grandfather (Edmund (939-946) was murdered by Liofa, possibly a thief), is who killed Edward, known as Edward the Martyr.

The A text of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle is the simplest version of the story for 978, ‘Here King Edward was killed.’[3]

The C text offers, ‘Here in this year King Edward was martyred, and his brother, the young ætheling Æthelred, succeeded to the kingdom; and he was consecrated as king the same year.’[4]

‘Here King Edward was killed in the evening-time in 18 March at Corfe passage; and they buried him at Wareham without any royal honours.’[5] The ASC E (979 for 978) text reads. 

Elfrida was known to live close to Corfe, but the E version of the ASC is one of the youngest manuscripts to have survived, dated to about 1121, when it was written in one hand.[6] It is possible then, that the entry in the E version of the ASC had benefitted from some much later additions, thanks to the Saints lives which portrayed Elfrida as the murderer of her husband’s oldest son! It is the A version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which is the more contemporary of our surviving sources.

It was openly acknowledged that Edward was killed, and in his place, Æthelred, at no more than perhaps twelve years of age, became king. This can only have been possible with support for Æthelred. Those backing Æthelred’s claim must have been strong enough to counter any other bid for the kingdom. It no doubt helps that there were few others who could legitimately claim the kingship for themselves. Had they turned to any latent claim presented by Ealdorman Æthelweard, who by now was possibly a man in his late thirties or forties (his death is believed to have taken place in about 998 when he stops attesting Æthelred’s charters), then his sons might not have been deemed acceptable to rule after him, having been born to a man not consecrated as king, and a woman who was certainly not regarded as a queen. This, then, would have merely delayed the inevitable question of the succession once more after Æthelweard’s death. 

So, who killed Edward, or ordered his death? Did Elfrida, England’s first anointed queen, commit regicide in an attempt to win back the influence she unexpectedly lost on the death of her young husband, when her step-son was appointed as king?

There were certainly some who believed she had a hand in the murder of the young man. 

The involvement of Elfrida directly in the murder of her step-son is ‘derived ultimately from the Passio Sancti Eadwardi Regis et Martyris, an account of Edward’s life, murder and miracles probably written in the 1070s by the Anglo-Norman hagiographer Goscelin and itself based partly on an earlier account of St Edward which may have been written at Shaftesbury in the early years of the eleventh century.’[7]

‘When a certain day was nearing evening, the illustrious and elected king came as we have said to the house where his much-loved brother dwelt with the queen, desiring the consolation of brotherly love; there came out to meet him, as was fitting, nobles and chief men, who stayed with the queen, his mother. They formed among them a wicked plan, for they possessed minds so accursed and such dark diabolical blindness that they did not fear to lay hands on the Lord’s anointed….The thegns then holding him, one drew him on the right towards him as if he wished to give him a kiss, but another seized roughly his left hand and also wounded him. And he shouted, so far as he could: ‘What are you doing – breaking my right arm?’ And suddenly leapt from the horse and died.’[8] So informs the Life of St Oswald written during the life of both Elfrida and Æthelred II, by Byrhtferth, although we will never know if they were aware of what was written. It does not specifically name Elfrida as responsible for the king’s murder.

Another near contemporary source. The Sermon of the Wolf to the English  states that, Edward was betrayed and then killed, and afterwards burned and [Ethelred was driven out of his country].’[9] This dates from 1014, and therefore follows Æthelred’s loss of the kingdom to King Swein of Denmark. Again, it is not a contemporary source.

But later writers persisted with the story. Henry of Huntingdon, a Norman chronicler wrote. ‘It is said that his stepmother [Ælfthryth/Elfrida], that is the mother of King Æthelred, stabbed him [Edward] with a dagger while stretching out a cup to him.’[10] And so named Elfrida as the physical murderess.

