Writers of Anglo-Saxon literature: Patricia Bracewell on Edmund Ironside

Thank you, Paula, for inviting me to your blog site and giving me an opportunity to offer a brief sketch of the career of one of the heroic figures of late Anglo-Saxon England.
Edmund Ironside, Warrior King.
In preparing to write my novels about Emma of Normandy I immersed myself in everything I could learn about the 11th century Anglo-Saxon royals, including Emma’s stepchildren, the elder sons and daughters of Æthelred the Unready. Not surprisingly, the royal child who received the most documentation was Edmund Ironside who, after his father’s death, ruled England for 222 turbulent days.
A contemporary account of that period appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC), written by a clinically depressed monk who lamented the events in the reigns of both Edmund and Æthelred but offered the historian and the novelist few details. We know the WHAT, but we rarely know the WHY or the HOW. As a result, historians have to speculate, and novelists like me turn those speculations into story.
Edmund was born in about 989, the third of six sons from his father’s first marriage. He and his siblings were raised by their somewhat notorious grandmother, dowager queen Ælfthryth, at her estate about 10 miles from Winchester. They grew up in an England that was repeatedly assaulted by the Danish king Swein Forkbeard and his allies. By 1013 three of Edmund’s brothers had died in their teens or early twenties—illness? Misadventure? Battle wounds? We don’t know. They simply disappear from the records. That left Edmund, his eldest brother Athelstan (presumed heir to the throne), and younger brother Edwig.
In July 1013 a massive fleet led by Swein and his son Cnut landed in northern Mercia, intent on conquest. By year’s end Æthelred, Queen Emma and their young children had been forced to flee to Normandy. Did the sons from Æthelred’s first marriage accompany them across the Channel? The ASC doesn’t say, but it’s likely that they remained in England and may have led forays against the Danish garrisons that were now scattered across the kingdom.
Swein, though, was able to call himself king of England for only two months before he died suddenly in February 1014—an unwise move that brought Æthelred roaring back from exile in April. Cnut, who believed (mistakenly) that he’d inherited England when dad breathed his last, was sent pelting back to Denmark with the remnants of Swein’s fleet.
Two months later Edmund’s brother Athelstan was dead at age 28, unwed and without issue. Again, we don’t know how he died. Edmund was at his bedside and was executor of his will, suggesting that they were close, and the will itself provides a glimpse into their lives. Athelstan had servants, retainers, and numerous associates among the English elite. He owned armor, weapons, horses, movable wealth, and 16 estates in 9 different shires. Presumably Edmund had similar possessions. Athelstan left Edmund properties and weapons that included an heirloom sword of the 8th century Mercian King Offa. Historian N.J. Higham interprets this bequest as Athelstan passing “the mantle of succession” to Edmund, urging him to lead the English against the Danes.
Edmund surely got the message, but he wasn’t king yet. He was forced into action, though, when Æthelred made another of the questionable decisions that characterize his reign. In August of 1015 he ordered his son-in-law Eadric Streona, the ealdorman of Mercia, to murder two powerful northern Mercian nobles—associates of Athelstan and Edmund. The king confiscated their possessions and imprisoned one of the widows. Edmund, in a move that could not have pleased papa, seized the widow, married her, and took her north to claim her dead husband’s properties and the fealty of his men. This was not romance, but politics. (The bride’s sentiments are unrecorded, of course, but she gave him 2 sons.) The marriage gave Edmund control of a wide swath of northern Mercia, an area that two years before had harbored Swein and Cnut. It’s possible that what Æthelred probably interpreted as Edmund’s rebellious power grab was actually an aggressive response to rumors of a new Danish threat; because while Edmund was fetching his bride and claiming lands in the northeast, Cnut of Denmark landed in the southwest and began plundering.
Cnut, like Edmund, was now about 27 years old and his father had been, albeit briefly, king of England. Cnut wanted the throne. Æthelred was near 50, ill, and unable to respond to this Danish upstart. But Edmund gathered an army from his new lands and marched south to confront Cnut. He was thwarted by his treacherous brother-in-law Eadric Streona who had also raised an army and “meant to betray Edmund”. (ASC) We don’t know what Eadric intended exactly. Did the two men meet and quarrel? Did Eadric hope to curry favor with Cnut by ridding him of this fierce claimant to the throne? The novelist wonders, too, where Eadric’s wife, Edmund’s sister, was when this was going on. Were her sympathies with her husband or her brother? We know only that Edmund and his army sheered away from Eadric’s force. Eadric submitted to Cnut (which may have been his plan all along), and took with him many of the magnates in the southwestern shires of England (ie. an army). So now, Cnut had English allies riding with him.
Cnut and company ravaged northward throughout the winter of 1015, a tactic that fed and rewarded their men, terrorized the English and discouraged any resistance. Edmund twice gathered an army but his war leaders were reluctant to fight. They might not have known who to trust— Eadric, who was a powerful ealdorman of Mercia and had apparently accepted Cnut’s claim to the throne; or Edmund who was the king’s son but who had rebelled against his father, and where was the king anyway? They wanted Æthelred in their midst to be certain that they were fighting on the right (winning) side. Meantime, Æthelred dithered, and although he finally led a force from London to join Edmund, a rumor of treachery (real or imagined) sent him haring back to the city, and again Edmund’s army dispersed.
Ever resourceful, Edmund turned for aid to another brother-in-law, Uhtred, Ealdorman of Northumbria up in York; but instead of attacking the Danes who were terrorizing Eastern Mercia, they ravaged Eadric’s lands in Western Mercia, a move that puzzled even the monk writing the ASC. Perhaps Edmund hoped to deprive Eadric and Cnut of food and forage; perhaps he hoped to draw Eadric away from Cnut and so reduce Cnut’s numbers. Later chroniclers suggest he was punishing those who refused to take up arms against the Danes. Meanwhile Cnut and Eadric stormed into Uhtred’s Northumbria, and Uhtred was forced to return home to defend his people. Edmund, his army again depleted, headed for London, perhaps drawn there by news of the king.
It was now well into March of 1016. While Edmund rode south, Uhtred attempted to submit to Cnut but was murdered by one of Cnut’s allies. With Uhtred dead and Northumbria now securely under Scandinavian control, Cnut returned to his ships on the Dorset coast. Possibly hoping to trap both Edmund and Æthelred in London by laying siege to the city, Cnut sailed for the Thames estuary. Before Cnut made it to London, though, Æthelred died on 23 April, and Edmund was proclaimed king.
Edmund’s coronation must have been a hurried affair, and his first move as king was to get out of London before Cnut’s fleet arrived. He led his retainers deep into Wessex where he cajoled or coerced the West Saxons to give him their support. Cnut was laying siege to London, and Edmund needed an army to relieve the city.
Throughout 1016 Edmund Ironside’s movements and those of Cnut over hundreds of miles, each man probably leading 2000-3000 men, looked like this:

BattleMap (1)
From The Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare: The Middle Ages.

