Robert, Count of Mortain

odo-robertIt’s odd how names echo through history.   Prince John was made Count of Mortain in 1189 when he married Isabella of Gloucester shortly before his brother Richard went off to the Crusades.  The move was designed to ensure that John towed the line whilst Richard was away.

The title and territory belonged to the Dukedom of Normandy and seems to have been given to family members.  William the Conqueror made his half brother Robert the Count of Mortain in about 1063.   William of Jumièges  records that William of Normandy appointed his brother to the plum title after he stripped his cousin William Wernlenc of the position.  The Orderic Vitalis tells the story of Wernlenc promising an impoverished household knight all the booty he could wish for from inside Normandy.  It smacked of treachery so William deposed Wernlenc.  Mortain was on Normandy’s border with Brittany and Maine.  William needed to trust the man in charge of the territory.

William and Robert shared a mother, Herleva.  William’s mother was eventually married to Herluin, Vicomte of Conteville. Odo was born in 1030, two years (ish) after William’s birth.  The year after that Robert was born. William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Regnum talks about Odo being astute and clever whilst Robert was dull and plodding – though I agree with Goulding’s analysis that it would have been unwise of Duke William to place such a man in charge of the vulnerable western border to Normandy.

Robert married Matilda de Montgommery, the daughter of Roger de Montgommery who would become the Earl of Shrewsbury.  The Orderic Vitalis identifies Robert’s wife and parentage.

Popular history tends to remember Odo because of his role in commissioning the Bayeux Tapestry – who can forget the club wielding bishop?  Robert was not only one of William’s companions but also helped his half brother to build and equip the invasion fleet. He provided 120 vessels.  He appears on the Bayeux tapestry along side William as depicted in the image at the start of the post. William of Poitiers confirms that Robert was part of the invasion planning council. Once the conquest of England was complete Robert was also made Earl of Cornwall and richly rewarded.

One key land holding was Pevensey and another was Berkhamstead.  Both locations were equipped with motte and bailey castles.  It is from the Orderic we discover that Robert was a key military commander when the Danes attempted to invade England in 1069 following Edgar the Athling’s rebellion. Robert was left at Lindsey to flush out the Danes whilst William went north.  The Vitalis goes on to describe the “harrying of the North.”

Robert remained loyal to William throughout his half-brother’s life. William died in 1087 – by then Odo was not only disgraced but imprisoned.  William wished to exclude the bishop from his deathbed amnesty but was persuaded by Robert to include their sibling.

In 1088, however,  he joined with his brother Odo in revolt against their nephew William Rufus.  William Rufus returned the earldom of Kent to Odo but it wasn’t long before his uncle was plotting to make Rufus’s elder brother, Robert Curthose, king of England as well as Duke of Normandy.  Rufus attacked Tonbridge castle where Odo was based.  When the castle fell Odo fled to Robert in Pevensey.  The plan was that Robert Curthose’s fleet would arrive there, just as William the Conqueror’s had done in 1066.  Instead, Pevensey fell to William after a siege that lasted six weeks.

William Rufus pardoned his uncle Robert and reinstated him to his titles and lands. He died in Normandy in 1095.

Golding, Brian. (1979) “Robert of Mortain,” in Proceedings of the Battle Conference

edited by Marjorie Chibnall (pp119-145) 

 

Domesday and the Salisbury Oath

william the conqueror. jpeg

William, Duke of Normandy raising his visor to show that he is unharmed. Depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry.

William the Conqueror died on 9th September 1087.  The years following 1066 had not been peaceful ones.  He may have secured the Crown with the death of Harold at Hastings but there was the small matter of resistance and revolt. In 1067 Eadric the Wild revolted, he was followed by the Northern earls and then in 1070 King Sweyn arrived from Denmark.

Let’s not forget Malcolm Canmore who made a bit of a habit of invading the North of England. In 1072 William returned the compliment by taking his army into Scotland

William’s family proved disloyal. In 1077 Robert Curthose – or Robert “shorty-pants” rebelled against his father because he wanted some real power.  Even worse William’s wife Matilda supported their son.    William’s brother Odo the Bishop of Bayeux who features on the tapestry as William’s right hand man found himself arrested and carted off to Rouen without trial in 1082. The following year Matilda died and Robert went on a European jaunt.  William must have felt particularly betrayed by his brother because he refused to include Odo in his death bed amnesty of prisoners.

