Tag Archives: Edith Swanneck

Harold Godwinson’s women

aeflgyvva.jpgIn 1064, so yes slightly before the start date of my self imposed chronological constraint, Earl Harold Godwinson ended up on the wrong side of the Channel.  The Malmesbury Chronicle says that he went on a fishing trip and got blown off course due to bad weather whilst the Bayeux Tapestry depicts Harold arriving to retrieve various relations who had been held hostage for several years.  Whatever the truth of it Harold swiftly found himself being handed over to Duke William in Rouen and during his time in Normandy even taking part in William’s military campaign in Brittany.

Both the Malmesbury Chronicle and the writer of the Jumieges Chronicle report that Harold agreed to support William’s claim to the English throne at this time but that William offered his eldest daughter Adeliza to Harold as a deal sweetener.  Apparently the girl wasn’t yet old enough to marry the handsome English earl but when she did come of age William offered his daughter together with a handsome dowry. Borman notes that Adeliza would have been about seven-years-old in 1064. Borman continues her story by suggesting that it was William’s wife, Matilda, who brokered the deal and that the woman in the Bayeux Tapestry titled “Aelfgyva” is in fact Adeliza.  The woman in the Bayeux Tapestry is an adult, and of course, Adeliza would not have been married until she reached puberty so it could be that the creators of the tapestry are looking to the future.  Borman (page 81) adds that it is possible that the woman is framed in a ducal doorway on the tapestry and that the priest touching her cheek is actually removing her veil – so a depiction of the betrothal ceremony.  The only problem, apart from the obvious age thing, is that why anglicise Adeliza’s name?  The tapestry is, after all, Norman despite its English crafting.  Borman also makes the very good point that there is a subtext in the tapestry.  There are a couple up to marginal naughtiness in the borders of the tapestry at this point in the story – and it hardly seems to apply to Adeliza.  Borman goes on to suggest that Aelfygvva is actually Harold’s sister who was fetched across to Normandy for a corresponding Norman-English marriage to cement the agreement.

Walker notes that one source suggests a plan to marry Harold’s sister to Duke William – which can’t have been the case as his wife Matilda might have objected.  More plausibly there may have been a projected marriage between Harold’s sister and William’s eldest son Robert. Walker also offers the suggestion that Harold was actually on his way into continental Europe to arrange an advantageous match for his sister when he got blown off course and ended up as a ‘guest’ of William.

Freeman notes that the lady in question could be a courtesan provided for Harold at Rouen or even, and I’m still not quite sure why she’d be in the Bayeux Tapestry a mistress of either Cnut or Harold’s brother Swegn (who happened to also be an abbess- the mistress that is). Freeman presents the argument that the lady in question is none of the above but actually Queen Emma who changed her name to one that tripped off Saxon tongues upon her marriage to Aethelred (the Unready). Emma ultimately married Aethelred’s enemy Cnut having left the children of her first marriage in Normandy (Alfred and Edward – who became the Confessor and despite being Saxon was actually very Norman).  At a later date she was accused of impropriety with the Bishop of Winchester – not to mention the blinding and eventual death of her own son Alfred at Ely.  Freeman argues that not only did Emma have a Norman link but demonstrated the chaos of pre-conquest England in the minds of the Normans as well as the perfidy of the Godwinson clan – Emma having been linked in her policies to Harold’s father (the treacherous Earl Godwin.) Double click on the image to open a new page and a post on the Medievalists.net published in 2012 with more detail about who the mysterious Aelfgyvva might be and why.

 

Now that’s what you call an aside!

The Malmesbury Chronicle, to go back to the original point of the post, says that William’s daughter died before she could be married to Harold and this added to Harold’s justification for breaking his oath to support William.

There’s also the small matter that Harold was some forty years older than his intended bride and possibly already had a wife in the form of  Edith Swanneck.  History always seems a bit vague about what to call this particular Edith.  Some texts refer to her as Harold’s mistress, others as his common law wife.  It appears that the couple were hand fasted in the Norse  not-entirely-Christian-somewhat frowned upon by the Church-tradition.  Harold had several children with Edith Swanneck and they were not regarded as illegitimate at the time but then when Harold made his claim to the throne it was deemed sensible that he should make a more acceptable marriage to the widow of his enemy Llewelyn – Edith of Mercia to strengthen his position.  It was Edith Swan neck who, according to legend,  went in search of Harold’s body in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings.

