Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Coronation of King Edgar 973

May 11th 973 was Pentecost Sunday and the day chosen for the coronation - or perhaps or probably - re- coronation of King Edgar at Bath abbey. Today is therefore the 1040th anniversary of that event.


King Edgar
This illumination from 966 shows him already crowned, seven years before the ceremony of 973


The life of the King by Ann Williams from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography can be read here. He may not have been the most physically impressive of monarchs - William of Malmesbury (c.1080-1143) described his as being " extremely small both in stature and bulk..."  in his Gesta Regum Anglorum - but he was an extremely successful ruler, and his coronation at Bath proved to be the precedent for all subsequent such ceremonies. Thus the coronation of the present Queen 980 years later in 1953, followed the lines laid down for her ancestor.

It was not the first coronation of an English king - Mercian and West Saxon rulers had been crowned before him, but the ceremony at Bath appears to have been conceived to emphasise the divinely sanctioned royal authority of king as not hitherto. It may have originate d in a reworking of the idea of a ceremonial crown wearing, as was certainly the later practice of Anglo-Norman kings at Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, and elevated to a new, amplified  rite of coronation.
King Edgar may had been consecrated first time upon his accession in Mercia c. 957 or in Wessex c. 959, but there is no contemporary source to verify it. A doubtful evidence is given in the work of Ralph of Diceto, who recorded two consecrations of Eadgar. According to Ralph, the allegedly first consecration was performed by Archbishop Oda at Canterbury:
Edgarus rex Anglorum Dunstanus abbas ab eo revocatus, ecclesiae Wigonensis electus antistes, consecratus est ab Odone Cantuariensi archiepiscopo apud Cantuariam.
If Ralph recorded a true historical fact, it could not have happened later than in 961, when Archbishop Oda died, but the validity of this claim is hard to prove. On the contrary, the consecration of Eadgar at Bath in 973 is well documented in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which includes a poetic account of this solemn ceremony held on Pentecost day (11 May 973). Further details are found in John of Worcester's entry for 973:
Edgar the Pacific, king of England, received the benediction of the bishops SS. Dunstan and Oswald, and all the other bishops of England; and was crowned and anointed as king with great pomp and ceremony at the city of Acamann [Bath?] ... on the fifth of the ides of May, being Whitsunday.
Ralph of Diceto recorded that this consecration was performed by two archbishops, Dunstan of Canterbury and Oswald of York:

Eadgarus rex Anglorum ab archiepiscopis Dunstano Dorobernensi et Oswaldo Eboracensi consecratus est in regem in civitate Acheman, qui duos filios Eadmundum et Egelredum ex Ælfritha Ordgari ducis filia suscepit.

The choice of Bath for this great occasion seems likely to have been dictated by several factors. As the largest town in Somerset it was at the heaert of both the West Saxon dynasty's patrimony, and close to Dunstan's base at Glastonbury abbey. Bath was a Roman settlement in origin, and Anglo-Saxon kings often liked to emphasie ther inhertance from the Roman empire. Like Aachen, coronation place and administrative centre for Charlemagne and his successors, Bath had thermal springs which had been a Roman spa, and continued to be used for healing. The symbolism of baptism and regeneration, of healing and life giving waters would be appreciated by those attending.

The choice of Pentecost also emphasied the King's sacrality, marked out to rule on the great feast of the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. The King and Archbishop stressed this further by holding the coronation when the King was  29, or, more signifiantly, in his 30th year - 30 being the minimum age for episcopal consecration.

Following the coronation the King travelled to Chester, where he was ceremonially rowed along the river Dee from the city to the church of St John the Baptist by six or, according to later writers, eight tributary kings. This symbolised King Edgar's ascendancy as head of the the rulers of Britain. In later centuries it was recalled, notably in the Stuart era, where the scene was depicted on King Charles I's great ship Sovereign of the Seas - and one of the shortlived sons of the future King James II was named Edgar in honour of the Anglo-Saxon monarch.

Something of the politico-religious ethos and culture of the reign can be seen in this complete view of Winchester New Minster charter of 966 - one of the great surviving treasures of the period - showing the King, flanked by saints, offering his charter for the abbey to Christ in Majesty:

New Minster charter of 966
 BL Cottonian MS  Vespasian A viii

Image: Wikipedia

A similar idea of the royal state kept by the King and his archbishop can also be seen here:

King Edgar and St Dunstan

King Edgar and St Dunstan from the Canterbury Regularis Concordia 


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