The Death of Alfred

In William of Jumièges' version of events, Alfred, with his "considerable force", was clearly intent on pressing his claim to the throne. Having arrived at Dover, Alfred advanced inland, and was met by Earl Godwine:

"The earl took him into his protection, but that same night played the role of Judas by betraying his trust. For although he had given him the kiss of peace and eaten with him, in the dead of night he had him bound and sent with many of his followers to king Harold in London. The rest of Alfred's knights he either dispersed about the kingdom or shamefully slew. When Harold saw the aethling he at once ordered his companions to be beheaded and the prince to be taken to Ely and there have his eyes put out. And thus the most noble prince Alfred was done to death without justice."

The 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle', Manuscript C, annal for the year 1036:

"In this year the innocent ætheling Ælfred [Alfred], the son of King Æthelred, came into this country, wishing to go to his mother who was in Winchester, but Earl Godwine did not allow him, nor did the other men who had great power, because feeling was veering much towards Harold, although this was not right.
[The annal continues in verse]
But Godwine then stopped him and put him in captivity,
and he dispersed his companions and killed some in various ways;
some were sold for money, some were cruelly killed,
some were put in fetters, some were blinded,
some were mutilated, some were scalped.
No more horrible deed was done in this land
since the Danes came and peace was made here.
Now we must trust to the beloved God
that they rejoice happily with Christ
who were without guilt so miserably slain.
The ætheling still lived. He was threatened with every evil,
until it was decided to take him thus
in bonds to Ely.
As soon as he arrived, he was blinded on the ship,
and thus blind was brought to the monks,
and he dwelt there as long as he lived.
Then he was buried as well befitted him,
very honourably, as he deserved,
in the south chapel at the west end, full close to the steeple.
His soul is with Christ."

Manuscript D's annal is virtually identical, but has one significant difference - all reference to Godwine is omitted. Manuscript E does not record the incident at all. Florence of Worcester, however, in his rendition of the 'Chronicle' annal, emphasises Godwine's antipathy to Alfred:

"... some of the great men were very indignant, being, although improperly so, much more attached to Harold than to him; earl Godwin [Godwine], it is said, more than any of them."

Florence weaves extra elements into the version of events described by the 'Chronicle'. He says that both Edward and Alfred:

"... with many Norman knights in their company, crossed over in a few ships to England for the purpose of holding a conference with their mother who was then staying at Winchester... As Alfred was hastening to London to confer with Harold, as he had commanded, Godwin seized him and put him in close confinement ..."

At this time, Edward was, purportedly, at Winchester. When Emma heard of Alfred's capture, she hastily despatched Edward back to Normandy. The rest of Florence's account, in essence, follows the 'Chronicle'. He adds, however, that six hundred of Alfred's men were killed, and that the massacre took place at Guildford.

The 'Encomium Emmae Reginae' provides an extraordinary account of the circumstances leading to Alfred's death. The Encomiast says that Harold ("the usurper") hatched a plan to kill Emma's children ("that henceforth he might be able to reign in security"). He had a letter written, as if from Emma, to Edward and Alfred in Normandy:

"Since we severally lament the death of our lord, the king, most dear sons, and since daily you are deprived more and more of the kingdom, your inheritance, I wonder what plan you are adopting, since you are aware that the delay arising from your procrastination is becoming from day to day a support to the usurper of your rule. For he goes round hamlets and cities ceaselessly, and makes the chief men his friends by gifts, threats and prayers. But they would prefer that one of you should rule over them, than that they should be held in the power of him who now commands them. I entreat, therefore, that one of you come to me speedily and privately, to receive from me wholesome counsel, and to know in what manner this matter, which I desire, must be brought to pass."

