On This Day in September

Calendar page for September
Calendar page for September in Cotton MS Junius A VI f7r (c) British Library

Welcome to our page for September, where you will find information about events of interest related to specific dates during the month.

Mostly these happened during the Anglo-Saxon period but we also commemorate events or people whose contributions to the study of Early Medieval Britain have enhanced our understanding, or others whose lives, legacy or actions affected the Anglo-Saxons themselves profoundly.

Death of Count Baldwin V of Flanders, 1st September 1067

Seal of Baldwin V of Flanders

Seal of Baldwin V of Flanders, from Charles François Toustain, René Prosper Tassin, Jean Baptiste Baussonnet [Public domain]

Count Baldwin V of Flanders was intimately involved with English affairs. During his reign he influenced events in England in a number of ways.

Baldwin was born around 1012 and became Count of Flanders in 1035 on the death of his father, Baldwin IV. He could trace his descent from Charlemagne and also from King Alfred of Wessex, whose daughter had married Baldwin II and was his 3 x great-grandmother.

Baldwin V’s reputation was outstanding. The 11th century Frankish chronicler William of Poitiers described him as famed throughout Christendom as the wisest of men, a man of great power who towered above the rest. Baldwin also ruled one of the greatest territories in northern Europe, uniting Flanders with Hainault. His wife contributed to his status; she was Adela, sister of the King of France, and they were married in 1028. His reputation was so strong that in 1060 he was appointed to act as regent for his nephew, Philip of France, by his brother-in-law, Henry I of France, just before Henry’s death.

Early in his reign he provided refuge for Queen Emma, who was the widow of two English kings, Cnut and Athelred Unrede, and who had to go into exile. In 1037 Emma was driven out of England by Harold Harefoot, her stepson, and fled to Baldwin’s court in Bruges where she stayed until 1040. When Harold died and her own son, Harthacnut, succeeded to the throne she was able to return home safely. Harthacnut was also able to visit Emma in Bruges in 1039.

Baldwin´s influence in England did not end with Emma. He was a pivotal factor in the foreign policy of Edward the Confessor. Edward pursued a defensive policy against Scandinavian raiders who might attack England from the harbours of Normandy and Flanders. However, Baldwin was not sympathetic and this resulted in Edward turning to Eustace of Boulogne, who was Edward’s brother-in-law, and to other kingdoms which lay between Flanders and Normandy. The Normans were more amenable to Edward and their harbours were not made widely available to English invaders at this period. Meanwhile, Edward kept on good terms with Henry I of France, Baldwin´s brother-in-law, and also with the German Emperor Henry III who was an enemy of Baldwin.

In 1051 Baldwin, as well as Henry of France, tried to intercede on behalf of Earl Godwin when he was banished from England. Their requests were not successful and Godwin was not restored until the following year. The majority of the Godwin family, including Baldwin´s sister Judith, who had married Tostig Godwinson, obtained protection at Baldwin´s court, much as Emma had done fifteen years previously. Sweyn Godwinson, Godwin’s eldest son, had also enjoyed Flemish hospitality during his periods of exile in 1047 and 1049.

Baldwin´s daughter Matilda married William of Normandy around 1051, despite William being of lower rank than she was. There is a legend associated with the marriage that when she initially refused to marry him, William assaulted her violently and Baldwin was enraged. Before the two could resort to violence Matilda agreed to the marriage despite a papal ban due to them supposedly being too closely related. She was crowned Queen of England in 1068 but spent most of her time in Normandy governing the duchy for her husband. The only one of her and William´s children to be born in England was Henry, later Henry I Beauclerc. It seems that he was born in Yorkshire, probably in or near Selby, during the Harrying of the North. This meant that Baldwin was father of an English Queen and grandfather of an English King.

Some historians have suggested that Harold Godwinson may have passed through Bruges on his way to Hungary to seek the return of Edward the Exile to address the English succession crisis in Edward´s court.

In 1055 Tostig was made Earl of Northumbria and Baldwin’s sister Judith became its Countess. When Tostig was in exile in 1065 he and Judith again made their way to Flanders as part of Tostig´s campaign to raise an army to regain his earldom of Northumbria from which he had been ousted. They stayed at St Omer where Baldwin made Tostig the town´s military governor, in command of the garrison and in receipt of its revenues. 

Baldwin died on 1st September 1067, still acting as regent to Philip of France, and was succeeded by his son, Baldwin VI of Flanders.

Death of J.R.R. Tolkien, 2nd September 1973

The Tolkiens’ headstone, photo by Álida Carvalho, public domain

The Tolkiens’ headstone, photo by Álida Carvalho, public domain

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien died on 2nd September 1973. He was an Anglo-Saxon scholar of great repute and worked tirelessly to promote the beauty and sheer creativity of the literature from the early medieval period. In addition, through his own fictional creations, he was able to imagine a world heavily influenced by Anglo-Saxon ideas and language.

Tolkien was born in 1892 in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, now South Africa, of English parents. His mother came back to England in 1895 with Tolkien and his younger brother. His father died while still in Africa in 1896. Tolkien´s memories of Africa were slight, although he did recall a frightening hairy spider.

His mother became a Catholic, resulting in estrangement from both sides of the family, and Tolkien was brought up in that faith. Tolkien went to school in Birmingham, and following the death of his mother in 1904 when he was 12 he lived first with his aunt and later boarded with a landlady. He and his brother were cared for through the intervention of a priest who looked after their material and spiritual needs. Tolkien met his future wife, Edith, as a boarder when he was 16 and a romance started against the advice and wishes of his Catholic guardian.

In 1910 he won a scholarship to Oxford Exeter College and started his studies in the Classics, Old English, and the Germanic languages. He was a natural linguist, mastering Latin, Greek, Finnish, Gothic, Welsh and other modern languages as well as creating his own languages which he later used in his fictional works.

Shortly after his 21st birthday in 1913 he and Edith became engaged. By 1914 he was already producing work which can be recognised as relating to the later stories of Middle Earth, and he graduated with a first class degree in 1915. In 1916 he and Edith married before he entered the signal corps as a Battalion Signalling Officer and served in France on the Somme. He returned to England with trench fever after four months during which time he lost a number of close friends in the fighting. He was eventually admitted to Brooklands Officers’ Hospital in Hull.

In 1918 the family returned to Oxford and Tolkien worked as a freelance tutor in addition to working for the Oxford English Dictionary. In 1920 he began work as a Reader in English Language at Leeds University, West Yorkshire, where he collaborated with E. V. Gordon on the famous edition of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. In addition, he and Gordon founded a “Viking Club” for undergraduates devoted mainly to reading Old Norse sagas and drinking beer.

He was appointed as Professor of English Language in 1924. A year later he was successful in his application for the post of Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, where he met C S Lewis and established a firm friendship. His academic publications are not extensive, but what he did publish was often influential. By 1936 he had produced the first draft of “The Hobbit” and in the same year delivered his lecture, “Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics”, to the British Academy in London. This work was incredibly influential in changing the appreciation of Old English poetry from historical to literary material and pre-dated the excavation of the ship burial at Sutton Hoo in 1939. The treasures discovered there served to underpin the accuracy and reality of the riches described in the poetry of the period.

Nor was Tolkien only involved in Anglo-Saxon matters. He published a number of translations of Middle English works such as “Ancrene Wisse”, “Sir Orfeo” and “Pearl”. He also taught undergraduates and contributed to the administration of the university.

At home he wrote annual illustrated letters from Father Christmas for his children and told them bedtime stories, many of which were later developed into published works.

He was one of the founder members of a group with similar interests, known as “The Inklings” which included CS Lewis among other notable names. The origins of the name were to do with writing, and sounded loosely Anglo-Saxon.

Both his essay on Beowulf and “The Hobbit” were published in 1937 and Tolkien was urged by his publisher, Unwin and Allen, to write a sequel to the latter.

During the Second World War Tolkien continued working at the university and also served as an air raid warden. In 1945 he became Merton Professor of English Language and Literature.

Despite completing his manuscript for “The Lord of the Rings” in 1949 it was not published until 1954 as the publisher felt it was too long and in 1952 made the decision to decline the work. A few months later Allen & Unwin agreed to publish it on a profit-sharing basis.

The following year Tolkien´s poem “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son” was published, a work of historical fiction told after the events of the Old English poem “The Battle of Maldon”. In 1954 Tolkien was awarded a D.Litt from Dublin University and publication of “The Lord of the Rings” began, each volume being published separately. The BBC began to serialise it almost immediately and Tolkien became increasingly busy dealing with fans and struggled to complete his more academic work.  Eventually he and Edith had to move house and change their phone number to avoid all the calls and visits.

He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1957 and retired from university life in 1959. However he continued to work on his literature.

Among other works he was responsible for the translation of the Book of Jonah in the Jerusalem Bible, which was published in 1966.

Edith died in 1971 and Tolkien received a CBE in 1972. He died of a stomach ulcer in 1973.

The couple were buried together under a headstone that reads:

“Edith Mary Tolkien, Lúthien, 1889–1971

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Beren, 1892–1973”

Ordination of Pope Gregory, 3rd September 590

Mosaic of Saints Augustine and Gregory, "Non Angli sed Angeli ", at the Chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine, Westminster Cathedral,
Mosaic of Saints Augustine and Gregory, “Non Angli sed Angeli “, at the Chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine, Westminster Cathedral, London. Public Domain

“Act in such a way that your humility may not be weakness, nor your authority be severity. Justice must be accompanied by humility, that humility may render justice lovable.”

Pope Gregory I (c.540-604)

On 3rd September 590 AD Gregory became the first Pope of that name until his death on 12th March 604 AD. Later remembered as Gregory the Great, he was the Pope who sent Augustine to bring the British church and people back to Rome, and who wrote “On Pastoral Care”, one of the books translated by Alfred the Great as most needful for men to know.

Gregory was in fact an administrator from a noble family of Roman Christians. By the age of 30, he was the chief administrative official of the city, responsible for finances, police, provisioning, and public works. This experience stood him in good stead for his future role. After his father died in 574 AD Gregory turned his house into a monastery and took to a religious life of study and prayer.

His peaceful retreat was short lived. In 577 AD Pope Benedict appointed him as one of the deacons of Rome, and the following year Pope Pelagius II sent him to Constantinople as representative to the imperial court. He was later recalled to serve as the Pope’s confidential adviser. When Pelagius died in 589 AD Gregory was elected in his place.

Although reluctant he took on the role with energy and commitment, and among other tasks reformed the church, including removing high officials for “pride and misdeeds”.

His role also included the civic administration of the state, dealing with the military, organising famine relief, negotiating with invading forces and paying salaries. At the same time he wrote his most famous work, the “Pastoral Care”, as an instruction book for his bishops on how to govern the Church and how to live a religious life reflecting on their frailty. It is from this that the quotation at the top of this article is taken. He also published his “Homilies on the Gospels”, which continued in use in the Christian Church for centuries, “Dialogues”, hagiographies (lives of saints) and sermons.

In 596 AD, as we mentioned, he sent Augustine to Britain. The members of the group were not entirely enthusiastic and in fact turned back. Bede tells us about their crisis of confidence and Gregory’s response:

“they having, in obedience to the pope’s commands, undertaken that work, were, on their journey, seized with a sudden fear, and began to think of returning home, rather than proceed to a barbarous, fierce, and unbelieving nation, to whose very language they were strangers; and this they unanimously agreed was the safest course. In short, they sent back Augustine, who had been appointed to be consecrated bishop in case they were received by the English, that he might, by humble entreaty, obtain of the Holy Gregory, that they should not be compelled to undertake so dangerous, toilsome, and uncertain a journey. The pope, in reply, sent them a hortatory epistle, persuading them to proceed in the work of the Divine word, and rely on the assistance of the Almighty. The purport of which letter was as follows:

“Gregory, the servant of the servants of God, to the servants of our Lord. Forasmuch as it had been better not to begin a good work, than to think of desisting from that which has been begun, it behooves you, my beloved sons, to fulfil the good work, which, by the help of our Lord, you have undertaken. Let not, therefore, the toil of the journey, nor the tongues of evil speaking men, after you; but with all possible earnestness and zeal perform that which, by God’s direction, you have undertaken; being assured, that much labour is followed by an eternal reward. When Augustine, your chief, returns, whom we also constitute your abbot, humbly obey him in all things; knowing, that whatsoever you shall do by his direction, will, in all respects, be available to your souls. Almighty God protect you with his grace, and grant that I may, in the heavenly country, see the fruits of your labour. In Inasmuch as, though I cannot labour with you, I shall partake in the joy of the reward, because I am willing to labour. God keep you in safety, my most beloved sons. Dated the 23rd of July, in the fourteenth year of the reign of our pious and most august lord, Mauritius Tiberius, the thirteenth year after the consulship of our said lord. The fourteenth indiction.””

So Augustine braced himself and continued to the barbarous island of Britain and the court of King Athelberht of Kent, having picked up some interpreters along the route to help him communicate. Once established in Kent, Augustine then proceeded to bombard Gregory with questions about how to manage the mission and Gregory patiently replied. For example, when Augustine didn´t know what to do about variations in church practice Gregory said to him:

“You know, my brother, the custom of the Roman church in which you remember you were bred up. But it pleases me, that if you have found anything, either in the Roman, or the Gallican, or any other church, which may be more acceptable to Almighty God, you carefully make choice of the same, and sedulously teach the church of the English, which as yet is new in the faith, whatsoever you can gather from the several churches. For things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things. Choose, therefore, from every church those things that are pious, religious, and upright, and when you have, as it were, made them up into one body, let the minds of the English be accustomed thereto.”

He also reminded Augustine not to become overly proud or boastful about the miracles he had performed.

