Ever wondered what dark secrets your characters hold in their hearts?
A conversation with my guy, Wulfhere, and a bit of help from English Civil War novelist MJ Logue’s Thankful Russell, reveals an interesting past.
So astonishingly enough, it seems I’m still alive, still writing, and Hollie’s still stuck in Yorkshire but he’s got an end in sight. Mostly the end of Scarborough Castle, and poor lamb, he has no idea what the New Modell’d Army has got in store for him next year, but – at least he might get to go home for a bit soon.
(He might also have to take the boy Hapless with him, if nothing else because the bloody idiot is hell-bent on spending his off-season lurking around the Rosemary Branch tavern in Islington writing seditious pamphlets. But that, as they say, is a whole other story…)
So I was chatting last night to my friend Paula Lofting, who writes the Sons Of The Wolf series, set in the eleventh century. In civilian life Paula’s…
For those who have not read any of my earlier posts about this puzzling enigmatic woman, Ælfgyva, whose image is portrayed in the Bayeux Tapestry with a priest, we have been exploring her possible identity to ascertain what her role was in the events of 1064-6. It is my aim to try and shed some light and interpret what or how she came to be sewn into this enigmatic tale of Harold’s fateful trip to Normandy. After discounting the known candidates except for one, it would appear that the identity of this Ælfgyva is Ælfgifu of Northampton. She was a consort of Cnut, enjoined to him in the more danico tradition. Marrying her in this way meant that Cnut could take another, more politically convenient wife at a later date, as he did when he married Emma of Normandy, to whom the English also referred to as Ælfgifu.
Just to recap what we have found out about this particular Ælfgifu in my previous posts, she was the daughter of Ælfhelm, a major ealdorman of Northumbria whose familial origins were Mercian. His mother was a wealthy woman named Wulfrun, but I have not been able to find a source for his father. It could be that his mother was of higher status, or his father had died when Ælfhelm was young. Regardless, it was obvious that Ælfgifu came from a very important family. Her father was put to death by his enemy Eadric Streona and her younger brothers were blinded. All this was done with the connivance of King Aethelred, and Ælfgifu may never have forgotten or forgiven this deed and it quite possibly could have shaped her personality from then on. (Incidentally, the office of earldorman was later replaced by the shire-reeve).
Because of her family’s influence in the in the north, it may have been expedient for the Danish invader, Swein of Denmark, to seek an alliance with them, taking advantage of the rift Ælfhelm’s death may have caused between them and Aethelred. So, it seems she was either given as a concubine to Swein’s son, Cnut, or handfastened to him; the latter being the most likely.
Handfasted wives were not necessarily cast off when the man later married politically, and the evidence is inclined to show that like Harold Godwinson, half a century later, Cnut kept his affections for Ælfgifu and did not wholly put her aside for Emma. In fact, initially, he may have considered her with great respect, if not affection; she had, after all, provided him with two heirs, Swein and Harald, named in respect for Cnut’s father and grandfather. When Swein was old enough, Cnut sent Ælfgifu with him as regent to rule in Norway. He may have done this to keep her out of the way of his relationship with Emma, though this is not founded in any source, but one can picture that the two women were serious rivals for Cnut’s affection and that they probably felt threatened by one another. On the other hand, Cnut may have simply been keeping the interests of the Northern thegns alive by continuing to honour her and the alliance with her family. Emma may have had the upper hand, however, being the recognised queen. And it is natural to think that Emma, an astute woman that she was, would not have agreed to marry Cnut if any of her future children by him were to not have precedence over Ælfgifu’s. One might have been forgiven for intuitively assuming that the nature of Ælfgifu of Northampton’s character was somewhat harsh when some years later she and Swein had to flee Norway for her apparent heavy-handed rule. The Norwegians rebelled against her heavy taxation and it seemed, preferred Magnus I as ruler to Cnut’s harridan. Her son, Swein, was to die in Denmark shortly after. In the Norwegian Ágrip, Ælfgifu is mentioned by the Skald Sigvatr, a contemporary of her’s:
Ælfgyfu’s time: long will the young man remember, when they at home ate ox’s food, and like the goats, ate rind
She may have died sometime around 1040, as nothing is heard of her after this. The story about her deception of Cnut, is strangely alluded to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Abingdon edition (C) where it is mentioned:
‘And Harold, who said that he was the son of Cnut – although it was not true-’
This appears to be referring to the story about Ælfgifu’s sons not being fathered by Cnut, already spoken about in PART IV of this mystery. In my search for the real Ælfgyva, I have discovered that the Encomium Emmae Reginae, commissioned by Queen Emma, makes the allegation that Harold was really the son of a servant girl smuggled into Ælfgifu’s bed chamber and passed off as Cnut’s son. John of Worcester elaborates further and tells us that Cnut’s sons by Ælfgifu were neither his nor hers, even, and that Ælfgifu, desperate to have a son, ordered that the new born son of a priest’s concubine be presented to Cnut as his own son by herself. This was the child called Swein. Harold, he states, was the son of a workman, like the one seen in the border underneath Ælfgyva’s scene in the tapestry (Bridgeford 2002). Bard McNulty (1980) first drew the patrons of the Tapestry to the theory that this was Ælfgifu of Northampton. He also theorizes that William and Harold had a discussion in the previous scene whereby Harold reassures William that the English will not call upon Harald of Norway to become king when Edward dies. I have already rejected this theory because apart from her connection with Norway, her connection to Harald Hardrada is neither tenuous nor existent.
What I do, however agree with is Bard McNulty’s idea that the Ælfgyva scene is not meant to be a sequel to the scene before it, but rather that it represents what they were discussing, an issue involving a priest and Ælfgyva. So, if they were not discussing Harald Hardrada, then what were they discussing that could possibly concern a long dead noble woman and a priest? And what had they to do with the events described in the tapestry, the events that led to the invasion of 1066, or Harold’s time in Normandy?
Let us think for a moment:
What if this whole thing was a case of mistaken identity, and that the right story was projected on to the wrong lady? Or that the wrong lady was associated with the wrong Ælfgifu? The plot thickens even more, so stay tuned for the final part in this mystery. Can we solve it? You’ll have to wait until the next instalment is posted.
Encomium Emmae Reginae
John of Worcester Chronicon ex chronicis
Bridgeford A, 1066 The Hidden History in the Tapestry
J Bard McNulty, Visual Meaning in the Bayeux Tapestry: Problems and Solutions in PicturingHistory (Studies in French Civilization)
This Editor’s Choice from the EHFA Archives was originally published on January 23, 2018.
The woman in the Bayeux Tapestry called Ælfgyva has given commentators and historians alike, food for thought for as long as the Bayeux Tapestry has been studied. As we have seen in the earlier chapters, there have been plenty of Ælfgyvas to choose from, but none quite fits the bill as much as Ælfgifu of Northampton. We have discounted the Queen Emma/Aelfgifu version, and also that Earl Harold had any daughter or sister of that name. I have also set aside the idea that the lady may have been a child of William’s, offered to Harold as a wife in return for an alliance.
Ælfgifu was a purely English name and Ælfgyva, being the Latinised version, was used instead of its English counterpart, as the text on the BT is written in Latin. Although a possibility, it was not likely that such a name would have been given to a Norman woman, especially the daughter of William, whose daughters were called, Adela, Adeliza, Constance, Agatha and Cecilia, and none were given an English name, as far as we know.
Edward Freeman, writing in 1869, suggests that the woman they are discussing was a lady at the duke’s palace, and the idea that a bride for Harold was discussed, shouldn’t necessarily be discounted. However, it seems unlikely that if such a lady was chosen from one of the duke’s daughters, she would have been portrayed with lewd men underneath her image pointing up her dress. One thing to remember, the name Ælfgyva means noble-gift in Anglo-Saxon, and might have been used to refer to a lady of noble birth, in which case her name might not necessarily be Ælfgyva, but a sort of title.
So, the wording on the Tapestry, could actually be meant to be taken as A Priest and a Noble Lady, in which case she could have easily have been anyone at the court of William’s, but, unfortunately, we will never know.