 

So there’s the back drop.  The Danes were contemplating invading England and William’s son was endangering William’s position in Normandy by making an alliance with King Philip of France.  His brother, on whom William had relied, proved greedy, ambitious and untrustworthy.  In 1086, William’s health was failing, having been described by the French king as looking as though he was pregnant – William ordered an evaluation for tax purposes of his English territories.  He was expecting trouble and wanted to know how much revenue he could draw on.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle describes how the king sent men across England to find out how many hundred hides of land there were (120 acres) in each shire, what William owned and what his income ought to have been in terms of taxation.  He also wanted to know what his bishops and earls owned.   The result is unique.

In addition to taxation William wanted guarantees of loyalty.  With this in mind he summoned the great and the good to Salisbury in August 1087 along with a range of landowners.  Normally, in the feudal system, a king took oaths of fealty from his tenants-in-chief and they took oaths in their turn.  At Salisbury William extended the oath taking beyond his chief land owners.  There were one hundred and seventy tenants-in-chief

The ceremony took place at Old Sarum and included sub tenants as well as tenants-in-chief.  Essentially William understood that although the 170 chiefs owed their allegiance to him that their tenants owed their allegiance to the chiefs rather than to him – as in my vassal’s vassal is not my vassal!  This demonstrates that the centralised pinnacle of the feudal system wasn’t yet in place in England in 1087.  The Order Vitallis says that William  distributed land to some 60,000 knights – a huge number – and even if it is wrong (600 is rather nearer the mark) it is useful to demonstrate how the Oath of Salisbury changed things- At Salisbury William gained oaths of allegiance from everyone who held land – they were now all his vassals and owed him service not just the 170 bigwigs.

Cassady, Richard. The Norman Achievement

Godiva, Eustace and a fracas in Dover

eustace.jpgBoulogne had once been a vassal state of Flanders but when Baldwin IV of Flanders was a minor Boulogne took the opportunity to declare its independence.  As the eleventh century progressed the relationship between the Flemish and the people of Boulogne evolved from one of animosity to alliance and back again.  However, Boulogne ensured its borders by making alliances with the up and coming power house – i.e. Normandy.

Eustace I arranged for his son, also handily named Eustace to marry Duke Richard of Normandy’s niece. Goda or Godiva and her brothers Edward and Alfred had been sent to Normandy for safety in 1016 when the Danes invaded England.  In due course their mother Emma had married King Cnut, her first husband Aethelred the Unready having died.

Goda had been married off first of all to Drogo of Mantes who was the Count of the Vexin – an area that would be increasing contested between the dukes of Normandy and the kIngs of France. Her first marriage was in 1024 and there were three children including Walter who would become Count of Vexin in his turn.  He died in 1063 along with his wife having been captured by William of Normandy – make of that what you will.

By 1035 Goda had been widowed so Duke Richard married her off to Eustace of Boulogne making him the brother-in-law of Edward the Confessor.  Eustace and Edward remained on good terms even after Goda’s death.  Eustace visited Edward in 1051 which was unfortunate as Edward’s most powerful earl – Godwin had recently married his son Tostig to Judith of Flanders.  If you recall back to the start of this post Boulogne and Flanders did not always exhibit warm and friendly feelings to one another!

Eustace and his retinue left England via Dover where they got into a fight with the people of the town. About twenty of Eustace’s retinue were killed. Edward the Confessor was not impressed and ordered Godwin to punish Dover – which was part of his earldom.  Godwin refused. It led to a furious argument that resulted in Godwin being given his marching orders and Edward the Confessor’s wife being packed off to a nunnery.

Eustace would return to England in 1066 as part of William of Normandy’s army is featured on the Bayeux Tapestry as seen at the start of this post- so he can’t have been too perturbed about his step-son’s death in 1063.