“I know, most loving brother, that Almighty God, by means of your affection, shows great miracles in the nation which He has chosen. Wherefore it is necessary that you rejoice with fear, and tremble whilst you rejoice, on account of the same heavenly gift; viz., that you may rejoice because the souls of the English are by outward miracles drawn to inward grace; but that you fear, lest, amidst the wonders that are wrought, the weak mind may be puffed up in its own presumption, and as it is externally raised to honour, it may thence inwardly fall by vainglory.”

Gregory died on 12th March 604 AD and his relics are now enshrined at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The English Christians called Gregory “our Gregory (Gregorius noster)” and in 713 AD at Whitby a full length “Life of Gregory” was written, believed to be the first of its kind.

Death of Birinus, 4th September 650

Stained glass roundel in Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire, representing the commissioning of Birinus (centre) by Asterius (left).
Stained glass roundel in Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire, representing the commissioning of Birinus (centre) by Asterius (left). Photo from David Nash Ford’s Early British Kingdoms website, Public Domain

St Birinus died on 4th September 650 AD, and it is he who is credited with converting King Cynegils of Wessex to Christianity, along with pressure from the Christian King Oswald of Northumbria who wanted to marry Cynegils’ daughter but did not want to ally with a pagan. The conversion of Cynegils opened the way for the conversion of his entire kingdom. This was the usual pattern of conversion in Anglo-Saxon England, whereby people followed their lord in matters of religion as in other areas of life.

In 635 AD Birinus arrived in Britain from Italy having been sent by Pope Honorius to preach the gospel in Britain. He landed in the kingdom of the Gewisse (later Wessex) and found the people there were still pagan. Bede describes the mission for us:

“Now, as he preached in the aforesaid province, it happened that the king himself, having been catechized, was baptized together with his people, and Oswald, the most holy and victorious king of the Northumbrians, being present, received him as he came forth from baptism, and by an alliance most pleasing and acceptable to God, first adopted him, thus regenerated, for his son, and then took his daughter in marriage. The two kings gave to the bishop the city called Dorcic, there to settle his episcopal see; where having built and consecrated churches, and by his labour called many to the Lord, he departed this life, and was buried in the same city; but many years after, when Hedda was bishop, he was translated thence to the city of Winchester, and laid in the church of the blessed apostles, Peter and Paul.”

St Birinus’ efforts were not long-lasting though. Following Cynegils’ death his son and successor Cenwealh rejected the new religion and was, according to Bede, punished by God. He lost his kingdom in a war with King Penda of Mercia having put aside his wife, who happened to be one of Penda’s sisters, in order to take a new one. He was banished from the kingdom and lived among the East Saxons for three years during which time he apparently saw the error of his ways and converted to Christianity.

The translation of Birinus’ relics to Winchester would have been around 690 AD, and they moved again to a new shrine in 980 AD and yet again to another in 1150. In the 13th century the Augustinian Canons of Dorchester claimed to possess the relics of Birinus, and this was accepted on very slender evidence. The result was the creation of a very popular place of pilgrimage bringing significant revenue to the Abbey.

Feast Day of Bega, 6th September

North Head, St. Bees Head, Cumbria
North Head, St. Bees Head, Cumbria, by Dave.Dunford  – public domain

6th September is one of the days on which we commemorate St Bega, who seems to have lived in the 7th century.

An 1844 “Lives of the English Saints” has a chapter about Bega, also called St Bees, who is really best known and loved in Cumbria. The disclaimer to her legend reads as follows:

“We have now to tell the legend of St. Bees, so far as it may be told, so far as history can take cognizance of it. There seems to have been more than one St. Bega; for if, as Alford thinks, St. Heyne, the first nun in Northumberland, and who received the veil from St. Aidan, is the same with St. Bega, then she can hardly be the Bega who succeeded St. Hilda at Hacanos, for that St. Bega died a hundred years after St. Aidan, and yet she is generally taken to be the same. Mabillon makes her to die at Hacanos, Alban Butler at Calcaria, supposed to be Tadcaster. It seems next to impossible to reconcile the chronology or conflicting statements which have come down to us, and it is therefore but right to advertise the reader that the following pages can make no claim to historical accuracy. They follow for the most part the monkish legend printed from the Cottonian MSS. (Faust. B. 4. fol. 122–139) among the Carlisle tracts; and at any rate put the reader in possession of what St. Bega’s own monks believed about their holy foundress some centuries later than her own time.”

So, with all that in mind, what is the slightly confusing story of Bega/Bees?

Bega was the daughter of an Irish King and was raised as a Christian. Like many other Anglo-Saxon female saints, she wished to remain a virgin. She spent her time studying scripture and becoming an expert worker of gold and jewels with which she embroidered decorations for the church. However, she was a princess and marriage to a suitable consort became an important issue for her father, despite her preference to become a nun.

One day while she was meditating upon her wish to enter the holy life, she had a vision of a man or angel who encouraged to keep to her vow and gave her a bracelet engraved with a cross as a gift, saying to her:

“Receive this blessed gift sent to you by the Lord God, by which you may know that you are for His service and that He is your Spouse. Place it therefore as a sign upon your heart and upon your arm, that you may admit no one else beside Him.”

Meanwhile her father the King had decided that Bega should marry a Norwegian prince to cement an alliance with that kingdom. The prince duly arrived in Ireland and started feasting to celebrate the betrothal. However, Bega did not want to marry and prayed for divine assistance. Her prayers were answered and she was directed to go to the shore to find a boat which would take her across the sea to safety. Her bracelet now served its miraculous purpose. The guards were all asleep under some kind of enchantment, and the touch of the bracelet to the locks on the doors and gates of the stronghold made them open to help her escape.

To be clear, this was a controversial decision on Bega’s part, heavenly voices or not. Her father had made a pledge to the Norwegians, which put his honour at stake. As a princess she also had duties and responsibilities to act as “peace-weaver” between kingdoms. In addition, leaving in the middle of the night without any messages and going off in a boat with a group of unknown sailors does seem a little thoughtless, possibly even reckless. Bega was assuming without any clear corroboration that the voices were in fact heavenly and not, shall we say, of a different persuasion.  It turns out being a saint is not necessarily about making everyone happy!

However, she crossed the sea safely and landed in Cumbria at Copeland, although the final approach to land was very dangerous and Bega vowed that if she survived she would build a church on the headland; she did survive and founded St Bees.

Initially she lived in a “cell”, or cave, as a hermit. As well as her embroidery and learning, she was also a skilful healer with a full knowledge of the use of medicinal herbs and plants. This allowed her to help the people around her and cure them of various ailments.

However, after living for some time in this way, she was eventually forced to move by a series of pirate attacks which threatened her safety. In her rather sudden departure she left behind her bracelet, making her way eastwards until she found St Aidan who was living and working in Northumbria and who consecrated her as a nun. According to Bede she was the first nun in Northumberland; that is, if she is the same person as Heru (but see the difficulties quoted above). The claim of her foundation is in the 12th century hagiography of her life: “Vita et Miracula S Bege Virginis in Privincia Northanhimborum”. 

This is where the dates jump.

We are going to interpret the story as referring to two different women so the rest of the tale is covered under the story of Bega of Hackness.

Meanwhile back in Cumbria Bega’s bracelet had been found and kept safe, where it continued to perform miracles and where her memory was devotedly preserved by the local people. A priory was built in the 11th century on the headland at St Bees, which is a corruption of the Norse name for the village “Kyrkeby becok” – the church at the settlement of Bega. Her hagiography mentions a number of miracles relating to the bracelet or the saint herself, most famously the “Snow Miracle”:

“Ranulf le Meschin [3rd Earl of Chester, 1070-1129] had endowed the monastery of St Bees with its lands, but a lawsuit later developed about their extent. The monks feared a miscarriage of justice. The day appointed for a perambulation of the boundaries arrived – and, lo and behold, there was a thick snowfall on all the surrounding lands but not a flake upon the lands of the priory.”

This was taken to indicate a divine definition of the boundaries of the priory lands and no further action was taken to deprive the monks.

Death of Bishop Ealhmund, 7th September 781

Bishops Rood Screen, Hexham Abbey
15/16th century Bishops Rood Screen, Hexham Abbey, Photo PWicks © 2016

St Ealhmund (Alkmund), the 4th Bishop of Hexham after Bishop Wilfrid, died on 7 September 781 AD, having been Bishop since 766 AD. He was then succeeded as Bishop by Tilberht.

As with so many of the records of Northumbria, much was lost during the Viking invasions and Ealhmund was largely forgotten until centuries later. When he died he was buried next to Acca, another Bishop of Hexham, and then records of him seem to have been lost for 250 years. Then, according to the 12th century chronicler Simeon of Durham, a man called Dregmo, a very virtuous man, received a vision one night, with instructions regarding the translation of Ealhmund’s remains:

“there appeared to him [Dregmo] a man adorned with a pontifical mitre, and holding in his hand a pastoral staff. Striking him with it, he said to him, “Arise, go and tell Elfred, the son of Westneor, priest of the church of Durham, that, assembling the population of the territory of Hexham, he must translate my body from the place where I am interred, and deposit it in a more honourable position within the church; for it is right that they should receive veneration from all on earth, whom the King of kings deigns to clothe with the robe of glory and immortality in heaven.”

When he inquired, “Lord, who art thou?” he replied, “I am Alchmund, bishop of the church of Hexham, who, by the grace of God, presided over that see the fourth in succession after the blessed Wilfrid. My body was placed near my predecessor of revered memory, the sainted bishop Acca. At its translation do you also assist with the priest.”

The next morning Dregmo went to talk to Alfred the priest, who made the necessary arrangements. Watched by a large crowd they removed the remains of the Bishop but as it was getting late by the time they were finished they had to leave them overnight in the church, ready for a solemn service in the morning. Alfred kept watch with some other priests, who all fell asleep. So Alfred rather cheekily got up and removed a small finger bone which he intended to give to the church of St Cuthbert in Durham as a holy relic.

The next day everyone gathered again and it was time to move the body for its interment. Needless to say, the body declined to be moved, no matter who tried to lift it, much to everyone’s consternation.  Alfred didn’t realise it was his fault so he asked everyone to pray for God to tell them what the problem was. 

“And so it came to pass, while those who passed the night in the church were praying to God on this account. Saint Alchmund again appeared to the same man as before, who chanced then to be within the church, overpowered by slumber, which had suddenly overtaken him, and, with a somewhat severe countenance, addressed him thus : “What is this that you have endeavoured to do? Do you suppose that you can carry me, mutilated in my members, into the church in which I served God and his apostle Saint Andrew, with my whole body and spirit? Arise, therefore, and proclaim before all the people that the portion which has been rashly abstracted from my body must speedily be restored; otherwise you will be utterly unable to remove me from my present position.” Having said this, he showed him his hand, wanting the middle joint of one finger.”

The next morning Dregmo told everyone about his vision and demanded justice. Alfred admitted what he had done and explained why he had done it. Having returned Ealhmund’s finger bone to its proper place, the saint forgave him and allowed his body to be translated to its new tomb and all was well that ended well.

Unfortunately for Ealhmund, Hexham was destroyed again in the 12th century and when it was restored all the saints were put together into a single shrine. Finally the shrine was destroyed by the Scots in a border raid of 1296.

Viking attack on London, 8th September 994

Map of VIking Raids in England 980-1016
Viking Raids 980-1016, A short history of England and the British Empire (1915),
Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions

On 8th September 994 AD Olaf Tryggvason and Sweyn Forkbeard came to London with 94 ships and set fire to the city. However, the Londoners resisted fiercely and the Danes were forced to retreat. Instead they raided along the south coast, burning and slaughtering in Essex, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes events:

“[They] burnt the vills, laid waste the fields, destroyed as many as possible of both sexes by fire and sword, and carried off great spoil. Finally, they obtained horses by force, and madly scouring numerous provinces, spared neither women nor children of tender age, but slew all with brutal ferocity.”

King Athelred paid the Vikings off so that they stopped raiding and instead they over-wintered at Southampton. Wessex was forced to feed them all and the Vikings also received 16,000 pounds from the English nation as a whole. Hostages were given, and finally the king made a covenant with Olaf not to raid England again, and stood as sponsor for him at his baptism.

Olaf had earlier been converted by the hermit of the Scillies, St Lide. Lide was credited with prophesying a mutiny which Olaf would survive and that he would go on to become a great king. When the prophecy about the mutiny came true Olaf converted and was baptised, so if this was true it is more likely that he was only confirmed, not baptised, at Southampton in 995 AD. 

Meanwhile Sweyn appears not to have agreed to the covenant, or else reneged some years later. In due course he would drive Athelred from his throne, sending him into exile in Normandy with potentially long-term consequences for England as relations between the two dynasties became more deeply entwined.

English Army disbands, 8th September 1066

Ships of William the Conqueror
Ships of William the Conqueror, 1066 – Atkinson, John Augustus (engraver); Merigot (engraver); P and D Colnaghi and Co Ltd and Co (publishers); S, C H (artist), Public domain

On 8th September 1066 King Harold had to disband his army, which had been on the south coast to defend England from the anticipated arrival of the Norman fleet of Duke William.

Harold had already chased his brother Tostig away from Sandwich in Kent earlier in the year, then he had spent the summer on the Isle of Wight, and posted his army on the south coast watching for the invasion from Normandy. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes the situation:

“It was now the nativity of St. Mary [8th Sept.], when the men’s provisions were gone; and no man could keep them there any longer. They therefore had leave to go home: and the king rode up, and the ships were driven to London; but many perished ere they came thither. When the ships were come home, then came Harald, King of Norway, north into the Tyne, unawares, with a very great sea-force — no small one; that might be, with three hundred ships or more; and Earl Tosty came to him with all those that he had got; just as they had before said: and they both then went up with all the fleet along the Ouse toward York. When it was told King Harold in the south, after he had come from the ships, that Harald, King of Norway, and Earl Tosty were come up near York, then went he northward by day and night, as soon as he could collect his army.”

