Posts Tagged ‘Strathclyde Britons’

In the early tenth century there was a powerful Irish-Norse viking warlord called Óttar.[1] He was a jarl (or earl). He and his family contested with the descendants of King Ívarr ‘the Boneless’[2] – the co-founder of the most important and long-lasting Irish-Norse dynasty[3] – for the leadership of the Northmen of the diaspora after they had been temporarily expelled from Dublin by the Irish in 902. He spent time raiding in Brittany and then, rather less successfully, in England and Wales, before returning to Ireland where he established the town of Waterford.[4] Having had to accept the overlordship of Ívarr’s grandson Rögnvaldr, Óttar died fighting at Rögnvald’s [5] side against the Scots and English Northumbrians on the banks of the River Tyne in 918.[6] Here I will try to piece together Óttar’s story from the meagre sources we have. In so doing I think we can join together a few historical dots. This can tell us something of Norse Ireland and the fate of Northumbria, whilst also shedding some light on the very earliest Scandinavian settlements in the north-west of what is now England, i.e. Lancashire and Cumbria.

The dearth of records can be viewed purely as a gap in the tradition, brought about through a nadir in the writing of history, rather than due to an absence of events.[7]

When Walther Vogel,  the great historian of the Northmen in France, wrote this in 1906 he was talking about events in the Frankish kingdoms in the first decade or so of the tenth century. But the same applies to the history of north-west England at the same time. It was during this period that the first viking bases appeared on the coasts of Cheshire, Lancashire and Cumbria. Over the coming decades these Scandinavians eventually spread out, stopped raiding, and settled down to farm and fish.

As F. W. Wainwright, perhaps the greatest historian of the Scandinavian arrival in north-west England, wrote:

As a mere episode the Norse immigration must be considered outstanding. But it was not a mere episode. It was an event of permanent historical importance.[8]

Óttar’s story can tell us just a little about the nature and timing of all this.

Óttar’s return to England

The twelfth-century chronicler John of Worcester tells that in 914:[9]

The Severn Estuary

The Pagan pirates, who nearly nineteen years before had crossed over to France, returned to England from the province called Lydwiccum (Brittany), under two chiefs:[10] Ochter and Hroald, and sailing round the coast of Wessex and Cornwall at length entered the mouth of the river Severn. Without any loss of time they fell upon the country of the Northern Britons[11], and carried off almost every thing they could find on the banks of the river. Having laid hands on Cymelgeac[12], a British bishop, on a plain called Yrcenefeld,[13] they dragged him, with no little joy, to their ships. King Edward redeemed him shortly afterwards for forty pounds of silver.

Before long, the whole army landed, and made for the plain before mentioned, in search of plunder; but the men of Hereford and Gloucester, with numerous bands from the neighbouring towns, suddenly fell on them, and a battle was fought in which Hroald,[14] one of the enemy’s chiefs, and the brother of Ochter, the other chief, and great part of the army were slain. The rest fled, and were driven by the Christians into an enclosure, where they were beset until they delivered hostages for their departure as quickly as possible from king Edward’s dominions.

The king, therefore, stationed detachments of his army in suitable positions on the south side of the Severn, from Cornwall to the mouth of the river Avon, to prevent the pirates from ravaging those districts. But leaving their ships on the shore, they prowled by night about the country, plundering it to the eastward of Weced (Watchet), and another time at a place called Porlock.[15] However, on both occasions, the king’s troops slew all of them except such as made a disgraceful retreat to their ships. The latter, dispirited by their defeat, took refuge in an island called Reoric (Flat Holm),[16] where they harboured till many of them perished from hunger, and, driven by necessity, the survivors sailed first to Deomed,[17] and afterward in the autumn to Ireland.

John of Worcester took his information from the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, all versions of which tell much the same story.[18]

Island of Flat Holm in the Britol Channel where Ottar’s vikings took temporary sanctuary

The days when vikings could raid with any success in Wessex were over. The West Saxon king, Edward the Elder,[19] who was by now king of Mercia as well, was well on the way to creating a unified and centralized England, although he and his son King Æthelstan still had more fighting to do before this end was achieved, especially in the north. But our concern here is with the Norse jarl Óttar.

View of sea from Landevennec Abbey in Brittany

We know a little about what Óttar’s vikings were doing in Brittany immediately prior to their appearance in the Severn from Breton and French sources. Northmen had been actively raiding and occasionally trying to settle along the coasts of France, Brittany and Aquitaine during the previous century. But in the late ninth century Alan the Great, the duke of Brittany, had inflicted several reverses on the vikings, after which until his death in 907 we are told that the ‘Northmen hadn’t even dared to look towards Brittany from afar’.[20] But following Alan’s death factional strife broke out and Brittany was weakened. The Northmen ‘stirred themselves again and in front of their face the ground trembled’.[21] In the ‘Chronicle of Nantes’ during the episcopate of Bishop Adelard (i.e. after 912) we read that the rage of the Northmen began to re-erupt as never before.[22] One viking target was the Breton monastery of Landevennec. In one of the abbey’s computes we find a two line note in the margin next to the year 914, it reads: ‘In this year the Northmen destroyed the monastery of Landevennec’.[23] These Northmen were probably those of Óttar and Haraldr.

Who was Óttar?

Before turning to look at what became of Óttar in Ireland, who was he and where had he originally come from? There is little doubt that jarl Óttar was Irish-Norse; that is he was a powerful leader of the Northmen who had come to Dublin in the 850s – called the ‘dark foreigners’ by the Irish – who subsequently went on to create the Scandinavian kingdom of York after 866. Some historians have equated him with a certain Ottir mac Iargni (i.e. Óttar son of Iarnkné),[24] who had killed ‘a son of Ásl’ in Ireland in 883.[25] Asl was one of the brothers of Ívarr I and Óláfr, the co-founders of the Danish Dublin dynasty in the 850s.[26] Óttar was in league with Muirgel, a daughter of the Irish king Mael Sechlainn, who was one of Ívarr’s bitterest enemies. As Clare Downham suggests in ‘Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland – The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014’:

Óttar’s family may have briefly come to the fore as rivals of the sons of Ívarr due to the weakness of Sigfrøðr who was killed by a kinsman in 888.’[27]

This Óttar’s father was probably the Iarnkné who had been beheaded in 852 after being on the losing side of a battle in Ireland between two opposing viking groups.[28] This would mean that Óttar would have been at the very least thirty years of age in 883, and quite likely even older. When we find a jarl called Óttar in the Severn estuary in 914, if he were the same man he’d have been over sixty or yet older still. While possible, I don’t find this at all credible, particularly because, as we will see, the Óttar on the Severn in 914 went on to be one of the main Norse leaders in important events and battles in Ireland and England up until his death in 918.  Viking warlords leading their troops into battle were never seventy years old! It is more likely that ‘our’ Óttar was perhaps either a son or nephew of Óttar son of Iarnkné.

Viking Dublin

The idea that Óttar came from a family of Dublin-based viking leaders who had from time to time tried to challenge the rule of Ívarr’s sons and grandsons, gains more support from an entry in the generally reliable ‘Annals of Ulster’. Under the year 914 it reads:

A naval battle at Manu (the Isle of Man) between Barid son of Oitir and Ragnall grandson of Ímar, in which Barid and almost all his army were destroyed.[29]

Ragnall is the Gaelic name for Rögnvaldr, who was a grandson of Ívarr  ‘the Boneless’. Here, as elsewhere, Ívarr is named Ímar in Irish sources; while Barid is Norse Bárðr. Was this naval fight part of an attempt by Rögnvaldr and his brother or cousin Sigtryggr to assert or reassert their supreme leadership of the Dublin Norse of the diaspora? It looks that way.

Viking Dublin

As I have mentioned, in 902 the Northmen had been expelled from Dublin, their king at the time was probably Ívarr’s grandson Ívarr.

The heathens were driven from Ireland, that is from the longphort of Ath Cliath (Dublin), by Mael Finnia son of Flannacan with the men of Brega and by Cerball son of Muirecan with the Leinster men…  and they abandoned a good number of their ships, and escaped half dead after they had been wounded and broken.[30]

Perhaps Óttar had been one of the ‘heathens’ who ‘half dead’ had desperately fled for their lives? I believe it quite likely.

Maybe Óttar had fled with Óttar son of Iarnkné – who might conceivably have been his father? I’ll leave this conjecture aside for the moment, but will return to it later.

