Edmund Ironside’s Unlovely End
The 30th of November 1016 AD
Our history has plenty of rather horrible high-profile deaths: William Wallace hanged, drawn and quartered like Dafydd ap Gruffydd before him; Edmund King of the Saxons vilely treated by the Vikings in 869; the Archbishop of Canterbury pelted with ox-bones by the same people in 1012 . But perhaps only the ignominious end of Edward II in Berkeley Castle in 1327 matches one version of Edmund Ironside’s demise.
Edmund Ironside , son of Aethelred the Unready , had fought steadfastly against the seemingly inexorable advance of the Danes. He lost the Battle of Ashingdon in October 1016, but the victor Canute decided that such it would be sensible to come to an agreement with Edmund. The two leaders are supposed to have met either on an island in the Severn , or on fishing boats, somewhere near Deerhurst. Canute took Mercia and Northumbria, Edmund Wessex, the pair also agreeing that whoever survived the other should become King of all England.
Suspiciously soon after the accord Edmund died. It is not clear if Canute conspired in his death, but he obviously gained by it. The treacherous Edric, whose abandonment of the field at Ashingdon facilitated Canute’s victory, is credited if that be the right word with arranging Edmund’s death.
When Edmund went to the privy (it is unclear where – probably London or Oxford) it is said either that Edric’s son was hidden in the pit beneath the royal seat, and stabbed upwards twice into Ironside’s bowels; or that two of Edmund’s servants had been corrupted by Edric and they did the dirty (very dirty) deed with an iron hook. A third suggestion is that a crossbow or some similar device was used, its bolt deep in his body evading discovery (in which case how is the story known?). Alternatively he may have simply died a natural death (even discounting the fact that in such times being murdered was perfectly natural for a King).
A year later, during the Christmas feasting at Canute’s court, Edric himself was killed on Canute’s orders; the Danish monarch conveniently angered to learn from Edric about the latter’s part in Edmund’s death.
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