Eldred of Workington – an enigma.

norman frenchWho was Eldred of Workington?

Ivo de Taillebois was succeeded by Eldred or Aelfred of Workington. He’s one of those people in history who remain elusive. We’re not sure who he was – or even what his first name might have been- or who he married. We do know that he had a son called Ketel Fitzeldred who went on to inherit the estates in and around Kendal.

Eldred is not a Norman name – its Saxon. This raises some interesting questions as to how he assumed Ivo de Taillebois’s lands.

It is possible that he might have been Ivo de Tailbois’s son by his first marriage to Elgiva, daughter of Ethelred (of Unready fame). He certainly wasn’t a young man if this was the case because she fled to Normandy during the reign of Canute. Further more, there is some dispute as to who his mother was and even whether he was Ivo’s son.

It is plausible that Eldred took on the Taillebois name because he gained lands previously associated with Ivo.  This is the most straight forward of the suggestions but is, as these things tend to be, complicated by the consideration that his title was cemented through his marriage to one of Ivo’s daughters – possibly Beatrice according to some secondary sources. However, we know that Beatrice married Ribald who was the brother of Alan the Red of Richmond.  History also tells us that Ribald eventually took himself off to St Mary’s Abbey in York following the death of Beatrice – which rather puts a crimp in the plausibility of the argument that Eldred married Beatrice; so another daughter perhaps?


The fact is that studying Eldred is like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle without a picture and without all the pieces.  One piece of the jigsaw that we do have come from the records of Cockersand Abbey near Lancaster  which identifies Eldred as Ivo’s son. But which is it? Son or son-in-law? Is it even the same person?  Yes, definitely a case of ever decreasing circles…and potential fuel for the historical novelist.

Eldred (whoever he was) is  a reminder that the Normans, Saxons and Norse peoples intermarried both before the Norman Conquest and after. There is also the intriguing possibility – yes, there’s that word again- that he was neither son nor son-in-law but simply a Saxon who’d accepted the Norman invaders and had been given the lands around Kendal when Ivo popped his clogs in the hope that a local might be able to rule the troublesome northerners of the region on behalf of his Norman overlords….three intriguing options: all offering a degree of plausibility and none of them having sufficient evidence to answer the question.

2 thoughts on “Eldred of Workington – an enigma.

  1. Alfred was one of the more popular names among Bretons. The Duke of Brittany in 1086, Alan IV “Fergant” (“Iron-Glove”) (then likely aged 23), was a descendant of Alfred the Great by a complicated sequence of male and female lines that passed (in ascent) through Blois, Burgundy, Germany and what-have-you.

    Fergant’s (closer than) first cousin Count Alan Rufus’s matrilineal descent is clear (thanks to 11th century Angevin genealogies) back to his great-grandmother Melisinde (Millicent) of Maine, who was probably a daughter of Hugh II, Count of Maine. (Incidentally, the wife of his son Hugh III of Maine was, according to Keats-Rohan, probably a sister of Alan’s grandfather Duke Geoffrey I of Brittany.)

    The two generations of mothers before Melisinde are debatable, but some modern guesstimate genealogies postulate that the female line before her derived from Wessex, specifically Eadgifu of Wessex, daughter of Edward the Elder (who was famous to the Bretons as the English King who aided them to recover Brittany from the Vikings in AD 936), son of King Alfred. Eadgifu of Wessex’s matriline ascends to a succession of Queens of Mercia.

    Bretons were known (William of Poitiers, whose writing reflected all sorts of unpleasant medieval Norman prejudices, would have said they were notorious) for the high regard in which their women were held. So, it’s plausible that some at least of the Breton notables were quite fond of English history for very deep-rooted personal reasons.

  2. Interesting post.

    Speculation is that Eldred of Workington and Kendal was a man of prominence from an important family, possibly being related to either the house of Bamburgh (earls of Northumbria) and/or Æthelred II, King of England. Historian George Washington in his article within Transactions, CWAAS, New Series, Vol. 1961, ‘Strickland and Neville’, pg. 76 and facing pg. 78 pedigree chart, conjectured that Eldred was possibly a younger scion branch of the noble house of Dunbar; being directly related to Earl Gospatric of Northumberland and Maldred, lord of Winlaton in Durham, ancestor of the Nevilles of Raby and Stricklands of Sizergh.

    It has also been thought that Eldred may have been the Ealdred mentioned as submitting to William the Conqueror at Barking in 1067. “The Anglo-Norman writer Orderic Vitalis, when describing William the Conqueror’s stay at Barking, says that Morcar, formerly Earl of Northumbria, and Edwine, Earl of Mercia, came and submitted to King William, followed by Copsi, Earl of Northumbria, along with Thurkil of Limis, Eadric the Wild, and Ealdred and Siward, the sons of Æthelgar, grandsons [or grand-nephews] (pronepotes) of King Edward”. (Source: Chibnall (ed.), Ecclesiastical History, vol. ii, p. 195)

    So if Eldred was indeed the “Ealdred” of 1067 he would have been a descendant of King Æthelred II, the Unready.

    Regarding the aforementioned Siward, Ealdred’s brother, “Edward Augustus Freeman and other historians have thought that this Siward must have been a descendant of Uhtred the Bold, Earl of Northumbria, and Ælfgifu, daughter of King Æthelred the Unready, King Edward’s father. Historian and translator of Orderic, Marjorie Chibnall, pointed out that this Siward is mentioned later in his Ecclesiastical History as a Shropshire landowner, in connection with the foundation of Shrewsbury Abbey. Ann Williams likewise rejected this identification, identifying this Siward firmly with the Shropshire thegn Siward Grossus. According to Williams’ reconstruction, Siward Grossus and his brother Ealdred were the sons of Æthelgar by a daughter of Eadric Streona, Ealdorman of Mercia and Eadgyth, another daughter of King Æthelred, explaining the relationship Orderic believed they had with Edward the Confessor. Another historian, Forrest Scott, guessed that Siward was a member of the family of Northumbrian earls, presumably connected in some way to Siward, Earl of Northumbria. Margaret Faull and Marie Stinson, the editors of the Philimore Domesday Book for Yorkshire, believed that Siward was “a senior member of the house of Bamburgh and possibly a brother or half-brother of Earl Gospatric”. Another historian, Geoffrey Barrow, pointed out that Faull and Stinson gave no evidence for this assertion, and doubted the hypothesis because of Siward’s Danish name.” (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siward_Barn )

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