Addendum to The Vikings Return II: The Wrath of God and Bloody Business

The Siege of Durham

In the year from the Lord’s incarnation 969, in the reign of Æthelred, king of the English, Malcolm, king of the Scots, son of King Kenneth, collected the army of the whole of Scotland and ravaging with slaughter and fire the province of the Northumbrians, invested Durham with a siege.

So begins a short treatise known as De Obsessione Dunelmi. The date, however, is impossible for the characters involved (and why it became attached to this event is not easily explained).[*] Æthelred came to the throne of England in 978, whilst Malcolm II (son of Kenneth II) did not secure the Scottish throne until 1005.

The Annals of Ulster record, s.a. 1006:

A battle between the men of Alba [i.e. the Scots] and the Saxons [i.e. the English], when the men of Alba were defeated, and left a slaughter of their good men [i.e. nobles].

It is widely supposed that the battle reported by the Annals of Ulster and the consequences of Malcolm’s assault on Durham are one and the same. De Obsessione Dunelmi continues:

At this time Ealdhun ruled the bishopric there [i.e. at Durham]; and Waltheof, who was earl of the Northumbrians, had shut himself up in Bamburgh. For he was of extreme age, so that he could display no valour against the enemy.[*]

In this context, ‘the Northumbrians’ are the people of northern Northumbria, governed from Bamburgh. Waltheof’s son, Uhtred, “a youth of great vigour and the highest military aptitude”, was, at this time, married to Bishop Ealdhun’s daughter:

The aforesaid youth seeing that the land was ravaged by the enemy and Durham invested by a siege, and that his father did nothing to prevent it, united the army of the Northumbrians [i.e. of northern Northumbria] and of the people of York [i.e. of southern Northumbria] in no small band; and slew nearly the whole host of the Scots, while their king scarce escaped with a few by flight.  And the heads of the slain, ornamented as was the fashion at that time with braided hair, he caused to be conveyed to Durham; and caused them to be well washed by four women, and set on stakes around the walls. And to each of the women who had washed them they gave a cow as wage. —
— When King Æthelred heard these things he called to him the aforesaid youth and, although his father Waltheof still lived, for the merit of his vigour and for the war which he had so manfully carried through he gave him his father’s earldom, adding to it also the earldom of York.

For Uhtred to have led a force drawn from both the north and south of Northumbria, he must, surely(?), have already been earl of both provinces.[*] At any rate, according to De Obsessione Dunelmi, on his return from Æthelred’s court, Uhtred repudiated Bishop Ealdhun’s daughter and married the daughter of a wealthy gent called Styr:

But afterwards when he, that is, Uhtred, advanced more and more in the art of war, King Æthelred gave to him as wife his daughter Ælfgifu.[*]

Annals of Ulster by William M. Hennessy
De Obsessione Dunelmi by A.O. Anderson
Symeon of Durham Libellus de Exordio by David Rollason


Addendum to Danish England I: Cnut the Great and Bloody Business

The Battle of Carham

Symeon of Durham, Historia Regum s.a. 1018:

Ealdhun, bishop of Durham, died. A great battle between the Scots and English was fought at Carham, between Uhtred son of Waltheof, earl of the Northumbrians, and Malcolm son of Kenneth [Malcolm II], king of the Scots, with whom there was in the battle Owain the Bald [Eugenius Calvus], king of the people of Strathclyde.[*]

Symeon of Durham, Libellus de Exordio (III, 5):

In the year of our lord 1018, while Cnut was ruling the kingdom of the English, there appeared to the Northumbrian peoples a comet, which persisted for 30 nights, presaging in a terrible way the future devastation of the province.[*] For soon afterwards (that is after thirty days) the whole people between the river Tees and the river Tweed fought a battle at Carham against a countless multitude of Scots and almost all perished, including even their old folk. When the bishop [Ealdhun] heard of the miserable death of the people of St Cuthbert, he was stricken with deep sorrow of heart, and sighed, saying: “O why – wretched as I am – was I spared to see these times?…” … a few days later he succumbed to an illness and died, having been bishop for twenty-nine years …[*]

