We have clearly left my start date of 1066 behind – to the tune of some five hundred years – but nothing happens in a vacuum historically speaking: territories and politics evolve.
Hadrian’s Wall marked the border of the Roman Empire but by the fifth century things were looking grim and there was a proliferation of military based kingdoms. The kingdom of Rheged could be found in modern day Cumbria extending into the Eden Valley and Westmorland. It’s ruler Urien or Urbgen can be found in twelfth century Welsh poetry. One of Taliesin’s poems refers to him as the ruler of Aeron which might be Ayr – meaning that on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence the Romano-British kingdom of Rheged could have extended from Ayrshire south of the Solway. The inhabitants of the kingdom spoke a Celtic language and its rulers were descended from Coel Hen – that’s ‘Old King Cole’ to you and me and I doubt very much whether he was a ‘merry old soul.’ Needless to say there is a lack of paper evidence and after Urien’s death, probably at the hands of one of his own extended kinship network, the kingdom disintegrated and was subsequently incorporated into the kingdoms of Strathclyde and, more definitely, Northumbria.
In the early medieval period, which was the Dark Ages when I was at school, the British kingdom of Strathclyde covered the area, at various times, between the Clyde and as far south as the River Lune in Lancashire. It’s thought that the kingdom derived from a fourth century state that was a buffer zone designed to hold off the Picts from Scotland and the Scots from Ireland (they settled in Argyle).
Now we throw the Angles into the mix. Æthelfirth was the king of Bernicia (think Bamburgh) and of Deira (think East Riding and North Yorkshire). His period in power was 592-616. He was a successful warlord who gained significant territories at this time. It’s likely that Rheged disappeared into his power and that the Lothians also came under his control. The Venerable Bede paints a picture of ravaged Britons. At the same time as Rheged disappeared Strathclyde also faded for a time.
A succeeding king – Edwin of Northumbria- even had an impact on the Isle of Man. Northumbria became the most dominant of the early medieval kingdoms during the seventh century. The territories around it shrank or were subsumed. It was at this point that the Northumbrians probably sought to establish overlordship over the kingdom of Strathclyde which had undergone some shrinkage since the second paragraph of this post. Bede also records that some Britons who lived in Strathclyde looked to the Picts and the Scots for support. Inevitably after the initial bonhomie, the Britons of Strathclyde faced danger on two fronts. In 711 and 717 the people of Strathclyde were defeated by the Scots. The area Bede was describing included Dumbarton, Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire. The Solway probably marked the edge of the kingdom of Strathclyde at that time. And needless to say there was an awful lot of slaying going on. By 750 the Northumbrians had annexed southern Aryshire.
During the 840s Kenneth Mac Alpin united the Scots and the Picts. The royal families of the region formed alliances, intermarried and carried on bumping one another off. The shape of their territories changed and developed according to who was handiest with their army.
And because I like a date to pin these things to – this all happened before 875 (or thereabouts) when Bishop Eardulf of Lindisfarne fled with the body of St Cuthbert as a result of the arrival of the next set of invaders – the Vikings (but that’s a different story and a new post.) As the saints body was kept at Whithorn in Galloway for a while it has been suggested that the area was still part of Northumbria at the time – certainly there were earlier monastic affiliations which meant that the saint was welcome.
Ædric was a Mercian who rose in Anglo-Saxon society to marry a daughter of Ætheldred the Unready and as though that weren’t enough managed to get himself voted as one of the BBC History Magazone’s ‘Worst Britains.’ It should be added that he didn’t come from a long line of Steonas it was a nickname given on account of his acquisitiveness.
