Death of an Exile


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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.


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

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.


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.


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.

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.



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 Twelve: The Battle: 1) The Lines Are Drawn


Harold’s men lined up on the ridge at Caldbeck Hill – Photo c/o

Harold was marshalling his men as the Norman army and their allies, marched along the road from Hastings, into the valley that was slung between Telham and Caldbeck Hills. Singing their war songs, and shouting  ‘Dex Aie!’ – God aid us  – and ‘Normandy!’

Watching them whilst on the ridge facing them, Harold’s mob start banging their weapons against their shields and shouting for ‘Godwinson!’ and ‘Oli crosse!’ or ‘Gotte  mite!’ essentially meaning, God is on our side! And of course, the famous ‘Ut! Ut! Ut!’ Imagine the noise these thousands of men would have made, a cacophony of languages and chants. It would not have been unlike a football match here in the modern world, except the chanters were the players and not the observers in this game of death.

The ridge was reportedly 800 yards long, the flanks of which were protected by sharp declines and it cut right across the road back to Hastings. At its highest point it rose to about 150ft, and 60ft above the lowest point of the marshy valley. Behind the shieldwall, lay the road back to London and Lewes, on the top of the hill, there was open heathland big enough to camp on overnight. Nearby was the edge of the forest, where after the battle, survivors would run, or crawl, when they realised they had lost the battle. For now, though, they were not thinking of dying, or losing, well, maybe some were, but the confident among them wanted to get stuck into the enemy, thinking only of driving them back into the sea to whence they came. They were fighting for their freedom, the right to govern themselves as their customs dictated over years of building their country from the days when the first Germanic tribes climbed over the strakes of their longships and stepped onto Britannia’s soil.


The Normans, on the other hand, were fighting for what they believed in too, except their beliefs were governed by the desire of their leader, who had promised them that he had God on their side, that he, William of Normandy, was the true King of England. He’d also promised them land, riches and status, to encourage them to come with him. They were fighting for their new lives, land where they had none back in France, and greater prospects. And they were doing this at the expense of their English counterparts.


You can imagine the speeches that each war leader gave their troops, though it must have been difficult to relay a speech to that amount of men without the technology of today, still, no doubt there were speeches and the differences within them would have been to do with the above.

Harold’s men must have been 8-10 men deep and a thousand men across. By these times, the 11th century, that would have been a large army. And there would still be more men Harold could call on, if only he could contain William, at the very least, if not, destroy him completely. His plan must have been to maintain the shieldwall on the ridge until new troops arrived, and all his troops should have known what the plan was. Guy of Amiens, in his Roman de Rou, informs us that many of Harold’s troops deserted him because of the excommunication. Florence of Worcester confirms this but gives a different reason, they left because there was no room on the ridge, the battlefield was full. Howarth (1977) believes that those who went away were local peasants who had turned up to support their masters, perhaps. It seems unlikely that professional warriors would have left their comrades to it, even if there was no more room on the ridge, they would have stayed in reserve, and filled in the gaps when men were wounded or injured.

William had marched at dawn. For an army  of that size to get itself up and going, it must have taken a lot longer than initially thought. When the head of William’s army came over the slope of Telham Hill, the rear was only getting started 6 miles away. William halted in sight of the English army who were already lining up on the ridge. Kinights stopped to put on their mail hauberks. William, put his mail on back to front! Just the sort of thing I do on a daily basis with my clothes – not mail – I might add. But once again, he laughs at the bad omen and his men help him to sort himself out.

William deploys his army to the left and right as the English watch on. There is about 200 yards between them. Battle lines draw up and it begins.

Gravett C (2000) Hastings 1066 The Fall of Saxon England Osprey Publishing Ltd, Oxford.

Howarth D (1977) 1066 The Year of the Conquest Viking Press, New York.



