In 1013, just over a half-century before the Norman Conquest, England was successfully invaded and shortly thereafter conquered for the first time since the coming of the Anglo-Saxons some 500 years before.
A quarter-century later an "English King" would return for a final-quarter century of Anglo-Saxon rule, but the reign of this king, Edward the Confessor, would provide the backdrop for a conflict between Wessex and Mercia that was barely short of civil war. The roots of this conflict stretch back to the descent of the once dominant Midlands kingdom of Mercia into chaos during the 9th Century and the rise of the southern power of Wessex in the 10th. Both of these Anglo-Saxon kingdoms would be subject to invasion and almost complete conquest by the Vikings. The early 11th century would see the Scandinavians finally rule England after a conquest which involved St Olave of the same-named church in Lower Bridge Street.
The history is normally viewed from the perspective of Wessex, however it is also possible to take a perspective from the Mercian position, especially that of the House of Leofric. Leofric is almost unknown to the general reader although many have heard of his wife, Godiva, famous for riding through Coventry in a state of undress. Leofric's son Ælfgar and the next generation in turn played a major part in the historic events either side of 1066. Events in Wales and across the Welsh/Mercian border are also of some interest especially as regards Chester. in the interest of historiography the usual the general disclaimer applies that the objective is not to make Chester any more important than it actually was, but to illustrate history with reference to the familiar.
Many history books and other historical writing (including historical fiction) need to be treated with some caution as the writer often has their own viewpoint and agenda. Charles Kingsley provides a relevant local example. He is often portrayed as a writer who lived and worked in Chester although he actually spent a very short time here. Although he was for some time a Professor of History at Cambridge, his view of history is now considered to have been much biased by his views on race and religion. His historical novels distort facts to support his views on "Anglo-Saxon" superiority.
The short "Victorian" version is that the Romans left and the British (Welsh) were left behind to be invaded by the Angles and Saxons (who were German, like Prince Albert), but soon became the English. Other surrounding "races" included the primitive Irish, Picts (Scots) and the Vikings. The Victorians portrayed these as brave and useful cannon-fodder (provided they were English led). Eventually, the Normans invaded but eventually learned to see the sense of not being French and to speak English. The most successful Viking, Cnut, is portrayed as a ruler who foolishly attempted to hold back the tide.
The "Wessex" Perspective
For convenience the history of "how London started to become the capital of the world" can be broken into several parts:
- The fall of Mercia from the rule and eventual death of Offa (796);
- The rise of Wessex from the ascention of Ecgbert and the subsequent Danish invasions and reconquest;
- A further wave of Viking raids and invasions under Æþelræd (the "Unready");
- A period of Scandinavian rule;
- The reign of Edward the Confessor;
- The brief reign of Harold and the coming of the Normans;
Offa to Edgar the Pacific
Mercia reached its peak under Offa (died 29 July 796 AD), who may or may not have built the border structure known as Offa's Dyke, and which may or may not have stretched from the Dee to the Severn. Offa's reign was once seen as part of a process leading to a unified England, but this is no longer the majority view: in the words of a recent historian:
- "Offa was driven by a lust for power, not a vision of English unity; and what he left was a reputation, not a legacy."
Debate over the dating and purpose of Offa's Dyke continues to this day. "Ofer" means "border" or "edge" in Old English (and even "shore"), giving rise to the possibility of alternative derivations for some border features associated with the man named Offa. Some late Roman writers such as the Eutropus mention a wall being built in late Roman times across Britain "from sea to sea". This is often repeated by later writers in the British isles and for many years it was thought that this was certainly simply a confused mention of Hadrians Wall. However some have now suggested that this is in fact a reference to what was later to become known as "Offa's Dyke". There are arguments on both sides. Radio-carbon dating is also inconclusive and can be interpreted to suggest that the Dyke predates Offa, i.e. that it was a much longer established border of some kind, perhaps dating from soon after the Roman departure. The Dyke roughly (but not exactly) follows the border between the part of Britain that had been colonised mostly by the Angles and that part which became known as Wales, and the present structure has a ditch-and-bank arrangement which favours defence of the eastern side against the west. Thus the Dyke can be thought of as the western border of the Anglian kingdom of Mercia: the eastern border being towards or on the coast of the North Sea.
Offa's son, Ecgfrith, succeeded him, but reigned for less than five months. Offa had ruthlessly eliminated dynastic rivals leaving only his son. This seems to have backfired, from the dynastic point of view, as no surviving close male relatives of Offa or Ecgfrith are recorded, and Coenwulf, Ecgfrith's successor, was only distantly related to Offa's line. Coenwulf's early reign was marked by a breakdown in Mercian control in southern England. South of the Thames, Britain had been mostly colonised by the Saxons. During Offa's time Mercia mostly dominated the Saxons south of the Thames, but after his death this control rapidly weakened. To the north of Mercia was the border with the kingdom of Northumbria - effectively for much of the time the border was marked by the River Humber.
Coenwulf the Mercian died in 821 at Basingwerk near Holywell, Flintshire, probably while making preparations for a campaign against the Welsh that took place under his brother and successor, Ceolwulf, the following year. Coenwulf was the last of a series of Mercian kings, beginning with Penda in the early 7th century, to exercise dominance over most or all of southern England. Ecgbert (Ecgberht) of Wessex ruled from 802-839, and is thought to be descended from the founder of Wessex, Cerdic (514-534), despite being the son of a Kentish noble. He was sent into exile by Offa in 789, and resided at the court of Charlemagne for three years. Ecgbert took back Wessex in 802 when his rival Beorhtric was poisoned by his own wife, Eadburh (possibly by accident). In the years after Coenwulf's death, Mercia's position weakened, and the Battle of Ellendun in 825 firmly established Egbert of Wessex as the dominant king south of the Humber. He was 55 at the time and would remain ruler of Wessex until the age of 69. Ecgbert is commemorated at Chester Town Hall in one of a series of bas-reliefs showing what are supposed to be key moments in Chester's history. The previous event in the sequence is the establishment of Roman Chester after 70 CE, the next the formation of the Norman Earldom around 1070. Whoever chose the sculptures clearly thought that in a thousand years the only relevant thing that happened in Chester was a brief invasion by a man from Kent.
The lineage of Ecgbert would continue to be associated with Chester. Ecgbert's son Æthelwulf supposedly recieved the submission of other kings "from Berwick to Kent" at Chester, as mentioned in Ormerod. However, this is only mentioned in a late source and may be a historical fiction. Æthelwulf then went on pilgrimage to Rome and returned to find his "caretaker" brother would not give up the kingdom. Egbert's grandson, Alfred the Great (848/849 – 26 October 899) fought back from a Danish invasion (which saw him reduced to ruling a few squere miles of swamp) to a stalemate where the Danes ruled the eastern half of the country. The dividing line between the English lands and those ruled by the Danes was Roman Watling Street which runs more or less directly from London to Chester - although it must not be discounted that near Chester "Watling Street" may preserve a separate derivation from the Old English wealhas ("foreigner" = "Welsh") given the use as trade routes to and from Wales.
Alfred apparently fought Vikings at Chester. Alfred's son Edward (c. 874 – 17 July 924) regained much of the lost territory with the aid of his warlike sister, Æthelflæd, who rebuilt Chester, then Edward died at Farndon after dealing with a revolt in Chester. Next came Æþelstān (c. 894 – 27 October 939) who may have fought the Battle of Brunanburh near Chester and first called himself "King of the English". Upon his death England fell apart. Chester was an important base in 942 when there was collusion between the Welsh and the Scandinavian kingdom of York during King Edmund's campaign against the latter.
England was once again united under Edward the Elder's grandson Edgar the Pacific (c. 943 – 8 July 975) who famously cruised on the River Dee, possibly from Edgar's Field to proclaim his "wide rule" over the British Isles, and upon his death England once more collapsed into chaos.
Æþelræd (the "Unready")
Edgar's 973 voyage on the River Dee represented another high tide in the affairs of kings: he would be dead two years later. His eldest son soon fell victim to political murder, leaving the throne to Æþelræd "the unready". Two years later, the Vikings started fresh raids.
The Danish House of Knýtlinga ruled the Kingdom of England from 1013 to 1014 and from 1016 to 1042. In 1013 Sweyn Forkbeard, already the king of Denmark and of Norway, overthrew King Æþelræd the Unready of the House of Wessex. Sweyn had first invaded England in 1003, possibly to avenge the death of his sister Gunhilde and many other Danes in the St. Brice's Day massacre, which had been ordered by Æþelræd in 1002. His motivations almost certainly included the prospect of plunder. Sweyn died in 1014 after ruling England for five weeks, and Æthelred was restored. However, in 1015 Sweyn's son, Cnut the Great, invaded England.
After Æþelræd died in April 1016, his son Edmund Ironside briefly became king, but was forced to surrender half of England to Cnut. After Edmund died in November that same year, Cnut became king of all England. Scotland submitted to him in 1017, and Norway in 1028. Cnut died on 12 November 1035. In Denmark he was succeeded by Harthacnut, reigning as Cnut III, although with a war in Scandinavia against Magnus I of Norway, Harthacnut was "forsaken [by the English] because he was too long in Denmark". His mother Queen Emma, previously resident at Winchester with some of her son's housecarls, was made to flee to Bruges in Flanders, under pressure from supporters of Cnut's other son, after Svein, by Ælfgifu of Northampton: Harold Harefoot — regent in England 1035–37 (who went on to claim the English throne in 1037, reigning until his death in 1040). Eventual peace in Scandinavia left Harthacnut free to claim the throne himself in 1040. He brought the crowns of Denmark and England together again until his death in 1042. Denmark fell into a period of disorder with a power struggle between the pretender to the throne Sweyn Estridsson, son of Ulf, and the Norwegian king, until the death of Magnus the Good in 1047. The inheritance of England was briefly to return to its Anglo-Saxon lineage: the house of Wessex reigned again as Edward the Confessor was brought out of exile in Normandy and made a treaty with Harthacnut, his half-brother. As in his treaty with Magnus, it was decreed that the throne would go to Edward if Harthacnut died with no legitimate male heir. In 1042, Harthacnut died, and Edward was king. His reign secured Norman influence at court thereafter, and the ambitions of its dukes finally found fruition in 1066 with William the Conqueror's invasion of England and crowning, fifty years after Cnut was crowned in 1017.
If the sons of Cnut (Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut) had not died within a decade of his death, and if his only known daughter Gunhilda (Cunigund), who was to marry Conrad II's son Henry III eight months after Cnut's death, had not died in Italy before she became empress consort, Cnut's reign might well have been the foundation for a complete political union between England and Scandinavia: a post-Viking North Sea Empire with blood ties to the Holy Roman Empire. It was not to be, England returned to Anglo-Saxon rule briefly but with considerable influence from the Normans to the south. Eventually it would become clear that a Norman invasion lay ahead.
The "Mercian" Perspective
In many ways Mercia was the dominant English kingdom for three centuries, between about 600 and about 900. In much later medieval times, historians would begin to refer to the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms as the "Heptarchy", listing its members as East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex, and Wessex. Although heptarchy suggests the existence of seven kingdoms, the term is just used as a label of convenience and does not imply the existence of a clear-cut or stable group of seven kingdoms at all times. The number of kingdoms and sub-kingdoms fluctuated rapidly as kings contended for supremacy. In the late 6th century, the king of Kent was a prominent lord in the south. In the 7th century, the rulers of Northumbria and Wessex were powerful. In the 8th century, Mercia achieved hegemony over the other surviving kingdoms, particularly during the reign of Offa. Mercia was a perculiar state in that it does not appear for much of its existence to have had a capital as such, but made use of a "portable court" with the ruler moving from place to place and perhaps over-wintering at a royal estate.
Alongside the seven kingdoms, a number of other political divisions also existed, such as the kingdoms (or sub-kingdoms) of: Bernicia and Deira within Northumbria; Lindsey in present-day Lincolnshire; the Hwicce in the southwest Midlands; the Magonsæte or Magonset, a sub-kingdom of Mercia in what is now Herefordshire; the Wihtwara, a Jutish kingdom on the Isle of Wight, originally as important as the Cantwara of Kent; the Middle Angles, a group of tribes based around modern Leicestershire, later conquered by the Mercians; and the Hæstingas (around the town of Hastings in Sussex). The decline of the Heptarchy and the eventual emergence of the kingdom of England was a drawn-out process, taking place over the course of the 9th to 10th centuries. Over the course of the 9th century, the Danish enclave at York expanded into the Danelaw, with about half of England under Danish rule. The English unification under Alfred the Great was a reaction to the threat by the common enemy. In 886, Alfred retook London, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that:
- "all of the English people (all Angelcyn) not subject to the Danes submitted themselves to King Alfred".
After Alfred and up to the time of the Norman Conquest it is generally true that the "English" were, with some brief exceptions the subjects of a single king, although the borders with the scandinavian-settled north varied. Including Alfred himself, several kings ruled for more than five years. These rulers were: Alfred (871-89), Edward the Elder (899-924), Æthelstan (924-939), Edgar the Pacific (959-975), Æthelred the Unready (978-1016), Cnut (1016-1035) and Edward the Confessor (1042-1066).
The Normans were successful in their invasion and from that point on the telling of English history was dominated by relations with the continent to the south. The Mercians appear to leave the stage with the rise of Wessex (mostly told as being the work of Alfred) and Wessex is in turn "triumphant" over the Vikings before being defeated by the Normans (mostly told from the perspective of Harold). The Viking conquest of the early 11th Century is largely forgotten, with the Vikings often being portrayed as unsophiticated pirates. Even the word viking is a historical revival; it was not used in Middle English, but it was revived from Old Norse vikingr "freebooter, sea-rover, pirate, viking," which usually is explained as meaning properly "one who came from the fjords," from vik "creek, inlet, small bay" (cf. Old English wic, Middle High German wich "bay," and second element in Reykjavik). But Old English "wicing" and Old Frisian "wizing" are almost 300 years older, and probably derive from "wic" "village, camp" (temporary camps were a feature of the Viking raids), related to Latin "vicus" "village, habitation". The Viking attack on Lindisfarne in 793 was the first of many raids on monasteries of Northumbria and the east coast. In 865, instead of raiding, the Danes landed a large army in East Anglia, and had soon conquered a territory known as the Danelaw, including Northumbria, by 867. After 867, there was an influx of Scandinavian immigrants. Their religion was "pagan" polytheism and had a rich mythology. Within the Kingdom of York, once the raids and war were over, there is no evidence that the presence of Scandinavian settlers interrupted Catholic practice. It appears that they gradually adopted Catholicism and blended their Scandinavian culture with their new religion.
There is perhaps a tendency among Victorian historians and those who lived through the two world wars, as well as those educated by them, to see early English history as a a series of threats to the "Anglo-Saxon people" by continental Europeans, be they "Vikings" (who might actually be Danes) or "the French" (who might be Normans).
The house of Leofric is hardly mentioned, except perhaps for a brief mention of Godiva, or as in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland when the mouse attempts to dry itself and other sodden characters by reciting a "dry" example of English history:
- "At last the Mouse, who seemed to be a person of authority among them, called out, 'Sit down, all of you, and listen to me! I'll soon make you dry enough!' They all sat down at once, in a large ring, with the Mouse in the middle. Alice kept her eyes anxiously fixed on it, for she felt sure she would catch a bad cold if she did not get dry very soon. 'Ahem!' said the Mouse with an important air, 'are you all ready? This is the driest thing I know. Silence all round, if you please! "William the Conqueror, whose cause was favoured by the pope, was soon submitted to by the English, who wanted leaders, and had been of late much accustomed to usurpation and conquest. Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria--"' "
The mouse attempts to continue his tale but is shouted down and never gets to recite the history of the last of the House of Leofric. This inclusion in Carroll's book is made interesting as he is distantly related to both Edwin and Morcar and will draw on his own Cheshire background to provide the better-known "Cheshire Cat". The story which the mouse tells is not really that "dry" to anyone interested in the fascinating complexity of the succession of English kings and other political shifts: especially from around the time of Edgar's boat trip on the River Dee (possibly upstream from Edgar's Field ot downstream from Farndon) to the Hermitage which is associsated (possibly only in legend) with Harold II.
Back to Edgar
The succession of English rulers from the time of Ecgbert (as portrayed on the Town Hall) to William the Conqueror (as also portrayed on the Town Hall) was seldom simple and straightforward. Few eldest sons simply succeeded their father as king. There were at times children too young to rule and sometimes very young kings. Sometimes a crown would pass between brothers. There were successions following murder or other untimely deaths, usurpations and invasions. Two kings were notable for their self-imposed chastity and several potential heirs died without children or before even becoming king. At times, the country was divided with two kings ruling at the same time, at others there were arrangements that the longest surviving of rivals would become king. Of the various rulers, some would hold the throne for many years, while some would come and go in quick succession.
The story of the queens (or consorts) is equally complicated, with several being married to more than one ruler or because a male ruler had children by more than one queen. There were some rules for succession, but either politics intervened or there was a need for an adult ruler in times of war. On the other hand, Victorian historians seem to have thought that the "Witan" (a body of nobles and churchmen) had a far greater role in deciding kingship than they actually did, possibly because they liked to think that the "Witan" was some kind of early democratic parliament, which it wasn't. There is a chronology and family tree charts in the reference section below.
Of the late Anglo-Saxon kings the one most closely associated with Chester is Edgar the Pacific. King Edgar (c. 943 – 8 July 975) was King of England from 959 until his death at the age of 32. He was the younger son of Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, and came to the throne as a teenager, following the death of his older brother Eadwig. He is famous for his "boat-trip" on the River Dee, where he "recieved the submission" of other rulers of the British Isles. The identity of these other rulers is discussed in further detail on the page relating to Edgar's Field. Edgar is commemorated in Chester in several ways: the name of the field and the park being the most prominent, although there is also a notable work of sculpture in the park. His boat trip is depicted in stained glass at St Johns and in tiles at the Bull and Stirrup in Northgate Street. He appears, in his boat, as an anachronism on many old maps of Chester. An inn known as "Ye Old Edgar" once stood at the bottom of Lower Bridge Street, there is an "Edgar House" hotel and an Edgar Place.
In Victorian times the story of King Edgar served English political and cultural ends, being used to demonstrate the "natural superiority" of the English over the others in the Union, particularly the Scots and Welsh. It did not start with the Victorians: the earliest independent reference to what is apparently the same boat trip is that of Ælfric of Eynsham, in his Life of St Swithin:
- "and ealle ða cyningas þe on þissum iglandewæron, Cumera and Scotta comon to Eadgare, hwilum anes dæges eahta cyningas and hiealle gebugon to Eadgares wissunge" - (and all the kings who were in this island, British and Scots, came to Edgar, at one time eight kings on one day, and they all submitted to Edgar's direction)
Gallery on "Time's Hand"
Minerva Shrine and chisel marks
The above photo's were taken in September 2017.
Edmund I's Murder
Edgar's father Edmund had been just three years old when his own father, Edward the Elder died on July 24, 924 at Farndon. Succeeding Edward was Edmund’s 30-year-old half brother Æthelstan, who quickly saw the death of one rival claimant and later may have killed off another. Thanks to Æthelstan's warlike activities Edmund I was the first Anglo-Saxon monarch whose dominion extended over the whole of England at the time of his accession in 939. It was not long before Edmund faced opposition. In 940, Olaf Guthfrithsson, King of Dublin, who was defeated by Æthelstan in the Battle of Brunanburh, came down from Northumbria to reclaim his lost lands in York. Olaf and Edmund met in 939 at Leicester where they came to an agreement regarding the division of England between them. This agreement proved short-lived, however, and within a few years Vikings had occupied the Five Boroughs of Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford. When Olaf died in 942, Edmund reconquered the area of the Five Boroughs. In 944 Edmund retook Yorkshire and Northumbria, and subdued Strathclyde in 945. Also in 945 he became embroiled in the politics of France when he helped restore Louis IV. Clearly Edmund would have made enemies during this time.
On May 26, 946, Edmund I, the twenty four year old King of the English, was stabbed to death at a royal hunting lodge in Pucklechurch, north of Bath, England while celebrating the feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury. The murderer was at once hacked to pieces by the king's supporters. The traditional story is that he was stabbed by a thief who had been banished some years before. Recent research indicates that Edmund may have been the victim of political assassination and suggests that the characterization of Edmund’s killer as a thief was fabricated by later chroniclers. In fact, the chronicle versions are contradictory and would have us believe that a banished thief acting alone turns up at a royal celebration and manages to get himself a seat on the "top table" without anyone noticing. Edmund’s killer was not named in any chronicles for more than 100 years after his death and the name that eventually appeared was probably chosen on purpose because its meaning was understood all too well. In Old English "leof(a)" meant "beloved" and so the use of the name Leofa for an assassin seems quite ironic. William of Malmesbury says in his chronicle that "…rumours about his death…spread all over England." Some of these rumors may have blamed the person who had the most to gain from Edmund’s death – his younger brother Eadred. Edgar the Pacific's uncle Eadred became the next king of England.
