Harold Marches to York, September 1066

September 16, 2016 by Mercedes Rochelle | 3 Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics

FreemanStamfordbridgeWhile working on my latest novel, FATAL RIVALRY, I have had quite a struggle putting together a timeline for events leading up to Stamford Bridge. Many histories (even Wikipedia) tell us that as soon as Harold learned of the defeat at Fulford, he rushed north and surprised the Vikings who expected him to be at the other end of the country. OK, I understand the surprise part. But really, Fulford was fought on September 20 and Stamford Bridge was fought on Sept. 25.  Even if Harold and his mounted army were able to do 50 miles a day (unlikely, though I suppose not impossible), this would be predicated on having an army standing by, ready to go. Oh, and how about hearing the news in the first place? Someone had to travel the 190 miles or so from Fulford to London so Harold could get the message. Already that doubles the time he would have required, and what are the odds a messenger would push himself to do 50 miles per day?

There’s little doubt Harold would have set out shortly after he heard the alarming news. Presumably he would have started the march with his housecarls, who were the closest to a standing army available—it has been suggested he had 3000 at hand. He is said to have gathered forces as he rode north, which again must have taken time for they had to be notified and given a chance to prepare themselves—then travel a distance to meet Harold on the march. We don’t know how big the English army was—somewhere between 8,000-15,000 men—but this is one big logistical task in an age when communication was slow and unreliable. Yes, Harold’s march to York was certainly noteworthy, but I don’t think he was a miracle worker! (Even historian Edward A. Freeman was not prepared to accept the five day forced-march saga.)

Cooler heads have sorted out a more reasonable scenario. Harald Hardrada met his first major resistance in Northumbria at Scarborough, which would have been probably the first week of September. Presumably someone would have ridden south at that point, to notify the king of the Viking raids. Meanwhile, we know Harold disbanded the fyrd on September 8 according to the A.S. Chronicle, because “the men’s provisions had run out, and no one could keep them there (on the south coast) any longer”. The timing would be such that Harold could have received the news about Hardrada shortly after he returned to London. He certainly needed some time to prepare for a new campaign and wait for his mounted thegns to come back. So it stands to reason that he might have started his march north some time between Sept. 12-16, which would have given him 9-13 days to reach Stamford Bridge. Undoubtedly he learned about Fulford along  the way, which would have spurred him on to greater efforts.

On September 24, four days after the Battle at Fulford, Harold arrived at Tadcaster with his exhausted troops. This town was upriver from Riccall where Hardrada had spread out his 300 ships (beyond a fork where the Wharfe meets the Ouse). It is believed that the Northumbrians withdrew their little fleet to Tadcaster when the Norwegians approached, since they were no match for the invaders. Harold spent the night at Tadcaster and started early in the morning to York, approximately ten miles away. By now he probably learned of Hardrada’s arrangement to wait for hostages at Stamford Bridge. It goes far to suggest that the northerners accepted Harold as their rightful king, for no one sought to warn the Norwegians of the royal army’s approach.

York may have surrendered to Hardrada, but it was apparently lightly guarded by the Norwegians—if at all. Harold made an unhindered entry into the city, acclaimed by the grateful inhabitants who must have felt doubly relieved that they had not been plundered. He marched his army through York and continued east another eight miles to Stamford Bridge. This means his army covered 18 miles that day before engaging the enemy. No rest for the weary!

Cospatric and the suspicious Christmas murder of 1064

August 27, 2016 by Mercedes Rochelle | 4 Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics, The Sons of Godwine
murder

from irishhistorypodcast.ie

One of the reasons given for the Northumbrian rebellion against Tostig in 1065 was the mysterious murder of Cospatric (or Gospatric) at the Christmas court in 1064. The assassination has been pinned on Queen Editha, Tostig’s sister, and it has been said that she ordered this killing in her brother’s interest. I always thought this was a strange accusation to be made against Tostig, since it seems that he didn’t know about it ahead of time. It’s also interesting that, since it was apparently common knowledge that Editha ordered this murder, why wasn’t she  held accountable (except by historians). What happened here?

