Dining With a Saxon: Guest post by Regan Walker

October 30, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics

Bayeux Tapestry, cookingWhile doing research for my medieval romance, The Red Wolf’s Prize, I discovered some interesting things about the dietary habits of those living in England at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. To my surprise, they ate quite well and, for the upper class, their diet was quite varied.

If you were to accept an invitation to dine in the manor house of a Saxon thegn, what you might be served would depend on where in England you were. Wild boar lived in the forests even to the 12th century, as did deer. Your main course could thus be roast venison or boar. There were also game fowl and other birds. If you were in sheep country, depending on the time of year, you might have roast lamb. Meat would have been served more in summer and autumn when domestic animals were killed and game was more readily available, although pigs, sheep and cattle were killed during the winter as well in order to provide fresh meat.

If your thegn lived near a river or the sea, you might be served fish or shellfish. A wide variety of fish was eaten, including herring, salmon and eel, as well as others not eaten as much today such as pike, perch and roach. It is also thought that they ate flounder, whiting, plaice, cod and brown trout. Shellfish, especially oysters, mussels and cockles formed a part of the diet for those with access to them. Fish was eaten fresh, but also preserved for less plentiful times of year. It could be salted, smoked, pickled or dried.

Since the fork was not invented then, you’d be eating your dinner with a spoon and knife. Even women had their own eating knives with sharp blades that could spear a tasty bit of venison.

Of course, there would be bread. They grew wheat, rye, oats and barley: wheat for bread, barley for brewing and oats for animal fodder and porridge. Sometimes a lord’s rent was paid in leavened bread. But even the grains varied by location. Wheat made the finest, whitest bread but it was not grown everywhere. If you were in Southern England, where the main cereal crop was wheat, your bread might be wheat or mixed grains, but in the north, where oats were grown for their weather resistance, you might be served oat-based breads and cereals at certain times. And you’d have butter on your bread. Milk, especially sheep’s and goat’s milk, was used to make butter and cheese.

Eggs from chickens, ducks and geese would also have been eaten although the fowl of the period would not have laid as those of today and the eggs might have been smaller.

Harvesting from 11th Century Anglo-Saxon CalendarYour meal would also be accompanied by vegetables grown in the kitchen garden or on the surrounding farms owned by the lord of the manor. It is known that they had carrots, but these were not the large orange vegetables that we eat today. They were closer to their wild ancestors, purplish red and small. Welsh carrots, or parsnips were also available. Cabbages were of a wild variety, with smaller tougher leaves. And they cultivated legumes such as peas and beans. So, a rich array was available.

If the meal was of the more ordinary variety, you might be served a hearty stew. Peasants ate soups and stews and used meat for flavoring. Such a stew might contain wild root vegetables such as burdock and rape, and onions and leeks, even wild garlic.

Spices were available, so your meal wouldn’t be bland. In Aelfric’s Colloquy, the merchant speaks of importing spices. Food imports were moved around the coast and up the rivers by barge and boat. Depending on your thegn’s location, among the spices used on your food might be ginger, cinnamon, cloves mace and pepper. In Bald’s Leechbook, broths of mint and carrot and ginger, peas and cumin are mentioned.

Salt was a precious, expensive commodity produced from evaporation from seawater and from salt springs in Worcestershire and Cheshire (near where The Red Wolf’s Prize is set). You may recall the Middle Ages expression “below the salt,” which refers to those lesser beings who sat below the place in the table where the salt was placed.

To drink, there would be ale, apple wine and honey mead wine served, most likely, in wooden or pottery cups and mugs, though there is no evidence of handles on these. Horns were also used. After the Conquest, if not before, you might be served wine imported from Normandy or other parts of France.

Dessert might be a healthy affair: apples, pears, quinces, cherries, grapes, peaches and berries—in season and in locations where they were grown. They did have honey as a sweetener, too, and almond cakes were popular though not served every day.

Much of Anglo-Saxon life changed with the coming of the Normans in 1066. For one thing, the new Norman lord owned all the forests and could deny access to the game. The Saxons who were once freemen became virtual serfs. With 5,000 knights to feed, William the Conqueror was quick to claim resources for himself, thereby depriving the English population of the rich diet they once had.


