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.