Canute’s Palace at Bosham

April 18th, 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 was discovered nearly.  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 9th, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | 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.

The Treaty of Olney

February 17th, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in King Canute

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.

Who was Eadric Streona?

February 6th, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics, King Canute

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!

Robert Curthose, son of William the Conqueror

December 30th, 2012 by Mercedes Rochelle | 1 Comment | Filed in General 11th Century topics, William the Conqueror

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.

The Earldoms of 1045

October 13th, 2012 by Mercedes Rochelle | 2 Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics

This map was scanned from Edward A. Freeman’s History of the Norman Conquest of England.  I found it in the Appendix of Volume 2 and I thought it was very helpful since a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say… doubly so for maps! 

I  hope you can read this map through all the rivers and towns (click on it to make the map a little wider); if you would like to see a larger version, drop me a line and I’ll send it to you.  These are the earldoms at the height of Edward the Confessor’s reign; the shifting of borders and earldoms was quite fluid during Edward’s reign, and this is a snapshot of the situation right before Swegn’s first exile. 

These earldoms can be traced back to the great division during Canute’s reign, when he partitioned the kingdom into four great earldoms.  Wessex, the most important, was originally retained by the King then given over to Godwine in 1020. Mercia was given to Eadric (which only lasted until 1017), passed to Leofwine then to Leofric. East Anglia was given to Thurkill (banished in 1021) and eventually passed on to Harold Godwineson. The last, Northumbria, was given to Eric and eventually passed on to Siward the Strong. 

Originally, Mercia stretched from east to west across the whole country from Bristol to Barton on the Humber.  As time progressed and the great earldom was dismembered, as Mr. Freeman suggests, it is unclear whether the smaller partitions were totally independent earldoms or whether they were subordinate to the Earl of Mercia.

Apparently both Harold and Beorn were given their earldoms in 1045. Beorn was the son of Ulf and Estrith, sister of Canute who later married to Robert of Normandy.  Was this the connection that inspired Edward to make him an earl?  I found it interesting to see how Siward’s earldom was broken up by Beorn’s and how Beorn’s earldom was broken up by Siward’s.  Poor Beorn was the same who was murdered by Swegn Godwineson, but that was a few years later. 

You can see Ralph’s earldom next to Swegn’s; this is the same Ralph of Mantes who was nephew of King Edward. When Swegn was exiled in 1046, Ralph’s earldom was expanded to encompass Hereford, where he was resoundly trounced by Gruffydd ap Llewelyn and the errant Aelfgar (son of Earl Leofric) in 1055.  Ralph died two years later.

During the reign of Edward, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the “big three” – Godwine, Leofric, and Siward held most of the influence with (or against) the king, depending on the situation. It’s interesting to see how Edward played one off against the other.

Return of Earl Godwine, 1052

March 8th, 2012 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in Earl Godwine of Wessex

Earl Godwine may have had a humiliating experience finding himself exiled in the fall of 1051, but by many accounts his absence made the Saxons appreciate him like never before.  King Edward the Confessor, ever more at home in Normandy than England, surrounded himself with Thegns and Prelates from his adopted land who proceeded to lord it over the Saxons as though they were a conquered people.  Before the following winter was over, Godwine was encouraged by many requests for his return, and by summer he concluded that the time was right to reclaim his earldom.

Most likely he sent messages to Harold and Leofwine in Ireland, who finally set sail in nine borrowed ships loaded with mercenaries.  Landing at Porlock  in the Bristol channel for supplies, Harold met with fierce local resistance and a battle ensued that killed 30 Saxon thegns and their troops.  Harold plundered the immediate area then boarded again, rounding Land’s end and heading for Sandwich to meet up with his father.

