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.

The Conqueror and the Scots

Most people think that in the aftermath of 1066, having won the Battle of Hastings, that William the Conqueror was able to sit back on his newly acquired throne and twiddle his fingers – after all the story is the Conquest of England and that is usually where the topic stops if you are a school child.

However, William spent the rest of his life dealing with rebellions both in England and in Normandy. His neighbours in Normandy also assumed that if William was in England that the Norman border would make an easy target.

As a result of the various rebellions in England many of the Saxon nobility sought shelter at the Scottish court of Malcolm III. He ended up married to Edgar the Atheling’s sister Margaret in 1071 – who renowned for her piety became St Margaret. Edgar with his family arrived in Scotland in 1068 having previously submitted to William only to join with Gospatrick of Northumbria to rebel against William. According to legend the family was on board a vessel destined for the Continent, remember they were originally from Hungary before being invited by Edward the Confessor to return to England.

So far as Malcolm was concerned his marriage to Margaret gave him a claim to the English throne – stories tend to linger more on the romance of the fleeing princess rather than the potential for a land grab. It was an opportunity for Malcolm to expand his borders southwards during times when William had his hands full elsewhere. He celebrated his marriage by invading various bits of Northumberland and Cumberland. It is probable that he was looking to establish a secure border and annex Cumberland which the Normans had not yet got around to quelling aside from the easily accessible coastal areas.

In 1072 William, having dealt with the revolting Northerners, turned his attention to the Scots. He sent an army across the border as well as a fleet of ships. The Scots and the Normans met at Abernethy in Perthshire. Malcom lost the ensuing battle and he was forced to sign the Treaty of Abernethy. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that Malcolm agreed to become William’s man and his son Duncan was handed over as surety for future good behaviour. Edgar was asked politely to leave Scotland and William gave Malcom lands in Cumberland – but which in reality did not receive the Norman stamp until the reign of William Rufus – and even then in times of trouble the Scots were quick to shift the border south. Just as an aside the Norman habit of giving Scottish nobility land in the north of England as a way of turning them into liege men did ultimately change the Scottish language and the politics of the region.

This all sounds very clear cut but the Normans did not successfully invade Scotland – Scotland remained firmly in the hands of the Scots – albeit a Scottish court which many felt was becoming anglicised by the presence of Margaret, her children by Malcolm and the assorted ragtag of Saxons who had sought shelter across the border.

Throughout this period there were skirmishes and battles across the borders between England and Scotland. In 1079 the treaty had to be re-imposed after a Norman army skirmished across the border in retaliation for Malcolm’s incursions into Northumberland.

The treaty broke down completely in 1093. Malcom was killed at the Battle of Alnwick on the 13th November and Margaret, apparently from grief, died on the 16th November. Malcolm was succeeded by his brother Donald.

The coronation of Henry I

henry iiiUpon the death of William Rufus, Henry hastened to Winchester where the royal treasury happened to be located.  Henry was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and he had inherited no land from his father although under the terms of the Conqueror’s will he had been left money.

Under normal circumstances it would have been William and Henry’s older brother who inherited England.  Robert Curthose inherited Normandy from William the Conqueror and after some nastiness with William eventually came to terms with his younger sibling and took himself off on crusade.  When William died in the New Forest Robert was on his way home from the Holy Land.

Henry on the other hand was in England and able to seize the opportunity that presented itself.  Having taken control of the treasury he then ensured that some barons elected him as their king in a nod to the Anglo-Saxon practice of the Witan electing kings and arranged for his coronation to take place as soon as possible.  This took place in Westminster on 5th August 1100.

Henry I’s Coronation Charter is the earliest one to survive.  It is thought that the charter was part of the process by which a king came to the throne in Anglo-Saxon times.  The new king would essentially say to his barons this is what I’m giving you in return for your support of me. More than one copy of the charter exists suggesting that is was circulated in the shires. Basically he condemns William Rufus’ rule “the kingdom has been oppressed by unjust exactions” and then claims that by becoming king Henry has brought peace to the English Nation.  It is said that Henry I’s Coronation Charter is the basis for Magna Carta.  The charter is also called the Charter of Liberties in some sources.