Upon the murder of King Edmund in 946, Edgar's uncle, Eadred, ruled until 955. Eadred succeeded to the throne over his two young nephews who were deemed too young to rule. He would be the third and last of the sons of Edward the Elder to rule England. The chonicles about his reign are notoriously confused. Eadred inherited a volatile political climate from his brother Edmund. It appears that he soon lost the Kingdom of York to the Vikings (under Olaf Sihtricson and Eric Bloodaxe) and only managed to regain it firmly in 952. During his reign Eric Bloodaxe was killed in an ambush, along with five kings from the Hebrides and the two earls of Orkney, on the bleak moors of Stainmore in Teesdale by Maccus, an agent of Oswulf Ealdulfing, the High Reeve or Earl of Bamburgh, who ruled Northumbria north of the Tees. Oswulf was a supporter of Edred, who may have encouraged the murder. Towards the end of his life, Eadred suffered from a digestive malady which would prove fatal and he died at the age of about 31. An ornate mortuary chest at Winchester Cathedral is said to contain Eadred's bones.
Eadred was succeeded by his nephew, the 15 year old Eadwig, Edmund's eldest son. Eadwig's short reign was tarnished by disputes with nobles and men of the church, including Archbishops Dunstan and Oda. According to one legend (written about the year 1000), the feud with Dunstan began on the day of Eadwig's coronation, when he failed to attend a meeting of nobles. When Dunstan eventually found the young monarch, he was "cavorting" with a noblewoman named Ælfgifu and her mother (Æthelgifu), and refused to return with the bishop. Infuriated by this, Dunstan dragged Eadwig back and forced him to renounce the girl as a "strumpet". Just what "cavorting" implies is left to the reader: in Eadmer’s Life of St Oda, the archbishop subsequently sent soldiers to seize the woman with whom the king had most frequently "cavorted in rude embraces". Later realising that he had provoked the king, Dunstan fled to the apparent sanctuary of his cloister, but Eadwig, incited by Ælfgifu, whom he had married, followed him and plundered the monastery. Dunstan was forced into exile. These stories, written down some 40-odd years later, seem to be rooted in later smear campaigns which were meant to bring disrepute on Eadwig and his marital relations.
Eadwig is known for his remarkable generosity in giving away land. In 956 alone, his sixty odd gifts of land make up around 5% of all genuine Anglo-Saxon charters. No known ruler in Europe matched that yearly total before the twelfth century, and his cessions are plausibly attributed to political insecurity. Eadwig was dead at the age of 19. The circumstances of his death are not recorded and although there is no mention of foul play on the part of the supporters of Edgar, it cannot be ruled out.
Edgar was about 3 when his father was assassinated on 26th May 946 and was adopted by Æthelstan Half-King an important and influential Ealdorman of East Anglia. One reason for this may well have been to protect him from possible risks of himself being assassinated as his father had been, especially given the ambition of Ælfgifu and her family, who may well have wanted an heir of Eadwig to be the next king. The union between Ælfgifu and Eadred was or was to become one of the most controversial royal marriages in 10th-century England. Eadwig's brother Edgar was the heir presumptive, but a legitimate son born out of this marriage would have seriously diminished Edgar's chances of succeeding to the kingship. The annulment of the marriage of Eadwig and Ælfgifu is unusual in that it was against their will, clearly politically motivated by the supporters of Dunstan. The Church at the time regarded any union within seven degrees of consanguinity as incestuous. At the time, "degree" was reached by counting up to the common ancestor: a second cousin would have been related within the third degree.
The rise of Æthelstan's family began in the reign of King Edward the Elder, when his father Æthelfrith, whose family background is presumed to lie in Wessex, was appointed an Ealdorman in southern Mercia. Mercia was then ruled by Edward's sister Æthelflæd and her husband Æthelred. Æthelstan seems to have been appointed Ealdorman of East Anglia and other parts by King Æthelstan in about 932. The lands King Æthelstan gave him had mostly been part of the Danelaw which had only been forced out of the area after the Battle of Tempsford in Bedfordshire fifteen years earlier in 917. Æthelstan's brother Ælfstan became Ealdorman of some parts of Mercia at about the same time and both of them may have participated in King Æthelstan's invasion of Scotland in 934. Æthelstan's wife was named Ælfwynn. Her family came from the East Midlands. She was foster-mother of King Edgar of England, giving Edgar some connection with Mercia. Soon after the death of King Eadred in 955, Æthelstan left his position and became a monk at Glastonbury Abbey. It is unknown whether his move to Glastonbury was voluntary or not.
As Edgar had been brought up in what had once been the Danelaw he became a popular prince with both the middle-english (Mercians) and the Danes. In 957, the thanes of Mercia and Northumbria changed their allegiance from Eadwig to Edgar. A conclave of nobles declared Edgar as king of the territory north of the Thames. Ælfhere, Ealdorman of Mercia (died 983) was promoted by King Eadwig and faced opposition from the old guard. As noted above, the crisis came in 957, and to almost all appearances was settled by negotiation.
However there is some suggestion that the "negotiations" may have involved the torture of Ælfgifu. This is only mentioned in one source, Eadmer’s Life of St Oda, in which Archbishop Oda branded her on the face with a white hot iron and banished her to Ireland. When she recklessly tried to return to the kingdom she was captured at Gloucester where she was hamstrung "so that she could travel no further in pursuit of her vagrant and whorish way of life". Within days she was dead. Whether these facts about the accession of Edgar are true or later propaganda isn't known.
The English kingdom was neatly partitioned between Eadwig and his younger brother Edgar, Eadwig ruling Wessex south of the Thames, Edgar Mercia and Northumbria to the north. Ælfhere survived the crisis, abandoning Eadwig, and became Edgar's devoted supporter. Edgar was at this time around 14 years old, and would not, according to the laws at the time, achieve his majority until the age of 15. Ælfhere found himself in a powerful position, from 959 to 975 he was almost always the first witness to Edgar's charters, placing him above all others in status. One thing that this partition shows is that the idea of a "Kingdom of Mercia" still existed many years after it had supposedly been swallowed-up by Wessex.
Edgar as king
One of Edgar's first actions was to recall Dunstan from exile and have him made Bishop of Worcester and Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, subsequently Bishop of London and later, Archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan remained Edgar's advisor throughout his reign. The Monastic Reform Movement that introduced the Benedictine Rule to England's monastic communities peaked during the era of Dunstan. In the mid-tenth century almost all monasteries were staffed by secular clergy, who were often married. The reformers sought to replace them with celibate contemplative monks following the Rule of Saint Benedict. The movement was inspired by Continental monastic reforms, and the leading figures were Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester, and Oswald, Archbishop of York. The English movement became dominant under King Edgar (959–975), who supported the expulsion of secular clergy from monasteries and cathedral chapters, and their replacement by monks. Æthelwold was the most extreme of the three and supposedly once commanded a monk to show his devotion by plunging his hand into a pot of boiling stew.
One notable feature of Edgar's reign was the lack of Viking raids in the period from about 954-980. 954 had seen the Northumbrians expell Eric Bloodaxe. After the expulsion of Eric the historical sources are very poor, with some indications that major figures included the Ealdormen Osulf and Oslac who held Northumbria with the leave of Eadwig and later Edgar. It is possible that Edgar had a largely "hands-off" approach to the Danelaw and that this helped to maintain peace - he certainly had a law code which promised equal treatment for the English in England and the Danes in the Danelaw, each being governed by their own laws. As for external factors Denmark was becoming christian at the time, with the conversion of Harald Bluetooth in around 960. Denmark was also going through a unification process that involved some internal conflict.
It is unclear how much power Edgar the Pacific actually had. Edgar's coronation did not happen until 973, in an imperial ceremony planned not as the initiation, but as the culmination of his reign (a move that must have taken a great deal of preliminary diplomacy). This service, devised by Dunstan and celebrated with a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, forms the basis of the present-day British coronation ceremony. The symbolic coronation was an important step; other kings of Britain came and gave their allegiance to Edgar shortly afterwards at Chester. At least six kings in Britain, including the King of Scots and the King of Strathclyde, pledged their faith that they would be the king's liege-men on sea and land.
Edgar's family life was complicated. Edgar is believed to have married first Æthelflæd the White, daughter of Ordmaer, Ealdorman of the East Anglians, between 957 and 959. After Æthelflæd's death about 962, the traditional story is that Edgar abducted and married Wulfthryth of Wilton. He carried her off from the nunnery at Wilton Abbey. They lived as husband and wife at his residence in Kemsing for 2 years. It is unclear if they actually married or not, or if she had in fact been a nun. After the birth of one daughter, Wulfthryth was returned to Wilton Abbey, along with their child, and definitely now became a nun, eventually Abbess. About 964/965 Edgar married, possibly for a third time, to Ælfthryth, widow of Æthelwald, Ealdorman of East Anglia, Edgar's adopted brother. Ælfthryth was the daughter of Ealdorman Ordgar and his wife, a member of the royal family of Wessex. Legend has it that Edgar heard of Ælfthryth's great beauty and sent Æthelwald to arrange marriage for him (Edgar) but Æthelwald instead married her himself. In retaliation Æthelwald was killed 'in a hunting accident' (at the site of "Dead Man's Plack") and Edgar married her as he had wanted. It is not known if this is true or simply romantic fiction. The "Plack" carries the following inscription:
- "About the year of our Lord DCCCCLXIII upon this spot beyond the time of memory called Deadman’s Plack, tradition reports that Edgar, surnamed the peaceable, King of England, in the ardour of youth love and indignation, slew with his own hand his treacherous and ungrateful favourite, owner of this forest of Harewood, in resentment of the Earl’s having basely betrayed and perfidiously married his intended bride and beauteous Elfrida, daughter of Ordgar, Earl of Devonshire, afterwards wife of King Edgar, and by him mother of King Ethelred II. Queen Elfrida, after Edgar’s death, murdered his eldest son, King Edward the Martyr, and founded the Nunnery of Wor-well."
Ælfthryth will reappear in the story of the death of Edward the Martyr and it is likely that many of the evils associated with her were the result of later propoganda in favour of the martyred king. Also, there was a gap of two years between the death Æthelwald (whose brother remained loyal to Edgar) and Edward's marriage to his widow. Overall, it seems like the story of "Dead Man's Plack" is later fiction.
Edgar was associated even in the minds of his contemporaries with peace and order. Perhaps this was in contrast with what had gone before or with what was to come afterwards, but it certainly seems that he enjoyed a period free of the external threats or internal stuggles which came before and after. His laws were severe: Lantfred of Winchester makes it clear (writing in 975) that under Edgar's legal code any thief or robber would be quite savagely mutilated. It does appear that this was successful in keeping domestic crime down. Florence of Worcester wrote:
- "Wrought upon by the prudent counsels of him [Dunstan] and of other wise men, Edgar, king of the English, punished the wicked in every quarter, reduced the rebels to submission by his severity, showed favour to the just and humble, repaired and enriched God's ruined churches, removed all vanities from the monasteries of the clerks [i.e. secular clergy, as distinct from monks], collected great numbers of monks and nuns, to the glory of the Almighty Creator, and supplied more than 40 monasteries."
On the other hand his laws seem to have been inclusive in that the inhabitants of the Danelaw appear to have enjoyed a measure of consideration for their slightly different culture but also were involved in legal processes such as the witnessing of charters. It could be simply that the Vikings were at this period involved in other matters, either internal issues or raiding elsewhere. William of Malmesbury wrote:
- "... Edgar, the honour and delight of the English ... a youth of sixteen years old, assuming the government, held it for a similar period [i.e. sixteen years]. The transactions of his reign are celebrated with peculiar splendour even in our times. The divine love, which he sedulously procured by his devotion and energy of counsel, shone propitious on his years. It is commonly reported that at his birth Dunstan heard an angelic voice saying, “Peace to England so long as this child shall reign, and our Dunstan shall live.” The succession of events was in unison with the heavenly oracle – so much, while he lived, did ecclesiastical glory flourish, and martial clamour decay: scarcely does a year elapse in the Chronicles, in which he did not perform something great and advantageous to his country, in which he did not build some new monastery. He experienced no internal treachery, no foreign attack."
Edgar does seem to have maintained a navy, although the fleet of 3,600 ships which he had apparently amsssed at the time of his death does seem like an exageration taken to the point of absurdity. Viking fleets are known to comprise a hundred ships only in exceptional circumstances, and most raiding parties would be much smaller. The early English fleets were never otherwise described as so large - a fleet of 3,600 ships at Chester would have been one of the greatest collections of shipping of all time. Marc Anthony's fleet at the Battle of Actium was "only" 500-strong. In 851, an unprecedentedly large force of Danes invaded southern England, carried on, so it is said, about 350 ships. Edgar's fleet is supposedly ten times this size. Edgar is described as carrying out large-scale fleet-operations each summer, possibly including a circumnavigation of the isles, but it is difficult to see how this could be effective against any opponent who did not mass forces into a single fleet. But the Chronicles are quite clear that Edgar brought the lot to Chester:
- "geleade ealle his sciphere to Lægeceastre and þær him comon ongean vi cyningas and eallwið trywsodon þæt hi woldon efenwyrhton beon on sæ and on lande" (‘took his whole naval force to Chester, and six kings came to meet him, and all gave him pledges that they would be his allies on sea and on land’)
It could be that he is known as "the Pacific" simply because nothing much of note was recorded from during his reign. There are several possible reasons for this - he may have been on such good terms with the church that they would write little of his failures, or he may have had none. Alternatively, later Norman chroniclers as well as others who wished to show that England was conquered because it had somehow failed might have glossed over a quite successful king. Another theory is that the monastic writers he had so favoured considered his sexual exploits so outrageous that they simply had to play-up the peace and stability of his reign so as not to cast him in a negative light.
Edgar died on 8 July 975 at Winchester, Hampshire. He was 33 years old. The cause of his death is not known. He was buried at Glastonbury Abbey (where Edmund was also buried), and was there venerated as a saint (pre-congregation). Edward was the eldest son of King Edgar the Peaceful but was not his father's acknowledged heir. On Edgar's death, the leadership of England was contested, with some supporting Edward's claim to be king and others supporting his younger half-brother Æthelred the Unready, recognised as a legitimate son of Edgar. The 12 year old Edward was chosen as king and was crowned by his main clerical supporters, the archbishops Dunstan of Canterbury and Oswald of York. Edgars tomb was presumably destroyed in the great fire which consumed the abbey in 1184.
Edward is murdered
In the reign of Edward the Martyr (c. 962 – 18 March 978), his support for Dunstan's Benedictine reform movement provoked the anger and envy of those who had seen the Church as a way to gain wealth and prestige. The ascetic life and the importance of monasticism promoted by Dunstan and his colleagues were not to their liking, and so they looked for – and found – other friends in high places. Ælfhere was a leader of the anti-monastic reaction and a close ally of Edward's stepmother Queen Dowager Ælfthryth. Civil war almost broke out over the disputed succession and in the anti-monastic reaction the nobles took advantage of Edward's weakness to dispossess the Benedictine reformed monasteries of lands and other properties that previous King Edgar had granted to them. Edgar's death was not without portents, after recording Edward's succession, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that a comet appeared:
- "Then too was seen, high in the heavens, the star on his station, that far and wide wise men call – lovers of truth and heav'nly lore – ‘cometa’ by name. Widely was spread God's vengeance then throughout the land, and famine scour'd the hills. May heaven's guardian, the glory of angels, avert these ills, and give us bliss again; that bliss to all abundance yields from earth's choice fruits, throughout this happy isle."
Æþelræd was the son of Edgar and his second (or perhaps third) wife, Queen Ælfthryth. Æþelræd came to the throne at about the age of 12, following the assassination of his older half-brother, Edward the Martyr. His brother's murder was carried out by supporters of his own claim to the throne, although he was too young to have any personal involvement. Ælfthryth appeared as a stereotypical bad queen and evil stepmother in many medieval histories, where she was generally believed to have been involved in the murder of Edward. The earliest chronicle texts only state that Edward was killed, by the time of later chronicles it was claimed that Ælfthryth plotted the murder and eventually that she did the deed herself. Modern historians note that Edward in life was not a saintly figure and offended many people.
After the death of Edward (the Martyr) in 978, Æthelred was not yet old enough to rule on his own and Ælfthryth acted as regent. Æthelred's cause was led by his mother but included Ælfhere, Ealdorman of Mercia. Edward the Martyr's story did not end with his death. His bones were first moved in 981 to a convent in Shaftsbury, then to the Abbey there in 1001. At the dissolution his bones were hidden, only to be found again in 1931, spending the next half-century in a bank vault as neither the Church of England or that of Rome wanted them. In 1984, they were placed in a shrine at the Russian Orthodox Cemetery at Brookwood, Surrey - the only English ruler buried in an Orthodox shrine.
Despite the later protests of the church chronicles, there appears to have been no real outcry over the murder of Edward. Only Dunstan seems to have spoken out, and then only to issue a dire prophecy that "the country would pass into the hands of a stranger" - even that may well be a later concoction. The historian Æthelweard, himself closely involved with the key players, wrote that:
- "Edward's earthly kin would not avenge him, but left the vengance to his Heavenly Father"
Perhaps the magnates believed that after the relatively peaceful reign of Edgar anything was better than a civil war.
Boy King Æþelræd
As the ealdorman of Mercia, Ælfhere was concerned with relations with the Welsh princes. The Mercian tradition was that this meant war. Wars in Wales gave opportunities for fame, and for booty to be distributed to allies and kinsmen. A campaign in 983 by Ælfhere against Brycheiniog and Morgannwg, with the aid of the Welsh king Hywel ap Ieuaf, is recorded by the Annales Cambriae.
England had experienced a period of peace after the reconquest of the Danelaw in the mid-10th century by King Edgar, Æþelræd's father. However, beginning in 980, when Æþelræd had been king for two years and could not have been more than 14 years old, small companies of Danish adventurers carried out a series of coastline raids against England. Hampshire, Thanet and Cheshire were attacked in 980 and other raids followed. The 980 raid is recorded in the "C manuscript" of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle in the following terms:
- "..and the same year Cheshire was ravaged by a northern naval force"
The decline of the Chester mint has long been attributed to the Viking raid on Cheshire in 980. Three of the four Anglo-Saxon coin hoards found in the city, those from Castle Esplanade, Pemberton's Parlour, and Eastgate Street, have been assigned to roughly the same period and were originally interpreted as being linked to that raid. However it now seems that they were deposited 965-970, before the Viking raid. The city's relatively depressed state was indicated by the low output of its mint in the 980s and early 990s. This was a time of a certain level of national disorder following the death of Edgar the Pacific.
A few years later in 991, a Danish fleet sailed up the Blackwater river in Essex, and then decisively defeated the county’s defenders at the Battle of Maldon, all Æþelræd worst fears appeared to be coming true as the kingdom tottered under the ferocity of the onslaught. Æþelræd tried to buy the Vikings off. In 997 the inevitable happened and the Danes returned, some from as close as the Isle of Wight where they had settled completely unimpeded. Over the next four years the southern coasts of England were devastated and the English armies powerless whilst Aethelred desperately sought some kind of solution. At the same time, the country was in the grips of “millenarian” fever, as thousands of Christians believed that in the year 1000 (or thereabouts) Christ would return to earth to resume what he had started in Judaea.
Æþelræd had started his reign surrounded by councilors and advisors who had considerable experience dating back to the time of Edgar. Many of these magnates would live at least into the next decade before starting to die off or retire from public life. During this period the Viking raids were relatively few, but it may be no co-incidence that as his older advisors began to fall away the intensity of the raids increased.
Prophets of Doom
Approaching the year 1000 (or 1001 given there was no "year zero")) speculation as to the closeness of the End of the World was rife. It was generally considered forbidden to speculate as to the precise timing of the Day of Judgement, something which had caused problems for Bede. This did not stop priests speculating about the coming of the Antichrist, who was expected to arrive any day. In 971, a preacher had begun by stating that speculation was forbidden before, in the next breath, launching into a prediction that "Doom was Nigh":
- "For so veiled by secrecy is the end of days, that no one in the entire world, no matter how holy, nor anyone in heaven, except the Lord alone, has ever known when it will come. The end cannot be long delayed.. ..only the coming of the accursed stranger, Antichrist, who is yet to appear on the face of the earth, is still awaited."