The first thing I had to do was unravel just who this Cospatric was. There is plenty of confusion over this name, because there were two Cospatrics (or Gospatrics) from Northumbria, both associated with the house of Uhtred (or Uchtred) the Bold, ealdorman of Northumbria assassinated by Canute’s order in 1016. The murdered Cospatric was a direct descendant of earl Uhtred by his second wife Sige. The second Cospatric who became earl of Northumberland 1067-1072 was descended from Uhtred’s third wife Aelfgifu through his mother. This made him half-nephew of the murdered Cospatric. He was also cousin to Malcolm III because his father Maldred was brother to Duncan I.

When Macbeth killed Duncan in 1040 and became king of Scotland, Prince Malcolm and relatives presumably took refuge with Earl Siward. It’s probable that young Cospatric was among the refugees, since his father was brother to the late king. Presumably he was raised in Northumberland and maybe even Bamburgh castle. On the other hand, the elder Cospatric was apparently displaced from Northumberland to Cumberland by Earl Siward when the Dane became earl in 1041; this was allegedly in compensation for losing Bamburgh.

From what I can gather, there was no love lost between the two Cospatrics, especially if the younger became an adherent of Tostig, which he apparently did. It was this Cospatric who traveled to the continent in Tostig’s party in 1061 and bravely put himself forward as earl when they were set upon by robbers after a papal visit. He risked his life so Tostig could get away. Unfortunately, in Tostig’s absence Malcolm III overran all of Cumbria, expelling the elder Cospatric who apparently compensated himself by taking back Bamburgh castle. Now it was younger Cospatric who was displaced.

This much I gathered from the excellent book by William E. Kapelle: The Norman Conquest of the North. However, the murder itself has never been satisfactorily explained. We know that Cospatric traveled to the Christmas Court, presumably to complain about Tostig. We know he was killed, supposedly on the order of the queen.  The rest is pure conjecture, which I have attempted to explore in my upcoming novel, FATAL RIVALRY, Part 3 of The Last Great Saxon Earls (coming out the end of this year). Did Cospatric make some threats against Tostig? Did Editha feel the need to silence him to protect her brother? There must have been a cover-up, but how did historians catch the thread of this conspiracy? Tostig apparently didn’t benefit from the murder, for less than a year later his earldom went up in flames along with his title. Young Cospatric probably accompanied Tostig into exile, for he lost his seat in Northumberland to Oswulf, who was appointed by Morcar, Tostig’s replacement, to rule north of the River Tyne. Editha, of course, was sullied by this suspicious killing. It doesn’t look like anyone came out ahead.

But young Cospatric knew how to land on his feet. In 1067 he was able to buy back his earldom from William the Conqueror, though he squandered it by joining Eadgar Aetheling’s rebellions. William officially stripped him of his earldom in 1072 and he fled into exile, eventually to be taken in by Malcolm III, who granted him the castle and lands at Dunbar.

Who was Wulfnoth Godwineson?

August 19, 2016 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics
William the Conqueror. Source: Wikimedia

William the Conqueror. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In this 950th anniversary year of the Battle of Hastings, most of us have heard the story about Harold Godwineson (or Godwinson), last of the Anglo-Saxon kings and the arrow in his eye. But how many know about his younger brother Wulfnoth? Born about 20 years after his famous sibling, Wulfnoth was whisked away as hostage for his father’s good behavior when he was only about 12 years old. In all the confusion surrounding Godwine’s return from exile in 1052, he was probably kidnapped by the Archbishop Robert of Jumièges, who fled from London with the rest of Edward’s Norman allies. Robert turned over Wulfnoth and cousin Hakon to William, claiming (in one version) that King Edward had declared the Norman Duke as his heir, and sent the boys along as guarantee of his pledge. Presumable the Duke did not investigate the validity of this promise. Why should he suspect the word of an Archbishop?

Poor Wulfnoth was in quite a fix. After all, he was the youngest son and hence, expendable. At the time he was abducted, his father was striving to get his position back. Earl Godwine probably didn’t even know his son was missing until after the fact. How culpable was the King? Could Godwine accuse him of betraying his trust? Not likely. Would Godwine have written to Duke William offering to pay a ransom for his son? Wulfnoth was not likely ever to know, and his father died the next year, which must have seemed like a catastrophe to the lonely youth.

