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Biography Of Elfrida: Mother, Murderer And Wife

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Ælfthryth or more commonly known as Elfrida was the second wife of Edgar the peaceful the first king of a united England. This woman will be named the first crowned queen, murderess, mother and wife throughout history Elfrida, through her interesting life of lovers, proclaimed murder and tragic course in life, she still found a way to be forgotten. Although her unsolved murderer case, she will be forgotten in history; no more than a King’s wife. This story begins on March 18, 978 when King Edward of England ventured out to visit his stepmother and halfbrother in Corfe, Dorset. The people the King was visiting was Elfrida, a British noblewoman in Devon; who was royalty on her mother’s side but not born to be queen. In history there is no proper depiction of what she looked like, but Elfrida was said and known for her beauty. Her enchanting appearance was so well-known that she attracted the attention of Edgar the 12th King of England. He had heard of her beauty from England and sent his friend Ethelwold to visit and see if she was worthy of him. Ethelwold soon fell in love with her and told the king that she was ‘misshapen, dark and ugly.’ He then sought permission to wed her himself. Elfrida had now wed her first husband who was an ealdorman of East Anglia, who was the most powerful nobleman in England and nicknamed the half king. King Edgar had agreed to be the pairs godfather to their first son. But, as more and more reports of her beauty began to circle, Edgar became suspicious and ventured to see her himself. The only records of their first meeting was only written 100 years after, so it is impossible to accurately know what went on after the events they described. One record says that Ethelwold begged Elfrida to dress in her ugliest clothes, but she eluded his antics and dressed in all her finery. Soon Edgar and Elfrida fell in love and some records claim that King Edgar had murdered Ethelwold. Elfrida was now a widow in 962. Edgar had seen the opportunity to marry the pretty widow and divorced his wife to marry Elfrida. The age difference was scarce with Edgar being the youngest son of king Edmund and only being 2 years apart.

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By 956, when he was still a young teenager, Edgar began to take an important role at his elder brother (Edwy’s) court. He soon began to be seen as the figurehead of a monastic reform party, which was led by his grandmother the queen dowager Eadgifu, and Dunstan, abbot of Glastonbury. In 957 two former Anglo-Saxton kingdoms going by Mercia and Northumbria started to rebel claiming it was on Edgar’s behalf, claiming him as king. In the midst of all the political unrest, Edgar’s brother Eadwig died in 959 passing the throne down to Edgar as the sole heir, and king of England. Around this time Edgar took his first wife. She then bore him his eldest son in 960’s naming him Edward. She either died soon after or divorced. We do know that he had married a woman after named Wulfrida who gave birth to a girl, but she was rejected and sent to live at a nunnery in Wilton; where she remained as abbess for the rest of her life. This was 4-5 years before he left her to marry Elfrida. Wulfrida divorced Edgar quickly which only made room for Elfrida to marry Edgar. Some say that she was crowned after they got married, but she soon gave birth to Edmund (who died young) and Æthelred (pronounced meth- ul- red). Elfrida’s two sons were -by many- called the only ‘legitimate sons’ of the king. Elfrida, just as her sons, was called the ‘legitimate wife’ she also received a dower after her wedding, – including a number of estates – which was to support her if she was widowed and throughout her time as queen. Elfrida came from monastic associations and in her lifetime as queen she founded two herself. Another document, the Regularis Concordia, and was drafted by the bishop it set out the rules by which English monks and nuns were to live. Appointed, Elfrida as ‘the protectress and fearless guardian of the monasteries’ she was the first defined political role ever granted to a queen of England. This decision gave Elfrida power over all the nunneries in England. In 973 Edgar, now to be crowned for a second time in the ancient Romen town of Bath. The coronation event was consummated by the bishop Ethelwold who presumably also gave the queen’s coronation. This only emphasized the role as Edgar’s queen and now in a more bold light his ‘legitimate’ queen. Edgar was still young at the time of his second coronation and was expected to live for many years more. It was a definite shock when he was abuptly snached from the living life on the 8th of July 975. It was as he devastating lamented, “The entire realm was shaken.” as said by many.

The dead man had almost certainly intended for his son Æthelred to succeed him, but at the child was only seven. Elfrida and her supporters were against her and nearly a year after his dear father’s death Edward – 14 or 15 years old- took the throne. Elfrida took her only son and disappeared; their whereabouts unknown. The accident at Calne where the floor had collapsed, allowed the young king’s opponents to once again look to his half-brother, Æthelred, who was at the time still staying with his mother in her house at Corfe in Dorset. On the evening of March 18th 978, Edward arrived to visit her in Corfe with only a small escort. According to Byrhtferth of Ramsey’s Life Of St Oswald. When Edward arrived, the “nobles and consorts, who stayed with the queen” came out to meet him. They’d surrounded his horse and as the young king reached for a cup to drink from, one man pulled his right arm towards him, acting like he wished to offer the king a kiss of welcome. Another man then clutched his left arm roughly and then stabbing him. The young king’s foot was still caught in the stirrup and as his mount bolted, Edward was then dragged to his death along the road for a very long while. While being dragged his adrenaline would have increased and that would’ve multiplied ten-fold. Over the centuries the story evolved slowly signifying that the queen did something more at the scene, until she was in the courtyard herself. From ‘alluring him to her with her bewitching looks’ to giving him the cup herself, and then signaling her attendants/servants to stab him themselves. Still even now, one thousand forty-one years later it is still uncertain about how much guilt Elfrida felt. She most certainly didn’t carry out the deed, but may have ordered it to be done.

Now that Edward was out of the way the throne had only one sole heir left, Æthelred. The child was now made king at Kingston upon Thames on April 14th 979 by an averse bishop in Dustan. The 11-year old was showing himself well, apparently having a graceful appearance and being very well mannered. Even though he was making a good impression, he was still not ready to govern; having the effect of a prince, not a king. Even though there was no official authority in place, Elfrida and Ethelwold became the power behind the throne with a court full of their supporters. Elfrida retiring to her estates now calling herself the ‘king’s mother,’ no longer attend council meetings and didn’t reside at the palace. Keeping to herself in 984 to 993, the king showed his dissatisfaction towards his mother by confiscating her properties belonging to the monasteries during him and his father’s reign. By the 990’s Elfrida was aging fast while visiting court regularly in 993 to 999, sojourning going to council meetings in the company of her grandchildren. She also received grants of land from her son and continued to perform her authority over the nunneries. Elfrida retired to the nunnery at Wherwell around 999, spending her final years in religious seclusion.The most powerful woman of her time was almost buried under time. She died on November 17th, while the year remains unknown, we know it was between 1000 and 1002.

14 May 2021

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