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Conquest - 9: After Retaking York, On Crossing the Pennines Westward Mutinous Mercenaries Anger William

Updated on June 5, 2019

William's paid men wanted what was owed them, to be on their way home now they thought their task was at an end

Norman cavalry - the rider second from left with the beard might easily have been a mercenary, as the Normans at this time tended to be clean-shaven
Norman cavalry - the rider second from left with the beard might easily have been a mercenary, as the Normans at this time tended to be clean-shaven | Source
Pennine midwinter - nowhere to be stuck outdoors when the weather closes in during the winter months. Fighting through drifting snow even on horseback leaves a lot to be desired.
Pennine midwinter - nowhere to be stuck outdoors when the weather closes in during the winter months. Fighting through drifting snow even on horseback leaves a lot to be desired. | Source
William's campaigns after his return from Normandy late 1067 to 1072 - the rebellion in Exeter was followed by others, in the West, the North, the Fens...
William's campaigns after his return from Normandy late 1067 to 1072 - the rebellion in Exeter was followed by others, in the West, the North, the Fens... | Source

Having overseen the wasting of many hamlets in Yorkshire, towards the end of January, AD1070 William set out south-west from York

He would cross the Pennines from Northumbria into northern Mercia, his aim to put down another revolt... Across snow-bound tracks in the Pennine mountain range that formed the 'spine' of the kingdom.

First he garrisoned York's castles, being rebuilt at the time in stone to withstand further attacks. The Danes still held William Malet and his young family, as well as the castellan, the Fleming Gilbert de Ghent. Another pair of castellans had to be appointed to replace them until they were released, and that would not be until Jarl Osbeorn's men sailed in the spring with the change of winds.

With the north country's shortages of food over winter, disease struck at the Danes and cut their numbers. The hostages were fed to keep them in good health, as 'bargaining chips', and discipline must have suffered in the camp on Axholm. But that was not William's problem. He had an agenda, across the Pennines in Mercia on the other side of the kingdom.

In the bitter, biting Pennine winds and snows of February he led his men, Normans and mercenaries, across the mountain tracks, through deep dales and murderous drifts, across hazardous rock-strewn becks and squeezed past ice-cut blocks of limestone and gritstone outcrops. Worn sandstone cliffs towered over them. This was something completely different from Normandy or anywhere else in Frankia that they had known, and the cold was bitter! Think of coming from somehere like Brittany to a bleak land such as the hardened English or Anglo-Norse and Danes were able to eke a living from.

A mutiny threatened on the crossing between southern Deira and north-eastern Mercia, (Derbyshire Peak mountain tracks lead across over high passes to Cheshire and Staffordshire. Follow them in harsh winter weather conditions on horseback and you would know what they faced). William kept them in line by threatening to withhold payment until they had given him another half-year's sword-service. His Normans knew to keep their mouths shut.

Faced by his sudden appearance at Chester the Mercians yielded without a fight. William had a castle built in stone at Chester and had the Stafford fortifications rebuilt in stone. He inflicted the same retribution on northern Mercia as had been inflicted on the land east of the Dales and both sides of the Tees. Refugees fled as far south as Evesham in Worcestershire, many dying of starvation even as they were given food. At Evesham they were given food by Abbot Aethelwig, of whom it was said even the Normans were afraid.

Best known aside from the battle near Hastings, the 'harrying of the north' met with universal condemnation - even from Rome - at the time and later. Its actual effects are hard to assess at the time but plainly the destruction of crops led to a later failure of the harvest and blighted England for many centuries to come.

Banishment of the native aristocracy of the north paved the way for Norman settlement, and it seems to have been in the aftermath of the revolt that compact lordships were made for the defence of York. Few of the leaders of the revolt were immediately dispossessed. Maerleswein seems never to have returned from Scotland, and Siward 'Bearn' lost his lands. Yet Eadgar was received at William's court in AD1074 when he subitted and was granted unspecified honours which he later found not to be fitting to his 'blood-line'.

Waltheof and Gospatric kept their earldoms, although in neither case for long. The sons of Karli still held at least some of their land in AD1074, and it was not the Normans but their old enemy Waltheof who caused their downfall before meeting his own at the hands of his Norman wife Judith.. Eadric 'Cild' made his peace with William and was with the Norman army when they invaded Scotland in AD1072. Eadric's family may have kept some of their Shropshire estates. Arnkell was exiled but his son Gospatric - the hostage of AD1068 - still held much of his own and his father's land (according to Domesday in AD1086, both as tenant-in-chief and of Count Alan 'the Red'). He may have held other lands as well, as the list of 'mesne-tenants' in Domesday is far from comprehensive. The number of English families holding their own and other Englishmen's lands on into the 12th Century has been underestimated.

Alwin, son of Northmann fled to Scotland with the aetheling and his lands were found given to Gilbert Tison, but when Gilbert granted lands which Alwin had once held to Selby Abbey, his charter was attested by Alwin's son Uhtred and members of the same family still held some of Alwin's land of the Tison 'fee' at the end of the 12th Century. Some Yorkshire thegns even gained from the opportunities offered by the reorganisation of lands and fiefs after AD1070.

*Entries of 'waste' in the Domesday survey were taken as evidence of lasting destruction but it is not clear that this reading is correct. 'Waste' can denote a lack of information - or the surveyors may have been intimidated and driven off under threat of their lives if they returned, as north of the Tees there are no entries for Durham or Northumberland. Across the northern Pennines was Scots' territory. He would drive north in 1074 to take on Malcolm III 'Canmore'.

Next - 10: Eadric, the Welsh Princes and Danish Landings

See description below
See description below | Source

More essential reading from Osprey with copious illustrations, diagrams and photographs of the Normans, their equipment and the extent of the uprisings around England. A handy reference for anyone interested in the era or - as in my case - to add some detail to historical fiction writing.

This is to remind readers that William had a hard fight on his hands from the time he landed in October, 1066 - as much with his own followers as with his new subjects - his major campaign in England against Hereward at Ely was not the last. In 1074 he led a campaign against King Malcolm III into eastern Scotland. This was to impress on the Scots' king that William did not like him paying host to the northern rebels.

© 2012 Alan R Lancaster


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