1018, the date which Symeon of Durham attaches to the battle of Carham (which is some 15 miles upriver from Berwick-upon-Tweed), presents something of a difficulty, in that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle apparently places Earl Uhtred’s death in the spring of 1016. There seems to be no convincing reason to doubt Symeon’s date for the battle,[*] so it could be that the identification of Uhtred as leader of the English forces, made only in the Historia Regum, is wrong, or perhaps Uhtred was not, in fact, killed in 1016. Both views have their advocates.


Uhtred’s death is reported thus in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Manuscripts C, D and E) s.a. 1016: “[Uhtred] from necessity submitted [to Cnut’s army], and all the Northumbrians with him; and he gave hostages; and, notwithstanding, they slew him[*], and Thurcytel son of Nafena with him. And then, after that, King Cnut appointed Eric as earl in Northumbria, just as Uhtred had been[*]”.  This is placed before King Æthelred’s death on 23rd April 1016. The sequence of annals covering the years 983 to 1016, preserved in Manuscripts C, D and E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, are the main source for Æthelred’s reign, and they were evidently composed after 1016 and before 1023 – “no later than the end of 1019”, reckons A.A.M. Duncan. Professor Duncan argues that the italicized words in the Chronicle entry above: “are parenthetic … They were a comment by the author of the 1016 annal (writing between 1016 and 1019), who knew of the recent death of Uhtred and who wished to stress bitterly the faithlessness of Cnut.”  In other words: “though remarked upon under 1016, it [Uhtred’s death] occurred in 1018.”
Writing in the very same publication as Professor Duncan, Bernard Meehan maintains that: “The weight of evidence does suggest that Carham was fought in 1018, that it was probably fought by Malcolm, but that Uhtred, having died two years earlier, could not have taken part.”[*]
In his piece on Uhtred in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), William M. Aird avers: “Although a comparatively late source puts Uhtred at the battle of Carham leading the English to defeat by the Scots in 1018, it is now generally accepted that this was an error and that his death occurred in 1016.”  Whilst, in the piece about Malcolm II in the ODNB, Dauvit Broun writes: “He won a famous and decisive victory over Uhtred, earl of Northumbria, at Carham on the Tweed in 1018.”

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says, s.a. 1016, that, following the murder of Uhtred, Cnut appointed Eric, a Norwegian, “as earl in Northumbria, just as Uhtred had been”, and s.a. 1017, when describing how Cnut divided the rule of his newly acquired kingdom four ways, says he gave “to Eric Northumbria”.  Now, Waltheof, Uhtred’s father, had governed the northern province of Northumbria only. King Æthelred had promoted Uhtred – making him earl of both the northern province (capital: Bamburgh) and also the southern province (capital: York) – and according to the anonymous tract De Obsessione Dunelmi:

When [Uhtred] was slain his brother Eadwulf, surnamed Cudel [Cuttlefish], succeeded him in the earldom; a man very cowardly and timorous.[*]

But when Eadwulf died, Uhtred’s son, Ealdred, is said to have succeeded only to the northern province. In a digression on the earls of Northumbria, s.a. 1072 in the Historia Regum, Symeon of Durham reports that Ealdred was succeeded by his brother, another Eadwulf. Cnut’s appointee, Eric, is not mentioned at all.

It would seem, then, that Earl Eric never took direct control of the northern province – that continued to be governed from Bamburgh by Uhtred’s kin. Eric disappears from history in 1023. At some stage between then and 1033, the earldom of York passed to one Siward, who was probably Danish.[*] In the Historia Regum, s.a. 1072, Symeon reports that Eadwulf was killed by Siward (an event dated 1041 by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), who then took:

… the earldom of the whole province of the Northumbrians; that is, from the Humber as far as the Tweed.

