Cardinal Wolsey and the monasteries

wolseyWe tend to think of Thomas Cromwell as the man who did for England’s monasteries but before he became Henry VIII’s Vicar General, Cardinal Wolsey had already demonstrated various ways and means of milking the cloisters.

Most famously between 1524 and 1527 he arranged the suppression of 29 monastic foundations in order to finance his school in Ipswich and Cardinal’s College Oxford.  One of Wolsey’s men of business  at the time was Thomas Cromwell.  In 1530 after the fall and death of the Cardinal, Cromwell spent five days in Canwell and Sandwell (Staffs) seeing to the winding up of the two priories there which had been closed to finance Wolsey’s educational enterprises.

It should be added that Wolsey was not doing something new when he suppressed the 29 monasteries.  He was copying  William Waynflete of Winchester who had suppressed foundations in Hampshire in order to fund Magdalen College in 1458.  Wolsey studied there so it is not hard to see where he might have got his inspiration from.

Nor for that matter was he simply suppressing English monasteries because he could do so – when he became papal legate in 1518 he also received a mandate from Pope Clement VII to reform the monastic establishment as he saw fit.  The papal bull for these suppressions also identified Cardinal Campeggio.  It is evident from the State papers that Wolsey was careful to keep his royal master informed of events.  Here is an extract of a letter dating from 1528 sent to Campeggio.

Sir [Gregory] Casale….where he received letters from the King and the cardinal of York, with orders to obtain certain favors from the Pope. Not being in a fit state to ride, he has caused his brother, the elect of Bellun, to repair hither. You will have learned what the King and Cardinal desire, namely, the union of certain monasteries to the value of 8,000 [ducats?], for the two colleges established by the grandfathers of his Majesty. As the Pope was able to grant this sine consilio fratrum, the bull will be expedited. … We have letters from the King and Cardinal to the Pope, to which an answer shall be sent when the “expeditions” shall have been made. 

This was all well and good whilst Wolsey had Henry VIII’s favour but as every English churchman was aware – if they fell from favour the charge they would face was one of praemunire i.e. maintaining papal authority above that of the monarch. The pope did not simply give Wolsey carte blanche to close what he wanted.  Each of the foundations was required to close with the consent of its patron or founder.  Consequently the charge of closing the monasteries was a bit of a mean one as Wolsey  had in many cases required the intervention or consent of the king (Butler and Given-Wilson).

Wolsey started his suppressions with St Frideswide in Oxford with its fifteen canons and an income of approximately £20 p.a..  The canons were transferred to other foundations. The properties and their estates and churches were either sold or leased.  Most of the other monasteries he suppressed also only had a handful of clerics and a limited income.  In Ipswich where he founded his school he suppressed the local priory and used its land as the site for the school.  Ten more monasteries in Suffolk closed to finance the Ipswich venture.

 

There were various ways of interfering in the monasteries aside from closing them down.  As readers might expect Henry VII and his tax advisors Empson and Dudley had a few wheezes of their own.  The Crown often interfered in the election of abbots and priors.  St Mary’s Abbey in York paid the Crown £100 so that it might have free elections as did Great Malvern Abbey.  The Cistercians coughed up £5000 to cover all their foundations. The practice continued in the reign of Henry VIII.  In 1514 Evesham paid £160 for a free election and further £100 was added to the bill for a certain cleric called Wolsey.  Later in his career he took to charging for appointment to office.  The abbot of Gloucester was supposed to have paid Wolsey £100 for the job as did the abbots of Chester and Peterborough.

Of course, 1514 was the year the Wolsey became Bishop of York.  The office was followed by the title of cardinal the following year.  As a bishop Wolsey had the right to carry out visitations within his diocese.  Effectively bishops could demand to see an abbey or priory’s accounts and make enquiries into the moral solvency of a foundation.  Wolsey could not only to pry into the corners of Yorkshire’s monastic soul but also the dioceses of Winchester, Durham and Bath and Wells.  In 1518 he became a Papal Legate and his rights to stick his nose into abbey habits became nationwide. The following year Wolsey sent three Augustinians off to visit all Augustinian foundations and it would certainly appear that he had it in for the Augustinians if the list of suppressed monasteries in this post is anything to go by.  Supporters of Wolsey identify his reforming vigour.  Opponents are more likely to comment on the visitation as a strategy for extortion.

