GODWIN'S CLAN - 9: TOSTIG GODWINSON, The Critical Years - A Test Of Will

The continuing threat in the reign of King Eadward was from the west. Gruffyd ap Llewellyn had been sheltered for too long by Aelfgar

King Eadward favoured Tostig and was pleased with the earl's administration in Northumbria
King Eadward favoured Tostig and was pleased with the earl's administration in Northumbria
Gwynedd at the time of Gruffyd ap Llewellyn. Harold sailed around the coast towards the north whilst Tostig and his Northumbrians rode across country
Gwynedd at the time of Gruffyd ap Llewellyn. Harold sailed around the coast towards the north whilst Tostig and his Northumbrians rode across country
Tostig and Copsig await the thegns with their tithes before the rebellion late in 1065
Tostig and Copsig await the thegns with their tithes before the rebellion late in 1065
Tostig was hunting with his brother-in-law King Eadward when news of the rebellion came.
Tostig was hunting with his brother-in-law King Eadward when news of the rebellion came. | Source

Soon after the death of Earl Aelfgar of Mercia around the Christmas of AD1062

Earl Harold set in motion a campaign to strike against Gruffyd ap Llewellyn. The aim was to catch him off guard - now that his English 'contact' had gone - and if possible slay him. He took a small army from Wessex to Rhuddlan on the Gwynedd coast of northern Wales.

Gruffyd was warned by his old ally Aelfgar - now Earl of Mercia - before Harold could reach him, fleeing by ship. The earl contented himself with burning down Gruffyd's palace and remaining ships. A figurehead from the Welsh prince's 'flagship' and other ornaments were taken in the raid. Although largely rated a failure, the raid did show Gruffyd how far Eadward's 'long arm' reached, and this would stand Harold in good stead for his campaigns in the years ahead. The king and his chief earl were now set on destroying Gruffyd and all he stood for.

Learning of Aelfgar's death, Harold set out the following spring of AD1063 from Bristol with a fleet for the coast of Gwynedd. Earl Tostig took a large force of horsemen across southern Northumbria from York for the River Dee, crossing into northern Wales close to Chester with the Mercians looking on - unwilling to help Harold, unable now to help Gruffyd.

Land was laid waste in the pincer attack, taking hostages on the way to Rhuddlan. Anglesey, Wales' granary was wasted. Swift attacks around the coast put Gruffyd's men on edge, all attempts at defence beaten off. Stone markers were raised along the way everywhere Harold subdued his enemy's underlings, inscribed, 'Hic fuit victor Haroldus' ('Here Harold was victor').

Gruffyd was pushed from pillar to post and withdrew finally to the mountains of Snowdonia, from where he harassed the besiegers. His men were no longer as cocky as they were -desperate. He was cut off from the groundswell of support. With the demands made by Harold he was made to submit by his own men, beheaded, his head bundled up and handed to Harold in in a show of submission by the North Welsh.

A political settlement was arrived at whereby Gruffyd's younger half-brothers Bleddyn and Rhiwallon were given rule over Gwynedd, providing they gave hostages and paid scot (blood money). Some land gains were made, including Portskewet in Gwent (South Wales) where Harold had a hunting lodge built. The various smaller dynasties of southern Wales were left floundering in the aftermath of Gruffyd's downfall to master their own provinces.

Harold had shown himself - with Tostig's help - that he was a great leader as well as tactician and diplomat. The only self-appointed 'king' of the Welsh, the most powerful of the princes had been defeated by the Earl of Wessex and his younger brother Tostig, Earl of Northumbria in unison. As late as the 13th Century scribes in the province, including the Anglo-Norman Herald of Wales attributed the easy mastery of the land by the late Normans to Harold's defeat of Gruffyd. John of Salisbury, perhaps blowing the issue out of proportion, stated that as so many Welshmen were killed King Eadward gave the women the option of marrying Englishmen, and that Harold enacted a law to punish armed Welshmen entering England.

Following Harold's return from Normandy in AD 1064 he mused over William's ambition to be king of England on Eadward's death. He was still musing a year later when Northumbria rebelled against his brother Tostig. some sources put this down to the Godwinsons' 'Saxon' origins, wholly ignoring that although Godwin himself was West Saxon, his wife Gytha was Danish. Like Harold, Tostig had been raised in both cultures and spoke both tongues. His predecessor Siward, Earl of Northumbria had no Northumbrian links either, yet he had ruled there for the kings since the time of Knut for over twenty years without mishap. He had married well, into the regional nobility - some kindred to King Eadward.