Meanwhile, Godwine was headed toward Sandwich and was warned that the King had ordered a small fleet to be gathered against him. At the same time, one of  those wicked Channel storms blew up, dispersed the Royal fleet and pushed Godwine back to Flanders.  As it turned out, this was a lucky break for Godwine because the King was unable to reassemble his ships and crews, so the King’s undermanned fleet stayed in London while Godwine reunited with Harold and made his triumphant way up the Thames.  Since Wessex was his own earldom, men flocked to his standard, and by the time he reached London at low tide and dropped anchor on the Southwark side, Godwine’s enthusiastic following had taken the spirit out of the King’s defenders.  No one wanted a civil war just to support the overbearing Normans surrounding the King.

When the tide came in, Godwine’s party weighed anchor and traveled under London Bridge unopposed, making their way to where the King was waiting.  Godwine sent messengers to Edward, asking him to return everything that had taken from him and restore his rights legally.  Hoping to find a way out of this mess, Edward prevaricated, until Godwine’s followers became restive and the Earl had great difficulty keeping them under control.

Bishop Stigand and other negotiators decided that an exchange of hostages would help the situation, and this is probably when Godwine released his son Wulfnoth and grandson Hakon to Edward.  It was agreed that the King and the Earl of Wessex would meet at a great Witan Gemot the following day and restore peace.

As soon as the Normans saw which way the wind was blowing, they decided to make a run for it.  I have this vision of Norman soldiers bursting out of the city in every direction, among them Archbishop Robert, Godwine’s bitter enemy.  He and his followers were said to have cut their way through the crowd and out by the east gate of London, leaving a trail of dead and wounded victims.  Worst of all, it appears that they abducted Godwine’s son and grandson, which might be the explanation why their departure was so violent; perhaps the Earl’s men were trying to stop the kidnapping.  Alas for poor Godwine, the hostages given in good faith ended up as pawns in Duke William’s hands, and Godwine would never see his youngest son again.

Regardless, the great gathering was held the following day outside the walls of London, where the people and the other Earls gathered to welcome the return of their hero.  Godwine laid his axe at the King’s feet and declared his homage, and while the crowd cheered their acclaim he and Edward exchanged the kiss of peace.  Godwine was restored all that had been taken from him, the charges were put aside, and amnesty was declared for any ills that had taken place the last three months.  Archbishop Robert was deprived of his post and declared outlaw. And lastly, “Good law was decreed for all folk” (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle).

Alas, Godwine was not destined to enjoy his triumph for long.  The events had taken their toll on his health and he soon fell seriously ill.  Within the year he was dead; while feasting at the King’s table he was seized by a powerful convulsion and fell insensible, never to waken again.

Exile of Earl Godwine, 1051

January 22nd, 2012 by Mercedes Rochelle | 5 Comments | Filed in Earl Godwine of Wessex

By the middle of the eleventh century, Earl Godwine might have seemed pretty much at the height of his power.  His daughter was married to King Edward, Godwine himself held the most important Earldom in England and his second son Harold was Earl of East Anglia.  He had more strapping sons awaiting their turn for the next vacant earldoms.

But on closer inspection, things were not quite right.  By 1051, it was apparent that Queen Edith was not likely to give birth to an heir, thus reducing her own and Godwine’s influence.  Swegn, Godwine’s eldest son, had shamed the family by his outrageous behavior, then committed the heinous crime of murdering his own cousin.  And to make matters worse, King Edward was surrounding himself with powerful Norman allies and churchmen, culminating in appointing Robert of Jumieges as Archbishop of Canterbury against Godwine’s and the local monks’ approved choice.  Archbishop Robert immediately began poisoning Edward’s mind against Godwine, especially bringing up the old question about Alfred‘s fate and Godwine’s alleged role in the tragedy concerning the King’s brother.

Things came to a head when Eustace, Count of Boulogne, visited King Edward in September, 1051.  On his return trip, he and his men attempted to force the residents of Dover to give them lodging in their homes, just as they were used to in their native country. The stout Dover townsmen resisted, one was killed in his home, a Frenchman was killed in return, and the intruders mounted their steeds and plunged through the town, slashing and maiming whoever got in their way.  The townspeople resisted, turning the incident into a full-fledged skirmish, and when all was done twenty English and nineteen Frenchmen lay dead on the streets.