In 1523 he was voted a monastic subsidy – think of it as a clerical tax headed for the chubby paws of the cardinal.  It should also be noted that monasteries made an incredibly generous number of financial gifts to England’s spiritual leader.  Whalley Abbey sent him £22  for example.

Later when Wolsey fell from favour and the charges against him were drawn up the suppression of the twenty-nine monasteries featured on the list as did his habit of sending his employees to influence monastic elections not only of abbots and priors but also of high stewards.  The charges of praemunire include one of “crafty persuasions.”

But back to Wolsey’s suppressions.  There is a note in Henry VIII’s letters and state papers sent to Master Doctor Higden the first dean and former fellow of Magdalen College on the 21 June 1527:  Of the late monasteries of St. Frideswide, Liesnes, Poghley, Sandwell, Begham, Tykforde, Thobye, Stanesgat, Dodneshe, Snape, Tiptre, Canwell, Bradwell, Daventrie, Ravenston; of lands in cos. of Essex and Suffolk; Calceto, Wykes, Snape; of monasteries suppressed in cos. Stafford, Northampton, Bucks, Oxford and Berks; Tonbridge, in Kent; and in Sussex.

List of monastic foundations suppressed by Cardinal Wolsey

  1. St Frideswide, Oxford.  (Augustinian)
  2. St Peter and St Paul Priory, Ipswich. (Augustinian)
  3.  Bayham Abbey (Premonstratsensian)
  4. Begham Priory
  5. Blythburgh Priory (Augustinian)
  6. Bradwell Priory (Benedictine)
  7. Bromehill Priory (Augustinian) – Suppressed in 1528 by Dr Legh.
  8. Canwell Priory (Benedictine)
  9. Daventry Priory (Cluniac)
  10. Dodnash Priory (Augustinian)
  11. Farewell Priory (Benedictine nuns)
  12. Felixstowe Priory (Benedictine)
  13. Horkesley Priory (Cluniac)
  14. Lesnes  Abbey (Augustinian)
  15. Medmenham Priory  (Augustinian)  Medmenham  would later be the site of the notorious eighteenth century Hellfire Club.
  16. Mountjoy Priory (Augustinian)
  17. Poughley Priory (Augustinian) – Thomas Cromwell valued it at £10
  18. Pynham Priory (known as Calceto)  (Augustinian)
  19. Ravenstone Priory (Augustinian)
  20. Rumburgh Priory (Benedictine)
  21. Sandwell Priory (Benedictine)
  22. Snape Priory (Benedictine)
  23. Stanesgate Priory (Cluniac) – Visited by Dr Layton.
  24. Thoby Priory (Augustinian)
  25. Tiptree Priory (Augustinian)
  26. Tickford Priory (Augustinian)
  27. Tonbridge Priory (Augustinian)
  28. Wallingford Priory (Benedictine)
  29. Wix Priory (Benedictine nuns)

The value of the monasteries that Wolsey closed came to £1800 – or one decent sized manor.  He used his administrative team to evaluate and suppress the monasteries.  Thomas Cromwell would use the same men on a far grander scale from 1535 onwards.

Butler, Lionel and Given-Wilson, Chris. (1979) Medieval Monasteries of Great Britain. London: Michael Joseph

 

Heale, Martin. (2016) The Abbots and Priors of Late Medieval and Reformation England. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Hutchinson, Robert (2007) Thomas Cromwell: The Rise And Fall Of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister  London: Orion

‘Henry VIII: November 1528, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 4, 1524-1530, ed. J S Brewer (London, 1875), pp. 2134-2150. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol4/pp2134-2150 [accessed 24 April 2018].

