Archive for February, 2014

‘The pride of great men is now intolerable, but our condition miserable.’

English historians, particularly those of the Whig bent, have often portrayed Tudor England as a Golden Age. The centuries-long medieval wars between barons and kings, barons and barons and kings and kings were over, at least for now. Having lost the Hundred Years War, with some minor exceptions, England’s yeoman archers were no longer being dragged to France to fight and die trying to put an English king on the French throne, and England’s French royalty and nobility were finally starting to view themselves as English. England was taking its first tentative steps to greatness. To put it mildly all this is bunk when seen from the perspective of the majority of the people of England. Among many other repressive measures the Tudor monarchy also brought back slavery.

Following the Norman conquest of England, the English were subjugated and dispossessed of their land. Many English thanes and nobles fled abroad (see here for one example). But the vast bulk of the population didn’t have this choice and were reduced to serfdom. Slavery was abolished, in the sense that English people were no longer actually owned by the lords, although it can certainly be argued that the differences between slavery and serfdom were slight.

Wat Tyler - tricked and killed, 1381

Wat Tyler – tricked and killed, 1381

Be that as it may. Yet over a period of nearly 500 years following the Conquest, the English, as opposed to their French overlords, did somehow manage to keep some consciousness of their ‘inalienable right’ to be free. With Norman castles and armed French thugs all around them, they couldn’t do much to reverse their servitude, but they did try. The Peasants Revolt of 1381 and Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450 were just two of the more famous but ultimately fruitless attempts to do so.

Throughout this time the English people were forced to give up most of their surplus (and some) to the Norman French kings and barons. The extracted money helped them fight their countless wars with each other and overseas; wars into which generations of ordinary people were also conscripted. Yet for all this most Englishmen and women were at least able to farm a little land and raise their families, the price of which was rent plus countless other feudal services due to their lords. Of course this was when they weren’t being decimated by famine, plague and rapacious armed knights. They dreamt of a ‘commonwealth’, they dreamt of being free of the Norman yoke, but they never had the power to achieve any of this.

And so we arrive at the Tudors. The fifteenth century Wars of the Roses were a series of fights between various baronial factions for the Crown. Eventually after a bloody game of royal musical chairs: Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III (not to forget the brief Edward  V), and much material for Shakespeare, Henry Tudor gained the throne as Henry VII. The ‘Golden Age’ had arrived.

Actually among the interminable list of brutal and stupid kings of England over the last thousand years, Henry VII was one of the better ones. In his 24 year reign (1485-1509) he avoided wars, improved the house-keeping of government and at his death was able to bequeath his son Henry a huge royal fortune. Such kings are however not usually the stuff of national myth and good story-telling. Shakespeare wrote plays about almost all of Henry’s predecessors of the last hundred years and about his megalomaniac tyrant son Henry VIII, but nothing about Henry VII, a trend that continues with television drama to this day.

Kirkham - One dissolved monastery

Kirkham – One dissolved monastery

Henry VIII was, as I guess we all know, a tyrant and a megalomaniac and probably a misogynist to boot. When he wanted to be rid of his first wife Katherine of Aragon and marry plain Ann Boleyn, the Pope wouldn’t give him a divorce. So Henry broke with Rome, divorced Katherine and married Ann. This didn’t make him a Protestant; Henry remained a Catholic in all other respects than adherence to Rome until his dying day. Having taken this step and needing more money, as all monarchs always do, Henry’s eye fell on the wealth of the Church in England. The Church and all its abbeys and monasteries still owned about a third of the whole land and wealth of the country. Henry set about stealing it. He started to dissolve (and demolish) the monasteries, cart away their movable wealth and seize their land. Much of the land he then sold on at knock-down prices to his favourite nobles and supporters.

The vast majority of English people remained deeply attached to the Catholic Church despite its long role in their own subjugation. Discontent and protest followed. Henry put these down with the usual royal brutality; the most famous (but not only) example being the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 (see here).

Medieval English fields

Medieval English fields

But the dissolution of the monasteries and Henry’s land-grab and on-sale of huge swathes of the country had massive social and economic consequences as well. Landlords all over the country had benefitted by acquiring former Church land. They discovered that it was much more profitable for them to raise large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle on huge consolidated blocks of land than it was to continue to allow the rural peasantry to cultivate the medieval ridge and furrow fields and make use of the commons and moors to supplement their meagre livelihoods. As E. P. Cheney wrote in Social Changes in England in the Sixteenth Century:

A new conception of the ownership of land was rising by which it came to be looked upon, quite in contrast with the feudal or communal notion of the Middle Ages, as subject to the same completeness of control and use as any kind of personal property.

Professor Pollard in his England under Protector Somerset wrote that under the old view,

Land was regarded not as a source of wealth but as a source of men…  and it was more important for the lord to have men to defend him than for him to increase his wealth by extracting as much rent as he could from his tenants.

Enclosures

Enclosures

The landlords started to consolidate their various pieces of land, a process known as ‘engrossing’. They also started to ‘enclose’ these lands in a more aggressive manner; i.e. erecting hedges and fences to keep the peasants out. In earlier times the lords had wanted many peasant farmers on their land, both for the extraction of rents, to work on the lords’ ‘home farms’ and as a ‘stock’ to take with them in their squabbles and wars. They often made this explicit. In distant Cumberland in the fifteenth century, a local lord, Lancelot Threlkeld, said that he had three manors:

One at Crosby Ravensworth for pleasure, where he had a park full of deer; one at Yanwath for comfort and warmth, wherein to reside in winter; and one at Threlkeld, well stocked with tenants, to go with him to the wars.

But now landlords could make more money turning peasant cultivated land into pasture for their sheep and so they didn’t need all their peasant ‘stock’. How to get rid of them? The strategy was twofold: First, they racked up rents to extortionate levels that both peasant farmers and even yeoman could not afford. Second, by enclosing the fields and commons with hedges and fences and by enforcing brutal penalties against any who wanted to continue to exercise their common rights.

Joseph Clayton commented in his wonderful Robert Kett and the Norfolk Rising:

The new view naturally prevailed. There was no power strong enough to withstand the landlords (always the real rulers of an agricultural nation), when, in pursuit of wealth, they got rid of the people from the land and proceeded to bring in more and more sheep.

Engrossing and enclosing land weren’t new things in England; they went back to at least the thirteenth century. But Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries and subsequent land redistribution did give the process a massive boost.

During the period, which may be roughly defined as from 1450 to 1550, enclosure meant to a large extent the actual dispossession of the tenants by their manorial lords. This took place either in the form of the violent ousting of the sitting tenant, or of a refusal on the death of one tenant to admit the son, who in earlier centuries would have been treated as his natural successor. Proofs abound. W. J. Ashley, Economic History.

The landlords’ strategy worked. All over England hundreds of thousands of poor English farmers and husbandmen were evicted from the land their ancestors had cultivated for centuries. The landlords then demolished their houses and cottages.

Lord Protector Somerset

Lord Protector Somerset

The upshot was that many of these evicted people became ‘unemployed’, a word that was used at the time. Another frequent name for them was ‘vagabonds’. Countless thousands could no longer support themselves or their families through the sweat of their own brow. They squatted where they could; they roamed the villages and towns of England looking for work or begging for charity; they migrated to the squalor of London; and, when they were desperate, they resorted to petty theft to survive.

This was all too much for the king, the nobles and the landlords. There was, they said, an ‘unemployed’ or ‘vagabond’ problem. The response was that these unemployed vagabonds needed to be punished and, if they continued to be a problem, they were to be killed. Eventually when even these draconic measures didn’t work the government of Henry’s young son King Edward VI resorted to the reintroduction of slavery in England.

Joseph Clayton summarised all this very well:

Parliament in Henry VIII’s reign brought in the lash and the gallows to solve the “unemployed problem” Punishment seemed the right thing for people, homeless and landless, for peasants dispossessed of holdings, for soldiers broken in the French Wars.

In 1531 an Act of Parliament allowed licences for begging to be granted to the impotent, and ordered a whipping for all other mendicants.  Five years later, in the year of the suppression of the lesser monasteries, Parliament, finding the unemployed still alive, decided to deal more radically with the problem. So on the first conviction of unemployment all vagrants, men, and women alike, were to be whipped; for the second offence they were to be mutilated; and on the third conviction they were to be hanged as felons. This Act of 1536 was rigidly enforced and thousands of unemployed men and women suffered the full penalty of the law. And still the “unemployed problem” remained unsolved, so that it was said that only by sterner measures and greater severity could the question be settled.

Therefore, in 1547, the first year of Edward VI., an Act was passed selling the unemployed into slavery. For a first conviction branding and two years of slavery was ordered for the unemployed vagrant; the “slave” was to be beaten and chained by his master, and for running away he was to be further branded and adjudged a “slave” for ever. Death as a felon was the penalty for a third conviction.

Branding and slavery in Tudor England

Branding and slavery in Tudor England

Let us be quite clear what was happening here. Under the 1547 Vagrancy Act introduced by the Protector of England, the Duke of Somerset, not only would the unemployed by branded with a V on their foreheads, but they would be made a slave for two years – for a first offence. The words slave and slavery were repeatedly used in the Act. If they continued to be unemployed they could be enslaved forever. Slavery recognised by the law had been reintroduced to England.

Wasn’t the Tudor period such a Golden Age?

Of course all this doesn’t make as good television as King Henry jumping in an out of the beds of his numerous wives and mistresses, so we never hear about it. Another reason for this lack of knowledge is that the 1547 ‘slavery’ Act was soon repealed. Not only were common people appalled by the reappearance of slavery in England ‘the land of the free’, but many in positions of power were too, or at least they saw it wasn’t working.

Even this measure, drastic as it was, failed to rid the country of the unemployed. Moreover, people were found in that first year of Edward VI. to dislike the enslavement of free-born men and women. Government it seemed had got rid of papal authority only to bring back slavery to England.

So in 1549 the Act of 1547 was repealed, and the (still brutal) Act of 1531 was once more the law of the land.

Robert Kett leading the  revolt

Robert Kett leading the revolt

Yet all the engrossing, enclosing and evicting went on. Protests and sometimes rebellions broke out in different parts of the country. The most famous was Kett’s Rebellion in Norfolk in 1549. I won’t tell this story here; the rather anodyne Wikipedia page will give you some idea. But Norfolk landowner Robert Kett would surely be on my list of Top Ten Englishmen.

At the very start of Kett’s Rebellion, a ‘Rebels’ Complaint’ was issued, probably written by Kett himself:

THE REBELS’ COMPLAINT

The pride of great men is now intolerable, but our condition miserable.

These abound in delights; and compassed with the fullness of all things, and consumed with vain pleasures, thirst only after gain, inflamed with the burning delights of their desires.

But ourselves, almost killed with labour and watching, do nothing all our life long but sweat, mourn, hunger, and thirst. Which things, though they seem miserable and base (as they are indeed most miserable), yet might be borne howsoever, if they which are drowned in the boiling seas of evil delights did not pursue the calamities and miseries of other men with too much insolent hatred. But now both we and our miserable condition is a laughing stock to these most proud and insolent men who are consumed with ease and idleness. Which thing (as it may) grieveth us so sore and inflicteth such a stain of evil report, so that nothing is more grievous for us to remember, nor more unjust to suffer.

