The North 1069- how not to win friends and influence people

Hic-domus-incenditur-Bayeux-Tapestry.jpgNorthumbria was not a peaceful location in 1069.  For a start Edgar the Athling and Gospatric were over the border in Scotland awaiting an opportunity to make William the Conqueror’s life difficult.  Gospatric was descended from Aethelred the Unready and was made Earl of Northumbria by William the Conqueror after a string of earls beginning with Copsi in 1067 were killed.  A large sum of money changed hands for the title but Gospatric rebelled against William in 1068 and was forced into exile.

William the Conqueror decided that it was better to appoint someone who was not homegrown to the job and to this end Robert Cumin or de Comines was now made Earl of Northumbria.  He is thought to have come to England at the time of the Conquest with a party of Flemings but beyond that not much is known about Cumin.  The new earl set off to claim his territory with between 500 and 900 men according to Morris.

Simeon of Durham chronicles the resulting mayhem.  Cumin and his men seem to have been intent on rape, pillage and destruction.  They had under estimated the northerners.

The inhabitants beyond the Tyne prepared to flee  when they heard news of  Cumin’s activities but were prevented by severe snow falls.  At which point they decided that since they couldn’t flee they would kill Cumin.  The Bishop of Durham who hadn’t been above a spot of plotting himself now hurried off and warned Cumin of his intended fate.  It is said that Cumin was warned not to go to Durham but ignored the advice.  Cumin took himself to Durham where his men continued their campaign to win hearts and minds with a spot of looting and murder.

Inevitably the Northumbrians got into the city and  killed Cumin’s men presumably assisted by the disgruntled locals.  Cumin who was staying in the bishop’s house was trapped but well defended by his men.  The Northumbrians dealt with this conundrum by setting the house on fire.  And so ended 31st January 1069 with the death yet another Earl of Northumbria.  The Orderic Vitallis now wrote  that the English “gained confidence in resisting the Normans, whom they saw as oppressors of their friends and allies.”

Once the north had risen in rebellion it wasn’t long before it spread south in the general direction of Yorkshire.  The governor of York castle and his men were put to the sword – presumably they were away from home -and the exiles in the Scottish court now took their opportunity to return.  The sheriff in York managed to get a message to William telling him of the rebellion and stating that unless he received reinforcements he would have to surrender.  The Orderic Vitallis and the Anglo Saxon Chronicle agree that William virtually destroyed York amidst the ensuing slaughter and after that sent men into Northumbria to exact vengeance for the death of Robert Cumin.

Meanwhile many of the magnates who had taken shelter in Scotland had managed to evade capture or death. These earls and powerful men sent envoys to Denmark and King Swein – who saw an opportunity.  The summer of 1069 was not pleasant. A Danish fleet that may have numbered up to 300 vessels arrived in the Humber. William packed his wife off to Normandy and decided what to do next. He ultimately bought off the Danes and set upon the harrying of the North.  Simeon of Durham described people eating cats and dogs.  The Orderic Vitallis  was “moved to pity” the people.

 

Morris, Marc. (2013) The Norman Conquest. London: Windmill Books

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

Where is King Harold buried?

king haroldWilliam the Conqueror  did not want Harold’s burial spot to become a shrine for discontented Saxons.  According to some histories Harold’s lover, or hand-fast wife,  Edith Swan neck went onto the battle field and discovered Harold’s horribly mutilated body by markings known only to her.  Meanwhile Harold’s mother Gytha offered William her son’s weight in gold in order to recover the body and give it a Christian burial.  According to William of Jumieges the Conqueror had the body buried under a cairn on the shore.

However, it is usually agreed that the body was either transported in secrecy, that the Conqueror relented or that there was a heart only burial at Waltham Abbey in Essex.   The Abbey was founded by Harold who owned large estates in Waltham.  One of the reasons why he founded the abbey was because he was allegedly cured of paralysis as a child. The Waltham Chronicle goes a step further and has two monks accompany the king to Hastings and take part in the search for the body and the request to William.

In 2014 there was a survey carried out to try and find the body which had been moved to the high altar in the medieval period but during the course of the Reformation the final resting place of the supposed bones of King Harold were lost.

kingharoldsgrave

A more recent supposition is that the body was moved to Bosham Church.  This idea developed in 1954 when during work a Saxon grave was uncovered near the chancel steps close to a grave containing the remains of King Cnut’s daughter – an eight year old who drowned in the nearby river.  These remains had been rediscovered during the Victorian period.  To be buried near the chancel suggests a high rank – there is the small problem that analysis of the bones at the time suggested someone older than Harold but it does remain a possibility.  Bosham fell into the hands of William the Conqueror after 1066.