William of Malmesbury has Ædric as taking a leading part in the massacre of the St Brice’s Day Massacre of the Danes in 1002 which doesn’t necessarily make him the worst person you could think of as an eleventh century historical figure. He began to notch up his chances of being the century’s most villainous person when Eadric first he invited Ælfhelm, earl of Northumbria to be his guest at Shrewsbury. He duly entertained the earl for two or three days, and then went hunting with him. At some point Ædric managed to separate Ælehelm from the rest of group and the town butcher who was also, very conveniently the town executioner, bumped him off. The account can be found in Florence of Worcester who made up what he didn’t know – so how reliable the tale is must be a matter of speculation. He rounded off the murder by arranging to have the earl’s sons blinded. He was made ealdorman of the Mercians in 1007, and by 1009 had married Ædgyth, one of the daughters of King Æthelred. Effectively the murders and the mutilation were part of a change in management. Our next interlude is Oxford in 1015. Ædric invited two Danish Athens to meet with him and then had them murdered as well. Again he was probably acting on the orders of Æthelred. Essentially the man broke every law of hospitality and as such he wasn’t terribly popular even in his own lifetime, let alone with a poll of modern readers.
When Cnut, the Dane, invaded England in the summer 1015, Ædric raised an army and joined forces with Æthelred’s son Edmund Ironside. By this time there were two main court factions, one headed by Ædric and the other headed by Edmund. Æthelred for reasons known to himself sided with his son-in-law rather than his son. It was all going horribly wrong in terms of Viking aggression, Æthelred was very unwell and Ædric having a strong sense of self-preservation could see that if Edmund became king that his influence and power would be over, so he turned his coat and joined Cnut. In 1016 he was with Cnut’s army when it invaded Mercia. Earl Uhtred (think Bamborough Castle) found himself in a situation where he had to submit to the Danes. Cnut promptly had him murdered, it is thought on Ædric’s advice given that the two didn’t much like one another and there was a long term Northumbrian feud in the background.
Æthelred conveniently died. Cnut and Edmund slogged it out. Edmund was doing a grand job until our man Ædric met him in Aylesford and persuaded him that a) his turning of coat had been an act of great service on his part because he was secretly working for the Anglo-saxons all the time and b) not to attack the Danes at their base on the Isle of Sheppey. Instead Edmund took his army into Essex. At the battle of Assandun or Ashington in Essex, Ædric led the men of Herefordshire and promptly …turnedcoat….
On 30 November, Edmund died suddenly. Henry of Huntingdon, a later chronicler, blamed Ædric’s son for Edmund’s death. This meant that Ædric was able to go to Cnut and tell him that he was the only king in England. In 1017 Ædric is supposed to have advised Cnut to put Edward’s two sons to death – whether this is true or not is another matter entirely, but by this point in the story most chronicler’s believed that Ædric was responsible for almost every treacherous, murderous and unpleasant royal going on that happened at this Tim. Cnut rewarded Ædric with his old earldom of Mercia, but having met the man and been advised by him was under no illusion as to the man’s inability to demonstrate even a modicum of loyalty. When Ædric was in London the following Christmas he was murdered on Cnut’s orders. And because this is Anglo-Saxon England with a definite hint of the Dane about it – the story ends in a way that makes Game of Thrones look positively restrained – Ædric’s body was thrown over city wall and left to rot.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Whitehead, Annie (2020) Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, Amberley Press, Stroud
Day two of the History Jar advent calendar of festive food and drink. Cristesmæsse is first recorded as a word in 1038. The Venerable Bede was not impressed with the Anglo-Saxon winter festivities:
They began the year with December 25, the day we now celebrate as Christmas; and the very night to which we attach special sanctity they designated by the heathen mothers’ night — a name bestowed, I suspect, on account of the ceremonies they performed while watching this night through.
Least said soonest mended I think! I don’t think we need linger on Bede’s disdain for the primitive behaviour of the locals. And rather unfortunately he did not think so far ahead as to ask for some recipes so we’ll just have to move on to the booze.
Wassail is a traditional Christmas and New Year toast. It comes from the Anglo-Saxon words for “to your health” – “waes hael”.
