Macbeth Stands Alone

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

JohnFinchMacbethWhat is it about Macbeth that stands out from the other Shakespeare tragedies? I think it might be easier to ask: what makes Macbeth a tragedy at all? Even though his eerie meeting with the Three Witches sets him on a destructive path, his rise and fall are truly of his own making, driven by his hunger for power. We the audience don’t cry for him when he gets killed in the end; rather, we are pretty satisfied by the event. Nor do we mourn Lady Macbeth as she descends into madness and suicide. Shakespeare has other heroes destroyed by their inner demons: Othello is eaten up by jealousy; Hamlet is doomed by his own indecision; King Lear, that old fool, is humiliated by his wicked daughters. Actually, none of these seem tragic to me, but at least we get a morality play of sorts. But not with Macbeth. His is a fairly straight-forward tale of ambition led astray; the bad guy gets it in the end.

Or is it that simple? Macbeth is a pretty multi-faceted story if we take a closer look at it. First of all, there is the supernatural angle. King James I, reigning monarch and Shakespeare’s patron, was the Witch Hunter extraordinaire. Why throw in the witches who seem to get away with wreaking havoc on poor unsuspecting Macbeth (not to mention Banquo, who certainly didn’t deserve to be murdered). Perhaps this was called a tragedy because Macbeth couldn’t resist the Witches’ spells, and so he was really a victim of their evil designs?

If you look at Shakespeare’s source, Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles, he suggested the Witches could have been “weird sisters, that is (as ye would say) the goddesses of destinie“. The word “weird” has its origins in the Saxon word wyrd meaning fate, or personal destiny.  Some even attribute the first modern use of the word “weird” to Shakespeare. If you look at the Weird Sisters from the Scandinavian point of view, the word wyrd  translates to Urðr  in Norse, namely one of the Norns of Scandinavian mythology who controlled the destiny of mankind. I favor this interpretation and used it in my novel.

Back to James I, if we remember that the King had only been on the throne for three years, there’s a good possibility that Shakespeare was introducing Scottish history to the English masses by glorifying the ancestors of their new King. Macbeth was written one year after the Gunpowder Plot, when James was nearly blown up with his Parliament. Guy Fawkes and his accomplices were horribly tortured, and it has been thought by some that the play was intended as a cautionary story for any other potential king-killers.

So it has been said that Shakespeare wrote this play specifically to please James I, which certainly makes it unique. I would be inclined to throw it in with the History Plays instead of Tragedies; after all, we have the Tragedy of Richard II and the Tragedy of Richard III grouped in with the Histories. Why is that? I see Richard II as much more a tragic figure than Macbeth. Who made this decision, anyway?

On the other hand, the historical Macbeth died two years after the Battle of Dunsinane (and not by the hand of Macduff), so I suppose the play is more imagination than history anyway.

Today is P-DAY! (Publication Day)

December 12, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics

Available in Paperback and Kindle from

Review of HEIR TO A PROPHECY by Nimue Brown

November 26, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics, Macbeth

I’ve read Macbeth a number of times and seen it live as well, including an amazing production in the ruins of Ludlow Castle. If you come at it just as a reader of fiction, it seems to exist in that ancient never never time of mystery and maybe was and probably wasn’t… along with figures like King Lear and King Arthur.

Only, it turns out that Macbeth is a real, historical person who existed at a period of great significance for the British and that his history would have had resonance for Shakespeare’s Jacobean audience.

Mercedes Rochelle picks up on one of the conundrums in Macbeth. For the modern reader/ audience, it’s a bit of an oddity that Macbeth is told he will be King, while his friend Banquo is told he will have heirs who are kings. This apparently drives Macbeth mad with jealousy and leads to him later murdering his friend (sorry if that was a Macbeth spoiler, but it’s where Heir to a Prophecy starts). Banquo’s son Fleance flees for his life, and disappears out of the play. If you don’t know what Shakespeare was alluding to here, then the fact that Fleance is not the chap who shows up to take the throne at the end, rather suggests Macbeth’s witches were having a bit of a laugh, and that Banquo’s bit of prophecy was not truth, but a way of getting him killed. The witches seem to be manifestation of chaos and malevolence, if you don’t know the history.

What Mercedes Rochelle does, is takes us into the history, known and mythologized, of the Stuart line. The line of Kings that led to James the 1st, the intended audience for the play. Many of the characters from Macbeth are visible in this tale. We find out what happened to Macolm, Seward, MacDuff, and others. Shakespeare took actions that lasted more than a decade and condensed them down into five acts. Mercedes puts the time scales back in, following the journey of Fleance, and then his son Walter, to unravel the threads of fate that do indeed seem to make Banquo an ancestor of kings. It is a fascinating tale, blending fiction, fact and myth into a very convincing whole.

