Richard Fitz Scrob

1-The-coronation-of-William-the-Conqueror-Westminster-Abbey-as-depicted-by-Matthew-Paris.jpg

William the Conqueror

Scrob is pronounced “Scroob” and this particular Scrob is thought to be an ancestor of the Scrope family who I usually blog about in the context of border wardenry.

Richard was granted lands on the Welsh marches by Edward the Confessor – so he is part of that group of Normans who were established prior to the Conquest.  Historians think that Richard had become part of the Confessor’s friendship network in Normandy and that when he became king in 1042 that Fitz Scrob benefited from lands in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.  Study of Richard’s Castle near Ludlow reveals that Fitz Scrob built a simple motte and bailey fortification as early as 1050 making it one of the first castles in the country.  Ultimately a settlement grew around the castle even though the local population were initially recorded as being very alarmed by the new structure in their midst.

Inevitably in the aftermath the Conquest a land hungry border baron with adult sons might have looked to his Anglo-Saxon neighbour with a view to acquiring some of his land.  This appears to be what happened in the case of Fitz Scrob whose land lay alongside that of Eadric (Wild Edric), the nephew of Eadric Streona.  Up until the Conquest Eadric had been one of the wealthiest landowners in Shropshire.  His land was not forfeit after the Conquest because he had not taken part in the Battle of Hastings.  However his lands were gradually confiscated and split up between Norman lords including Richard Fitz Scrob based in Hereford.

Somewhat ironically William the Conqueror had left Earl Edwin of Mercia in charge of the county recognising that the borders were an important area of his new kingdom.  He did not want to antagonise the Saxons who lived there in case they made an alliance with the unconquered Welsh princes. This did not stop Fitz Scrob.

Some books suggest that Fitz Scrob expected reward from the Conqueror for having provided him with information prior to the invasion and that Eadric’s lands were what he had in mind. By 1067 Eadric, refusing to hand over his lands, was in revolt against the Normans.  A raid towards Hereford is recorded that year.  It accords with the period when William returned to Normandy and his regents took the opportunity to enrich themselves in his absence. As the Saxons began to rebel elsewhere in the kingdom the path of Eadric’s campaign has largely been lost.  Edwin, Earl of Mercia also rebelled against William but swiftly made his peace when William returned to England.

In 1069 Eadric made an alliance with the Welsh, besieged Shrewsbury and burned the town. Ultimately William the Conqueror  handed approximately 7/8th of Shropshire over to Norman land holders – after all Eadric had made an oath to him when William became king and even though he had been provoked he had rebelled – William was the tenant-in-chief and following Eadric’s rebellion he simply took the land leaving Eadric with only three manors to support himself and his family. Amongst the men to benefit was  Osbern FitzRichard the son of Richard Fitz Scrob.  History is not entirely certain when Richard Fitz Scrob died but he is last mentioned in the records in 1067.

Fitz Scrob’s descendants eventually married into the Mortimer family who played an important part in later medieval history. Another of them married Rosamund Clifford’s sister.  Rosamund was, of course, the mistress of Henry II.

 

 Augustin, Thierry. (2011) The story of the Conquest of England by the Normans: Its Causes, and Its Consequences, in England, Scotland, Ireland, and on the Continent Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

 

http://www.castlestudiesgroup.org.uk/CSGJournal2016-17X8-Richards%20Castle.pdf

The divided North

tostig1-2.jpgNorthumbria, 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

Godiva, Eustace and a fracas in Dover

eustace.jpgBoulogne had once been a vassal state of Flanders but when Baldwin IV of Flanders was a minor Boulogne took the opportunity to declare its independence.  As the eleventh century progressed the relationship between the Flemish and the people of Boulogne evolved from one of animosity to alliance and back again.  However, Boulogne ensured its borders by making alliances with the up and coming power house – i.e. Normandy.