And so the first of the three battles of 1066 were set to take place while King Harold scrambled to assemble his forces and race northwards.

Death of King William, 9th September 1087

memorial slab to William, Saint-Étienne, Abbaye aux Hom
memorial slab to William, Saint-Étienne, Abbaye aux Hommes, Caen, by Supercarwaar [CC BY-SA 4.0]

9th September commemorates the death of William of Normandy who died on this day in 1087 in Normandy.

He is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in part as follows:

“Truly in his time men had much labour and very many sorrows. He caused castles to be built, and the poor men to be made to labour heavily. The king was so exceedingly stern, and took from his subjects many a mark of gold, and more hundred pounds of silver, that he took by right and with great unright of his people, for little need. He was fallen into covetousness, and he loved greediness above all.”

According to Orderic Vitalis, a monk with a Norman father and English mother, writing in the early 12th century, William made the following death-bed confession:

“I’ve persecuted the natives of England beyond all reason, whether gentle or simple. I have cruelly oppressed them and unjustly disinherited them, killed innumerable multitudes by famine or the sword and become the barbarous murderer of many thousands both young and old of that fine race of people.”

However, it is unlikely he ever said this but it is interesting that a generation or two after his death this was how he was being portrayed.

The story of William’s death and subsequent funeral is a mixture of tragedy and farce.  After he had finally subdued England he spent many of his final years facing rebellions in Normandy. He didn’t see the two domains as a single kingdom and bequeathed England to his second son, William Rufus, and Normandy to his eldest son, Robert Curthose. However, William and Robert quarrelled viciously, with Robert leading a band of young followers on raids into Normandy against his father and being supported by many of William’s enemies in other kingdoms. In 1079 Robert defeated his father at the siege of Gerberoi, when his forces sallied out of the castle and surprised William. Robert even unhorsed his father in the fight and almost killed him.

William’s defeat was reported widely. It was followed by raids from Malcolm of Scotland and rebellion once more in Northumberland which William left to his half-brother Odo to sort out. Later he sent Robert (with whom he had now reached an agreement) to fight the Scots. Robert brought Malcolm to terms and constructed the castle at Newcastle on Tyne.

William was in England from 1080-1081 but had to return to Normandy to deal with problems in Maine. In 1082 he fell out with Odo, although it is not clear exactly what caused the rift, and had him put in prison where he remained until William’s death.

At Christmas 1085 William ordered the compilation of the Domesday Book:

“after very deep consultation with his council, about this land; how it was occupied, and by what sort of men.  Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out how many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire.  Also he commissioned them to record in writing, how much land his archbishops had, and his diocesan bishops, and his abbots, and his earls; and though I may be prolix and tedious, what, or how much, each man had, who was an occupier of land in England, either in land or in stock, and how much money it were worth.  So very narrowly, indeed, did he commission them to trace it out, that there was not one single hide, nor a yard of land, nay, moreover (it is shameful to tell, though he thought it no shame to do it), not even an ox, nor a cow, nor a swine was there left, that was not set down in his writ.  And all the recorded particulars were afterwards brought to him.”

In 1087 he was campaigning in the Vexin on the continent when he fell ill and died. Following his death at Rouen the leading men all hurried home to deal with their own affairs and the monks had to make the arrangements for him to be taken to Caen which he had endowed and where his wife was already buried.

His funeral there was disturbed by a legal dispute which disrupted proceedings and when he was finally lowered into the tomb, his body wouldn’t fit. He had become rather fat in later years. As his body was forced into the space available in a very undignified fashion it burst open and released a disgusting stench throughout the church.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded his death at length:

“Rueful was the thing he did; but a more rueful him befell.  How more rueful?  He fell sick, and it dreadfully ailed him.  What shall I say?  Sharp death, that passes by neither rich men nor poor, seized him also. He died in Normandy, on the next day after the Nativity of St. Mary, and he was buried at Caen in St. Stephen’s minster, which he had formerly reared, and afterwards endowed with manifold gifts.  Alas!  how false and how uncertain is this world’s weal! He that was before a rich king, and lord of many lands, had not then of all his land more than a space of seven feet!  and he that was whilom enshrouded in gold and gems, lay there covered with mould!”

However, William’s personal piety was greatly praised by his contemporaries, as was his strength and prowess in martial arts; but he was also described as harsh and greedy and excessively controlling.  Unusually for the time he appears not to have been unfaithful to his wife or had any mistresses.

Battle of Svolder, 10th September 1000

Battle of Svolder
Battle of Svolder by Peter Nicolai Arbo (Norway 1831-1892), public domain

10th September 1000 AD saw the Battle of Svolder and the death of King Olaf Tryggvason leaping from the deck of Long Serpent, his ship. The Battle of Svolder is one of the greatest Viking naval battles recorded and Olaf is an almost legendary figure.

He was the great-grandson of Harald I Fairhair and the son of Tryggve Olafsson. Tryggve was killed shortly before Olaf was born, and as a result he may have been born in the Orkneys as his mother fled Norway for safety. However, what does seem more certain is that he eventually found himself in Kiev at the court of Vladimir I.

In English records he appears as a raider in the 990s, probably the leader of the Vikings who fought and killed Byrhtnoth, Ealdorman of  Essex, at the Battle of Maldon in 991 AD; he was also the leader of the fleet which attacked London on 8th September 994 AD.

Following his agreement with King Athelred not to invade England again, Olaf kept his word and turned his attention to the Norwegian throne. He was able to use the wealth he had acquired in England to finance his campaign and he achieved his ambition to rule Norway in 995 AD. He is the king responsible for the full Christianisation of Norway, for which contemporary Church writers praised him. In fact the conversion was brutally imposed on the population.

The Battle of Svolder was fought in the Baltic when Olaf was returning from the east and ambushed by King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark (Sweyn of course is also of keen interest to the English as our first, albeit shortlived, Danish King). Sweyn had pulled together a coalition of Olaf’s enemies and ambushed him, bringing seventy-one ships against Olaf’s eleven, which included Olaf’s own ship, Long Serpent. One of the ambushers who is about to feature in the story was Eiríkr Hákonarson, Jarl (Earl) of Lade, and he later accompanied Cnut in the invasion of England and became the Earl of Northumbria.

The ambushers saw a number of splendid ships passing by as they waited, and argued over whether any were the Long Serpent, but the Saga of Olaf Tryggvason tells us that

“when they beheld the ‘Long Serpent’ and none gainsaid this, then knew all that now indeed was Olaf Tryggvason sailing by.”

When Olaf saw his enemies ranged against him he encouraged his men not to run away, but to stay and fight.

“But King Olaf stood up on the poop, and shouted with a loud voice: ‘Let no men of mine lower sail or think of fleeing; never have I fled in battle. May God look to my life, for never will I turn to flight.’ And it was done even as the King said. Thus saith Hallfrod:

‘Fain would I name those words,

Which Olaf’s warriors tell us

The lord deed-mighty spake there,

To his men before the battle.

The warlike King forbade

His champions to think of flight,

And how they live, the words the loved one of the people spoke.’”

Olaf continued in feisty form, boasting and building morale. The fight was bloody; ships grappled; swords rang and arrows flew but finally Olaf was left with only Long Serpent which now held all his surviving men who had managed to scramble across from other doomed ships.

“Into so hard a trap fell now the “Long Serpent”

(The shields were cut asunder, together clashed the swords),

And when the axe-bearer laid his bearded ship high bulwarked beside the “Serpent,”

The Earl [Eirik] did victory win at Holm.

Earl Eirik took his stand in the forehold of his ship encompassed by a wall of shields, & his men fought both with trenchant arms, and by the thrusting of spears, and by the throwing of everything that could be used as a weapon, though some shot with the bow or threw javelins with the hand. From all sides had the war-ships been brought up around the ‘Serpent,’ and so great was the shower of weapons which fell on her, and so thickly flew the arrows and javelins from all sides, that men could but hardly ward off the missiles with their shields. The men that were with King Olaf had ere now waxed so furious that they had climbed up on to the bulwarks to the end that they might reach their foemen with their swords and slay them; but many of their foes would not come so nigh alongside the ‘Serpent’ that they could be beguiled into close combat, whereas a many of the folk of Olaf being unmindful that they were not fighting on a level field themselves fell overboard and so sank down together with their weapons.”

Despite their stout defence eventually Olaf’s men were overwhelmed and as all was lost. Olaf took his shield and leapt head-first into the waves to avoid being captured by Earl Eirik.

A story quickly circulated that Olaf was able to remove his mail shirt and was picked up by another ship with his daughter Astrid aboard, which then made its way back east. Tales of Olaf’s wanderings were told but he was not seen again.

Meanwhile Eirik was pleased to win the Long Serpent and profited in gifts of land too after the battle was all done.

Feast Day of Eanswithe, 12th September

St Mary and St Eanswyth. Folkestone
St Mary and St Eanswythe, Folkestone by Immanuel Giel [CC BY-SA 3.0]

12th September is the Feast Day of St Eanswithe of Folkestone who died 31st August 640 AD and was the granddaughter of Athelbert, Kent’s first Christian king.

Athelbert had two children, Eadbald, who succeeded him to the throne in Kent and reverted to paganism, and Athelburh, who married Edwin of Northumbria and with Paulinus brought about the conversion of Northumbria to Christianity.

Eadbald married first of all his father’s widow, in keeping with Anglo-Saxon pre-Christian tradition. Then he was converted to the new religion by Laurence, the second Archbishop of Canterbury, who had a a vision from St Peter. Eadbald put aside his first marriage and respectably married Emma, daughter of the King of the Franks, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.

According to the “Anonymous Life of St. Eanswith”:

“Ethelbert, King of Kent, who was converted to the faith by Saint Augustine the Bishop, begat Edbald and Ethelburga the virgin, whom her father Ethelbert gave as wife to Edwin, King of the Northumbrians, as is more clearly set forth in the Life of that Saint and King which follows. Edbald, however, begat by Emma, daughter of the Franks, Ermured and Ercombert and a daughter Eanswida, who from infancy renouncing worldly pomps, studied to serve God, trod under foot all the treasures of the world, and having embraced the holy doctrine with all her might, longed with constant desire for the life of the heavenly kingdom, and meditated submitting herself to the rule of life of holiness. For the convenience of his observance she selected a suitable place, remote and unfrequented, called Folkestone, where also her father Edbald built a Church in honour of Saint Peter the Apostle.”

So Eanswithe followed in the footsteps of her aunt, and her grandmother Bertha, rather than her father. She is sometimes said to have been the first woman in England to lead a religious community, although it’s a close run thing with her aunt Athelburh’s foundation. Tradition has it that Eanswithe founded Folkestone Abbey around 630 AD while Athelburh founded a community at Lyminge in 633 AD, having escaped Penda in Northumberland after the Battle of Hatfield Chase.

Alban Butler has little further information about the saint:

“Eanswide added lustre to her birth by the eminent sanctity of her life. The great truths of our holy religion sunk so deep in her tender heart, that, from her infancy, her whole delight was in prayer and the love of God. Hence she despised the world, and all its foolish vanities and amusements. She rejected all proposals that tended to engage her in marriage, fearing the duties of that state, though good and just in themselves, would interrupt her darling exercises of devotion and heavenly contemplation. Having, by perseverance and importunity, obtained at length her father’s consent, she founded a monastery of nuns upon the sea-coast, close by Folkstone, in Kent. Here she sacrificed the affections of her heart to her heavenly Spouse night and day in penance and prayer, till she was called to rest from her labours on the last day of August, in the seventh century. The sea having afterwards swallowed up part of this priory, the nunnery was removed to Folkstone, and the saint’s relics were deposited in that church which had been built by her father, King Eadbald, in honour of St. Peter; but, after this translation of her relics, was often known by her name. St. Eanswide was famous for many miracles; her chief festival in the English calendar was kept on the 12th of September, probably the day of the translation of her relics, or of the dedication of some church in her honour.”

The translation therefore seems to have happened on 12th September 1138.

Two of her miracles, from a later medieval legend, claim she diverted water to supply the nunnery, and that she prevented birds destroying crops in her fields.

However, Eanswithe’s story has had further developments following the modern analysis of bones uncovered at Folkestone. This analysis concluded that they were consistent with those of a high status female of the mid-7th century aged 17-20. The bones had been found by workmen in 1885 in a lead container which appeared to have been hidden at the time of the Reformation, presumably to prevent their destruction.

Andrew Richardson, of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, said “everything is consistent with it being her.” He added that the result of the analysis was of national significance:

“It now looks probable that we have the only surviving remains of a member of the Kentish royal family, and one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon saints.

There is more work to be done to realise the full potential of this discovery. But certainly the project represents a wonderful conjunction not only of archaeology and history, but also of a continuous living faith tradition at Folkestone from the mid-seventh century to the present day.”

Feast Day of Wulfthryth, 13th September

St. Mary Wilton
St Mary Wilton, Trish Steel, geograph.org.uk

13th September is the Feast Day of Wulfthryth (Wilfreda) who died on 21st September 998/1000 AD at Wilton where she had served as Abbess following her marriage to King Edgar. 

She was also the sister of Saint Wulfhild, whom Edgar had previously tried to seduce. The story is told in the “Life of St Wulfhild”, written by Goscelin in the 11th century, that Edgar approached Wulfhild to marry him and she refused as she felt called to live as a nun. Edgar did not give up easily. He turned to a woman called Wynflaed for help in arranging the marriage despite Wulfhild’s response. Wynflaed entered into a deception, arranging for Wulfhild to come to her house to write her will, and there Edgar met her and tried to take her to bed. She hid in her room and was locked in until she agreed to the marriage; however, she managed to escape through some sewers, and Edgar finally had to admit defeat.

