Edgar's Field

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The Roman Quarry

A sandstone "monolith" left behind by excavation in the Roman Quarry at Edgar's Field shows the characteristic pattern of river-deposited sandstone. The coloured banding is due to a differing iron content in the deposits, which influences the rate at which they erode. See River Dee Geology for more on sandstone in and around Chester.

Edgar

A fanciful depiction of Edgar as cox on the Dee - Chester did not have a castle and walls (including the Watertower - built in 1323) like this at the time, and Edgar is heading in the wrong direction

Edgar the Pacific, (c. Aug 7, 943 – July 8, 975) was the great-grandson of Alfred and was famously crowned both at Bath and at Chester (in 973) as the first king of all England. The religious rites used in his coronation (use of anointing etc.) were devised by Dunstan and have been in use ever since. King Edgar is said to have prayed in the minster (monasterium) of St. John after being rowed along the River Dee. The rather fanciful illustrated tiles at the Bull and Stirrup in Chester show this event set against the backdrop of much later-built city walls.

Although Edgar the Pacific (959–975) did much to consolidate a fractured and factional Anglo-Saxon island, including his famous meeting at Chester at Edgar's Field on the Dee, the country remained troubled. The Chronicle records the meeting thus (versions again vary):

  • A.D. 972. This year Edgar the etheling was consecrated king at Bath, on Pentecost's mass-day, on the fifth before the ides of May, the thirteenth year since he had obtained the kingdom; and he was then one less than thirty years of age. And soon after that, the king led all his ship-forces to Chester; and there came to meet him six kings, and they all plighted their troth to him, that they would be his fellow-workers by sea and by land.

Edgar was rowed upriver to St Johns Church where he was crowned. However Picturesque England has a different slant on the story, commenting that:

  • "He ascended a large vessel, with his nobles and officers, and stationed himself at the helm, while the eight kings who had come to pay him homage were compelled to take the seats of the watermen, and to row him down the Dee - a most arrogant insult on the feelings of others whose titular dignity was equal to his own. Edgar crowned the scene, and consummated his disgrace, by declaring to his courtiers that his successors might call themselves kings of England when they could compel as many kings to give them such honour."

Who were they?

A print from Simpson's "The Walls of Chester", based on a drawing by Randle Holme (now in the British Museaum). The ruins shown here in Edgar's Field are those of a chapel.

Florence of Worcester disagrees with the ASC and provides the source for the count of eight kings:

  • "Eight petty kings, namely, Kynath, king of the Scots, Malcolm, king of the Cumbrians, Maccus, king of several isles, and five others named Dufnall, Siferth, Huwall, Jacob, and Juchill, met him there as he had appointed, and swore that they would be faithful to him, and assist him by land and by sea."

Florence's assertion that there were eight kings is substantiated by Ælfric who, in his 'Life' of St.Swithun (written in the 990s) states:

  • "... and all the kings who were in this island, of the Cymry and Scots, came to Edgar, eight kings once upon a day, and they all submitted to Edgar's rule."

Just who all these kings are presents something of a puzzle. These kings are identified (M Westm 375) as follows:

  • "Kenedo scilicet rcge Scotorum, Malcolmo Cumbrorum, Macone rege Monae et plurimarum insularum, Dufnal rege Demetiae, Sifertho et Howel, regibus Walliae Jacobo regc Gawallioe et Jukil Westmariae." (Kined king of the Scots, Malcolm of the Cumbrians, Maco king of Man and of very many isles, Dufnal king of Dyfed, Siferth and Hywel kings of Wales, James king of Galloway and Jukil of Westmoreland.)

This listing presents something of a problem as Dyfed did not exist as such in 972. Owain ap Hywel (died 987) was king of Deheubarth in south Wales and probably also controlled Powys. Possibly the truth is something like that given below:

The Scottish Kings (these are the only ones whose kingdoms are named)..

  • Kynath is Kenneth II of Alba b.~954–d.995 (Modern Gaelic: Coinneach mac Mhaoil Chaluim, anglicised as Kenneth II, (and nicknamed An Fionnghalach, "The Fratricide"). The Chronicle of the Kings of Alba was compiled in Kenneth's reign, and states that Kenneth plundered Northumbria three times, first as far as Stainmore, then to Cluiam and lastly to the River Dee by Chester. These raids may belong to around 980, when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records attacks on Cheshire.
  • Dufnall has been identified with Dyfnwal III (Gaelic: Domnall mac Eógain, English: "Donald") who was the ruler of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. He is styled Domnall m. Eogain, ri Bretan (king of the Britons) in the Annals of Ulster, which notes his death in 975 on pilgrimage. The Welsh source known as the Brut y Tywysogion calls him "Dunguallon", and confirms that Dyfnwal did indeed set off on pilgrimage to Rome.
  • Malcolm (Gaelic: Máel Coluim) is possibly Máel Coluim I of Strathclyde, Dyfnwal's son. Presumably, by this time, Dyfnwal had abdicated his kingdom and Malcolm had become ruler of the Kingdom of Strathclyde.

A possible Norse-Gaelic..

  • The "several isles" Maccus 'mac Arailt' was king of would be the Isle of Man and the Sudreys (Norse: sudr-eyjar or Southern Isles i.e. the Hebrides and other islands west of Scotland). He appears to have been responsible for a raid on Anglesey a couple of years before the Chester meeting - it has been suggested that Maccus was not actually his given name, but might be misconstrued from the Gaelic 'mac Arailt' i.e. 'son of Harald' - in the B-text of the 'Annales Cambriae' the raider of Anglesey is referred to simply as "filio Haraldi".

