Northumbria, still a large county, has shrunk from it’s earlier dimensions. It stretched from the Humber into the North covering areas that we would now recognise as Yorkshire and Country Durham as well as modern Northumbria. The kingdom was divided when the Danes settled in York whilst the rulers of Northumbria governed Northumbria from Bamburgh down to the Tees.
So far so good but in 1016 when Cnut invaded there was a change in rulers and this led to conflict between the Danish earls and the Northumbrians. In 1041 Siward, a Dane, murdered the Northumbrian Ædulf and being already married to the previous earl of Northumbria’s daughter settled down to rule the area for himself. He remained in power by supported Harthacnut and then Edward the Confessor. In 1055 died having extended his power base into Cumbria.
Unfortunately for Northumbria earldoms were not strictly hereditary so Edward the Confessor felt able to appoint Tostig Godwinson as earl -in 1055. It didn’t go down well with the locals. Tostig was not from the north. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle stated that he “robbed God first” then presumably worked his way around everyone else – calling it taxation. Nor was Northumbria known for its peace and harmony. One of the reasons that Tostig may have been appointed was to curb the region’s lawlessness. It would appear that Tostig became a little over zealous in his endeavours. He certainly gained a reputation for killing Northumbria’s leading men.
And then there were the Scots. In the first instance Tostig confounded his nay-sayers by sending them back across the border. Part of the reason that he needed to raise taxes was that the local militia didn’t always respond to his orders so he needed to pay Danish mercenaries to fight the Scots. In 1061 he and his wife went on a pilgrimage and the Scots took the opportunity to have a rampage. It was at this time that Cumbria effectively became part of Scotland. Tostig seems to have taken the news equably. Unfortunately Gospatric a descendent of the former earls was not amused – by rights he should have been the Earl of Northumbria. Instead he had been given land in Cumbria and had expected to retain it – Tostig by acquiescing to the new layout had denied Gospatric a power base. In 1064 Gospatric went and complained to Edward the Confessor – where he was murdered at Christmas…possibly on the orders of Queen Edith.
In March 1065 the bones of St Oswald were dug up and put on display in Durham. Oswald had been killed by his own treacherous relatives – a mute testimony to the fact that the people of Durham were not pleased. On Monday 3rd October men loyal to Gospatric marched into York. It was the start of an anti-Tostig rebellion. The northerners wanted Morcar to be their earl and made their feelings clear by murdering Tostig’s household whenever they were captured.
Morcar and his brother Edwin the Earl of Mercia had form. The whole family was fiercely anti-Godwinson. The conflict spread as the rebels marched south to present their case to the king. The Mercians joined them and they headed for Northampton. Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, was sent to negotiate. Tostig complained that Harold was in league with the rebels and that he was conspiring to get rid of him. It was impossible to raise an army – it was the wrong time of year and besides which the conflict was taking on the overtone of a civil war. By the 27th October Morcar was recognised as the Earl of Northumbria and the people of Northumbria were once again free from the tax burdens that lay on the shoulders of England’s more southernly inhabitants.
Tostig refused to accept that he was no longer the earl of Northumbria. In fact he took the news so badly that he was outlawed. On 1st November Tostig, his wife Judith of Flanders and Tostig’s thegns took themselves off to Flanders where they were welcomed by Count Baldwin. Tostig blamed Harold for the loss of his earldom and Edward the Confessor grieved that his people would not obey him.
At the beginning of 1066, after Edward’s death, Tostig went to Normandy and offered to help William oust Harold as king but on learning that William’s preparations were not yet at a point where invasion was imminent he persuaded his father-in-law to provide him with a fleet of vessels so that he could raid England – as far as Sandwich in the first instance. Before turning his attention to Norfolk and Lincoln.
Morcar and Edwin defeated him and he spent the summer of 1066 sulking in Scotland – and no doubt planning his next move in his bid to be revenged upon his brother Harold.
Morris, Marc. (2013) The Norman Conquest. London: Windmill Books