Posts Tagged ‘Vikings’

Court-centered history is not an adequate medium for recovering the past, even in England – William Kapelle[1]

So foreigners grew wealthy with the spoils of England, whilst her own sons were either shamefully slain or driven as exiles to wander hopelessly through foreign kingdom – Orderic Vitalis [2]

In King William’s twenty-first year (1087) there was scarcely a noble of English descent in England, but all had been reduced to servitude and lamentation – Henry of Huntingdon [3]

If the succession runs in the line of the conqueror the nation runs in the line of being conquered and ought to rescue itself – Thomas Paine ‘The Rights of Man’

After the Normans and other Frenchmen arrived in England in 1066, the chronicler of Evesham Abbey called them ‘ravening wolves’.[4] The near contemporary Shropshire-born Anglo-Norman monk and historian Orderic Vitalis said that they ‘mercilessly slaughtered the native people, like the scourge of God smiting them for their sin’.[5] In 1776 Thomas Paine wrote in ‘Common Sense’ that the invaders were a group of ‘armed banditti’ and that the ‘French bastard’ William was ‘the principal ruffian of some restless gang’. The Norman-French were and did all of these things. In this article I want to examine how and when these French ravening wolves arrived in what is now Lancashire, but was called then the ‘land between Ribble and Mersey’. It wasn’t until some years after the invasion of 1066, but still earlier than their arrival further north in Cumbria, which only happened in 1092.[6] Later I will provide a numeric analysis of south-west Lancashire, both before and after the Conquest, using the data and other evidence in Domesday Book. But to start with I’ll recap a little about the Norman Conquest and say something about Lancashire in the century or so before the French came to the area, and took it.

Hundred_of_West_Derby

West Derby Hundred

You will notice that the title of this essay is ‘The French hostile take-over of Lancashire’ and not ‘The Norman hostile take-over of Lancashire’. At the time of the invasion and for centuries afterwards the new masters of the country always described themselves as French and saw themselves as being almost a separate species to the English, who they despised. Marc Morris tells us that in 1194 Richard the Lion Heart (Coeur de Lion) chastised some of his English troops saying: ‘You English are too timid’. Implying, says Morris, that ‘he himself was neither’.[7]

richard the lionheart

The Frenchman King Richard the Lionheart

In reading popular versions of English history, and even quite regularly more scholarly and learned works too, it is all too easy to forget a very significant fact: The armed Norman banditti who invaded England were French and they spoke French. Of course the Normans were originally North-men (Normands), they were Norse Vikings, but by the time of the conquest, while still retaining the brutal martial qualities of their Viking ancestors, they were thoroughly French and spoke one version of the many regional varieties of French in use at that time: Norman French. As more and more French men and women from other parts of France arrived in England throughout the late Middle Ages, the language spoken by the royal  court, by the barons, by the local knights and in the courts of law slowly evolved and morphed – away from ‘Anglo-Norman’ and towards a more Parisian French. But let’s be quite clear: the conquerors continued to speak French as their primary language for a long time to come.

The English and their language were much despised, as indeed later on would be the Welsh, Irish and Scots as well. At the end of the thirteenth century, Robert of Gloucester could write:

And the Normans could not then speak any speech but their own; and they spoke French as they did at home, and had their children taught the same. So that the high men of this land, that came of their blood, all retain the same speech which they brought from their home. For unless a man know French, people regard him little; but the low men hold to English, and to their own speech still. I ween there be no countries in all the world that do not hold to their own speech, except England only. But undoubtedly it is well to know both; for the more a man knows, the more worth he is.

complete-canterbury-tales-geoffrey-chaucer-john-h-fisherOf course there was a need for some sort of communication between the conquerors and the conquered. The native English needed to know some French if they had to serve and appease their new lords in their manors, work on the lords’ home farms or understand the lawyers and judges in the courts. Slowly but surely Old English or Anglo-Saxon evolved and morphed into Middle English, the language of Chaucer. Although French remained the principal language of the rulers, one by one, and at first very reluctantly, they started to be able to understand and then speak Middle English as well.

In 1362, Edward III became the first king to address Parliament in English and the Statute of Pleading was adopted, which made English the language of the courts, though this statute was still written in French! French was still the mother tongue of Henry IV (1399-1413), but he was the first to take the oath in English. That most ‘English’ of Kings Henry V (1413–1422) was the first to write in English but he still preferred to use French.

It is interesting to note that it was not until the days of Henry VII in the late fifteenth century that an English king married a woman born in England (Elizabeth of York), as well as the fact that Law French was not banished from the common law courts until as late as 1731.

When we read history books or watch television programmes about the exploits of ‘English’ kings such as Henry II, his sons Richard ‘Coeur de Lion’ and King John, or later about Edward I ‘Hammer of the Scots’ or indeed about the countless English barons and knights fighting each other as well as fighting the kings of England and France, it is advisable to remember that these people weren’t yet English in any real sense of the word and didn’t yet see themselves as such. Whether we call them ‘Anglo-Norman’ or something else, and whether or not they were born in England, these were all French aristocratic thugs.

I want to stress this linguistic and cultural point not because I have anything against the French, nor because there were only French thugs. Thugs in fact appear everywhere and their arrival on the historical stage is, rather sadly, one of the defining characteristics of our civilization itself. Rather, knowing what type of people these really were can help clear some of the mist from popular English history as it is too often presented, particularly about the ‘Norman Conquest’.

The Conquest

In the years immediately after the arrival in England of William the Bastard and his band of armed banditti, the part of north-west England that is today called Lancashire was of little concern to the invaders. It was quite literally beyond the edge of their known world. During the first five years of the occupation and colonization of England, William and his followers were fully occupied with dispossessing the English ealdormen and thanes of their land and divvying up the spoils between themselves.[8] They also had their hands full mercilessly putting down various English rebellions against their still shaky rule.[9] Some years later over in the Norman monastery of Saint-Evroult  Orderic Vitalis wrote:

The English were groaning under the Norman yoke, and suffering oppressions from the proud lords who ignored the king’s injunctions. The petty lords who were guarding the castles oppressed all the native inhabitants of high and low degree, and heaped shameful burdens on them. For Bishop Odo and William fitz Osbern, the king’s vice-regents, were so swollen with pride that they would not deign to hear the reasonable pleas of the English or give them impartial judgement. When their men-at-arms were guilty of plunder and rape they protected them by force, and wreaked their wrath all the more violently upon those who complained of the cruel wrongs they suffered.

hastings

The Battle of Hastings

The dispossession of the English was, in the words of historian Robin Fleming in her magisterial and authoritative ‘Kings and Lords in Conquest England’, ‘a terrible slide towards annihilation’.[10] The whole process took many years and happened in a variety of ways. In a minority of cases Frenchmen were granted the estates of individual pre-Conquest English thanes, called antecessors. In many cases the king doled out whole tracts of territory bearing no relationship whatsoever to the holdings of particular pre-Conquest English ealdormen or thegns. In other cases the French just grabbed what they wanted without any authority from the king – they were exercising the rights of the conqueror, even if they were only among the ‘legions…. who were rushing across the channel to join in the scramble for worldly goods and riches’.[11]

Referring to England, Fleming comments:

The fields and copses, the livestock and peasants had all, before the Conquest, been controlled by an extensive aristocracy composed of perhaps four or five thousand thegns. The almost complete transference of all these lands, men and beasts in less than twenty years is astonishing… within twenty years of Hastings the overwhelming majority of land, with its vineyards, beekeepers and swine pastures, had been transferred from one lord to another.[12]

thegn's house

By the time the Domesday survey was taken in 1086, almost all of England was in French hands. The king had ordered the survey more to find out what his vassals actually held than for tax purposes, but it was certainly of use for that too.[13] The English aristocracy and most of the class of thegns had been completely destroyed. Some had died at Hastings in 1066, others during the rebellions in the north,[14] on the Welsh border or in the eastern fenlands,[15] while thousands more eventually despaired and left for Constantinople to join the Byzantine Emperor’s Varangian Guard.[16] Orderic wrote:

And so the English groaned aloud for their lost liberty and plotted ceaselessly to find some way of shaking off a yoke that was so intolerable and unaccustomed. Some sent to Swegn, King of Denmark, and urged him to lay claim to the kingdom of England which his ancestors Swegn and Cnut had won by the sword. Others fled into voluntary exile so they might either find in banishment freedom from the Normans or secure foreign help and come back to fight a war of vengeance. Some of them who were still in the flower of youth travelled into remote lands and bravely offered their arms to Alexius, Emperor of Constantinople, a man of great wisdom and nobility.

morrisIn ‘The Norman Conquest’, which I believe is the most balanced and thorough recent work on the Conquest, Marc Morris summed up the extent of the dispossession:

Of Domesday’s 1,000 tenants-in-chief, a mere thirteen are English… Whereas in 1066 there had been several thousand middling English thegns, by 1086 half of the land in England was held by just 200 Norman barons…  but half of that half – i.e. a quarter of all the land in England – was held by just ten magnates.[17]

There were a few exceptions. Some thegns managed to hold on to bits of their former land for a while; although by now they were invariably mere tenants of new French barons and knights. We find examples all over the country in Domesday Book (DB). But when we catch sad glimpses of these pre-Conquest English landowners, still precariously hanging on as debased tenants, they are the exceptions to the rule. In the years following Domesday most of these survivors also lost what little land they had still clung on to in 1086. When we do find a case where a local pre-Conquest lord or thegn who actually prospered, as for example with the Norse named Forne Sigulfson in Cumbria – we are interested precisely because such things were so rare.[18]

The Norman Conquest had certainly brought about a ‘tenurial revolution’, in that the post-Conquest pattern of land ownership didn’t match that seen pre-Conquest. But much more importantly it had brought about a complete foreign occupation and colonization of the country, whose effects, it can be argued, are still to be felt today.

Tenth-century Lancashire

Our concern here is with Lancashire, which was called at the time ‘the Land between Ribble and Mersey’ – referring to the two rivers of that name.

The boundaries of this interesting and unique region were clearly defined by physical objects, the Mersey on the south, the Ribble on the north, and the Pennine range on the east, a western spur of this range which divides the watershed of the river Aire from the western Calder constituting a natural boundary on the north-east.[19]

The first time we find use of the term between Ribble and Mersey was in 1002 in the will of a powerful Mercian English thegn (or perhaps he was an ealdorman) called Wulfric Spot. Wulfric held extensive estates throughout Mercia. His mother was Lady Wulfrun, who gave her name to Wolverhampton. In Wulfic’s will in 1002 he gave his lands betwux Ribbel & Maerse and on Wirhalum (Wirral) to Aelfhelm and Wulfheah. It has been suggested that Wulfric’s mother Wulfrun was the daughter of Wulfsige the Black, to whom King Edmund granted lands in Mercia in the early 940s.[20] It’s possible that Wulfsige the Black had also been given lands on the Wirral and across the Mersey by King Æthelstan after the pivotal Battle of Brunanburh, on or near the Wirral, in 937, or slightly later by his son King Edmund, who was reconquering the north in the early 940s. Perhaps these land grants north of the Mersey to Wulfric’s ancestor were part of the English kings’ attempts to take firmer control of these former Northumbrian lands now so heavily settled by Irish-Norse? It’s a subject worthy of more investigation.

statue wulfrun

Statue of Wolverhampton’s founder Lady Wulfrun

What type of land and society was the land between Ribble and Mersey in the tenth and eleventh centuries, before the Conquest and the French ravening wolves arrived in Lancashire? Unfortunately the whole history of north-west England during this period is obscure in the extreme. Yet we can say something.

From the seventh century, Lancashire and Cumbria had been under the rule of the Northumbrian English.[21] In the eleventh century the population was still very sparse, but consisted of a considerable remnant of the Celtic British (the ‘Cumbrians’), many Northumbrian English settlers, plus, as Northumbrian power dwindled in the face of viking raids and Scots incursions in the late ninth and early tenth centuries, a heavy settlement of Irish-Norse.[22] In the early tenth century it is also likely that the Strathclyde Britons (called ‘the Cumbrians’ in English sources) started to reassert some of their former power south of the Solway Firth into northern Cumberland.[23]

scandi-lancs

A few Norse place-names in West Derby Hundred, Lancashire

To restrict ourselves to Lancashire, the evidence clearly shows that sometime in the tenth century the whole of the Lancashire coast from the Wirral and the River Mersey in the south all the way up to Morecambe Bay in the north, was very heavily settled by Scandinavians who had originally come from Ireland following their temporary expulsion from Dublin in 902.[24] As the decades progressed, what were at first just a few coastal defensive bases for Viking fleets and warbands became permanent settlements and the Norsemen started to venture further inland – leaving their names in the landscape everywhere. Most, though by no means all, of our evidence for the Scandinavian settlement of north-west England, including Lancashire, comes from place-names, toponyms and other minor and field names. These have been extensively studied by generations of scholars, including Robert Ferguson, J. Worsaae, Eilert Ekwall and Frederick T. Wainwright, to name just four.[25] Wainwright wrote:

Finally it should be remembered that the influence of the Norsemen was not limited to conditions and events in the tenth century. We have seen how the new settlers left their mark on the racial complex, the social structure, the place-names, the personal names, the language, and the art-forms of Lancashire and the north-west. Their influence long outlasted the tenth century. It was a dominant factor in the history of Lancashire throughout the Middle Ages and it persists even today. 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.[26]

This much is beyond any doubt. The timing of the settlement and whether it was peaceful or not are other matters.[27] The Norsemen in north-west England still spoke a Norse language well into the eleventh and even into the twelfth and maybe thirteenth centuries, although as time went on their language merged with the English of their neighbours in specific locals.