"Fire and brimstone" sermons were commonplace and Wulfstan wrote with vivid rhetorical force about the unpleasantries of Hell (notice the alliteration, parallelism, and rhyme):
- "Wa þam þonne þe ær geearnode helle wite. Ðær is ece bryne grimme gemencged, & ðær is ece gryre; þær is granung & wanung & aa singal heof; þær is ealra yrmða gehwylc & ealra deofla geþring. Wa þam þe þær sceal wunian on wite. Betere him wære þæt he man nære æfre geworden þonne he gewurde". - "Woe then to him who has earned for himself the torments of Hell. There there is everlasting fire roiling painfully, and there there is everlasting filth. There there is groaning and moaning and always constant wailing. There there is every kind of misery, and the press of every kind of devil. Woe to him who dwells in torment: better it were for him that he were never born, than that he become thus."
The Viking raids played straight into the hands of these prophets of doom. Wulfstan's five eschatological homilies seem to have been among the earliest sermons he wrote, and although none of his later works address this theme in their entirety, the subject is one that occupied him throughout his career. He was convinced, as were many of his contemporaries, that the end of the world was near, interpreting both the depredations of the Vikings and a perceived deterioration in morality among the English to mean that the reign of the Antichrist was at hand. Wulfstan’s messages to the English people are typically full of gloom:
- "For it is clear and manifest in us all that we have previously transgressed more than we have amended, and therefore much is assailing this people. Things have not gone well now for a long time at home or abroad, but there have been devastation and famine, burning and bloodshed in every district again and again."
The murder of an anointed king Edward in 978, perhaps already "Edward the Martyr" in the words of some, was no doubt seen as an ominous sign of the last times being at hand. Rumours spread that his body had been dragged by his bolting horse and flung into a bog. A column of fire was said to have marked the spot where his body lay. Portents included a "great bloody cloud rising out of the north and covering the heavens" even as the young Æþelræd was being crowned. The year 989 had seen the return of Halley's comet. Eilmer of Malmesbury, the fanous "flying monk" recorded in Chester's Polychronicon, may have seen Halley in 989, as he wrote of it in 1066:
- "You've come, have you? ... You've come, you source of tears to many mothers, you evil. I hate you! It is long since I saw you; but as I see you now you are much more terrible, for I see you brandishing the downfall of my country. I hate you!"
From tree-rings of 993/4 there are signs of a recent major Coronal Mass Ejection which would have caused significant auroral displays (as recorded in 992) and no doubt contributed further to the worries of those watching the skies for portents of doom. This was similar to that of 774 which was also associated with "dragons" being seen in the sky.
The papacy at this time was a complete mess, with frequent conflicts between popes and anti-popes. In the year 1000 itself the papal throne was occupied by Sylvester II, a Frenchman originally known as Gerbert of Aurillac. He was something of a ray of hope: evidently a skilled mathematician,he endorsed and promoted study of Arab and Greco-Roman arithmetic, mathematics, and astronomy, reintroducing to Europe the abacus and armillary sphere, which had been lost to Latin Europe since the end of the Greco-Roman era. He is said to be the first to introduce in Europe the decimal numeral system using Hindu–Arabic numerals and to have promoted the use of the abbacus. Unfortunately, he was soon forced to flee by John Crescentius and a series of puppet popes followed. Later scholars evidently found it difficult to believe that the papal throne could be occupied by anyone as rational as Gilbert and gleefully retold various legends about Gilbert having seduced a philosophers daughter to steal a book of sorcery and then make a deal with the devil - thus guaranteeing himself both the top job and a (completely fictitious) grisly end. Rumours also circulated (many from William of Malmesbury) that Gilbert had constucted a talking "brazen head" (Walter Map replaces it with what appears to be a Succubus). This head (or Succubus) had the name "Meridiana" and seems to be a very distorted reference to an armillary sphere, or some other form of navigational instrument.
An English payment of 10,000 Roman pounds (3,300 kg) of silver was first made in 991 following the Viking victory at the Battle of Maldon, when Æthelred was advised by Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the aldermen of the south-western provinces to buy off the Vikings rather than continue the armed struggle. In recent years some doubt has been cast on whether Sigeric actually made the suggestion, the consequences of which appear to have virtually bankrupted him. Rudyard Kipling would later write:
- " ..And that is called paying the Dane-geld; But we’ve proved it again and again, That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld, You never get rid of the Dane."
The twerm "Danegeld" did not appear until the late eleventh century. It was actually the much later Norman administration who referred to the tax as Danegeld. In Anglo-Saxon England tribute payments to the Danes was known as "gafol" and the levy raised to support the standing army, for the defense of the realm, was known as heregeld (army-tax). Further payments were made in 1002, and in 1007 Æthelred bought two years peace with the Danes for 36,000 troy pounds (13,400 kg) of silver. In 1012, following the capture and murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the sack of Canterbury, the Danes were bought off with another 48,000 troy pounds (17,900 kg) of silver. It is estimated that the total amount of money paid by the Anglo-Saxons amounted to some sixty million pence. More Anglo-Saxon pennies of this period have been found in Denmark than in England.
One of Æthelred's proposed solutions to the problem of the Danes bordered on the apocalyptic.
On Friday, November 13th, A.D. 1002, Æthelred Unræd, ruler of the English, "ordered slain all the Danish men who were in England", according to a royal charter. Æthelred’s order led to what is known as the St. Brice’s Day Massacre, named for the saint’s feast day on which it fell. The event has long been cloaked in mystery and misinformation. Archaeology, so far, has had little to offer in the matter of what actually happened and how many people died that day - although there has possibly been quite clear confirmation of some local events from a dig in Oxford and another near Weymouth.
Rumours of a Viking coup may have been circulating for some time. According to the "C", "D" and "E" texts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a somewhat biased tenth-century account:
- "..it was told the king, that they would beshrew him of his life, and afterwards all his council, and then have his kingdom without any resistance."
However this is not evidence of a national viking plot. The massacre in Oxford was justified by Æthelred, showing no remorse, in a royal charter of 7th December 1004 explaining the need to rebuild St Frideswide's Church (now Christ Church Cathedral):
- "For it is fully agreed that to all dwelling in this country it will be well known that, since a decree was sent out by me with the counsel of my leading men and magnates, to the effect that all the Danes who had sprung up in this island, sprouting like cockle amongst the wheat, were to be destroyed by a most just extermination, and thus this decree was to be put into effect even as far as death, those Danes who dwelt in the afore-mentioned town, striving to escape death, entered this sanctuary of Christ, having broken by force the doors and bolts, and resolved to make refuge and defence for themselves therein against the people of the town and the suburbs; but when all the people in pursuit strove, forced by necessity, to drive them out, and could not, they set fire to the planks and burnt, as it seems, this church with its ornaments and its books. Afterwards, with God's aid, it was renewed by me."
The skeletons of 34 to 38 young men, the majority aged 16 to 25, were found during an excavation at St John's College, Oxford, in 2008. Chemical analysis carried out in 2012 by Oxford University researchers suggests that the remains are Viking based on isotopes found in tooth enamel; older scars on the bones provide evidence that they were professional warriors. It is thought that they were stabbed repeatedly and then brutally slaughtered. Charring on the bones is consistent with historical records of the church burning. However they may not be victims of a wide-ranging massacre, but instead the bodies of a viking raiding party. The isotopic analysis indicates that the bones were of men who had grown-up on a diet with a significant element of sea-food, something that would have been rare in Oxford. Consequently, the evidence seems to suggest that they were not second or even later generation Danes who had settled in the city, but relatively recent arrivals.
In 2009 another mass burial was found on the Dorset Ridgeway containing 51 decapitated individuals. The radiocarbon dates place the burial between 970-1025, that would allow for this massacre to also be tied to St Brice’s day 1002. Tooth enamel analysis identifies the victims as Scandinavian. Unlike Oxford, however, where evidence of injuries points to the men being warriors and likely dying while fighting (or fleeing), the bodies at Dorset show few injuries, either pre-existing or contemporary with execution. This suggests that the victims were not warriors, and also indicates that they were executed by beheading with little by way of struggle or resistance.
One of those killed (some claim at at Oxford), apparently, was Gunnhild, the sister of the Danish king Swein Forkbeard, which was taken by later chronicles to have sharpened the latter’s hostility. The later chronicle-writers would have us believe that the following summer Swein sacked Exeter. Swein then went on to harry Wessex and destroy Wilton. However there are serious difficulties with this version of events mostly derived from William of Malmesbury writing around 1140: there is no Danish record of Swein having a sister called Gunnhild. Even by the time of William of Jumièges’ Gesta Normannorum Ducum, written around 1070 the "massacre" had become an outrageous act of genocide:
- "But while, as we learnt above, under such a famous ruler [Richard, duke of Normandy] the prosperity of Normandy grew, Aethelred, king of the English defiled a kingdom that had long flourished under the great glory of most powerful kings with such a dreadful crime that in his own reign even the heathens judged it as a detestable, shocking deed. For in a single day he had murdered, in a sudden fury and without charging them with any crime, the Danes who lived peacefully and quite harmoniously throughout the kingdom and who did not at all fear for their lives."
A troubled country
It is possible that the later chroncles greatly exaggerated the scope of the massacre to cast Æthelred in a very poor light and provide Norman propaganda. Apart from the two finds described above there is little evidence of a widespread slaughter of the Danish population and it would probably have been impossible for this to have occurred in the Danelaw, where the proportion of the population with Scandinavian ancestry must have been quite large. The later Norman propaganda has Æthelred's mother instigating the murder of her "saintly" stepson and Dunstan predicting that that the country and Æthelred would be destroyed as a consequence. These legends backed up the Norman position that the English rulers had become corrupt and deserved to be overthrown. Æthelred is variously stated to have "grasped the throne by the shedding of his brothers blood" (Æthelred was aged about 12 at the time), been indolent and weakly tried to pay the Vikings off with heavy taxation, and even resorted to an attempt at genocide - the hint being that at Oxford he even had slain those who had sought the sanctuary of the church.
At the same time, the inhabitants of Æthelred's England must have looked back on the days of Edgar the Pacific as an idylic time of peace and prosperity. In Edgar's reign there was a reduction in taxation and the nobility enjoyed economic benefits. The Church prospered with a weeding-out of corruption and the "end of days" gloom of the approaching millennium had not yet descended on the country. Edgar had regulated the currency placing it under centralised control which was now providing a standardised coinage that was widely accepted for foreign trade, probably at a predicatable value. The wealth of England was possibly one factor which attracted the attention of Scandinavians during the reign of Æthelred.
Edgar's laws were seen as just and practical, and compared with the surrounding countries there was relative peace. On the continent the disintergrating remnants of the Carolingian Empire were in an almost permanent state of civil strife, if not all-out civil war. This meant that armed forces were in a state of readyness. In England it may well have been that the military was far less strong. It is known that Æthelred employed Scandinavian mercenaries, a circumstance that frequently heralds a disaster. One of the mercenaries originally on the Viking side was Thorkell the Tall a prominent member of the the elite Jomsviking order who were exceptionally well trained and well organised. Thorkell would play an important part on both sides of the conflict.
Worse still Æthelred seems to have engaged in considerable political infighting. One of his political "enforcers" was Eadric Streona ("the grasper"). Eadric's character was the subject of very clear assessments by later chroniclers:
- "..he was a man, indeed, of low origin, but his smooth tongue gained him wealth and high rank, and, gifted with a subtle genius and persuasive eloquence, he surpassed all his contemporaries in malice and perfidy, as well as in pride and cruelty." — John of Worecester, Chronicon ex Chronicis
- "This fellow was the refuse of mankind, the reproach of the English; an abandoned glutton, a cunning miscreant; who had become opulent, not by nobility, by specious language and impudence. This artful dissembler, capable of feigning anything, was accustomed, by pretended fidelity, to scent out the King’s designs, that he might treacherously divulge them." — William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum
Eadric was one of at least eight children and had relatively humble beginnings: his father Ethelric attended the court of King Ethelred the Unready, but was of no great significance and is not known to have had any titles. Even before becoming an ealdorman, Eadric seems to have acted as Ethelred's enforcer; in 1006 he instigated the killing of the Ealdorman of York, Elfhelm:
- "The crafty and treacherous Eadric Streona, plotting to deceive the noble ealdorman Ælfhelm, prepared a great feast for him at Shrewsbury at which, when he came as a guest, Eadric greeted him as if he were an intimate friend. But on the third or fourth day of the feast, when an ambush had been prepared, he took him into the wood to hunt. When all were busy with the hunt, one Godwine Porthund (which means the town dog) a Shrewsbury butcher, whom Eadric had dazzled long before with great gifts and many promises so that he might perpetrate the crime, suddenly leapt out from the ambush, and execrably slew the ealdorman Ælfhelm. After a short space of time his sons, Wulfheah and Ufegeat, were blinded, at King Æthelred’s command, at Cookham, where he himself was then staying." - Worcester Chronicle.
Eadric was married to Æthelred's daughter Edith by 1009, thus becoming his son-in-law. Eadric was appointed Ealdorman of Mercia in 1007.
As an ealdorman, Eadric played an important role in the affairs of the kingdom. In 1009 he negotiated with marauding Vikings to save the life of Archbishop Ælfheah of Canterbury, which proved to be unsuccessful - Ælfheah became the first Archbishop of Canterbury to die a violent death. Eadric also continued to organise the killings of prominent nobles — supposedly upon orders of the king. Eadric was not the only treacherous actor in Æthelred's world. In 992, it appears that an ealdorman named Alfric changed sides just before a naval battle. His reward was to have his son blinded on Æthelred's orders.
Mercia in 1007
The "C" manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has the following entry for the year 1007:
- "In this year also Eadric was appointed ealdorman over all the Mercian kingdom" (geond eall myrcena rice)
This is odd. By this time the "kingdom" of Mercia is supposed not to have existed as a political entity for around a century at least. Apart from brief reappearance possibly in some form under Æthelflæd and Edgar the Pacific. There are other indications that Mercia was still considered as a political entity. A charter refers to:
- "ealle ða ðegnas ðe þær widan gegæderode wæron ægðer . ge of Westsexan . ge of Myrcean . ge of Denon . ge of Englon" (all the thegns who from far and wide were gathered there, both West Saxon and Mercian, English and Danish)"
In this reference Wessex/Mercia form a pairing as do English/Danish. One can only speculate about the loyalties of Mercia, and hence of Chester in 1007. Chester had clearly been an important city long after its decline as a major Roman base, possibly maintaining some status as an ecclesiastical center prior to the Battle of Chester in 616. Offa and the Mercians almost certainly used it as a base for military operations on the Welsh borders (Coenwulf died in 821 at Basingwerk near Holywell), but there would have been extensive trade with Wales, especially of salt. There would also have been trade with Ireland. The Danish invasions brought a division into the Danelaw along a line which stretched from Chester to London: effectively following the Roman Watling Street. Plegmund almost certainly lived nearby. Alfred apparently fought Vikings at Chester. Alfred's son Edward (c. 874 – 17 July 924) regained much of the lost territory with the aid of his warlike sister who rebuilt and extended the walls of Chester, then Edward died at Farndon after dealing with a revolt in Chester. Next came Æþelstān (c. 894 – 27 October 939) who may have fought the Battle of Brunanburh near Chester. Chester was an important base in 942 when there was collusion between the Welsh and the Scandinavian kingdom of York during King Edmund's campaign against the latter. Ingimund and his people were Vikings who had settled in the Wirral, making Chester a very cosmopolitan city, with a mint, staffed by some Scandinavian moniers which also bashed out coins for the Welsh. Chester may justly claim to have been the most prolific mint town in the whole country in the second quarter of the tenth century.
Viking settlers had given their "-by" place-names to Norse settlements in Wirral and South Lancashire, whose place-names are familiar as West Kirby, Frankby, Greasby, Pensby, Formby, Crosby, Helsby and other towns. The religious connection had continued with the growth of what were to become St Johns and the Cathedral. Edgar the Pacific had chosen Chester for the confirmation of his rule of all England. Edgar's cause had been promoted by Mercians including Ælfhere, the Ealdorman of Mercia who fought in Welsh wars before his death in 983. A large part of the inhabitants of the Danelaw were Scandinavians, now descended from settlers who had arrived several generations back and largely converts to christianity. They may well have disagreed strongly with Æþelræd's policy of genocide against the Danes. There was probably an increase of Danish influence in Chester, evidence for which can be found in Domesday Book, and this may have been a result of the opening up of trade relationships on a wider scale. Not only do we later find an abundance of Scandinavian names, which may have been the result of extensive colonisation dating from the time of Canute, but Danish legal forms and standards of measurement. For example, it is stated that at Handbridge there were three carucates of land, the Norse term which stands out among the Saxon hides. It also appears that Chester was governed by twelve "indices civitatis", or Law men, a form of local Government which is only otherwise found on the eastern side of England.
As will be seen by subsequent events, within ten years the men of Mercia would refuse to fight the Danes and to some extent abandon the English to their fate.
Swein Forkbeard Invades
Sweyn acquired massive sums of Danegeld through his raids. In 1013, he is reported to have personally led his forces in a full-scale invasion of England. The contemporary Peterborough Chronicle (part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) states:
- "..before the month of August came king Sweyn with his fleet to Sandwich. He went very quickly about East Anglia into the Humber's mouth, and so upward along the Trent till he came to Gainsborough. Earl Uchtred and all Northumbria quickly bowed to him, as did all the people of the Kingdom of Lindsey, then the people of the Five Boroughs. He was given hostages from each shire. When he understood that all the people had submitted to him, he bade that his force should be provisioned and horsed; he went south with the main part of the invasion force, while some of the invasion force, as well as the hostages, were with his son Cnut. After he came over Watling Street, they went to Oxford, and the town-dwellers soon bowed to him, and gave hostages. From there they went to Winchester, and the people did the same, then eastward to London."
The Londoners put up a strong resistance, because King Æthelred and Thorkell the Tall, a Viking mercenary leader who had "defected" to Æthelred, personally held their ground against him in London itself. Sweyn then went west to Bath, where the western thanes submitted to him and gave hostages. The Londoners then followed suit, fearing Sweyn's revenge if they resisted any longer. King Æthelred sent his sons Edward and Alfred to Normandy, and himself retreated to the Isle of Wight, and then followed them into exile. Olaf II Haraldsson (Óláfr Haraldsson c. 995 – 29 July 1030) aka "Olaf the Fat" of St Olave in Chester may have been involved at this stage of the war.
On Christmas Day 1013 Sweyn was declared King of England. Based in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, Sweyn began to organise his vast new kingdom, but he died there on 3 February 1014, having ruled England for only five weeks. Sweyn's elder son, Harald II, succeeded him as King of Denmark, while his younger son, Cnut, was proclaimed King of England by the people of the Danelaw. However, the English nobility sent for Æthelred, who upon his return from exile in Normandy in the spring of 1014 managed to drive Cnut out of England. Cnut soon returned and became king of all England in 1016, following the deaths of Æthelred and his son Edmund Ironside. England had finally been conquered by the Scandinavians.
Cnut built on the existing English trend for multiple shires to be grouped together under a single ealdorman, thusly dividing the country into four large administrative units whose geographical extent was based on the largest and most durable of the separate kingdoms that had preceded the unification of England. The officials responsible for these provinces were designated earls, a title of Scandinavian origin already in localised use in England, which now everywhere replaced that of ealdorman. Wessex was initially kept under Cnut's personal control, while Northumbria went to Erik of Hlathir, East Anglia to Thorkell the Tall, and Mercia remained in the hands of the treacherous Eadric Streona.
The House of Leofric
The early "earl's" of Mercia include Ælfhere, the Ealdorman of Mercia who died in 983 and was a supporter of Edgar the Pacific. Following the partition of the kingdom, Edgar's stepfather Æthelstan Half-King retired from political life, leaving Ælfhere as the chief ealdorman in Edgar's northern kingdom. From 959 to 975 he was almost always the first witness to Edgar's charters. The Life of Oswald of Worcester written by Abbot Byrhtferth of Ramsey refers to Ælfhere by the impressive title "princeps merciorum gentis" — prince of the Mercian people, last used in the days of Æthelflæd and Ælfwynn of Mercia — and as a witness to Oswald's charters he is called "ealdorman of the Mercians. He would most likely have been present in 973 when Edgar made his noted voyage on the River Dee at Chester. Upon the death of Edgar, Ælfhere was a supporter of Æthelred rather than Edward the Martyr. However is is credited with having the remains of the murdered king reburied at Shaftesbury Abbey. Whether Ælfhere wished to publicly disassociate himself from the killing of Edward, or to assuage a guilty conscience can only be conjectured — he certainly profited from Edward's death.