Different groups of exiled Scandinavians went to the Wirral, to Lancashire, to Scotland, probably to Cumbria, and to France.  Ívarr grandson of Ívarr was killed by the Scots in Pictland in 904:

Ímar grandson of Ímar, was slain by the men of Fortriu, and there was a great slaughter about him.[31]

alfred

King Alfred the Great fights the Vikings

The story told by John of Worcester I started with said that ‘the Pagan pirates, who nearly nineteen years before had crossed over to France, returned to England from… Brittany’. What does John of Worcester mean by this? Is he saying that Óttar and his warband moved from England in around 896? Or does the comment refer to events after the expulsion of the Norse from Dublin in 902? In fact I think that it refers to neither. I believe John of Worcester’s comment is not specifically concerned with Óttar’s vikings, but rather refers to the year 896, when a small remnant of an army of vikings, which had come back to England 893 after fourteen years ravaging the coasts of France and Brittany, were finally defeated by Alfred the Great after nearly four years fighting and went back to the kingdom of the Franks, where some of them would soon establish the dukedom of Normandy in 912.[32] Thus 896 was the last time the kingdom of Wessex had been troubled by vikings – nineteen years before Óttar  appeared on the River Severn.[33]

In the years between 902 and 914 there are only a few of mentions of the Dublin Norse exiles. Most extensively there is the story of Ingimundr, whose people settled on the Wirral and tried (in league with others of the diaspora) to take Chester from the Mercians in about 910.[34] There is also the death of Ívarr grandson of Ívarr in 904 in ‘Pictland’ referred to earlier.

Ímar grandson of Ímar, was slain by the men of Fortriu and there was a great slaughter of them.[35]

We also find various named Scandinavians being killed by the English West Saxons and Mercians at the Battle of Tettenhall in 910 – including confusingly a jarl called Óttar. The English

slew many thousands of them; and there was king Eowils slain and king Halfdan, and Ottar jarl, and Skurfa jarl, and Othulf hold[36], and Benesing hold, and Olaf the Black, and Thurferth hold, and Osferth Hlytte, and Guthferth hold, and Agmund hold, and Guthferth.[37]

Viking York

These Scandinavians were the Danes of Northumbrian York. They were on their way home from raiding deep into English territory when they were caught and beaten by King Edward’s army in Staffordshire.[38] Yet I think there is room to believe that at least a few in this Scandinavian army must have been from the Irish-Norse coastal bases in north-west Britain.[39] The Yorkshire/Northumbrian ‘Danes’ were relatives of those expelled from Dublin. For example, King Hálfdan, who was killed at Tettenhall, was descended from an earlier chieftain called Hálfdan who had started the Scandinavian settlement of Yorkshire following his capture of York in 866, and who was also likely the brother of the co-founders of the Dublin Norse dynasty: Ívarr and Óláfr.[40] We don’t know who the jarl Óttar killed at Tettenhall was. The name is common enough, but the fact that he was a jarl and was named in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ immediately after King Hálfdan and King Eowils shows he was an important man. He could well have been a jarl of York who was not in any way connected with the jarl Óttar who came back from Brittany in 914, but given his name and position he just might have been related. Perhaps he could even have been one of the vikings expelled from Dublin in 902 who had landed on the coast of north-west Britain and made his way to York to seek help or refuge with his York cousins?[41] Most historians suggest that one of the main objectives of the expelled vikings would have been to do just this, and that the huge silver-hoard found in 1840 at Cuerdale on the Ribble estuary in Lancashire, which is conventionally dated to around 905.[42] might be the war-chest of a viking leader collected both from raiding and from the Danes of York to finance an attempt to retake Dublin.[43]

The whole question of other Óttars is made even more difficult because we hear of another Óttar in the ‘Fragmentary Annals of Ireland’. In the part in which Óttar is mentioned the compiler is telling the story of Ingimund’s coming from Dublin to the Wirral and later attacking Chester, events dated between 904 and 910. He then tells:

Almost at the same time the men of Foirtriu[44] and the Norwegians fought a battle…. The men of Alba fought this battle steadfastly… this battle was fought hard and fiercely; the men of Alba won victory and triumph, and many of the Norwegians were killed after their defeat, and their king was killed there, namely Oittir son of Iarngna. For a long time after that neither the Danes nor the Norwegians attacked them, and they enjoyed peace and tranquillity… [45]

Edward - the Elder

King Edward the Elder

So here we find an Óttar son of Iarnkné (here styled king) being killed in a battle against the men of Alba (the Scots). I mentioned earlier that Óttar son of Iarnkné might well have been the father of the Óttar who was defeated and driven off by the English in 914. Was the ‘king’ Óttar son of Iarnkné reputedly killed by the Albans sometime around 910 a different person to the jarl Óttar killed by the English at Tettenhall in 910? Or were they one and the same? We will never know, although the coincidence is worthy of note.[46]

There is also the intriguing thought proposed by Sir Henry Howorth in 1911 and supported by F. W. Wainwright[47] that the death of Óttar son of Iarnkné mentioned in the ‘Fragmentary Annals’ actually referred to jarl Óttar who, as will be discussed below, died fighting the Scots and Northumbrian English at the Battle of Corbridge in 918. On the whole I tend to think that this interpolated story in the ‘Fragmentary Annals’ is probably highly confused, mixing up different Óttars and different battles – a thing that is quite easy to do – so I’ll not place much reliance on it here.[48]

One final thought regarding Óttar and his family might be added. We know the names of some of Ívarr  I’s sons: Bárðr who was Ívarr’s successor as King of Dublin after Ívarr’s death in 873 and died in 881; Sigfrøðr who then ruled Dublin until he was killed by a ‘kinsman’ in 888; and Sigtryggr who ruled till killed by other vikings in 893.[49] Does not the fact that one of Ívarr’s sons was called Bárðr coupled with the fact that a Bárðr son of Óttar was killed in a naval engagement off the Isle of Man in 914 suggest that sometime in the early history of the these Dublin vikings Óttar’s family and Ívarr’s family were related?

Óttar comes to Waterford

Here I think we can return to our story.

We left jarl Óttar departing the area of the Severn estuary in 914 and making his way, with the survivors of his defeat at the hands of the English, via South Wales to Ireland. His destination was the harbour of Waterford. The ‘Annals of Ulster’ tell us that in 914:

A great new fleet of the heathens on Loch dá Caech.[50]

Waterford Harbour

Loch dá Caech is the Gaelic name for Waterford harbour or bay. Waterford town had yet to be founded; in fact it was Óttar’s arrival that led to the creation of Waterford.[51] This notice comes immediately after the entry mentioned before which reads:

A naval battle at Manu between Barid son of Oitir and Ragnall grandson of Ímar, in which Barid and almost all his army were destroyed.[52]

‘Basilica’ of Tours on the Loire

This report is of great interest because it tells of a Bárðr, who was a son of an Óttar, being killed by Rögnvaldr in 914. It is most likely that this Bárðr was the same viking leader who was in league with another leader called Erikr and who had attacked the important town of Tours on the River Loire in 903.[53] In addition, most historians think that Bárðr and Erikr’s fleet in the Loire was most likely a contingent of the Dublin Norse expelled the year before. If all this is the case, then it suggests that Óttar and Bárðr could have been brothers and not father and son – both possibly being sons of Óttar son of Iarnkné. They had both spent time raiding in France and Brittany after 902, before returning to Britain in 914 when Bárðr was killed by Rögnvaldr while Óttar arrived on the River Severn.

As mentioned above, after Óttar had left England he and his fleet sailed via South Wales and then on to Waterford Harbour. Over the next twelve months more vikings arrived to join him at Waterford. The ‘Annals of Ulster’ for 915 continue:

A great and frequent increase in the number of heathens arriving at Loch dá Chaech, and the laity and clergy of Mumu[54] were plundered by them.[55]

In 916 ‘the foreigners of Loch dá Chaech continued to harry Mumu and Laigin’.[56]

What is clearly happening here is that Óttar’s returning forces are trying to re-establish themselves in Ireland, but they don’t yet feel strong enough to attack Dublin, held by the Irish since 902.

Ottar’s rival Rögnvaldr

But jarl Óttar was not the only viking leader wanting to return to Ireland. The other main force in the Irish Sea at the time was led by Rögnvaldr and his brother or cousin Sigtryggr, both the ‘grandsons of Ívarr’. As we have seen, Rögnvaldr had defeated and killed Bárðr son of Óttar in a naval engagement off the Isle of Man in 914, and I have already suggested that Óttar and Bárðr might have been brothers. The next we hear of Rögnvaldr is in 917, three years after Óttar’s arrival in Waterford:

Sitriuc, grandson of Ímar, landed with his fleet at Cenn Fuait on the coast of Laigin. Ragnall, grandson of Ímar, with his second fleet moved against the foreigners of Loch dá Chaech. A slaughter of the foreigners at Neimlid in Muma. The Eóganacht and the Ciarraige made another slaughter.[57]

Ívarr’s grandson Rögnvaldr came to Waterford with his fleet with the express intention of challenging Óttar’s viking force now established there. His brother, or cousin, Sigtryggr had landed at Cenn Fuait.[58] We don’t know exactly what transpired when Rögnvaldr ‘came against’ Óttar at Waterford, but I think we can imply from later events that Óttar had accepted or reaccepted Rögnvald’s supreme leadership of the Dublin Norse exiles operating in and around the Irish Sea at this time.

