Where, Oh Where Has Tostig Gone?

by Peter Nicolai Arbo, source, Wikipedia

Tostig left England in November of 1065 after the disastrous Northumbrian rebellion. While waiting for Harold to set everything straight, it soon became clear that his brother was not going to stand up for him, fight for him, or even defend him in counsel. Harold gave in to every rebel demand including Tostig’s exile from the earldom and even the country. Tostig felt betrayed, Edward was despondent, and the queen shed a great many tears. Although the king did not agree with the outlawry—he even insisted they call out the Fyrd to put down the rebellion—his wishes were disregarded. In the end Edward acquiesced to the forces set against him, and he unwillingly sent Tostig off with gifts and words of regret.

Historian Ian Walker tells us that Tostig was outlawed “apparently because he refused to accept his deposition as commanded by Edward”. However, historian Emma Mason said “Tostig did go into exile, but this was his own decision.” So from the very beginning of his exile, Tostig’s actions were debated.

He may have paid a farewell visit to his mother in Bosham, but by Christmas he had landed in Flanders with his family and close associates. Earl Baldwin, his brother-in-law, received them graciously and settled Tostig at St-Omer with a house and an estate, revenues, and even a contingent of knights to command. This wasn’t such a bad state of affairs for an exile, but it was only temporary, used as a base to gather information and collect mercenaries.

King Edward’s rapid decline has been associated with Tostig’s exile; he may even have had a stroke when he discovered that his rule was breaking down in the north. I would imagine that Tostig was shocked by the king’s death, but was he shocked also to learn that Harold took the crown? Did this alter his plans any, or did he always intend to force his way back? After all, Godwine was successful in doing this very thing in 1052 (with Harold’s help); Earl Aelfgar regained his earldom twice by invasion. Tostig was just following a successful strategy to retrieve his fortunes; perhaps he would have expected Edward to acquiesce. On the other hand, with Harold as King his motives took on a more sinister cast.

Death of King Edward, Cambridge University Library MS. Ee.iii.59 Source, Wikimedia

In the opening months of 1066, King Harold had much on his mind, not the least of which was the unrest in Northumbria. He was even obliged to travel to York (in the winter), to convince the recently pardoned rebels that his motives were unchanged. It’s entirely likely that he chose this high-profile visit to marry the sister of Edwin and Morcar at York Cathedral. Apparently the new king won over the suspicious Northumbrians, and by spring he returned to Westminster for Easter Court. Harold was famed for his diplomacy, but in all this maneuvering I can find no mention of any effort to reconcile with Tostig. Nonetheless, if Harold thought to hold England together by accepting Edwin and Morcar’s control over the north, he was destined to find that losing his brother’s support made things infinitely worse.

What was Tostig doing all this time? It is possible that his first step was a visit to Duke William, who was probably already deep into his plans to invade England. I can’t image what he could have offered the Duke aside from a small fleet supplied by his father-in-law, but it does seem like the most onerous insult he could have offered Harold. Whether he made this visit early in the year or in late spring, it seemed that Duke William didn’t have any particular use for him (though perhaps he encouraged Tostig to cross over in May as a kind of forward movement).

Conversely, Tostig may not have visited Normandy at all. It’s not impossible that he used the winter months to cultivate likely allies in the north. 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. He offered Tostig an earldom in Denmark, but Tostig spurned his suggestion and the two parted company with hard feelings on both sides.

Disappointed, Tostig went on to Norway and gave Harald Hardrada 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.” This sounds a little delusional considering recent events, but how was Hardrada to know the difference? But Tostig wasn’t finished; he had some diplomatic skills of his own. 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.

Regardless, Tostig was ready to make his own move in May. Was his purpose to draw Harold out before he was fully prepared? Or was he simply making his own bid for power? The timing seems odd, but he certainly caused a stir. Gathering his little fleet of Flemish and possibly Norman mercenaries, he sailed across the Channel and landed on the Isle of Wight. Here he collected supplies and is said to have forced many of the local seamen to join him with ships. Thus reinforced, he proceeded to plunder eastward along the coast as far as Sandwich, where he expanded his fleet to sixty ships, either voluntarily or by coercion. But by then, King Harold was on his way to stop him, so Tostig made haste to sail off and try his luck farther north along the coast.

