The Battle of Hereford – Part One: The story of two men and a king

a-motte-and-bailey-with-timber-defences-many-were-built-like-this-following-the-norman-invasion-of-1066Ralph de Mantes was the son of King Edward’s sister, Godgifu, known commonly as Goda. Goda was the king’s full sister, therefore a daughter of Æthelred the Unræd, and her son, Ralph, was fathered by Count Drogo of Mantes, Goda’s first husband. As such, Ralph could have been considered in line for the royal throne of England, however, he doesn’t seem to have been referred to as ‘ætheling‘, at least there is not any documented evidence. Possibly being born on the distaff side of the royal house may not have helped his cause – plus the fact he was a Norman. Whether or not Ralph, whom it was said Edward was very fond of, had aspirations to the throne of England, it is not known, however he was appointed Earl of Hereford in 1052 and he had a project in mind when he took up office, to use Norman-style defence works along the difficult to manage Welsh marches.

Due to the troublesome Welsh incursions along the Herefordshire and Welsh borders, Ralph and his followers, Richard FitzScrob and Osbern de Pentecost began to ‘Normanise’ the county and three castles were built in Herefordshire, Richard’s Castle, and Ewyas Harold Castle as well as the castle built in the town of Hereford.  These castles are two of only four known pre-Conquest castles, the other two being Hereford Castle and Clavering in Essex. Ewyas Harold Castle is thought to be the first in England.   One can’t help but wonder if this was an attempt on Ralph’s behalf to ingratiate himself to the English and his uncle, in order to raise his standing – and perhaps garner some support in regards to the succession of the throne. If it was, it was all going to come crashing down around him, soon.

In 1055, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn (or Griffith as its pronounced in Welsh) was the small-time king of Gwynedd at this time. He was soon, to become self-styled king of Wales through killing off all the other regional kings in Wales. He was born around 1013, which by 1055, would make him around 42 or 43 and well on the way to ‘medieval old age.’ However by this time, he still appeared to be a very robust man. He came to be known as the ‘Shield of the Britons’ for uniting Wales against the English, but unfortunately when he died, his subjects were unable to maintain what he had built up in a united Wales. He  was his father’s only son, however his mother, Angharad, remarried after Llywelyn’s death in 1023 and had two brothers, Rhiwallon and Bleddyn, and a sister for Gruffudd. On the death of Gruffudd’s father, Iago ap Idwal took over power in Gwynnedd.

Gruffudd  was to claim kingship of Gwynedd in 1039. He’d already held a position of power within Powys and when  Iago ab Idwal was supposedly killed by his own men, Gruffudd expanded in to Gwynedd . This may have been a deal he had with the men of Gwynedd. It was quite common to kill a ruler off when he was getting too big for his boots, as Gruffudd was later to see when he was also killed by his own men. By the summer of 1055, Gruffudd had rid himself of his other rival, Gruffudd ap Rhydderch, the king of the Deheubarth. This paved the way for him to take the title of King of all Wales.

Hywell Dda
Gruffudd ap Llywelyn

Alfgar,  son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia and the legendary Godiva of the naked horse ride fame, appears to have been an unruly, truculent man, envious of the success the Godwins were  having. He found himself exiled after what seems to have been an angry outburst during the witan’s meeting of Easter 1055 to decide a new earl for Northumberland. Charged with treason and stripped of all his wealth and lands, he fled to Ireland to raise a mercenary force. Like the Godwinsons before him, he was determined to return to England by force if he had to.  With 18 Hiberno/Norse ships filled with warriors, he sought out Gruffudd ap Llywelyn in Rhuddlan to ally himself with him for an invasion of England, but not before helping Gruffudd in his quest to become king of all Wales by defeating and killing his opponent in the kingdom of Deheubarth.  Interestingly, Gruffudd, had been his family’s natural enemy having killed Edwin, Alfgar’s uncle in an ambush in 1040, and also driven Hywel out of Powys and carrying off Hywel’s wife, who’d been a kinswoman of Leofric. But past recriminations seem to matter not when a man wanted to fight for his land and what he owned.

The Welsh had long been raiding across the borders and causing chaos for some time, which had caused Ralph to build his castle in Hereford and encouraged other Normans to do the same. He was also bent on training the local thegns to fight on horseback to emulate the continental style of combat. Most people believe that the English preferred to fight on foot, and mostly this seems to be so, however it may not have been unheard of for the English to go into battle on horseback. The tactics however, were not known, but in this case, Ralph wanted to create a continental-style force to combat the continuing harassment from across the Welsh border.
Earl on horse

What would a mounted ‘chevalier’ have appeared like and how would he have fought? Most likely he would go into battle with a few javelins to project at the enemy, or/and a spear to skewer them with. His sword or hand-axe would be for closer hand to hand fighting when proximity to his opponent made the longer arms too difficult to use. His tunic would need to be split in the front to allow comfortability in the saddle. The maille he wore would have to be longer than the byrnie to protect his legs, he would also use a kite shield, more manageable than a round shield on a horse. He would need to dexterous enough to be able to control his horse and manage various weapons on horseback. He would need years of training to achieve the sort of horsemanship that was seen at Hastings 11 years later. Those men would have been training from around 12/14, something these English men would mostly have lacked.

