Death of King Eadwig, 1st October 959
On 1st October we remember the death in 959 AD of a ‘wanton youth’ who ‘misused his personal beauty in lascivious behaviour’ (according to William of Malmesbury). The youth in question was King Eadwig, who came to the throne of Wessex at the age of 15, ruled for 4 years, then died mysteriously and early to be succeeded by Edgar, his younger brother.
Eadwig “All-Fair” was born in 940/941 AD to King Edmund and Alfgifu of Salisbury. According to the Chronicle of Athelweard (a 10th century nobleman):
“His [Eadred’s] successor to the throne was Edwy, who, on account of his great personal beauty, was called Pankalus by the people. He held the sovereignty four years, and was much beloved.”
He succeeded his uncle Eadred in 955 AD, having been too young to take the throne in 946 AD when his father was killed in an altercation at Pucklechurch. He immediately had a confrontation with Dunstan, the Bishop who had been so important in the reigns of his predecessors.
Eadwig’s reign was brief and crisis-ridden, although there was no challenge to the unity of the kingdom from York, despite the fact that Eadred had only recovered it by driving out the Viking ruler Erik Bloodaxe the previous year. Eadwig is possibly best remembered as “the one who had the Coronation Scandal”, where he is reported to have absented himself from the feast in order to indulge in some fun and games with a young lady and her mother. The trio were found in bed by Bishop Dunstan, who forced him to return to the feast; Eadwig exiled Dunstan soon after. However, by exiling Dunstan he earned the enmity of a number of ecclesiastics who were powerful within the kingdom.
Eadwig also confiscated his grandmother Eadgifu’s estates, possibly due to her long and unstinting support of Dunstan. Soon after that he lost the services of another of Dunstan’s supporters, the ealdorman Athelstan Half-King of East Anglia who retired to a monastery in 956 AD; his family had been extremely powerful, but Eadwig now appointed a new ealdorman to some of his estates in Mercia.
Around 60 charters survive from 956 AD as Eadwig attempted to build a loyal base of followers. The charters saw a number of promotions of his royal relations. This favouritism may well have had the opposite effect from that he wanted by alarming the other noble families, including Dunstan’s.
His wife Alfgifu was probably the sister of the chronicler Athelweard and a descendant of Athelred I of Mercia, like Eadwig himself. Eadwig’s marriage would have been a threat to Edgar, Eadwig’s younger brother, as the prospect of a son to contest the throne became more likely. In 957 AD, when Edgar was 14 and considered of age, the kingdom split into two, apparently fairly peacefully. North of the Thames, Mercia and Northumbria gave their loyalty to Edgar and his court, while in the south (Wessex) rule remained in Eadwig’s court. Eadwig appeared as “rex anglorum” (King of the English) in charters after this date, so probably was regarded as the overall king, while Edgar was referred to as King of the Mercians. Coins were still issued in Eadwig’s name both north and south of the Thames as well. However, Edgar did recall Dunstan from the exile imposed by Eadwig.
The split may have been indicative of a revolt by the northern kingdoms, but it is also possible it was agreed in advance. The Worcester manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in particular records:
“AD 955. This year king Eadred passed away, and he rests in the Old-Minster. And Eadwy succeeded to the kingdom of the West Saxons, and Eadgar, his brother, succeeded to the kingdom of the Mercians: and they were the sons of king Eadmund and of S. Aelfgyfe.”
In 958 AD the Archbishop of Canterbury annulled the marriage between Eadwig and Alfgifu on the grounds of consanguinity (being too closely related). Given that this would not have been new information, it would be more likely that this was for political reasons. There were no children.
Sources for Eadwig’s reign are primarily the “Life of Dunstan”, which is hostile to him, or later from Edgar’s time, and Edgar was his rival. Eadwig’s early death does not allow us to know for sure whether he could have been a strong king or not.
On Eadwig’s death at the age of 18 or 19 on 1st October 959 AD Edgar succeeded to Wessex and was able to re-unite the two kingdoms once more.
Ordination of Bishop Tilberht, 2nd October 779
Tilberht (Tilbert) was ordained as Bishop of Hexham on 2nd October 779 AD according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
“AD 779 Alhmund, bishop of Hexham, died on the 7th of the ides of September [7th Sept.], and on the 6th of the nones of October [2nd Oct.], Tilbert was ordained in his stead.”
Little is known about Tilberht. According to Baring-Gould:
“S.Alkmund was consecrated Bishop of Hexham in 767, and died on the 7th September, 780. He was succeeded in the see by Tilbert or Gilbert, who died in 789. Nothing is known of their acts. The translation of their relics took place in the 12th century, and an account of the miracles then wrought by their intercession was written by a canon of Hexham. This account still exists. The bishops are mentioned by Simeon of Durham and Roger Hoveden.”
Simeon of Durham adds that the consecration took place “in the place which is called Uulfeswelle, that is, the Wolfs Well.” This has been identified as Haltwhistle near Hadrian’s Wall. He also records that in 786 AD:
“Aldulf was consecrated bishop, by archbishop Eanbald and bishops Tilberht and Hygbald, in the monastery which is called Et Corabrige and, enriched with many gifts and donations, was honourably sent back to his own church.”
Putting Tiberht’s episcopate in context, the instability in Northumbria and ominous events in the south can be noted. Firstly, in 787 AD, three ships of Northmen landed in Wessex and the king’s reeve was killed when he tried to take them to the royal estate; these were the first recorded ships of Norse invaders and pre-dated the notorious attack on Lindisfarne in 793 AD. In 788 AD the Northumbrian King Alfwald was assassinated by Sicga and Osred then ruled Northumbria until 790 AD.
Tilberht died in 789 AD and was succeeded by Bishop Athelberht.
Tostig Godwinson driven out of York, 3rd October 1065
On 3rd October 1065 the thanes of Yorkshire occupied York and outlawed Tostig Godwinson, their Earl, for unlawful actions. In his place they called upon Morcar, the brother of Edwin, Earl of Mercia. Tostig was subsequently banished by King Edward (the Confessor) and eventually he allied himself with Harald Hardrada and reappeared at the invasion of Fulford and Stamford Bridge the following year, where he was killed.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that:
“all the thanes in Yorkshire and in Northumberland gathered themselves together, and outlawed their earl, Tostig, and slew his household men, all that they might come at, as well English as Danish: and they took all his weapons at York, and gold, and silver, and all his treasures which they might anywhere there hear of, and sent after Morkar, the son of Aelfgar the earl, and chose him to be their earl.”
Alfgar of Mercia was the son of Leofric and Godgifu (Godiva) and he was unjustly outlawed in 1055 by King Edward, but later reinstated. He had four children, one of whom pre-deceased him. The others were his sons Edwin and Morcar, and his daughter Ealdgyth who was first married to Llewellyn ap Gruffydd and then later to Harold Godwinson. Harold had been at the root of Alfgar’s troubles in 1055 over the Earldom of East Anglia. Alfgar’s family and the Godwins were the most powerful in England.
Earl Godwin had a large family, and Tostig was the third son, younger than Sweyn and Harold. Their sister Eadgyth married Edward the Confessor.
Harold and Tostig were not necessarily close. Sweyn had received an earldom in 1043 and Harold received his earldom in 1045, but Tostig was still a thane when the family was briefly exiled in 1051. The family went to Flanders where Tostig married Judith, the daughter of the Baldwin IV, the Count of Flanders. Judith was also the aunt of Matilda of Flanders who married William of Normandy, making William Tostig’s nephew through marriage.
In 1052 the family was able to return to England and pick up their old honours. In 1055 the Earl of Northumbria, Siward, died in York. His surviving son was too young to take over the earldom and Tostig was appointed in his place, as well as receiving the earldoms of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire. He was never popular with the Yorkshire nobles, although King Edward was fond of him. He introduced new laws and high levels of taxation, and was seen as tyrannical and unjust. It is alleged that he was involved in the murders of a number of noblemen. Around 1063 or 1064, Gamal, son of Orm, and Ulf, son of Dolfin, were assassinated when they visited Tostig under safe conduct. (The sundial at St Gregory Minster in Kirkdale mentions Tostig, and was set up by Orm, the son of Gamal.)
The ‘Vita Edwardi’, records that Tostig had ‘repressed the Northumbrians with the heavy yoke of his rule’. As he became more unpopular he struggled to raise his levies to defend against Scottish incursions and had to resort to hiring expensive and even more unpopular mercenaries.
However, in 1061 he and Judith made a pilgrimage to Rome with Ealdred, the recently appointed Archbishop of York, and are generally recorded as being very devout. It was not enough to bring him favour at home.
Finally Tostig was ousted on 3rd October 1065.
Harold tried to broker an agreement between the parties, but Morcar was granted the earldom in Tostig’s place and Tostig and Judith went to Judith’s family home Flanders once more. In the following spring of 1066 he visited his nephew William in Normandy to try to persuade him to invade England immediately and left him when William insisted on preparing more thoroughly. Tostig then raised a fleet with the help of Baldwin V (Judith’s brother and now the Count of Flanders) and ravaged the south coast of England. Harold (who was by now the King) drove him off and Tostig made his way north, attempting to bring his younger brother Gyrth onto his side but failing. Edwin and Morcar were similarly robust in their response and also drove Tostig off. Finally Tostig arrived in Scotland where he spent the summer at King Malcolm’s court.
In the autumn he persuaded King Harald Hardrada of Norway to invade England and their forces arrived at Fulford outside York to meet the men of Edwin and Morcar in battle on 20th September 1066.
Meanwhile Henry of Huntingdon tells an unlikely story of how in 1065 Tostig and his brother Harold had a fight in the royal hall at Windsor in front of the king. It was allegedly caused by Tostig who was jealous of Harold’s high standing with King Edward and was unable to restrain himself when Harold was serving wine to the king. The chronicler than claims that Tostig went to Harold’s estate in Hereford and dismembered all the servants, putting body parts into all the vessels of drink. As a result Edward outlawed him and he went into exile.
Death of Osgyth, 7th October
On 7th October c. 700 AD there was a Danish raid in Essex which resulted in the death of Osgyth, the Abbess of a convent which later became St Osgyth’s [Osith’s] at Chich in Essex.
Osgyth was the daughter of Frithuwald of Surrey and Wilburh, his wife. Her uncle, Wilburh’s brother, was Wulfhere of Mercia, son of Penda and his successor as ruler of Mercia. Frithuwald was not only Wulfhere’s brother-in-law but also his sub-king, ruling Surrey as part of the Mercian hegemony.
Osgyth was probably born at Quarrendon in Buckinghamshire where her father had a palace. She was raised by her aunt Edith at Aylesbury, along with aunt Eadburh of Bicester, another two of Penda’s children and both Christian saints.
During her childhood a miracle story tells about her restoration to life following an accident. One day her aunt Edith sent her with a book to St Modwenna. On the way Osgyth had to cross a stream during inclement weather and was blown from the bridge into the water where she drowned. Edith thought she was safely with Modwenna, but Modwenna was unaware she was coming, so the poor girl was not missed for a couple of days. On the third day the alarm was raised and her body was found in the water with the book. Fervent prayers were offered by both the saintly women and Osgyth was miraculously restored to them unharmed (along with the book).
When she grew up Osgyth was married to King Sighere of Essex by her uncle Wulfhere in order to establish his control of Essex. Sighere was joint king with his cousin Saebbi from 663-688 AD when he died and Saebbi became sole ruler. However, Sighere had reverted to paganism and although he agreed to convert upon the marriage the couple separated almost immediately in 673 AD.
There is a miracle story about their separation which enabled Osgyth to enter a religious life as she preferred.
According to Agnes Dunbar’s “Dictionary of Saintly Women”:
“Osith’s inclinations turned towards a religious life, she would rather have been an abbess than a queen, and had secretly made a vow of celibacy. Her fate was decided for her, and she was given to Sighere, but still prayed that she might have no husband but the Lord. On her marriage, she went with her husband, probably to London, which was then the capital of Essex. On one pretence or other, she declined for several days to receive the king in her bower—a separate house for herself and her attendant ladies, within the enclosure of the royal residence. At last her contrivances were exhausted, and so was the king’s patience. Her seclusion came to a sudden end and her husband stood before her. Still she prayed that she might keep her vow. Sighere began to protest that without her, life held no happiness, no interest for him. But even while he spoke, there was a sound of eager voices and hurrying feet. Some of his lords cried, “The stag, the stag! ” and close to the gate was the largest stag that ever was seen. Up sprang Sighere, and with all his court, started in pursuit. Osith regarded this interruption as an answer to her prayers, and took his departure as a release from her engagement. She sent in all haste for Bishops Acca and Bedwin. When the king returned, after a chase of four or five days, he found her a veiled nun. He generously gave her an estate at Chich in Essex, and built her a church and a monastery, where she soon gathered many holy nuns about her, and attained to wonderful sanctity.”