I’ve read some Victorian-era historians who bemoan the innocent prisoner kept under lock and key. But I suspect his confinement was more in the nature of a high-ranking son of a noble, raised in the ducal household to ensure the loyalty of the father. The captive son would be treated like a squire or even a member of the family, provisionally allowed to roam free with the understanding that he would not try to leave. Or at least, I hope this is how Wulfnoth was treated, for he never deserved his fate. I can only suspect the boy was a powerful negotiating tool for the Duke, just in case the opportunity arose. And if King Edward really did offer William the crown, of course he would keep the boy as security. There should have been no reason to put him in a prison cell.

When Harold made his fatal oath to support William’s claim to the throne in 1064, once again Wulfnoth had to stay as surety for his promise; it seems that Hakon was not as important, and William let him go home. Once Harold took the throne, I wonder if William was tempted to kill his hostage? If the Duke was as nasty as he is made out to be, surely one would have expected him to take his revenge. But he didn’t. In fact, Wulfnoth was the Duke’s hostage until the day William died; on his death bed, a repentant William the Conqueror released all his hostages.

Alas, Wulfnoth’s freedom was short-lived. William Rufus is said to have rushed to England to claim his patrimony, taking Wulfnoth with him. Having a Godwineson on the loose was too risky for the Norman heir; the last thing Rufus needed was a new rebellion with a puppet figurehead. Of course by then, Wulfnoth had been a captive so many years he had no friends in England, no property, nor any family left, for they had all fled the country and his sister Queen Editha had died in 1075. So he wasn’t much of a threat, and the new king was content to confine Wulfnoth to Winchester, where he may have become a monk at the cloister. He died in the year 1094.

It’s interesting to me that the least dramatic and least talked-about Son of Godwine is the only one to have survived the events of 1066. In my world of historical fiction, this gave him the opportunity to compile the remembrances of his brothers and finish the chronicle begun by his sister Editha. In her words: I preserved my real story, and intend to pass it on to my last surviving brother Wulfnoth, who can prepare it for a future chronicler not hostile to our house. Who is that chronicler? Myself, of course!

WHO PROMISED DUKE WILLIAM THE CROWN?

August 8, 2016 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics
Harold Swears an Oath to William. Source: Wikimedia

Harold Swears an Oath to William. Source: Wikimedia

That is one of the most debated questions in Pre-Conquest history, with no answer in sight. Was William’s claim to the English throne the result of wishful thinking? Was he promised the crown directly by King Edward, or was the offer presented by a third party? Did Harold Godwineson even know about William’s designs on the throne when he made his fateful visit to Normandy in 1064?

Let’s start with William’s pedigree. Richard I, Duke of Normandy was Queen Emma’s father; this made him the grandfather of Edward the Confessor. Richard I was also the great-grandfather of Duke William. So there was a distant kinship between Edward and William, though one generation apart.

When Edward the Confessor left Normandy in 1041, William was only 13 years old and Edward was 38. With that age gap, it seems unlikely that the two of them would have developed a close relationship, so any alleged gratitude Edward might have owed probably belonged to William’s father Robert, dead by 1035.

By 1052, when William supposedly traveled to England while Earl Godwine was in exile, Edward’s alleged gratitude may have cooled somewhat. It’s hard to say. William’s visit to England is by no means certain; some historians thought he would have been too busy putting down rebellions to leave his country even for a short time. If he did visit England, it is claimed that Edward offered him the crown at this point. Still, given the king’s knowledge that it was up to the Witan to decide the succession, it’s curious why he would have done so. However, considering his antagonism toward the Godwines (he put the queen in a nunnery while Godwine was in exile), perhaps he did it out of spite. Perhaps he knew there would never be children from his own marriage (was Edward celibate? Another unanswered question).

There is another scenario concerning Robert of Jumièges, former Archbishop of Canterbury and arch-enemy of Earl Godwine. Robert is one of the Normans who fled from London once it was clear that Godwine was back in control. It is probable that he kidnapped the hostages, Godwine’s son Wulfnoth and nephew Hakon, and brought them to Normandy. In this interpretation, he might have been acting on his own when he told William that Edward was declaring him heir to the English throne, and here are the hostages to guarantee his promise—hostages agreed to by Godwine and the other great earls. I don’t see how Godwine would have agreed to this, since he didn’t even know about it! So my interpretation is that Archbishop Robert concocted this pledge as an effective revenge on Godwine and all of England for kicking him out. And this is the scenario I develop in THE SONS OF GODWINE.