History is a bit vague about when Harold married Edith of Mercia but they were certainly married by the time he became king in 1066.  In the aftermath of Hastings, history’s last sight of Edith is heading in the direction of Chester in the company of her brothers.

Borman, Tracy (2011 ) Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror.  London: Jonathan Cape

Freeman, Eric ( 1991)  Annales de Normandie. The Identity of Aelfgyva in the Bayeux Tapestry  Volume 41  number 2 pp. 117-134 http://www.persee.fr/doc/annor_0003-4134_1991_num_41_2_1886#annor_0003-4134_1991_num_41_2_T1_0119_0000 (accessed 13th June 2016 23:35)

Walker Ian W. (2010) Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King Stroud: Sutton Publishing

 

2 Comments

Filed under Eleventh Century, Norman Conquest

King Harold’s children

womanfleeingHarold Godwinson became King of England on 6th January 1066.  He was married to Edith, the daughter of Earl Alfgar of Mercia.

Edith didn’t have much luck with husbands.  Her first one was a welsh king who died in 1063.  Three years later she married Harold in March 1066.  Nine months after that a bouncing baby boy was born in Chester – Harold of Chester.  Other sources say he was born early the following year.  In either event Edith and Harold sought shelter in Ireland before heading to Europe in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings.  Nothing further is known of them although there is some suggestion that they may have been given sanctuary in Norway. It is also possible that Edith went to the nunnery at St Omer where his mother and one of his daughters fled after an abortive uprising against the Conqueror. History once again provides tantalising hints but not the full story.

Edith was possibly the mother of Ulf, another  of Harold’s sons – although it is equally likely that rather than twins Uf was the son of Harold’s lover Edith Swan-neck.  It has been suggested that the unknown woman on the Bayeux Tapestry fleeing with a child from a burning building could be Edith swan-neck and Ulf.  The pair could just as likely be representative of the innocent citizens of Hastings who found their buildings burning around their ears.  Somehow or other Ulf  found himself safely secured in Normandy.  History doesn’t say what happened to him although he was alive according to Weir (Britain’s Royal Families) in 1087.

Harold’s lover, Edith Swan-neck was the woman who searched the battle field for his body in the aftermath of Hastings. It was she who’d provided Harold with at least five children who were, in 1066, a threat to William’s quiet enjoyment of his new kingdom.

King Harold’s mother, Gytha held out against the Norman invaders in Exeter.  She chose 1067 when William returned to Normandy to make her presence felt.  Exeter fell after eighteen days but their determination gave Harold’s mother, his sister Gunnhild and his daughter Gytha time to escape to the Island of Flatholme in the Bristol Channel before following in the sails of other English refugees to the continent and the nunnery at St Omer which was in the domain of Count Baldwin VI of Flanders.  Harold’s mother and sister remained there for the rest of their lives.

Harold’s daughter Gytha on the other hand married, through Swedish diplomacy, the Russian Prince of Smolensk, Vladimir II.  He went on to become the Grand Prince of Kiev and she mothered somewhere in the region of eight sons and three daughters.  Her descendants became kings of other nations and one of her descendants was a Queen of England  – Edward III’s wife, Queen Philippa of Hainault- which means somewhat bizarrely that the blood of the last Anglo-Saxon King of England flowed in the veins of the Plantagenets and indeed of every monarch since: an unexpected twist to the tale that we don’t learn at school.

Harold’s sons Godwin, Edmund and Magnus went to Dublin after the Conquest.  They returned in 1068 with their swords in their hands and a force of Norse mercenaries from the Kingdom of Dublin. They weren’t warmly received in Bristol so made for Taunton – by sea- where they were seen off by a Saxon who’d submitted to William and who no doubt knew which side his bread was buttered.  The unfortunate Saxon,Eadnoth, died during the ensuing battle but so possibly did Harold’s son Magnus.