So, why then does Ælfgifu of Northampton seem the likeliest candidate to match the mysterious lady on the Tapestry? What is it about this Ælfgifu that draws me to believe that she is the one? There are several versions of the scandal which Ælfgifu of Northampton was involved in, but Florence of Worcester tells us an interesting tale of the first wife of Cnut, the said Ælfgifu of Northampton. According to his writings, she was said to have passed off the bastard child of a priest as Cnut’s son, after failing to provide an heir of her own. This child was called Swein.
Later, Worcester states that she passed off another ‘son’, Harold Harefoot, who was a child of a workman, or a cobbler. Interestingly, if we look once again at the image of Ælfgyva and the priest, we see that in the lower border a naked figure of a man with a rather large member, is mimicking the stance and gesture of the priest. There is also another image of a naked workman. The priest, who touches her face, is either stroking her cheek, or slapping her. The scene is also iconographic, which means it is supposed to be a representation of what perhaps, William and Harold may have been discussing in the previous scene, as I have already said in Part III.
Unlike the other scenes in the tapestry, this one is not to be viewed as part of the story but more as alluding to some sexual scandal. Interpreting the face fondling/slapping aspect is a bone of contention, however. At first, I favoured the idea that the priest was slapping her but upon further research I came across an intriguing suggestion submitted by J Bard McNulty in the Lady Ælfgyva in The Bayeux Tapestry (1980).
So, if we accept that the woman referred to in the tapestry must be Aelfgifu of Northampton, we have to ponder upon why on earth Harold and William would be discussing her at this stage of the story. Aelfgifu would have been long dead at the time of this meeting (around the autumn of 1064). But let us not discount her, for she was, like her counterpart and rival, Emma of Normandy, a formidable woman. Unfortunately for her, she was not as tactful or astute as Emma.
Cnut had most likely married Ælfgifu in the more-danico fashion, commonly known as a handfasting, rather than a marriage that is recognised by the church. We believe this, as he was later able to marry Emma, despite already being tied to Ælfgifu. A handfasted wife was, by law, legitimate, as were any children she had. However, it was customary in those times to wed traditionally for love, or for an alliance that would expediate a man’s cause, then later, marry for political reasons as Harold Godwinson did with Aldith of Mercia, to gain the support of her brothers. Cnut needed support in his early days as ruler, and had married Ælfgifu to claim the loyalty of her father’s supporters whom were opposed to Æthelred; the king had killed her father and blinded her brother. Cnut must have initially valued Ælfgifu and her children by him, for he sent her and her eldest son, Swein, to rule Norway as his representatives, and as Swein was a mere child at the time, Ælfgigu was to act as regent. But she was unpopular with the Norwegians, her rule being ruthless and harsh, so, after some years, she and Swein were driven out of Norway, and Magnus the Good, replaced Swein as King of Norway. It would be interesting to know if Cnut’s feelings toward Ælfgifu would have changed after she lost Norway for him.
Eventually, Magnus the Good would make a treaty with Cnut’s son by Emma, Harthacnut, and it was this treaty that Tostig may have used to persuade Harald Hardrada to lay claim to the English throne in 1066. Harthacnut and Magnus of Norway were said to have made an oath to each other that should one of them die, the other would inherit all the other’s kingdoms, should the deceased die without issue. Although Magnus claimed his right to England, he never pursued it beyond a threat after Harthacnut died. McNulty’s theory concerning this scene, centres around what the two men (Harold and William) might be discussing. William broaches the subject of the English succession with Harold, and they are conferring about the claimants to the throne, one of which was Harald Hardrada. Harold reassures William that he has nothing to worry about, because of the scandal of the sons of Cnut that weren’t really the sons of Cnut. Sounds plausible? Nope, no, and nada. Confusing? Definitely. What had Ælfgifu’s indiscretion got to do with Hardrada’s claim to the throne? After all, she was not mother to Harthacnut who had made the oath with Magnus, and Emma of Normandy, who was the mother of Harthacnut, was not the Ælfgifu depicted in the scandal with the priest and the workman. What a great intrigue this is turning out to be. Just when I think I am there, another ‘but’ pops up! And in the immortal words of Sr Walter Scott:
Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive
Stay tuned for the next part of the intrigue, PART FIVE
Hello Stephanie. You write in no particular time frame, but the world you have created for your characters has a very real feel to it in terms of history. It’s recognisable as a medieval world, but it’s one of your own imagination. Can you tell us a little more about the world in which your character, the girl, Mêlie, lives, and a bit about her, and what her place in this world is? We know she is a slave, but how did she become to be one?
