John of Worcester – writing up the Conquest on the orders of Bishop Wulfstan

A Benedictine scribe – probably Bede illustrated in the Life and Miracles of St Cuthbert.

John of Worcester was a monk, unsurprisingly, from Worcester Abbey. He is usually regarded as the author of Chronicon ex chronicis. This is a world wide history which begins with the Creation and ends 1140 (the reign of King Stephen.)

The Orderic Vitalis – an Anglo-Norman Chronicle of the period contains some notes about John. It states that a native of Worcestershire he entered the abbey as a boy and recorded the reigns of the Conqueror and his sons upto and including Henry I. The monk initially worked on the orders of Bishop Wulfstan who wanted John to continue the chronicles of Marianus Scotus, an Irish monk living in Mainz who died there in 1082. The Orderic describes him as a holy man.

Experts believe that three hands are evident in the chronicles and just to add a degree of complexity there are seven versions of the Chronicle located in different places whose contents are not exactly the same – there is some sense of history being reworked according to circumstance. There are also assorted illustrations. It is John of Worcester’s Chronicle that contains an illustration of the nightmares of Henry I who dreamt that various social orders came to him in his sleep across three nights demanding legal reforms and justice. The third dream contained monks and bishops who weren’t best pleased with Henry’s laissez-faire attitude to Church property.

Bishop Wulfstan on the effigy of King John in Worcester Cathedral

The works of John have been conflated with Florence of Worcester. For many centuries, until very recently, Florence was given credit for John’s Chronicle. Part of the reason for this confusion is that John did not blow his own trumpet unlike some other chroniclers. We have only what the Orderic Vitalis says about him.

Bishop Wulfstan was the last Anglo-Saxon Bishop in post-Conquest England. He died in 1095. Wulfstan was responsible for knocking down the Saxon Cathedral of Worcester and rebuilding in a fashionable Romanesque (Norman) style. Only the crypt remains of his building works.

The monks at Worcester had an interesting relationship with the Godwin family – and are the only chroniclers not to relate Swein Godwin’s misdeeds with relish. By 1055 Wulfstan was acting as prior at Worcester whilst the bishop was on the king’s business. He went on to become Harold Godwinson’s confessor. In 1061 Wulfstan became the abbot of Worcester when his predecessor was promoted to the Bishopric of York.

In 1066 Wulfstan was with Harold when he became king. Harold’s claim to the throne was helped by the fact that Wulfstan had a reputation for holiness. Wulfstan helped to stem the rebellions that sprung up in the north against Harold in the spring of 1066 by stating that it was a sin to rebel against an anointed king.

The Worcester Chronicle recounts Wulfstan being required to surrender his staff of office to William the Conqueror and that he refused saying that he would only surrender it to the king who had made him a bishop. He laid the staff on Edward the Confessor’s tomb in Westminster – where it miraculously became stuck. Only Wulfstan could remove it and so William was forced to recognise Wulfstan as the Bishop of Worcester whether he wanted him or not.

I’ve posted about Wulfstan before when I posted about King John who revered the bishop and used him as an argument for why English kings had the right to appoint bishops and not the pope. The sharp eyed amongst the History Jar readers may also remember that Wild Edric who rebelled against William the Conqueror was Wulfstan’s Steersman – or commander of the warship that the bishop provided for the defence of the realm.

History does not record exactly how Wulfstan felt about his former steersman rebelling against the anointed King William who had disposed of King Harold but we do know from the accounts that there were many refugees from the various rebellions in Worcester; that Wulfstan provided funds for soldiers to defend Worcester and that he campaigned against the practice of selling the landless/dispossed English into slavery. He specifically campaigned against slavery in Bristol which was part of his diocese at the time.

It is from John of Worcester’s chronicle that we know what happened to some of Harold Godwinson’s family in the aftermath of the Conquest. Harold’s son “Ulf” was held hostage by King William and released only when the king died in 1087. History does not tell us what happened to Ulf. He probably went on crusade with William’s eldest son, Robert Curthose. There are records of a visit by Wulfstan to Gunhild, one of Harold’s daughters, in Wilton nunnery. Gunhild ended up married to Alan the Red of Richmond – there is some question as to whether she was a nun or had simply been educated in Wilton and then stayed there to avoid the consequences of the Conquest.

Happily the chronicles have been translated from Latin into English and can be found online here: http://www.bsswebsite.me.uk/History/JohnofWorcester/Chronicle_John2.html

Richard Fitz Scrob

1-The-coronation-of-William-the-Conqueror-Westminster-Abbey-as-depicted-by-Matthew-Paris.jpg

William the Conqueror

Scrob is pronounced “Scroob” and this particular Scrob is thought to be an ancestor of the Scrope family who I usually blog about in the context of border wardenry.

Richard was granted lands on the Welsh marches by Edward the Confessor – so he is part of that group of Normans who were established prior to the Conquest.  Historians think that Richard had become part of the Confessor’s friendship network in Normandy and that when he became king in 1042 that Fitz Scrob benefited from lands in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.  Study of Richard’s Castle near Ludlow reveals that Fitz Scrob built a simple motte and bailey fortification as early as 1050 making it one of the first castles in the country.  Ultimately a settlement grew around the castle even though the local population were initially recorded as being very alarmed by the new structure in their midst.

