History Jar Challenge 15 answers – Saxon kings of the Cerdic line

King Alfred the Great – Wantage – his birthplace.

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.

Edward the Martyr

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.

Fugit emma regina cum pueris suis in normanniam cum pueris suis ut ibidem a duce patre suo protegatur.

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.

Edward the Confessor – drawn from the Bayeux Tapestry

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.

Weir Alison, Britain’s Royal Families.

History Jar Challenge 15

King Alfred the Great – Wantage Market place

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.

Picture quiz 2 – the Sutton Hoo helmet

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.

History Jar picture quiz 1 – answer – The Alfred Jewel

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.

https://www.ashmolean.org/alfred-jewel Follow the link for a closer look at the Alfred Jewel.

‘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/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

 

Click to access 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