If this is the case, it’s very possible that Harold Godwineson had no idea William was harboring thoughts for the crown when he visited Normandy in 1064. Again, historians don’t even agree to his motives for going. Some believe—and the Normans contend—that Edward sent Harold across the Channel to confirm his pledge of the crown. Personally, I think Harold would have been unwilling to discharge this errand (depending on whether or not he harbored his own designs on the crown). If Harold had gone to Normandy to reaffirm Edward’s promise, why would William feel the need to make him swear an oath?

Some say that Harold was on a fishing trip and got blown across the Channel by a storm. This is possible, but the theory doesn’t find much favor. I read a suggestion that Harold went to Normandy to scope out possible support concerning his own bid for the throne. But I think this might have been a little premature; after all, Edward was in perfectly good health and Eadgar Aetheling, though young, was a direct descendant of Edmund Ironside. Another reason Harold might have crossed to Normandy would be an attempt to free his little brother who had been hostage for 12 years by then. If Robert of Jumièges made the whole succession promise up, it’s possible that Harold unwittingly put himself at William’s mercy. I doubt whether he would have gone if he had known about William’s aspirations. But at least he was forewarned when the time came!

The Fall of Edwin and Morcar, Ill-fated Earls

June 30, 2016 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics, William the Conqueror
Harrying of the North by Pat Nicolle

Harrying of the North by Pat Nicolle

I imagine the chaos at the end of October, 1066 must have unsettled more than a few Anglo-Saxons. But it’s apparent they weren’t ready to accept William as their king just because he won the Battle of Hastings. As soon as word spread of the terrible battle, men started gathering at London—so many men that an assembly was called to elect a new king. It was said that Edwin and Morcar, heirs to Leofric of Mercia, immediately put themselves forward—one or the other—as candidates. However, they could not muster any support, so instead they agreed to endorse Eadgar Aetheling, the last direct descendant of a reigning English king.

As everyone knew, poor Eadgar had no experience in government and little influence due to his youth and foreignness; he had grown up in Hungary. He needed some leadership to prop him up, but it seems that Edwin and Morcar had a change of  heart, for it is said they withdrew with their troops back to Northumbria. When William approached London, ravaging the country as he passed, all resistance collapsed and Eadgar was dropped like a proverbial “hot potato”.

Edwin and Morcar were not present at William’s coronation, but they soon presented themselves to the new king at Barking, just outside the city, along with other missing chieftains. William received their submission, and for the moment Northumbria was left undisturbed. Edwin and Morcar accompanied the king on his visit back to Normandy in 1067, presumably as hostages along with earl Waltheof (son of Earl Siward), Eadgar Aetheling, Archbishop Stigand, and other Englishmen who could be considered dangerous if left to their own devices. Well over a year passed thus, with the northern earls held in uneasy captivity while the Northumbrians collaborated back at home, content under their native chieftains. Apparently Edwin won the favor of William, who is said to have offered one of his daughters to the earl in marriage (it may have been a love match), though the king never delivered on his promise. At the same time, William was partitioning off pieces of Mercia for his own followers. These slights antagonized Edwin, and in short order the brothers rose in rebellion, joined by Eadgar Aetheling. They had been present at Matilda’s coronation at Westminster on Easter, 1068, so presumably they must have bolted at the first opportunity.

However, William was at the top of his form and he was soon marching north with a large army, building castles as he went. By the time he got to Warwick, Edwin and Morcar were ready to surrender and York quickly followed, offering William the keys to the city and submitting to a new castle right in their midst. Apparently the two earls remained as William’s “hangers-on” during the next Northumbrian rebellion (after which William built a second castle in York) and the last great revolt (with Eadgar Aetheling and the Danes), for they took no part in the uprisings. For all intents and purposes, their influence in the north was at an end, even though they retained their titles. Did they accompany William during the Harrying of the North? History is silent on this question.