A wassail cup often involves quite a lot of cider but not always. It would be offered to guests throughout the festive period. In some cases a large wassail cup was taken from door to door (not appropriate in these socially distanced times.) The other kind of wassailing involves gathering in orchards to pour the wassail over the roots of the trees to encourage a good return on the next year’s harvest. This kind of wassail can involve singing to bees as well. It often takes place on twelfth night.
This recipe dates from 1722 from a book entitled Food in England by Dorothy Squires:
Take 1 lb. of brown sugar, 1 pint of hot beer, a grated nutmeg, and a large lump of preserved ginger root cut up. Add 4 glasses of sherry, and stir well. When cold, dilute with 5 pints of cold beer, spread suspicion of yeast on to hot slices of toasted bread, and let it stand covered for several hours. Bottle off and seal down, and in a few days it should be bursting the corks, when it should be poured out into the wassail bowl, and served with hot, roasted apples floating in it.
I’m not sure what “suspicious yeast” looks like but I think after that lot no one would particularly care. The National Trust has a rather more palatable looking recipe which could be served as an alternative to mulled wine. The are lots of modern versions available.
In AD 804 Cenulf, or Coenwulf, of Mercia together with Cudred of Kent gave the abbey of St Augustine’s in Canterbury the manor of Lenham in Kent. There’s a bit of a back story in that Cenulf as the overhang had a bit of a problem painting overall sovereignty of Mercia in Kent and at one point had tried to move the chief English see from Canterbury to London. He gave up on the idea in 798 when he installed Curdred as King of Kent. Cudred was his brother.
The two of them gave 20 plough lands, 12 denns (wood) of acorns and 40 tenements to St Augustines. Or put another way they became patrons of the abbey. A further 5 plough lands were added at a later date when the monks extended the manor of Lenham.
The Domesday book reports:
In Haibornehundred, the abbot (of St. Augustine) himself holds Lenham, which was taxed at five shillings and an half. The arable land is eighteen carucates. In demesne there are two carucates, and forty villeins, with seven borderers, having sixteen carucates. There is one servant, and two mills of six shillings and eight pence, and eight acres of meadow, and wood for forty bogs.
In the time of king Edward the Confessor, it was worth twenty-eight pounds, and afterwards sixteen pounds, now twenty-eight pounds. Of this manor Robert Latin holds one yoke, which is worth five shillings.
To make clear the process by which the monks of St Augustine’s held on to the manor William the Conqueror (but not in Kent because they came to terms) held all the land but he returned the land which the monks of St Augustine’s had previously held but now they received the land in return to service to him- which to be clear meant that for every knight’s fee of land they held they were required to put one knight in the field if William so required.
The monks of St Augustine’s continued to to benefit from Plantagenet patronage throughout the medieval period.
Once the abbey was dissolved, the land effectively went into the administration of the Court of Augmentations. In this case, Lenham became Crown estate until Elizabeth I gave it to her very capable chief minister William Cecil who alienated it to Thomas Wilford.
Alienation means that the land was sold or transferred. Most land in alienable but it demonstrates that the ownership of the land has moved out from the feudal system. In a feudal system land is transferred by sub-infeudination i.e. the monarch would still be the tenant in chief and William Cecil would have been Elizabeth’s vassal. Thomas Wilford would have been a sub tenant and a vassal of William Cecil. This was not the case.
Wilford’s grandson passed the land to Sir Thomas Brown, Lord Montagu whose wife was a FitzAlan. We can see that once the land passed out of Crown ownership that the manor of Lenham transferred through inheritance, marriage or sale. The Montagu family alienated the manor to the Hamilton family – specifically the widow of Sir George Hamilton. Elizabeth Hamilton’s maiden name was Colepepper or Culpepper. I am currently not going to chase down the links with the Thomas Culpepper who was executed in 1541. Suffice it to say that the Culpeppers were an important part of Kent’s gentry.