Just because a particular clearing in the woods (a ‘thwaite’ in Norse, hence Thornythwaite, Dowthwaite, Crosthwaite etc) was clearly the work of Norsemen it doesn’t mean it was cut in the tenth century. It could have happened even centuries later. Nevertheless, even if a place or field name was coined later (particularly if it still shows correct Norse case endings, as for example in Litherland which preserves the Scandinavian genitive in ar) it still shows that the people of the area were speaking a form of Old Norse at the time.[28]

Putting these questions to one side, in my view the turning of the Scandinavians from raiding to settlement, farming and fishing probably really only got underway after the Battle of Corbridge on the River Tyne in 918 and after 920 when the Northumbrians, Danes, Norse and Welsh had recognized the authority of King Edward the Elder, possibly in Bakewell.[29]

battle_of_brunanburh

The Battle of Brunanburh in 937

The grant of the whole of the northern Lancastrian district of Amounderness to the diocese of York by King Athelstan in 930, which we know he bought at a ‘high price’ (from the ‘pagans’ in one source), might suggest that the Scandinavians had already heavily settled this region by this time.[30] Even so, Edward’s son King Æthelstan still had to reassert his authority or supremacy over the various peoples of the north of Britain at Eamont Bridge in Cumbria in 927 and on the Wirral at the important Battle of Brunanburh in 937.[31]

Northumbrian power had by now completely vanished in the north-west and the Lancashire region was drawn more and more into the orbit and influence of the southern English kings. The possible history of Wulfric Spot’s holdings between the Ribble and Mersey might be one indication of this power shift – as undoubtedly is King Æthelstan’s grant of the whole of Amounderness in northern Lancashire to the diocese of York just mentioned.

Throughout the rest of the tenth century, and into the eleventh century, the racially mixed population of Lancashire settled down to eke out an existence from the soil and the sea, interrupted only rarely by larger events happening elsewhere.

The return of the Danes

King Canute Defies the Waves

King Cnut

The turn of the new millennium brought great new upheavals to England. These were precipitated by the return of the Danes late in the tenth century and, after much early rape and pillage reminiscent of earlier days, the eventual coming to the English throne of Danish king Cnut in 1028. I won’t retell the long and sordid history of this period.[32] Rather I would just like to highlight one upshot of the years leading up to the unexpected coronation of King Edward the Confessor in 1043. Robin Fleming, in ‘Kings and Lords in Conquest England’, has shown, among many other things, that during the later years of King Æthelred (‘the ‘Ill-counselled’ not the ‘Unready’), during the reign of King Cnut and during all the subsequent complicated and bloody fights between their sons and the Godwines, English aristocratic society was decimated to almost the same extent as was to happen again after the Norman Conquest. Vast numbers of English ealdormen and powerful thegns were slain; more were debased to become vassals of Godwine and the two other new Cnut-appointed earls, Leofric and Siward, and later the vassals of their sons and successors. During the reign of King Edward the Confessor the Godwinesons held more land than the king and far more than Leofric’s sons in the Midlands and the Siwardsons in the north.[33]

The original English aristocracy had been decapitated, a thing that without much doubt contributed to William the Bastard’s ability to subdue and colonize England so swiftly and so successfully after winning just one major battle.

Yet below these three powerful families and the king himself, there were still thousands of smaller English thegns occupying and working their lands with their ox-teams, villeins, bordars and slaves.

Pre-Conquest Lancashire

In Lancashire the families of Godwine, Leofric and Siward held no lands at all just before the conquest. In the ‘time of King Edward’ (TRE) i.e. in the years leading up to 1066, Domesday tells us quite a lot about what it lists as the ‘land between Ribble and Mersey’ (Inter Ripam et Mersam). There were six hundreds included in this region: West Derby, Warrington, Newton in Makerfield, Salford, Blackburn and Leyland.  I’ll concentrate of the most south-western of the six hundreds lying between Ribble and Mersey: that is the hundred of West Derby. This is an area stretching up the coast from present-day Liverpool on the Mersey to Penwortham, just south of Preston on the River Ribble, and some way inland too. The caput, or capital manor, of the hundred was situated at West Derby itself. The reason I choose to highlight West Derby is in the first instance because it is both the best documented hundred in Domesday Book as well as being the most heavily populated hundred in Lancashire. In addition, one of my concerns here, as elsewhere, is to explore the history of the Norse settlement of north-west England. It is in West Derby Hundred that the Irish-Norse settled in the greatest numbers.[34]

victoriahistoryo01farruoft_0358

victoriahistoryo01farruoft_0359

Let me draw attention to one peculiarity of the Domesday entries for Lancashire (which are included under Cheshire). In 1899 William Farrer wrote in ‘Notes on the Domesday Survey of the land between Ribble and Mersey’:[35]

One feature to be here noticed is that the six hundreds into which this district was divided were treated as manors, having their respective mansiones or manor-houses at West Derby, Warrington, Newton, Salford, Blackburn, and Leyland… The explanation is to be found in the fact that this district fell into the hands of the Crown by conquest, and was populated by a class of half-free tenants, called thanes and drenghs, whose status was, with few exceptions, little above that of the villeins. Now the collectors of Danegeld did not care to deal with many half-free taxpayers, especially when the taxpayers owed suit and service to some lord of high estate. In this district in Saxon times that lord was the king, and so the geld was charged against his great manor-houses of West Derby, Warrington, Newton, Salford, Blackburn, and Leyland, and the men whose berewicks or sub-manors lay in  their lord’s greater or capital manor had to bring thither their rent, to resort thither for legal redress, and also to bring thither their contribution to the Danegeld, and the lord was held responsible to the collectors for the whole… [36]

Now the dependency of the berewicks and sub-manors between Ribble and Mersey upon six great manors, and the obligations of suit and service to be performed by the tenants at the six capital manor-houses, explains the scantiness and bareness of the details collected by the Domesday commissioners within this district. The king himself being lord of the whole, no more details than those recorded were required.

Actually there was another reason for the scantiness of the information collected. Elsewhere Farrer suggested that the Domesday commissioners had never visited the areas of northern Lancashire and the Pennines, included under Yorkshire. I would strongly concur. When we look at the Domesday entries for between Ribble and Mersey it looks to me that the commissioners had possibly only visited the capital manor of West Derby, it being only a short ride from the Norman earldom of Cheshire. I tend to agree with Andrew Gray, who in ‘The Domesday Record of the Land Between Ribble and Mersey’ wrote:[37]

Judging from the scantiness of the information, it would certainly seem as if the Domesday Commissioners had contented themselves with crossing over from Chester to the king’s manor of Derby, and there had gathered sworn information about that Hundred, and gleaned further pieces of knowledge about the five other Hundreds (especially about the king’s land in them), without troubling themselves to penetrate into a part of the country so wild and desolate, and inhabited by people full of a sturdy independence.

I would like to draw attention to one other feature of the Lancashire Domesday. Unlike in the rest of Cheshire and much of the rest of the country, in the entries for between the Ribble and the Mersey, and most noticeably in West Derby Hundred, more detail is given about the ownership of the various manors before the Conquest than about the situation in 1086. Just by way of example, we might compare the entry for Halsall in Lancashire with Newton in Cheshire. The entry for Halsall reads:

Ketil held Halsall. There are 2 carucates of land. It was worth 8s.[38]

In Cheshire the entry for Newton (in Middlewich Hundred) reads:

Joscelin holds of Earl Hugh Newton. Gruffydd held it and was a free man. There is 1 hide paying geld. There is land for 3 ploughs. In demesne is 1 (plough) and a oxman. A priest with 1 bordar has 1 plough. There is an acre of meadow. TRE it was worth 4s, now 10s.

In West Derby Hundred we know that in 1086 Roger de Poitou had until recently held everything (as he did the rest of Lancashire), and we find the names of some of his French henchmen holding of him. But which lands his French vassals held is nowhere stated – although attempts can be and are made to find out.

Pre-Conquest land and manors in West Derby Hundred

I will try to summarize the situation in the hundred of West Derby in the run up to the Conquest. As we have seen, the region was settled by a mixture of Norse and English. There were no doubt some genetic descendants of the original British still there too, but by this time they would be culturally and linguistically indistinguishable from their Germanic neighbours. The area was, as we will see, very sparsely populated, but following the upheavals and settlements of the tenth century, West Derby was by 1066 a rather peaceful, though poor, backwater.

Anglo-Saxon hoard found in Staffordshire

An ‘Anglo-Saxon’ village

In an ‘Introduction to the Lancashire Domesday’ in the ‘Victoria County History of Lancashire’,[39] and also in the earlier article I referred to before, William Farrer undertook some numerical analysis based on the Domesday entries. Rather than use these I decided to do my own statistical analysis, and thus unless otherwise stated all the numbers I use below are my own. They differ only slightly from Farrer’s but address different questions.

According to my calculations there were 113 ploughlands (carucates) in West Derby Hundred in the time of King Edward. They were spread over 60 manors – if we include the capital manor of West Derby itself, held by the king. On average about two ploughlands per manor. In Lancashire an ‘oxgang’ (1/8th of a ploughland) averaged fifteen statute acres, and thus the pre-Conquest hundred of West Derby comprised 13,560 statute acres of arable land. This equates to 21.18 square miles or 54.64 square kilometres. To put his in perspective this total is only about one half of the present surface area of the city of Liverpool (112 square kilometres). Of course not all the land being cultivated would have made it into Domesday, particularly many smaller or remote plots falling ‘below the radar’. There was, no doubt, some unrecorded upland sheep farming as well. Other economic activity would have included fishing in the Irish Sea and in the rivers and meres of the area. Nevertheless, West Derby Hundred wasn’t very heavily farmed in the times around the Conquest.

Distribution of land ownership

Although the average arable land per manor was around two, the distribution was highly skewed.

The king’s caput manor of West Derby and its six satellite berewicks[40] totalled 24 ploughlands i.e. 21% of the total in the hundred. He had woodland and hawk eyries as well, if he ever wanted to go hunting – although it is doubtful that the king ever visited. There is only one other major local landowner called Uhtraed (Uchtred in DB). Uhtraed held 17 of the 60 manors in the hundred, with 30.25 ploughlands – more than the King’s capital manor and 26% of the total in the hundred. So the King and Uhtraed combined held nearly one half of all the land in West Derby Hundred before the Conquest.

No pre-Conquest names are given for thegns in 28 of the 60 manors in the hundred. For example for Allerton we read: ‘Three thegns held Allerton as 3 manors…’ After the King and Uhtraed only 13 other thegns are named: Beornwulf, Stenulf, Dot, Æthelmund, Wynstan, Almaer, Aski, Wulfbert, Lyfing, Wigbeort, Godgifu, Teos and Ketil.

These 13 named minor thegns held 14 (23%) of the 60 manors (only Stenulf held 2), with 1, 2 or 3 ploughlands each. Dot exceptionally holding 6 in Huyton and Tarbock. They held 30.4 of the total 113 ploughlands in the hundred, or 26%, with an average of 2.33 ploughlands each. These men were still quite minor thegns, but they were at least significant enough to be recalled by the jurors twenty years after the Conquest. Some of them might even have been jurors.

Finally, we come to the 37 unnamed thegns (including 4 radmen). If we assume that they were all separate people (which might not be so unreasonable a suggestion given their geographic distribution), then these 37 unnamed small thegns held 28 manors. As we see in Domesday many single manors were farmed by several thegns. They held 28 ploughlands between them, i.e. on average one ploughland each and 25% of the total farmed arable land in West Derby Hundred.

While it is clear that pre-Conquest landholding in this part of Lancashire was highly concentrated in the hands of King Edward and one powerful local English lord called Uhtraed, we might make a couple of additional observations. Over one half of the land was still farmed by small independent Anglo-Norse farmers; 79% if we include Uhtraed. The King was, of course, an absentee landowner and his important desmesne of West Derby with its six berewicks would also have been farmed by some people who would have amounted to small local thegns in their own right.

As we will see later this situation would change radically after the Conquest.

