- Agatha, wife of Edward the Exile
Agatha was the wife of
Edward the Exile(heir to the throne of England) and mother of Edgar Ætheling, Saint Margaret of Scotlandand Cristina of England. Her antecedents are unclear, and subject to much speculation.
Nothing is known of her early life, and what speculation has appeared is inextricably linked to the contentious issue of Agatha's paternity, one of the unresolved questions of medieval
genealogy. She came to England with her husband and children in 1057, but she was widowed within weeks of arriving. Following the Norman conquest of England, in 1067 she fled with her children to Scotland, finding refuge under her future son-in-law Malcolm III. While one modern source indicates that she spent her last years as a nun at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, dying before circa 1093 [http://genealogy.euweb.cz/russia/rurik1.html#AV1] , Simeon of Durham[ "Historia Regum", vol.II, pp.190-192] carries what appears to be the last reference to her in 1070. [ "Foundations" (Journal of the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy), vol.1, no.4, July 2004, pps.302-303, ISSN 1479-5078]
Agatha's origin is alluded to in numerous surviving medieval sources, but the information they provide is sometimes imprecise, often contradictory, and occasionally outright impossible. The earliest surviving source, the "
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle", along with Florence of Worcester's "Chronicon ex chronicis" and "Regalis prosapia Anglorum", Simeon of Durham and Ailred of Rievaulxdescribe Agatha as a kinswoman of "Emperor Henry" ("thaes ceseres maga", "filia germani imperatoris Henrici"). In an earlier entry, the same Ailred of Rievaulx had called her daughter of emperor Henry, as do later sources of dubious credibility such as the "Chronicle of Melrose Abbey", while Matthew of Pariscalls her the emperor's sister ("soror Henrici imperatoris Romani"). Geoffrey Gaimarin "Lestoire des Engles" states that she was daughter of the Hungarian king and queen ("Li reis sa fille"), although he places the marriage at a time when Edward is thought still to have been in Kiev, while Orderic Vitalisin "Historiae Ecclesiasticae" is more specific, naming her father as king Solomon ("filiam Salomonis Regis Hunorum"), actually a contemporary of Agatha's children. William of Malmesburyin "De Gestis Regis Anglorum" states that Agatha's sister was a Queen of Hungary ("reginae sororem") and is echoed in this by Alberic of Trois-Fontaines, while less precisely, Ailred says of Margaret that she was derived from English and Hungarian royal blood ("de semine regio Anglorum et Hungariorum extitit oriunda"). Finally, Roger of Howdenand the anonymous "Leges Edwardi Confessoris" indicate that while Edward was a guest of Kievan "king Malesclodus" he married a woman of noble birth ("nobili progenio"), "Leges" adding that the mother of St. Margaret was of Rus royal blood ("ex genere et sanguine regum Rugorum"). [René Jetté. "Is the Mystery of the Origins of Agatha, Wife of Edward the Exile, Finally Solved?", in "New England Historical and Genealogical Register", vol. 150 (October 1996), pp. 417-432; Gabriel Ronay, "The lost King of England : the East European adventures of Edward the Exile", Woodbridge, Suffolk ; Wolfeboro, N.H., USA : Boydell Press, 1989, ISBN 0-85115-541-3, pp. 109-121.]
German and Hungarian theories
While various sources repeat the claims that Agatha was daughter or sister of either Emperor Henry, it seems unlikely that such a sibling or daughter would have been ignored by the German chroniclers. [
Edward Augustus Freeman, "The History of the Norman Conquest: its causes and its results", Third Edition, Revised, Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1877, pp. 668-673.]
