Archive for April, 2013

1569 was just another year in the turbulent history of England. But all was not well in the realm of Elizabeth 1 in the eleventh year of her reign. Catholic magnates continued to plot against her, hoping to install her Catholic half-sister Mary Queen of Scots in her place. A year before, after suffering a military defeat at the Battle of Langside, Mary had landed in Workington, Cumberland, but been taken prisoner by Richard Lowther, who was forced to hand her over in Carlisle, from where she was taken to imprisonment in Bolton Castle.

Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland

Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland

The two leading northern magnates plotting against Elizabeth were Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, and Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland. They were encouraged in their schemes by the Cumberland lord Leonard Dacre, who would later betray them. In November 1569, Percy and Neville rebelled. They wrote to Queen Elizabeth:

We, Thomas, Earl of Northumberland, and Charles, Earl of Westmorland, the Queen’s true and faithful subjects, to all that came of the old Catholic Religion, know ye that we, with many other well-disposed persons, as well of the Nobility as others, have promised our Faith to the Furtherance of this our good meaning. Forasmuch as divers disordered and well-disposed persons about the Queen’s Majesty, have, by their subtle and crafty dealings to advance themselves, overcome in this Realm, the true and Catholic Religion towards God, and by the same abused the Queen, disordered the Realm, and now lastly seek and procure the destruction of the Nobility; We, therefore, have gathered ourselves together to resist by force, and the rather by the help of God and you good people, to see redress of these things amiss, with the restoring of all ancient customs and liberties to God’s Church, and this noble Realm; lest if we should not do it ourselves, we might be reformed by strangers, to the great hazard of the state of this our country, whereunto we are all bound. God save the Queen.

Their revolt is often called rather misleadingly the Rising of the North. The alternative name The Revolt of the Northern Earls is more apt. They hoped to put Mary on the throne. With their retainers they marched on Durham and then south to Bramham Moor. ‘Elizabeth struggled to raise forces sufficient to confront them. But hearing of a large force being raised by the Earl of Sussex the rebels abandoned plans to besiege York and captured Barnard Castle instead. They proceeded to Clifford Moor, but found little popular support. Sussex marched out from York on 13 December 1569 with 7,000 men against the rebels’ 4,600, and was followed by 12,000 men under Baron Clinton. The rebel earls retreated northward and finally dispersed their forces, fleeing into Scotland’. Percy was hung for treason in 1672, while Neville died in poverty in Flanders.

But this is not a story of political and religious plots, counter-plots and battles, fascinating though those are. Here I want to tell a more prosaic tale. It’s about the little-known history of early industry in England. How German miners and smelters brought modern techniques to England and how rural Cumbrian ‘bauern’ (farmers) were drawn into the venture – usually as suppliers to the more advanced Germans. Queen Elizabeth played a pivotal role in this development, as did, in a negative sense, Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland, and as did, in a different way, Leonard Dacre, in his efforts to inherit the barony of Greystoke. But we can also find on the periphery of all this dozens of simple Cumbrian folk, including members of the Matterdale Grisdale clan. Maybe the juxtaposition of national political events, industrial history and one local family might be worth telling?

Queen Elizabeth in 1575

Queen Elizabeth in 1575

Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had made several attempts to modernize mining and metal extraction/working in England; from which he might derive more money, on top of what he had earlier expropriated through the dissolution of the monasteries. Elizabeth also had made various attempts to attract the industrially advanced Germans to come to England to develop a mining and smelting industry. She hoped to be able to find gold with which to rival the huge gold bonanza being reaped by England’s enemy Spain from her new colonies in South America. Prior to 1564 this was all to no avail. But in that year Elizabeth granted the rights to exploit her ‘royal monopoly’ to an Augsburg firm:

On 10 December 1564, an indenture was made by the Queen on one part, and Thomas Thurland and Daniel Hoechstetter on the other, by which these two were empowered to search, dig, try, roast, and melt all manner of mines and “ures” of gold, silver, copper, and quicksilver, in the counties of York, Lancaster, Cumberland, Westmorland, Cornwall, Devon, Gloucester, and Worcester, and in Wales. The Queen was to have one-tenth of native gold and silver, and one-tenth of gold and silver ore holding 8 lbs. weight in the cwt.; of every cwt. of copper, 2s., or one-twentieth during the first five years, and afterwards 2s. 6d. or one-fifteenth; “and too have the preferment in bying of all Pretious stones or pearls to be found in the woorking of these mines”; also rights over tin and lead.

Daniel Hoechstetter was acting as agent for David Haug, Hans Langnauer & Co., of Augsburg. They were, writes W. G. Collingwood in his Elizabethan Keswick, Extracts from the Original Account Books, 1564-1577, of the German Miners in the Archives of Augsburg (1912),  ‘already great dealers in silks, cloths, and draperies, in groceries and the spices of the East Indies, and like other wealthy business men of the time, in banking and bill discounting. They had widespread branches, reaching from Venice to Antwerp and from Cracow to Lyons; and though not originally interested in mines, they had recently taken over from the successor of the famous Augsburg house of the Fuggers the control of the copper mines of Neusohl in Northern Hungary. One of their branches was at Schwatz, in Tyrol, near Innsbruck, a celebrated mining centre, where silver, copper, and iron were produced ; and we find… that it was from Schwatz that some of the first miners were sent by them to England’.

German surveyors and mining experts arrived in Cumberland and soon started to find sites where they believed the mining of copper, gold, silver and lead could profitably be started. German managers continually informed Queen Elizabeth of their progress. In April 1565 Hoechstetter had invented a new engine for draining mines, patented in 1568, and he applied for the “privilege of waterworks”, offering to form a company and allot shares. The Queen ‘excused the Company from royalties until work should be established’. And after silver was found in copper ore she ‘gave leave to fell timer in her woods’ and to ‘apprehend disorderly persons employed by them’.

In August 1566, a very rich mine was discovered at Newlands, later to be called the Goldscope mine. Thomas Percy, the earl of Northumberland and lord of the local manor, stopped the Germans working by force but only after 600,000 lbs. of ore had been raised. In October Hoechstetter wrote that the Germans had been ‘ill-treated by the English workmen’. ‘He said that Leonard Stoultz had been murdered by one Fisher and his accomplices.’ This information was passed to the Queen, who, ever desirous to gain a profit from the venture, wrote to Lord Scrope, the Lord Warden of the Western Marches, and to the Justices of the Peace of Westmorland and Cumberland, ‘bidding them repress the assaults, murders, and outrages on the Almain (German) miners lately come there for the purpose of searching for and working minerals’.

Goldscope Mines today

Goldscope Mines today

Early the next year William Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief adviser and Secretary of State, together with the earls of Pembroke and Leicester wrote to the earl of Northumberland ‘requiring him to allow Thurland and Hoechstetter, or their assigns, to carry away ore dug at Newlands’. The Queen herself also commanded Northumberland to ‘offer no further obstruction to the miners at Newlands’, and that ‘any lawful claim he may have in the minerals shall be reserved to him’. But the earl thought that any minerals found at Newlands belonged to him. He had, he wrote to the Queen ‘ascertained beyond doubt that the minerals dug at Newlands belong to him only, and that the workers are trespassing on his land’. He requested the Queen, the Lord Treasurer, Sir Walter Mildmay, Lord Chief Baron, and other Barons of the Exchequer, ‘that the injunction respecting the ore dug on his land at Newlands may be dissolved’. The stand-off dragged on and it was important who won because Northumberland’s opposition to Queen Elizabeth wasn’t just about religion, it was about money as well! In September of 1567 Thurland could write to the Queen that they ‘had at length attained to the making of fine and perfect copper’. He sent a specimen. He added that ‘they only want workmen’ and that ‘they desire a conclusion between the Queen and Northumberland’.  Collingwood commented wryly on the Earl of Northumberland’s rebellion: ‘Next year Northumberland led the hasty and fatal Rising of the North, and escaped only into prison in Scotland. But it is interesting to observe that while he was plotting against Queen Elizabeth, and planning to put Queen Mary on the throne, he was letting his woods on Derwentwater to the Royal Company for their building purposes and selling them charcoal..’

On May 25th 1568, the Charter for the Governors, Assistants, and Commonalty of the Mines Royal was signed; authorizing the election of two governors, four deputy-governors, and six assistants…

In October 1568, the Earl wrote to William Cecil requesting ‘a final answer whether he is to have a reasonable composition for the mines or not; otherwise he must assert his right and title to them’. The argument was finally and definitively settled when: ‘The matter went before all the judges and the barons of the Exchequer. It was decided by a majority that as there was more gold and silver in these mines than copper and lead the Queen was within her rights in claiming them ; and this remained the leading case regarding Royal rights in mines until the time of William III.’

The Royal Mines in Keswick in 1576

The Royal Mines in Keswick in 1576

All this palaver had not stopped the Germans from continuing their work: digging the mines and building smelters at Keswick. The ore from Newlands was carried over to the shores of Lake Derwentwater and then transferred by boat to Keswick. Pretty soon nearly a dozen mines had been dug in the area; at, for example, Borrowdale, Stonycroft, Fornside, Grasmere, Newlands, Minersputt, and Buttermere. Keswick itself became the smelting centre. ‘The woodlands in the area were decimated to provide charcoal, needed for fuel in the smelting process.’ With a great deal of belief in the benefits of ‘progress’, a later writer wrote: ‘Although the valleys were denuded of trees… prosperity was brought to many whose previous existence had been limited to scraping a living from fell farming or simple rural trades’; a debatable view at best.

Ian Tyler writes: ‘In 1569, the acquisition of Derwent Island by the Company of Mines Royal provided the miners with somewhere safe to live and form a community. At 250 yards long and 170 wide, the island soon became a veritable German colony, with its own bakery, pigsty, windmill and orchard. Evidence is too scanty to prove that the miners moved to the island because of hostility from local people, however having an area to themselves must have relieved tension between the two groups.’

Derwent Island

Derwent Island

Most of the mining and smelting work was undertaken by the skilled Germans, although Englishmen were later employed as well. In general the English were used as fetchers and ‘carriers’. The surviving Augsburg account books of the Company, translated and edited by Collingwood, list all the payments made for such things as carpentry, wood and boards, smithy and iron, tallow, charcoal, stone coal, building, sacking and the carriage of peat and many more necessary industrial supplies. The names of the English (and German) workmen and carriers are listed as well. There are dozens of local English names, a veritable catalogue of local Cumberland families in the sixteenth century. Just one of these families (and not the most important) were the Grisdales of Matterdale.

Once the mines and the smelters were fully up and running in 1569, we find a certain John Grysdall mentioned twice. In the August 1569 accounts – the Germans did accounts seven times a year- John is listed as a ‘peat carrier’. He received payment for delivering 3 hundred (loads) of peat from ‘Flasco’ (present-day Flaska near Troutbeck in the north of Matterdale) to the copper smelter at Keswick. He did the same again later in the year. And in 1571 an Edward Gristal (Grisdale) of Threlkeld was also paid as a peat carrier for deliveries from Flasco.

In the middle of 1567 the Company began keeping its own carts and horses, for building and for carriage of special articles close to Keswick; but this did not supersede the use of English packhorses for charcoal, peat, ore, and a little later for stone-coal.