Under 917 the ‘Annals of Ulster’ report:

Irish and Norse fight

Niall son of Aed, king of Ireland, led an army of the southern and northern Uí Néill to Munster to make war on the heathens. He halted on the 22nd day of the month of August at Topar Glethrach in Mag Feimin. The heathens had come into the district on the same day. The Irish attacked them between the hour of tierce and midday and they fought until eventide, and about a hundred men, the majority foreigners, fell between them. Reinforcements came from the camp of the foreigners to aid their fellows. The Irish turned back to their camp in face of the last reinforcement, i.e. Ragnall, king of the dark foreigners, accompanied by a large force of foreigners. Niall son of Aed proceeded with a small number against the heathens, so that God prevented a great slaughter of the others through him. After that Niall remained twenty nights encamped against the heathens. He sent word to the Laigin that they should lay siege to the encampment from a distance. They were routed by Sitriuc grandson of Ímar in the battle of Cenn Fuait, where five hundred, or somewhat more, fell. And there fell too Ugaire son of Ailill, king of Laigin, Mael Mórda son of Muirecán, king of eastern Life, Mael Maedóc son of Diarmait, a scholar and bishop of Laigin, Ugrán son of Cennéitig, king of Laíges, and other leaders and nobles.[59]

The ‘Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gael’ reported that:

The whole of Mumhain (Munster) became filled with ships, and boats, and fleets, so that there was not a harbour, nor a landing port, nor a Dun, noir a fortress, nor a fastness, in all Mumhain, without fleets of Danes and pirates.[60]

These various battles fought in 917 against the Irish by the ‘dark foreigners’ of Rögnvaldr and Sigtryggr, with jarl Óttar’s forces now most probably forming a part of the viking army, were fought to re-establish their presence in Ireland and to try to retake Dublin. The Irish wanted to prevent this happening. The Battle of Cenn Fuait referred to in the annals (now called the Battle of Confey), which the vikings won, opened the road to retake Dublin and Sigtryggr recaptured the town in the same year:

Sitriuc grandson of Ímar entered Áth Cliath (i.e. Dublin).[61]

The ‘Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gael’ describes the taking of Dublin thus:

There came after that the immense royal fleet of Sitriuc and the family of Ímar, i.e. Sitriuc the Blind, the grandson of Ímar; and they forced a landing at Dublin of Áth Cliath, and made an encampment there.[62]

The Northmen were back as masters of Dublin after an exile of about fifteen years. They would remain contested masters there into the twelfth century.

Where had Rögnvaldr and Sigtryggr been?

Following the expulsion of 902, Óttar had been raiding in Brittany, and maybe in areas of the Frankish lands too, although for how long is not clear. But what of Ívarr’s two grandsons, Rögnvaldr and Sigtryggr? Where were they in the years between the expulsion from Dublin and their return to Ireland in 917?

Viking-king-Olaf-Guthfrithsson

An Irish-Norse King

As I have previously mentioned, another grandson of the first Ívarr was also called Ívarr. He was most probably the leader of the Irish-Norse when they were kicked out of Dublin in 902.[63] In 904, the same time that fellow exile Ingimundr was first settling on the Wirral near Chester, this Ívarr was killed by the Scots in ‘the land of the Picts’, while either raiding or trying to establish a base there. At the time of Ívarr’s death in 904, Rögnvaldr was probably a young man and Sigtryggr possibly still a boy.[64] So the question arises: Where were the bases of the fleets and warbands of the ‘grandsons of Ívarr’ before the naval battle in 914 and their return to Ireland in 917?[65] Although the annals and chronicles are silent on the matter, all the circumstantial evidence suggests that their base or bases were probably along the coasts of Lancashire and Cumbria. Most probably there was one on the River Ribble in Lancashire where an immense viking silver-hoard was found at Cuerdale in 1840 which is conventionally dated to around 905-910. Another may have been further north around Morecambe Bay or in the area of the later heavily Norse area of Armounderness in Lancashire.[66] It’s even possible that at this early date some vikings already had a base somewhere on the banks of the Solway Firth – the present border between Cumberland and Scotland.

Alex Woolf says:

The heathen refugees from Ireland seem to have settled along the eastern shores of the Irish sea.[67]

viking wirral

Scandinavian Wirral

One of the clearest indications that the refugees from Dublin had already made other bases along the coast and not just on the Wirral comes from the ‘Fragmentary Annals of Ireland’. Having told of Ingimund’s arrival on the Wirral in 903/4, it continues:

Ingimund came then to the chieftains of the Norwegians and Danes; he was complaining bitterly before them, and said that they were not well off unless they had good lands, and that they all ought to go and seize Chester and possess it with its wealth and lands. From that there resulted many great battles and wars. What he said was, ‘Let us entreat and implore them ourselves first, and if we do not get them good lands willingly like that, let us fight for them by force.’ All the chieftains of the Norwegians and Danes consented to that.[68]

So Ingimund brought together other ‘chieftains of the Norwegians and Danes’ for his plan to seize Chester. These other chieftains must have been in large part other groups of Dublin exiles based along the coasts north of the Wirral. When ‘Ingimund returned home after that’ he arranged for the viking ‘host’ to follow him.

Given that Rögnvaldr fought a naval engagement off the Isle of Man in 914 before he returned to Ireland, it might also be suggested (as it has been) that the ‘grandsons of Ívarr’ had a fortified base there too.[69]

First Scandinavian bases in Lancashire and Cumbria

What I am suggesting here is not just that the earliest Scandinavian bases along the coasts of north-west ‘England’ were established by the Dublin exiles in the early years of the tenth century, which is pretty much accepted by all historians, but also that in all likelihood many of these early bases and embryonic settlements were founded by the forces of ‘the grandsons of Ívarr’: Rögnvaldr and Sigtryggr.

heversham

Heversham, Westmorland

From these first bases the vikings continued their habitual habits and raided the lands of the western Northumbrian English. In this very obscure period we can catch glimpses of some of the raids they made and their consequences. The Historia de Sancto Cuthberto tells of a powerful English thegn in western Northumbria called Alfred son of Brihtwulf ‘fleeing from pirates’. He ‘came over the mountains in the west and sought the mercy of St Cuthbert and bishop Cutheard so that they might present him with some lands’. In the same source we also hear that Abbot Tilred of Heversham (in Westmorland) came to St Cuthbert’s land and purchased the abbacy of Norham on Tweed during the episcopate of Cutheard.[70] In all likelihood Tilred was fleeing from the Vikings too.

We can probably date these flights to between the expulsion of the vikings from Dublin in 902 and the death of Bishop Cutheard in 915. I prefer later in this period.[71] If these events were not caused by ‘the grandsons of Ívarr’ then who else was precipitating these Northumbrians to flee?

These early Norse bases and embryonic settlements along the north-west coast of what is now England were essentially defensive land bases for the viking fleets. No doubt some of the Norse farmed a little too, but the very extensive Scandinavian settlement of western Lancashire and much of Cumbria was a long drawn-out process that probably only really got underway after 920/930 and took many decades, indeed probably more than a hundred years, to complete.[72]

What the great historian Walther Vogel wrote about the vikings in the western and eastern Frankish kingdoms in the early years of the tenth century is most likely also true of the situation in north-west England in the same period:

The ‘army’ as such still existed… the warriors had not yet dissolved their warband and divided up the land to settle down to farm as individual colonists…

They probably obtained the necessities of life from small plundering raids in the surrounding area; they also certainly received tribute from the remaining… farmers in the countryside; finally with the help of their serfs and their slaves captured in war, they may have grown a few crops and kept a few cows. That this intermediate situation was enough for them; that the conquered land remained for so long undivided, can only be explained because the threat of Frankish attacks didn’t yet permit dissolution of the army.[73]

For the early Norse in Lancashire and Cumbria I believe the same would have been true. Not until the possibility of being completely annihilated and driven back into the sea by the English – whether Northumbrian, Mercian or West Saxon – or by the British (the Cumbrians/Strathclyde Britons) had receded, would the Norse risk dividing the land, spreading out and settling as individual colonists throughout much of Cumbria and Lancashire, as they eventually assuredly did.[74] And this dispersal, in my view, would not start in earnest for quite a number of years after the Battle of Corbridge in 918.