The Welsh Kings...

  • "Jacob" is almost certainly Iago ab Idwal, then king of Gwynedd. Iago ruled Gwynedd until 979 when he in turn was taken prisoner by Ieuaf's son, Hywel ab Ieuaf, who took over his kingdom. There appears to be no record of Iago's fate.
  • Huwall is probably Iago's nephew, and rival, Hywel. In 974 Hywel raised an army and drove his uncle from Gwynedd. Iago was able to return, but was forced to share power with his nephew. In 978 Hywel made another attempt to take the kingdom from his uncle, raiding the monastery at Clynnog Fawr. In this raid Hywel has helped by English troops, possibly provided by Aelfhere, Earl of Mercia. Hywel defeated Iago in battle in 979, and the same year Iago was captured by a force of Vikings, possibly in Hywel's pay, and vanished. However it is also possible that the "Howel" mentioned is Owain ap Hywel king of Deheubarth in south Wales and possibly Powys.
  • Juchill/Ithel (from the Welsh elements iud "lord, prince" and hael "generous") could possibly be Morgan the Old (Morgan Hen or Morgan ab Owain or Moragn Hen Fawr) (b930-d974) who united the former kingdoms of Gwent and Glywysing in 942 under the name of Morgannwg (Glamorgan). It is possible also that this was someone else and that the name is a misconception based on the person's title.

And finally..

  • Siferth is a difficult one - but could be another Viking/Dane

Florence continues:

  • "On a certain day they [the "eight petty kings"] attended him [Edgar] in a boat, and when he had placed them at the oars, he himself took the helm and skilfully steered it down the river Dee, and thus, followed by the whole company of earls and nobles, in this order went from the palace to the monastery of St.John the Baptist. After having prayed there, he returned with the same pomp to the palace."

The Palace of the Earl

Map showing location of ruins
Photograph showing location of ruins

Both the Braun and Hogenberg map of Chester (from around 1581) and later maps shows "ruin of the house of the count of Chester" by the River Dee in Edgar's Field (also known as "Kettle's Croft" prior to 1892), close to the location of Minerva Shrine. In 973, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that, two years after his coronation at Bath, King Edgar of England, came to Chester where (according to Florence of Worcester - writing around 1100) he held his court in a palace, which tradition holds was in a place now known as Edgar’s field near the old Dee bridge in Handbridge:

  • "On a certain day they [the "eight petty kings"] attended him [Edgar] in a boat, and when he had placed them at the oars, he himself took the helm and skilfully steered it down the river Dee, and thus, followed by the whole company of earls and nobles, in this order went from the palace to the monastery of St.John the Baptist. After having prayed there, he returned with the same pomp to the palace."

Of course there was no weir at that time, so Edgar would not face the problems that would occur in repeating the journey today.

It is curious that there should be two palaces associated with the same spot, and it seems odd that the Earl should have his palace located outside of the walls of the city. Edgar's Field was laid out as a public park (and renamed from "Kettle's Croft") by the first Duke of Westminster, Hugh Lupus Grosvenor who presented it to the City of Chester in 1892 as one of the family's many philanthropic activities.

Thomas Bradshaw's description of King Edgar's trip up the Dee differs from the usual legend as it has Edgar starting his journey on the city side of the river:

  • "From the Castell he went to the water of Dee, By a priue porsturne through walles of the towne, The kyng toke his barge with mycle rialte, Rowyng upwarde to the churche of saynt John, The forsyd viii kynges with hym went alone, Kynge Edgar kept the storne, as most principall, Eche prince had an ore to labour withall."

One problem with this version is that there was no Chester Castle at the time.

There are also what appear to be ruins of a building in the foreground of Randle Holme's sketch, these are marked on the map as the "ruins of a chapel". Could this chapel have stood on the site of the former palace or, perhaps, beem constucted of stone robbed-out from it. Or is it even possible that Edgar never had a palace here, but that it was elsewhere? Note that the earliers sources both say that Edgar was rowed "down" the River Dee. It has been suggested that there was a royal palace at Farndon. Two medieval sources describe Farndon as a ‘royal town’; Edward the Elder, king from 899, died there in AD 924 and it is also apparently documented that Edgar, Edward's grandson, was rowed along the River Dee from his palace at Farndon to Chester (Dodgson 1972, 74-5, 119, 124). The settlement plan at Farndon, however, is more reminiscent of a monastic site and it is possible that since Farndon originally included Aldford, that the royal centre was located there instead.

Thomas Pennant writes of the Minerva Shrine:

  • "Beyond this stood past all memory some antient buildings whose site is marked by certain hollows for the ground probably over the vaults gave way and fell in within the remembrance of persons now alive. Tradition calls the spot the site of the palace of Edgar. Nothing is now left from which any judgment can be formed whether it had been a Roman building as Doctor Stukeley surmises or Saxon according to the present notion or Norman according to Braun who in his antient plan of this city styles the ruins then actually existing "Ruinosa domus Comitis Ceftrients". Perhaps it might have been used successively by every one who added or improved according to their respective national modes."

This was proposed as the initial location for the Leadworks, which would have probably resulted in the destrucyion of the Minerva Shrine.

The King's Pool

The area below the weir and around the Old Dee Bridge is now known as the "King's Pool". However, before the earldom of Chester passed to the Crown in 1237 it was called the Earl's Pool. A fishery developed at this location because since (prior to the construction of the salmon steps) fish could only pass over the weir at high tide - all fishing in the Dee at Chester was under the control of the Earl.

Sources and Links