Edward Hasted, ‘Parishes: Lenham’, in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 5 (Canterbury, 1798), pp. 415-445. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol5/pp415-445 [accessed 29 November 2020].
An acre comes from the Latin word ager meaning field which led to the Old English aecer. Originally an acre was the strip of land that could be plowed in one day by a team of oxen pulling a plough. Ideally there would be a team of 8 oxen in a team, but it could be four or fewer depending on your wealth and whether your neighbour would lend you his. Clearly the more oxen you owned the more land that you could work and the more likely you were to be able to have surplus supplies. So far so good. Beyond that point it becomes a bit more complicated. Weights and measures were not standard – think of it more as a rule of thumb.
You could then divide every acre into 4 roods (1 rood = ¼ of an acre) and each rood contains 40 perches or 40 rods. The perch comes from the Latin name for a measuring pole whereas a rod comes from the Old English rod or goad that the ploughman used to encourage the oxen on – or put another way, if I’ve got it right – a rod, a pole and a perch are exactly the same thing and are the name given to the device by which the land was measured and which again was initially dependent on where you were as to what size it actually was! These days a rod is 5.5 yards and this seems to have been typical of a medieval ox goad.
Acres could also be divided into long-furrows or furlongs – each furrow ran the length of the acre strip of land. This was the distance that the ploughman ploughed before turning the plough = ideally it should be 40 rods or 220 yards if you prefer yards to rods, poles or perches.
Acres were standardised in 1878 to 4840 square yards and because of the practical fact that fields were all sorts of shapes rather than neat strips the acre is now any shape you would like it to be. If you’re looking at a tithe map you’ll often see meansurements in acres, roods and perches.
If you just had the one ox rather than a team then an oxgang was the amount that a single oxen could plough in one season – or between 15-20 acres…again the rule of thumb kicks into operation.
And just when you were feeling as though you might be getting a handle on things I’m going to add the fact that in medieval times the unit used for measuring land for taxation purposes and to identify social status was the hide. A hide was deemed sufficient to support one family. Depending where you lived, and the quality of the land, the hide was a movable feast varying between 40 and 1000 acres.
When the Saxons claim to collect tax for Danegeld then worked on the principle of 120 acres = 1 hide. In 1086 when William the Conequer’s Domesday Book was completed the same premise was applied. And just so we’re clear a hide has the same area value as a carucate.
A hundred – an administrative area set up by the Saxons to subdivide a shire was the equally of a hundred hides in size. Across the border into Danelaw the hundred is identified as a wapentake. And of course if a hide supports one family then every hundred would be capable of supplying 100 fighting men – who all presumable arrived with the family rod, perch or pole if they didn’t have a sword or spear.
So from this happy little list of imperial measurements – 12 inches to the foot, 3 feet to the yard, five yards and one foot and six inches to the rod (or pole or perch), 4 rods (or poles or perch) to the chain, 10 chains to the furlong, and 8 furlongs to the statute mile I have omitted a chain.
A chain is 22 yards or 4 rods, poles or perches. A chain is the width of the medieval acre.
And I think that is more than enough for one day- and whichever way you look at it the medieval farmer was required to do an awful lot of walking!
There have been a many Saxon kings of England and at times there were seven kingdoms in England know as the Heptarchy. The Dark Ages as they once were but have been renamed the Early Medieval Period. I have listed all the kings of the Cerdic line but realistically the kings of Wessex only had a claim to being the kings of all of England from 924 onwards. The tenth century also saw an assortment of Danish kings who I have listed as part of this post.
This was a tricky challenge as there are many Saxon kings who have not achieved much notice by popular history.
The kingdom of Wessex was founded in A.D. 519 by Cerdic. Chroniclers helpfully tracked his family tree back to Noah – leaving that aside, Queen Elizabeth I is a direct descendent of Cerdic as are all monarchs from Henry II onwards. Henry’s paternal grandmother was Edith or Matilda of Scotland who was St Margaret’s daughter. Margaret and her brother, Edgar, were the last surviving representatives of the royal house of Wessex in 1066.