Finally, in 1071, Edwin and Morcar apparently mustered a last bit of courage (or desperation), for somewhere around April they escaped from William’s court and attempted to raise another rebellion. Historian Marc Morris tells us: “It soon became apparent, however, just how far their fortunes had sunk, for it seems that no one rallied to their cause.” (The Norman Conquest). They wandered around for a while before parting company. Edwin supposedly headed for Scotland, hoping to take refuge with other displaced Englishmen. He never made it; the Norman account tells us that he was betrayed by three of his own men, who turned on him and killed him as he valiantly defended himself against a party of Normans. Another account says he accompanied Morcar to Ely before they parted, but either way it is clear that Edwin met with a violent death. It is said he was mourned by the English and Normans alike, and even William himself cried over Edwin’s severed head, for he was very handsome and courtly and knew how to ingratiate himself.

Morcar, on the other hand, went on to participate in the last uprising of the Fens, led by the valiant Hereward in defense of the Island of Ely. Morcar resisted until the end and escaped with all his limbs intact, but he was William’s prisoner for the rest of the king’s life. When William the Conqueror died in 1087, he released all his prisoners on condition they took an oath not to disturb the peace. But unfortunately for Morcar, William Rufus immediately took him back into confinement—along with Wulfnoth Godwineson. It is thought that Morcar was put into prison, for nothing more is heard of him, and he probably died alone and abandoned.

Many historians along the way have called Edwin and Morcar traitors, and only recent scholarship might have rescued them from this ignominy. The absolute truth, needless to say, is lost in time.

Review for THE SONS OF GODWINE by “She Reads Novels”

June 10, 2016 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in Book Reviews, The Sons of Godwine

HaroldCoverFront3This is the second of Mercedes Rochelle’s Last Great Saxon Earls novels which tell the story of the Godwinesons in the years leading up to the Norman Conquest. The first book, Godwine Kingmaker, follows Godwine, Earl of Wessex, as he rises to become one of the most powerful men in 11th century England. In this second novel we get to know the Earl’s family as his children take turns to narrate their own stories, each from his or her own unique viewpoint.

We begin with a prologue in which Queen Editha, daughter of Godwine and wife of Edward the Confessor, explains that the book she commissioned on the life of her husband – the famous Vita Ædwardi Regis – was originally intended to be a history of her own family and that she had asked her brothers to write down their memories to be included in the manuscript. The Sons of Godwine is presented as a collection of the brothers’ memoirs (fictional but based closely on historical fact).

Editha’s brother, Harold – the future King Harold II of England – is naturally the most famous member of the family and much of the novel revolves around him, but we also hear from Tostig, Gyrth, Leofwine and Wulfnoth (though not from the eldest brother, Swegn) and through their alternating narratives the story of the sons of Godwine gradually unfolds.
See More…

 

Edwin and Morcar in 1066

June 7, 2016 by Mercedes Rochelle | 2 Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics

housecarlWhen Tostig was exiled from England in November, 1065, Earls Edwin and Morcar (or Eadwine and Morkere) must have felt pretty secure in their earldoms. Is it possible they were trying to re-establish a northern entity similar to the Danelaw? Professor Edward A. Freeman seemed to think so, and other historians make the same suggestion. Nonetheless, King Edward’s sudden death must have thrown their plans into some confusion. Like everyone else, Edwin and Morcar would have been at the Christmas Court for the consecration of Westminster Abbey, and they stayed when the king took to his sickbed.

The very day King Edward breathed his last, Harold must have summoned the Witan to choose a successor, since I doubt there would have been time the following morning, with a funeral and coronation to arrange. I can just imagine the state Edward’s court must have been in, with all the running around and jockeying for position. Did anyone have time to mourn the king’s passing? Was Harold’s election in any doubt? Probably not, though it seems that he had to entice Edwin and Morcar to support him; perhaps this is when their sister’s betrothal to the new king came into play. Perhaps they merely bent to necessity, for they had no support in the south and Harold’s star was in the ascendant.

It stands to reason that Northumbria was not fully represented at the Witan electing Harold. What came of this imbalance manifested itself as a passive resistance to Harold’s rule, so much so that within a month the new king was on his way to visit his reluctant earldom with the Bishop of Worcester and a small contingent of housecarls. His conciliatory gesture bore fruit and he is said to have won over the hearts of the stubborn northerners, while flattering them by marring Ealdgyth, sister of Edwin and Morcar, possibly at York Cathedral.