The description of Agatha as a blood relative of "Emperor Henry" may be applicable to a niece of either Henry II or Henry III, Holy Roman Emperors (although Florence, in "Regalis prosapia Anglorum" specifies Henry III). Early attempts at reconstructing the relationship focussed on the former. Georgio Pray (1764, "Annales Regum Hungariae"), O.F. Suhm (1777, "Geschichte Dänmarks, Norwegen und Holsteins") and Istvan Katona (1779, "Historia Critica Regum Hungariae") each suggested that Agatha was daughter of Henry II's brother
Bruno of Augsburg(an ecclesiastic described as "beatae memoriae", with no known issue), while Daniel Cornides (1778, "Regum Hungariae") tried to harmonize the German and Hungarian claims, making Agatha daughter of Henry II's sister Giselle of Bavaria, wife of Stephen I of Hungary. [Ronay, "The lost King of England", pp. 109-121.] This solution remained popular among scholars through a good part of twentieth century. [e.g. Sandor Fest, "The sons of Edmund Ironside Anglo-Saxon King at the Court of St. Stephen", in "Archivum Europae Centro-Orientalis" vol. 4 (1938), pp. 115-145; G. Andrews Moriarty, "Agatha, wife of the Atheling Eadward", in "The New England Historical and Genealogical Register", vol. 106 (1952), pp. 52-60; Gregory Lauder-Frost, "Agatha-The Ancestry Dispute", in "The Scottish Genealogist", Vol. 49, No.3 (September 2002), pp. 71-72.]
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As tempting as it may be to thus view St. Margaret as a granddaughter of another famous saint, Stephen of Hungary, this popular solution fails to explain why Stephen's death triggered a dynastic crisis in Hungary. If St. Stephen and Giselle were indeed Agatha's parents, her offspring might have succeeded to the Hungarian crown and the dynastic strife that followed Stephen's death could have been averted. Actually, there is no indication in Hungarian sources that any of Stephen's children outlived him. Likewise, all of the solutions involving Henry II would seem to make Agatha much older than her husband, and prohibitively old at the time of the birth of her son, Edgar.
Based on a more strict translation of the Latin description used by Florence and others as well as the supposition that Henry III was the Emperor designated in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, genealogist
Szabolcs de Vajaypopularized another idea first suggested in 1939. In that year, Joszef Herzog published an analysis suggesting that Agatha was daughter of one of the half-brothers of Henry III, born to his mother Gisela of Swabiaby one of her earlier marriages to Ernest I of Swabia and Bruno of Brunswick, probably the former based on more favorable chronology. [Jozsef Herzog, "Skóciai Szent Margit származásának kérdése" [The problem of St Margaret of Scotland's Scottish origins] , in "Turul" vol. 53 (1939), pp. 1-42; Marcellus D. R. von Redlich, "The Parentage of Agatha, Wife of Prince Edward the Exile", "National Genealogical Society Quarterly", vol. 28 (1940), pp. 105-109; G. Andrews Moriarty, "Agatha, wife of the Atheling Eadward", in "The New England Historical and Genealogical Register", vol. 106 (1952), pp. 52-60; Szabolcs de Vajay. "Agatha, Mother St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland", in "Duquesne Review", vol. 7, no. 2 (Spring 1962), pp. 71-80.] De Vajay reevaluated the chronology of the marriages and children of Gisela and concluded that Agatha was the daughter of Henry III's elder (uterine) half-brother, Liudolf, Margrave of Frisia. [Szabolcs de Vajay. "Agatha, Mother St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland", in "Duquesne Review", vol. 7, no. 2 (Spring 1962), pp. 71-80.] This theory saw broad acceptance for thirty years [e.g. Ronay, "The lost King of England"; Frederick Lewis Weis, "Ancestral Roots fo Sixty Colonists who came to New England between 1623 and 1650", sixth edition, Walter Lee Sheppard, ed., p. 3.] until René Jettéresurrected a Kievan solution to the problem, [René Jetté, "Is the Mystery of the Origins of Agatha, Wife of Edward the Exile, Finally Solved?", in "New England Historical and Genealogical Register", vol. 150 (October 1996): 417-432.] since which time opinion has been divided among several competing possibilities. [David Faris and Douglas Richardson supported the Liudolf connection, "The Origin of Agatha-The Debate Continues: The Parents of Agatha, Wife of Edward The Exile" in "New England Historical and Genealogical Register", vol. 152, (April 1998). Norman Ingham supported Jetté in two articles: "A Slavist's View of Agatha, Wife of Edward the Exile, as a Possible Daughter of Yaroslav the Wise" in "New England Historical and Genealogical Register", vol. 152 (1998), pp. 216-23; "Has a Missing Daughter of Iaroslav Mudryi Been Found?" in "Russian History", vol. 25 (1998 [pub. 1999] ), pp. 231-70. Gregory Lauder-Frost, summarized numerous early sources and the various theories: "Agatha-The Ancestry Dispute", in "The Scottish Genealogist", Vol. 49, No.3 (September 2002), pp. 71-72. He follows Moriarty in discounting the Herzog/de Vajay theories, both leaning towards Saint Stephen as her father.]
