Earl Aelfheah

People of Buckland

Earl Aelfheah

Aelfheah was the earl of central Wessex and well-connected within Anglo-Saxon royal and political circles. He married a relative of King Eadwig and was close friends with Aelfsige, the influential Bishop of Winchester who became Archbishop of Canterbury between 958 and 959. Aelfheah was the guardian of the bishop’s son, Godwine, who would be killed fighting the Danes at Alton, Hampshire, in 1001.

Edward the Martyr is offered a cup of mead by Ælfthryth, wife of Edgar, unaware that her attendant is about to murder him

The earl seems to have been involved in the complicated dynastic politics of the time. King Edgar, Eadwig’s successor, had two wives, both of whom had sons with a claim to the throne. These rival claims divided the nobility, with supporters of the second queen, Aelfthryth, seeking to displace Edward, the son of the first queen, in favour of her two sons. They were initially unsuccessful, as Edward took the crown on the death of his father in July 975. However, Edward himself was killed in 978 whilst visiting his stepmother, possibly at her instigation, and perhaps with the involvement of Aelfheah’s older brother. Aelfheah left money in his will to Aelfthryth, indicating his support for her faction.

Aelfheah’s holding of ten hides at Buckland (c. 200-300 modern acres), a gift from King Eadwig witnessed by Bishop Aelfsige, was tiny compared his overall holding of 700 hides (up to 21 000 acres) spread right across central England, and it is unlikely he ever lived there. He died in 971 and was buried at Glastonbury. He left some of his lands to Abingdon Abbey, including his manor at Buckland – or at least according to the history written by the monks of Abingdon. He was succeeded by two sons, Aelfweard and Godric; Godric is thought to be the earl of Lindsey whose death at the Battle of Assandun is recorded in 1016.