This map, though, only hints at the logistical difficulties that Edmund overcame in raising, arming, supplying, and transporting, on horse and on foot, at least five different armies in his effort to defeat Cnut, who had the advantage of a fleet and probably had horses as well. Edmund must have been a skilled commander and strategist, and a man forceful enough to bend men to his will. Twice Cnut laid siege to London, and twice Edmund’s armies drove him off. Battles fought at Penselwood, Sherston, and Brentford in the southwest led to casualties on both sides, but no definitive victory for either.
In September, 1016, Edmund chased the Danes across Kent to Sheppey, an easily defended island that had often been a haven for viking armies. Edmund halted his troops fifteen miles west of the island, at Aylesford, where good old Eadric Streona sought him out and offered his allegiance. Remember, Eadric had murdered (among others) the first husband of Edmund’s wife; had conspired in some way against Edmund himself; had been Æthelred’s favorite, but had betrayed the king by submitting to Cnut; and had convinced the lords of Wessex to betray the king as well. Now he was offering to switch sides a third time by throwing his support behind Edmund. Historian Simon Keynes uses the word “unscrupulous” to describe Eadric Streona; the ASC calls him “treacherous”; Jamie Jeffers of The British History Podcast calls him “a traitorous little shit”.
Edmund, though, accepted his allegiance.
“No measure could be more ill-advised.” (ASC)
Edmund!! Why??? We can only guess. Eadric was powerful, wealthy, and had a large English army with him. Edmund couldn’t kill him without huge repercussions. There were likely complex familial, political and moral complications in their relationship that we can only imagine. And if Eadric, scoundrel that he was, was fighting at Edmund’s side, at least he wasn’t fighting on Cnut’s side. Numbers in this conflict were crucial.
Cnut’s fleet left Sheppey, and Edmund may have believed that they were making for Danish-controlled York before the winter gales set in. Perhaps Eadric convinced him of that. But Cnut did not sail to York. He sailed to Essex where he beached his ships and plundered toward Cambridge. Historian Timothy Bolton suggests that Cnut wanted to draw Edmund into a final battle. He describes Cnut as cunning, and Edmund as a straightforward warrior; and Cnut’s cunning worked.
Edmund gathered another army and on 18 October 1016 he attacked Cnut at Assandun (Ashdon) in Essex. It was a long, fierce battle. The Encomium Emmae Reginae, written 3 decades later, claimed that the Danes raged rather than fought, and that they were determined to conquer or perish to a man. But at the height of the battle, that treacherous little shit Eadric Streona, fighting on the English side, turned tail and fled with all his men, “and so betrayed his natural lord and all the people of England.” (ASC)

Streona with his countrymen leaves the battle

The Danes held the slaughter field at Assandun, but Edmund still lived. He rode west with the remnants of his army, and seems to have wanted to fight on. But too many of his warlords had been killed, including two ealdormen and another brother-in-law. His councilors urged him to meet with Cnut and make peace. Eadric Streona, with a foot in both camps, (still!!!) played intermediary, and at a meeting on the isle of Alney in Gloucestershire on a date that went unrecorded, England was divided between them. Cnut could call himself king of Northumbria and Mercia, including the trading powerhouses of York and London; Edmund remained king of the West Saxon heartland, Wessex.

The 2 young princes meet at Alney and decide on the division of England

The two men made pledges of friendship and, according to the ASC, of brotherhood. That pledge of brotherhood, I think, is important because as Edmund’s brother, Cnut could lay claim to Wessex if Edmund should die. And 43 days later, on 30 November, 1016, Edmund died.
We don’t know what caused his death. Later chroniclers blamed Eadric Streona and there were lurid tales of an iron hook in the king’s hinder parts. A far more likely cause: a wound taken at Assandun. Of course, it could be argued that if Edmund had any inkling that his death was imminent he would never have made an agreement with Cnut at Alney that disinherited his remaining brother and his sons; but in the 11th century even a slight wound, easily dismissed, might fester and lead to death. Or, Edmund’s loss at Assandun may have made his position too weak militarily to oppose anything that Cnut demanded.
Edmund was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. As is usually the case, we have no idea what happened to his wife, Aldyth. She may have accompanied her infant sons to Hungary where one of them grew up, married and had children. Edmund’s grand-daughter would wed the king of Scotland, and her daughter would wed William the Conqueror’s son, Henry I. Edmund’s Anglo-Saxon blood line continues today in the English royal family.
None of this tells us what Edmund was like as a person, although it’s safe to say that he was bold and courageous. He hounded Cnut all over England, and faced him in hand to hand combat. But we don’t know what he felt toward his father, his wife, his sons, or even his stepmother, Emma. That emotional territory is the province of the novelist. In my first two novels I imagined Edmund as a quiet youth, but watchful; suspicious of his father’s Norman bride—something I believe was quite likely. In my third novel, not yet published, I have given him a viewpoint and a voice, and I have pitted him against an enemy far more dangerous than his stepmother. He is a vigorous man of forceful character who steadfastly defends England against Danish conquest. He is a heroic figure in the image of his forbears Alfred the Great and King Athelstan. I based that on how the ASC portrays him: a warrior king who raised and led five armies, but who lost half a kingdom through treachery, and before he could win it back, lost his life.

Bolton, Timothy, Cnut the Great. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2017

Campbell, Alistair, Ed., Encomium Emmae Reginae, Cambridge University Press, 1998

Higham, N. J., The Death of Anglo-Saxon England, Sutton Publishing, Gloucestershire, 1997

Rodwell, Warwick J., “The Battle of Assandun and its Memorial Church: A Reappraisal”, The Battle of Maldon: Fiction and Fact, Cooper, Janet, ed., London, 1993

Savage, Anne, Trans., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, CLB, Wayne, New Jersey,1997

Whitelock, D., English Historical Documents, London, 1979

Pat Bracewell jpeg

Patricia Bracewell’s first two books, Shadow on the Crown (2013) and The Price of Blood (2015) are available in paperback, e-book and audio book formats. Her novels have been published in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia, Italy, Germany, Russia and Brazil. In the fall of 2014 she was honored to serve as Writer-in-Residence at Gladstone’s Library, Wales, and she continues to travel extensively for research. She holds a Masters Degree in English Literature, lives in Oakland, California, and has been in love with England and its history since childhood. She is currently completing the third novel in her series about the 11th century queen of England, Emma of Normandy.

Paula Says

Thank you so much, Pat, for coming on my blog to talk about one of my greatest heroes of the 11th century. Like many others who have had their lives cut short before they could reach their full potential, Edmund never had the chance to fight to regain England back from Danish rule, and I definitely think he would have given Cnut a run for his money. He was, unfortunately, the only leader at the time who seemed to have the wherewithal to stand up and take the English forces to the fight. He was indeed a great hero. Your extensive research really shows here and I am grateful that you have shared so much of it here!