Ralph had been working on his Norman style defences too, building wooden structures with palisades, the pre-runner to castles. These would have consisted of a motte, a mound of earth with a towered structure within an inner bailey. The wooden fencing would have contained ramparts and lookouts.  Ralph was obviously out to impress his uncle, the king, and may have considered himself worthy of being his successor. A great resounding defeat against the Welsh might have brought him the adulation and respect that he desired. Perhaps it would have gained him the title atheling. Unfortunately for Ralph, it was not to be.

 

References

Barlow F (1997) Edward the Confessor (2nd ed) Yale University Press, US.

https://htt.herefordshire.gov.uk/herefordshires-past/the-medieval-period/castles/)

Stenton F. 1971 Anglo-Saxon England (3rd ed) Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Swanton M (2000) The Anglo Saxon Chronicles (2nd ed) Phoenix Press, London.

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The Battle of Dunsinane: MacBeth Vs Malcolm Canmore

Malcolm

July 27th – Malcolm, the exiled son of King Duncan I, marshalled thousands of English and Danish warriors in Birnam Wood, in Perthshire, where he had come, supported by his kinsman Siward, Earl of Northumbria to defeat the king of Alba. Nearby, a few miles from them, MacBeth was camped on Dunsinane Hill, expecting to meet Malcolm in battle. This was meant to be the decisive fight that would see Malcolm take back the crown from the man who was said to have killed his father, Duncan, in battle. But although Malcolm’s troops slaughtered 3000 of MacBeth’s men, MacBeth was not done, and it was not for another 4 years before Malcolm would wear the crown of Alba, becoming Malcolm III, King of Alba.

Duncan 1
Duncan I

Following the death of his father, Duncan I, in 1040 at the hands of MacBeth, Malcolm fled to his kinsman, Siward, Earl of Northumbria. Malcolm’s mother, a cousin of Siward, sadly, died in childbirth. Another brother, Donald Ban, was said to have fled to the Hebrides. Malcolm, who was to become known as Malcolm Canmore (meaning bighead) grew up at the English court of Edward the Confessor. It was there that he probably made friends with Tostig Godwinson who was his uncle’s successor in Northumbria after his death in 1055 which may account for their closeness when Tostig later ruled as earl in the north. In 1054, Edward the Confessor, seeing an opportunity to have a friendly face in Scotland, agreed to assist Malcolm in his bid for revenge against MacBeth. Edward allowed Siward to march north into Scotland with thousands of English soldiers, reputed to be 10,000 strong, which, if true, was generous, considering the king was able to call on 14,000 men for the select fyrd.

Macbeth_of_Scotland_(Holyrood)

MacBeth, Mormaer of Moray, was Malcolm’s older adversary (mormaer meaning the equivalent of an earl). He had killed Malcolm’s father in 1040, most likely in battle, or after a pursuit. The reason for the hostility between the two men was said to have been something to do with Donald’s rather violent, unkingly, behaviour. Malcolm, Duncan’s father, had been a somewhat cruel and ruthless man, and Duncan had gone the same way, subjecting his people to rampaging around their lands, stealing  their property, and offering them death and destruction if they opposed him or his men. MacBeth’s tennants demanded that MacBeth do his duty to protect them, and he decided to put an end to this undesirable king’s doings. With the support of Thorfinn of Orkney, known as the Mighty, his end came in 1040 somewhere near Elgin or Forres. This led to the Bigheaded one fleeing to England, although his head might not have been that big then,  and MacBeth ruled sensibly and peaceably for 17 years over Alba as Scotland was then known.

_DSC6161

Thorfinn of Orkney, also ruler of Caithness, and a kinsman of Duncan, had more reason to be hostile to MacBeth, but he too had been attacked, unsuccesfully, by Duncan and swore allegiance to MacBeth. The two men joined forces to bring peace and order to the kingdoms sending out small bands of men to oversee that justice was carried out. MacBeth also brought some social reforms to Alba, seeing to it that widows received a pension and orphans, benefits. Doesn’t sound like the ambitious cousin murdering, avaricious mad man of Shakespeare, does it? Marianus Scottus, the Irish chronicler, tells us that MacBeth went to Rome and gave coins to the homeless in the streets there. A very nice man indeed with a social conscience.

Tony Harmsworth  asks this question: with all these good deeds, how did Shakespeare get it so wrong? This is what he says:

“William Shakespeare, was reading the History of Scotland by Holinshed and was living under the rule of King James – you can imagine the Bard interpreting events as Macbeth murdering the king and then stealing the throne from the rightful heir.”

Therefore, it seems, it was a case of making the facts fit the political situation of the time.

Harmsworth claims in his book, Scotland’s Bloody History, that when MacBeth returned from Rome c 1050/51, he pushed Alba’s borders with a substantial army all the way down to Yorkshire and Lancashire; however Harmsworth does not clarify his sources for this, and it is difficult to know the veracity of this information, especially when none of the Anglo-Saxon chronicles mention it. If there is any truth in this, it might have been one of the reasons why Edward allowed Siward to lead the fyrd, including many of his own personal warriors into Scotland to support Malcolm against MacBeth.