Undeterred, Edgar arranged to marry Wulfthryth, equally as beautiful and eligible, who had been educated alongside Wulfhild but had probably not become a nun. Confusingly, the “Life of St Dunstan” records that Edgar seduced a nun from Wilton and made her his mistress despite being married. This is likely to be due to the fact that his first wife, Athelflaed Eneda, was still alive but had been put aside. St Dunstan nevertheless allegedly made Edgar do penance for seven years by abstaining from wearing a crown, because Wulfthryth had been in a monastery (regardless of whether she had become a nun; noble women were often educated in monasteries before returning to secular life). This story may have been devised to explain Edgar’s later coronation in 973 AD, a number of years after he actually took the throne. However, it is also possible, even probable that he had more than one coronation.

Edgar and Wulfthryth married around 961 AD and soon had a daughter, Edith, later St Edith of Wilton. Wulfthryth was not happy in the marriage and decided to retire to the monastery at Wilton after 963 AD, taking her baby daughter with her. Edgar and his court accompanied her on her journey and the whole town of Wilton came out to see her. With great ceremony Wulfthryth and her daughter were admitted to their new lives and Edgar was free to marry again; at least traditionally he would have been, but there were later accusation that his third relationship was adulterous because Wulfthryth was still alive. (This had also been the reason for Edgar’s penance when marrying Wulfthryth.)

The marriage had clearly not been satisfactory for either party and Edgar was known to have had mistresses during it. William of Malmesbury records the story of one, a servant girl in Andover. The king had sent for a nobleman’s beautiful daughter to entertain him one night, and the servant had been substituted by the girl’s mother. When the king found out in the morning about the deception, he freed the servant and put her in charge of the nobleman’s family, and kept her as his mistress until his third marriage.

Wulfthryth’s retirement was probably a relief to them both, but cost Edgar a great deal of money in order to appease her powerful family. The marriage had been very brief, and Edgar married almost immediately afterwards, so the divorce was almost certainly political. Wulfthryth was recorded at Wilton as being extremely wealthy. Edgar had also made a gift of the Abbey at Barking to Wulfhild, later St Wulfhild of Barking, presumably to maintain good relationships with her family and enable him to marry her sister Wulfthryth.

The divorce and retirement of Wulfthryth seems to have been managed by the Bishop of Winchester, Athelwold, who later became a great ally of Edgar’s third wife, and first anointed Queen of England, Alfthryth. Meanwhile Wulfthryth seems to have clashed with him in later years in her role as Abbess of Wilton, resenting his interference and his attempt to obtain a relic from the Abbey, a nail from the True Cross which she had bought herself. Wulfthryth also successfully resisted the reforms being introduced by Athelwold and Alfthryth, indicating her status as a powerful Abbess.

Her daughter Edith pre-deceased her in 984 AD and Wulfthryth lived many more years at Wilton, reportedly dying in 998 AD, according to Goscelin, “after a long martyrdom of bereavement and heavenly desire.”

Discovery of the West Yorkshire Hoard, 14th September 2008

The West Yorkshire Hoard
The West Yorkshire Hoard, Mylearning.org,  CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

14th September 2008 saw the discovery of the West Yorkshire Hoard near Leeds.

The original find comprised five objects but two more were found later, and following analysis of the contents they were later declared treasure due to their age and precious metal content. In total there are four rings, a brooch fragment, a gold ingot and a spindle whorl. However, dating the hoard has been challenging.

It seems to have been buried in the 10th century but includes high quality objects dating probably from the 10th back to the 7th century.  There are no coins, which are usually clear indicators of earliest date.

Perhaps the most striking of the finds is the garnet ring, dated to the 10th century. The bezel is 42mm long and 32mm wide on a hoop of 3mm thickness of twisted gold. The entire ring weighs in at just over 30g. The garnet in the centre is surrounded by three rounds of filigree work. The gold content is very high and the detailed work indicates the ring was a high status possession, perhaps of a bishop.

However, there are also two filigree rings of intricate workmanship, also 10th century, and a gold and niello ring which has been dated less specifically to the 8th-10th century.

The brooch fragment is older, probably 7th century.

The larger filigree ring has a band which is about 1cm wide, in contrast to the more delicate garnet ring. The gold filigree work is again very complex and high status.

The smaller filigree ring is a slightly lower quality and more worn, so probably not such a high status object (although by no means mediocre).

The niello ring is quite different in design. Niello is a mixture of copper, silver and lead sulphites which creates a black colouring to metal objects. The hoop is 27mm diameter, and there are four niello panels arranged around the circumference in quarters with ridged patterning between them. It is not as fine as the other rings.

The gold ingot is very small, 19mm x 9mm, weighing just over 8g. It would have been used as currency.

There is only a fragment of the brooch, which included cloisonné work. Attempts to reconstruct its appearance have been made by archaeologists.

The final object is the lead spindle whorl, a slightly odd item to be included with precious jewellery. It is an everyday object of value for its insight into domestic activities but not valuable in terms of material.

It is not clear why they were buried together; perhaps the brooch was an heirloom.  It is thought they were buried around the 10th century, and could have been during a period of Viking invasions. The reign of Edward the Elder in the early part of the century and the reign of Athelred Unrede at the end of the period ascribed to the hoard both saw Viking incursions. The pit in which the items were buried was disturbed a number of times, so it is possible that it was accessed by the family or group over time to provide additional resources.

Death of Cyneburh, 15th September 680 (date unconfirmed)

Bewcastle Cross
Bewcastle Cross, North and West Faces, Albert S. Cook (1853–1927) [Public domain]

Cyneburh is thought to have died on 15th September 680 AD. She was the eldest daughter of King Penda, the last pagan king of Mercia.

Cyneburh married Oswiu’s son Alchfrith, while Peada her brother married Oswiu’s daughter in an act of diplomacy to bring the kingdoms to peace. Both Cyneburh and Peada were required to convert as the Northumbrians were Christian. However, the conversion seems to have been genuine given Cyneburh’s later career as an Abbess. The marriage also seems to have been successful and four of the children became saints like their mother.

Penda had spent many years fighting the Northumbrians, and in 642 AD he had killed Oswiu’s brother King Oswald at the Battle of Maserfield where he cut Oswald’s body into several pieces. Penda was later killed at the Battle of Winwaed in 655 AD by Oswiu’s forces.

In 656 AD, the following year, Cyneburh was one of the signatories to the foundation of the monastery at Medehamsted (Peterborough) with extensive lands granted by Wulfhere, another of her brothers and one who had succeeded Penda to become the Mercian king. She signed alongside a number of family members and with Oswiu, King of Northumbria.

In fact the list of signatories reads like a Who’s Who of 7th century Anglo-Saxon kingdoms:

“These are the witnesses who were there, who subscribed it with their fingers on the cross of Christ, and assented to it with their tongues. King Wulfhere was the first who confirmed it, first by his word, and afterwards with his fingers wrote on it the cross of Christ; and said thus:

I, king Wulfhere, with the kings, and earls, and dukes, and thanes, the witnesses of my gift, do confirm it before the archbishop Deusdedit with the cross of Christ. And I, Oswi, king of the Northhumbrians, the friend of this monastery and of abbat Saxulf, approve of it with the cross of Christ. And I, king Sighere, grant it with the cross of Christ. And I, king Sibbi, subscribe it with the cross of Christ. And I, Aethelred, the king’s brother, grant that same with the cross of Christ. And we, the king’s sisters, Cyneburh and Cyneswith, we approve it. And I, Deus-dedit, archbishop of Canterbury, grant it.

After that, all the others who were there assented to it with the cross of Christ. They were by name Ithamar, bishop of Rochester, and Wine, bishop of London, and Jeruman, who was bishop of the Mercians, and bishop Tuda, and Wilfrid the priest, who was afterwards bishop, and Eoppa the priest, whom king Wulfhere sent to preach Christianity in Wight, and abbat Saxulf, and Immine the ealdorman, and Eadberht the ealdorman, and Herefrid the ealdorman, and Wilberht the ealdorman, and Abo the ealdorman, Aethelbold, Brorda, Wilberht, Elhmund, Frethegis. These and many others who were there, servants of the king, all assented to it.”

Cyneburh and Alchfrith also founded the Abbey at Ripon, although there was controversy over whether it should follow the Roman or Irish liturgical rule. Alchfrith had been taught his Christianity by the pro-Roman Wilfrid and so wanted it be a Roman foundation but the monks refused to follow it. Eventually Bishop Wilfrid took control and ensured the Roman rule was adopted.

The couple also attended the Synod at Whitby in 664 AD at which Oswiu decided in favour of the Roman rule for the whole kingdom, despite having previously followed Irish tradition himself. This had been a matter of contention between him and Alchfrith (and presumably also Cyneburh). Although Oswiu’s decision would have pleased them, Alchfrith still argued with his father over the appointment of Wilfrid as a bishop, and ended up sending Wilfrid to Frankia to be consecrated. After this Alchfrith rather suspiciously disappears from the historical record.

Cyneburh would have been in a difficult position at this point. It appears she returned to her brother Wulfhere in Mercia, and founded a combined (men and women) Abbey at Castor, where she served as the first Abbess and was joined by her sister Cyneswide and another female relative, Tibba. Cyneswide and Tibba duly served as abbesses in their turn, and Tibba is also remembered as the patron saint of falconers.

King Wulfhere died in 675 AD and another brother, a signatory on the charter above, succeeded to the throne as King Athelred of Mercia (Bede says it was after three years). He then asked the pope to confirm the charter they had signed and the pope duly did. A synod was called to read the papal letter, following which King Athelred declared:

“All those things which my brother Peada, and my brother Wulfhere, and my sisters Kyneburh and Kyneswith, gave and granted to St. Peter and the abbat, it is my will shall stand; and I will in my day increase it for the good of their souls and of my own soul.”

Cyneburh influenced both her kingly brothers to act charitably and donate land and money to the church and for the care of the poor.

Alban Butler in his Martyrology says:

“By his [Alchfrith’s] death she was left a widow in the bloom of life, and, renouncing the world, governed a nunnery which she built; or, according to others, found built by her brother Wulfere, in a moist fenny place, on the confines of the counties of Huntingdon and Northampton, then called Dormundcaster, afterwards from her, Kyneburgecaster, now Caster. The author of her life in Capgrave says, that she lived here a mirror of all sanctity, and that no words can express the bowels of charity with which she cherished the souls which served God under her care; how watchful she was over their comportment, and how zealous in instructing and exhorting them; and with what floods of tears she implored for them the divine grace and mercy. She had a wonderful compassion for the poor, and strongly exhorted her royal brothers to alms-giving and works of mercy.”

Cyneburh, Cyneswide and Tibba had their remains translated to Peterborough Abbey by Alfsige, Bishop of Winchester and later Archbishop of Canterbury, in the 10th century.

The Bewcastle Cross which is dated to the 7th-8th century and has a runic inscription which is now much faded, but is believed to include on the west face:

“This Victory Cross set up Hwatred, Wothgar, Olwfwolthu in the memory of Alcfrith a king and son of Oswiu; Pray for his soul”

The north face is also thought to include the name of Cyneburh.

The cross may have been erected in the reign of Ecgfrith, Oswiu’s son, who ruled Northumbria 670-685 AD.

Feast Day of Bishop Ninian, 16th September

Book of the Hours of the Virgin and Saint Ninian
Book of the Hours of the Virgin and Saint Ninian, Public domain

16th September is the Feast Day of St Ninian: Bishop and Evangelist to the Picts.

Bede in the 8th century mentions him as the precursor to Columba while Aelred of Rievaulx wrote a biography in the 12th century. However, for such a significant saint his story is hidden from us by the fact that he lived in difficult times with low levels of literacy and high levels of violence and war. As Alban Butler puts it, rather quaintly:

“It was St. Ninian’s lot to live at that critical period, when the Roman power was breaking, and the empire was giving way under internal divisions, and the inroads of the Northern tribes. And Britain, which had been raised from a wild and savage condition to considerable civilization, was again to be thrown back into a more miserable barbarism by the inundations of the Caledonians, and the occupation of the Saxons.”

Now here´s Bede, who probably derived his information from his colleague Pechtelm, who had been elected Bishop of Whithorn:

“for the southern Picts, who dwell on this side of those mountains, had long before, as is reported, forsaken the errors of idolatry, and embraced the truth, by the preaching of Ninias, a most reverend bishop and holy man of the British nation, who had been regularly instructed at Rome, in the faith and mysteries of the truth; whose episcopal see, named after St. Martin the bishop, and famous for a stately church (wherein he and many other saints rest in the body), is still in existence among the English nation. The place belongs to the province of the Bernicians, and is generally called the White House, because he there built a church of stone, which was not usual among the Britons.”

The name of the “White House” (“Candida Casa” in Bede´s Latin) was translated into Old English as “hwit aern” and in time this became Whithorn.

What Bede tells us is quite brief but does tell us that the period was after the death of Martin of Tours, the St Martin mentioned, who died 397 AD, and that Ninian was a British Christian but “properly” instructed in Roman tradition, a matter of great concern to Bede. This was before Columba’s mission to Britain in the 6th century.

Modern archaeologists have been busy around Whithorn and uncovered remains from the 5th century settlement showing that people were trading and importing luxury goods from the Mediterranean and were working the land. The Latinus Stone found there is the earliest Christian monument in Scotland, dating from around 450 AD. It was erected to Latinus and his daughter, and may have stood in the nearby early Christian cemetery. The inscription reads:


We praise you, the Lord! Latinus, descendant of Barravados, aged 35, and his daughter, aged 4, made a sign here.”

There is a Chi-Rho (Christian) symbol traced above the lettering.

