William the Conqueror

The brothers, Earl Edwin (of Mercia) and Earl Morcar (of Northumbria), had suffered heavy losses when their forces were defeated by the invading army of Harald Hardrada and Tostig Godwinesson at Fulford, near York, on 20th September 1066. Whether they participated in the battle of Stamford Bridge, on 25th September, when King Harold Godwinesson defeated the invaders, is nowhere recorded.[*]

Orderic Vitalis maintains (HE III: ii, 154) that “the great earls Edwin and Morcar” did not take part in the battle of Hastings (14th October 1066). Florence of Worcester, though, might say (his phraseology is less than clear) that they did, but abandoned the field before it finished:

On hearing of his [King Harold’s] death, the earls Edwin and Morcar, who had withdrawn themselves and their men from the conflict, went to London …

So, is the “conflict” (certamen), from which the earls withdrew, the battle of Hastings in particular, or the campaign in general, after their defeat at Fulford? Well, according to William of Malmesbury (GR III §252), King Harold ordered them to transport “the spoils of war” taken at Stamford Bridge to London, whilst he hurried ahead to confront Duke William of Normandy – who had landed on the south coast, at Pevensey, on 28th September – and (GR III §247) they were at London when they heard of Harold’s death. Anyway, they sent their sister, Ealdgyth, Harold’s widow, away from London, to safety in Chester. Manuscript D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that Ealdred, archbishop of York, and the burghers of London wanted Edgar (known as Edgar Ætheling), grandson of Edmund Ironside, to be king: “as was indeed his natural right”.  Edwin and Morcar promised they would take-up the fight against the Normans on Edgar’s behalf, but they failed to deliver. Florence of Worcester:

… while numbers were preparing to go out to fight, the earls withdrew their assistance and returned home with their army.

William of Malmesbury (GR III §247) asserts that Edwin and Morcar:

… solicited the citizens [of London] to raise one of them to the throne; failing, however, in the attempt, they had departed for Northumbria, conjecturing by a surmise of their own that William would never come thither.

Meanwhile, back at Hastings, Duke William (known as William the Bastard) had been waiting in expectation of receiving the submission of the remaining English magnates:

… but when he perceived that they would not come to him, he went up with all his army which was left to him, and what had afterwards come over sea to him, and harried all that part which he passed over, until he came to Berkhamsted.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript D

According to the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio (593–610), King William – the Carmen asserts that William abandoned the title duke and assumed the title king after his victory over Harold – had spent a fortnight waiting in Hastings before “he directed his march towards Dover”.


William of Poitiers (II, 26–27) says Duke William “left a force at Hastings under an energetic commander”, and that he paused at Romney, “which he punished at his pleasure for the damage they had inflicted upon some of his men, who had come there by mistake”.  In the Carmen, the “terrified” inhabitants of the fortified town of Dover come to meet, and submit, to William before he has even got half-way there. He turfs the people out of their homes to provide billets for his men. William of Poitiers says that the people of Dover had “lost all confidence both in their natural and man-made defences and in their numerical strength”, and that, as they were about to submit, some Norman soldiers, “lusting for loot”, torched the place.[*] The duke, magnanimously, made amends for his men’s actions, and, having taken possession of Dover, spent eight days adding to its fortifications.

William, “the king”, is said by the Carmen (611–640) to have been at Dover for a month, during which time “acceptable gifts” were received from various places as tokens of surrender – Canterbury having set the ball rolling by being first to pay tribute. William then “went to set up camp for himself elsewhere” (at a place apparently called ‘the Broken Tower’), and sent word to Winchester – demanding that they too pay tribute. Winchester was held in dower by Queen Edith, widow of King Edward the Confessor (also sister of King Harold), and William “considered it would be dishonourable if he went to take away the seat thus granted her; he asked only an impost and a pledge”. The queen and town magnates settled with “the king”, and Winchester was left in peace.[*] William then “directed his march to where populous London gleamed”:

It is a great city, overflowing with froward inhabitants and richer in treasure than the rest of the kingdom. Protected on the left [i.e. north] side by walls, on the right side by the river, it neither fears enemies nor dreads being taken by storm.

According to William of Poitiers (II, 28–29), there was an outbreak of severe dysentery amongst the Norman forces at Dover. Leaving the sick behind, Duke William left the town, and was soon met by representatives of Canterbury, who submitted to him. The following day the duke carried on to “the Broken Tower” (presumably near Canterbury), where he fell ill. Nevertheless, he proceeded towards London. Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury, with “the sons of Ælfgar [i.e. Edwin and Morcar] and other magnates” (no mention of Archbishop Ealdred), had set-up Edgar Ætheling as king at London, the population of which had been swelled by a large influx of English soldiers.

