When Alfred died, Edward’s cousin Æthelwold, the son of King Æthelred of Wessex, rose up to claim the throne and began Æthelwold’s Revolt. He seized Wimborne, in Dorset, where his father was buried, and Christchurch (then in Hampshire, now in Dorset). Edward marched to Badbury and offered battle, but Æthelwold refused to leave Wimborne. Just when it looked as if Edward was going to attack Wimborne, Æthelwold left in the night, and joined the Danes in Northumbria, where he was announced as King. In the meantime, Edward is alleged to have been crowned at Kingston upon Thames on 8 June 900.
In 901, Æthelwold came with a fleet to Essex, and encouraged the Danes in East Anglia to rise up. In the following year he attacked English Mercia and northern Wessex. Edward retaliated by ravaging East Anglia, but when he retreated south the men of Kent disobeyed the order to retire, and were intercepted by the Danish army. The two sides met at the Battle of the Holme on 13 December 902. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Danes “kept the place of slaughter”, but they suffered heavy losses, including Æthelwold and a King Eohric, possibly of the East Anglian Danes.
Relations with the North proved problematic for Edward for several more years. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions that he made peace with the East Anglian and Northumbrian Danes “of necessity”. There is also a mention of the regaining of Chester in 907, which may be an indication that the city was taken in battle.
In 909, Edward sent an army to harass Northumbria. In the following year, the Northumbrians retaliated by attacking Mercia, but they were met by the combined Mercian and West Saxon army at the Battle of Tettenhall, where the Northumbrian Danes were destroyed. From that point, they never raided south of the River Humber.
Edward then began the construction of a number of fortresses (burhs), at Hertford, Witham and Bridgnorth. He is also said to have built a fortress at Scergeat, but that location has not been identified. This series of fortresses kept the Danes at bay. Other forts were built at Tamworth, Stafford, Eddisbury and Warwick. These burhs were built to the same specifications (within centimetres) as those within the territory that his father had controlled; it has been suggested on this basis that Edward actually built them all.
Edward extended the control of Wessex over the whole of Mercia, East Anglia and Essex, conquering lands occupied by the Danes and bringing the residual autonomy of Mercia to an end in 918, after the death of his sister, Æthelflæd. Ætheflæd’s daughter, Ælfwynn, was named as her successor, but Edward deposed her, bringing Mercia under his direct control. He had already annexed the cities of London and Oxford and the surrounding lands of Oxfordshire and Middlesex in 911. By 918, all of the Danes south of the Humber had submitted to him. By the end of his reign, the Norse, the Scots and the Welsh had acknowledged him as “father and lord”. This recognition of Edward’s overlordship in Scotland led to his successors’ claims of suzerainty over that Kingdom.
Edward reorganized the Church in Wessex, creating new bishoprics at Ramsbury and Sonning, Wells and Crediton. Despite this, there is little indication that Edward was particularly religious. In fact, the Pope delivered a reprimand to him to pay more attention to his religious responsibilities.
He died leading an army against a Welsh-Mercian rebellion, on 17 July 924 at Farndon-Upon-Dee and was buried in the New Minster in Winchester, Hampshire, which he himself had established in 901. After the Norman Conquest, the minster was replaced by Hyde Abbey to the north of the city and Edward’s body was transferred there. His last resting place is currently marked by a cross-inscribed stone slab within the outline of the old abbey marked out in a public park.
The portrait included here is imaginary and was drawn together with portraits of other Anglo-Saxon era monarchs by an unknown artist in the 18th century. Edward’s eponym the Elder was first used in the 10th century, in Wulfstan’s Life of St Æthelwold, to distinguish him from the later King Edward the Martyr.