One question I have is that I notice you don’t mention Godwin, later Earl Godwin under Cnut. I have always thought that Godwin was a member of Edmund and Aethelstan’s retainers, due to being returned his father’s land in Aethelstan’s will, I just wondered what your thoughts are regarding him?

Historical Writers Forum: Interview my Character Blog Hop

Paula Lofting Interviews Casmir, Prince of Agrius

Casmir and Irisa 1
Casmir just couldn’t resist trying out my phone to take a selfie!

Before we start, the Casmir’s creator would like to invite you to take part in a competition to win copies of her books. Two lucky winners will be winning ebook copies of Books 1 & 2 in the Crown of Destiny series: The Scribe’s Daughter and The King’s Daughter, and all you have to do is leave a comment in the comments section on the blog, or on our Facebook blog page if you prefer!

The Draw will be announced on our  blog page on Saturday the 6th July.

Well, my Lord Casmir, please do sit down I hope you have had a pleasant journey here and the roads were not too full of brigands?

Casmir: Agrius is quite safe for travel, I assure you.

Then please, come into my parlour and take some refreshment with me. I have wine, tea, and water for your pleasure, plus cake of course.
[Casmir nods then selects from refreshment for himself. He refuses my offer to pour his wine but takes up the flagon and pours for himself. I take the opportunity to observe this king without his notice. His bearing is regal of course, as would be expected. But he is also casual. His attire is exquisite without being ostentatious, proving the rumours that he is not one to flaunt his wealth or title. I quickly divert my attention elsewhere as Casmir turns, offering me a genuine smile as we progress through to the parlour.]

So, your Highness, I’m honoured that you agreed to speak with me today. First, let me establish if there are any subjects that you refuse to talk about?

There are Crown affairs which I cannot discuss, certainly. But please, proceed.

Ok so here we go. Your Highness, I understand that your family are the rulers of Agrius. Tell us a little bit more about the kingdom, what language you speak and a bit about the history and how your family came to be rulers.

Casmir: The Agrian people share an ancient history with the kingdoms to the west, across the Eastmor Ocean: Pania, Elbra, and more distantly, Mercoria. We share a common language, though like every culture with a common language, the ages have refined and changed the language to suit the people. For instance, my wife’s mother was from Pania, and in Pania, they address a female royal as Yar Hátin. “Faro í fridði, Yar Hátin” means “Go in peace, Your Highness.” That tile followed her to Agrius, and though Agrians would not use it specifically, our people now address her in that way. We make our home in the city of Prille, the place from which the kings of Agrius have ruled since the days the city was merely a distant military outpost. Situated atop cliffs in the natural port waters of the Tohm Sound, it guards access to our island from the south. Over the centuries, my ancestors settled our island home, dividing it into ‘honors’ ruled by barons loyal to the Crown. Agrians have known peace since the days of my three times great-grandfather, Ancin. At least until my father came to Agrius.

Thank you, sire. It would be wonderful if you had a map to show us. Oh you have, how delightful!


Anyway, what I wanted to ask you was this: In your story, you present yourself as having two personalities. One is very open, approachable, kind and thoughtful. The other is very statelike, guarded and closed. Why is this I wonder? Can you be honest and open up here?

Casmir: Have you ever been forced down a path of destiny that you would not have chosen had you been given a choice? Those who read The King’s Daughter have seen glimpses of my childhood. I experienced manipulation in my youth, and for this and because of my mother’s guidance, I learned early to guard my heart and my thoughts. My path has never been an easy one.

That’s very interesting. No, I don’t think I have ever been forced into that position where I would not go myself, but I can imagine its been quite a hard road to take. 

You make an appearance in both novels, but we see far more of you in Irissa’s story than Kassia’s where I think you make a brief appearance. How did your author come to create you? Are you based on a real person/persons or has she created you completely from her imagination? I’d so love to know how you were created.

Casmir: My author didn’t necessarily plan to write a second book after The Scribe’s Daughter. The idea came to her when she had that novel half written. My initial scene in that first book was a minor tool to move the plot forward more than anything else at the time, but once she developed the idea for the second book, my role became very key to the ending of the first novel and therefore the second book. My author found inspiration in one of Sharon Kay Penman’s characters, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth from her nove,l Here Be Dragons. Llywelyn the Great, as he was called, was a man of deep conviction, a man of still but deep waters, but Penman wrote him with a bit of swagger and charm. As my author created me, she made a very intentional decision to steer clear of making me a perfect man. She wanted me to have flaws. I was raised a royal, and as such grew up with a certain understanding of the world which some might call entitlement. Others might call it arrogance. Yes, I am definitely arrogant at times, but compared to other royals I am quite humble. Similar to the English King Henry II, I tend to avoid grandeur of dress. She also wanted me to be a man forced into the spotlight as a royal but who, had he been raised a peasant, would have been happy with the anonymity of a quiet life. Those two opposites created a fantastic way for her to give my life tension as she developed the ideas for the second book. In that book, I really came into my own, having the ability to take the perception of me created in the first book and turn it on its head. This was her plan all along, I believe.

Your author sounds like a very clever person. Briefly tell us about the novels you are featured in.

Casmir: Briefly? [Casmir raises an eyebrow as he sips his wine, watching me over the cup. Finally, he lowers it and offers me a wry smile. I am nonplussed for a moment, for he is very charming and enigmatic indeed.] 

My Council knows better than to put too many restraints on me, but I will try to abide by your wishes. The Scribe’s Daughter tells the story of two sisters who had grown up in poverty, living in fear of something that their parents had successfully kept a secret. When the sisters’ father disappears, presumed dead, they must manage life as orphans in poverty. One day, a man shows up at their market stall offering the younger sister, Kassia, a bag of coin to fix some of his jewellery. She didn’t possess the skill necessary, but she also wasn’t dumb enough to turn down the money. This set Kassia off on a journey that would take her into prison, through deep swamps, and into sparkling palaces, all the while chasing answers to the mysteries of their family’s past. What she learns changes her entire understanding of the world, except by finding the answers, she loses much of who she once was. The King’s Daughter tells the story of the second sister, Irisa. While Kassia is away, Irisa is approached by the same man who had hired her sister in the first book, telling her that her life is in danger and that she must come with him. Very early on in her journey, Irisa discovers the same mysteries as Kassia, but Irisa uncovers a very surprising and very different truth from Kassia. Nothing is as simple as readers came to understand in the first book. When it comes to my character in these books, readers are left with one impression of me after the first book and come to see me in a very different light in the second book. I think this amused my author greatly.

I can vouch for that, my lord, having read said story. So, I want to ask you about the Lady Irisa, what did you really think of her when you first laid eyes on her?

Casmir: She looked a great deal like the goddess, Adonia. [ He smiles, and I note that Casmir’s eyes have a faraway look in them.]