Eustace I arranged for his son, also handily named Eustace to marry Duke Richard of Normandy’s niece. Goda or Godiva and her brothers Edward and Alfred had been sent to Normandy for safety in 1016 when the Danes invaded England.  In due course their mother Emma had married King Cnut, her first husband Aethelred the Unready having died.

Goda had been married off first of all to Drogo of Mantes who was the Count of the Vexin – an area that would be increasing contested between the dukes of Normandy and the kIngs of France. Her first marriage was in 1024 and there were three children including Walter who would become Count of Vexin in his turn.  He died in 1063 along with his wife having been captured by William of Normandy – make of that what you will.

By 1035 Goda had been widowed so Duke Richard married her off to Eustace of Boulogne making him the brother-in-law of Edward the Confessor.  Eustace and Edward remained on good terms even after Goda’s death.  Eustace visited Edward in 1051 which was unfortunate as Edward’s most powerful earl – Godwin had recently married his son Tostig to Judith of Flanders.  If you recall back to the start of this post Boulogne and Flanders did not always exhibit warm and friendly feelings to one another!

Eustace and his retinue left England via Dover where they got into a fight with the people of the town. About twenty of Eustace’s retinue were killed. Edward the Confessor was not impressed and ordered Godwin to punish Dover – which was part of his earldom.  Godwin refused. It led to a furious argument that resulted in Godwin being given his marching orders and Edward the Confessor’s wife being packed off to a nunnery.

Eustace would return to England in 1066 as part of William of Normandy’s army is featured on the Bayeux Tapestry as seen at the start of this post- so he can’t have been too perturbed about his step-son’s death in 1063.

 

 

Viking rulers in England- the late tenth and early eleventh centuries

Harald_Blåtand_(Roskilde_Domkirke)

Harold Bluetooth -Roskilde Cathedral

Having completed a run through of the Anglo-Saxon kings in the run up to the Norman Conquest I thought it would be useful to cover similar ground for the Vikings.  I’m prone to describing them as freebooters – in order to demonstrate Æthelred’s lack of common sense in trying to pay them off.

During the reign of Edgar the Peaceful  who ruled from 959 until 975 it seemed as though England had got itself sorted.  It was effectively one kingdom and there was political stability. Edgar applied taxes and also reformed the coinage – which helped him to finance a naval force to deter would be raiders.

After Edgar died the Vikings returned. Æthelred was unable to repel them and all that lovely new coinage found its way into Viking hoards.  35,000 English coins from his reign has e been found in Scandinavia to date.  Martin and Hannah Whittock explain that it was Edgar’s reformed coinage with its high silver content that was the lure to the Vikings.  It turns out that the silver mines that the Islamic world had relied on until this point were exhausted.  Countries to the east were beginning to establish themselves and repel Viking raiders who had found easy pickings in the past.  These twin causes had the effect of the Vikings looking elsewhere to maintain their wealth.  By chance Western Europe had a new supply of silver – from the Hare mountains.

Part of Æthelred’s problem was that in Denmark King Gorm had managed to establish a more unified state.  This was followed up by Harold Bluetooth, Gorm’s son, who extended the range of his influence to Norway.  His first achievement is usually listed as uniting Denmark under a single ruler. Bluetooth constructed forts and united resources based on his expanding wealth – this meant he had a larger force of men to command and they were more organised.  Secondly he became a Christian and converted all the Danes and Norwegians – part of the reason for this was not just because Harold had been tolerant of Christians but because Otto the Great, the Holy Roman Emperor of the time had taken the opportunity to interfere in Danish affairs there was a war.  The outcome was a Christian nation. It’s a bit unclear as to whether it was Harold’s way of keeping Otto at arm’s length or that Otto won the war and insisted on Christianity.  in either event it had the effect of further unifying the Danes.