The present condition of possessing land seemeth miserable and slavish holding it all at the pleasure of great men; not freely, but by prescription, and, as it were, at the will and pleasure of the lord. For as soon as any man offend any of these gorgeous gentlemen he is put out, deprived, and thrust from all his goods.

How long shall we suffer so great oppression to go unrevenged?

For so far are they, the gentlemen, now gone in cruelty and covetousness, that they are not content only to take all by violence away from us, and to consume in riot and effeminate delights what they get by force and villainy, but they must also suck in a manner our blood and marrow out of our veins and bones.

The common pastures left by our predecessors for our relief and our children are taken away.

The lands which in the memory of our fathers were common, those are ditched and hedged in and made several; the pastures are enclosed, and we shut out. Whatsoever fowls of the air or fishes of the water, and increase of the earth all these do they devour, consume, and swallow up; yea, nature doth not suffice to satisfy their lusts, but they seek out new devices, and, as it were, forms of pleasures to embalm and perfume themselves, to abound in pleasant smells, to pour in sweet things to sweet things. Finally they seek from all places all things for their desire and the provocation of lust. While we in the meantime eat herbs and roots, and languish with continual labour, and yet are envied that we live, breathe, and enjoy common air!

Shall they, as they have brought hedges about common pastures, enclose with their intolerable lusts also all the commodities and pleasures of this life, which Nature, the parent of us all, would have common, and bringeth forth every day, for us, as well as for them?

We can no longer bear so much, so great, and so cruel injury; neither can we with quiet minds behold so great covetousness, excess, and pride of the nobility. We will rather take arms, and mix Heaven and earth together, than endure so great cruelty.

Nature hath provided for us, as well as for them; hath given us a body and a soul, and hath not envied us other things. While we have the same form, and the same condition of birth together with them, why should they have a life so unlike unto ours, and differ so far from us in calling?

We see that things have now come to extremities, and we will prove the extremity. We will rend down the hedges, fill up ditches, and make a way for every man into the common pasture. Finally, we will lay all even with the ground, which they, no less wickedly than cruelly and covetously, have enclosed. Neither will we suffer ourselves any more to be pressed with such burdens against our wills, nor endure so great shame, since living out our days under such inconveniences we should leave the commonwealth unto our posterity mourning, and miserable, and much worse than we received it of our fathers.

Wherefore we will try all means; neither will we ever rest until we have brought things to our own liking.

We desire liberty, and an indifferent (or equal) use of all things. This will we have. Otherwise these tumults and our lives shall only be ended together.

Robert Kett under the Oak of Reformation

Robert Kett under the Oak of Reformation

As Joseph Clayton put it in 1912:

In these plain and downright phrases the Norfolk peasants flung out their banner of revolt, and called their neighbours to the fray. Nor did they call in vain. Kett moved his camp to Eaton Wood hard by and hither came crowds of poor men on l0th July, while word of the rising was spread throughout the county. For good or for evil, for victory or defeat, for loss or gain, the countryside was rising against the enclosures, and no man could foretell the issue.

Of course we can guess the ‘issue’. During Kett’s Rebellion several thousand English people were killed by an army of (mostly foreign) mercenaries sent by the young king’s ministers to crush them. Many more were hanged in revenge afterwards, including Robert Kett himself who was hanged from the walls of Norwich Castle on the 7th December 1549.

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Twenty years ago I bought a book called Celt and Saxon by the historian and writer Peter Berresford Ellis. I have reread it with much pleasure and benefit several times since. As a corrective to the all too usual Anglo-centric tellings of British history Beresford Ellis’s book is well worth reading, as is his other work. Yet my most recent rereading prompts me to some thoughts on the history of Britain as well a couple of issues regarding national identity.

Celt and SaxonThe full title of Berresford Ellis’s book is ‘Celt and Saxon. The Struggle for Britain AD 410 – 937’. This gives you some indication of the story he tells: How the ‘Saxons’ first arrived in post-Roman ‘Celtic’ Britain; how over the next centuries these Saxons slowly but surely extended their dominance over much of the southern part of the island of Britain – the region now called England; how the Celtic-speaking native Britons fought back;  how even in the tenth century the Celts still dreamt of throwing out the accursed Saxon and Viking invaders and sang ‘The Monarchy of Britain’ (Vnbeinyaeth Prydein) before going into battle. But ultimately how, after the Saxon king Athelstan’s victory over a coalition of Norse-Irish, Scots, Welsh (possibly) and Cumbrian warlords at the Battle of Brunanburh in 937, the Celts had to accept that the Saxons and Danes could not be dislodged and how thereafter instead of calling themselves Britons they (or at least the Welsh) started to refer to themselves as Cymry, i.e. Compatriots, hence the present Welsh name for Wales, Cymru, and indeed Cumbria.

This is a story that has been told many times. But more than most Berresford Ellis’s telling does deserve credit for giving us an overview of the struggle for the whole of the island of Britain and not just a narrative on the creation of England, Scotland or Wales.

Battle of Brunanburh, AD 937

Battle of Brunanburh, AD 937

We well know that the victors of this half-millennium-long struggle were the ‘Saxons’ and the losers the ‘Celts’. And we all know that the victors write the history. So far so good. The first problem is that by wanting to sympathise and empathise with the British and Irish Celts in their travails and their oppression at the hands of the Saxons and their Danish and Norwegian Viking kin (who from a certain point he invariably calls ‘English’), Berresford Ellis presents the Saxons/English as a particularly aggressive and brutal people, interested always and only in the further expansion of their English empire. Even in the last paragraph of Celt and Saxon, while speaking of today, Berresford Ellis can still ask:

Where, then, can such aggressive Saxon drives and energies be channelled in the future? Or has that aggressive urge finally been satiated?

Yet when discussing the native British Celts he almost invariably concentrates on their flourishing culture, their language, their literature and their valour in opposing the invasion and take-over of their country. His is a story of goodies and baddies. We know which ones the ‘English’ were.

One view of Celtic Warriors

One view of Celtic Warriors

This is a perfectly valid way to tell a story of Britain during those centuries. After all for the general reader more histories of individual Anglo-Saxon kings without any longer-term context don’t add much to anyone’s understanding of our shared past. I for one do believe that historians ought to side with the losers, or I would prefer to say the oppressed, rather than with the thuggish elites. The problem with Celt and Saxon is that the Saxon and Scandinavian tribes, the ‘English’, were no more and no less aggressive and brutal than all the other tribes and emerging nationalities of the time. The British Celts were led and dominated by brutal warlords too. Like the ‘Saxons’ these elites too were constantly fighting each other, seeking to take their neighbours’ lands, glorifying in the slaughter of their enemies and taking slaves wherever they could. So did the German tribes and the Franks and Goths in Gaul.

The Celts would have happily wiped the English (Anglo-Saxons) from the face of the earth if they could have. It was just that they were never united enough for long enough to do so.

Berresford Ellis has expressed his views on culture and language forcefully both in Celt and Saxon as well as elsewhere. For him you are a ‘Celt’ if you speak a Celtic language; it has nothing to do with race or genealogical or genetic ancestry.

Celtic is a linguistic term; a Celt is one who speaks or was known to have spoken within modern historical times a Celtic language.  That is central. The definition is certainly not a racial term.

To reject the language and culture of the people is, as Thomas Davis declared, to set their history adrift, create a gulf that separates people from knowledge of their history and thousands of years of cultural and historic development.

So I suppose he’d have to concede that the same must be true of the English. If you speak English (as your native tongue?) and were brought up in an English culture then you are English. And the English it is said are a particularly aggressive and expansionist people.

This all seems very hard to square with the results of many genetic studies on the ‘Origins’ of the English and British. Oxford geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer wrote in The Origins of the British:

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.

Britain circa 600

Britain circa 600

To repeat, only around 5.5% of the present population of England find their genetic ancestry in the Saxon advent starting in the fifth century, and even fewer in the Viking invasions. If this is approximately true, and much evidence suggests it is, then the vast bulk of the English in both pre- and post-Conquest times were actually also originally British; British ‘Celts’ if you must.

How so few Anglo-Saxons managed to make their Germanic language the sole language for the millions of Britons in what is now England has still yet to be satisfactorily explained. But that this happened is beyond dispute.

So suddenly it seems that by adopting the ‘Old’ English language these millions of British ‘Celts’ instantly became English, and what’s more by some mysterious and unexplained process they then became particularly aggressive and expansionist too.

As the great American historian Howard Zinn used to say, No! The confusion in my view comes from the choice of groups historians make and have to make. Much if not all of history is about what some people did to other people, or better said what some groups of people did to other groups of people. Berresford Ellis’s choice of groups is explicit in his title: Celts and Saxons. But linguistic and cultural groups are not the only shapers of history. In fact they are nowhere near the most important or explanatory groups. Much more important, and I would argue relevant, are positional groups. Since the appearance of the first town-based civilisations, societies all over the world have been stratified. Powerful, dominant and usually brutal elites emerged, particularly ‘kings’ and priests, and always at the point of a sword. The concern of these elites has always been the maintenance and extension of their position, power and privileges.

To restrict ourselves here to European history, these heavily armed ‘strongmen’ or warlords saw it as their right to enslave, exploit and use the vast majority of ‘their’ people in whatever way they wished. The armed elites may change but they were and are always there. They were there too, and just as much, in Celtic societies as they were in ‘Saxon’ societies. It is the maintenance and extension of the power of these armed elites that that driven almost all wars, colonisations and empires. To use Berresford Ellis’s terms, the Saxons (or the English) as a people were no more aggressive and brutal than the Celts, the Norse, the Germans or the Franks.

Most people of whatever nationality or language don’t want to fight and conquer; they want to be left alone to grow their crops, to build their houses, to sing a few songs and to raise their children. It is always the powerful elites – the kings, nobles and priests – who haven’t let them do so. English people, just like the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish, have for hundreds of years been dragged from their own homes, by force or because of poverty, to fight the wars of their lords in all parts of Britain and, later, in all parts of the globe. Fights and wars which have nothing to do with them, and which, whether won or lost, have never brought them any benefit; only suffering and death.

Armed Banditti - 1066

Armed Banditti – 1066

One final thought. The last chapter of Celt and Saxon is titled “Do ‘the British’ really exist?”. Berresford Ellis argues that the modern concepts of ‘Britain’ and Britishness are simply constructs hiding the facts of the spread of an ‘English empire’ – first in the islands of Britain and subsequently throughout the world. There is much to be said for this view. But what is rather strange is that having stopped his story in the tenth century, by when he sees the Saxons as already the ‘English’, Berresford Ellis then simply skips the next six or seven hundred years completely. For him the aggressive Saxons/English of pre-Conquest Britain are exactly the same as the expansionist English who started to carve out an overseas empire at the end of the Tudor period. What about the Norman Conquest and the following centuries when the people of England were not only conquered but subjugated, expropriated, repressed and exploited as well? A time when the new French and French-speaking masters tried to eradicate the English language and a time during which generations of English people were dragged off to fight for the power and glory of these Norman French in countless continental wars.