Tostig, however, was already wed and even if he had not been close to her it would not have been politic for him to repudiate Judith - sister of Count Baldwin - in order to close ties within his earldom. Morkere, the Northumbrians' choice to replace Tostig was as much an outsider, only had a loose connection through a landowner Wulfric 'Spott' with Ealdorman Aelfhelm of York who had been slain in AD1006.

Having successfully ruled Northumbria for Eadward for a decade, moreover, before being deposed. there had to be other grounds for wanting another outsider as earl, especially so soon after the successful campaign with Harold against Gruffyd. The reasons had to be connected with Tostig's appointment of Copsig as his deputy. With lands, friends and strong kindred connections in the North Thirding (Riding) of she shire of York, and in Lindsey in the northern Danelaw shire of Lincoln, Copsig was well placed as an adviser. He knew many in the region south of the Tees who may have owed him favours.

Tostig and the Countess Judith gave generously to St Cuthbert's Church in Durham (later rebuilt by the Normans), hoping to gain the saint's good wishes for his rule. He installed Aethelwin as bishop of Durham to replace the unpopular Aethelric(although they were brothers). Aethelwin stayed loyal to the earl throughout his tribulations and would die in captivity after taking part in the Ely uprising.of 1070-71.

Tostig had also maintained the close ties Siward had cultivated with Maelolm 'Canmore', the Scots' king, escorting him through Northumbria in AD1059 to make his submission to Eadward after the defeat of his rival Macbeothen (Macbeth) who had slain Siward's elder son Osbeorn at Dunsinnan a few years earlier.

The Godwins

The trials, the triumphs and tragedies of Earl Godwin, the Countess Gytha and their offspring. Loyal to Eathelred II, 'Unraed' and his son Eadmund 'Ironside', Godwin was won over by Knut in 1016 and raised to an earldom.

Son Svein was first to go astray. As Godwin's first son he was raised to the earldom of Hereford and held it ably against the Welsh. However he was tainted, spoilt, and crossed the king more than once... read on

Tostig in Crisis

So why, suddenly, after Tostig had overseen the earldom for ten successful years did the Northumbrian nobles want him replaced by the much younger, callow and untried Morkere? Tostig had upheld the law rigorously and kept order much in the same way as Siward had done before him.

The Vita Eadwardi records him lowering the numbers of outlaws by mutilation or execution. Local thegns may have felt the earl was encroaching on their jurisdiction - trampling on their toes - but he was by no means over-zealous in his pursuit of upholding the law. His name was entered in the commemmorative inscription on the sundial over the door of St Gregory's Minster in Kirkdale (near Helmsley) paid for by Orm Gamalsson, father of one of Tostig's later enemies. His name was also entered in gold lettering by a scribe in the Liber Vitae of the Durham Clerks.

The first setback to Tostig's stewardship came in AD1058 when a Hiberno-Norse fleet raided on the Irish Sea coast of Northumbria in support of Earl Aelfgar. Domesday acknowledges land in Amounderness as 'waste' almost three decades later. Nevertheless blame on this occasion was not allocated to Tostig, nor when on pilgrimage to Rome with Harold King Maelcolm raided down as far as the Tees - including Lindisfarne. No retaliation was mentioned and it can be assumed a 'black mark' went against his record for not hitting back on his return. However, as the Liber Eadwardi hints he was able to rein in Maelcolm's excesses through his friend the Scots' king's kinsman Gospatric, son of Maldred.

The real bugbear can be traced to when Tostig became embroiled in a local dispute. Either late AD1063 - after the Welsh campaign with Harold - or early AD1064 he is said to have had Gamal Ormsson slain together with Ulf Dolfinsson when they visited him in his chambers at the Earlsburh in York. Taken together - in context - with his older sister Queen Eadgytha's order to have another Gospatric slain during a visit to the king. Earl Siward had acted likewise, having Earl Eadwulf of Bernicia killed in bid to take over the whole earldom in AD1041.

There is another likelihood that brought Tostig to these straits. The Gospatric murdered on the orders of Eadgytha may have been the same one who issued a well-known writ against Tostig with regard to the loss to Maelcolm 'Canmore' of lands in Allerdale (Cumbria). The Gospatric who was kin to Maelcolm had accompanied Tostig and his party to Rome, and showed great courage in allowing the others to get away from robbers by 'taking on the identity' of the earl. Tostig would have honoured his debt by promoting Gospatric's interests in northern Northumbria. This would have been against the interests of the rival descendents of an earlier Ealdorman Waltheof - no kin to Siward's son - and the slaying of Gamal Ulfsson and Gospatric ould have been in keeping with such a line of action.

