Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Eadburga (fl.802)

EADBURGA, EADBURGH, or EADBURH (fl. 802), queen of the West-Saxons, a daughter of Offa, king of the Mercians, first appears with other members of the royal family as attesting a charter granted by her father in 787 (Kemble, Codex Dipl. 151). In 789 (A.-S. Chron. 787) she married Beorhtric [q. v.] or Brihtric, king of the West-Saxons. Asser says that she gained great power in the kingdom through the king's affection for her, and that she used it tyrannically; that she laid plots against many, accused them to the king, and so caused them to lose life or power; and that when the king refused to hearken to her she would slay her enemy by poison. In 802 she prepared poison for a young man who was much beloved by the king. It so happened that Brihtric tasted the poison before his favourite, and both died from its effects. After this crime Eadburh could not remain in the West-Saxon kingdom, and taking a great amount of treasure with her she crossed the sea to the court of the emperor Charles the Great. When she appeared before the emperor and offered him many gifts, he said, ‘Choose, Eadburh, which you will have, me or my son, who stands with me in the hall.’ She answered, ‘If I may have my choice, I choose your son, because he is the younger.’ Then Charles said with a smile, ‘If you had chosen me you should have had my son; but as you have chosen my son you shall have neither him nor me.’ However, he gave her a great nunnery, and for a very few years she ruled it as abbess. Her conduct was bad, and she was guilty of unchastity with one of her own nation. The emperor expelled her, and she passed the rest of her life in poverty, being reduced before her death to beg in the streets of Pavia, attended only by one young slave. There many of her countrymen saw her, and told Asser about her. After her flight from England the West-Saxons would not give the title of queen to any of her successors, nor suffer any of them to share the royal throne, but called each of them simply the king's wife. This custom was first broken through in the case of Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald, who was crowned by Hincmar on her marriage with Æthelwulf, and who on her coming to England was allowed to sit beside her husband on the throne.

[Anglo-Saxon Chron. sub ann. 787, 800; Asser, 471, 472 (Mon. Hist. Brit.); Kemble's Codex Dipl. 151; William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum, i. 169 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Annales Bertin., Rerum Germ. Script. (Pertz), i. 450; Dict. of Christian Biog. art. ‘Eadburga,’ by Bishop Stubbs.]

W. H.