Not only was the Norman Conquest the single most important, and sad, event in the whole of English history, it was also ultimately a disaster for the Celts of Britain as well – be they Welsh, Scots or Irish.

Scots help take Quebec, 1759

Scots help take Quebec, 1759

The French-speaking masters were a distinct class or group for hundreds of years. It was only in the fifteenth century as the Hundred Years War ground on that some of them started to think of themselves as English. Whether English or not, it was these descendants of William the Bastard’s Normans who controlled and exploited England and Britain for a whole millennium. It was this powerful, elite and brutal group who pushed for the creation of the English/British Empire. It was they who exploited the English, Welsh, Irish and, later, the Scots, to pay for their wars and to be conscripted into their army and navy. The creation of the British (or English) Empire didn’t come about from some fictitious inherent aggressiveness of the ‘Saxon’ English, as Berresford Ellis seems to suggest.

At the start of Celt and Saxon the author makes the following dedication, ‘… with the hope that Saxon may finally learn to understand Celt and both may come to live alongside each other in mutual respect and amicability’. I hope so too.

I hope too that I’m not some sort of ‘Little Englander’. My own Lewis family were, as you might guess, Welsh. In the mid-sixteenth century my earliest documented Lewis ancestor lived in the village of Alberbury in the English county of Shropshire, right on the modern border with Powys in Wales. His name was John ap Llewellyn: John son of Llewellyn. The Welsh Christian name Llewellyn was anglicised to Lewis and became the family name. Even in the nineteenth century my Shropshire great grandmother still spoke both Welsh and English. Of course this doesn’t make me Welsh; my culture and language, as well as all my other ancestors, are English.

I agree with Peter Berresford Ellis when he says the inhabitants of the island of Britain need to find a way to live more amicably together, but when we’re considering the deep history of Britain we need, I suggest, to cast our net a little wider than ‘Celt and Saxon’. I still commend his book to you.

Almost fainting with terror she glanced back, as she was carried away, at the shore left behind. As she gripped one horn in her right hand while clutching the back of the beast with the other.

From ‘The Rape of Europa’ in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Like the English, the French have only the haziest conception of their own history, even the history of their own language. After learning a few myths about Louis the Fourteenth and Napoleon, French schoolchildren might, if they are lucky, hear something of Charlemagne. He’ll most likely be presented as an early Frenchman who was the first king to rule over much of Western Europe. Even the European Union likes to join in with such myth-making from time to time, calling him ‘the father of Europe’ or some such tosh. This makes about as much sense as believing Europe sprang from the loins of a Phœnician girl who was abducted and raped by a bull. Charlemagne, let’s call him Karl for that was his name, was about as much a Frenchman as I am. Karl was a German, or, if you want to be more precise, Germanic. His court was in Aachen.

Titian's The Rape of Europa

Titian’s The Rape of Europa

The Franks, both Salian and Ripuarian, who gave their name to France were a group of Germanic tribes who first came into Gaul (modern France) in the early fifth century. The Frankish kings spoke a form of Old Germanic and continued to do so for centuries to come. Charlemagne, who we might do better to call by his German name Karl der Grosse (‘the Great’), lived in the second half of the eighth century and into the ninth century, and thus almost four hundred years after the Franks arrived in Gaul, never had more than a superficial grasp of Latin, nor any real understanding of the developing Romance language of his ‘French’ subjects. He remained a German, speaking one variant of Old High German until his death in 814. But tell that to a French history teacher at your peril!

Karl der Grosse - Charlemagne

Karl der Grosse – Charlemagne

After Emperor Karl’s death his empire started to fall apart as his children and grandchildren fought each other. In 842, only twenty-eight years after Charlemagne’s death, three of his grandsons were still fighting each other. After many complicated plots and switching of sides, two of them, Ludwig ‘the German’ and Karl ‘the Bald’ decided to combine to defeat their brother Lothar. In February 842 Karl and Ludwig (or Charles and Louis if you prefer) each came with his own army to the German (now French) town of Strasbourg. And here they agreed to swear allegiance to each other and to support each other against their brother Lothar.

It was a stage-managed affair. We are lucky to still have an early record of the meeting and the oaths sworn, written by the contemporary Frankish ‘historian’ Nithard, himself another of Charlemagne’s grandchildren, and included in his De dissensionibus filiorum Ludovici pii (On the Dissensions of the Sons of Louis the Pious). Nithard first gives a little background in Latin:

So, Ludwig and Karl met on the 16th day before the calends of March (i.e. 14 February) in the town that used to be called Argentaria but which is now commonly known as Strasbourg, and they swore the oaths given below, Ludwig in Romance and Karl in German. But before swearing the oaths, they made speeches in German and Romance.

The 'Oaths of Strasbourg'

The ‘Oaths of Strasbourg’

Notice that the ‘German’ Ludwig was to make his speeches and oaths in Romance, i.e. in Proto-French, whilst the ‘Frenchman’ Karl was to do so in German. Unfortunately we don’t have these speeches as they were spoken, but Nithard gives them in Latin.

‘Ludwig, being the elder, began as follows’:

Let it be known how many times Lothar has — since our father died — attempted to destroy me and this brother of mine, committing massacres in his pursuit of us. But since neither brotherhood nor Christianity nor any natural inclination, save justice, has been able to bring peace between us, we have been forced to take the matter to the judgement of almighty God, so that we may accept whatever His will is.

The result was, as you all know, that by the Grace of God we came out as victors, and that he, defeated, went back to his people where he was stronger. But then, motivated by brotherly love and compassion for Christendom, we decided not to pursue and destroy them; instead, until now, we have asked him at least to submit to justice as in the past.

But he, despite this, not content with God’s judgement, does not cease to come after me and this brother of mine with his armies. Moreover, he is devastating our people by burning, pillaging and murdering. That is why we now, driven by necessity, are having this meeting, and, since we believe that you doubt our firm faith and brotherhood, we shall swear this oath between us before all of you.

This act is not in bad faith, but simply so that, if God gives us peace thanks to your help, we may be certain that a common benefit will come of it. Should I — God forbid — break the oath which I am about to swear to my brother, I release you from my sovereignty over you and from the oath that you have all sworn to me.

Nithard added that ‘once Karl had finished off the speech with the same words in Romance, Ludwig, since he was the elder, then swore allegiance first’.

Karl/Charles the Bald and Ludwig/Louis the German read their oaths at Strasbourg.

Karl/Charles the Bald and Ludwig/Louis the German read their oaths at Strasbourg.

Maintaining the elaborate stage-management of speaking in each other’s language, Ludwig the German then took his oath in Romance. Luckily his Romance words were recorded by Nithard. This oath is generally accepted to be the earliest written example of ‘Old French’. Indeed it is also the earliest written example of any post-Roman Romance language.

Pro Deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun saluament, d’ist di in auant, in quant Deus sauir et podir me dunat, si saluarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo, et in adiudha et in cadhuna cosa si cum om per dreit son fradra saluar dist, in o quid il mi altresi fazet. Et ab Ludher nul plaid nunquam prindrai qui meon uol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.

I will give a translation in a minute. But notice two things. First, even in Romance we find the German name Karl. Second, even though one can, with a bit of close reading, see the first signs of the nascent French language here (for example sauir = savoir), it still seems more vulgar or ‘vulgate’ Latin than anything else, at least to me.

The ‘French’ king Karl/Charles the Bald then gives the same oath in German, actually in Rhenish Franconian, a form of Old High German.

In godes minna ind in thes christiānes folches ind unsēr bēdhero gehaltnissī, fon thesemo dage frammordes, sō fram sō mir got gewizci indi mahd furgibit, sō haldih thesan mīnan bruodher, sōso man mit rehtu sīnan bruodher scal, in thiu thaz er mig sō sama duo, indi mit Ludheren in nohheiniu thing ne gegango, the mīnan willon imo ce scadhen werdhēn.

Nithard's Histories

Nithard’s Histories

Now even though this might be difficult for a present-day German to understand, with a bit of effort they could. Indeed even an English speaker could get a fair amount if he/she looked at it hard enough. I commend you to try it, both before and after looking at the following English version of these ‘Oaths of Strasbourg’:

For the love of God and for Christendom and our common salvation, from this day onwards, as God will give me the wisdom and power, I shall protect this brother of mine Karl (or Ludwig), with aid or anything else, as one ought to protect one’s brother, so that he may do the same for me, and I shall never knowingly make any covenant with Lothar that would harm this brother of mine Karl (or Ludwig).

After Ludwig and Karl had made their oaths in the other’s language, it was the turn of their armies to mumble a few words. Of course it couldn’t be expected that these simple warriors would use another language; that would be like asking French soldiers today to take an oath in German! So the armies made a short oath in their own languages. First Romance:

Si Lodhuuigs sagrament quæ son fradre Karlo iurat, conseruat, et Carlus meos sendra, de suo part, non lostanit, si io returnar non l’int pois, ne io, ne neuls cui eo returnar int pois, in nulla aiudha contra Lodhuuuig nun li iu er.

Then the Germans:

Oba Karl then eid, then er sīnemo bruodher Ludhuwīge gesuor, geleistit, indi Ludhuwīg mīn hērro then er imo gesuor forbrihchit, ob ih inan es irwenden ne mag: noh ih noh thero nohhein, then ih es irwenden mag, widhar Karlo imo ce follusti ne wirdhit.

In English :

If Ludwig (Karl) keeps the oath that he has sworn to his brother Karl (Ludwig), and Karl (Ludwig), my lord, on the other hand breaks it, and if I cannot dissuade him from it — neither I nor anyone that I can dissuade from it — then I shall not help him in any way against Ludwig (Karl).

The text finishes with the information that, ‘with this completed, Ludwig left for Worms along the Rhine via Speyer; and Karl, along the Vosges via Wissembourg’.

From a linguistic point of view the ‘Oaths of Strasbourg’ is a remarkable document. As I have said, it is the first example of early French as well as the first written text in any Romance language, although it is not by any means anywhere near the first text in the various forms of Old Germanic (including Old English).

What’s in a language? Make of this what you may.

‘And oft tyne oððe twelfe, ælc æfter oþrum, scendað to bysmore þæs þegenes cwenan and hwilum his dohtor oððe nydmagan þær he on locað þe læt hine sylfne rancne and ricne and genoh godne ær þæt gewurde.’

‘God ure helpe, amen.’

At the end of the tenth century England once more started to suffer from Scandinavian Viking raids. It was to the luckless English king Æthelred that fell the unenviable task of trying to fight them off. Æthelred is known to generations of English schoolchildren as Æthelred the Unready. This name is both unfair and incorrect. In later times chroniclers called Æthelred ‘Unraed’, an Old English word which means ill-counselled or badly advised; it’s certainly nothing to do with unreadiness. For a short time at the start of the millennium the Danish king Swein gained the crown of England, but after his death Æthelred came back from his brief exile in Normandy. He, and later his son, King Edmund ‘Ironside’, continued their struggle against the Danes, only to eventually lose when Edmund died and Swein’s son Knut (‘Canute’) became king of England in 1016. I will return to some of these events at a later time. But here I’d simply like to bring to your attention a remarkable ‘sermon’ or address made in 1014 by the Archbishop of York, Wulfstan, to the people of England. Its Latin title is Sermo Lupi ad anglos: The Sermon (or address) of the Wolf to the English. Despite its Latin title the rest of the address is in Old English.

