England: Anglo-Saxon Consecrations: 871-1066

Royal Consecrations in Anglo-Saxon England

Royal consecrations were an essential part of ceremonies, which followed the accession of Anglo-Saxon kings in 10th and 11th centuries. Most 10th-century consecrations took place at Kingston-upon-Thames and were usually performed by either archbishop of Canterbury or archbishop of York. When the Danish conquest was completed in early 11th century, Kingston ceased to be the place of consecrations, which were performed in various places until the coronation of William the Conqueror (25 Dec 1066) laid foundation to a new tradition of coronations at Westminster Abbey. Contemporary sources are quite scarce to build up a reliable list of consecrations including its dates and sites. The principal source for most consecrations of the 10th century is the manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but it is practically worthless for the period of Danish dominance in England (1013-1042). The 12th- and 13th-century chroniclers, whose works were based on earlier sources not available to us now, tell us more about this period, but it should not be taken for granted.

The following paragraphs include the basic information on the Anglo-Saxon consecrations with references to primary and secondary sources. Wherever it was possible, the earliest sources are cited, but in some cases the date and site of a consecration might be presumed only from the evidence of indirect references in later works.

Ælfred

Ceremonial of consecration was known to rulers of the English long before the accession of Ælfred (871). In the first recorded consecration in England, Ecgfrith, son of the Mercian king Offa, was consecrated in Offa's lifetime (785) in an attempt to secure the succession. Another consecration was recorded in 795, when king of Northumbria Eardwulf was consecrated at York. The nature of these ceremonies remain obscure and its continuity throughout the generations of rulers cannot be definitely traced in contemporary sources.

There is no clear indication that Ælfred was consecrated in England. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (MS 'A') has an account of the infant Ælfred visiting Rome and being consecrated as king by Pope Leo IV (853), but the fact of such consecration could hardly be considered historical. The story is repeated in "Vita S. Eduardi Confessoris", written in 12th-century:

... the much renowned and most pious King Alfred, the one whom Pope Saint Leo, in Rome itself, consecrated and anointed as king over all the kings of England... [1, p. 20]

Currently, the fact of Ælfred's consecration cannot be proved, but it is possible that it was performed some time after his accession as king of Wessex.

Eadweard (the Elder)

The date of Eadweard's consecration might be calculated from the assertion in the Chronicle of Fabius Æthelweard, who recorded that it took place on the Whitsunday following King Ælfred's death. As it was conclusively proved that King Ælfred died on 26 Oct 899 (and not 26 Oct 900 or 26 Oct 901) [2], the following Whitsunday (Pentecost) falls on 8 Jun 900. Additional details are found in the "Abbreviationes Chronicorum", written by the Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, Ralph of Diceto, in the late 12th century. He wrote that Eadweard was consecrated at Kingston-upon-Thames by the archbishop of Canterbury, Plegmund:

Edwardus rex Anglorum est consecratus in regem a Pleemundo Dornobernensi archiepiscopo apud Kingestune.

Contemporary sources do not point at Kingston as the site of consecration and the validity of Ralph's assertion remains uncertain.

Æthelstan

Three versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (MS 'B', 'C', 'D') undoubtedly prove that Æthelstan was consecrated at Kingston-upon-Thames. The evidence for choosing 925 as the correct year with a precise date (September 4) comes from Æthelstan's charter copied into the Red Book of St. Augustine's, Canterbury (Sawyer 394):

Anno ab incarnatione Domini .dccccxxv., indictione .xiii., primo anno regni regis Adalstani, die consecrationis eius, pridie nonas Septembris, rex Saxonum et Anglorum Adalstan terram quatuordecim aratrorum dedit sancto Augustino ...

Ralph of Diceto states that Æthelstan was consecrated by Athelm, Archbishop of Canterbury (died 8 Jan 926), at Kingston:

Edelstanus filius Edwardi regnavit annis xvi, consecratus est Athelmo Doroberniae archiepiscopo apud Kingestune.

Further reference is found in the chronicle of William Thorn ("Chronica Gulielmi Thorne"), an Augustinian monk, who lived on the verge of 14th and 15th century. He wrote that the coronation of Æthelstan took place "in crastino ordinationis S. Gregorii [i.e. 4 September] 925".

Eadmund

The date of Eadmund's consecration might be approximately calculated from the Wessex regnal lists. The third edition of the "Handbook of British Chronology" dates his consecration to 28 Nov 939 with a question mark. "The Blackwell Encyclopædia of Anglo-Saxon England" says he was "consecrated king, probably at Kingston-upon-Thames, c. 29 Nov. 939."