Eustace turned around at full gallop and took his remaining men back to King Edward at Gloucester, demanding  justice.  Enraged, the King summoned Earl Godwine and insisted that he immediately chastise the offending town with fire and sword.  This was putting the king above the law, and Godwine refused, insisting on a full trial.  Then, having had his say, he retreated to his estate,  leaving the King securely in the hands of the Normans.  It didn’t take long before Godwine’s refusal to obey the King was construed as traitorous.

One thing led to another, and by the end of the month the tide was turning against Godwine.  Edward summoned the other great earls of the land to support him against Godwine’s family; ultimately the King commanded Godwine and Harold to appear and answer charges.  Godwine only agreed to do so if the King issued a safe-conduct.  Edward refused.

Godwine knew there was no hope for his cause, at least for the moment.  He had apparently been preparing for such an eventuality, because much of his treasure had already been loaded on a ship, and he quickly left the country along with most of his family.  Their destination was Flanders, a common refuge for English exiles and home Count Baldwin, brother of Tostig’s new bride.  On a different ship, Harold and his younger brother Leofwine took sail for Ireland, where they were well-received by Dermot, King of Dublin and Leinster.

Poor Queen Edith, caught between father and husband, was quickly trundled off to a convent and deprived of all her goods, real and personal. Did Edward think this was going to be permanent?  Elated at his successful coup, apparently he wanted to make the most of it.  But his freedom from Godwine was destined not to last.

Swegn Godwineson, Evil or Tragic?

November 17th, 2011 by Mercedes Rochelle | 8 Comments | Filed in The Sons of Godwine

Swegn was the eldest son of a prolific family.  His father, Godwine of Wessex, worked his way up from relative obscurity to the most powerful Earl in the country.  Swegn’s future could have been assured if only he had behaved himself and not acted like a rogue and an outlaw.  He was the only one of his brood who seemed totally evil from the first.  What happened?

We know very little beside the basic events which look very bad indeed.  Initially Swegn held an important earldom which included Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, and Somerset.  In 1046, as he was returning from a successful expedition into Wales, he is said to have abducted the abbess of Leominster, had his way with her then sent her back in disgrace.  For this deed he was exiled and lost his earldom.

Swegn eventually submitted to the King and asked to be restored his lands.  At first Edward agreed, but Harold and cousin Beorn, who were given parts of Swegn’s divided earldom, refused to turn over their possessions.  King Edward decided to accept their refusal and gave Swegn four days safe conduct back to his ships.

At the same time, England was threatened by a Danish fleet; there was a lot of back and forth as Godwine and family moved their ships to defend the Kentish coast.  Threatened by severe weather, Swegn anchored off Pevensey where Beorn was waiting.  Apparently calling on their kinship, Swegn persuaded Beorn to return to their home base at Bosham, from whence they would continue to King Edward at Sandwich.

Poor Beorn never made it to Sandwich.  Once at Bosham, he was seized, bound and thrown into a rowboat, taken to Dartmouth and murdered aboard one of Swegn’s longships.  Declared nithing (or worthless) by king and countrymen, Swegn was deserted by his own men and took refuge once again in Flanders.

Amazingly, the next year he was reinstated in his old earldom, then is seen accompanying Godwine during his Exile in 1051 (after himself being exiled again for unspecified reasons).  Godwine and family went back to Flanders once again, but Swegn, overcome with remorse, continued to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage from which he never returned. 

It’s easy to dismiss Swegn as the black sheep of the family.  But perhaps his story goes a little deeper than that.  First of all, consider the circumstances of Godwine and Gytha’s marriage.  King Canute gave Godwine – a relative newcomer - in marriage to this high-ranking Danish woman whose brother had recently been killed by Canute’s orders.  This doesn’t sound like an auspicious beginning, and I wonder if the early years of their marriage weren’t a bit tempestuous.  Perhaps their first son was born in the midst of bitter recriminations?  This might explain Godwine’s stubborn defense of his wayward son in face of almost universal disapproval.  It was reported that during his second banishment, Swegn put it about that King Canute was his real father, which caused Gytha to strenuously and very publicly object.  What was the motivation behind this outrage?