 

 

Normandy and Maine

henry iiiOne way of looking at William the Conqueror’s foreign policy is to say that it was about conquest and colonisation but back in Normandy things weren’t so straight forward. Essentially there were many small countries jockeying for territory and power – survival.  Before Normandy rose to a dominant position Anjou was deemed to be the most powerful territory.  The Normans in their turn succumbed to the Angevins.  Land was acquired either through conflict or inheritance.

 

William the Conqueror never managed to successfully secure Maine despite  betrothing his eldest son Robert to Margaret the sister of  Herbert II who had fled to Normandy in 1056 following the death of his father and  the invasion of Maine by the Duke of Anjou.  Herbert died in 1062 and in 1063 William invaded Maine based the premise that although Robert’s child would-be bride had died that as the almost-spouse the Normans should keep the land.  By the following year  William had control of Maine.  In its own way this was important as it meant that William had created a buffer zone between Normandy and Anjou.  This gave him security whilst he was invading England in 1066.

 

Despite this  William was uable to maintain control of Maine in the long term.  His son Robert took on the title Count of Maine and may have even ruled there for a while but he had not been married to Margaret and there were other claimants including Hugh IV’s nephew, another Hugh who became Count of Maine in 1070 after the people of Maine revolted against the Normans and ejected them.  This didn’t stop the Normans from attacking Maine several more times during the eleventh century.

 

Inevitably treaties and agreements were sealed by marriages.  Hugh V  sold Main to his cousin Elias.  Elias sought to strengthen his hand by creating an alliance with Anjou.  He did this by marrying his only child to the Count of Anjou.  This effectively meant that Anjou would one day take  control of Maine without having to invade.

Elias and Robert Curthose were not on the best of terms.  Robert had after all thought that Maine would be his. Their enmity only came to an end when Curthose, by then Duke of Normandy, went on Crusade.  It was considered bad form as a Christian to invade another man’s territory if he had gone on a crusade.  This was 1096.  Robert had also arrived at an understanding with his own brother William Rufus who acted as regent for Robert during his absence.

 

On Elias’s death in 1110 the Count of Anjou became the Count of Maine.  Henry I (pictured at the start of this post) who had succeeded his brother William as King of England in 1100 and taken Normandy from his brother Robert in 1106 agreed to recognise Fulk of Anjou’s claim to Maine so long as Fulk recognised the Duke of Normandy as his overlord.  Henry set about binding Fulk and the house of Anjou to  the Norman alliance by arranging the marriage of his son William Adlin to Fulk’s daughter Matilda of Anjou.  It was a double marriage as he also arranged for his own daughter  Matilda to marry Fulk’s son Geoffrey Plantagenet.

A series of marriages resulted in  Henry I’s grandson, Henry II, ruling England, Normandy, Anjou and Maine – the series of small territories had built into a sizeable kingdom.

 

 

The role of the Count of Flanders during the Conquest and beyond

1032francea.jpg

It’s always useful to know which countries were allied.  In 1066 for example Flanders had an important role to play in the conquest.  Count Baldwin V ‘s daughter was Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror. Baldwin’s family, like  the rest of Europe’s political leaders were strategically allied.  Interestingly there was even a member of the family married into Earl Godwin’s family.  Baldwin’s sister, Judith, was married to Tostig – Harold’s earstwhile brother.  On one hand Count Baldwin allowed his brother-in-law to recruit men on the other  if his son-in-law successfully invaded the kingdom that Tostig also sought he would be very influential  indeed– especially as he held the regency of Philip I of France as well. (Baldwin’s wife was the daughter of Robert II of France as well as being a wily politician in his own right.  He was Count of Maine as well as Count Flanders.)

William of Malmsebury indicates that Baldwin advised Wiliam and offered troops. Another chronicler notes that Baldwin was a canny neogitaor and demanded to know what benefits he would reap from his support.  Allegedly William sent Baldwin a blank sheet of parchment.  Wace suggests that Baldwin fed King Harold and the rest of the Godwinson Clan false information about the number of men at his son-in-law’s disposal. Family loyalty had its place but financial incentive and power were much more important.