Just who is that, this Adonia person?

[Casmir’s smile clearly displays the type of charm his author gave him and that he referenced earlier.] 

Casmir: Adonia comes from an ancient religion originating in Mercoria, I believe. Adonia is the goddess of love and desire, and she still has followers in the Imperial City of Corium in Mercoria. There are few, if any, followers of that practice in Agrius even if everyone knows who she is.

Speaking of Corium and Mercoria, i see that they are not on your map, your highness, are they not part of Agrius?

They are not. Mercoria is west of Elbra and Pania, two kingdoms across the Eastmor Ocean from my island kingdom of Agrius. I believe I have an old map somewhere that shows the location. I will ask a scribe to deliver a copy to you.







Interesting, your first impression of Irisa was that she was very beautiful. You must have thought her very beautiful to have believed her to be Adonia. But what did you think of her personality? Did it take you long to take to her? Were you happy to wed her? I know that it was what Veris’ wanted for you. Did you feel obligated, or were you eager to meet her and marry her?

Casmir: You have seen my wife, yes? I am confident most men have the reaction I have had, and that was the reason her parents insisted she always wear a kerchief to hide her beauty. But have you met her? Talked with her?   Mercoria





When I first met Irisa, it was in quite unusual circumstances. She had only just arrived in Prille, at the palace. She had not refreshed herself, was still travel weary, and had just escaped her apartments over a hedge to explore the palace. I came upon her enduring the attentions of my oldest friend, Wolf – or more formally, Wigstan of Bauladu, if you prefer. And believe me when I say his sobriquet is well deserved. She was definitely a fish out of water, as they say. She did not look or act the part of a typical lady of court, and certainly nothing like the ladies paraded before me over the years. I was instantly intrigued.

It was when I rode with her through the streets of Prille, to give her a tour of her new city, that she fully entranced me. Beneath the unassuming personality sheltered a sharp mind paired with a compassionate heart.

It was a difficult time for me after that, having always learned to hide my thoughts and feelings from others and to guard my heart. You are aware that most noble marriages are arranged and not necessarily for love? Irisa was unique, and I was terrified of losing her. Until we married, there was always a risk. But once we were wed, I felt I was finally able to allow myself to be happy. My cousin Ildor had very political reasons for choosing her for me. It was not unexpected. But he had no idea what would come of our union. I suppose we didn’t either.

Stephanie's world

Yes, i suspect he was rather peeved that your union worked out so well. [ Casmir nods and i see a glint in his eye. ] I remember when you and Irisa took that ride through Prille. I wondered then if you had engineered that ride purposely to see how she behaved, thought and felt.

Casmir: No, I am not that scheming. It was merely a courtesy on my part at the time.

I meant no offense, Sire. 

Casmir: None taken

Good job too, I don’t want myself thrown into a pit to rot somewhere now do I? 

On the subject of women, how do they figure at the court of Agrius?

Casmir: [sips at his wine and a smile lifts the corners of his mouth at some private amusement] You have to understand that women in Agrius are generally not relied upon for political leadership. While there is nothing specifically forbidding it, it just has not been the practice of our people. With that in mind, neither my mother nor my older sisters were expected to have much say at court.

My next question might be a little awkward, however I’ll ask it anyway: I understand that you never really wanted to be king, but you are born to it. If you could do anything else, be anything else, who, or what would it be?

Casmir: There is another kingdom across the sea, where there is bred a type of horse that is far superior to any other breed of horse the world over. Kings and emperors are the only ones to own such magnificent animals because so few are foaled each year and the cost is well beyond what most can afford. I think I would like to own these animals and perhaps breed them.

 Ah I can see how that would be enticing , I love horses myself and have been known to ride a bit.

Next question, apart from Irisa, tell me about a character who is good, and a character who is bad.

Casmir: There is, I believe, a single person who fits both your descriptions. If you would be so kind as to bear with me while I explain, it will become clear why I say this. There is a distant cousin on my father’s side of the family who was instrumental in helping my father take the throne of Agrius from the Sajen family. While my relationship with my father was conflicted at best, and I was kept from my mother, Cousin Ildor was like a father to me. He provided a young prince with guidance and direction, he helped me through the confusing years as a teen boy, and he showed me genuine warmth and affection. I know it to be ironic now, but in many ways, I am the man I am today because of him. Yet there was a side to Cousin Ildor that I never knew or understood when I was young. It was only in recent years when his true nature was revealed to me. Cousin Ildor had many schemes in his years as my father’s chancellor. My father was not interested in ruling Agrius, and Cousin Ildor was happy to manage the parts my father did not or could not. And as the next king of Agrius, I was one of those parts he was happy to manage. While I believe he had genuine affection for me, he also had plans for me, and in this way, much of his guidance was manipulative. And what he did to my wife’s sister, Kassia, is unthinkable. So in this way, you see, Ildor Veris is an inescapable part of who I am today, both good and evil that forged who I am, both as a ruler and a man.

I wasn’t very taken with Ildor Veris actually, even before he revealed his true colours. How do you feel now, knowing that you were duped by him?

CasmirAnyone who read Kassia’s story should understand unequivocally that Ildor Veris was not a good man. What he did to her says all one needs to know about his character. But what you must understand is that as a very skilled deceiver, he was able to hide this part of himself from me. As a young boy, he needed my affection, and he was truly like a father to me. So no, I understand why readers would not feel sympathy for him, but for me he was a vital part of my life. When Irisa first met him, she had heard all the stories based on hearsay and others’ experiences of him so was initially afraid. Once she met him in person, her caution melted. He was not like the stories, and it took her time to see the real side of him. Since he was family to me, my poor Irisa had a very difficult time convincing me that the side to him she saw was the true one. I would not listen to her. However, with persistence, she was able to finally convince me. Once I learned the truth of him, the strength of my anger and hurt was too overpowering, and like other powerful emotions, I was never quite sure what to do with them. It was easier to lock my anger away, like other negative feelings, and not deal with it. My mother taught me well how to hide my true feelings, so it was easier never to speak of him. Irisa sensed this about me and really never brought him up again, knowing that to speak of him would likely anger me. My pride could not handle it

What is your greatest achievement so far?

Casmir: Eradicating slavery in Agrius. Time will tell however, what the long-term impact will be. Not everyone was pleased with this course of action, particularly the parts of Agrius who benefited the most from the trade.

There’s always those who have no empathy toward their fellow humans willing to make money out of people’s misery isn’t there?

As we wrap up this fascinating insight into your life, your highness I’d like to ask this penultimate question? What are your favourite scenes/scene in the book?

Casmir: There are many, but perhaps the one that is the most significant in my life was my very first meeting with Irisa. I admit I was taken with her from the start, though initially it was purely an amused form of curiosity and fascination. Yes, of course her beauty struck me immediately, but she was what some might call an ingénue – wholesome, innocent, not interested in the machinations of court and palace intrigue. Neither of us knew who the other was at the time. She was simply a disheveled young woman who was clearly not comfortable by either her surrounding or the company she found herself in. And I knew she had to have been completely out of her element when she had no understanding of what the impact of her family name would have on me or anyone else in the palace. I still smile to remember that day.