The anonymous 8th century hagiographical poem “Miracula Nynie Episcopi” describes the miracles of St Ninian and was used by Alred in writing his own “Life of St Ninian”. There was a (now lost) 7th century “Life of Ninian” written at Whithorn as well. These include miracles not reported by Bede, who generally only reported stories he felt he could verify from multiple accounts or eye-witness testimony.

According to Aelred´s 12th century work, Ninian was the son of a British King and was probably born near the Solway and raised as a Christian. He led a pious childhood, studying Scripture. At this time the British Church tended to teach an unapproved form of Christianity and so Ninian became a missionary to his own people following a visit to Rome where he learned over the course of a number of years the “correct” teachings. Eventually the Pope consecrated him as a Bishop and he then returned home. Alred suggests that Ninian visited St Martin at Tours on his way home, and that Martin provided masons to build the White House, but this is not feasible given the dates; in general Alred sets Ninian‘s story a century earlier than it seems likely to have happened.

Ninian settled in Galloway at Whithorn where his experiences in the Eternal City inspired him to build a stone church in the style of Roman architecture. This may have enhanced his teachings of the Roman rule among his countrymen. He soon established a religious community to preach to the people.

Based on Aelred’s work, Newman describes one of Ninian‘s miracles involved producing food for the community when it seemed none was available:

“The Bishop and his brethren went one day into the Refectory, but their usual meal of leeks and other herbs did not appear. The brother who should have provided them was called. He had only the disappointing tale to tell that they had no provisions left, all the leeks had been put into the ground for seed, and none remained for them to eat. Perhaps it had been a bad season and their garden crops had failed. The Saint bid him go to the garden and bring what he found. He was astonished at the command, knowing there was nothing there, but habitual obedience and the thought that the Bishop could not command any thing without good reason prevailed.”

Of course, there were now plenty of leeks and herbs ready to be eaten.

Ninian also founded a school at Whithorn where he himself taught the children. One of the boys had been caught in some misdemeanour and decided to run away to avoid punishment. However he took with him Ninian‘s staff as a comfort, and jumped into a boat to escape across the sea. However the boat was not properly finished and began to take on water. He prayed for pardon from Ninian and used the staff to plug one of the holes in the boat, which was then gently blown back to shore. On landing the boy planted the staff and prayed it would become a tree to prove the power of Ninian to everyone. Not only did it do so but also a stream appeared and the waters from it cured many ailments.

There are a number of other miracles attributed by Aelred to Ninian but primarily he was remembered as the saint who converted the southern Picts, then displayed a supreme level of organisational skill in ordaining clergy, arranging parishes and establishing churches to support the new faith.

He is said to have died at Whithorn and been buried at the church after many years of labour among the people of Galloway, who remembered him devotedly for centuries thereafter. His followers mourned his passing as he was believed to have ascended to Heaven in reward for his devotion.

“For lo! the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.”

Feast Day of Edith of Wilton, 16th September

Edith of Wilton
Edith of Wilton, 13th century royal genealogy, MS Royal 14BV, public domain

Edith of Wilton’s Feast Day is on 16th September.

Edith (Eadgyth) was one of the daughters of King Edgar the Peaceable, by his first wife, Wulfthryth. Wulfthryth was the nun Edgar was alleged to have abducted, but interpretations of their relationship vary widely (see entry for 13th September).

Meanwhile Edith was born at Kemsing in Kent, and brought up in the monastery in Wilton where her mother had spent her youth. Later Wulfthryth became the Abbess of Wilton when she and Edgar separated and Edgar took a new wife. Edith remained with her mother at Wilton for the rest of her life after also choosing a religious career. According to her biographer, Goscelin, she had numerous opportunities to leave Wilton, either to join secular society or to serve as an abbess at other establishments, but preferred to remain there.

Edith was described as humble and delighted in being of service to those around her. This included persuading her father to make generous donations to the Abbey. She was said to have dreamed that she lost her right eye, which she interpreted as representing the death of her half-brother Edward. This occurred when he was assassinated at Corfe Castle.

Despite apparently turning down the opportunity to become Queen (this does not seem a very likely request in actual fact) following Edward’s murder, she continued to dress as befitted a royal woman and was criticised for it by Bishop Athelwold. She replied somewhat feistily that God was interested in her mind not her attire. She also kept a number of animals as pets in a private zoo, and insisted outrageously in having a heated bath-tub.

She died on 15th September 984 AD, aged only about 23, soon after the dedication of a church she built in Wilton. Her death was predicted by Dunstan at the dedication ceremony. The church was dedicated to St Denis, and Edith designed the paintings which decorated the interior. She was well educated and highly literate, reading widely and writing prayers in her gospel book. Wilton Abbey provided a high standard of education for its girls, and Goscelin served there as a chaplain, writing in Latin for his charges.

At the time Goscelin was writing her biography Wilton still had an alb embroidered by Edith with gold and pearls. Her nickname among the nuns was “Goda” which means “good” but is also a personal name.

She pre-deceased her mother, who promoted her vigorously as a saint, to the ongoing and lasting benefit of Wilton. Thirteen years after her death her tomb was opened and her body was found to be incorrupt. She was venerated by her brother Athelred Unrede, her nephew Edmund Ironside, and also by King Cnut who ascribed his survival of a storm at sea to her intervention.

Harold Hardrada lands in England, 18th September 1066

Monument to Harald Sigurdsson
Monument to Harald Sigurdsson at Harald Hardrådes plass in Gamlebyen, Oslo, Norway. Relief by Lars Utne 1905, by Wolfmann [CC BY-SA 4.0]

On 18th September 1066 the Norwegian King, Harald Hardrada (Old Norse: harðráði meaning “stern ruler”), landed on the English coast at Scarborough and began his invasion of England.

Harald is also known as Harald Sigurdsson, as he was the son of Sigurd Syr, and his half-brother (through his mother Åsta) was Olaf, who later became King Olaf II Haraldson and was declared a saint (known as “St Olave” in York for example).

Harald was born around 1015, during the reign of Cnut the Great, King of England and Denmark. His brother Olaf took the throne of Norway in the same year. However, in 1028/29 Olaf was driven out of Norway in favour of Cnut. In 1030 Olaf raised an army to retake his throne and the 15 year old Harald raised a force of 600 men and fought alongside him at the Battle of Stiklestad despite Olaf’s initial reluctance to involve his younger sibling, as reported in the Heimskringla:

“It appears to me advisable,” says the king, “that Harald my brother should not be in the battle, for he is still in the years of childhood only.” Harald replies, “Certainly I shall be in the battle, for I am not so weak that I cannot handle the sword; and as to that, I have a notion of tying the sword-handle to my hand. None is more willing than I am to give the bondes a blow; so I shall go with my comrades.”

Stiklestad was a victory for Cnut. Olaf was killed and Harald badly wounded. He was forced to flee and was taken by Ragnvald Brusason to a farmer’s house where he was able to recover in secret. He then crossed the mountains with the farmer’s son and found Ragnvald and others of Olaf’s men who been forced to flee after Stiklestad. In the following spring they made their way to the court of Jaroslav of Kiev.

There he stayed for a few years until around 1034 when he decided to make an expedition to Constantinople.  Once there he and his men joined the Varangian Guard in the pay of the Empress. He soon became the commander of the Guard and spent much of his time fighting pirates in the Mediterranean, taking castles and building up his wealth.

After a few more years Harald led his men to Jerusalem.

“Harald went with his men to the land of Jerusalem and then up to the city of Jerusalem, and wheresoever he came in the land all the towns and strongholds were given up to him.

Here it is told that this land came without fire and sword under Harald’s command.  He then went out to Jordan and bathed therein, according to the custom of other pilgrims.  Harald gave great gifts to our Lord’s grave, to the Holy Cross, and other holy relics in the land of Jerusalem.  He also cleared the whole road all the way out to Jordan, by killing the robbers and other disturbers of the peace.”

Eventually he returned to Constantinople, planning to go back to Norway. He discovered that his nephew, Olaf’s son Magnus, had become King of both Norway and Denmark. However, the Empress was not willing to see him leave and had him imprisoned.

At this point his dead half-brother, now Saint, Olaf stepped in and appeared to a woman in a vision to send her to rescue Harald, which she did. In revenge Harald led the Varangian Guard to the Emperor, made him their prisoner and blinded him. They then took ship to leave Constantinople, but this was not easy as there was a chain across the harbour to control entry and exit.

“When they came to the place where the iron chain is drawn across the sound, Harald told his men to stretch out at their oars in both galleys; but the men who were not rowing to run all to the stern of the galley, each with his luggage in his hand.  The galleys thus ran up and lay on the iron chain.  As soon as they stood fast on it, and would advance no farther, Harald ordered all the men to run forward into the bow. Then the galley, in which Harald was, balanced forwards and swung down over the chain; but the other, which remained fast athwart the chain, split in two, by which many men were lost; but some were taken up out of the sound.  Thus Harald escaped out of Constantinople and sailed thence into the Black Sea.”

He returned to Jaroslav’s court and that winter married the Princess Elizabeth, Jaroslav’s daughter. After this he made his way back north and eventually gathered a force to attack Denmark, which they raided.

Meanwhile Magnus was in Norway raising his own army in response to Harald’s threat. However, under pressure from their advisors Harald and Magnus agreed a truce, splitting Norway between them and sharing their wealth. They ruled together until Magnus died on 25th October 1047.

In 1048 Harald attacked Denmark which was ruled Swein Estrithson; Swein had sheltered Edward the Confessor during his exile but Edward failed to offer him support in return when Harald attacked, despite the efforts of his brother-in-law Earl Godwin.  Harald failed to take the land but continued his attacks every year without any success until 1064 when a peace treaty was made. Meanwhile in Norway he was able to develop increased trade links with the Rus and Constantinople thanks to his experiences of living among those peoples.

In 1066 Edward the Confessor died without a clear heir and Harold Godwinson was chosen as the King of England. His estranged and exiled brother Tostig Godwinson was stirring up trouble and persuaded Hardrada that he was entitled to a claim on the throne of England. He argued that in earlier negotiations Edward had hinted Harald might succeed him (William of Normandy also made this claim, but in England the succession was not the king’s to grant, although he could indicate a preference which was often followed). Additionally in 1038 Magnus had signed an agreement with the then King of England, Harðacnut, that if either died without children the other would inherit his lands.

Hardrada’s claim on the English throne was not strong but his resources and skill in battle made him a significant threat. He sailed via the Orkneys with a large fleet, met up with Tostig Godwinson and landed at Riccall near York. This sets the scene for the first of three battles for the throne of England, which took place in September and October:

20th September Battle of Fulford

25th September Battle of Stamford Bridge

14th October Battle of Hastings.

The back story in Harald’s Saga (in Heimskringla) is much more negative towards Harold Godwinson and describes Tostig as the leading Earl (Jarl) in England under Edward who was deprived of the throne by his younger brother. Tostig Godwinson had been trying to gain support in Denmark and Scotland without success and now he approached Norway. Harald was initially not very keen to put energy into invading England but Tostig persisted, finally saying:

“If you want to gain England, then I can bring it about that the majority of the leaders in England will be your friends and supporters. I lack nothing more in comparison with my brother Haraldr than just the name of king. Everyone knows that no such fighting man has been born in Northern Lands as you, and I find it surprising that you have been fighting for fifteen winters to win Denmark, but you will not take England, which now lies open to you.”

Harald raised a levy and collected a fleet of around 200 ships, while Tostig went back to raise his own supporters. Initially Harald sailed to Orkney to meet up with more men and to leave his wife and daughters safe. He then sailed south down to Cleveland and then to Scarborough which he burned.

“The Norwegians slew many people there, and took all the wealth they got hold of. There was then nothing else the English people could do, if they were to stay alive, but submit to King Haraldr. He then subjected all the land to himself wherever he went.”

The fleet made its way up the Humber Estuary via the River Ouse towards York, where the English forces were gathering their defences in readiness for the encounter at Fulford.

Death of Archbishop Theodore, 19th September 690

Theodore of Tarsus
Theodore of Tarsus, public domain

Theodore of Tarsus died on 19th September 690 AD.

He was born in the Byzantine Empire around 602 AD and was the Pope’s second choice to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury when Wigheard died unexpectedly before he could be consecrated. He took up the post at the age of 66 and turned out to be not only long-lived but also, in Bede’s words, the “first archbishop whom all the English church obeyed.” 

Theodore was born in Tarsus which is in modern south east Turkey. He was an exceptional scholar and probably studied at Antioch. The region was invaded twice in the time he was likely to have lived and studied there, so he probably had to leave as a refugee on one of those occasions. The next record of him is in Constantinople which was also an important centre of biblical study at that time, and had a university and several libraries.

Theodore later left Constantinople for Rome. He seems to have lived as a monk at the monastery of St Anastasius just outside the city’s southern gate, and was almost certainly there around 649 AD.

In 667 AD the Archbishop-Elect of Canterbury, one Wigheard, was in Rome to collect his pallium from the pope, but unfortunately died of plague. Initially the Pope asked Hadrian to take Wigheard’s place, but Hadrian rather cunningly suggested Theodore instead. Theodore was duly consecrated on 26th March 668 AD and set out for the distant, chilly shores of Britain, and Hadrian was sent with him. He arrived on 27th May 669 AD, at the age of 67. It was only five years after the Synod of Whitby which had ruled in favour of accepting Roman orthodoxy. Bede says:

“Theodore arrived at his church the second year after his consecration, on Sunday, the 27th of May, and held the same twenty-one years, three months, and twenty-six days. Soon after, he visited all the island, wherever the tribes of the Angles inhabited, for he was willingly entertained and heard by all persons; and everywhere attended and assisted by Hadrian, he taught the right rule of life, and the canonical custom of celebrating Easter. It was the first archbishop whom all the English church obeyed.”