‘Houses of Cluniac monks: Priory of Stanesgate’, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2, ed. William Page and J Horace Round (London, 1907), pp. 141-142. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol2/pp141-142 [accessed 24 April 2018].

 

Nunnington Hall – Jacobites, cypher and ghosts.

Picture 170Nunnington Hall in Ryedale is built on land originally owned by St Mary’s Abbey in York. The hall is fifteenth and sixteenth century in origin –so no medieval links to feasting or law should you pause a while in the double height hallway with its baronial fireplace  but its perhaps unsurprising to discover that there was a building here in the thirteenth century.

 

The_Marquess_of_Northampton_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger.jpgThe history of  Nunnington’s owners is lively. It passed into the Parr family when Maud Green married Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal. As the elder of the two co-heresses it was Maud who acquired Nunnington. Maud died in 1532. Her son William inherited the property but unfortunately for him the then Marquess of Northampton became involved in Wyatt’s Rebellion of 1553. The bid to replace mary Tudor with Lady Jane Grey failed. Jane had not plotted but her father the duke of Suffolk had become involved. He, his daughter and his son-in-law were promptly executed. Parr was fortunate to suffer only attainder. Nunnington was forfeit to the Crown.

 

220px-Viscount_prestonNunnington was leased out to various families including Elizabeth I’s physician but in 1655, after the English Civil War, the manor was sold to Ranald Graham. He was succeeded by his nephew Sir Richard Graham of Netherby in Cumbria. He was made Viscount Preston and Baron Esk in 1681. He would also marry into the Howard family when he married the daughter of the earl of Carlisle. He served under Charles II and James II. He even did a turn as English ambassador in France. In 1689 his luck turned when he sided with James II rather than William of Orange and James’ daughter Mary. Graham was captured on his way across the Channel. Even as his escape vessel was boarded he made every attempt to destroy incriminating documents. He was attainted and sentenced to death in 1691. The sentence was never carried out because Queen Mary spared him when his daughter Catherine pleaded for his life- it may also have helped that he did turn evidence against his fellow conspirators- but his lands were parcelled out to, amongst others, the earl of Carlisle. It was just as well that it had all been kept in the family because Richard was allowed home and his son Edward eventually inherited Graham’s estate although it was his daughter Catherine by then Lady Widdrington who ultimately inherited Nunnington when her nephew Charles died – the names give an indication of continued Graham loyalty to the Stuart cause…though how the Jacobites felt about Lord Preston giving evidence against them is another matter entirely.

 

The Graham family maintained their loyalty to the Jacobite cause particularly Richard’s daughter Catherine. Even today if you visit the house you can see a ring which contains a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair, an Order of the Garter and blue garter ribbon belonging to Prince Charles Edward Stuart and fragments of Jacobite plaid.

The symbolism of the Jacobite cause is hard to ignore and in additon to drinking toasts to the king over the water it turns out that some families advertised their loyalty to the cause by planting Scots’ pine in a prominent position. There is one at Nunnington. There is even a notebook discovered in 2011 filled with cipher which is still unexplained made by Graham and hidden under the floorboards.

 

So there is the Bonnie Prince Charlie link and now for the second of the ghost stories:

It is said that one of Nunnington’s squires being a widower with a young son remarried. The new wife quickly provided a second son for the squire and when the squire died she set about ensuring that her son inherited rather than his elder half-brother.

At first the woman locked her step-son in an attic where he was ill clothed and poorly fed. Orders were given that no one was to have anything to do with the boy. The only person who dared to defy this order was the boy’s younger half-brother. He would take toys, clothes and food up to the attics and spend time there. However, one day he made his accustomed climb up the stairs to find the room deserted and no sign of what had become of the older boy.

It was suggested by some that he had either been sent to sea or run away to sea. Less kind folk hinted that the boy’s step- mother had murdered the lad.

