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 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.)
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.
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!)
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. 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.
I 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!
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.
In the year 1016, the succession was bitterly contested between Edmund Ironside and Canute the Dane. Edmund the Aetheling was elected King by the citizens of London, and Canute was elected King by the Witan in Southampton. Although Edmund stoutly aided London in its defense against the Danes, he frequently left the city in order to draw the Danes away from their siege. This resulted in at least five major battles in the south, the last of which, the Battle of Assandun, ended in disaster for the Saxons because of the treachery of Eadric Streona, who took to flight with his forces and turned the tide against Edmund.
The Saxons withdrew but the Danes followed them up the Severn river into Gloucestershire, finally stopping at an island called Olney (or Alney). There, in deference to the chieftains of the land who had had enough (led by Eadric Streona, who somehow retained the goodwill of Edmund Ironside), the two Kings decided to solve the issue by single combat. This is according to the chroniclers, as unlikely as it sounds.
The Saxon King was said to have been the stronger fighter and soon hammered the Dane, breaking his shield and beating him down when Canute called a stop to the fight. “Bravest of youths,” he cried out, “why should either of us risk his life for the sake of a crown?” Edmund paused, considering. “Let us be brothers by adoption,” the Dane continued, “and divide the kingdom, governing so that I may rule your affairs, and you mine.” (this came from Florence of Worcester).
The single combat story is probably apocryphal, but the ensuing treaty is not. According to their agreement, Canute was to rule Northumbria and Danish Mercia, while Edmund was ruler of Wessex, Essex, East Anglia, and English Mercia. It’s unclear who was supposed to rule London (I found it stated both ways), but in the end, the Londoners were obliged to come up with their own tribute payment to Canute and permit him to anchor his ships in the Thames for winter, so I guess the result speaks for itself.
Most importantly, it was stated that this treaty excluded brothers and children of the two Kings; if either was to die, all the possessions would revert to the other. And so when Edmund Ironside died suddenly in the winter of 1016, Canute took the crown and made sure to bring the witnesses forward to confirm the terms of the treaty. An exhausted England accepted his claim without demurring.
In the days of Edmund Ironside, the name Eadric Streona keeps popping up at the most critical moments… and not in a happy way. It seems that this slippery Mercian Earl must have had incredible powers of persuasion, because he kept turning up no matter how often he changed sides. No one seemed to know whether he was working as a spy for Canute or as an advisor to Edmund, and no one seemed to understand why the Saxon King could trust him. Where did this man come from?
Streona was not the last name of Eadric of Mercia; rather, it was a nickname which roughly translates to “the Acquisitor”. He became Earl of Mercia in 1007, apparently as a result of murder, or rather, doing King Aethelred’s dirty work while acquiring the lands of tax defaulters. He married the king’s daughter Eadgyth in 1009, which made him brother-in-law to Edmund Ironside.
In 1015, Eadric procured the murder of Siferth and Morcar, two leading thegns in the Danelaw. We can assume that he did this for Aethelred, since the King confiscated their estates and ordered the arrest of Siferth’s widow. Following this episode, Edmund (not yet Ironside), in defiance of his father, carried off the widow and made her his wife. So Edmund became lord of the so-called Five Boroughs in the East Midlands, while Canute was hostile to the Danelaw at the time. Edmund and Eadric began raising troops to fight Canute, but since Edmund had just married the widow of the thegn Eadric had murdered, Streona was soon plotting to betray him. Within four months after Canute’s arrival in England, Eadric had sworn homage to the Danish chief along with forty Mercian ships.
In 1016, Aethelred the Unready died and Edmund the Aetheling was immediately elected King by the citizens of London. Unfortunately for him, Canute was elected King by the Witan in Southampton, thus causing a dilemma that wreaked havoc for the next seven months. London bravely withstood three sieges by Canute, and King Edmund did his best to draw the Danes away from the city. Eadric was present at every major battle, first on one side then the other.
His first infamy was at the Battle of Sherstone, fought on the border of Wessex and Mercia. Eadric sided with Canute, and on the second day he smote off the head of a warrior who looked like Edmund Ironside and held it up to the King’s army, shouting that the King was slain. The English wavered, about to take flight when Edmund tore off his own helmet, exclaimed that he lived and threw a spear at the traitor. Unfortunately, the spear missed Eadric and skewered someone next to him. The King’s army rallied but the day ended in a draw.