The golden wyvern that can be seen in the borders of the Bayeux Tapestry is the chosen symbol of the royal house of Wessex.
The family tree from Cerdic is based on a 9th century chronicle. Cerdic was followed by his son Cynric and his grandson Ceawlin. History isn’t quite sure what happened to Ceawlin but he was succeeded by his nephew (we think) Ceol circa 591. The throne went to Ceol’s brother Ceolwulf after he died in 597. This was because Ceol’s son, Cynegils, was too young to rule at the time. Little is known about Ceolwulf aside from the fact he spent a lot of time fighting the Welsh, the Picts and the Scots.
In 611 Ceolwulf died by which time Cynegils was old enough to rule – which he did. Cynegils gave the northern bit of his kingdom to his son Cwichelm. Cynegils also recognised the power of the kingdom of Mercia and married off his younger son into the royal house of Mercia. For those of you with a Derbyshire connection it was during this period that the Northumbrians clashed with the house of Wessex in Derbyshire near modern day Castleton and Win Hill and Lose Hill got their names. Wessex didn’t win. They were weakened politically and in terms of man power. It wasn’t long before Mercia was much bigger and Wessex was much smaller.
Cynegils died and was succeeded by his son Cenwahl who had been married to Penda of Mercia’s sister in a bid to maintain some sort of peace. Cenwahl now discarded his wife which was not an astute move. Penda took a dim view of the situation and was soon king of Wessex as well as Mercia.
Cenwahl eventually got his throne back but the succession was a bit messy. Æscwine, who was Cenwahl’s son ruled for two years before Centwine, uncle of Æscwine, took the throne in 676. Cyngils had converted to Christianity whilst in exile when Penda was king of Wessex and Centwine was also a Christian – so much so that it’s centrally believed that in 685 he washed his hands of the world in order to become a monk.
His successor was Cædwalla who had been forced out of Wessex when he was a young man along with other members of the extended Cerdic family by Cenwahl. History isn’t quite sure how he fits into the Cerdic line but the chroniclers are clear that he does and clearly Cenwahl regarded him as a potential nuisance. In 688 having built a more stable kingdom he became a Christian and abdicated having been injured. He died a short time afterwards.
Wessex became a somewhat chaotic for a time after that. Cædwalla had been a strong king who had subdued various sub-kings but now they were able to make their own bids for power and for land. King Ine emerged as the dominant figure. He would rule for 37 years.
Æthelheard became king in 726. He was Inge’s brother-in-law and became king because of the influence of Mercia. Wessex now found itself on the back foot. Mercia became increasingly powerful.
Cuthred of Wessex, who was Æthelheard’s brother ruled from 740 to 756. At this time the king of Mercia was the overlord of the king of Wessex but by the time he died Wessex was more politically powerful.
Sigeberht ruled Wessex for a year from 757 to 757. He was probably Cuthred’s cousin. He was kicked off the throne by the Witan – or council- under the leadership of Cynewulf due to unlawful acts. The witan gave him various bits of Hampshire in compensation but he managed to kill someone whose family killed him in return. Sigeberht’s brother Cyneheard was also removed from power when Sigeberht was toppled. He bided his time for the better part of thirty years before taking his revenge.
Cynewulf ruled for 29 years but was eventually murdered by Cyneheard whilst visiting his mistress. In 779 the kingdom of Wessex was beaten in battle by the Offa, the king of Mercia. Mercia dominated politics at this time in the Saxon power shuffle.
Beorthric of Wessex was of the Cerdic line according to the chroniclers but no one was quite clear where he fitted in the picture. Suffice it to say he wouldn’t have been king of Wessex without the help of Offa of Mercia. He married one of Offa’s daughters for good measure having driven his rival Egbert into exile.