And just because I can – there’s also the theory that Harold survived Hastings and spent his life on various pilgrimages before going back to Waltham to die.  If that theory takes your fancy then you can read more at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-29612656

The image of the marker comes from http://blueborage.blogspot.com/2016/10/is-king-harold-buried-here-ruins-at.html

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

Who was Guy of Ponthieu

Guy_of_PonthieuGuy of Ponthieu captured Harold of Wessex he arrived from England in 1054  and his boat was wrecked off modern day Picardy– whether it was a fishing trip gone wrong or a diplomatic mission to have his brother and nephew released from the custody of Duke William or even on the orders of King Edward.  Guy based the capture on the laws of  Wreck.  Essentially any ship wrecked mariner could find himself sold into slavery, kept imprisoned or ransomed back to his family.  Guy liked, it would seem, to entertain his captives in the interval between capture and release by torturing them.  The Bayeux tapestry suggests that on receiving the news of Harold’s arrival Guy rode in person to view the sailors who had the misfortune to make land fall upon his coast.

BayeuxTapestryScene07

 

William upon hearing the news at Rouen from a messenger ordered Guy to hand the earl over into his custody.  Guy does this because he is a vassal of Normandy – which makes it all sound very straight forward and Guy’s part in the tale very small but as is the way of these things there is a back story.

 

Guy succeeded to the County of Ponthieu after the death of his brother Enguarrand (the second count of that name) who was William, Duke of Normandy’s brother-in-law.  The marriage with Adeliza or Adelaide, Daughter of Duke Richard, was annulled in 1049/50 on the grounds of consanguinity.  There was a daughter also called Adeliza from the marriage.

Just to make life that little bit more entertaining Enguerrand and Guy’s sister was married to William of Normandy’s uncle.  The uncle, William of Arques, had contested his nephew’s claim to the duchy of Normandy based on the fact that William of Normandy was illegitimate. By 1053 the two Williams had come to blows and the French had waded in on William of Arques’ side.  Enguarrand’s family ties with William of Arques not to mention the fact that his ex-wife had retained her dower despite their annulment goes some way to explaining why the Count of Porthieu fought against William of Normandy rather than with him.  He was killed in 1053 at the siege of Argues by William’s men.

 

Guy, the count on the Bayeaux tapestry, sought to be revenged for his brother’s death by joining forces against William.    Unfortunately he was captured following the Battle of Mortemer (6thFeb 1054) and spent the next two years in custody at Bayeux until he was released having sworn fealty to Duke William.  Consequentially when William of Normandy demanded the release of Harold Earl of Wessex Guy didn’t have a great deal of choice.

count guyGuy is shown on the Bayeux tapestry on four occasions. Harold is shown being captured by Guy mounted on a horse as he comes ashore; then on his throne – replete with a Norman looking hair cut and stipey socks (I know they’re not called socks but just roll with it.)  He’s shown for a third time when William’s men turn up demanding Harold’s release into their custody.  William’s men are all taller than Guy who appears to be wearing a rather colourful tunic along with a set of yellow and green hose. The final occasion for Guy to appear on the tapestry is when he takes Harold to hand him over to William.

county guy and duke william

Is it my imagination or is Guy riding a mule whilst William is riding a horse – either way Guy’s mount has a very small head?  The camels in the side panels above are interesting.  They are symbolic of something!  Endurance, lust or even humility …take your pick.

 

Robert, Count of Mortain

odo-robertIt’s odd how names echo through history.   Prince John was made Count of Mortain in 1189 when he married Isabella of Gloucester shortly before his brother Richard went off to the Crusades.  The move was designed to ensure that John towed the line whilst Richard was away.

The title and territory belonged to the Dukedom of Normandy and seems to have been given to family members.  William the Conqueror made his half brother Robert the Count of Mortain in about 1063.   William of Jumièges  records that William of Normandy appointed his brother to the plum title after he stripped his cousin William Wernlenc of the position.  The Orderic Vitalis tells the story of Wernlenc promising an impoverished household knight all the booty he could wish for from inside Normandy.  It smacked of treachery so William deposed Wernlenc.  Mortain was on Normandy’s border with Brittany and Maine.  William needed to trust the man in charge of the territory.

William and Robert shared a mother, Herleva.  William’s mother was eventually married to Herluin, Vicomte of Conteville. Odo was born in 1030, two years (ish) after William’s birth.  The year after that Robert was born. William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Regnum talks about Odo being astute and clever whilst Robert was dull and plodding – though I agree with Goulding’s analysis that it would have been unwise of Duke William to place such a man in charge of the vulnerable western border to Normandy.