Around the year 700 AD Danish raiders arrived in Essex and came to Chich. When Osgyth refused to renounce her religion, the leader of the raiding band decapitated her, and a spring rose up where her head fell. Later the water from this spring was the miraculous cure of a number of ailments. Osgyth meanwhile was undeterred by her decapitation and, rising to her feet, carried her head bloodily to the church.
Initially her body was buried at Aylesbury by her family. However, following visions of the saintly Osgyth in which she requested that her remains should rest in her own religious house, she was translated some years later to a shrine at Chich which became a centre of pilgrimage.
Feast Day of Iwig, 8th October
8th October is the Feast Day of St Iwig (Ywi) who is said to have died in Brittany on 6th October c.690 AD. He was, however, of Northumbrian origin and a student of St Cuthbert, who ordained him as a deacon. In the Irish tradition Iwig was inspired to go on “peregrination”, which means leaving one’s homeland and wandering for the love of God. The “Voyage of St Brendan” is a famous example of this.
Iwig set sail on the first boat he found and landed at Brittany where he became a hermit, and he remained there until his death. He was known for his miracles of healing.
The real story begins much later, in the 10th century, when some monks from Brittany brought his relics back to England. They reached Wilton near Salisbury and asked for hospitality. During their visit they left Iwig’s relics safely on St Eadgyth’s altar in the abbey church. When the time came for them to move on, they found they couldn’t move the relics again. The abbess, Wulfthryth, paid them 2000 gold solidi (coins) and the monks “wearied and despairing” returned to Brittany, “surrendering to those who held it the blessing of the incomparable treasure.”
One explanation for this is that Eadgyth had decided the monks were too impure to carry Iwig’s remains. Another might be that the abbey purchased or even appropriated the relics for their own establishment, and a miracle was attached to disguise a rather sordid or even illicit transaction. Certainly the Breton monks did not seem pleased with the outcome, and Wulfthryth is known for having used the abbey’s wealth to increase its possession of relics. She was the mother of the Eadgyth who predeceased her; it was alleged Wulfthryth had been abducted by King Edgar and had Eadgyth as a result. The abbey’s wealth was in large part due to the generous donations of Edgar during his daughter’s lifetime.
Iwig’s feast was commemorated in a number of 11th century church calendars.
Death of Bishop Paulinus, 10th October 644
Paulinus, Bishop of York, died 10th October 644 AD. He came to the north with Athelburh, the Kentish princess, who was to marry King Edwin of Northumbria on the provision that Edwin did not hinder her religion and considered converting to Christianity himself.
Paulinus had originally been sent by the Pope to bolster Augustine’s mission to Britain. When Edwin agreed to the terms imposed for the marriage to Athelburh, Paulinus was ordained as a bishop on 21st July 625 AD and accompanied her to the north. Upon arrival he supported the Christian household which had travelled from Kent but also preached to convert the Northumbrians.
When Cwichelm of Wessex sent an assassin against Edwin the following year, Edwin promised his new-born daughter to the Church in thanks for his survival. Bede describes the momentous events:
“On that same holy night of Easter Sunday, the queen had brought forth to the king a daughter, called Eanfled. The king, in the presence of Bishop Paulinus, gave thanks to his gods for the birth of his daughter; and the bishop, on the other hand, returned thanks to Christ, and endeavoured to persuade the king, that by his prayers to Him he had obtained that the queen should bring forth the child in safety, and without much pain. The king, delighted with his words, promised, that in case God would grant him life and victory over the king by whom the assassin had been sent, he would cast off his idols, and serve Christ; and as a pledge that he would perform his promise, he delivered up that same daughter to Paulinus, to be consecrated to Christ.”
After Edwin’s successful campaign of retribution against Wessex he continued to be instructed by Paulinus in the Christian faith but still hesitated to commit his kingdom to the Church. Paulinus increased the pressure by revealing that Edwin’s vision of a mysterious man who spoke to him when he was in exile was in fact Paulinus himself. Edwin had promised he would follow the guidance of this stranger if he was able to help him become king and defeat his enemies. Paulinus now called in the promise on the basis that God had done all this for Edwin, and proved his authenticity by giving the sign the stranger had made in the vision.
Edwin then called his witan to debate the new faith, and it was agreed that they should accept it wholesale. The following Easter Edwin and his court, including his little daughter, his niece Hild (later Abbess) and his son Osfrid from his first marriage, were baptised. Paulinus also directed the king to lay the foundation of a great stone church in place of the wooden one built for the ceremony, and so York Minster was founded.
Bede claims the new religion was received with great enthusiasm, although this may not be entirely accurate:
“So great was then the fervour of the faith, as is reported, and the desire of the washing of salvation among the nation of the Northumbrians, that Paulinus at a certain time coming with the king and queen the royal country-seat, which is called Adgefrin [Yeavering], stayed there with them thirty-six days, fully occupied in catechising and baptizing; during which days, from morning till night, he did nothing else but instruct the people resorting from all villages and places, in Christ’s saving word; and when instructed, he washed them with the water of absolution in the river Glen, which is close by.”
Paulinus also preached and baptised in Swaledale when the king was at his palace there, and in Lindsey, converting the governor of Lincoln and consecrating its bishop. Somewhat unusually we have a portrait of Paulinus’ appearance, from Bede description:
“he was tall of stature, a little stooping, his hair black, his visage meagre, his nose slender and aquiline, his aspect both venerable and majestic.”
When Edwin was killed in battle in 632 AD, Paulinus took the queen and her children back to Kent by sea, along with a quantity of church treasure. He was then made Bishop of Rochester where he served until his death on 10th October 644 AD.
He was buried at Rochester St Andrew and his successor was Ithamar, the first English-born bishop since Augustine’s arrival. Alban Butler tells us that:
“When Gundulf the Norman was bishop of Rochester, Archbishop Lanfranc rebuilt the cathedral church of St. Andrew, and causing the bones of St. Paulinus to be taken up, placed them in a rich shrine”.
Feast Day of Agilbert, 11th October
11th October is the Feast Day of Agilbert, a Frank who became the first Bishop of the West Saxons.
Agilbert was born to an aristocratic Frankish family in the district of Soissons. Both his sister and his cousin were important figures in the church and Agilbert himself studied in Ireland before travelling to preach in Wessex, where King Cenwealh invited him to become Bishop of the West Saxons around 650 AD.
He established a See at Dorcherster-on-Thames but his reputation soon lost its glamour as Cenwealh became frustrated that Agilbert did not speak his language. As a result he split the See and appointed the Englishman Wine to be Bishop of a new See based at Winchester. Agilbert failed to exhibit Christian patience and humility, and left Wessex.
Bede summarises the events for us:
“But when Coinwalch was restored to his kingdom, there came into that province out of Ireland, a certain bishop called Agilbert, by nation a Frenchman, but who had then lived a long time in Ireland, for the purpose of reading the Scriptures. This bishop came of his own accord to serve this king, and preach to him the word of life. The king, observing his erudition and industry, desired him to accept an episcopal see, and stay there as his bishop. Agilbert complied with the prince’s request, and presided over those people many years. At length the king, who understood none but the language of the Saxons, grown weary of that bishop’s barbarous tongue, brought into the province another bishop of his own nation, whose name was Wini, who had been ordained in France; and dividing his province into two dioceses, appointed this last his episcopal see in the city of Winchester, by the Saxons called Wintancestir. Agilbert, being highly offended, that the king should do this without his advice, returned into France, and being made bishop of the city of Paris, died there, aged and full of days. Not many years after his departure out of Britain, Wini was also expelled from his bishopric, and took refuge with Wulfhere, king of the Mercians, of whom he purchased for money the see of the city of London, and remained bishop thereof till his death. Thus the province of the West Saxons continued no small time without a bishop.”
In 664 AD Agilbert was in Northumbria where he supported the case for the Roman church at the Synod of Whitby. However, as his spoken English was still poor he appointed Wilfrid to speak for him.
He finally gave up attempts to settle in England and in 668 AD he became Bishop of Paris, where he ordained Wilfrid as a Bishop. He also hosted Theodore of Tarsus over the winter of 668-9 as he travelled north to Britain to become the new Archbishop of Canterbury. One wonders what tips he gave to Theodore about what he could expect to find.
Cenwealh offered to reinstate him in 670 AD but Agilbert refused and sent his nephew Leuthere instead, Cenwealh accepted the substitution and Archbishop Theodore duly consecrated him as Bishop and the kingdom recovered.
Agilbert died around 690 AD and was buried at Jouarre alongside his family.
Battle of Hatfield Chase, 12th October 632
King Edwin of Northumbria was killed on 12th October 632 AD at the Battle of Hatfield Chase.
Edwin is one of the Bretwaldas, the overlords or “High Kings” of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, the 5th according to Bede, and the first in a line of Northumbrian Bretwaldas which went on to include Oswald and Oswy.
Edwin had come to power after defeating Athelfrith the Twister at the Battle of the River Idle in 616 AD and expanded his kingdom and authority across most of the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and even into the Isle of Man, which was Welsh territory. This brought him into conflict with Cadwallon of Gwynedd who allied himself with King Penda of Mercia to fight back.
On 12th October 632 AD Edwin fought them at the Battle of Hatfield Chase and was killed, along with his eldest son Osfrith. His second son, Eanfrith, was captured and later killed by Penda. His wife, young children and his grandson Yffi fled back to Kent. The children were now exiles, as their father had been. Eanflaed grew up in Kent with her mother and uncle, but Wuscfrea and Yffi were sent abroad for their safety to the court of King Dagobert, who was related to them through Athelburh’s mother Bertha. Unfortunately both died in infancy and the male line of Edwin was ended.
Twelve months of chaos followed Edwin’s death in Northumbria as the victors ravaged the land. Order was finally restored by the coming of the next great Northumbrian King, Oswald.
Feast Day of Bishop Wilfrid, 12th October
Wilfrid of Ripon’s Feast Day is celebrated on 12th October.
He was born into a noble Northumbrian family around 634 AD and was ambitious and energetic. He left home as a young man to seek royal preferment at court and made himself a friend of Eanflaed, the wife of Oswiu, King of Northumbria. Eanflaed sent him to Lindisfarne to study for a life in the Church and when Wilfrid expressed a desire to study in more depth in Rome, she sent him to Kent, where her uncle was King Eorcenberht. Wilfrid studied there for about a year before finally moving on to Rome in the company of Benedict Biscop of Monkwearmouth- Jarrow. He quarrelled with the group however, and left them at Lyons. He stayed a while with Bishop Dalfinus before eventually making his own way to the Eternal City.
In Rome he met and made friends with Boniface and studied under him. After a stay of some months he received the blessings of the Pope and then, with some relics he had acquired, he returned to Lyons. Bishop Dalfinus there tonsured him. Wilfrid stayed in Lyons with Dalfinus for three years.
Wilfrid finally returned to England where Ahlfrith, the son of Oswiu, established him as Abbot in the newly founded monastery at Ripon. Around 663 AD he was made a priest by Agilbert, former Bishop of the West Saxons; you may recall he was the Bishop sent away by the king because he was unable to speak English. When the Synod of Whitby was held in 664 AD Wilfrid acted as Agilbert’s spokesman, as Agilbert was still unable to speak English well. He argued passionately for the Roman form of rule and eventually persuaded Oswiu to accept it in place of the Irish tradition. He did not make himself popular with a number of the Irish traditionalists such as Colman as a result.
Wilfrid was then appointed to the Bishopric of York which was vacant. However, Wilfrid felt that he should be consecrated by someone in favour with Rome and so he went to Frankia to receive his elevation. He was delayed there for a while and in his absence Chad was made Bishop of York instead.
On his way back to England Wilfrid’s ship was attacked by pagan pirates, but thanks to his prayers they were driven off multiple times, even though they greatly outnumbered the men on Wilfrid’s boat.
