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.

3 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 )

  3. Further to my last reply, is a follow up compilation on a few publish articles and thoughts on Eldred of Workington.

    Eldred (Ealdred?) ‘the thegn’ was an Englishman, still living in 1086 [Domesday], but dead before 1093; was stated as being a Domesday tenant of William de Percy in Yorkshire. (Sources: Domesday Descendants & Domesday People; by K. S. B. Keats-Rohan, D.D. pgs. 35, 42; D.P. pg. 187).

    Eldred of Workington was supposed ‘the thegn’ of Culwen [Colvend in Kirkcudbrightshire] in Galloway; according to antiquarian William Camden (Britannia, 1586), “their surname they took by covenant and composition from Culwen, a family in Galloway, whose heir they had married;” “these Galloway lands, were “granted” (probably meaning confirmed) to Eldred’s descendants by Roland, Lord of Galloway at the end of the 12 century (Wigtownshire Charters, ed. R. C. Reid, Scottish History Society, 1960, p. xxv)” (Sources: ‘Thomas Denton: Perambulation of Cumberland in 1687-1688’, pgs. 111, 112, & Transactions, CWAAS, New Series, Vol. 1961, article ‘Strickland and Neville’, by Geo. Washington, pg. 76, footnote). Regarding their Culwen lands, JF Curwen stated that Gospatric fitz Orme, the father of Thomas de Wyrkington, was holding lands in Galloway when he surrendered Appleby Castle to the Scots in 1173. In that year, William ‘the Lion of Scotland’ had invaded Northumberland joining in the revolt against Henry II; William ‘the Lion’ was accompanied by Roger de Mowbray, the former lord of Westmorland and the Honor of Lancaster. “Now Gospatric had been his [Roger de Mowbray] feoffee, moreover he [Gospatric] was a relation of Scottish kings and princes and was himself a landowner in Galloway” (Source: ‘History of the Ancient House of Curwen,’ by JF Curwen, published 1928, pg. 16). This statement would infer that the lands in Galloway were held by Eldred’s family before Roland, lord of Galloway’s grant to Thomas de Wyrkington in 1185. As George Washington had stated in his article ‘Strickland and Neville’, the grant of Culwen in Galloway was probably just a confirmation of their previous land holding.

    It could be thought that Eldred may have had two wives, firstly an unknown wife (possibly with Norse origins, re: the names of son and grandson) who was the mother of his son Ketel, and secondly a much later wife who was the daughter of Ivo de Taillebois and mother of Godith. Godith may have been half-sister to Ketel, as Ivo’s lands in the barony of Kendal descended to her family “de Lancaster” and not to the heirs of Orme fitz Ketel “de Culwen”. Perhaps Ketel fitz Eldred only held the Taillebois estate lands [1097-1120+] during the minorship of his nephew William “Taillebois” de Lancaster?

    JF Curwen was of the opinion that Eldred’s son Ketel dwelt in the fortified tower on the motte now known as Castle How at Kendal and was likely the underlord of Kentdale, under Gospatric, Earl of Northumbria (however it’s possible that Eldred was holding Kendal under Earl Gospatric 1067-1072), traditionally the earls of Northumbria had held power in the far North during the later Anglo-Saxon and early Norman periods; King William ‘the Conqueror’ is recorded as being the Lord of Kentdale at Domesday in 1086 (perhaps Eldred was retained by King William after Earl Gospatric’s expulsion and subsequently matched with Ivo de Taillebois’ Norman daughter?); after 1092, Ketel fitz Eldred was holding lands in Kentdale under Ivo de Taillebois, baron of Kendal [~1092-1097].

    There was an interesting property connection to Earl Gospatric of Northumbria & Dunbar. Specifically, Eldred had held the manor of Milburn in Westmorland under Earl Gospatric, with the mesne lordship continuing through Eldred’s descendants, the de Lancaster family of Kendal; Gospatric’s heirs (the earls of Dunbar) continued holding Milburn as overlords until their lordship was deprived in 1314 being forfeited to the de Lancaster family. (Source: Transactions, CWAAS, New Series, Vol. 1961, ‘Strickland and Neville’, pgs. 76, 78 pedigree chart; & Trans. CWAAS, New Series, Vol. 1914, ‘De Culwen and some of their Kindred,’pedigree chart).

    Also, the sharing of property holdings may suggest a family connection with Gospatric, son of Archil/Arnketil of Yorkshire (Gospatric ‘the thegn’ of Bingley & East Tanfield, etc. in Yorkshire was said to be a cousin to Earl Gospatric through Uchtred ‘the Bold’ of Bamburgh, see “Chronicles and Stories of Old Bingley” by Harry Speight, London: Elliot Stock, 1898, pgs. 73, 74), specifically, the 1086 Domesday Survey shows that “in the West Riding [of Yorkshire] Gospatric and Eldred had held Federby [Fearby] of 3 carucates [360 acres] as two manors and Gospatric was then holding them of Count Alan;” and “In the lands of Roger of Poitou in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Gospatric and Chetel had held 8 carucates [960 acres] in Eleslac [Elslack]…one may at least reasonably suppose the Chetel of Domesday to be the Ketel, son of Eldred, remaining in possession under Ivo Tailbois of what he had held under Roger of Poictou – the four manors [Wennington, Tatham, Farelton and Tunstall in Amounderness] which in after times became part of the Honor of Lancaster;” it’s also interesting to note that “Orm son of Ketel” was named as witness to a charter of Roger the Poitivin in about 1094 giving the Church of Lancaster to the Abbey of St. Martin of Sees (Reg. Lancaster Priory, Chetham Soc., N.S. xxvi 8-10); referring to this charter, Rev. Frederick Ragg stated, ”The early custom of the grantors of charters was to have charters attested chiefly by their kin, their households, their chaplains and their chief tenants, their “men” and before 1200, if the consent of the eldest son and heir was not expressed in a clause, his name was usually given as a witness to the deed.” (Source: Transactions, CWAAS, New Series, Vol. 1914, ‘De Culwen’, by Rev. Frederick W. Ragg, pgs. 344-346).

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