As William neared the city, English forces emerged, evidently crossing London Bridge to challenge the Normans south of the Thames, but they were driven “back within the walls” by the duke’s advance guard of five hundred knights. An assault on London from the south, across the bridge, cannot have been a viable military option. William’s knights burned the suburbs on the south bank of the Thames, and the duke struck upriver until he came to Wallingford. Stigand travels to Wallingford, renounces Edgar, “whom he had irresponsibly elected”, and swears fealty to William, who then sets-off for London.

In the brisk version of events given by William of Jumièges (VII, 16), William, “the fortunate war-leader”, is said to have set-off for London directly from the battlefield, on the morning after the battle of Hastings. He “turned away from the city”, no reason being given, and took the by-way to Wallingford, where he crossed the Thames and set-up camp. From there, he went directly to London.

Manuscript D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle makes it clear that, everywhere he went, Duke William left a trail of destruction in his wake. He eventually arrived at Berkhamsted:

And there came to meet him Archbishop Ealdred, and Edgar Cild [Edgar Ætheling], and Earl Edwin, and Earl Morcar, and all the best men from London [Florence of Worcester adds to the list Wulfstan, bishop of Worcester, Walter, bishop of Hereford, “and many more”], and then from necessity submitted when the greatest harm had been done – and it was very imprudent that it was not done earlier, as God would not better it for our sins – and they gave hostages, and swore oaths to him; and he promised them that he would be a kind lord to them. And yet, during this, they [the Normans] harried all that they passed over.

It would seem that the Chronicle author was mistaken in placing Edwin and Morcar at Berkhamsted. William of Poitiers has them submit at a later date, and both Florence of Worcester and William of Malmesbury say they had previously departed from London (though Florence also repeats the Chronicle entry that places them at Berkhamsted). Anyway, Manuscript D now proceeds directly to William’s coronation.

In William of Poitiers’ telling (II, 29), Berkhamsted is not named, but:

… as soon as he [Duke William] came within the sight of London [Berkhamsted is some 25 miles northwest of London] the leading citizens came out to him and placed themselves and their city in his obedience, as the men of Canterbury had done before them, and gave all the hostages he named and required. After this, both the bishops and other magnates prayed him to take the crown, pleading that they were accustomed to serve a king and wished only for a king to be their lord.

After some hesitation (he was reluctant to have a coronation whilst England was still unsettled, and he would have liked to have had his wife crowned with him), Duke William agreed to accept the crown, and preparations for his coronation were started. The duke remained outside London, but he sent a party to build a castle inside the city – presumably the beginnings of the Tower of London.

It is clear that not all the inhabitants of London were quite so ready to surrender as might be supposed from William of Poitiers and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. William of Jumièges (VII, 16) writes:

“... an advance-party of knights, on entering the city, found a large force of rebels determined to make a vigorous resistance. At once engaging them, the knights inflicted much sorrow upon London by the death of many of her sons and citizens. At length the Londoners, seeing that they could resist no longer, gave hostages and submitted themselves and all they had to their noble conqueror and hereditary lord.”

In the story told by the Carmen (641–752) there is no reference to Wallingford or Berkhamsted, though there is mention of the destruction William caused, by sword and fire, before he arrived at the walls of London. English survivors of the battle of Hastings had taken refuge in the city. “A boy of the old royal line”, i.e. Edgar Ætheling, had been chosen to be king. William’s men surrounded the walls – William himself took up residence in the royal palace at Westminster – siege-engines were deployed, and the citizens of London were terrified. The head man in London is named as Ansgar. There was a diplomatic exchange between William and Ansgar, in which William out-manoeuvred Ansgar, and the English worthies were left with little choice other than to renounce “the boy”, surrender the city, and submit to William.

William was crowned, by Archbishop Ealdred, at Westminster Abbey, on Christmas Day 1066. Posterity would remember William the Bastard by a more flattering soubriquet: William the Conqueror.