Geographic spread of the manors

The next thing worthy of comment is that the vast bulk of the manors in West Derby, both before and after the Conquest, were in or extremely close to the modern city of Liverpool. These manors included not only King Edward’s capital manor of West Derby and its six berewicks[41] but also the majority of Uhtraed’s manors too, as well as the holdings of most of the lesser thegns. There were just a few manors lying to the north along the coast towards the Ribble and some slightly inland: in places in and around Ainsdale, Formby, North Meols, Skelmerdale, Halsall, Lathom and Scarisbrick.

saxton1577-2

Norse settlement was particularly dense around North Meols (Southport)

Identity and ethnicity of the pre-Conquest thegns

It has already been notes that if we exclude the king there were 51 thegns in pre-Conquest West Derby Hundred, but only fourteen of these are named: Uhtraed, Dot, Stenulf, Beornwulf, Wynstan, Almaer, Aski, Æthelmund, Wulfbert, Lyfing, Godgifu, Teos, Ketil and Wigbeorht.

They were obviously a mixed bunch with both English and Norse heritage. William Farrer wrote:

The combination in this county of Northumbrian, Mercian, and Danish place names, to which so long ago as 1801 the historian, Dr. Whitaker, called attention, bears witness to the intermixture of languages; of the confusion of customs and tenure, such features as the overlapping of the hide and the carucate, the simultaneous use of such terms as wapentake, shire, and hundred, and the incidence of thegnage, drengage, and cornage tenure side by side, are eloquent.[42]

The greatest landowner was Uhtraed, Uchtred in Domeday Book, whose name is clearly reminiscent of the Northumbrian lords of Bamburgh. In 1887, Andrew Gray in a highly entertaining essay called ‘The Domesday Record of the Land Between Ribble and Mersey’ wrote:

We would gladly identify him, if we could, with one of the Uhtreds of the great House of Eadwulf…. such identification, however, would be mere guesswork.[43]

a-norse-dublin-shipNevertheless, Uhtraed or Uchtred does look like a Northumbrian English name. Other clearly English names, whether Mercian or Northumbrian, are Æthelmund, Almaer, Wulfbert, Wynstan and Godgifu (the only named woman). We also find the Scandinavian names Beornwulf, Stenulf, Aski and Ketil. The ethnicity of the remaining names Dot, Lyfing and Teos is less clear. But we find a Dot holding large estates in Cheshire, so he might have been Mercian English too.

Of course all these people might be called ‘English’ by the time of the Conquest, although the general scholarly consensus is that in the eleventh century the descendants of the Irish-Norse settlers in north-west England still spoke a version of Old Norse, which would, however, have already started to merge with Northumbrian and Mercian English  by this time.[44]  An older man at the time of the Conquest could easily have had a great great grandfather who had been one of the very first Irish-Norse settlers in Lancashire about a century and a half before.

The Normans arrive in Lancashire

In the five years immediately following the Conquest the new Norman-French king and his newly enriched barons didn’t seem to have given much attention to the region that would become Lancashire. During the winter of 1069 – 1070, when William and his men were committing regional genocide in the so-called the Harrying of the North, it’s quite possible, likely even, that some parts of the Lancashire Pennines and the region north of the River Ribble called Amounderness (including Preston) were wasted too. In Domesday, of the 59 vills listed under Preston only 19 were said to been ‘inhabited by a few people.., the rest is waste’. But there is no evidence that the ‘ravening wolves’ ever wasted the land between the Ribble and Mersey, and certainly not West Derby Hundred. It had, as Farrer said, escaped ‘the fire and sword of the Conqueror, laying waste the neighbouring shires’.[45]

I have discussed the Harrying of the North elsewhere.[46] William’s men ‘spread out… over more than a hundred miles of territory, slaying many men and destroying the liars of others’.[47] Suffice it to add here, to use just a few more words of the Anglo-Norman historian Orderic Vitalis:

In his (William’s) anger, he commanded that all crops and herds, chattels and food of every kind should be brought together and burned to ashes with consuming fire so that the whole region north of the Humber might be stripped of all means of sustenance…. As a consequence, so serious a scarcity was felt in England, and so terrible a famine fell upon the humble and defenceless people, that more than 100,000 Christian folk of both sexes, young and old alike, perished of hunger.

The harrying of the north

The Harrying of the North

Following the Harrying of the North and the rebellion of Eadric the Wild in the Welsh borderlands, and the defeat of earl Eadwin, William granted a huge marcher territory and earldom to Hugh d’Avranches, based on Chester – Cheshire. After cowing and dispossessing the local English population and granting most of the county to his men, Earl Hugh spent much of his time slaughtering the Welsh. Orderic wrote: ‘He went about surrounded by an army instead of a household … and ‘wrought great slaughter among the Welsh.’[48]

Majorie Chibnall said in ‘The World of Orderic Vitalis’:[49]

Ruthlessness and insensitivity were qualities necessary for beating down the resolute defence of the princes of North Wales, and Earl Hugh had them in abundance. His huge household had the character of an army, only half held in control. He himself was a great mountain of a man, given over to feasting, hunting, and sexual lust; always in the forefront in battle, and lavish to the point of prodigality.

Slightly further south William granted the earldom of Shrewsbury (Shropshire) to Roger de Montgomerie in about 1071.[50] Like Earl Hugh in Cheshire, Roger quickly divided up the county between his armed knights and household and created powerful border warlords such as Corbet (followed by his sons Roger and Robert), Reinaud de Bailleul-en-Gouffern (who had succeeded Warin ‘the Bald’) and Picot de Sai. As Roger’s biographer John Mason has said, by 1086 ‘of 230 hides held by the earl in the Shropshire border hundreds, 196 were held by these three vassals, whose descendants or representatives were dominant in western Shropshire for some centuries’.[51]

Carte_Normandie_Hiemois

The Norman homeland of Roger de Montgomerie and his son Roger de Poitou

When Roger had first come to England the year after the Battle of Hastings he had left behind his wife Mabel de Bellême (William the Conqueror’s daughter), a woman who, evidently, was ‘violent and aggressive’ and certainly brutally vindictive.[52] He left various sons and daughters behind too, including his eldest son, the ‘notoriously savage’ Robert de Bellême, who would inherit his mothers vast Bellême estates and took the side of William the Conqueror’s oldest son Robert ‘Curthose’ in his revolt against the king in 1077. Second son Hugues (Hugh) de Montgomerie would follow his father as the second earl of Shrewsbury on his father’s death in 1094. But, as we will see, probably sometime in the early 1080s Roger’s third son, also called Roger, who I will refer by his later name of Roger de Poitou (after he married Almodis, daughter of count Aldebert II of La Marche in Poitou, sometime before 1086 ), probably persuaded his father to ask the king to grant him his own territories. King William certainly agreed and gave Roger all the land between the Ribble and Mersey, as well as the wasted lands north of the Ribble called Amounderness, i.e. all of Lancashire, plus vast estates elsewhere in Hampshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Essex, and Suffolk. According to Orderic:

The prudent old earl obtained earldoms for his two remaining sons, Roger and Arnulph, who, after his death, lost them both for their treasonable practices in the reign of King Henry.

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Painting of Roger de Poitou as he might have looked when older back in France

Domesday Book of 1086 is the first time we here about him and Lancashire. It is said that he used to hold it all. But by 1086 Roger had already been stripped of Lancashire and his other holdings. Before I discuss what had possibly happened, let’s ask when Roger had first come to Lancashire? Nothing is certain but let’s start with his likely date of birth. Roger’s father, Roger de Montgomerie, had married Duke William’s daughter Mabel de Bellême in about 1050.[53] They had five surviving sons, Roger de Poitou was the third -a first Roger died young before about 1060-1062. They also had four daughters. John Mason writes:

Orderic’s list of four daughters of Roger and Mabel follows that of their brothers, in an order which is probably that of their birth: Emma (d. 1113), a nun at and later (perhaps as early as c.1074, when she was probably in her early twenties) abbess of her father’s foundation at Alménêches; Matilda (d. 1082×4), who married before 1066 the Conqueror’s half-brother Robert de Mortain; Mabel, who married Hugues de Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais; and Sybil, who married Robert fitz Hamon from south Wales.[54]

Given that at least Emma and Matilda were probably born in the 1050s, this led Mason, among others, to suggest that Roger was born in the mid 1060s. Others, less convincingly, give his date of birth as 1058. The point of this is that if Mason is at all right about Roger’s date of birth then he would have been only about 21 or 22 in 1086, by which time he had been granted all of Lancashire by King William, established his men-at-arms in the manors there, started to build Penwortham castle on the River Ribble and then forfeited his lands for some reason. I can’t help but concurring entirely with John Mason:

The Domesday entries for his (Roger’s) large honour present problems. In five counties (Hampshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Essex, and Suffolk) he is entered as a normal tenant-in-chief; but in four others (the land between the Ribble and the Mersey, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, and Norfolk) his tenure is entered as a thing of the past: thus at the end of his Derbyshire fee is a note that Roger used to hold the lands, but they are now in the hand of the king. This and other entries suggest that Roger’s lands were all ordered to be taken into the king’s hand late in 1086, but that in some cases the order was not known locally in time to be recorded in Domesday, or recorded in full. In view of his age, Roger cannot have held this honour for long; why he should so soon have lost it, at a time when as far as is known he and his father were loyal to the Conqueror, is not stated.[55]

I would particularly stress the view that Roger ‘cannot have held this honour for long’ and that he had probably only recently forfeited his estates when Domesday was taken in 1086. Roger would be regranted these lands in 1088 by William’s son William Rufus, only to lose them finally again in 1102 after he had joined his eldest brother’s rebellion against King Henry. ‘In consequence he was expelled from England, which he visited again only in 1109. The rest of his life was spent in the politics of La Marche.’[56] But these later French family feuds will not concern us here.

So when Roger arrived in Lancashire in the early 1080s with his men-at-arms and household, no doubt given to him by his father, he would have still been a youth. Knowing how the Norman-French tended to move around in heavily armed, armoured and mounted groups – to protect themselves from attacks by the resentful English and to engage in a little rape and pillage[57] – we can perhaps imagine the scene as they arrived in West Derby, previously the caput of King Edward.

n cavalry (1)

Norman knights

Leading his mounted troops and armed household into the manor of West Derby, Roger was probably full of youthful swagger and scorn for these strange Englishmen with their even stranger language. Ensconcing themselves in the best houses that West Derby had to offer, having no doubt summarily ejected whatever English thegns or other English tenants they found there. And, if they were true Norman warriors, after having first feasted, drunk and maybe whored a bit, Roger and his men would have started to set about finding out what spoils they had been given by right of the conquerors.

Roger was probably helped in this by all his more important men-at-arms. As mentioned, in West Derby Hundred most of the farms (or manors as the French now called them) were in and around present Liverpool, with just a few more up the coast to the north, in places such as Ainsdale, Formby, North Meols, Scarisbrick, Halsall and Skelmersdale. It wouldn’t have taken Roger and his men long to survey the hundred and even to travel to the other five more sparsely settled hundreds in the land between the Ribble and Mersey, or even across the Ribble to Amounderness. When they arrived at each farmstead they would have been met by the fearful pre-Conquest English thegns and some of the farm workers, probably including the formerly powerful Uhtraed if he were still alive. In short order Roger would have doled out (or sub-infeudated to use the legal French term) manor after manor to his men-at-arms and other members of his personal household, telling the resident English in no uncertain terms that they were their new masters and that they had better put up or shut up. By this time the English knew that there was no point in resistance. All they could expect from that was death. Either they would have to accept becoming the Frenchmen’s serfs or they would have to flee and find exile abroad.

Although this is just imagination, from all we know of the Norman colonization of England it probably gets pretty near the truth. Chris Lewis of King College put it this way:

We should probably imagine the point of transition on the ground as the hour when the new landowner turned up at a house and declared, ‘This is mine now, the king has given it to me and the shire court has acknowledged it. I’m going to live here now, Bring me my dinner.’Or,perhaps, ‘The king has given me your land. I’ll be living somewhere else, and you can still live here, but you’ll have to pay me rent from today.’ [57b]

Roger of Poitou’s men

Domesday Book tells us this about what Roger’s men got in West Derby:

These men now hold land of this manor (i.e. West Derby Hundred) by gift of Roger de Poitou: Geoffrey 2 hides and a half carucate, Roger 1 ½ hides, William 1 ½ hides, Warin half a hide, Geoffrey 1 hide, Theobald 1 ½ hides, Robert 2 carucates of land, Gilbert 1 carucate of land.

Their woodland (is) 3 ½ leagues long and 1 ½ leagues and 40 perches broad, and there are 3 eyries of hawks. The whole is worth £8 12s. In each hide are 6 carucates of land.

The desmesne of this manor which Roger held is worth £8. There are in desmesne 3 ploughs and six oxmen, and 1 radman and 7 villans.

Some of these men were given land in the other five hundreds as well, where there are also a few other Frenchmen named.

norman manor

A Norman manor house

From all the entries in West Derby and the other Lancashire hundreds we can, if we try, get a reasonably good idea of which manors these eight Frenchmen got. We can also try to identify some of them. But these matters would lead us outside the scope of this article. For those interested in these things I would suggest consulting William Farrer’s work and deductions in the ‘Victoria County History of Lancashire’.