Edward the Martyr is offered a cup of mead by Ælfthryth, wife of Edgar
James William Edmund Doyle, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (1864)

William of Malmesbury, another Norman writer, also associates Edward the Martyr’s murder with Elfrida, despite that fact that Edward treated his ‘stepmother with proper warmth of feeling….The woman however, with a stepmother’s hatred and a viper’s guile, in her anxiety that her son should also enjoy the title of king, laid plots against her stepson’s life…On his arrival, his stepmother, with a woman’s wiles, distracted his attention, and with a kiss of welcome offered him a drink. As he greedily drank it, she had him pierced with a dagger by one of her servants….Ælfthryth [Elfrida] fell from her pride of royalty into a dire repentance, such that for many years at Wherwell she clad her delicately nurtured limbs in haircloth.’[11]

It is perplexing to consider the alleged involvement of Elfrida in the death of her stepson with the cult of Edward the Martyr that subsequently developed. Indeed, it has been noted that in the will of Athelstan, Æthlered’s son who died in 1014, and who was raised by Elfrida, he makes a bequest to Shaftesbury to St Edward (where Edward was later buried). ‘And I give to the Holy Cross and St Edward at Shaftesbury the six pounds about which I have given directions to my brother Edmund.’[12]

This then seems more than a strange thing to do if the family were keen to dismiss the concerns that Elfrida was involved in the king’s murder. Neither, and despite the reports that Edward the Martyr was not a pleasant individual, has it been considered that the murder was carried out because ALL believed they would benefit from a new king. Edward the Martyr, in the written details about him, does not have a good reputation, as the Vita Oswaldi itself states.

‘Certain of the chief men of this land wished to elect as king the king’s elder son, Edward by name; some of the nobles wanted the younger because he appeared to all gentler in speech and deeds. The elder, in fact, inspired in all not only fear but even terror, for [he scrouged them] not only with words but truly with dire blows, and especially his own men dwelling with him.’[13]

At such a distance in time, it’s impossible to determine what happened. Dismissing the later saints lives and aspersions cast on Elfrida, by Adam of Bremen, Osbern of Canterbury, Florence of Worcester and Henry of Huntingdon (all Norman writers),[14] one thing is clear. Whatever had happened to pave the way for Æthelred to become king, it was accepted by the vast majority of the witan and the holy men. Sometimes, mention is made that Æthelred’s coronation was delayed, taking place on 4th May 979, maybe while negotiations took place, but this delay was perhaps not that unusual – there was a delay in Edward the Elder’s coronation, and also Athelstan’s. Was it a delay because Æthelred was unacceptable, or merely one of politic? Or is it merely a confusion with the date, 979 for 978, or something else? Was Æthelred considered too young in 978 to undergo coronation? Was he ill? Sometimes, we forget the frailties of our forebears, too keen to see political intrigue everywhere.

What can be said is, no matter the alleged involvement of the royal family in the murder of one of their own, the words of later chroniclers and those who may have written at the time but with an agenda to tarnish the name of the Wessex royal family, no one faced murder charges for what happened. The murder was acknowledged, but those responsible faced no penalty for it (as far as we know – certainly, none of the prime suspects fell from favour). Whatever led to the murder of Edward, his absorption into the royal line of saints (and there were many, many royal saints in the Wessex family in the tenth century – Edgar’s mother was regarded as saintly, as was his only daughter, Edith, after her death, and indeed, that daughter’s mother, Wulfthryth) it was those looking back at the return of the Viking raiders throughout the last two decades of the tenth century and the eleventh, which resulted in not one, not two, but three Viking kings claiming England for themselves, who thought to tarnish Æthelred’s already tainted reputation as a failed military commander by adding the charge of ‘complicit in the murder of his step-brother’ to the already, very long list of charges levelled against him. But of course, none of these were contemporary accounts.

And so, it seems, we might never know the truth of what befell Edward the Martyr, and certainly, there are no truly contemporary accounts to say Queen Elfrida either physically committed the murder, or ordered that it be carried out.

[1] Pauline Stafford Unification and Conquest p57

[2] Pauling Stafford Unification and Conquest p57

[3] Michael Stanton, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (ASC) p122

[4] M Stanton, ASC p122

[5] M Stanton, ASC p123

[6] M Stanton, ASC pxxvi

[7] Simon Keynes, The Diplomas of King Æthelred the Unready, p168

[8] D Whitelock, English Historical Documents p841-3 It is believed that this work was written at Ramsey from 995-1005, and so in the lifetime of Æthelred, and indeed, his mother. 

[9] D Whitelock,  English Historical Documents p857 although Æthelred’s name is not included all of the manuscript versions.

[10] Henry of Huntingdon Historia Anglorum p325

[11] William of Malmesbury Gesta Regum Anglorum p265-7

[12] D Whitelock, English Historical Documents p549 (130)

[13] D Whitelock, English Historical Documents p841 (236)

[14] Simon Keynes, The Diplomas of King Æthelred the Unready, p168 for a discussion of the later sources

I’ve written extensively about Lady Elfrida, and she also features in the first Earls of Mercia book, The Earl of Mercia’s Father.