Known today as MacBeth, his real name in Medieval Gaelic was Mac Bethad mac Findlaích. His father Findlaich was Mormaer of Moray, and was said to have been murdered by a usurping cousin, Gille Coemgáin in 1032. MacBeth cornered him and his men and got his revenge by burning them in a hall. He then married Gruoch, the wife of  Gille Coemgáin and adopted her son Lulach. Gruoch was also of royal blood and so MacBeth could have had a claim on both his own and his wife’s lineage. He has been thought by some to have also been Thorfinn the Mighty. In fact Dorothy Dunnett, the famous historical fiction writer of the 80’s and 90’s writes about Thorfinn in her book, The King Hereafter, as being one and the same as MacBeth based on the fact that they are never mentioned together in the chronicles.

Malcolm was probably around somewhere between the age of 18-25 when he made his expedition into his old homeland with a large army of professional fighters at his back and his uncle Siward at his side. Growing up in the English courts, he would have learned the ways of warriors, trained to fight with numerous weapons and battle strategics. No doubt the doughty character of his uncle would come in use in his first taste of war.

The English army were said to have crossed the river Tweed, raiding, plundering as they went, a sure way to win hearts and minds, but that’s how it was done in those days. According to Hollingshed, whilst planning his strategy in Birnam Wood, Malcolm was hit with the idea of using branches of cut trees as camouflage to approach MacBeth’s position, camped nearby with an elite bodyguard. Harmsworth mentions that this is one of the earliest recorded use of camouflage in battle. This is where Shakespeare gets his lines: Dunsinane-Hill

It is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D (Worcester) that:

Siward travelled forth with a great raiding ship army, and raiding land-army, and fought against the Scots and put to flight the king, MacBeth, and killed all that was best there in the land…

The fact that they took ships as well, does suggest a large scale invasion. The battle that took place was also said to have been ‘hard-fought’ and the chronicle goes on to say:

…and led away from there such a great warbooty as no man had ever got before; but his [Siward] son Osbern and his sister’s son, Siward, and some of his huscarles and also the king’s, were killed on the Day of the Seven Sleepers.

The chronicle makes no mention of Malcolm or the purpose of the expedition, which seems to have been to restore Malcolm to his rightful birthright of king of the Scots. Florence of Worcester mentions that Siward, by the King’s orders (Edward the Confessor), made Malcolm king (Florence refers to him as the son of the king of the Cumbrians). Chronicle C, (Abingdon) like the D, mentions Earl Siward only, and fails to mention any ships. It mentions that much slaughter of the Scots was made there and also that many Danish and English died, indicating that both many men died on both sides and that the Danes were probably Siward’s men, being a Dane himself. What was wrong with the English monks that they failed to mention Malcolm’s achievements in this? There was definitely an economy among the monks in their establishment of facts when writing the chronicles in the 11thc! Would mentioning Malcolm’s name overshadow the doings of the English so badly, after all, he was but one Scotsman, and there were plenty of Anglo-Danes. One has to wonder at this seemingly jealousness that riddles the chronicles!

Dunsinane Hill is located near the village of Collace in Perthshire. It has the remains of two early forts and the highest point on the hill is 1020 feet. We do not know where MacBeth was camped, or whether he was in the fort – depending on what state the fort was in – but it seems that if Malcolm’s army were able to sneak up on them, then they were vulnerable so probably not surrounded by defences. It was said that MacBeth’s guard surrounded him and defended him as best they could but they were defeated 3000 – 1,500, apparently, but MacBeth eventually got away to safety and spent the next 3 years on the run.

Malcolm attended a meeting of the mormaers who elected MacBeth’s stepson Lulach as king – perhaps thinking that MacBeth was dead – or that it was time to move on – who knows? Malcolm, of course, was not happy about this, seeing as he had fought really hard to win. He still had a support from the English soldiers, so he chased Lulach, if the king was not to be him, then he would kill whoever it was. And Lulach was – caught and killed – by Malcolm, another victim in the long line of murdered Scots kings. As far as killing their kings went, the Scots seemed to be pretty good at it, perhaps better than the English.

Three years after Dunsinane, MacBeth was finally cornered and killed at Lumphanen and his 17 year reign came to an end. There has to be a moral to this story, that being: ‘you will get yours eventually’. And whatever happened, Malcolm was eventually crowned, not because it was his birthright, but because of the tanistry system that operated in Scotland at this time in which a male successor was elected from among the royal family including extended branches – much like the Anglo-Saxon aethelings. 