Intent on plunder, Tostig entered the Humber and ravaged the coast of Lindesey in Edwin’s earldom of Mercia. But the northern earls were ready for him and drove his little fleet away. At this juncture, most of his allies (volunteers or impressed into service) melted away, and he limped off with only twelve of his original sixty boats in tow. Apparently this setback took the heart out of Tostig’s enterprise—for the moment—and he took refuge with his good friend and sworn brother Malcolm Canmore of Scotland. Always happy to cause trouble on his southern border, Malcolm offered Tostig his protection for the whole summer of 1066. Presumably Tostig sent messages back and forth from there to Hardrada, and he may have attracted some Scottish mercenaries to his cause.

Battle of Fulford from The Life of King Edward the Confessor by Matthew Paris Source: Wikimedia

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.

The first resistance was from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, a town built into the hills that faced the ocean. The locals put up a stout resistance and seemed to drive the invaders away. False hope! Hardrada landed farther down the coast and made his way to the top of the cliffs overlooking the town. The Nowegians put together a huge bonfire and began tossing flaming brands onto the roofs of the houses. Before long many of the buildings were on fire, and the populace surrendered, to no avail. It’s possible that this and other coastal incursions triggered the messages for help that made their way to King Harold; the timing would have been around the second week of September.

The Battle of Fulford was fought on the 20th of September. At this late date (right before the battle) it’s also possible the first messages were sent south. By then, presumably, Tostig’s presence in the Norwegian force was detected, and Harold would have been informed of his brother’s treachery. I wonder how he took the news? Or was Tostig’s behavior a forgone conclusion? Only the historical novelist is free to make that guess, and I am tackling this scenario in my upcoming novel, FATAL RIVALRY.

 

Sources:

Harold, The Last Anglo-Saxon King by Ian Walker, 1997

Heimskringla: The History of the Kings of Norway by Snorri Sturluson, 1964

History of the Norman Conquest of England by Edward A. Freeman, 1875

The House of Godwine: The History of a Dynasty by Emma Mason, 2004

Tostig Godwineson: Was he really a traitor?

Battle of Stamford Bridge by Peter Nicolai Arbo (Source: Wikiart)

Tostig reminds me, in a way, of Judas Iscariot, the perennial traitor. No matter what his motivations, our villain’s reputation is blackened forever by future generations. But like Judas, Tostig had his reasons for what he did, and once in a while a closer look might serve to mitigate the circumstances. This is why I chose to write THE SONS OF GODWINE and FATAL RIVALRY in first person. I don’t think there is any better way to interpret what is going on inside his head.

I think that from the first, Tostig grew up in the shadow of his older brother. They were only a couple of years apart, but it’s widely accepted that Harold was his mother’s favorite. And Swegn was his father’s favorite. Still, if you can believe Editha’s Monk of St. Bertin who wrote the Life of King Edward (Vita Edwardi Regis), Tostig was every bit the heroic figure that Harold was: “Both had the advantage of distinctly handsome and graceful persons, similar in strength as we gather; and both were equally brave…And Earl Tostig himself was endowed with very great and prudent restraint—although he was occasionally a little over-zealous in attacking evil—and with bold and inflexible constancy of mind…And to sum up their characters for our readers, no age and no province has reared two mortals of such worth at the same time.” As this book was completed after 1066—and before the death of Queen Editha—it’s hard to reconcile this description of Tostig with the traitor everyone loves to hate. Throughout his life, Tostig was apparently Edith’s favorite—and the king’s, as well. When Tostig was forced to go into exile, King Edward parted with him most reluctantly and loaded him with gifts.

Tostig really didn’t come into his own, so to speak, until 1055 when he was made Earl of Northumbria. By then, Harold had been an earl since c.1045. As we know, the Northumbrians were a tempestuous bunch and apparently old Siward, Dane though he was, ruled with an iron fist. Tostig was both an outsider and a southerner, and it’s amazing that he even lasted ten years. He was criticized for his own harsh rule, but the real trouble didn’t start until taxes were raised precipitously in 1065.