Whilst the words of chroniclers are not always reliable, it is true to say that the Norman conquest was not entirely a Norman achievement .  There was a good sprinkling of Flanders in the ranks at Hastings; the alliterative Gilbert of Ghent who later turned up in York and also Walter Bec to name but two.  The Domesday Book of 1086 gives historians an insight into the role of Flemings in William’s army and the rewards that they received in the aftermath of the conquest.    In total in Derbyshire Gilbert of Ghent had three land holdings whilst there were 53  Flemish landholdings in Yorkshire held predominantly by Dreux of Beuviere (George).

There weren’t just Flemings in William’s army.  There were many men from Brittany in William’s army.  Eustace II of Boulogne also fought for the Duke of Normandy.  This is interesting as Bolougne and Flanders were rivals.  The Godwinsons had marital links with Flanders through Tostig’s marriage to Judith of Flanders.  Eustace on the other hand was the former brother-in-law of Edward the Confessor – his first wife Goda being Edward’s sister.  His step son also had a personal vendetta against Sweyn Godwinson – Earl Godwin had famously refused to punish the people of Dover for not providing free bed and board to Eustace and his entourage when the Count was on his way home from visiting Edward the Confessor in 1051.  This had become one of the flash points which led to the exile of Earl Godwin.

Looking beyond the immediate Conquest years the role of Flanders remained an important one – it was to Flanders that William’s son Robert fled when he rebelled against his father in 1077.  By that time Baldwin’s son Robert I was the Count having usurped the position from his young nephew Arnulf – it was a situation that would end in  armed conflict and the death of Arnulf. (Baldwin died in 1067 and was succeeded by his eldest son also called Baldwin but he died three years later leaving a young son.  He asked Robert to be a regent for the boy but Robert ignored his brother’s wishes and claimed Boulogne for himself.)

The impact of Robert’s usurpation on Norman- Flemish ties is evident by the fact that Robert Curthose found sanctuary with his uncle. By 1085 Robert of Flanders had become involved in a plan to invade England and snatch the Crown from the head of his increasingly chubby brother-in-law. Robert planned to assist his son-in-law Cnut IV of Denmark who was the great nephew of England’s King Cnut.

In his own turn William had offered help to Arnulf’s younger brother (another Baldwin.)

 

https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/medlow.asp

George, R. H.  “The Contribution of Flanders to the Conquest of England (1065-1086)”

https://www.persee.fr/doc/rbph_0035-0818_1926_num_5_1_6418

Viking rulers in England- the late tenth and early eleventh centuries

Harald_Blåtand_(Roskilde_Domkirke)

Harold Bluetooth -Roskilde Cathedral

Having completed a run through of the Anglo-Saxon kings in the run up to the Norman Conquest I thought it would be useful to cover similar ground for the Vikings.  I’m prone to describing them as freebooters – in order to demonstrate Æthelred’s lack of common sense in trying to pay them off.

During the reign of Edgar the Peaceful  who ruled from 959 until 975 it seemed as though England had got itself sorted.  It was effectively one kingdom and there was political stability. Edgar applied taxes and also reformed the coinage – which helped him to finance a naval force to deter would be raiders.

After Edgar died the Vikings returned. Æthelred was unable to repel them and all that lovely new coinage found its way into Viking hoards.  35,000 English coins from his reign has e been found in Scandinavia to date.  Martin and Hannah Whittock explain that it was Edgar’s reformed coinage with its high silver content that was the lure to the Vikings.  It turns out that the silver mines that the Islamic world had relied on until this point were exhausted.  Countries to the east were beginning to establish themselves and repel Viking raiders who had found easy pickings in the past.  These twin causes had the effect of the Vikings looking elsewhere to maintain their wealth.  By chance Western Europe had a new supply of silver – from the Hare mountains.

Part of Æthelred’s problem was that in Denmark King Gorm had managed to establish a more unified state.  This was followed up by Harold Bluetooth, Gorm’s son, who extended the range of his influence to Norway.  His first achievement is usually listed as uniting Denmark under a single ruler. Bluetooth constructed forts and united resources based on his expanding wealth – this meant he had a larger force of men to command and they were more organised.  Secondly he became a Christian and converted all the Danes and Norwegians – part of the reason for this was not just because Harold had been tolerant of Christians but because Otto the Great, the Holy Roman Emperor of the time had taken the opportunity to interfere in Danish affairs there was a war.  The outcome was a Christian nation. It’s a bit unclear as to whether it was Harold’s way of keeping Otto at arm’s length or that Otto won the war and insisted on Christianity.  in either event it had the effect of further unifying the Danes.