Initially Wilfrid returned to Ripon but also acted as Bishop for Kent and Mercia when required at the request of those kings. He spent some time in Canterbury and it was there he recruited as singing-master the man who came later to write his hagiography, Eddius Stephanus (Aedde Stephanus).
In 669 AD Theodore became Archbishop of Canterbury and he restored Wilfrid to the bishopric in York, with Chad going back to Lastingham and then to the bishopric of Mercia. Wilfrid found the church founded by Edwin was in a poor condition, with water coming in through the broken roof and birds nesting inside.
“so, forthwith, in accordance with the will of God, he made a plan to restore it. First of all he renewed the ruined roof ridges, skilfully covering them with pure lead; by putting glass in the windows he prevented the birds or the rain from getting in, although it did not keep out the rays of light. He also washed the walls, and, in the words of the prophet, made them “whiter than snow.” Furthermore, not only did he adorn the inside of the house of God and the altar with various kinds of vessels and furniture, but outside he richly endowed the church with many estates which he had acquired for God, thus removing its poverty by endowing it with lands.”
He also lavished attention on Ripon, decorating it with gold, silver and purple in a splendid fashion. At the dedication of the church Wilfrid made sure that everyone was very clear about what lands had been granted to it for its wealth.
“Then St Wilfrid the bishop stood in front of the altar, and, turning to the people, in the presence of the kings, read out clearly a list of the lands which the kings, for the good of their souls, had previously, and on that very day as well, presythented to him, with the agreement and over the signatures of the bishops and all the chief men, and also a list of the consecrated places in various parts which the British clergy had deserted when fleeing from the hostile sword wielded by the warriors of our own nation.”
Feasting went on for three days and three nights to celebrate the grand occasion. Many other treasures were also provided and it was a glittering and lavish occasion.
Although Wilfrid had great pretensions regarding his power and influence he also made enemies widely. The Northumbrian King Ecgfrith disliked him because Wilfrid had supported Ecgfrith’s wife Athelthryth to take the veil. Meanwhile Abbess Hild of Whitby, who supported the Irish tradition and had opposed Wilfrid at the Synod on 664 AD, may have used her influence with Archbishop Theodore to reduce Wilfrid’s reach. Theodore certainly decided to split the vast Northumbrian See and in 678 AD Wilfrid was driven out. New bishops were installed in Ripon and Hexham and York.
Wilfrid was not a man to take matters lying down and he set off to Rome to complain to the Pope. As a result he was restored to York, but alongside other bishops chosen by Wilfrid and consecrated by Theodore in the new bishoprics. King Ecgfrith however did not comply and Wilfrid was driven out again, ending up in the pagan kingdom of Sussex. King Athelwalh granted him land at Selsey where he founded a monastery and converted the last pagan Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Cadwalla of Wessex invaded Sussex and killed Athelwalh and made Wilfrid his Bishop, giving him land in the Isle of Wight.
Hild died in 680 AD and King Ecgfrith of Northumbria died in 685 AD at Nechtansmere and with this enemy removed Wilfrid was restored to York and the monasteries at Ripon and Hexham. However he continued to try to regain his full estate, as he saw it, until he was driven out again in 692 AD to Mercia where he remained for about eleven years. He focused on missionary activity in Frisia in this period and one of his students, Willibrord, was an active missionary there, as we have discussed in another post.
In 703 AD the Archbishop of Canterbury Berhtwald (Theodore had died in 690 AD) agreed at a council in Northumbria that Wilfrid should be suspended from office and deprived of his lands except Ripon. Wilfrid tried to reverse the decision by going back to Rome to complain but this time was not met sympathetically and in fact was excommunicated. However, Berhtwald was instructed to call a synod jointly with Wilfrid and the bishops of York and Hexham.
On his way back to England to attend the synod Wilfrid suffered a seizure and never fully regained his strength. Be became reconciled with Berhtwald by 705 AD and in 706 AD he regained control of Hexham when the bishop, John of Beverly, was translated to York.
Wilfrid lived another four years but suffered further seizures. He disposed of his property in a very aristocratic fashion far from in keeping with the Benedictine Rule he had been one of the first to impose on monasteries.
He died in 710 AD at Oundle, and was buried at Ripon, immediately being treated as a saint.
Wilfrid is an example of the very different view of sanctity which existed in the early Anglo-Saxon church. He was ambitious and very aware of his rights and wealth. However, he also inspired great loyalty and genuinely wanted to promote the Christian faith. He proved unable to compromise or work constructively with those in authority who did not follow his guidance or advice.
Translation of Edward the Confessor, 13th October 1163
On 13th October 1163, in the presence of Henry II, Edward the Confessor’s body was transferred by Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, to a Shrine specially prepared for it.
Until then Edward had rested in a reliquary of gold and silver made for Edward’s remains by William of Normandy. In 1102 the tomb was opened for some unrecorded reason, and “a wonderful fragrance filled the church”. The king was wrapped in a pall with a sceptre by his side and a crown on his head. On his finger was a ring and sandals were on his feet. The pall which covered his head was cut beneath the chin and the long beard was seen. Miracles were said to have taken place at the tomb and it became a place of sanctuary in the early 12th century. When the body was translated, Edward’s ring was taken off his finger and deposited with the Abbey relics, although all the relics disappeared during the dissolution of the monastery in 1540.
One of the things not often remembered about Edward is that he was the first King of England to touch for the “king’s evil” (scrofula, a form of tuberculosis) and many sufferers from the disease were cured by him. After touching the diseased patient, Edward ordered that they be maintained at royal expense until they were cured.
It was believed that the touch of the king could cure the disease through their holy office as God’s Anointed and thus affirming their Divine Right to rule. Edward (r. 1042-1066), along with Philip I of France (r. 1058-1108), was the first king around whom the custom grew. Later English and French kings were believed to have inherited the touch as an indication that their rule was God-given. During the 13th century the upkeep of the patients was replaced by the donation of a coin to each one.
In ceremonies called “Touching for the King’s Evil” the ruler would touch the heads of those suffering from the disease, and the afflicted were then given a coin, called a touchpiece, which they wore as an amulet.
Charles II restored the practice following his return to the throne after it had been stopped in England during the Commonwealth and people had to travel abroad to be healed. He had continued the practice during his exile in the Netherlands in the 1650s, where he was in such demand that a number of potential patients were trampled to death in the rush to be healed.
The practice ceased once more under William III who thought it a silly superstition. However, it was re-introduced for one last time by Queen Anne (r. 1702-1714). One of her supplicants was a two year old boy called Samuel Johnson, who later became known for his English Dictionary.
Scrofula is now known medically as tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis. It appears as lesions around the neck and throat, today easily cured but in medieval times destined to fester and weep as indications of sin, primarily gluttony. Many medieval physicians therefore recommended restrictive diet and avoidance of “all things that fill the head with fumes,” such as garlic and onions, strong wine, shouting, worry, and anger. Treatment consisted of a plaster of lily root, unripe figs, bean flour, and nettle seed. Attempts might be made to rupture the lesions with the help of blister beetles. Surgery consisted of incision of the lump, scraping away and clamping the flesh overlying it. On occasion, the lesions healed by themselves resulting in stories of miraculous cures.
Battle of Hastings, 14th October 1066
King Harold Godwinson met William of Normandy at Senlac Hill on 14th October 1066. He had marched his depleted army south from Stamford Bridge after his defeat of Harald Hardrada of Norway, and he spent a week in London before moving to camp near William’s forces on 13th October.
With fewer numbers than the Normans, the English shield wall held for much of the day but broke at last when the king was killed, his house-carls fighting to their last breath. The battle went to the invaders from Normandy.
Many pages have been written about the battle, whether Harold was overly rash or excitingly bold; whether Edwin and Morcar were treacherous or too weak to fight after the battles of Fulford and Stamford Bridge; whether William was lucky or inspired. There are plenty of sources too for the military details. Final figures are unknown but thousands died.
The Anglo-Saxons did not magically vanish that day; they are still here now. But a way of life and culture was irrevocably changed.
The Anglo-Norman writer William of Malmesbury summarises the English warriors thus:
“they were few in number and brave in the extreme; and sacrificing every regard to their bodies, poured forth their spirit for their country.” You can read more about the events of 1066 elsewhere on the website, under “Events in Anglo-Saxon Times”.
You can read more about the events of 1066 elsewhere on the website, under “Events in Anglo-Saxon Times | Events of 1066”.
Identification of King Harold’s body, 15th October 1066
Rumour was flying about the fate of the King after his defeat and death at the Battle of Hastings (14th October 1066). Scandinavian sagas written down much later tell a story that Harold was rescued from the battlefield where he had been left for dead. Recognising the judgement of God Harold then chose to live the life of a hermit.
However, the chronicler William of Poitiers tells us that Duke William had him buried on the seashore, in an attempt to prevent a focus for resistance building up around a tomb.
“The two brothers of the King were found near him and Harold himself, stripped of all badges of honour, could not be identified by his face but only by certain marks on his body. His corpse was brought into the Duke’s camp, and William gave it for burial to William, surnamed Malet, and not to Harold’s mother, who offered for the body of her beloved son its weight in gold. For the Duke thought it unseemly to receive money for such merchandise, and equally he considered it wrong that Harold should be buried as his mother wished, since so many men lay unburied because of his avarice. They said in jest that he who had guarded the coast with such insensate zeal should be buried by the seashore.”
Two final resting places have been proposed, perhaps if his body was moved at a later date: Bosham and Waltham Abbey both have a claim to his remains, but neither can be substantiated.
His body was identified by his “Danish” wife Edith Swan-Neck, who recognised him only by a mark which she alone knew, as his face and body had been badly mutilated and could not be otherwise identified.
His wife Edith of Mercia, sister of Edwin and Morcar and widow of Gruffydd ap Llewellyn, was pregnant when Harold died and gave birth to a son, or possibly twin sons soon after. She initially fled to her brothers and stayed in Chester but probably went abroad into exile later with her sons and possibly joined other members of Harold’s family after Edwin and Morcar rebelled and were killed.
Harold and Edith Swan-Neck had had five or six children, and their sons Godwin and Edmund, and possibly Magnus, fled to Ireland. They launched an invasion via Devon in 1069 but were defeated.
Harold’s mother Gytha held Exeter against William in 1068 but was defeated and escaped via Flatholm Island in the Bristol Channel to Flanders. Her grand-daughter Gytha later joined her there. She later married Vladimir Monomachus of Kiev. Harold’s other daughter Gunnhilde went to the nunnery at Wilton.
The King of Denmark, Swein Estrithsson was Harold’s cousin and launched an invasion in 1068 but with little impact.
After Hastings Edgar the Atheling was proclaimed King of England by the Witan in London. Sadly he was never crowned and was forced to submit to William of Normandy. Initially William took him back to Normandy with him, but then returned to England. Eventually Edgar found himself with his family at the court of Malcolm of Scotland, where his sister Margaret married the king. Edgar was the last male descendant of the line of Cerdic of Wessex.
Death of Athelweard, 16th October 922
According to John of Worcester, the chronicler, Athelweard, the brother of King Edward the Elder, died on 16th October 922 AD:
“AD 922 Ethelward, the etheling, king Edward’s brother, died on the seventeenth of the calends of November [16th October], and was carried to Winchester and buried there.”
This is alarmingly short on details. Furthermore it looks like John was probably wrong by a couple of years and it is more likely Athelweard died around 920 AD. For example, William of Malmesbury, generally thought to be more accurate with his dates for this period, tells us that in 924 AD:
“Edward, going the way of all flesh, rested in the same monastery [Winchester] with his father, which he had augmented with considerable revenues, and in which he had buried his brother Ethelward four years before.”
Athelweard is not well-known and information is scant despite his noble birth. He was the youngest of five children of Alfred according to Asser, probably born around 880 AD. Asser also describes his education, with that of other royal and noble children, in his work on the life of King Alfred:
“The sons and daughters whom he [Alfred] had by his wife above-mentioned were – Athelflaed, the eldest, after whom came Edward, then Athelgivu, then AIfthryth, and finally Athelward — besides those who died in childhood.