We hear nothing further about the northern earls until Tostig made his move in May. After Harold chased him away from Sandwich, Tostig ravaged the coast of Lindesey in Mercia. Edwin and Morcar were vigilant and soon drove Tostig away, causing his little fleet to disperse. Presumably they spent the rest of the summer guarding the north against invasion—or maybe not. When Harald Hardrada started ravaging the coast of Cleveland and devastated the sturdy town of Scarborough, the local levies had to rely on their own devices to resist the invaders. The Norwegian fleet sailed unopposed into the Humber and dropped anchor near the little town of Riccall on the Ouse, nine miles from York.

Had the sons of Aelfgar been busy raising an army all along? Apparently that’s what they were doing, for Edwin and Morcar chose this time to advance on Hardrada in defense of York with about 5000 men. Later historians have castigated the earls for risking all and not waiting for King Harold to come to their aid. But given the situation, perhaps they thought it was their duty to defend their own territory. They certainly had a formidable army and put up a stout defense at Fulford Gate, only to be defeated by the superior generalship of the battle-hardened Hardrada.

The Battle of Fulford has hardly made a splash in the history books, but its consequences were very significant. Both sides fought long and hard, and it’s estimated that there was a total of 11,000 men on the field. Perhaps 15% of this number was killed, and chroniclers stated that the bodies were so thick the victors could walk across them without getting their feet wet from the swamp. The battle was lost as Harald brought his best fighters around the Northumbrian flank and trapped the defenders against the ditch. Earl Morcar was said to have fled the field and Edwin retreated to York with the broken remains of his army. But York was in no position to defend itself any further and immediately surrendered to the invaders. Luckily, Hardrada and Tostig were not interested in plundering the town, but they arranged for an exchange of hostages four days thence at Stamfordbridge.

King Harold’s lightning march from the south saved York from further destruction. He did pass through the city on his way to Stamfordbridge, and apparently only the stoutest housecarls joined his forces. Edwin certainly did not, and I believe Morcar was still unaccounted for. And when Harold was called back south to deal with Duke William, the northern earls lagged behind, claiming they needed more time to gather their broken forces. Harold vainly waited in London for their appearance, then resolved to move on and face the Normans without them.

Much has been made of Edwin and Morcar’s failure to help Harold in his time of need—especially since the king just saved their necks while losing many of his most experienced housecarls at Stamfordbridge. Were the northerners just too exhausted, too disabled to undertake a forced march after having just fought two epic battles? Or was it possible that Edwin and Morcar were holding off in the hopes that they might get a better deal from Duke William? Some historians think their subsequent behavior indicated less-than-noble intentions. Many have thought the earls harbored their family’s historic antipathy toward the house of Godwine. It’s very likely that the concept of a united England had not yet come into play, and it’s possible that Edwin and Morcar were pursuing an ambition of a separate northern kingdom, starting with the Northumbrian rebellion against Tostig. If this this the case, they were destined to be sorely undeceived.

 

Rise of Edwin and Morcar, Ill-fated Earls

May 11, 2016 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics, The Sons of Godwine
Statues of Earl Leofric and Lady Godiva on Coventry City Hall

Statues of Earl Leofric and Lady Godiva on Coventry City Hall

If the mid-eleventh century is dominated by any theme, the rivalry between the great houses ranks close to the top. When Edward the Confessor became king, England was dominated by the Three Great Earls: Godwine of Wessex, Leofric of Mercia, and Siward of Northumbria. Edward made it his policy to leverage one (or two) against the other, which usually held him in good stead.

When Godwine died in 1053, Harold stepped into his shoes with hardly a ripple. But once old Siward died in 1055 and Leofric followed in 1057, the balance of power had shifted. Tostig was awarded the earldom of Northumbria and Aelfgar, Leofric’s son, was given Mercia (though he proved much less effective than his father). Gyrth and Lefowine split the earldom of East Anglia. So by 1057, the house of Godwine controlled all of England except Mercia. Poor Aelfgar must have felt himself at a huge disadvantage, which probably goes a long way toward explaining his alliance with Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, Prince of Wales (and thorn in King Edward’s side). But this didn’t last long either, for Aelfgar expired in December 1062. He was survived by two sons, Edwin and Morcar (or Eadwine and Morkere), and a daughter, Ealdgyth, who was married to Gruffydd.