The earldoms after Tostig's fall, AD1065

Earldoms after Tostig's deposition, Morkere (Morcar) in Northumbria, 1065. Oswulf - top right - was a kinsman of Gospatric, who took the earldom for a short time in 1067 and left for Scotland when he realised he could not fulfil William's tax demands
Earldoms after Tostig's deposition, Morkere (Morcar) in Northumbria, 1065. Oswulf - top right - was a kinsman of Gospatric, who took the earldom for a short time in 1067 and left for Scotland when he realised he could not fulfil William's tax demands | Source

Some heady reading here, and thoroughly researched. Frank Barlow has followed Eadward from birth AD 1005 at Islip in Oxfordshire to his death around Christmas 1065 and beyond to canonisation in the later middle ages. Follow his youth and exile with mother Emma to Normandy, the loss of brother Aelfred in 1040, return to England in 1041 and kingship in 1042. His marital relationship with Earl Godwin's Eadgytha and his relationship with his in-laws was well documented, as was his preference for Norman company..This would prove a stumbling block to all concerned in the years leading up to 1051-52... Find out why.

Frank Barlow - Edward the Confessor

St Gregory's Minster, Testament to an era

St Gregory's Minster at Kirkdale near Kirkbymoorside, N Yorks
St Gregory's Minster at Kirkdale near Kirkbymoorside, N Yorks | Source
Sundial made by Brand to text laid down by a priest on behalf of the landowner Gamal
Sundial made by Brand to text laid down by a priest on behalf of the landowner Gamal | Source

Complications

Gospatric the son of Uhtred, Lord of Allerdale, was the senior spokesman for the elder line of Waltheof's offspring. The other two were also linked to this Gospatric. Ulf Dolfinnson was likely to have been the grandson of Thorfinn MacThore to whom Gospatric had given lands in Allerdale in a noted writ during the time of Earl Siward. Gamal would have been the grandson of his namesake who was also mentioned in the Allerdale writ, and son of the Orm who had the Kirkdale sundial made and who was wedded to Gospatric's niece Aethel-thryth. The killings must have been to advance Tostig's young friend Gospatric who came down from the lesser line of Waltheof's offspring.

Whatever Tostig's motives, the deaths would certainly have stirred hatred for him and his administration among the Bernician clan. Yet this unrest is still no basis for the rebellion. Gamelbearn, Dunstan (son of Aethelnoth) and Gluniarn (son of Heardwulf) were southern Northumbrian thegns with no known links to Tostig's friend Gospatric and unlikely to have been worried by the killings - or even the rivalries of Waltheof's offspring. Their interests were borne of their widespread lands south of the Tees. Domesday tells of these lands, one estate at Temple Newsham held by Dunstan and Gluniarm together, mainly in the West Thirding but inclusive of some buildings in York.

John of Worcester hinted at the likely grounds in a huge tax Tostig had unwisely levied on the whole of 5the earldom. Additionally, the Vita Edwardi - otherwise sympathetic to Tostig - allows that he had put a heavy yoke on those under him. Possibly the northern shires had been previously favourably assessed and now the 'hammer' of due revenue was to fall heavily. The change was not detailed but may have sparked the dispute upward from smaller thegns. Chronicle 'C' tells us of all the Deiran (Yorkshire) thegns being involved and that all his allies had left him standing on his own.

Such an increase of taxes was for the king's benefit alone, and as the earl would take a third it would have enriched Tostig as well. His involvement with Harold's incursion in Gwynedd and the stern enforcement of the law would have emptied his chancelry.

Tostig did not see the revolt coming, however. Thinking himself secure in late AD1065 he took his chances of leaving his affairs in the hands of Copsig. Through rigorous enforcement of law and order, and stamping down on blood-feuds general unrest in the earldom had been dampened. This and an idea that he was safe from insurrection or incursons from Wales, or from across the Irish Sea and Scotland, Tostig would have been lulled into thinking nothing was likely to buck him. So in the after-year of AD1065 the opposition took their chances, exploiting the earl's visit to his brother-in-law and sister in the south. King Eadward was hunting at Britford in Wilshire and Tostig had joined them.

A rude awakening awaited Tostig from the north.

Next - 10: Tostig, Downfall and Banishment

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