Henry promises that he will not take property that belongs to the Church.  He also says that whilst he expects his barons to consult the monarch in the matter of their daughters’ marriages that he will not exact a tax for them being allowed to marry.  He also explains that if a baron dies with underage heirs that Henry will determine who those heirs will marry but that he will consult with the rest of his barons in the matter.  He also recognises that widows shouldn’t be required to remarry without their consent in the matter.

As well as dealing with feudal matters and wardship Henry also tackles the royal mint.  He makes it clear that it is the king who mints the coinage – no one else is permitted to do so.  He also makes sure that all the royal forests used by William the Conqueror remain in his own hands.  This is a rather clever wheeze of ensuring that if anything had been given away or sold by either William the Conqueror or William Rufus it now returned to the Crown – an veritable example of “having your cake and eating it.”

Essentially the charter places Henry and his successors under the rule of law.  Henry was aware that there had been recent rebellion and resentment of William Rufus.  There was also the small matter of the difficult relationship with the Church.  At a stroke Henry sets the clock back to zero and in so doing gives the barons president for Magna Carta and in turn for the Provisions of Oxford which Henry III was forced to accept by Simon de Montfort in 1264 and which Edward I was prudent enough to adapt in the Statute of Westminster.  It is perhaps not surprising then that Henry’s by-name is Beauclerk – or good scholar.

Henry I would reign for thirty-five years.  He set about bringing unity to his kingdom  not only with his barons but also with his Saxon commoners by marrying Edith of Scotland, the daughter of St Margaret of Scotland (i.e. niece of Edgar the Aethling and granddaughter of Edmund the Exile, the son of King Edmund Ironside, who arrived back in England on the invitation of Edward the Confessor only to die in unexpected circumstances.)  Edith was too Saxon a sounding name so it was promptly changed to Matilda but it was said of Henry that his court was too Saxon.  Certainly his son William who was born in 1103 was called the Atheling in an attempt to weave two cultures together.  So we can also see movement of a wise king towards the unification of his people.  Of course it wasn’t as straight forward as all that not least because William was his only legitimate male heir and he was drowned in 1120 when the White Ship sank.

After the death of his son, Henry remarried to Adela of Louvain who I have posted about before.

It was just as well that Henry had been so conciliatory to his barons and the wider population because in 1101 big brother Robert did invade England.  But, possession is nine tenths of the law and Henry gave him his properties in Normandy as well as an annuity to go away and leave England alone.  In 1106 Henry took advantage of the political turmoil in Normandy and beat Robert at the Battle of Tinchebrai – no more annuities and an entire duchy to add to the list of things that Henry owned although Robert’s son William Clito was unhappy about the outcome for obvious reasons.  Henry drew the line at killing his older brother but Robert would remain a prisoner for the rest of his life.

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/coronation-charter-of-henry-i

http://www.arts.cornell.edu/prh3/MDVL%202130/Texts/1100charter.pdf

Edgar the Atheling

Edgar_the_ÆthelingEdgar is Edward the Exile’s son born in 1050 or 1051.  On his father’s death in February 1057, probably by poisoning, he and his great-uncle King Edward (the Confessor) became the last remaining male descendants of Cerdic (essentially the founder of the royal house of Wessex) – hence the Atheling title meaning of ‘noble  or royal blood.’ As such Edgar was an appropriate candidate for the English crown.  King Edward took Edward the Exile’s family into the English court and cared for them.  Had Edward lived a little while longer Edgar might have been the natural heir to the crown just as his father had once been viewed in a similar way.

On King Edward’s death in January 1066 Edgar was a contender for the throne. Initially he was supported by the Earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria at the Witan (council) which met to select the king.  However, across the Channel, Duke William of Normandy was making his own claim to the crown based on his relationship with Edward, promises made and a certain well-known oath made by Harold. In reality a youth without experience either leading men nor of war was not an ideal choice for a country about to be invaded.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings the Witan selected Edgar to replace King Harold who famously died during the battle. Technically Edgar rather than King Harold was the last pre-conquest king of England but he was never crowned and besides which spent most of the nominal two months he was king on the run from Duke William.  Eventually he submitted to William in Berkhamstead in December 1066.