Later I reproduce the full text of Wulfstan’s sermon, in both modern English and in the original Old English (or Anglo-Saxon). It is a story of the suffering of the people of England, but it is also much more.

Wulfstan (sometimes Lupus) was an English Bishop of London and Worcester and Archbishop of York.

Wulfstan of York

Wulfstan of York

‘He is thought to have begun his ecclesiastical career as a Benedictine monk. He became the Bishop of London in 996. In 1002 he was elected simultaneously to the diocese of Worcester and the archdiocese of York, holding both in plurality until 1016, when he relinquished Worcester; he remained archbishop of York until his death. It was perhaps while he was at London that he first became well known as a writer of sermons, or homilies, on the topic of Antichrist. In 1014, as archbishop, he wrote his most famous work, a homily which he titled the Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, or the Sermon of the Wolf to the English.’

‘Besides sermons Wulfstan was also instrumental in drafting law codes for both kings Æthelred the Unready and Cnut the Great of England. He is considered one of the two major writers of the late Anglo-Saxon period in England. After his death in 1023, miracles were said to have occurred at his tomb, but attempts to have him declared a saint never bore fruit.’

Wulfstan's 'Sermo Lupi'

Wulfstan’s ‘Sermo Lupi’

Given the time when Wulfstan wrote the sermon at the beginning of the new Millennium, it was, perhaps unsurprisingly, infused with religious Millenarianism. The end of the world was nigh, the sufferings of the people of England has been brought on them because of their own sins, but there was still a chance of redemption if they returned to a righteous life.

Beloved men, know that which is true: this world is in haste and it nears the end. And therefore things in this world go ever the longer the worse, and so it must needs be that things quickly worsen, on account of people’s sinning from day to day, before the coming of Antichrist.

And indeed it will then be awful and grim widely throughout the world. Understand also well that the Devil has now led this nation astray for very many years, and that little loyalty has remained among men, though they spoke well.

And too many crimes reigned in the land, and there were never many of men who deliberated about the remedy as eagerly as one should, but daily they piled one evil upon another, and committed injustices and many violations of law all too widely throughout this entire land.

The myth of King 'Canute'

The myth of King ‘Canute’

The people of England, says Wulfstan, have ‘endured many injuries and insults’, but they have ‘earned the misery that is upon us’. He then goes on at great length explaining all the sins of the English and how they have not heeded the word of God and have worshipped false gods. He continues:

And sanctuaries are too widely violated, and God’s houses are entirely stripped of all dues and are stripped within of everything fitting.

And widows are widely forced to marry in unjust ways and too many are impoverished and fully humiliated; and poor men are sorely betrayed and cruelly defrauded, and sold widely out of this land into the power of foreigners, though innocent; and infants are enslaved by means of cruel injustices, on account of petty theft everywhere in this nation.

And the rights of freemen are taken away and the rights of slaves are restricted and charitable obligations are curtailed. Free men may not keep their independence, nor go where they wish, nor deal with their property just as they desire; nor may slaves have that property which, on their own time, they have obtained by means of difficult labour, or that which good men, in Gods favour, have granted them, and given to them in charity for the love of God. But every man decreases or withholds every charitable obligation that should by rights be paid eagerly in God’s favour, for injustice is too widely common among men and lawlessness is too widely dear to them.

And in short, the laws of God are hated and his teaching despised; therefore we all are frequently disgraced through God’s anger, let him know it who is able. And that loss will become universal, although one may not think so, to all these people, unless God protects us.

Vikings arrive

Vikings arrive with mythic wimgs

It is all this that has brought the wrath of God (or the Danes) upon the people of England:

… it is clear and well seen in all of us that we have previously more often transgressed than we have amended, and therefore much is greatly assailing this nation.

It is here that Wulfstan turns his attention to what has been happening in England:

Nothing has prospered now for a long time either at home or abroad, but there has been military devastation and hunger, burning and bloodshed in nearly every district time and again.

And stealing and slaying, plague and pestilence, murrain and disease, malice and hate, and the robbery by robbers have injured us very terribly.

And excessive taxes have afflicted us, and storms have very often caused failure of crops; therefore in this land there have been, as it may appear, many years now of injustices and unstable loyalties everywhere among men.

Now very often a kinsman does not spare his kinsman any more than the foreigner, nor the father his children, nor sometimes the child his own father, nor one brother the other.

Neither has any of us ordered his life just as he should, neither the ecclesiastic according to the rule nor the layman according to the law. But we have transformed desire into laws for us entirely too often, and have kept neither precepts nor laws of God or men just as we should. Neither has anyone had loyal intentions with respect to others as justly as he should, but almost everyone has deceived and injured another by words and deeds; and indeed almost everyone unjustly stabs the other from behind with shameful assaults and with wrongful accusations — let him do more, if he may.

More follows about disloyalty and betrayal, alluding at least in part to a supposed, but certainly much vilified, English traitor, the Mercian ealdorman Eadric Streona (the Grabber). Here we start to hear about some of the things the return of the Danes has brought to England: slavery and the sale of women:

And too many Christian men have been sold out of this land, now for a long time, and all this is entirely hateful to God, let him believe it who will. Also we know well where this crime has occurred, and it is shameful to speak of that which has happened too widely.

And it is terrible to know what too many do often, those who for a while carry out a miserable deed, who contribute together and buy a woman as a joint purchase between them and practice foul sin with that one woman, one after another, and each after the other like dogs that care not about filth, and then for a price they sell a creature of God

All this Wulfstan had seen himself, certainly during his time as Bishop of London and probably later as well. But he and the English had witnessed more:

And pirates are so strong through the consent of God, that often in battle one drives away ten, and two often drive away twenty, sometimes fewer and sometimes more, entirely on account of our sins.

And often ten or twelve, each after the other, insult the thane’s woman disgracefully, and sometimes his daughter or close kinswomen, while he looks on, he that considered himself brave and strong and good enough before that happened.

Stereotypical Viking Rape and Pillage

Stereotypical Viking Rape and Pillage

Let us be clear what Wulfstan is saying here when he says ‘and often ten or twelve, each after the other, insult the thane’s woman disgracefully’

And oft tyne oððe twelfe, ælc æfter oþrum, scendað to bysmore þæs þegenes cwenan and hwilum his dohtor oððe nydmagan þær he on locað þe læt hine sylfne rancne and ricne and genoh godne ær þæt gewurde.

English women are being gang raped as their helpless fathers and brothers are forced to look on.

As if this wasn’t enough, like all priestly elites of the time, Wulfstan is as much concerned with the world being turned upside down as he is about slavery, rape and death. The established order of things has changed; the lower orders have forgotten their place.

And often a slave binds very fast the thane who previously was his lord and makes him into a slave through God’s anger. Alas the misery and alas the public shame that the English now have, entirely through God’s anger.

Often two sailors, or three for a while, drive the droves of Christian men from sea to sea — out through this nation, huddled together, as a public shame for us all, if we could seriously and properly know any shame. But all the insult that we often suffer, we repay by honouring those who insult us. We pay them continually and they humiliate us daily; they ravage and they burn, plunder and rob and carry to the ship; and lo! what else is there in all these happenings except God’s anger clear and evident over this nation?

Thanes are made slaves, herded onto ships to be taken to Scandinavia or to the slave markets of Europe, there possibly to be sold to the Muslims of North Africa. And while suffering all this, the English still have to pay the Danes vast amounts of money, ‘Danegeld’. ‘We pay them continually and they humiliate us daily,’

King Edmund Ironside meets Cnut ('Canute')

King Edmund Ironside meets Cnut (‘Canute’)

More follows on the sins of the people of England that have brought all this suffering upon them.

Here in the country, as it may appear, too many are sorely wounded by the stains of sin. Here there are, as we said before, manslayers and murderers of their kinsmen, and murderers of priests and persecutors of monasteries, and traitors and notorious apostates, and here there are perjurers and murderers, and here there are injurers of men in holy orders and adulterers, and people greatly corrupted through incest and through various fornications, and here there are harlots and infanticides and many foul adulterous fornicators, and here there are witches and sorceresses, and here there are robbers and plunderers and pilferers and thieves, and injurers of the people and pledge-breakers and treaty-breakers, and, in short, a countless number of all crimes and misdeeds.

Gildas's Ruin and Destruction of Britain

Gildas’s Ruin and Destruction of Britain

Here Wulfstan reminds the English people of the similar sins and sufferings of the native Britons when the Anglo-Saxons had come to Britain in the fifth century. He refers to the writings of the sixth-century British monk Gildas who gave a similar sermon called De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, ‘On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain’. In Chapter 24 Gildas wrote:

For the fire of vengeance, justly kindled by former crimes, spread from sea to sea, fed by the hands of our foes in the east, and did not cease, until, destroying the neighbouring towns and lands, it reached the other side of the island, and dipped its red and savage tongue in the western ocean.

Wulfstan himself writes:

There was a historian in the time of the Britons, called Gildas, who wrote about their misdeeds, how with their sins they infuriated God so excessively that He finally allowed the English army to conquer their land, and to destroy the host of the Britons entirely.

And that came about, just as he said, through breach of rule by the clergy and through breach of laws by laymen, through robbery by the strong and through coveting of ill-gotten gains, violations of law by the people and through unjust judgments, through the sloth of the bishops and folly, and through the wicked cowardice of messengers of God, who swallowed the truths entirely too often and they mumbled through their jaws where they should have cried out; also through foul pride of the people and through gluttony and manifold sins they destroyed their land and they themselves perished.

But is all lost? Is there no hope? Here Wulfstan follows Gildas in believed that hope lies in religious and moral reform:

But let us do as is necessary for us, take warning from such; and it is true what I say, we know of worse deeds among the English than we have heard of anywhere among the Britons; and therefore there is a great need for us to take thought for ourselves, and to intercede eagerly with God himself.

And let us do as is necessary for us, turn towards the right and to some extent abandon wrong-doing, and eagerly atone for what we previously transgressed; and let us love God and follow God’s laws, and carry out well that which we promised when we received baptism, or those who were our sponsors at baptism; and let us order words and deeds justly, and cleanse our thoughts with zeal, and keep oaths and pledges carefully, and have some loyalty between us without evil practice.

And let us often reflect upon the great Judgment to which we all shall go, and let us save ourselves from the welling fire of hell torment, and gain for ourselves the glories and joys that God has prepared for those who work his will in the world. God help us. Amen.

Below I give Wulfstan’s full sermon in modern and Old English. I have added some rather arbitrary paragraph breaks to make it slightly easier to follow.