The reference to Eadmund's consecration in the work of Ralph de Diceto traditionally places the event as having occurred at Kingston, but contains an obvious error since the archbishop of Canterbury Oda succeeded his predecessor, Wulfhelm (died 12 Feb 941), only in 942:

Eadmundus rex Anglorum consecratus est Odone Dorobernensi archiepiscopo apud Kingestune. [3]
Eadred

A contemporary charter to Wulfric (Sawyer 520), issued in 946, provides us with a clue pointing at Kingston as the place of Eadred's consecration:

... qui denique rex in villa quæ dicitur regis . Cynges tun . ubi 7 consecratio peracta est . plura plurimis perenniter condonavit charismata [4]

The date of the consecration (16 Aug 946) is found in a major source of the 12th century, "Chronicon ex chronicis", long known and cited as the "Chronicle of Florence of Worcester" and now known under the name of "Chronicle of John of Worcester". In the entry for 946, the chronicler recorded:

Edred, his brother and next heir, immediately succeeded him in due course, and was crowned at Kingston by St. Odo, archbishop of Canterbury, on Sunday, the seventeenth of the calends of September. [5]

These facts are also echoed in the chronicle of Ralph of Diceto:

Eadredus frater Athelstani consecratus est ab Odone Dorobernensi archiepiscopo apud Kingestune.
Eadwig

Uncertainty of Eadmund's consecration is repeated in case of Eadwig. The date of his consecration might be approximately calculated on presumption that the Wessex regnal list counted the reign of Eadwig from the consecration day. Eadwig died on 1 Oct 959 and a version of the West Saxon regnal list gives him a reign of three years and 36 weeks less two days, i.e. three years and 250 days. If 1 Oct 959 is taken as the last day of Eadwig's reign, it would put his consecration on 25 Jan 956.

Therefore, the "Handbook of British Chronology" dates Eadwig's consecration to 25 Jan 956 with a question mark. "The Blackwell Encyclopædia of Anglo-Saxon England" believes that he was "consecrated king, probably at Kingston-upon-Thames, c. 26 Jan. 956".

John of Worcester, who might have had an access to earlier sources, places the consecration of Eadwig by archbishop of Canterbury Oda at Kingston-upon-Thames. Translation of the entry for 955 in the Chronicle of John of Worcester reads:

Edwy, the etheling, his nephew, as being son of king Edward by St. Elfgiva, his queen, succeeded him in his sole and imperial government, and was crowned the same year at Kingston by Odo, archbishop of Canterbury. [5]
Eadgar

King Eadgar 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. [5]

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.
Eadweard (the Martyr)

There is only a presumption that Eadweard the Martyr was consecrated soon after his accession in July 975 as contemporary evidence does not exist.

John of Worcester's entry for 975 in the "Chronicon ex chronicis" reads:

King Edgar the Pacific, ... , departed this life on Thursday the eighth of the ides of July [8 July 975], ... ; leaving his son Edward heir to his crown and virtues. ... At his death the whole kingdom fell into a state of disturbance ... While these events were occurring, there was a great dispute among the nobles respecting the election of a king; for some chose the king's son Edward, and others his brother Ethelred. In consequence of this, the archbishops Dunstan and Oswald, with their suffragans, and many abbots and ealdormen, met in a body and chose Edward, as his father had directed; and after his election the new king was crowned and anointed. [5]

Gervase of Canterbury and Ralph of Diceto agree on placing the consecration at Kingston-upon-Thames, but they vary in details. Ralph of Diceto asserts that the consecration was performed by two archbishops, Dunstan of Canterbury and Oswald of York:

Edwardus regis Eadgari filius consecratus est a Dunstano Dorobernensi et Oswaldo Eboracensi archiepiscopis apud Kingestune.

Gervase recorded that Eadweard was consecrated "against the will of the magnates of England" by St. Dunstan:

Edwardus filius ejus, quem contra voluntatem optimatum Angliae Sanctus Dunstanus coronavit apud Kingestune.
Æthelred (Unræd)

What positively known about the day and place of consecration of Æthelred is that it took place "on the Sunday fortnight after Easter, at Kingston" as evident from the entry for 979 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (MS 'C'). However, MS 'C' mentions the coronation both under 978 and 979:

978. Here in this year was King Edward martyred. The etheling Ethelred his brother began to reign, and he was in the same year consecrated king.
979. In this year was Ethelred consecrated king on the Sunday fortnight after Easter, at Kingston.

Simon Keynes in "The Diplomas of Æthelred 'the Unready' 978-1016" wrote: "The annal for 978 in MS 'C' implies that Æthelred was crowned in the same year as Edward was murdered, contradicting the annal for 979; annals from different sources may have been conflated, and the author of the 978 entry may simply have believed that Æthelred's coronation was a natural corollary of his accession."