If all the forgoing is correct, then what we are catching a glimpse of in the records is that once Óttar returned to Ireland in 914 Ivarr’s descendants, who were most probably based along the coasts of Lancashire and Cumbria (and possibly also in the Isle of Man), decided that they too should return to Ireland. Here they soon managed to reassert their family’s former authority over Óttar and his men based at Waterford, before, after several fights with the Irish, recapturing Dublin in 917.

scandi-lancs

Scandinavian Lancashire

Óttar goes with Rögnvaldr to Northumbria

Let us now continue with Óttar’s story as best we can. Once the vikings were back in Dublin, Sigtryggr was left in charge there. His brother or cousin Rögnvaldr, together with jarl Óttar, decided to leave Waterford and return to Britain, where in the next year (918) they fought an important battle with the Scots of Alba and the Northumbrian English on the banks of the River Tyne: the Battle of Corbridge. Several English and Irish sources tell us something of what happened. The fullest account is given in the ‘Annals of Ulster’:

The foreigners of Loch dá Chaech, i.e. Ragnall, king of the dark foreigners, and the two jarls, Oitir and Gragabai,[75] forsook Ireland and proceeded afterwards against the men of Scotland. The men of Scotland, moreover, moved against them and they met on the bank of the Tyne in northern Saxonland. The heathens formed themselves into four battalions: a battalion with Gothfrith grandson of Ímar, a battalion with the two jarls, and a battalion with the young lords. There was also a battalion in ambush with Ragnall, which the men of Scotland did not see. The Scotsmen routed the three battalions which they saw, and made a very great slaughter of the heathens, including Oitir and Gragabai. Ragnall, however, then attacked in the rear of the Scotsmen, and made a slaughter of them, although none of their kings or earls was cut off. Nightfall caused the battle to be broken off.[76]

Vikings land

Vikings come ashore

The Historia de Sancto Cuthberto provides some of the background to the battle.[77] Having told of the flight of the English Northumbrian thegn Alfred son of Brihtwulf fleeing a Viking raid, which was discussed earlier and can be dated to the years prior to 915, the Historia then says that Alfred was given land by the Northumbrian Bishop Cutheard in return for services, and that:

These he performed faithfully until king Raegnald (Rögnvaldr) came with a great multitude of ships and occupied the territory of Ealdred son of Eadwulf, who was a friend of King Edward, just as his father Eadwulf had been a favourite of King Alfred. Ealdred, having been driven off, went therefore to Scotia, seeking aid from king Constantin, and brought him into battle against Raegnald at Corbridge. In this battle, I know not what sin being the cause, the pagan king vanquished Constantin, routed the Scots, put Elfred the faithful man of St Cuthbert to flight and killed all the English nobles save Ealdred and his brother Uhtred.

‘The Chronicle of the Kings of Alba’ says that the ‘battle of Tinemore’ happened in 918, and that King Constantin fought Ragnall, but adds that ‘the Scotti had the victory’.[78] However the general view is that the Battle of Corbridge was indecisive. Whichever side could rightfully claim the victory, and both did, as Alex Woolf says

The immediate result of the battle was that Ragnall, who had previously dominated the western regions of Northumbria since at least 914, became undisputed leader in the east also.[79]

viking york

Viking York

I won’t delve further here into the Battle of Corbridge, it has been, and remains, a subject of academic debate – for example was there one or more battles?[80] I would just like to make three points. First, jarl Óttar, who was by now a staunch supporter or at least a subordinate of King Rögnvaldr, is said to have died fighting the Scots and the English at Corbridge in 918. This brings to an end the very interesting Viking life. Second, after Corbridge the ‘Historia Regum Anglorum’  tells us that Rögnvaldr soon reconquered York.[81] Lastly, we might ask the question: Where had the Vikings’ ‘great multitude of ships’ landed before they defeated the Scots and the Northumbrian English at Corbridge? It could be that they left Waterford and sailed all the way round the north of Britain and then landed either near the Tyne or possibly even in the River Humber. However I believe it more probable that Rögnvald’s fleet first landed at one of their bases on the north-west coast of England and from there used one of the established direct routes across to Pennines to reach eastern Northumbria.[82]  Clare Downham writes:

The location of Corbridge can reveal something of the circumstances of the motives behind the battle. Corbridge is located by a crossing point of the River Tyne. The site also had strategic significance as a fort near to Hadrian’s Wall. It presided over the ‘Stanegate’ a Roman road which ran west to east across Britain, and the road which ran north to south from Inveresk on the Firth of Forth to York. Rögnvaldr and his troops may have travelled overland from the Solway Firth or used the Clyde-Forth route across Alba to reach Northumbria. It may be supposed that they were planning to reach York but they found themselves being intercepted and confronted by enemy-forces.[83]

Given that the undoubted aim of Rögnvald’s army was to recapture York from the Northumbrians, I think it unlikely that it would have ventured to take the more northerly route through hostile Scottish territory. The more southerly ‘Stanegate’ is more likely, or even the quicker west-east route over the Pennines starting from the River Ribble in Lancashire. We’ll probably never know for sure.[84]

eric bloodaxe

Eric Bloodaxe

Following the collapse of Northumbrian English power, the West Saxon English under King Æthelstan and his successors were set to take control of present-day Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland. The last Norse king of York was Eric ‘Bloodaxe’, who was treacherously killed by a fellow Northman in 954 at Stainmore in Cumberland while fleeing from York across the Pennines – he was probably trying to find safety with his Norse brethren on the west coast or in Ireland.

In what is now Cumberland, the Strathclyde Britons (referred to in English sources at the Cumbrians – hence the English term Cumberland) used the opportunity of the decline of Northumbria and the incursions of the Irish-Norse to try to re-establish some sort or rule south of the Solway Firth – which they seem to have done to some extent.[85] But that’s another story.

What became of King Rögnvaldr?

What became of King Rögnvaldr, the conquering descendant of Ívarr the Boneless? Although after the Battle of Corbridge he had been successful in gaining control of York, he was not immune to the raising power of the English under King Edward the Elder. In 919 and 920, King Edward built new fortresses at Thelwall and Manchester on the River Mersey and at Nottingham, thus ‘blocking off the approach over the moors from the southern portion of Northumbria around modern Sheffield’.[86] Edward forced a submission of his enemies, possibly at Bakewell. The ‘A’ manuscript of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reported this event in 920:

And then the king of the Scottas and all the people of the Scottas and Raegnald, and the sons of Eadwulf, and all who live in Northumbria, both English and Danish and Northmen and others, and also the king of the Strathclyde welsh and all the Strathclyde welsh, chose him (Edward) as father and lord.[87]

And then under the year 921 the Annals of Ulster’ report the death of Ragnall h. Imair ri Finngall 7 Dubgall, i.e. of ‘Ragnall grandson of Ímar, king of the fair foreigners and the dark foreigners’.[88]

This seems to be the end of Rögnvald’s story – his death in 921. But is it? Several historians have suggested that Rögnvaldr didn’t die in northern England in 921 but actually went on the take the leadership of the Northmen of the Loire in the kingdom of the western Franks, where a certain viking leader called Ragenold is reported in French sources as being active between 921 and his death in 925. Sir Henry Howorth wrote in ‘Ragnall Ivarson and Jarl Otir’ in 1911:

As a matter of fact, he (Ragenold or Rögnvaldr) no doubt soon after this (i.e. his reported death in 921) left the British isles to resume his career in the west of France, where he was probably ambitious to rival the successful doings of Rolf the Ganger, who had founded a new state in Neustria.[89]

Rolf the Ganger means the viking (‘Normand’) the French called Rollo, who became the first Norse duke of Normandy in 912.

Rollo’s tomb in Rouen

 

References and other relevant works

ARNOLD, Thomas, ed., Symeonis Monachi Opera Omnia, Reum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores 75, 2 vols (London, 1882-85)

CAMPBELL, Alistair, ed. and trans., Chronicon Athelweardi: The Chronicle of Aethelweard, Nelson’s Medieval Texts (Edinburgh, 1962)

CLARKSON, Tim, The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland (Edinburgh, 2010)

DE LA BORDERIE, Arthur Le Moyne, Histoire de Bretagne, Vol 2, Second Edition, (Rennes, 1896-1914)

DOWNHAM, Claire, ‘The Historical Importance of Viking-Age Waterford’, Journal of Celtic Studies, 4 (2005), 71-96.