The little boy now inherited Nunnington but he was devastated by the disappearance of his brother and believed that the boy would return. One day he thought he heard his brother, leant to far out of the window and fell to his death. The boy’s mother took to sitting in the panelled room where her son had fallen and it wasn’t long before she too died. It is said that the sound a a rustling silk gown can be heard as the woman searches for ever for her own dead boy.

I’d have to admit that Nunnington Hall is a tad on the draughty side but I spend rather more time trying to photograph the peahen’s chicks than stalk ghosts.

 

 

 

‘Parishes: Nunnington’, in A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 1, ed. William Page (London, 1914), pp. 544-548. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/north/vol1/pp544-548 [accessed 17 December 2017].

 

Material Culture and Sedition, 1688-1760: Treacherous Objects, Secret Places

By M. Pittock

 

 

 

The Abbot’s Lodging

IMG_1614Abbots of larger monasteries were on a similar social status to a temporal lord – indeed there was every chance that they were the younger sons of the nobility. Their role within local and national society required that they should have quarters fit for entertaining their peers and if Cromwell’s list of misdeeds recorded by his commissioners during their Visitation of 1536 are anything to go by sufficient privacy to entertain numerous ladies of ill-repute.

Sometimes the abbot’s quarters were built into the west range above the cellarium (an undercroft where provisions were stored – think very large pantry). The abbot would have his own chapel, a hall for entertaining and two or three other rooms.

DSC_0044Elsewhere, and as time progressed, the abbot might expect to have his own separate dwelling – sometimes with a private necessarium as at Netley Abbey near Southampton (abbot’s lodging shown at the start of this paragraph). There is no particular rule as to where the lodgings might be. Cistercians tend to put their lodgings to the south of the cloister, though strictly speaking Cistercian abbots had no business being anywhere other than the dormitory with the rest of the monks. As well as a garderobe an abbot’s lodging might reasonably be expected to include a fireplace to warm distinguished guests, in some cases they had their own kitchen and stables. The fireplace shown at the opening at the post can be found at Monk Bretton Priory – the remnants of a Cluniac foundation.  In Kirkstall a rather grand staircase led to the abbot’s lodging and at Fountains there was a monastic prison in the basement complete with three cells and means of restraining prisoners.  At Fountains the abbot’s ‘modest dwelling’ underwent considerable expansion at the beginning of the sixteenth century on the orders of Abbot Huby who added an office and bay windows.

In Carlisle, which had a bishop so the abbot was technically a prior there was a pele tower where the prior and his officers could flee in the event of marauding Scots.DSCF1133

The abbot’s lodging often survived the dissolution of the monasteries in the guise of a manor house.  In York the abbot’s lodging of St Mary’s Abbey was retained by Henry VIII and used during his visit north.  It played host to King Charles I and is now part of the University of York.DSC_0107-6

St Mary’s Abbey York

kylebday 192When the Benedictines arrived in York in 1088 they had a fight on their hands. Their patronage came from Alan Rufus of Richmond. The monks of York Minster and Archbishop Thomas of Bayeux were not amused. There was in effect a nasty bout of monastic fisty-cuffs which was only resolved when William Rufus gave the Archbishop the church of St Stephen’s while the Abbot of St Mary’s handed over land in Clifton. In return the monks of St Mary’s gained the church of St Olaf’s. Ultimately St Mary’s would have possession of seven churches in York as well as many others across the country, meaning that they selected the vicar and claimed the various fees and taxes that were levied within the parish for the Church. By the time of the Dissolution the abbey was worth £2,085 1s. 5¾d per annum.

My own interest in St Mary’s Abbey comes not just from the lovely Museum Gardens in York with their picturesque ruins and from several visits to the museums itself where this roof boss can be found but from the fact that the abbey sent out monks to form cells in Cumberland. These cells became the priories of Wetheral and St Bees. During the twelfth century thirteen monks left St Mary’s in search of a more devout existence including the prior – Richard. They went on to found Fountains Abbey, a Cistercian monastic house.