Then again may be Magnus didn’t die.  There is a curved inscription in the church of St John in Lewis, Sussex that details the presence of a Prince Magnus of Danish royal stock who became an anchorite there.  Could the Danish reference be a red herring to hide Magnus?

Of Godwin and Edmund more is known.  Although defeated in 1068 they were back the following year with sixty ships.  They attempted to take Exeter but were seen off by the Norman  garrison in their shiny new motte and bailey castle so they settled on causing trouble in the South West but were seen off once more.  They are last heard of in the court of King Swein of Denmark.

Another of King Harold’s daughter, Gunnhild, was a nun at Wilton or at least a woman seeking shelter from the Normans in the nunnery where she’d received her education.  Alan the Red, Earl of Richmond, made off with Gunnhild in August 1093 and that is the subject of a previous blog as well as a topic of Norman Scandal since she refused point blank to take herself back to Wilton when the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that she should do so.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Norman Conquest

Alan of Brittany

images-6

Richmond Castle is exceptionally impressive, towering at over 300 ft, it is also one of Britain’s oldest stone keeps.  There has been one on this site since 1088 . Richmond was granted to Alan the Red, Count of Brittany in 1071.  Alan was a relation of William the Conqueror, a second cousin.  His father was Count Odo of Brittany. He was part of Duke William of Normandy’s household and was at the Battle of Hastings commanding the Breton contingent.

As a consequence, Alan was an extremely rich and powerful man – a position that he improved upon when he helped to quell the rebellion in the North in 1069.  Click on the image of Richmond Castle to open a new page listing all of Alan’s lands in the Domesday Book. He founded St Mary’s Abbey in York.  His power base was the north and his building work demonstrates how important it was for him to make his mark upon the landscape.  He also built the first castle at Middleham which was in the hands of his brother.  By the time of his death he was the fourth largest landowner in England.5-alan-rufus

His ambitions included marriage to the King of Scotland’s daughter Edith also known as Matilda.  William the Conqueror saw this as a step too far but somehow or other Alan had become entangled with another royal lady during this time.  Edith was living at the nunnery of Wilton.  It appears that King Harold’s daughter Gunnhild was living there as well.  She may well have been sent there for her education as well as her own protection.

Alan’s plans for Edith fell through but apparently Gunnhild took herself off to Richmond to be with Alan.  Seems straight forward?  Well, it would be if there was only one source involved – did she go willingly or was she abducted?  Was she a nun or was she simply living in a nunnery as many well-born women did? Was it love or was it a match between a Saxon and a Norman to secure for Alan the lands that came to Gunnhild via her mother (Edith Swanneck)?  If the latter was the case, then Alan was seeking to secure some of his lands not just by conquest but also by union with the woman whose lands they rightfully were.

When Alan died in 1093, shortly after he carried off Gunnhild, his estates went first to his brother, the imaginatively named, Alan the Black and then to their younger brother Stephen.

As for Gunnhild, having eloped from her nunnery, she was in no hurry to return so she took up with Alan the Black and earned a stinging rebuke from Archbishop Anselm.

There is also the intriguing possibility that the dates given above are not the correct ones and that the correct story occurs much earlier. She and Alan eloped in the 1070s rather than just before Alan’s death.  This isn’t as far-fetched as it seems.  After all there are different accounts as to when he died – one gives the date as 1089 when he was very much alive.  If the dates for the match are earlier then it is possible that the couple had a daughter called Matilda who was married to Walter d’Agincourt. Matilda gave large gifts of land at the time of her marriage to Lincoln Cathedral – these were all the property of Alan the Red. This version would, perhaps, also account for the seemingly dramatic swapping of one Alan for another.

Gunnhild is a chance discovery when I was researching Alan the Red to find out more about the man who built Richmond Castle.  She’s sitting on the margins of history and once again the moth-holed accounts are tantalizingly incomplete.

Sources:

Sharpe, Richard. “King Harold’s Daughter”  The Haskins Society Journal 19: 2007. Studies in Medieval History

 edited by Stephen Morillo, William North.  This can be accessed via Google Books and makes for fascinating reading.

21 Comments

Filed under Castles, Eleventh Century