This Week in History: Eadgyth, England, and the Wider World

I don’t know about you, but one of the coolest things for me in learning about history is getting to see just how in so many ways our world is completely different from that of the past, but so so similar in others.
One of those ways in which it is both so familiar and so foreign is in how networks were created and interacted across distances. While the people in Eadgyth (c. 906-946)’s lifetime didn’t have internet, phones, telegrams, or other near immediate communication lines across long distances like we do – they found ways around it using the technologies at their disposal. Namely – marriages.

This is one of the reasons why, as a noble, aristocratic, or royal couple, that you wanted to have sons (as heirs for all your names, money, titles, etc) as well as daughters. While daughters were, in the coldest sense, a drain in terms of providing dowries – by marrying them off to other well-off or well-connected families you were able to recoup some of that cost because daughters were ways to link your family in a very concrete alliance to another family. With that alliance, you got to have various trade benefits, military help, or honestly, it could just make you look like you’ve ‘made it’ since you were able to snag an important marriage partner for your kid (Like with Katherine of Aragon marrying Arthur, Prince of Wales. She was the daughter of the most powerful monarchs at the time and Arthur was the son of a usurper who’d not been on his throne for too long).

So for Eadgyth, it was probably expected from the moment she was born that she would be used as a negotiating tool in brokering alliances – the same for all of her sisters. When she was at around 18 years old she was sent to the Continent to be married off to Otto (who luckily for her was about her age). Her younger sister accompanied her on this trip – she was also sent to be married off to a different French prince. Eadgyth married the man who eventually became the King of the East Franks, and her sister Eadgifu married the King of the West Franks. Having two sisters as queens of neighboring kingdoms was meant to ensure peace between the two realms. Another sister, Eadhild, became the Duchess of the Franks and Countess of Paris through her marriage to Hugh the Great. The marriages were also meant to bind England to France and Germany, as Eadgyth’s brothers didn’t marry outside the island or didn’t marry at all. In some ways, the marriage alliances were really successful and provided extra means of communication and common ground between many realms in early Medieval Europe.

This type of marriage alliance continued until long into the twentieth century, when monarchies became less and less involved in the day-to-day ruling of countries. Binding together families into tight alliances was exactly the strategy of the early modern Habsburgs but instead of marrying into other families, they married into themselves (lots of instances of uncles marrying nieces, cousins of all stripes marrying cousins). While that was great for maintaining a grasp on wealth, power, and land, it wasn’t so great for genetics.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This Week in History: Eadgyth, England, and the Wider World by courtney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.