Eadburh

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Eadburh
Spouse Beorhtric of Wessex
House Iclingas
Father Offa of Mercia
Mother Cynethryth

Eadburh (Old English: Ēadburh), also spelled Eadburg, (fl. 787–802) was the daughter of King Offa of Mercia and Queen Cynethryth. She was the wife of King Beorhtric of Wessex, and according to Asser's Life of Alfred the Great she accidentally killed her husband by poison. She fled to Francia, where she is said to have been offered the chance of marrying Charlemagne, but ruined the opportunity. Instead she was appointed as the abbess of a convent. Here she is said to have fornicated with an English exile. As a result, she was eventually expelled from the monastery and ended her days begging in the streets of Pavia.

Family[edit]

Eadburh was the daughter of King Offa and his Queen, Cynethryth. She was one of five children, four of them girls, they all witnessed a charter in 787.[1]

Queen[edit]

Eadburh married Beorhtric, king of Wessex from 787 to 802, in 789. Offa was then the most powerful king in England, and Beorhtric gained his support as a result of the marriage. According to Asser, Eadburh became all powerful, and often demanded the executions or exile of her enemies. She was also alleged to have assassinated those men whom she couldn't compel Beorhtric to kill through poisoning their food or drink. In 802, according to Asser, Eadburh attempted to poison a young favourite of the king but instead killed both of them. The young man may have been called Worr, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the death of both men shortly before the succession of Egbert, the grandfather of Alfred the Great, as king of Wessex.[2]

Exile[edit]

Eadburg subsequently fled to Francia and took refuge at the court of Charlemagne, where her husband's successor, Egbert of Wessex, had taken refuge after being exiled by Beorhtric. There Asser relates that Charlemagne was smitten by the former queen. He brought in one of his sons and asked her which she preferred, him or his son, as a husband. She answered that, given the son's youth, she preferred the son. Charlemagne replied famously: "Had you chosen me, you would have had both of us. But, since you chose him, you shall have neither." He instead offered her a position as an abbess of a convent which she accepted.

Soon, though, she was caught in a sexual affair with another Saxon man, and after being duly convicted was expelled, on the direct orders of Charlemagne, penniless, into the streets. In her last years she lived as a beggar on the streets of Pavia.

Aftermath and legacy[edit]

Two possibly authentic charters of 801 show Eadburh as regina (queen), a title which was rarely used for king's wives in Wessex in the ninth century. According to Asser this was because of the shame Eadburh had brought on the position. However, Offa and Beorhtric had driven Egbert into exile in the 780s, and the blackening of her name may also have been partly due to a desire to discredit Beorhtric.[2]

Asser also writes[3] that as a result of the aristocracy's resentment for Eadburh, the status and influence of the subsequent queens was diminished and they were titled not 'queen' but 'king's wife'; the queen was also prohibited from sitting beside the king on the throne. This changed again when Charles the Bald insisted that his daughter Judith, who married King Athelwulf, be properly crowned queen.

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Sawyer 1267, esawyer.org.uk, retrieved 2015-04-14 
  2. ^ a b Janet L. Nelson, Eadburh, Oxford Online Dictionary of National Biography, 2004
  3. ^ "Medieval Queenship | History Today". historytoday.com. Retrieved 2016-03-15. 

Further reading[edit]