So what went wrong between the two brothers? By all accounts, relations between Harold and Tostig were civil until the Northumbrian rebellion of 1065. But I think there were other factors at play that might have caused stress between them. What about the Welsh campaign of 1063? Historians tell us that it was a joint invasion between Harold (who came by sea) and Tostig (who came overland). They met somewhere around the island of Anglesey and pushed south, driving everyone before them until they captured and decapitated Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. Many historians laud Harold’s genius and point to this successful venture, but who gives Tostig any credit? I can’t see how there was much plunder to be had, and indeed, it is suggested that the infamous tax hike was needed to pay for this campaign.

There’s another possible reason to explain the new taxes. Historian Peter Rex (Harold II, The Doomed Saxon King) suggests that reform in the royal household in the 1060s extended to “a move, possibly inspired by Earl Harold, to require that the north pay more towards the upkeep if its own government.” Since the Witan was dominated by Harold, it “would explain why Tostig blamed Harold for the revolt and accused him of conspiring against him.”

The Northumbrian rebellion precipitated a crisis in more ways than one. While Tostig was in the south hunting with the king, his disgruntled thegns banded together and totally wiped out more than 200 of the earl’s housecarls, raided his treasury, murdered his supporters, and declared Morcar, son of Aelfgar, to be their new earl. They then proceeded to march south, devastating Tostig’s lands on their way to confront King Edward with their demands. Harold was brought in to mediate, but the rebels declared they would never take Tostig back, putting Harold in an impossible position. Negotiations went back and forth as the rebels became more and more unmanageable. King Edward wanted to raise the fyrd and chastise the offenders, but Harold urged restraint, considering the time of year (October) and the difficulty of forcing Tostig’s rule on unwilling subjects.

And what of Tostig through all this? He must have chafed while his brother negotiated for him, and when it was clear that Harold was not going to support him, he flew into a rage and accused his brother of fomenting the rebellion. As the Vita Edwardi Regis said, “But Harold, rather too generous with oaths (alas!), cleared this charge too with oaths.” I doubt that Tostig believed him, especially as things went from bad to worse and the king was eventually obliged to accept the rebels’ terms. Not only did Tostig lose his earldom, the rebels insisted that he be outlawed from the county. Was that the best his brother could do for him?

King Edward took the loss of royal authority very badly, and he soon fell into a decline that precipitated his death two months later. By then, Tostig was long gone, nursing his wounded pride and probably contemplating the means by which he would return. I imagine he had every reason to assume that King Edward would find a way to bring him back. The king’s death must have been a terrible blow; Tostig may not even have realized he was ill. Once Harold took the crown, did Tostig assume his brother would finally help him? That was less certain, and once his brother married the sister of Earl Morcar, his hopes must have been dashed altogether.

Battle of Fulford (Source: dariusz-bufnal-imaging-battles.blogspot.com)

So in reality, Tostig only had one option open to him: the same option taken by his father and his own brother in 1052—the option used successfully at least twice by Aelfgar, Morcar’s father. He would have to recover his earldom by force of arms. This was almost to be expected, and I don’t know why Harold was surprised when it happened. Was the new king so obsessed with Duke William that he forgot to consider Tostig’s claim? Or did he simply underestimate his little brother? Assuredly, Tostig’s aborted invasion in May of 1066 was easily repulsed; perhaps Harold thought he had dealt with this nuisance once and for all. Alas for him and all of England, he was sorely mistaken. Harald Hardrada and Tostig’s invasion of the north drew the king and his indispensable housecarls away from the coast they had guarded so rigorously. If only Harold could have found a way to compensate Tostig for his lost earldom, perhaps things would have been much different when William the Bastard landed unopposed at Pevensey.

Book Review: THE SONS OF GODWINE by Frank Watson

As if writing a trilogy of historical novels about one of the most important epochs of the western world wasn’t a large enough task, Mercedes Rochelle in Sons of Godwine adds an additional challenge: Various members of the Godwine family each tell the story in their own voices.

Godwine was the founder of a dynasty in Anglo-Saxon England. Perhaps the most famous member of the family was his son, Harold, who in 1066 A.D. was barely defeated by William the Conquerer. The Anglo-Saxon loss to the Normans changed the course of history for both England and the world.

The first book in the series, Godwine Kingmaker, followed Godwine from when he was a child to become one of the most powerful men in England. Sons of Godwine continues the story of the family past his death toward the fatal battle at Hastings.