His age however was of little consideration to him as he set about reforming the native church. He appointed a number of bishops where there had been vacancies and called a synod in 672 AD at Hertford.

Bede tells us that he planned to break up some of the vast dioceses, such as Bishop Wilfrid’s Northumbria, and to hold synods every two years. Wilfrid, being unimpressed with his threatened loss of power, disputed this strongly. In 677 AD Theodore finally lost patience, deposed him and broke up the diocese anyway. In its place he created dioceses in Bernicia, Deira and Lindsey. Wilfrid promptly went to Rome to appeal to the pope and although Theodore reinstated him, he was only made Bishop of York (Deira).

Theodore remained a strong proponent of orthodoxy, ensuring the papal authorities were followed, and in teaching canon law. He also introduced the prayer called the “litany for the saints”.

However, due to his fame as a scholar he was perhaps most influential through the number of students who came to study under him at Canterbury, including Aldhelm. There are numerous commentaries recording his teachings, word for word in some cases, as well as his writings, which survive displaying an exceptional talent and level of scholarship.

Theodore was not simply an academic though; he also brokered peace between warring kings, as Bede explains:

“[A.D. 679] IN the ninth year of the reign of King Egfrid, a great battle was fought between him and Ethelred, king of the Mercians, near the river Trent, and Elfwin, brother to King Egfrid, was slain, a youth about eighteen years of age, and much beloved by both provinces, for King Ethel red had married his sister Osthritha. There was now reason to expect a more bloody war, and more lasting enmity between those kings and their fierce nations; but Theodore the bishop, beloved of God, relying on the Divine assistance, by his wholesome admonitions extinguished the dangerous fire that was breaking out; so that the kings and their people on both sides being appeased, no man was Put to death, but only the usual mulct [fine] paid to the king for his brother that had been killed; and this peace continued long after between those kings and their kingdoms.”

When he died in 690 AD he was buried at the cathedral in Canterbury, and again we have Bede to provide more details of his memorial:

“He held the bishopric twenty-two years, and was buried in St. Peter’s church, where all the bodies of the bishops of Canterbury are buried. Of whom, as well as of his Companions, of the same degree, it may rightly and truly be said, that their bodies are interred in peace, and their names shall live from generation to generation. For to say all in few words, the English churches received more advantage during the time of his pontificate than ever they had done before. His person, life, age, and death, are plainly described to all that resort thither, by the epitaph on his tomb, consisting of thirty-four heroic verses.

The first whereof are these –

Here rests fam’d Theodore, a Grecian name,

Who had o’er England an archbishop’s claim;

Happy and blessed, industriously he wrought,

And wholesome precepts to his scholars taught.

The four last are as follow –

And now it was September’s nineteenth day,

When, bursting from its ligaments of clay,

His spirit rose to its eternal rest,

And joined in heaven the chorus of the blest.”

Battle of Fulford, 20th September 1066

The arrival of King Harald of Norway

The arrival of King Harald of Norway and his defeat of the Northumbrians at Fulford, from The Life of King Edward the Confessor by Matthew Paris 13th century. Public domain

On 20th September we remember the men who fought and died in the first of the three Battles of 1066 which was at Fulford near York. 

Henry of Huntington, a 12th century chronicler, gives us an overview of events just as William of Normandy was preparing his forces in France:

“Meanwhile Earl Tosti came into the Humber with sixty ships. But Earl Edwin came with an army and put him to flight. Fleeing to Scotland, Tosti met Harald, king of Norway, with 300 ships, and very gladly submitted to him. Then they both came up the Humber as far as York, and Earls Edwin and Morcar fought against them near the city. The site of the battle is still pointed out on the south side of the city. But King Harald of Norway and Tosti with him took possession of the Field of Mars.”

Hardrada and Tostig had made their way down to York, ravaging on the way in Cleveland and Yorkshire (see 18th September). The English Earls, Edwin and Morcar, stood against their combined armies at York.

There were three key earldoms in England at the time: Wessex held by Harold Godwinson alongside his throne; Mercia; and Northumbria. The latter two were held by the brothers Edwin and Morcar and these two earldoms balanced the power of Wessex. Their sister Eadgyth had married Harold Godwinson by 1066, bringing the families closer together dynastically. Morcar had replaced Tostig when he was expelled as Earl of Northumbria in 1065 by a revolt in York. With the dual threat of invasion from Norway and France, it is likely King Harold Godwinson kept watch in the south while Edwin and Morcar managed defences in the North.

The prevailing northerlies which were frustrating William in Normandy helped speed Hardrada across the North Sea to Britain. The Heimskringla tells us Harald had over 200 ships and Tostig will have added some more, although nowhere near an equal number, probably more like 30. This implies a force of around 8,000-10,0000 men in the Norwegian fleet. It is estimated around 6,000 of them deployed at Fulford, with a significant number remaining in Riccall with the ships. Meanwhile at least 1000 men were deployed on the English side, and possibly up to 5000.

The land around what is now called Germany Beck at Fulford allowed a shield wall of approximately 400m to be drawn up. Its position was weak, with the marsh limiting English movement and Hardrada having the advantage of higher ground. The English were flanked and routed and the battle saw a Norwegian victory; the cost in lives lost was enormous and possibly was as high as 1500 men.

The Saga of Harald Hardrada in Heimskringla describes the battle:

“When King Harald saw that the English array had come to the ditch against him, he ordered the charge to be sounded, and urged on his men. He ordered the banner which was called the Land-ravager to be carried before him, and made so severe an assault that all had to give way before it; and there was a great loss among the men of the earls, and they soon broke into flight, some running up the river, some down, and the most leaping into the ditch, which was so filled with dead that the Norsemen could go dry-foot over the fen. There Earl Morukare fell.”

The forces of Mercia and Northumbria were decimated, although both Edwin and Morcar did survive despite the passage above.  York capitulated and was not ransacked, possibly at Tostig’s request. Hostages were provided and supplies sent to the Norwegian camp at Stamford Bridge.

It is probable that news of the size of Hardrada’s force had already reached King Harold Godwinson and he was already on his way north despite the threat from Normandy. The next battle would be on 25th September at Stamford Bridge.

Death of Snorri Sturlason, 22nd September 1241

Statue of Snorri Sturlason
Statue of Snorri Sturlason in Bergen © PWicks, 2019

Snorri Sturlason died on 22nd September 1241. In fact, he was assassinated. He was pivotal in recording the oral stories of the Northern Scandinavians in written form, so they have survived to the modern day. These stories tell us about many eventsnd people of the Anglo-Saxon period, but from an external viewpoint.

Born in 1179 into the powerful Icelandic Sturlunga family, his father was Sturla Thordarson and his mother Guthný Böthvarsdóttir. His father Sturla had been involved in a lawsuit with the priest and chieftain Páll Sölvason. Páll’s wife had attacked Sturla with a knife, trying to cut out his eye, but fortunately was prevented. Because the settlement in the lawsuit would have ruined Páll, a nobleman called Jón Loftsson offered to raise Snorri in his own home instead. Jón Loftsson was related to the Norwegian royal family and so Snorri received an elite education and became part of the most influential circle in Icelandic society.

In 1199 Snorri married Herdis, the daughter of a very wealthy family, and inherited land and a chieftainship. His lands and honours increased over time despite the couple divorcing in 1206. He had a number of children with different women and was able to secure strategic marriages for them which further enhanced his own position in society.

In 1215 Snorri became the Lawspeaker of Iceland. This was the only official role in Iceland at the time and was created in 930 AD when the Icelandic Parliament (Althing) was established. It dated back to the oral tradition and required the recitation of the laws of the land at the annual summer meeting, a third of the laws being recited each year in a cycle; the Lawspeaker was therefore appointed for three years at a time.

Snorri then visited Norway in 1218 and in 1220 became a Baron there, attracting even greater wealth and privilege. He supported the Norwegian King being made ruler of Iceland. When he returned to Iceland in 1222 he reprised his role as Lawspeaker, and held it until 1232, during which time he was the most powerful man in the country.

He made a number of enemies through quarrels and failed lawsuits, and because of his political support for Norway. He also had a relationship with Hallveig Ormsdottir, who was a widow, but whom he never married; this relationship had disastrous consequences later for him.

As well as his political and legal roles Snorri was a famous poet. He is the first Icelandic author we know by name and his writings have helped to shape Nordic identity and contributed more widely to world heritage. His main works were the Poetic Edda, a collection of myths; the Prose Edda, a treatise on writing poetry; Heimskringla, sagas telling the history of the Kings of Norway until 1277; and almost certainly Egil’s Saga, from whom he was descended.

King Haakon IV of Norway felt that Snorri was not being sufficiently active in achieving his goals in Iceland. However, his reign was beset with difficulties due to his unpopularity. In 1237 Snorri returned to Norway and now joined the opposition to the king for a couple of years. In 1239 he left Norway against the King’s command and sailed back to Iceland. However, he was not welcomed there by his feuding relatives. King Haakon demanded that Snorri should be brought to Norway or killed if he refused to obey.

In June 1241 Hallveig died of an illness and her children demanded half of Snorri’s estates as their inheritance despite the fact the couple had not been married. When Snorri refused they made a complaint against him and this provided an excuse for his enemies to attack him.

On 22nd September 1241, he was assassinated by Haakon´s order in his home. The killer was Árni Beiskur, who hit Snorri with an axe.

“Don’t strike,” were Snorri’s last words. He died unarmed in his own cellar.

“The rough storm has robbed me 
Of my best riches, 
It’s cruel to recall 
The loss of that kinsman, 
The safeguard, the shield 
Of the house has sailed 
Out in the death’s darkness 
To a dearer place.”
(from Egil’s Saga)

Death of King Alfwald, 23rd September 789

Map of Britain about 802 AD
A detail from William Shepherd’s map of the British Isles about 802 AD, showing the kingdom of Northumbria and neighbouring domains, public domain

The King of the Northumbrians, Alfwald was assassinated on 23rd September 789 AD. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle even names his killer:

“AD. 789. ‘This year Alfwald, king of the North-humbrians, was slain by Sicga, on the 8th of the kalends of October [24th Sept.]; and a heavenly light was frequently seen at the place where he was slain; and he was buried at Hexham, within the church; and Osred, the son of Alcred, succeeded to the kingdom after him: he was his nephew. And a great synod was assembled at Aclea.”

Alfwald had succeeded to the throne of Northumbria following the deposition of Athelred Moll in 779 AD. This was the century of which saw the beginning of the chaotic instability in Northumbria with kings coming and going in rapid succession. Alfwald was the son of Oswulf, himself assassinated in 759 AD by Athelwold Moll, Athelred Moll’s father, so relationships between the families were not warm.

Let’s just take a look at the kings briefly because it’s a confusing time.

  • Eadbert abdicated in favour of Oswulf in 757 AD.
  • Oswulf was then assassinated in 758 AD by Athelwold Moll’s faction (we talked about that on 24th July).
  • Athelwold Moll ruled 759-765 AD when he was deposed on 30th October.
  • Alchred was chosen to succeed, and ruled 765-774 AD when he was deposed in turn at Easter and exiled. He married Osgifu, Oswulf’s daughter, and they had a son called Osred (he succeeded our man Alfwald, who was his uncle).
  • Athelred Moll, Athelwold’s son, now took the throne. He had probably been too young back in 765 AD to succeed his father but he now ruled 774-779 AD executing three ealdormen in 778 AD which was deeply unpopular.
  • And so to Alfwald, who ruled 779-788 AD.

Alfwald, son of Oswulf, drove out Athelred Moll in 779 AD and took the throne, which brings us up-to-date. He was probably supported by the Archbishop of York and the nobles who were discomfited by the fate of the three ealdormen the previous year. However, his feud with the Moll family did not end and Athelred’s men killed one of his allies, Beorn, in December 780 AD. The Archbishop died in the same year.

“AD 780. This year the Old-Saxons and the Franks fought; and the high-reeves of the North-humbrians burned Beorn, the ealdorman, at Seletun, on the 8th of the kalends of January [25th December]; and archbishop Aethelbert died at York, in whose place Eanbald was consecrated”

Alfwald did not establish firm control of his kingdom and Eanbald did not keep his diocese in order either. In 786 AD the pope sent a legate to restore good governance, and a decree was duly issued supporting Alfwald as legitimate king and as sanctified ruler. The legate was accompanied by Alcuin from Charlemagne’s court, and formerly of York. Alcuin later laid the decline of morality in the Kingdom of Northumbria firmly on the assassination of Alfwald.

However it was not long before Alfwald was accused of tyranny and assassinated, and the miracle of the shining light followed.

The culprit, Sicga, was a thegn who had been present at a Church council held with the papal legate in 786 AD. He didn’t live much longer: the death of someone called Sicga is reported in the Chronicle in 793 AD, presumably the same man. This of course was the year of the assault on Lindisfarne and the beginning of further woes for Northumbria and elsewhere in Britain.

Battle of Stamford Bridge, 25th September 1066

Memorial, Stamford Bridge
Memorial, Stamford Bridge © PWicks, 2012

On 25th September 1066 we commemorate the 2nd battle of that fateful year, at which Harald Hardrada of Norway, somewhat to his surprise, was faced with the forces of King Harold Godwinson of England.

Our King Harold had marched his men north at great speed and arrived in York in just over a week, averaging around 25 miles per day. They had been in the south looking out for the expected invasion from Normandy but the threat of the Norwegian forces, probably larger than anticipated, made the move essential.

The English arrived at Tadcaster on the 24th September, just eight miles south of York. The next day they went to York and learned that the Norwegians were camped at Stamford Bridge. Immediately they headed out to engage them.