 

 

Leofgar – Death in the Valleys

 

Saxon bishop (Cuth)
A picture of how Gruffudd might have looked (actually Hywel Dda)

October 1055 saw Earl Ralph’s magnificent defeat by the allied forces of Alfgar of Mercia and Gruffudd, self-proclaimed King of Cymru (Wales). The Battle took place 2 miles out of Hereford and during the aftermath of the English’ defeat, Hereford was razed to the ground. Ralph, otherwise known as Ralph de Mantes, and after this unmitigated disaster, Ralph the Timid, was Edward the Confessor’s nephew by his sister Goda. He may have fancied himself as the king’s heir, seeing as in 1055, the king and queen had failed to produce one and there were none likely to appear on the horizon, soon. Gruffudd had been causing trouble along the Welsh border for decades and was to provide Ralph with an opportunity to show what he was made of, so, having been granted the Earldom of Herefordshire, he set up a Norman-style defence along the marcher lands. This involved motte and bailey wooden castles, palisaded around a tower on a mound within a courtyard.

hereford1055_large
Having fought his way to supremacy in the north of Wales, Gruffudd ap Llywellyn decided to consolidate his power by embarking on a mission to exterminate his opponents in the south of Wales. This came at a very good time for the Mercian lord, for having been outlawed for unknown treason(1), Alfgar was in need of a powerful ally that would aid him in his restoration to power in England. And Gruffudd, having found the south of his kingdom the hardest battle to win, was obviously happy to have an ally against his arch enemy, Gruffudd ap Rhydderch of Deheubarth.

Earl on horse
How one of Ralph’s English cavalrymen may have looked

Ralph may have upset Alfgar in some way, perhaps had something to do with his exile (though I might add that this is just conjecture). Or it may have been that Ralph just happened to be in the place Alfgar wanted to use as a springboard back into England. Whatever the case, Ralph’s Norman-style English cavalry forces were destroyed, with Ralph earning the insulting nomenclature of ‘Timid’ for running away with his Norman retainers and leaving his men to be slaughtered.

The ensuing result was that Harold Godwinson was to lead the negotiations with Bishop Ealdred, conceding the diocese of Archenfield, Ergyng in Welsh, to Gruffudd. Alfgar was permitted to return from exile, picking up his former earldom of East Anglia and all that he had owned before, which seems very lenient to me, but Harold Godwinson always was very keen to quell problems with diplomacy, rather than to give battle. He was not too young to know the perils of a divided kingdom and was born not long after the troubled years of Æthelred the Unready, and would know that a divided kingdom is a vacuum for invaders.

Earl Ralph must have been taken ill or so disturbed by his embarrassing defeat, that he does not seem to have shown much of himself for the next two years, and although he seems to have kept the title of earl, the responsibility fell naturally to Harold Godwinson.
So, with all the other responsibilities that he must have had, Harold needed to appoint a strong man to protect and oversee this important town. Also, Hereford was an ecclesiastic see, and so who better than his doughty mass priest, Leofgar, who had once been a warrior before taking up the cloth, for the position of Bishop of Hereford. Part of the treaty that had been made in Billingsley after the Battle of Hereford, was that the diocese must relinquish control of Archenfield to the bishopric of Glamorgan (2). Harold wanted a man who was strong, as well as pious, who was able to look after the new church’s interests, reminding the Welsh that they had burned the old one down and that they needed to pay recompense for the deaths of the canons who had tried to defend the church during the attack. Purely conjecture on my part, but perhaps they were supposed to have help rebuild it and return all the treasures they had stolen from it, and Leofgar, enraged that nothing had been forthcoming, decided to take on the Welsh individually, without consulting his masters.

Ralph's men
How Ralph’s men might have looked

Leofgar was in his position as bishop for 3 months before he decided to ride out with an army from the town, and attack Gruffudd in a place called Glasbyrig. It is not known what prompted this impulsive act, but as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle suggests, he swapped his chrism and cross for his sword and spear not long after his conscecration and was killed by Gruffudd’s army along with all the priests he had taken and Ælfnoth, the shire-reeve as well as many other good men. No doubt, among the ‘many good men’ would have been survivors of the terrible battle the year before, eager for revenge. But it came to nought, for Gruffudd was victorious and Leofgar and his men were slaughtered.
Glasbury-on-Wye, where the battle is said to have taken place, lies between Brecon and Hereford, on a bend in the river of Wye. Behind it, stood the majestic back drop of the mountain range known as the y Mynyddoedd Duon, or the Black Mountains in English, and the Brecon Beacons. Considering that Gruffudd had only just come to power in the South of Wales after his defeat of that other King Gruffudd in Deheubarth, it might have been pertinent to him to have kept a presence there, to consolidate his hold and ensure that the terms of the treaty with the English were kept to.

Glasbury on wye 3
The River Wye in Glasbury, perhaps the battle was fought on those fields to the right

The fact that Leofgar’s defeat was so decisive shows the Welsh king’s power in establishing a disciplined army that could easily travel by land or river and disappear in to the mountains quickly if needed. The local Herefordshire levies were certainly no challenge to them as their defeat shows.

This was a turning point in the Welsh king’s reign, for the peace deal included lands beyond the river Dee that had been long disputed over, and Edward acknowledging Gruffudd as ‘King of the Britons’, albeit a subregulus or an under-king. That a nation significantly larger in size as England was to Wales, should be so pressured into ceding a considerable amount of land to the Welsh shows the power Gruffudd possessed in resisting English rule. Despite his reduction in status to the English king, he was never compelled to attend the English court at any time.