The issue becomes even more complicated as MS 'D' and MS 'E' place Æthelred's coronation in 979, while MS 'F' places the accession and coronation in successive years. Therefore, "the Sunday fortnight after Easter" may have fallen on 14 Apr 978 and 4 May 979. Keynes, who carefully researched the contemporary documents of Æthelred's reign, came to conclusion that Æthelred's consecration took place on 4 May 979:

The dates of Æthelred's accession and coronation have been the subject of much confusion in pre-Conquest sources and amongst modern authorities alike, but the regnal years appear to settle the issue. [6, p. 233, footnote 7]

The only relevant charter of Æthelred (Sawyer 835), which claims to be the first issued in his reign, also suggests that he was consecrated in 979:

... praesertim cum hoc rus primum sit quod post nostram regalem dedicationem domino nostro Iesu Christo quasi donorum primitias largitus sim; ... Anno dominicae incarnationis .DCCCC.LXXIX. scripta est haec carta, his testibus consentientibus quorum nomina inferius caraxantur.
Eadmund (Ironside)

The facts about Eadmund's consecration are known from the works of Ralph of Diceto [7] and Gervase of Canterbury, while the chronicles of John of Worcester and William of Malmesbury omit this event. Ralph of Diceto wrote that Eadmund was consecrated by Lyfing, Archbishop of Canterbury at London:

Cujus [sc. Egelredi] post mortem episcopi, abbates, quique nobiliores Angliae Canutum in rege elegere. At cives Lundonienses et pars nobilium qui tunc erant Lundoniae Eadmundum Ferreum Latus dictum, regis Ægelredi filium, regem levavere. Consecratus autem est a Livingo Doroberniae arichiepiscopo apud Lundoniam.

Cf. Gervase of Canterbury:

Eadmundum Ireneside quem sacravit Livingus Cantuariae archiepiscopus apud Lundonias.
Cnut

A major source on the reign of Cnut, "Encomium Emmae Reginae", written at the order of his widow, Emma (Ælfgifu), does not even mention any fact pointing at Cnut's consecration. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is also silent about this event. Therefore, the validity of Cnut's consecration remains doubtful. Only Ralph of Diceto and Gervase of Canterbury provide an account of his consecration at London by Archbishop Lyfing of Canterbury:

Ralph of Diceto (entry for 1017):

Canutus totius Angliae suscepit imperium. Consecratus est autem a Livingo Doroberniae archiepiscopo apud Lundoniam, ...

Gervase of Canterbury:

Rex autem Cnuto regnum adeptus coronatus est a Livingo Cantuariensi archiepiscopo apud Lundonias.

In "The Blackwell Encyclopædia of Anglo-Saxon England", under CORONATIONS, it is noted: "There is reason to believe that ... Cnut and his sons Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut were not anointed, but crowned and enthroned in secular ceremonies."

Harold (Harefoot)

The entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle following the death of Cnut do not include any facts of Harold's consecration, but the Chronicle gives him a reign of four year and 16 weeks that points at a date c. 25 Nov 1035. The story that Æthelnoth, archbishop of Canterbury, refused to crown Harold, appearing in "Encomium Emmae Reginae" (iii, 1), could be given a little credit, though it is also possible that the coronation might have been carried out by northern bishops.

On the contrary, Gervase of Canterbury asserted that it was Æthelnoth, who crowned Harold in London:

Cnutoni successit in regnum Haroldus filius ejus, et coronatus est ab Egilnotho Cantuariae archiepiscopo apud Lundonias.

There is no mention of this coronation either in the works of John of Worcester or Ralph of Diceto. However, the editor of "Encomium Emmae Reginae", Alistair Campbell, does allow in a footnote that Harold was probably crowned after his election as king in 1037.

Harthacnut

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Harthacnut disembarked near Sandwich on 17 Jun 1040, "seven nights before midsummer". The Chronicle itself does not say that Harthacnut was crowned, but it mentions that he was king "two years wanting ten nights", i.e. from 18 Jun 1040, though it cannot be accepted as the coronation date.

In the entry for 1040 John of Worcester wrote:

After his [Harold's] funeral, the nobles of almost the whole of England sent envoys to Hardicanute ... and ... invited him to come to England and ascend the throne. Thereupon, ..., [Hardicanute] before midsummer sailed over to England, where he was received with universal joy, and shortly afterwards crowned; ... [5]

While there is no hint in John's chronicle as to where the coronation was performed, both Ralph of Diceto and Gervase of Canterbury names London as the place and Archbishop Æthelnoth as the person, who crowned Harthacnut, which is obviously in error as Æthelnoth died 1 Nov 1038:

Ralph of Diceto:

[Hardecanutus] consecratus est autem ab Ethelnotho Doroberniae archiepiscopo apud Lundoniam.