But how much land had these eight been given in West Derby? In total they held 48 hides and 3½ carucates. As stated in Domesday Book, one hide in Lancashire was equal to six ploughlands (carucates), so all told these seven men received 51.5 ploughlands, which equates to 57% of the 89 ploughlands (excluding the caput of West Derby held pre-Conquest by King Edward, then by Roger de Poitou and by 1086 by King William) listed for before the Conquest. All the rest of the land in West Derby Hundred had been held by Roger of Poitou and was now held by King William. Very soon most of this royal land would revert to Roger of Poitou and then into the hands of more Frenchmen.

Regarding the other five hundreds in Lancashire south of the Ribble, I won’t here present any statistical analysis, but Domesday says that in all six hundreds in 1086 there were in 188 manors ‘less one’ in which there are 80 hides (480 ploughlands) of arable land. If we subtract the manors and hides in West Derby (60 and 18.8) we get 127 manors and 61.2 hides for the other five hundreds. But I think without a full analysis I won’t look further at these ‘remote’ districts, interesting though they are. But we can say that although in these unattractive areas there were more English left on their barren land than in West Derby, the most attractive land everywhere had already be given to Roger’s followers.

Roger’s first forfeiture

We don’t know how long all this land-grab took, and there was certainly still much more to do by 1086. But given that Roger had for some reason been stripped of his land not long before 1086, and that he had probably arrived in Lancashire only in the first years of the 1080s, it can’t have taken very long. For what reason had Roger’s lands been taken from him prior to 1086?

Earlier historians tended to date Roger forfeiture to 1077 and link it with the first quarrels of William the Conqueror with his son Robert Curthose, but given Roger’s probable age this can’t have been the case. Others have suggested that Roger had made a ‘voluntary surrender or exchange of these estates’.[58] I find this unlikely, but, as John Mason said, why Roger should have lost his rich spoils ‘at a time when as far as is known he and his father were loyal to the Conqueror, is not stated’, and ultimately unknown.

robert

Robert Curthose, rebellious son of William the Conqueror

Lancashire after 1086

It is outside the scope of this essay to look further into the history of the Norman-French take-over and colonization of Lancashire after the Domesday survey. I have restricted our view to events leading up to 1086 and particularly to events in the important hundred of West Derby. Domesday also tells us much about tax and the customary dues of the tenants of the new lords. But this too I will leave to one side for the time being.

Although, evidently, the people of the land between the Ribble and the Mersey hadn’t suffered the slaughter and starvation meted out elsewhere in northern England, they certainly were invaded and colonized, and were set to suffer the ‘oppressions from the proud lords’ and ‘groan under the Norman yoke’  for centuries to come. While I admire the work of William Farrer, I think he erred when he wrote about Lancashire: ‘Very many of the descendants of the Saxon and Danish thanes living at the Conquest possessed their ancestral estates for generations after the Conquest, and if others fell to the position of villeins, they really underwent no great change of status.’[59] In fact there is hardly any evidence at all that the pre-Conquest ‘Saxon and Danish’ thegns ‘possessed their ancestral estates for generations after the Conquest’.

‘Normanist’ historians such as R. Allen Brown could still suggest in recent times say that the Norman take-over of England was not only relatively restrained and civilized but also beneficial to England, as it gave ‘a new lease of life in focusing its attention on Continental Europe’. This I’m afraid is blatant nonsense and flies in the face of all the available evidence, including the evidence presented by Brown himself. But that’s a matter for another time.

The words of the twelfth-century English historian Henry of Huntingdon are certainly applicable to Lancashire:

In King William’s twenty-first year (1087) there was scarcely a noble of English descent in England, but all had been reduced to servitude and lamentation.[60]

ordericPerhaps we should leave the last word with Orderic. Remember this was a man born in Shropshire whose father was a loyal clerical servant of Roger de Montgomery, one of Duke William’s most powerful followers and one of the most powerful men in post-Conquest England. He was also a man who went to Normandy in 1085 to become a monk at the Norman monastery of St. Evroult, and knew many of the Normans involved in the Conquest and their sons.

They (the Normans) arrogantly abused their authority and mercilessly slaughtered the native people, like the scourge of God smiting them for their sin… Noble maidens were exposed to the insults of the low-born soldiers and lamented their dishonouring (i.e. rape) by the scum of the earth… Ignorant parasites, made almost mad with pride, they were astonished that such great power had come to them and imagined that they were a law unto themselves. Oh fools and sinners! Why did they not ponder contritely in their hearts that they had conquered not by their own strength but by the will of almighty God, and had subdued a people that was greater and more wealthy than they were, with a longer history?

It is rather ironic that the descendants of a group of Scandinavian Vikings, a people whose leader Rollo had once reputedly told the French king that they were Norsemen and would bend their knee to no man,[61] who would now (though by now thoroughly drenched in French culture and feudal attitudes) make a whole nation bend their knees to them for centuries to come.

In ‘The Rights of Man’ the great English and American radical Thomas Paine said:

If the succession runs in the line of the conqueror the nation runs in the line of being conquered and ought to rescue itself.

And here’s a nice rhyme:

When all England is alofte

Hale are they that are in Christis Crofte;

And where should Christis Crofte be

But between Ribble and Mersey.[62]

rollo

The Norseman ‘Rollo’, founder of Normandy and direct ancestor of William the Conqueror

BIBLIOGRAPHY

BAINES, Edward, History of the county palatine and duchy of Lancaster (1836)

BLAND. E, Annals of Southport and District: A Chronological History of North Meols from Alfred the Great to Edward VII (Southport, 2003)

CHANDLER, Victoria, ‘The Last of the Montgomerys: Roger the Poitevin and Arnulf’ in Historical Research 62 (147) (1989)

CHIBNALL, Marjorie, The World of Orderic Vitalis (Oxford, 1984)

CHIBNALL, Marjorie, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, 6 vols., (Oxford, 1969—1980)

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

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

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

EKWALL, Eilert, Place-names of Lancashire (Manchester, 1922)

FARRER, William, ‘Introduction to the Lancashire Domesday’ in The Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, vols. 1&3.

FARRER, William, ‘Notes on the Domesday Survey of the land between Ribble and Mersey’ in Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, vol. 16, pp. 1-38 (1899)

FARRER, William, A History of the Parish of North Meols (Liverpool, 1903)

FARRER William & BROWNBILL, J, eds., The Victoria History of the Lancaster, 8 vols., (London, 1906-1914)

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

FLEMING, Robin, Kings and Lords in Conquest England (Cambridge, 1991)

FOOT, Sarah, Æthelstan: the first king of England. (Yale, 2011)

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

FORESTER, Thomas, trans., The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy by Orderic Vitalis (OV), 4 vols., (London, 1853-4)

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

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

GRAY, Andrew E. P., ‘The Domesday Record of the Lands between Ribble amd Mersey’, in The Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol 39, pp. 35-48 (Liverpool, 1887)

GREGSON, Matthew, ‘Domesday Book’ in  Portfolio, Second Edition, with Additions, of Fragments, Relative to the History and Antiquities of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster, pp. 42 – 48 (1824)

GEENWAY, D., ed. and trans., Henry of Huntingdon, The History of the English People 1000 – 1154 (Oxford, 2002)

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

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

HIGHAM, N. J., Edward the Elder, 899–924, (London, 2001)

HIGHAM, Nicholas, ‘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)

HIGHAM, Nicholas, ‘The Northern Counties to AD 1000’ in the Regional History of England Series (1986)

HIGHAM, Nicholas, The Norman Conquest (1998)

HIGHAM, Nicholas, The Kingdom of Northumbria AD 350-1100 (1993)

HOLT, James Clarke, Colonial England, 1066–1215 (London, 1997)

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

KAPELLE, William, The Norman Conquest of the North (London 1979)

KENYON, Denise, The Origins of Lancashire (Manchester, 1991)

LEWIS, C. P. Lewis, ‘The Invention of the Manor in Norman England’ in Anglo-Norman Studies 24, Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2011, ed., David Bates (Woodbridge, 2012)

LEWIS, C. P. Lewis, ‘The king and Eye: a study in Anglo-Norman politics’ in English Historical Review 104 (1989)

LEWIS, C. P. Lewis, ‘The early earls of Norman England’ in Anglo-Norman Studies, 13 (1990)

LEWIS, Stephen M., Exile rather than servitude – the English leave for Constantinople (Bayonne, 2013)

LEWIS, Stephen M., On Writing History (Bayonne, 2013)

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., Forne Sigulfson – the ‘first lord of Greystoke in Cumbria (Bayonne, 2013)

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

MASON, J. F. A., ‘Montgomery, Roger de, first earl of Shrewsbury (d. 1094)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford, 2004)

MASON, J. F. A., ‘Roger de Montgomery and His Sons (1067–1102)’ in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series vol. 13 (1963)

MASON, J. F. A., ‘The officers and clerks of the Norman earls of Shropshire’ in Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society, 56 (1957–60)

MONTGOMERY, T. H., A genealogical history of the family of Montgomery including the Montgomery Pedigree (Philadelphia, 1868)

MORRIS, Marc, The Norman Conquest (London, 2013)

REX, Peter, The English Resistance – The Underground War Against the Normans, (Stroud, 2004)

REX, Peter, 1066 – A New History of the Norman Conquest (Stroud, 2011)

SAWYER, P. H., ‘Wulfric Spot (d. 1002×4)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004)

SCHOFIELD, R., ‘Roger of Poitou’ in Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol, 117, pp. 185 – 98 (Liverpool, 1965)

SHARPE, Richard, Norman Rule in Cumbria 1092-1136 (Kendal, 2006)

STEENSTRUP, Johannes, Normannerne, Vol 1 (Copenhagen, 1876) STENTON, Frank, Anglo Saxon England (Oxford, 1970)

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

THOMPSON, Kathleen (1991). ‘Robert de Bellême Reconsidered’ in Anglo-Norman Studies. Vol. 13, Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1990, edited by Marjorie Chibnall (Woodbridge, 1991)

THOMPSON, Kathleen, ‘Bellême, Robert de, earl of Shrewsbury and count of Ponthieu (bap. c.1057, d. in or after 1130)’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004)

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

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)

WAINWRIGHT, F. T, ‘The Anglian settlement of Lancashire’ in The Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol 19 (1941)

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

WILLIAMS, Ann & MARTIN, G. H., eds., Domesday Book  – A Complete Translation (DB) 2nd edition (London, 2002)

WORSAAE, J. J. A., An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland, and Ireland (London, 1852)

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

NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] Kapelle, The Norman Conquest of the North, p. 231

[2] Orderic Vitalis, quoted in Fleming, Kings and Lords, p. 107

[3]  Greenway, Henry of Huntingdon, p. 31

[4] See Fleming, Kings and Lords, p. 205

[5] All quotes from the works of Orderic Vitalis can be found either in Chibnall, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis , or Forester, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy by Orderic Vitalis

[6] See Lewis, The Normans come to Cumbria and  Kapelle, The Norman Conquest of the North

[7] Morris, The Norman Conquest, p. 352

[8] See Fleming, Kings and Lords for a full analysis of this divvying up.

[9] See Morris, The Norman Conquest and Rex, The English Resistance

[10] Fleming, Kings and Lords,

[11] Morris,  The Norman Conquest, p. 287

[12] Fleming, Kings and Lords, pp. 108-109

[13] See Morris The Norman Conquest for a discussion on the reasons for Domesday survey

[14] See Kapelle The Norman Conquest of the North, Morris, The Norman Conquest

[15] See Rex, The English Resistance, Morris, The Norman Conquest

[16] See Lewis, Exile rather than servitude

[17] Morris, The Norman Conquest, pp.320-321

[18] Lewis, Forne Sigulfson- the ‘first’ lord of Greystoke in Cumbria

[19] Farrer, Introduction to the Lancashire Domesday

[20] Sawyer, Wulfic Spot

[21] See Higham, The Kingdom of Northumbria ; Kapelle, The Norman Conquest of the North; Clarkson, The Men of the North

[22] For example see articles in Wainwright, Scandinavian England

[23] See Clarkson, The Men of the North

[24] Downham, Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland; Woolf, From Pictland to Alba; Livingston, The Battle of Brunaburh,  Wainwright, Scandinavian England

[25] See references to their work in the Bibliography

[26] Wainwright, ‘The Scandinavians in Lancashire’ in Scandinavian England, p. 226

[27] See discussions in Wainwright, ‘The Scandinavians in Lancashire’ in Scandinavian England

[28] Wainwright, ‘The Scandinavians in Lancashire’ in Scandinavian England, p. 184, gives other examples

[29] Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC) in Whitelock, English Historical Documents; Clarkson, The Men of the North; Higham, Edward the Elder; Downham,  Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland

[30] See articles on Amounderness in Wainwright, Scandinavian England and Farrer, The Victoria County History of Lancashire, vol. 3

[31] See Foot, Æthelstan: the first king of England; Livingston, The Battle of Brunanburh: A Casebook

[32] See Morris, The Norman Conquest; Fleming, Kings and Lords; Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England

[33] Fleming, Kings and Lords, pp. 22-103

[34] See Wainwright, ‘The Scandinavians in Lancashire’ in Scandinavian England

[35] Farrer, Notes on the Domesday Survey

[36] Some of this interpretation is debatable.