Welcome back to The Danish King’s Enemy – The Earls of Mercia Book II.

It’s taken a while, and the completely edited and slightly re-worked second book in The Earls of Mercia series has been available in paperback for about a year, but finally, I’ve had the ebook rights restored to me, and I’m able to share it with you all.

Now, I’ve changed the name again (I know, sorry) but it needed something to mark it as different from its two previous editions (Ealdormen and Viking Enemy) as it’s not quite the same book it used to be. It’s better – infinitely better – and more importantly for me, and hopefully for my readers, it now ‘fits’ much better with the stories I’ve written about Lady Elfrida. I’d made brief mention of her when I initially wrote the book, but I needed to bring her into it more, and indeed, I’ve done just that.

So, a new cover, a new title, and some additional bits and a few bits taken out, but still, Ealdorman Leofwine and his trusty allies, taking on King Æthelred, King Swein of Denmark and the rest of the ealdormen in England.

I hope you enjoy, and if you happen to fancy popping a review on the new edition, that would help me hugely. Thank you. Happy reading.

Here’s the blurb;

“Every story has a beginning.

Leofwine has convinced his king to finally face his enemies in battle and won a great victory, but in the meantime, events have spiralled out of control elsewhere.

With the death of Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, England has lost an ally, and Leofwine has gained an enemy. And not just any enemy. Swein is the king of Denmark, and he has powerful resources at his fingertips.

In a unique position with the king, Leofwine is either honoured or disrespected. Yet, it is to Leofwine that the king turns to when an audacious attack is launched against the king’s mother and his children. But Leofwine’s successes only bring him more under the scrutiny of King Swein of Denmark, and his own enemies at the king’s court.

With an increase in Raider attacks, it is to Leofwine that the king turns once more. However, the king has grown impatient with his ealdorman, blaming him for Swein’s close scrutiny of the whole of England. Can Leofwine win another victory for his king, or does he risk losing all that he’s gained?

The Danish King’s Enemy is the second book in the epic Earls of Mercia series charting the last century of Early England, as seen through the eyes of Ealdorman Leofwine, the father of Earl Leofric, later the Earl of Mercia, and ally of Lady Elfrida, England’s first queen.”

The reworked and edited book 1 – The Earl of Mercia’s Father is available in paperback. Hopefully, I’ll get the ebook rights restored to me in 2021.

And book X, The English King, will release on 28th January 2021.

Until them, I am running lots of promotions on the Earls of Mercia books so have a look each week.

(This blog post contains Amazon Affiliate links).

Book Review – Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England by Annie Whitehead – non-fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“Many Anglo-Saxon kings are familiar. Æthelred the Unready is one, yet less is written of his wife, who was consort of two kings and championed one of her sons over the others, or his mother who was an anointed queen and powerful regent, but was also accused of witchcraft and regicide. A royal abbess educated five bishops and was instrumental in deciding the date of Easter; another took on the might of Canterbury and Rome and was accused by the monks of fratricide.

Anglo-Saxon women were prized for their bloodlines – one had such rich blood that it sparked a war – and one was appointed regent of a foreign country. Royal mothers wielded power; Eadgifu, wife of Edward the Elder, maintained a position of authority during the reigns of both her sons.

Æthelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, was a queen in all but name, while few have heard of Queen Seaxburh, who ruled Wessex, or Queen Cynethryth, who issued her own coinage. She, too, was accused of murder, but was also, like many of the royal women, literate and highly-educated.

From seventh-century Northumbria to eleventh-century Wessex and making extensive use of primary sources, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England examines the lives of individual women in a way that has often been done for the Anglo-Saxon men but not for their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters. It tells their stories: those who ruled and schemed, the peace-weavers and the warrior women, the saints and the sinners. It explores, and restores, their reputations.”

Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England is an ambitious project, on a scale that few may truly appreciate as it covers over 600 years of Early English history. That’s even before factoring in just how fragmented the surviving sources are, and how complicated they can be and how many languages are involved. Or the fact that the majority of such sources were written by men, and not just men, but men in holy orders. As someone who has written about some of these fabulous women, I know just how difficult and complicated a task it is, and just how far you have to go in order to tease out the smallest details.