I sigh inwardly. Quite obviously this man is very in love with his Irisa, I don’t think that I will ever stand a chance. 😦

So last but not least, can you give us a glimpse of what is in store next for Casmir as you and your lovely Queen Irisa embark on your next part of the tale?

Casmir: It is or should be, known that kings face difficult decisions in their rule. Sometimes what is done for the betterment of the whole people can also anger another segment. Kings always have enemies. Those who thirst for power will always thirst for it. And when a king makes a decision that angers those with power, there are consequences. Unfortunately, the consequences, in this case, hit very close to home. As the story of the next book unfolds, I am tested as a king, a man, and a father. As I descend into the darkness of these struggles, I must wrestle with what kind of man I will become. Will I become the man my father was? Or even Cousin Ildor? Or will I forge my own path, becoming the man I want to be, the man Irisa believes me to be?

And here endeth the interview. Please read on for links to Stephanie’s sites and book links and an excerpt from The King’s Daughter. And if you would like to be entered into the competition to win an ebook, please leave a comment on the blog or on our Facebook blog Page. The Draw will be announced on our  blog page on Saturday the 6th July.

Author Bio

SChurchill head shot
Stephanie Churchill

Evoking the essence of historical fiction but without the history, Stephanie’s writing draws on her knowledge of history even while set in purely fictional places existing only in her imagination. Filled with action and romance, loyalty and betrayal, her writing relies on deeply drawn and complex characters, exploring the subtleties of imperfect people living in a gritty, sometimes dark world. Her unique blend of historical fiction and fantasy ensures that her books are sure to please fans of historical fiction and epic fantasy literature alike.

Purchase The Scribes Daughter
Purchase The King’s Daughter
Pre-order The King’s Furies: mybook.to/TheKingsFuries
Stephanie’s website: https://www.stephaniechurchillauthor.com/

And now, the reader may enjoy Casmir’s chosen excerpt from The King’s Daughter

“Ah, my lord! They told me you were practicing at the pell.” It was Ildor Veris, and he strode purposefully toward us. “I bring you a wife, as promised.”
My heart dropped like a cold lump of stone. As Veris closed the distance between us I perceived that his gaze was fixed, not on the balding limpet clinging to my hand as I’d originally thought, but rather on someone beyond us, in the middle distance. I followed his look and noticed for the first time another man in the shadows, leaning casually against a column, his arms folded as he took in the scene.
Now that he had been addressed, he straightened and stepped into the dappled sunlight where I could take in more of his measure. His considerable height was matched by a slender build and topped with a full head of dark brown hair touched with bronze, putting me in mind of my father when I was a child. His jaw boasted the ghost of facial hair along his jaw and chin, as if he hadn’t tended to his grooming that morning. He wore a generous linen tunic, damp from obvious exertion, over silken hose encased by soft leather boots running up to mid-calf. A practice sword hung at his hip, evidencing his recent visit to the pell as Veris had suggested.
Veris stopped at my shoulder surprisingly untroubled by my presence when he likely expected me to be in my chambers and opened his mouth as if to speak again. But in that moment, he took first notice of the poet-postulant still holding my hand. Scowling, he offered, “Wigstan,” in greeting, a curt bob of his chin punctuating his displeasure. It was enough of a distraction for me to finally pull my hand free.
Wigstan returned the scowl, muttering, “I prefer Wolf.”
“Of course you do,” Veris returned dryly, his nose crinkling with distaste.
With a sniff of disdain, Veris turned his attention back to the newcomer who broke in with his own question. “Cousin Ildor, what is this about?” The man was obviously intrigued as his gaze switched between me and Veris, clearly surprised by the news. He hadn’t expected this. I resisted the urge to smooth my hair, recalling rumpled appearance and vine-tousled tresses. “I don’t recall mention of a wife, and so soon upon your return from Mercoria. You’ve only just arrived, have you not?”
“I sent word that I had a surprise, did I not?” Veris called out.
“Well, yes, but I thought maybe it was a new courser. A wife is something altogether different.”
Veris waved his hand impatiently. “This is the Lady Irisa.” He indicated me. “I will explain everything later. My man has returned from Haern, and I must be off,” adding a “Wigstan” and a nod as an afterthought.
“I prefer Wolf,” Wolf repeated irritably.
I did my best to hide a laugh. “Wolf?” I asked him, my brow arched in amusement.
He smiled impishly, indicating the woman behind him, and with a helpless shrug, laughed.
“He is named Wigstan after the god of virtue…” the newcomer offered as he closed the distance between us, “…when he should be named Cyrdric after the god of depravity!”
Both men laughed heartily at the private joke, slapping each other on the back.
My soon-to-be husband studied me closely, his smile sportive. He seemed to be enjoying my discomfort. “I suppose I should have pressed Cousin Ildor more intently to learn what brought about this change in my fortune, but I was too taken-aback. Would you care to enlighten me how this came about?”
“I am afraid that is a bit of a long story, sir,” I replied quietly, feeling at a disadvantage for many reasons.
“Lady Irisa…” he mulled, testing the sound of my name as he considered it. “You are not from here, are you? Mercoria, perhaps? The accent is telling.”
“Yes,” I answered, breaking my gaze from his, hoping he wouldn’t press me too closely for answers I couldn’t give.
He nodded, triumphant at his accurate guess. “I suppose Cousin Ildor retrieved you while in Corium.” He studied me up and down for a moment, as if assessing livestock for purchase. “Do you know when it is we are to be wed?”
His tone was engaging, light, and encouraging, though I couldn’t match his congenial mood considering the circumstances. “No, sir, I’m sorry. He told me nothing more.”
“Who is your father, Irisa, your family, if I might be so bold to ask?”
There was no sense lying, and no getting around the truth. “Sajen, sir. Bedic Sajen.” I dropped my gaze to the ground, cursing Veris under my breath for his lack of sensitivity and candor, either with me or with my partner in this surprise.
Both men startled at my response. “Bedic Sajen? Are you certain?” His eyes widened, and he looked as if he might need to sit down. I nodded. “I had no idea Bedic Sajen survived long enough to have a daughter!”
They looked at me as if I would supply the answers to the mystery, but when I said nothing, they eyed each other.
“Irisa,” my husband-to-be began carefully, his voice even and measured, “do you have any idea who I am?”
I raised my eyes to look at him, to see if he was teasing or if he was in earnest. He had asked kindly, though with a certain amount of disbelief. “I must confess that I do not,” I answered, adding a hesitant “my lord” just in case.
Wolf stared at me, his mouth agape. After regaining his composure, he rearranged his expression back into one of casual politeness. “Dear lady,” he coughed, “this is Prince Casmir.”