In 978, the very year that Æthelred became king, English troops possibly supplied by Ælfhere of Mercia were deployed on the Lleyn Peninsula on behalf of King Hywel ab Ieuaf of Gwynedd in order to prevent his uncle, Iago ab Idwal, invading with Viking allies from Dublin. Hywel is first recorded as accompanying Iago to Chester to meet King Edgar of England in 973. It would therefore appear that Ælfhere was possibly carrying out his treaty obligations. A campaign in 983 by Ælfhere against Brycheiniog and Morgannwg, also with the aid of the Welsh king Hywel ap Ieuaf, is recorded by the Annales Cambriae. However, in 985 (after the death of Ælfhere) Hywel's English allies turned on and killed him, possibly alarmed by his growing power. He was succeeded by his brother Cadwallon ap Ieuaf, who had not been on the throne long when Gwynedd was annexed by Maredudd ap Owain of Deheubarth. Ælfric Cild (fl. 975 – c. 985) was a wealthy Anglo-Saxon nobleman from the east Midlands, and succeded to become ealdorman of Mercia between 983 and 985, and was possibly brother-in-law to his predecessor Ælfhere. He was also associated with the monastic reformer Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester. Ælfric was not able to retain his new position for very long, however. Early in the year 985, a royal council was convened at Cirencester and Ælfric was driven out of the country on account of treason. The nature of the accusation is unknown and it is not clear how this fits in with the English turning on Hywel ap Ieuaf. It is not known when Ælfric died or what became of him in exile. The cartulary-chronicle Historia Ecclesie Abbendonensis written in the 12th century claims that he left for Denmark, assembled a band of Viking soldiers and returned to attack England. However, the text may have confused Ælfric Cild with a namesake. The title did not pass to Ælfric's son Ælfwine who appears to have died fighting in the Battle of Maldon in 991. Clearly by fairly early in his reign Æthelred support may have been weakened by a combination of the death of supporters and possible treason or treaty breaking.
Eadric was appointed the Ealdorman of Mercia in 1007. The position having been vacant since 985.
Leofwine (died in or after 1023) is said to have been appointed Ealdorman of the Hwicce by King Æthelred II of England in 994. Other versions have him appointed to Mercia at that time. The chronicles are very confused over who was appointed to Mercia when. This is perhaps not surprising given that the Danes were now attacking with increased frequency (see chronology below). A supposed ancestry of Leofwine is found in the Genealogia Fundatoris of Coventry Monastery, but this is considered suspect by many historians having been only written no earlier than the reign of King John and being unconfirmed by other sources. It is possible that he was distantly related to Ælfhere, a previous Ealdorman of Mercia, but this is also unconfirmed.
The etymology of the name Hwicce "the Hwiccians" is uncertain. It is the plural of a masculine i-stem. It may be from a tribal name of "the Hwiccians", or it may be from a clan name. One etymology comes from the common noun hwicce "ark, chest, locker", in reference to the appearance of the territory as a flat-bottomed valley bordered by the Cotswolds and the Malvern Hills. A second possibility would be a derivation from a given name, "the people of the man called Hwicce", but no such name has been recorded. Eilert Ekwall connected the name, on linguistic grounds, with that of the Gewisse, the predecessors of the West Saxons, whose name may have the same root as "wise". Also suggested by A. H. Smith is a tribal name that was in origin pejorative, meaning "the cowards", cognate to quake, Old Norse hvikari "coward". It is also likely that "Hwicce" referred to the native tribes living along the banks of the River Severn, in the area of today's 'Worcester', who were weavers using rushes and reeds growing profusely to create baskets. The modern word "wicker", which is thought to be of Scandinavian origin, describes the type of baskets produced by these early people. "Wicca" and "Wicker" have been to some extent mixed-up by folkloreists.
The territory of the Hwicce was a kingdom in the western midlands in the early Anglo-Saxon period, which soon became a subdivision of Mercia. According to some sources Leofwine was the son of Ælfwine, who is otherwise unknown, but the family appears to come from the East Midlands. Leofwine and his sons were remembered by the Worcester church as spoliators who seized church land, but as benefactors by East Midlands religious establishments. Under Æthelred, Leofwine's sphere of office was in the Hwicce areas of Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, but these counties were given to Danes by King Cnut soon after he gained the throne in 1016.
The sources become somewhat confused as to what happened to Leofwine after the conquest by Cnut. Some secondary sources state that he was later appointed earl of Mercia but this is not confirmed by any primary source. What seems more certain is that Leofwine had four children: Wulfric, Northman, Leofric and Eadwin.
Eadric Streona changes sides
Eadric had fled to Normandy with Emma in 1013, but was back in England in 1014 during the brief return of Æthelred. In 1015, there was a council held in Oxford, to which Eadric invited the brothers Sigeferth and Morcar, who were two thegns from the Seven Burhs in the East Midlands. The Seven Burghs of which they were said to be the chief men are believed to have been the Five Burghs—Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford—together with Torksey and York. Unfortunately for them, Eadric had them killed — possibly due to their collaboration with the Danes. King Æthelred seized both Morcar's and Sigeferth's lands, and imprisoned Sigeferth's widow who was called Ealdgyth. King Edmund Ironside seized the widow and married her. Edmund redistributed some of the lands that had previously belonged to Sigeferth.
Cnut then arrived anew from Denmark in August 1015 at Sandwich in Kent with an invasion force of about 200 ships, but immediately went off plundering in Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset. Eadric collected an army at Cosham, where king Æthelred lay sick. Edmund came to join him from the North, where his new territories lay. It is believed that Eadric had the intention of betraying Edmund, but when their forces came together he could not. The armies separated without incident, and Eadric soon took forty ships from the royal fleet, fled to Cnut, and entered into his service. Around the New Year, Eadric accompanied Cnut into Warwickshire, where they plundered, burned and slew all they met. Prince Edmund assembled an army to face them, but his Mercian forces refused to fight the Danes and disbanded. Edmund went on to assemble another army and, with the assistance of Earl Uhtred of Northumbria, plundered Eadric's lands in Staffordshire, Shropshire, and Cheshire. Uhtred returned to his occupied Northumbria to submit to Cnut, but he was killed and replaced with Eric Haakonsson.
Æthelred died on 23 April in London; his son Edmund was elected king of what was left of his father's kingdom. But Edmund was left little time: the Danish army went south to London, Edmund left for Wessex, Eadric and Cnut followed him, and two inconclusive battles were fought at Penselwood in Somerset and Sherston in Wiltshire, which lasted two days. The first day was bloody but inconclusive; on the second, Edmund had the upper hand but Eadric:
- "cut off the head of a man named Osmear, whose face and hair were very like king Eadmund's, and, holding it up, cried out that it was useless for the English to fight, saying, "Oh! ye men of Dorsetshire, Devonshire and Wiltshire, flee quickly; ye have lost your leader: Lo! here I hold the head of your lord and king Eadmund: flee with all speed." When the English heard these words they were terror-struck — more by the atrocity of the act, than by Eadric's threatening words." — John of Worcester, Chronicon ex Chronicis
Edmund's forces did flee initially, but when they realised he was still alive, fought with him until dusk. Eadric and Cnut left the battle and returned to London under cover of darkness. Edmund soon went on to rescue London, driving Eadric and Cnut away and defeating them after crossing the Thames at Brentford; but he suffered heavy losses. He then withdrew to Wessex to gather fresh troops, and the Danes again brought London under siege. But after another unsuccessful assault, the Danes withdrew into Kent, under attack by the loyalists. After a final defeat at Otford, Eadric met Edmund at Aylesford and was accepted back into Edmund's good graces. Cnut set sail northwards across the sea to Essex, and went up the River Orwell to ravage Mercia. On 18 October 1016, the Danes were engaged by Edmund's army as they retired towards their ships, leading to the Battle of Assandun - fought at either Ashingdon, in south-east, or Ashdon, in north-west Essex. In the ensuing struggle, Eadric, whose return to the English side was perhaps a ruse, withdrew his forces from the field of battle, and as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts it, he:
- "betrayed his natural lord and all the people of England"
..bringing about a decisive English defeat. Edmund and Cnut made peace on the advice of Eadric on Ola's island near Deerhurst. It was decided that England would be split in half at the Thames, Cnut in the North and Edmund in the South; when one of the kings should die the other would take all of England, and that king's son would be the heir to the throne. However, Edmund did not live much longer and Cnut became sole ruler of England. A popular story (recounted by Henry of Huntingdon in his Chronicle - see page 196) has it that soldiers acting in favor of Canute hid in the cess-pit of a lavatory and stabbed Edmund Ironsides in the bowels when he sat down to relieve himself (or that the Ealdorman of Chester Eadric Streona arranged for him to be shot from the midden with a primitive crossbow - the "Skåne Lockbow"), though this has never been proven and he may well simply have died of injuries sustained in battle. Foxe favours the cess-pit theory, and does not hesitate to involve Eadric:
- Soon after, a son of wicked Edricus, hy the mind (as appeared afterward) of his father, espied when King Edmund was at the draught, and with a spear (some say with a long knife) thrust him into the fundament, whereof the said Edmund shortly after died, after that he had reigned two years.
Just for good measure, Cnut married Emma of Normandy. Emma (c. 985–March 6, 1052 in Winchester, Hampshire), was daughter of Richard the Fearless, Duke of Normandy, by his second wife Gunnora. She was Queen consort of the Kingdom of England twice, by successive marriages: initially as the second wife to Ethelred the Unready of England (1002-1016); and then to Canute the Great of Denmark (1017-1035). Two of her sons, one by each husband, and two stepsons, also by each husband, became kings of England, as was her great-nephew, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy.
Eadric held his position as Ealdorman of Mercia, but Cnut must have been well aware that he was not to be trusted.
The death of Eadric Streona
While at the royal palace in London, Eadric was killed at the command of King Cnut, along with three other prominent English nobles: Northman, son of Leofwine, Æthelweard, son of Æthelmær the Stout, and Brihtric, son of Ælfhheah, Ealdorman of Devon. This appears to be Cnut ruthlessly removing anyone who might now prove anything less than loyal. There are several versions of Streona's death which vary in minor detail. One of the less likely is that it was as a result of Eadric beating Cnut at chess and refusing to change the rules in Cnut's favour. During the row which followed Eadric is said to have argued that he had assassinated King Edmund for Cnut's benefit - a fact of which Cnut had been unaware - and Cnut had him axed down and decapitated on the spot (but not without a humorous comment):
- The king then commanded that his body thrown into the Thames, and that the head should be fixed upon the gate at the entrance of the palace, " for," said he, " I promised to advance him above all the peers of the realm."
According to the Encomium Emmae it was done under claim that those executed had not fought "faithfully" for their liege Edmund and:
- "whom he (Cnut) knew to have been deceitful, and to have hesitated between the two sides with fraudulent tergiversation."
The Encomium also says that Cnut ordered Earl Eric Haakonsson to "pay this man what we owe him" and he chopped off his head with his axe. The exact date of Eadric's death is not given by any source, but John of Worcester states that Cnut gave the order on Christmas Day, therefore it is likely he died on 25 December 1017. Other chronicles add that Cnut ordered his body to be thrown over the city wall, and left unburied. Henry of Huntingdon says that Eadric's head was "placed upon a pole on the highest battlement of the tower of London". Of course, one problem with Huntingdon's version is that the Tower of London was only built after 1066.
One version has it that Leofric's elder brother "Northman" was also killed in 1017, in the losing battles against Cnut. Another source (Glover's, "The history and gazetteer of the county of Derby") tells a slighly more complex tale:
- The successor to Edric, in the dukedom or earldom of Mercia, was Leofwine, descended from Leofric, earl of Chester, who distinguished himself in the reign of Ethelbald. Leofwine did not long enjoy this dignity, but, dying, left issue three sons, the eldest of whom was named Leofric. The second, named Norman, was in high military trust under Edric Streon, and on the execution of that nobleman, fell a victim to the violence of the people, although he had not participated in the crimes of his patron.
The chronicler John of Worcester styled Northman "...son of Leofwine, Ealdorman of the Hwicce", Dux ("duke", "ealdorman" or "warlord"). He is described as a brother of Leofric comes ("count" or "ealdorman"). No other source claims that Northman was an ealdorman, and so the authenticity of this account is in doubt. John of Worcester's Chronicle was compiled between 1124 and 1140, but is derived from earlier sources, including a lost northern version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and likely saga material about Eadric Streona. The account in the surviving versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (in recensions C, D, E) is shorter, and does not give Northman the title of dux:
- "In this year  King Cnut succeeded to all the kingdom of England and divided it into four, Wessex for himself, East Anglia for Thorkel, Mercia for Eadric, and Northumbria for Eric. And in this yesr Ealdorman Eadric was killed, and Northman, son of Ealdorman Leofwine, and Æthelweard, son of Æthelmær the Stout, and Brihtric, son of Ælfheah of Devonshire. And King Cnut exiled the atheling Eadwig and afterwards had him killed."
The Evesham Chronicle also noted Northman's death. It described him as a "powerful man" (potens homo), and that all Northman's lands were afterwards given to Ealdorman Leofric his brother. The Chronicle of Crowland Abbey, the reliability of which is doubted by some historians, says that Northman was a retainer of Eadric Streona, ealdorman in much of Mercia. It adds that Northman had been killed by Cnut for this reason. Despite the murder of Northman, his father Leofwine continued in his office until 1023. Leofwine's other sons were to play their part in history:
- Eadwine would die in the Battle of Rhyd-y-groes in 1039 - the Saxon Chronicle for 1039 reports that "the Welsh slew Edwin, brother of Earl Leofrig, and Thurkil and Elfget and many good men with them." While no more details are given, it is agreed by later historians that "the Welsh" meant the warband of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn, however the precise details of exactly how Eadwine died have been the subject of some discussion.
- Wulfric was killed in the Battle of Ringmere 5 May 1010. Again there has been debate about this son's death and even about his name.
- Leofric would become the Earl of Mercia. It is not known when Leofric became Earl of Chester but it may have been in 1017 after the execution of Eadric.
Leofric and Godwin
Becoming Earl of Mercia, made Leofric one of the most powerful men in the land, second only to the ambitious Earl Godwin of Wessex. Godwin was another who had benefited from Cnut, becoming an earl by 1018. Whether there was any family relationship between Leofric and Godwin is difficult to determine although their descendants would have significant interaction.
Godwin was born around 1000 and appears to have been allied with the Danish side, and particularly with Cnut, by an early age. By 1018 he was one of the select few signing Cnut’s Royal Charters. At some point, probably 1022, Godwin accompanied Cnut to Denmark. On his return, Cnut makes him Earl Godwin of Wessex. By 1023 he is appearing on Royal Charters as such. According to some sources Earl Godwin’s position grew after Cnut gave him his sister Estrid in marriage. She herself was a powerful and forceful woman, apparently trading slaves to Denmark, especially young women. However Godwin actually married Gytha Thorkelsdóttir the daughter of Danish chieftain Thorgil Sprakling (also called Thorkel) and the sister of the Danish Earl Ulf Thorgilsson who was married to Estrid Svendsdatter.
Cnut's conquest of England had many advantages for the English. Firstly, the war that had lasted for the entire reign of Æthelred (over 30 years) was now over. As Cnut was engaged in a war of conquest for purely "business" reasons - he wanted to be king - he had no wish to damage his new country. Second, Cnut was one of the most successful and powerful warriors in Europe, as well as still being young - no-one else would be likely to attack the country while he was in charge. Third, he had foreign lands as well, and needed local government to continue while he was abroad, so he put a powerful local leadership in place with delegated authority. This fostered the growth of powerful subjects. As for laws, Cnut took the pragmatic approach to return to the laws of Edgar the Pacific, which effectively allowed the English and the Danes to each live under their own laws. Cnut was generally considered a wise and successful king of England although this view may in part be attributable to his good treatment of the Church, keeper of the historic record. However the "Charter of King Cnut" written about 1020 sets out the general spirit of his legislation of 1018.
- "...and then went I myself into Denmark, with the men that went with me, from whence most harm came to you; and that have I with God’s help taken precautions for that never henceforth should enmity come to you from thence whilst ye men rightly hold, and my life lasteth."
He makes it clear that the same law applies to all:
- "Now I beseech my archbishops and all my suffragan bishops that they all be attentive about God’s right, every one in his district which is committed to him; and also my ealdormen I command that they help the bishops to God’s right and to my royal authority and to the behoof of all the people. If any be so bold, clerk or lay, Dane or English, as to go against God’s law and against my royal authority, or against secular law, and be unwilling to make amends, and to alter according to my bishops’ teaching, then I pray Thurcyl my earl, and also command him, that he bend that unrighteous one to right if he can"
Quite surprisingly, the law code was composed by Archbishop Wulfstan - the manuscript is littered with his very distinctive handwriting. It is an adapted version of Æthelred’s Enham code of 1008 which was considered to be the best law code which in turn was born out of the Edgar code and other law codes that existed including canon law. Wulfstan, who had once railed against the Vikings as the heralds of the Antichrist, now found himself writing a legal code for them.
Cnut's initial distribution of power was relatively short-lived. As noted above, the chronically treacherous Eadric was executed within a year of Cnut's accession. In 1021 Thorkel also fell from favour and was outlawed. Following the death of Erik in the 1020s, he was succeeded as Earl of Northumbria by Siward, whose grandmother, Estrid (married to Úlfr Thorgilsson), was Cnut's sister. Bernicia, the northern part of Northumbria, was theoretically part of Erik and Siward's earldom, but throughout Cnut's reign it effectively remained under the control of the English dynasty based at Bamburgh, which had dominated the area at least since the early 10th century. They served as junior Earls of Bernicia under the titular authority of the Earl of Northumbria. By the 1030s Cnut's direct administration of Wessex had come to an end, with the establishment of an earldom under Godwin. In general, after initial reliance on his Scandinavian followers in the first years of his reign, Cnut allowed those Anglo-Saxon families of the existing English nobility who had earned his trust to assume rulership of his Earldoms.
When Swein invaded, northern peoples, many of them of Scandinavian descent, immediately submitted to him. He then married his young son Cnut to Ælfgifu of Northampton (c. 990 – after 1036) to seal their loyalty. Ælfgifu was born into an important noble family based in Mercia. She was a daughter of Ælfhelm, ealdorman of southern Northumbria, and his wife Wulfrune. Ælfhelm was killed in 1006, probably at the command of King Æthelred the Unready, and Ælfgifu's brothers, Ufegeat and Wulfheah, were blinded. Wulfric Spot, a wealthy nobleman and patron of Burton Abbey, was the brother of Ælfhelm or Wulfrune. The family had come under suspicion during the invasion of England by Swein in 1013–14, and further members were charged with treachery and killed. Ælfgifu's two sons were to figure prominently in the empire which their father built in northern Europe, though not without opposition. After his conquest of England in 1016, Cnut married Emma of Normandy, the widow of King Æthelred. It was then regarded as acceptable to put aside one wife and take another if the first wife was acquired through the non-Christian pagan ceremony of "handfasting" and nearly always for reasons of political advantage, a practice which might be described as "serial monogamy". Emma's sons, Edward and Ælfred by Æthelred and Harthacnut by Cnut, were also claimants to the throne of her husband. Exactly how the second marriage affected Ælfgifu's status as Cnut's first consort is unknown, but there is no evidence to suggest that she was repudiated.
"Sanding the streets" of Knutsford is traditionally thought to have made its appearance in Cnut's reign. This custom is to decorate the streets with coloured sands in patterns and pictures, that continues to this day. Specifically it is held now to celebrate May Day. Tradition has it that King Canute, while he forded the River Lily, threw sand from his shoes into the path of a wedding party. The custom can be traced to the late 1600s, but not earlier. Queen Victoria, in her journal of 1832 recorded: "we arrived at Knutsford, where we were most civilly received, the streets being sanded in shapes, which is peculiar to this town".
Leofric may have had some connection by marriage to Ælfgifu of Northampton, the first wife of Cnut, which might help to explain why he was the chief supporter of her son Harold Harefoot against Harthacnut, Cnut's son by Emma of Normandy, when Cnut died in 1035. Edward the Confessor and his brother Æþeling Ælfred made a failed attempt to displace Harold Harefoot from the throne in 1036. Edward returned to Normandy. Ælfred, however, was captured by Godwin, Earl of Wessex who then turned him over to Harold Harefoot. Ælfred was blinded to make him unsuitable for kingship and died soon after as a result of his treatment.
When Harefoot's successor Harthacnut died (June 8, 1042), Godwin finally supported the cause of his half-brother Edward the Confessor. Despite his alleged responsibility for the death of Edward's brother Alfred, Godwin secured the marriage of his daughter Eadgyth to Edward in 1045. Foxe (who gets his facts wrong as usual) has Ælfred having his eyes put out and then a particularly gruesome death:
- That done, they opened his body, took out his bowels, set a stake into the ground, and fastened an end of his bowels thereunto, and with needles of iron they pricked his tender body, thereby causing him to go about the stake till that all his bowels were drawn out. And so died this innocent Alfred or Alured, being the right heir of the crown, through treason of wicked Godwin.