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Jetté pointed out that
William of Malmesburyin "De Gestis Regis Anglorum" and several later chronicles unambiguously state that Agatha's sister was a Queen of Hungary. From what we know about the biography of Edward the Exile, he loyally supported Andrew I of Hungary, following him from Kievto Hungary in 1046 and staying at his court for many years. Andrew's wife and queen was Anastasia, a daughter of Yaroslav the Wiseof Kievby Ingigerd of Sweden. Following Jetté's logic, Edward's wife was another daughter of Yaroslav.
This theory accords with the seemingly incongruous statements of
Geoffrey Gaimarand Roger of Howdenthat, while living in Kiev, Edward took a nativeborn wife "of noble parentage" or that his father-in-law was a "Rus king". [ It has been suggested that Agatha is one of four or five Yaroslav's daughters represented next to him in the famous eleventh-century fresco in the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev. It is known that Yaroslav's other daughters married Henri I of Franceand Harald III of Norway. At the time of their marriages, both Harald and Andrew were — just like Edward — the landless pretenders to foreign thrones, who found shelter and support in distant but powerful Kiev.]
Jetté's theory seems to be supported by an
onomasticargument. [Pointedly criticized by John Carmi Parsons in his article "Edward the Aetheling's Wife, Agatha", in "The Plantagenet Connection", Summer/Winter 2002, pp. 31-54. Donald C. Jackman, "A Greco-Roman Onomastic Fund", in "Onomastique et Parente dans l'Occident medieval", Prosographica et Genealogica, Vol. 3 (2000), pp. 14-56, shows several genealogical groupings of individuals in Germany at this time, including Agatha, with seemingly Eastern names. He indicates several possible sources (e.g. the marriages of Emperor Otto II and of Vladimir Iof Kiev, and the supposed marriage of Emperor Louis the Blind, to Byzantine brides) for the introduction of these names into the western European dynasties.] Among the medieval royalty, Agatha's rare Greek name is first recorded in the Macedonian dynastyof Byzantium; it was also one of the most frequent feminine names in the Kievan Rurikiddynasty. [А.Ф. Литвина, Ф.Б. Успенский. Выбор имени у русских князей в X-XVI вв.: Династическая история сквозь призму антропонимики. Moscow: Indrik, 2006. ISBN 5-85759-339-5. Page 463.] After Anna of Byzantium married Yaroslav's father, he took the Christian name of the reigning emperor, Basil II, while some members of his family were named after other members of the imperial dynasty. Agatha could have been one of these. [According to one theory, Agatha was not a daughter but sister of Yaroslav. Indeed, the last wife of Yaroslav's father, Vladimir I, seems to have been a German princess, who could have been described as "filia germani imperatoris Henrici". It is generally accepted that their daughter Dobronega married Casimir I of Polandabout the same year when Edward is thought to have married Agatha (judging by the date when their eldest child was born). If Agatha was Yaroslav's sister (rather than daughter as Jette thought), she would still have close ties to the Hungarian royal family. For instance, one of Yaroslav's sisters was the wife of Ladislas the Bald, a paternal uncle of Andrew I.]