Athelflaed, when she arrived at a marriageable age, was united to Athelred, Ealdorman of Mercia. Athelgivu, having dedicated her maidenhood to God, entered His service, and submitted to the rules of the monastic life, to which she was consecrate, Athelward, the youngest, by the divine counsel and by the admirable foresight of the king, was intrusted to the schools of literary training, where, with the children of almost all the nobility of the country, and many also who were not noble, he was under the diligent care of the teachers. Books in both languages, namely, Latin and Saxon, were diligently read in the school. They also learned to write; so that before they were of an age to practise human arts, namely, hunting and other pursuits which befit noblemen, they became studious and clever in the liberal arts.”
While Edward and AIfthryth were raised at court Athelweard was described as “distinguished in learning”, and it would appear from the records that he was never seen as being in line for the throne after his brother. However, his education seems to have been much more focused on preparing for a career in the church; Alfred himself had indicated Latin should only be taught to those boys who were expected to have such a career, and Asser makes a point of describing his education in the separate school.
Nevertheless Athelweard inherited a wide range of lands in Alfred’s will:
“And to my younger Son the land at Eaderingtune and that at Dene, and at Meone, and at Ambresbyry, and at Deone, and at Sturemynster, and at Gifle, and at Cruaern, and at Whitchurch, and at Axan mouth, and at Brancescumbe, and at Columtune, and at Twyfyrd, and at Mylenburn, and at Exanmynster, and at Sutheswyrth, and at Liwtune, and the lands that thereto belong ; which are all that I in Weal district have, except Triconshire.”
He also inherited 500 pounds of Alfred’s wealth, the same as Edward, representing a quarter of the total amount.
Athelweard witnessed two of Alfred’s charters late in his reign, but is otherwise not notable in the records. He also attested 18 of Edward’s charters between 900-909 and a further 3 allegedly in 923 AD. He is the most prominent of signatories to Edward’s charters which seems to be at odds with the plan for his career in the church; instead he seems to have been present at court for much of the time although he is not mentioned in relation to any of Edward’s military operations.
He appears to have had two sons, Athelwine and Alfwine, both of whom are recorded as dying at the Battle of Brunanburh in 937 AD fighting alongside their cousin King Athelstan. According to William of Malmesbury, they were honourably buried at Malmesbury on the orders of their cousin the King.
Athelweard himself was buried at Winchester in Edward’s New Minster alongside their mother Ealhswith (d. 902 AD) and later his nephew Alfweard and Edward himself, both of whom died in 924 AD.
Translation of Etheldreda, 17th October 695
Athelthryth (also known as Etheldreda or Audrey) was the third daughter of King Anna. She married twice, remained a virgin and founded a church at Ely, later to become Ely Cathedral.
Athelthryth died on 23rd June 679 AD. Her translation and elevation to the sainthood took place on 17th October 695 AD, 16 years after her death, when Athelthryth’s body was raised from her coffin and found to be perfect.
The Liber Eliensis (Book of Ely) describes these events in detail. It was quite an occasion. The stone for the tomb which was found among the Roman ruins of Granchester had apparently appeared miraculously and was not recognised as having been there previously by the local people. The monks concluded it had been placed there by God for use in Athelthryth’s new sarcophagus.
The day of the translation was attended by huge crowds and among those present as witnesses were Athelthryth’s friend, Bishop Wilfrid, and the doctor Cynefrith, who had attended her when she was dying and tried to relieve the large swelling on her jaw by cutting it open.
When her grave was opened, Athelthryth’s body was discovered to be uncorrupted and her coffin and clothes proved to possess miraculous powers. Cynefrith’s first-hand account of the events is as follows:
“So a tent awning having been fixed up and arranged in a seemly manner over the place, with the whole congregation, brothers on one side, sisters on the other, were standing around her grave singing psalms, a trench was dug, a heap of earth being removed, and her coffin was raised from the dust. And the holy Abbess Seaxburh, after the casket lid had been opened, went in with a few people, as if to raise the bones and shake them apart, and after there had been a short pause, we suddenly heard her call out from inside in a loud voice “Glory be to the most high name of the Lord!” And so that these things might be made public in the confirmatory presence of the witnesses, a little while later, they called me inside too, and I saw, raised from the tomb and placed on a couch, the body of the holy virgin, looking like someone asleep. And when her body had been brought out from the open tomb into the light, it was found as undecayed as if she had died or been buried that same day.
And when the covering of her face was removed, they showed me also that the wound of the incision which I had made, had been healed, in such a way that instead of the open, gaping wound with which she was buried, there appeared at that time the slightest traces of a scar.”
The Abbess Seaxburh supervised the preparation of her sister’s body, which was washed and wrapped in new robes before being reburied. She apparently oversaw the translation of her sister’s remains without the supervision of her bishop, using her knowledge of procedures gained from her family’s links with the Faremoutiers Abbey as a basis for the ceremony. After Seaxburh, Athelthryth’s niece and her great-niece, both of whom were royal princesses, succeeded her as abbess of Ely.
Miracles were reported relating to the coffin and, the shroud clothes from Athelthryth’s burial, and a spring of water appeared at the place where she had been buried. The water from it had healing properties.
Bede was very impressed by Athelthryth’s works and wrote a poem to her which included teh following lines:
“Many a triumph is won on Earth by hearts that are sober
Love of sober restraint triumphs mightily on Earth.
Our times too a noble virgin has graced with a blessing.
Now Etheldreda shines, noble our virgin as well.”
You can also listen to a reading from the Book of Ely (Liber Eliensis) commemorating the translation of Athelthryth, along with Seaxburh, Wihtburh and Eormenhild, on 17th October 1106. Their remains were moved to a higher part of Ely Cathedral and placed in a special quadruple shrine. Thanks to William Benjamin for this reading.
Battle of Assandun, 18th October 1016
On 18th October 1016 was the Battle of Assandun (Ashingdon) when Cnut, son of Swein Forkbeard, King of England in 1014, defeated Edmund Ironside, the son of Athelread Unrede. The two men had fought a punishing series of battles across England since Athelred’s death in April 1016, and In spite of his victory at Assundun, Cnut agreed to divide England between the two of them.
The idea of England as a single country was understood, but not a fixed idea yet. It was still reasonable to split the land in this way, and may even have continued if Edmund had not died fairly soon after. Edmund’s death a few weeks later was the point at which England as a whole became part of Cnut’s “Empire of the North”.
William of Malmesbury describes the events of early 1016:
“Canute, having settled his affairs in Denmark, and entered into alliance with the neighbouring kings, came to England, determined to subdue it or perish in the attempt. Proceeding from Sandwich into Kent, and thence into West Saxony, he laid everything .waste with fire and slaughter, while the king was lying sick at Corsham. Edmund indeed attempted to oppose him, but being thwarted by Edric [Streona], he placed his forces in a secure situation.”
Edmund in fact had raised revolt against his father and married Ealdgyth, whom his father had ordered should be taken to Malmesbury Abbey following the murder of her husband by Eadric Streona. Edmund tried to persuade his army to fight the invading Danish but they dispersed because Athelred did not come to lead them.
Finally on 23rd April 1016 Athelred died, while he and Edmund were in London preparing to defend it from Cnut. Edmund was chosen as King and so began his brief and embattled reign, during which he displayed a more martial spirit than his father. While London held itself against Cnut, who besieged it to no avail, Edmund broke out and headed for Wessex where he raised a further army. Cnut then moved to Wessex to face the threat from Edmund. They fought first at Penselwood (Dorset) where Edmund had a victory, then at Sherston after midsummer, which was inconclusive although some English defected to the Danish side, including Eadric Streona.
Cnut returned to London to try to take the city again. Edmund raised more troops and was then able to relieve London. Some of Cnut’s forces were driven to their ships, and Edmund fought them again at Brentford. He then drove the Danes into Kent and fought at Otford, and Eadric appeared to feel the tide had turned in the English favour and returned to Edmund, although not for long.
The Battle of Assandun was the final and decisive battle of the year. The location is not entirely certain but generally thought to be in Essex near Rochford. Both sides had lost a great many men in the preceding months and the date is late in the campaigning season; but the battle went to Cnut, along with the kingdom. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes it tersely:
“then assembled he [Edmund], for the fifth time, all the English nation, and followed after them [the Danes], and overtook them in Essex, at the down which is called Assandun: and there they strenuously joined battle. Then did Eadric the ealdorman, as he had oft before done, begin the flight first with the Magesaetas, and so betrayed his royal lord and the whole people of the English race. There Cnut had the victory; and all the English nation fought against him. There was slain bishop Eadnoth, and abbat Wulsige, and Aelfric the ealdorman, and Godwine the ealdorman of Lindsey, and Ulfcytel of East-Anglia, and Aethelweard, son of Aethelwine the ealdorman; and all the nobility of the English race was there destroyed.”
The Liber Eliensis (Book of Ely) also records that “there was a massacre in that place of almost the whole array of the nobility of the English, who never received a more wounding blow in war than there.”
Eadric’s treachery was countered by Edmund’s stirring rally of his men, according to the Encomium Emmae Reginae, written for Queen Emma, widow of King Athelred, who married Cnut after his victory.
“Then Eadmund, observing what had occurred, and hard pressed on every side, said: “Oh Englishmen, today you will fight or surrender yourselves all together. Therefore, fight for your liberty and your country, men of understanding; truly, those who are in flight, inasmuch as they are afraid, if they were not withdrawing, would be a hindrance to the army.” And as he said these things, he advanced into the midst of the enemy, cutting down the Danes on all sides, and by this example rendering his noble followers more inclined to fight.”
Edmund did not want to admit defeat even after this catastrophe, but his support drained away. Skaldic verse refers to one further battle near the Forest of Dean before the peace talks at Deerhurst, where England was divided between the two sides, until Edmund’s death in November. And so England had a second Danish king.
In 1020 Cnut consecrated a church at Assandun on 18th October, the anniversary of the battle, to commemorate the warriors who died.
Death of Frideswide, 19th October 735
St Frithuswith (Frideswide), the patron saint of Oxford and Oxford University, died on 19th October 735 AD and was buried in her monastery in Oxford. She cured the blind, healed the sick and was Abbess of the monastery she founded, which was a house for both men and women.
Frithuswith was a noble daughter of the Mercian King Didan and his wife Sefirda, both Christians. She had decided to enter a religious life and with her parents’ blessings she founded a monastery at Oxford. Although her father was a king, he was subject to other more powerful kings, and one of these called Alfgar wanted to marry Frithuswith. When she refused he decided he would abduct her from her monastery. Frithuswith however escaped with two nuns and a young man, and they rowed down the River Isis to Abingdon where she hid. Alfgar was not easily deterred, however, and followed her with great determination. Frithuswith prayed energetically for help from God, who responded by striking Alfgar blind.
He recognised that he was not going to be able to persuade her, and so gave up his intention. Frithuswith then prayed for his sight to be restored, which was granted, and returned to her monastery in peace where she remained for the rest of her days.
This miracle resulted in a belief that the Kings of England could neither live in nor pass near Oxford without being struck blind, until Henry III ignored the story. His reign certainly had some significant challenges although it is not likely the two are connected and he did not go blind.
Miracles abounded around Frithuswith, naturally. For example, Baring Gould tells the story of how she healed a leper:
“It happened on her return to Oxford after her flight to Abingdon, that an unfortunate young man, struck with leprosy, met her on the road, and prayed her, ” I conjure you, Virgin Frideswide, by the Almighty God, to kiss me, in the name of Jesus Christ His only Son.” The maiden, overcoming the horror felt by all towards this loathsome disease, approached him, and after having made the sign of the cross, she touched his lips with a sisterly kiss. Soon after the scales of his leprosy fell off, and his body became fresh and wholesome like that of a little child.”
Baring Gould also relates how her tomb was disturbed in the time of Elizabeth Tudor:
“Her body still rests there, and her shrine is shown; but it must be added that a commissioner of Queen Elizabeth, in brutal disrespect for the sacred relics, placed beside them, and mixed with them the bones of a disveiled nun married to a renegade priest, Peter Martyr. The commissioner having mingled the bones so that it was impossible to distinguish the one from the other, placed them in a stone coffin, on which he engraved the words, now happily effaced, Hie requiescit religio cum superstitione.” Frithuswith’s cult remained popular locally until the later Middle Ages although only two medieval churches and a chapel are known to have been dedicated to her. Her monastery was closed in 1524/5 by Cardinal Wolsey
Feast Day of Bishop Acca, 20th October
20th October is the feast day of Acca, Bishop of Hexham, who was deposed in 732 AD.
