NORTHUMBRIA - 5: NEW DAWN - With A New King On The Throne, A New Life For An Old Kingdom As An Earldom?

With Eadmund's defeat at Ashingdon Northumbria would see a resurgence under Knut through Eirik of Hladir, then Siward 'the Strong'..

Knut clears the field after defeating Eadmund 'Ironside' at Ashingdon in 1016
Knut clears the field after defeating Eadmund 'Ironside' at Ashingdon in 1016 | Source
Lords of Northumbria, from the reign of Knut to William I
Lords of Northumbria, from the reign of Knut to William I
MacBeth the Scots' king was forced to withdraw into Moray in the north of Scotland after losing at Dunsinane, although he had slain Siward's elder son Osbeorn in single combat (cf: Shakespeare's 'MacBeth', the one bit he got right!)
MacBeth the Scots' king was forced to withdraw into Moray in the north of Scotland after losing at Dunsinane, although he had slain Siward's elder son Osbeorn in single combat (cf: Shakespeare's 'MacBeth', the one bit he got right!) | Source

Under the Wessex kings -

Jorvik slipped into decline as a power to be reckoned with. Gone were the days the Northumbrian Aengle pressed north into Pictland, south into Mercia. Besides, the kings of an infant kingdom of England - hardly a century and a half old AD 978 when Aethelred II, 'Unraed', mounted the throne in his minority after half-brother Eadward's murder at Corfe - were more concerned with matters closer to home, meaning the south, Aethelred moreso. He had more pressing matters to contend with, such as a plague of Viking raids on the Wessex coast, then later in the century Svein Haraldsson's increasing demands for Danegeld. Svein Haraldsson, 'Forkbeard', was hardly likely to threaten the Danelaw and by now Aethelred knew better than to attack the Danes in his kingdom.

In AD 1013 Svein landed on the banks of the lower Trent at Gainsborough. With him were his younger son Knut and a large army drawn from all corners of Scandinavia and beyond. He saw the kingdom of England as fair game, and that he could do better as its king than the blustering and indecisive Aethelred. He no longer demanded the Danegeld, now he would rule the source of the gold!

Continuous raiding by Thorkell 'Havi' ('The Tall') had weakened the kingdom's defences and its leadership was awry until Thorkell agreed to join Aethelred for a short time. Thorkell had become rich on Danegeld and sought new riches. Svein came to see how England would fare when Thorkell became his man. Aethelred fled to Normandy with his new queen Ymme (or Emma) and their offspring, Eadward, Goda and Aelfred.

Svein's kingship was thus assured - although short-lived when he suddenly fell ill and died in February, AD 1014 at Gainsborough. His throne in Denmark fell to elder son Harald. Knut Sveinsson took the claim to the English throne after Svein's army swore loyalty to him, although he had to withdraw from these shores when Aethelred came back with renewed support after promising to be sterner with the Danes. With Thorkell 'Havi' and Jarl Eirik of Hladir or Lade (northern Norway) Knut returned in AD 1015 to lay fresh claim to the throne. Aethelred's son Eadmund 'Ironside' put up a stubborn fight and joined forces with his father, taking the throne after his death in AD 1016. Eadmund died later that year of wounds sustained from fighting Knut at Ashingdon, east of London near the Thames - not before offering the Dane a share of the kingdom. The way was paved for Knut's kingship in England.

He rewarded his allies well, with earldoms. The title of earl that replaced the earlier 'ealdorman' was based on the 'jarl' of Scandinavian origin. Many of his huscarlar - another introduction - were given land and the land measure of the Carucate replaced the English 'Hundred' across the kingdom. There was no mass migration to England, however. Most of his men were paid off from the high taxes imposed in England and a sort of normality was restored.

Thorkell was given the earldom of East Anglia - although after a dispute with Knut he was outlawed in November, AD 1021, to return to favour with Knut AD 1023. Knut appointed him regent, to rule Denmark in his absence, following which he faded into - dying soon after his appointment. Eirik of Hladir was given part of the new earldom of Northumbria in what had been Deira before the Danes came in AD 865. After marrying Gytha, daughter of Svein Haraldsson in AD 1015, Eirik had left his younger brother Svein Hakonsson in charge of his lands and joined Knut's expedition to England. As earl in Northumbria Eirik's name appears on Knut's charters until his death in AD 1023. A strong hand on the helm, Eirik's earldom saw little in the way of change, nor did it suffer incursion.