Lost kingdoms of Wales
A map showing the area called Ergyng to the Welsh and Archenfield to the English

As a consequence of Leofgar’s actions, England had conceded ‘all the lands beyond the river called Dee’ except for a narrow strip along the estuary to the Welsh to add to their gains of 1055 in the Ergyng. According to Davies, these were lands that had been in English control since the days of Offa. There is a story as told by Walter Map, but cannot be verified historically, that the two kings, Edward and Gruffudd had a stand off on opposite sides of the banks of the Severn, one on the Welsh side and one in Gloucestershire. Gruffudd had agreed to bend the knee to Edward, who was his overlord in name only, but had refused to cross the river to meet with Edward, and Edward was refusing to cross to meet with Gruffudd. After all, why should he? It was preposterous that he, Edward, whose lineage went back to the days of Cerdic who conquered England from Gruffudd’s ancestors, the Britons, should have to play the subservient to that Welsh upstart who thought himself as entitled a king as he. With each king protesting that their lineage was better than the other, arguments for whom should cross first went back and forth for much of a day until eventually, Edward conceded and allowed himself to be politely rowed across the river where Gruffudd is said to have avowed himself on bended knee to recognise Edward as his overlord. In some ways, there was an aggreable outcome for both not to lose all of their integrity; Edward received Gruffudd on bended knee, however Edward was the one who had to cross. Whether this is how it happened is not confirmed by any contemporary source, but makes for a good story.
Gruffudd may not have bent his knee completely; like one who makes an oath with fingers crossed, he may have kept at least one of his knees slightly off the ground, because it would not be long before he was back at it again, causing trouble and getting mixed up with that rebellious English Lord, Alfgar once more.

 

Notes

1 Most likely the cause was that he had upset the king and his courtiers for not being elected to the Earldom of Northumberland, which was given to Tostig Godwinson.
2 Davies, in his his book, Gruffudd ap Llewllyn, The Last King of Wales, suggests that the evidence for this is in the Book of Llandaff, which points to the Bishop of Glamorgan having been concecrated in 1056 by Archbishop Cynesige in the presence of King Edward. The document also attests to Bishop Herewald’s activities in the area which indicates that the English had ceded the diocese at the time of the peace treaty.

 

Primary Sources

References
Davies S & Davies W (2012) The Last King of Wales: Gruffudd ap Llywelyn c. 1013-1063 The History Press

Petts, D. The Early Medieval Church in Wales (Stroud 2009) p.170

 

Death of an Exile

 

Edward_the_Exile
public domain

Edmund Ironside died in November of 1016. He was known as the  _Ironside_ for his strength and prowess in battle. There is mystery surrounding his death. Some say that he was murdered – something nasty involving the call of nature and a spear from the rear – but the general consensus seems to be that he died of his wounds three weeks or so after the Battle of AshingdonAssundun in Old English). The agreement he’d made with Cnut following the battle was that the Dane should rule the North of England, and Edmund the lands in the south and south-west – Wessex. Included in the agreement, was this clause: whomever died first, the other would take over their crown. The next year, whilst he was on a housecleaning excersize (getting rid of anyone who’s loyalty to him he believed questionable) it occurred to Cnut that Edmund’s infant sons, Edward and Edmund, would grow to become a real threat to his rule. He asked his wife what she thought about the boys and she urged him that he could not allow them to live. So he had them banished – snatched, apparently, by the treacherous Eadric Streona, from their mother’s arms. They were sent to Sweden with a message that they should be put to death. But the King of Sweden was not having any of it, infanticide wasn’t his thing, and so he let them go. This led to the boys  embarking on a long journey through Eastern Europe, ‘on the run’ so-to-speak, until they settled eventually in Hungary at the court of King Stephen.

Edmund_Ironside_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VI

At this point, I am not sure what happened to Ironside’s son Edmund, but he doesn’t seem to have been alive when Bishop Ealdred is sent to seek out his brother Edward. However, it comes to the attention of the Confessor that Edward Ætheling, his brother’s son, is alive and well and living in state at the court of Hungary, married to a European noble lady and with a ready-made royal House of Wessex family. This came about when discussing a succession plan in a meeting with the Witan in May 1054, that did not include William of Normandy. King Edwardof England and his wife, Edith, had failed to produce an heir for the English throne, and it must have looked unlikely by now, as they had been married for 9 years, that it would happen any day soon. There were few other candidates apart from this lost exile living in Hungary, but these men, Ralph and Walter de Mantes, might have been in the running as Edward’s sister’s (Goda) sons; Ralph would later turn out to be incompetent, and Walter later dies at the hands of William, imprisoned in 1061. But seeing as they were not sons of a king, it obviously seemed the rational thing, to send a mission to Hungary to find King Edmund’s son.