Acca was the chaplain of Wilfrid, Bishop of Hexham, and succeeded him as Abbot in 710 AD. Bede tells us:
“Acca, his priest, succeeded Wilfrid in the bishopric of the church of Hagulstad [Hexham]; being himself a most active man, and great in the sight of God and man, he much adorned and added to the structure of his church, which is dedicated to the Apostle St. Andrew. For he made it his business, and does so still, to procure relics of the blessed apostles and martyrs of Christ from all parts, to place them on altars, dividing the same by arches in the walls of the church. Besides which, he diligently gathered the histories of their sufferings, together with other ecclesiastical writings, and erected there a most numerous and noble library. He likewise industriously provided holy vessels, lights, and such like things as appertain to the adorning of the house of God. He in like manner invited to him a celebrated singer, called Maban, who had been taught to sing by the successors of the disciples of the blessed Gregory in Kent, for him to instruct himself and his clergy, and kept him twelve years, to teach such ecclesiastical songs as were not known, and to restore those to their former state which were corrupted either by want of use, or through neglect. For Bishop Acca himself was a most expert singer, as well as most learned in Holy Writ, most pure in the confession of the catholic faith, and most observant in the rules of ecclesiastical institution; nor did he ever cease to be so till he received the rewards of his pious devotion, having been bred up and instructed among the clergy of the most holy and beloved of God, Bosa, bishop of York. Afterwards, coming to Bishop Wilfrid in hopes of improving himself, he spent the rest of his life under him till that bishop’s death, and going with him to Rome, learned there many profitable things concerning the government of the holy church, which he could not have learned in his own country.”
He had studied under Bosa as well as Wilfrid. He was a close friend of Bede, supplying him with further material for Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”, and encouraging him to write a number of treatises, many of which Bede then dedicated to him. Acca also commissioned, and provided Stephen of Ripon with material to use in, a hagiography of Wilfrid, the “Vita S. Wilfridi”, which Stephen dedicated to Acca in thanks.
Despite this obvious interest in learning and writing we have nothing surviving of Acca’s own writing except part of a letter to Bede which Bede copied in one of his other works, the “Commentarius in Lucam”.
Acca left the bishopric under somewhat controversial circumstances, none of which are clear but are likely to have been political. This was around this time that King Ceolwulf of Northumbria was deposed (although he was restored to power a couple of years later) and it was to this “most glorious king” that Bede had dedicated his “History” in 731 AD. Key figures would no doubt have been at risk. His movements after his deposition are not known, although various stories exist.
Simeon of Durham tells us that:
“AD 732: In this year also, king Ceoluulf, being taken prisoner, received the tonsure, and was sent back into his kingdom. He was imbued with an extraordinary love of the Scriptures, as truthful Beda testifies in the beginning of his preface. In the same year, bishop Acca was driven from his see; and Cyneberht, bishop of the church of Lindisfarne, died.”
However, following Acca’s death about 10 years later he was buried at Hexham Abbey and venerated as a saint. The remains of Acca’s Cross, an intricately sculpted stone cross, can be seen in the Abbey today. It is thought the Cross originally marked his grave.
The chronicler Simeon of Durham has a very lengthy entry about Acca to commemorate his death, beginning:
“AD 742: In the same year, bishop Acca, of revered memory, was raised to the land of the living.’ This blessed man was most vigorous in action, and had in honour before God and man. He was deeply skilled also in the rules of ecclesiastical discipline; and, to the end of his life, aimed at the highest rewards of pious devotion : for as much as from his childhood he was brought up and educated among the clergy of the most holy and beloved of God, Bosa, bishop of York, . Going from thence, with a view to further progress, to bishop Wilfred, he spent his whole time in attendance on him until his death. With him journeying to Rome, he there learnt many useful institutes of holy church, which he could not acquire in his own country, and delivered them to those under him. This holy man was taken from this world on the thirteenth of the kalends of November [20th Octob.]; his spirit was carried by angels to the reward of supreme happiness ; his body was buried on the outside of the wall, at the east end of the church of Hexham, over which he had ruled in episcopal dignity for twenty-four years. Two stone crosses, adorned with exquisite carving, were placed, the one at his head, the other at his feet. On one, that at his head, was an inscription stating that he was there buried.”
Simeon then proceeds to describe how Acca’s remains were later translated following a vision, and many of the miracles associated with him. These included preventing some of his remains from being separated and removed from the church, and curing blindness and a tumour. He was also credited with preventing Malcolm of Scotland from devastating the Abbey by raising the waters of the River Tyne (without any rain!) so that the invading army could not cross, and then enveloping them in fog so that they most of them ran away.
“Acca’s Cross” can be seen at Hexham Abbey, although it may not be the one Simeon refers to, and could instead be a preaching cross. However, it is well worth a visit to Hexham Abbey to see this and a number of other Anglo-Saxon stones, the extraordinary crypt and Etheldreda’s Chapel.
Death of Charles Martel, 22nd October 741
Charles Martel (“the Hammer”) died on 22nd October 741 AD.
He’s not an Anglo-Saxon but he is a key figure in European history, being the founder of the eponymous Carolingian dynasty (from the Latin version of his name: Carolus).
He was the son of Pepin of Herstal, also called Pepin II, and Alpaida. Pepin had multiple significant women in his life – it’s hard to say whether we would call them wife or mistress – but another of them called Plectrude had persuaded Pepin to designate their grandson as his heir but this was not met with the support of the nobles as the boy was only eight years old, and civil war ensued in 715-719 AD. The victor was Charles Martel who defeated all opponents to take control. At this time the Merovingian dynasty was still providing Kings of the Franks, but the real power now lay in the hands of the “Mayors of the Palace” represented by Pepin’s family.
War continued as Charles established control of the various hegemonies in the Frankish kingdom. This included attacking the Saxons who had invaded earlier, and whom he defeated in the Teutoberg Forest in 731 AD, establishing a clear border.
On 10th October 732 AD Charles fought the Battle of Tours against Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, Governor-General of al-Andalus (the Moorish kingdom of Andalucia in Spain). The Andalusians were no more than a raiding army planning to pillage St Martin of Tours, and similar armies had been attacking Frankish territory for a while. At Tours however Charles was victorious and the battle may be referenced in Bede, although this may alternatively refer to other raids:
“In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 729, two comets appeared about the sun, to the great terror of the beholders. One of them went before the rising sun in the morning, the other followed him when he set at night, as it were presaging much destruction to the east and west; one was the forerunner of the day, and the other of the night, to signify that mortals were threatened with calamities at both times. They carried their flaming tail towards the north, as it were ready to set the world on fire. They appeared in January, and continued nearly a fortnight. At which time a dreadful plague of Saracens ravaged France with miserable slaughter; but they not long after in that country received the punishment due to their wickedness.”
In 737 AD the Merovingian King, Theuderic IV, died and Charles did not appoint a successor, nor was one proposed by the nobles. For four years there was an interregnum, until Charles’ death in 741 AD in Picardy, and he was buried in Paris. He had already divided his lands between his two sons, Carloman and Pepin (the father of Charlemagne). Among his other children he also had an illegitimate son called Remigius who became Archbishop of Rouen.
He was an extraordinarily successful commander; he never lost a war, and he established control over rivals, neighbouring leaders and the Merovingian kings. If he is now less well-known it is probably because of his fantastically successful grandson, Charlemagne, who took the lands his grandfather had united and doubled them, establishing a renaissance as he went.
From an Anglo-Saxon perspective, Charles Martel was the ruler who protected Boniface from 723 AD onwards in his mission to the Saxons, probably because his own agenda chimed with Boniface’s desire to replace the pagan religion with Christianity while Charles wanted to break the power of the Saxon warlords and incorporate their lands into his own empire. It was Charles who established the four dioceses in Bavaria to support Boniface.
Equally the constant fighting in Frankia throughout this period would have affected Anglo-Saxon travellers heading and to and from Rome.
Bede completed his history in 731 AD, and died in 735 AD. This was the time of the growth of Mercian power under Athelbald, whom Bede described as ruling all the lands south of the Humber. In 726 Ine of Wessex abdicated and went to Rome, and Athelheard became the king after defeating a rival claimant, Oswald; he was the first not recorded as descended from Cynric. However, he seems to have been subject to Athelbald of Mercia. Meanwhile there was increasing chaos in Northumbria (we discussed Ceolwulf recently, who was deposed and sent to a monastery but later restored). We can only imagine that Charles Martel’s military might on the Continent was regarded with somewhat envious eyes from Britain.
Fire at Ashburnham House, 23rd October 1731
By 1731 the collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts amassed by Sir Robert Cotton in the 1580s, and augmented by his son (Thomas) and grandson (John), was regarded as a valuable source of precedents for political purposes. It was the richest private collection of manuscripts ever amassed. In 1702 it was transferred to the care of the nation on Sir John Cotton’s death at his request. This was confirmed by an Act of Parliament that states that the library was to ‘be kept and preserved … for Publick Use and Advantage’, and that it should ‘not be sold, or otherwise disposed of’. This was the first national collection of documents in Britain.
It was moved to Ashburnham House in the grounds of Westminster Abbey to make it more readily available to Members of Parliament, and also because its previous location was seen as at a high risk from fire. Ironically, on the night of 23rd October 1731 a fire broke out in Ashburnham House itself and many manuscripts were lost, including original copies of key texts known only today through their later transcriptions, such as The Battle of Maldon and Asser’s Life of King Alfred. Other manuscripts were badly damaged including our only copy of Beowulf; the damage from the fire is clearly visible today when viewing it in the British Library where it is on display.
There was a report to Parliament of the distressing events of that night which can be read in full (it’s long and completely heart-breaking) below:
“A Narrative of the Fire which happened at Ashburnham-House, Oct. 23, 1731, and of the Methods used for preserving and recovering the Manuscripts of the Royal and Cottonian Libraries.
On Saturday Morning October 23, 1731, about two o’ Clock, a great Smoak was perceived by Dr. Bentley, and the rest of the Family at Ashburnham-House, which soon after broke out into a Flame: It began from a wooden Mantle-Tree’s taking Fire, which lay across a Stove-Chimney, that was under the Room, where the MSS. of the Royal and Cottonian Libraries were lodged, and was communicated to that Room by the Wainscot, and by Pieces of Timber, that stood perpendicularly upon each end of the Mantle-Tree. They were in hopes at first to have put a Stop to the Fire by throwing Water upon the Pieces of Timber and Wainscot, where it first broke out, and therefore did not begin to remove the Books so soon as they otherwise would have done. But the Fire prevailing, notwithstanding the Means used to extinguish it, Mr. Casley the Deputy-Librarian took Care in the first Place to remove the famous Alexandrian MS. and the Books under the Head of Augustus in the Cottonian Library, as being esteemed the most valuable amongst the Collection. Several entire Presses with the Books in them were also removed; but the Fire increasing still, and the Engines sent for not coming so soon as could be wished, and several of the Backs of the Presses being already on Fire, they were obliged to be broke open, and the Books, as many as could be, were thrown out of the Windows. Some were carried into the Apartment of the Captain of Westminster School; others into the little Cloisters; whence, after the Fire was extinguished, they were convey’d into the great Boarding House opposite to Ashburnham-House, and upon Monday following, October 25, Leave being ob tained, they were removed into the new Building designed for the Dormitory of the West-minster Scholars.
The Right Honorable the Speaker of the House of Commons came down to Ashburnham-House, as soon as he heard of the Fire, to see that due Precaution was taken, that what had escaped the Flames should not be destroyed or purloined; and on Monday following the Right Honourable the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Raymond, Lord Chief Justice of the King’s-Bench, and Mr. Speaker, being Trustees for the Cottonian Library, were all three at the Dormitory; and as great Numbers of the Manuscripts that remained had suffered exceedingly from the Engine-Water, as well as from the Fire, and were in danger of being quite destroyed, if some cure was not speedily provided; the Right Honorable the Speaker of the House of Commons appointed several Persons, some of whom are concerned in Offices, where Records as well of Paper as Parchment are lodged, to meet him October 28, at the said Dormitory, to consider what was proper to be done for preserving and recovering, as much as possible, the Manuscripts, which had so suffered; and they attended accordingly, and having viewed the Manuscripts, they went together, and drew up the following Paper, viz.