Harold, appropriately, is one of the most important voices. He comes across as a natural leader of men: charismatic, clever, and strong. As with all of us, however, he did not live in a vacuum. He had family, friends, and enemies. In this book, we see the bonds and tensions common to all families. This is especially the case with Tostig, who has ambitions of his own and, as we find out, is envious  of his brother. The voices of other family members, such as brothers Leofwine and Gyrth, are also heard.

Capturing a character’s voice is one of the difficult jobs of a writer. When a character tells the story in his own words (first person), the voice must be consistent throughout, the events must  be only what the character himself observes, and be unique so that, as when hearing a friend, the identity is instantly recognizable.

Rochelle has taken pains to differentiate the characters, from Harold’s strength to Tostig’s growing dissatisfaction with his brother. She does so not with melodramatic flourishes, but with subtle phrasings and the events that each character tells about. One good example is when Tostig, who is desperate to show he is in charge of his earldom, orders the hands of a group of brigands to be cut off. Is this the best option to show his authority? He thinks so. Other members of the family may have reservations.

And there is this comment from Tostig:

“I would guess the high point of Harold’s early career came when he conducted his Welsh campaign against Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. It was an altogether different kind of offensive: fighting against wild men who didn’t understand the first thing about real warfare. Harold would have had a difficult time of it, if I wasn’t there to help him.”

As always, Rochelle captures authentic history,. She shows how politics works in a time where violence, murder, and warfare are all acceptable tools for advancement. Where “natural rights” are nonexistent and entire communities can be killed for little or no reason. Where cruelty is common and accepted.

After one of his victories, Harold orders the enemy dead to be remembered by mutilating their bodies and “the men became accustomed to chopping off Welsh heads, and even made a gruesome game of it, tossing those trophies to each other rather than walking them over to the pile.”

Experiences of love and tenderness, such as many of us have known, also exist in this world. Times such as when you spend the night with a woman you love and “dawn came too quickly.” Or upon separation and one’s face shows “such a strange look” of love and pain.

And speaking of history…

One of the great unresolved questions of history is whether Harold or William had the best claim to the kingship of England. A related question concerns what was in an oath made by Harold on a trip to Normandy. Did he agree to support William?

Rochelle provides plausible answers to these questions, which I will not reveal here. The reader can form his own conclusion, as history continues its inevitable way in this continuing series.

 

Review for FATAL RIVALRY by Helen Skinner, She Reads Novels

This is the third and final novel in Mercedes Rochelle’s Last Great Saxon Earls trilogy, completing the story begun in Godwine Kingmaker and The Sons of Godwine.  Set in 11th century England, just before the Norman Conquest, Godwine Kingmaker told the story of Godwine, the powerful Earl of Wessex, while in The Sons of Godwine the focus switched to the Earl’s children – sons Harold, Tostig, Gyrth, Leofwine and Wulfnoth, and daughter Editha. Fatal Rivalry picks up where that book left off, describing the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

As the novel opens in 1064, Edward the Confessor, Editha’s husband, is still on the throne of England, but the question of his successor is on everybody’s minds. Editha’s brother Harold, who has inherited his father’s earldom of Wessex, has recently returned from Normandy, where he was made to swear an oath to support the claim of Duke William – not an oath Harold intends to keep, because he believes there is a better candidate for the throne: himself. History tells us that Harold will become king in 1066, only to be defeated by William at Hastings later that same year. Fatal Rivalry explores one theory as to why things went so disastrously wrong.

In The Sons of Godwine, we saw how Harold and his younger brother Tostig had been rivals since they were children; in this book the rivalry intensifies. As Earl of Northumbria, Tostig has become very unpopular with his people, particularly after attempting to raise taxes on Harold’s orders. When Tostig’s Northumbrian thegns rebel against him, King Edward sends Harold to negotiate with them. Seeing that the situation is hopeless, Harold agrees to their demands and Tostig is sent into exile. Unable to forgive his brother for siding against him, Tostig searches for new alliances overseas, finally joining forces with the Norwegian king, Harald Hardrada, and setting in motion a chain of events which contribute to Harold’s downfall.