Edward, it seemed, caused himself much grace and favour at the Hungarian court, and lived under five kings during his life there. When he eventually returns to England, he is sent home with an entourage of servants and much gold and treasures to support his family, so he must have been well regarded and treated and possibly a particular favourite of King Andrew.  King Stephen I died in 1038 without any issue to take his throne, his nephew, Peter Orseleo, son of the Doge of Venice, promised to protect the people of Hungary and Stephen’s wife and  took the throne with the support of the dowager queen’s German faction and terrorised the Hungarian people, and started senseless wars abroad (Ronay 1989). An uprising got rid of him in 1041, but he was restored in 1044 with the help of  Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor. In thanks for the emperor’s assistance, he accepted Henry’s overlordship.  With Peter restored, the Hungarians were not happy to live under his rule, and were most likely also unhappy with the Holy Roman Emperor’s interference. They decided they needed a hero, and suddenly remembered one who had been living in exile in Bohemia for 15 years, Andrew  who was descended from the Árpád dynasty, offspring of Stephen’s dynasty. It was when the envoys came to Kiev, where the English exiles were at this time said to be living, in 1045, they decided to join Andrew’s crusade to help free Hungary from the tyrannical rule of Peter (Ronay 1989).* And so when the Confessor agreed to send a delegation from England to Europe to help find his long lost nephew, they must have already heard that Edward son of Edmund Ironside, was living in Hungary.

Peter_of_Hungary_(Chronicon_Pictum_047)
Peter of Hungary

Ealdred, Bishop of Worcester and his companion Abbot Ælfwin of Ramsey, set off abroad in 1054, and travelled to the court of Henry III, the Holy Roman Emperor in Cologne to request that the Emperor liaise on King Edward’s behalf for the return of his kinsman to England. Why did Ealdred’s embassy go to Germany and not direct Hungary I am not sure. It could be that perhaps historically, England had closer ties with Germany than Hungary. The Confessor’s half sister, Gunnhilda had been married to Emperor Henry III, but had died almost 20 years since. Or perhaps it was because Agatha, Edward the Exile’s wife, was a niece of the emperor. In any case, Ealdred sought Henry’s help but although Ealdred was invited whilst the emperor made the necessary inquiries, to study the German church, and Ealdred, perhaps being unusually naive, as suggested by Ronay, was in complete oblivion about the strained relations between Germany and Hungary, the mission was not successful. Given the past hostile history between the two territories, it seems strange that Ealdred should have failed to realise the situation was sensitive. Emma Mason, in her book The House of Godwine states that Henry was unable, or unwilling to help the situation, indicating that Henry might have had his own agenda in his reluctance to find the exiled aetheling. It seems that Edward arrived in Hungary with the army of Henry’s enemy, Andrew I, and even though Edward had married Henry’s niece, Agatha, Edward’s involvement in the wars against German-backed Peter Orseleo, had displeased Henry enough to try and sabotage the aetheling’s ascension to the throne of England.

Andrew_I_(Chronica_Hungarorum)

So, as the Anglo Saxon mentions, in 1055, about a year later, Ealdred returns to England with much knowledge of how the German church worked, bringing gifts  with him from Archbishop  Hermann II a copy of the Pontificale Romano-Germanicum, and a set of liturgies, with him, but no future heir to the English throne, just an empty promise that Henry would do what he could to find the missing English heir.

This obviously wasn’t good enough and the Confessor must have felt disappointed at the failed mission. Someone within the court might have had more knowledge of why the mission failed and suggested that someone more assertive and less distracted by churchly wonders be commissioned  to negotiate the return of the Exile. Whatever the case, Harold Godwinson was dispatched to St. Omer in the autumn of 1056 and eventually brought Edward, son of Edmund Ironside, the only lone male with a direct link to the royal Wessex line, and his family, home.

The fact that Harold’s delegation to collect Edward Ætheling home was successful, could have had something to do with the death of Henry III around the time of Harold’s embarkation. And so perhaps dying with him, his resentment at the Hungarian regime. Whatever the case, negotiations were successful. There does not appear to be any source that directly quotes that Harold was the man who brought the Exile home.  However most historians accept that because there is evidence that Harold was abroad at this time, travelling to Rome and witnessing documents in St. Omer, it was he who brought Edward back to England.

Edgar_the_Ætheling

We might think of this mission as bringing Edward ‘home’ but in actual fact, it was not his home, but rather his place of birth. He was at least 40 years old, and had lived abroad for nearly all of his life. He would not have recognised London the day he set foot in it. He might have stayed with Harold at one of his manors, with his family: wife, Agatha, daughters Cristina and Margaret who was later to become one of Scotland’s favourite queens, and his little son, Edgar. He must have arrived to much cheering and waving and glad tidings, but why the Confessor was not there to greet him, it is not known. It must have been a strange feeling to him, to be in the land that had allowed that treacherous Cnut to send him away with a letter of death, to deny them him his birthright and his home. Had Edward longed for restoration to his rightful place in society? Had he asked, requested, suggested, and begged for an army to support his right to the throne and it been denied? Had he just accepted his lot, and then one day, like had happened to the Confessor, he was called home, to his great surprise, eagerness, or reluctance perhaps? It is difficult to know. And it became unlikely that anyone would have got to know his thoughts, but the man who brought him home, and we have no record of their interactions, just like there is little evidence for anyone else from that time. In any case, Edward the Exile was not long for this world when he stepped off the boat and onto England’s shores on the 17th of April, for he was dead within 2-3 days.