North of the Tees an Englishman, Eadwulf, was given authority over what had been Bernicia. Uhtred 'the Bold', another Englishman and descendant of the royal Bamburgh line, was put in overall control of Northumbria. This was almost as it had been under the Northumbrian kings before the Danes came. It is thought he was a kinsman by marriage to Jarl Ulf the renegade who fought Knut at the Holy River in southern Skaane. A new man south of the Tees would usher in changes and oversee an era that echoed the greatness of Northumbria - although some changes, and his relations with rival or subsidiary nobles would have repercussions in later years.

He was Siward 'the Strong', also known as 'the Dane' who would set Malcolm III on the throne of Scotland..You may know him from Shakespeare's tragedy 'MacBeth'.

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Viking Age England

Julian D Richards charts the reasons for Viking exploration, expansion and raiding around the British Isles and England in particular. The first bloody encounter came in the reign of King Beorhtric of Wessex (AD 786-802), when three ships of Northmen from Hordaland in Norway landed at Portland in Dorset. A misunderstanding led to the killing of the king's shire reeve Beaduherd when he apparently asked their purpose. It may have been his body language that led to the killing, at any rate raids followed around the coast of Northumbria and Scotland, at Iona. Within six decades came the 'Heathen Army' of the sons of Ragnar 'Lothbrok'...

Let yourself be transported to another age...

Siward dies, Tostig is given the earldom by Eadward in 1055

Earl Siward readies for death - the young man  on the left is meant to be Waltheof, although he looks a bit 'podgy' - how does he keep his dagger on his hip without a belt?
Earl Siward readies for death - the young man on the left is meant to be Waltheof, although he looks a bit 'podgy' - how does he keep his dagger on his hip without a belt? | Source
Tostig is accepted as Earl of Northumbria from the Humber to the Tyne
Tostig is accepted as Earl of Northumbria from the Humber to the Tyne | Source
Huscarls - 'huscarlar' - introduced to England by Knut. The king had his own, as did each earl. They were funded by owning enough land each to pay for their weaponry, horses, mailcoats and household
Huscarls - 'huscarlar' - introduced to England by Knut. The king had his own, as did each earl. They were funded by owning enough land each to pay for their weaponry, horses, mailcoats and household | Source
Earldoms, 1065 after Tostig's ousting in October. Northumbria is mostly Morkere's. Oswulf holds land north of the Tyne. After trying to take on 'Hardradi' on his own a large tract of land was handed by Harold to Maerleswein, shire reeve of Lincoln
Earldoms, 1065 after Tostig's ousting in October. Northumbria is mostly Morkere's. Oswulf holds land north of the Tyne. After trying to take on 'Hardradi' on his own a large tract of land was handed by Harold to Maerleswein, shire reeve of Lincoln | Source

Siward 'the Strong', otherwise known as 'the Dane' did not benefit immediately after Eirik's death.

He was given the southern half of Northumbria from AD 1033 as his share of the earldom. He strengthened his hand by wedding Aelfflaed, daughter of Ealdred of Bamburgh whose land stretched north from the Tees to the Tweed and west to the Pennines. Following the death of Ealdred's successor Eadulf in AD 1041 Siward held all Northumbria. He however sowed the seeds of a blood-feud which surfaced from time to time until when Tostig Godwinson was given the earldom by King Eadward.

Siward held the earldom during the reigns of Harold I, 'Harefoot', Harthaknut Knutsson and Eadward, giving them counsel and assistance in a military capacity, achieving control also over Northampton and Huntingdon in the 1050s.

When Malcolm 'Canmore', nephew of King Duncan came south in the early 1050s to seek support against his rival - and senior - MacBeth [MacBethad macFindlaich] Eadward asked Siward's help to win the Scots' throne for Malcolm. In the fighting at Dunsinnan or Dunsinane Siward's elder son Osbeorn was slain in combat by MacBeth, leaving the earl with a younger son - Waltheof - to take over in the 'wild north' when he died. As it was Siward died not long after, AD 1055 and Waltheof was way too young to take over the earldom.

The earldom was given by King Eadward to Tostig Godwinson, younger brother of Harold the Earl of Wessex. Northumbria would never be easy for Tostig. Seen as a southerner even though his mother was a Dane, sister to Jarl Ulf Thorkelsson - he was was nevertheless 'different' to the Anglo-Danes and Danes around the former kingdom of Jorvik. He befriended one Anglo-Dane, Copsig who was also seen in the region by the 'establishment' as 'neither fish nor fowl'. He had connections, however, advised on many aspects of local government, who to 'squeeze' and 'where to ease'. He also befriended Gospatric, another scion of the Bamburgh line who would in time be made Lord of Allerdale by Malcolm, in what was then the kingdom of Scotland.