[37] Gray, The Domesday Record

[38] Throughout I will use Ann Morris’s edition of Domesday Book – A Complete Translation, second edition 2002, including her ‘translated’ spellings of names. Unless otherwise stated any reference to an entry in DB will be to this edition.

[39] Farrer, Introduction to the Lancashire Domesday

[40] Probably Hale, Garston, Liverpool, Everton, Crosby and perhaps Thingwall and Aintree.

[41] These are not stated but likely were:

[42] Farrer, Notes on the Domesday Survey

[43] Gray, The Domesday Record

[44] See discussion and references in Wainwright, Scandinavian England.

[45] Farrer, Notes on the Domesday Survey

[46] See Lewis, The Normans Come to Cumbria.

[47] Morris, The Norman Conquest , p. 229

[48] Quotede in Morris, The Norman Conquest, p. 292

[49] Chibnall, The World of Orderic Vitalis, p. 15

[50] Other dates have been suggested, see C. P. Lewis, the king and Eye for example

[51] Mason, Montgomery, Roger de, first earl of Shrewsbury

[52] Thompson, Bellême

[53] Mason, Montgomery, Roger de, first earl of Shrewsbury

[54] Mason, Montgomery, Roger de, first earl of Shrewsbury

[55] Mason, Montgomery, Roger de, first earl of Shrewsbury

[56] Mason, Montgomery, Roger de, first earl of Shrewsbury

[57] There is ample evidence in Orderic Vitalis and elsewhere that the Normans were wont to rape and pillage

[57b] Lewis, ‘The Invention of the Manor’, p. 147

[58] Farrer, Introduction to the Lancashire Domesday

[59] Farrer, Notes on the Domesday Survey

[60] Greenway, Henry of Huntingdon, p.31

[61] See Vogel, Die Normannen und das Frankische Reich

[62] Harland & Wilkinson, Lancashire Legends, p.184

Advertisements

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,

North Meols is an ancient parish on the coast of south-west Lancashire. Much of it has now been gobbled up by the modern resort town of Southport. Like most of this stretch of coast ‘between the Mersey and the Ribble’, as it was referred to in William the Conqueror’s Domesday survey in 1086, it was heavily settled by the Scandinavians in the tenth century after their temporary expulsion from Dublin. The name Meols itself derives from the Old Norse word melr, meaning sand hills or dunes, an apt description for the area. I want to use the example of North Meols to tell just a little of the generally unrecorded and under-appreciated Scandinavian settlement of Lancashire.

North Meols Mudflats

North Meols Mudflats

There are almost no written sources mentioning Lancashire before William the Conqueror’s Domesday survey of 1086 – even then it was not called Lancashire but was still included under Yorkshire. The area of coast where North Meols lies was referred to as ‘between the Mersey and the Ribble’.[1] This stretch of coast was inhospitable and remote. For a long time it was not a very sought-after place to live. In his excellent local history of North Meols and Southport, Peter Aughton tells something about the geography of the area. It is such a fine evocative description that I will quote it in full:[2]

‘The whole of the coastal plain was dotted with shallow meres which were destined to acquire names like Gattern Mere, Barton Mere, White Otter and Black Otter Pool, but the greatest of these was Martin Mere. It measured over four miles from east to west and three miles from north to south, and at one point it came within a mile of the sea. In its time Martin mere was numbered amongst the greatest meres in England. Great flocks of wild geese flew over the waters. Pike, perch and bream swam beneath the surface and the osprey nested in the rushes of its hinterland. The waters would rise and fall with the seasons and after heavy rains the acres of bog and marshland were reclaimed by the waters, dried up creeks filled with water and became part of the mere until the next dry spell. After particularly heavy rains Martin Mere would sometimes manage to find an outlet to the coast and spill over into the great salt waters of the sea.

North of the mere was a river estuary, another habitat of geese and wild fowl, a land of mudflats, salt marshes and sea-washed – but to the south the coastal regions were of an entirely different nature. Here blown sand accumulated into a wide band of desolate sand hills with ever changing contours sculpted by the wind. Here the land was in perpetual conflict with the sea. On the slopes of the sand hills sparse clumps of marram grass struggled for a hold on the sandy inclines but in the valleys between the dunes the sand in some places gave way to carpets of local vegetation where, at the lowest points, lay dark shallow pools of water. Here grew the marsh marigold, reedmace, burr reed, water mint and bog bean. Millions of years of evolution had produced the sand lizard which scurried through the coarse grass, and in the spring could be heard the croaking, unlovely mating call of the natterjack toad.’

A better evocation of ‘place’ I have yet to read. It was the place where I was born and where I spent the early years of my life on its cold and windswept sands, although its rough natural beauty had by then been much altered by Man, not always for the better.

 

north meols map

But, as Aughton rightly says, despite the fact that ‘between the sand dunes, the mud flats, and the mere, nature had created a stretch of fertile soil with woodlands for fuel, pasture for animals, and fresh water only a few feet below the ground’, the native British of this island, and later on the Northumbrian English, had pretty much ignored it, having so many other more fertile areas to chose from. When the Scandinavians arrived here in the tenth century they would have found an almost untouched land. If there were any people living here they were without doubt few and far between.

King Athelstan

King Athelstan

Before the Scandinavians arrived what is now called Lancashire had nominally been a part of the kingdom of Northumbria, whose south-western boundary was the River Mersey. But as far as we can tell the Northumbrian English had never settled the desolate coast around North Meols, and the topographical place name evidence suggests that Celtic British settlement of the area was at most sparse.[3] Any English influence from Mercia or Wessex in ‘Lancashire’ only came later too, following the ‘submission’ of the Scots, Cumbrians and Norse to King Edward the Elder in 920 at Bakewell in Derbyshire and in 927 to King Athelstan at Eamont Bridge (or Dacre) in Cumberland.

The Scandinavians had started to raid and then settle in Ireland in the first half of the ninth century.[4] They established bases and trading centres, called longphorts, in Dublin, Waterford, Cork and elsewhere. But in the year 902 the Irish, who often fought each other as much as they did the Vikings, managed for a short time to unite enough to expel the Scandinavians from Dublin. The Annals of Ulster reported:

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.[5]

These expelled ‘Hiberno-Norse’ fled to the nearby coasts of Wales and north-west Britain. At least one group first went to Anglesey in Wales. The Annals of Wales for 902 say:[6]

Igmund came to Mona and took Maes Osfeilion.

Igmunt in insula Mon venit tenuit Maes Osmeliaun

Norse fleet

Norse fleet

The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland tell the story in more detail. It seems that the British Welsh repulsed the Northmen in Anglesey, after which the Scandinavians then settled ‘near Chester’, in what is now Cheshire, with the consent of Aethelflaed, the ‘Lady of the Mercians’.

Now the Norwegians left Ireland, as we said, and their leader was Ingimund, and they went then to the island of Britain. The son of Cadell son of Rhodri was king of the Britons at that time. The Britons assembled against them, and gave them hard and strong battle, and they were driven by force out of British territory.

After that Ingimund with his troops came to Aethelflaed, Queen of the Saxons; for her husband, Aethelred, was sick at that time. (Let no one reproach me, though I have related the death of Aethelred above, because this was prior to Aethelred’s death and it was of this very sickness that Aethelred died, but I did not wish to leave unwritten what the Norwegians did after leaving Ireland.) Now Ingimund was asking the Queen for lands in which he would settle, and on which he would build barns and dwellings, for he was tired of war at that time. Aethelflaed gave him lands near Chester, and he stayed there for a time.[7]

Viking Wirral

Viking Wirral

But the Scandinavians under Ingimund weren’t content with what the Mercian Aethelflaed had given them, they saw the ‘wealthy city’ of Chester ‘and the choice lands around it’ and Ingimund ‘yearned to possess them’. Probably in 910, he collected the ‘chieftains of the Norwegians and Danes’ who had come with him from Ireland and attacked Chester, only to be bloodily repulsed by the Mercians who had just restored the city’s walls and garrisoned the town.[8]

The Vikings then settled down peacefully on the Wirral which became thoroughly Scandinavian.[9]

It was at this time in the early tenth century that the Scandinavians from Ireland probably also first settled along the Lancashire coast. Perhaps some of them were even the ‘chieftains of the Norwegians and Danes’ referred to as combining with Ingimund to besiege the English at Chester?

Cuerdale Hoard

Cuerdale Hoard

So let us return to Lancashire. In 1840 some workmen discovered a truly immense hoard of Viking silver at Cuerdale on the River Ribble near Preston.[10] Cuerdale is of course itself a Norse name. This hoard is conventionally dated to between 905 and 910. It could well have been a Viking leader’s war chest brought to finance his attempt to recapture Dublin, possibly in league with the Scandinavians of York.[11] How and why this Viking leader left such a large amount of treasure buried on the banks of the River Ribble is not known. The dating of the burial is controversial and relies upon dating the thousands of coins it contained. Although it is not the academic consensus, it is certainly possible that the hoard was buried later than 905-910, perhaps even as late as 937 when the Northmen, in league with the Scots and Strathclyde British (the ‘Cumbrians’), were defeated by the English king Athelstan at the famous Battle of Brunanburh.[12] The River Ribble itself was certainly a place the Vikings made use of. It was a natural point of arrival and departure for them from Ireland, and the Ribble was certainly on the most direct route joining the Irish Sea with York.

Whether the Cuerdale hoard was buried in the years after 905 or a couple of decades later the evidence suggests that it was during this period that the stretch of coast between the Mersey and the Ribble was first settled by Scandinavians who gave their names to so much of the area.

wainwrightIn North Meols and along the nearby River Ribble and its tributary the River Douglas the Vikings would have found many convenient places to ground their ships. As suggested, the area was either not inhabited or only sparsely so. In the records we find not one mention of any confrontation between these Scandinavians and any resident peoples. This implies that the settlement was fairly peaceable. The great historian of English place names, Eilert Ekwall, suggested that this is ‘only a hypothesis’ because it is an argument ‘from silence’, meaning that this view comes only from the fact that there are no written records of clashes between Scandinavian settlers and native inhabitants.[13] Frederick Wainwright, by far the greatest historian of the Scandinavian settlement of north-west England, wrote that the evidence for the peaceable nature of the Scandinavian settlement of Lancashire ‘is none the less powerful… since it is almost inconceivable that an organized military conquest or a violent social upheaval, even in the remote north-west, should altogether escape the notice of both contemporary and later annalists’. Wainwright added:

To this may be added the positive if somewhat inconclusive evidence of place-names. It has been shown… that the distribution of Scandinavian place-names in south Lancashire suggests very strongly that the Norsemen were willing to occupy the poorer lands along the coast, lands which the earlier English settlers had deliberately avoided. If this is correct then the settlement can hardly have been preceded by a military conquest, for the conquerors would not choose to live in neglected marshlands… There is no reason to believe that the relations were cordial, but there is equally no reason, at least from the evidence of place-names, to suspect any violent hostility.[14]

scandi lancsAs in Cumbria further north, between the Mersey and the Ribble we find Scandinavian place names everywhere. In the immediate vicinity of North Meols itself we find Crossens, Birkdale, Ainsdale, Formby, Altcar, Crosby, Litherland and Kirkdale. Inland we find Scarisbrick, Tarlscough, Tarleton, Ormskirk, Kellamerg and Hesketh. These are all Norse names. The same is true up and down the coast.[15] If we were to add in lesser names of fields and topographical features the list would be almost endless.

Recent DNA studies of the Scandinavian ancestry of people in Cheshire and south-west Lancashire have concluded that about half of the people bearing historically old family names there are descendants of these Vikings settlers – who without much doubt came from Ireland.

These Scandinavian settlers soon turned to fishing and farming and away from typical or stereotypical Viking raiding. Nevertheless, as the tenth century progressed, it is hard to imagine that at least some of these Lancastrian Scandinavians didn’t occasionally participate in the many battles fought between the Norse, English, British and Scots for the ultimate control of north-west England.

And so life Scandinavian continued In North Meols: farming, fishing and maybe a bit of fighting too.

And then after the Norman Conquest this simple life was shattered. The Norman French didn’t immediately arrive in Lancashire after 1066. When the French first ventured north to commit ethnic genocide in Yorkshire and other northern areas in 1069, in the rather misnamed ‘Harrying of the North’, they probably also laid waste to some parts of Lancashire and Cheshire too.[16] But they probably never set foot in North Meols.

