Edgar Atheling: A Story Buried for 1000 Years

I started to write ‘The Lost King’ series of books some while ago.  In fact, to my surprise, I’ve have found a draft from as far back as December 2004.

So what made me spend so long writing about this man and his history?

It goes back way beyond 2004.  I’ve been fascinated by the Anglo Saxon period since childhood when I got a Ladybird Book about Alfred the Great.  I can picture it still.

Later on in life I read a book by Frank McLynn called ‘1066: The Year of Three Battles’ and was fascinated to find out more had taken place in that troubled year than merely the Battle of Hastings.

The more I delved into it the more I realised the extent to which the Norman Invasion transformed the whole of English society in a truly catastrophic manner.

In the course of my reading one name came up repeatedly but always marginally; that of Edgar Atheling, the grand-nephew of King Edward the Confessor.  Edgar was a footnote to history and I viewed him in much the same way.  Yet Atheling is a term which meant throne-worthy and was the equivalent of the French Dauphin or British Prince of Wales.  It meant that Edgar and not Harold Godwinson had been designated by King Edward as his heir.  And certainly not William, Duke of Normandy.

When I read Steven Runciman’s ‘History of the Crusades’ I found Edgar cropping up again, but this time not as a mere cipher but as a skilful leader who was making an impact in a terrible war.

I began to research a little more and found out a strange discrepancy between different accounts of the Atheling.  It soon became clear that his tale had been virtually erased from history.

I decided to write his story in the form of a novel.

What I found most remarkable is that although Edgar spent much of his life leading the resistance to William the Conqueror and his successors he was never punished in the way that other rebels were.

I wondered why.  Was it that they feared to do him harm, that they felt guilty because he was the legitimate king, that he was very lucky or very intelligent?  In the end I have come to believe that all these factors help explain the inexplicable.

So successfully did the Normans erase mention of Edgar that there is still, a thousand years later, very little information about him.

There an article called The Last Æþeling by Betty Hale, a short biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, short references to him in textbooks and a few entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  And not a lot more.

He is a gift for a novelist.  A person who spent the whole of his life in the eye of the storm but with only the barest facts recorded about him.  What great opportunities this offers.  It was even better when I came to realise the astonishingly eventful life he led.

I hesitated a long time whether to write the novel as a third person or first person narrative.  It soon became clear to me that Edgar’s voice which has been so long forgotten would be one well much worth listening to.

I have written two novels in the series and am part way through the third.

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About Martin Lake

Martin Lake lives in the French Riviera with his wife. After studying at the University of East Anglia he worked as a teacher, trainer and company director. A serious accident shattered his arm and meant that he had to rein back his work. He decided to concentrate on writing and is now writing full-time. He writes a wide range of fiction. His main interests are historical fiction, short stories and fiction for young adults. Martin has a series of novels 'The Lost King' which are set in the years following the Norman Invasion of England. They concern Edgar Atheling, last representative of the ancient English royal dynasty and his fight to regain the throne from William the Conqueror. Martin has also published 'Artful' the further adventures of the Dodger and 'Outcasts' a novel about fall of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. His latest novel, 'A Love Most Dangerous' is about a maid of honour who becomes the lover of Henry VIII. Martin’s work has been broadcast on radio. He won first prize in the Kenneth Grahame Society competition to write a story based on 'The Wind in the Willows.' You can get the collection, 'The Wind in the Willows Short Stories' from Amazon.
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4 Responses to Edgar Atheling: A Story Buried for 1000 Years

  1. johncoyote says:

    I will come back to this. I love history. Great story is hidden for the wise to find. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Hi Martin. I too find this period of history fascinating. For a number of years I was a member of Conquest, a Norman-period reenactment society. We would visit castles across England and demonstrate to the public how people would have lived back then, as well as have mock battles to show how they would dress and fight in battle.
    It’s interesting that you say so little is known about Edgar; I’ve just started reading Philippa Gregory’s factual book on the women of the cousin’s war, in the period of the War of the Roses. What’s striking is that with the women detailed in the book, so little is known of them. Being women it’s as though they’ve been written out of history. But it does give the author a lot of scope for creating a story woven around the few facts there are.
    All the best with your writing. I hope to read more of your work soon.

  3. Pingback: 1066 and the End of a World. | martinlakewriting

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