Like the previous novel, this one is presented as the memoirs of the Godwineson brothers, with each one given a chance to narrate his own parts of the story. Leofwine and Gyrth have smaller roles to play, while Wulfnoth, held hostage at Duke William’s court in Normandy, makes only a few appearances – until the end, when he takes on the very important job of concluding his brothers’ stories. Understandably, it’s Harold and Tostig who get most of the attention. I’ve never read about Tostig in this much detail before and I did have some sympathy for him. I’m sure Harold was doing what he thought was in the best interests of the country, but to Tostig it must have seemed like an unforgivable betrayal, particularly when he learned that Harold had married the sister of Morcar, his replacement as Earl of Northumbria.

Fatal Rivalry is an interesting read and probably my favourite of the three books in this trilogy. Because the novel covers a relatively short period of time, it allows the author to go into a lot of detail in exploring the relationship between Harold and Tostig, the motivation behind their actions and how their rivalry could have been the reason why Harold was fighting a battle in the north of the country when William invaded from the south. I am not really a lover of battle scenes, but although there are two major battles which take place in this book – Stamford Bridge and then Senlac Hill (Hastings) – this is only one aspect of the novel and plenty of time is also spent on the more personal lives of the characters, such as Tostig’s relationship with his wife, Judith, and Harold’s marriages to Edith Swanneck and Ealdgyth of Mercia.

I think the Norman Conquest is fascinating to read about and, like many periods of history, there is so much left open to interpretation and debate. I will continue to look for more fiction set in this period and will also be interested to see what Mercedes Rochelle writes about next.

See more of Helen’s reviews at She Reads Novels

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New Release: FATAL RIVALRY

In 1066, the rivalry between two brothers brought England to its knees. When Duke William of Normandy landed at Pevensey on September 28, 1066, no one was there to resist him. King Harold Godwineson was in the north, fighting his brother Tostig and a fierce Viking invasion. How could this have happened? Why would Tostig turn traitor to wreak revenge on his brother?

The Sons of Godwine were not always enemies. It took a massive Northumbrian uprising to tear them apart, making Tostig an exile and Harold his sworn enemy. And when 1066 came to an end, all the Godwinesons were dead except one: Wulfnoth, hostage in Normandy. For two generations, Godwine and his sons were a mighty force, but their power faded away as the Anglo-Saxon era came to a close.

Available in Paperback and Kindle: http://a.co/838SFLc

Excerpt from FATAL RIVALRY, Part Three of The Last Great Saxon Earls trilogy

In this chapter, Harold has come back from his ineffectual meeting with the Northumbrian rebels and must relay their demands to King Edward and Tostig:

TOSTIG REMEMBERS

      Editha and I stood next to the wall watching as Harold entered the great hall accompanied by a group of men who were very nervous; the newcomers seemed reluctant to hand over their weapons as required by law. Finally they consented but stood in a little clump next to the door. I gasped, recognizing a few of them. They were some of the very thegns who undoubtedly murdered my household. Editha put a hand on my harm, shushing me.
Harold pulled away from them as soon as he could. He looked around for the king, then entered Edward’s presence chamber alone. I could see his face; it was drawn with worry lines. He was pacing the chamber when Editha and I came in behind him. Then he whirled around, expecting the king. He let out a big sigh when he saw me.
“Tostig,” he began. “Sit down.”
I refused. He wasn’t going to stand over me.
“Tostig,” he began again. “They are a rabble. They are ravaging the country around Northampton. And soon they will be moving on to Oxford.”
I looked at him in disbelief. “Then we must raise the fyrd,” I began hesitantly. “We need an army to put them down.”
The door slammed behind us. It was the king.
“What is this about the fyrd? What happened at Northampton?”
Harold kneeled before King Edward. “The rebels took you at your word,” he said. “They sent representatives to put their case to you in person.” He stood and looked over at me. “I could get nowhere with them.”
Edward looked troubled. “They will not accede to my demands? That they cease their ravaging?”
“For a short time. It appears they want to show you how powerful a force they are. I believe they are prepared to overrun East Anglia if you do not accept their terms.”
I stared at Harold, not believing what I was hearing.
“What are you saying?” I couldn’t help myself. “You let them dictate terms to you!” I could barely control my voice. For once, Edward did not stop me.
“Tostig,” Harold tried to cajole me in his most manipulative voice. “That’s why I wanted to prepare you for this. They were unruly, but they were united. They had many grievances. And more than that: I believe they have been plotting this rebellion for some time. Why else would Morcar be on hand to accept the earldom?”
My brother spoke out loud what I dared not think to myself. Before I had time to consider the consequences, he turned back to the king. “The men would present their complaints directly to you, in front of our assembly. I could not say nay.”
Editha had a hold of my arm. “Let them speak,” she whispered in my ear. “We must know what their plans are before we can foil them.”
My sister was always the voice of reason between Harold and me. I allowed her to pull me from the room. I stood aside as the king passed and my sister kept her hand on my arm. Edward made a majestic entry into the witan chamber with Harold; my sister and I followed. The assembly bowed to the king and the rebels came forward as one.
“Sire,” the spokesman said. “We come before you freemen born and bred. It is not in our blood to bow before the pride of any earl. We learned before our fathers to take no third choice between freedom or death.” He looked up at Edward, avoiding my eye.
“If you want to keep Northumbria in your allegiance, we insist you confirm the banishment of Tostig from our earldom and from the kingdom. If you persist on forcing Tostig on your unwilling subjects, we will deal with you as an enemy!”
At that, I lunged at his shaggy face, wanting to crush his throat in my bare hands. Harold grabbed me and forced my arms behind my back.
The bastard wasn’t finished. He bravely faced me while Harold held me firm. “We have already elected Morcar as our earl,” he shouted over the commotion. “You must confirm our election! If you yield to our demands, you will see what loyal subjects your Northumbrians can be, when ruled by a candidate of our own choosing.”
Staggered, I went limp in Harold’s arms. He let me go gently. I don’t think I believed what could happen—what was happening—until this moment. I stepped behind the king and used the back of his throne for support.
But the worst was yet to come. The hall was in an uproar, and Edward insisted that the Northumbrian deputation be removed from the room while their demands were discussed. At first, I had to listen to the same old accusations again, but Edward finally put a stop to that.
“Silence,” he shouted. “We are not here to determine why the Northumbrians revolted, but how to stop their depredations.”
That helped quiet the room down. “There is no justification for their illegal actions,” the king continued. “They have pillaged and killed my lawful subjects. They have risen up in rebellion against Tostig’s lawful rule. They must be punished.”
Finally! I stood straighter, more confident now that the king was in control.
Harold cleared his throat. “Sire,” he said, beginning slowly. “Are you speaking of civil war?”
Edward turned to my brother impatiently. “Call it what you will,” he said disdainfully. “These people must be chastised. They are in rebellion against their king!”
The room fell silent. Edward looked around at the witan. Where was his support?
I could feel myself losing patience, but I bit my tongue.
“Sire,” my brother ventured again. “What would you accomplish but more bloodshed? If you compelled the Northumbrians to take back the rule of Tostig, how would we enforce it?”
“Enforce it?” I exclaimed, no longer able to control myself. “What are you saying, brother?” I seized him by the arms and faced him, eye to eye. “We will enforce it with our soldiers!”
“We would have to lay waste to your whole earldom! Is that what you want?”
“If that’s what it takes, then yes!”
“Tostig, aren’t you listening? They won’t take you back!”
This couldn’t be my brother speaking! “I beggared myself for you,” I spat. “For your endless Welsh campaign, so you could come home with all the glory! Is this how you thank me?”
My brother ignored my taunt. Leaning to one side, he tried to look around me at the king. “Think of what they are threatening, Sire. They are threatening to ravage Northamptonshire as we argue. Think of what they are doing to our country. I was there. I heard how uncompromising they were. It might be better to consider their demands.”