While one can imagine why charcoal was needed for the smelting of ore, what was the peat for? Chemistry, Society, and Environment: A New History of the British Chemical Industry (ed. Colin A. Russell et al, Royal Society, 2000) explains:

Copper ore was mined and smelted at Brigham, near Keswick in Cumberland, under the auspices of the Company of Mines royal… The sulphide ores used at Keswick were subjected to preliminary roasting to burn off excess sulphur, and then treated with nine horseloads of peat and five horseloads of ‘stone coals’ (a horseload was equivalent to 109 litres). Limestone was added as a flux and after smelting a matte or “green stock” was run off. Subsequently, about eight days’ recovery of matte was roasted with six peat fires, each hotter than the last, to produce “copper stone” or “black copper”. This was smelted once a month to give “rough copper”, and involved three separate smelting with lead ore to extract the silver from the copper matte. This process of making copper at Keswick took eighteen weeks and five days.

So that’s all clear then!

Do we know anything more of the ‘peat carriers’ John and Edward Grysdall? Maybe a little, but not much. Unlike the rich and powerful, our records of ordinary people are scant. Matterdale’s parish records don’t start until the early 1630s. The church itself was only founded in 1580 at the request of the people of Matterdale, due to the difficulty in bad winter weather in reaching the parish church in Greystoke to bury their dead and baptize their children. Yet there are in fact quite a few records of the Grisdales of Matterdale in the sixteenth century. There are the very incomplete records of births, marriages and deaths of Greystoke (which continued to be used frequently by Matterdale residents even after they had a local church). There are various surviving wills and there are a few mentions of the Grisdale family as free tenants of the barony of Greystoke going back to 1524. Also, when the local militia was called out in 1581, nine Grisdale ‘bowmen’ of military age from Matterdale turned up in Penrith: John, William, Christopher, Robert, Edward, Richard and three named Thomas.

Douthwaite Head

Douthwaite Head

In the vast majority of cases the sixteenth-century Grisdales are listed as living in Dowthwaite Head. Clearly this was where the family had originally settled. Around the time that John and Edward Grysdall were lugging peat on their packhorses from Penrith to the smelters at Keswick, we find Robert, Christopher, Edward, Thomas, Richard and two John Grisdales, all with one exception living at Dowthwaite Head. The one exception is of great interest.

We find Jane the wife of John ‘Grysdell’ of Dowthwaite Head being buried at Greystoke church in 1575, and his daughter Janet buried at the same place in 1576. This John himself was also buried in Greystoke on 4 June 1579. This might be our ‘peat carrier’ of 1569. But there is another possibility. On 8 May 1568, the unnamed wife of John Grysdell of ‘the Hollesse of Matterdale’ was buried at Greystoke and his son ‘Rolland son of John Grysdell of Matterdale’ was buried there in 1573. So there were obviously two John Grisdales alive at the time. This John of ‘the Hollesse’ left a will in 1581. It’s interesting to note that this is the first mention of ‘the Hollesse’ in reference to the Grisdale clan. This farm was later called ‘Hollas’ or ‘the Hollas’ and is today called the ‘Hollows’. The Hollas Grisdales were certainly related to the main branch in Douthwaite Head, though the precise relationship is lost beyond reconstruction. The Hollas family included one of the first ‘clerks’, or curates, of Matterdale Church, another John, and, later, a certain Wilfred Grisdale who made his fortune as a brewer in London and became a ‘lord of the manor’ near Cockermouth.

What about the Edward Grysdall, the Threlkeld peat carrier of 1571? He was most likely an Edward Grisdale who had recently moved from Dowthwaite Head to nearby Threlkeld. His wife was buried in Greystoke Church in 1561 and two of his children were also buried there in 1563 and 1569, all said to be of Dowthwaite Head.

A later Copper Smelter

A later Copper Smelter

For some time the Keswick smelters continued to thrive under their excellent German management. More Germans arrived and more English were employed. Despite the initial antagonism, the English and Germans married and merged. Yet in 1670 Sir Daniel Fleming wrote: ‘The smelting-houses were so many that they looked like a little town, yet now there is but one house.’ In 1675 Edmund Sandford wrote: ‘Heer was the bravest water mille of the dutch invented. Daniel and Manuell came from bejond seas in Queen Elizabeths Time for the smelting and fining of Copper Ore, gott in the mountains heer about ; but now the woods are gone and the work decayed.’

What had become of the Keswick smelting works? I’ll let Collingwood explain in his own inimitable words:

In 1604, James I granted a charter confirmatory to the Company, including the names of Emanuel and Daniel, sons of the late Daniel Hechstetter. The Keswick mines survived them both, though Joseph, son of Emanuel, lived to see the wreck of the Smelthouses, which he managed in his turn, at the Civil Wars. It is usually said that this was perpetrated in 1651 by Cromwell’s army on the march from Edinburgh to Worcester. But General Lambert’s troops took Penrith in June, 1648, and Colonel Ashton’s forces came in September of that year to raise the siege of Cockermouth Castle. There were several opportunities, without casting the usual blame on Cromwell, for Parliament men to attack the headquarters of a royal monopoly. How far it deserved attack is quite another matter.

Seventeenth Century Plague

Seventeenth Century Plague

But just before the destruction of the Keswick smelters another tragedy hit the town. The Plague struck. It broke out in May 1646 and over the next few months it claimed hundreds of lives in this small town. Those who died included, in the space of 12 days, six members of the Grisdale family. But that’s another story.

The introduction in Elizabethan times of modern German mining and metal smelting technology into Cumberland (and indeed in to England as a whole) certainly added to the almost total deforestation of the present-day Lake District. This started when the Norse-Irish Vikings arrived in the tenth century and accelerated considerably when large-scale upland sheep farming granges were established by the Norman priories in the century or so following the Conquest of 1066 and the Norman takeover of Cumberland in 1092. The area around Derwentwater was particularly affected. In 1777, Joseph Nicholson and Richard Burn rhapsodized in their History and Antiquities of the Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland about:

Sacred woods and groves, which had for ages shaded the shores and promontories of that lovely lake. Where the rude axe with heaved stroke was never heard the nymphs to daunt. Or fright them from their hallowed haunt.

We have moved from the great fight for the religion and governance of England between Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots, through the rebellion of the Catholic English earls and the beginning of German-inspired industry, to some simple Cumbrian peat carriers. One final link is worth noting. Leonard Dacre, who had conspired with the northern earls to overthrow Queen Elizabeth, was a member of the family that had become the barons of Greystoke in the very early 1300s when the original Norse lineage founded by Forne Sigulfson had died out. Matterdale has always been a part of the barony of Greystoke. Leonard was very unhappy when his nephew George Dacre had accidentally died as a child on 17 May 1569  by the fall off a wooden vaulting-horse.

Greystoke Castle

Greystoke Castle

George was then in ward to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and his three sisters, co-heiresses to his estates, were married to the three sons of their guardian, the Duke of Norfolk. Leonard Dacre felt angry and slighted that a large patrimony should legally descend to his nieces.

On the outbreak of the rebellion of 1569, Dacre went to court, and Queen Elizabeth, although she had heard that he had been secretly associated with the rebel earls, saw him at Windsor. He professed himself to be a faithful subject, and returned to the north avowedly as an adherent of Elizabeth, but really with the intention of joining the rebels. Their disorderly flight from Hexham convinced him that their cause was desperate. He therefore tried to consolidate a position, seized Greystoke Castle and other houses belonging to the Dacre family, and fortified Naworth Castle as his own inheritance. Under pretence of protecting his own and resisting the rebels, he gathered together three thousand troops, borderers and Dacre loyalists.

And a few of these 3,000 troops were no doubt members of the Grisdale family of Matterdale. It’s a long story, but eventually Dacre’s troops fought Elizabeth’s loyalist forces at Naworth in 1570. Elizabeth forces were ‘outnumbered by a factor of two, but charged Dacre’s foot with… cavalry, killed between three and four hundred of the rebels, and took between two and three hundred prisoners. Dacre escaped’. He died in poverty in Brussels in 1573. The barony of Greystoke passed to the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk.

 

 

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Modern population genetics suggests that the ancestors of the majority of English people were not fifth-century Anglo-Saxon invaders but actually came from the ‘Basque’ region of southwest France and northern Spain. What is perhaps even more surprising is that they arrived on these shores thousands of years ago. This turns one prevailing view of English national identity on its head, argues Stephen Lewis.

If you ask a person in the United States what is means to be American, their first response is often couched in terms of values, perhaps freedom, human rights and democracy. The more historically aware might even make mention of the War of Independence or the articles and meaning of the American Constitution. The English language might just get a look in; but as America becomes more multilingual this seems less and less critical.

There is no doubt that numerous Americans seek their roots throughout the world, and can find a secondary identity in their national or racial origins: Italian American, Irish American, Japanese American, Native American, African American and so on. But individual, as opposed to national, identity has always been acknowledged to be a very complicated thing.

Deep down Americans know that they are all immigrants and celebrate the fact that their country is a melting pot. For sure the country has suffered more than its fair share of racism, but this doesn’t negate the fact that today its citizens don’t primarily view their American identity in racial terms.

The situation in Britain is somewhat different. While the Scots and the Welsh tend to have a clearer understanding of what it means to them to be Scottish or Welsh – quite often defined by their opposition to the English oppressor – it is sometimes said that the English are suffering a ‘crisis of identity.’

Partially true though this might be, the heart of English identity isn’t nearly so fragile. It runs deeper and goes farther back than taking pride in the fact that a small people managed to rule a quarter of the world. Now here we get into a terribly British confusion of terms. The ‘Empire’ is usually described as the ‘British Empire’, yet most English people see it as theirs. After all didn’t the English conquer the Scots, Welsh and Irish first, before venturing into the rest of the world!

The legendary King Arthur

Now national identity, like that of individuals, is also a very varied construct. It has historical, linguistic, political, cultural and racial threads. These threads, mythic and strange though many of them are, remain very real today. They were until recently taught to generations of English school children. Two very strange examples can be used as illustrations: those of King Arthur and Richard the Lion Heart. Both are often cited as having been important people for England and for what it means to be English. But Arthur was probably a British warlord who fought against the English invaders; while King Richard was just another in a long line 0f thuggish French-speaking rulers who couldn’t have cared less about the English people – except as a source of fighting men and money.

But even if all the myths and falsifications that often pass as English history are stripped away, there still remains a core of “Englishness”. One widespread view is that this core is to be found in the language and racial origins of the English. Put as succinctly as possible, the English are the descendents of Dark Age Anglo-Saxon invaders who slaughtered and replaced the indigenous British population, and brought with them their Germanic language, a language that would eventually become the English we speak today.

Vortigern meets Hengist and Horsa

Once the Roman legions had been withdrawn from Britain in the early fifth century, the British population and the small remaining Romano-British elite were faced by incursions and attacks from many sides – not least from the Picts and Irish (“Scots”). In response Gildas, the sixth century British monk, tells us “they convened a council to decide the best and soundest way to counter the brutal and repeated invasions and plunderings…” They choose to invite the Saxons in as mercenaries. Gildas continues:

Nothing more destructive, nothing more bitter has ever befallen the land. How utter the blindness of their minds! How desperate and crass the stupidity! Of their own free will they invited under the same roof a people whom they feared worse than death …

A pack of cubs burst forth from the lair of the barbarian lioness, coming in three keels, as they call warships in their language.