——————————————————————————————–

The sermon of the Wolf to the English, when the Danes were greatly persecuting them, which was in the year 1014 after the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Beloved men, know that which is true: this world is in haste and it nears the end. And therefore things in this world go ever the longer the worse, and so it must needs be that things quickly worsen, on account of people’s sinning from day to day, before the coming of Antichrist.

And indeed it will then be awful and grim widely throughout the world. Understand also well that the Devil has now led this nation astray for very many years, and that little loyalty has remained among men, though they spoke well.

And too many crimes reigned in the land, and there were never many of men who deliberated about the remedy as eagerly as one should, but daily they piled one evil upon another, and committed injustices and many violations of law all too widely throughout this entire land.

And we have also therefore endured many injuries and insults, and if we shall experience any remedy then we must deserve better of God than we have previously done. For with great deserts we have earned the misery that is upon us, and with truly great deserts we must obtain the remedy from God, if henceforth things are to improve. Lo, we know full well that a great breach of law shall necessitate a great remedy, and a great fire shall necessitate much water, if that fire is to be quenched.

And it is also a great necessity for each of men that he henceforth eagerly heed the law of God better than he has done, and justly pay God’s dues. In heathen lands one does not dare withhold little nor much of that which is appointed to the worship of false gods; and we withhold everywhere God’s dues all too often.

And in heathen lands one dares not curtail, within or without the temple, anything brought to the false gods and entrusted as an offering.

And we have entirely stripped God’s houses of everything fitting, within and without, and God’s servants are everywhere deprived of honour and protection.

And some men say that no man dare abuse the servants of false gods in any way among heathen people, just as is now done widely to the servants of God, where Christians ought to observe the law of God and protect the servants of God.

But what I say is true: there is need for that remedy because God’s dues have diminished too long in this land in every district, and laws of the people have deteriorated entirely too greatly, since Edgar died.

And sanctuaries are too widely violated, and God’s houses are entirely stripped of all dues and are stripped within of everything fitting. And widows are widely forced to marry in unjust ways and too many are impoverished and fully humiliated; and poor men are sorely betrayed and cruelly defrauded, and sold widely out of this land into the power of foreigners, though innocent; and infants are enslaved by means of cruel injustices, on account of petty theft everywhere in this nation.

And the rights of freemen are taken away and the rights of slaves are restricted and charitable obligations are curtailed. Free men may not keep their independence, nor go where they wish, nor deal with their property just as they desire; nor may slaves have that property which, on their own time, they have obtained by means of difficult labour, or that which good men, in Gods favour, have granted them, and given to them in charity for the love of God. But every man decreases or withholds every charitable obligation that should by rights be paid eagerly in Gods favour, for injustice is too widely common among men and lawlessness is too widely dear to them.

And in short, the laws of God are hated and his teaching despised; therefore we all are frequently disgraced through God’s anger, let him know it who is able. And that loss will become universal, although one may not think so, to all these people, unless God protects us.

Therefore it is clear and well seen in all of us that we have previously more often transgressed than we have amended, and therefore much is greatly assailing this nation.

Nothing has prospered now for a long time either at home or abroad, but there has been military devastation and hunger, burning and bloodshed in nearly every district time and again.

And stealing and slaying, plague and pestilence, murrain and disease, malice and hate, and the robbery by robbers have injured us very terribly. And excessive taxes have afflicted us, and storms have very often caused failure of crops; therefore in this land there have been, as it may appear, many years now of injustices and unstable loyalties everywhere among men.

Now very often a kinsman does not spare his kinsman any more than the foreigner, nor the father his children, nor sometimes the child his own father, nor one brother the other. Neither has any of us ordered his life just as he should, neither the ecclesiastic according to the rule nor the layman according to the law. But we have transformed desire into laws for us entirely too often, and have kept neither precepts nor laws of God or men just as we should.

Neither has anyone had loyal intentions with respect to others as justly as he should, but almost everyone has deceived and injured another by words and deeds; and indeed almost everyone unjustly stabs the other from behind with shameful assaults and with wrongful accusations — let him do more, if he may.

For there are in this nation great disloyalties for matters of the Church and the state, and also there are in the land many who betray their lords in various ways. And the greatest of all betrayals of a lord in the world is that a man betrays the soul of his lord. And it is the greatest of all betrayals of a lord in the world, that a man betray his lord’s soul. And a very great betrayal of a lord it is also in the world, that a man betray his lord to death, or drive him living from the land, and both have come to pass in this land: Edward was betrayed, and then killed, and after that burned; and Æthelred was driven out of his land.

And too many sponsors and godchildren have been killed widely throughout this nation, in addition to entirely too many other innocent people who have been destroyed entirely too widely.

And entirely too many holy religious foundations have deteriorated because some men have previously been placed in them who ought not to have been, if one wished to show respect to God’s sanctuary.

And too many Christian men have been sold out of this land, now for a long time, and all this is entirely hateful to God, let him believe it who will. Also we know well where this crime has occurred, and it is shameful to speak of that which has happened too widely.

And it is terrible to know what too many do often, those who for a while carry out a miserable deed, who contribute together and buy a woman as a joint purchase between them and practice foul sin with that one woman, one after another, and each after the other like dogs that care not about filth, and then for a price they sell a creature of God — His own purchase that He bought at a great cost — into the power of enemies.

Also we know well where the crime has occurred such that the father has sold his son for a price, and the son his mother, and one brother has sold the other into the power of foreigners, and out of this nation. All of those are great and terrible deeds, let him understand it who will. And yet what is injuring this nation is still greater and manifold: many are forsworn and greatly perjured and more vows are broken time and again, and it is clear to this people that God’s anger violently oppresses us, let him know it who can.

And lo! How may greater shame befall men through the anger of God than often does us for our own sins? Although it happens that a slave escape from a lord and, leaving Christendom becomes a Viking, and after that it happens again that a hostile encounter takes place between thane and slave, if the slave kills the thane, he lies without wergild paid to any of his kinsmen; but if the thane kills the slave that he had previously owned, he must pay the price of a thane.

Full shameful laws and disgraceful tributes are common among us, through God’s anger, let him understand it who is able. And many misfortunes befall this nation time and again. Things have not prospered now for a long time neither at home nor abroad, but there has been destruction and hate in every district time and again, and the English have been entirely defeated for a long time now, and very truly disheartened through the anger of God.

And pirates are so strong through the consent of God, that often in battle one drives away ten, and two often drive away twenty, sometimes fewer and sometimes more, entirely on account of our sins.

And often ten or twelve, each after the other, insult the thane’s woman disgracefully, and sometimes his daughter or close kinswomen, while he looks on, he that considered himself brave and strong and good enough before that happened. And often a slave binds very fast the thane who previously was his lord and makes him into a slave through God’s anger.

Alas the misery and alas the public shame that the English now have, entirely through God’s anger. Often two sailors, or three for a while, drive the droves of Christian men from sea to sea — out through this nation, huddled together, as a public shame for us all, if we could seriously and properly know any shame. But all the insult that we often suffer, we repay by honouring those who insult us. We pay them continually and they humiliate us daily; they ravage and they burn, plunder and rob and carry to the ship; and lo! what else is there in all these happenings except Gods anger clear and evident over this nation?

It is no wonder that there is mishap among us: because we know full well that now for many years men have too often not cared what they did by word or deed; but this nation, as it may appear, has become very corrupt through manifold sins and through many misdeeds: through murder and through evil deeds, through avarice and through greed, through stealing and through robbery, through man-selling and through heathen vices, through betrayals and through frauds, through breaches of law and through deceit, through attacks on kinsmen and through manslaughter, through injury of men in holy orders and through adultery, through incest and through various fornications.

And also, far and wide, as we said before, more than should be are lost and perjured through the breaking of oaths and through violations of pledges, and through various lies; and non-observances of church feasts and fasts widely occur time and again. And also there are here in the land Gods adversaries, degenerate apostates, and hostile persecutors of the Church and entirely too many grim tyrants, and widespread despisers of divine laws and Christian virtues, and foolish deriders everywhere in the nation, most often of those things that the messengers of God command, and especially those things that always belong to Gods law by right.

And therefore things have now come far and wide to that full evil way that men are more ashamed now of good deeds than of misdeeds; because too often good deeds are abused with derision and the Godfearing are blamed entirely too much, and especially are men reproached and all too often greeted with contempt who love right and have fear of God to any extent. And because men do that, entirely abusing all that they should praise and hating too much all that they ought to love, therefore they bring entirely too many to evil intentions and to misdeeds, so that they are never ashamed though they sin greatly and commit wrongs even against God himself. But on account of idle attacks they are ashamed to repent for their misdeeds, just as the books teach, like those foolish men who on account of their pride will not protect themselves from injury before they might no longer do so, although they all wish for it.

Here in the country, as it may appear, too many are sorely wounded by the stains of sin. Here there are, as we said before, manslayers and murderers of their kinsmen, and murderers of priests and persecutors of monasteries, and traitors and notorious apostates, and here there are perjurers and murderers, and here there are injurers of men in holy orders and adulterers, and people greatly corrupted through incest and through various fornications, and here there are harlots and infanticides and many foul adulterous fornicators, and here there are witches and sorceresses, and here there are robbers and plunderers and pilferers and thieves, and injurers of the people and pledge-breakers and treaty-breakers, and, in short, a countless number of all crimes and misdeeds. And we are not at all ashamed of it, but we are greatly ashamed to begin the remedy just as the books teach, and that is evident in this wretched and corrupt nation.

Alas, many a great kinsman can easily call to mind much in addition which one man could not hastily investigate, how wretchedly things have fared now all the time now widely throughout this nation. And indeed let each one examine himself well, and not delay this all too long. But lo, in the name of God, let us do as is needful for us, protect ourselves as earnestly as we may, lest we all perish together.

There was a historian in the time of the Britons, called Gildas, who wrote about their misdeeds, how with their sins they infuriated God so excessively that He finally allowed the English army to conquer their land, and to destroy the host of the Britons entirely. And that came about, just as he said, through breach of rule by the clergy and through breach of laws by laymen, through robbery by the strong and through coveting of ill-gotten gains, violations of law by the people and through unjust judgments, through the sloth of the bishops and folly, and through the wicked cowardice of messengers of God, who swallowed the truths entirely too often and they mumbled through their jaws where they should have cried out; also through foul pride of the people and through gluttony and manifold sins they destroyed their land and they themselves perished.

But let us do as is necessary for us, take warning from such; and it is true what I say, we know of worse deeds among the English than we have heard of anywhere among the Britons; and therefore there is a great need for us to take thought for ourselves, and to intercede eagerly with God himself. And let us do as is necessary for us, turn towards the right and to some extent abandon wrong-doing, and eagerly atone for what we previously transgressed; and let us love God and follow God’s laws, and carry out well that which we promised when we received baptism, or those who were our sponsors at baptism; and let us order words and deeds justly, and cleanse our thoughts with zeal, and keep oaths and pledges carefully, and have some loyalty between us without evil practice.

And let us often reflect upon the great Judgment to which we all shall go, and let us save ourselves from the welling fire of hell torment, and gain for ourselves the glories and joys that God has prepared for those who work his will in the world. God help us. Amen.