Tostig was inclined to be heavy-handed where obstinacy was uncalled for. Late AD 1063 he had Gamal Ormsson and Ulf Dolfinsson done away with when they were supposed to be under his protection. To his older sister Eadgytha and her husband the king he was the man to depend on for securing their taxes, although he was often away from the earldom with Eadward on hunting. On the positive side, had his administration been lacklustre or wasteful - as critics maintained - he would never have been able to go to Rome on pilgrimage with his brother Harold and Earl Gospatric of Bamburgh.

He was also able to gather a large force together AD 1063 to support Harold against the Welsh leader Gruffyd ap Llewellyn. With his men on horseback he crossed the River Dee near Chester and entered Gwynedd from the east, whilst Harold sailed around Wales from Wessex to join forces and ravage the countryside. So effective were they together that the Welsh seized Gruffyd, beheaded him and sent his head to Harold.

Back in Northumbria the campaign had to be paid for. Many of the Danes of Northumbria had enjoyed lower taxation under Siward. Now they were faced with having to bankroll the Welsh campaign. Early on October 3rd, AD 1065, whilst Tostig hunted with Eadward the thegns around Jorvik fell on the Earlsburh - what had formerly been part of a Roman governor's palace, modified in earlier Anglian times - and slew those of Tostig's huscarls who were there. Copsig lay low, elsewhere until the nobles and thegns headed south to Northampton. There they confronted Harold, and through him pressed for their demand to have Tostig replaced by Morkere, brother of Earl Eadwin of Mercia. They threatened to burn down Tostig's property in Northampton.

Although Eadward and Eadgytha held with Tostig they were forced to accept the inevitable at the risk of civil war. Eadgytha saw Harold as having betrayed his younger brother and refused to have any more to do with him. For his part Eadward began to weaken and died at the turn of the year, having nominated Harold to succeed him instead of his kinsman, the much younger, less experienced and little-known aetheling Eadgar.

Tostig raided around the south and east coasts of England during the spring and summer of AD 1066, having unsuccessfully tried to draw in Duke William, Count Baldwin of Flanders and the Danes' king Svein. Baldwin let him have ships and men, as King Malcolm had - in recognition of his part with earls Harold and Siward in securing his throne. Harald Sigurdsson, 'Hardradi', the West Norse (Norwegian) king decided to put his weight behind Tostig and their fleets joined off St Abb's Head near the Firth of Forth. From here they headed south for the Northumbrian coast. 'Blooding' raids were made, to give the less experienced recruits experience in raiding, at Teesmouth, Scarborough and Holderness before entering the Humber and drawing their ships ashore at Riccall (on the River Ouse near the mouth of the River Derwent).

From here the army crossed overland to York, where they inflicted a crushing defeat on the combined 'select fyrd' of Morkere and his brother Eadwin at Gate Fulford to the south of the 'burh'. On entering York Tostig and Harald Sigurdsson forced Morkere's agreement to hand over hostages and gold and withdrew a few miles east after feasting to Stamford Bridge on the Derwent. This was where they expected the hostages and gold to be meekly handed over. Little known to them King Harold Godwinson was close, and reached York in the early hours of September 25th ahead of his main army. After rallying the Northumbrians and Mercians, Harold quickly set out for Stamford Bridge with his combined forces.

The battle was long and hard through a warm September morning and afternoon. Even though the Norsemen - with Tostig's surviving huscarls and remaining Flemings who had not deserted him after his unsuccessful coastal raids - had sent half their force back to Riccall together with much of their armour, they still put up a hard fight. Before the fighting began riders were sent to Ricall to recall many of their number. During a lull in the fighting Eystein 'Orre' ('Moorcock') appeared with the men from the ships, many overcome by heat exhaustion after running the distance in chain mail with heavy shields, helmets and weaponry. Eystein collapsed and died before he could wield his sword, many others incapable of helping their comrades.