It is for this reason, that the book can feel a little unwieldy in places. I think that people new to the subject matter and to the time period might well struggle with the first section of the book on Pioneers in Northumbria. In an effort to include every woman, of whom so little is known that sometimes it is just a name, it can feel a little bit like a long list of women who you might not be able to fully grasp their importance in the events of the period. There might also be some frustration that the women could only be powerful because of who they married, gave birth to, or were born to. This, however, can’t be avoided. It is the nature of the sources.

And I must urge people to continue reading as the author soon lands on more solid ground (because there is more information available and the women feel more fully formed.) The chapters on Mercia and Wessex are a much easier read, and by the time we reach the chapters on Serial Monogamy and Dowager Queens, the women feel ‘real.’ Again, this is because of an increase in the source material, and potentially, because readers will know more about the tenth and eleventh centuries.

The author manages to cover an extraordinary number of women over the long centuries of the Early English period, and if there are moments where I might have included different information, or rejected some of the Saints Lives and Anglo-Norman historians from the narrative, this is a personal choice, based on my own research methodology which does seem to be the exception rather than the norm.

I confess, the book would have benefitted from a chronology for each chapter, and perhaps a slightly different format (I read an ebook so this might display differently in the paperback), but overall, I am in awe of the author’s ability to hold the narrative together and to produce something that I hope will encourage people to further research these wonderful characters who should be just as well known as their male counterparts.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Women of Power is released today, 30th May, and is available from the publisher as well as on other sites, although it is showing as a preorder.


It’s release day – Kingmaker – England: The Tenth Century

Kingmaker is available now in both paperback and ebook format from Amazon.

Here’s a little sneak peek from the first chapter.

“The first sight of my husband is when I stand beside him, as we exchange vows, and Archbishop Plegmund officiates over our wedding.

Luckily, a wimple covers me, so my husband can’t see the horror on my face, although no doubt he imagines it.

He’s old. Old enough to be my father, if not my grandfather, and I am young, only just seventeen.

Neither am I his first wife, nor even his second. And neither is his second wife dead, but merely put aside, as a new, younger bride is found for him.

I swallow my revulsion.

My father would not have approved of this arrangement, but then, he’s been dead almost since my birth, and I’ve no memory of him, only the hope that he might not have sanctioned my mother’s ambitions.

Indeed, not only is my husband old but he also has children older than I. And not just one or two, but many of them, ten in total. I would have sooner married one of them, even the odious Ælfweard. He’s a boy as old as I, and yet definitely a boy, whereas I’m classed as a woman and fit to be wed to someone so much older.

Ælfweard watches me now, a twisted look of desire on his face, as I glance at the king’s many children, lined up at the front of the church. I swallow again, turning my attention back to archbishop Plegmund, listening to the words, waiting for the moment when the wedding mass begins, and I can lower my chin and allow the tears I’m holding back to fall down my cheeks.

Damn my ambitious family, and damn my mother. I blame her for my current predicament.

If my mother expects me to ensure she’s well rewarded for what she sees as the honour of marrying the king of the Anglo-Saxons, then she’s very mistaken. If it were possible, I would never see her again.

Abruptly, I feel the hands of the archbishop on my shoulders and focus on the king before me. The hollows of his eyes remind me of sand around a stone on the shore, sunken and only likely to sink deeper. But for all that, there’s some kindness, and also, and this turns my stomach, a lustful look. Whatever his sympathy is for, it’s not that I’m to be bedded by him when the wedding feast is done.

At the archbishop’s instigation, I kneel on the cushion before me, head bowed, tears continual. I do not want to be here. I do not want to be the king’s wife, and yet, I must be all the same.

I should have more rights, more say in this matter, but Edward is the king, and my family is ridiculously ambitious. They wish to have the ear of the king and to always be high in his favour, and I’m the means of securing that.

In their eyes, I’m little more than a part of the game that will ensure they achieve all that they want. The ambition of my widowed mother and her brothers disgusts me.

I am wed to the king for as the only heir of ealdorman Sigehelm, I claim more land in the ancient kingdom of Kent than even the king. And the king is a man desperate for ever more land, and even more control.”

And if you’ve not yet read The Lady of Mercia’s Daughter, the first book in my Tenth Century series, it is currently 99p/99c in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and the equivalent on the Amazon.DE, FR and IT sites.

New Release alert – Kingmaker – England: The Tenth Century

Last July, I decided to hand my notice into work to write ‘full-time’. In a fit of panic at my decision, I wrote a book in about 5 weeks. That book was The King’s Mother.