Robert married Matilda de Montgommery, the daughter of Roger de Montgommery who would become the Earl of Shrewsbury.  The Orderic Vitalis identifies Robert’s wife and parentage.

Popular history tends to remember Odo because of his role in commissioning the Bayeux Tapestry – who can forget the club wielding bishop?  Robert was not only one of William’s companions but also helped his half brother to build and equip the invasion fleet. He provided 120 vessels.  He appears on the Bayeux tapestry along side William as depicted in the image at the start of the post. William of Poitiers confirms that Robert was part of the invasion planning council. Once the conquest of England was complete Robert was also made Earl of Cornwall and richly rewarded.

One key land holding was Pevensey and another was Berkhamstead.  Both locations were equipped with motte and bailey castles.  It is from the Orderic we discover that Robert was a key military commander when the Danes attempted to invade England in 1069 following Edgar the Athling’s rebellion. Robert was left at Lindsey to flush out the Danes whilst William went north.  The Vitalis goes on to describe the “harrying of the North.”

Robert remained loyal to William throughout his half-brother’s life. William died in 1087 – by then Odo was not only disgraced but imprisoned.  William wished to exclude the bishop from his deathbed amnesty but was persuaded by Robert to include their sibling.

In 1088, however,  he joined with his brother Odo in revolt against their nephew William Rufus.  William Rufus returned the earldom of Kent to Odo but it wasn’t long before his uncle was plotting to make Rufus’s elder brother, Robert Curthose, king of England as well as Duke of Normandy.  Rufus attacked Tonbridge castle where Odo was based.  When the castle fell Odo fled to Robert in Pevensey.  The plan was that Robert Curthose’s fleet would arrive there, just as William the Conqueror’s had done in 1066.  Instead, Pevensey fell to William after a siege that lasted six weeks.

William Rufus pardoned his uncle Robert and reinstated him to his titles and lands. He died in Normandy in 1095.

Golding, Brian. (1979) “Robert of Mortain,” in Proceedings of the Battle Conference

edited by Marjorie Chibnall (pp119-145) 

 

Domesday and the Salisbury Oath

william the conqueror. jpeg

William, Duke of Normandy raising his visor to show that he is unharmed. Depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry.

William the Conqueror died on 9th September 1087.  The years following 1066 had not been peaceful ones.  He may have secured the Crown with the death of Harold at Hastings but there was the small matter of resistance and revolt. In 1067 Eadric the Wild revolted, he was followed by the Northern earls and then in 1070 King Sweyn arrived from Denmark.

Let’s not forget Malcolm Canmore who made a bit of a habit of invading the North of England. In 1072 William returned the compliment by taking his army into Scotland

William’s family proved disloyal. In 1077 Robert Curthose – or Robert “shorty-pants” rebelled against his father because he wanted some real power.  Even worse William’s wife Matilda supported their son.    William’s brother Odo the Bishop of Bayeux who features on the tapestry as William’s right hand man found himself arrested and carted off to Rouen without trial in 1082. The following year Matilda died and Robert went on a European jaunt.  William must have felt particularly betrayed by his brother because he refused to include Odo in his death bed amnesty of prisoners.

 

So there’s the back drop.  The Danes were contemplating invading England and William’s son was endangering William’s position in Normandy by making an alliance with King Philip of France.  His brother, on whom William had relied, proved greedy, ambitious and untrustworthy.  In 1086, William’s health was failing, having been described by the French king as looking as though he was pregnant – William ordered an evaluation for tax purposes of his English territories.  He was expecting trouble and wanted to know how much revenue he could draw on.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle describes how the king sent men across England to find out how many hundred hides of land there were (120 acres) in each shire, what William owned and what his income ought to have been in terms of taxation.  He also wanted to know what his bishops and earls owned.   The result is unique.

In addition to taxation William wanted guarantees of loyalty.  With this in mind he summoned the great and the good to Salisbury in August 1087 along with a range of landowners.  Normally, in the feudal system, a king took oaths of fealty from his tenants-in-chief and they took oaths in their turn.  At Salisbury William extended the oath taking beyond his chief land owners.  There were one hundred and seventy tenants-in-chief

The ceremony took place at Old Sarum and included sub tenants as well as tenants-in-chief.  Essentially William understood that although the 170 chiefs owed their allegiance to him that their tenants owed their allegiance to the chiefs rather than to him – as in my vassal’s vassal is not my vassal!  This demonstrates that the centralised pinnacle of the feudal system wasn’t yet in place in England in 1087.  The Order Vitallis says that William  distributed land to some 60,000 knights – a huge number – and even if it is wrong (600 is rather nearer the mark) it is useful to demonstrate how the Oath of Salisbury changed things- At Salisbury William gained oaths of allegiance from everyone who held land – they were now all his vassals and owed him service not just the 170 bigwigs.