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Sermo Lupi ad anglos quando Dani maxime persecuti sunt eos,

quod fuit anno millesimo .xiiii. ab incarnatione

Domine Nostri Iesu Cristi

Leofan men, gecnawað þæt soð is: ðeos worold is on ofste, and hit nealæcð þam ende, and þy hit is on worolde aa swa leng swa wyrse; and swa hit sceal nyde for folces synnan ær Antecristes tocyme yfelian swyþe, and huru hit wyrð þænne egeslic and grimlic wide on worolde.

Understandað eac georne þæt deofol þas þeode nu fela geara dwelode to swyþe, and þæt lytle getreowþa wæran mid mannum, þeah hy wel spæcan, and unrihta to fela ricsode on lande.

And næs a fela manna þe smeade ymbe þa bote swa georne swa man scolde, ac dæghwamlice man ihte yfel æfter oðrum and unriht rærde and unlaga manege ealles to wide gynd ealle þas þeode.

And we eac forþam habbað fela byrsta and bysmara gebiden, and gif we ænige bote gebidan scylan, þonne mote we þæs to Gode earnian bet þonne we ær þysan dydan.

Forþam mid miclan earnungan we geearnedan þa yrmða þe us onsittað, and mid swyþe micelan earnungan we þa bote motan æt Gode geræcan gif hit sceal heonanforð godiende weorðan.

La hwæt, we witan ful georne þæt to miclan bryce sceal micel bot nyde, and to miclan bryne wæter unlytel, gif man þæt fyr sceal to ahte acwencan.

And micel is nydþearf manna gehwilcum þæt he Godes lage gyme heonanforð georne and Godes gerihta mid rihte gelæste.

On hæþenum þeodum ne dear man forhealdan lytel ne micel þæs þe gelagod is to gedwolgoda weorðunge, and we forhealdað æghwær Godes gerihta ealles to gelome.

And ne dear man gewanian on hæþenum þeodum inne ne ute ænig þæra þinga þe gedwolgodan broht bið and to lacum betæht bið, and we habbað Godes hus inne and ute clæne berypte.

And Godes þeowas syndan mæþe and munde gewelhwær bedælde; and gedwolgoda þenan ne dear man misbeodan on ænige wisan mid hæþenum leodum, swa swa man Godes þeowum nu deð to wide þær Cristene scoldan Godes lage healdan and Godes þeowas griðian.

Ac soð is þæt ic secge, þearf is þære bote, forþam Godes gerihta wanedan to lange innan þysse þeode on æghwylcan ende, and folclaga wyrsedan ealles to swyþe, and halignessa syndan to griðlease wide, and Godes hus syndan to clæne berypte ealdra gerihta and innan bestrypte ælcra gerisena, and wydewan syndan fornydde on unriht to ceorle, and to mænege foryrmde and gehynede swyþe, and earme men syndan sare beswicene and hreowlice besyrwde and ut of þysan earde wide gesealde, swyþe unforworhte, fremdum to gewealde, and cradolcild geþeowede þurh wælhreowe unlaga for lytelre þyfþe wide gynd þas þeode, and freoriht fornumene and þrælriht genyrwde and ælmesriht gewanode.

And, hrædest is to cweþenne, Godes laga laðe and lara forsawene.

And þæs we habbað ealle þurh Godes yrre bysmor gelome, gecnawe se ðe cunne; and se byrst wyrð gemæne, þeh man swa ne wene, eallre þysse þeode, butan God beorge.

Forþam hit is on us eallum swutol and gesene þæt we ær þysan oftor bræcan þonne we bettan, and þy is þysse þeode fela onsæge.

Ne dohte hit nu lange inne ne ute, ac wæs here and hunger, bryne and blodgyte, on gewelhwylcan ende oft and gelome.

And us stalu and cwalu, stric and steorfa, orfcwealm and uncoþu, hol and hete and rypera reaflac derede swyþe þearle, and us ungylda swyþe gedrehtan, and us unwedera foroft weoldan unwæstma.

Forþam on þysan earde wæs, swa hit þincan mæg, nu fela geara unriht fela and tealte getrywða æghwær mid mannum.

Ne bearh nu foroft gesib gesibban þe ma þe fremdan, ne fæder his bearne, ne hwilum bearn his agenum fæder, ne broþor oþrum; ne ure ænig his lif ne fadode swa swa he scolde, ne gehadode regollice, ne læwede lahlice, ac worhtan lust us to lage ealles to gelome, and naþor ne heoldan ne lare ne lage Godes ne manna swa swa we scoldan.

Ne ænig wið oþerne getrywlice þohte swa rihte swa he scolde, ac mæst ælc swicode and oþrum derede wordes and dæde, and huru unrihtlice mæst ælc oþerne æftan heaweþ sceandlican onscytan, do mare gif he mæge.

Forþam her syn on lande ungetrywþa micle for Gode and for worolde, and eac her syn on earde on mistlice wisan hlafordswican manege.

And ealra mæst hlafordswice se bið on worolde þæt man his hlafordes saule beswice; and ful micel hlafordswice eac bið on worolde þæt man his hlaford of life forræde oððon of lande lifiendne drife; and ægþer is geworden on þysan earde.

Eadweard man forrædde and syððan acwealde and æfter þam forbærnde.

And godsibbas and godbearn to fela man forspilde wide gynd þas þeode toeacan oðran ealles to manegan þe man unscyldgige forfor ealles to wide.

And ealles to manege halige stowa wide forwurdan þurh þæt þe man sume men ær þam gelogode swa man na ne scolde, gif man on Godes griðe mæþe witan wolde; and Cristenes folces to fela man gesealde ut of þysan earde nu ealle hwile.

And eal þæt is Gode lað, gelyfe se þe wille.

And scandlic is to specenne þæt geworden is to wide and egeslic is to witanne þæt oft doð to manege þe dreogað þa yrmþe, þæt sceotað togædere and ane cwenan gemænum ceape bicgað gemæne, and wið þa ane fylþe adreogað, an after anum and ælc æfter oðrum, hundum gelicost þe for fylþe ne scrifað, and syððan wið weorðe syllað of lande feondum to gewealde Godes gesceafte and his agenne ceap þe he deore gebohte.

Eac we witan georne hwær seo yrmð gewearð þæt fæder gesealde bearn wið weorþe and bearn his modor, and broþor sealde oþerne fremdum to gewealde; and eal þæt syndan micle and egeslice dæda, understande se þe wille.

And git hit is mare and eac mænigfealdre þæt dereð þysse þeode.

Mænige synd forsworene and swyþe forlogene, and wed synd tobrocene oft and gelome, and þæt is gesyne on þysse þeode þæt us Godes yrre hetelice onsit, gecnawe se þe cunne.

And la, hu mæg mare scamu þurh Godes yrre mannum gelimpan þonne us deð gelome for agenum gewyrhtum?

Ðeah þræla hwylc hlaforde ætleape and of Cristendome to wicinge weorþe, and hit æfter þam eft geweorþe þæt wæpengewrixl weorðe gemæne þegene and þræle, gif þræl þæne þegen fullice afylle, licge ægylde ealre his mægðe, and gif se þegen þæne þræl þe he ær ahte fullice afylle, gylde þegengylde.

Ful earhlice laga and scandlice nydgyld þurh Godes yrre us syn gemæne, understande se þe cunne. And fela ungelimpa gelimpð þysse þeode oft and gelome.

Ne dohte hit nu lange inne ne ute, ac wæs here and hete on gewelhwilcan ende oft and gelome, and Engle nu lange eal sigelease and to swyþe geyrgde þurh Godes yrre, and flotmen swa strange þurh Godes þafunge þæt oft on gefeohte an feseð tyne and hwilum læs, hwilum ma, eal for urum synnum.

And oft tyne oððe twelfe, ælc æfter oþrum, scendað to bysmore þæs þegenes cwenan and hwilum his dohtor oððe nydmagan þær he on locað þe læt hine sylfne rancne and ricne and genoh godne ær þæt gewurde.

And oft þræl þæne þegen þe ær wæs his hlaford cnyt swyþe fæste and wyrcð him to þræle þurh Godes yrre.

Wala þære yrmðe and wala þære woroldscame þe nu habbað Engle eal þurh Godes yrre.

Oft twegen sæmen oððe þry hwilum drifað þa drafe Cristenra manna fram sæ to sæ ut þurh þas þeode gewelede togædere, us eallum to woroldscame, gif we on eornost ænige cuþon ariht understandan.

Ac ealne þæne bysmor þe we oft þoliað we gyldað mid weorðscipe þam þe us scendað.

We him gyldað singallice, and hy us hynað dæghwamlice.

Hy hergiað and hy bærnað, rypaþ and reafiað and to scipe lædað; and la, hwæt is ænig oðer on eallum þam gelimpum butan Godes yrre ofer þas þeode, swutol and gesæne?

Nis eac nan wundor þeah us mislimpe, forþam we witan ful georne þæt nu fela geara men na ne rohtan foroft hwæt hy worhtan wordes oððe dæde, ac wearð þes þeodscipe, swa hit þincan mæg, swyþe forsyngod þurh mænigfealde synna and þurh fela misdæda: þurh morðdæda and þurh mandæda, þurh gitsunga and þurh gifernessa, þurh stala and þurh strudunga, þurh mannsylena and þurh hæþene unsida, þurh swicdomas and þurh searacræftas, þurh lahbrycas and þurh æswicas, þurh mægræsas and þurh manslyhtas, þurh hadbrycas and þurh æwbrycas, þurh siblegeru and þurh mistlice forligru.

And eac syndan wide, swa we ær cwædan, þurh aðbricas and þurh wedbrycas and þurh mistlice leasunga forloren and forlogen ma þonne scolde, and freolsbricas and fæstenbrycas wide geworhte oft and gelome.

And eac her syn on earde apostatan abroþene and cyrichatan hetole and leodhatan grimme ealles to manege, and oferhogan wide godcundra rihtlaga and Cristenra þeawa, and hocorwyrde dysige æghwær on þeode oftost on þa þing þe Godes bodan beodaþ and swyþost on þa þing þe æfre to Godes lage gebyriað mid rihte.

And þy is nu geworden wide and side to ful yfelan gewunan, þæt menn swyþor scamað nu for goddædan þonne for misdædan; forþam to oft man mid hocere goddæda hyrweð and godfyrhte lehtreð ealles to swyþe, and swyþost man tæleð and mid olle gegreteð ealles to gelome þa þe riht lufiað and Godes ege habbað be ænigum dæle.

And þurh þæt þe man swa deð þæt man eal hyrweð þæt man scolde heregian and to forð laðet þæt man scolde lufian, þurh þæt man gebringeð ealles to manege on yfelan geþance and on undæde, swa þæt hy ne scamað na þeah hy syngian swyðe and wið God sylfne forwyrcan hy mid ealle, ac for idelan onscytan hy scamað þæt hy betan heora misdæda, swa swa bec tæcan, gelice þam dwæsan þe for heora prytan lewe nellað beorgan ær hy na ne magan, þeah hy eal willan.

Her syndan þurh synleawa, swa hit þincan mæg, sare gelewede to manege on earde.