My series (and my story) is classified as fantasy, but that’s not really a fair or full picture. It’s more historical than fantasy, but the fact that it’s purely fictional – the settings and characters are 100% imagined – makes it fantasy despite there being no magic, creatures, etc. So its perhaps more accurate to say that I write fiction, but that’s not really an acceptable category in marketing. The industry requires a little more nuance than that.
My main area of historical interest is medieval Britain, specifically the end of that era just before the Tudors. My series had two primary inspirations: Disney’s Aladdin meets the Wars of the Roses. The Wars of the Roses might be more evident to those who have read the books, but the Aladdin reference is a longer explanation. I’ll simply refer to another article I wrote to explain what’s behind this reference!
The fictional kingdom in this story is Agrius, a large island nation off the eastern coast of a broader continent. It has a very temperate climate with mountains in the centre of the island. The great plains of the north serve as a sort of “breadbasket” for the island, where the east is the hotbed of the slaving industry. Prille is the major city in the south and the home of Bellsea Palace where the king lives.
I rooted the politics of Agrius in a dynastic war, much like the Houses of York and Lancaster in England. Going back several generations from the setting of the story takes us to King Ancin. He was an impatient man, brooding and dangerous. His reign was defined by war, for he spent most of it away from Agrius, fighting his enemies. As a result, there was little opportunity to produce an heir. He had other children, but none legitimate. The eldest of these was named Sajen, born to Ela, daughter of one of Ancin’s nobles on the north coast. Ancin’s wife and queen, Thyra, however, failed to provide him with a legitimate son.
One day Thyra discovered she was with child, and Agrius celebrated the news. Everything progressed as it should, but as had always been the poor woman’s fate, her good fortune turned against her. Not long after she gave birth to Vitus, the legitimate heir to the throne of Agrius, King Ancin died. No one expected it, and chaos erupted in Agrius. Someone needed to wear the crown, and most people supported Vitus as prescribed by law. But because he was just a babe, he couldn’t act for himself. Seeing his opportunity, Sajen snatched up his father’s crown.
Not wanting to fight a costly war to dethrone him, most in the kingdom looked the other way during his coronation. Kingdoms ruled by a queen regent raising an infant king are insecure ones. In the end, Thyra fled, fearing for Vitus’ life, knowing he would be a threat to Sajen’s security. She remained obscure, and Vitus stayed alive. The conflict between the heirs of Sajen and Vitus result in the major complications of my series.
It was within this world of dynastic struggle that slavery existed and had for generations. I never really explore in the books where it came from or how it ended up in Agrius. Slavery functioned in Agrius as a generation system. If you were born to a slave, you became a slave. And yet, there was hope. A slave could purchase his or her own freedom (or could have it purchased by someone else). In Anscher’s case, he was a freeman, and he hoped to purchase Mêlie’s freedom.
It seems for a young slave girl, the world is very scary, and often dangerous. It struck me that Mêlie must have thought she had died and gone to heaven when Anscher comes along and wants to marry her.
‘As he walked away, the full moon broke out from behind the heavy clouds, and a silvery light washed over Anscher’s retreating figure.She knew then that she would wed him.’
She must have seen this as a ray of hope that at last her way out of being a slave would be to become a freeman’s wife. It really touched me because you get a terrible sense of gloom of what it must have been like to have no way out of the misery of one’s life.
Mêlie is a strong girl, despite her slight, malnourished form. Hardship was a way of life for her, and she knew little more than misery. Death surrounded her. She’d lost her elder brother, and soon other members of her family were to follow. Anscher enters her life at a pivotal point, when things could have gone badly for her. Not only was she a slave, but she was also a woman. And despite her strength, she still must play the hand she’s given as she navigates the brutal world she inhabits. Being a woman and a slave implied that men could treat her however they liked; as chattel or a commodity to be used for pleasure and leisure. So when Anscher saves her, she is wary of him at first. She has no reason to believe he is unlike any other man she encounters. But when he proves to be different, reveals his integrity instead, she can’t believe her good fortune. That ray of sunshine brightens her otherwise gloomy world, and she goes about her days from thereon with light steps. She’s been given hope.