I would like to thank His Royal Highness, Casmir, King/Prince of Agrius for his openness and frank discussion about his life and wish he and his beautiful spouse, the Queen, a long and fruitful life!

Coming Next!

Saturday 6 July Nicky Moxey https://nickymoxey.com/ interviews General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola, exceedingly determined soldier from Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of the histfic saga – Celtic Fervour by Nancy Jardine

To catch up with the previous character interviews check out this Link


Interview My Character – Wulfhere, Thegn of Horstede

Wulfhere, Thegn of Horstede stops by Christine Hancock’s blog today as part of the Historical Writers Forum: Interview My Character #BlogHop. Check out his frank and honest story!


Today I have a visitor on my blog. As part of the Historical Writer’s Forum Blog Hop, I am interviewing a character from the Sons of the Wolf by Paula Lofting, a series of historical novels set in the 11th century in the years leading up to the Battle of Hastings.

Wulfhere is a rather large Anglo Saxon warrior, so I have made sure Byrhtnoth is out of the way, in case he gets jealous and starts a fight.

Welcome Wulfhere, may I offer you some mead, or would you prefer ale?

Mead if I may, the strongest you have.

I make it myself and have had no complaints. Waes Hael!
Now, please introduce yourself – who you are, what you do?

Well, Christine, I am a king’s thegn, which means I am beholden to him for my 5 hides of land. The current king is Edward, son of the…

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Ælfgyva: The Mystery Woman of the Bayeux Tapestry – Part III

So, to reflect on what we have this far, there were several Ælfgifus or Ælfgyvas which was a popular noble name for women in the 11thc. The name itself means noble gift, and therefore likely to be a high-status name. We have the story of Ælfgifu of Northampton who was involved in some mystery around the paternity and even the maternity of her sons by Cnut, Harold Harefoot and Swein. Then we have the tale of Emma/Ælfgifu, Edward the Confessor’s mother who supposedly committed adultery with the Bishop of Winchester. Were there any other contenders for this woman’s identity?

Yes, it seems to be so. Æthelred the Unready also had a wife called Ælfgifu of York, who was the mother of possibly all of the king’s sons apart from the two youngest, Edward and Alfred, who were born to his second wife, Emma of Normandy. Do you feel that headache coming on? (Please let me know if you need to lie down.) But to complicate things even more, it is possible that there were two wives called, Ælfgifu, as some historians have believed, for there are two named contenders for her father, however, seeing as there is as little evidence for there being two wives as for the one, we may as well discount this fact. And so, seeing as we do not know of any scandal attributed to her, and her existence is as far away from the events of the mid 11thc as the moon, it is not beneficial to think that this lady is being represented on the Tapestry.

So, is there any more Ælfgifus not mentioned as yet? There may be one other. Some historians have, in an effort to solve the riddle, gone for the simpler, but unlikely option, that Harold had a sister called Ælfgyva whom he’d promised to one of Duke William’s barons in return for his own alliance with one of the duke’s daughters. The lurid depiction of this woman called Ælfgyva and the cleric is said to explain a scandal of some sort that would have been common knowledge at the time. There are other stories that run along similar lines, but these also prove very dissatisfying, for they do not answer the riddle of the purpose of their appearance on the tapestry.

Paula Bayeux 1
Segment of the BT showing William and Harold arriving at the duke’s palace and in conference with each other.  The Alfgyva and the monk scene a caption

Here now I think, would be a good time to objectively examine the scene and the ones preceding it. If we go back two scenes, we are looking at four horsemen riding toward a tower-like building with a man in the lookout pointing at the men as they approach. The words in Latin along the top of the tapestry read, Here comes Duke William with Earl Harold to his palace. The next scene has no written explanation but simply shows an image of Duke William sitting on his throne in his great hall, and a man standing behind him whose fore-finger is pointing toward the figure of Harold stood before the duke. Harold’s right hand gesticulates, open palmed the way someone might when he is explaining something. His left-hand points behind him and appears to be almost touching the hand of a bearded guard that is standing a little way from the rest of his companions. Obviously, the bearded man represents someone important to the story of the tapestry. Curiously, this guard has not dressed his hair in the Norman fashion of shaving the back of his head to the crown, as do the other men in the image, Harold being the other exception. The guard also has a beard, which the others do not, having shaven faces. The artist seems to have gone to great lengths to distinguish this man from the others.

medmeeting-e1513857777905 (1)
William and Harold discuss the purpose of his visit

Finally, the next segment (below) shows the mysterious Ælfgyva standing in a doorway, presumably to convey a scene in a house, with a priest or monk reaching out to her, his hand touching her face and his other hand firmly on his waist. He looks as if he has taken a step toward her. He could be touching her face endearingly, or he could be slapping her face. It is open to conjecture. We will never know. Additionally, the scene in the border below show some very lewd figures. Underneath Ælfgyva, a naked man with a large appendage appears to be squatting, as though pointing under her skirt. In the scene with Harold and William, another naked, faceless man is bending over a work bench with a hatchet. The meaning of these images are obviously of a sexual nature, but what connection it has to the mystery scene is really not clear, but possibly would have been to those who had lived around the time the Tapestry was crafted, and most likely refers to a known scandal of the time.

Alf and cleric
The BT scene where William and Harold are in a consultation

Going back to the first segment, the story of the tapestry so far, is that Harold, having sailed to across the sea from Bosham, has been brought to meet William by Guy of Ponthieu. The Count of Ponthieu had captured Harold and his crew after their ship had washed up far off his destination of Normandy. William essentially rescues the English earl from the clutches of his rebellious vassal, who was hoping, perhaps, to ransom the great English earl for a large sum of silver. These two great men, Harold and William are destined to become the fiercest of enemies. At this time, however, they are friends – of a sort – and they ride toward the duke’s palace, probably Rouen, with a following escort. William is carrying the hunting bird that Harold may have bought as a gift for the duke; a sweetener for what he might wish to request of him. William may have thought of doing a spot of hunting on the way to meet his guest. Kings and nobles were often wont to take their hunting animals with them wherever they went and further back in the tapestry, we see Harold embarking the vessel that takes him to Normandy, with his own hunting hounds and birds. One of the most remarkable things about the embroidery is that if you look closely there are plenty of hidden meanings portrayed in the story as it unfolds. One of these, if you look carefully, appears in this scene. Assuming that where the names appear, they are consistently sewn above of the image of the person portrayed, Harold is in the forefront of the riders, and appears to be signalling to the man leaning out of the tower to keep quiet by touching his lips with his fingers. Andrew Bridgeford states in his book, 1066 The Hidden History of the Bayeux Tapestry, that this is one of Harold’s kinsmen that William had kept as hostage since 1052, excitedly waving to him, almost as if he is saying, “Brother, it is me, Wulfnoth! At last you have come for me!”