In reality, it appears that Alfred simply died as a consequence of being blinded by red hot pokers, rather than in the even more gruesome manner suggested by Foxe.
The death of Æþeling Ælfred would haunt Godwin until his dying breath. While it is true that Godwin was "not in the room" when Ælfred was blinded, and true that he did support Edward the Confessor, the charge that he was responsible for the mutilation and death of Ælfred would be raised time and again by his enemies. There is no clear answer as to whether Godwin was aware what would happen to Ælfred (and handed him over anyway) or whether he was simply looking out for himself.
However, Harold died in 1040 and was succeeded by his brother Harthacnut, who made himself unpopular by implementing heavy taxation during his short reign. Two of his tax-collectors were killed at Worcester by angry locals. The king was so enraged by this that in 1041 he ordered Leofric and his other earls to plunder and burn the city, and lay waste to the surrounding area. This command must have sorely tested Leofric, since Worcester was the cathedral city of the Hwicce, his people.
Events in Wales
During the later 9th and 10th centuries, the coastal areas of Gwynedd, particularly Anglesey, were coming under increasing attack by the Vikings. These raids no doubt had a seriously debilitating effect on the country but fortunately for Gwynedd, the victims of the Vikings were not confined to Wales. The House of Cunedda – as the direct descendants of Cunedda are known – eventually expired in the male line in 825 upon the death of Hywel ap Rhodri Molwynog and, as John Edward Lloyd put it, "a stranger possessed the throne of Gwynedd." The succession may have influenced Nennius to write his history of the Welsh Kings as being the descendants of the Romans.
The House of Aberffraw was displaced in 942 by Hywel Dda, a King of Deheubarth from a junior line of descent from Rhodri Mawr. This occurred because Idwal Foel, the King of Gwynedd, was determined to cast off English overlordship and took up arms against the new English king, Edmund I. Idwal and his brother Elisedd were both killed in battle against Edmund's forces. By normal custom Idwal's crown should have passed to his sons, Ieuaf and Iago ab Idwal, but Hywel Dda intervened and sent Iago and Ieuaf into exile in Ireland and established himself as ruler over Gwynedd until his death in 950 when the House of Aberffraw was restored. Between 986 and 1081 the throne of Gwynedd was often in contention with the rightful kings frequently displaced by rivals within and outside the realm. One of these, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, originally from Powys, displaced the Aberffraw line from Gwynedd making himself ruler there. After gaining power he surprised a Mercian army at Rhyd y Groes, near Welshpool . Defeating it, he killed Edwin, brother of Leofric, Cnut's Earl of Mercia:
- "Wealas slogon Eadwine Leofrices broðor eorles Þurcil Ælfget swiðe fela godra manna mid heom": (And the Welsh killed Eadwine, brother of Earl Leofric, and Thurkil and Aelfgeat, and very many other good men with him)
By 1055 he was able to make himself king of most of Wales. Eventually, he became powerful enough to present a real menace to England and annexed some neighbouring parts after several victories over English armies (see below).
At this point the evidence of the chronicles becomes particularly hazy, although the records at Chester, in the Polychronicon shed some light on events. The Polychronicon was written by Chester monk Ranulf Higden. Higden (c. 1280 - c. 1363), an English chronicler and a Benedictine of the monastery of St. Werburgh in Chester, wherein he lived, it is said, for sixty-four years, and died at "a good old age", probably around 1363. He is believed to have been born in the West of England, and took the monastic vow, at Chester in 1299. He is buried at Chester Cathedral.
Godiva, in Old English Godgifu, was a late Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who is relatively well documented as the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and a patron of various churches and monasteries. Today, she is mainly remembered for a legend dating back at least to the 13th century, in which she rode naked — covered only in her long hair — through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband imposed on his tenants. If she is the same Godiva who appears in the history of Ely Abbey, the Liber Eliensis, written at the end of the 12th century, then she was a widow when Leofric married her. Both Leofric and Godiva were generous benefactors to religious houses. She and her husband were among the most munificent of the several large Anglo-Saxon donors of the last decades before the Norman Conquest; the early Norman bishops made short work of their gifts, carrying them off to Normandy or melting them down for bullion.
The legend of the nude ride is first recorded in the 13th century, in the Flores Historiarum and the adaptation of it by Roger of Wendover (died 1236), a somewhat gullible collector of anecdotes. Despite its considerable age, it is not regarded as plausible by modern historians, nor is it mentioned in the two centuries intervening between Godiva's death and its first appearance, while her generous donations to the church receive various mentions during this period. The oldest form of the legend has Godiva passing through Coventry market from one end to the other while the people were assembled, attended only by two knights. A modified version of the story was given by printer Richard Grafton, later elected MP for Coventry. According to his Chronicle of England (1569), "Leofricus" had already exempted the people of Coventry from "any maner of Tolle, Except onely of Horses", so that Godiva ("Godina" in text) had agreed to the naked ride just to win relief for this horse tax. And as a condition, she required the officials of Coventry to forbid the populace "upon a great pain" from watching her, and to shut themselves in and shutter all windows on the day. Grafton was an ardent Protestant and sanitized the earlier story. Thomas Pennant in his "Journey from Chester to London" (1782) recounted:
- "[T]he curiosity of a certain taylor overcoming his fear, he took a single peep".
Pennant noted that in the re-enactment of the horse-ride that he saw, the person enacting Godiva in the procession was not fully naked of course, but wore "silk, closely fitted to her limbs", which had a colour resembling the skin's complexion. Additional legend proclaims that the "Peeping Tom" was later struck blind as heavenly punishment, or that the townspeople took the matter in their own hands and blinded (or in some versions killed) him.
One of the most noticeable features of Broadgate in Coventry is the clock on the south side of the square. Below the clock face is a mechanical feature that has fairground like characteristics. On the hour the bell strikes, the doors open and from the right hand door comes a figure of Lady Godiva riding a white horse. She travels a short distance and goes through the other door out of sight. While this is happening above is another window that also opens and out pops the head of Peeping Tom. He has a quick look then covers his eyes as it is said he was struck blind, and quickly pops his head back in. All the doors then close for another hour. Although the building containing the clock (and the automated figures) date from 1953, some (few) parts of the mechanism are from 1870. Trials in 1888 showed it to be accurate to within 0.2 second: the clockmaker (Edward Thomas Loseby) had agreed to forfeit £1 for every second it varied each day. Over the years parts of Loseby's original, highly accurate, mechanism have been successively replaced.
Edward the Confessor Returns
We now come to the key events of a little-known period of English history. when the country tottered on the edge of a civil war with Wessex (under the Godwins) on one side and Mercia (under the house of Leofric) on the other. The Welsh, who had been developing their affairs somewhat separately during the Scandinavian "occupation" of England now also enter into the picture.
The period of Scandinavian rule, during which the country had been stable and prosperous, particularly under Cnut, ended. The next long-term ruler was Edward the Confessor. Edward was the seventh son of Æthelred the Unready, and the first by his second wife, Emma of Normandy. Edward spent a quarter of a century in exile, probably mainly in Normandy, although there is no evidence of his location until the early 1030s. Emma of Normandy is one of the chief figures in the drama of these times. Emma of Normandy (Referred to as Ælfgifu in royal documents; c. 984 – 6 March 1052) was queen of England, Denmark and Norway through her marriages to Æthelred the Unready (1002–1016) and Cnut the Great (1017–1035). She was the daughter of Duke Richard I of Normandy and Gunnor. King Æthelred of England married Emma in 1002 when Richard II, Duke of Normandy hoped to improve relations with the English in wake of recent conflict and a failed kidnapping attempt against him by Æthelred. The Viking raids on England were often based in Normandy in the late 10th century, and for Æthelred this marriage was intended to unite against the Viking threat. Upon their marriage, Emma was given the Anglo-Saxon name of Ælfgifu, which was used for formal and official matters. Æthelred and Emma had two sons, Edward the Confessor (who became king) and Alfred Ætheling (who didn't become king because he had his eyes put out and then died), and a daughter, Goda of England (or Godgifu). Emma and Æthelred's marriage ended with Æthelred's death in London in 1016. Æthelred's oldest son from his first marriage, Æthelstan, had been heir apparent until his death in June 1014. Emma's sons had been ranked after all of the sons from his first wife, the oldest surviving of whom was Edmund Ironside. After Cnut successfuly invaded he married Emma in 1017. Emma was the mother of three sons, Edward the Confessor (King of England), Alfred (murdered), and Harthacnut (King of England), as well as two daughters, Goda of England, and Gunhilda of Denmark.
In 1041, Harthacnut invited Edward back to England, probably as heir because he knew he had not long to live. The 12th-century Quadripartitus, states that he was recalled by the intervention of Bishop Ælfwine of Winchester and Earl Godwin. Edward met "the thegns of all England" at Hursteshever, probably modern Hurst Spit opposite the Isle of Wight. There he was received as king in return for his oath that he would continue the laws of Cnut. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Edward was sworn in as a "dual" king alongside Harthacnut, but a diploma issued by Harthacnut in 1042 describes him as the king's brother. When Emma's son Harthacnut died suddenly in 1042, he was succeeded as full king by his half-brother Edward the Confessor, bringing a host of "Franks" with him:
- When king Edward of holy memory returned from Francia quite a number of men of that nation, and they not base-born, accompanied him. And these, since he was master of the whole kingdom, he kept with him, enriched them with many honours, and made them his privy-counsellors and administrators of the royal palace. (Vita Edward Regis)
Edward's position when he came to the throne was weak. Effective rule required keeping on terms with the three leading earls, but loyalty to the ancient house of Wessex had been eroded by the period of Danish rule, and only Leofric was descended from a family which had served Æthelred. Siward was probably Danish, and although Godwin was English, he was one of Cnut's "new men", married to Cnut's former sister-in-law.
There is a "mysterious lady" (Aelfgyva) in the Bayeux tapestry who may hint at some scandal well known at the time. Looking at the tapestry in detail, it can be seen that the woman is depicted as being with a tonsured cleric, who is either slapping her face or stroking her cheek (the woman appears to be smiling). The priest is in a peculiar pose and just below the two figures is an obviously naked man in a very similar pose. The image is labled "ubi unus clericus et Aelfgyva" ("where a cleric and Aelfgifu"). Looking at the family tree for the English players in this particular drama, it is clear that Aelfgifu (it means "elf-gift") was either an incredibly common name in the late Dark Ages, or that it was some form of title of rank.
A royal scandal?
Higdon in the Polychronicon writes about a scandal involing Emma of Normandy and Robert of Jumièges. Robert of Jumièges (died between 1052 and 1055) was the first Norman Archbishop of Canterbury. He had previously served as prior of the Abbey of St Ouen at Rouen in Normandy, before becoming abbot of Jumièges Abbey, near Rouen, in 1037. He was a good friend and adviser to the king of England, Edward the Confessor, who appointed him Bishop of London in 1044, and then archbishop in 1051. The Norman medieval chronicler William of Jumièges (b. ca. 1000 - d. after 1070) claimed that Robert travelled to Normandy in 1051 or 1052 and told Duke William of Normandy, the future William the Conqueror, that Edward wished for him to become his heir. The exact timing of Robert's trip, and whether he actually made it, have been the subject of debate among historians. Higden writes:
- [Edward] called from Normandy diverse men of great familiarity with him, that he might reward them ; among whom a monk was called Robert, whom he made Bishop of London, and after Metropolitan of England, after whom the king was governed, in so much that he put to exile Godwin his father-in-law ; and his own mother, for suspicion with the Bishop of Winchester ; had, her goods taken from her, and put her to the monastery of Wherwell, and imprisoned Aelfwine the bishop. But Emma his mother being in liberal keeping did write to the bishops of England in whom she trust, saying that she was vexed more for the trouble of the bishop than for her own shame and pain, saying that she would prove that bishop to be defamed by the judgement of God and examination of hot iron. The bishops gathered had moved the king to mercy, but that Robert Archbishop of Canterbury caused him to do the contrary, saying to them "O the bishops my brethren, how dare ye defend that beast and no-woman, which defamed the king her own son. But though she would excuse the bishop, who shall excuse her, whom men say to have conspired the death of Alfred her son, and to have procured poison to Edward but without doubt she hath a pre-eminence above the kind of woman. Nevertheless and if she goes 4 paces on 4 culters of hot iron for herself, and 5 for the bishop, without any hurt, she shall be excused of this crime". Wherefore the day of examination was prefixed, but in the night afore, this Emma praying at the sepulchre of Saint Swithun was comforted much. The day coming, nine fiery, glowing ploughshares are placed in a straight row upon the swept pavement of the church, she covering her face, passed by full steps the 9 culters or shares without any hurt. Then the king sorrowing much, asking mercy and forgiveness, took discipline of either bishop, and also of his mother, restoring to her goods taken away. Then Emma the queen gave to Saint Swithun 9 manors, and to the bishop other 9 manors, for the 9 culters or shares that she passed ; and Robert Archbishop of Canterbury fled into Normandy. - book VI page 165
In summary, Emma is accused and proves her innocence by "firewalking" over red hot ploughshares without any harm, either by stepping on them and somehow remaining uninjured or by avoiding them while blindfold. The blindfold theory appears the better one as "normal" firewalking on coals works because coals have poor heat-transfer to feet whereas stepping on a good heat-conductor like iron would cause serious burns even if stepping from a church floor which was slightly damp after being swept of rushes.
Higdon has his dates mixed up and interestingly the part shown italicised has been altered at a later date. Higdon sets his story in 1043, and it was not until 1051 that Robert of Jumièges became Archbishop of Canterbury and Earl Godwin was forced into exile. The priest involved in the scandal appears to be Ælfwine, the Bishop of Winchester from 1032 to 1047. According to an account in the twelfth century Quadripartitus Ælfwine was responsible together with Earl Godwin of Wessex, for inviting the future king Edward the Confessor to return to England in 1041, and in 1042 Ælfwine witnessed a charter of Harthacnut's together with Edward, Godwin, and Edward and Harthacnut's mother, Emma. Ælfwine died in 1047 and was formerly a royal priest in the court of Cnut before being made Bishop of Winchester in 1032.
The Ango-Saxon Chronicle tells a different story. On 16th November 1043, Edward the Confessor, accompanied by Leofric (of Chester), Godwin (of Wessex) and Siward (of Northumbria), travelling from Gloucester, made a surprise visit on his mother, Emma, in Winchester:
- "... and they deprived her of all the treasures that she had; which were immense; because she was formerly very hard upon the king her son, and did less for him than he wished before he was king, and also since: but they suffered her to remain there afterwards." (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' Manuscript D)
- "... the king caused all the lands that his mother owned to be brought into his hands, and took from her all that she had in gold and in silver and in numberless things; because she formerly held it too fast against him." (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C and E)
- "Soon after this Stigand was deprived of his bishopric; and they took all that he had into their hands for the king, because he was nighest the counsel of his mother; and she acted as he advised, as men supposed." (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' Manuscript C)
The 'Translation of St.Mildrith' provides the answer as to why this happened:
- "... his [Edward's] own mother was accused of inciting Magnus, king of Norway, to invade England, and it was said that she had given countless treasures to Magnus. Wherefore this traitor to the kingdom, this enemy of the country, this betrayer of her own son, was judged, and everything she possessed was forfeited to the king."
Taken together, all these different accounts are very confusing. There appear to be at least two possible scandals "as men supposed", one with Stigand, Bishop of Winchester (1047-1070) and another with Ælfwine, Bishop of Winchester (1032-1047). There is still some confusion over dates as while Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript C states that "Soon after this Stigand was deprived of his bishopric; and they took all that he had into their hands for the king", Stigand (born around 990 so perhaps just a little younger than Emma, who was born c985) was only deposed in 1070, and his estates and personal wealth were confiscated by William the Conqueror (Stigand was imprisoned at Winchester, where he died without regaining his liberty). The Bayeux Tapestry has not been dated with any certainty, but one likely date lies between 1070 and 1077, in time for the opening of Bayeux Cathederal. Moreover, while both the tapestry and Norman sources named Stigand, the (then excommunicated) Archbishop of Canterbury, as the man who crowned Harold, possibly to discredit Harold's kingship; John of Worcester, a medieval chronicler, stated that he was crowned by Ealdred, then Archbishop of York and eventually favoured by the papacy, making Harold's position as legitimate king more secure.
What these stories show is how important Leofric had become. Even though he was appointed by the Scandinavian Cnut and was the son of an appointee of the Dane-murdering Æthelred he is still in place as an important agent of the new half-Norman King. What is also clear is that the main political opponent of Leofric is Godwin also an appointee of Cnut and with much closer ties to the Danes due to marriage into the Danish nobility.
Sweyn and the Welsh
Harold, later to be king, was the son of Godwin, but not the eldest son. The eldesr son was Sweyn. In 1043 Sweyn was raised to an earldom which included Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Somerset. He signed his first Royal charter in 1044. There is some evidence suggesting that Sweyn claimed to be a son of King Cnut, but his mother indignantly denied this and brought forth witnesses to his parentage.
Very soon after gaining his new lands Sweyn sought peace with Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the King of Gwynedd in northern Wales, which allowed Gruffydd to gain the upper hand over Gruffydd ap Rhydderch, King of Deheubarth and his main Welsh rival. In 1046 Sweyn supported Gruffydd in the invasion of Deheubarth. On his return from the Deheubarth campaign Sweyn abducted Eadgifu, the Abbess of Leominster "whom he had corrupted", apparently intending to marry her and gain control of Leominster's vast wealth. However, Edward the Confessor refused permission and Eadgifu returned to her abbey. Manuscript C of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that:
- "... he ordered the Abbess of Leominster to be fetched him; and he had her as long as suited him, after which he let her go home."
Late in 1047, Sweyn left England exiled to the court of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders before traveling around. Meanwhile, Gruffydd ap Rhydderch of Gwent was able to expel Gruffydd ap Llywelyn from Deheubarth in 1047 and became king of Deheubarth himself after the nobles of Ystrad Tywi had attacked and killed 140 of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn's household guard. He was able to resist several attacks by Gruffydd ap Llywelyn in the following years. Presumably this was because Gruffydd had been deprived of his ally Sweyn.
In 1049 Sweyn was expelled from Denmark for an unspecified offence and made an attempt to return to England. His younger brother Harold and cousin Beorn Estrithson first opposed Sweyn's return (they had gained shares of his lands when he was exiled), but Beorn eventually agreed to support him. However, while accompanying his cousin to meet Edward the Confessor, Sweyn had Beorn murdered and was again exiled, condemned as a "niðing" (a man of no honour).
It appears that Sweyn was pardoned, despite his crimes, the following year (1050), and restored to his office. Some say it was his father Earl Godwin who pleaded his case to the King, others that it was Ealdred, then Bishop of Worcester, who met him in Flanders returning from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In any case, Sweyn's last stay in England would not be long.
The crisis of 1051
Leofric would demonstrate his position of power and influence again in 1051.
In 1051 a group of Normans (including the visiting Eustace II, Count of Boulogne), became involved in a brawl at Dover and several men were killed. Edward the Confessor ordered Godwin (Harold's father), as earl of Wessex, to punish the people of the town for this attack on his Norman friends. This was standard procedure: the previous King Harthacanute, made himself unpopular with heavy taxation in his short reign and two of his tax-collectors were killed at Worcester by angry locals. The king was so enraged by this that in 1041 he ordered Leofric and his other earls to plunder and burn the city, and lay waste the whole area. Godwin had helped Earl Leofric plunder Worcester, which could not have been pleasant for Leofric's as the city was in his own earldom. Unfortunately, for good measure, Edward raised the hoary old chestnut of Godwin being implicated in the murder of his younger brother Æþeling Ælfred in the reign of Harold Harefoot. Godwin refused to ravage Dover and instead raised an army against Edward the Confessor.
Godwin marched on Gloucester where Leofric of Chester was leading the kings forces but a war was averted when it was agreed that the Witan would sort out the dispute. The earls of Chester (Leofric) and Northumbria (Siward) remained loyal to Edward the Confessor and the Witan eventually declared that Earl Godwin and all his sons had five days to leave England. Godwin and his sons, Tostig and Gyrth, went to Flanders. Harold went to Ireland and spent the winter with Dermont, king of Leinster. Sweyn had the worst treatment, it being stipulated that in his case exile was for life. The remaining son Wulfnoth had been given as a hostage to Edward the Confessor. Wulfnoth appears to have remained in England.
The following year Harold sailed from Dublin with nine ships, came ashore at Porlock in Somerset and plundered the neighbourhood. He then joined up with his father and brothers and sailed up the Thames. The King summoned the northern earls, and whilst Ralph (the timid) of Hereford and Odda responded, Leofric of Chester and Siward (of Northumbria) were noticeable by their absence. King Edward the Confessor was forced to seek terms. At around this time Wulfnoth appears to have been taken to Normandy and handed over to Duke William.