I believe the tale is a side-story from your Crowns of Destiny series about two royal sisters and a prince who becomes a king. Can you tell the reader how the idea of slavery fits into that world? And how, when the idea of a ghost anthology was first thought of, what inspired you to write Mêlie into the story?
Slavery provides much of the driving narrative tension in my second novel, The King’s Daughter. It’s a societal problem that my main characters must wrestle with, and like so many societal problems, the answer is vastly complex. We always want simple, straightforward answers to our society’s ills, but unfortunately simple answers aren’t realistic. My characters face the question of ridding their kingdom of a moral evil when that evil also underpins the economic foundation of their world. How do you go about getting things onto a better moral footing without collapsing everything else, creating even bigger problems?
When we as authors decided to write this anthology, I knew I wanted to write my story centred at one of my favourite locations from The King’s Furies — Croilton Castle in the Honor of Cilgaron on the east coast of Agrius (which was inspired by Raglan Castle). The lord of that castle is not a particularly nice man. As a starting point for my story, I asked myself, “What happened at Croilton when all the slaves were freed?” Lyseby, the city nearest the castle, is Agrius’ center of slaving. Lyseby, as my characters would know it, would witness an enormous and cataclysmic change. How would Lord Cilgaron react? Would he play nicely with the edict of his king and queen?
I decided that no, he would not. And thus, my short story was born. What would it have been like to be a slave living and working at the seat of Lord Cilgaron’s slaving empire? And how could I make it a ghost story? The answer seemed pretty obvious to me.
We see the story wholly through the eyes of Mêlie, the slave girl. She is such a tragic character. She goes through so much, losing her friends, her lover who seems to have turned against her. Ghost stories are often tragic but is this how you intended to portray her, as a tragic femme fatale almost?
First, I have to explain that one of my all-time favourite novels is Jane Eyre. To say I love tragedies is kind of an understatement. So yes, of course I intentionally set out to write her in that way. Digging into pain gives authors almost immediate access to a reader’s heart, and it’s difficult not to want to capitalise on that instant connection. When you write about pain, you know you stand on common ground with humanity, for who among us has never experienced pain? Most of the time, we see our characters rise above the pain and tragedy of their story, overcoming the obstacles. And there is certainly a lot of satisfaction in that. But this was a ghost story anthology, and I needed to find a different way to get my character through the pain, ending it on a sweet, if sad, note.
I absolutely loved the Crowns of Destiny series and was sorry when the last book, The King’s Furies, finished. It was one of the best pieces of literature I’d read for some time. Your writing style, your storytelling and the characters, not to mention the world-building, it was superb. I’d love to read more about Casmir and Irisa. You gave a little taster at the end of the King’s Furies for what happens to them. However, it would be lovely to read more books in the series. I’d love to see more about the peoples of Croilton and what happens to them too. What are the chances of that happening?
Writing about Casmir and Irisa, along with other family members in my three books, was one of the biggest and most surprising delights in my writing. Casmir was one of those characters that dominated his scenes. I’d never intended to give him his own book, but he muscled his way in, and I could not deny him. He turned into my favourite character. (Can authors admit this without making their other “children” extraordinarily irate with them?) Leaving him to begin work on my fantasy series inspired by Sargon of Akkad and ancient Mesopotamia was very difficult. I was actually stuck in my writing for so long because I wasn’t clicking with my new characters in the same way I clicked with Casmir!
However, because I loved the world and setting, the characters and stories of the Crowns of Destiny series so much, I couldn’t leave them completely. I knew that Casmir and Irisa’s time in the spotlight was done, but I didn’t leave myself without options. As I wrote the ending of The King’s Furies, I intentionally wrote an ending that would allow me to pursue these characters in a spinoff series. I began the first book in the series before setting it aside to begin work on what is now my current work-in-progress. I haven’t abandoned it though. I do fully intend to get back to it after I finish my current trilogy. It won’t feature Casmir, but he will definitely make appearances.
Thank you, Stephanie for visiting my blog and providing us with some great answers!