Meanwhile in Norway a similar story can also be told.  Harold Finehair dominated Norway following a sea battle in 872.  This unity fractured with his death and this was what allowed the Danes to dominate Norway through local earls.  However for a short while Olaf Tryggvason, who was apparently Harold Finehair’s great grandson if you believe the sagas,  was able to rule independently from the Danes.  He was an active raider prior to becoming King of Norway.

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Sweyn from a 13th century illustration held by the University of Cambridge.

Sweyn Forkbeard was Bluetooth’s son. He ruled Denmark from 985 until his death in 1014.  He invaded England and dethroned Æthelred the Unready in 1014.   We know about Sweyn from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle and from the later Icelandic Sagas that drew on the oral tradition.  According to the sagas Sweyn was a mercenary who deposed his father and started raiding England.  Bluetooth died in exile shortly after  Sweyn booted him off the throne.  At the beginning of Sweyn’s reign he formed a loose alliance with Olaf Tryggvason of Norway although this alliance would fracture in due course.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records the rise in number of Viking attacks throughout the 980s. In 993 the Earl of Essex – Byrhtnoth- wrought his own defeat by allowing the Viking army that he confronted at Maldon to access land on the same level as that as his own army – honourable but not tactically terribly helpful. Æthelred paid £10,000 to the Vikings so that they would go away.  The Vikings in question were Norwegians led by Olaf Tryggvason.

The following year Sweyn  Forkbeard of Denmark joined in the attack on England – a different confederation of Vikings who were looking to cash in on Æthelred’s inability to repel them.    In 994 it appears that Olaf was baptised at Andover.  He stopped raiding England.  It may have been part of a Danegeld treaty.  There was also the small matter of his move to become king of Norway and the imposition of unity upon the country – although admittedly this declined the further north he got.

swen_smrt-2Sweyn continued his campaign.  In 1002 Æthelred ordered the murder of all Danes on English soil on St Brice’s day – hardly a move designed to pour oil on a troubled situation.  It didn’t help that Sweyn’s sister Gunhilda may have been one of the victims.

Various annals record the raids which culminated in a successful invasion of England in 1013.  Forkbeard died five weeks after his conquest at the beginning of 1014.  Some sources indicate he fell from his horse at Gainsborough but the thirteenth century illustration along side this paragraph depicts the other version of his demise – at the hands of the ghost of St Edmund.

Edmund of course is the East Anglian king after whom Bury St Edmunds is named.  He died in 869 having been shot to death with arrows by an earlier wave of Vikings.  He was rather popular  during the reign of Æthelred as people prayed to the martyred king for salvation for the current crop of Vikings – which would account for Sweyn being skewered by a ghost.

Sweyn was succeeded by his son Cnut who married Æthelred’s widow, Emma of Normandy in 1016 on the understanding that any son that they had together would inherit the Crown upon Cnut’s demise.  Cnut was in his turn succeeded by  Harold Harefoot in 1035 and then Emma’s son Harthacnut in 1040.  Harthacnut, Emma’s son, had become king of Denmark upon his father’s death.


https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/11831753/The-oppressive-Danish-king-impaled-by-St-Edmund-of-the-East-Angles.html

Whittock, Martyn & Hannah. (2016) 1016 & 1066: Why the Vikings Caused the Norman Conquest. Marlborough: Robert Hale

 

What happened to the Cerdic line in 1016

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Sweyn from a 13th century illustration held by the University of Cambridge.

From now until Christmas I shall be focusing on the eleventh and twelfth centuries – so its the Norman Conquest; William’s sons who ruled for another 48 years after their father’s death; followed by the Conqueror’s grandchildren Stephen and Matilda and the so-called Anarchy.

The key date is, of course, 14th October 1066, the date of the Battle of Hastings.  At the beginning of the century Sweyn Forkbeard’s invasion of England had caused Æthelred the Unready to flee to the Isle of White.  By April 1016 Æthelred  was dead.

Edmund_Ironside_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VI-2His son Edmund Ironside came to an accommodation with Forkbeard’s son Cnut following Edmund’s victory over Cnut at the Battle of Assandun on October 18th 1016 but by November 1016 he was dead as well.