This year, to celebrate my one year anniversary, I decided to celebrate by doing the same thing! (Yes, I know, why give myself more work to do? (I don’t know)).

Anyway, I’ve loved the challenge and it is a bit of a rush to fling yourself headlong into something. So, I’m proud to present Kingmaker – the story of Queen Eadgifu of the Anglo-Saxons. She is not a new ‘character’ for me, but rather one I’m returning to, after her appearance in The First Queen of England.

Queen Eadgifu has been a joy to write, and I’ve loved the challenge of writing one novel that covers the entire lifetime of a person, as normally, I tend to stick with just a decade at most.

I really hope that you, my readers, will find Lady Eadgifu as fascinating as I have, and also, that the middle of the tenth century will feel a little more accessible.

Here’s the blurb;

“This is the tenth century in Anglo-Saxon England between the reigns of Alfred the Great, and Æthelred the Unready.

As England’s first Viking Age grinds to a halt in a war of attrition that will see Jorvik finally added to the kingdom of the English, one woman will witness it all.

Seventeen-year-old Eadgifu knows little about her new husband; he’s old, he only wants to marry her because she’s so wealthy, he already has ten children, and he’s Edward, king of Wessex. He also hopes to claim Mercia as his own.

That he’s the son of King Alfred, the man credited with saving Wessex from the Viking Raiders adds no mystique to him at all.

Many say he’s handsome, but Eadgifu knows they speak of the man twenty years ago. Her mother won’t even allow her to be alone with him before their wedding.

But an old man will not live forever. The mother of his youngest sons can be more powerful than the wife of the king of Wessex, especially in the newly made kingdom of England where king’s lives are short and bloody, and war with the Viking Raiders is never far away.

Lady, wife, queen, mother, king’s mother, grandmother, ally, enemy, amenable and rebellious.

Lost to the mists of time, this is Queen Eadgifu’s story, Kingmaker.”

Kingmaker is released on August 29th 2019 and will be available from Amazon as both an ebook and a paperback.

I am calling Kingmaker, Book 2 in a series of standalone, but interconnected novels I’ve written about The Tenth Century. The Lady of Mercia’s Daughter (Book 1 ) is already available from here and at the moment it is 99p/99c and equivalent in every Amazon territory


New Release Alert – The Queen Dowager by MJ Porter – historical fiction

It’s release day.

The Queen Dowager is available from today in both ebook and paperback.

Here’s the blurb.

“No woman had ever held so much power and lost it on the whim of her son, the king.

Six years of political ostracism has brought Lady Elfrida low. Desperate to be welcomed back to court, she risks all to make an ally of England’s Viking enemy.

Failure risks exile. Forever.”

I’ve really enjoyed writing this second to last book on Lady Elfrida. I truly hope that all my readers enjoy it as much as I have. And don’t forget the final book, Once A Queen will be released on 25th July 2019! Not long to wait.


Pre-order alert – The Queen Dowager and Once a Queen – historical fiction – the continuing story of Lady Elfrida

I did it! Yep, the preorder for The Queen Dowager is now LIVE on Amazon, in advance of release day which is 27th June 2019.


And, and, there is another surprise as well, for not only is The Queen Dowager ready for preorder, so too is the last book in the trilogy, and the last book on Lady Elfrida. Once a Queen will be released on 25th July 2019.


I will be sharing more information as the release date grows closer!


To be in with a chance to win one of three ebook copies of The Queen Dowager, just leave a comment below and I’ll randomly select 3 winners on 15th June 2019, and then make contact with the lucky three!

New Release Alert – The Queen Dowager by M J Porter (The King’s Mother Book II)

So, it’s been a while, but both The Queen Dowager, and Always A Queen, are near to being released. I decided to write both books together, one after another, and to ensure that this second trilogy about Lady Elfrida truly did justice to the intriguing woman I believe she was. (It’s also involved a major overhaul of the first two books in The Earls of Mercia series, which will also be available in paperback soon).

The cover for The King’s Mother has been ready for a while, but the cover for Always A Queen is still under construction.

But, aside from that, I thought I’d share a bit of the ‘blurb” for The Queen Dowager.

“No woman had ever held so much power and lost it on the whim of her son, the king. Six years of political ostracism has brought Lady Elfrida low. Desperate to be welcomed back to Court, she risks all to make an ally of England’s Viking enemy. Failure risks exile. Forever.”

I will share more details as soon as I have them!