Later the Saxons complained that they hadn’t been paid and “swore that they would break their agreement and plunder the whole island …. they put their threats into immediate effect.” Gildas continues:

This is the ethnic ‘wipeout’ theory of English history. Although it is acknowledged that it took the Anglo-Saxons another three centuries to gain full control of most of what is now England, for many the facts seem plain.  The native Britons were either massacred and replaced or pushed back to more remote, and less fertile, mountainous areas, such as Wales, Cornwall or Cumbria. The hardy and adventurous English people settled ‘England’ – and we all speak English today as a result.

This is the English national origin story. Bloody and brutal though it is, it is what distinguishes the English from their ‘Celtic’ neighbours in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

While once common such a telling of history has not gone unopposed. Some have argued that the extent Anglo-Saxon settlement was very modest and even (though not very convincingly) that there was no ‘invasion’ at all. These counter-arguments are generally based on different interpretations of the archaeological record. It is argued that the shifts in material culture that we can see in no way indicate that they were ‘caused’ by the arrival of a new and ethnically distinct population – whether invaders or otherwise. Cambridge archaeologist Catherine Hills points out that “people can change their names, language, currency and political allegiances without the majority of the population being replaced”.

Archaeologist Francis Pryor puts his case as follows:

If Anglo-Saxon people and culture displaced ‘native’ practices, one would expect the latter to have vanished. They did not.

The problem in holding this view is twofold: 1) Although there is a paucity of historical documents, the ones we have, whether Anglo-Saxon or British, clearly state that the Anglo-Saxons did come, did rebel and fought many battles to secure their dominance and establish their kingdoms, and 2) If there were no “wipe-out” and, even more so, if there were no invasion at all, then how did English become the language of England while, tellingly, containing almost no vestige of the native British/Celtic languages?

How we are to interpret the historical chroniclers, and to which of them we should give the most credence, will likely remain a troublesome issue for historians of England, as for all historians, for years to come.

The question of how English came to be the only language in England seems even more intractable. Why this is a difficult issue can be illustrated by two other, rather different, invasions. Invasions where the invaders’ language did not replace the native language.

The Franks were a Germanic speaking people who entered what is now France at much the same time as the Anglo-Saxons came to Britain. Yet even four hundred years later, around the year 800, when the Frankish king, Charlemagne, was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, he still spoke ‘German’, and had little grasp either of Latin or its offshoot, an early form of French. Despite the dominance of the Frankish invaders there is almost no German influence in modern French – just a few, mostly military, words and quite a number of Germanic place names. This may be due to the fact that Roman Gaul retained a functioning Roman (and Latin speaking) administrative system even after the Western Empire had started to collapse. Whatever the reason, the French don’t speak German today!

Closer to home, and possibly more instructive, is the case of the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Although descended from Germanic speaking Vikings, William the Conqueror and his henchmen spoke Norman French. Over subsequent decades and centuries, as the Normans dispossessed and suppressed the English, their numbers were never very large. During all this time they never failed to show disdain for the conquered English and their language. French remained the language of the kings, the lords and of much of the governance of the country. English, which in Anglo-Saxon times had been a great language of literature, religion and administration, was reduced to written silence. Yet despite all this English survived. It assimilated a huge swathe of French which changed the language from the ‘Old English’ of King Alfred to the ‘Middle English’ of Chaucer, but it was still a predominantly Germanic language, as it remains to this day. Yet again a powerful and far-reaching invasion failed to lead to the wholesale adoption of the language of the victors by the indigenous population.

Let’s return to the ‘Saxon Advent’.  If, as Francis Pryor and others contend, there wasn’t really any Anglo-Saxon invasion and takeover, then how did English become so sweepingly and exclusively adopted? More traditional historians will concede that the number of Anglo-Saxons who came to Britain in the fifth century, and subsequently, was never very high in comparison to the existing native British population. Perhaps at most a few hundred thousand ‘English’ compared to a couple of million Celts. Unless the wipeout or pushback theory is in large measure correct, then how is it that the Germanic language of the invaders wasn’t eventually lost, as happened in Frankish Gaul? Or combined in some way with the  native language or languages, as happened in post-Conquest England?

And here we might be stuck if it weren’t for the population genetics.

Genetics has changed historical research!

Early attempts to use science to explore the origins of peoples and their historical movements had to rely on the analysis of blood groups. This approach was pioneered by the Italian population geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. He and others used it to examine, among other things, how early neolithic farmers spread from the fertile crescent into Europe. But blood group analysis has severe limitations and looking more rigorously at human origins, and the origins of specific peoples, had to wait till the science of genetics was refined enough to make a contribution. This it has certainly done. In terms of the origins of the British, or in our case the English, dozens of studies have now been conducted. These have been synthesised (and extended by his own research) by the Oxford geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer. He presented the rather startling results in his book The Origins of the British. Oppenheimer writes:

To summarize, the phylogeographic approach establishes three broad aspects of West European and British colonization in the past 16,000 years which have a bearing on the Anglo-Saxon question. First, all but a few per cent of male and female gene lines appear to have arrived in the British Isles before the historical period (i.e. before the Anglo-Saxons). Second, most British colonizers, including about two-thirds of English ancestors, came from the Iberian refuge soon after deglaciation, or at least during the Mesolithic. And third, the subsequent colonization of the British Isles during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age was complex in time and space, but mainly came from the other side of the North Sea.

Oppenheimer estimates that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ account for “only 5.5%” of the ancestors of modern English people.  That means that about 19 out of 20 English people are not Anglo-Saxon at all! What is more, the ancestors of fully two-thirds of English people came from the “Iberian” refuge – that is an area of southern France and northern Spain centred on the present-day Basque Country.

Europe during the last Ice age

How did this come about? The answer is to be found in the climate history of Europe. Modern humans first arrived in Britain at least 25,000 years ago. But then, not much later, the Ice Age came back with a vengeance. During the so-called Last Glacial Maximum, between about 22,000 and 17,000 years ago, large tracts of northern Europe and Britain became covered with an ice sheet, while more southerly climes became freezing wind-swept polar desert or arctic tundra. In these conditions human life became impossible and we are pretty sure that Britain became depopulated. Humans retreated south and found sanctuary in a number of so-called ice age refuges. Two of the main refuges were located in the Balkans/Ukraine region and in South West France and northern Spain – today the region occupied by the Basques. Today visitors to the latter region can still marvel at the wonderful cave paintings of this population; dating from periods known to archaeologists as Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian.

Around 16,000 years ago, as the climate began again to warm, and the ice and snow began to recede, groups of settlers started to move north. Predominantly sticking to the coastal route of western France, and finding the ‘English channel’ was still dry, they simply walked into Britain. With so much water still stored in the ice it wasn’t just the ‘Channel’ that was dry, the same even applied to the North and Irish Seas. Britain was not yet an island, but rather a peninsular of the European continent.

At different times over the course of millennia, various ‘founder’ settler groups arrived in Britain. According to Oppenheimer these early settlers came from a number of locations in Europe, at different times and via different routes. But the single largest ‘genetic origin’ of the English was the ‘Basque’ refuge’. As we have seen these ‘Basque’ migrations account for two-thirds of the gene lines of the present-day English population.

The Basque Flag was based on the Union Flag

Now Oppenheimer’s conclusions are certainly not uncontested, although the evidence in their support is strong and compelling. But if true his analysis and results have profound implications for at least one view of English national identity – that of our Anglo-Saxon origins. It seems the vast majority of English people can trace their distant ancestry not to a group of Dark Age Germanic invaders, the Anglo-Saxons, but rather to truly prehistoric settlers who came to Britain in the millennia following the last age. In this sense the English truly are more Basque than Anglo-Saxon!

This might be disappointing news for those who think that English and Anglo-Saxon are synonymous. But for others it is surely wonderful to know that our British or English ancestors have lived on this small island for millennia.

It needs to be acknowledged that many people, while perhaps accepting that speaking English is important for a sense of Englishness, would vociferously object to the contention that being English has anything to do with ethnic or racial origins. The English people are not all immigrants, unlike the Americans, yet many feel absolutely no connection with the Anglo-Saxon or any other racial version of English identity.  They might be recent immigrants themselves, or their ancestors could have arrived as French Huguenots, Flemish merchants, Jewish refugees or, more recently, as immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, the Caribbean, Africa or Eastern Europe. What does ‘being English’ mean to them? That is another question.

Perhaps if we want to value a sense of Englishness at all, we might find it in the supposed sense of decency and fairness of the English people, in their long struggle for social and political liberty and in their genius for invention and industry. Peoples throughout the world could, and indeed do, claim to share these qualities: the Americans, the French, the Dutch and many, many others. We need, however, to distinguish very clearly between some genuinely noble qualities of peoples and the actions of their rulers. The British or American governments, for example, have not always been a force for liberty, democracy and freedom in the world, nor have they even been so at home. Yet their peoples are predominantly decent and fair. As Francis Pryor nicely puts it:

If we are looking for English origins, we should forget the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ and turn instead to the resident population, who had been there in their millions and in their various cultures and communities, all the time. I refer of course, to the real heroes….: that diverse group of people – the British.

Watt tyler leader of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381

All peoples should know their real history; the history of vast majority rather than the myths of the powerful that have been propagated so effectively. Knowing that most of us are more Basque than Anglo-Saxon shouldn’t be a cause for regret – it just goes to show that we have a long and intimate relationship with the land we inhabit. Is it not better to have a national identity built around a feeling of empathy and respect for those of our ancestors, of whatever race, who have struggled in the face of enormous opposition to obtain some of the rights and privileges we enjoy today? This, in my view, certainly applies to England.

One final remark might be in order. Although genetic studies seem to have ‘proved’ that the Anglo-Saxon wipeout theory is wrong, genetics can tell us nothing about language. If only 5.5% of English people have Anglo-Saxon roots then why do we all speak English? This question has yet to be satisfactorily answered.

Sources:

Stephen Oppenheimer. The Origins of the British.  London: Constable & Robinson, 2006; Francis Pryor. Britain AD. London: Harper Perennial, 2005; Gildas. The Ruin of Britain. (Ed. John Morris).  London:Phillimore, 1978.

On 3 June 1835 a female convict named Sarah Jones married in Saint John’s Anglican Church in Parramatta, Sydney. Her husband was a free man called Edward Grisdale. What was their story? I will reconstruct it as best I am able given the paucity of the records. This little event throws light on the brutalities of the English penal system and some of the abuses perpetrated on convicts in early Australian colonial days. The couple’s ultimate fate remains a mystery and some of the story is conjecture.

Parramatta Female Factory

Parramatta Female Factory

Let’s start with the shockingly named ‘Parramatta Female Factory’. From the early days of Australia’s history as a penal colony, transported convicts had been separated by sex. Women were sent on separate convict ships. On arrival most women were assigned to settler ‘masters’ who needed domestic or other help and for whom the women would work throughout their sentence. Those who for whatever reason couldn’t be placed were sent to newly established ‘Female Factories’, These were part prison, part forced labour camps, part employment offices and, as we shall see, part marriage exchanges and brothels as well.

