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Sword-Flash 1066 - 1: Tostig Goes Into Exile, Eadward Fades and Harold Weds

Updated on June 4, 2019

In a kingdom riven by mistrust, relationships are at stake. Who will be constant in the ensuing tumult?

Harold II and his women, left Eadgytha 'Svanneshals' (Swan-neck) and right his queen Aeldgyth or Aelfgifu, sister of Eadwin and Morkere
Harold II and his women, left Eadgytha 'Svanneshals' (Swan-neck) and right his queen Aeldgyth or Aelfgifu, sister of Eadwin and Morkere | Source
From hearing of Tostig's fate King Eadward faded. By year end he was gone, Harold taking his place on the throne. To cement a tentative relationship with Aelfgar's sons Eadwin and Morkere Harold wed their sister. How did Eadgytha greet this move?
From hearing of Tostig's fate King Eadward faded. By year end he was gone, Harold taking his place on the throne. To cement a tentative relationship with Aelfgar's sons Eadwin and Morkere Harold wed their sister. How did Eadgytha greet this move? | Source
Harold's crowning glory - to avoid problems the entombment of Eadward and Harold's crowning took place on the same day. Normally this would have taken place at the old St Paul's Cathedral, about five miles to the east
Harold's crowning glory - to avoid problems the entombment of Eadward and Harold's crowning took place on the same day. Normally this would have taken place at the old St Paul's Cathedral, about five miles to the east

Tostig was understandably angered that his testament meant nothing.

He left England under a cloud with wife Judith and sons Skuli and Ketil. He headed to Scotland first, to ask for help from King Maelcolm in regaining what he thought to be his earldom, his right.

Maelcolm was unsure of taking on Harold, having heard of how only months earlier Gruffyd ap Llewellyn had fared at the hands of his own followers when pressed by the Earl of Wessex. However he offered men and ships to fight under Tostig's own leadership. Flanders beckoned next, and the court of his brother-in-law Count Baldwin. With Tostig went those few of his huscarls who had been with him in Wiltshire at the time the Earlsburh in York and his house in Northampton were attacked.

Baldwin being a vassal of Duke William naturally informed his overlord of Tostig's arrival following his deposition as Earl of Northumbria, and this after ten years of apparent good service to the king. Tostig is even reported in Snorri Sturlusson's 'King Harald's Saga' as having approached Duke William to offer his services in an invasion of England after his brother took the crown in January, AD1066. Needless to say, William would have turned him down politely. He had his own vassals who would be rewarded for their part in a planned invasion once ships and men were gathered.

King Svein in Denmark offered hospitality, but no more. He was aware of Harold's generalship. Furthermore he did not want to attack a kinsman, whatever attraction the throne of England might have held for him as Harthaknut's heir (Svein Estrithsson was his eldest nephew after his brother Beorn had been murdered by Harold's older brother). Had Eadward still been king he would not want to take on Earl Harold on the battlefield either. Nevertheless Tostig reminded him of the agreement Harthaknut and Magnus had arrived at thirty years or so earlier. Still, Svein politely turned him down, as his brother-in-law Baldwin had done.

Meanwhile sympathy for Tostig from King Eadward and Queen Eadgytha is a matter of record. What is not on record is what his younger brothers Gyrth and Leofwin thought about the matter. Gyrth had been with Tostig during the family's banishment in Flanders in AD1051, and again when visiting Rome in AD1061. His mother Gytha sorrowed over his banishment, according to the Vita Eadwardi, the biography commissioned by Queen Eadgytha, although strictly speaking he went into voluntary exile. Another earldom would have been created for him but he was adamant about holding on to Northumbria. Despite the king's sympathy and dismay on the part of Tostig's own family, they would not have been hard to talk out of the folly of taking sides. The fact of the matter was that Tostig could not possibly have held onto his earldom, even by force from the south at the risk of a rift within the kingdom. Mercia and Northumbria might have had their differences in the past, but they had also been kingdoms independent of Wessex. They and the Danelaw shires would not have found it too hard to sink their differences even at the risk of being opposed by the king. But, rights and wrongs notwithstanding, a rift in the kingdom would have been like an open invitation to fortune-seekers from Normandy and Scandinavia.