ReganWalker_TheRedWolf'sPrize_600x900

Bestselling author Regan Walker loved to write stories as a child, particularly those about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who taps his subjects for “special assignments.” In each of her novels, there is always real history and real historic figures.

Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.

 www.reganwalkerauthor.com

Review of “The House of Godwine” by Emma Mason

October 20, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in Earl Godwine of Wessex, General 11th Century topics, The Sons of Godwine

The House of Godwine: The History of a DynastyThe House of Godwine: The History of a Dynasty by Emma Mason

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book some months ago, and today, as I was looking up a detail for more clarification, I realized that this volume was full of paper slips marking important passages. Then I realized I never reviewed this book which I keep on hand while working on my historical fiction projects. Well, I suppose this is a classic case of taking a book for granted, since I’m still actively using it.

I find “The House of Godwine” to be a clear, detailed and useful history that goes farther than merely recording pertinent details. Emma Mason skillfully puts “two and two” together and ventures to explain how certain events occurred or why people did what they did. For instance, when Harold launched his lightning attack on the court of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn in 1062: “It has been suggested that Aelfgar died in the Christmas season, possibly while attending court, and that this opportunity was seized to attack his ally Gruffydd ap Llewelyn before he learned of the earl’s death and could reinforce his own position.” Now, I knew about the Christmas campaign for years but never thought to associate it with Aelfgar’s death. This may or may not have happened as suggested, but the explanation is compelling.

In case you are wondering, yes, Emma uses extensive Notes to support her work. In fact, out of 281 pages, the Notes and Index start on page 203. As far as I can tell, she used her sources to best describe an event (such as the Battle of Hastings), then gave references every step of the way. So at Hastings, for instance, she gave us a depiction of the battle with notes every few sentences referencing many different sources. All total the battle description was thorough and it made a lot of sense. The same technique is used throughout the book.

I would say The House of Godwine is not an ideal history for beginners. It is not light reading, but for someone versed in the basics, the details here are welcome and useful. I picked up many things I hadn’t run across before. Another for-instance: “Harold knew that Norman plans for invasion of England were now well under way. William of Poitiers wrote that he sent spies to report back with more detailed information. One of these men was captured and his cover story was blown. He was taken before the duke, but instead of condemning him William seized the opportunity to send a message intended to demoralize his rival…” That’s the kind of detail I just gobble up!

The book starts with a good overview of England’s culture and politics before and during Aethelred’s reign, and ends with how the survivors after Hastings dealt with the new regime. This is where I discovered that Count Alain le Rouge, who led the Breton contingent at Hastings, carried off Edith Swanneck’s daughter Gunhild from her exile at Wilton abbey. Since Alain held much of the land previously owned by Gunhild’s mother, the daughter’s presence presumably calmed his Anglo-Danish tenants. She stayed with him until he died then became his brother’s partner in turn. I learned this tidbit just in time to incorporate it into my debut novel. Needless to say, I was thrilled. This is one book I will have to read more than once.

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Where is Harold Godwineson Buried?

October 16, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | 4 Comments | Filed in The Sons of Godwine
Harold'sGrave

Harold’s Marker at Waltham

Despite the recent brouhaha about scanning the grounds of Waltham Abbey for the body of Harold, and the even more recent theory that he survived the battle in obscurity, I wonder if they might be looking in the wrong place altogether. Is it really possible that archaeologists  can reproduce the unlikely discovery of yet another famous King killed in battle? It’s impossible to describe the recent miracle of Richard III to the uninitiated without sounding completely ridiculous. I know; I tried it. And so far I haven’t heard of any likely Godwineson DNA descendant stepping forward to prove the case, even if they found a body.

