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

In this final examination of this mystery, I do not aim to prove,what the image of Alfgyva and the priest represents. It would be impossible, because there is no evidence to draw on – at all – that is irrefutably connected to the scene. Mind you, if there was, I’m sure it would have been discovered years ago. So, my mission is to explain, and perhaps persuade,  my theory of who she is and what the scene could be portraying. We will never know the full truth behind the image and what the artist was trying to convey, the real message has been lost down the tunnel of time and has died with those who have long since lived those events.

I imagine that in the same way one might glance at the front page of a modern newspaper, read the first line of a headline story and know exactly what the author was referring to, so the contemporaries of the Tapestry would also know about the well-known scandal of the time. The people of the 11thc may not have needed any more explanation than the image of Alfgyva and the priest for them to know who the artist was referring to – or – it might be that there was some secret underlying message linked to the woman and the priest contained within the borders of the tapestry that reports something else only known to certain people. No one can be sure. One could also say (and some have), that the images in the borders could be there for decorative purposes only, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the message the Tapestry is trying to send.

So to summarise, we discovered earlier on who the lady in question is and to my mind this is as indisputable as it can get. She was Ælfgifu of Northampton, handfastened wife of King Cnut, and it was J Bard McNulty (1980) who first identified her. She was sent by Cnut to Norway to govern there with their eldest son Swein, however her heavy handed rule did not endear her to the Norwegians and they eventually ousted her and her son. Poor Swein died in Denmark where they had both sought refuge. Nothing was heard about her after 1040, but she had become the subject of a scandal years before, when she was accused of presenting Cnut with two sons that were actually neither hers nor his. One was rumoured to be the son of a priest and a serving maid and the other was the son of a workman and perhaps herself or the same servant maid.

William secures the release of Harold from the Count of Ponthieu and brings him to his palace where they discuss the woman in the next scene

Regarding her connection to the Bayeux Tapestry, what could she possibly have had to do with the story of Harold’s sojourn in Normandy? As I explained previously in  Part V, J.McNulty Bard (1980) states in The Lady Ælfgyva in the Bayeux Tapestry that the scene depicting Ælfgyva and the priest is not what happens next in the story, but what Harold and William are  discussing in the previous scene. This is highly possible, for it is the only scene that doesn’t follow the previous one. But with the absence of speech bubbles, it is still pretty much conjecture, though I can say with confidence that of all the theories, this one has substance to it.

William returns to his palace in Normandy

In order to reach the point where we can deliberate the conversation between Harold and William, we need to discuss the scene with the two men in detail. This is the one before the Aelfgyva scene. William and Harold have just arrived at William’s court from having ridden from Ponthieu where Harold had been kept, probably for ransom, by the young Count after washing up on his shore with his personal guard. According to Eadmer, somehow, a huscarle of Harold’s, escaped and called upon William for his help in releasing his lord from the clutches of Count Guy. William was the count’s overlord and demanded that Guy hand Harold over immediately, which he did. 
Now, we move on, William sits on his throne in his hall with a Norman guard standing behind him with a spear. This man appears to be pointing at Harold. The viewer can differentiate between the Normans and the English by their hairstyles. There is little disparity with the English and Norman clothing of the day, but their hair styles are very different with most Normans wearing their hair short and shaved at the back to just above the ears. The artist has obviously marked these out to give a clear distinction between the two races. The image of Harold is shown with his hair covering his ears and just above collar length. Curiously, the guard standing directly behind him as he converses with William, is not shown as a Norman. 
This man is also sporting an English style hair cut and a beard. The Normans are generally shown as being clean shaven. The English either have beards or moustaches. As we can see, the rest of William’s household guards are looking very Norman-like in contrast to the one that Harold appears to be indicating to. 

Harold and William discuss the purpose of his visit

As stated by Eadmer in his History of Recent Events in England, Harold had travelled to Normandy with the intention of negotiating the release of his brother Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon. These two particular Godwinsons had been taken into Edward’s care as hostages to ensure the good behaviour of their patriarch, Godwin, in 1051, when had Godwin found himself in trouble with Edward. His refusal to punish the people of Dover for their ‘maltreatment’ of the king’s brother-in-law, Count Eustace of Bologne and his retinue, had been the cause of this discontent between the earl and his king (Barlow 2002). 
Godwin had rallied his supporters to side with him against the king. At that time, the great nobles of the day were reluctant to support a civil war and so Godwin had no choice but flee into exile, leaving his son Wulfnoth and grandson Hakon behind as hostages. It is not exactly clear how Wulfnoth and Hakon, both young boys at the time, came to find themselves in Normandy, but it was quite possible that the Archbishop, Robert Champart took them with him when Godwin forced his way back to England from exile a year later. Champart had helped to engineer Godwin’s fall from grace and so feared for his life and fled back to Normandy. 
It is believed that he used the boys to shield him from those who would stop him leaving the country and brought the boys with him to present to William as surety for Edward’s promise of the crown. This might have been with Edward’s agreement, but must have been a decision that Edward later wished to forget, for he was eventually to sanction a mission by Bishop Ealdred to go abroad to look for Edward’s nephew, known as Edward the Exile, son of his brother, Edmund Ironside. 

Edmund Ironside

So, Eadmer, a monk and chronicler of Canterbury, has in his writings, Harold travelling to Normandy on a mission to secure the release of his kin with a stark warning from Edward that this may not be a good idea and that he will be inviting trouble for himself and ‘the whole kingdom’ if he does indeed embark on this journey.  Edward warns Harold that the duke is ‘not so simple’ as to give the hostages up without getting something in return. Edward apparently also states, as Eadmer tells us, that he wanted no part in Harold’s plan. 
And yet Harold still went, frivolously, one might think, considering Edward’s warning about the nature of his second cousin. This story reveals that not only was Harold possessed of a stubborn nature, it also shows that the king’s power over his subordinate was weak, for he was unable exert his kingly influence over him and persuade him not to go. But whatever Harold’s determination to ignore his king’s advice, he must have been disturbed by the plight of his brother and nephew, languishing in Normandy long after the need for them to be hostages. The original purpose for their detention had been to ensure Godwin’s good behaviour and the patriarch of the family had long been dead. Harold, I am sure, wanted only to bring them home. 
The Norman sources tell a totally different tale. They insist that Harold had been sent by Edward to confirm the succession upon him (Harriet Harvey Wood 2008). I prefer Eadmer’s version, for it holds more weight. He was said to have had access to people who might have had first hand information about Harold’s intentions when he went to Normandy. It is a plausible suggestion and upon studying the images of the Tapestry, I have not seen anything that might not support this idea; having said that, the Tapestry does support both the Norman and Eadmer’s version. 


So now, what are my conclusions? Well, you will have to wait until tomorrow to hear the rest of the story in the final concluding episode of this long, twisted journey back to the past.

Death of an Exile

 

Edward_the_Exile
public domain

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

Edmund_Ironside_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VI

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

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

Peter_of_Hungary_(Chronicon_Pictum_047)
Peter of Hungary

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

Andrew_I_(Chronica_Hungarorum)

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

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

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

Edgar_the_Ætheling

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

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

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

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

BayeuxTapestryScene13(crop2)
Harold                    Bayeux Tapestry

 

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

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

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

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

 

References

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

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

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