The Parramatta Female Factory had opened in 1821 and could house 300 women.  It was to this factory that Sarah Jones was sent after she arrived on the convict ship Numa in 1834. The journey wasn’t very long as the Factory was situated on the banks of the Parramatta River, just a few miles from the then small town of Sydney. The women were separated into three classes: ‘The First Class consisted of women who had recently arrived from England, women who had been returned from service with good character reports, and women who had undergone a probationary period in the Second Class. Women in the First class were eligible for assignment and to marry. In the Second Class were women who had been sentenced for minor offences and who could, after a period of probation, be transferred to the First class. The third, or Crime, Class consisted of women who had been transported a second time or who had been found guilty of misconduct during the voyage out or since their arrival. Convict women who became pregnant, and female immigrants convicted of vagrancy or other offences were also confined in the Factories.’

One history puts it thus:

While the Female Factories would appear to resemble conventional imprisonment, they did not abate the enforced whoredom of the convict women. Rather they moved the women from the sight of the free population – so that they could ignore the ill-treatment and degradation of the convicts – and enabled their systematic abuse to be conducted more efficiently. Even within the new Factory conditions were appalling and, as the number of women transported grew, very overcrowded.

As well as being brothels the Factories were also marriage markets. ‘Many women were married soon after arrival. The idea was that any man wanting to marry one of the women would apply. They were lined up at the Factory and the man would drop a scarf or handkerchief at the feet of the woman of his choice. If she picked it up, the marriage was virtually immediate.

Precinct in Parramatta Factory

Precinct in Parramatta Factory

In 1834 the factory’s matron was a certain Mrs Gordon. She held the position for many years. One historian of Australia’s female factories has this to say about Mrs Gordon:

The Factory at Parramatta functioned as a brothel and as a marriage mart. James Mudie told the 1837 Select committee that many more women were retained in the First Class than was necessary for the size of the establishment. He recounted that Mrs Gordon, the matron, had several times refused to allow him to take as servants women he had selected. It appears that Mrs Gordon unofficially employed the women herself and that she had made “thousands of pounds” from her enterprise. Mudie intimated that she had acquired influence with the authorities by the late 1820s and thus ensured that all reports made of her management of the Factory would be favourable. She was, he evinced, “notorious”.

In even plainer English, Mrs Gordon became a brothel Madame and enriched herself by renting out the female convicts in her ‘care’ for sex and probably also made money by taking a commission for supplying wives to settlers. Remember there were many more men than women in Australia at the time and it could be hard for a man to find a wife.

J. C. Byrne had witnessed the scene of these marriages at Parramatta first-hand in 1835. In his book Twelve Years’ Wanderings in the British Colonies, from 1835 to 1847, he writes:

AT ALL PERIODS during the progress of the colony, and up to the present time, (1835) single men could obtain wives, on application, from amongst the female convicts, at the chief depot in Parramatta. The form is a strange one, and well worth relating. A man desiring a wife, and being unable to suit himself elsewhere, proceeds to the female factory at Parramatta, and presents himself to the matron and master of that institution. The certificate of a clergyman or magistrate is produced; setting forth that the applicant is a proper person to have a wife given to him, from the many under charge of the matron. The applicant in then introduced into a room of the building, whilst the matron proceeds to the class department, that contains the best behaved of the female convicts. Notice is here given that a wife is required, and such as are willing to be married step forward, and are marshalled in batches into the presence of the would-be Benedict. On they pass, the man speaking to individuals as they attract his attention, inquiring their age, etc. till someone is met with who pleases his taste, and possesses the required perfection’s. The inquiries then become mutual; the lover wishes to know if the fair one has ever been married; the question is reiterated by the female, who also desires to learn how many head of cattle or sheep, or what land or houses, her lover is possessed of. Mutual explanations take place, and if satisfactory on both sides, the matron is acquainted with the fact, and a day named for the marriage. All the time, this lady is present, and has frequently to witness strange and ludicrous scenes; scores of females passing for review, between whose personal and other claims, the applicant balances his mind, sometimes leaving it to the matron to decide whom he shall take. When this knotty point is settled, the authorities are informed of the fact; the clergy of the place publishes the banns, and if no impediment intervenes, on the appointed day, the parties are married; the woman leaving the factory, and returning to a state of freedom in the colony, during good conduct. These marriages are of frequent occurrence, thousands having thus obtained wives.

convict ship in ausMaybe this was how Sarah Jones found her husband Edward Grisdale? Yet it seems that Sarah and Edward already at least knew each other because they had arrived on the same ship, the Numa. Edward ‘came free’ while Sarah was a convict sentenced to ‘14 years bond’. This is written in the Australian convict records. As I will later show, Edward was almost certainly a seaman on the Numa and maybe he and Sarah had fraternized or consorted during the voyage. (The goings-on on board the female convict ships are the stuff both of true history and legend). Or maybe they just recognized each other at the Parramatta Factory cattle market?

Why had Sarah been transported to Australia for fourteen years? What heinous crime had she committed? Luckily we know exactly why because there is a transcript of her trial at the Old Bailey in London. We know this is the right person because the Australian records tell us her trial was held on 5 September 1833 at Middlesex court i.e. at the Old Bailey. I think it is worth quoting the whole transcript:

SARAH JONES was indicted for stealing, on the 27th of June, 1 purse, value 6d.; 1 ring, value, 5s.; 2 sovereigns; and 10 shillings, the goods of George Gibbs , from his person.

GEORGE GIBBS. I am a tailor. On the 27th of June I was returning from Vauxhall-gardens – I was quite sober- I fell in with the prisoner in the Commercial-road, she was walking along and appeared to be in a state of intoxication – when I got up to her she laid hold on my arm – I asked her what was the matter – she said, she had been out so late with a party of friends, and was afraid to go home to her parents, and she asked me as a favour to go home with her – I went half way down a street, and asked her which house it was, she then said she did not live there but in White Lion-street – I told her I could not go there, as I lived in Norfolk-street – she hung upon my left arm – my purse was in my left hand breeches pocket, and my watch was in my fob – I bade her good night and went away – I then missed my purse, which contained a gold ring, two sovereigns, about 10s. in silver or more – I knew it was safe three minutes before I saw the prisoner, and I had not met any other person – I then ran down the street, and saw a policeman at the bottom – I told him the circumstance, and the prisoner was taken on the 6th of July – I had not been with the prisoner more than three minutes.

ABRAHAM SCOTT (police-sergeant). I received the information – I had seen the prisoner three times that night, and I knew her – I told one or two of our men, and she was taken and lodged in the watch-house – I went and saw her, and took the prosecutor, who identified her as the girl – I went to her lodging, and found the duplicate of the ring.

JOHN VAUGHAN. I am a pawnbroker and live in Whitechapel, this ring was pawned by the prisoner on the 5th of July.

GEORGE GIBBS. This ring is mine; it has three letters on it, by which I can swear to it.

Prisoner’s Defence. I met the prosecutor, he walked with me some time, and asked me to go up a court, which I did, he then said, he had no money, but he gave me the ring off his finger as a pledge till the following night; but as he did not come, I kept it for a few days, and pawned it.

GEORGE GIBBS. There is not a word of truth in it.

GUILTY. Aged 19. – Transported for Fourteen Years.

Inside the Old Bailey

Inside the Old Bailey

It seems that Sarah had accosted George Gibbs in Commercial Road in London’s notorious East End (or he had propositioned her) while she was somewhat the worse for wear and picked his pocket. Her defence that “he gave me the ring off his finger” still doesn’t ring quite true and it wasn’t accepted by the jury. But I must say Gibbs’ story is a bit lame as well. What she in fact was saying was that she had been propositioned by Gibbs and had either had sex with him or was going to, but as he hadn’t got enough to pay she took his ring as a pledge or surety for his payment the next day. Who knows the precise truth?

Before we go on, let’s pause a minute to reflect on the nature of crime and punishment in England at the time. For a first offense (we think) of theft Sarah had been sentenced to fourteen years transportation! Par for the course I’m afraid.

Most (convicts) were sentenced in England for minor crimes such as pick pocketing or theft. As punishment, not only were they exported from their country, many were forced to endure of a life of sexual exploitation. On the ships to Australia, the prettiest were rumoured to have been shared amongst the military officers. Upon arrival in Australia, the women were lined up like cattle to be selected as servants or wives. If they didn’t become either, a life of prostitution was their only real hope for survival.

A calm Motherbank

A calm Motherbank

As we have seen, the trial took place on 5 September 1833 and the Numa finally departed from its anchorage off the English south coast near Portsmouth on 29 January 1834. The Times reported that the ‘Numa, James Laing and Moffat, all with convicts for Australia, lay windbound at St. Helen’s and the Motherbank on 21 December 1833. Altogether 150 vessels were all waiting for moderate weather and a fair wind’. ‘It had blown during the previous week with great violence but without occasioning any loss to the ships whilst at anchor.’ The Numa with the convicts aboard had been sitting at anchor for weeks as storms raged. The conditions on board would have been miserable.

The ship first went to Cork in Ireland to pick up some Irish female convicts and then set sail for Australia with a stop at the Cape of Good Hope. The Numa was commanded by Captain John Baker. Also on board was Surgeon Superintendent Edward Ford Bromley who kept a medical journal of the voyage. He noted the names of those he treated, including that of Sarah Jones – for what I don’t know. Two children died on the trip but the Numa finally arrived in Port Jackson, Sydney on 13 June 1834, after a voyage of ‘135 days’.  On board were 134 female convicts, 24 children and ‘18 ton of gunpowder for the public service’.

Once the ‘convict muster’ was made on the 17th June, Sarah was sent to the Parramatta Female Factory and to the tender mercies of Mrs Gordon.

Turning our attention to her husband-to-be Edward Grisdale: Who was he? As already mentioned we know that he had also arrived on the Numa. Convicts had to apply for permission to marry and on15 September 1834, just three months after their arrival, Sarah and Edward were given permission to marry in Parramatta by the Rev. R. Forrest. The record shows that they had both come on the Numa, that Sarah was a convict serving a fourteen year bond and that Edward ‘came free’.

A Schooner similar to the Tamar

A Schooner similar to the Tamar

I think there is little doubt that Edward was a seaman on the Numa, and probably a Mate or at least a very experienced mariner. There are three grounds for this belief. First, there were no male passengers on the Numa. The passenger list says that 134 female convicts and 24 children arrived on board. The men would have been crew and the surgeon. So Edward was probably one of the crew. Second, not long after the Numa’s, arrival, we find a Captain Edward Grisdale (sometimes Commander sometimes Master) of the 117 ton schooner Tamar, owned by James Raven, a rising young merchant of Launceston, Tasmania. In March 1835, Captain Grisdale, accompanied by Mr Raven, arrived in Launceston from Mauritius. Later we find the Tamar, still under Captain Grisdale, plying the trade from Sydney to Tasmania. Here is just one of the many newspaper reports and advertisements. It appeared in the Sydney Gazette on 28 April 1835:

FOR CHARTER OR FREIGHT TO HOBART TOWN. The fine first-class Schooner Tamar. Captain Grisdale, Commander, 117 Tons, Register, sails well, and in the event of a suitable Charter not offering, will meet with quick despatch for the above Port -Apply on board, to JAMES RAVEN, Owner.