Emma of Normandy
The problem for the Witan was that the Cerdic line of Saxon kings had heirs but they were not seasoned warriors. Edmund’s sons Edmund and Edward, were babies whilst Ironside’s brother was eighteen and with few supporters.  Ironside’s half brothers by Æthelred’s second wife Emma of Normandy were twelve and thirteen respectively.  Emma sent them for safety to Normandy as depicted in the illustration to the right of this paragraph. The Witan, having few options available, voted that Cnut should be king of England.King-Cnut-stowe_ms_944_f006r

Ironside’s brother Ædwig was swiftly dealt with probably because he was stirring up rebellion in the south of England.  He had initially fled the country but then returned to England.  Cnut could not be seen to have him executed so it’s thought that Ædwig’s murder was on Cnut’s orders.

Ironside’s sons Edmund and Edward were packed off to Sweden and King Olaf who was either a half-brother or foster brother to Cnut.  Cnut appears to have sent a note suggesting that if the infants had a very nasty accident he wouldn’t be unduly perturbed.  Olaf ignored the hint  and sent the two boys to safety in Hungary where they were raised as princes.  Emma of Normandy’s sons Edward and Alfred had already been sent off to Normandy on the understanding that when Emma married Cnut any son she might have with Cnut would be the heir to the throne – so for the time being they were also discounted.

Cnut used the Saxon system of administration that had raised the Danegeld that Æthelred paid to ensure that he had sufficient taxes to pay for a fleet and a standing army of professional soldiers. These men were initially Danish but it wasn’t long before Saxons were included in their number. The shires and hundreds that remain on the maps even today remained in situ with Cnut’s earls or thegns administering their land holdings on a semi-independent basis but remembering to remain loyal to Cnut.

During this time Cnut favoured Godwin who he made Earl of Wessex.  Earl Godwin was a Saxon demonstrating that Cnut quickly amalgamated his following and that the Saxons were pragmatic about their new situation.  Godwin went on to marry Cnut’s sister-in-law Gytha.

Chambers, James. The Norman Kings

Eadburgh – royal poisoner

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King Beorhtric of Wessex – 13th Century Geneological Roll

Elfrida, mother of Æthelred the Unready has had a bad press historically .  She’s usually cited as the reason why the Saxons didn’t really do queens.  There was the small matter of her first husband’s death in a hunting accident and the assassination of her step-son Edward the Martyr at Corfe Castle. However the writers who were busily turning her into an assassin usually had their own particular axe to grind.

Eadburgh was a similarly dangerous high status woman.  Her father was King Offa of Mercia who lived at the end of the eighth century.  She turns up in Asser’s life of King Alfred on account of the fact that she accidentally poisoned her husband.  The error wasn’t that it was an accidental poisoning. It was an accident that the wrong person drank the poison, she had been attempting to get rid of one of her husband’s nobles and managed to kill them both if you believe the story.

It should be noted that Asser liked a moral fable so the handsome queen ended her days as an impoverished beggar having had a run in with Charlemagne and a bit of an exciting time in a nunnery before ending up on the streets of Pavia.

Asser included the tale of Eadburgh because the unfortunate spouse was King Beorhtric of Wessex who became king in 787.  Offa’s plan was to build political alliances between Mercia and Wessex through the marriage with him as the dominant partner. Offa and Beorhtric worked together to drive another Cerdic claimant, Egbert, into exile. Egbert was Alfred’s grandfather.  Egbert took himself off to the court of Charlemagne.

Meanwhile Eadburgh became a little bit over possessive of her husband.  She poisoned Beorhtric’s favourites so that she would always be the person most important to his counsels – thus ensuring the Mercian position would always be dominant.