DOWNHAM, Claire, Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland. The Dynasty of Ivarr to A.D. 1014 (Edinburgh, 2007)

DUMVILLE, David N., ed. and trans., Annales Cambriae, A.D. 682-954: Texts A-C in Parallel, Basic Texts for Brittonic History 1 (Cambridge, 2002)

EKWALL, Eilert, Scandinavian and Celts in the North-West of England (Lund, 1918)

EKWALL, Eilert, The Place-Names of Lancashire (Manchester, 1922)

FERGUSON, Robert, The Northmen of Cumberland and Westmorland (London, 1856),

Forester, Thomas, ed. and trans., The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester with the two Continuations (London, 1854)

GRAHAM-CAMPBELL, James, ‘The Northern Hoards’, in Edward the Elder, 899-924, edited by N. J. Higham and D. H. Hill (London, 2011), pp. 212-29

GRAHAM-CAMPBELL, James, Viking Treasure from the North-West, the Cuerdale Hoard in its Context, National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside (Liverpool, 1992)

GRIFFITHS, David, Vikings of the Irish Sea: Conflict and Assimilation A.D. 790-1050 (Stroud, 2010)

HENNESSY, William M, ed. and trans., Chronicum Scotorum: A Chronicle of Irish Affairs, from the Earliest Times to A.D. 1135, with a Supplement containing the Events from A.D. 1114 to A.D. 1150, Rerum Brittannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores 46 (London, 1866)

HIGHAM, Nick, ‘The Scandinavians in North Cumbria: Raids and Settlements in the Later Ninth to Mid Tenth Centuries’, in The Scandinavians in Cumbria, edited by John R. Baldwin and Ian D. Whyte, Scottish Society for Northern Studies 3 (Edinburgh, 1985), pp. 37-51

HIGHAM, Nichols, ‘The Viking-Age Settlement in the North-Western Countryside: Lifting the Veil?’ in Land, Sea and Home: proceedings of a Conference on Viking-Period Settlement, at Cardiff, July 2001, edited by John Hines et al. (Leeds, 2004), pp. 297-311

HINDE,  John Hodgson, ed., Symeonis Dunelmensis Opera et Collectanea (Durham, 1868)

HOWTON, Sir Henry H., ‘Ragnall Ivarson and Jarl Otir’, in The English Historical Review, Vol 16 (London, 1911), pp. 1-19

HUDSON, Benjamin, Viking Pirates and Christian Princes: Dynasty, Religion, and Empire in the North Atlantic (New York, 2005)

JESCH, Judith, ‘Scandinavian Wirral’, in Wirral and its Viking Heritage, edited by Paul Cavill et al (Nottingham, 2000), pp.1-10

JOHNSON-SOUTH, Ted, ed. and trans., Historia de Sancto Cuthberto. A History of Saint Cuthbert and a Record of his Patrimony, Anglo-Saxon Texts 3 (Cambridge, 2002)

LEWIS, Stephen M., The first Scandinavian settlers of England – the Frisian Connection (Bayonne, 2014)

LEWIS, Stephen M., The first Scandinavian settlers in North West England (Bayonne, 2014)

LEWIS, Stephen M., North Meols and the Scandinavian settlement of Lancashire (Bayonne, 2014)

LEWIS, Stephen M., Grisdale 1332 (Bayonne, 2014)

LIVINGSTON, Michael, ed., The Battle of Brunanburh: A Casebook (Exeter, 2011)

MAC AIRT Sean, and Gearoid MAC NIOCAILL, ed. and trans., The Annals of Ulster (to A.D. 1131), 1 (Dublin, 1983)

MURPHY, Denis, ed., The Annals of Clonmacnoise, being Annals of Ireland from the Earliest Times to A. D. 1408, Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, (Dublin , 1896)

O’DONOVAN, John, ed. and trans., Annala Rioghachta Eireann, Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, from the Earliest Period to the year 1616, second edition, & vols (Dublin, 1856)

O’DONOVAN, John, ed. and trans., Annals of Ireland: three Fragments copied from Ancient sources by Dubhaltach Mac Firbisigh, Publications of the Irish Archaeological and Celtic Society 4 (Dublin, 1860)

MERLET, René, La Chronique de Nantes, (Paris, 1896)

RADNER, Joan Nelson, ed. and trans., Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, (Dublin 1978)

SALMON, André, ed. and trans., Recueil de Chroniques de Touraine. (Supplément aux Chroniques de Touraine), Published by the Société Archéologique de Touraine (Tours, 1854)

SKENE, William F., Chronicles of the Picts and Scots: And Other Memorials of Scottish History (Edinburgh, 1867

STEENSTRUP, Johannes, Normannerne, Vol 1 (Copenhagen, 1876)

STEVENSON, Joseph, trans., Church Historians of England, 8 vols: vol. 3 (part 2: The Historical Works of Simeon of Durham) (London, 1858)

STORM, Gustav, Kritiske Bidrag til Vikingetidens Historie (Oslo, 1878)

THORPE, Benjamin, ed. and trans., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle According to the Several Original Authorities, Vol 2 (London, 1861)

TODD, James Henthorn, ed. and trans., Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh: The War of the Gaedhill with the Gaill; or, The Invasions of Ireland by Danes and Other Norsemen, Reum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores 48 (London, 1867)

VOGEL, Walther, Die Normannen und das Frankische Reich bis zur Grundung der Normandie (799-911) (Heidelberg, 1906)

WAINWRIGHT, F. T., Scandinavian England: Collected Papers (Chichester, 1975)

WHITELOCK, Dorothy, ed., English Historical Documents, Vol 1, Ad 500-1042 (London, 1955)

WOOLF, Alex, From Pictland to Alba 789-1070 (Edinburgh, 2007)

NOTES:

[1] In this article I will use the Norse spelling of personal names except when quoting from an annal or other source when I will use the spellings given there.

[2] He was only called ‘the Boneless’ in much later Icelandic Sagas. In this article I will generally refer to him as Ívarr I.

[3]  See Downham, Viking Kings for the full story of this dynasty..

[4]  See Downham, The Historical Importance of Viking-Age Waterford.

[5] In Norse names such as Rögnvaldr the final r is dropped in cases other than the nominative, hence the genitive Rögnvald’s.

[6] The Battle of Corbridge. I assume with most modern historians that there was only one battle which took place in 918.

[7] Vogel, Die Normannen, p. 384.

[8] Wainwright, Scandinavian England, p. 226

[9] Forester, The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester, p. 90. John gives the date as 915 but all the other evidence points to 914.

[10] Thorpe, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC),  ‘In this year there came a great naval force over hither from the south, from the Lidwiccas.’

[11] The Welsh, as opposed to the British of Cornwall.

[12] Probably a British bishop of Llandaff called Cyfeiliog.

[13] Archenfield, historically a British area centred on the River Wye, now mostly in Herefordshire.

[14] Here Haorld is wrongly spelt Hroald. The Norse name was probably Haraldr

[15] In Somerset.

[16] The island of Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel.

[17] Dyfed in South Wales.

[18] The ‘A’ text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives a date of 918 which is clearly wrong. The other texts give dates of 914 or 915.

[19] The son of Alfred the Great.

[20] De La Borderie, Histoire de Bretagne p. 349

[21] Ibid. p. 349

[22] Merlet, Chronique de Nantes, p. 80 : ‘Postea vero ordinates est Adalardus, cujus temporibus coepit ebullire rables Normannourum’.

[23] ‘Eodem anno destr(uctu est) monasterium sci (winga) loci a Normannis.’ Referenced in Vogel, Die Normannen.

[24] Iarnkné probably means ‘Iron-Knee’ in Norse.

[25] For example Joan Radnor, Fragmentary Annals.

[26] See Lewis, The first Scandinavian settlers of England – the Frisian Connection

[27] Downham, Viking Kings, p 31. Sigfrøðr was a son of Ívarr I.

[28] The Chronicum Scotorum gives his name as Iercne and the year as 852. The Annals of Ulster call him Eircne and give the date as 851. See Hennessy, Chronicum Scotorum; Mac Airt, Annals of Ulster.

[29] Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 914.

[30] Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 902

[31] Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 914.

[32] When they had arrived in 892 they came with 250 ships and perhaps 12,000 men. Most decided to remain in East Anglia or Northumbria and settle down to farm. Those who returned to France were said to number only 100 men, led by  Huncdeus. See Vogel, Die Normannen, p. 371 for a full discussion.

[33] Note that John of Worcester and some versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle date Óttar’s coming to 915, although all the evidence suggests it was 914.

[34] See Lewis, The first Scandinavian settlers in North West England. Also see Livingston, The Battle of Brunanbugh.

[35] Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 904.

[36] ‘Hold’ is short for Holdr, a Scandinavian term introduced into England by the Danes and meaning something like ‘freeholder’.

[37] Hálfdan and Eowils were probably joint kings of Danish York. The Mercian Æthelweard names a third Danish king called Inguuar as being killed at Tettenhall, see Campbell, Chronicon. John of Worcester says that kings Hálfdan and Eowils were the brothers of King Hinguar, Forester, The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester. Inguuar/Hinguuar is probably Ívarr showing, if these reports hold any truth, the typical naming patterns within the family of Ívarr 1.