We, whose names are hereunto subscribed, having met at the Desire of the Right Honorable Arthur Onslow Esq; Speaker of the Honourable House of Commons, to consider of proper Methods for preserving the Manuscripts of the Royal and Cottonian Libraries, that have suffered by the late Fire at Ashburnham-House, have agreed upon the following Proposals, viz. I. That the Paper Books, that are stained, be immediately unbound, and put into the softest and clearest cold Water, that can be procured, till the Stains disappear, and then shifted into Water, in which Allum has been dissolved, in order to strengthen and fortify them; afterwards to be hung upon Lines till dry, and then bound again.
II. With regard to the Vellum Manuscripts, it is thought proper, that great Care be taken to separate those, that are damaged, from those that are not damaged; and that a farther Separation be also made of those that are damaged by Water, from those, that are damaged by Fire only; and that Care in the first Place be taken of those, that have suffered by Water, preferring, if possible, the most valuable, and most intire.
III. That the wet Vellum Manuscripts be very carefully turned over Leaf by Leaf; that they be laid as strait and smooth with the Hand as may be, gently pressing each Leaf with a clean Flannel; and where the Wet has penetrated to the Backs of those, that are bound, that they be taken out of the Binding, and turned over in like manner; afterwards to be hung upon Lines, three or four Leaves together, frequently separating each Leaf, as well as those that are bound, as unbound, that they may not stick together.
IV. That the Vellum Manuscripts, which are closed together by the Fire, be separated with an Ivory Folder; that they be turned over Leaf by Leaf, and the glewy Substance which has been fried out upon the Edges, be taken off by the Fingers carefully, in order to prevent its infecting and corroding the rest, as we apprehend it will otherwise do; and that such as are so hardened, and shriveled up, as not to be legible in their present Condition, be softned by cold Water, in case no other Method more proper shall be found.
V. That the Fragments be also carefully cleaned and preserved.
Lastly, That a sufficient Number of proper Hands be imployed to proceed in the Work with all possible Diligence and Dispatch.
October 28, 1731.
ROB. SANDERSON, Usher of the Rolls.
JOHN LAWTON, Keeper of the Records inthe Exchequer.
GEO. HOLMES, Deputy-Keeper of the Records in the Tower.
JAMES STEWART, Clerk to the said Mr. Lawton.
W. WHISTON, Clerk to Mr. Lawton.
RICHARD BENTLEY, Library-Keeper to his Majesty.
DAVID CASLEY, Deputy-Librarian.
This Paper, which was delivered the Day following to Mr. Speaker, was shown to the Lord Chancellor, and Lord Chief Justice of the King’s-Bench; and all three approving of the Method therein proposed, the three Clerks of the Record Office belonging to his Majesty’s Court of Receipt of the Exchequer were directed by Mr. Speaker to assist Mr. Bentley and Mr. Casley in the Work, according to the Method proposed. A Book-binder also was imployed to wash and re-bind the Paper Books; and others were imployed in turning over the Manuscripts for the first Week; the Number of Books damaged requiring many Hands at the first, that each Book might as soon, as was possible, be turned over, at least once, to prevent their mildewing and corrupting.
November I. The said Persons entered upon their Work. They made a Separation of the Paper Manuscripts from those of Vellum and Parchment, beginning with the wet Paper Manuscripts, that were intire, in the first Place; which were immediately taken out of the Binding, and put into Tubs of cold Water, then shifted into Allum Water, and afterwards hung upon Lines, and, when dry, were taken down, and with great Care and Pains collated; and the Leaves, that had been misplaced and transposed by the Operation, were restored to their proper Places again, and were then delivered to the Book-binder to be bound again. The Vellum Manuscripts were in like manner separated, the wet from those that had suffered by Fire only; and the wet were turned over Leaf by Leaf, and placed open upon the Floor for a few Days, and then taken up, and turned over again, and placed, as before; and this Method was in like manner repeated, till they were dry, and they were then put up into their respective Presses. Some that had suffered much by the Water, when they had been turned over once, or twice, and were found more likely to mildew and corrupt, than to be dried by such Process, were turned over and dried Leaf by Leaf before a Fire; and a very few were obliged to be taken quite out of the Binding, and hung upon Lines, two or three Leaves together, to be dried, the Water having so thoroughly insinuated it self into every Part of them, that they would have rotted sooner than become dry by any other Method.
Those that had suffered by Fire only were next taken in hand, and turned over Leaf by Leaf, as the wet Manuscript had before been; and the glutinous Matter, that had been forced out upon the Edges of the Vellum and Parchment by the Heat of the Fire, was carefully taken off by the Fingers, a few only excepted, and those of little or no Value; the glewy Matter having so cemented and incorporated their Leaves together, that they can hardly be separated without being torn and pulled in Pieces. The Paper Fragments were also separated from those of Vellum or Parchment. The former of these were washed, and hung upon Lines to be dried, as the Paper Books had been before; and the latter were turned over, and laid, as thin as might be, to expose them to the Air to be dryed, and, when dry, were several Times looked over; and the Pieces, that were Parts of the same Book, were laid together, as much as could be found; and the remaining single Leaves, or Pieces of Leaves, when it could not be found to what Book or Books they belonged, were put into Drawers to be kept safe.
All the Time this Affair has been in hand, the Right Honorable the Speaker of the House of Commons has been pleased, not only to order one or other of the Persons employed to attend him several Times a Week, to acquaint him with the daily Progress made in it, and to receive his Directions upon any Emergency, but has also visited the Dormitory in Person frequently, that he might see, that nothing was neglected or omitted, that could any way conduce to the Recovery and Preservation of what the Fire has left. And whereas there are two Originals of the MAGNA CHARTA granted by King John in the Cottonian Library, from one of which the Seal has long since been lost, or plucked off; and that, which has the Seal still remaining affixed to it, was greatly shrivel’d up, the Letters being contracted, Part of the Wax of the Seal melted, and one or two Words quite destroyed, and was so much damaged by the Fire, that there is Reason to fear, that some Parts of it will not much longer continue legible; Mr. Speaker was pleased to direct, that a Copy should be exactly taken from it upon Parchment, in a fair and durable Hand, and that the Words or Parts of Words which were eaten out by the Fire, should be supplied in red Letters from the other Original, and then procured it to be compared with both Originals by several Keepers of Records, and others versed in such Writings, to see that the Copy agreed exactly with the said Originals, i.e. Each Part of the Copy with its respective Original, and to testify such Agreement and Correspondence of the Originals and Transcript upon the Back of the Transcript; which was done accordingly December 18: and an Inscription was then also wrote upon the Back of the said Transcript, mentioning the Fire, and the State the two Originals of the Magna Charta were in at the Time of making the said Transcript; which is to remain in the Library ad perpetuam Rei Memoriam.
There having no way hitherto been found out to extend Vellum or Parchment, that has been shrivel’d up and contracted by Fire, to its former Dimensions, Part of several of the Vellum Manuscripts must remain not legible, unless this Desideratum can be supplied by any Person, which is therefore much to be wished; but it is hoped, that the Care, that has already been taken about them, will prevent their receiving farther Damage from what has happened to them.
A few of the Paper Fragments still remain to be examined; and such, as belong to the same Book, placed together; the main Part of them having been gone thro’ in this Manner already, and thereby several large Portions of Books, and some entire Books have been made up out of them; and when this is done, it seems expedient, that each Book, or Portion of Book, so collected together, should be carefully collated, and the Leaves placed, as near as possible, in the same Order, that they were in before the Fire; and then such, as are thought worth being bound again, may be so served, and the Remainder put either into Covers or Drawers, according to the respective Subjects they treat of, that so the least Fragment may not be lost.
January 20, 1731/2
The Number of Manuscript Volumes, which the Cottonian Library consisted of before the late Fire, was 958: of which are lost, burnt, or intirely spoiled, 114, and damaged, so as to be defective, 98. So that the said Library at present consists of 746 intire Volumes, and 98 defective ones; of which a third Part has been preserved by the aforesaid Method; one hundred and upwards of them being Volumes of letters and State Papers, that have been quite taken to Pieces, washed and bound again.”
Gruffydd ap Llewellyn attacks Hereford, 24th October 1055
The 1050s were an especially unsettled period on the Welsh Marches and on 24th October 1055 Gruffydd ap Llewellyn attacked Hereford killing three canons of the church called Eilmar, Ordgar and Godo, along with Eilmar’s four sons, also canons, as they defended the doors of the cathedral.
Leading up to this attack, King Edward has appointed Tostig Godwinson to the Earldom of Northumbria in opposition to Alfgar. Edward then outlawed Alfgar unjustly, and he had fled to Ireland, where he recruited Viking support. He then went to Wales seeking support from Llewellyn. Meanwhile Llewellyn had succeeded in conquering Deheubarth earlier in the year, probably with help from Alfgar and his men, and had now united almost all of Wales. Alfgar also married Llewellyn’s daughter, either in 1055 or possibly later.
An army was therefore gathered and began laying waste to Herefordshire. John of Worcester describes the battle:
“Earl Ralph, the cowardly son of king Edward’s sister [Godgifu], having assembled an army, fell in with the enemy two miles from the city of Hereford, on the ninth of the calends of November [24th October]. He ordered the English, contrary to their custom, to fight on horseback; but just as the engagement was about to commence, the earl, with his French and Normans, were the first to flee. The English seeing this, followed their leader’s example, and nearly the whole of the enemy’s army going in pursuit, four or five hundred of the fugitives were killed, and many were wounded. Having gained the victory, king Griffyth and earl Algar entered Hereford, and having slain seven of the canons who defended the doors of the principal church, and burnt the monastery built by bishop Athelstan, that true servant of Christ, with all its ornaments, and the relics of St. Ethelbert, king and martyr, and other saints, and having slain some of the citizens, and made many other captives, they returned laden with spoil.”
Ralph was the son of Godgifu, Edward’s sister, and Drogo of Mantes, Count of the Vexin. He came to England with Edward in 1041 and seems to have been provided with an earldom based in the lands of his wife Gytha. He supported Edward against Godwin of Wessex in 1051 but failed to prevent the return of the Godwin family in 1052 when he was in command of the fleet supposed to resist them. He probably took over the Earldom of Hereford from Sweyn Godwinson following the latter’s death on pilgrimage to Rome in 1052. His poor performance at Hereford in 1055 earned him the nickname of “the Timid”. He died on 21 December 1057 and was buried at Peterborough Abbey.
Earl Leofric of Mercia, who was on the borders with Hereford, did not intervene; Alfgar was his son. It was Harold Godwinson who brought levies from Wessex to chase Llewellyn away.
As a result of Ralph’s defeat a treaty was negotiated and Alfgar restored; he succeeded to the Earldom of Mercia when his father died in 1057.
Bishop Athelstan survived but died the following year, and Edward replaced him with Harold Godwinson’s chaplain, Leofgar. Leofgar was a warrior before he was a man of God, and shockingly wouldn’t even shave off his moustache until he was made a bishop. Llewellyn killed him the following year at the Battle of Glasbury.
Death of King Magnus of Norway, 25th October 1047
25th October 1047 saw the death of Magnus “the Good”, King of Norway.
Magnus was the son of King Olaf Haroldsson (St. Olaf as he was later known) who was ousted by Cnut the Great, King of England and Denmark, in 1029 and driven into exile in Sweden. Olaf died in 1030 at the Battle of Stiklestad trying to regain his throne.
Magnus was born around 1024 and went into exile with his father and family while still very young. Olaf left him to be fostered by Yaroslav the Wise, Grand Prince of Rus, and his wife Ingegerd. In 1031 the news of his father’s death reached the court through the person of Harald Sigurdsson, later known as Hardrada. Harald was half-brother to Olaf and therefore Magnus’ uncle.
Magnus continued to live at Yaroslav’s court, being educated in Greek, Russian and, of course, warfare. In 1035 Cnut died and the Norwegian nobles rebelled against the continuing rule of his son Swein and Swein’s mother Alfgifu. Magnus was brought back from Rus to Norway. Magnus’ mother was also the sister of the King of Sweden, who gave them support and raised an army. Magnus was proclaimed King, still only eleven years old, and the army drove out Swein and Alfgifu. They fled to Denmark where Swein died the following year.
Svein’s half-brother, Harthacnut, was on the throne of Denmark and seeking to take Norway as well. However, a peace treaty was negotiated instead, in which the two agreed that whichever of them died first would be succeeded by the other. When Harthacnut died in England in 1042 Magnus became the King of Denmark. He was opposed by Swein Estrithson, whom Harthacnut had left in charge in Denmark when he went to England. Swein Estrithson had support and so an ongoing conflict between the two countries began.
