Edith/Matilda of Scotland

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.

John of Worcester – writing up the Conquest on the orders of Bishop Wulfstan

A Benedictine scribe – probably Bede illustrated in the Life and Miracles of St Cuthbert.

John of Worcester was a monk, unsurprisingly, from Worcester Abbey. He is usually regarded as the author of Chronicon ex chronicis. This is a world wide history which begins with the Creation and ends 1140 (the reign of King Stephen.)

The Orderic Vitalis – an Anglo-Norman Chronicle of the period contains some notes about John. It states that a native of Worcestershire he entered the abbey as a boy and recorded the reigns of the Conqueror and his sons upto and including Henry I. The monk initially worked on the orders of Bishop Wulfstan who wanted John to continue the chronicles of Marianus Scotus, an Irish monk living in Mainz who died there in 1082. The Orderic describes him as a holy man.

Experts believe that three hands are evident in the chronicles and just to add a degree of complexity there are seven versions of the Chronicle located in different places whose contents are not exactly the same – there is some sense of history being reworked according to circumstance. There are also assorted illustrations. It is John of Worcester’s Chronicle that contains an illustration of the nightmares of Henry I who dreamt that various social orders came to him in his sleep across three nights demanding legal reforms and justice. The third dream contained monks and bishops who weren’t best pleased with Henry’s laissez-faire attitude to Church property.

Bishop Wulfstan on the effigy of King John in Worcester Cathedral

The works of John have been conflated with Florence of Worcester. For many centuries, until very recently, Florence was given credit for John’s Chronicle. Part of the reason for this confusion is that John did not blow his own trumpet unlike some other chroniclers. We have only what the Orderic Vitalis says about him.

Bishop Wulfstan was the last Anglo-Saxon Bishop in post-Conquest England. He died in 1095. Wulfstan was responsible for knocking down the Saxon Cathedral of Worcester and rebuilding in a fashionable Romanesque (Norman) style. Only the crypt remains of his building works.

The monks at Worcester had an interesting relationship with the Godwin family – and are the only chroniclers not to relate Swein Godwin’s misdeeds with relish. By 1055 Wulfstan was acting as prior at Worcester whilst the bishop was on the king’s business. He went on to become Harold Godwinson’s confessor. In 1061 Wulfstan became the abbot of Worcester when his predecessor was promoted to the Bishopric of York.

In 1066 Wulfstan was with Harold when he became king. Harold’s claim to the throne was helped by the fact that Wulfstan had a reputation for holiness. Wulfstan helped to stem the rebellions that sprung up in the north against Harold in the spring of 1066 by stating that it was a sin to rebel against an anointed king.

The Worcester Chronicle recounts Wulfstan being required to surrender his staff of office to William the Conqueror and that he refused saying that he would only surrender it to the king who had made him a bishop. He laid the staff on Edward the Confessor’s tomb in Westminster – where it miraculously became stuck. Only Wulfstan could remove it and so William was forced to recognise Wulfstan as the Bishop of Worcester whether he wanted him or not.

I’ve posted about Wulfstan before when I posted about King John who revered the bishop and used him as an argument for why English kings had the right to appoint bishops and not the pope. The sharp eyed amongst the History Jar readers may also remember that Wild Edric who rebelled against William the Conqueror was Wulfstan’s Steersman – or commander of the warship that the bishop provided for the defence of the realm.

History does not record exactly how Wulfstan felt about his former steersman rebelling against the anointed King William who had disposed of King Harold but we do know from the accounts that there were many refugees from the various rebellions in Worcester; that Wulfstan provided funds for soldiers to defend Worcester and that he campaigned against the practice of selling the landless/dispossed English into slavery. He specifically campaigned against slavery in Bristol which was part of his diocese at the time.

It is from John of Worcester’s chronicle that we know what happened to some of Harold Godwinson’s family in the aftermath of the Conquest. Harold’s son “Ulf” was held hostage by King William and released only when the king died in 1087. History does not tell us what happened to Ulf. He probably went on crusade with William’s eldest son, Robert Curthose. There are records of a visit by Wulfstan to Gunhild, one of Harold’s daughters, in Wilton nunnery. Gunhild ended up married to Alan the Red of Richmond – there is some question as to whether she was a nun or had simply been educated in Wilton and then stayed there to avoid the consequences of the Conquest.

Happily the chronicles have been translated from Latin into English and can be found online here: http://www.bsswebsite.me.uk/History/JohnofWorcester/Chronicle_John2.html

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.

sweyn-forkbeard-invade-england

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

sweyn-forkbeard-invade-england

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

Beorhtric_of_Wessex

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.

egbert_-_ms_royal_14_b_v

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

king edgar

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.