Her syndan mannslagan and mægslagan and mæsserbanan and mynsterhatan; and her syndan mansworan and morþorwyrhtan; and her syndan myltestran and bearnmyrðran and fule forlegene horingas manege; and her syndan wiccan and wælcyrian.

And her syndan ryperas and reaferas and woroldstruderas and, hrædest is to cweþenne, mana and misdæda ungerim ealra.

And þæs us ne scamað na, ac þæs us scamað swyþe þæt we bote aginnan swa swa bec tæcan, and þæt is gesyne on þysse earman forsyngodon þeode.

Eala, micel magan manege gyt hertoeacan eaþe beþencan þæs þe an man ne mehte on hrædinge asmeagan, hu earmlice hit gefaren is nu ealle hwile wide gynd þas þeode.

And smeage huru georne gehwa hine sylfne and þæs na ne latige ealles to lange.

Ac la, on Godes naman utan don swa us neod is, beorgan us sylfum swa we geornost magan þe læs we ætgædere ealle forweorðan.

An þeodwita wæs on Brytta tidum Gildas hatte.

Se awrat be heora misdædum hu hy mid heora synnum swa oferlice swyþe God gegræmedan þæt he let æt nyhstan Engla here heora eard gewinnan and Brytta dugeþe fordon mid ealle.

And þæt wæs geworden þæs þe he sæde, þurh ricra reaflac and þurh gitsunge wohgestreona, ðurh leode unlaga and þurh wohdomas, ðurh biscopa asolcennesse and þurh lyðre yrhðe Godes bydela þe soþes geswugedan ealles to gelome and clumedan mid ceaflum þær hy scoldan clypian.

Þurh fulne eac folces gælsan and þurh oferfylla and mænigfealde synna heora eard hy forworhtan and selfe hy forwurdan.

Ac utan don swa us þearf is, warnian us be swilcan. And soþ is þæt ic secge, wyrsan dæda we witan mid Englum þonne we mid Bryttan ahwar gehyrdan.

And þy us is þearf micel þæt we us beþencan and wið God sylfne þingian georne.

And utan don swa us þearf is, gebugan to rihte and be suman dæle unriht forlætan and betan swyþe georne þæt we ær bræcan.

And utan God lufian and Godes lagum fylgean, and gelæstan swyþe georne þæt þæt we behetan þa we fulluht underfengan, oððon þa þe æt fulluhte ure forespecan wæran.

And utan word and weorc rihtlice fadian and ure ingeþanc clænsian georne and að and wed wærlice healdan and sume getrywða habban us betweonan butan uncræftan.

And utan gelome understandan þone miclan dom þe we ealle to sculon, and beorgan us georne wið þone weallendan bryne hellewites, and geearnian us þa mærða and þa myrhða þe God hæfð gegearwod þam þe his willan on worolde gewyrcað.

God ure helpe, amen.

One summer day in 1076 in present-day Ukraine a young English Princess called Gytha was giving birth to her first child. It was a boy. His Russian name was Mstislav, but he was also given two baptismal names as well, Harold and Theodore. Gytha’s husband was a prince of the Kiev Rus’, and prince of Smolensk, called Vladimir Monomakh (or Monomachus in Greek). He would later become the ruler and Grand Prince of a united Kievan Rus’, a huge area that stretched all the way from the Baltic in the north to the Black Sea in the south.

The death of King Harold

The death of King Harold

Although the ‘Russians’ referred to Gytha’s son as Mstislav, the Scandinavian and Germanic world used his baptismal name of Harold. This was in deference to, and recognition of, the boy’s maternal grandfather (and Gytha’s father) Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, who had been slain and mutilated by William the Conqueror’s Normans at Hastings in 1066.

As I told recently (see here), it was in 1068, or possibly 1069, that many of Harold’s family had fled the tightening Norman yoke. They first went to the court of their kinsman Count Baldwin in Flanders, from where two of Harold’s sons, Edmund and Godwine, accompanied by their sister Gytha, moved on to find refuge with, and perhaps help from, their relative Swein Estrithson, the king of Denmark. Swein was King Harold’s cousin. Gytha, who was born around 1053, was named after her grandmother, who was Swein’s aunt

In The House of Godwine – the History of a Dynasty, historian Emma Mason writes:

Godwine and Edmund probably asked Sweyn for help in reinstating then in England. As an inducement they perhaps offered Sweyn their sister Gytha to use as a bargaining counter when he was negotiating some diplomatic alliance. Following the events of 1066-69, Gytha needed the help of an influential male kinsman to ensure that she made a marriage befitting a king’s daughter. Of her remaining kinsman, only Sweyn was in a position to assist.

The king was not prepared to offer his young cousins any military support. He had expended enough resources on his failed expedition of 1069 and had no wish to lose more in helping his kinsmen…. What actually became of these sons of King Harold is unknown.

Although there is no proof, Mason’s suggestion that, as well as seeking safety, the royal siblings were probably also hoping for Swein’s support in ridding England of the hated Normans, seems a reasonable one. If in fact the siblings had already arrived in Denmark by 1069, it could have been that their pleas helped prompt Swein to lead a large Danish army to England, which he did in the summer of that year. Swein certainly saw this as a chance for him to claim the crown of the Anglo-Scandinavian realm of England before William the Bastard and his Normans had too tight a grip.

A Danish Viking Ship

A Danish Viking Ship

A huge Danish fleet, numbering between 240 and 300 ships, arrived in the Humber estuary where they joined forces with their English allies led by Maerleswein, Gospatric and Edgar the aetheling (the English claimant to the throne). The writer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle at the time was ecstatic. The leaders set out, he wrote, ‘with all the Northumbrians and all the people, riding and marching with an immense host, rejoicing exceedingly’. Historian Marc Morris writes in his excellent The Norman Conquest: ‘The days of Norman rule in England appeared to be numbered.’ Unfortunately it was not to be. The Norman yoke was to be around English necks for centuries to come.

Cutting a rather long story short, William came back with an army to confront the Anglo-Danish force, but had then to retreat south to deal once again, as Orderic Vitalis tells us, with the resistance of ‘Eadric the Wild and other untameable Englishmen’. On returning to the North the only way William could find to defeat the Anglo-Danish army was to buy off the Danish. The Danish war leader Earl Asbjorn was offered a large sum of money to stop fighting, which, ‘much to the chroniclers’ disgust’, he accepted. After the Danish army had spent a desperate winter in England awaiting the return of King Swein, they returned to Denmark in 1070.

After 1070 Swein certainly wasn’t prepared to try his luck in England again, even though over the next few years several mores embassies arrived from England to plead for his help (for example see here). It seems that William continued to pay the Danes off. All hope for the young Anglo-Saxon princes, Edmund and Godwine, had passed. But, as Emma Mason suggests:

Gytha on the other hand was a useful asset to King Sweyn. Probably around 1074 or 1075 he arranged her marriage with Vladimir Monomakh, the prince of Smolensk in western Russia. From the prince’s point of view that was an advantageous match, giving him a wife who was a king’s daughter, and an alliance with King Sweyn against the Poles. From Gytha’s perspective, too, it was a good match. Prince Vladimir was young, rich and handsome.

Saxo Grammaticus

Saxo Grammaticus

Whatever the precise circumstances and details, before his death in about 1075, King Swein did arrange for his young charge Gytha to be betrothed to the Kievan Rus’ prince of Smolensk, Vladimir. The early Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus wrote in Book 11 of his Historia Danica:

After the death of Harold, his two sons immediately fled with their sister to Denmark, Sweyn, forgetting the deserts of their father, as a relative received them under the custom of piety and gave the daughter in marriage to the king of the Ruthenians (Rutenorum) Waldemarus (who was also called Jarizlauus by his own people). He (Harold) obtained from the daughter a grandson who after the manner of our time became his successor both by lineage and by name. Thus the British and the Eastern blood being united in our prince caused the common offspring to be an adornment to both peoples.

Early Norwegian sources don’t mention the three siblings seeking refuge with Swein, but the Fagrkinna and Morgkinskinna both mention Gytha’s marriage to Vladimir. After telling the story of the death of King Harold Godwinson and his brothers, the Fagrskinna, which is a catalogue of the kings of Norway, goes on:

After these five chieftains there were no more of Jarl Gothini’s (Earl Godwin’s) family left alive, as far as we can tell, apart from King Haraldr’s daughter Gytha…. Gytha , King Haraldr’s daughter, was married to King Valdamarr (Vladimir), son of King Jarizleifr (Jaroslav) and of Ingigerthr, daughter of King Olafr soenski.

It then goes on to tell more of what became of Gytha and Vladimir’s children. The Morkinskinna tells much the same story.

Actually Saxo Grammaticus and the two Norwegian sources are somewhat confused here. Vladimir was the son of Vsevolod and not Jaroslav (who was his grandfather, and who died in 1052).

Under the year 1076, the Russian Primary Chronicle says, ‘in this year, a son was born to Vladimir, he was Mstislav, and was a grandson of Vsevolod.’

The extent of Kievan Rus' in 1054

The extent of Kievan Rus’ in 1054

The world that Gytha had married into, that of the Kiev Rus’, was positively Byzantine in its complexity. The original Rus’ were Scandinavian Vikings, the Varangians, including a certain Rurik, who had been ‘invited’ to take control in the ninth century. Over the next two centuries the Rus’ extended their reach and control, but they were constantly fighting each other as well as their external enemies, usually the Poles. Kievan Rus’ became a series of fragmented princely territories. The continual feuding, intrigues and battles made pre-Conquest England seem somewhat stable by comparison.

Most likely Gytha and her young husband Vladimir were able to communicate in Danish. Vladimir, like his father Prince Vsevolod, is known to have spoken several languages, and Gytha, being a member of an Anglo-Danish family, the Godwins, likely spoke Danish as well as English. Emma Mason writes:

There were no problems of communication, since her husband was an accomplished linguist. His dynasty had Scandinavian origins and his grandmother was Swedish. Probably he could converse with Gytha in the Norse tongue.

While Vladimir and his father continued fighting, he and Gytha had several more children. Many of his children were later to be married into other princely families, as was the way throughout Europe. Mstislav/Harold followed his father in becoming Grand Prince of the Kiev Rus’ when Vladimir died in 1125. As both Norse and Russian sources tell us, Prince Harold married Princess Christina Ingesdottir of Sweden in 1095. Christina was the daughter of King Inge I of Sweden. Through his daughter Euphrosyne, Mstislav/Harold is an ancestor of King Edward III of England and hence of all subsequent English and British Monarchs.

But I’m concerned here neither with royal genealogy, nor with the history of Kiev and Russia, fascinating though both are. Rather this is the story of the Anglo-Saxon princess Gytha. What became of her?

Prince Vladimir Monomakh

Prince Vladimir Monomakh

Conventionally it is said that Vladimir had three wives. But did he? As mentioned, the Primary Russian Chronicle mentions the death of two of his wives, under the years 1107 and 1126. We know that Gytha was Vladimir’s first wife, but who were the others? No names are found, just two dates of death. We know that Vladimir had several more children after the birth of Vyacheslav in about 1083. These children are usually assigned to an unknown putative second wife, who Vladimir is purported to have married after the death of Gytha. But there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of this second, of three, wives: no name, no record of a marriage and no death. So it might very well be that these later children were Gytha’s as well?