The theory that Harold survived the battle and became a pilgrim comes from “novelist and amateur historian Peter Burke” according to BBC News, who found this referenced in the 12th century Vita Harold. I located an 1885 copy and translation of this work on the (very useful) ForgottenBooks.com website and discovered the full title was “Vita Harold The Romance of the Life of Harold King of England.” Well, that says a lot, doesn’t it? After reading the first few pages of this manuscript, where King Knut, feeling threatened by Earl Godwine, sends him on a mission to Denmark with letters instructing the recipients to chop off his head, I got suspicious. Oh, and Godwine substituted that letter with one of his own, instructing the recipients to receive him with honor and give him Knut’s sister in marriage. To say the least, I concluded that this manuscript was not very reliable. And here’s another nail in that coffin: according to Emma Mason in her “The House of Godwine” history, by the time of Henry II the Abbey had converted to Augustinian canons who found the tomb-cult of Harold Godwineson distasteful. So they commissioned a cleric to write the Life of Harold to draw attention elsewhere. Hmmm.

On firmer ground, the association between Harold and Waltham abbey makes good sense. He is said to have been miraculously cured there as a child and rebuilt the abbey in 1060. There’s another reference to the Holy Cross at Waltham that bowed its head as he hastened to battle. According to William of Malmesbury, William the Conqueror sent Harold’s body to his mother Gytha who had it buried at Waltham. According to the Waltham Chronicle, two cannons from the Abbey begged William for Harold’s body and he consented; after enlisting the aid of Edith Swanneck they located the body and carried it back. Apparently there was a sepulcher erected to Harold after his death which attracted a cult following; the grave was relocated a few times, whenever the church was town down and rebuilt.

After the Dissolution of the monasteries, a manor house was erected from the rubble of the Abbey. Another story states that a “famous Bumper Squire Jones” was enlarging the cellar of said manor house when he discovered the coffin of Harold under a lid inscribed with Haroldus Rex. He kept the coffin in the cellar and showed it to his friends whenever he had a party. The house burned down not too long after and was demolished in 1770, presumably along with the coffin.

A persistent story from William of Poitiers states that William the Conqueror gave Harold’s body to his companion William Malet to bury under a pile of rocks on the Sussex coast, quipping that “he who guarded the coast with such insensate zeal should be buried by the seashore”.  Our eminent historian Edward A. Freeman concluded that first they may have buried Harold under a cairn, only to remove him a few years later to a more proper grave at Waltham.

BoshamChurch01

Marker for Canute’s Daughter

However, there is another possible explanation to the grave beside the sea. In 1954 during routine maintenance at Holy Trinity Church in Bosham, workers discovered a coffin under the paving stones near the chancel steps, just three feet from the second coffin already believed to contain the remains of Canute’s daughter. According to Geoffrey Marwood, local historian, “The large coffin was made of Horsham stone, magnificently furnished and contained the thigh and pelvic bones of a powerfully built man about 5 ft. 6 ins. in height aged over 60 years with traces of arthritis. Whoever was buried here must have been a person of great importance to have been placed in such a prominent position in the church…” This may be slim evidence except for the fact that Bosham was Harold’s home town and birthplace. Although Harold was 44 when he died, forensic evidence in the 1950s was not exacting; but they did determine that the bones showed fractures that did not have time to heal. The missing head and lower leg could argue for a body already dismembered in the way Harold was.

Bosham was the only estate in Sussex that King William took into his personal possession.  It is unlikely that anyone could have been buried there without his knowledge, and the depth of the coffin under the floor implied that the gravediggers knowingly placed it at the same level as Canute’s daughter. It is possible that William consented to give Harold his place by the sea in the harbor town of Bosham; he didn’t want a local shrine to the fallen king, but he may have given him a proper burial in secret. Locals certainly choose to believe so.

 

Bishopricks of England under Edward the Confessor

August 23, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in Macbeth

bishophrics Once again, here is a map taken from Vol. 2 of Edward A. Freeman’s History of the Norman Conquest of England. (Click twice to bring map to full size.)  According to the author, as the early ecclesiastics converted the Kings and people to Christianity, each kingdom (or principality) formed a new diocese that was given the name of the tribe, rather than the name of a city (as on the Continent). There were a few exceptions; the Bishops of York, London, and Rochester were named after their city. Apparently the  boundaries of the Bishopricks were quite fluid, especially when someone died and the dioceses were redistributed. I believe this map represents the state of affairs around 1046 or so, after the death of Bishop Lyfing (who went to Rome with Canute) when the Bishopricks of Devonshire and Cornwall were combined to become Exeter.