Meanwhile Hardrada was unaware of the English arrival, probably assuming they would not abandon their watch for the Normans. Many of the Norwegians had returned to Riccall, 12 miles away, while Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson waited at Stamford Bridge for the supplies promised by the citizens of York as part of the negotiated agreement following the Battle of Fulford.

Estimates for the size of forces are uncertain but the English may have now numbered 10,000 men and the Norwegians perhaps had 6,000 surviving. The English crossed the river Derwent to engage the Norwegians, as described by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

“Then came Harold, our king, on the North-men unawares [24th Sept.], and encountered them beyond York, at Stamfordbridge, with a great army of English folk: and there during the [whole] day there was a very strong fight on both sides. There was slain Harold Hardrada and earl Tosti; and the North-men who there remained were put to flight, and the English from behind slew them furiously, until some of them came to their ships. Some were drowned, and some also were burned, and so in different ways destroyed that few were left; and the English had possession of the place of slaughter. The king then gave his protection to Olaf, the son of the king of the Norsemen, and to their bishop, and to [Paul] the earl of Orkney, and to all those who were left in the ships; and they then went up to our king, and swore oaths that they would ever keep peace and friendship towards this land, and the king let them go home with twenty-four ships.”

Hardrada was killed quite early in the battle, by an arrow in the throat, but when offered an amnesty Tostig refused and the fighting continued to its bitter conclusion. Norwegian reinforcements eventually arrived from Riccall, but were too few and too late although they inflicted heavy casualties on the English before they were routed. As at Fulford the loss of life was substantial. The Norwegian survivors were sent home in only 24 of their original fleet of around 300 ships, which indicates the numbers that must have died.

The Saga of Harald Hardrada (also “Sigurdson”) has a slightly different perspective, unsurprisingly:

“The weather was uncommonly fine, and it was hot sunshine. The men therefore laid aside their armour, and went on the land only with their shields, helmets and spears, and girt with swords; and many had also arrows and bows, and all were very merry. Now as they came near the castle a great army seemed coming against them, and they saw a cloud of dust as from horses’ feet, and under it shining shields and bright armour. The king halted his people, and called to him Earl Toste, and asked him what army this could be. The earl replied that he thought it most likely to be a hostile army, but possibly it might be some of his relations who were seeking for mercy and friendship, in order to obtain certain peace and safety from the king. Then the king said, “We must all halt, to discover what kind of a force this is.” They did so; and the nearer this force came the greater it appeared, and their shining arms were to the sight like glancing ice.”

The saga then goes on to describe an exchange of offers between the two armies which is unlikely as the Norwegians were unaware of the English arrival, but it is described in the saga:

“One of the horsemen said, “Is Earl Toste in this army?”

The earl answered, “It is not to be denied that ye will find him here.”

The horseman says, “Thy brother, King Harald, sends thee salutation, with the message that thou shalt have the whole of Northumberland; and rather than thou shouldst not submit to him, he will give thee the third part of his kingdom to rule over along with himself.”

The earl replies, “This is something different from the enmity and scorn he offered last winter; and if this had been offered then it would have saved many a man’s life who now is dead, and it would have been better for the kingdom of England. But if I accept of this offer, what will he give King Harald Sigurdson for his trouble?”

The horseman replied, “He has also spoken of this; and will give him seven feet of English ground, or as much more as he may be taller than other men.”

“Then,” said the earl, “go now and tell King Harald to get ready for battle; for never shall the Northmen say with truth that Earl Toste left King Harald Sigurdson to join his enemy’s troops, when he came to fight west here in England. We shall rather all take the resolution to die with honour, or to gain England by a victory.”

Then the horseman rode back.”

A second, later, story about a sole warrior holding the bridge over the Derwent is equally apocryphal, but here it is anyway from Roger of Wendover writing in the 13th century:

“Harold king of England hastened thither with all his strength, and arriving at a town called Stanford, he found there his armies aforesaid, and, though it is hard to believe, a single Norwegian, standing at the entrance of the bridge, slew a number of the English, and kept their whole army from passing over. On being invited to surrender, he mocked the English, and said that they were men of no spirit, who could not overcome a single warrior. When no one dared to approach him, as deeming it inadvisable to engage with him hand to hand, at last one of the king’s household pierced him through with a dart, on which he fell dead into the stream, yielding the victory to the English, who finding a free passage, fell on the rear of the Norwegian fugitives.”

And so our King Harold Godwinson saved England for a little while. But the third battle is yet to come: Hastings, 14th October.

Death of Abbot Ceolfrith, 25th September 716

Maiestas Domini page from Codex Amiatinus
Maiestas Domini page from Codex Amiatinus (fol. 796v), Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, public domain

Abbot Ceolfrith died on 25th September 716 AD. 

He was born around 642 AD into a noble family but left his secular life in his youth to enter the church. He visited a number of monasteries around England before settling at Monkwearmouth at the request of Benedict Biscop. He was appointed the first Abbot of Jarrow in 685 AD and also took charge of Monkwearmouth when Benedict was on one of his many journeys to Rome and then after Benedict died in 689 AD. This was the peak of the twin monasteries’ productivity, and Ceolfrith was responsible for increasing their wealth and prestige through his leadership of the community.

We learn much from the “Life of Ceolfrith” which was written by Bede, who was one of the monks at the monastery during this time and was taught by Ceolfrith. He transferred to Jarrow with Ceolfrith in 685 AD as a child. When plague decimated the community only the two of them survived to sing the Divine Services until more monks were able to join them.

Bede writes in his “The Lives of The Holy Abbots of Weremouth and Jarrow”:

“Ceolfrid, was a man of great perseverance of acute intellect, bold in action, experienced in judgment, and zealous in religion. He first of all, as we have mentioned, with the advice and assistance of Benedict, founded, completed, and ruled the monastery of St. Paul’s seven years; and, afterwards, ably governed, during twenty-eight years, both these monasteries; or, to speak more correctly, the single monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul, in its two separate localities; and, whatever works of merit his predecessor had begun, he, with no less zeal took pains to finish. For, among other arrangements which he found it necessary to make, during his long government of the monastery, he built several oratories increased the number of vessels of the church and altar and the vestments of every kind; and the library of both monasteries, which Abbot Benedict had so actively begun under his equally zealous care became doubled in extent. For he added three Pandects [the single-volume Bibles] of a new translation to that of the old translation which he had brought from Rome; one of them [the Codex Amiatius], returning to Rome in his old age, he took with him as a gift; the other two he left to the two monasteries. Moreover, for a beautiful volume of the Geographers which Benedict had bought at Rome, he received from King Alfrid, who was well skilled in Holy Scripture, in exchange, a grant of land of eight hides, near the river Fresca, for the monastery of St. Paul’s. Benedict had arranged this purchase with the same King Alfrid, before his death, but died before he could complete it. Instead of this land, Ceolfrid, in the reign of Osred, paid an additional price, and received a territory of twenty hides, in the village called by the natives Sambuce, and situated much nearer to the monastery.”

However, after a long life ruling over the monks Ceolfrith knew it was time to step down.

“[He] saw himself now old and full of days, and unfit any longer, from his extreme age, to prescribe to his brethren the proper forms of spiritual exercise by his life and doctrine. Having, therefore, deliberated long within himself, he judged it expedient, having first impressed on the brethren the observance of the rules which St. Benedict had given them, and thereby to choose for themselves a more efficient abbot out of their own number, to depart, himself, to Rome, where he had been in his youth with the holy Benedict; that not only he might for a time be free from all worldly cares before his death, and so have leisure and quiet for reflection, but that they also, having chosen a younger abbot, might naturally, in consequence thereof, observe more accurately the rules of monastic discipline.”

He set out almost immediately in May 716 AD, but his health deteriorated faster than expected.

Ceolfrith died at Langres in Burgundy on the way to Rome. He had with him gifts for the Pope including the Codex Amiatinus, which was the third of the three Vulgate single-volume Bibles produced at Monkwearmouth-Jarrow under his direction.

“But Christ’s servant Ceolfrid, as has been said, died on his way to the threshold of the holy Apostles, of old age and weakness. For he reached the Lingones about nine o’clock, where he died seven hours after, and was honourably buried the next day in the church of the three twin martyrs, much to the sorrow, not only of the English who were in his train, to the number of eighty, but also of the neighbouring inhabitants, who were dissolved in tears at the loss of the reverend father. For it was almost impossible to avoid weeping to see part of his company continuing their journey without the Holy Father, whilst others, abandoning their first intentions, returned home to relate his death and burial; and others, again, lingered in sorrow at the tomb of the deceased among strangers speaking an unknown tongue.

Ceolfrid was seventy-four years old when he died: forty seven years he had been in priest’s orders, during thirty five of which he had been abbot; or, to speak more correctly, forty-three, for, from the time when Benedict began to build his monastery in honour of the holiest of the Apostles, Ceolfrid had been his only companion, coadjutor, and teacher of the monastic rules. He never relaxed the rigour of ancient discipline from any occasions of old age, illness, or travel; for, from the day of his departure till the day of his death, i.e. from the 4th of June till the 25th of September, a space of one hundred and fourteen days, besides the canonical hours of prayer, he never omitted to go twice daily through the Psalter in order; and even when he became so weak that he could not ride on horseback, and was obliged to be carried in a horse litter, the holy ceremony of the mass was offered up every day, except one which he passed at sea, and the three days immediately before his death.

He died on Friday, the 25th of September, in the year of our Lord 715, between three and four o’clock, in the fields of the city before mentioned, and was buried the next day near the first milestone on the south side of the city, in the monastery of the Twins, followed by a large number of his English attendants, and the inhabitants of the city and monastery.”

Norman landing at Pevensey, 28th September 1066

Bayeux Tapestry Scene 47, Hic Domus Incenditur
Bayeux Tapestry Scene 47, Hic Domus Incenditur. Image on web site of Ulrich Harsh, public domain

On 28th September 1066 William of Normandy landed his invasion fleet at Pevensey.

By 12th September William had assembled his fleet at Saint-Valery at the mouth of the Somme. He was hoping for a fair wind at last but the weather held him back. As we saw a few days ago, Hardrada was not inconvenienced by weather as he crossed the North Sea and combined forces with Tostig. King Harold Godwinson was caught between two threats, with the Norwegian force being larger than expected and more pressing. He headed north and by the time he had provided Hardrada with his 7 feet of English soil at Stamford Bridge, William was still locked on the Norman side of the Channel.

However, two days after the Stamford Bridge battle, on 27th September, the weather finally changed and the crossing began.

William’s wife, Matilda of Flanders, had secretly built at her own expense a wonderful new ship called the “Mora” for her husband’s enterprise. It was designed to hold 600 men. It had striped scarlet sails, painted planks and a carved golden figurehead of a boy resembling their young son William (who was later called “Rufus”). William was thrilled with the gift and made the “Mora” his flagship, allegedly displaying the banner which he had been given by Pope Alexander II to emphasise the support of the Pontiff for his campaign.

William’s forces landed on the south coast at Pevensey, ravaged the land and dug a defensive fort in the old Roman Fort of the Saxon Shore. They then moved quickly on to Hastings and constructed another fortification, continuing to harry the local people.

King Harold marched south in haste, rather than waiting to assemble a larger force. The strategy had served him well in Yorkshire but William was a different enemy.

The clock was ticking for their confrontation: Hastings 14th October.

Death of Lioba, 28th September 782

Lioba’s statue at Schornsheim
Lioba’s statue at Schornsheim, by Kandschwar, CC BY-SA 3.0

On 28th September we remember Lioba who died on this day in 782 AD in Schornsheim. Despite the Continental location of her death she was actually from Wessex and had made the decision to become a nun and later a missionary to the ancestral homeland. Her relative (through her mother’s family) and inspiration was Boniface, with whom she corresponded at length and who placed such trust in her abilities that he chose her to become the Abbess at Bischofsheim, and further requested that she be buried beside him when she finally died.

Although we tend to refer to her as Lioba (or Leoba) her name was in fact Leofgyth.

She was educated at Wimborne convent and around 732 AD she wrote to Boniface, asking for his guidance and protection. Boniface was made Archbishop at about this date, and his mission was in full swing, but he still corresponded with Lioba, and helped her to improve her Latin verse. Boniface’s successor, Archbishop Lull, continued to write to her when she in turn appears to have helped shape his Latin writing style.

Rudolf, a monk at Fulda, wrote a “Life” of Lioba around 836 AD at the request of Abbot Rhabanus (colleague of Alcuin at Charlemagne’s court). Nevertheless Rudolf admits that he was not able to discover all of the facts about her despite his best efforts, as he had to rely on ambiguous notes left by another monk, and on word of mouth. Here is what he tells us about her family:

“her parents were English, of noble family and full of zeal for religion and the observance of God’s commandments. Her father was called Dynno, her mother Aebba. But as they were barren, they remained together for a long time without children. After many years had passed and the onset of old age had deprived them of all hope of offspring, her mother had a dream in which she saw herself bearing in her bosom a church bell, which on being drawn out with her hand rang merrily. When she woke up she called her old nurse to her and told her what she had dreamt. The nurse said to her: “We shall yet see a daughter from your womb and it is your duty to consecrate her straightway to God. And as Anna offered Samuel to serve God all the days of his life in the temple, so you must offer her, when she has been taught the Scripture from her infancy, to serve Him in holy virginity as long as she shall live.” Shortly after the woman had made this vow she conceived and bore a daughter, whom she called Thrutgeba, surnamed Leoba because she was beloved, for this is what Leoba means. And when the child had grown up her mother consecrated her and handed her over to Mother Tetta to be taught the sacred sciences.”

Tetta was the Abbess at Wimborne, and Rudolf had in fact opened the hagiography with a precis of her work and miracles there to set the scene for Lioba’s spiritual study. Lioba was a devout young woman and especially given to reading and study, although she did her share of the physical work expected.