No matter how hard Harold had tried on behalf of his younger brother - and he may well have been reminded by more than Tostig of his lack of support for his older brother Svein in his time of trial - he could have changed nothing. Tostig could well have suspected his henchman Copsig of undermining his position, but it was too late by this time for recriminations. Copsig, with kinsmen around the York area, had gone to ground and would not surface until well after the trouble with Tostig had subsided. Gyrth and Leofwin seem to have accepted the reality without trouble and stood by Harold to the death on Caldbec Hill. Both of them being earls with extensive lands in the Home Shires, there are no indications they ever thought of following Tostig into exile.

Despite his lack of years and leadership experience, Morkere was confirmed Earl of Northumbria by a shattered King Eadward. Doubtless he would in time be 'steered' by those in real power north of the Humber, especially north of the Tees. For the time being the whole of the north of England was in the hands of the Mercian brothers, Eadwin in Mercia and Morkere in Northumbria. Harold wed their sister, the strikingly attractive Aeldgifu at some time in the New Year after his coronation. What Eadgytha 'Swan-Neck' or her six offspring thought of the matter has never been recorded, The youngest, Ulf, was still a child at the time, not yet trained to bear arms. It may have been as bewildering for the older sons, Godwin, Eadmund and Magnus. Harold's nephew Hakon - Svein's son - is not mentioned in the scheme of things, either. Like the aetheling Eadgar he would have been in his mid-teens, in those days already a man and in training for war... A test for his skills would not long be in waiting.

What Godwin would have made of all of this is for a skilled medium to let us know, but he would not have been happy. Svein aside, Tostig had been the 'apple of his eye'.

If the Northumbrian thegns were in the right, what could have gone wrong with Tostig's administration? Did he rely too much on Copsig? It is certainly safe to say Copsig was a bad apple, corrupt and a corrupter of others. He and others of Tostig's household had their eyes on the revenues that came into Tostig's treasury, and were dealt with summarily during the rebellion - all tarred with the same brush, regardless of complicity - but it is interesting they sought to unseat Tostig whilst he was away. If they thought they were right, why wait until he was away... Or did they still hold him in awe and hit at his underlings they thought were mired in Copsig's 'skimming' schemes.

In the aftermath of Tostig's banishment King Eadward's health suffered. By the turn of the year he was in steep decline and (by our modern calendars) on January 5th, AD1066 he died. Harold was crowned in the afternoon after Eadward's entombment at the West Minster instead of in St Paul's Cathedral as would have been. He wanted the matter dealt with quickly, to maintain rule, as if Eadward's reign had been a hiccup and barely noticeable. Effectively Harold had already ruled almost since he became earl.

The dowager Queen Eadgytha no longer had the king's ear, nor did she want it. For her Harold was persona non grata. How far Aeldgifu took her standing is not on record either. She is a shadowy figure who slips in and out of Harold's life like a ghost. According to the Chroniclers she barely existed save in name and as mother to Harold's son of the same name (who was born a little after his father, King Harold's death at the hands of William's vassals).

See description below
See description below | Source

From being Earl of Essex, Earl of East Anglia, to Earl of Wessex after his father Godwin's death, and finally king for ten months, Harold's reputation as a warrior leader grew through the years until he made that one mistake. Wishing to repeat his victory at Stamford Bridge near York, he ignored wise counsel. People he knew near the south coast suffered at the hands of a ruthless, seasoned campaigner, Duke William, who had been warring since youth to survive.

English earldoms before William's invasion

Morkere/Morcar is shown as holding Northumbria on this map that post-dates Tostig's departure
Morkere/Morcar is shown as holding Northumbria on this map that post-dates Tostig's departure

Tostig saw Harold's negotiating with Eadwin and Morkere as treachery

Rivals in the English hierarchy, Eadwin and Morkere were the scions of Earl Leofric's line through their father Aelfgar. The wayward Aelfgar had earlier allied himself with Gruffyd ap Llewellyn in raiding Herefordshire. He had also warned Gruffyd of Harold's impending invasion of Gwynedd. When Aelfgar died suddenly in 1064 Harold took a fleet to North Wales. At the same time Tostig went overland with a large force from Northumbria, crossing the top corner of Mercia past Chester.