Gruffydd ap Llewelyn Prince of Wales (Guest post by Ky White)

August 10, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | 1 Comment | Filed in General 11th Century topics

MedievalWales  Gruffydd ap Llywelyn was born about 1010, the elder of two sons of Llywelyn ap Seisyll, who had been able to rule both Gwynedd and Powys. On Llywelyn’s death in 1023, a member of the Aberggraw dynasty, Iago ab Idwal ap Meurig, became ruler of Gwynedd. Gruffydd, according to an early story, had been a lazy youth, but one New Year’s Eve he was driven out of the house by his exasperated sister. Leaning against the wall of another house, he heard a cook who was boiling pieces of beef in a cauldron complain that there was one piece of meat which kept coming to the top of the cauldron, however often it was thrust down. Gruffydd took the comment to apply to himself, and began his rise to power.

In 1055 Gruffydd ap Llywelyn killed his rival Gruffydd ap Rhydderch in battle, and recaptured Deheubarth. Gruffydd now allied himself with Aelfgar, son of Earl Leofric of Mercia, who had been deprived of his earldom of East Anglia by Harold Godwinson and his brothers. They marched on Hereford and were opposed by a force led by the earl of Hereford, Ralph ‘the Timid’. This force was mounted and armed in the Norman fashion, but on 24 October Gruffydd defeated it. He then sacked the city and destroyed its Norman castle. Earl Harold was given the task of counter-attacking, and seems to have built a fortification at Longtown in the Golden Valley of Herefordshire before refortifying Hereford. Shortly afterwards Aelfgar was restored to his earldom and a peace treaty concluded.

About 1056 Gruffydd married Ealdgyth, daughter of Aelfgar. They had three children, of whom their daughter Nesta would have progeny. Around this time Gruffydd was also able to seize Morgannwg and Gwent, along with extensive territories along the border with England. In 1056 he won another victory over an English army near Glasbury. He now claimed sovereignty over the whole of Wales – a claim which was recognised by the English.

Gruffydd reached an agreement with England’s King Edward ‘the Confessor’, but the death of his ally Aelfgar 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, but at this stage his own men killed him, on 5 August 1063 according to the _Bruy y Tywysogion_ chronicle.

(The _Ulster Chronicle_ states that in 1063 he was killed by Cynan ap Iago, whose father Iago ab Idwal had been put to death by Gruffydd in 1039. Gruffydd had probably made enemies in the course of uniting Wales under his rule. Walter Map had preserved a comment from Gruffydd himself about this: ‘Speak not of killing; I but blunt the horns of the offspring of Wales lest they should injure their dam’.) Gruffydd’s head and the figurehead of his ship were sent to Harold Godwinson.

Following Gruffydd’s death, Harold married his widow Ealdgyth, though she was to be widowed again three years later. Gruffydd’s realm was divided again into the traditional kingdom. Bleddyn ap Cynfyn and his brother Rhiwallon came to an agreement with Harold and were given the rule of Gwynedd and Powys. Thus when Harold, as King Harold II of England, was defeated and killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Normans reaching the borders of Wales were confronted by the traditional kingdoms rather than a single king. In 1069 Gruffydd’s two sons challenged Bleddyn and Rhiwallon at the battle of Mechain in an attempt to win back part of their father’s kingdom. However they were defeated, one being killed and the other dying of exposure after the battle.

(Avid historian & family historian, Ky White is an 8 generation Texan and from early English, Scottish, & Scots-Irish stock. I have a mechanical engineering degree from the U.S. Military Academy and a masters degree in History from Sam Houston State U. I try to post a daily diary of medieval events on FB.)

English Earldoms of 1065

July 21, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics
Earldoms1065

English Earldoms of 1065

Once again, here is another map from Edward A. Freeman’s History of the Norman Conquest of England compiled by him based on signed charters, chronicle entries, royal writs, and other historical notes. This is a useful snapshot of the end of Edward the Confessor’s reign. According to Freeman, the last great division of earldoms came about in 1057 after the death of Earl Leofric of Mercia, when his son Aelfgar was translated from East Anglia to Mercia. This left East Anglia to be portioned off to the younger sons of Godwine.  Aelfgar died between 1062-1065, and Mercia went directly to his elder son Eadwine.