Roger de Poitou

Roger de Poitou

In 1086, when the Domesday survey of England was ordered by William the Conqueror, North Meols, plus nearly the whole of modern Lancashire (and much else besides), had been given to Roger de Poitou (the son of William’s friend and supporter Roger de Montgomerie) as part of William’s divvying up of the whole of his conquered country among his followers.[17]

Domesday Book records that five unnamed thegns, most likely descendants of the Scandinavian settlers in the early tenth century, though no doubt by now mixed with English and, perhaps, British blood, had held Ortringmele (North Meols), Herleshala (Hasall) and Hireton (Hurleton) before the Conquest. Now these lands were part of Roger de Poitou’s huge holdings, and he had granted the liberty and ‘farm’ of them (by ‘subinfeudation’) to various of his French vassals, called Geoffrey, Roger, William, Robert, Gilbert and Warin.[18] This is another story; the story of a brutal, centuries-long Norman-French suppression and exploitation of Lancashire and of all of England. It’s not a happy history. See: Ravening Wolves – The French hostile take-over of Lancashire

A number of eminent Victorian and Edwardian historians and antiquarians had much to say about the Scandinavian settlement of Lancashire. Much is this still of interest, though much is just fantasy. Here is one of my favourite quotes from S. W. Partington’s The Danes in Lancashire:

From the Mersey to the Ribble was a long, swampy, boggy plain, and was not worth the Romans’ while to make roads or to fix stations or tenements. From the Conquest until the beginning of the 18th century this district was almost stagnant, and its surface undisturbed. The Dane kept to the shore, the sea was his farm. He dredged the coast and estuary, with his innate love of danger, till Liverpool sprang up with the magic of Eastern fable, and turned out many a rover to visit every region of the world. The race of the Viking are, many of them, the richest merchants of the earth’s surface.[19]

I wish it were still so.

ship

 

 

 

 

 

References:

[1] The Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, Vol. 1, W. Farrer and J. Brownbill, London. 1906.

[2] Peter Aughton, North Meols and Southport – A History, Lancaster, 1988, pp. 16-17.

[3] See: F. T. Wainwright, The Scandinavians in Lancashire, pp. 181- 227, in Scandinavian England, ed. H. P. R Finberg, Chichester, 1975.

[4] Clare Downham, Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland – The Dynasty of Ivarr to A. D. 1014, Edinburgh, 2007.

[5] The Annals of Ulster, ed. and trans. S, Mac Airt and G.  Niocaill, Dublin, 1983, p. 354.

[6] David Dumville, ed. and trans., Annales Cambriae, A.D. 682-954: Texts A-C in Parallel, Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, University of Cambridge, 2002.

[7] Joan N. Radner, ed. and trans., Fragmentary annals of Ireland, Dublin, 1978.

[8] Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in D. Whitelock, English Historical Documents, London, 1979.

[9] Stephen Harding, Viking Mersey: Scandinavian Wirral, West Lancashire and Chester, 2002.

[10] J. Graham-Campbell, The Cuerdale Hoard and Related Viking-age Silver and Gold from Britain and Ireland in the British Museum, London: British Museum Press, 2011.

[11] J. Graham-Campbell (ed.), Viking treasure from the North, Selected papers from The Vikings of the Irish Sea conference, Liverpool, 18–20 May 1990 (Liverpool, National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, 1992)

[12] For the Battle of Brunanburh see: Michael Livingston (ed.), The Battle of Brunanburh, A Casebook, Exeter, 2011.

[13] E, Ekwall. The Place Names of Lancashire, Manchester, 1922; The Concise Dictionary of English Place-Names, Oxford, 1936.

[14] F. W. Wainwright, The Scandinavians in Lancashire, p. 192.

[15]  E. Ekwall, The Place Names of Lancashire; John Sephton, A Handbook of Lancashire Place Names, Liverpool, 1913; Henry Harrison, The Place Names of the Liverpool District, London, 1898; Geoffrey Leech, The unique heritage of the place-names in north-west England, Lancaster,.

[16] Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest, London, 2012; Peter Rex, 1066, A New History of the Norman Conquest, Cirencester, 2011.

[17] Ibid

[18] The Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, Vol. 1, W. Farrer and J. Brownbill, London. 1906.

[19] S. W. Partington, The Danes in Lancashire, London, 1909, pp. 7- 8.

It is a well-known fact that Cumbria was heavily settled by the Norsemen in the tenth century, perhaps less known is that this settlement also included Lancashire and the Wirral peninsula in Cheshire. There are almost no written sources for this Scandinavian settlement, although we can reconstruct its outlines from the meagre sources we have when they are coupled with place name evidence and archaeology. I will do this more extensively at a later date. For now I’d simply like to present a story found in the Irish Fragmentary Annals telling the events of the year A.D. 902[1] when Norse-Irish Vikings first appeared on the Wirral and later tried to take the city of Chester.

Viking houses in Dublin

Viking houses in Dublin

First Norwegians and then Danes had settled in Ireland in the second half of the ninth century, although they had been raiding Ireland and the British Isles since the end of the eighth century. The Northmen fought each other and the native Irish. In 902 the Irish seem to have settled their own squabbles for a while and gained a temporary ascendancy and the Vikings were expelled from their Dublin base. The Annals of Ulster report for 902:

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.

They were familiar with the coasts of Wales, having raided there on numerous occasions. Anglesey (called the isle of Môn by the British) attracted them as a place to settle as it was not only ‘the home of the monastic establishments of Penmon, Ynys Seirol and Caer Gybi’, but also, as Gerald of Wales later wrote:

Just as, for instance, Mount Snowdon could produce pasture for all the herds of Wales , thus the isle of Mona is so fertile in wheat and meadows to be able to supply produce for some time for the whole of Wales.

Sicut enim montes Ereri cunctis Walliae fertur totius armentis in unum coactis ad pascua, sic insula Moniae triticei graminis fertilitate toti Walliae fertur aliquamdiu sufficere posse.

Vikings Arrive by Chris Collingwood

Vikings Arrive by Chris Collingwood

The Northmen, referred to as Dub Gint or black pagans, under the command of Igmunt (Ingimundr), ‘came to Mona and fought the battle of Ros Melion’, now Penros, near Holyhead. But, as we will see, ‘the Britons assembled against them, and gave them hard and strong battle, and they were driven by force out of British territory’. They then sailed along to northern coast of Wales and landed on the Wirral peninsula, which was under the suzerainty of the ‘English’. Here I will let the Annals of Ireland tell the story:[2]

We have related above, that is, in the fourth year previously, that the Norwegian armies were driven out of Ireland, thanks to the fasting and prayers of the holy man, Céle Dabaill,[3] for he was a saintly and pious man, and he had great zeal for the Christians; and besides inciting the warriors of Ireland against the pagans, he laboured himself through fasting and prayer, and he strove for freedom for the churches of Ireland, and he strengthened the men of Ireland by his laborious service to the Lord; and he removed the anger of the Lord from them. For it was on account of the Lord’s anger against them that the foreigners were brought to destroy them (i.e., the Norwegians and Danes), to plunder Ireland, both church and tribe.

Now the Norwegians left Ireland, as we said, and their leader was Ingimund, and they went then to the island of Britain. The son of Cadell son of Rhodri was king of the Britons at that time. The Britons assembled against them, and gave them hard and strong battle, and they were driven by force out of British territory.

Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians

Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians

After that Ingimund with his troops came to Aethelflaed[4], Queen of the Saxons; for her husband, Aethelred, was sick at that time. (Let no one reproach me, though I have related the death of Aethelred above, because this was prior to Aethelred’s death and it was of this very sickness that Aethelred died, but I did not wish to leave unwritten what the Norwegians did after leaving Ireland.) Now Ingimund was asking the Queen for lands in which he would settle, and on which he would build barns and dwellings, for he was tired of war at that time. Aethelflaed gave him lands near Chester, and he stayed there for a time.[5]

What resulted was that when he saw the wealthy city, and the choice lands around it, he yearned to possess them. 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.

Ingimund returned home after that, having arranged for a hosting to follow him. Although they held that council secretly, the Queen learned of it. The Queen then gathered a large army about her from the adjoining regions, and filled the city of Chester with her troops.

A Norse Dublin ship

A Norse Dublin ship

Almost at the same time the men of Foirtriu[6] and the Norwegians fought a battle. The men of Alba fought this battle steadfastly, moreover, because Colum Cille was assisting them, for they had prayed fervently to him, since he was their apostle, and it was through him that they received faith. For on another occasion, when Imar Conung[7] was a young lad and he came to plunder Alba with three large troops, the men of Alba, lay and clergy alike, fasted and prayed to God and Colum Cille until morning, and beseeched the Lord, and gave profuse alms of food and clothing to the churches and to the poor, and received the Body of the Lord from the hands of their priests, and promised to do every good thing as their clergy would best urge them, and that their battle-standard in the van of every battle would be the Crozier of Colum Cille—and it is on that account that it is called the Cathbuaid ‘Battle-Triumph’ from then onwards; and the name is fitting, for they have often won victory in battle with it, as they did at that time, relying on Colum Cille. They acted the same way on this occasion. Then 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. But let us turn to the story that we began.

The armies of the Danes and the Norwegians mustered to attack Chester, and since they did not get their terms accepted through request or entreaty, they proclaimed battle on a certain day. They came to attack the city on that day, and there was a great army with many freemen in the city to meet them. When the troops who were in the city saw, from the city wall, the many hosts of the Danes and Norwegians coming to attack them, they sent messengers to the King of the Saxons, who was sick and on the verge of death at that time, to ask his advice and the advice of the Queen. What he advised was that they do battle outside, near the city, with the gate of the city open, and that they choose a troop of horsemen to be concealed on the inside; and those of the people of the city who would be strongest in battle should flee back into the city as if defeated, and when most of the army of the Norwegians had come in through the gate of the city, the troop that was in hiding beyond should close the gate after that horde, and without pretending any more they should attack the throng that had come into the city and kill them all.

The Romans building Chester's walls

The Romans building Chester’s walls

Everything was done accordingly, and the Danes and Norwegians were frightfully slaughtered in that way. Great as that massacre was, however, the Norwegians did not abandon the city, for they were hard and savage; but they all said that they would make many hurdles, and place props under them, and that they would make a hole in the wall underneath them. This was not delayed; the hurdles were made, and the hosts were under them making a hole in the wall, because they wanted to take the city, and avenge their people.

It was then that the King (who was on the verge of death) and the Queen sent messengers to the Irish who were among the pagans (for the pagans had many Irish fosterlings), to say to the Irishmen, ‘Life and health to you from the King of the Saxons, who is ill, and from the Queen, who holds all authority over the Saxons, and they are certain that you are true and trustworthy friends to them. Therefore you should take their side: for they have given no greater honour to any Saxon warrior or cleric than they have given to each warrior or cleric who has come to them from Ireland, for this inimical race of pagans is equally hostile to you also. You must, then, since you are faithful friends, help them on this occasion.’ This was the same as saying to them, ‘Since we have come from faithful friends of yours to converse with you, you should ask the Danes what gifts in lands and property they would give to the people who would betray the city to them. If they will make terms for that, bring them to swear an oath in a place where it would be convenient to kill them, and when they are taking the oath on their swords and their shields, as is their custom, they will put aside all their good shooting weapons.’

Irish fight the Vikings

Irish fight the Vikings

All was done accordingly, and they set aside their arms. And the reason why those Irish acted against the Danes was because they were less friends to them than the Norwegians. Then many of them were killed in that way, for huge rocks and beams were hurled onto their heads. Another great number were killed by spears and by arrows, and by every means of killing men.

However, the other army, the Norwegians, was under the hurdles, making a hole in the wall. What the Saxons and the Irish who were among them did was to hurl down huge boulders, so that they crushed the hurdles on their heads. What they did to prevent that was to put great columns under the hurdles. What the Saxons did was to put the ale and water they found in the town into the towns cauldrons, and to boil it and throw it over the people who were under the hurdles, so that their skin peeled off them. The Norwegians response to that was to spread hides on top of the hurdles. The Saxons then scattered all the beehives there were in the town on top of the besiegers, which prevented them from moving their feet and hands because of the number of bees stinging them. After that they gave up the city, and left it. Not long afterwards there was fighting again …

Viking Wirral

Viking Wirral

The Norsemen withdrew to the Wirral and settled there. Over the years to come, they and other Scandinavian compatriots from Ireland and Scotland, as well as some coming direct from Scandinavia, went on to settle in western Lancashire, on the isle of Man and in Cumbria. I will tell more of that in forthcoming articles, but 902 was the first time the Vikings came to settle in North West England.[8]

Notes:

[1] Probably 902 and 903. The attack on Chester we know from Anglo-Saxon sources took place in circa 907.

[2] I use the more modern translation and edition: Joan N. Radner (ed. & trans.) Fragmentary annals of Ireland (Dublin 1978).

[3] Abbot of Bangor

[4]  Aethelflaed, the ‘Lady of the Mercians’, was King Alfred of Wessex’s eldest daughter and husband of Ealdorman Aethelred of Mercia.

[5] The Wirral peninsula.