Cassady, Richard. The Norman Achievement

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

 

Danish and Saxon Kings of England before the Norman conquest – an eleventh century game of thrones

Ethelred_the_UnreadyWe think of England before 1066, if we think of it at all,  as being Anglo Saxon with a large Danish contingent in the north.  Simple perhaps,  that’s the story most of us learn as children in primary school.  Unfortunately for the Anglo-Saxons and their Norse descended neighbours things were not that straight forward. England was a wealthy country and its inhabitants might have been forgiven for thinking that they were a tasty bone being pulled first one way and then the other by  opposing forces.

Æthelred the Unready, pictured at the start of this post,  ruled England from 996.  His predecessor was Edward the Martyr.  Edward died in uncertain circumstances in Corfe Castle- Suffice it to say that Edward’s death didn’t enhance the reputation of Æthelred’s mother. Æthelred was the three times great grandson of King Alfred.  He ruled until 1013.  During that time his biggest problem were the Danes.  Thanks to bad advice Æthelred’s response was to pay them to go away and when they kept coming back he ordered the massacre of all Danes in England in 1002.

The event is known as the St Brice’s Day Massacre. It wasn’t an unmitigated success Æthelred could only really expect the order to be carried out in the southern parts of England.  In addition to which Swein, or Sweyn, Forkbeard’s sister was amongst the victims of the massacre along with her husband and child,

sweyn-forkbeard-invade-englandSwein seeking revenge and revenue committed himself to invading England. The Chroniclers do not have much good to say about Swein.  Suffice it to say he became the first Dane who could claim to be king of all England in 1013.  The following year he fell off his horse and died.

There were now two possible contenders for the crown. Æthelred who had made himself scarce on the Isle of Wight during Swein’s period in power and Swein’s son Cnut (yup – the one who allegedly demonstrated that he couldn’t hold back the tide.) Æthelred now promised the nobility all sorts of things so that Cnut found that he didn’t have as many allies as he previously thought meaning that Cnut’s territory dwindled quite rapidly.

Edmund_Ironside_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VI.jpg

If this seems straight forward Æthelred’s son Edmund known as Ironside because of his warrior like tendencies now decided to revolt against his father.  It was only when Cnut came back to England in 1016 that Edmund returned to his father’s side.  By then Æthelred’s chief ally a Norwegian called Olaf Haroldson had taken himself off for a spot of light raiding in Europe. Æthelred died in April 1016.  The battle for England continued between Edmund and Cnut.  Cnut won a decisive battle in October 1016 and Edmund Ironside died at the end of November.

cnutCnut was now king of England.  He married Æthelred’s widow Emma.  Cnut the Great ruled England for the better part of two decades.  He died on 12th November 1035.  In Denmark he was replaced by his son with Emma – Harthacnut.

England was a less straight forward proposition.  Cnut had two sons by two different women – Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut.  The former found support in the north of the country – by which I mean north of the Thames- whilst the latter had more support in Wessex.  Eventually Harefoot was acknowledged king but not until 1037.  He died in 1040.

harold harefoot.jpg

 

Harthacnut_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VIHarthacnut then returned to England and became king without any difficulty.  Harthacnut celebrated his arrival by having Harefoot dug up, beheaded and dumped in a handy marsh.  He ruled until 8th June 1042 when he died having celebrated the wedding of Cnut’s standard bearer Tovi the Proud at Lambeth.  Harthacnut stood to drink a toast to the bride and promptly died.

 

England had been under Danish rule since 1016.  The House of Wessex now regained the upper hand.  Emma’s sons by Æthelred, Edward and Alfred, had grown up in Normandy.  They had attempted to regain the Crown in 1036 when Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut were at a standoff after their father’s death.  Edward had arrived at Southampton and then taken himself back to Normandy.  His brother Alfred had landed in Dover, been greeted by Earl Godwin, tricked into believing that Godwin sided with Æthelred’s sons, captured, blinded and left to died from his injuries at Ely.

Edward the confessor drawn

Now, in 1042, Godwin the most powerful of the earls supported Edward’s claim to the throne. It wasn’t long before Godwin’s family began to benefit from their father’s decision. Then in 1045 Godwin’s daughter Edith married Edward.  When Edward died on 5th January 1066 he had not children of his own.

Anyone with the blood of the Royal House of Wessex could have been king if they had sufficient support. Edward Ætheling, the son of Edmund Ironside, had returned to England from Hungary in 1057 but died, somewhat suspiciously, almost as soon as he arrived back in England with his three children.  Edward is also known in history as Edward the Exile.