I couldn’t believe my ears! I tightened my grip on his arms.
“You can’t be saying this!” I shouted in his face. “You must have instigated this rebellion! You! Who insisted I raise all the taxes! You knew what would happen! You must be in league with Edwin and Morcar! How could you turn on your own brother!”
The uproar continued, but Harold and I were locked in a private struggle. I stared him down; he was the first to look away.
“I swear!” he roared over the noise. “I swear to you that I knew nothing about this rebellion.”
“We already know what your oath is worth,” I growled. I doubt anyone heard me except Harold and King Edward.
But Harold was busy pointing up in the air and calling for attention. “I am willing to call oath-helpers to prove my innocence. I have witnesses! I swear I am innocent of this accusation!”
“All right, all right,” Edward consented. “That will not be necessary. Now, sit down.”
I didn’t agree with the king. I didn’t move. “My faithful brother.” I spat the words. “Support me in this, else you will lose my loyalty forever.”
Harold blanched. “Tostig,” he pleaded. “Give me time.”
“Sit, Earl Tostig,” the king remonstrated. “You must control your temper.”
I took a deep breath and backed away. It was then that I noticed the silence in the room. Frustrated, I sat down. My sister came up behind me and put a hand on my shoulder. That helped calm me a bit. For a moment.
One of Harold’s under-chieftains stood up. “Sire, it would be very difficult to raise an army so late in the year. How would we provision ourselves?”
“We cannot campaign in the winter,” another shouted.
My brother’s minions all murmured their agreement. Another stood up. “What good would it do for England if Wessex was to make war on Northumbria?” He turned around, nodding his head as others shouted that he was right. Someone else called out, “Why should we support a cast-off earl?”
I stood up at that, but Edward stood too, pointing in my direction.
“I do not call out the fyrd to support a cast-off earl. I call out the fyrd to support my Royal authority!”
It made sense, though I was a little dismayed to be so discounted.
“Those traitors need to be punished!” Edward’s voice was starting to sound like a whine again. I hated when he lost control. I took a step down and approached the assembly, trying my best to sound reasonable.
“King Edward speaks true,” I proclaimed in my most authoritative voice. “All the injured and dead are our countrymen.”
People started shouting at me, brandishing their fists. I bellowed back, to no avail. No one would listen to me.
“I command you to call out the whole force of England to my Royal Standard!” the king ordered, screaming over my head. Nobody heard. Nobody answered.
My arrogant brother just stood there, arms crossed, and waited for the noise to die down. In disgust, I went back to my seat.
Edward collapsed into his throne, his energy spent. After another few minutes, Harold moved to where I had been standing.
“The king requests that we call the fyrd,” he said to a restless but quieter crowd. “But we all would abstain from a civil war.” He turned and looked at me and I narrowed my eyes, glaring at him. “Our father would not do it fourteen years ago. It’s no different now. Our enemies across the sea would attack us at the first opportunity.”
Another stood up. “Even if we forced them to take Tostig back, who is to stop them from rebelling again?” Harold watched while the shouting started all over again.
My brother finally turned to King Edward. “Some of the rebels have crossed into my brother Gyrth’s earldom. They are headed for Oxford. I propose we call a witenagemot of the whole realm, and stop the renegades there before they progress any farther south. Then we can negotiate further.”
The king had sunk further into his throne. My advocate. My supporter. Edward nodded, looked away and waved his hand, granting Harold the power to call his assembly. I knew the signs. The meeting was finished. So was I.
As the crowd made their way out of the assembly hall, I went up to Harold. He didn’t want to look at me but he couldn’t help himself. He was drawn to me like a moth to a flame; my ire was such that he couldn’t avoid me, though he knew my righteous anger was going to burn deep. We’ve opposed each other before, but not like this.
“Brother,” I said to him. I couldn’t keep the threat from my voice. “I hope you bestow some sense on my Northumbrian traitors. Because if you do not, I swear to God Almighty that you will regret it for the rest of your life.”
Not trusting myself further, I turned on my heel and headed for the king’s personal door. Turning, I looked back and saw my sister, standing and glaring at Harold. At least she was on my side.

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Harold Marches to York, September 1066

Battle of Stamford Bridge: Cambridge University Library MS. Ee.iii.59

While working on my novel FATAL RIVALRY, I 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

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 novel, FATAL RIVALRY, Part 3 of The Last Great Saxon Earls. 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—appointed by Morcar, Tostig’s replacement. 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. After the conquest, in 1067, even though he was William the Conqueror’s hostage he was able to buy back his earldom. Alas, 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?

Harold Swears an Oath to William. Source: Wikimedia

Most of us lament the fate of Harold Godwineson (or Godwinson), last of the Anglo-Saxon kings killed at the Battle of Hastings. 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. Presumably 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.

William the Conqueror. Source: Wikimedia

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 his fellow hostage 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; 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! You can read all about it in FATAL RIVALRY.

 

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

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.
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