[6]  Land of the Pictish-Gaels

[7] Viking King Ívarr. Some suggest he was Ivar the Boneless.

[8] It is unlikely that Carlisle was destroyed by the Danish warlord Halfdan in 875 as many suggest.

Chaque année, au printemps, les voiles blanches des barques de ces hommes du Nord apparaissaient sur les bords de ces fleuves, le Rhin, la Seine ou la Garonne. Les populations riveraines s’enfuyaient, pleines d’effroi, se dispersaient au loin dans les forêts, ou s’enfermaient dans les villes fortifiées. La Loire, avec son large lit et ses eaux abondantes dans la saison des pluies, leur donnait un accès facile jusqu’au cœur du pays. (Histoire de l’abbaye de Micy-Saint-Mesmin. By L’Abbé Eugène Jarossay, 1902)

 Three brothers fight

The Frankish emperor Ludwig ‘the Pious’ (called Louis by the French) died on an island in the Rhine at the end of the year 840. He had reigned through twenty-six troubled and violent years. The Carolingian empire was now falling apart. Since 829 Louis and his sons, Lothar, Ludwig ‘the German’ and Charles ‘the Bald’, had been fighting each other for control of the far-flung but fragile empire that Louis’s father Karl the Great (Charlemagne) had carved out. Each of the three sons was fighting for a large share of their father’s inheritance when he died. Their nephew Pepin II of Aquitaine was also involved.

The Battle of Fontenoy-en-Puisaye, 841

The Battle of Fontenoy-en-Puisaye, 841

Following Louis the Pious’ death, the years 840-843 were to be marked by the confrontation between the three brothers. In these fights the chief of the Celtic realm of Brittany, Nominoë, initially remained faithful to the western Frankish king, Charles the Bald, who had inherited what one would soon be able to call France. At the start of 841 Charles the Bald went to Le Mans, where he met Lambert, a former count of Nantes. From Le Mans Charles sent an embassy to Nominoë asking him to recognise his authority. According to the Frankish chronicler Nithard, himself a grandson of Charlemagne, Nominoë sent Charles presents and promised to serve him faithfully. He kept his promise because he sent a contingent of Breton warriors to fight in Charles’ army, which on 25 June 841, allied with Louis/Ludwig the German, defeated the forces of their brother Lothar at the horrific but decisive battle of Fontenoy-en-Puisaye, near to Auxerre. It is even possible that Nominoë was also present at the battle.

Lothar had been defeated and the next year his victorious brothers, Ludwig the German and Charles the Bald (who was only eighteen at the time of the battle), met at Strasbourg to make oaths of mutual support and help against Lothar, who wasn’t by any means finished.

Walcheren

Walcheren

Our concern here is with the story of the city of Nantes, which lies on the River Loire in the march (borderland) of Brittany, and with the Vikings who had been attacking the coasts of Gaul for some time. Lothar had often used the Vikings, usually based on their Frisian island of Walcheren, as allies or mercenaries, to help him fight his brothers. Just one month before the major battle of Fontenoy, a fleet of Viking ships had raided up the River Seine as far as Rouen, arriving just after Charles the Bald’s army had managed to cross the river by tying together boats they had found to make a bridge. Charles was on his way to fight Lothar and the strong suspicion is that the Vikings, under their leader Asgeir, were acting at the behest of Lothar, trying to distract or detain Charles’ army. It is interesting to note that in the same year, 841 (whether before or after the Seine raid is unknown), Lothar officially granted the Frisian island of Walcheren to one of the Vikings who was probably with Asgeir at Rouen. The Frankish chronicler of St. Bertin, Prudentius of Troyes, was disgusted:

To secure the services of Haraldr, who along with other Danish pirates had for some years been imposing many sufferings on Frisia and other coastal regions of the Christians, to the damage of his father’s interests and the furtherance of his own, he (Lothar) now granted him Walcheren and the neighbouring regions as a benefice. This was surely an utterly detestable crime, that those who brought evil on Christians should be given power over the lands and people of Christians, and over the very churches of Christ; that the persecutors of the Christian faith should be sent up as lords over Christians, and Christian folk have to serve men who worshipped demons.

Fight for the county and city of Nantes

Charles the Bald

Charles the Bald

But the battle of Fontenoy had other consequences. Ricwin, the count of Nantes, had been killed there. Lambert, who had himself fought with Charles at Fontenoy, asked the young king Charles to grant him the county. But Charles for some reason suspected Lambert’s loyalty and granted Nantes instead to the powerful magnate Rainald of Herbauges. This turned Lambert against Charles and he immediately went to meet the Breton Nominoë and asked that the Bretons join him to take Nantes by force. For reasons that remain unclear Nominoë agreed. Perhaps he was fearful of Rainald who now controlled the whole lower Loire or perhaps Lothar had persuaded him to defect and join him.

In the summer of 843, Lothair or perhaps his supporter Lambert II of Nantes succeeded in persuading Nominoe to abandon Charles and go over to the Emperor (i.e. Lothar). Nominoe was thereafter a constant enemy of Charles and his authority in Neustria, often acting in concert with Lothair, Lambert, and Pepin II of Aquitaine. Breton troops fought under Lambert in Neustria and when, in June 844, Charles was besieging Toulouse, Nominoe raided into Maine and plundered the territory. In November 843, Charles had marched as far as Rennes to compel Breton submission, but to no effect.

It was in this region that the Vikings were making many of their raids, based each summer on the island of Noirmoutier at the mouth of the River Loire. Rainald had already fought against the Vikings, and it is quite likely that this was the reason Charles the Bald had chosen to appoint such a powerful chief at this crucial spot which controlled access to the rich Loire valley.

Nominoe

Nominoe

Whatever the case, in 843 Nominoë and Lambert both deserted Charles – implicitly at least in favour of Lothar. They started to march south towards Nantes. Count Rainald, possibly on  Charles the Bald’s orders, moved north to meet them. Near the town of Messac on the River Vilaine, which divides Nantes from Vannes, Rainald came across half the Breton force, under Nominoë’s son Erispoë, who had just crossed the river. He attacked, but the Bretons got the upper hand and he had to retreat to the River Yzar, near the village of Blain, where his warriors rested. Lambert hadn’t been at the Messac fight because he was waiting to meet some other Bretons. But he soon joined forces with Erispoë and they soon found and massacred Rainald himself and most of his nobles at Blain. Rainald’s army had been resting unarmed by the river!

Lambert managed to enter Nantes but the citizens threw him out after only two or three weeks.

The Viking attack on Nantes

It is here that the Northmen, the Vikings, enter the story. It is usually said that the Viking army and its raiding fleet, who were based for the summer on the nearby island of Noirmoutier, saw Nantes bereft of defenders and the death of Rainald and most of his vassals and decided to attack and pillage the city. As I will show it might not have been as simple as this.

vikings 4The basic facts about what happened are not in doubt. The Frankish Annals of St. Bertin report the following:

Northmen pirates attacked Nantes, slew the bishop and many clergy and lay people of both sexes, and sacked the civitas. Then they attacked the western parts of Aquitaine to devastate them too. Finally they landed on a certain island, brought their households from the mainland and decided to winter there in something like a permanent settlement.

In  A History of the Vikings Gwyn Jones adds some colour:

The day was 24 June, St. John’s day, and the town was filled with devout or merry celebrants of the Baptist’s feast, The Norwegian assault was of surpassing brutality. The slew in the streets, they slew in the houses, they slew the bishop and congregation in the church. They did their will till nightfall, and the ships they rowed downriver were deep-laden with plunder and prisoners. This may be more than the Count (Lambert) had bargained for but he did acquire Nantes.

I will return to the point of what Lambert might have bargained and whether the raiders were ‘Norwegians’ later. But actually we know quite a lot more about the sack of Nantes from the chroniclers.

viking mapThere is a story which may or may not be true telling how the Vikings had managed to take the city of Nantes so easily. Lietaud, a  tenth-century monk of St. Mesmin wrote about Nantes in his Miracles of St. Martin of Vertou. Using Ferdinand Lot’s summary:

The Northmen of which nobody had as yet heard spoken, had approached the ramparts (of Nantes) under the pretence of being merchants. The inhabitants who had heard nothing had left the gates open. The pirates entered the town hiding their arms under their clothes and slew the bishop and the population.

Not only that, but there is also an eyewitness account of what happened at Nantes in 843 written in about 866. In was found by Bertrand d’Argentré in a monument of the Abbey of St. Serge in Angers and published by him in his Histoire de Bretagne in 1588. It was republished in Rene Merlet’s Chronique de Nantes. I will refer to it again later on; here I will just précis a few lines:

After they had disembarked some of them climbed the walls of the city using ladders, others penetrated the cloisters. No one could prevent their entry. The entered the city on the holy festival of St. John the Baptist. The Bishop of the City was Gohardus, a simple, handsome and God-fearing man, with whom all the clergy and monks of the monastery were gathered…

There were also sheltering in the city itself a great multitude of people not only from the immediate region but also from far away towns – who had come not only from fear but also to celebrate the holy day.

Seeing their enemies entering the city walls they ran to the church of the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul and barred the doors against the persecutors, praying for divine deliverance, as they couldn’t save themselves….. The Vikings came in…

The Vikings slew the entire multitude they found there without regard to age or sex. They cruelly killed the priest and bishop Gohardus who died saying ‘Sursum corda’. All the other monks, whether they were in the church, outside it, or at the altar were put to the sword and disembowelled…

This eyewitness then goes on to say that no one could express in words the ‘calamity and pestilence of this painful day’. He couldn’t describe it because of his tears:

Children hanging on their dead mothers’ breasts drank blood rather than milk, the stone flags of the church ran red with the blood of holy men and the holy altar dripped the blood of innocents, The pagans then pillaged all the city, seized all its treasures and set fire to the church. They then took a great numbers of prisoners as hostages for ransom and returned to their ships…

As we know, after sacking Nantes the Vikings continued their raids in the surrounding ‘western parts of Aquitaine’. The Miracles of St. Martin of Vertou tells us something about this too. Again using Lot’s words:

Not being in any hurry, the Northmen redescend the river to the monastery of Indre, situated on an island eight kilometres downstream of Nantes, spared no doubt by reason of prudence before the main attack, was this time burned on 29 June. The monks of St. Vertou, only two leagues from Nantes, had fear and took flight: they found a refuge at St. Varent, in the Thouarsais.

 Who were the Vikings who attacked Nantes?

The leader of the Vikings who attacked and plundered Nantes is given nowhere in the sources. Most historians think that he was in fact the same Asgeir who had raided up the River Seine to Rouen two years previously, in 841, and who reappeared on the Seine in 852. I tend to agree he might have been.

However, I think it is also quite possible that among the Viking leaders at Nantes was the famous, or infamous, Hastein/Hasting, who we know took a large fleet up the whole length of the River Garonne all the way to Toulouse in 844 (the year after the sack of Nantes). From there it was probably he who went on to raid in Christian Spain and Muslim Portugal and Andalucía later the same year. Hastein remained an important, and pretty well-attested, Viking leader for some decades. I will return to him on another occasion. But regarding Nantes, there is more evidence of his earlier activities; evidence that has rarely been noticed.

The cathedral of Coutances in present-day Normandy kept a chronicle of its history from the year 836, when it was first attacked by the Vikings. Although this has been lost it was copied in the thirteenth century and we can read what it has to say about Hastein.

Prima Normanorum gravis sima persecutione, nequissimi scilicet et sacrilegi Hasting suorumque praedatorum saeviente amplius quam trigenta annis, ab anno Dominicae incarnationis DCCCXXXVI…

viking ships 2Which roughly translates as follows: ‘The first severe persecution of the Northmen was by the wicked and sacrilegious Hasting, whose predatory violence raged for more than thirty years from year of our Lord 836… ‘ The cathedral of Coutances had been destroyed by Hastein/Hasting in 836, eight years before we find him at the walls of Toulouse.

It then goes on to describe in great detail the raids and atrocities committed by Hastein all over Flanders, ‘Normandy’, Burgundy and Brittany, as well as elsewhere.

The Chronicle of Tours is also informative:

Lotharii imperatoris anno primo, Hastingus cum innumera Danorum multitudine Franciam ingressus, oppida, rura, vicos, ferro, flamma, fame de populatur.

Which tells us that in the first year of the emperor Lothar (i.e. 841), Hastein came into Francia with innumerable Danes and everywhere destroyed towns and villages, and their people, with sword, flame and hunger.

So it could indeed be that Hastein was one of the Viking leaders at Nantes too.