Harold Meets with Edward to discuss his mission to Normandy

According to the Canterbury monk Eadmer, in his account (Historia Novorium in Anglia c 1095) of Harold’s mysterious visit to Normandy has the earl embarking on a mission to free his brother Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon from the duke of Normandy’s clutches. A very different account to that given by the Norman propaganda machine, which has Harold travelling gaily overseas to meet with the duke, after being commissioned by King Edward, offering him his loyalty and promising to use his powers of persuasion with the Witan to have him as their king upon Edward’s death. The younger Godwin boys, were allegedly whisked away as hostages in some scheme possibly cooked up by Robert Champart, Archbishop of Canterbury, an arch enemy of Earl Godwin, sometime in 1052 when the family returned from exile. Champart may have used the hostages as a shield to help him escape without molestation, from Godwin’s revenge. Champart, being Norman, was sympathetic to the Norman cause. He may have schemed to persuade Edward to name Duke William as his heir. When the archbishop’s plot went awry, and Godwin returned to favour, the earl was gunning for those who had played a part in his exile, especially the major player, Champart.

The hostages were taken to the duke on Champart’s escape to Normandy, supposedly, as according to Norman Sources, as surety of Edward’s and possibly Godwin’s word (though the latter would have been doubtful) that he would succeed to the throne of England. Even having to flee from England with a charge of treason over his head, did not deter Champart to stir up trouble and continue with his plan to see William as Edward’s heir. It’s also possible that Edward had secretly given his blessing to Champart to take the boys, hoping that one day the tide would again turn against Godwin, that veritable boil on his bottom.

Harold and his men embark to Normandy

In the autumn of 1064, at the time when Harold’s visit to Normandy was most likely to have taken place, Wulfnoth would have been a man in his late twenties and Hakon, a teenager. The former was Godwin’s youngest son, and Hakon, the son of Godwin’s eldest, son, Swegn. How they would have fared all those years in Normandy away from their country of birth and family, one might wonder. There are no records of their progress during their stay, however one can perhaps surmise that by the time Harold appears on the scene, they have got used to being hostages, well treated in respect of their nobility and having found positions among the duke’s household. Eadmer’s version of Harold’s trip to Normandy takes a very different slant to that of the Normans, with the main purpose being to negotiate the release of Harold’s kin from the duke’s custody. In the Norman version, we are told that Harold arrived with gifts for William, gifts that it was said were for the duke from Edward, to confirm his promise of the ascendancy. Or were they boons of a different nature? Bribes perhaps for the release of Hakon and Wulfnoth, and not from Edward, but from Harold?

So, the segments of the Bayeux Tapestry that we have seen above can be interpreted in as Harold and William discussing the purpose of his visit, which could be to discuss Edward’s wish that William become his heir – or – it can be interpreted as Harold explaining that his visit is to talk about his kinsmen: brother, Wulfnoth, the bearded chap amongst William’s household guard, and Hakon, his nephew. Whatever the case, both men, it would seem, had different agendas…. and how does the curious picture of the noble lady and the monk fit into all this?

We have more to discover in the next Part.

Bridgeford A, 2004 1066: The Hidden History of the Bayeux Tapestry Fourth Estate; First Edition edition
Eadmer c1095 Historia Novorium in Anglia
Walker I, Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King The History Press; new edition, 2010.

This post can also be read here on the English Historical Fiction Authors’ Blog

The Rise of Edward the Confessor: The Story of the Man Who But For a Quirk of Fate, Might Never Have Been King

How Edward Became King

Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 1 : le roi Édouard le Confesseur
Bayeux Tapestry, Scene 1: King Edward the Confessor and Earl Harold. Source: Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Author: Myrabella

Edward, son of Æthelred must have been one of if not the luckiest Anglo-Saxon kings to take the throne of England. He starts out with his chances of succeeding his father looking very hopeful up to the age of about eight. Then his luck ran out with the coming of Danish invaders, Svein and Cnut. His father Æthelred, chased out of England, returns again only to die in the midst of the Danish invasion. With Edward’s older brother Edmund¹ on the throne in Wessex and Cnut in charge of the Danelaw, his chances of ever becoming king were looking slim, and they got even slimmer when Edmund, the courageous Ironside, dies from his battle wounds leaving the kingdom to Cnut as agreed by the treaty the two men had made. As if things couldn’t get any worse, they are compounded when his dear mother, Emma, decides to get into a new marriage bed with Cnut, followed by two more children, leaving poor old Edward and his brother, Alfred, out in the cold in Normandy.
The years go by, and Edward spends it in exile, cultivating a hatred for his mother, that will last a life time. And who could blame him? After all, she abandons the interests of her sons by Æthelred to marry this Cnut chap who is years younger than her and not willing to play stepdaddy to two young lads one little bit. Emma seems quite happy about this, or perhaps, struck with a short memory problem, forgets her children from her former marriage also including a girl, Goda. Most likely, Emma negotiates her own terms for her marriage, seeing as her brother, in a fit of pique, more-or-less disowns her when she sails back to England to marry Cnut, and it would seem that within those terms there is no room for Edward or Alfred in this happy new family. So Emma, as far as her eldest son is concerned, bangs the first nail into her coffin, and there are more nails to bang in over the coming years.

Emma and Cnut – public domain

Despite her neglect of her eldest children, Emma of Normandy was quite a woman for her time. Born somewhere between 985 and 989 she was shipped off to England in 1002 to marry Æthelred who was to earn the nomenclature Unready for prosperity. In becoming the second Mrs Unready, Emma was the first Norman queen of England. If her treatment of her children by Mr Unready is anything to go by, she obviously didn’t like her first husband. He was, no doubt, a lot older than her having grown up children of his own. She may had loved her first children dearly, but it still didn’t stop her from running to Cnut without securing something for them. Cnut probably needed her as much as she needed him, however, whether Cnut was unwilling to agree to her sons having a stake in the crown, or whether Emma was agreeable to forgoing their rights, is unsure. Whatever the machinations, I imagine that it was part of the nuptial contract that Emma forego her children’s rights, but she probably secured the succession for any children she had by Cnut over his children by any others. To give credit to her, she pulled off an amazing coup by becoming Cnut’s queen, ousting the backside of her rival, Ælfgifu², from his bed and replacing it with her own, getting her hands on that crown for the second time running.