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King Egbert

Having accidentally poisoned Beorhtric in 802 Egbert returned from his extended European holiday and Eadburgh found herself without a home.  She couldn’t return to Merica as Offa had also died so she packed up her belongings and went off to Charlemagne bearing gifts.

Charlemagne must have liked the look of her because he asked her who she would rather marry – him or his son. Eadburgh opted for the son and was told that had she chosen Charlemagne she might have been the mother of a prince – as it was she wouldn’t get either of them!  Charlemagne packer her off to a nunnery as an abbess.

Old habits die hard and she took a lover.  When she was discovered she was evicted from the nunnery – thus ending up as a beggar.  Asser says this is why the Kings of Wessex were not terribly keen on anointed queens. Elfrida who was the wife of King Alfred’s great-grandson became the first anointed queen of England.

Elfrida received bad press on account of a falling out with Dunstan and later writers blackened her name with each new retelling.  In Eadburgh’s case the story is also dubious but Asser in blackening Eadburgh’s name was creating propaganda against Mercia which  began the period in a more dominant role to that of Wessex. Asser paints Eadburgh as an unnatural sort of woman being more dominant than her spouse.  He also paints her as a poisoner – not a very noble method dispatching your enemies. In reality Egbert was probably not sitting around waiting to be summoned back to Wessex.

Eadburh, Queen of the West Saxons” by Susan Abernethy, The Freelance History Writer

More on Saxon kings and their wives

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King Edgar from Edgar’s position in the genealogical roll of the Kings of England © The British Library Board, Royal 14 B. VI. Accessed from https://www.royal.uk/edgar-r-959-975.

Alfred’s son Edward the Elder was a much married man.  Unfortunately we have to rely on later writers for much of our information.

For example Edward’s children by his first marriage to Egwina are described by William of Malmesbury in the twelfth century as illegitimate.  This is probably unlikely as one of his sons with Edwina was Althelstan whose rule was not contended when he became king after Edward the Elder died.  It is reasonable to assume that had there been a question mark over his legitimacy one of Edward’s other sons would have stood a better chance of becoming king – having said that legitimacy wasn’t necessarily the issue that it became later on.

Edward’s eldest son by his second marriage to Elfleda was called Edwin and he died in 933.  Weir notes that he may have been murdered on his half-brother’s orders. Two sons of Edward’s third marriage to  Edgiva would wear the crown in their turn.

Rather conveniently for us Athelstan never married.  He was succeeded by his brother Edmund who added the tag “the Magnificent” to his name and managed to marry himself to a saint in the first instance and then to an Ethelfleda who became a nun in the second.    Edmund was murdered in his own dining hall in 946 and succeeded by his brother Ædred or Edred depending on which spelling you happen to prefer. Between the Danes and assorted assassinations it was clearly not a good time to become a monarch no matter how magnificent you might have been.

By the time Edred died Edmund’s sons were considered old enough to inherit so first Ædwig (or Edwy) became king and he in his turn was succeeded by his brother Edgar.   If you recall from the previous post Edwy who was only a young teenager allegedly had a fall out with St Dunstan.  Edgar on the other hand came to rely upon Dunstan who encouraged the king to found abbeys and ensure that papal taxes were paid – resulting in Edgar being known as “the Peaceable” and being made a saint.

Having offered you a saint and a murder or two it’s now time to introduce Edgar’s lady wives.  Firstly Edgar married Ethelfelda – a popular name- so the sobriquet “the fair” is usually added to differentiate from all the other Ethelfledas. Sometime between 962 and 964 Ethelfleda died or if you prefer the scandalous version Edgar divorced her and sent her off to a nunnery so that he could marry wife number two with whom he was said to be conducting an adulterous affair.

Wife number two is  Elfrida – which isn’t entirely helpful as the names of the two women are alarmingly easy to swap around. Elfrida had been married firstly to Ethelwald, the Ealdorman of Devon. There is a question mark over the ealdorman’s somewhat convenient death.   When she was crowned in Bath Abbey on 11th May 973 alongside Edgar she became the first recorded instance of a coronation for a queen of England – she did not set a particularly good example thereafter.