The Danes went back to their ships, but Eadric returned to his brother-in-law and swore fealty to him. No one knows why, but Edmund took the Mercian Earl back into his favor. The King levied a new army and closely pressed the Danes who were on the run, but Eadric was said to have contrived to detain Edmund long enough for the Danes to recover. Then, at the battle of Assandun, in charge of his own troops, Eadric suddenly turned tail and fled from the field, causing great slaughter.
For some reason, Eadric was still in King Edmund’s confidence, and after the defeat of Assandun managed to persuade the King to meet Canute in person. The two kings met on an island in the Severn and ultimately agreed to divide England between them, with the understanding that each King was the other’s heir. Poor Edmund did not survive the year; although no accusation of foul play was agreed upon by chroniclers, it was thought by many that Eadric quietly did away with Edmund Ironside.
As for Eadric Streona, Canute’s henchman had outlived his usefulness. Although he had retained his Earldom of Mercia, Eadric is said to have expected more rewards and upbraided Canute for his lack of appreciation. Some went so far as to state that Eadric claimed he killed Edmund for Canute, but I suspect this is poetic license. Regardless, it is certain that Canute had him killed at the Christmas Gemot. My favorite story is that he had Earl Eric cut off his head and throw it out the window into the Thames. How very appropriate!
When we study the succession of post-conquest English kings, we often forget that England might not be their primary interest. This may be the reason that William the Conqueror groomed his eldest son to inherit the Dukedom of Normandy and gave the English crown to a younger brother. Or was it because Robert, surnamed Curthose was a bit of a wastrel and couldn’t be depended on to manage his tempestuous new conquest?
Robert does not present a very appealing picture. He is described as short and fat with a heavy face, but at the same time it is said he was a powerful warrior, generous and bold and likeable. However, like the later Henry II and his eldest son Henry the Young King, poor Robert was given Normandy as his inheritance, but not allowed to rule or even receive any revenue with which to pay his followers. Nor did William share any of the spoils of his new kingdom of England with his eldest son. William expected him to be content with an empty title and bide his time until William was ready to die.
Robert had other ideas and bitterly reproached his father, to no avail. Finally, frustrated, impoverished, he surrounded himself with his friends who were also sons of nobles and wandered hither and yon, invoking aid from William’s tempestuous underlords and waging rebellion against his father. There is no doubt that he was also helped by the King of France, who was always ready to wreak havoc with William. Finally, the French King permitted Robert to occupy the castle of Gerberol on the borders of Normandy and France, and William had to take a firm stand against his errant son. Laying siege to the castle in 1079, William received his first ever wound, unluckily by the hand of his own son. At the same moment, an arrow killed William’s horse and he fell to the ground, expecting to receive the final death blow, but was saved by a loyal Englishman who gave up his own life. In the fighting that followed, even William Rufus was wounded defending his father, and the Conqueror retreated, leaving the victory to his rebellious son.
Humiliated, William retreated to Rouen and the rebellious Robert, perhaps in remorse, took his followers and passed over to Flanders. Although William was incensed, he listened to the arguments of the nobles in Normany, many of whom were fathers of Robert’s companions. They urged him to reconcile and he eventually agreed, receiving his son and friends and renewing the succession, as before.
When William the Conqueror died in 1087, Robert and William II made an agreement to be each other’s heir, but this arrangement was short-lived and the wily Norman barons sought to get rid of the stronger brother (the King of England) in favor of the weaker brother they thought they could control. In the following year, the rebel Barons fortified their castles in England and, led by William the Conqueror’s elder half-brothers Odo of Bayeux and Robert, Count of Mortain marched against William Rufus in the expectation that Robert would bring supporters from Normandy and join their forces. Alas for them, bad weather forced Robert back across the channel and the rebellion collapsed.
In 1096, Robert went on Crusade, not to return until five years later – too late to stop his younger brother Henry from taking the crown of England on the death of William II. He led an invasion that came to nothing, and eventually annoyed Henry so much that the new King of England invaded Normandy instead, capturing Robert in 1106 and imprisoning him for the rest of his life. Robert lived in captivity another 28 years and died in his early 80s.