So Edwin became the next Earl of Mercia, though apparently his early years were pretty uneventful. Gryffydd was on the run, and there is no indication that Mercia interfered in Welsh politics at this time. Presumably Edwin took back his sister after the Prince of Wales was killed by Harold Godwineson in 1063 (she is the same Ealdgyth, or Edith, who married Harold around the time he became king). In 1065 he was to become involved in his brother’s unlawful acquisition of Northumbria, with Welsh fighters in tow. Where did they come from?

Tostig’s tenure in Northumbria lasted 10 years, but in October of 1065 his disgruntled thegns rose up in rebellion while the earl was in the south with the king. It was well planned, and Tostig’s 200 housecarls were wiped out before they were able to mount an effective resistance. The rebels broke into the treasury, raided the armory, killed any and all of Tostig’s supporters, then declared a Witan to choose a new earl. This was not a legal procedure, for only the king was entitled to elect an earl. But the Northumbrians were jealous of their privileges and intended to compel King Edward to accept their decision. Morcar was their choice, and apparently he was elected unanimously. He just happened to be within calling distance and quickly swore himself in; needless to say, many historians believe he had secretly agreed to become earl during the planning stages.

Why did the Northumbrians choose an outsider and an inexperienced leader, at that? Perhaps this was the very reason: what better way to control a puppet ruler? Everyone knew that Morcar was the best candidate to antagonize the house of Godwine. But also, the men from Northumberland and the men from Yorkshire (north vs. south in the earldom) didn’t exactly get along; it’s a good possibility that Morcar was a compromise candidate, acceptable to all. Regardless, he took his place at the Witan and proceeded to lead a very disruptive mob south to confront the king. They plundered their way though Tostig’s lands so as to do the most damage to their declared enemy—even taking hundreds of captives.

Somewhere around Northampton, the rebels paused, though their marauding continued. At this point they were joined by Edwin and a contingent from his earldom, supplemented by a large number of Welsh fighters. This new alliance seemed a little suspicious to many historians. Emma Mason in her “THE HOUSE OF GODWINE” proposed that there might be a connection between Edwin’s Welsh followers and the destruction of Harold’s new hunting lodge in Portskewett a few months before. Could it be that the attackers were on their way to join in Edwin’s “great rebellion that was about to break out”? I find this suggestion to be almost irresistible. Is it possible that Edwin and Morcar were hoping to build a whole new northern state, to bring England back to the days of the Danelaw?

In the end, the Northumbrian rebellion was successful and the rebels forced Harold Godwineson—Edward’s spokesman—to accept their demands. They refused to take Tostig back, and went so far as to insist on his outlawry. The king reluctantly agreed to allow Morcar to remain as Earl, and presumably they went peaceably back home, having satisfied their destructive impulses.

Earls Edwin and Morcar were not destined to enjoy their status for very long. I’ll continue their story in my next blog entry.

Harald Hardrada plans to invade England

April 5, 2016 by Mercedes Rochelle | 2 Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics
Window with portrait of Harald in Lerwick Town Hall, Shetland. SOURCE: Wikipedia

Window with portrait of Harald in Lerwick Town Hall, Shetland. SOURCE: Wikipedia

Harald Hardrada certainly wreaked havoc with Harold Godwineson’s efforts to protect his new kingdom. I assume King Harold knew there was a threat from the Norse, though historians seem pretty quiet on the subject.

It all started back in Harthacnut’s day. In 1040, the soon-to-be King of England and Magnus I of Norway made a treaty that if one of them died childless, the other would inherit his kingdom (sounds a lot like Canute and Edmund Ironside). When Harthacnut died childless, the Witan decided to elect Edward the Confessor instead, and Magnus threatened to invade and assert his claim. Apparently the English didn’t take the threat too seriously, though Edward is said to have accused  his mother Emma of favoring Magnus’s cause. He retaliated by relieving her of Canute’s treasure. Nonetheless, Magnus’s successor, Harald Sigurdsson (Hardrada) must have inherited the treaty as well as the throne, and hence he had a claim to the English crown…not that he needed much of an excuse.