The Witan, when it met, included Leofric and Siward. Godwin cleared himself, on oath, of involvement in the Æþeling Æfred's death and of treasonable intent by himself and family in 1051. According to the 'Vita Ædwardi Regis', Godwin had (once again) been formally charged with being responsible for the death of Edward's brother. Godwine asked:
- "... for the king's peace, and offered to purge himself of the crime. But in vain. For the king had so convinced himself of the truth of this crime that he would not hear even one word of the purgation that was offered."
The 'Vita' says that Siward (Northumbria), Leofric and Leofric's son, Ælfgar, were present:
- "And after they had all struggled in vain to get the foul charge put to the ordeal, the royal court moved from that palace to London."
Earl Godwin forced Edward the Confessor to send his Norman advisers home (..and some, to Scotland). Leofric's son Ælfgar (Elf-spear), had gained from the exile of Earl Godwin of Wessex and his sons in 1051. He was given the Earldom of East Anglia, which had been that of Harold, son of Godwin. Now that Godwin and Edward the Confessor were "reconciled" Harold was restored to his earldom and Godwin and his family, except Swein, still returning from pilgrimage at that time, were restored to their lands and positions. This was to the detriment of Leofric of Chester, but an arrangement was held that, should Harold be appointed to Wessex on his father's death, Leofric's son, Ælfgar, would take again over East Anglia.
Sweyn Godwinson would die while returning from a pigrimage, making Harold the heir apparent to the House of Godwin. The location of Sweyn's death is not know with any certainty: John of Worcester says that he walked barefoot all the way to Jerusalem and that on the journey home he became ill and died in Lycia (now part of Turkey) on 29th September 1052. Events were also conspiring against the Welsh: Rhys ap Rhydderch was the brother of southern Welsh ruler Gruffydd ap Rhydderch and at Christmas 1052 Edward the Confessor ordered the killing of Rhys in reprisal for his raiding of England. Florence of Worcester stated that Rhys was killed at "Bulendun", which may be Bullen's Bank near Clyro in Radnorshire. After his death, Rhys' head was brought to King Edward on 5 January 1053.
At Easter 1053 Godwin died. According to Aelred of Rievaulx (1110 – 12 January 1167), he was at a royal feast in Winchester and the issue of the murder of Æþeling Ælfred came up again. Goodwin took up a morse of bread and said to King Edward something to to the effect of:
- "May this crust which I hold in my hand pass through my throat and leave me unharmed to show that I was guiltless of treason towards you, and that I was innocent of your brother's death!"
He swallowed the bread and promptly choked and died. This may of course be later Norman propaganda. According to the Abingdon version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, under the year 1053 he simply had what was probably a stroke:
- "On Easter Monday, as he was sitting with the king at a meal he suddenly sank towards the footstool bereft of speech, and deprived of all his strength. Then he was carried to the king's private room and they thought it was about to pass off. But it was not so. On the contrary, he continued like this without speech or strength right on to the Thursday, and then departed this life."
Harold became Earl of Wessex, and the earldom of East Anglia returned to Ælfgar.
In 1054 Siward led his now famous invasion of Scotland. During the invasion of 1054, a battle was fought somewhere in Scotland north of the Firth of Forth, a battle known variously as the "Battle of the Seven Sleepers" or the "Battle of Dunsinane". The tradition that the battle actually took place at Dunsinane Hill probably has its origins in later medieval legend. The earliest mention of Dunsinane as the location of the battle is in the early 15th-century by Andrew of Wyntoun. The purpose of Siward's invasion is unclear, but it may be related to the identity of the "Máel Coluim" (Malcolm) mentioned in the sources. The early 12th-century chronicle attributed to John of Worcester, probably using an earlier source, wrote that Siward defeated Mac Bethad ("Macbeth") and made "Máel Coluim, son of the king of the Cumbrians" a king (Malcolmum, regis Cumbrorum filium, ut rex jusserat, regem constituit). The identity of Máel Coluim and the reasons for Siward's help are controversial. The traditional historical interpretation was that "Máel Coluim" is Máel Coluim mac Donnchada, known sometimes today as Malcolm III or Malcolm Canmore, and that Siward was attempting to oust Mac Bethad in his favour. Mac Bethad is Mac Bethad mac Findlaích (Modern Gaelic: MacBheatha mac Fhionnlaigh), anglicised as Macbeth. In 1052, Macbeth had become involved indirectly in the strife in the Kingdom of England between Godwin and Edward the Confessor when he received a number of Norman exiles from England in his court.
In 1055 Gruffydd ap Llywelyn finallyy managed to kill his rival Gruffydd ap Rhydderch in battle and recaptured Deheubarth. Now recognized as King of Wales, he claimed sovereignty over the whole of Wales – a claim which was recognised by the English.
Ælfgar himself was (perhaps wrongly) banished around 1055.
Holinshead writes as follows:
- About the same time K. Edward by euill counsell (I wot not vpon what occasion, but as it is thought without cause) banished Algar the sonne of earle Leofrike: wherevpon he got him into Ireland, and there prouiding 18 ships of rouers, returned, & landing in Wales, ioined himselfe with Griffin the king or prince of Wales, and did much hurt on the borders about Hereford, of which place Rafe was then earle, that was sonne vnto Goda the sister of K. Edward by hir first husband Gualter de Maunt. This earle assembling an armie, came forth to giue battell to the enimies, appointing the Englishmen contrarie to their manner to fight on horssebacke, but being readie (on the two & twentith of October) to giue the onset in a place not past two miles from Hereford, he with his Frenchmen and Normans fled, and so the rest were discomfited, whome the aduersaries pursued, and slue to the number of 500, beside such as were hurt and escaped with life. Griffin and Algar hauing obteined this victorie, entered into the towne of Hereford, set the minster on fire, slue seuen of the canons that stood to defend the doores or gates of the principall church, and finallie spoiled and burned the towne miserablie.
The rather hopeless defender of Hereford is known to history as "Ralph the timid". He was actually a Norman: Ralph de Mantes, Edward the Confessor’s nephew by his sister Goda. Ralph’s Norman-style English cavalry forces were destroyed, with Ralph earning the insulting nomenclature of ‘Timid’ for running away with his Norman retainers and leaving his men to be slaughtered.
Having seen Hereford trashed King Edward raised an army and placed Harold Godwinson in command of it as further described in Holinshead:
- The king aduertised hereof, gathered an armie, ouer the which Harold the sonne of earle Goodwine was made generall, who followed vpon the enimies that fled before him into Stratcluid. Northwales, & staied not, till hauing passed through Stratcluid, he came to the mountaines Snowdon. of Snowdon, where he pitched his field. The enimies durst not abide him, but got them into Southwales, whereof Harold being aduertised, left the more part of his armie in Northwales to resist the enimies there, & with the residue of his people came backe vnto Hereford, recouered the towne, and caused a great and mightie trench to be cast round about it, with an high rampire, and fensed it with gates and other fortifications. After this, he did so much, that comming to a communication, with Griffin and Ælfgar at a place called Biligelhage, a peace was concluded, and so the nauie of earle Ælfgar sailed about, and came to Chester, there to remaine, till the men of warre and marriners had their wages, while he went to the king, who pardoned his offense, & restored him to his earledome.
The event, also with a possible oblique reference to the mint, and a further reference to a naval base is mentioned again in the Chronicle. Ælfgar is referred to as earl, which he was not quite yet (his father lived until 1057):
- A.D. 1055. ..the sentence of outlawry against Earl Ælfgar was reversed; and they gave him all that was taken from him before. The fleet returned to Chester, and there awaited their pay, which Ælfgar promised them.
The amount of silver coin being produced at the Chester mint presents something of a mystery, as the weight of metal used seems to be greater than the production capacity of north Wales. One theory to account for this is trade with Ireland, which could have been a source of silver (mined or plundered) and would tie up with the references to "the fleet" above.
The versions of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle treat the exile of Ælfgar quite differently. The [C], [D] and [E] manuscripts say the following:
- [C]: "Earl Ælfgar, son of Earl Leofric, was outlawed without any fault . . ."
- [D]: "Earl Ælfgar, son of Earl Leofric, was outlawed well-nigh without fault . . ."
- [E]: "Earl Ælfgar was outlawed because it was thrown at him that he was traitor to the king and all the people of the land. And he admitted this before all the men who were gathered there, although the words shot out against his will."
Each of the versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is known to be slanted, with the "C" version (written at Abingdon) being royalist and the "E" version (written at Canterbury) being the most Godwinist. As regards his return only the [D] verion of the Chronicle has anything to say:
- "Here Earl Ælfgar was expelled, but he soon came back again, with violence, through the help of Gruffydd. And here came a raiding ship-army from Norway; it is tedious to tell how it all happened."
While other sources exist to clarify events (a major Norwegian attempt was made on England) version [E] says nothing at all, and [D] scarcely mentions it.
Also in 1055, Tostig (Harold's brother) became the Earl of Northumbria upon the death of Earl Siward. Tostig governed in Northumbria with some difficulty and took a heavy hand against those who resisted his rule, including the murder of several members of Northumbrian families. It may well be that the convenient absence of Ælfgar paved the way for Tostig to take over Siward's earldom.
The puzzle here is who arranged the exile of Ælfgar - Godwin was dead for at least a year and it is doubtful that his word would be believed over that of Leofric. The exile cetainly favoured the Godwins and they are the most likely candidates if the banishment was a "set-up".
Death of Leofric
By around 1056 the power balance in England was complex but fairly clear. With the death of his father and the absence of his brother Harold Godwinson was the head of the house of Godwin and effectively controled Wessex. Harold's brother Tostig held the earldom of Northumbria. Leofric still lived but was taking a lesser part as power shifted to his son Ælfgar. Ælfgar had already established an alliance with Wales, now unified under King Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. Edward the Confessor seems to have withdrawn from affairs as he became increasingly dependent on the Godwins, and he may have become reconciled to the idea that one of them would succeed him. However, Edward seems to have remained indecisive over the succession.
Leofric died in 1057 at his estate at Kings Bromley in Staffordshire. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he died on 30 September, but the chronicler of Worcester gives the date as 31 August. Both agree that he was buried in Coventry at St Mary's Priory and Cathedral. Leofric was succeeded by his son Ælfgar as earl. The Chester Chronicle of 1057 records:
- Leofricus Comes Cestriæ reparavit Ecclesiam Collegiatam S. Johĩs Baptistæ ac Ecclesiam S. Werburgæ infra civitatem situatam, ac privilegiis decoravit tempore S. Edwardi Regis et Confessoris, prout refert Willielmus Malmsburiensis de gestis Anglorum Lib. 2 (Leofric, earl of Chester, in the time of S. Edward, king and confessor, repaired, and conferred privileges on the collegiate church of S. John the Baptist, and the church of S. Werburg situate within the city [of Chester] as William of Malmesbury relates in his Chronicle, De Gestis Anglorum, Book 2).
Perhaps more importanly for Leofric in 1057, "Leofrike earle of Chester departed this life" as Holinshead put it:
- The same yeare, that is to say, in the seuentéenth yeare or in the sixtéenth yeare of king Edwards reigne (as some write) Leofrike the noble earle of Chester, or Mercia, that was sonne to duke Leofwine, departed this life in his owne towne of Bromelie on the last day of August, and was buried at Couentrie in the abbeie there which he had builded. This earle Leofrike was a man of great honor, wise and discréet in all his dooings. His high wisdome and policie stood the realme in great stéed whilest he liued. He had a noble ladie to his wife named Gudwina, at whose earnest sute he made the citie of Couentrie frée of all manner of toll, except horsses: and to haue that toll laid downe also, his foresaid wife rode naked through the middest of the towne without other couerture, saue onlie hir haire. Moreouer, partlie moued by his owne deuotion, and partlie by the persuasion of his wife, he builded or beneficiallie augmented and repared manie abbeies & churches, as the said abbeie or priorie at Couentrie, the abbeies of Wenlocke, Worcester, Stone, Euesham, and Leof besides Hereford. Also he builded two churches within the citie of Chester, the one called S. Iohns, and the other S. Werbrough. The value of the iewels & ornaments which he bestowed on the abbeie church of Couentrie, was inestimable.
It was presumably in the year of her father's appointment (c. 1057) that Ælfgar's daughter Ealdgyth married his political ally, King Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. Gruffudd, it will be remembered, had actually defeated and killed Leofric's brother at the battle of Rhyd-y-Groes in 1039, but this did not seem to be an objection to Eadgyth marrying her father's uncle's killer. William of Jumièges describes her as a woman of considerable beauty. Walter Map also wrote of a beautiful lady much beloved by the king and so he may have had Ealdgyth in mind. On her marriage, she was given a modest amount of land in England, though the only estate which can be certainly identified as having belonged to her is one at Binley, Warwickshire. The alliance between Ealdgyth's father and husband was of great significance in resisting the growing power of the Godwinesons - the death of Edwin (leofric's brother) appears to have been overlooked as a matter of political expediency. On the death of Earl Ralph in 1057, Hereford was added to Harold's earldom. The following year, Ælfgar was outlawed for a second time, but he was restored to office before long. Ælfgar is last heard of in 1062 and seems to have died by 1063.
After Leofric's death in 1057, his widow Godiva lived on until sometime between the Norman Conquest of 1066 and 1086. She is mentioned in the Domesday survey as one of the few Anglo-Saxons and the only woman to remain a major landholder shortly after the conquest. By the time of this great survey in 1086, Godiva had died, but her former lands are listed, although now held by others.
Harold invades Wales
Gruffydd had reached an agreement with Edward the Confessor, which actually gave him lands near Chester. Domesday also states that:
- "King Edward gave to King Gruffudd all the land that lay beyond the water which is called Dee. But after the same Gruffudd wronged him, he took this land from him and restored it to the Bishop of Chester and to all his men, who had formerly held it."
The death of his ally Ælfgar who is last heard of in 1062 left him more vulnerable. In late 1062 Harold Godwinson obtained the king's approval for a surprise attack on Gruffydd's court at Rhuddlan. Gruffydd was nearly captured, but was warned in time to escape out to sea in one of his ships, though his other ships were destroyed. In the spring of 1063 Harold's brother Tostig led an army into north Wales while Harold led the fleet first to south Wales and then north to meet with his brother's army. Gruffydd was forced to take refuge in Snowdonia where he met his death. Gruffydd's head and the figurehead of his ship were sent to Harold. The Ulster Chronicle states that he was killed by Cynan ap Iago in 1064, whose father (Iago) had been put to death by Gruffydd in 1039 when Cynan had fled to Ireland and taken refuge in the Viking settlement at Dublin.
Gruffudd ap Cynan (c. 1055 – 1137) the son of Cynan would become the Welsh king of Gwynedd from 1081 on and off until his death in 1137. In the course of a long and eventful life, he became a key figure in Welsh resistance to Norman rule. He would even survive being imprisoned at Chester Castle by Hugh of Avranches for many years (some say ten, others 12, others 16):
- ... put him in the gaol of Chester, the worst of prisons, with shackles upon him, for twelve years (History of Gruffudd ap Cynan)
Through his mother, Gruffudd had close family connections with the Norse settlement around Dublin and he frequently used Ireland as a refuge and as a source of troops. He three times gained the throne of Gwynedd and then lost it again, before regaining it once more in 1099 and this time keeping power until his death. Gruffudd laid the foundations which were built upon by his son Owain Gwynedd and his great-grandson Llywelyn the Great.
Ealdgyth, the daughter of Ælfgar and the widow of Gruffydd later became the wife and queen consort of her late husband's enemy and the presumed rival of her father, Harold. The date of the marriage is unknown, but it must have taken place at some stage before the Conquest, whether before or after Harold's coronation as king of England (January 1066). It seems that Harold's choice of bride was "aimed not only at securing the support of the Mercian house for himself in his royal ambitions, but also at weakening the links between that same house and the rulers of north Wales"
Edwin and Morcar
Edwin succeeded to his father's title and responsibilities on Ælfgār's death in 1062. He appears as Earl Edwin (Eduin comes) in the Domesday Book. His younger brother, Morcar was soon to rise to prominence as well. By 1063, Tostig's popularity in Northumbria had plummeted to a new and dangerous level. Many Northumbrians were Danes, and had perviously benefited from low taxation compared with elsewhere in England. However, the Welsh wars needed paying for and Tostig had played a part in that he attacked from the north whilst brother Harold attacked from the South. To add to his unpopularity, in late 1063 or early 1064 Tostig had Gamal, son of Orm, and Ulf, son of Dolfin, assassinated when they visited him under safe conduct. He was also frequently absent at the court of King Edward in the south, and possibly showed a lack of leadership against the raiding Scots. Their king was a personal friend of Tostig, and Tostig's unpopularity made it difficult to raise local levies to combat them. He resorted to using a strong force of Danish mercenaries (housecarles) as his main force, an expensive and resented policy.
On 3 October 1065 the thegns of Yorkshire and the rest of Yorkshire descended on York and occupied the city. They killed Tostig's officials and supporters, (the housecarls' leaders were also slaughtered by rebels), then declared Tostig outlawed for his unlawful action and sent for Morcar, younger brother of Edwin, Earl of Mercia. The Northern rebels marched south to press their case with King Edward. They were joined at Northampton by Earl Edwin and his forces. There they were met by Earl Harold, who came to negotiate and in an act of enormous bravado did not bring his forces. He had been sent by Edward the Confessor to open negotiations with the rebels (who were also the brothers of his wife). After Harold had spoken with the rebels at Northampton, he realised that Tostig (his own brother) would not be able to retain Northumbria. When he returned to Oxford where the royal council was to meet on 28 October, he had probably already made up his mind. Harold persuaded Edward the Confessor to agree to the demands of the rebels. Tostig was outlawed a short time later, possibly early in November, because he refused to accept his deposition as commanded by Edward. Harold's agreement that his brother-in law should prevail over his brother finally cemented the peace between Mercia and Wessex, but this led to an enmity between the Godwinson brothers that was to prove fatal, both to them and to their country.
Tostig took ship with his family and some loyal thegns and took refuge with his brother-in-law, Baldwin V, Count of Flanders. He even attempted to form an alliance with William of Normandy, who would have nothing of it, given he had plans of his own. Edward the Confessor (allegedly) promised Harold Godwinson the crown of England on his deathbed (January 5, 1066). Harold and his sister (Eadgyth - who had married Edward the Confessor in 1045) were the only witnesses. The Witenagemot (the assembly of the kingdom's leading notables) approved Harold for coronation, which took place, with indecent haste, the following day, at the newly consecrated Westminster Abbey.
Shortly afterwards, on 18th April, a portentous star was seen in the night sky, moving across the heavens with a trail of fire in its wake, it was seen all over England for seven nights thereafter. It is recorded that Harold and the witan saw it while assembled on Thorney Island for the feast of Easter. Many others saw it as yet another omen of doom, symbolising the wrath of God toward the foresworn Harold - it has now been identified as Halley's Comet.
Baldwin of Flanders provided Tostig with a fleet and he landed in the Isle of Wight in May 1066, where he "collected" money and provisions. He raided the coast as far as Sandwich but was forced to retreat when King Harold called out land and naval forces. He moved north and after an unsuccessful attempt to get his brother Gyrth to join him, he raided Norfolk and Lincolnshire. The Earls Edwin and Morcar defeated him decisively at the mouth of the Humber. Deserted by his men, he fled to his sworn brother, King Malcolm III of Scotland. Tostig spent the summer of 1066 in Scotland. He made contact with King Harald III Hardrada of Norway and persuaded him to invade England. One of the sagas claims that he sailed for Norway, and greatly impressed the Norwegian king and his court, managing to sway a decidedly unenthusiastic Harald, who had just concluded a long and inconclusive war with Denmark, into raising a levy to take the throne of England. With Hardrada's aid, Tostig sailed up the Humber for a second time.
The following events are well known:
Edwin the Earl of Chester and his younger brother Morcar the Earl of Northumbria, previous enemies of Godwinson, had pledged to support Harold Godwinson. England was then invaded by both Harald Hardrada of Norway and William, Duke of Normandy, both of whom claimed the English crown.
Harold offered his rebellious brother (Tostig) a third of the kingdom if he joined him against Hardrada, and Tostig asked what Harold would offer the king of Norway. "Six feet of ground or as much more as he needs, as he is taller than most men" was Harold's response.
Edwin and Morcar stood against Hardrada at the Battle of Fulford on September 20, 1066. William Camden writes:
- "the two Earles Edwin and Morcar led forth a power of souldiers, whom they had raised suddainly and in tumultuary haste: but they, not able to abide the violent charge of the Norwegians, fled for the most part as fast as they could, and together with the Earles made shift to escape."