[38] The battle took place somewhere near Tettenhall and Wednesfield, near present day Wolverhampton.

[39] I will return to this idea at a later date.

[40] Downham, Viking Kings, p. 28.

[41] The Mercians refortified and garrisoned Chester in 907, but there was certainly some delay before Ingimundr and his Norse allies tried to take the city.

[42] Although there is a strong case to be made for a later date – perhaps even after the Battle of Brunanburh in 937.

[43] See for example Graham-Campbell, Viking Treasure.

[44] Foirtriu was the land of the Gaelic Picts.

[45] Radner, Fragmentary Annals.

[46] See discussion in Howorth, Ragnall Ivarson.

[47] Howorth, Ragnall Ivarson; Wainwright, Scandinavian England, pp. 174-176.

[48] Although I tend to the view that this interpolated story probably does refer to Corbridge and not Tettenhall.

[49] Downham, Viking Kings, pp. 26-27.

[50] Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 914.

[51] See Downham, The Historical Importance of Viking Age Waterford.

[52] Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 914.

[53] See Gustav Storm, Kritiske Bidrag til Vikingetidens Historie, p. 136; Vogel, Die Normannen, p. 391.

[54] Munster.

[55] Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 915.

[56] Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 916.

[57] Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 917

[58] In Leinster. For the location of Cenn Fuait see Downham, Viking Kings, p. 31.

[59] Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 917.

[60] Todd, Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gael, p. 41.

[61] Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 917

[62] Todd, Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gael, p. cc.

[63] This is not stated anywhere in the sources but is likely as we know of the death of three of Ívarr the Boneless’s sons in Ireland prior to the expulsion.

[64] John of Worcester says that Sigtryggr died in 927 ‘at an immature age’. If we take this literally it implies that he was a relatively young man or possibly unmarried.

[65] Another question is who was (were) the father(s) of Rögnvaldr and Sigtryggr, and indeed of the younger Ívarr and the other grandsons of Ívarr: Óláfr and Guðdrøðr. Each could have been a  son of any of the three known sons of Ívarr ‘the Boneless’, or perhaps, as has been suggested, Rögnvaldr and Sigtryggr were the sons of one of Ívarr’s daughters. We simply don’t know. See Downham, Viking Kings, pp. 28-29.

[66] See the chapters on Armounderness in Wainwright, Scandinavian England.

[67] Woolf, From Pictland, p. 131.

[68] Radner, Fragmentary Annals, p. 169.

[69] For example see Woolf, From Pictland, p. 133.

[70] Woolf, From Pictland, p. 132; Johnson-South, Historia de Sancto Cuthberto,  paragraphs 21 and 22

[71] Alex Woolf suggests in From Pictland (pp. 143-144) that Cutheard died in 918 not 915. But even if this is so we know from the Historia that Alfred had been settled on his new lands in eastern Northumbria for some time before Rögnvald’s army arrived there in 918. Tilred succeeded as bishop after Cutheard’s death.

[72] Ferguson,  The  Northmen in  Cumberland and  Westmorland, p. 11, suggests that in Cumberland the main Norse settlements only really started after 945.  See also Wainwright, Scandinavian England, pp. 218-220. I will return to this question in a future article.

[73] Vogel, Die Normannen, p. 386.

[74] See as a start Wainwright, Scandinavian England and Ekwall, Scandinavians and Celts in the North-west of England and Place-names of Lancashire.

[75] Krakabeinn, which is usually taken to mean Crowfoot but as an epithet Bone Breaker would do just as well.

[76] Mac Airr and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 918.

[77] See Johnson-South, ed., Historia de Sancto Cuthberto.

[78] See Skene, The Chronicle of the Kings of Alba

[79] Woolf, From Pictland, p.144.

[80] For the view that there were see F. W. Wainwright The Battles at Corbridge in Scandinavian England.

[81] Stevenson, The Church Historians, 111, pt 2, p.68; Arnold, Historia Regum Anglorum, Part 1 (Symeonis Monarchi Opera),  2, 93.

[82] We should add here that under the year 912 the Historia Regum tells of a King Ivarr and jarl Ottar plundering ‘Dunbline’. Most historians suggest the year referred to in 918. This could be Dunblane in Perthshire or Dublin in Ireland. I tend to agree with Downham that this entry most probably suggests that the ‘army of Waterford assisted in the capture of Dublin in 917 and overwintered there before proceeding to England’. See Downham, Viking Kings, p.143.

[83] Downham, Viking Kings, p. 92.

[84] This reminds me of the on-going debate regarding the location of the important Battle of Brunanburh in 937. See for example the discussions in The Battle of Brunanburh – A Casebook, ed. Livingston.

[85] Clarkson, The Men of the North; Woolf, From Pictland, pp. 152-57

[86] Woolf, From Pictland, p. 146.

[87] Arnold, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

[88] Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, Annals of Ulster, s.a. 921.

[89] Howorth, Ragnall Ivarson,

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

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

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

King Edmund

King Edmund

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

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

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

Dunmail Stones

Dunmail Stones

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dunmail Raise

Dunmail Raise

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

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

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

KING DUNMAIL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grisedale Tarn

Grisedale Tarn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1937 Arthur Mee wrote in The Lake Counties:

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

More recently another writer put it thus:

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

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

The Kingdom of Cumbria -  Strathclyde

The Kingdom of Cumbria – Strathclyde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cumbrian Flag

Cumbrian Flag

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

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

The early history and dating of the first lords of the barony of Greystoke in Cumberland is of interest not only in itself but also because it can help shed light on the governance of Cumbria both prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066 and in the years and decades which followed. This is the subject of this article. It is a very partial story of how a Norse-descended Cumbrian lord was able to survive and even thrive under the Norman yoke. As you will see the investigation leads us down several unexpected avenues.

Greystoke Castle

Greystoke Castle

The first Norman-recognized lord of Greystoke was Forne son of Sigulf. Forne’s own son Ivo started to build Greystoke castle in about 1129 at the time of his father’s death. What I’d like to explore is Forne’s likely date of birth, something of his career and his two known children: Ivo and Edith. Ultimately the question is whether Forne was one of King Henry 1’s ‘new men’, whether he was one of the men that the Anglo-Norman monk and chronicler Orderic Vitalis referred to as being ‘raised from the dust’, or as I and many other historians believe to be the case, maybe he was rather already a significant lord or even magnate before Henry made use of his services? Also was his father Sigulf also a power in the north of England, perhaps even in pre-Conquest days? Many of the contentious issues regarding these questions, while perhaps not being capable of being completely resolved, can at least be illuminated by a close attention to possible dates. Some historians of the North have paid little attention to mundane questions such as the likely births, deaths and ages of the people involved; things that are the stuff of genealogists and family historians.

Let’s start this exploration with Forne’s two known children.

William Rufus

William Rufus

As far as we know Ivo was Forne’s first son. After Forne’s death in about 1129/30, Ivo was reconfirmed by Henry 1 in his father’s northern estates – most importantly the barony of Greystoke in present-day Cumberland. The charter confirming this still exists. Although it is not an original thought, I have suggested elsewhere that Forne named his son Ivo after the first Norman ‘strongman’ sent by King William 11 (or as he is often called William Rufus) to try to subjugate Cumbria. His name was Ivo Taillebois. Ivo Taillebois was a Norman from lower Normandy and he probably arrived in Cumbria with or shortly after William Rufus’s captured Carlisle in 1092. This was the first time the Normans ‘arrived’ in Cumbria, although for quite a long time thereafter they were holed up in their new castles, from where they periodically sallied forth to pillage and rape. It seems that Norman Ivo didn’t last long; he died in either 1093 or 1094. If Forne, whose family all bore Norse names, gave his son the decidedly French name of Ivo, then this, I hazard to suggest, was quite possibly to ingratiate himself with Ivo Taillebois. And if so that would only have made sense if Ivo son of Forne was born while Ivo Taillebois were still alive in Cumbria, i.e. between 1092 and 1094. It could no doubt have been slightly later, ‘in remembrance’ of Ivo Taillebois, but I find this unconvincing. Such a date of birth is of course just conjecture, but I will suggest later that in terms of Forne’s likely age and Ivo’s death it makes sense.

But we can pin things down even more if we consider Forne’s daughter Edith Forne Sigulfson, who became King Henry 1’s mistress. It is well established that Edith bore King Henry one son, called both Robert fitz Edith (son of Edith) and Robert fitz Roy (son of the king). There was probably also a daughter called Adeliza. When was Edith Henry’s mistress? I think the evidence indicates that it was in the early 1120s. As Ann Williams writes in her excellent essay Henry 1 and the English:

Henry was clearly playing away, though the aggrieved party was not Queen Matilda (Henry 1’s first wife) but her successor Adeliza of Louvain.