It was my pleasure! You asked some great questions. Thanks for having me! Can I have some cake now?
Being first and foremost a lover of history, Stephanie’s writing draws on her knowledge of history even while set in purely fictional places existing only in her imagination. Inspired by classic literature, epic fantasy, as well as the historical fiction of authors like Sharon Kay Penman, Anya Seton, and Bernard Cornwell, Stephanie’s books are filled with action and romance, loyalty and betrayal. Her writing takes on a cadence that is sometimes literary, sometimes genre fiction, relying on deeply drawn and complex characters while exploring the subtleties of imperfect people living in a gritty, sometimes dark world. Her unique blend of non-magical fantasy fiction inspired by genuine history ensures that her books are sure to please of historical fiction and epic fantasy literature alike.
Stephanie grew up in the Lincoln, Nebraska. After graduating college, she worked as an international trade and antitrust paralegal in Washington, D.C. She now lives with her husband, their two children, and two dogs in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
And don’t forget Sharon Bennett Connolly is back tomorrow hosting Samantha Wilcoxson for our final hop, but if you’ve missed any of the stops along the way, below is a schedule so you can click on the links and catch up with them all!#
From best-selling historical fiction novelist, Eric Schumacher, comes the second volume in Olaf’s Saga: the adrenaline-charged story of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the kingdom of the Rus.
AD 968. It has been ten summers since the noble sons of the North, Olaf and Torgil, were driven from their homeland by the treachery of the Norse king, Harald Eriksson. Having then escaped the horrors of slavery in Estland, they now fight among the Rus in the company of Olaf’s uncle, Sigurd.
It will be some of the bloodiest years in Rus history. The Grand Prince, Sviatoslav, is hungry for land, riches, and power, but his unending campaigns are leaving the corpses of thousands in their wakes. From the siege of Konugard to the battlefields of ancient Bulgaria, Olaf and Torgil struggle to stay alive in Sigurd’s Swords, the riveting sequel to Forged by Iron.
Sigurd’s Swords is a fabulous story of warrior life in tenth century.
I didn’t know too much about the history of the Rus and the Slavs so I was keen to get to grips with this book.
The story is told through the eyes of Torgil, the noble lad charged with keeping an eye on his younger childhood friend, Olaf, the son of a Norse king, driven from his land into exile. The subtitle of the book gave me the impression that the main character would be Olaf but that was not the case of course as this turns out to be very much more Torgil’s saga rather than Olaf’s.
The two youths couldn’t be more unalike, Olaf being the likeable but selfish, slightly narcissistic trouble maker and Torgil the more sensitive, sensible and deeply passionate one. Schumacher’s portrayal of two young warriors finding their way in the world they should never have been thrown into is well done. Their destiny would have been much different had it not been for the betrayal of Harald Eriksson.
With them is the girl, Turid, for whom Torgil’s love goes unrequited – or perhaps it doesn’t, and Turid just does’t realise it. Her rejection of his love has more to do with the fact that she wants to be a warrior than it has to do with her not being attracted to him – but throughout their adventures the sexual tension between them is palpable and ads an interesting, if not steamy, romantic layer to Schumacher’s tale.
I don’t know much about the places he is depicting, but Schumacher builds his world confidently and convincingly, giving you a snapshot of everyday life in the Rus world adding in the visceral sights and smells of that time. His portrayal of Olaf’s uncle Sigurd’s warrior band and their lives, gives you that feeling that he knows his subject. His ability to create a believable environment is credit to him and the battle scenes are well written showing his extensive knowledge of Viking Age combat.
In this riveting sequel to Forged in Iron, we see intrigue, sieges, battles on the ground, and combat at sea. Also story of camaraderie and friendship, and a dash of fatal attraction. Schumacher carefully crafts his story telling with his pleasantly drawn characters, making this an engrossing, enthralling read.
Not having read the first book had put me somewhat at a disadvantage, however it was still an enjoyable historical romp and did not hinder the plot for me in anyway. Of course it would have been better to read them in order and I do think potential readers should consider reading book one first. That aside, I recommend anyone who enjoys adventures of Dark Age warriors and the Viking sagas read this.
Eric Schumacher (1968 – ) is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.
At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God’s Hammer, was published in 2005.