By November of 1065, Tostig had been driven out of Northumbria, usurped by Morkere, younger son of Aelfgar. That whole episode took the form of a revolt, later reluctantly confirmed by King Edward. The outlying section of Northumberland (Northampton and Huntingdon) were bestowed on Waltheof, son of the old Earl Siward; he was passed over as Earl of Northumbria when his father died in 1055 because he was only a child.

I find it interesting that “the ancient boundaries both of Wessex and of East-Anglia were freely tampered with” when Leofwine’s earldom was defined. Although the west side of Harold’s earldom was enlarged to encompass Ralph of Mantes Earldom of Herefordshire (probably in 1057), Harold gave up Kent and Buckingshire to his younger brother. Freeman states that the city of London never fell under the jurisdiction of any earl; the Londoners were self-governing.

Apparently the earldoms of Mercia and East Anglia were the most fluid; the borders were changed around and they were occasionally dismembered several times in Edward’s reign. It is possible that some of the subordinate earls mentioned in charters were answerable to the great earls in this time frame, and much of this confusion dates back to Canute’s reign. Additionally, it is more than possible that some of the Danish chieftains signed charters as Earl but did not command any holdings in England. It’s as clear as mud!

If you haven’t already seen it, you can view Freeman’s Earldoms in 1045 here.

What is Trial by Compurgation?

July 13, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in Earl Godwine of Wessex, General 11th Century topics
Joseph Strutt from Kings and Queens of Britain

Joseph Strutt from Kings and Queens of Britain

While researching my current manuscript, GODWINE KINGMAKER, I bumped into a comment dropped by E.A. Freeman.  He was talking about King Harthacnut’s accusation that Godwine was responsible for the murder of Alfred Aetheling. Speaking of the trial, Freeman mentioned “compurgation…was looked on as the most effectual proof of innocence.” I glanced over this passage then stopped short and had to go back. Compurgation? What is that?

Well, it turns out that Trial by Compurgation was the most common method used in the Middle Ages to determine the innocence of an accused. Also called “Wager of Law”, this method was actually used in some forms of civil cases all the way into the 19th century. Here’s what it entails: the accused party takes an oath of innocence. Then he calls forth a predetermined number of “oath-helpers” (or compurgators), usually 11 or 12 friends or neighbors, who are prepared to declare that they believe he is telling the truth. These oath-helpers aren’t required to have any specific knowledge of the crime; they are more like character witnesses who could be held responsible if the accused profited from his freedom. The higher the status of the oath-helper, the more weight their opinions held.

According to Freeman, “Godwine asserted his own innocence on oath, and his solemn plea of Not Guilty was confirmed by the oaths of most of the Earls and chief Thegns of England…Godwine’s acquittal was as solemn as any acquittal could be. All the chief men of England swore to their belief in his innocence.” (Vol. 1 p.510, History of the Norman Conquest.)

If a defendant did not have access to compurgators, he could be required to submit to an old-fashioned Trial by Ordeal: Ordeal of Fire (remember Emma of Normandy and the burning ploughshares), Ordeal of Boiling Water, Ordeal of Cold Water, and of course plenty of variations depending on the will of the arbitrator.  These make Trial by Compurgation rather tame by comparison!

In the end, it would seem that Godwine’s innocence was not believed by everyone, as the stigma of Alfred’s death dogged him until the end. In fact, during his last meal with the King, the story goes that Godwine declared that he should choke on a piece of bread if he was guilty…and of course, that’s just what happened.  (No, Godwine is my  hero and I don’t believe this propaganda!)

William the Conqueror’s Landing, 1066

May 10, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | 4 Comments | Filed in Battle of Hastings, 1066, General 11th Century topics, The Sons of Godwine, William the Conqueror

I remember my first trip to England somewhere around 1990 or so.  I headed directly south to Hastings, for I had been studying about the great event and wanted to see the battlefield for myself.  Of course, travel itineraries were much harder to plan in those days, but I saw no reason to doubt that I would find what I was looking for as long as I had a good map. Well, I was certainly in for a surprise!