Harald Sigurdsson was struck by an arrow to his throat at around this time, leaving Tostig in command before their shieldwall was broken and those still surviving fled for the ships. Harold was unable to stop Morkere's Northumbrians chasing after the Norsemen to Riccall and butchering those who stood in their way. Few survived, and those allowed to leave needed only a score of the three hundred or so ships that came with 'Hardradi'. His sons Olaf and Magnus were released by Harold after swearing that they would never again bear arms against the English (with the Danes' king Knut II they planned to invade William's kingdom in 1086, although after Knut was slain in Odense Cathedral by unwilling followers the invasion was abandoned).

[Harold set out for the south after feasting in York, having learned of Duke William's landing at Pevensey Bay, west of Hastings. Cautioned against hurrying on after arriving in London, he nevertheless set out again after little over a week. He and his brothers had sent out messengers to summon fighting men, who would meet him north of Hastings at the local meeting place, the Hoar Apple Tree. His aim was to cut William off the London road just out of Hastings, but the duke's spies put paid to that and William's force met Harold's - roughly evenly matched in manpower - on Caldbec Hill, close to where later William would have an abbey erected on the site of Harold's last stand]..

Little happened within the next two years before Norman high-handedness at Durham led to bloody rebellion. See below...

Normans: Uprisings and Hardship 1068-1070

The fighting at Stamford Bridge near York on 25th September, 1066 saw the end of Viking incursions into England - it also foreshadowed a new incursion from Normandy
The fighting at Stamford Bridge near York on 25th September, 1066 saw the end of Viking incursions into England - it also foreshadowed a new incursion from Normandy | Source
When William landed at Pevensey Harold was still in York, feasting after the defeat of Harald Sigurdsson six miles to the east at Stamford Bridge
When William landed at Pevensey Harold was still in York, feasting after the defeat of Harald Sigurdsson six miles to the east at Stamford Bridge | Source
Following the Conquest, the earldoms of England have changed. Northumbria is no exception
Following the Conquest, the earldoms of England have changed. Northumbria is no exception

By the end of the year AD 1066 a new king had been enthroned at Eadward's West Mynster.

Copsig, who had lain low for the duration of Tostig's bid to regain the earldom, put himself forward to be William's newly-appointed Earl of Northumbria south of the Tyne. Not being familiar with events before the invasion, William duly appointed him and as he set off for Normandy with his hostages - the young earls and Eadgar - Copsig took the road north with an escort to Newburn-on-Tyne. Here a reception feast was laid on for him by his supporters.

Memories of Copsig's exploits on Tostig's behalf were still fresh in men's minds. Shortly after his acceptance at Newburn Osulf of Bamburgh and his kinsman Gospatric showed in force. Having been made to seek shelter in the church there the men outside forced him and his escort out by setting fire to the building. As he fled the flames Osulf dealt him the death blow with his axe, severing his head.

Next to be appointed as Earl of Northumbria in 1068, after Gospatric and Osulf fled north to Scotland, was the Fleming Robert de Commines. With his men he rode roughshod over the local population from where they were accommodated in the bishop's palace. Despite Bishop Aethelwin's warnings of dissent by the Northumbrians de Commines did not curb their excesses... Until early in AD 1069. Sparks flew when the men of Durham.cornered de Commines and his men in the bishop's palace, set it alight - as had been done to Copsig in the church at Newburn - and slaughtered the Normans to a man when they fled the flames. Robert de Commines stayed where he was, to be burnt to ashes.

At Jorvik William had a timber stronghold built on the east bank of the River Ouse to control the city. He appointed Robert fitzRichard as its 'castellan'. His shire reeve was William Malet. During the summer fitzRichard, concerned about the possibility of an attack, had the houses near their stronghold burnt to clear the field of vision. The fire got out of hand and before long much of the burh succumbed to the flames, including the cathedral. An attack did come late in the summer. William Malet was sent by the rebels after they had taken the stronghold, to tell his master of his bad luck. FitzRichard was taken hostage and freed when the rebels had put enough distance between them and Jorvik.

Malet survived and was unlucky to be taken hostage by the Danes under Jarl Osbeorn the year after, in 1069 when the second timber stronghold was rendered unfit to defend. Jorvik's castellan by this time was another Fleming, Gilbert de Ghent, and there were by this time two strongholds, one on either side of the river. He shared the same fate as his predecessor. The new stronghold had been furnished with a deep, wide moat at the expense of the craftsmen of Kopargata (Coppergate). The other stronghold was built at the end of Skeldergate, (its stone replacement can still be made out near the approach to the present Skeldergate Bridge). Both were attacked by English rebels led by the northern earls and Eadgar the aetheling. With them were the Danes led by King Svein's younger brother Jarl Osbeorn, Bishop Christian and Jarl Thorkill.