Egbert became king of Wessex in 802 having been forced into exile by Offa of Mercia and Beorthric of Wessex. His remains are in the mortuary chests in Winchester Cathedral. He was succeeded by his son Ethelwulf in 839. Ultimately he handed Wessex to his son Ethelbad but continued to reign elsewhere in England.
And we arrive at our first scandal. Ethelbad married his father’s widow – Judith of France. Judith was Ethelwulf’s second wife and there were no children from either of the marriages. Understandably the church looked askance at her marriage to her step-son.
Ethelbad died in 860 and was succeeded by is brother Ethelbert who also died without heirs so the throne passed to another brother Ethelred in 865.
King Ethelred or Æthelred I died on 23 April 871 at the Battle of Merton between the Saxons and the Great Heathern Army as the Danes were known. He was succeeded by his very well known brother King Alfred the Great.
When Alfred died he passed the throne to his son Edward the Elder in 899.
In 924/5 Athelstan succeeded his father. Athelstan realistically claimed the crown not only of Wessex but of England. He never married and when he died he was succeeded by his half brother Edmund I – or the Magnificent. He was murdered in 946 whitely having his diner in 946. His brother Edred succeeded him. Edred died in 955 and was succeeded by his nephew Edwy. As you can see the succession is not necessarily as straight forward one. Kings of Wessex and subsequently kings of England were chosen from a pool of people from the Cerdic bloodline.
Edwy the Fair ruled for four years before dying and being succeeded by his brother Edgar. Edgar married twice – his second marriage was to Elfrida who was somewhat scandalous. When Edgar died in 975 he was succeeded by his son from his first marriage Edward -who swiftly became known as Edward the Martyr when he was murdered at Corfe Castle by his step-mother Elfrida who wanted her own son to rule.
Ethelred or Æthelred II now became king – history knows him as Ethelred or Æthelred the Unready. Unready simply means ill advised. He became king in 978 after the untimely demise of his half-brother. Ethelred married twice. His second wife was Emma of Normandy which was convenient when she, Ethelred and their sons Edward and Alfred had to flee England when Sweyn Forkbeard invaded.
Sweyn died in 1014. Ethelred returned and when he died two years later his son from his first marriage Edmund II or Edmund Ironside became king. He died the same year. Edmund had been married to Edith, the daughter of an East Anglian thane and their sons Edward and Edmund were sent to Denmark and from there sent to Hungary. Edmund died young but Edward married Agatha and would have a part to play in England’s history.
Edward spent most of his life in exile. He was eventually invited home by his half-uncle Edward the Confessor only to be murdered (in all likelihood) shortly after arrival in England. His son is better known in history as Edgar the Atheling who was proclaimed king after the Battle of Hastings and the death of King Harold. He was required to submit to William the Conqueror – though of course, that wasn’t the end of his story. Edgar’s sister is known in history as St Margaret.
Meanwhile Ethelred’s widow married to the Danish king Canute who took the throne after Edmund Ironside’s death. Canute or Cnut ruled from 30 November 1016 until 12 November 1035. He was succeeded by his son Hathacanute and then by his half-brother Harold Harefoot. Harold died in 1040 without heirs allowing the royal house of Wessex back into the picture.
Ethelred the Unready’s son, Edward the Confessor now became king of England. He died on the 4th or 5th of January 1066. He had no direct heirs. Edgar the Atheling was too young to rule and was not sufficiently popular in any event so Harold Godwinson, the Earl of Wessex became King Harold II of England.
15 weeks! Goodness. This week’s challenge is taking us back somewhat beyond our normal cut off of the Eleventh Century – Saxon Kings, I’m going with Wessex on the grounds of the Cerdic bloodline which was a factor in choosing English kings by the Eleventh Century assuming that they weren’t Scandinavian types. I think you can all name at least four of them. Happy thinking.
The picture I gave you last weekend was the mouthpiece.