Magnus had not forgotten about England, which he also felt should be his following Harthacnut’s death. Edward the Confessor had returned from Normandy to take the throne, and Magnus warned him that he intended to attack and regain his rightful inheritance. It appears that Emma, Edward’s mother but also widow of Cnut, in fact had favoured Magnus.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that:
“AD 1045. In this year Eadward, king of the English, collected a very powerful fleet, at the port of Sandwich, to oppose Magnus, king of the Norwegians, who was meditating an invasion of England ; but whose coming was stayed by Sweyn [Estridson], king of the Danes, making war against him.”
In addition Swein Estrithson was a cousin of Harold Godwinson and his siblings, as Godwin of Wessex had married Swein Estrithson’s aunt Gytha. So when Swein asked Edward the Confessor for support against Magnus, Godwin spoke out strongly in his favour. However, Edward preferred not to involve himself, instead leaving the two to fight hoping this would distract Magnus from attacking England.
In 1046 the Chronicle reports that Magnus routed Swein, then:
“AD 1047: Sweyn, king of the Danes, sent his ambassadors to Eadward, king of the English, requesting him to send his fleet against Magnus, king of the Norwegians. Then Earl Godwin advised the king that he should send at least fifty ships, manned with soldiers; but this meeting with the disapproval of earl Leofric and all the people, he declined to send any. Afterwards Magnus, king of the Norwegians, having got together a large and strong fleet, fought a battle with Sweyn, and after many thousands had fallen on both sides, expelled him from Denmark, and subsequently reigned there, and made the Danes pay heavy tribute to him: shortly afterwards he [Magnus] died.”
However, Magnus’ death did not end the threat to England. Harald Hardrada now took the throne for himself, having earlier negotiated to share it with Magnus on his return from Byzantium. He had initially allied himself with Swein in Denmark and forced Magnus to concede a half-share in the throne of Norway in 1046.
“AD. 1048. Sweyn recovered Denmark, and Harold, who was son of Siward, king of the Norwegians, and brother by the mother’s side to St. Olaf, and uncle by the father’s side to king Magnus, went over again to Norway; and shortly afterwards sent ambassadors to king Eadward, making offers of peace and friendship, which were accepted. Sweyn, king of the Danes, also sent ambassadors to him, requesting him to despatch a fleet to his assistance. But although Earl Godwin wished to send at least fifty ships, earl Leofric and all the people unanimously opposed him.”
Harald’s agreement with Magnus was the rather tenuous basis for his claim that he should inherit the English throne, as he had inherited all of Magnus’s lands and rights after his death. And so the stage was set for the first invasion on 1066.
Death of King Alfred, 26th October 899
“For every man must, according to the measure of his understanding and leisure, speak what he speaketh and do what he doeth.”
Alfred the Great, the only English monarch to be awarded this title, died on 26th October 899 AD. In later times he was called “England’s Darling” and “the most perfect character in history.” He certainly set in place the foundations for the formation of the nation of England, an endeavour completed eventually by his descendants. His achievements cannot possibly be summarised in a Facebook post, but a flavour of them follows here.
Initially Alfred was not expected to be king. He was the youngest of five boys, sons of Athelwulf of Wessex. He even visited Rome twice as as young child with his father, while his brothers stayed at home and were more involved in court. His biography tells us that he was fond of learning, although he learned to read later in life.
However, through various events and disasters he eventually came to the throne after the death of his brother Athelred in 871 AD following nine major battles with the Great Heathen Army. We will discuss them on their appropriate dates, so not go into detail for now. Athelred left a young son who was passed over at a time when military strength and experience were the key requirement in the king.
Alfred had to pay the heathen to leave and successes in further engagements were limited. While celebrating Twelfth Night at Chippenham in January 878 AD Alfred narrowly avoided being captured and killed by a Viking raid, possibly in collusion with some of his nobles. Wessex was the last Anglo-Saxon Kingdom still unconquered and chance of winning against the Vikings must have seemed vanishingly remote.
Alfred fled to the marshes of Atheleny with his family, including the young Athelflaed and Edward. There are many apocryphal stories of this period, including a vision of St Cuthbert. The burnt cakes appear in much later sources. However, it would seem he conducted guerrilla warfare, keeping his nobles aware that he had not left the country and was still intending to fight. But things looked bleak without a doubt.
“878 AD: This year, during midwinter, after twelfth night [6th Jan.] the army stole away to Chippenham, and overran the land of the West- Saxons, and sat down there; and many of the people they drove beyond sea, and of the remainder the greater part they subdued and forced to obey them, except king Aelfred: and he, with a small band, with difficulty retreated to the woods and to the fastnesses of the moors. And the same winter, the brother of Inwaer and of Healfdene came with twenty-three ships to Devon shire in Wessex ; and he was there slain, and with him eight hundred and forty men of his army: and there was taken the war-flag, which they called the Raven. After this, at Easter [23d March], king Aelfred, with a small band constructed a fortress at Athelney; and from this fortress, with that part of the men of Somerset which was nearest to it, from time to time they fought against the army.”
But Alfred wouldn’t give up. He rallied his people and called them to meet him at Ecgbert’s Stone and so they came.
“Then in the seventh week after Easter he rode to Ecgbryhts-stane, on the east side of Selwood ; and there came to meet him all the men of Somerset, and the men of Wiltshire, and that portion of the men of Hampshire which was on this side of the sea; and they were joyful [at his presence]. On the following day he went from that station to Iglea, and on the day after this to Ethandun, and there fought against the whole army, put them to flight, and pursued them as far as their fortress: and there he sat down fourteen days.”
Alfred won the decisive Battle of Ethandun (or Edington) and starved the Vikings into submission. He negotiated peace with their leader, Guthrum, who agreed to be baptised and leave Wessex permanently. Alfred gave him East Anglia under the Treaty of Wedmore and at baptism Guthrum took the Anglo-Saxon name of Athelstan, under which he minted coins. He died in 890 AD and was buried at Hadleigh in Suffolk.
Meanwhile Alfred was determined to ensure his kingdom was better defended against future attack. He initiated a fort building programme of “burhs”, which was further extended by Athelflaed and Edward in their time. He reorganised the levies so that only half was on duty at a time, thus providing continuous cover. He used Frisian expertise to build ships to improve coastal defence. In 886 AD he took control of London, previously controlled by the Vikings, and entrusted it to Athelflaed’s husband Athelred, Ealdorman of Mercia. His preparations paid off when the next wave of Viking invasions occurred in the 890s but with much more limited effect.
Yet he was more than a successful military strategist and commander. He also initiated a programme of religious regeneration and education, and made sure we know about it by employing a biographer to record his deeds. He brought together scholars at his court, such as Grimbald of Saint-Bertin and John the Old Saxon, as well as the Welsh Bishop Asser.
He issued a new law code, founded monasteries and nunneries, and, crucially, made translations of key texts from Latin into Old English – those “most needful for men to know”. Four texts are believed to have been translated by the king himself, although this is a matter of debate. They are nevertheless linked stylistically and are: Gregory’s Pastoral Care, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, Augustine’s Soliloquies, and the first 50 Psalms. He also commissioned translations of Orosius’ Histories against the pagans and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. It is also thought that he commissioned the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle itself.
It was clear he expected his bishops and leading men to engage with his programme. Ealdormen and other officials were required to study and read, or lose their office. With threats he also issued gifts in true Germanic kingly fashion, among which examples we see the Alfred Jewel (the most ornate of the ones found), the Minster Lovell Jewel, the Yorkshire Astel, the Warminster Jewel, the Bowleaze jewel and the Bideford Bobble. The Borg Astel, found in Borg in Norway, has also been linked with these as Alfred was known to have been visited by Ottar, a powerful Norwegian trader (or perhaps it was looted in a raid).
He also reformed the coinage and was not above annexing church property to make sure he could afford to run his affairs. He was upbraided by the Pope for doing it.
His concern about the rights and responsibilities of kingship may have been fashioned in part by the betrayal at Chippenham. Certainly some key men disappear from the charters after that date. And his poor health is often referred to; he probably suffered from Crohn’s Disease, although it clearly did not prevent him from fulfilling his role or acting on his vision.
In his will, and in fact before he died, he worked hard to ensure his son Edward’s succession in place of his nephew.
Here is part of his Preface to the Pastoral Care (in Old English it’s called the “Hierdeboc” meaning “Shepherd-Book”).
“Consider what punishments befell us in this world when we neither loved wisdom at all ourselves, nor transmitted it to other men; we had the name alone that we were Christians, and very few had the practices.
Then when I remembered all this, then I also remembered how I saw, before it had all been ravaged and burnt, how the churches throughout all England stood filled with treasures and books, and there were also a great many of God’s servants. And they had very little benefit from those books, for they could not understand anything in them, because they were not written in their own language. As if they had said: ‘Our ancestors, who formerly held these places, loved wisdom, and through it they obtained wealth and left it to us. Here we can still see their footprints, but we cannot track after them.’ And therefore we have now lost both the wealth and the wisdom, because we would not bend down to their tracks with our minds.”
Death of Bishop Eata, 26th October 686
Eata was Abbot of Lindisfarne and twice Bishop of Hexham (678-81 and 685-6 AD), and he died 26th October 686 AD.
He was one of Aidan’s “12 boys of the English nation” at Lindisfarne, and later served as Abbot of Melrose during the 650s. One of his young monks was a lad called Cuthbert, who went on to become a saint and friend of otters.
He and Cuthbert worked together briefly at Ripon, founded by King Ahlfrith around 660 AD and invited by the King to come from Melrose to establish the monastery. Later Ahlfrith decided he preferred the Roman rule and asked Eata to change but Eata refused and was replaced by Wilfrid. However, following the departure of Bishop Colman after the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD Eata became Abbot of Lindisfarne and Cuthbert served as his prior.
In 678 AD Theodore, the Archbishop of Canterbury, broke up the Diocese of Northumbria and expelled Wilfrid. He made Eata the Bishop of the Bernicians (Northumbrians) based at Hexham and including Lindisfarne.
In 681 AD the See was divided again and Eata returned Lindisfarne as a Bishop.
In 685 AD the Bishop at Hexham, Tunberht, was also deposed by Theodore and Cutherbert replaced him while Eata was at Lindisfarne. However Cuthbert was reluctant to serve at Hexham and the two men swapped places.
Eata finished his life in Hexham, dying of dysentry in 686 AD.
Bede described him as a “meek and simple man”. He was someone who seems ot have been reliable and trustworthy and got on with whatever he was asked to do.
Death of Bishop Cedd, 26th October 664
Cedd died on 26th October 664 AD at Lastingham in North Yorkshire.
He was one of four brothers described by Bede as “famous priests of the Lord”. The other three were Chad, Cynebil and Calin.
They all studied under Aidan at Lindisfarne, so were raised in the Irish tradition of Christianity. In 653 AD Cedd went with three other priests to the Kingdom of the Middle Angles at the request of King Peada, son of Penda of Mercia. One of them, the Irishman Diuma, became the first Bishop of the Mercians in 655 AD.
Cedd however moved on to the East Saxons and King Sigebert, friend of Oswiu of Northumbria and also a Christian. There Cedd founded various communities including St Peter’s–on-the-Wall at Bradwell-on-Sea, which still survives as one of the oldest intact churches in England, and was built inside the Roman Saxon Shore Fort of Othona.
A story about his time in Sigebert’s kingdom is told by Bede. Cedd had excommunicated a man who was unlawfully married, but the king ignored this and went dine with him. On his way home he met Cedd:
“The king, beholding him, immediately dismounted from his horse, trembling, and fell down at his feet, begging pardon for his offence; for the bishop, who was likewise on horseback, had also alighted. Being much incensed, he touched the king, lying in that humble posture, with the rod he held in his hand, and using his pontifical authority, spoke thus: “I say to you, forasmuch as you would not refrain from the house of that wicked and condemned person, you shall die in that very house.””
Later the man and his brother murdered Sigebert because he was too gentle with his enemies and forgave them according to the Christian fashion.
Following Sigebert’s death, however, the new king was a pagan but Cedd was eventually able to persuade him to accept baptism.
