Kings in early medieval England before the Norman conquest of 1066 came from Wessex. This was true throughout the 9th and 10th centuries.
In the beginning of the 11th century, Danish kings seized the reigns of power. From 1013 to 1042, Kingship remained in Danish hands but returned to House of Wessex from 1042 to 1066. In 1066, England came under Norman rule.
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King Alfred the Great was King of Wessex who rose to prominence when he vigorously defended England against the fierce Viking attacks during the 9th century. He became the most dominant ruler in England during his lifetime and also assumed the title of “King of the Anglo-Saxons”, the first to have used that title. He remained the King from 871 to 899.
Medieval King Alfred The Great Alfred was the king of Wessex in the South of England a great warrior and leader of men
King Edward the Elder (899 to 924)
King Edward the Elder was the son of Alfred the Great and was the King of England from 899 to 924. He also adopted the title of “King of Anglo-Saxons” which had been coined by his father. Edward captured East Anglia and eastern Midlands in the year 917. These areas were previously under Danish control. Nearly all England, with the exception of Northumbria, was under his rule.
King Athelstan (824 to 939)
King Athelstan was the son of Edward the Elder from his first wife and was considered as one of the first Kings of England, appropriately having assumed the title “King of the English”. In 927, he occupied York which was the last English area under Vikings and later invaded Scotland in 934. Scots and Vikings attacked England in response but Athelstan defeated them. He was the first person to have ruled the whole of England.
King Edmund I (939 to 946)
King Edmund I succeeded Athlestan and reigned from 939 to 946. During his reign, Vikings regained Northumbria and Midlands which Edmund recovered in 942. Under his reign, the kingdom of Scotland was accepted and England established peaceful borders with it. He was also active in having Louis IV restored to French throne.
King Eadred (946 to 955)
King Eadred reigned from 946 to 955 with the title of “King of the English”. During his reign, there was trouble in Northumbria where former King of Norway, Eric Bloodaxe, assumed kingship. Eadred mounted an offensive on Northumbria and was able to oust Eric. He died of a digestive illness.
Medieval King Edgar was also known as Edgar the Peaceful
King Edgar I (959 to 975)
King Edgar I assumed kingship of England in 959 and remained King until 975. His reign is considered pivotal in unifying England and was thoroughly peaceful. Most other Britain kings proclaimed allegiance to him and he laid down the foundations of the British tradition of coronation of the King and the Queen, having been anointed and crowned at Bath.
Edward The Martyr (975 to 978)
Edward The Martyr, a son of Edgar I, reigned from 975 to 978 when he was murdered. His reign was fraught with civil unrest between the nobles and his leadership right was contested. He was primarily supported by clerics but nobles disputed his Kingship. During his reign, nobles started taking away the powers to the Benedictine monasteries granted by Edgar I.
Image illustration of the early medieval king Æthelredthe Unready
King Æthelred the Unready (978 to 1015)
King Æthelred was the younger son of Edgar I and half-brother to Edward The Martyr. When he assumed reign in 978, England was in political turmoil and the populace looked at his Kingship with suspicion, since Edward was killed in his house. Danish raids on England began in 980 and intermittent peace was bought by tribute at some times and through war at others.
Finally, the King of Denmark Sweyn Forkbeard invaded England in 1013 and forced Æthelred to exile in Normandy. But before assuming Kingship he died. His son Cnut the Great succeeded him but Æthelred was brought back from exile and he launched an expedition against Danish allies. Cnut left with his army and returned in 1015. Æthelred and his son Edmund tried to defend London but failed and Cnut finally became the King of England in 1016.
King Cnut the Great (1016 to 1035)
With King Cnut, England came under Danish rule. Cnut remained the King of England from 1016 to 1035. At the same time, he was also the King of Denmark, Norway and a portion of Sweden. Under him, England came to be unified with Scandinavia and he helped establish closer cultural and economic ties between Denmark and England. He is considered among the most effective pre-Norman kings of England. His reign was marked with many battles which he waged with success while at the same time, managing the countries under him with astute statesmanship. In 1027, he was invited to Rome to witness the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor.
Harold Harefoot (1035 t0 1040)
Upon Cnut’s death, his younger son Harold Harefoot acceded to the throne and held it from 1035 to 1040. His accession was marked with trouble, with Harold’s half-brother Harthacnut originally meant to accede to the throne. Harthacnut was stuck in Denmark trying to ward off threats to the kingdom, so Harold was instated regent and England was initially divided into two parts, one ruled by Harold and the other by Harthacnut’s mother Emma of Normandy. In 1036, Emma’s sons Ælfred and Edward came from Duchy of Normandy to England. Edmund went back after a quick attack while Ælfred was caught and died soon after. By 1037, Harold had effectively control of all England and became King. His successful ascension and subsequent support in favour of him showed that he was able to win the Anglo-Danish nobility to his side.
King Harthacnut (1040 t0 1042)
On Harold’s death, Harthacnut became the King of England and kept the position from 1040 to 1042. He was already the King of Denmark from 1035 and from 1940 to 1942, he was the King of both countries. During his reign, he took to harsh measures and autocratic style of ruling which aroused the anger of nobility and population alike. He imposed many taxes and had many of his enemies killed. He died in 1942 at a wedding ceremony while drinking alcohol.
This Church stained glass window shows an image of Early Medieval King Edward the Confessor
Edward The Confessor (1042 to 1066)
Edward the Confessor, of the House Wessex was a son of Æthelred and Emma of Normandy. He reigned from 1042 to 1066 and was the last king of the Anglo-Saxons in England. He acceded to power with one of the most powerful earls of England, Godwin, but later ran into conflict with him. Godwin was forced to flee for some time but returned with an army and Edward had to restore him to his earldom. Upon his death, he left unclear instructions regarding his heir. William The Conqueror of Normandy claimed Kingship and invaded England and thus began the Norman period of England.
Early Medieval Kings summary
Medieval kings in England began with the House of Wessex who ruled until the 11th century unabated. In early 11th century, Cnut of Denmark was able to seize Kingship of England and Denmark, England and Norway, thus uniting England with Scandinavia. Later in the 11th century, House of Wessex returned to throne with Edward The Confessor. He was to be to the last King of the Anglo-Saxons before the Norman invasion in 1066.