As might be expected of a medieval monastery St Mary’s acquired lands through patronage and privileges from kings. The church of St Olaf’s was was founded in 1055 and found some patronage from Wiliam the Conqueror.  St Mary’s was supported by William Rufus and by King Henrys I, II and III. It gained land in and around York including Bootham fair; it sustained fire damage in 1137 and was occasionally visited by the Archbishop of York who wanted to check on the spiritual and financial healthiness of the monastery.  In 1534 the abbot was found sadly lacking – he was spending far too much time with married women.

The abbey also developed a rather unfortunate relationship with the people of York. In 1262 the rivalry and resentments about tolls and unpaid debts resulted in murder and destruction. At that time according to the Victoria County History the abbot was one Simon de Warwick who was clearly so alarmed that he went on prolonged holiday – for two years.

fig07

Image (‘The sites and remains of the religious houses’, in A History of the County of York: the City of York, ed. P M Tillott (London, 1961), pp. 357-365 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/city-of-york/pp357-365 [accessed 20 June 2015].)

Most monasteries follow a similar layout.   The church which was the most important building was usually, but not always, in the shape of a cross.  Churches might also contain additional chapels and chantries (places where prayers could be said for the souls of individual benefactors.)  Cloisters were usually placed to the south of the church not only so that they would trap the sun but so that the shadows from the church would not fall on them.  In this respect St Mary’s fulfils the stereotype.  Each of the four sides of the cloister would be covered – think glorified carport in the first instance.  This allowed the monks to shelter from the rain as well as to sit in the sun.  Many cloisters contained stone benches.  Some cloisters ruins even contain individual study carrels hewn from the masonry.  In addition most cloisters contained a book cupboard.  I would not have liked to have been a Benedictine monk trying to study in the middle of winter with the wind coming off the River Ouse as the waters rose.  Perhaps that’s why later versions of monasteries had more elaborate cloisters which were effectively closed in corridors with a dwarf wall, lots of windows and a central square open to the elements – though it still sounds chilly.

On the east side of the cloister, typically, there is a dorter range.  The dorter was where the monks slept.  It would have been a two storey building with the first floor being where the monks slept. The ground floor was usually divided into several rooms, one of which may have been used as a parlour, with at least one doorway out into the cloisters and another leading in the general direction of the monks’ cemetery.   In many monasteries there would have been access to the night stairs in the transept of the church for ease of singing divine service during the night hours rather than trekking out through the cold – not that it can have been wildly warm in any event.  The other important link with the dorter would be the reredorter – a.k.a. the toilet block.  These are usually rather grand affairs with the ground floor of the block being given over to effective drainage and flushing action.  The first floor provided the location for the toilets themselves which tended to be communal in nature.

The room that was second in importance only to the church was the chapter house.  This was where the monks met to listen to the Rule and to conduct their business affairs.

The frater, again typical of monastery plans, is opposite the church.  This was the monastic canteen. In many cases there would be a passage joining the dorter with the frater – back to cold monastic types catching chills from wondering around in the rain.  The kitchen was usually separate to the frater, away from the cloister and it was usually rectangular – the plan in this post shows such a building.

The first plan does not show the position of the cellar (not that kind of cellar!)  The cellar is the name given to the monastic stores.  These were usually situated to the western range but could just as well be situated in a ground floor room.  One of the reasons that the cellar lays to the west in most monasteries is because this was where the main entrance to the abbey could be found so it meant that goods could be delivered with little disturbance to the rest of the monastery. Indeed, St Mary’s conforms to the model of having its main gateway on the west (ish) wall.

st-marys-abbey-york

http://www.1902encyclopedia.com/A/ABB/abbey-08.html (accessed 24/06/2015 23:33)

William le Meschin

shiled ringRanulf le Meschin, Earl of Chester and his brother William le Meschin were the sons of Ranulf de Briquessart and Matilda. Meschin simply means ‘younger’ so Ranulf the Younger was used to identify the son from the father. William ended up with the same name because he was very much his brother’s man.