So when King Edward died, Duke William wasn’t Harold Godwineson’s only rival. But by all indications, Hardrada’s invasion plans weren’t taken seriously. Or did Harold know about them at all? One of our titillating questions about 1066 is: when did Hardrada make his plans, and did the vengeful Tostig have anything to do with it?

As the popular story goes, Tostig first went to Sweyn Estridsson’s court in Denmark and tried to talk his cousin into invading England. After all, the Danish King was the grandson of Sweyn Forkbeard, so he was in line to the throne of England. But after 15 hard years of conflict with Harald Hardrada, Sweyn was exhausted and so was his treasury. Disappointed, Tostig went on to Norway and gave Harald such a pep talk that the formidable king was chomping at the proverbial bit. According to Snorri Sturleson in HEIMSKRINGLA, Tostig assured Harald “If you wish to gain possession of England, then I may bring it about that most of the chieftains in England will be on your side and support you.” He added: “All men know that no greater warrior has arisen in the North than you; and it seems strange to me that you have fought fifteen years to gain possession of Denmark and don’t want to have England which is yours for the having.” What self-respecting Norseman could resist that line of reasoning?

Snorri has this conversation take place in the winter, which gave Hardrada the spring and summer to raise his army. However, not all historians agree with this scenario. The venerable Edward A. Freeman concluded that there wasn’t enough time for Tostig to make the voyage AND for Hardrada to raise an army. He concluded that Hardrada had planned the campaign on his own and Tostig joined up with him after he made his move. It has also been suggested that Tostig sent Copsig, his right-hand man in his old earldom, as an ambassador to Norway to plan the invasion and didn’t meet Harald in person until later.

Whether Tostig went to Norway in 1066 or not, historians agree that he spent the summer at King Malcolm’s court in Scotland and joined up with Hardrada after Harald dropped off his queen in the Orkneys and came south with the Orkney Earls. Some think Harald stopped at Dunfermline where Malcolm and Tostig waited. William of Malmesbury thought that Tostig joined Hardrada and pledged his support when the Norwegians reached the Humber, which is very late in the story. Regardless, by that point Harald Sigurdsson was clearly in charge of the expedition, and Tostig was his subordinate.

REVIEW: For Rapture of Ravens: The Sorrow Song Trilogy: Part Two by Peter Whitaker

March 29, 2016 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in Book Reviews

ravensThis book is part two in the series that covers, firstly, the Battle of Fulford, and in this volume, the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Both books can stand alone, but it helps to see the extent of the Anglo-Saxon victory over the Norwegians when you realize just how much of a beating they took at the first battle. Harald Hardrada’s victory was complete; Earls Edwin and Morcar were on the run and York surrendered without the slightest hesitation. No wonder our hero Coenred and the remnants of the English army gathered disconsolately at Tadcaster, hoping against hope that King Harold would come to their rescue. And he did!

Coenred’s life quickly got complicated when his casual interest in the widow Mildryth deepened into something much more compelling, on both sides. Suddenly he had someone to go home to, but at the same time she became someone who could distract him from the business of war. The author tells a sweet story of their budding romance, forced into the background by compelling events he could never ignore. And when Harold Godwinson gathered his forces for a confrontation against the Viking invaders, Coenred was at the forefront of York’s support.

Meanwhile the Norwegians, confident that the resistance is at an end, gather at Stamford Bridge to collect hostages and supplies; about a third of the army stays with the ships at Ricall, around 10 miles away. The atmosphere is nearly festive, as they lay in the sun, swim in the river, and generally rest from their recent efforts. Most of them left their armor behind, only bringing a helmet and sword. When the grim and vengeful Anglo-Saxons approach from York, the Norwegians are surprised and totally unprepared. They fight well but their lack of armor ultimately decides the battle. Nonetheless, many stout English warriors fall by their sides.

Whitaker is very, very good at writing battle scenes. He brings us right into the midst of the action, and events are so cleanly depicted that there is no confusion. We also feel the desperate fear of the inexperienced fighters and the bitter determination of the veterans, intent on redeeming their losses at Fulford. The dialog reads much like a saga, full of glory and poetry, which gives this novel an other-worldly ambience of another time in another place.