Why is this dating of Henry and Edith Forne’s liaison likely? In about 1142 the Norman Robert of Torigny wrote that their son Robert was still young and unmarried. In fact the first mention of this Robert was in the Pipe Roll for 1130/31, ‘when his lands, which lay in Devonshire, were being administered by guardians (‘vigiles’)’. So Robert was clearly still a minor in 1130/31.

Robert fitz Edith (Robert fitz Roy) later supported his half-sister, the ‘Empress Maud’, against King Stephen at the siege of Winchester in 1141. Therefore, as Ann Williams rightly suggests, it’s probable that Robert was born in 1122/23.

Osney AbbeyRobert would also attest various charters in the period between 1141 and 1147, in which he was referred to as ‘Robertus filius Regis’ i.e. Robert the king’s son. When the empress Maud confirmed the  grant made to Osney Priory (later an Abbey) in Oxford, first made in 1129 by Edith Forne’s later husband Robert d’Oilley but at her instigation, the empress calls Robert ‘Robertus filius regis frater meum’, i.e. ‘Robert the son of the king, my brother’. Not only that but Edith also got her son Robert to make a grant to her beloved Osney, in which he is referred to as ‘Robertus Henrici regis filius’, and this grant was made with the consent of his half-brother ‘Henrici de Oleio fratris mei’, that is ‘Henry d’Oilley my brother’, the son of Edith by her later husband Robert d’Oilley. Robert fitz Edith (fitz Roy) was to marry the widowed Norman heiress Maud of Avranches, probably in the late 1160s, but possibly in the 1140s.Their only daughter Maud FitzRoy died in 1224, which might argue for a somewhat later marriage date for her parents. Robert fitz Roy himself in 1172, possibly aged around 50.

If all this dating evidence is in any way correct, and I believe it is, then it is possible, likely even, that Edith first met King Henry during his one and only visit to York and Carlisle in 1122. If Edith had been a relatively young woman at the time, perhaps only in her early twenties, then she could have been born either in the later 1090s or the very first years of the 1100s. If so when Edith died around 1157 she would have been roughly sixty.

All that's left of Wetheral Priory

All that’s left of Wetheral Priory

Let’s take stock. The evidence seems to indicate that Forne was having children in the 1090s. This narrows down his possible birth a bit. In the 1090s Forne could perhaps have been been in his twenties, thirties or maybe even in his forties. But to narrow this down even more let’s look at what else we know about him.

All historians of the north of England in the period agree that Forne was one of King Henry’s trusted officers in the region in the 1120s. He witnessed many important charters during this time. His co-signatories being the few other members of Henry’s locally important men, including Robert de Brus and King David of Scotland. Also, between about 1106 and at the very latest 1112, Forne was a witness to the foundation charter of Wetheral Priory in Cumbria. In addition, at some point between 1115 and 1122, King Henry confirms that he has given ‘Forne son of Sigulf’ land in Thornton-le- Moor in Yorkshire:

H(enricus) rex Anglorum Turstino archiepiscopo et Nigello de Albini et Ansch(etillo) de Bulmer et baronibus de Euerwicsira salutem. Sciatis me dedisse Fornoni filio Sigulfi terrain de Torentona que est de feodo Robert! Malet, unde Alueredus filius Ilvingi reddit xx.s. per annum pro omnibus illis consuetudinibus quibus tenet aliam terram suam; et Walterus Espec eum inde seisiri faciat. Testibus: cancellario Ranulfo et Pagano filio Johannis, apud Windesor.

Dr. Hugh Doherty of Oxford University has also rediscovered the confirmation of Forne in his lands made by Henry 1.

All this establishes without too much doubt that Forne was already a significant force in the North before King Henry visited Carlisle in 1122. This is strongly confirmed by the fact that Forne appeared ‘at the gathering in 1121 of the ‘chief men’ (principales vires) who heard the claim of the community of St. Cuthbert to Tynemouth Priory’. ‘Forne is listed alongside Robert de Brus, Alan de Percy, and Walter Espec (who precede him) and Robert de ‘Witeleven’ and Odard sheriff of the Northumbrians (‘vicecomes Northymbrensium’), who follow him, with the unnamed maiores of the shire and many others.’

Forne may also have been a witness to the charter for Scone Abbey in 1120, although the authenticity of this attribution is still somewhat contentious.

What all this makes abundantly clear is that Forne, the ‘first’ lord of Greystoke, who had children in the 1090s, was already a major player in Cumbria and in the north in general by at least the early 1100s.

Nunburnholme Church

Nunburnholme Church

Yet we can go further back to the Domesday survey of 1086 ordered by William the Conqueror. Here we find a Forne in possession of some pretty decent lands in Yorkshire. Remember the vast bulk of Cumbria and all of Northumberland were not included in the Domesday survey because they were yet to come under Norman control and thus we don’t know if he possessed lands there as well. In Domesday Forne is mentioned as one of the ‘taini regis’ of the East Riding of Yorkshire holding a manor at Nunburnholme. The critical relevance of Nunburnholme is that this estate was in later years always an integral part of the barony of Greystoke! Forne also held other lands in Yorkshire in 1086, in Millington and Biebly for instance, which were also later parts of the barony of Greystoke. This is all, I suggest, no coincidence. All historians who have seriously looked at the question agree: the 1086 Yorkshire Forne and Forne Sigulfson were one and the same.

Putting all the evidence together it would appear that Forne, the ‘first’ Norman lord of Greystoke, was probably a youngish man in 1086, had children in the 1090s and was later a powerful northern officer of King Henry until his death in about 1129/30. So we might tentatively conjecture that he was born in or around the period 1060 to 1065, just before the Conquest. This would mean that at the time of his death he was about 65 to 70. This seems reasonable.

Taking their lead from William Farrer in his Early Yorkshire Charters of 1915, several historians have suggested that Forne was one of King Henry’s ‘new men’; that he was ‘raised from the dust’. Farrer himself put it thus:

Of Sigulf, the father of Forne, nothing whatever is known. Possibly he was the son of an unnamed sochman of the East Riding contemporary with the Domesday Survey. Forne, his son, comes into prominence during the second decade of Henry I’s reign as a trusted minister of the crown in Yorkshire.

Note the supposed simple ‘sochman’ Farrer conjured up was not Sigulf but his father (if we take ‘he’ to refer to Sigulf and not Forne). In his wonderful 1979 book The Norman Conquest of the North, William E. Kapelle contends that Forne was ‘in reality, a Northumbrian new man’.

I believe all the available evidence suggests that this was not the case.

Certainly Henry wanted to put his own men in charge in the North, but this doesn’t mean that they all came from nowhere, that they were very simple and relatively unimportant men. They were in fact mostly already ‘noble’ Normans or Anglo-Saxons, perhaps not great magnates but significant people nonetheless. I can’t help but agree with Ann Williams:

It is likely… that Forne was rather more than a sokeman’s son or even a minor thegn. He seems in fact to have been one of the local magnates of Cumbria, ‘where title to their land’ (as Professor Barlow has observed) ‘went back well before the Norman annexation’.

King Henry 1

King Henry 1

Remember the Norman annexation referred to was of Carlisle in 1092 by William Rufus.

There are two other indications that this was the case. First, Forne’s daughter Edith became King Henry’s mistress and the mother of maybe two of his children. I’ve suggested this liaison followed Henry’s visit to Carlisle in 1122. To me it goes against the grain of all the available historical evidence that a king such as Henry would form an enduring sexual liaison with a simple sokeman’s daughter; a woman whom he later married off to an important man and also gave  to her a significant estate in her own name. Henry himself had more mistresses and concubines than perhaps any other king of England. But all of Henry’s numerous other known mistresses were members of quite powerful families; they were not peasants or anything approaching it. Some historians, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, have suggested that Forne’s rise to power was due to his daughter’s relationship with Henry.  It no doubt helped, but as Henry 1’s greatest biographer Charles Hollister put it:

The mother of a recognized bastard (and Edith’s son… was recognized) would usually have been a woman of at least minimal social status.

Cutting though the academic caution and understatement, I think we can get the point. Forne was in all probability already a northern magnate when Henry came to Carlisle in 1122. It’s quite possible, though we can’t prove it, that Henry and Edith first met in that year in either Carlisle or York. It was his only visit to the North if we exclude his reputed Yorkshire birth.

As Ann Williams says:

Since he (Forne) is addressed in a royal writ of 1121, he must already have held some office in Yorkshire and Northumbria and would therefore have been present to greet the king on his arrival in the north.

This brings us to the hoary question of the status and the dates of Forne’s father Sigulf. That his father was called Sigulf is certain. All historians agree. In the foundation charter of Wetheral Priory, perhaps dating from as early as 1106 but definitely not later than1112, he is called Forne son of Sigulf, as indeed he is elsewhere.