The chronicles do not record how he died, but there is a hint of dastardly doings. The Worcester Chronicle states:

We do not know for what cause it was arranged that he might not see his relative King Edward’s face, Alas that was a cruel fate, and so harmful to this nation that he so quickly ended his life after he came to England…

So, was there foul play that befell the ætheling? Ronay, in his book about Edward’s life purports the argument that Harold Godwinson poisoned him. He states that he was closest in proximity to him and had the most to gain. It is food for thought, however I do not think that Harold was thinking that far ahead. This was nine years before the Battle of Hastings, and eight years before his trip to Normandy. I also think that had Harold decided to get him out of the way, he probably wouldn’t have done it as soon as they stepped on English soil. He was not a stupid man. I can imagine the whisperings that the ætheling’s sad demise must have caused, but as far as I know at this point in time, the accusation was never actually levelled directly at Harold in any of the contemporary sources or even later ones, though I have yet to do an exhaustive, thorough investigation.

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Harold                    Bayeux Tapestry

 

Could William of Normandy been involved? I would love to say yes, but I think not. At this time, he was just recovering from keeping his dukedom in check. Would he have wanted the Exile out of the way? Yes, definitely. And enemies had been known to die in his custody, such as Walter de Mantes, another possible heir to the English throne, albeit a bit of an outsider. But again, I do not think he would have had the wherewithal to have killed Edward. Unless perhaps a Norman supporter on the other side of the channel.

All i can say is that it is a shame that the chroniclers of the time couldn’t have been more explicit in their writings. It would have been good to have so much more detail, however this is all that we have to go on, and only two of the Anglo Saxon 6 chroniclers mention Edward’s death at all.

So what happened next? His family were taken into the care of the king’s household. His queen, Edith would have looked after Agatha and her children, possibly overseeing their education and welfare. Not long after his father’s death, Edgar was to be endowed with the appellation of  ætheling, indicating that he was accepted by the Witan as the nominated heir. The sad tragedy of Edward’s untimely death must have weighed heavily on most people’s hearts, none more, probably, than the king’s, however Edward’s need to divert the problem away from Normandy, and as some have implied, the growing power of the Godwinsons, had been accomplished. The succession was sown up (Walker). Edgar was England’s great hope for the future.

*For what the ætheling’s were doing in Kiev at this time see The Lost King of England by Gabriel Ronay.

 

References

Mason E. 2004 The House of Godwine (1st ed) Continnuum

Ronay G. 1989 The Lost King of England Bydell Press, UK

Walker I. 2010 Harold Godwinson: The Last Anglo Saxon King The History Press; New Ed edition

 

 

Chapter Sixteen: The End of England as it was in 1066

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So, we have come, finally, to the end of the road that took us on our journey to the Battle of Hastings. By the end of December, William was now Harold’s successor,  refusing to acknowledge Harold’s reign at all. William, the Bastard of Normandy, had finally got his wish: to rule the most coveted kingdom in the world. In his lifetime, William had managed to achieve what might have been to some lesser resilient  men, an impossible dream. As a young boy  he endured dangers that no child should have to suffer, with attempts being made on his life and having to hide in peasants hovels. As a young man, he fought for the right to rule his duchy, and later he had to endure the king of France’s treachery, leading invasions into his Norman territories. The king of France had once been William’s protector and ally, but had betrayed him, joining forces with Geoffrey Martell, who had once been their mutual enemy.

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William and his brothers

 

By the time he reached his prime, well into his thirties, he had been able to assert power in Normandy and drew Brittany into his enclave. It was about this time, that he must have begun thinking about the supposed ‘promise’ that William had perceived that his cousin, Edward, King of England, had offered him. Whether Edward had been flippant, or had been manipulated into agreeing to make William his heir, or whether William had believed that Edward had agreed, or whether Edward had agreed, then later changed his mind, we will never know, but the evidence that Eadmer gives us is very telling. Personally, I believe there may have been some manipulation of Edward during that visit in the autumn of 1051, by both William, and Robert Champart, then Archbishop of Canterbury. In later years, as the Norman regime began to dwindle in power in England, I think it is fair to say that Edward’s influences were erring more to the English and we see how William had also used cunning to manipulate Harold into swearing an oath to support his claim.

King Edward
Edward the Confessor

 

Edward was a weak king in many ways, but in others he was stubborn, and strong willed. He had only been able to assert himself over his nobles, on one occasion when he had the whole of the Godwin family exiled; and his queen, Godwin’s daughter, banished to a nunnery. It didn’t take the  other English nobles long to be alarmed at Edward’s growing faction of Norman officials and they refused to resist Godwin’s return from exile, compelling Edward to reinstate the family back into power. Edward had never forgotten the part Godwin had played in the death of his brother, Alfred, who was brutally blinded by agents acting for Harold Harefoot and for whom Godwin had been serving at the time. Although Godwin had protested his innocence, and had been proclaimed innocent by a jury of twelve men, Edward would forever hold him responsible.  It was at an Easter feast that Edward was to bring up the subject of the death of Alfred again, and Godwin, frustrated at having the accusation flung in his face once more, was beset by a stroke, dying a few days later. Edward, hopefully because he was feeling guilty, offered the family his own personal apartments to nurse him in.