Guest Post: Bishops, Banners and Bastards by Robert Bayliss

“…the gift of a banner as a pledge of the support of St. Peter whereby he might the more confidently and safely attack his enemy.”
The Deeds of William, Duke of the Normans and King of the English. – William of Poiters
“The Pope weighed the arguments on both sides, and then sent a banner to William as an earnest of his kingdom.”
Gesta Regum – William of Malmesbury


Duke William raises his helmet to rally his troops. Beside him, Eustace of Bologne carries the Papal banner  *Source Bayeux tapestry

When Duke William landed at Pevensey in September 1066 on his campaign to dethrone Harold and conquer England, he unfurled his banners which included the Gonfalon, the battle standard of the Pope. Usually these were only issued on campaigns against non-Christian states or those who rebelled against papal authority. Yet here was a Christian Duke launching, what in effect was, a crusade against another Christian state; a Christian state that had been subject to the papacy for a century and a half. The subjugation of a well-established Christian nation could now be undertaken and those who indulged in the excesses of war would be absolved of their sins. And excesses there would be, such as the pillaging around Pevensey to draw Harold to battle and later the near genocidal Harrying of the North in the winter of 1069-70. The gift of the Gonfalon meant that other Christian kings would risk excommunication if they came to Harold’s aid or took advantage of William’s absence from his own lands. How could such a thing come to pass?

The Normans were descended from land hungry Northmen, who under their war chief Rollo, settled in north west France in an area that would bear their name – Normandy. Rollo himself had earned a reputation as a viking raiding Ireland and Scotland. He appears not to have raided England to any great extent, which isn’t surprising as Alfred the Great had recently forced Guthrum to sue for peace and was overseeing an Anglo-Saxon revival of fortunes. Heading south, Rollo’s longships raided deep into Frankia navigating along the river Seine. In 876 Rollo captured Rouen and nine years later besieged Paris itself. It was clear that Rollo and his men meant to stay and in 911 a formal treaty, with Rollo pledging fealty to Charles III of France, created the Duchy of Normandy.


Rollo of Normandy – Falaise town square. * Source Wikipedia

The Normans adopted the language of the Carolingian Franks and they converted to Christianity. If anyone expected their new found faith to curb their warlike tendencies they would be disappointed, especially as they readily took to the Carolingian concept of heavy cavalry and made it their own. However, being subjects of the French king meant Norman expansion in France could only go so far and only the eldest son inherited lands and titles. Perhaps a second son could find a position in the church but where was the glory for a people who had won their lands by the sword? These were a people whose society was founded on martial prowess, but perhaps an outlet could be found to marry this with their newfound piety?

From 999 AD a steady stream of Normans found their way to southern Italy. Southern Italy had been settled by the Lombards, a Germanic people in the C8th – C9th. They found themselves sandwiched as a buffer state between the Carolingian Empire to the north and the Byzantine Empire to the south in Apulia – the heel – and Calabria – the toe of Italy. The Lombards had briefly had a unified Duchy but this had disintegrated into smaller duchies and principalities. As the Byzantine Empire waned the Saracens had entered the fray and carved out an Emirate in Sicily.

Legend has it that a group of Norman knights returning from pilgrimage to the Holy Land assisted the Lombards of Salerno in repulsing Saracen raiders. Not one to miss an opportunity more Normans arrived to find employment as mercenaries, especially when the Lombards, encouraged by the Pope, revolted against their Byzantine overlords. However the Normans were wily and could fight for both sides, all the time their numbers swelled and Norman held fiefdoms were carved from the chaos.

*Source – Wikipedia

What originally was a Lombard revolt increasingly became Norman and more towns fell to them. They were not averse to campaigning as their Viking forebears had – raiding, burning farms and villages, starving towns of supplies to encourage their surrender. Their power and influence grew steadily as they crept from the toe and up the boot of Italy.