The Kingdom Of Cumbria -  Strathclyde

The Kingdom Of Cumbria – Strathclyde

As I discussed in my article The Normans come to Cumbria, Sigulf is mentioned in ‘earl’ Gospatric’s famous writ, written in English, which granted, or more likely reconfirmed, Thorfinn Mac Thore in his estates in Allerdale, in northern Cumbria. Let me reproduce this writ or letter again in full:

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

The Sigulf mentioned here is now generally accepted as being Forne Sigulfson’s father. It also seems clear from the wording that Sigulf was already dead at the time Gospatric wrote this writ. This touches on many hotly debated issues regarding the dating of the writ itself and on Gospatric’s own life and status at the time.

As the writ was written in ‘old’ English, in Anglo-Saxon, it has been suggested that it dates from the 1050s or even the 1040s. I will return to the evidence for such a dating at another time. Others have dated the writ later. Ann Williams writes: ‘Charles Phythian Adams has recently suggested that his (Forne’s) father was the Sigulf (the name, incidentally, is not common) named as a tenant of land in Cumbria in a writ issued by Gospatric of Allerdale, which Phythian-Adams further argues should be dated 1067-69.’ In fact Forne’s parentage was mentioned by numerous historians years ago. Regarding the dating of Gospatric’s  writ, the Rev. James Wilson wrote in 1904:

The date of this charter may be assigned to some period before the conquest of 1092, but perhaps after 1067 when Gospatric purchased the earldom of Northumberland from William the Conqueror, or more probably after 1072, when King Malcolm of Scotland gave him Dunbar and the adjacent lands in Lothian.

If Forne Sigulfson was born as I am suggesting around 1060 to 1065, then the earlier datings of Gospatric’s writ seem suspect. Sigulf must have been alive at the time of his son Forne’s birth or at the very least nine months before?

There is much more to be explored and said about Gospatric, (who was certainly a former earl of Northumbria and, given his name, probably of Cumbric descent), and his unique writ. I will return to this matter another time.

But let’s return to the subject of this article: Forne Sigulfson. As we have seen, he was already a Yorkshire land holder in 1086. His holding in Nunburnholme, for example, was held in ‘King Edward’s (the Confessor’s) time’ by Morcar. This is without any doubt the Northumbrian earl Morcar. As this is so then who held Morcar’s ‘manor’ of Nunburnhome between 1066 and 1086 when Forne surely held it? We don’t know. Although Earl Morcar didn’t die until 1087, after his participation in the rebellion against William the Conqueror initiated by the Abbot of Ely in 1071, he had been captured and imprisoned by the Conqueror. Morcar had already ‘forfeited’ (had been robbed of) his lands, including those in Yorkshire and Northumbria. It seems that by 1067 earl Morcar’s earldom had already been granted to Copsi. But Copsi himself was soon killed by Osulf, and he in turn was also soon killed. The earldom of Northumbria passed in 1068 to none other than our Gospatric. Sigulf was undoubtedly Gospatric’s ‘man’, and Sigulf’s son Forne held Nunburnholme in 1086. Gospatric was finally (for a second time) stripped of the earldom of Northumbria in 1072. Perhaps it was in 1072, or even back in 1068, that Nunburnholme was granted to (or maybe even already held by) Forne’s father Sigulf? Sigulf was most likely Gospatric’s man when he was earl of Northumbria. This is all conjecture and I really shouldn’t go further down this hazy route.

Simeon of Durham

Simeon of Durham

This thought does however lead to another one. The almost contemporary chronicler Simeon of Durham mentioned a local magnate called Forne filius Ligulfi in his Historia Regnum. The suggestion has on occasion been made that Simeon’s Forne son of Ligulf was the one and the same as Forne Sigulfson, and that this Ligulf was the one who was will killed in a very important clash in Durham in 1080 which sparked a northern rebellion against the Conqueror. While discussing Edith Forne, medieval historian Horace Round once speculated, ‘if the bearer of so uncommon a name was identical with the Forne Ligulfson (“Forne filius Ligulfi”), who is mentioned by Simeon of Durham, in 1121, as one of the magnates of Northumbria, and if so, whether the latter was son of the wealthy but ill-fated Ligulf, murdered near Durham in 1080. Should both these queries be answered in the affirmative, Edith (Forne) would have been named after her grandmother “Ealdgyth,” the highly born wife of Ligulf.’

Personally I don’t, yet, find this identification convincing, although I acknowledge that it could be the case. We shouldn’t put too much store on the spellings of Ligulf and Sigulf. The letters S and L have often been conflated or confused. In later times in Cumbria even Forne’s father Sigulf was quite often written as Ligulf. But Ligulf, unlike Sigulf, was a pretty common name in the North at the time. There are many examples. I’ll have to put this question aside for the time being. As I have said, at present I can’t support the identification of the ‘Cumbrian’ Sigulf and the Northumbrian Ligulf who was killed at Durham in 1080, but I admit the dates and some other facts look tempting.

So what is the conclusion regarding Forne the first lord of Greystoke?

Ivo fitz Forne (to use the new Norman naming pattern) was the man who first started to build Greystoke castle in about 1129, around the time his father died. In fact at first this was more of a simple defensive ‘peel’ tower than the classic Norman castle it would later become. Forne his father was already a magnate in the north of England in 1086 before becoming one of Henry 1’s key northern officers. And Forne’s father Sigulf was, at the very least, a powerful Cumbrian land holder in the days before the Norman Conquest. Whether he was also a magnate in Yorkshire and Northumbria is open to question.

When the Normans invaded and conquered England the vast majority of the English, whether magnates, thegns or simple people, lost their land and were reduced to de facto feudal serfdom. Some however, particularly in the north, were able to make an accommodation with the hated French conquerors and even prosper. Forne’s Norse family was one of these. As Ann Williams puts it:

It was by securing the cooperation of such native lords in Cumbria that the Norman kings fixed their authority in the region.

The Norman Conquest was a disaster for the English people

The Norman Conquest was a disaster for the English people

This we can understand. Local rulers have always tried to hold onto their power and privilege when new rulers arrive. Only when they can’t do so do they resist and usually perish. The historical examples are legend. But for the people of the north of England, as for England in general – be they of Cumbric (northern British), Scandinavian, or Anglo-Saxon stock – the advent of the Normans was a disaster. The English people suffered under their yoke for centuries. It doesn’t much matter that the Normans themselves were the descendants of northern Vikings, Normans means North Men, or even that Normandy itself was settled almost two centuries earlier by Vikings from the east of England and by the Norse-Irish from both Ireland and Cumbria. What matters is that present-day England and the English people were brutally and unequivocally reduced to servile status by a French invader and conqueror. Some see this as a good thing for England’s future development, and we all have to interpret history, I however do not. The question is: ‘Whose side are you on?’ I’ll state the point quite clearly: I’m on the side of the majority, the vast bulk of English people who have been repressed and exploited ever since 1066.

I don’t want to engage in counter-factual history, although it is, I admit, nice to dream of what might have happened if King Harold had defeated William the Bastard at Hastings or the kings of Denmark had managed to dislodge the Conqueror. But sticking to real history, what did the Norman invasion mean for the people of England? First, it meant brutal repression and reduction to servile status. There was even genocide in the North. Second, it meant being a source of taxes for the French-speaking ‘English’ Plantagenet and Angevin kings. Third, England was a pool of soldiers, who later became ‘cannon fodder’, for these French kings’ of England; for their rampages in France against their French cousins, or in the Holy Land. And then, later on, English people were dragged all over the world to fight in meaningless wars, to conquer untold countries, which became the British Empire; to die in a parts of the world that were ‘forever England’. England, and Britain, might have become a world power, but what did it ever mean for the majority of the English or British people? Answer this yourself.

Sources and references:

William E. Kapelle, The Norman Conquest of the North, 1979; Ann Williams, Henry 1 and the English, 2007; James Wilson, An English Letter of Gospatric, SHR, 1904; William Farrer, Early Yorkshire Charters, Vol 2, The Fee of Greystoke, 1915; John Crawford Hodgson , The House of Gospatric, in A History of Northumberland, Vol 7, 1901; James Wilson, A History of Cumberland, in William Page (ed) The Victoria County Histories; W G Collingswood, Lake District History, 1925; Edmund Spencer, The Antiquities and Families in Cumberland, 1675; John Denton, An Accompt of the most considerable Estates and Familes in the County of Cumberland (ed R S Ferguson, 1887); Sir Archibald C. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters Prior to AD 1153, 1905; Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest, 2012; Roy Millward and Adrian Robinson, The Lake District, 1970; Richard Sharpe, Norman Rule in Cumbria 1092 – 1136, 2005.