When Edgar died in 975 he was buried at Glastonbury Abbey and his son by Ethelfleda (wife number one) became King Edward…the Martyr.

Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families

From greatness to disaster. Alfred to Athelred

Ethelred_the_Unready

Æthelred the Unready from a thirteenth century copy of the Abingdon Chronicle.

Alfred was succeeded by his son, Edward the Elder who ruled until 924. Edward had campaigned against the Danes during his father’s life time just as Alfred had been his brother’s lieutenant before he in his turn became king.

Edward didn’t automatically become king.  Applicants for the Crown were required to present themselves to the Witan.  Although Edward was the son of Alfred his cousins who had been bypassed when Alfred became king because of their youth were now men. Eadweard and Ethelwald both wanted to become the next king of Wessex.

Ethelwald fermented rebellion and seized Crown lands but was swiftly kicked into touch.  He reacted by taking himself off to Norse ruled Northumbria before returning at the head of an army in 905 when he was killed. Unfortunately for Edward the Elder the battle was actually won by the Danes so he had to negotiate a settlement.  Borders and boundaries became rather fluid after that.

Edward was able to work with his sister Æthelflæd, The Lady of the Mercians to secure territory from the Danes.  Howel the Good of Wales eventually accepted Edward’s overlordship as did the Kings of the Scots and Strathclyde when they met Edward at Bakewell in 920.  Edward died in 924 following a Mercian uprising.

Edward certainly extended the Cerdic line.  He had somewhere in the region of  eighteen children including his son Æthelstan who succeeded his father and ruled until his own death in 939. Unlike his father who the Mercians regarded as a king of Wessex, Æthelstan who had been reared in Mercia was accepted there before he was made king of Wessex.  In 927 he was victorious over the Vikings in York making him effectively the ruler of England (remember Scotland was somewhat larger at that time extending down through Cumbria into Lancashire.) In 934 he invaded Scotland.

Æthelstan wished to extend law and order.  He built on the legal reforms of his grandfather Alfred which is understandable as he had a rather larger kingdom than his predecessors.  When he died rather than being buried in Winchester he was interred in Malmesbury Abbey and succeeded by his brother Edmund.

It was not a peaceful time and Edmund was eventually murdered.  He was succeeded by his brother Ædred who was king from 946 to 955.  In 954 Ædred effected the removal of Eric Bloodaxe from the Kingdom of Northumbria.  When he died the following he was succeeded by his nephew, Æthelstan’s son, Ædwig.  He was only fifteen.  Four years later he was dead. Poor Ædwig had a bit of a reputation allegedly having been caught by St Dunstan consorting with two ladies of ill repute on the night of his coronation. More likely the tale arose out of the feud between the secular and clerical world for the control of the king’s ear.

After Ædwig’s death his brother Edgar became king.  Edgar is known as Edgar the Peaceful. He ruled from 959 (he was sixteen at the time) until 975. He relied upon St Dunstan for advice. He honed the laws and set about standardising currency.  He wasn’t without scandal though.  He allegedly killed a rival in love and when he was crowned in Bath had his wife crowned alongside him – a first for the kings of Wessex. The coronation took place in 973 – rather than at the start of his reign. We will be returning to Edgar’s problematic love life in due course.

Edgar was succeeded by his son Edward in 975.  Edward was murdered in 978 where upon he became known to history as Edward the Martyr and modern historians are increasingly keen to point the finger of blame at his step-mother Ælfthryth who was Edgar’s second or third wife.   Edward had been virtually of age when he became king and had the support of the Church.  The death of Edward at Corfe left the way clear for Ælfthryth’s son Æthelred to become king even though he was still a child.