There is absolutely no mention of any Edward Grisdale, Captain or not, in Australia before 1834.

workington harbour

Workington Harbour

For the third reason we need to go back to England. When Sarah and Edward obtained permission to marry in September 1834, Sarah gave her age as 22. But there was no age for Edward. When they did eventually marry, in June 1855, Edward was reported to have been 35; making him born in about 1800. (Sarah was still 22!) There is only one eligible Edward Grisdale in the English record born around this time. On 16 May 1802 an Edward Grisdale was baptized in Saint Michael’s Church, Workington, Cumberland. His parents were Edward Grisdale and his wife Mary Robinson. Edward senior was a mariner; when he married Mary Robinson in Workington in 1792 he gave his occupation as ‘mariner’. In the 1811 directory of Workington he is listed as living at Town Head in the town and was a ‘Captain’. In fact we know that he was also a ship owner, his ship being the Mary – probably named after his wife. Father Edward had also been born in Workington but his ancestors were, as you would expect, from Matterdale/Watermillock. It was probably only natural that young Edward followed his father to sea. And if he was made a Captain on his arrival in Australia he most probably had at least a mate’s ticket while on the Numa.

So we can surmise that after he had gained permission to marry Sarah Jones in September 1834, Captain Edward went to sea on the trips already mentioned. Yet it is of interest to note that the last mention we find of Captain Edward Grisdale in the Australian newspapers was dated 18 May 1835 when the Tamar departed Sydney for Hobart. It arrived in Hobart on 5 June 1835. Yet Edward married Sarah in Saint John’s Anglican Church in Parramatta on the 3 June 1835!? How was this possible? I can’t believe there were two Edward Grisdales. Maybe Edward had skipped ship en route or been fired? When the Tamar arrived back in Sydney from Hobart on 14 June it was commanded by Captain Town. It’s all a bit of a mystery.

st johns

Saint John’s Church, Parramatta

What we do know is that after his marriage Edward simply disappears. This would be strange if he had lived. He was after all a sea captain and in the decades to come he would, we might think, pop up at least a few more times, but he doesn’t. So perhaps he died shortly after the marriage – possibly at sea but maybe not. There is only one further mention of an Edward Grisdale in the whole of the nineteenth century in Australia. This is the supposed death of ‘Edward Gresdale’ (this was a common misspelling) in 1885 in Sydney, aged 34. At first, before I knew his age had been given as 34, I thought that therefore Edward had lived a long life. But if he were 34 there simply is no Edward Grisdale born in England or elsewhere in or around 1861. For various reasons I think it might be that this death could just possibly have taken place years before 1885 and was only then entered. This is speculation at present but if so it might mean that if our Edward had died in, say, 1835 he would very probably have been 34. It’s a line worth pursuing.

Regarding Sarah, we catch one last definitive glance of her in 1837 in the convict muster of that year. She is listed under her maiden name of Sarah Jones and was living with her ‘master’ Alex Gray in Sydney. There is no doubt that this is her because the Numa is mentioned plus her arrival in 1834 and her sentence of fourteen years. Alexander Gray was for a long time the publican of the Light-house Tavern situated in the squalor of the Sydney docks. It was on the corner of Sussex Street and Bathurst Street. After she had married Edward, unless he had died or done a runner, Sarah would probably have been released into his care on a ‘Ticket of Leave’. That she wasn’t is telling.

Australian Female Convicts Rebel

Australian Female Convicts Rebel

What became of her? In years to come there are countless newspaper reports of a Sarah Jones living in this area being arrested for things such as being a drunkard, vagrancy, idleness and obscene language. Sentences of either one or three months were the norm. It is tempting to think that this was her, but perhaps not. Sarah Jones was a pretty common name at the time, including in Sydney. There were as far as I can see at the very least four Sarah Joneses living in Sydney around this time. Most of the reports of the unruly, drunk vagrant Sarah Jones are from the 1860s and even into the 1870s (when ‘our’ Sarah would have been sixty); nothing from the 1840s. In addition, there was a report on Wednesday 11 August 1869 saying that on the previous Saturday evening ‘Sarah Jones, an elderly woman… died suddenly in Wilmott- street’. This might be our Sarah; though I guess we’ll never know.

One could romantically imagine Edward and Sarah living out their days in peace and obscurity somewhere where newspapers never went, but I truly doubt it.

In a song called Beautiful Boy John Lennon once told us: ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ If you look back on your life so far can you see a certain truth in this? I can. My life has not been a nice linear progress, from great promise to great fulfilment, and I guess yours hasn’t either?

John Lennon

When we are young everything seems possible, all options seem open. We weigh the various possibilities we have and we make decisions. We even make plans. I’ll take this job because then after that I can move on to that. And ‘that’ will be great. But it doesn’t usually happen like that. Every single day of our lives we make decisions, we have to make decisions. Most of our decisions seem mundane; indeed they seem literally ‘everyday’. But they are not. Many years ago you might have been planning on a quiet night at home, but then a friend rings completely out of the blue and asks you to come with him/her to a concert or just for a drink. You had no intention or plan to do this, but after a bit of thought you think: ‘Why not?’ So off you go and just by ‘chance’ you met your future spouse, and because of that you are where you are now. If your friend hadn’t called you, or you had said you’d rather stay at home as you had planned, you wouldn’t be where you are today. So much for plans! Every moment of every day we make seemingly trivial or innocuous decisions and every one of them (or almost) will blow our well-laid plans out of the water. If you doubt this just ask yourself the question: ‘Is where I am now, where I live, who I’m married to, what I am doing, how wealthy I am… was that my plan twenty years ago?’

So life is mostly chance, as well as, as we get older, the sound of doors slamming shut behind us.

This much I think we all know. But what about the chance of us coming into existence at all? From a probability point of view, when we consider it, the chances that we came to be at all are so infinatestably small than they are almost zero. This doesn’t mean that we don’t exist. If you are reading this then you do. In fact the probability that you exist is one, or 100%. But the chance of you having ‘come in existence’ is a different thing.

You are a particular bundle of DNA. The first miracle is that if any one of you countless ancestors over the millennia had made slightly different decisions you wouldn’t exist. Just take the case of your parents. If they hadn’t by chance met at a particular time and place, you wouldn’t exist. And what led them to be in the same place at the same time? What was the probability of that? If they hadn’t liked each other then you wouldn’t exist. If they hadn’t got married (presuming they did) you wouldn’t exist. And so on. In fact your existence if not just dependent on all these things, it is also dependent on them deciding to have sex on a particular night – possibly your mother might have had a headache! But there are millions and millions of sperm in every act of sexual intercourse, and just one of those millions made you. If it had been another sperm then you wouldn’t be here. Somebody else might have been created but it wouldn’t be you!

And this is the case for every single one of your ancestors. I might return to the mathematics of this on another occasion. But for now it is I hope pretty obvious that the fact of you or I coming into existence at all is so tiny it is almost a miracle.

And what do we do with this miracle? As Shakespeare once put it in Macbeth:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Yes we strut and fret, and we busy ourselves with making other plans.

This isn’t just a thing that we know now or even that Shakespeare first told us. People have known this since homo sapiens have been able to think. That is what homo sapiens means – thinking people.

Back in the eighth century the English monk the venerable Bede told a story of the conversion to Christianity of the Anglo-Saxon King Edwin. The papal envoy Paulinus wanted to convert the pagan Edwin to Christianity. One of the king’s advisers told the king:

The Venerable Bede

Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thegns and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing.

We are indeed like a sparrow passing through a warm and light hall. That is our life. We don’t know what came before and we sure as hell have no idea what will come when we are gone. But we enjoy the warmth of life when we are here. Unless, of course, we spend our time strutting and fretting and making lots of other plans.

We all do this.

This fleeting miracle of our life, this sparrow passing through the hall from darkness to darkness, first expressed by so wonderfully by Bede, has been reworked in English literature ever since. Wordsworth put it thus:

Man’s life is like a Sparrow, mighty King!
That–while at banquet with your Chiefs you sit
Housed near a blazing fire–is seen to flit
Safe from the wintry tempest. Fluttering,
Here did it enter; there, on hasty wing,
Flies out, and passes on from cold to cold;
But whence it came we know not, nor behold
Whither it goes. Even such, that transient Thing,
The human Soul; not utterly unknown
While in the Body lodged, her warm abode;
But from what world She came, what woe or weal
On her departure waits, no tongue hath shown;
This mystery if the Stranger can reveal,
His be a welcome cordially bestowed!

William Wordsworth

And in more recent times the Irish poet Seamus Heaney has offered his rendition of ‘The Sparrow’s Tale’:

It looked like a star, bent low,
Below the horizon by the wood’s edge.
A wedge of light from a window high in a barn
At night it would glow and I would feel its pull,
Pulling me away from the dark in which I lived,
(A dark as dark as the deepest bowl in a beech tree trunk)
Pulling me away from the cold and the snow.

I held that shining star in the corner of my beady black eye
And one day took the plunge and flew head long through that gap
Where the light shines, where the feasting humans herd.
And then I was there, flying between beams like branches held up
By bolt upright timbers like trunks reaching up
To the twiggy rafters inside was lined inside
Like the outside with gleaming threads of golden straw

How my feathers shone! I couldn’t stop singing. But strange,
Humans living in upturned nests. I gasped in surprise to see them
Flocking there and when they me espied their twittering ceased.
Mouths hung open like hungry fledglings. The fire
Pinned their crackling shadows high upon the lime-washed wall.
I took in the prickly air and the wide eyes that followed my excited flight,
The satiated dogs that barely moved from the flickering hearth.

And then it all began, such squawking and clucking
And the clattering of steely-knives stabbing the table
Impaling all manner of meats lost in a cloud
Full of feathers from startled chickens. One human barked
And leapt upon a perch on the fully laden table
Scattering crumbs, (such rich pickings!) I was tempted to rest
And to take some nourishment there but an arm swished

To snatch me from the pungent air mid-flight up turning
A great plateful of precious water that splashed and showered the
One who gleamed with such an exotic plumage that the droplets
Sparkled like jewels in a crown of light. I held that moment
Struck in awe. This was for surely a nest for the gods, I was able
To reflect before returning from whence I came.
Brief is my life and a humble sparrow has no place at this table.

Seamus Heaney

That we exist at all is almost a miracle. That we strut and fret is just human. So let’s be like the sparrow and enjoy the warmth and light while we are here. Before our dusty death.

‘Et Strat Clut vastata est a Saxonibus’ (And Strathclyde was devastated by the Saxons) – Welsh  Annales AD 946.

‘This year King Edmund ravaged all Cumberland, and granted it to Malcolm, king of the Scots, on the condition that he should be his fellow-worker as well by sea as by land.’ – Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for AD 945.

‘How king Eadmund gave Cumberland to the king of the Scots.’ – A.D. 946. ‘Agapetus sat in the Roman chair ten years, six months, and ten days. In the same year king Eadmund, with the aid of Leoling, king of South Wales, ravaged the whole of Cumberland, and put out the eyes of the two sons of Dummail, king of that province. He then granted that kingdom to Malcolm, king of the Scots, to hold of himself, with a view to defend the northern parts of England from hostile incursions by sea and land.’   Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History, circa 1235.