To the Lombards the Normans had changed from servants to oppressors and further revolts broke out, this time against Norman rule. The Lombards beseeched aid from the Papacy, who looked on in alarm at the turn of events. So it was that in 1053 Pope Leo IX, a relative of the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany led a combined Papal and Imperial force to nip Norman expansion in the bud. The campaign was an utter failure and Leo was soundly defeated and captured at Civitae. Pope Leo was treated well but was reduced to passive resistance only, any hope that the Holy Roman Empire would send further aid to his cause slowly dissipated. This situation continued with two further popes who were antagonistic to the Norman presence; however political reality took hold with the ascension of the reformist Pope Nicholas II. The Papacy sought independence from the Holy Roman Empire for the appointment of the pontiff (this would now be the decision of Cardinals) and also the tardiness in coming to the aid of the Pope had shown the Empire as an unreliable ally. The Normans were nearby, had assisted in the expulsion of the Byzantines and crucially had shown themselves as a strong regional power; despite their feudal form of government and their multiple fiefdoms, they quickly united when threatened. Nicholas II wished to expel the Saracens in Sicily and bring the island back into Christendom; the land hungry Normans were an obvious choice for such a task. The Treaty of Melfi in 1059 cemented the position of the Normans in Southern Italy. They had become the Pope’s sword arm.

*Norman mercenaries in Muslim Scicily – by Angus McBride 

Nicholas II passed in 1061 and Alexander II, a student of the celebrated Lanfranc of Bec, was elected pope according to the reforms introduced by his predecessor. In opposition the Emperor in Germany chose Honorius II who with Lombard troops defeated the forces of Alexander. An armed standoff ensued between the Pope and the Antipope which only ceased in 1064 when Honorius II withdrew from Rome, although he never renounced his claim to St. Peter’s throne.

Back in Normandy, who should be Duke William’s trusted advisor but Abbot Lanfranc of St. Etienne in Caen; the same Lanfranc who had schooled the young Alexander at Bec.

Captain Lanfranc – *Source Oxford Bodleian Library

Initially the relationship between both men had been fraught. William’s marriage to Matilda of Flanders in 1053 was deemed non-Canonical; it is unclear why, perhaps due to issues of consanguinity or even affinity. William’s uncle, Duke Richard III, had been married to Adela of France, Matilda’s mother. The marriage had been brief as Richard died the same year and they had no issue, Adela married Baldwin V of Flanders the next year. Whatever the reason, Lanfranc refused to support the marriage and the relationship between William and Lanfranc grew so dire that the Abbot was on the point of being exiled from Normandy. The two men reached a rapprochement at the eleventh hour and Lanfranc successfully gained Papal approval for the marriage in 1059. Lanfranc had William’s gratitude and the Abbot’s influence grew politically as well as in the spiritually.

Upon hearing the news of the crowning of Harold II on the death of Edward the Confessor in early 1066, William wasted no time. Whether Edward had promised him the English crown or Harold had sworn to uphold his claim we won’t discuss here. While embassies were sought with powers around the North Sea to isolate England, Lanfranc and William drew up a legal case for invasion to present to Alexander II.

It was argued that Harold was an usurper, however William’s claim could be described as somewhat shaky being as it was merely built upon a promise and an oath. There had never been papal involvement in the English succession previously, as this was down to the Witan, besides English law did not look favourably upon a bastard’s claim to the crown.

William and Lanfranc’s envoy to the pope argued that the English church was in a poor state and badly in need of reform. Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury had been excommunicated for his pluralism in holding the bishoprics of Winchester and Canterbury. However England was renowned for possessing a devout ecclesiastical body that held around 20% of landed wealth. Indeed a papal legate in 1062 found no problems with the church and even Stigand had not been challenged; indeed he held the archbishopric until 1070 when he was finally arrested and unseated in favour of Lanfranc (who else?!), to die two years later in captivity.

Archbishop Stigand – *Source The Bayeux Tapestry

None of this seems to warrant the issuing of a Gonfalon against a nation which had long recognised the spiritual authority of the Papacy. Unfortunately for Harold events long ago and far away, beyond his influence, conspired against him. The Pope, an ex-student of William’s chief advisor, was threatened by the Holy Roman Empire and their attempts to depose him in favour of their candidate, while the local Italian populaces were in a near state of permanent rebellion, resentful of the growing Norman presence in southern Italy. Pope Alexander II was both dependent on, and a hostage to, Norman power. Any symbol of approval granted to Normans in their homeland would be looked upon favourably by Normans in the Pope’s backyard.


The Deeds of William, Duke of the Normans and King of the English. – William of Poiters

Gesta Regum – William of Malmesbury

The Godwins – Frank Barlow 2002

The Normans in the South – John Julius Norwich 1967