As I recall, Hastings was a sleepy little city.  Yes, there is a castle ruins there, but no battlefield.   As I was soon to discover, much to my embarrassment, the battle was fought about 7 miles north of Hastings at a place called Battle (no wonder!).   Nor did William the Conqueror land at Hastings; his ships touched land about 10 miles to the west at a spot known to history as Pevensey and to locals as Normans Bay (there’s even a train stop).

William had quickly assembled a great fleet, since he only started planning the invasion that very year.  Mostly built for transport (unlike the great warships of the Vikings),  they were single masted open boats with a sail and many were attached to smaller boats.  Wace numbers the fleet at 696, though others state he brought over 3000; the larger number possibly included all sized crafts.  Sir Charles Oman estimated that the Norman force numbered 12,000-14,000, though others estimated as many as 60,000.   It’s probably safer to stay with the lower number, considering the size of the battlefield.

William had planned to invade England months earlier; in August of that year, the Norman ships had gathered at the mouth of the river Dive.  If he had succeeded in crossing the Channel when he wanted to, Harold would have been on hand to contest his landing, for the King was diligently guarding the southern coast with his Saxon levies.  But the winds were against the invaders and William was delayed a month at Dive, then after an aborted attempt to cross, he spent another couple of weeks up the coast at Saint Valery.

Finally, on the 27th of September, the winds changed and the Normans raced to their ships, although it took all day to load supplies and horses.  Edward A. Freeman paints a picture of celebration while they were preparing: “The ships resounded with music; the pipe, the zittern, the drum, the cymbals, all were heard, and the voice of the trumpet sounded proudly over all.” (Vol. 3, p. 399). When William boarded it was already dark, so he ordered all the ships to put a light on their mast and he placed a huge lantern atop his own Mora to be the guiding star of the fleet.

William’s was one of the few ships that did not carry horses, and this is probably the reason he outstripped the rest of the fleet while crossing the Channel.  When the sun arose the next day, he was stunned to see himself all alone; not another ship was to be seen.  Undaunted, the Duke ordered that they drop anchor and he cheerfully sat down to breakfast, though he encouraged his sailor to climb back up to the mast head and keep watch.  Before long the sailor saw four ships, and soon, “he saw such a multitude that their masts looked like a forest upon the waves.”

William’s luck was with them.  Not only was the crossing almost without incident (two ships were lost, including one that carried a soothsayer who prophesied that England would fall without a blow), they were astounded to discover the long beach deserted.  No Saxon host stood ready to repel the invaders because unbeknownst to William, King Harold had hastened north to defend his country against a totally different threat: the Norwegian King Harald Hardraada.

Duke William was the first warrior to set foot on land — though his foot slipped out from under him and he fell forward on both hands.  Horrors!  A loud cry went up around him, for his men saw this accident as a terrible omen.  But William kept his wits about him.  Grabbing two fistfuls of sand, he cried out, “By the splendor of God I have taken seizen of my kingdom; the earth of England is in my two hands,” thus transforming bad luck into good fortune and saving the day.

Encouraged, the Normans disembarked in good order, still expecting resistance from the English.  But none was forthcoming and the invaders most likely drew their ships onto the beach.  It is thought a small garrison was left to guard the ships, utilizing the ruins of a Roman fort on the site.  It is possible that the Normans build one of their portable wooden fortresses there, but this is debated.Hastings They did not bring many provisions with them, and Pevensey was not the ideal site for foraging.  The Normans probably only spent one day there before moving their force east to Hastings, which was set as William’s permanent camp.  They dug a trench, formed an earthen mound and erected a wooden fortress at their new location.  It was now September 29 and William had plenty of time to set about terrorizing the locals in earnest so as to draw King Harold back to meet him in fateful battle.