Edward’s son Edgar was an Ætheling – i.e. throne worthy but he was not really old enough when Edward the Confessor died in 1066 to become king. The man who wielded the most political power in the country was Godwin’s son Harold, although Harold’s brother Tostig also fancied his chances.

There was also the small matter of a promise made to Duke William of Normandy by Edward the Confessor possibly in the winter of 1051-52 when he had been able to rid himself, albeit briefly, of the Godwin clan.  In 1064 Harold Godwinson had made a trip to Normandy and had not been allowed to return home until he had sworn to support Duke William’s claim to the throne.

And then there was the claim of  King Magnus I of Norway who said that Harthcnut had left the throne to him not to Edward the Confessor. He had been crowned king of Denmark in 1042 after Harthacnut’s death honouring the agreement made between the two men that which ever one of them who outlived the other would inherit the dead man’s kingdom.  Magnus had not pursued his claim to England but in 1066 his son Harold Hardrada in alliance with Harold Godwinson’s brother, Tostig, would make an attempt to secure the throne.

 

 

Danegeld and heregeld

King-Cnut-stowe_ms_944_f006r.jpgIn 1066 the total population of England was somewhere between 2 and 2.5 million.  North and East of the A5 – or Watling Street- a good chunk of the population was of Scandinavian (largely Danish) descent being in the Danelaw part of the country.  Localhistories.org state that the population was much smaller than it had been in Roman times given that they identify a figure twice that of Anglo-Saxon England. 90% of the Anglo-Saxon population  in 1066 were involved in agriculture.

We know that England was one of the wealthiest countries in Europe at the time – in part we know this because of the collection of Danegeld during the period when Ethelred the Unready was king. In 1018 the Saxons gave King Cnut £82,000 which is a staggering sum of money.  In total the Vikings netted something in the region of £137,000 between 991 and 1012.  Clearly things were going from bad to worse for the Saxons.

Essentially following the second wave of Viking incursions from 1012 onwards Ethelred paid the Vikings money to go away – not understanding that they were freelancers and that once word spread that the Anglo-Saxons were handing out cash that more Vikings would turn up to benefit from the bonanza.  In later years Danegeld became heregeld or Army Tax.  Somewhat ironically we know that one of Ethelred’s mercenaries was the very nordic Thorkell the Tall who signed up in 1014 for £21,000.

Since 90% of the population were required to work the land it stands to reason that the heregeld was not to pay for new weapons or to pay homegrown soldiers but to pay a largely mercenary force to send the Vikings on their way.  This was not an entirely successful policy on the Saxons part as the Danes led by Cnut occupied England between 1016 and 1042.   They continued to levy the tax. Cnut died in 1035 and was succeeded by his sons Harthacnut and then Harold Harefoot.

Notwithstanding the change in rulers from Saxons to Vikings to Saxons and then Normans, heregeld continued to be collected until 1162 with a slight interruption during the reign of Edward the Confessor who discontinued its payment in 1051.  It was noted by Florence of Worcester as paying for a vessel and eighty warriors.

It is not surprising that the value of a penny in terms of its weight declined until Edward the Confessor placed a halt, albeit a temporary one, on the tax.  Every village was required to pay.  Bartering and exchange of good was not an option.  Thus the mint had to produce more coins and didn’t have sufficient metal of the job.

Rather uncharmingly, heregeld was the first nationally collected tax in Europe.  It also demonstrated that Ethelred was capable of levying a tax because he had the necessary bureaucracy in place to do so.  It was during this time for instance that the office of sheriff first appears in the written record.  Unsurprisingly the Normans kept the system in tact.  We know that Norman sheriffs usually paid a fee in order to acquire the job – these so called “farms” demonstrate that not only was the sheriff an important administrative official representing the monarch but that it was a highly lucrative job.  The person who was sheriff could control the other local magnates because it was his job to collect the heregeld and could thus dominate his locality as well as pocketing part of the taxes that he collected.

One of the problems of the taxation during Saxon times was that smallholders often found it difficult to pay the tax so during this period the make up of Saxon hierarchy changed so that there were fewer free holders and more villeins.

The image at the beginning of this post comes from the British Library

 

Lambert, Tom. Law and Order in Anglo-Saxon England.

Lawson, M.K. The collection of Danegeld and Heregeld in the reigns of Aethelred II and Cnut  The English Historical Review, Volume XCIX, Issue CCCXCIII, 1 October 1984, Pages 721–738, https://doi.org/10.1093/ehr/XCIX.CCCXCIII.721