Meanwhile in Norway a similar story can also be told.  Harold Finehair dominated Norway following a sea battle in 872.  This unity fractured with his death and this was what allowed the Danes to dominate Norway through local earls.  However for a short while Olaf Tryggvason, who was apparently Harold Finehair’s great grandson if you believe the sagas,  was able to rule independently from the Danes.  He was an active raider prior to becoming King of Norway.

sweyn-forkbeard-invade-england

Sweyn from a 13th century illustration held by the University of Cambridge.

Sweyn Forkbeard was Bluetooth’s son. He ruled Denmark from 985 until his death in 1014.  He invaded England and dethroned Æthelred the Unready in 1014.   We know about Sweyn from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle and from the later Icelandic Sagas that drew on the oral tradition.  According to the sagas Sweyn was a mercenary who deposed his father and started raiding England.  Bluetooth died in exile shortly after  Sweyn booted him off the throne.  At the beginning of Sweyn’s reign he formed a loose alliance with Olaf Tryggvason of Norway although this alliance would fracture in due course.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records the rise in number of Viking attacks throughout the 980s. In 993 the Earl of Essex – Byrhtnoth- wrought his own defeat by allowing the Viking army that he confronted at Maldon to access land on the same level as that as his own army – honourable but not tactically terribly helpful. Æthelred paid £10,000 to the Vikings so that they would go away.  The Vikings in question were Norwegians led by Olaf Tryggvason.

The following year Sweyn  Forkbeard of Denmark joined in the attack on England – a different confederation of Vikings who were looking to cash in on Æthelred’s inability to repel them.    In 994 it appears that Olaf was baptised at Andover.  He stopped raiding England.  It may have been part of a Danegeld treaty.  There was also the small matter of his move to become king of Norway and the imposition of unity upon the country – although admittedly this declined the further north he got.

swen_smrt-2Sweyn continued his campaign.  In 1002 Æthelred ordered the murder of all Danes on English soil on St Brice’s day – hardly a move designed to pour oil on a troubled situation.  It didn’t help that Sweyn’s sister Gunhilda may have been one of the victims.

Various annals record the raids which culminated in a successful invasion of England in 1013.  Forkbeard died five weeks after his conquest at the beginning of 1014.  Some sources indicate he fell from his horse at Gainsborough but the thirteenth century illustration along side this paragraph depicts the other version of his demise – at the hands of the ghost of St Edmund.

Edmund of course is the East Anglian king after whom Bury St Edmunds is named.  He died in 869 having been shot to death with arrows by an earlier wave of Vikings.  He was rather popular  during the reign of Æthelred as people prayed to the martyred king for salvation for the current crop of Vikings – which would account for Sweyn being skewered by a ghost.

Sweyn was succeeded by his son Cnut who married Æthelred’s widow, Emma of Normandy in 1016 on the understanding that any son that they had together would inherit the Crown upon Cnut’s demise.  Cnut was in his turn succeeded by  Harold Harefoot in 1035 and then Emma’s son Harthacnut in 1040.  Harthacnut, Emma’s son, had become king of Denmark upon his father’s death.


https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/11831753/The-oppressive-Danish-king-impaled-by-St-Edmund-of-the-East-Angles.html

Whittock, Martyn & Hannah. (2016) 1016 & 1066: Why the Vikings Caused the Norman Conquest. Marlborough: Robert Hale

 

What happened to the Cerdic line in 1016

sweyn-forkbeard-invade-england

Sweyn from a 13th century illustration held by the University of Cambridge.

From now until Christmas I shall be focusing on the eleventh and twelfth centuries – so its the Norman Conquest; William’s sons who ruled for another 48 years after their father’s death; followed by the Conqueror’s grandchildren Stephen and Matilda and the so-called Anarchy.

The key date is, of course, 14th October 1066, the date of the Battle of Hastings.  At the beginning of the century Sweyn Forkbeard’s invasion of England had caused Æthelred the Unready to flee to the Isle of White.  By April 1016 Æthelred  was dead.