Norman knights supported by archers attack the English at the Battle of Hastings. Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry – 11th century

Edward probably spends the next twenty-five years living in Normandy being educated with his brother and being brought up as knights. He seems to make several friends, one of them being Robert Champart who may have travelled to Normandy with him later when his half-brother, Harthacnut, recalls him to assist with his government. It is not known exactly how he carried on his affairs in Normandy or what his relationship was like with Duke Robert or his young son, William. William would have only been in his infancy when Edward himself was a young man and Edward did not seem to have had much to do with him during the dangerous years of William’s succession to his father. It is unlikely that the Norman propaganda in later years that promulgated their relationship as cordial and supportive was true. Edward is not mentioned in the sources as being part of his administration which seems to have been carried out by close members of the senior duke’s family and that of the boy’s mother’s. If he had been, I’m sure that it would have been documented and used to their advantage. They may have known each other distantly, but there is no evidence to state that there was any love between them and by the time Edward sailed for England, the young duke would have been no older than twelve or thirteen. Edward may have studied at Jumièges, as his relationship with Robert Champart of Jumièges might suggest. Or he might have lived at the Abbey of Fécamp as his gifts to them during his reign might also suggest. William Calculus, a monk of Jumièges stated that Edward and Ælfred completed their schooling in the ducal court, which William of Poitiers, Archdeacon of Lisieux also repeats. No doubt, however, that whatever the case, the brothers were most likely brought up as young noble men would have been. Initially as pages, then learning squirely duties where they would also have learned to sing, dance, and fight on horseback as chevaliers.

York Museums Trust (Yorkshire Museum)

Meanwhile, whilst Edward was going about his activities in Normandy, Cnut ups and dies in November of 1035. The country is split into to 2 factions, with those supporting Cnut’s son by Ælfgifu, Harold Harefoot in the north and those supporting his son, Harthacnut, by Emma in the south. Nobody thought about the two sons of Æthlefred languishing in exile over the water in Normandy – or perhaps they did, and found Edward wanting, if anyone had bothered to look into his character that is, as it was to become clear later, Edward was hardly the epitome of a king in such a warrior society as this, despite his knightly upbringing. Æthelred did have other sons that the English might have looked to should they have no desire to plant the troublesome offspring of Cnut on the throne, but by this time, they were all dead, and any issue from them may have been obscure or missing, as was the most famous amongst them, Edmund’s sons³, at this time, abroad in exile.
So, with Harthacnut held up in Denmark, unable to get back to England to claim his throne, his half-brother, Harold, is proclaimed Protector for his in his absence. Harold hurries to Emma in Winchester and seizes the Royal treasury and regalia from her. The next blow to her is Godwin, who had been a supporter of Harthacnut and Emma, accepts that his lot would be better served by switching sides and Emma, vulnerable and concerned for her own position is thought to have reached out to her first-born sons in Normandy. Edward and Ælfred, whether in harmony or not, cross separately with a contingent each to meet their mother in England. Ælfred is killed by Harold Harefoot’s henchmen after being handed over by Godwin. The Earl of Wessex intercepted had Ælfred on his way to parley with Harold. Edward is said to have landed in Southampton but is either repulsed or perhaps sent a messenger from his mother which warns him and he scuttles back home the way he came. Emma later claims that Harefoot forged a letter to sent to her sons to lure them to England and as in Ælfred’s case, eventual death. It was Earl Godwin who was the loser in this debacle. Whatever his reasons for intercepting Ælfred, he was to be blamed for the rest of his life by Edward for the death of his brother: an accusation that was said to have haunted Godwin until his death.
Harold Harefoot eventually has a timely death which coincides with Harthacnut’s return to England shortly after to take up his post as king. When he heard about the death of his half-brother, Ælfred, the first thing  he did was to dig up Harold Harefoot’s corpse and toss it in a ditch, so incensed was he. But he wasn’t to live for too long either, even though he was only about twenty-four at the time, he might have had some insight into his health. Not having married or fathered any known sons, he was advised to invite his older brother from across the sea in Normandy, to join him and be one of his counsellors. Edward had by now given up any thoughts of being king, so the summons must have come as a surprise.

Queen Emma, wife of Ethelred II and Cnut, receives the book from its author, watched by her sons Harthacnut and Edward (King Edward the Confessor)
Emma receives the Encomium from its author, flanked by Harthacnut and Edward, 11th century (c) British Library Board/Bridgeman Imageson

This must have seemed like a miracle to Edward, who, as the Vita Ædwardi Regis claims was sworn in as the future king when Emma was pregnant. The will of God had been that Edward would be their king all along, and that God had postponed the event in order to punish the people for their sins. Despite the auspisiousness of the prophecy, this was given to add meaning to Edward’s long-awaited kingship, thus rationalising the development of his saintly persona. Edward was now elevated to the highest status one could ever achieve. Just a few weeks prior to his invitation from his half-brother, Edward had been in the unlikely position of ever becoming king. Now, he was the king’s heir. Edward, without doing anything, had achieved the seemingly impossible. He had started out in a goodly position. His mother’s pre-marriage contract arranged by her brother, the Duke of Normandy, would have seen to it that any of her sons borne of Æthelred’s seed would have taken precedence over any of his sons from another woman’s womb.
Harthacnut, it was said as per the Encomium Emma, was inspired by brotherly love, because he obviously loved Edward even though he’d never given him a thought throughout his life, invited Edward to come and hold the kingdom with him. Edward hopefully didn’t rush into this rashly, after all, he’d only waited 25 years, but he obeyed the summons and ‘Emma and her two sons among whom there was true loyalty,’ ehem, *coughs, ‘amicably share the kingdom’s revenues.’ Poitiers chose to believe that William of Normandy, then only a mere twelve or thirteen, had something to do with helping the exile get back home to his rightful place.

Edward’s Coronation

It’s possible that whilst Emma was in Bruges waiting for Harthacnut to withdraw from his issues in Denmark, some sort of reconciliation between the two brothers and their mother was made. Perhaps Emma at last felt the burden of guilt lay heavily on her shoulders, or perhaps it was Harthacnut’s idea, wanting to meet his brother and form a bond with him.
As it happened, the two brothers may have had just about enough time to get to know each other and form some sort of friendship before Harthacnut died, binging on drink in 1042 at the wedding of Tovi the Proud. He was said to have stood up to make a speech and then keeled over in what one can only imagine was some sort of stupor. He was never to recover. There is no suggestion that poison was involved, despite the fact that Harthacnut was not very well liked. In any case, the miracle that Edward had needed all his life if he was ever to be king, had finally happened. God’s will had been done, the English were punished enough, and Edward was now their king at last. The man who ought never to have been king, was elevated to that exulted place at last.


¹ King Edmund II known as the Ironside for his strength and courage.

²Ælfgifu of Northampton was Cnut’s first alliance, the daughter of an important Northern Anglo-Saxon family. She was the mother of Cnut’s two sons, Svein and Harold.

³ Edmund’s sons, Edward and Edmund, were sent abroad when they were infants to be done away with on Cnut’s orders. Luckily for them, the king of Sweden took pity on them and at least one of them survived into adulthood. Edward Edmundson was to become the subject of a mission by King Edward to find himself an heir.


Barlow F. 1997 Edward the Confessor, Yale University Press, Newhaven and London

Swanton M. 2000 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles Phoenix Press, London.

Walker W. I. 2004 Harold, the Last Anglo-Saxon King