King Edmund

King Edmund

In the year 945/6 a British king of Cumbria (the kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons) called ‘Dunmail’ was probably defeated in battle by the West-Saxon English king Edmund. The event has become legendary. A small kernel of historical truth has been embellished over the centuries to make of King Dunmail a veritable King Arthur or an Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, an heroic figure who lies sleeping, to be called upon one day to return and save his people in their hour of need. I will discuss the historical facts and setting in a forthcoming article. Dunmail was probably Cumbrian King Dyfnmal ap Owain (Donald son of Owen), and he certainly wasn’t the ‘last king’ of the Cumbrians. But here I’d simply like to draw together just a few of the myriad versions of the legend.

Let’s begin with William Wordsworth. In his 1805 poem The Waggoner he wrote:

Meanwhile, uncertain what to do,
And oftentimes compelled to halt,
The horses cautiously pursue
Their way, without mishap or fault;
And now have reached that pile of stones,
Heaped over brave King Dunmail’s bones;
His who had once supreme command,
Last king of rocky Cumberland;
His bones, and those of all his Power
Slain here in a disastrous hour!

Dunmail Stones

Dunmail Stones

Countless generations of tourists to the Lake District have been told that this ‘pile of stones’, which can still be seen on Dunmail Raise as it rises south from Thirlmere, marks the spot of the battle and even, in many versions, Dunmail’s burial place.

Although the seeds of the legend of Dunmail find their origins in the comments of Roger of Wendover in the early thirteenth century quoted above, for a long time antiquaries and travel writers stuck to the basic facts and stated the uncertainty of matters. King Charles 1’s surveyor John Ogilby in his The Traveller’s Guide: Or, A Most Exact Description Of The Roads Of England (1699) only said that there was “a great heap of stones called Dunmail-Raise-Stones, supposed to have been cast up by Dunmail K(ing) of Cumberland for the bounds of his kingdom”.

In 1774, in A Tour of Scotland and the Hebrides, Thomas Pennant wrote:

On a high pass between the hills, observe a large Carnedd called Dunmail Wrays stones, collect6ed in memory of a defeat, A.D. 946. given to a petty king of Cumberland, of that name, by Edmund 1. Who with the usual barbarity of the times, put out the eyes of his two sons, and gave the country to Malcolm, king of Scotland, on condition he preserved in peace the northern parts of England.

William Gilpin said in his Observations, relative chiefly to Pictureseque Beauty, Made in the Year 1772, On several Parts of England; particularly the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland, and Westmoreland (1786):

 … we came to the celebrated pass, known by the name Dunmail-Raise, which divides the counties of Cumberland and Westmoreland. The history of this rude monument, which consists of a monstrous pile of stones, heaped on each side of an earthen mound, is little known. It was probably intended to mark a division, not between these two northern counties; but rather between the two kingdoms of Scotland and England, in elder times, when the Scottish border extended beyond its present bounds. And indeed this chain of mountains seem to be a much more natural division of the two kingdoms, in this part, than a little river in champaign country, like the Esk, which now divides them. It is said, this division, was made by a Saxon prince, on the death of Dunmail the last king of Cumberland, who was here slain in battle…

Dunmail Raise

Dunmail Raise

Around the same time, 1784, Thomas West wrote in A guide to the lakes of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire:

… the road ascends to Dunmail-raise, where lie the historical stones, that perpetuate the name and fall of the last king of Cumberland, defeated there by the Saxon monarch Edmund, who put out the eyes of the two sons of his adversary, and; for his confederating with Leolin, King of Wales, against him wasted his Kingdom, and then gave it to Malcolm, King of Scots, who held it in fee of Edmund A.D. 944 or 945. The stones are a heap and have the appearance of a karn, or barrow. The wall that divides the counties is built over them, which proves their priority of time in that form.

It’s only when we get to the Romantic era of Wordsworth and later into the Victorian and Edwardian periods that the legend really starts to take shape. I particularly like John Pagan White’s 1873 poetic rendition in his Country Lays and Legends of the English Lake Country:

KING DUNMAIL.

They buried on the mountain’s side
King Dunmail, where he fought and died.
But mount, and mere, and moor again
Shall see King Dunmail come to reign.

Mantled and mailed repose his bones
Twelve cubits deep beneath the stones ;
But many a fathom deeper down
In Grisedale Mere lies Dunmail’s crown.

Climb thou the rugged pass, and see
High midst those mighty mountains three,
How in their joint embrace they hold
The Mere that hides his crown of gold.

There in that lone and lofty dell
Keeps silent watch the sentinel.
A thousand years his lonely rounds
Have traced unseen that water’s bounds

His challenge shocks the startled waste,
Still answered from the hills with haste,
As passing pilgrims come and go
From heights above or vales below.

When waning moons have filled their year,
A stone from out that lonely Mere
Down to the rocky Raise is borne,
By martial shades with spear and horn.

As crashes on the pile the stone,
The echoes to the King make known
How still their faithful watch they hold
In Grisedale o’er his crown of gold.

And when the Raise has reached its sum,
Again will brave King Dunmail come ;
And all his Warriors marching down
The dell, bear back his golden crown.

And Dunmail, mantled, crowned, and mailed,
Again shall Cumbria’s King be hailed ;
And o’er his hills and valleys reign
When Eildon’s heights are field and plain.

Grisedale Tarn

Grisedale Tarn

W. T. Palmer’s version of 1908 in The English Lakes is more elaborate, literally more inventive and certainly historically incorrect regarding the English king involved and the identity of the Cumbrians themselves:

The cairn of Dunmail, last king of Pictish (sic) Cumbria slain in battle with Edgar (sic) the Saxon, is here, a formless pile of stones. There is a legend concerning this spot.

The crown of Dunmail was charmed, giving to its wearer a succession in his kingdom. Therefore King Edgar (sic) of the Saxons coveted it above all things. When Dunmail came to the throne of the mountainlands a wizard in Gilsland Forest held a master-charm to defeat the purpose of his crown. He Dunmail slew. The magician was able to make himself invisible save at cock crow, and to destroy him the hero braved a cordon of wild wolves at night. At the first peep of dawn he entered the cave where the wizard was lying. Leaping to his feet the magician called out, “Where river runs north or south with the storm” ere Dunmail’s sword silenced him forever. The story came to the ear of the Saxon, who after much inquiry of his priests found that an incomplete curse, though powerful against Dunmail, could scarcely harm another holder of the crown. Spies were accordingly sent into Cumbria to find where a battle could be fought on land favourable to the magician’s words. On Dunmail raise, in times of storm even in unromantic to-day, the torrent sets north or south in capricious fashion. The spies found the place, found also fell-land chiefs who were persuaded to become secret allies of the Saxon. The campaign began. Dunmail moved his army south to meet the invader, and they joined battle on this pass. For long hours the fight was with the Cumbrians; the Saxons were driven down the hill again and again. As his foremost tribes became exhausted, Dunmail retired and called on his reserves—they were mainly the ones favouring the Southern king. On they came, spreading in well-armed lines from side to side of the hollow way, but instead of opening to let the weary warriors through they delivered an attack on them. Surprised, the army reeled back, and their rear was attacked with redoubled violence by the Saxons. The loyal ranks were forced to stand back-to- back round their king; assailed by superior masses they fell rapidly, and ere long the brave chief was shot down by a traitor of his own bodyguard.

“My crown,” cried he, “bear it away; never let the Saxon flaunt it.”

A few stalwarts took the charmed treasure from his hands, and with a furious onslaught made the attackers give way. Step by step they fought their way up the ghyll of Dunmail’s beck—broke through all resistance on the open fell, and aided by a dense cloud evaded their pursuers. Two hours later the faithful few met by Grisedale tarn, and consigned the crown to its depths — “till Dunmail come again to lead us.”

And every year the warriors come back, draw up the charmed circlet from the depths of the wild mountain tarn, and carry it with them over Seat Sandal to where their king is sleeping his age-long sleep. They knock with his spear on the topmost stone of the cairn, and

from its heart comes a voice, “Not yet; not yet; wait awhile, my warriors.”

In 1937 Arthur Mee wrote in The Lake Counties:

A little south of Wythburn the high road crosses over into Westmorland. Beside it at the top of the pass is a great heap of stones known as Dunmail Raise, with its own little tradition of something that happened on this boundary 1000 years ago. Here, it is thought, the battle took place in which the Saxon king Edmund defeated Dunmail, the last king of Cumbria, whose territory was then handed over to King Malcolm of Scotland.

More recently another writer put it thus:

Dunmail Raise marked the boundary between Cumberland and Westmorland, the name coming from a heap of stones which in folklore marks the burial place of the last King of Cumberland, King Dunmail or, as sometimes spelt, Domhnall. In 945, King Edmund, who ruled almost undisputed over the remainder of England, joined forces with King Malcolm of Scotland in order to defeat the last bastion of Celtic resistance in his kingdom. In his last battle, King Dunmail was killed by Edmund himself. His body was carried away by faithful warriors, and buried under a great pile of stones.

King Edmund is reputed to have captured Dunmail’s two sons and had their eyes put out. The Crown of King Dunmail was thrown into Grisedale Tarn on the Helvellyn range. Legend has it that the crown was enchanted, giving its wearer a magic right to the Kingdom, thus it was important to prevent it from falling into Saxon hands. On victory, Edmund gave Cumberland to King Malcolm of Scotland, and it was only when Canute came to the throne that Cumberland came back under English rule in exchange, 87 years later, for Lothian.

The Kingdom of Cumbria -  Strathclyde

The Kingdom of Cumbria – Strathclyde

In their Ghoulish Horrible Hair raising Cumbrian Tales (1981), Herbert and Mary Jackson add yet more details:

In the aftermath of a ferociously fought battle near Dunmail Raise, just south of Thirlmere reservoir, between King Dunmail of Cumberland and the Saxon army, in the year circa 940 AD, the following legend is written:

After the battle, as King Dunmail lay dying, his last words were. “My crown, bear it away, never let the Saxon flaunt it.”

For it was known that whoever wore the crown of Dunmail would succeed to the Kingdom of Cumbria. The King’s personal body guard removed the crown from the head of their dying monarch and with unprecedented gallantry fought their way through the Saxon lines.

Eventually they reached Grisdale tarn, where with all due ceremony and reverence, the crown was consigned to its deepest waters, with these words, “Till Dunmail come again to lead us.”

Each year, on the anniversary of the King’s death, his warriors return to the tarn. The crown is retrieved and carried back to the cairn of stones under which their beloved Dunmail lies. In turn, the warriors knock with their spears on the topmost stones of the cairn.

From that grave a voice cries out. “Not yet; not yet – wait a while my warriors.” The day is yet to come when the spirit of Dunmail will re-join his warriors and crown a new King of Cumbria.

King Owain, Dunmail’s father, came to the throne in circa 920. A battle took place on the flat of a mountain top at Ecclfechan. What happened to Owain after the battle against the English in which he lost in 938 is not known. But his son went on to succeed him.

Shortly after this, another battle took place as they fought step by step up the Ghyll of Dunmail’s beck – broke through all resistance on the open fell, and, aided by a dense cloud, evaded their pursuers. Two hours later the faithful few met by Grisdale Tarn, and consigned the crown to its depths – “till Dunmail come again to lead us.” And every year the warriors come back, draw up the magic circlet from the depths of the wild mountain tarn, and carry it with them over the Seat Sandal to where the king is sleeping his age long sleep. They knock with his spear on the topmost stone of the cairn and from its heart comes a voice. “Not yet; not yet – wait a while my warriors.”