Gervase of Canterbury:

Hardecanut Cnutonis alter filius successit in regnum, et sacratus est apud Lundonias ab Egelnotho Cantuariensi archiepiscopo.
Eadweard (the Confessor)

The consecration of Eadweard the Confessor took place several months after his accession "on the first day of Easter" (3 Apr 1043) at Winchester. It is mentioned in MS 'C' and 'E' of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Harold (Godwinesson)

The date of Harold's coronation is present only in MS 'E' of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which says that he "was crowned as king on Twelfth-day [after Christmas, i.e. 6 Jan 1066]", but contemporary sources do not name explicitly the place of coronation. The indication that the burial of his predecessor, Eadweard the Confessor, at Westminster Abbey was directly followed by coronation allows to conclude that it was performed in the same church. "If Harold's coronation had occurred in St Paul's instead, this would have meant a rather complex transfer of people from Westminster to St Paul's, which in addition to the two services seems a lot to cram into one short winter day. There would also be a natural desire on Harold's part to associate his kingship with that of his predecessor, as William would also do later that year." [8]

The consecration was performed either by Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, as pointed out in the Norman sources, or by Ealdred, Archbishop of York, as confirmed by the English chroniclers. Ian W. Walker in "Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King" conjectured that the "roots of the confusion lie in the Norman requirement after the Conquest to undermine Harold's legitimate reign and present it as an usurpation. The association of Harold's kingship with 'unholy' consecration by Stigand, a man who had gained his archbishopric uncanonically and who held no valid pallium, was part of this process." [9]


[1] "The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor" by Ælred, transl. by Fr. Jerome Bertram (Saint Augustine's Press, 1999).
[2] See "The Regnal Dates of Alfred, Edward the Elder, and Athelstan," by Murray L. R. Beaven in ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW, 32 (1917): 517-531; "The Date of King Alfred's Death", by W.H. Stevenson, in ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW, 13 (1898): 71-77.
[3] Editor's footnote in "Radulfi de Diceto Decani Lundoniensis Opera Historica...": "The fixing of the place of coronation is probably due to Ralph de Diceto himself. Cf. Flor. Wig. 940. Odo did not succeed to the archbishopric until A.D. 942."
[4] "And then he, the king, constantly presented many gifts to many, in the king's residence which is called Kingston, where also the consecration was performed" [15, pp. 551-552].
[5] "The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester, with the Two Continuations", translated, with comments, by Thomas Forester (Bohn, London 1857).
[6] "The Diplomas of Æthelred 'the Unready' 978-1016: A Study in Their Use as Historical Evidence", by Simon Keynes (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1980).
[7] Editor's footnote in "Radulfi de Diceto Decani Lundoniensis Opera Historica...": "... the mention of the coronation of Edmund Ironside being an addition from some other source, or probably an inference of our author's own."
[8] "Edward the Confessor", by Frank Barlow (1984 reprint of 1970 edition, Univ. of California Press, Berkeley 1984).
[9] "Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King", by Ian W. Walker (Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton, 1997).
[10] "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle," ed. and trans. by G.N. Garmonsway (Everyman Press, London, 1953, reissued 1972, 1994).
[11] "Anglo-Saxon Charters: An Annotated List and Bibliography", by P. H. Sawyer (London, Royal Historical Society, 1968).
[12] "Abbreviationes Chronicorum", in "Radulfi de Diceto Decani Lundoniensis Opera Historica, or The Historical Works of Master Ralph of Diceto, Dean of London", edited by William Stubbs (London, various publishers, 1876), vol. I, pp. 3-263.
[13] "Gervasii Gesta Regum", in "Gervasii Cantuariensis Opera Historica, or The Historical Works of Gervase [the Monk] of Canterbury", edited by William Stubbs (London, various publishers, 1880), vol. II, pp. 3-106.
[14] "Encomium Emmae Reginae", edited by Alistair Campbell (Royal Historical Society, London 1949.
[15] "English Historical Documents", ed. by Dorothy Whitelock, Vol. I, c. 500-1042 (Eyre & Spottiswood, London, 1955).
[16] Anglo-Saxons.net: Charters (web site).
[17] Handbook of British Chronology (1986)
[18] "The Blackwell Encyclopædia of Anglo-Saxon England", ed. by Michael Lapidge (Oxford, Blackwell, 1999).
[19] A. Jones, 'The Significance of the Regal Consecration of Edgar in 973', Journal of Ecclesiastical History 33 (1982), pp. 375-390.
[20] E.W. Robertson, 'Chapters of English History before the Conquest', in his "Historical Essays in Connexion with the Land, the Church, etc." (1872), pp. 166-215: includes 'The Coronation of Edgar', pp. 203-215.
Last updated on: 14 Mar 2010 03:55:38