Edgar lived in William’s court where he was well treated but was, understandably,  kept by William as a hostage to his new subjects good behaviour.  He went to Normandy with the duke in 1067 but when he returned in 1068 he became involved with the earls Edwin and Morcar once more and soon found himself up to his neck in insurrection.  He fled to Scotland very soon afterwards – unlike the folk of York who had to live with the consequences of William’s irritation.

However, Edgar did have a secret weapon that kept him firmly on the political map – his sister Margaret, blogged about in an earlier post, who’d won the heart of King Malcolm (Canmore) of Scotland when the Atheling’s family fled to Scotland in 1067.  Malcolm agreed to support Edgar in his bid for the English throne.  They didn’t have long to wait.  In 1069 the people of the north rose against William once more – history repeated itself.  Edgar fled once more into Scotland.  This process was repeated once more by which time everyone must have been heartily fed up – there wasn’t much left in some parts of the North either.  The Domesday Book shows a marked drop in the value of rents from pre-conquest to post-conquest revenues in many parts of Yorkshire.  Though as with everything there are two sides to every story. One of William’s sidekicks – a chap called Alan the Red- who’d acquired rather a lot of real estate probably ensured his own lands weren’t terribly badly ‘harrowed’.  Not withstanding this salient point it is always worth mentioning that William the Conqueror was allegedly troubled on his deathbed by his unfriendly actions in the north (its a good story anyway though not necessarily fair to William.)

Eventually King Malcolm III signed the Treaty of Abernethy (1072) and that was the end of Edgar’s Scottish sojourn. The Atheling was forced to seek protection from King Philip I in France – Edgar was not a lucky lad.  En route to his new host he was shipwrecked and had to flee back to Scotland.  Malcolm sat his brother-in-law down and had a long chat with him then waved Edgar over the border into England into William’s hands.

The Conqueror treated the troublesome atheling well. He received a pension of £1 a day from 1074 onwards.  Clearly the relationship between Duke William and Edgar must have eased further over time because Edgar went to South Wales campaigning on William’s behalf. He was present at William Rufus’s coronation, went on diplomatic missions for William II and became embroiled in the unseemly squabble over the English crown that raged between William and his elder brother Robert.

In the end Edgar sided with Robert once too often after having spent most of his adult life steering difficult political waters to remain on good terms with everyone.  William Rufus is the king who had the unfortunate accident with an arrow in the New Forest. The English crown should have gone to his brother Robert (known as Curthose) but, hey, little brother Henry was right there while Robert was abroad.  Having got his hands on the crown and the royal treasury he did what anyone would do in the circumstances…became King  Henry I.

Edgar, who had been on a crusade with Robert was at the Battle of Tinchebray in 1106 – it didn’t do Robert much good- he was captured and imprisoned for the rest of his life.  On the other hand Edgar was welcomed back to court by Henry I who had handily married Edgar’s Scottish niece Edith.  Edith – who clearly wanted to win friends and influence people dropped the Saxon Edith and became the Norman Matilda.

Edgar died in 1125 having spent his latter years away from court. He was probably due a few quiet years!

Edward the Exile

220px-Edward_the_Exile4/5th January 1066

King Edward the Confessor dies at the Palace of Westminster, according to the Bayeaux Tapestry with his wife Edith the sister of Harold Godwinson at his side. Although he had promised to support William, Duke of Normandy’s claim to the English throne, Harold allowed himself to be elected King as soon as Edward is dead. However these two weren’t the only claimants to the English throne.  There were also:

  • Edgar the Atheling
  • Tostig, Harold Godwinson’s brother
  • Harold Hardrada, King of Norway.

Edgar the Atheling’s claim to the throne came from his bloodline.  King Ethelred the Unready or ‘the Redeless’ who died 23rd April 1016 was his great grandfather.  He was the chap who paid the Vikings huge sums of Danegeld to go away but they never did.

Edgar’s grandfather was Edmund Ironside who briefly succeeded his father but who died in November that year, probably assassinated, and than replaced by the Scandanavian King Cnut or Canute.  Canute went on to marry Ethelred’s widow, Emma of Normandy (who just to confuse matters nicely was also the mother of Edward the Confessor – so Edmund Ironside was  Edward the Confessor’s half-brother.  There’s nothing like keeping it all in the family- makes me glad I’m descended from a long line of peasants.)