Cumbrian Flag

Cumbrian Flag

It’s all wonderful stuff but there is not a shred of historical evidence for any of it. That a battle was fought in 945/6 between a Cumbrian (Strathclyde British) king and the English king Edmund is quite likely and it’s also quite possible that Edmund was in league at this time with King Malcolm of Alba (Scotland). It’s even possible that the king was the historically attested Cumbrian, King Dyfnwal ap Owain, and even that his two sons had their eyes put out by Edmund – although the earliest mention of this blinding was by the thirteenth-century Roger of Wendover. All the rest is legend, if not purely literary myth, but is a great yarn.

I will show in my forthcoming article that Dunmail/Dyfnwal certainly wasn’t the last king of Cumbria and probably didn’t die in the battle against the English either; facts that haven’t stopped local sub-aqua clubs searching for Dunmail’s crown in Grisedale tarn! I hope they find it.

In three previous articles I kept hovering around Gospatric, an earl of Northumbria in the eleventh century. Sometime before or after the Norman Conquest he issued a writ granting the use of some of his lands in northern Cumbria to one of his men: Thorfinn Mac Thore. It’s a fascinating document not least because it is written in old English (Anglo-Saxon). It’s also about the only such written source we have concerning the governance of Cumbria in the pre-Norman era, i.e. before King William Rufus first captured Carlisle in 1092. But who was Gospatric?

Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick

It’s been a question which has generated several conflicting answers over the years. Let me start my own investigation with his name. Gospatric (or Gospatrick) is a British name and means ‘Servant of Patrick’.

The Cumbric personal names Gospatrick, Gososwald and Gosmungo meaning ‘servant of St…’ (Welsh/Cornish/Breton gwas ‘servant, boy’) and the Galloway dialect word gossock ‘short, dark haired inhabitant of Wigtownshire’ (Welsh gwasog ‘a servant’) apparently show that the Cumbric equivalent of Welsh/Cornish gwas & Breton gwaz ‘servant’ was *gos.

Patrick refers to Saint Patrick, who was, and still is, the patron saint of Ireland, but who was originally a mainland British-born ‘Celt’ before being captured by Irish pirates and brought up in Ireland.

The languages the native British and Irish spoke at the time of the Anglo-Saxon advent in the fifth and later centuries are usually grouped by linguists into two groups: Goidelic, which includes Irish and Scots Gaelic, and Brythonic, which includes what is now Welsh and, importantly for us, Cumbric; plus  Cornish and Breton.

Gospatric is undoubtedly a Brythonic Cumbric name.

Cymru

Cymru

The Brythonic (‘British’) languages were all basically just variants of the same language. The Welsh today call their language Cymraeg and themselves Cymry. The country is called Cymru. The French version is Cambria, as in the Cambrian Mountains. The same people who lived in the north-western region of present-day England and over a large swathe of southern ‘Scotland’ were called Cumbrians; their land Cumbria and their language Cumbric. It’s the same word for essentially the same people. From this we obviously get modern Cumbria and the anglicized Cumberland. All these names are descended from the Brythonic word combrogi, meaning ‘fellow-countrymen’.

The use of the word Cymry as a self-designation derives from the post-Roman era relationship of the Welsh with the Brythonic-speaking peoples of northern England and southern Scotland, the peoples of Yr  Hen Ogledd (English: The Old North). It emphasised a perception that the Welsh and the ‘Men of the North’ were one people, exclusive of other peoples.

To understand better who Earl Gospatric was we need to understand a bit about the history of Britain from the time of the Anglo-Saxon advent up to and after the Norman invasion, particularly the history of the northwest of the country. Over time the Cymry (Welsh) had become cut off from their cousins in Cumbria, although undoubtedly many links were maintained by sea for centuries. Starting in around AD 600 the Angles under King Aethelfrith of Northumbria had started to make incursions into Cumbria, including into large tracts of what is now lowland Scotland.

Aethelfith conquered more territories from the Britons than any other chieftain of king, either subduing the inhabitants and making them tributary, or driving them out and planting the English in their places.

The Kingdom of Cumbria -  Strathclyde

The Kingdom of Cumbria – Strathclyde

In ‘English’ Cumbria the Northumbrians did establish settlements but these were in general restricted to the lowlands and along the coast, they made almost no impression on the mountain fastness of the Lake District or in Galloway in the southwest of present-day Scotland. These areas were still predominantly the realm of the Kingdom of Cumbria, often referred to as the Kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons. Westmorland for example, where there was more Anglian settlement than in Cumberland, is an English word simply meaning ‘West of the Moors’, and the moors were the Pennines, over which the Angles had to come. The centuries-long battle for hegemony in the north of Britain involved three powers: the kings and later earls of Northumbria, the kings of Gaelic Alba (Scotland) and the kings of Cumbria (Strathclyde Britain). There were two other participants: the Norse-Irish Viking who started to arrive in this part of the world in the tenth century and the Gaelic Galwegians, who were feared as barbaric rapers, pillagers and general wreakers of havoc, until they were finally absorbed into Gaelic Scotland.

The borders of the kingdom of Cumbria ebbed and flowed – at one stage they possibly stretched from the Clyde all the way to Chester – mostly down the west coast of the British island but also in ‘Scotland’, including most of the Scottish lowlands.

Once the Norse-Irish Vikings has started to raid and settle in Cumberland they also started to make incursions and raids over the Pennines into English Northumbria and into Cumbrian regions in present-day southern Scotland. Shifting alliances continually fought each other for dominance. It was at least in part these Norse Viking raids that prompted the Northumbrians to try to get a better grip on Cumberland and Westmorland.

King Edgar at Chester in 973

King Edgar at Chester in 973

The kings of Cumbria did eventually have to acknowledge their allegiance to the ‘West Saxon’ English king Edgar at Chester in 973. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded:

This year Edgar the etheling was consecrated king at Bath, on Pentecost’s mass-day, on the fifth before the ides of May, the thirteenth year since he had obtained the kingdom; and he was then one less than thirty years of age. And soon after that, the king led all his ship-forces to Chester; and there came to meet him six kings, and they all plighted their troth to him, that they would be his fellow-workers by sea and by land.

One of these kings was Malcolm, king of the Cumbrians, who together with King Kenneth II of Scotland, Maccus of the Isle of Man and several unidentified Welsh kings rowed King Edgar across the River Dee in Chester.

But Northumbrian and later English hegemony in Cumbria remained for a long time very incomplete, mostly nominal, and always contested by the Cumbrians themselves.

It’s a long and complicated history. I particularly recommend William E. Kapelle’s magisterial The Norman Conquest of the North and Tim Clarkson’s The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland. But let’s return to Gospatric, the Cumbric eleventh century earl of Northumbria. There are many questions; not least how a British Cumbrian chieftain became an English earl? Here are a few things we do know about Earl Gospatric:

In late 1067 Oswulf, the short-lived titular earl of Northumbria, was ‘killed by bandits’. Gospatric ‘who had a plausible claim to the earldom given the likelihood that he was related to Oswulf and Uchtred, offered King William a large amount of money to be given the Earldom of Bernicia. The King, who was in the process of raising heavy taxes, accepted’.

In early 1068 Gospatric joined with Edgar Atheling (the English claimant to the throne), Edwin earl of Mercia and Earl Morcar his brother, in an uprising against William the Bastard. They lost and Gospatric was stripped of the earldom.

William replaced Gospatric as earl by a Fleming called Robert Cumin (or de Comines). As I described in my article The Normans Come to Cumbria, this was to lead to another rising of the North of England, with the support of the Danish king Swein. Gospatric joined this too.

The Harrying of the North

The Harrying of the North

King William heard of the revolt and, says Orderic Vitalis: ‘Swift was the king’s coming’, with ‘an overwhelming army’. Norman massacres ensued and William ravaged York and its church. Many of the English magnates escaped, including Gospatric, hopefully to fight another day. Annoyed with these pesky and rebellious Northerners, William committed regional genocide: the mildly named Harrying of the North.

In early 1070 Gospatric submitted himself to King William, who, interestingly, re-granted him the earldom. He remained earl until 1072 when William took the earldom  away once more and gave it to Waltheof, Danish earl Siward’s son.

Gospatric fled to find refuge in ‘Scotland’, and for a time in Flanders, before returning to Scotland. The Scottish King Malcolm III Canmore (probably Gospatric’s uncle) then granted him the future earldom of Dunbar (Lothian).

Sometime shortly thereafter it is contended that Gospatric died. Chronicler Roger of Hoveden wrote:

Not long after this, being reduced to extreme infirmity, he sent for Aldwin and Turgot, the monks, who at this time were living at Meilrose (Melrose), in poverty and contrite in spirit for the sake of Christ, and ended his life with a full confession of his sins, and great lamentations and penitence, at Ubbanford, which is also called Northam, and was buried in the porch of the church there.

Details of Earl Gospatric’s death are debated. I’ll leave that aside for the present.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

All historians are in agreement that it was because of Gospatric’s blood relationship (of whatever type) with the ancient earls of Northumbria, based on their castle of Bamburgh, that he was deemed eligible and acceptable to become earl of Northumbria, even if only for a few years. Certainly this relationship was with the Bamburgh earl Uchtred ‘the Bold’, who died around 1016.

Before going further we need to try to distinquish between several different Gospatrics (or Cospatrics). All were descended from Northumbrian earl Uchtred.

First there is Gospatric the third son of Earl Uchtred’s by his second wife Sige (daughter of Styr, son of Ulf). Unlike his two brothers Ealdred and Eadulf we know that this Gospatric never became earl of Northumbria; Simeon of Durham tells us this explicitly. It seems clear that this Gospatric was murdered in 1064 on the orders of Earl Tostig, King Harold’s brother, and that it was either his son or grandson Eadulf (‘called Rus’) who led the massacre of Norman Bishop Walcher and his men at Durham in 1080. From the date of his death and from the explicit statement of Simeon of Durham we know that this Gospatric was not the earl Gospatric, although some believe he might have been the Gospatric who issued the Cumbrian writ.

Next, Simeon of Durham is quite explicit that earl Gospatric was the son of Cumbrian ‘Prince’ Maldred (maybe even ‘King’) by his wife Ealdgith (Edith) of Bamburgh, the daughter of Northumbrian earl Uchtred and his third wife Aelfgifu, daughter of English King Ethelred ‘the Unready’. I concur with the bulk of Scottish and northern English historians in seeing this ‘earl’ Gospatric as being the issuer of the Cumbrian writ.

Thirdly there is a third Gospatric: the son of Sigrida and Arkil son of Ecgthryth. Sigrida is seen as being the daughter of Yorkshire thegn Kilvert who married Uchtred’s discarded wife Ecgthryth (daughter of Durham bishop Aldhun). This Gospatric was therefore also related to Earl Uchtred. There is much more to explore here but as it’s somewhat tortuous and even incestuous I’ll leave it for another time.