Inevitably in the aftermath the Conquest a land hungry border baron with adult sons might have looked to his Anglo-Saxon neighbour with a view to acquiring some of his land.  This appears to be what happened in the case of Fitz Scrob whose land lay alongside that of Eadric (Wild Edric), the nephew of Eadric Streona.  Up until the Conquest Eadric had been one of the wealthiest landowners in Shropshire.  His land was not forfeit after the Conquest because he had not taken part in the Battle of Hastings.  However his lands were gradually confiscated and split up between Norman lords including Richard Fitz Scrob based in Hereford.

Somewhat ironically William the Conqueror had left Earl Edwin of Mercia in charge of the county recognising that the borders were an important area of his new kingdom.  He did not want to antagonise the Saxons who lived there in case they made an alliance with the unconquered Welsh princes. This did not stop Fitz Scrob.

Some books suggest that Fitz Scrob expected reward from the Conqueror for having provided him with information prior to the invasion and that Eadric’s lands were what he had in mind. By 1067 Eadric, refusing to hand over his lands, was in revolt against the Normans.  A raid towards Hereford is recorded that year.  It accords with the period when William returned to Normandy and his regents took the opportunity to enrich themselves in his absence. As the Saxons began to rebel elsewhere in the kingdom the path of Eadric’s campaign has largely been lost.  Edwin, Earl of Mercia also rebelled against William but swiftly made his peace when William returned to England.

In 1069 Eadric made an alliance with the Welsh, besieged Shrewsbury and burned the town. Ultimately William the Conqueror  handed approximately 7/8th of Shropshire over to Norman land holders – after all Eadric had made an oath to him when William became king and even though he had been provoked he had rebelled – William was the tenant-in-chief and following Eadric’s rebellion he simply took the land leaving Eadric with only three manors to support himself and his family. Amongst the men to benefit was  Osbern FitzRichard the son of Richard Fitz Scrob.  History is not entirely certain when Richard Fitz Scrob died but he is last mentioned in the records in 1067.

Fitz Scrob’s descendants eventually married into the Mortimer family who played an important part in later medieval history. Another of them married Rosamund Clifford’s sister.  Rosamund was, of course, the mistress of Henry II.

 

 Augustin, Thierry. (2011) The story of the Conquest of England by the Normans: Its Causes, and Its Consequences, in England, Scotland, Ireland, and on the Continent Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

 

http://www.castlestudiesgroup.org.uk/CSGJournal2016-17X8-Richards%20Castle.pdf

Edric the Wild

wildedricWild Edric is a fabulous rose that scents the June air with its profusion of  vivid pink roses at the end of very thorny stems.  I always wondered who Wild Edric was and what made him ‘wild.’

Eadric or Edric the Wild was a local landowner along the Welsh Marches. He may have been the nephew of Eadric Streona a.k.a. the Grasper who in 1016 switched sides from Cnut to Edmund Ironside then promptly left the battle field half way through it. Edmund unsurprisingly lost the Battle of Ashingdon. He probably also had something to do with the St Brice’s Day Massacre of the Danes. The Grasper didn’t prosper because his Christmas gift from the new King Canute (who had undoubtedly benefited from the battlefield exit) was to have Eadric executed and thrown into a ditch. More positively, Edric the Wild was probably also related to the Princes of Gwynedd and Powys.

In the aftermath of Hastings, William the Conqueror confiscated all the land of any man who’d taken part in the battle against him. Edric hadn’t been there. It may have been that he was on one of Harold’s ships, he is recorded as being the Bishop of Worcester’s ‘shipman’ attempting to blockade the South Coast. Seeing which way the wind was blowing Edric made his submission and kept his lands.

And that might have been that were it not for the delightfully named Richard Fitz Scrob who had arrived in England before the conquest.   Now that the Normans had the upper hand Fitz Scrob couldn’t resist trying to help himself to Edric’s land. By 1067 Edric had enough. He joined with Bleddyn and Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn and set about showing the Normans a thing or two. Herefordshire went up in flames before Edric and his allies retreated.

In 1069 as the North rose in rebellion so to did Edric and the Welsh Marches from Herefordshire to Chester. He and his allies attacked Shrewsbury Castle. The town burned but the garrison stood until it could be relieved by Roger of Montgomery.

William finally confronted Edric at the Battle of Stafford in 1069. Edric and the Welsh left the men of Cheshire and Staffordshire to tackles the Conqueror who was probably in a foul temper having spent most of the year subduing rebellions, harrying the North and then having to cross the Pennines in bad weather.

It comes as a bit of a surprise then that by1072 Edric was part of the army heading north to Scotland to attack King Malcolm I. Perhaps he wanted no further part in the misery that most of the native population were experiencing by then. In 1075 he seems to have been invited to take part in the Earl’s Rebellion but there is no further mention of him. He seems to have disappeared by 1086 as he is not mentioned in the Domesday Book as a landowner. One suggestions offered in the fifteenth century was that he continued to fight against the changes imposed by the Normans, eventually being captured by Ralph Mortimer and ending his days in a dank dungeon somewhere.

People who disappear suddenly from history are prone to become the subject of story telling and Edric is no exception. In another version of the story Edric’s support of the Normans led to him being cursed and imprisoned with his wife Godda in the Stiperstones leadmines where he awaits an opportunity to save his country. He was seen in 1914 and 1939 taking part in the Wild Hunt. Oh yes – did I mention that Godda was a faerie?