The names of Agatha's immediate descendants — Margaret, Cristina, David, Alexander — were likewise extraordinary for Anglo-Saxon Britain. They may provide a clue to Agatha's origin. The names Margaret and Cristina are today associated with Sweden, the native country of Yaroslav's wife Ingigerd. [It has been argued that Ingigerd's original Christian name was Margaret. Whatever the truth, the names Margaret and Cristina were not explicitly recorded in Sweden before the twelfth century. For details, see: Ф.Б. Успенский. Скандинавы - Варяги - Русь: Историко-филологические очерки. Moscow, 2002. Pages 60-61.] The name of Margaret's son, David, obviously echoes that of Solomon, the son and heir of Andrew I. [Andrew's second son was actually named David. Current scholarship traces these names to the famous oration of
Ilarionof Kiev, in which he likened Vladimir (i.e., grandfather of Andrew's wife) to the victorious David and Yaroslav (i.e., Andrew's father-in-law) to the wise Solomon. The comparison became so popular that later historians assigned to Yaroslav the sobriquet "Wise".] Furthermore, the first saint of the Rus (canonized ca. 1073) was Yaroslav's brother Gleb, whose Christian name was David.
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The name of Margaret's other son, Alexander, may point to a variety of traditions, both occidental and oriental: the biography of
Alexander the Greatwas one of the most popular books in eleventh-century Kiev.
One inference from the Kievan theory is that Edgar Atheling and St. Margaret were, through their mother, first cousins of
Philip I of France. The connection is too notable to be omitted from contemporary sources, yet we have no indication that medieval chroniclers were aware of it. The argumentum ex silentio leads critics of the Kievan theory to search for alternative explanations.
In response to the recent flurry of activity on the subject, Ian Mladjov reevaluated the question and presented a completely novel solution. [Mladjov, Ian. "Reconsidering Agatha, Wife of Eadward the Exile", in "The Plantagenet Connection", vol. 11, Summer/Winter 2003, pp. 1-85. See also a summary in "The Bulgarian Descent of HM Simeon II", in "Sega": April 13, 2002 and [http://www-personal.umich.edu/~imladjov/SIMEONII.doc here] .] He dismissed each of the prior theories in turn as insufficiently grounded and incompatible given the historical record, and further suggested that many of the proposed solutions would have resulted in later marriages that fell within the prohibited degrees of kinship. He argued that the documentary testimony of Agatha's origins is tainted or late, and concurred with Humphreys' evaluation that the names of the children and grandchildren of Agatha, so central to prior reevaluations, may have had non-family origins (for example,
Pope Alexander IIplayed a critical role in the marriage of Malcolm and Margaret). However, he then focused in on the name of Agatha as being critical to determining her origin. He concluded that of the few contemporary Agathas, only one could possibly have been an ancestor of the wife of Edward the Exile, Agatha, [Her father was a Dyrrachian notable, Ioannes Khrysilios.] wife of Samuel of Bulgaria. Some of the other names associated with Agatha and used to corroborate theories based in onomastics are also readily available within the Bulgarian ruling family at the time, including Mary and several Davids. Mladjov inferred that Agatha was daughter of Gavril Radomir, Tsar of Bulgaria, Agatha's son, by his first wife, a Hungarian princess thought to have been the daughter of Duke Géza of Hungary. This hypothesis has Agatha born in Hungary after her parents divorced, her mother being pregnant when she left Bulgaria, and naming her daughter after the mother of the prince who had expelled her. Traditional dates of this divorce would seem to preclude the suggested relationship, but the article re-examined some long-standing assumptions about the chronology of Gavril Radomir's marriage to the Hungarian princess, and concludes that its dating to the late 980s is unsupportable, and its dissolution belongs in c. 1009–1014. The argument is based almost exclusively on the onomastic precedent but is said to vindicate the intimate connection between Agatha and Hungary attested in the Medieval sources. Mladjov speculates further that the medieval testimony could largely be harmonized were one to posit that Agatha's mother was the same Hungarian princess who married Samuel Aba of Hungary, his family fleeing to Kiev after his downfall, thereby allowing a Russian marriage for Agatha.
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This solution fails to conform with any of the relationships appearing in the primary record. It is inferred that the relative familiarity with Germany and unfamiliarity with Hungary partly distorted the depiction of Agatha in the English sources; her actual position would have been that of a daughter of the (unnamed) sister of the King of Hungary (Stephen I), himself the brother-in-law of the Holy Roman Emperor (Henry II, and therefore kinsman of Henry III).
Notes and references
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