So it was assuredly his descent from Uchtred that legitimized Cumbrian Maldred’s son Gospatric becoming earl of Northumbria in 1068. To place Uchtred in a little context this is what William Hunt wrote about him in the Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1900, Vol 58):

UCHTRED/UHTRED (d. 1016), Earl of Northumbria, was son of Waltheof the elder, earl of Northumbria, who had been deprived of the government of Deira (Yorkshire), the southern part of the earldom. Uhtred helped Ealdhun or Aldhun, bishop of Durham, when in 995 he moved his see from Chester-le-Street, to prepare the site for his new church. He married the bishop’s daughter Ecgfrida, and received with her six estates belonging to the bishopric, on condition that as long as he lived he should keep her in honourable wedlock. When in 1006 the Scots invaded Northumbria under their king, Malcolm II (d. 1034), and besieged Durham, Waltheof, who was old and unfit for war, shut himself up in Bamborough; but Uhtred, who was a valiant warrior, went to the relief of his father-in-law the bishop, defeated the Scots, and slew a great number of them. Ethelred II (968?–1016), on hearing of Uhtred’s success, gave him his father’s earldom, adding to it the government of Deira. Uhtred then sent back the bishop’s daughter, restoring the estates of the church that he had received with her, and married Sigen, the daughter of a rich citizen, probably of York or Durham, named Styr Ulfson, receiving her on condition that he would slay her father’s deadly enemy, Thurbrand. He did not fulfil this condition and seems to have parted with Sigen also; for as he was of great service to the king in war, Ethelred gave him his daughter Elgiva or Ælfgifu to wife. When Sweyn, king of Denmark, sailed into the Humber in 1013, Uhtred promptly submitted to him; but when Canute asked his aid in 1015 he returned, it is said, a lofty refusal, declaring that so long as he lived he would keep faithful to Ethelred, his lord and father-in-law. He joined forces with the king’s son Edmund in 1016, and together they ravaged the shires that refused to help them against the Danes. Finding, however, that Canute was threatening York, Uhtred hastened northwards, and was forced to submit to the Danish king and give him hostages. Canute bade him come to him at a place called Wiheal (possibly Wighill, near Tadcaster), and instructed or allowed his enemy Thurbrand to slay him there. As Uhtred was entering into the presence of the king a body of armed men of Canute’s retinue emerged from behind a curtain and slew him and forty thegns who accompanied him, and cut off their heads. He was succeeded in his earldom by Canute’s brother-in-law Eric, and on Eric’s banishment the earldom came to Uhtred’s brother, Eadwulf Cutel, who had probably ruled the northern part of it under Eric.

By Ecgfrida, Uhtred had a son named Ealdred (or Aldred), who succeeded his uncle, Eadwulf Cutel, in Bernicia, the northern part of Northumbria, slew his father’s murderer, Thurband, and was himself slain by Thurbrand’s son Carl; he left five daughters, one of whom, named Elfleda, became the wife of Earl Siward and the mother of Earl Waltheof. By Ethelred’s daughter Elgiva, Uhtred had a daughter named Aldgyth or Eadgyth, who married Maldred, and became the mother of Gospatric (or Cospatric), earl of Northumberland. He also had two other sons—Eadwulf, who succeeded his brother Ealdred as earl in Bernicia and was slain by Siward, and Gospatric. His wife, Ecgfrida, married again after he had repudiated her, and had a daughter named Sigrid, who had three husbands, one of them being this last-named Eadwulf, the son of her mother’s husband. Ecgfrida was again repudiated, returned to her father, became a nun and died, and was buried at Durham.

Earl Gospatric was certainly the son of Maldred, Simeon of Durham tells us and William Hunt agrees. But I believe there is another clinching factor in the identification of Earl Gospatric’s as the issuer of the Cumbrian writ: his many Cumbrian connections.

Maldred’s parents were Cumbrian ‘Thane’ Crínáin (Mormaer), Abbot of Dunkeld, and Princess Bethoc, the daughter of Scottish King Malcolm II. Maldred’s brother (and Gospatric’s uncle) was Duncan I (Donnchad mac Crínáin), who was killed by Macbeth, but who had became the first ‘Cumbrian’ King of Scotland via his descent from his grandfather the Scottish King Malcolm II. (It’s interesting to note that the chronicler Florence of Worcester later called King Malcolm III (Canmore) ‘the son of the king of the Cumbrians’. His father was Duncan I)

King Malcolm Canmore

King Malcolm Canmore

The detailed genealogical arguments are lengthy and at times obscure; nothing is totally certain. But the important thing is that if the majority of historians are correct not only can Gospatric’s putative ancestry explain his link to the earls of Northumbria (and hence his title to the earldom) but also much of what we know of him and his descendants in later years. Gospatric’s father Maldred was probably born into a Cumbrian family (in its wider sense) in Dunbar in Lothian. He was certainly Lord of Allerdale in present-day northern Cumberland and might also for a time have been king of the Cumbrians. Gospatric himself was also ‘Lord of Allerdale’; it is clearly in that capacity that he issued his famous writ granting lands in Allerdale to his man Thorfinn Mac Thore. The lordship of Allerdale was to pass down in Gospatric’s family in the generations to come, firstly to his son Waltheof. Regarding Dunbar and Lothian, after his was stripped of his Northumbrian earldom by William the Conqueror in 1072, Gospatric was granted ‘Dunbar and lands adjacent to it’ by Scottish King Malcolm III (Canmore) – who was King Duncan I’s son and thus Gospatric’s cousin. This Lothian grant later became the earldom of Dunbar (or Lothian) and was passed to Gospatric’s son Gospatric II and then to his descendants. (It seems Gospatric’s daughter Ethelreda also married King Malcolm III Canmore’s son King Duncan II.)

So what we are seeing in the person of Earl Gospatric is a powerful lord of impeccable royal Cumbrian descent and credentials; also descended from and related to the Gaelic Scottish royal family as well as the Bamburgh earls of Northumbria, and even descended from English King Ethelred! He was a native British Cumbrian Prince (or at least an ‘earl’) whose family had held extensive lands in greater Cumbria (in the kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons) in pre-Norman Conquest days, perhaps for many generations.

Kenneth mac Alpin

Kenneth mac Alpin

There used to be, and unfortunately still sometimes is, a tendency in both English and Scottish historiography to regard events in the north of ‘England’ and in the south of ‘Scotland’ as being driven, in England, by English Kings and Anglian Northumbrian earls, with periodic interventions of Norse Vikings and Danish Kings. They interacted with ‘Gaelic’ Kings of Scotland – descendants of Kenneth mac Alpin. Through a long process and countless struggles the borders between England and Scotland were finally fixed roughly where they are today. This is a bit of a travesty of history. The native kings and people of Strathclyde Britain – the ‘Cumbrians’ – are either almost erased from history or seen as more or less ‘defunct’ by the eleventh century.

It’s only when we correct this aberration that we can really understand who Gospatric was. When we do so many of the things we know about him, and particularly of his descendants, start to be seen in a clearer light.

It has often been maintained that Gospatric’s position in Cumberland was owed to the Danish earl of Northumbria, Siward (Sigurd), who came to prominence as one of Danish king Cnut’s (Canute’s) strongmen in the region after Cnut had conquered Northumbria in the 1010s. In 1033 Siward became earl of York and in 1041/2 earl of Northumbria.  In 1054 he defeated Macbeth. It has been suggested by William E. Kapelle that as part of the ongoing struggles for mastery over northern England and southern Scotland, Siward invaded Cumberland sometime before 1055, when he died. Was it then that Siward installed Gospatric in lands in Cumberland, including the lordship of Allerdale?

Now there is little doubt that Cumbrian Gospatric at some time owed allegiance to Earl Siward, this seems clear from the wording of his famous writ, regardless of its date and whether or not Siward was alive or dead at the time of its writing. He orders ‘that (there) be no man so bold that he with what I have given to him cause to break the peace such as Earl Syward and I have granted to them … ’. I reproduce this writ again in full:

Gospatric greets all my dependants and each man, free and dreng, that dwell in all the lands of the Cumbrians, and all my kindred friendlily; and I make known to you that my mind and full leave is that Thorfynn  MacThore be as free in all things that are mine in Alnerdall as any man is, whether I or any of my dependants, in wood, in heath, in enclosures, and as to all things that are existing on the earth and under it, at Shauk and at Wafyr and at Pollwathoen  and at bek Troyte and the wood at Caldebek; and I desire that the men abiding with Thorfynn at Cartheu and Combetheyfoch be as free with him as Melmor and Thore and Sygulf were in Eadread’s days, and that (there) be no man so bold that he with what I have given to him cause to break the peace such as Earl Syward and I have granted to them forever as any man living under the sky; and whosoever is there abiding, let him be geld free as I am and in like manner as Walltheof and Wygande  and Wyberth and Gamell and Kunyth and all my kindred and dependants; and I will that Thorfynn have soc and sac, toll and theam over all the lands of Cartheu and Combetheyfoch that were given to Thore in Moryn’s days free, with bode and witnessman in the same place.

Allerdale

Allerdale

What I would like to ask, perhaps rhetorically, is this: Even if Siward had invaded Cumbria as Kapelle suggests, is it not more likely that Earl Siward was able to come to terms with a resident Cumbrian lord Gospatric, whose family had held the lordship of Allerdale, and no doubt other Cumbrian lands, for quite a long time? No doubt Gospatric’s family connections with both the ancient Northumbrian house of Bamburgh and the kings of Scotland helped as well? This is how I see it.

Of course I’ve not yet addressed the hoary question of the dating of Gospatric’s writ. Was it pre-Conquest or post-Conquest but prior to William Rufus’s arrival in Carlisle in 1092? I haven’t even addressed the question of whether the ‘Dolfin’ who was the lord of Carlisle in 1092 and who William Rufus expelled was Gospatric’s son? A view held by most but not all historians. Nor even have I examined when and where Gospatric was to die? I hope to return to these issues.

In the eleventh century present-day English Cumbria was neither predominantly peopled by descendants of Norse Vikings, nor unequivocally ruled by either the kings of England or the kings of Scotland. All of these had an important role to play to be sure, but the case of Gospatric makes it clear that the native Britons, the Cumbrians, were still there and in some cases still powerful; even though the heyday of their power had surely passed. It was only after the Normans really started to get a grip on the region under King Henry I that the Cumbrians finally make their exit from history

Sources and references:

Tim Clarkson, The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland, 2010; H. W. C. Davis, England under the Normans and Angevins 1066 – 1272, 1937; Archibald A. M. Duncan, Scotland: The Making of a Kingdom, 1975; Marjorie O. Anderson, Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland, 1973; William E. Kapelle, The Norman Conquest of the North, 1979; Ann Williams, King Henry 1 and the English, 2007; James Wilson, An English Letter of Gospatric, SHR, 1904; William Farrer, Early Yorkshire Charters, Vol 2, The Fee of Greystoke, 1915; John Crawford Hodgson , The House of Gospatric, in A History of Northumberland, Vol 7, 1901; James Wilson, A History of Cumberland, in William Page (ed) The Victoria County Histories; W G Collingswood, Lake District History, 1925; Edmund Spencer, The Antiquities and Families in Cumberland, 1675; John Denton, An Accompt of the most considerable Estates and Familes in the County of Cumberland (ed R S Ferguson, 1887); Sir Archibald C. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters Prior to AD 1153, 1905; Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest, 2012; Roy Millward and Adrian Robinson, The Lake District, 1970; Richard Sharpe, Norman Rule in Cumbria 1092 – 1136, 2005.