As part of the coronation ceremony, the English contingent were asked, by Ealdred, if William was acceptable as king. The same question was put to the French speakers by the bishop of Coutances. According to William of Poitiers (II, 30), the answering shouts of assent alarmed the guards outside. Fearing treachery, they torched the neighbouring buildings. It seems odd that the guards’ immediate reaction to trouble inside the church was to set-fire to buildings outside. Perhaps William of Poitiers is trying to justify a casual act of Norman vandalism that got seriously out of control? Orderic Vitalis adds more detail – the fire spread rapidly, the congregation fled:

Only the bishops and a few clergy and monks remained, terrified, in the sanctuary, and with difficulty completed the consecration of the king who was trembling from head to foot. Almost all the rest made made for the scene of conflagration, some to fight the flames and many others hoping to find loot for themselves in the general confusion.
(HE III: ii, 157)

After his coronation, King William remained in London for some time, organising his government. William of Poitiers (II, 33) praises the king’s justice and clemency. He is at pains to point-out the strict instructions the king gave to his magnates not to oppress the conquered English, and how he set taxation at a reasonable level. In contrast, Manuscript D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions, only, that the king imposed heavy taxation, whilst Manuscript E says that: “men paid him tribute and gave him hostages, and afterwards bought their land.”  In other words, Englishmen were obliged to buy the estates they already occupied from William.


Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript E’s entry for the year 1066 consists of a somewhat brisk run-through of the tumultuous events of national importance, followed by a lengthy story of local interest. The abbot of Peterborough, Leofric (“in his day was all bliss and all good in Peterborough”), a relative of the earls Edwin and Morcar,[*] had accompanied Harold to the battle of Hastings:
… and there he sickened, and came home, and died soon after, on All-Hallows mass-night [31st October]; God be merciful to his soul!
As Leofric’s replacement, the monks chose Brand, the provost, “because he was a very good man, and very wise”.  It seemed to the landfolc, i.e. the local people, that Edgar Ætheling would become king, so Brand was duly sent to Edgar to get the appointment ratified:
… and the ætheling blithely assented thereto. When King William heard that say he was very wroth, and said that the abbot had slighted him. Then went good men between them and reconciled them; because the abbot was a good man. He then gave the king 40 marks of gold for a reconciliation; and he then lived a little while after – only three years. After that came every tribulation and every evil to the monastery. God be merciful to it!
He [King William] left London and stayed for some days in a nearby place called Barking while certain fortifications were completed in the city to contain the restlessness of it’s vast and savage population. For he saw it was of the first importance to hold down the Londoners.
William of Poitiers (II, 34)

It was whilst he was at Barking, says William of Poitiers, that King William received the submission of the brothers Earl Edwin of Mercia and Earl Morcar of Northumbria (“highest in degree perhaps of all the English by their birth and power”), along with “many other nobles and magnates”.

The king graciously accepted the oaths which they offered him, generously bestowed his favour upon them, restored to them all their possessions [at a substantial price no doubt], and held them in great honour. Proceeding thence, he came to divers parts of the kingdom, arranging everything to his convenience and that of the inhabitants. Wherever he went all laid down their arms. There was no resistance, but everywhere men submitted to him or sought his peace … The ætheling himself, whom after the fall of Harold the English had thought to make king, he endowed with wide lands and took into the closest circle of his affection because he was of the race of King Edward, and also so that the boy in his youth should not too bitterly regret the loss of honour to which he had once been chosen. Many English received by his liberal gift more than they had ever received from their fathers or their former lords. He placed capable castellans with ample forces of horse and foot in his castles, men brought over from France in whose loyalty no less than competence he could trust. He gave them rich fiefs in return for which they willingly endured hardship and danger. But to no Frenchman was anything given unjustly taken from an Englishman.
William of Poitiers (II, 34–35)


Symeon of Durham, in a digression on the earls of Northumbria (Historia Regum s.a. 1072), notes that Morcar, “being burdened with other weighty matters”, had: “handed over the earldom beyond the Tyne to the young Oswulf”.  Oswulf – son of Earl Eadwulf and grandson of Earl Uhtred – was a scion of the native Bernician (northern Northumbrian) ruling dynasty.[*] King William now gave Oswulf’s earldom to one Copsig. William of Poitiers places Copsig (“a man of singular courage and integrity”) amongst those who submitted to the king at Barking. Copsig had been Tostig’s lieutenant during the latter’s tenure as earl of Northumbria, and, presumably, had accompanied the earl into exile in November 1065. He took part in Tostig’s initial raid on England in May 1066 – bringing a fleet from Orkney that joined-up with Tostig’s in Kent. He then disappears from the record until he surfaces at Barking. Symeon of Durham takes up the story:
Oswulf driven by Copsig from the earldom, concealed himself in the woods and mountains in hunger and want, till at last having gathered some associates whom the same need had brought together, he surrounded Copsig while feasting at Newburn [on Tyne]. He [Copsig] escaped through the midst of confused crowds; but being discovered while he lay hid in the church, he was compelled by the burning of the church to go out to the door, where at the very door he was beheaded by the hands of Oswulf, in the fifth week of his charge of the earldom, on the 4th of the Ides of March [12th March 1067]. By and by, in the following autumn, Oswulf himself, rushing headlong against the lance of a robber who met him, was thrust through, and there perished.
Historia Regum s.a. 1072
Following Oswulf’s death, King William sold the earldom “for a great sum” to Gospatric son of Maldred. Gospatric was Oswulf’s cousin (Gospatric’s mother was Ealdgyth, daughter of Earl Uhtred). Maldred’s father, i.e. Gospatric’s grandfather, was called Crinan. It is conceivable that this is the same Crinan who was the grandfather of the Scots’ king, Malcolm III, which, if that were the case, would also make Gospatric a cousin of Malcolm.

