Edmund II Ironside
Edmund II Ironside
King of Wessex
Reign 23rd April 1016 - 4th February, 1031
Predecessor Aethelred II
Successor Edward III
Born c. 989
Died 4th February, 1031
Spouse Ealdgyth
Issue Edward III


House Wessex
Father Aethelred II
Mother Aelgifu of Jorvik

Edmund II Ironside was the last king of a united England, his tenacity on the battlefield is widely praised by Wessex scholars in preventing a full Danish takeover of England.

He was born around 989, the third son of Aethelred II. Growing up during the era of Danish invasions much of Edmund's early life, and indeed first years of his reign, would be defined by the actions, good or bad, of his father. The policy of buying peace through Danegeld prevented the full military failure of England but kept it taxed to the hilt. This would often result in revolts amongst the nobility. Even Edmund himself took arms against his father in 1015 following his unapproved marriage to Ealdgyth. However they were reconciled and Edmund would use his marital connections to raise armies from Mercia, where his father's writ barely extended any more.

After defeat at the hands of Sweyn Forkbeard Edmund was briefly exiled to Normandy but Sweyn's own death in 1014 brought the family back to power. With Aethelred's health waning Edmund increasingly took power and would succeed in April 1016.

This was overshadowed by the invasion of Cnut. Cnut was already in control of Northumbria by the coronation and the two generals clashed repeatedly over the course of the year culminating in the Battle of Assandun on 18th October at which the Danes were victorious. After another battle in the Forest of Dean, Edmund negotiated peace with Cnut, dividing England between themselves. Cnut would take the old Danelaw, right down to and including London, alongside Jorvik and Northumbria while Edmund would take Wessex. On the event of either of their deaths then the other would take their share.

Falling back to Malmesbury, it appears Edmund immediately began planning for another war against Cnut. In this he was assisted by a great number of nobles preferring to lose their lands rather than submit to Cnut's rule (and the huge taxes he had demanded). This also probably helped foil an assassination plot in November of that year. Despite being widely respected, and already nicknamed 'Ironside' for his indefatigability, Edmund was unable to raise the funds needed to fight Cnut. The level to which Aethelred had already stripped Wessex of wealth prevented him from doing the same and he was persuaded, eventually, to leave a year or two before recommencing with taxes, not only to give the lords a breather but also to reward their loyalty.

An exchange in hostages lessened the tension however and the virtual cessation of viking raids improved Wessex's position. The kings would meet again in 1018 when Cnut renounced his claim to Wessex on Edmund's death to enable him to invade Denmark. Once Edmund was able to recommence taxes he did not look eastwards, but looked North towards Man and Dublin instead. After rebuilding the fleet to see off a resurgence of viking activity on the Manx Sea he launched attacks on Dublin eventually landing himself in 1028. The invasion failed and he was lucky to escape with his life after the disaster at Aughrim. He would return to find his brother Eadwig in open revolt and Wessex in turmoil. The struggle to contain the lords would take the remainder of his life and sapped much of the momentum of his reign.

He died in 1031 and was succeeded by his son Edward. Cnut would visit his tomb in 1032 (only a month before his own death) praising his old rival.

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.