Æthelred was king from 978 until 1013. Initially his mother was his regent. Æthelred the Unready or ill-advised had Viking problems.  He’s the chap who paid vast sums of Dane-geld to the marauding Norse not understanding the free lance relationship they had with their leaders or the fact that handing over great wages of coin was actually somewhat counter productive.

In 1013 King Sweyn Forkbeard invaded England and Æthelred fled to Normandy. Sweyn died the following year. Æthelred returned and ruled until he died in 1016.

He was succeeded by his son Edmund Ironside. It was a short reign from April to November 1016.  The summer of 1016 was a summer of battles.

 

Wessex’s kings from Ine to Alfred

Æthelred_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VI.jpgBede’s history identifies the most important kings of England’s Saxon world along with plenty of skulduggery, murder and back stabbing. Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex began to emerge from the melee as the dominant kingdoms.  Unfortunately for the first two kingdoms on the list the Danes turned up.  In 865 a major invasion occurred upsetting the see-saw of power between Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex.

Asser listed King Alfred’s ancestors back to Adam demonstrating that if you wanted to be a king of England you needed to be good in a fight (or know someone who was); have a genetic claim to the Crown and be able to demonstrate a link to a) mythical heroes, b) Biblical personages and saints or c) a god of some description.  It’s interesting to note that the Cerdic line had moved its claim from Woden to the Garden of Eden.  It’s also interesting to note that Henry Tudor used exactly the same techniques to assert his right to rule.

685-688 Caedwalla – ruled for three years, went to Rome was baptised and died.  Written about extensively in Bede’s History.

688 – 726  Ine wrote the first surviving English legal code.  Like his predecessor he went to Rome.

726-740 Æthelheard is supposed to have been Ine’s brother-in-law but there isn’t much in the way of evidence.  His Cerdic claim was not something that ought to be examined too closely.  His crown may have come about because of the support of the kingdom of Mercia reflecting that Wessex was still a little kingdom whilst Mercia had become much more politically significant.

740-756  Cuthred might have been Æthelheard’s brother but again history isn’t absolutely sure.  Certainly the kingdom of Mercia was dominant during this period as Cuthred joined the Mercians fighting against the Welsh.  In 745 Cuthred’s son attempted to depose him and there was a rebellion against him.  In between all of that Cuthred fought off Mercian overlordship that had compelled him to go to war against the Welsh.

756-757 Sigeberht became king of an independent Wessex but was promptly deposed by Cynewulf who ruled until 786 when Sigeberht’s brother murdered Cynewulf in his turn.

786-802 Beorhtric ruled Wessex.

786-802 Egbert became king. His father was king of Kent, a descendant of Ine’s brother so the Cerdic claim was back on the cv.  The power struggle with Mercia continued, ultimately resulting in the defeat of Mercia followed by the king of Northumbria who submitted to Egbert at Dore (just outside Sheffield).  Egbert had become Bretwalda.  This was only temporary.

839-858 Æthelwulf was Egbert’s son. Æthelwulf had six children including a daughter Æthelswith who was married into Mercia as part of a political agreement between the two kingdoms.  By this time the Danes were making their presence felt but he still felt able to go on pilgrimage to Rome. He was succeeded in turn by three of his sons; Æthelbald, Æthelbert and Æthelred (pictured at the start of the post.) The eldest of Æthelwulf’s sons died before his father.

Æthelred died in 871 and was succeeded by his brother Alfred who ruled until 899. Æthelred had sons but they were too young to rule which was an important factor at this time as the war between the Saxons of Wessex and various Vikings had not been settled by a Saxon victory at Ashdown.  Alfred who had seen various battles was far more experienced in the art of warfare.  The results of the warfare were inconclusive but gradually Alfred found himself losing territory to the Danes.  He must have wondered whether he would eventually be driven into exile like his brother-in-law of Mercia.  After all, he had started his campaign against the Vikings helping to defend Mercia and was now watching Wessex gradually shrinking.