But back to Edgar and his family tree.  Edmund Ironside, assassinated and quietly buried in Glastonbury Abbey, left  two sons -Edward and Edmund (Obviously history was going through the letter E at the time). Florence of Worcester writes that the brothers were twins.  They went first to Sweden on the orders of King Canute who sent with them a nice letter suggesting that it would be perfectly acceptable for the royal orphans to have a nasty accident – according to Florence of Worcester again.  Apparently Canute’s half-brother who was king of Sweden drew the line at murdering small children and sent them on their way to Kiev.  They eventually ended up in Hungary where the  queen was an aunt of some description on their mother’s side and where they lived in relative obscurity but as handy pawns in a hugely complicated game of early medieval politics.  Edmund died but Edward married Agatha, a niece of Henry III, Emperor of Germany, by whom he had three children. There was one son – Edgar born in 1050 who made a claim to the English throne on the death of Edward the Confessor and then again after the Battle of Hastings.  There were also two daughters, Margaret and Christina.

From here the plot thickens somewhat- if it hasn’t been convoluted enough already.  England went through a series of kings with lively Norse attitudes to life – from Canute via Harold Harefoot to Harthacnut.  Both the later were Canute’s sons and seemed to have retained an essential Viking approach to life. For instance Harthacnut had Harold Harefoot excavated from his grave and his corpse thrown into a nearby fen.  Harthacnut who had a wider reputation for being a rather nasty piece of work aside from his approach to family was Edward the Confessor’s half-brother.  Eventually the Scandinavian types expired without issue – Harthacnut choked at a wedding feast.

Edward the Confessor was then invited back to be king.  He’d spent most of his life in Normandy by this time.  His dress was Norman and his chosen advisors were Norman but Earl Godwin of Wessex soon put paid to that sort of behaviour until he was briefly exiled in 1051.  Edward (the Confessor) took the opportunity to invite his half-nephew Edward (that’s Edmund’s son – the one married to Agatha) to come back to England with his family, delighted not only that Edward was alive but also that he was a solution to problem forming around the pro-Norman and pro-Saxon factions at court.

 

Edward the Atheling also known as Edward the Exile for pretty obvious reasons returned to England in 1057.  He was the solution to Edward the Confessor’s lack of children and the fact that the Normans under Duke William and the Godwinssons (Earl Godwin’s disgrace  didn’t last long) were all set to fight over the kingdom.  Edward the Exile was of noble blood and was the son of Edmund Ironside so had he lived might have been able to hold the English crown.  The Witan (Edward’s council) seconded the invitation as they also recognised the need for an heir that would avoid bloodshed.  In addition to which coming from Hungary, Edward the Exile had no links to Normandy.

When Edward finally did arrive in England, Florence of Worcester says “We do not know for whatever reason that was done that the atheling was not allowed to see his relation, Edward King.”  It’s a shame that chroniclers can sometimes be so tight lipped.  Why was Edward not allowed to meet Edward?  It’s all a matter of supposition.

And sadly it didn’t get any better, two days after his boat docked Edward the Exile was dead.  His death is shrouded in mystery but generally speaking most historians seem to agree that it was murder. None of the chroniclers mention that Edward the Exile was in ill health.  A man with such a good claim to the throne was inevitably going to make enemies and it is highly likely that someone somewhere decided to remove Edward before he became a problem.  In all good murder mysteries the advice is to look in the direction of the person who benefits – so that’ll be William of Normandy or Harold Godwinson assuming that Edward got on well with his wife and hadn’t left anyone feeling particularly aggrieved in Hungary.

The Bury Psalter, an eleventh century text, contains a family tree showing some of the descendants of Edward the Exile.  One daughter, Christina became a nun but the other one – Margaret- became St Margaret of Scotland having fled to Scotland in 1067 where she eventually married King Malcolm. As for Edward’s son, Edgar the Atheling his was a life of rebellion, captivity and ultimately death on crusade.