Edwin had brought some soldiers to the east to prepare for an invasion by the Norwegians. The battle started with the English spreading their forces out to secure their flanks. On their right flank was the River Ouse, and on the left was the Fordland, a swampy area. The disadvantage to the position was that it gave Harald higher ground, which was perfect for seeing the battle from a distance. Another disadvantage was that if one flank were to give way, the other one would be in trouble. If the Anglo-Saxon army had to retreat, it would not be able to because of the marshlands. They would have to hold off the Norwegians as long as possible. Harald's army approached from three routes to the south. Harald lined his army up to oppose the Anglo-Saxons, but he knew it would take hours for all of his troops to arrive. His least experienced troops were sent to the right and his best troops on the riverbank.
The English struck first, advancing on the Norwegian army before it could fully deploy. Morcar's troops pushed Harald's back into the marshlands, making progress against the weaker section of the Norwegian line. However, this initial success proved insufficient for victory to the English army, as the Norwegians brought their better troops to bear upon them, still fresh against the weakened Anglo-Saxons. Harald now brought more of his troops from the right flank to attack the centre, and sent more men to the river. The invaders were outnumbered, but they kept pushing and shoving the defenders back. The Anglo-Saxons were forced to give ground. Edwin's soldiers who were defending the bank now were cut off from the rest of the army by the marsh, so they headed back to the city to make a final stand. Within another hour, the men on the beck were forced off by the Norwegians. Other invading Norwegians, who were still arriving, found a way to get around the thick fighting and opened a third front against the Anglo-Saxons. Outnumbered and outmaneuvered, the defenders were defeated. Edwin and Morcar however, managed to survive the fight.
York surrendered to the Norwegians under the promise that the victors would not force entry to their city, perhaps because Tostig would not want his capital looted. It was arranged that the various hostages should be brought in and the Norwegian army retired to Stamford Bridge, 7 miles (11 km) east of York, to await their arrival.
While they were defeated Edwin and Morcar bought the valuable time need for Harold to arrive with his troops and, five days later, defeat the invader.
Harold's army defeated Tostig et al at the Battle of Stamford Bridge (September 25) and Tostig was killed together with Hardrada. Harold now forced his army to march 241 miles (386 kilometres) to intercept William, who had landed perhaps 7000 men in Sussex. Harold's brothers-in-law Edwin and Morcar declined to help on this occasion, preferring to mind their business in the north. This lack of support severely reduced the numbers Harold would be able to use in the battle. The two armies clashed at the Battle of Hastings, near the present town of Battle on October 14. 1066 - Harold died.
Or did he .. a persistent Chester legend is that Harold was only blinded in one eye and survived the battle to eventually live in Chester in the Hermitage
Harold's brother Gyrth Godwinson fought at and was killed in the Battle of Hastings, although a later, probably fictional, "Life of Harold" has him survive (see: Hermitage). The same fate befel another brother Leofwine. Wulfnoth was not released until 1087, by the dying King William I in an amnesty. He was only freed briefly, before King William II Rufus took him to confinement. Wulfnoth stayed in sometimes comfortable, if not enviable, captivity in Normandy and later in England, and died in Winchester in 1094, still a prisoner. Despite the defeat at "Hastings" and the effective elimination of the sons of Godwin, resistance to the Normans continued for several years.
Following Harold's death in October, the Witenagemot assembled in London and elected Edgar the Ætheling as the new king. Florence of Worcester records that "earls Edwin and Morcar…sent off their sister Queen Elgitha to Chester" after the battle of Hastings. The new regime thus established was dominated by the most powerful surviving members of the English ruling class: Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, Ealdred, Archbishop of York, and the brothers Edwin and Morcar. The commitment of these men to Edgar's cause, men who had so recently passed over his claim to the throne without apparent demur, must have been doubtful from the start. The strength of their resolve to continue the struggle against William of Normandy was questionable, and the military response they organised to the continuing Norman advance was ineffectual.
Before long, however, they met William of Normandy either at Berkhamstead, or more probably at Barking, after his coronation. This then, was the basis of the mouse's tale:
- "William the Conqueror, whose cause was favoured by the pope, was soon submitted to by the English, who wanted leaders, and had been of late much accustomed to usurpation and conquest. Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria declared for him; and even Stigand, the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury, found it advisable to go with Edgar Atheling to meet William and offer him the crown. William's conduct at first was moderate. But the insolence of his Normans — " (here the mouse was cut short by the dodo)
In truth William accepted their submission, received from them gifts and hostages, and they were to some extent reinstated. The Conqueror carried Morcar and his brother with him into Normandy in 1067, and after his return kept them at his court. Despite its "unification" England was still culturally divided into the English south and west and the Danish north and east. Of all the men who submitted to William at Berkhamsted it was only Ealdred, Bishop of York, who would remain loyal to the Norman king - the rest would either soon die, or they or their successors would revolt. Despite this William did not slaughter the English "aristocracy": many were replaced but only one was actually executed, the majority who died did so in battle. William is even said to have offered one of his daughters to Edwin in marriage, although the wedding never occurred.
In 1068, after the cononation of Matilda, Edwin and Morcar withdrew from the court, reached their earldoms, and rebelled against William. They were supported by a large number both of English and Welsh; the clergy, the monks, and the poor were strongly on their side, and messages were sent to every part of the kingdom to stir up resistance. Morcar's activity may perhaps be inferred from the prominent part taken in the movement by York. It seems probable, however, that Edgar was nominally the head of the rebellion, and that he was specially upheld by the Bernician district under Gospatric. At the same time Eadric the Wild and his Welsh allies burst out from their fastness in the hills and took Shrewsbury before moving on to Chester. William had to leave them to their own devices as he had his hand's full dealing with the uprising in Northumberland.
Harold's sons and even his mother were also active in the revolt. Harold's widow is said to have given birth to King Harold's son, Harold (or Ulf according to some versions) at Chester in 1067, before fleeing to Dublin. It is not known what the legal status of such a postumous son would have been at the time. Ultimately young Harold journeyed to Norway. Here, so the chronicler William of Malmesbury tells us, he was received well by King Magnus Barefoot. The good reception was apparently the result of King Harold's mercy to Olaf, son of Harald Hardrada, and allowing him to return home after the disastrous defeat of the Viking army at Stamford Bridge. Harold next appears amongst the followers of King Magnus off the Isle of Anglesey (1098). Here a battle was fought against the Norman earl of Shrewsbury (Hugh of Montgomery) and the earl of Chester (Hugh of Avranches). A great historical irony was that Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury was killed during the battle by an arrow in the eye. Nothing further is known of young Harold. The fate of Ealdgyth, widow of both the Welsh and the English king is unknown. However, in 1770 (according to Lysons' Magn. Brit. vol. ii) two skeletons were discovered near St Johns in coffin-shaped cavities, scooped out of the rock. Legend has it that Harold's queen, Aldgyth, became a nun in Chester and when she died, she was said to have been buried in the grounds of St. John's. Two bodies - perhaps Harold and his queen together again at last or just wishful thinking?
King Harold's mother, Gytha had held out against the Norman invaders when, during William's return to Normandy in 1067, she fortified and held Exeter in Devon, the fourth largest city in the land. When William returned, the mid winter siege which followed lasted 18 days and a large part of the Norman army perished in the process. The city finally capitulated when the expected support from local thegns did not eventuate. Whether King Harold's sons by his ealier wife Edith, traditionaly named as Godwin, Edmund and Magnus, were present is not recorded. Gytha fled before the surrender and sailed with Harold's daughter Gytha and his sister, Gunnhild to the island of Flat Holme in the Bristol Channel, before travelling on to St Omer in France. Harold's older children were back in 1068 with the support of Irish king Diarmait mac Máel na mBó and a force of Dublin Norse mercenaries. They attempted to make Bristol their base, but the locals proved to be unsympathetic, so they were forced to try and take it by storm. The reason for the resistance may have been a fear of William's known wroth, or a dislike of the Hiberno-Norse mercenaries rather than disloyalty to the Godwin family. The city held, and the brothers sailed off with the booty they had taken from the surrounding countryside. They landed in Somerset near land that had been held by the Godwins for years, they might have intended to raid the Taunton mint. The local Fyrd led by Eadnoth Staller met them. Eadnoth had been a loyal supporter of their father but after his death at Senlac had submitted to William. The battle was hard fought with big casualties on both sides and Eadnoth's death. The failure of the Haroldsons to re-establish a base in England caused Gytha and the family to seek refuge with Count Baldwin VI of Flanders. Baldwin and the Godwin kin were tied by the marriage of Tostig Godwinson to Baldwin's aunt, Judith. Whilst Gytha and her daughter Gunnhild entered the nunnery of St Omer, where Gunnhild died in 1087 after performing many good works, the brothers Godwin and Edmund journeyed to the court of their cousin, King Sweyn of Denmark.
Morcar and his brother were not inclined to risk too much; they advanced with their men to Warwick, and there made submission to the Conqueror, were pardoned, and again kept at court, the king treating them with an appearance of favour. On their defection, the rebellion came to nothing. Edgar again sought refuge with Malcolm III in Scotland. In the late summer of 1069, the arrival of a fleet sent by King Sweyn of Denmark triggered a fresh wave of English uprisings in various parts of the country. Edgar and the other exiles sailed to the Humber, where they linked up with Northumbrian rebels and the Danes. Their combined forces overwhelmed the Normans at York and took control of Northumbria, but a small seaborne raid which Edgar led into the Kingdom of Lindsey ended in disaster, and he escaped with only a handful of followers to rejoin the main army. William paid the Danes to go home. Late in the year, William fought his way into Northumbria and occupied York, buying off the Danes and devastating the surrounding country.
Devastation of Cheshire?
By the spring of 1070, having secured the submission of Waltheof and Gospatric in Northumbria, and driven Edgar the Outlaw and his remaining supporters back to Scotland, William the Conqueror returned to Mercia, where he based himself at Chester and crushed all remaining resistance in the area before returning to the south which had been raided by a Danish fleet. At times William's own troops were close to revolt as when William set out across the Pennines, in "rain and hail", to deal with "the Welsh and the men of Chester":
- The men of Anjou, Brittany, and Maine loudly complained that they were grievously burdened with intolerable duties, and repeatedly asked the king to discharge them from his service... He continued on the venture he had so boldly undertaken, commanded his faithful troops to follow him, and counted any who chose to desert him as idle cowards and weaklings... he pushed on with determination along a road no horseman had attempted before ... The king himself, remarkably sure-footed, led the foot-soldiers, readily helping them with his own hands when they were in difficulties. So at last he brought his army safely to Chester and suppressed all risings throughout Mercia with royal power. He built a castle at Chester and another at Stafford ... Then going on to Salisbury he distributed lavish rewards to the soldiers for all they had endured, praised those who had shown prowess, and discharged them with warm thanks. But in his anger he kept back those who had wished to desert him for forty days after the departure of their comrades, and in this way punished a crime that had deserved far more. - Orderic Vitalis
William's policy of devastation at this time, known as the Harrying of the North has been the subject of much debate, especially as to its effects. One theory holds that the remaining rebels refused to meet him in battle, and he decided to starve them out by laying waste to the northern shires using "scorched earth" tactics. Even the Norman chronicler Orderic Vitalis was shocked:
- "The King stopped at nothing to hunt his enemies. He cut down many people and destroyed homes and land. Nowhere else had he shown such cruelty. This made a real change. To his shame, William made no effort to control his fury, punishing the innocent with the guilty. He ordered that crops and herds, tools and food be burned to ashes. More than 100,000 people perished of starvation. I have often praised William in this book, but I can say nothing good about this brutal slaughter. God will punish him."
The extent to which Cheshire was "devastated" has been the subject of specific debate. To a large part the story of the devastation arises from the writings of Edward Augustus Freeman who was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, in 1884. Rather like Charles Kingsley, who had held a similar position at Cambridge after 1860, Freeman subscribed to an "Anglo-Saxonist" view of history, with the English being an essentially germanic people who had suffered incidental inconvenience at the hands of the French, but had overcome the odds to (in his view rightfully) rule the world. It was this perspective which coloured much of the then view of the characters involved in the events leading up to and surrounding the Norman Conquest, making Earl Godwin (who had been involved in the blinding and death of at least one heir) a defender of democracy, and creating the fiction that the "witan" was some form of parliament akin to the Victorian one, and that the Victorian parliament was above any corruption. By the 1940's, in the midst of the Second World War, the wholesale devastation of that war had become entangled with the Norman "pacification" of the North of England into an object-lesson in the horrors of invasion and occupation, supposedly leaving vast tracts of land across Cheshire, Shropshire, Debryshire and Staffordshire utterly desolate for a generation.
Having effectively subdued the population, William carried out a complete replacement of Anglo-Saxon leaders with Norman ones in the North. Edgar and other English leaders had taken refuge with their remaining followers in a "marshy region", perhaps Holderness or that Victorian favourite the Isle of Ely, and the Normans put them to flight. Edgar returned to Scotland. In Scotland, Malcolm III married the Ætheling's sister, Margaret. The marriage of Malcolm to Edgar's sister profoundly affected the history of both England and Scotland. The influence of Margaret and her sons brought about the Anglicisation of the Lowlands and provided the Scottish king with an excuse for forays into England, which he could claim were to redress the wrongs against his brother-in-law. In reality, Malcolm was probably more interested in advancing his own border from the Tweed to the Tees.
In 1071, some mischief was made between the sons of Aelfgar and the king, and William, it is said, was about to send them to prison, but they escaped secretly from the court. After wandering about for a while, keeping to wild country, they separated, and Morcar joined the insurgents in the Isle of Ely, and remained with them until the surrender of the island. Edwin died in 1071; while making his way to Scotland he was betrayed by his own retinue to the Normans and killed. Morcar, it is said, surrendered himself on the assurance that the king would pardon him and receive him as a loyal friend. William, however, committed him to the custody of Roger de Beaumont, who kept him closely imprisoned in Normandy. Identified as a centre of disaffection and potential further revolt, Chester was dealt with severely. At some point Gherbod the Fleming was in control of Chester for the Normans but it is not clear whether he was a full earl or not. A footnote in Gerald of Wales tells it thus:
- "The first earl of Chester after the Norman conquest, was Gherbod, a Fleming, who, having obtained leave from king William to go into Flanders for the purpose of arranging some family concerns, was taken and detained a prisoner by his enemies; upon which the conqueror bestowed the earldom of Chester on Hugh de Abrincis or of Avranches, "to hold as freely by the sword, as the king himself did England by the crown."
By 1071, the value of recoverable taxes had reduced to £30 and Chester was described as 'greatly wasted'. Of 487 houses standing in 1066, 205 had been lost and were perhaps not rebuilt before 1086. One can again question whether this is a consequence of "devastation" or simply the large numbers of agricultural workers who had been killed in the recent conflicts, such as the slaughter of Edwin and Morcar's levies at Fulford. Just because a manor was classed as "waste" (unexploited or unprofitable) after the Norman Conquest does not mean that it became "waste" as a consequence of that conquest - it could equally well be that the defence against the Norse invasion prior to Stamford Bridge had taken a massive toll on the farmers of Cheshire. The eventual increase in the taxation of the city under Earl Hugh of Avranches to £70 and a mark of gold (about its pre-conquest level) may (according to some historians) indicate more burdensome exactions rather than returning prosperity, although the resources were clearly available in Chester to build a castle and start work on a new cathedral at St Johns. It is unlikely that when Peter de Leia moved his See to Chester in 1075 that he would have done so if the region was a ravaged wasteland. It is also worth remembering that desolating land which one intends to settle with one's own supporters as a "reward" hardly makes sense.
Edgar remained in Scotland until 1072, when William invaded Scotland and forced King Malcolm III to submit to his overlordship. The terms of the agreement between them, the Treaty of Abernethy, included the expulsion of Edgar. He therefore took up residence in Flanders, whose count, Robert the Frisian, was hostile to the Normans. However, he was able to return to Scotland in 1074. Shortly after his arrival there, he received an offer from Philip I, King of France, who was also at odds with William, of a castle and lands near the borders of Normandy from where he would be able to raid his enemies' homeland. He embarked with his followers for France, but a storm wrecked their ships on the English coast. Many of Edgar's men were hunted down by the Normans, but he managed to escape with the remainder to Scotland by land. Following this disaster, he was persuaded by Malcolm III to make peace with William and return to England as his subject, abandoning any ambition of regaining his ancestral throne.
Once England had been conquered, the Normans faced many challenges in maintaining control. They were few in number compared to the native English population; including those from other parts of France, historians estimate the number of Norman landholders at around 8000. William's followers expected and received lands and titles in return for their service in the invasion, but William claimed ultimate possession of the land in England over which his armies had given him de facto control, and asserted the right to dispose of it as he saw fit. Henceforth, all land was "held" directly from the king in feudal tenure in return for military service. A Norman lord typically had properties scattered piecemeal throughout England and Normandy, and not in a single geographic block. A measure of William's success in taking control is that, from 1072 until the Capetian conquest of Normandy in 1204, William and his successors were largely absentee rulers. For example, after 1072, William spent more than 75 per cent of his time in France rather than England. While he needed to be personally present in Normandy to defend the realm from foreign invasion and put down internal revolts, he set up royal administrative structures that enabled him to rule England from a distance.
Disappointed at the level of recompense and respect he received from William, in 1086 Edgar renounced his allegiance to the Conqueror and moved with a retinue of men to Norman Apulia. The venture in the Mediterranean was evidently not a success; within a few years Edgar returned to England.
When William was on his deathbed in 1087 dying painfully after being thrown against the pommel of his horse's saddle, he ordered that Morcar should be released. This was in common with others whom he had kept in prison in England and Normandy, on condition that they took an oath not to disturb the peace in either land. Morcar was not long out of prison, for William Rufus took him to England, and on arriving at Winchester put him in prison there. Nothing further is known about him, and it is therefore probable that he died in prison.
The English succession continued as unevenly as ever. Edgar had supported Robert Curthose against Williams second son, William Rufus and once again found himself on the losing side. After more adventures in Scotland, involving several characters from Shakespeare's "MacBeth" Edgar turned up in Jerusalem, before returning to England and the court of William Rufus. In July 1100, Edgar went with William Rufus to Winchester with a number of nobles for a few days hunting in the New Forest. Edgar stayed at the Castle, but on Sunday 29th the others moved on to a hunting lodge near Cadnam. Among those with the King and his brother Henry, were Gilbert Clare and his brother Roger and his brother-in-law Walter Tirel of Poix in France. William of Malmesbury gave a version of what happened:
- "The day before the king died he dreamt that he went to hell and the Devil said to him "I can't wait for tomorrow because we can finally meet in person!". He suddenly awoke. He commanded a light to be brought, and forbade his attendants to leave him. The next day he went into the forest... He was attended by a few persons... Walter Thurold remained with him, while the others, were on the chase. The sun was now declining, when the king, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow, slightly wounded a stag which passed before him... The stag was still running... The king, followed it a long time with his eyes, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun's rays. At this instant Walter decided to kill another stag. Oh, gracious God! the arrow pierced the king's breast."
William Rufus died in a "hunting accident" ("accidentally" shot by Tirel) and the later Henry I turned up in Winchester just in time to claim the royal treasury. Tirel fled to France. In November 1100 King Henry married Matilda, the daughter of Edgar’s sister by the former King Malcolm of Scotland. It was one way of cementing his claim to his deceased brother's throne. Matilda and Henry had two children: Matilda and William Adelin, Duke of Normandy. She lived to see her daughter become Holy Roman Empress, but died two years before her son's drowning in the disaster of the White Ship (1120). Her widower remarried, but had no further legitimate children, which caused a succession crisis resulting in a long civil war known as The Anarchy.
Edgar was still alive in 1125, according to William of Malmesbury, who wrote at the time that Edgar "now grows old in the country in privacy and quiet". There is no evidence that Edgar married or produced children apart from two references to an "Edgar Adeling" found in the Magnus Rotulus Pipae Northumberland (Pipe rolls) for the years 1158 and 1167. If this was Edgar himself he would have been over one hundred years old and lived through the Anarchy and well into the reign of Henry II, the first king of the House of Plantagenet, and the father of a clutch of sons who would again dispute the throne. Edgars date of death and final resting place are unknown.
Historical tales are without doubt interesting for the actual characters and events that they contain, but like the "Mouse's Tale" it is also entertaining to look at the historians and storytellers, and their motives. In many cases these are coloured by the times and views of the later historian who might imply motivations and policies from more modern times to actions taken in a very different past.