By the spring of 1067, William had sufficient confidence in his mastery of England to undertake a visit to Normandy. However, by way of insurance, he decided to take with him (“in honourable captivity”, as Orderic Vitalis puts it) many “good men of England” (ASC MS D), whom he thought might otherwise inspire rebellion in his absence. Amongst these were the earls Edwin, Morcar and Waltheof, Edgar Ætheling, and Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury.[*]

… in the month of March he returned to his native land after a success even greater than our pen can relate.
William of Poitiers (II, 38)
Æthel (Æþel) means ‘noble’ (it features as an element of many Anglo-Saxon names), and an ætheling is a male of royal blood who is an eligible candidate for the throne. Edgar is also referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as Edgar Cild. The Old English cild equates to ‘child’ in modern English. Edgar was round-about 15 years-old at this time, but when used as an epithet cild denotes high status rather than youth.
See The Thunderbolt of the North.
The Domesday Book remarks of Dover: “On his [William’s] very first arrival in England the vill itself was burned down”.
William of Poitiers claims (II, 8) that Edith had opposed her brother Harold, that she: “wanted the English to be ruled over by William whom King Edward her husband had adopted as a son and established as his heir, wise just and strong.”
A white, scarf-like, vestment worn by the pope, and bestowed by him on archbishops as a symbol of delegated papal authority.
Usually identified with one Esgar the Staller. From entries in the Domesday Book, it is clear he was a man of considerable substance. (His name lives on: East Garston, a village in Berkshire, is named from him). He was the grandson of Tofi the Proud, at whose wedding-feast King Harthacnut (Edward the Confessor’s predecessor) died (see End of the Line). The Carmen describes Ansgar as: “crippled by a weakness of the loins and therefore slow upon his feet, because he had received some few wounds in the service of his country [presumably at the battle of Hastings]. He was borne on a litter, lacking the ability to move, yet he commanded all the chief men of the city and the affairs of the community were conducted by his aid.”
Earl Leofric of Mercia (d.1057) was the grandfather of Edwin and Morcar, and uncle of Abbot Leofric.
Earl Waltheof was the son of Siward, erstwhile earl of Northumbria (d.1055). Waltheof evidently held an earldom that included Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire.
The three earls, the ætheling and the archbishop are named by William of Poitiers (II, 38). Manuscript D of the Chronicle names all those, plus Æthelnoth, abbot of Glastonbury. Florence of Worcester adds to the names listed by Manuscript D another Æthelnoth: “the noble governor [satrap] Æthelnoth the Kentishman”.  Orderic Vitalis (HE IV: ii, 167), as would be expected, quotes the list given by William of Poitiers, but then tags on the name of ‘Governor’ Æthelnoth. Presumably Orderic took this information from the work of Florence/John, which he says (HE III: ii, 159–161) he had seen at Worcester. Incidentally, Æthelnoth the Kentishman is also referred to, in the Domesday Book, as Æthelnoth Cild.
Probably ‘beyond the Tees’. Symeon seems to grant a degree of authority to the bishop of Durham which, at this time, is not appropriate.
See Toil and Trouble.
For more on the 11th century Northumbrian earls and their areas of jurisdiction see The Battle of Carham.
Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the Kings of England).
Volume and page of Augustus Le Prevost’s five volume edition of the Historia Ecclesiastica (1838–1855).
William of Jumièges completed the ‘Gesta Normannorum Ducum’ (Deeds of the Dukes of the Normans) c.1070–1. He dedicated it to the 7th duke of the Normans, William II, i.e. William the Bastard, who by that time had become William the Conqueror, king of the English.