The brothers, thinking they were replying to their mother, sent word back that "one of them would come to her", giving the time and place. The information was taken straight to Harold's agents ("the foes of God"). In the event, it was Alfred ("the younger prince") who, "with his brother's approval", and accompanied by an unspecified number of companions, undertook the journey. He travelled to Flanders, and (declining an offer of additional forces made by Baldwin V, count of Flanders, but taking on "a few men of Boulogne") from there crossed the Channel. Noticing that there was opposition waiting for him, Alfred abandoned his first attempt to land. Believing he had avoided ambush, he landed elsewhere, and set out to meet Emma (whom the Encomiast, it is apparent, believed was in London):

"But when he was already near his goal, Earl Godwine met him and took him under his protection, and forthwith became his soldier by averment under oath. Diverting him from London, he led him into the town called Guildford, and lodged his soldiers there in separate billets, by twenties, twelves and tens, leaving a few with the young man, whose duty was to be in attendance upon him."

After Alfred's soldiers had retired for the night; "behold, men leagued with the most abominable tyrant Harold" entered their billets, removed their weapons, and placed them in irons. The following day, nine out of ten of them were executed.

"The royal youth, then, was captured secretly in his lodging, and having been taken to the island called Ely, was first of all mocked by the most wicked soldiery. Then still more contemptible persons were selected, that the lamented youth might be condemned by them in their madness. When these men had been set up as judges, they decreed that first of all both his eyes should be put out as a sign of contempt. After they prepared to carry this out, two men were placed on his arms to hold them meanwhile, one on his breast, and one on his legs, in order that the punishment might be more easily inflicted on him. Why do I linger over this sorrow? As I write my pen trembles, and I am horror-stricken at what the most blessed youth suffered. Therefore I will the sooner turn away from the misery of so great a disaster, and touch upon the conclusion of this martyrdom as far as its consummation. For he was held fast, and after his eyes had been put out was most wickedly slain. When this murder had been performed, they left his lifeless body, which the servants of Christ, the monks, I mean, of the same Isle of Ely, took up and honourably interred. However, many miracles occur where his tomb is, as people report who even declare most repeatedly that they have seen them."

Of course, it is possible that Harold sent the forged letter, as quoted by the Encomiast, to Edward and Alfred. It is also possible that Emma sent the letter herself. Whilst it seems likely that Emma did, in fact, encourage Edward and Alfred to return to England, the general consensus is that the Encomiast's letter is an invention - designed to absolve Emma of all responsibility for Alfred's death, and place the blame entirely with Harold. The Encomiast also pussyfoots around Godwine's involvement in the affair, which, given that Godwine was at the height of his power when the ''Encomium' was written, is, perhaps, not surprising.

Both William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon date Alfred's death incorrectly. William of Malmesbury dates it to 1040. He lays the blame for Alfred's blinding "chiefly" with Godwine, but places the incident at Gillingham. He mentions "nine-tenths of his companions being beheaded", and says Alfred subsequently died at Ely. Henry of Huntingdon contrives to incorporate Alfred's death into the events of 1042. He moves the massacre back to Guildford, and says that when nine out of ten had been beheaded, there were still too many left, so the process was repeated ("very few indeed escaped"). Alfred was taken to Ely, his eyes were put out, and he died. Blame for the whole thing is placed firmly with Godwine ("the bold earl and consummate traitor"). Both William and Henry believed that Alfred was older than Edward - Henry claiming that Edward "was the younger and the more simple of the two brothers". The Encomiast (a contemporary, though, admittedly, not unimpeachable, source) says that Edward was the elder. However, the statement of the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle', that he acted as Æthelred's representative, in 1014, is highly suggestive that Edward was indeed the eldest.

'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' by Dorothy Whitelock
'Encomium Emmae Reginae' by Alistair Campbell
Henry of Huntingdon 'Historia Anglorum' by Thomas Forester
William of Jumièges 'Gesta Normannorum Ducum' by R. Allen Brown
William of Malmesbury 'Gesta Regum Anglorum' by Rev. J. Sharpe, revised by Rev. J. Stevenson
Florence of Worcester 'Chronicon ex Chronicis' edited and in part translated by Joseph Stevenson