Edmund_Ironside_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VI-2His son Edmund Ironside came to an accommodation with Forkbeard’s son Cnut following Edmund’s victory over Cnut at the Battle of Assandun on October 18th 1016 but by November 1016 he was dead as well.

Emma of Normandy
The problem for the Witan was that the Cerdic line of Saxon kings had heirs but they were not seasoned warriors. Edmund’s sons Edmund and Edward, were babies whilst Ironside’s brother was eighteen and with few supporters.  Ironside’s half brothers by Æthelred’s second wife Emma of Normandy were twelve and thirteen respectively.  Emma sent them for safety to Normandy as depicted in the illustration to the right of this paragraph. The Witan, having few options available, voted that Cnut should be king of England.King-Cnut-stowe_ms_944_f006r

Ironside’s brother Ædwig was swiftly dealt with probably because he was stirring up rebellion in the south of England.  He had initially fled the country but then returned to England.  Cnut could not be seen to have him executed so it’s thought that Ædwig’s murder was on Cnut’s orders.

Ironside’s sons Edmund and Edward were packed off to Sweden and King Olaf who was either a half-brother or foster brother to Cnut.  Cnut appears to have sent a note suggesting that if the infants had a very nasty accident he wouldn’t be unduly perturbed.  Olaf ignored the hint  and sent the two boys to safety in Hungary where they were raised as princes.  Emma of Normandy’s sons Edward and Alfred had already been sent off to Normandy on the understanding that when Emma married Cnut any son she might have with Cnut would be the heir to the throne – so for the time being they were also discounted.

Cnut used the Saxon system of administration that had raised the Danegeld that Æthelred paid to ensure that he had sufficient taxes to pay for a fleet and a standing army of professional soldiers. These men were initially Danish but it wasn’t long before Saxons were included in their number. The shires and hundreds that remain on the maps even today remained in situ with Cnut’s earls or thegns administering their land holdings on a semi-independent basis but remembering to remain loyal to Cnut.

During this time Cnut favoured Godwin who he made Earl of Wessex.  Earl Godwin was a Saxon demonstrating that Cnut quickly amalgamated his following and that the Saxons were pragmatic about their new situation.  Godwin went on to marry Cnut’s sister-in-law Gytha.

Chambers, James. The Norman Kings

Eadburgh – royal poisoner

Beorhtric_of_Wessex

King Beorhtric of Wessex – 13th Century Geneological Roll

Elfrida, mother of Æthelred the Unready has had a bad press historically .  She’s usually cited as the reason why the Saxons didn’t really do queens.  There was the small matter of her first husband’s death in a hunting accident and the assassination of her step-son Edward the Martyr at Corfe Castle. However the writers who were busily turning her into an assassin usually had their own particular axe to grind.

Eadburgh was a similarly dangerous high status woman.  Her father was King Offa of Mercia who lived at the end of the eighth century.  She turns up in Asser’s life of King Alfred on account of the fact that she accidentally poisoned her husband.  The error wasn’t that it was an accidental poisoning. It was an accident that the wrong person drank the poison, she had been attempting to get rid of one of her husband’s nobles and managed to kill them both if you believe the story.

It should be noted that Asser liked a moral fable so the handsome queen ended her days as an impoverished beggar having had a run in with Charlemagne and a bit of an exciting time in a nunnery before ending up on the streets of Pavia.

Asser included the tale of Eadburgh because the unfortunate spouse was King Beorhtric of Wessex who became king in 787.  Offa’s plan was to build political alliances between Mercia and Wessex through the marriage with him as the dominant partner. Offa and Beorhtric worked together to drive another Cerdic claimant, Egbert, into exile. Egbert was Alfred’s grandfather.  Egbert took himself off to the court of Charlemagne.

Meanwhile Eadburgh became a little bit over possessive of her husband.  She poisoned Beorhtric’s favourites so that she would always be the person most important to his counsels – thus ensuring the Mercian position would always be dominant.

egbert_-_ms_royal_14_b_v

King Egbert

Having accidentally poisoned Beorhtric in 802 Egbert returned from his extended European holiday and Eadburgh found herself without a home.  She couldn’t return to Merica as Offa had also died so she packed up her belongings and went off to Charlemagne bearing gifts.

