Rebellion in the North

Clifford's TowerWilliam faced a rebellion each year for the first five years after his conquest of England in 1066.  The problem for the Saxons was that their uprisings from the West Country to Northumbria via Herefordshire were localised.  There was no one central figure to unify and organise resistance.

Earls Morcar of Northumbria and Edwin of Mercia were powerful and politically dangerous men.  In part their failure to march south to support King Harold in 1066 had led to his defeat. They’d submitted to William along with Edgar the Atheling in late 1066 at Berkhamstead but they swiftly became dissatisfied with their new lord and rebelled against him in 1068.  It couldn’t have come as much of a surprise to William given that he’d taken them with him to Normandy in 1067 amongst the hostages he demanded. Perhaps it was his suspicions about the northern earls that led to him not promoting a marriage between Edwin and one of his daughters and perhaps (that’s many perhaps’s) it was for this reason that Edwin and Morcar decided to revolt, although it could have been William’s new taxes that did the trick.

In any event, William marched north via Warwick and Nottingham.  Resistance crumbled and the two earls submitted again. There is no evidence that the two men took part in any further uprising in the north.  Edwin managed to get himself killed by his own men in 1071 when he left William’s court once more and headed off towards Scotland.  Morcar took part in the uprising in Ely and ended his days a prisoner of the Normans.

The inhabitants of York seeing which way the wind was blowing in 1068 sent hostages and the keys to the city before William could arrive to express his irritation.  William  did what he always did when he wanted to stamp his authority on an area.  He built a motte and bailey castle in York and left a garrison of five hundred men to guard it.

The north did not remain at peace for long.  In January 1069 William’s man Robert de Commines  was burned to death in the Bishop of Durham’s house by an angry mob who had already slaughtered his men according to the Orderic Vitalis.  The people of York were not slow in getting in on the act.   The garrison withstood the attack. The Victoria County History for York records,  “Edgar and his supporters began an attack on the castle, whence the sheriff William Malet reported to the king that in default of assistance he would be driven to surrender.”

If one castle is good then two must be better!  William had a second castle built (Bailes Hill) which he gave into the care of William Fitz Osbern (the Earl of Hereford) before heading back south to Winchester.

There was a brief third uprising that was swiftly suppressed by Fitz Osbern.

At this point you’d think that the citizens of York would have had enough but in August 1069 King Sweyn of Denmark,  who had formed an alliance with Earl Waltheof of Northumbria, anchored his  fleet of 240 vessels on the Humber. This was a much more sustained and serious attack upon William’s rule.

The Normans facing the combined forces of the Danes and the northerners took refuge in their two new castles.  They attempted to clear a field around the castles by burning the nearby houses.  It has to be said that it doesn’t seem wildly clever to believe that in a city of wood and straw that fire can be controlled.  It certainly wasn’t in this case.  Even the Minster found itself being scorched.  According to Florence of Worcester the town was still burning two days after the initial conflagration.

 

But then again the Normans knew that they were fighting for their lives.  One of the castles sheltered the sheriff’s wife and children.  The slaughter was terrible.  Waltheof  was remembered by later generations in song for slaying Normans one after another with his battle-axe. William of Malmesbury’s account is according to the Cambridge History of English Literature taken from a ‘ballad’ or rather from a professionally worked song written by a Scandinavian scald or storyteller. William’s nice new castles were both destroyed.

Quite what the alliance of Danes and Saxons expected William to do next is unclear.  The Danes took themselves back to their boats with their booty and then set about a spot of ‘viking’ – William found one party of them plundering Lindsey but sent them scuttling back across the Humber.

What followed next wasn’t particularly pleasant if the chroniclers are to be believed and although William kept Christmas on 1069 in York there was little cause for celebration amongst the locals.  However, the North had been put in its place.

Not that their problems were over, far from it.  Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland, took the opportunity to do a spot of his own harrying in the summer of 1070 and would return several times more before his death at the Battle of Alnwick.

For a chronology, which remains ongoing – I add dates as I come across them- double click on the picture.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Eleventh Century, Norman Conquest

Leave a Reply