Ranulf was given much of Cumberland by William the Conqueror. Cumberland was then divided into eleven baronies in an attempt to control the region. The Cumbrians took to their Lakeland hills and fought a guerrilla war against their invaders.  This meant that the Normans could, initially at least, only secure the coastal and less mountainous regions.  Rosemary Sutcliffe’s excellent  book entitled The Shield Ring explores the history of the region and the role of Ranulf – she was not his greatest fan. There’s also a book entitled The Secret Valley which covers the same period and the battle of Rannerdale. The Scots took advantage of the ensuing difficulties  to extend their boundaries south.  It was no sinecure when Ranulf gave William the baronies of Copeland and Gilsland.  The latter meant he was responsible for guarding the northern approaches to Carlisle.  It proved a task too far.   He built a castle at Egremont but lost Gilsland. He was compensated for the loss of Gilsland by Henry I with land in Allerdale. He also acquired land through his wife Cecily de Rumilly, Lady of Skipton.

 

As William acquired land he also founded religious houses including St Bee’s Priory in 1120 which was a daughter house of St Mary’s in York. It was founded after the sinking of the White Ship that saw Henry I’s only legitimate son drown on a journey between Normandy and England. Richard, Earl of Chester -William’s cousin- died in the same disaster. The charter for St Bees prays for the souls of the drowned men.  In part he was demonstrating his religious belief and buying ‘time out’ from purgatory but he was also showing support for foundations who enjoyed the patronage of kings.   Thurstan, who was the Archbishop of York would have welcomed an alliance with a strong northern magnate such as le Meschin so perhaps it is not surprising that he came in person to bless St Bees.

 

In addition to giving land and funding buildings William went on the First Crusade and was at the Siege of Nicaea.

 

William: soldier, invader, crusader, castle builder, monastery endower- call him what you will,  died sometime between 1130 and 1135. He left a son called Ranulf but he died shortly after his father leaving the great estates that le Meschin had built to be divided between William’s three daughters.

Ribald of Middleham

388a8dd5ca26ea292479e9883b0a69caThe land around Middleham was given to Alan The Red. Alan built a wooden motte-and-bailey castle, 500 yards to the south-west of where the present castle stands, on a site known as William’s Hill. It can be seen from the current keep. It was built to guard Coverdale and to protect the road from Richmond to Skipton.

By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 Middleham had been granted to Alan the Red’s brother Ribald. Two generations later Alan’s grandson, Robert FitzRibald built a new castle which featured a massive stone keep . The keep, one of the largest in England, had twelve-foot thick walls and three floors; for its time, this would have provided palatial accommodation. It contained a great chamber, large kitchen, chapel, dovecot, cellars and the living rooms of the lord of Middleham.  No wonder it was so popular with one of its later inhabitants – The Duke of Gloucester a.k.a. Richard III.  The castle came to be known as The Windsor of the North.

But what of Ribald?  He appears to have been born circa 1050 and died in 1121 in St Mary’s Abbey York where he had withdrawn after the death of his wife, Beatrix de Tallebois in 1110.  He lived the final years of his life as a monk in Benedictine habits – hence the illustration. His lands, and he benefitted from being Alan’s brother – click on the image to see a list of lands he owned at the time of the Domesday Book- were passed to his son Ralph FitzRibald.  Four generations later the family line ended but not before the daughters of the family had married into the Percy and Bigod families.

Incidentally, the word ‘ribald’ referring to a coarse or vulgar person doesn’t make an appearance in the language until the thirteenth century and it came from the French word ‘riber’ meaning to live licentiously; it seems to have almost referred to a certain kind of henchman when it was first used.

 Ribald was almost a class name in the feudal system . .
      . He was his patron's parasite, bulldog, and tool . . .
      It is not to be wondered at that the word rapidly
      became a synonym for everything ruffianly and brutal.
                                               --Earle.
http://www.hyperdictionary.com/dictionary/ribald

Sadly, my Oxford Dictionary of Baby names doesn't offer any 
clue as to the origins or meaning of the name Ribald.

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.