The "Mouse's Tale" tells only a fraction of the story of Edwin and Morcar, and very little of the house of Leofric, whose historical actions seem to have been completely overshadowed by a single horse-ride of his wife. Looking at history from the perspective of Mercia rather than Wessex puts the role of the Mercian and Viking influence on English history in a perhaps more positive light. Of the longer-lived kings Edward the Elder (see: Farndon) and Æthelstan (see: Battle of Brunanburh) had fought the Danes, whereas Edgar the Pacific appears to have had their support. One thing that perhaps isn't clear is why Edgar the Pacific enjoyed such a long period without Viking raids. It may be due to some policy of Egdar's, possibly his navy, or it could be that Edgar fortuitously ruled at a time when the Vikings were concerned with other things. In Victorian times (and well before) the story of Edgar's river trip at Chester was used for political and cultural reasons to demonstrate the "superiority" of the English over the other races of the British Isles, particularly the Welsh and Scots, and perhaps also illustrate Britain's long tradition of naval dominance.
The Victorians also portrayed the Vikings as an effectively barbarian people who were defeated by Alfred "the Great" (who was to the Victorians the founder of the navy). Much of the telling of this history was influenced by more recent political events. Æþelræd fought a fresh wave of invaders in a long war that was at one time genocidal and was followed by Cnut, a very successful Viking king. Mercia effectively re-emerged as the lands of the House of Leofric who at times maintained good relations with Wales that were far better than those of Wessex and later the Normans. Leofric, his son and grandsons were the effective Mercian and later Northumbrian counter-balance to the Wessex-based power of House of Godwin. The focus of English history only shifted decisively southward with the coming of the Normans, and Mercia can in some ways be said to have survived as the Palatinate of the Earls of Chester, and the principality created by Richard II. Starting with Egbert, the scuptures at Chester Town Hall appear to play-up the connection with the southern rulers, be these Wessex, the Normans or their later successors: Æthelflæd, Edgar the Pacific, Cnut and the House of Leofric are all absent. The Norman conquest is only portrayed as the installation of an Earl with the same name as an important member of the Grosvenor family and the then MP for Chester and Edwin and Morcar and the whole of Chester's opposition to the Normans is omitted.
Using the "Riverside Walk" scale of history and travelling upriver, the Romans arrive near Saltney and have gone by the time we reach "The Cop". Mercia is the dominant English kingdom around the racecourse and Alfred burns his cakes near the south end of the Grosvenor Bridge. Edgar would be at Edgar's Field and Harold in the Hermitage. Ethelred the Unready would be trying to stop the Vikings crossing the Old Dee Bridge with bribes while his bishop Wulfstan predicts the end of the world, and Canute the Viking would be selling boat trips on the Groves. Edwin and Morcar would be last seen near the Suspension Bridge, decorated as it is by the newly arrived Norman Earls - who might complain about their mixed-up coats of arms. A very elderly Edgar Ætheling could perhaps be last glimpsed heading slowly along the path towards the Earls Eye, although how far he gets no-one knows.
Eadred (May 26, 946 - November 23, 955). A son of King Edward the Elder by his third wife.
- 946: Eadred becomes king at age 23, following the assassination of his older brother, Edmund I;
- 947: Wulfstan I, Archbishop of York invites the Viking leader Eric Bloodaxe to become King of Northumbria;
- 948: King Eadred expels Eric Bloodaxe from Northumbria;
- c950: Leofwine born;
- 952: Constantine II dies, Eric Bloodaxe reconquers York, Eadred imprisons Wulfstan of York;
- 954: Eric Bloodaxe is killed at Stainmore allowing King Eadred to recover York and Northumbria;
- 955: Eadred dies (aged 32) unmaried;
Eadwig Elder son of Edmund I
- 955: Eadwig becomes king at age 15;
- 956: Dunstan exiled;
- 957: Nobles agreed to divide the kingdom along the Thames, with Eadwig keeping Wessex and Kent in the south and Edgar (aged 14) ruling in the north.
- 959: Eadwig dies (aged about 19)
Edgar (The Pacific) (October 1, 959 – July 8, 975). Younger son of Edmund I
- 959: Edgar becomes king at age 16;
- 960: Edward the Martyr born;
- 962: Edgar abducted and married Wulfthryth of Wilton;
- 964: Wulfthryth was returned to Wilton Abbey, along with their child, and became a nun. Edgar married, possibly for a third time, to Ælfthryth, widow of Æthelwald, Ealdorman of East Anglia;
- 966: Edmund Atheling born;
- 968: Æthelred the Unready born;
- 970: Edmund Atheling dies;
- 973: Edgar sails to Chester, and receives homage from the rulers of Alba, Strathclyde, Wales, and the Kingdom of the Isles;
- 975: Edgar dies (aged about 34)
Edward (The Martyr, Eadweard II) (July 8, 975 - March 18, 978). Eldest son of King Edgar
- 975: Church of St. Peter and St. Paul was re-dedicated to St. Werburgh and St Oswald. Edward becomes king at age 13, comet seen;
- 976: Severe famine, Oslac of Northumbria banished;
- 978: Edward murdered, aged 16;
Æthelred (the Unready: Old English Æþelred Unræd) (March 18, 978 – April 23, 1016). Younger son of King Edgar.
- 978: Æþelræd becomes king, aged 12. English troops possibly supplied by Ælfhere of Mercia are deployed on the Lleyn Peninsula on behalf of King Hywel ab Ieuaf of Gwynedd in order to prevent his uncle, Iago ab Idwal, invading with Viking allies from Dublin.
- 979: Edward reburied by Ælfhere of Mercia;
- 980, The Danes renew their raids on England attacking Chester and Southampton. Manx Vikings led by King Godfred I ally themselves with Prince Custennin of Gwynedd and raid Anglesey and the Lleyn Peninsula. Custennin is killed. AS Chronicle records that Vikings ravage Chester, doing great damage: "the county of Chester was plundered by the pirate-army of the North". Three of the four Anglo-Saxon coin hoards found in the city, those from Castle Esplanade, Pemberton's Parlour, and Eastgate Street, have been assigned to roughly the same period and were once interpreted as linked to that raid.
- 981: The monastery of St. Petroc the confessor, in Cornwall, was rifled by the same pirates, who in the preceding year laid Southampton in ruins,
- 982: Three pirate ships came to the coast of Dorset, and the pirates ravaged Portland. London was destroyed by fire. Ethelmar, ealdorman of Hampshire, and Edwin, ealdorman of Wessex, died;
- 983: Mercian Earl Ælfhere campaigns against Brycheiniog and Morgannwg, with the aid of the Welsh king Hywel ap Ieuaf (Annales Cambriae). Ælfhere dies the same year;
- 986: Ethelred, king of England laid siege to Rochester on account of some quarrel, but finding the difficulty of reducing it, ravaged the lands of St. Andrew the apostle. Alfric, ealdorman of Mercia, son and successor of Elfhere, was banished from England.
- 988: Dunstan dies. "Watchet was pillaged by Danish pirates, and they even slew the governor of Devon, whose name was Goda, and the most valiant thane Strenwold, and several others";
- 989: Comet Halley revisits.
- 991: Battle of Maldon. An English payment of 10,000 Roman pounds (3,300 kg) of silver was made as the first Danegeld.
- 992: "By order of Ethelred ktng of England, after consulting his nobles, the strongest-built ships from every part of England were assembled at London; and the king manning them with a chosen body of troops, gave the command to Alfric, already mentioned, and Thored, both ealdormen, with Elfstan, bishop of Wilton, and bishop Esowy, with directions to blockade the Danish force in some port, and compel it to surrender. But ealdorman Alfric sent a private message to the enemy, advising them to be on their guard, and take care that they were not taken by surprize, and surrounded by the king’s fleet. The ealdorman himself, a singular example of wickedness, in the night preceding the day which the English had fixed for bravely engaging the Danes, clandestinely joined the Danes with his whole force, and lost no time in making a disgraceful retreat with them. As soon as the king’s fleet discovered this, it sailed in pursuit of the fugitives; one ship only was soon taken, and after all the crew were dispatched, given up to pillage. The rest of the fleet which was making its escape was accidentally met by the ships of the Londoners and East-Anglians, and a battle was fought in which many thousands of the Danes fell. Ealdorman Alfric’s own ship with its armed crew was captured by the victors, Alfric himself escaping with great difficulty."
- 993: "This year the aforesaid Danish army took Bamborough by storm, and carried off all that was found in store there. They then directed their course to the river Humber, and, burning many vills, and butchering many people, took much booty in Lindsey and Northumbria. The provincials hastily assembled to oppose them; but at the moment of attack, their leaders Frana, Frithogist, and Godwin, being Danes by the father’s side, betrayed their followers and gave the signal for flight. The same year AJfgar, the son of Alfric, the ealdorman, before-mentioned, was deprived of sight by command of king Ethelred."
- 994: Leofwine appointed Ealdorman of the Hwicce;
- 1000: Chester served as the naval base for an attack on Cumberland and Man: "This year the king went into Cumberland, and nearly laid waste the whole of it with his army, whilst his navy sailed about Chester with the design of co-operating with his land- forces; but, finding it impracticable, they ravaged Anglesey"
- 1002: St. Brice's Day massacre;
- 1004: Sweyn was in East Anglia, where he sacked Norwich;
- 1006: supernova SN 1006 visible from Switzerland but not Britain. Some sources state that the star was bright enough to cast shadows, or read by;
- 1007: Danish expedition bought off by tribute money of £36,000. The "C" manuscript of the ASC states: "In this year also Eadric was appointed ealdorman over all the Mercian kingdom" (geond eall myrcena rice);
- 1009: The Danish army, led by Thorkell the Tall and his brother Hemming, was the most formidable force to invade England since Æthelred became king. It harried England until it was bought off by £48,000 in April 1012.
- 1010: Wulfric, Earl of Mercia and Chief Councillor of State to King Ethelred died (12 October). Leofwine becomes earl of Chester;
- 1013: English resistance to the Danes collapsed and Sweyn Forkbeard conquered the country, forcing Ethelred into exile, but after his victory Sweyn lived for only another five weeks;
- 1014: Canute the Great was proclaimed King of England by the Danish army in England, but was forced out of England that year.
- 1015: Canute launched a new invasion.
- 1016: Ethelred's control of England was already collapsing once again when he died (aged about 50) at London on 23 April. Ethelred was buried in St Paul's and was succeeded by his son, Edmund Ironside.
Edmund (Ironside) (April 23, 1016 - November 30, 1016). Second son of King Æthelred.
- 1016: Chester ravaged by Edmund Ironside and Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria because Cheshire men would not fight against the Danes (under Canute). Edmund did not last long - a popular story has it that soldiers acting in favor of Canute hid in the cess-pit of a lavatory and stabbed Edmund in the bowels when he sat down to relieve himself (or that the Ealdorman of Chester Eadric Streona arranged for him to be shot from the midden with a primitive crossbow - the "Skåne Lockbow"), though this has never been proven and he may well simply have died of injuries sustained in battle. In any event, the present writer hopes that there is no truth in the monk's comment: "Stephanus (assassin) suffered divers others ere the king sat"
Canute (The Great) (1016 - November 12, 1035). A son of the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard (who invaded England and ruled unopposed for only five weeks).
- In this year  King Cnut succeeded to all the kingdom of England and divided it into four, Wessex for himself, East Anglia for Thorkel, Mercia for Eadric, and Northumbria for Eric. And in this yesr Ealdorman Eadric was killed, and Northman, son of Ealdorman Leofwine, and Æthelweard, son of Æthelmær the Stout, and Brihtric, son of Ælfheah of Devonshire. And King Cnut exiled the Ætheling Eadwig and afterwards had him killed
- 1017: Eadric ("the grasper") ealdorman of the Saxon Mercians is killed on the orders of Canute. The "Encomium" says that Cnut ordered Earl Eric Haakonsson to "pay this man what we owe him" and he chopped off his head with his axe. William of Malmesbury describes Eadric Streona as "the refuse of mankind and a reproach unto the English". Northman possibly a retainer of Eadric and a son of Leofwine is also killed. Mercia may have been given to Leofric (Northman's brother) immediately after that. Leofric may have married Lady Godiva about this time. John of Worcester related that:
- In July Cnut married Ælfgifu, that is Emma, Æthelred's widow, and at Christmas, when he was at London, ordered the treacherous Ealdorman Eadric (ducem Edricum) to be killed in the palace because he feared that some day he would be entrapped by Eadric's treachery, just as Eadric's former lords Æthelred and Edmund, that is Ironside, were frequently deceived, and he ordered his body to be thrown over the city wall, and left unburied. Ealdorman Northman, son of Ealdorman Leofwine, that is brother of Leofric the Ealdorman (dux Northmannus filius Leofuuini ducis, frater scilicet Leofrici comitis), and Brihtric, son of Ælfheah, governor of Devon, were killed with him, although blameless. The king made Leofric ealdorman (ducem) in place of his brother Northman, and afterwards held him in great affection.
- 1020: Coin minting dyes are produced at Chester for Sihtric Silkbeard, king of Dublin
- 1020: Norwegian king Olaf II Haraldsson (he of St Olave - the building dates from 1611), was killed (either in battle or murdered).
Harold I (Harefoot) (November 12, 1035 – March 17, 1040). Son of Canute.
- 1035, King Cnut died at Shaftesbury leaving the rule of the country in dispute between Harthacnut (the son of Emma) and Harold Harefoot (the son of Aelfgifu). The Earls of Northumbria and Mercia (Chester) support Harold's claim while Earl Godwine (father of Harold II) supports Harthacanute's.
- 1039, Edwin (brother of Leofric of Chester) was killed in battle (at Rhyd y Groes near Welshpool) by Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.
Harthacanute (March 17, 1040 – June 8, 1042). Son of Canute.
- 1041, Harthacanute orders Leofric and his other earls to plunder and burn Worcester, and lay waste the whole area
Edward the Confessor (Eadweard II) (1042 – 5 January 1066). Son of Ethelred the Unready.
- c1047: Hugh of Avranches born;
- 1051: Earl Leofric supported Edward the Confessor when he came under threat at Gloucester from Earl Godwin. Through his efforts civil war was averted, and in accordance with his advice the settlement of the dispute was referred to the Witan. Earl Godwin and his family were outlawed for a time;
- 1052: The historical Macbeth, then king of Scotand, was involved indirectly in the strife in the Kingdom of England between Godwin, Earl of Wessex and Edward the Confessor when he received a number of Norman exiles from England in his court;
- 1053: Godwin of Essex dies;
- 1054, July 4th, supernova SN 1054 (the precursor of the Crab nebula) appears in Taurus. Edward's Earl of Northumbria, Siward, led a very large invasion of Scotland. The campaign led to a bloody battle in which the Annals of Ulster report 3,000 Scots and 1,500 English dead, (i.e. very many on both sides) and one of Siward's sons and a son-in-law were among the dead;
- 1055, Ælfgar son of Earl Leofric was outlawed. 24 October - Gruffydd ap Llywelyn and Ælfgar, exiled son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, raid England, and sack Hereford. Harold Godwinson makes peace with Ælfgar, who returns from exile;
- 1057, Chester Chronicle records: "Leofric, earl of Chester, in the time of S. Edward, king and confessor, repaired, and conferred privileges on the collegiate church of S. John the Baptist, and the church of S. Werburg situate within the city as William of Malmesbury relates in his Chronicle, De Gestis Anglorum, Book 2". Earl Leofric dies. He is succeeded by Ælfgar. Harold Godwinson becomes Earl of Wessex when his father Godwin choked on a piece of bread while denying any disloyalty to the king. Ælfgar is again exiled for treason. The shrine of St Werburgh supposedly strikes an attacking Welsh king Gruffydd ap Llywelyn blind;
- 1058 Ælfgar, supported by the Welsh and Norwegians, unsuccessfully attacks the English coast; he is nonetheless re-instated as Earl of Mercia. Edith of Mercia (Ealdgyth) marries her first husband Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Wales, King of Gwynedd, Powys, Gwent, Glywysing, and Deheubarth;
- 1062, Ælfgar, son of Earl Leofric of Mercia dies. Edwin becomes the last Saxon Earl of Chester (his sister, Ealdgyth will later marry Harold II);
- 1063, Earl Harold (later Harold II) attacked Gruffydd ap Llywelyn's (for ap Cynan, see below) palace at Rhuddlan in Flintshire using Chester as his base. Gruffydd dies (at the hands of his own troops);
- 1064, Harold marries Ealdgyth (sister of Edwin, Earl of Chester and recent widow of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn) and divides Gruffydd ap Llywelyn's realm into the traditional kingdoms of Gwynedd and Powys, the rule of which were given to Bleddyn ap Cynfyn and his brother Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn;
- 1065, Earl Edwin's younger brother, Morcar was elected Earl of Northumbria when Tostig Godwinson was ejected by the Northumbrians;
Harold II(5 January 1066 (aged 44) — 14 October 1066). Had no claim to the throne by birth.
- 1066: Halley's comet puts in an appearance. Norman invasion.
- 1067: Harolds son born at Chester;
- 1068: Edwin and Morcar rebel against William, as does Eadric the Wild. Harolds older children attempt invasion with Irish support;
- 1069: Fleet sent by King Sweyn of Denmark triggers a fresh wave of English uprisings;
- 1071: Edwin killed;
- 1072: William invades Scotland, Edgar flees to Flanders;
- 1078: William pardons Morcar on his deathbed;
- c1078: Morcar re-arrested and imprisoned - nothing more is heard of him;
Sources and Links
Exploring the History
The Amphitheatre at Chester may include remains of an early Christian shrine in the east entrance. The nearby St Johns has a collection of early stone crosses which help further illustrate the importance of Chester at an early date. The City Walls as extended by the Anglo-Saxon's can be walked around to this day. Chester's Gloverstone may be linked to its Viking past. St Olave still stands as a monument to early Scandinavian settlers in Chester. Plegmund's well and the landscape around Farndon may give some impression of the land as the Anglo-Saxaons might have known it. A trip to Hilbre Island provides an opportunity to explore "Viking Wirral". The rather battered shrine of St Werburgh in the Cathedral shows the local importance given to the Mercian royal line, and it is still possible to visit Edgar's Field. If you really must, you can hire a boat on the River Dee and repeat one version of Edgar the Pacific's cruise up to St John. The Hermitage between the River and St John is, according to the very dubious legend, the place where Harold finally ended his days, and the nearby Suspension Bridge commemorates the Norman Earls with somewhat inaccurate coats of arms. The Grosvenor Museum has a silver collection which hints at the importance of the mint once based in Chester.
- Dark Ages: a general look at the period from the Roman Departure until the Norman Invasion;
- St Olave: named after Olaf II King of Norway;
- Amphitheatre: Roman and Post-Roman history;
- Battle of Chester: found c 616, between the Northumbrians and the Welsh;
- Plegmund: Alfreds archbishop and his possible influence;
- Farndon: Where Edgar the Elder died;
- Hilbre Island: Viking settlement or not?
- Battle of Brunanburh: was it fought near Chester;
- Edgar's Field: just at the south end of the Old Dee Bridge;
- Hermitage: did Harold spend his last days here?
- Earls of Chester: From the Anglo-Saxons to the Normans and after;
- Viking: their connection with Chester;
- Collapse, Reconfiguration or Renegotiation?: The Strange End of the Mercian Kingdom, 850-924;
- Queens, Concubines and the Myth of Marriage More Danico: Royal Marriage Practice in tenth and eleventh-century England;
- An outing on the Dee: King Edgar at Chester, AD 973;
- The Short Life and Sad Death of Edward the Martyr;
- THE REPERCUSSIONS ON CHESTER'S PROSPERITY OF THE VIKING DESCENT ON CHESHIRE IN 980: a paper from 1964;
- Danegeld: The Land Tax in England, 991-1162;
- The Fear of an Apocalyptic Year 1000: Augustinian Historiography, Medieval and Modern;
- Vengeance on the Vikings: the St Brice Day Massacre;
- Sanctuary Burning: The St. Brice’s Day Massacre and the Danes in England Under Aethelred the Unready;
- The St. Brice’s Day Massacre: History, Archaeology, and Myth;
- Analysis of the Oxford skeletons;
- Vikings’ demise on foreign soil – a case of ethnic cleansing?
- Swein Forkbeard's Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England, 991-1017;
- Ancestry of Leofwine and Leofric;
- The Hwicce: Leofwine's ancestors?
- The Chester Mint:
- Æthelred the Unready, King of the English: 1,000 years of bad press;
- Wulfstan's texts: "the end is nigh!";
- Webster, G., (1951). Chester in the Dark Ages. Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society 38. Vol 38, pp. 39-48.;
- Scandinavian Settlement in West Cheshire;
- Anglo-Saxon England and the Irish Sea region AD800-1100:an archaeological study of the Lower Dee and Mersey as a border area;
- The Death of Edmund Ironside: from a series of blogs;
- The History Jar: blogs on the Godwins;
- Edwin's Property in 1066: from the amazing PACE database;
- Morcar's Property in 1066;
- Harolds family after Hastings;
- William the Conqueror and Chester — The Making of a Myth: William the Conqueror’s assault on Cheshire in 1070;