The abbess of Leominster story has a possible explanation.  There is circumstantial evidence Eadgifu may have been related to the late Earl Hakon, nephew of King Canute.  She may possibly have been childhood friends with Swegn, and perhaps more: it seems highly unlikely he would have kidnapped such a high-profile total stranger.  The Worcester tradition states that he kept her for one year and wanted to marry her, but was forbidden by the church and commanded to return her to Leominster, which caused him to leave the country. 

As for Beorn, there seems little defence.  It has been said that it was Harold rather than Beorn that stubbornly refused to release the territory to Swegn, and this is why Swegn was able to persuade Beorn to accompany him to the King in Sandwich.  Regardless, Beorn must have been the victim of Swegn’s bad temper (at best) or revenge (at worst).  Swegn’s decision to go on pilgrimage seems to have been the last attempt to redeem himself.

It is said that Swegn died on his way back from Jerusalem exactly fourteen days after Godwine’s successful return to England.  By all reports, Swegn was mourned by no one except his father.  No one was to know it yet, but this was only the beginning of the end for the House of Godwine.

Death of William the Conqueror

September 8th, 2011 by Mercedes Rochelle | 1 Comment | Filed in William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror was not a person to mellow-out in his final days.  His temper was still quick to anger and he did not hesitate to lay waste to his enemies’ lands at the slightest provocation.  He had become excessively fat, and it was said that his antagonist King Philip of France made an insulting comment about William’s bulk that enraged the Norman, who swore to take revenge.  And he did.

In England, the year 1087 was full of famine, pestilence and fire.  On the continent, William added his own devastation to the Vexin (the border between France and Normandy) and took especial aim at the town of Mantes, which he destroyed totally. On August 15, as he was encouraging his men to throw more wood on the flames, his horse stumbled, throwing William hard against his saddle pommel.

The injury turned out to be mortal.  Reeling from shock, William was removed to nearby Rouen where he was housed in the nearby priory of Saint Gervase.  There he lingered for several weeks in sickness and pain surrounded by the Bishops and Abbots of the land, and according to Orderic he repented of his evil ways and even admitted that he had wrongly invaded England.  He is said to have especially regretted the Great Harrying of the North.

On a Thursday morning in September, William breathed his last.  Already, his heir and younger brother were on their way to England to claim their own.  As William expired, the remaining prelates and nobles scattered to the four winds, intent on protecting their homes and possessions.  All feared the anarchy that would inevitably settle on the land until law could be reestablished.  Once the coast was clear, even William’s servants set about stripping the body and the room of all its trappings, so that the corpse was left practically naked and all alone on the floor of his chamber for a whole day.

Finally, a single rustic knight by the name of Herlwin volunteered to take charge of collecting, washing and preparing the body for its funeral.  As they brought William’s corpse through Rouen and thence to Caen, the funeral cortege was swelled by local prelates and laymen, who brought the body to the Abbey of St. Stephen.   But even then William was not allowed to proceed in peace; just as happened on his coronation day, a fire broke out in a nearby house and many of the attendees ran off to fight the blaze as it spread through the town.

And that was not the end of William’s indignities.  When the bier was brought into the church, a local knight rose up and asserted that William had stolen the land from his family to build his church, and he forbid that “the body of the robber be covered with my mould, or that he be buried within the bounds of my interitance” (Orderic).  His statement raised a great tumult, until finally William’s youngest son Henry and the prelates in attendance agreed to pay the knight 60 shillings for the seven feet of ground to lay the coffin, and furthermore to pledge the purchase-price of the whole estate, which they later paid.

Once the disturbance was over, they proceeded to move the body to the stone coffin, only to discover that the coffin was too small!  There was no recourse except to stuff the awesome bulk into the stone box.  But the process proved too much for the flesh and the body burst apart, filling the cathedral with such a stench that they rushed through the rest of the ceremony.  And so the great king was left to spend his eternity alone and abandoned, but certainly never forgotten.