William Malet and his family were taken hostage by Osbeorn against William's 'good behaviour'. Eadgar and the northern lords including Eadwin, Morkere and Waltheof withdrew north across the Tees when William came from Lincoln with a fresh army. (William Malet was eventually freed and accompanied his king to besiege Ely AD 1070-71, only to be killed during one of Hereward's raids on the mainland). Robert fitzRichard was killed with his men AD 1069 when away from the safety of their stronghold.

By early AD 1071 the final rising in the north had been smothered, along with that in the Fens at Ely. Many leaders were either dead or in captivity. some had left these shores to join the Varangian Guard of the Emperor John Dukakis of Byzantium. They would fight the Normans in the Mediterranean under Robert de Hauteville (nicknamed 'Guiscard' or 'Foxy').

Domesday tells us that by AD 1086 twenty-five foreign lords brought into Yorkshire owned over nine-tenths of the manors south of the Tees to the Humber. Property values in the region fell in the two decades of William's kingship. Much of the area was still under-populated after the 'Harrying of the North', AD 1069-70, many estates shown as 'waste' in the Domesday survey. In many districts little or no information is available to this day, aside from tax valuations. Few estates in the north - to the Tees - fared well in the reign of William I, who had vented his anger on the ordinary folk of the region down through the east and west midlands as far as Shropshire and Lincolnshire. The Domesday surveyors fared badly north of the Tees, sometimes vanishing with their escorts. (There are no survey results for Durham and Northumberland, and Cumbria came largely under Scotland).

Henry I - born in Lincoln whilst his father and mother were on their way around the kingdom - would be the first Norman king to rule by consent. But by this time Northumbria had become a backwater and would not recover before the later Middle Ages.

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The beginning of the end...

After the aetheling Eadgar and the northern nobles withdrew north to Scotland in the late summer of 1069 William saw fit to punish those left behind, guilty or not. Crops and homes were burnt, livestock run off or killed, people killed for going back
After the aetheling Eadgar and the northern nobles withdrew north to Scotland in the late summer of 1069 William saw fit to punish those left behind, guilty or not. Crops and homes were burnt, livestock run off or killed, people killed for going back | Source

Edward the Confessor

Frank Barlow's narrative takes you through the background to the first son of Aethelred by Emma, daughter of Duke Richard 'the Fearless', Edward - or Eadward - was raised in Normandy at his grandfather's court. His first friends were Norman and his cousin William believed he was nominated by Edward as his successor, at least that was what he was told through Robert of Jumieges. Robert had been Edward's Archbishop of Canterbury until 1051 and left in a hurry when Godwin, earl of Wessex returned to be reinstated by Edward and most of his Norman courtiers fled. Robert had heard Edward say something about the succession and jumped to conclusions... Or did he? Edward's relationship with his in-laws, particularly Earl Godwin might shed some light on why a war of succession followed his death without a direct heir late in 1065. The history revealed is full of twists, turns and the unexpected. Until Edward came to the throne in 1042 the kingdom had leanings toward Scandinavia. In 1066 those leanings changed toward Rome and political struggles within the kingdom. Read on...


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4 comments

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 weeks ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

I can't get over the thought that English history is like a huge soap opera-- people coming and going, going and coming. And just when it looks like things are settling down, some new invader from the outside pulls up to the beaches. Makes me wonder how England ever became united, let alone an empire. Loved all the pictures and maps, Alan.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 3 weeks ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

It's a Jigsaw puzzle David. (I think you'd better look through this page again, as it had come unstuck after I accidentally clicked on a book link in the middle of putting it together).

It was Vikings all over again, the last time with a bit of 'Frankish' veneer, although our English-born Norman king Henry I levelled the playing field a bit. Still, we haven't been invaded again since (although I think it was more to do with our weather than anything else, like the Spanish armada coming to grief around the Western Isles, and 'Boney' being distracted by Russia - as was Hitler).


Lawrence Hebb 34 hours ago

A 'Jigsaw' maybe, but it's still fascinating, those were dangerous times!


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 22 hours ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello again Lawrence, in a way the new page in the CONQUEST series carries on the story of Northumbria. It's about Alan 'Rufus', who was given land by the River Swale, the Honour of Richmond. He was more sympathetic toward the underdog. Take a look at the Profile Page.

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