Charlemagne must have liked the look of her because he asked her who she would rather marry – him or his son. Eadburgh opted for the son and was told that had she chosen Charlemagne she might have been the mother of a prince – as it was she wouldn’t get either of them!  Charlemagne packer her off to a nunnery as an abbess.

Old habits die hard and she took a lover.  When she was discovered she was evicted from the nunnery – thus ending up as a beggar.  Asser says this is why the Kings of Wessex were not terribly keen on anointed queens. Elfrida who was the wife of King Alfred’s great-grandson became the first anointed queen of England.

Elfrida received bad press on account of a falling out with Dunstan and later writers blackened her name with each new retelling.  In Eadburgh’s case the story is also dubious but Asser in blackening Eadburgh’s name was creating propaganda against Mercia which  began the period in a more dominant role to that of Wessex. Asser paints Eadburgh as an unnatural sort of woman being more dominant than her spouse.  He also paints her as a poisoner – not a very noble method dispatching your enemies. In reality Egbert was probably not sitting around waiting to be summoned back to Wessex.

Eadburh, Queen of the West Saxons” by Susan Abernethy, The Freelance History Writer

More on Saxon kings and their wives

king edgar

King Edgar from Edgar’s position in the genealogical roll of the Kings of England © The British Library Board, Royal 14 B. VI. Accessed from https://www.royal.uk/edgar-r-959-975.

Alfred’s son Edward the Elder was a much married man.  Unfortunately we have to rely on later writers for much of our information.

For example Edward’s children by his first marriage to Egwina are described by William of Malmesbury in the twelfth century as illegitimate.  This is probably unlikely as one of his sons with Edwina was Althelstan whose rule was not contended when he became king after Edward the Elder died.  It is reasonable to assume that had there been a question mark over his legitimacy one of Edward’s other sons would have stood a better chance of becoming king – having said that legitimacy wasn’t necessarily the issue that it became later on.

Edward’s eldest son by his second marriage to Elfleda was called Edwin and he died in 933.  Weir notes that he may have been murdered on his half-brother’s orders. Two sons of Edward’s third marriage to  Edgiva would wear the crown in their turn.

Rather conveniently for us Athelstan never married.  He was succeeded by his brother Edmund who added the tag “the Magnificent” to his name and managed to marry himself to a saint in the first instance and then to an Ethelfleda who became a nun in the second.    Edmund was murdered in his own dining hall in 946 and succeeded by his brother Ædred or Edred depending on which spelling you happen to prefer. Between the Danes and assorted assassinations it was clearly not a good time to become a monarch no matter how magnificent you might have been.

By the time Edred died Edmund’s sons were considered old enough to inherit so first Ædwig (or Edwy) became king and he in his turn was succeeded by his brother Edgar.   If you recall from the previous post Edwy who was only a young teenager allegedly had a fall out with St Dunstan.  Edgar on the other hand came to rely upon Dunstan who encouraged the king to found abbeys and ensure that papal taxes were paid – resulting in Edgar being known as “the Peaceable” and being made a saint.

Having offered you a saint and a murder or two it’s now time to introduce Edgar’s lady wives.  Firstly Edgar married Ethelfelda – a popular name- so the sobriquet “the fair” is usually added to differentiate from all the other Ethelfledas. Sometime between 962 and 964 Ethelfleda died or if you prefer the scandalous version Edgar divorced her and sent her off to a nunnery so that he could marry wife number two with whom he was said to be conducting an adulterous affair.

Wife number two is  Elfrida – which isn’t entirely helpful as the names of the two women are alarmingly easy to swap around. Elfrida had been married firstly to Ethelwald, the Ealdorman of Devon. There is a question mark over the ealdorman’s somewhat convenient death.   When she was crowned in Bath Abbey on 11th May 973 alongside Edgar she became the first recorded instance of a coronation for a queen of England – she did not set a particularly good example thereafter.

When Edgar died in 975 he was buried at Glastonbury Abbey and his son by Ethelfleda (wife number one) became King Edward…the Martyr.

Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families

From greatness to disaster. Alfred to Athelred

Ethelred_the_Unready

Æthelred the Unready from a thirteenth century copy of the Abingdon Chronicle.

Alfred was succeeded by his son, Edward the Elder who ruled until 924. Edward had campaigned against the Danes during his father’s life time just as Alfred had been his brother’s lieutenant before he in his turn became king.

Edward didn’t automatically become king.  Applicants for the Crown were required to present themselves to the Witan.  Although Edward was the son of Alfred his cousins who had been bypassed when Alfred became king because of their youth were now men. Eadweard and Ethelwald both wanted to become the next king of Wessex.

Ethelwald fermented rebellion and seized Crown lands but was swiftly kicked into touch.  He reacted by taking himself off to Norse ruled Northumbria before returning at the head of an army in 905 when he was killed. Unfortunately for Edward the Elder the battle was actually won by the Danes so he had to negotiate a settlement.  Borders and boundaries became rather fluid after that.

Edward was able to work with his sister Æthelflæd, The Lady of the Mercians to secure territory from the Danes.  Howel the Good of Wales eventually accepted Edward’s overlordship as did the Kings of the Scots and Strathclyde when they met Edward at Bakewell in 920.  Edward died in 924 following a Mercian uprising.

Edward certainly extended the Cerdic line.  He had somewhere in the region of  eighteen children including his son Æthelstan who succeeded his father and ruled until his own death in 939. Unlike his father who the Mercians regarded as a king of Wessex, Æthelstan who had been reared in Mercia was accepted there before he was made king of Wessex.  In 927 he was victorious over the Vikings in York making him effectively the ruler of England (remember Scotland was somewhat larger at that time extending down through Cumbria into Lancashire.) In 934 he invaded Scotland.

Æthelstan wished to extend law and order.  He built on the legal reforms of his grandfather Alfred which is understandable as he had a rather larger kingdom than his predecessors.  When he died rather than being buried in Winchester he was interred in Malmesbury Abbey and succeeded by his brother Edmund.

It was not a peaceful time and Edmund was eventually murdered.  He was succeeded by his brother Ædred who was king from 946 to 955.  In 954 Ædred effected the removal of Eric Bloodaxe from the Kingdom of Northumbria.  When he died the following he was succeeded by his nephew, Æthelstan’s son, Ædwig.  He was only fifteen.  Four years later he was dead. Poor Ædwig had a bit of a reputation allegedly having been caught by St Dunstan consorting with two ladies of ill repute on the night of his coronation. More likely the tale arose out of the feud between the secular and clerical world for the control of the king’s ear.

After Ædwig’s death his brother Edgar became king.  Edgar is known as Edgar the Peaceful. He ruled from 959 (he was sixteen at the time) until 975. He relied upon St Dunstan for advice. He honed the laws and set about standardising currency.  He wasn’t without scandal though.  He allegedly killed a rival in love and when he was crowned in Bath had his wife crowned alongside him – a first for the kings of Wessex. The coronation took place in 973 – rather than at the start of his reign. We will be returning to Edgar’s problematic love life in due course.

Edgar was succeeded by his son Edward in 975.  Edward was murdered in 978 where upon he became known to history as Edward the Martyr and modern historians are increasingly keen to point the finger of blame at his step-mother Ælfthryth who was Edgar’s second or third wife.   Edward had been virtually of age when he became king and had the support of the Church.  The death of Edward at Corfe left the way clear for Ælfthryth’s son Æthelred to become king even though he was still a child.

Æthelred was king from 978 until 1013. Initially his mother was his regent. Æthelred the Unready or ill-advised had Viking problems.  He’s the chap who paid vast sums of Dane-geld to the marauding Norse not understanding the free lance relationship they had with their leaders or the fact that handing over great wages of coin was actually somewhat counter productive.

In 1013 King Sweyn Forkbeard invaded England and Æthelred fled to Normandy. Sweyn died the following year. Æthelred returned and ruled until he died in 1016.

He was succeeded by his son Edmund Ironside. It was a short reign from April to November 1016.  The summer of 1016 was a summer of battles.