The Mercian earl Eadwin would have been foolhardy in any attempt at holding them back, as this would have been seen by King Eadward as abetting Gruffyd and Eadwin could well have forfeited his wealth and standing as his father had done a decade or so earlier.

At this time Tostig was still looked up to as a strong lord. The Earl of Northumbria needed to be strong, but he also needed to be more astute than Tostig was to steer through the minefield of local loyalties, family loyalties and feuds. He was not helped by his choice of the avaricious Copsig as his deputy. In his time as earl, Tostig's predecessor Siward - appointed by Knut early in his reign from 1016 - was a strong, astute man with blood ties in the north through marriage. He would no doubt have been succeeded by his son Osbeorn. It was no to be, as Osbeorn was slain by Macbeth at Dunsinnan (fact - Shakespeare got this part right, at least) and younger son Waltheof would not have been old enough nor as experienced as he would have needed to be. He was later made earl of Middle Anglia.

Tostig's older sister, the queen Eadgytha (Edith) was no great help to him. She had invited a young Gospatric (not Tostig's ally, a relative of Earl Siward's son Earl Waltheof) to London and had him murdered in December 1064. Tostig blotted his own copybook by having a Yorkshire landowner Gamal murdered in his own rooms at the Earlsburh in York. Gamal held lands in Ryedale where St Gregory's Minster is situated, and had a dedicated sundial put above the door there. With that Tostig's standing plummeted in the eyes of the Yorkshire thegns, and they came together to find a replacement. Earl Eadwin put forward his younger brother Morkere. Despite his lack of military experience and training, the young man was chosen as the lesser of two 'evils'. Morkere's lack of experience would tell a year or so later.

Harold had some serious talking to do on Eadward's behalf at Northampton after Tostig's holdings in the north had been destroyed, his huscarls slain almost to a man. The detested Copsig fled, (to appear later as William's choice for earl in Northumbria, and met his fate at Newburn-on-Tyne when the feast to honour his investiture was interrupted by Earl Gospatric -Tostig's former ally - and his kinsman Osulf. Copsig was beheaded by Osulf/Oswulf). A few of Tostig's huscarls were with him when he went hunting with his brother-in-law the king. Eadward was deeply aggrieved at Tostig's loss but was advised by Harold that the northern thegns and landowners were adamant. The threat of Northampton (part of Tostig's holdings lay here) being laid waste and civil war in the face of possible intervention from across the sea was a sobering thought. Tostig was offered an alternative but he was just as adamant on keeping Northumbria.

He would have had to wait for one of the earls to die. As they were younger than him he would have had a long wait unless war with an outside force intervened. Before leaving for the court of his brother-in-law Baldwin VI of Flanders he would have threatened Harold with revenge.

Next - 2: 'The Long-hair'd star'

Earl Godwin of Wessex, son of a South Saxon thegn and rebel Wulfnoth. A dynasty grew around him, flourished... and was gone again within fifty years of its rise to prominence. Even Harold's sons, Godwin, Eadmund and Magnus who wanted to make their mark vanished into the wilderness of history. His grand-daughter Gytha made her unique contribution to history, though. She became mother to a new dynasty in the east. Kiev and Novgorod was the beginning of a family that spanned Scandinavia, Germany, Russia and England... Queen Elizabeth II is a descendant of Harold II.

Not a lot of people know that.

Sun dial over the door into St Gregory's Minster, Kirkdale

Donated to the church by local landowner/thegn Gamal, there are references to King Eadward and Tostig, who took over the land until his deposition in 1065
Donated to the church by local landowner/thegn Gamal, there are references to King Eadward and Tostig, who took over the land until his deposition in 1065 | Source

Kirkdale lies between Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside just a mile or so to the north off the A170 (that starts to the west at Thirsk, climbs Sutton Bank's 'Z' bend at 1-in-4 or 25% and ends in central Scarborough on the coast). You can also reach Kirkdale via Helmsley more direct from York via the B1363 that starts just to the north-east of York off the ring road - or take A19 out of the city to the roundabout at Rawcliffe and turn right about a mile or so. You will find a quiet clearing after leaving the A170 and turning right less than a mile. It's a secluded location, very quiet. Although it's an English Heritage site, like Easby Abbey near Richmond to the north off the A1/A66, there's a small car park nearby and no entry charge.

© 2012 Alan R Lancaster


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