While Macbeth murders his way to the top, one Harold Godwineson is wangling for position as the aging King Edward fails to produces a Saxon heir, and on the continent, William of Normandy looks hungrily to the north. What follows is, of course, epic, and will change the face of England forever.

Readers of historical fiction will love this book. If you tend towards fantasy then the mix of supernatural influence, castle building, backstabbing politics and epic battles could easily tempt you out of your usual genre.

On that supernatural subject, Mercedes takes the implication of the Wyrd Sisters, and runs with it. The name alone makes it clear that these three women were never meant to be a random trio of witches, but a manifestation of the three Fates, or Norms, of Norse mythology. They hark back to more Pagan times, but Britain pre-Norman conquest had not entirely forgotten its ancestral roots. The England Shakespeare wrote for, probably largely had, while James the 1st is the monarch responsible for changing the Bible’s ‘thou shall not allow a poisoner to live’ to ‘thou shall not allow a witch to live’.  He does seem to have been aware of Pagan and occult influences, and deeply troubled by them, which in turn begs some interesting questions about what Shakespeare intended in all of this.

Did Edward the Confessor give the crown to Duke William?

November 4, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | 1 Comment | Filed in General 11th Century topics, The Sons of Godwine, William the Conqueror

1066-EdwardIn my mind, this is one of the most provocative questions of the Middle Ages. In 1066, Duke William acted with the surety of someone who believed in what he was doing. To take such a big risk, he must have had good reason. William did not have a drop of royal blood in him, and his relationship to King Edward was a bit convoluted; Queen Emma, Edward’s mother, was his great-aunt.  There were closer blood-ties to the English throne than his. So his claim must have relied on Edward’s alleged promise. Interestingly, this claim comes almost exclusively from the Norman chroniclers; the English chroniclers are silent on the subject. That in itself is enough to raise some eyebrows. Or is it?

Much of the argument is based on whether Duke William crossed the Channel and visited King Edward while the Godwine clan was in exile. Florence of Worcester, writing a half century later, states that he did. Modern historians seem to conclude that this was unlikely, as William was still probably fighting to secure his own throne. Of course, this visit or non-visit would determine whether William’s claim was first-hand or second-hand. Did Edward personally declare William his heir, or did the announcement come through Archbishop Robert of Jumièges?

There is a reference that a grateful Edward, still in exile, promised William the crown in their younger days. I think we can safely discard this one, since Edward was about 25 years older than William. It has been suggested that Edward was throwing around promises of succession (kind of like Elizabeth I and promises of marriages). If Duke William did visit England in 1052, it is possible that Edward, cocky after having rid himself of the troublesome Godwines, was asserting his will. Maybe he meant it, maybe he didn’t. Surely Edward knew he didn’t have the right to give away his crown; that decision was made by the Witan.

If we accept the theory that William did not visit Edward in England, then the big promise was probably delivered by Archbishop Robert, presumably after his outlawry on the heels of Godwine’s return in 1052. There seems to be little doubt that Robert kidnapped the hostages Wulfnoth and Hakon when he unceremoniously fled from London. Whether or not this was with Edward’s connivance is uncertain, though it must have reflected unfavorably on the King since they were Edward’s hostages. If Robert did forcibly abduct the boys, this could explain why his exit was so violently resisted; perhaps there was a last-ditch effort to save Godwin’s son and grandson.

What did Robert do with the hostages? Ultimately he turned them over to Duke William. It has been suggested he told the Duke that King Edward declared William his heir with the approval of the Great Earls, and was sending the two hostages as surety. In all likelihood, William was inclined to accept this offer; why not? It all looked pretty convincing on the surface.

This leads us to Harold Godwineson’s fateful visit in 1064, which opens up another slew of questions. The Norman chroniclers asserted that he came on King Edward’s orders to affirm the promise of the crown to William. Or did he come to negotiate the release of the hostages? Or was he merely blown across the Channel by a storm? Regardless, he became an unwilling pawn in William’s grand plan. It appears that the Duke had already made up his mind to go for it! Harold wasn’t permitted to leave until he swore to support William’s claim for the English throne. Although he swore the oath under duress, breaking his vow in 1066 was destined to follow Harold until the end, and probably encouraged the Pope to throw his support behind the Norman Duke—not an insignificant factor.

Could it be that Archbishop Robert made up the whole Edward story, as a personal revenge on Godwine and England for having treated him so shabbily? If he did fabricate the whole thing, it was a revenge served up cold, because Robert died a couple of years later and never saw how far Duke William was willing to go.


Dining With a Saxon: Guest post by Regan Walker

October 30, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | 5 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.


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.

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.

View all my reviews

Where is Harold Godwineson Buried?

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

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) 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.


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 General 11th Century topics

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

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.