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CONQUEST - 5: IN-FIGHTING FORGOTTEN, Northumbrian Nobles Join Forces to Rebut William

Updated on December 31, 2017

Beginning with1066, a year of incursions, strife and defeat, England underwent radical changes and uprisings against the new masters

1066, the battles and struggles around the kingdom that saw two kings fall and a duke raised to the crown of England
1066, the battles and struggles around the kingdom that saw two kings fall and a duke raised to the crown of England | Source

Some background to disatisfaction with Norman rule: Arnkell, son of Ecgfrith, had married into the Bamburgh kindred.

His wife Sigrid was half-sister to Ealdred, and had been married to Eadulf, by whom she was mother to Earl Osulf. She was also aunt to Gospatric, son of Maldred. Arnkell's own kindred were from Deira - south of the Tees, now Yorkshire - and he and his son Gospatric held about 285 carucates* of land in Deira, to which should be added the estates of the Bishopric of Durham. It was claimed in her mother's right as grand-daughter of Bishop Ealdhun of Durham.

The four sons of Karli, another clan in the eastern Deira region now the East Riding of Yorkshire, were connected to the House of Bamburgh (Baebbanburh) by a long-standing feud that dated back to the first year of Knut's reign, when Karli's father Thorbrand the Hold killed Earl/Ealdorman Uhtred of Bamburgh. Thorbrand was in turn killed by Uhtred's son Ealdred and Ealdred fell to Karli Thorbrandsson. In AD1038 Karli invited him to his hall in the Forest of Risewood (near Stamford Bridge, East Riding) and murdered him in an ambush.

The matter rested there for a while. Karli himself was dead by 1069, when his four sons were listed amongst the rebel leaders of the Northumbrian rising against William. The presence of both Gospatric and the sons of Karli in the same host (army) shows the depth of feeling amongst the rebels, although the feud could always flare up again (it did begin anew in AD1074). A powerful motive was needed for these entrenched enmities to be buried, even if only briefly, and the key had to be the Norman presence in the north - and in particular a castle within the bounds of York (Eoferwic).

A writ of AD1069 addressed to "all the thegns, French and English, of Yorkshire" shows that the Norman settlement, or was it entrenchment, in the North had begun in earnest.

William de Percy and Gilbert de Ghant - a Fleming - were established by AD1069 at the latest and it may be significant that the latter's only manor in the shire was at Hunmanby (near Scarborough), once owned by Karli Thorbrandsson. William Malet held three estates in Holderness which had been Knut Karlason's and in AD1086 the jurors of Holderness testified concerning these and other lands that they had not seen the king's writ or seal for them! This suggestion of Norman waywardness on the part of Malet does not stand alone. The jurors of the Ansty Wapentake (Danelaw equivalent of the Saxon Hundred, an administrative district) testified about land in Scagglethorpe and Poppleton that "they saw William Malet in possession... but they did not know in what manner he held it", i.e., how he came by it.

The community of York Minster later believed that Malet had seized the goods, if not the land, of the Church. If Malet's remit included collection of the geld levied in AD1068 his actions may well have aroused hostility. The Anglo-Norman historian William of Malmesbury mentions a quarrel between Archbishop Ealdred and the king over an 'unsupportable tax' levied on the diocese, presumably in AD1068.

West Saxon customs (particularly in respect to tithes) was only ended by King Eadward's promise to 'renew the laws of Knut'. As for those nobles north of the Tyne they had been as likely to submit to the authority of the Scots' kings as those of the Wessex dynasty. The men of the north killed Robert de Commines and his Norman knights in AD1069 in the same spirit as they had despatched Tostig's Danish huscarls in AD1065. In only one respect did they go further. In AD1065 they chose a new earl - Morkere - and in AD1069 they had a rival candidate (Eadgar the aetheling) for the kingship to William.

This was an eventuality that had been feared by the powers that be in Winchester as far back as rule over the infant Aengla Land by the kings of Wessex had begun under King Aelfred's grandson Aethelstan. In AD1013 Uhtred of Bamburgh, ealdorman of Northumbria, and the northern nobility shocked Wessex by being the first to acknowledge Svein 'Forkbeard' Haraldsson as king of England. Now there was a West Saxon aetheling Archbishop Ealdred had been willing to crown after the death of Harold. However, if Eadgar had expected to be crowned by him in AD1069 he would be bitterly disappointed. By then Ealdred was a staunch supporter of William's. Nevertheless the treat to the Norman king was real. Eadgar's rights were still being voiced by 12th Century writers.

*[Robert de Commines' death at Durham in the late summer [in 1068] came as a signal to Northumbrians either side of the Tees to rise against Norman rule. The Danes landed in the Humber to great rejoicing and a large body of men marched on York. See part 11]

William recognised the threat posed by support in the North for Eadgar the aetheling in 1069, and the additional threat of a Danish fleet that had destroyed his ships near the mouth of the Thames. He would be severely hampered by their mobility, unable to contain them. He had to be seen to be master in his own kingdom, at least as far north as the Tees on the north-east coast. His order to have much of the land in the North razed, its inhabitants displaced and their homes destroyed, would cost him the support of the Church and condemnation from his erstwhile supporter the Pontiff Alexander in Rome. There would be exceptions, most of his supporters and - oddly - lands belonging to Waltheof of Northumbria. The Honour of Richmond did not fare so well, being raided by Odo's men. Its lord was the Breton Alan 'Rufus' who had brought his men to fight on William's behalf. The extent of damage reached from the Tees almost to the Wash on the coast of Lincolnshire in the east, and from Chester to Shrewsbury in the west. Survivors fled north to Scotland and west to Worcester. Others, less lucky to find shelter turned to cannibalism. The famine that resulted was not properly addressed until the time of the Black Death almost three centuries later..

There would be no doubt as to who was the crowned head of the Aenglish state - for the time being.

Hugh Thomas' approach is different to that of Marc Morris. The difference is in the point of view being from a Briton's angle, not the Norman's. Land-grabbing by Norman barons led to a destablisation of society, and with William being prepared to overlook some of the excesses of his underlings resentment grew against his ilk. The Fleming Robert de Commines and his retinue paid with their lives at Durham. Would the king change his approach, or would attitudes harden?

Tostig had been ousted from his earldom in 1065 and brought Harald Sigurdsson into the frame in order to win back his earldom

The English earldoms to 1066 - Morkere had authority to the Tyne, north of which Osulf held sway
The English earldoms to 1066 - Morkere had authority to the Tyne, north of which Osulf held sway

Fighting the Norman invader was not restricted to battlefields. There were uprisings across the kingdom, in the south-west, in the south, the west at Hereford and in the north at York and Durham. The Danes came - and went, paid off by William before he set about destroying much of the land in the north over 1069-70. And then there was Ely. Hereward is given thorough coverage, and the siege of Ely was the last major open rebellion against William.


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