The Sutton Hoo helmet was found in 1939 when a ship burial was excavated in Suffolk near Woodbridge. The ship – identified by the ghost of its decayed timbers and rivets was 27 meters long. It is believed to have belonged to King Raedwald of East Anglia. So, of seventh century origins. But because of the dates of the coins found with the helmet there are other possible owners for the ornate helmet including my own favourite King Anna.
Bede records that Raedwald converted to Christianity during a visit to Kent but reverted to Paganism on return home.
Anna was descended from the Wufflingas family – or Wuffling – what’s not to like? His father was Raedwald’s nephew. The family was related to the famous Abbess Hild of Whitby.
As for the helmet – it contains over 4,000 garnets so it belonged to a very important man indeed. Amongst the contents of the tomb were items from Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, demonstrating the complexity of early medieval trade routes as well as changing the way that Historian’s viewed the Anglo-Saxon world.
The BBC identified the helmet as one of the world’s most important 100 objects.
The first image in the History Jar’s new quiz is, of course, the Alfred Jewel which can be found in the Asmolean Museum in Oxford. The words around the end of the jewel read, “Alfred ordered me to be made.” The jewel is the ornate end of an aestel -that’s a pointer to you or me. The socket formed by the dragon’s head at the bottom of the jewel is where the ivory pointer would have sat.
The jewel was found a few miles from Athelney Abbey in Somerset in 1693 when it was ploughed up. Athelney Abbey is very near the site where King Alfred made his counter attack against the Great Viking army in 878. The king had been forced to retreat into the marshes in 877 and built a fort near Athelney before launching his counter attack.
Asser, who was Alfred’s chaplain, described the site as being a small island. And it was Alfred who is often credited with the founding of Athelney Abbey. However, there is a distinct possibility that there was already some sort of monastic foundation on the site as the name and the charter suggest enlargement rather than foundation.
William of Malmesbury writing later describes the abbey as poor but that the Benedictine brothers who lived there loved solitude. By the fourteenth century the quiet and solitude seems to have turned Athelney into a retirement home for royal pensioners. The archives contain a protest from the monks about Gilbert de Reagan who had been sent to the abbey to live as a pensioner. The monks replied that there were already two aged servants of the king living at the expense of the abbey.
In 1314 the abbey was used a prison for another Benedictine, William de Walton, who according to the Bishop of Lincoln, had been very wicked and should be kept locked in fetters in his cell at all times. Eventually William was returned to Peterborough Abbey, where he originally came from, as he had escaped a couple of times much to the consternation of the Athelney brothers.
In 1349 the plague hit the abbey killing two abbots in swift succession.
By 1536 the abbey was in debt to the Crown to the tune of £33 but that might have been because in 1497 the abbot had supported Perkin Warbeck against Henry VII and the abbey had been fined 100 marks. Cromwell’s commissioner found the abbot and his eleven monks to be leading good lives but on the 20th February 1539 the abbey surrendered.
‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The abbey of Athelney’, in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1911), pp. 99-103. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol2/pp99-103 [accessed 5 June 2020].
Edith or Matilda of Scotland was the wife of Henry I. The couple had four children but only two survived to adulthood – Matilda and William. It was the death of William that ultimately plunged England into a lengthy and rather bloody civil war.
Edith was born circa 1080 in Dunfermline to Malcolm III and Margaret , grand-daughter of King Edmund Ironside and great niece of Edward the Confessor . Somewhat confusingly since Margaret fled England along with her family at the time of the Norman Conquest it turns out that Edith’s godfather was Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror. William’s queen, Matilda of Flanders was also present at Edith’s baptism as godmother. It’s recorded that little Edith pulled at the royal headdress – this was later seen as a sign that Edith would herself be queen one day. Tyler identifies the fact that Edith’s name identifies her Saxon royal heritage whilst the choice of godparents reflects the political capital of the infant.