In 878 the Viking army made a surprise attack in the middle of winter and if you believe such things Alfred found himself in Somerset contemplating his future and burning cakes.  It looked as though Wessex had gone the way of Mercia and Northumbria.  However disaster was averted and his descendants continued to rule in succession until 1016. Alfred, is of curse, the only English monarch to be afforded the title – The Great.

 

Brooke, Christopher.  The Saxon and Norman Kings.

Small kingdoms – a start

illustration-Cerdic-edition-John-Speed-The-Theatre.jpgI was interested to read that most English shires took a form that we would recognise today by the end of the tenth century – excepting those northern counties permanently unable to decide whether they were Scottish or not, oh and Rutland.

Kent, Sussex and Essex were once been kingdoms in their own right rather than counties.  Sussex was established in the fifth century by  Ælle who founded the South Saxon kingdom.  Meanwhile the “South folk” and the “North folk” found themselves being ruled by Rædwald who joined the people of Suffolk and Norfolk in to the kingdom of the East Angles – and so, at a stroke, we have a modern region identified.  In fact Brooke describes the county, regional and town names of England as being like a palimpsest leaving bits and pieces of history littering the landscape.

For the purpose of this post it also demonstrates that history does not happen in a vacuum.  Things evolve gradually over time.  Thus the starting date of 1066 for the History Jar is somewhat arbitrary as Duke William of Normandy, Edward the Confessor and Earl Harold did not spring fully formed from thin air on the 1st January that year.

Our story begins, if family is important, with Cerdic who was an Earldorman and war leader.  In 495 he conquered, if the Anglo Saxon Chronicle is to be believed, parts of the south coast and the Isle of Wight.  Just for context this is the time that the historical King Arthur was supposed to be doing battle on behalf of the Romano-British against the raping, looting, pillaging Saxons and Angles.

Cerdic’s family, which were in all probability Celtic in origin (hence the name), hung on to the land that Cerdic took and by the time of his grandson the Gewissæ as Cerdic’s people had became known dominated their little portion of land.  They didn’t do quite so well in the seventh century when the kingdom of Mercia spread down into the top end of the Thames Valley but that was okay because the Gewissæ relocated into the southwest as well as holding their original southern territories. The most important “petty” king of the Gewissæ  of this period was Cædwalla.  Under his rule the Gewissæ became known as the West Saxons – Wessex.

Cædwalla ruled from 685-688 and was succeeded by Ine who ruled until 726. Wessex was basically Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire.  Cædwalla justified his right to rule not from the fact that he was handy in a fight but because he claimed descent from Cerdic – Brooke notes that its impossible to prove that particular fact.  More important even than that so far as posterity was concerned Cædwalla took himself off to Rome got himself baptised by the pope and then promptly died – ensuring that he got into Bede’s history as a shining example of a Christian life.  Poor Ine ruled for thirty-seven years and created a written code that establish clear laws- the earliest one to survive (probably thanks to King Alfred) but Bede spent more time writing about Cædwalla.

Neither of the two Cerdic leaders identified in the previous paragraph were counted as great kings.  There were plenty of little kingdoms. A single kingdom could even be ruled by several warlords.  However from time to time a great warrior would arise who would be acknowledged as a sort of senior king amongst the others – the title given to such a man would be Bretwalda. 

In 1066 when Edward the Confessor died anyone claiming a descent from Cerdic could apply to become king.  Today some historians aren’t even sure that Cerdic existed – even though the Anglo Saxon Chronicle traces his descent back to Woden.

Whilst William Duke of Normandy wasn’t a Cerdic descendant all kings since Henry II have been.  Henry II’s grandmother, the wife of Henry I (Edith, Normanised to Matilda) was the daughter of Margaret of Wessex – better known as St Margaret.

The next couple of posts will explore how Cerdic’s descendants came to dominate the   Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England…or whether they ever did.  There will also be a family tree at some point.

Brooke, Christopher. The Saxon and Norman Kings.