King of the English, eldest son of Edmund and St. Aelfgifu, born about 940; died 959. Though but fifteen years old at the death of his uncle Edred, he was unanimously chosen king, and was crowned at Kingston in January, 956. Too young, almost, to know his own mind, and surrounded by counsellors who pandered to all that was worst in him, his reign was of short duration. Despite the exhortations of St. Dunstan and Archbishop Odo, both of whom fell under his displeasure, he put imposition after imposition upon his subjects. His relatives were removed from court, honest thanes were despoiled of their lands and inheritances, and his grandmother Eadgive, who, by her piety and dignity, had endeared herself to the entire nation, was deprived of all her possessions.
At length, in 957, the Mercians and Northumbrians, who felt his course most keenly, rose against him. Edgar, Edwy's younger brother, withdrew from the court with Archbishop Odo and put himself at the head of the insurgents. Edwy advanced to meet him but was defeated at Gloucester and obliged to flee for his life. Unwilling to prolong a civil war, the men of Kent and Wessex assented to a general meeting of the thanes from North and South to arrange for peace. It was decided that the country should be divided in half at the Thames, and that each brother should rule over a part. To Edwy was allotted the southern portion, and to Edgar the northern. Taught prudence by his reverses, Edwy governed his portion from that time forward with commendable justice and moderation, but died, prematurely, in 959.
His relations with St. Dunstan were not the happiest, and constitute the chief interest of Edwy's career. His opposition to the saint dated from the refusal of the latter to countenance his relations with Ethelgive, by some presumed to be his foster mother, and her daughter. Seeing that he was in disfavour, Dunstan withdrew for a time to his cloister, but the anger of the king, kept alive by Ethelgive, followed him into that sanctuary. The monks were incited to revolt, the abbey was plundered. Dunstan fled and, though hotly pursued, managed to escape to the Continent, where he remained until after Edwy's death. Osbern's story to the effect that Edwy engaged in a general persecution of the monks may, however, be safely rejected, as the revolt against him was not concerned with the dispute between the regulars and seculars which began only after Edwy's death. On the other hand, Edwy's dislike for Dunstan may have helped to impede the saint's monastic reforms.
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