Cedd continued to keep in touch with home and visited Northumbria. The sub-king of Deira (Yorkshire) gave him land at Lastingham to build a monastery. Cedd’s brother Calin was priest to the king already and chose the site, “among craggy and distant mountains, which looked more like lurking-places for robbers and retreats for wild beasts, than habitations for men”. Cedd then fasted and prayed before starting the building work, supported by his brother Cynebil.
While visiting Lastingham in 664 AD he fell ill and died. He was replaced by his brother Chad at Lastingham, who also later became a bishop.
Death of King Athelstan, 27th October 939
On 27th October 939 AD Athelstan the Glorious died at Gloucester. As King of the Anglo-Saxons, he built on the foundations laid by his grandfather Alfred, his father Edward the Elder and his Aunt Athelflaed, with whom he spent much of his youth in Mercia. It is William of Malmesbury who tells us that King Alfred was very fond of his grandson and when he was four years old knighted him and gave him a sword and golden scabbard.
When Edward died in July 924 AD it was Edward’s second son Athelweard who initially succeeded to the throne; but he too died within a few weeks. It was a year before Athelstan was crowned King, indicating political difficulties with his succession, probably due to rivalries between Wessex and Mercia. The Chronicle glosses over the timing in its report:
“AD. 924. ‘This year king Edward died among the Mercians at Fearndun, and very shortly, about sixteen days after this, Aelfweard his son died at Oxford; and their bodies lie at Winchester. And Aethelstan was chosen king by the Mercians, and consecrated at Kingston.”
There was another possible successor, Eadwine, who was Athelweard’s brother, these two young men being the sons of Edward’s second wife, Alfflaed. Eadwine did not succeed and later died at sea in 933 AD, following “disturbance in the kingdom”, according the Annals of St-Bertin where he was buried. Simeon of Durham claims he was drowned at Athelstan’s bidding.
Why was Athelstan so unpopular? His reputation later, and outside England during his reign, was very positive but in Wessex there is a sense his face didn’t fit due to his Mercian upbringing. However, neither was he crowned in Mercia on Athelflaed’s death; her daughter, the rather ineffective Alfwynn, was chosen instead and soon neutralised by Edward the Elder.
In addition, Athelstan ‘s mother Ecgwynn is a shadowy figure described by William of Malmesbury:
“By Egwina, an illustrious lady, he had Athelstan, his first-born, and a daughter, whose name I cannot particularise, but her brother gave her in marriage to Sihtric, king of the Northumbrians.”
There were later claims that Edward the Elder did not marry her and that Athelstan was illegitimate, but this is as likely to have been a smear campaign as anything, just as the claim that he had Eadwine drowned was probably politically motivated.
Athelstan‘s was the first English coronation in which a king wore a crown instead of a helmet. The coronation did not resolve the tensions, and plots seem to have continued with the story of a plan to blind Athelstan, thus rendering him unsuitable for the crown without going so far as to kill him.
Following his coronation Athelstan negotiated with Sihtric of York and in 926 AD he arranged for Sihtric to marry Athelstan’s sister, unnamed but often identified with Eadgyth; but Sihtric died soon afterwards and the settlement died with him.
Athelstan then invaded Northumbria to take control. The Treaty of Eamont Bridge on 12th July 927 AD has been discussed here before. It involved the submission of the Northumbrians, Scots, Welsh and Strathclyde Britons and was followed by seven years of peace in the north. Athelstan was now Lord of all the Anglo-Saxons and effectively a latter-day Bretwalda or Over-King. He gave generous gifts to the church as well as his nobles, including gifts to Beverley and York Ministers, but his control was not without challenge.
In 934 AD Athelstan invaded Scotland although it is not entirely clear why he did so. However he did take time to stop at Chester-le-Street on the way and make generous gifts at the tomb of St Cuthbert, including the maniple and stole which can be seen at Durham Cathedral today. Opportunities may have arisen from the deaths of various key figures. Simeon of Durham tells us:
“AD. 934. King Ethelstan, going with a large army to Scotland, came to the tomb of St. Cuthbert, commended himself and his expedition to the protection of the saint, bestowed on him many and divers gifts becoming a king, and lands; delivering to the torments of eternal fire whoever should take away any of these from him. After this he subdued his enemies, laid waste Scotland with his land force as far as Dunfoeder and Wertormore, and with his navy he ravaged as far as Caithness.”
In any case, in August 937 AD matters came to a head and the Scots allied with the Dublin Norse and attacked to the south. The armies met at the Battle of Brunanburh, and the battle, which was called “The Great War” was referenced in the Norse Egil’s Saga and the Annals of Clonmacnoise. As well as being recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in poetry, starting with the lines:
“Here king Aethelstan, of earls the lord,
of heroes the bracelet-giver, and his brother also,
Eadmund etheling, very illustrious chieftain
in battle fought with the edges of swords
John of Worcester says:
“King Athelstan, and his brother Edmund the etheling, encountered him at the head of their army at a place called Brunanburgh, and the battle, in which five tributary kings and seven earls were slain, having lasted from daybreak until evening, and been more sanguinary than any that was ever fought before in England, the conquerors retired in triumph, having driven the kings Anlaf and Constantine to their ships; who, overwhelmed with sorrow at the destruction of their army, returned to their own countries with very few followers.”
Athelstan was a strategist in politics, marrying at least four of his sisters well to kings and princes across Europe and making alliances. He styled himself “King of the whole of Britain” (rex totius Britanniae) on his coins. He issued seven law codes and his court was packed with foreign scholars and dignitaries with more continental contacts than any previous king, Alfred included. He fostered Hakon, son of King Harold of Norway and also Alan of Brittany.
He was a keen collector of holy relics and many such gifts were brought to him by visitors keen to win his favour. The Athelstan Psalter is a beautiful surviving manuscript linked closely to him, if not his personal book.
He was respected and revered across Europe, including in the Annals of Ulster which described him as the “pillar of the dignity of the western world”.
William of Malmesbury summarises his reign:
“His years, though few, were full of glory.”
Feast Day of King Sigebert, 29th October
29th October is the Feast Day of St Sigebert, the younger son of Raedwald, the King who is probably the man who was in the ship burial at Sutton Hoo.
Raedwald’s conversion to Christianity is famously ambivalent, and his eldest son and successor Eorpwald was initially a pagan who was converted later at the urging of Edwin of Northumbria. He was then murdered by Ricbert who seized the throne and renounced the new faith. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that:
“Eorpwald, son of king Redwald, whose father was Titell, whose father was Vuffa, was prevailed on by king Edwin to renounce idolatry, and with all his province received the Christian faith and sacraments; but a short time afterwards he was slain by a pagan named Ricbert.”
The East Anglians only accepted Ricbert for a few years before replacing him with Sigebert, Eorpwald’s younger brother.
Raedwald had had a number of sons and it seems that Sigebert was thought unlikely to succeed so had been able to study in a monastery in Gaul. However, like Alfred in the 9th century, he discovered that fate had other plans for him.
Once back home he set about converting the East Anglians with the help of a Frankish missionary bishop called Felix. Felix established a see at Dumnoc (the location is not definite; it may have been either Dunmow or Dunwich, or possibly Walton Castle, an old Roman fort). Bede takes up the story:
“AT this time, the kingdom of the East Angles, after the death of Earpwald, the successor of Redwald, was subject to his brother Sigebert, a good and religious man, who long before had been baptized in France, whilst he lived in banishment, flying from the enmity of Redwald; and returning home, as soon as he ascended the throne, being desirous to imitate the good institutions which he had seen a France, he set up a school for youth to be instructed in literature, and was assisted therein by Bishop Felix, who came to him from Kent, and who furnished him with matters and teachers after the manner of that country.”
SIgebert, as Bede tells us, was responsible for the foundation of monastery schools to train the next generation of Christians, and was clearly a man more interested in a religious life. He abdicated after five years on the throne and entered a monastery, passing control to his kinsman Ecgric. However, he retained the love and confidence of his people and when the kingdom was threatened by Penda of Mercia he was recalled, possibly against his will, to lead them. Whether this was in a military capacity (which frankly seems doubtful) or as a holy talisman is unclear. In any case he refused to take up a sword and so was killed along with King Ecgric by Penda’s army, which had been victorious against Edwin in 632 AD at Hatfield Chase. Ecgric was succeeded by Anna, the son of Raedwald’s brother Eni. Bede continues:
“This king became so great a lover of the heavenly kingdom, that quitting the affairs of his crown, and committing the same to his kinsman, Ecgric, who before held a part of that kingdom, he went himself into a monastery, which he had built, and having received the tonsure, applied himself rather to gain a heavenly throne. Some time after this, it happened that the nation of the Mercians, under King Penda, made war on the East Angles; who, finding themselves inferior in martial affairs to their enemy, entreated Sigebert to go with them to battle, to encourage the soldiers; he refused, upon which they threw him against his will out of the monastery, and carried him to the army, hoping that the soldiers would be less disposed to flee in the presence of him, who had once been a notable and a brave commander. But he, still keeping in mind his profession, whilst in the midst of a royal army, would carry nothing in his hand but a wand, and was killed with King Ecgric; and the pagans pressing on, all their army was either slaughtered or dispersed.”
Sigebert was killed in battle and his body may not have been identified, so relics were not curated. King Anna was not sufficiently closely related to encourage his cult, but nevertheless he became a saint and is recorded in the 11th century Bury Psalter in the Vatican Library.
King Athelwold Moll of York deposed, 30th October 765
On 30th October 765 AD King Athelwold Moll of York was forced from power, to be succeeded by Ahlred.
On 6th August 759 AD Athelwold had become king after the murder of Oswulf the preceding July, and he was supposedly elected by his own people. As Oswulf’s murder was by an internal faction it is possible Athelwold was implicated in the takeover, despite his election, and when he was removed in 765 AD it was at the hands of Oswulf’s kinsman Ahlred. Confusingly, Athelwold’s son Athelred Moll then became king after Ahlred.
Ahlred (sometimes Alchred) was the son of Eanwine and the grandson of Beornholm, from a branch of the Bernician dynasty. Their family may have originally been based in Lothian. After replacing Athelwold, Ahlred married Osgifu , who was Oswulf’s daughter and sister of Alfwold, who also became King of Northumbria after Athelred Moll.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the event:
“AD 765. Moll abdicated the kingdom of Northumbria, and was succeeded by Ahlred, son of Eanwin, who was the son of Birnhom, who was the son of Bofa who was the son of Bleocman, who was the son of Auric, who was the son of Ida.”
Ahlred was closely associated with the church and in 773 AD supported a mission into pagan territories conquered by the Franks. He communicated with Charlemagne, as did Offa of Mercia at this same period.
In December 766 AD the Archbishop of York died and was succeeded by Athelred, a relation of Ahlred’s. This did not prevent him from leading the meeting which deposed Ahlred at Easter in 774 AD, as the Chronicle explains:
“AD 774. A red figure like a cross appeared in the sky after sunset. The Mercians and the men of Kent fought a battle at Otford. Frightful and exceeding wonderful serpents appeared in the province of the South Saxons. On the feast of Easter [3d April], the Northumbrians expelled their king Alhred, who had succeeded king Moll, from York, and raised Moll’s son, Aethelbert [Athelred], to the throne.”
Ahlred went into exile at the Pictish court with his son Osred. Simeon of Durham tells us more about their experiences:
“AD 774. Duke Eadwlf was withdrawn from the wreck of this life; and, at the same period, king Alcred, by the design and consent of all his connexions, being deprived of the society of the royal family and princes, changed the dignity of empire for exile. He went with a few companions of his flight, first to the city of Bebba [Bamborough], afterwards to the king of the Picts, Cynoht by name. The city of Bebba is exceedingly well fortified, but by no means large, containing about the space of two or three fields, having one hollowed entrance ascending in a wonderful manner by steps. It has, on the summit of the hill, a church of very beautiful architecture, in which is a fair and costly shrine. In this, wrapped in a pall, lies the uncorrupted right hand of St. Oswald, king, as Beda the historian of this nation relates. There is on the west and highest point of this citadel, a well, excavated with extraordinary labour, sweet to drink, and very pure to the sight. Moreover, Ethelred, the son of Ethelwald, in the place of this person, received the kingdom; who, crowned with so great honour, held it scarcely five years, as the subsequent narrative of the writer tells.”
Osred returned in 788 AD and succeeded Alfwold (Ahlred’s brother-in-law).