Canute’s Palace at Bosham

April 18, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in King Canute

Bosham at low tideI keep wondering whether the Anglo-Saxons or Danes had an interest in Roman history.  After all, they must have stumbled across plenty of ruins, and maybe even a surviving building or two.  It was gratifying to see the Viking TV show episode where King Ecbert revealed his Roman treasure trove to Athelstan.  Why not?  I’m sure the moderns aren’t the only people interested in ancient history.  So I was very interested to discover that it was thought that King Canute may have erected his Bosham palace on the foundations of Vespasian’s villa, built when the Romans had an encampment there.  Vespasian commanded the Second Legion Augusta which is thought to have landed at Bosham in A.D. 44 and saw active service against the Durotriges and the Belgae tribes in southern England.

Here are some items what historians have listed relating to the Roman occupation at Bosham: they know that Chichester Harbor was used as a Roman port (called Magnus Portus).  They found a Roman foundation under Trinity Church.  In 1800, a colossal head (much eroded) was discovered in a garden; it is thought to have belonged to Emperor Trajan’s statue sited at the entrance to the harbor.  A legionary helmet of late-Claudian period was reportedly dredged up in the harbor. Excavations uncovered pottery, midden pits, even wallplaster and opus signinum (Roman waterproof mortar). In the 19th century a roman footbath was discovered in Bull’s Garden, next to Bosham churchyard.  In 1832 near Broadbridge house, they discovered the foundations of a building, with walls over 2 feet thick and 6 feet deep with a 6 foot circular bath, an atrium and other rooms, thought to have been used by the troops.  Antoninus coins were found embedded in the tile mortar.  It is said that archaeologists found the remnants of an ampitheatre, and also a Roman mill-race (possibly the same where Canute’s daughter drowned).  And so, the list goes on and on.

Canute’s residence has been customarily called Stone Wall and was probably sited near the harbor.  Remnants of a large trough possibly for holding drinking water were discovered nearby.  Some think he built his villa on the spot of the old manor house.  It seems that the exact location of both Canute’s and Vespasian’s villa are still disputed… and even their very existence.  However, local tradition goes a long way, and I say it trumps the experts every time… at least for the Historical Novelist!

Gytha, wife of Godwine

March 9, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | 1 Comment | Filed in Earl Godwine of Wessex, General 11th Century topics

Overshadowed by their husbands or subject to their father’s ambitions, noble medieval women had to be pretty plucky to carve out a niche in the history books.  Gytha Thorkelsdóttir was related to so many famous (and mostly tragic) figures that it is amazing we know so little about her.

Raised in Denmark, she was the sister of Earl Ulf who served Canute as Regent of Denmark before his unfortunate death (reportedly killed by Canute’s order).  Her father Thorkel (also known as Torkel, Torgils, or Thorgil) was said to have been the grandson of a bear and a Swedish maiden.  Of course, having a bear as an ancestor is only mentioned when referring to a male (like Ulf), but I can only assume the a female of the line would absorb the same characteristics?

Ulf was married to Canute’s sister, which made Gytha part of his family.  So it may have been a great surprise to Gytha when King Canute married her off to his favorite, Godwine.  Probably from a less than stellar background (his father was an out-of-favor Thegn in England), Godwine’s rapid rise to power was destined to make him the most important man in England after the king.  But he hadn’t achieved this status yet, though he may have been Earl of Wessex when they married.  I doubt whether Gytha was given a choice.

They did have a large family: at least 10, possibly 11 children.  Among their brood was Edith, later Queen of England married to Edward the Confessor and Harold Godwineson, last Saxon King of England.  However, it was her misfortune out outlive at least six of them; she lost three in one day at the Battle of Hastings, for Harold died alongside his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine.  And of course this was only two weeks after the death of Tostig at the Battle of Stamfordbridge.  How a mother felt seeing two sons face each other as enemies across the battlefield can only be surmised.

So Gytha was the mother of a king and of a queen and many earls.  She was also the aunt of King Sweyn II of Denmark.  It was written that Gytha petitioned William the Conqueror to let her take Harold’s body and even offered to pay him its weight in gold, but William refused, fearing the Saxons would turn it into a shrine.  However, local legend at Bosham declares that the unidentified bones beneath the floor of the church belong to Harold who was secretly buried there after the fact.  The family estates were confiscated by William the Conqueror after Hastings, and it is thought that Gytha returned to her native Denmark.  She probably died four years later.