In due course Lioba had a prophetic dream of an endless purple ribbon issuing form her mouth, and originating in her bowels (the bowels symbolise the seat of courage and tenderness, and purple is the colour of nobility). In the dream she rolled the ribbon into a ball, but it never ran stopped coming. The dream was interpreted by one of the wise old nuns at Wimborne in this way:

“by her teaching and good example she will confer benefits on many people. The thread which came from her bowels and issued from her mouth signifies the wise counsels that she will speak from the heart. The fact that it filled her hand means that she will carry out in her actions whatever she expresses in her words. Furthermore, the ball which she made by rolling it round and round signifies the mystery of the divine teaching, which is set in motion by the words and deeds of those who give instruction and which turns earthwards through active works and heavenwards through contemplation, at one time swinging downwards through compassion for one’s neighbour, again swinging upwards through the love of God. By these signs God shows that your mistress will profit many by her words and example, and the effect of them will be felt in other lands afar off whither she will go.”

As Boniface’s work in Germania became more widespread, he wrote to various establishments for support including to Tetta at Wimborne. He requested Lioba join him, as he recognised her strong reputation for learning and holiness. Tetta was not happy to lose Lioba but sent her nonetheless. Boniface then made Lioba the Abbess of his new monastery at Bischofsheim, in charge of the nuns there. Her nuns went on to become abbesses of further monasteries throughout the region.

Here’s Rudolf again on her learning:

“So great was her zeal for reading that she discontinued it only for prayer or for the refreshment of her body with food or sleep: the Scriptures were never out of her hands. For, since she had been trained from infancy in the rudiments of grammar and the study of the other liberal arts, she tried by constant reflection to attain a perfect knowledge of divine things so that through the combination of her reading with her quick intelligence, by natural gifts and hard work, she became extremely learned. For, since she had been trained from infancy in the rudiments of grammar and the study of the other liberal arts, she tried by constant reflection to attain a perfect knowledge of divine things so that through the combination of her reading with her quick intelligence, by natural gifts and hard work, she became extremely learned. She read with attention all the books of the Old and New Testaments and learned by heart all the commandments of God. To these she added by way of completion the writings of the church Fathers, the decrees of the Councils and the whole of ecclesiastical law. She observed great moderation in all her acts and arrangements and always kept the practical end in view, so that she would never have to repent of her actions through having been guided by impulse. She was deeply aware of the necessity for concentration of mind in prayer and study, and for this reason took care not to go to excess either in watching or in other spiritual exercises. Throughout the summer both she and all the sisters under her rule went to rest after the midday meal, and she would never give permission to any of them to stay up late, for she said that lack of sleep dulled the mind, especially for study. When she lay down to rest, whether at night or in the afternoon, she used to have the Sacred Scriptures read out at her bedside, a duty which the younger nuns carried out in turn without grumbling. It seems difficult to believe, but even when she seemed to be asleep they could not skip over any word or syllable whilst they were reading without her immediately correcting them. Those on whom this duty fell used afterwards to confess that often when they saw her becoming drowsy they made a mistake on purpose to see if she noticed it, but they were never able to escape undetected.”

Rudolf goes on to describe various miracles ascribed to Lioba in uncovering murderers, calming storms and quenching fires. It is also apparent that Lioba had struggles and doubts, and was advised by Boniface to continue her good works. As he set his affairs in order before embarking on his mission to Frisia in 754AD:

“he summoned Leoba to him and exhorted her not to abandon the country of her adoption and not to grow weary of the life she had undertaken, but rather to extend the scope of the good work she had begun. He said that no consideration should be paid to her weakness and that she must not count the long years that lay ahead of her; she must not count the spiritual life to be hard nor the end difficult to attain, for the years of this life are short compared to eternity, and the sufferings of this world are as nothing in comparison with the glory that will be made manifest in the saints. He commended her to Lull and to the senior monks of the monastery who were present, admonishing them to care for her with reverence and respect and reaffirming his wish that after his death her bones should be placed next to his in the tomb, so that they who had served God during their lifetime with equal sincerity and zeal should await together the day of resurrection.”

Lioba evidently took strength and heart from his words and remained at work. Her reputation continued to grow and she became an inspiration to kings such as Pippin, King of the Franks, and his sons.  She was even allowed to visit the monastery at Fulda which was otherwise a male-only establishment. Eventually she retired to the monastery at Scoranesheim (Schornsheim). However, she was still in demand, as Rudolf explains:

“In the meantime, whilst King Charles was staying in the palace at Aachen, Queen Hiltigard sent a message to her begging her to come and visit her, if it were not too difficult, because she longed to see her before she passed from this life. And although Leoba was not at all pleased, she agreed to go for the sake of their long-standing friendship. Accordingly she went and was received by the queen with her usual warm welcome. But as soon as Leoba heard the reason for the invitation she asked permission to return home. And when the queen importuned her to stay a few days longer she refused; but, embracing her friend rather more affectionately than usual, she kissed her on the mouth, the forehead and the eyes and took leave of her with these words. “Farewell for evermore, my dearly beloved lady and sister; farewell most precious half of my soul. May Christ our Creator and Redeemer grant that we shall meet again without shame on the day of judgment. Never more on this earth shall we enjoy each other’s presence.””

After this Lioba returned to her convent and died a few days later on 28th September. She was buried north of the altar at Fulda because the monks were afraid to open Boniface’s tomb. Later she was moved to the west porch and her resting place became a shrine where miracles were performed. Rudolf concludes:

“These two [Lioba and Boniface], though they do not share a tomb, yet lie in one place and never fail to look on those who seek their intercession with the same kindliness now they are in glory as they did when they lived on earth and showed pity and compassion on the wretched.”

Lioba was a woman of great learning and intellectual reputation. It is perhaps comforting to know that her name lives on in the vastness of the cosmos and through the achievement of modern scientific enquiry.

“974 Lioba” is an asteroid from the central regions of the asteroid belt, approximately 25 kilometers (16 miles) in diameter. It was discovered in 1922, by an astronomer at the Heidelberg-Königstuhl State Observatory. 974 Lioba has a longer than average rotation period of 38.7 hours and was named after our Leofgyth.

Marriage of Athelred Moll to Alfflaed of Mercia, 29th September 792

Coin of Athelred I of Northumbria
Coin of Athelred I of Northumbria, public domain

On 29th September King Athelred Moll of Northumbria married Alfflaed, the daughter of King Offa of Mercia.

On 23rd September 788 King Alfwald of Northumbria had been assassinated in a feud with Athelred. He wasn’t Athelred’s only target.

Let’s take a moment to consider the career of Athelred Moll in a little more detail, limited as that may be. Here’s a reminder of the kings in the years leading up to Athelred’s reigns (for he had two separate turns on the throne):

  • Eadbert abdicated in favour of Oswulf in 757 AD.
  • Oswulf was then assassinated in 758 AD by Athelwold Moll’s faction
  • Athelwold Moll ruled 759-765 AD when he was deposed on 30th October.
  • Alchred was chosen to succeed, and ruled 765-774 AD when he was deposed in turn at Easter and exiled. He married Osgifu, Oswulf’s daughter, and they had a son called Osred – he later succeeded Alfwald, who was his uncle.
  • Athelred Moll, Athelwold’s son, now took the throne. He had probably been too young back in 765 AD to succeed his father but he now ruled 774-779 AD executing three ealdormen in 778 AD which was deeply unpopular.
  • Alfwald ruled 779-788 AD and was assassinated by Athelred Moll
  • Osred then ruled 788-790 AD when he was overthrown and went into exile
  • Athelred Moll ruled a second time 790-796 AD when he was also assassinated

Athelred was the first king of Northumbria to reign twice, possibly a symptom of the growing instability in the realm.  Although he had not succeeded his father, perhaps because he was too young at the time, he was eventually installed as king in 774 AD. Much of the impetus behind his selection appears to have come from the Archbishop of York, Athelbert.

Initially following the lead of his councillors the king later demonstrated greater independence of thought and action by the late 770s.  Dealing with those deemed to be traitors in 778 AD he had three ealdormen executed. This was a step too far for the nobles and they had him removed.

However, Athelred did not give up hope of restoring his fortunes. As his successors proved equally unpopular he gained enough support to replaced Osred in 790 AD. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports:

“AD 790. Osraed, king of the North-humbrians, was betrayed, and driven from the kingdom; and Aethelred, the son of Athelwald, again obtained the government.”

Simeon of Durham notes in the same year:

“AD 790. Ethelred was freed from banishment, and again, by Christ’s favour, seated on the throne of the kingdom. But king Osred, overreached by the treachery of his princes, having been taken prisoner and deprived of his kingdom, assumed the tonsure in the city of York, and afterwards, driven by necessity, went into exile. In his second year (AD 791), duke Eardulf was taken prisoner, and conveyed to Ripon, and there ordered by the aforesaid king to be put to death without the gate of the monastery. The brethren carried his body to the church with Gregorian chanting, and placed it out of doors in a tent; after midnight he was found alive in the church.”

But Athelred did not stop there. He also seized Alfwald’s sons by force from sanctuary in York Minster and had them killed.

“AD 791. The sons of king Elfwald, having been carried from the city of York by force, and drawn from the principal church by deceitful promises, were miserably slain by king Ethelred in Wonwaldremere; their names were Oelf and Oelfwine.”

You may have noticed that Osred survived his deposition. In 792 he returned. By now Athelred was unpopular and rebellious men gathered around Osred, and so he became a target for the King.  On 14th September 792 AD Athelred had Osred, the nephew of Alfwald, killed and two weeks later he got married.

“Lastly, in this year [792 AD], Osred, induced by the oaths and pledge of certain nobles, came secretly from his exile in Eufania [Man], and there his soldiers deserting him, he was captured by the aforesaid king Ethelred, and put to death by his order, at the place called Aynburg [location unknown] on the eighteenth of the kalends of October [14th Sept.]. His body was brought to the mouth of the river Tyne, and buried in the church of the noble monastery there. In the same year, king Ethelred took as his queen Elfled, daughter of Offa, king of the Mercians, at Catterick, on the third of the kalends of October [29th Sept.].”

His bride’s reaction is not recorded, and neither is his father-in-law’s, although no doubt if Offa had not been happy he would have made it known. Athelred must have been seeking to strengthen his position by allying with the most powerful King in Britain.

793 AD was also the year of the attack on Lindisfarne and Alcuin of York, at the court of Charlemagne, wrote to the king warning him that it was a sign of God’s judgement for the sins of the nation. By implication Athelred had contributed to this state of affairs through his own misdeeds. Alcuin certainly made him aware that the immorality and extravagance of his court was not acceptable.

From today’s perspective there seems little to like about Athelred. He was a violent man who murdered a number of opponents quite openly. However, the fact that he ruled twice implies he was not without some support, and his alliance with Offa equally indicates that he was not viewed as negatively as we may be tempted to think.

Eventually however he was assassinated at Corbridge by a supporter of Osbald, the next man to be king in 796 AD. However the usurper only held power for 27 days, so it may be he was lucky in his choice of assassin rather than part of a more popular faction.

You may be interested to know that following the 27 day interregnum of Osbald the eventual successor to the throne was Eardwulf, the man who was ordered killed at Ripon by Athelred in 791 AD but found alive the following morning by the monks. 

Death of Jerome, 30th September 420

Codex Sangallensis
Codex Sangallensis 1395, St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 1395, p. 418 – Veterum Fragmentorum Manuscriptis Codicibus detractorum collectio Tom. II. CC BY-NC 4.0

On 30th September we remember Jerome, who died in 419 or 420 AD on this day.
Jerome’s 5th century translation of the Bible formed the core of the Vulgate Bible, the official text sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the 16th century and which remained so until 1979.

Jerome was born in Slovenia around 347 AD to Christian parents who sent him to Rome to study when he was twelve. He was a keen student and followed the classical programme of the trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric) followed by the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy).

He was baptised at the end of his schooling and then travelled widely for the next 20 years. He became interested in monasticism and asceticism, and probably wrote his earliest known work in Antioch around 374 AD.

In early 375 AD Jerome became ill and had a dream which affected him deeply. He was accused of following Cicero, a pagan author, and of not being a Christian, for which he was scourged. When he woke up he vowed never to read a single page of pagan literature again.

He lived as a hermit in the desert for a while before returning to Antioch. By now he had a reputation as a great scholar and ascetic, and although he was ordained as a priest he did not undertake a priest’s duties but continued his studies of the scriptures.

He returned to Rome in 382 AD and became the Secretary to the pope. During this time he wrote various tracts, produced a rather unsuccessful translation of the Gospels, and taught Roman noblewomen about monasticism. He was outspoken about the corruption among the Roman clergy, and became unpopular. Following the death of the pope he moved on again, this time to the Holy Land settling in Bethlehem after a year, where he founded a monastery for men and three cloisters for women. He settled in the monastery and stayed there until his death. He continued to be involved in the theological controversies of the day, in his typical aggressive and contentious manner.

Recognising that his earlier translation of the Gospels was not really good enough, he began to work on a revised text. He also translated many books of the Old Testament into Latin and although he didn’t manage to translate the whole Bible, his work formed the core of the Vulgate translation. The term “Vulgate” refers to the Latin spoken by ordinary people, rather than a literary version, and Jerome deliberately translated the texts in this way to make them accessible, much as Alfred later translated books into Old English so that they could be understood more widely.

He died in either 419 AD or 420 AD and is the patron saint of librarians and translators.

His influence through his writings and his biblical translation is truly astounding and he was a major intellectual force in the development of the Western Church. The Vulgate Bible was the version copied into the Codex Amiatinus of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow.

The oldest surviving copy of the Vulgate is the Codex Sangallensis 1395, written at Verona on vellum in half-uncial in the early fifth century, around about the time of Jerome’s death.