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The earldom of Wessex, was then passed on to Harold, which left East Anglia free to be  Alfgar of Mercia’s once more. As his father’s successor, Harold was able to start asserting his own authority in the once ancient kingdom. Wessex was a powerful and wealthy earldom and Harold was able to endorse his rise to power by becoming the king’s right hand man.

William was obviously of the belief that he was in line for the throne, but Edward had not confirmed this by the time he was dead, although William would have everyone believe that he had sent the powerful earl of Wessex, (Harold) with gifts and a message that Edward had not forgotten his promise of all those years ago. And this was their insistence, despite the fact that Edward had sent a mission to Europe to search for his nephew, Edward the Exile so that he could have an heir of the same blood as The House of Wessex. Therefore, if anyone should have been in line for the throne, it should have been Edward the Exile’s son, Edgar the Atheling. William did not seem to have any regard for anyone else’s claim, rightful or not.

edgar

But it was Harold Godwinson, King Edward’s brother-in-law, who got the job in the end, though Edward seems to have enjoyed keeping everyone in the dark until he was on his deathbed. It was most likely that in an effort to stop the succession of William, the Witan accepted Harold’s claim, or they may have persuaded him sometime before Edward’s death, and had him crowned as soon as possible. Edgar’s claim seems to have not even been considered, and with the storms brewing south of the channel and from the north, it seemed sensible to choose a man who had been tried and tested and found not wanting. Harold, though not as experienced in warfare as William, nor was he as ruthless, was the most experienced of the English nobles, not only in battle tactics, but also in diplomacy and politics. Why would they have picked a young, untried boy over a man such as he?

It is quite clear that the English had no desire to have William rule them. He was a Norman through and through, and if Harold was not of royal blood himself, he was still an Englishman, born of an English father and a Danish mother, which might also endear him to those who lived in the Danelaw. The Normans were very different from the English, and the Anglo-Danes. At least those who were of Danish descent had a common culture and law code, they could understand each other, they shared a common history. The Normans, despite their Scandinavian blood, were completely alien to the men and women of England, sharing no such common history with the English and had absorbed French culture and law so much into their psyche, that they had become more French than Norse by 1066. One can see that to an Englishman, common or noble, it would be far more desirable to be ruled by someone who understood their language, their customs and their needs. And Harold had seen the ruthlessness of the Normans in action, had been on campaign with William into Brittany whilst he was there in 1064, in the hope that he could free his kin from William’s bondage. Instead, Harold had been manipulated by William, having no choice but to become William’s vassal, selling himself into the bargain in return for his freedom, and only succeeding in returning to England with Hakon, his nephew, and not with Wulfnoth. Harold’s youngest brother, Wulfnoth, was to stay in the care of William, remaining a hostage until Harold had secured William on the throne. One cannot imagine the torment that outcome must have had on Harold, whose intentions in going to Normandy had been entirely for a different reason. Later, when he took the crown, he knew his brother’s fate to be sealed. Whether Harold lived or died, Wulfnoth would never be free.

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Harold swears oath to William on holy relics

 

And as events led to Hastings, culminating in the death of England’s chosen king, those who were waiting in London to hear the outcome of the battle, would look to their boy king, Edgar Edwardson, grandson of Edmund Ironside of the House of Wessex. Would things have turned out differently if Harold had supported Edgar as regent? Most likely not. William would still have come for his crown, and Hardrada, too, would still have come. With Edgar on the throne, William would still have laid his claims, despite Edgar’s  being the stronger. After all, he paid no mind to Edgar, even though the lad had been proclaimed king, post Hastings, by the surviving English. Such was this Norman invader’s arrogance, he would dismiss the claims of a boy whose right was greater than his own, and proclaim himself the true, righteous king, chosen by God; for had he not the papal banner that proved God was on his side? Edgar, it seems, was soon dropped by those who had raised him up to be king, in favour of the Conqueror. The boy who would be king, never had a chance.

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English swineherds

 

William, however, was not loved by the English. He spent the first five years of his rule putting down rebellion after rebellion. Soon, there would be scant numbers of English nobility and most official administration posts, both secular and ecclesiastic would be taken up by newly appointed foreigners. French only would be spoken at court by the ruling classes who saw the spoken English as far too rustic for their tongues. English was soon exchanged for Latin, which became the language of the clerics, where English had once been used freely. But one thing that didn’t change, were the people of England themselves, who forever remained and would remain as English as they had always been.

Primary Sources 

Eadmer: Historia Novorum in Anglia

Vita Edwardi Regis

Further Reading

Barlow F. (1970) Edward the Confessor, Eyre Methuen LTD, Great Britain.

Barlow F. (2003) The Godwins, Pearson Education LTD, Great Britain.

Howarth D. (1978) 1066 The Year of the Conquest, Viking Press, New York.

Swanton M. (2000)  The Anglo Saxon Chronicles (new ed) Phoenix Press, Great Britain.

Walker I (2004)  Harold, the Last Anglo Saxon King (paperback edition) Sutton Publishing LTD, Gloucs.