When she was about six Edith was sent to England to be educated by the nuns of Romsey Abbey in Wiltshire. The Royal House of Wessex had a tradition of association with the abbey and Edith’s aunt Christina was the abbess there. She had left Scotland in 1086 to become a nun. Edith’s older sister Mary went with her. As well as spending time in Romsey the girls also spent time at Wilton Abbey – again there was a royal connection to the House of Wessex – Edward the Confessor’s wife Edith Godwinson was associated with the nunnery and had retired there after the Conquest. Wilton was regarded as a centre for female learning as well as a centre of spirituality. The nunnery had a nail from the True Cross, bits of the Venerable Bede and St Edith.
The choice of these nunneries perhaps reflects the political heritage of Edith of Dunfermline. The Normans weren’t necessarily secure on the throne and by maintaining their royal behaviours Malcolm III and his wife were leaving a path open to reclaiming the crown as well as arranging good marriages for their daughters.
Unsurprisingly Edith had lots of prospective suitors including the 2ndearl of Surrey (de Warenne) and Alan Rufus the Lord of Richmond. It is also suggested that William Rufus might have been a candidate for Edith’s hand – it is perhaps one reason why Edith was required to wear a religious habit during her childhood.
Edith’s settled life came to an end on November 13 1093 when her father and one of her brothers was killed at the Battle of Alnwick. Her mother died on the 16thNovember at Dunfermline where she is buried. Aside from a controversy about whether she was a nun or not History does not know where Edith was between 1093 and 1100.
At some point in 1093 Edith left Wilton and was ordered back there by Anselm the Bishop of Canterbury. He believed that she had taken holy orders – that she was in fact a nun. In 1100 Edith was called upon to testify before a council of bishops that although she had been educated at Romsey and Wilton that she had not taken any vows. She stated that Christina had required her to wear a habit to protect her from unwanted attention from Norman lords. Edith does not appear to have had a good relationship with Christina – she stated that her aunt would often give her a sound slapping and “horrible scolding.” She further added that when she was out of her aunt’s sight she tore off the monastic veil that her aunt made her wear and trampled it in the dust.
In addition to Edith’s testimony there was also the fact that Archbishop Lanfranc had ruled that Saxon women who went into hiding in nunneries in the aftermath of the Conquest could not be deemed as having taken monastic vows when they emerged from their hiding places. Although Edith clearly hadn’t gone into hiding due to ravaging Normans, Christina’s dressing of the girl in a monastic habit was seen as having stemmed from the same root. William of Malmsebury notes that Christina grew old and died at Romsey so perhaps the move to Wilton was partially to get away from an unloved relation – but that is entirely speculation.
On one hand its evident that Edith/Matilda’s bloodline was ample reason for Henry I to marry her but William of Malmsebury states that Henry loved his new bride. Henry I and Edith married on November 11thin Westminster Abbey. Anselm performed the marriage but before doing so told the entire congregation about Edith potentially being a nun and asked for any objections. The congregation- possibly knowing what was good for it- cried out in Edith’s favour. Afterwards she took the name Matilda – not that it stopped Henry I’s lords mocking him by calling him Godrick and his queen Godiva because of the return to Saxon customs that Henry instituted.
And for anyone doubting whether Edith/Matilda was legally able to marry, the fact that a healthy baby daughter, the future Empress Matilda, was born in February 1102 followed by a boy called William in September 1103 put an end to those niggling concerns that Henry might have married a nun – would God have blessed a marriage if it was invalid?
Honeycutt, Lois L. (2005) Matilda of Scotland: A Study in Medieval Queenship
“Edith Becomes Matilda.” England in Europe: English Royal Women and Literary Patronage, C.1000–C.1150, by ELIZABETH M. TYLER, University of Toronto Press, Toronto; Buffalo; London, 2017, pp. 302–353. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt1whm96v.14. Accessed 24 Feb. 2020.