That Vladimir did take another wife after Gytha seems reasonably clear, because, as mentioned, there are two entries for the death of a wife of Vladimir, in both 1107 and 1126. The name of this later wife who died in 1126 is often said to have been Anna, a daughter of Aepa Ocenevich, Khan of the Cumans, but there seems no evidence for this. It has been suggested that this attribution for the second/third wife most likely results from a misreading of the 1107 entry in the Primary Russian Chronicle, which states, “and Volodimer (Vladimir) took the daughter of Aepa for Jurij [his son]”. It clearly says that it was Jurij (who died in 1157) who married Aepa’s daughter, and not Vladimir. It’s unlikely that father and son married two sisters.

Returning to Gytha; what became of her and where and when might she have died?

In the German Rhine city of Cologne there was, and still is, a church and monastery dedicated to the late third century Greek Christian martyr St. Pantaleon, who was revered for his healing powers.

A man sick with the palsy was brought, who could neither walk nor stand without help. The heathen priests prayed for him, but in vain. Then Pantaleon prayed, took the sick man by the hand, and said: “In the name of Jesus, the Son of God, I command thee to rise and be well.” And the palsied man rose, restored to perfect health.

The monastic church of St. Pantaleon in Cologne

The monastic church of St. Pantaleon in Cologne

The monastic church of St. Pantaleon in Cologne was founded in the tenth century.

The impressive church, in the south west of the inner city, still has extensive parts of the original building. It is one of the oldest sacral buildings in Cologne. The monumental church of St. Pantaleon originated at the middle of the 10th century with the founding of a Benedictine abbey by the Archbishop Bruno. His niece by marriage, the Byzantine Theophanu, continued building after Bruno’s death in 965. Her interest in the church most certainly had family reasons, but especially the Patrocinium of the Holy Pantaleon played a decisive role, because this saint came from Theophanu’s homeland. Following her death she was buried in St. Pantaleon. Her mortal remains rest there today in a modern marble sarcophagus.

By the eleventh and early twelfth century it had acquired a certain international renown. It had strong links with England and also lay astride the usual route from Flanders to Denmark. Given later events, this latter fact has led some to conjecture that Gytha might have visited St. Pantaleon in Cologne with her brothers on her way to Denmark.

It is here we come to an interesting story. It’s contained in a Latin sermon given by Rupert, the abbot of the nearby monastery of Deutz, to the monks of St. Pantaleon’s in Cologne in the 1120s. Given the date of the sermon, the events it describes were certainly within the living memory of both Rupert and his audience, the St. Pantaleon monks. Most of the sermon was a hagiography detailing St. Pantaleon’s various miracles, but towards the end Rupert tells a little ‘miraculous’ story concerning Gytha and her son Harold. It’s a sort of prologue to two more miracles.

I have used the French summary of this Latin story given by the Belgian church historian Maurice Coens in 1937 in his Un sermon inconnue de Rupert, Abbe de Deutz sur St. Pantaleon. Coens’ summary unfortunately misses out some interesting details contained in the original sermon, and possibly misconstrues one or two things too, but for the time being it will have to suffice. The brackets are my own:

Harald, who reigns at present over the Russians (‘rex gentis Russorum’), had been attacked by a bear. He had been separated from his companions and, unarmed, couldn’t defend himself against the beast, which gored him cruelly. When he had been extricated, he was hardly breathing. His mother (‘Gida nomine’) wanted to care for him herself. But St. Pantaleon appeared (in a vision) to the wounded man, and declared that he had come to heal him. After she had heard of the vision, the prince’s mother was reassured regarding the health of her son. She had been a great benefactor of the monastery of St. Pantaleon in Cologne and knew the power of the thaumaturge (miracle worker). Following her son’s recovery, the Queen realised her desire to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Places.

In addition, there is also a mention of Queen Gytha (‘Gida Regina’ preceded by a cross) in St. Pantaleon’s Necrolog, under the date March 7th. This is usually taken to imply Gytha’s date of death, but this is by no means sure. No year is given because a Necrolog wasn’t only a list of those Saints and benefactors who had recently died; it was also a list of days on which the monks in the monastery were to say prayers for the eternal souls of particular saints and holy benefactors. As we know, Saints’ days aren’t necessarily death dates. Rupert’s sermon clearly tells us that ‘Queen’ Gytha was a ‘liberal benefactor’ of St. Pantaleon’s in Cologne. It was on March the 7th that the monks prayed for her, which could as well have been the date they heard of her death as her death date itself.

Vladamir's Monomakh's Instructions to his Children

Vladamir’s Monomakh’s Instructions to his Children

The sermon tells us that Russian Prince (Rex) Harold had been badly gored by a bear while out hunting. We don’t know when this may have happened, such meetings with potentially dangerous wild animals were pretty common at this time when ‘nobles’ were out hunting, a time before Europe’s forests were completely hunted out. Harold’s father Vladimir was also a big hunter. He wrote some long ‘Instructions for my children’ (“Pouchenniya Dityam”) a few years before his death in 1125, in which he related his own experiences:

I devoted much energy to hunting as long as I reigned in Chernigov and made excursions from that city. Until the present year, in fact, I without difficulty used all my strength in hunting, not to mention other hunting expeditions around Turov, since I had been accustomed to chase every sort of game while in my father’s company.

At Chernigov, I even bound wild horses with my bare hands or captured ten or twenty live horses with the lasso, and besides that, while riding along the Ros, I caught these same wild horses barehanded. Two bisons tossed me and my horse on their horns, a stag once gored me, one elk stamped upon me, while another gored me, a boar once tore my sword from my thigh, a bear on one occasion bit my kneecap, and another wild beast jumped on my flank and threw my horse with me. But God preserved me unharmed.

Godfrey de Bouillon Captures Jerusalem

Godfrey de Bouillon Captures Jerusalem

It has been suggested that Harold’s near death and vision happened in 1097, when he would have been about twenty-one, and, to make good on her promise to make a pilgrimage, his mother Gytha had then joined the First Crusade to the Holy Land, where she died in 1098. That Gytha went on the First Crusade seems highly dubious. It is pure speculation based only on the assumption that Gytha died before Vladimir’s later children were born – by a ‘second’ wife. To this is sometimes added the thought that Gytha had connections with Flanders, because of her stay there when she fled England, and that Flemish nobles, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, made up a large contingent of this crusade.

If we take Rupert of Deutz’s story at face value, as fact except for the ‘miraculous’ healing, then even if the incident took place in 1097 (for which there is no evidence), I find it unlikely in the extreme that Gytha would then have instantly rushed to Flanders to join some Flemish nobles on their crusade to a Holy Land still in the possession of the Saracens.

If Gytha did go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as Rupert of Deutz says she did, I think it much more likely that she went later, after Jerusalem had fallen into Christian hands, by when it was safer to make such a hazardous journey. And if she wanted to get to Jerusalem she would likely have taken the well trodden route from the land of the Kiev Rus’ to Constantinople and from there taken ship around the coast of Anatolia (Turkey), perhaps via Cyprus, to the Holy Land.

Danylo's Book

Danylo’s Book

This was the route taken in the early 1100s by the earliest known pilgrim from Kievan Rus’, Danylo, abbot of the Rus’ monastery of Chernigov. Danylo has left us a fascinating memoir of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

It is not known when Danylo set out on his journey to the Holy Land. Historians are of the opinion that he could have begun his journey in the early 1100s and could have reached Constantinople at about 1104–1106 whence he proceeded to Palestine via Greece and the Greek Islands. It is not known by which route he got to Constantinople, but it is likely he took the ancient route “from the Varengians (Vikings) to the Greeks” — down the Dnipro River and then across the Black Sea.

He tells of the places he visited, the people he met (including King Baldwin of Jerusalem), and the hazards he encountered. He even mentions on more than one occasion that he was travelling with Kievan Rus’ compatriots:

In his book, Danylo mentions about 60 places, monasteries included, that he visited during his stay in Palestine. In his travels he must have always had some company in addition to guides and interpreters because he always says “we” and never “I”, and writes about “druzhyna” (a group, team, troop, or brotherhood who are united by the same purpose or sharing the same ideas and ideals) who were with him on many occasions. Describing “the descent of the blessed fire upon the Lord’s Sepulchre” he says that among the witnesses of this miracle were “all of my druzhyna, sons of Rus who were together with me on that day, good men from Novgorod and Kyiv — Izdeslav Ivankovych, Horodyslav Mykhaylovych, Kashkychi and many others…” It is quite reasonable to suppose that the people mentioned by name were Danylo’s close companions who were with him on many other occasions, or maybe accompanied him on his pilgrimage from the outset…

Danylo seems to be patriotically minded and it is particularly evident when he reiterates his being a representative of Rus rather than of a particular monastery or province. At the end of narrative, he says, “May God be a witness of … me never forgetting to mention the names of the Rus princes, and of their children, of the Rus bishops, and of the hegumens, and of the boyars (members of the aristocratic orders.), and of my spiritual children, and of all the good Christians [during the liturgy services] I recited at the holy places.” In the Holy Land he celebrated 90 liturgies — 50 for the living and 40 for the dead — of his compatriots.

There is, to be sure, no mention of Gytha here, but, for me at least, it would have made more sense had Gytha gone on her pilgrimage in the company of some of her compatriots, using the most convenient route, and when Jerusalem was already in Christian hands, than that she had rushed off to Flanders in 1097 to join the First Crusade.

It is also interesting to note that many Russian historians say that upon his return Danylo was promoted to bishop of Yuryev by ‘Grand Duke Vladimir Monomakh’, i.e. promoted by Gytha’s husband!

My contention that Gytha didn’t go on the First Crusade, and didn’t die in the Holy Land in 1098, is, I think, also supported by the thought that had she done so she would probably have had to drop in at St. Pantaleon’s monastery in Cologne on her way to Flanders, and there make a large enough, and one-off, benefaction to the monastery to ensure the reverence in which she was subsequently held by the monks there for her piety and largesse.

In addition, if Vladimir’s son Jurij was married to a daughter of Aepa Ocenevich, Khan of the Cumans, in 1107, as the Primary Russian Chronicle says, then Jurij was probably in his twenties at the time, and therefore born in the 1080s, well before Gytha’s supposed death in the Holy Land in 1098.

All the evidence seems to support the view that Gytha died in 1107.

St. Pantaleon/Panteleimon Church in Shevchenkove, Ukraine

St. Pantaleon/Panteleimon Church in Shevchenkove, Ukraine

The intercession of St. Pantaleon (St. Panteleimon) which had saved Prince Harold’s life was not forgotten by the Rus’. Churches named after the Saint began to appear all over the Ukraine. One such was built in the town of Shevchenkove in 1194 by Prince Roman Mstyslavovych in honour of his grandfather — the Kiev Prince Izyaslav (a son of English Princess Gytha born circ 1078,  whose baptismal name was Panteleimon). There are several more.