Having left Rouen in 841, Asgeir and his fleet (whether or not including Hastein) would have returned to one of their island bases, either Walcheren in Frisia or the island of Noirmoutier at the mouth of the River Loire near Nantes. Walcheren was used as a Viking base all year round, even after the summer raiding season was over and their ships put in ‘hangars’. Noirmoutier had been used for some years as a summer base, but the Vikings first over-wintered there in 843/4, after their attack on Nantes.

noirmoutier

Noirmoutier

The Translatio sancti Filiberti, composed only twenty years after the event, tells us that the Viking fleet which entered the Loire consisted of sixty-seven ships, ‘Nortmannorum naves sexaginta septem repentio Ligeris…’ The Annals of Angouleme says that these Vikings were ‘Westfaldingi’. Because Vestfold is an area of southern Norway (actually on the west side of the entrance to Oslo Fjord, immediately opposite the Jutland peninsular), this led the German historian Walther Vogel to suggest in 1906 that all these Vikings were ‘Norwegian’, and even that they may have come from the new Viking bases in Ireland. Robert Ferguson wrote in his The Hammer and the Cross that the ‘Norwegian Viking ships… had probably set out from a longphort base in Ireland’. It is a line that other historians have also rather blindly followed; it is unlikely to be true.

The most reliable sources we have for the attack on Nantes are the Chronicle of Nantes and the eyewitness account contained in the ‘Annals of Angers’. These refer both to Northmen and Danes, and thus, as the Danish Viking historian Else Roesdahl has argued, the Viking fleet that attacked Nantes was most likely made up of a mixed group of Danes, Norwegians and even Swedes.

At this time the word Northmen (Latin Nortmanni) was used as a catch-all term meaning any and all people from Scandinavia. Adam of Bremen writing in the north in the eleventh century said, ‘Danes and Swedes and the other peoples beyond Denmark are called Northmen by the historians of the Franks.’

vikingsattackThe eyewitness account of 843 contained in the Annals of Angers calls them ‘ferocious Northmen’, while the Chronicle of Nantes itself calls them ‘Northmen and Danes’. The Annals of Fontanelle, written in the Abbey of Fontanelle which Asgeir had plundered on his raid up the Seine in 841, simply says that, ‘in A.D. 841 the Northmen arrived on the twelfth of May with their chief, Asgeir’. It should also be noted that Norway was not yet a definite ‘country’. The province of Vestfold was for a long time claimed as, and de facto was, a part of the realm of the kings of Denmark. In 813 the Frankish Royal Chronicles report that, ‘The kings (of Denmark) were not at home but had marched with an army towards Westarfalda, an area in the extreme northwest of their kingdom’.

Of course it could well be that Asgeir himself was originally from Vestfold, along with many others in the Nantes fleet, but the explicit mention of ‘Danes’ as well as the generic ‘Northmen’ in the Chronicle of Nantes points, as Professor Roesdahl suggests, to a ‘multinational’ force.

Whatever the precise combination of geographic origins of the Viking at Nantes, the idea that they had come from Ireland (having sailed round the north of Britain it is said) seems a pure invention of Professor Vogel in 1906. It is far more likely that they had come either from the Viking island base of Walcheren in Frisia or, possibly, from a base in Denmark itself. The ‘Westfaldingi’ at Nantes were, I believe, under Danish control, royal or not.

Was Count Lambert in league with the Vikings?

Over the years it has been repeatedly suggested that the Viking attack on Nantes wasn’t simply an opportunistic raid by the Northmen based on the island of Noirmoutier once they saw that Nantes was defenceless, but that actually it was the result of an agreement between the former count of Nantes and the Viking leaders. Even the very authoritative Professor Gwyn Jones in A History of the Vikings wrote that ‘the rebel Count Lambert was ambitious to secure Nantes for himself’; and that ‘it is said that the Vikings came at his invitation, and that it was French pilots who conned them through the sandbanks, shallows, and uncertain watercourses, which in high summer were judged an absolute protection from naval assault’. Many other historians disagree for reasons I shall give. Professor Jones’ use of the sitting-on-the-fence passive construction ‘it is said’ perhaps indicates the uncertainty of the matter.

v 5The eyewitness account in the Annals of Angers says the following:

Triginta autem post haec elapsis diebus, mense junio , Normannorum ferox natio, numerosa classe advecti, Ligerim fluvium, qui inter novam Britanniam et ultimos Aquitaniae fines in occiduum mergitur Oceanum, ingrediuntur. Deinde, dato classibus zephiro, ad urbem Namneticam, impiissimo Lamberto, crebro exploratore, praecognitam, celeri carbasorum volatu pariter et remorum impulsu contendunt ; quam mox navibus egressi undique vallant, et sine mora, nullo propugnatore, capiunt, vastant, diripiunt…

Regarding Lambert this doesn’t tell us too much except that thirty days after the battle (of Messac/Blain on 24th May 843) he was ‘impious’ or traitorous and led the Viking ships up the Loire to Nantes to sack the city.

The tenth-century chronicler of Nantes tells us more. The editor of the chronicles, Rene Merlet, argued persuasively that the Nantes chronicler had a longer version of the ninth-century report now included in the Annals of Angers available; how else would he have got so much extra information? The chronicler says that after the battle of Fontenoy in 841, Lambert had asked Charles the Bald to return the county of Nantes to him, but Charles had refused, suspecting his loyalty, and had given it instead to Rainald. And so Lambert had gone to meet the Breton chief Nominoë and asked him to join forces and that they should go together to take Nantes by force. Nominoë agreed.

River Vilaine at Messac

River Vilaine at Messac

When Count Rainhald heard of this he gathered a great number of his ‘knights’ together and went to meet the Bretons at Messac on the River Vilaine, which marked the frontier of the counties of Nantes and Vannes. When Rainald arrived at the river he found that half of the Bretons had already crossed so he attacked them and the Bretons had to flee. Rainald then retreated to the banks of the River Ysar near Blain. Lambert hadn’t been at Messac because he had been waiting for other Bretons to join him. The two Breton armies then joined and quickly attacked Rainald’s forces at Blain; and because they had been resting unarmed on the ‘verdant’ riverbank the Bretons had been able to massacre them, and Count Rainhald was killed.

But, writes the Nantes chronicler, Lambert still wasn’t content, he wanted to seize the city of Nantes, so he went to get the help of the ‘Northmen and Danes who had often plundered throughout Gaul and Neustria’ (i.e. the kingdom of the west Franks):

Namque Normannos et Danos, quos superius diximus, fines Gallorum et Neustriensium maritimos navigando saepe depraedantes, ut erat affabilis et pro tune fuit inventor malorum, alloquens induxit,ut,per mare Oceanum navigantes, Britanniam novam circumirent, et per alveum Ligeris tutissime ad urbem Namneticam capiendam per venirent.

noirmoutier 2Being an eloquent plotter of evil deeds, Lambert had persuaded the Vikings to put to sea and he led then safely round the coasts of ‘new’ Brittany and up the River Loire to the city of Nantes. The city soon fell because it was defenceless; those who should have been defending it were all dead. We then hear that while the Vikings were ‘greedily’ ravaging and plundering the city Lambert told them of  a church full of gold and silver on the island of ‘Bas’ (Batz, behind St. Nazaire). So the Vikings gathered together all their ships and, led by Lambert who showed them the way, they rowed through the bays and coves of Brittany to Bas.

To sum up the case for the prosecution regarding Lambert’s culpability: The eyewitness report in the Annals of Angers implicates him. The chronicler of Nantes, probably basing his story on a longer but now lost version of the Angers document, clearly states that not only had Lambert gone to the ‘Northmen and Danes’ to induce them to come with him to retake Nantes, but he also says that Lambert then attracted them to take their pillaging into other regions of the Nantaise as well.  Although there is a lot of obscurity and questions of chronology, the case against Lambert looks strong.

Chronique de Nantes

Chronique de Nantes

Evidence to the contrary comes, once again, from the Nantes Chronicle. Here we are told that after the Vikings had taken and sacked the city and had ravaged other places in the region they took their booty and hostages/slaves back to their island liar of Noirmoutier. But once there and having hauled the enormous piles of plunder ashore in order to share it out, the Northmen had quarrelled about the division. The Northmen ‘forgot the fear of their princes’ and it came to fights; several were killed.  Seeing this, their ‘Christian captives’ managed to escape via ‘secret places’ on the island. One managed to take with him a chest containing a bible and other books which, the chronicler tells us, ‘are still kept in the church of Nantes’. Finally these ‘diabolical’ men were pacified and went back to their ships, but ‘because of fear of Lambert’ they dared not chase the escaped Christians who ‘God had delivered from their hands’.

It is because of this story that both the editor of the Nantes Chronicle, Rene Merlet, and the eminent French historians Ferdinand Lot and Louis Halphen, in their La Regne de Charles le Chauve (1909), reject the suggestion, so clear in the texts, that Lambert was in league with the Northmen. If the Viking didn’t pursue the escaped captives out of fear of Lambert then surely they were not allies?  One could think of others reasons for this fear but it’s probably fair to say that we’ll never really know if Count Lambert was in league with the Vikings are not. I tend to the belief that he was.

Coincidences or Policy?

When we start to look at the precise timing of the various Viking raids around the coasts of France, Brittany and Aquitaine during this period, we might start to ask if they were all spontaneous or opportunistic as they are often presented. The coincidences do seem to get too much.

Vikings take Paris in 845

Vikings take Paris in 845

Why was Asgeir’s Viking fleet raiding up the Seine to Rouen in 841 immediately after Charles the Bald’s army had just managed to cross the river by using a bridge of boats; just one month before the decisive battle of Fontenoy between Charles, Louis and their brother Lothar? In 844, why did the Viking fleet make its long rapacious trip down the River Garonne in Aquitaine to arrive at the walls of Toulouse at the same time that Charles the Bald arrived to repress his nephew Pepin of Aquitaine? I could go on.

While there is little doubt that the Northmen did often strike when the ‘targets’ were in disarray, and this was certainly the case all over ‘France’ in the 840s, they were also very much involved in the shifting power politics being played out in Europe at the time – though often as rather irritating minor players. Robert Ferguson sums it up:

The chaos (of these times) was compounded by the fact that the Danish royal families too were, for much of the time, engaged in dynastic struggles of their own, in the course of which it becomes very difficult to keep track of a meaningful distinction between, on the one hand, violent activity that might have been part of a coherent ‘foreign policy’ decided upon by a legitimate monarch and his advisers and carried out by a ‘national’ army, and, on the other, those actions – often the work of the same kings – which were more nothing more than privateering on a grand scale.  

vik

Sources and references:

René Toustain de Billy, Histoire Ecclésiastique du Diocèse de Coutances, 1874; René Merlet, La Chronique de Nantes, 1896; Ferdinand Lot and Louis Halphen, La Règne de Charles le Chauve, 1909 ; L’Abbé Eugène Jarossay, Histoire de l’abbaye de Micy-Saint-Mesmin, 1902; Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings, 1968;Robert Ferguson, The Hammer and the Cross, 2009; Carolingian Chronicles, trans Berhard Walter Scholz, 2006; Janet L Nelson, The Annals of St-Bertin, 1991; Else Roesdahl, The Vikings, 1998; Peter Sawyer, The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings, 1997; Walther Vogel, Die Normannen und das frankische Reich bis zur Griindung der Normandie (799-911), 1906; Bertrand d’Argentré, L’histoire de Bretaigne, des roys, ducs, comtes et princes d’icelle: l’établissement du Royaume, mutation de ce tiltre en Duché, continué jusques au temps de Madame Anne dernière Duchesse, & depuis Royne de France, par le mariage de laquelle passa le Duché en la maison de France, 1588.

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

‘God ure helpe, amen.’

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

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

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

Wulfstan of York

Wulfstan of York

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

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

Wulfstan's 'Sermo Lupi'

Wulfstan’s ‘Sermo Lupi’

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

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

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

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

The myth of King 'Canute'

The myth of King ‘Canute’

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

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

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

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

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

Vikings arrive

Vikings arrive with mythic wimgs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stereotypical Viking Rape and Pillage

Stereotypical Viking Rape and Pillage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Edmund Ironside meets Cnut ('Canute')

King Edmund Ironside meets Cnut (‘Canute’)

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

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

Gildas's Ruin and Destruction of Britain

Gildas’s Ruin and Destruction of Britain

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

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

Wulfstan himself writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————————————————————————————–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————————————————————————————

Sermo Lupi ad anglos quando Dani maxime persecuti sunt eos,

quod fuit anno millesimo .xiiii. ab incarnatione

Domine Nostri Iesu Cristi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eadweard man forrædde and syððan acwealde and æfter þam forbærnde.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We him gyldað singallice, and hy us hynað dæghwamlice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An þeodwita wæs on Brytta tidum Gildas hatte.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God ure helpe, amen.

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

Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick

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

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

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

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

Gospatric is undoubtedly a Brythonic Cumbric name.

Cymru

Cymru

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

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

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

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

The Kingdom of Cumbria -  Strathclyde

The Kingdom of Cumbria – Strathclyde

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

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

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

King Edgar at Chester in 973

King Edgar at Chester in 973

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Harrying of the North

The Harrying of the North

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Malcolm Canmore

King Malcolm Canmore

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

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

Kenneth mac Alpin

Kenneth mac Alpin

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

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

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

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

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

Allerdale

Allerdale

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

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

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

Sources and references:

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