De Obsessione Dunelmi poses another conundrum. It says that Eadwulf Cudel:

… fearing that the Scots would avenge on him the death of their men whom, as has been said above, his brother [i.e. Uhtred] had killed [at the siege of Durham – the battle of Carham is not mentioned], he granted to them the whole of Lothian, for amends and steadfast peace. In this way was Lothian added to the kingdom of the Scots.

The problem being that Æthelred’s father, Edgar, is reported to have already granted Lothian – the land between the Tweed and the Forth – to Malcolm II’s father, Kenneth II.[*] That the English forces at Carham were drawn from between the Tees and the Tweed would seem pretty strong evidence that Lothian was, indeed, already in Scottish hands.[*]

Annals of Ulster by William M. Hennessy
De Obsessione Dunelmi by A.O. Anderson
Thietmar of Merseburg Chronicon by David A. Warner
Symeon of Durham Libellus de Exordio by David Rollason
Symeon of Durham Historia Regum by Joseph Stevenson
Annales Lindisfarnenses et Dunelmenses by A.O. Anderson
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle adapted from the translation of Benjamin Thorpe


Addendum to Danish England II: End of the Line and Toil and Trouble

Gospatric’s Writ

Gospatric’s Writ (S1243) survives in a single, inaccurate, 13th century copy (Carlisle, Cumbria Records Office, D/Lons/L Medieval Deeds C1).

Gospatric sends friendly greetings to all my wassenas and to every man, free man and dreng, dwelling in all the lands that were Cumbrian [i.e. that were previously held by Strathclyde], and to all my kindred. And I inform you that I give my consent and full permission that Thorfynn mac Thore be as free in all things that are mine in Allerdale as any man may be … And it is my will that the men dwelling with Thorfynn at Cardew and Cumdivock shall be as free, along with him, as Melmor and Thore and Sigulf were in the days of Eadred. And let no man be so bold that – with what I have given to him [?] – anywhere break the peace which [?] Earl Siward and I have granted him as freely as to any man living under the sky.…[*]

Who is this Gospatric, who was evidently governing the territory south of the Solway that had been recovered from the Strathclyde Britons? There are two favourite contenders. Earl Uhtred had been survived by three sons. Two of them, first Ealdred and then Eadwulf, succeeded him as earl – though (unlike their father, who was earl of all Northumbria) their jurisdiction was confined to the northern province. Uhtred’s third son, Gospatric, did not become earl – Earl Eadwulf was killed, in 1041, by Siward, earl of the southern province, who then became earl of all Northumbria. Siward, though, formed an alliance with Earl Uhtred’s family by marrying a daughter of Earl Ealdred. Perhaps he also entrusted Uhtred’s remaining son, Gospatric, with the government of the recovered lands. Earl Siward died in 1055. A noble Northumbrian thegn called Gospatric, who was murdered on 28th December 1064, at the court of Edward the Confessor, is commonly believed to have been Uhtred’s son. The Gospatric of the Writ could also be the nephew of the Gospatric just discussed – Earl Uhtred’s grandson, Gospatric son of Maldred, who bought the earldom of the northern province from William the Conqueror in 1067. Whichever, the important implication of Gospatric’s Writ is that Earl Siward had control of the territory that became the English county of Cumberland.[*]

Bernard Meehan suggests that the battle reported by the Annals of Ulster: “more probably took place further west, closer to the Ulster ambit.”
The title ‘earl’ comes from Scandinavian usage (Old Norse jarl). The Anglo-Saxon equivalent is ‘ealdorman’, and Ælfhelm is so titled by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle s.a. 1006. Uhtred appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle s.a. 1013 and s.a. 1016, and is titled ‘earl’ (Old English eorl). In charters both men are titled dux, a term that, like comes, is used by Latin writers in lieu of the vernacular titles.
S1380 is evidently a spurious charter, but with a witness-list that incorporates genuine elements. Ælfhelm is titled dux Transhumbranae gentis, ‘ealdorman/earl of the nation across the Humber’. And in S891, dated 997, he is Norðanhumbrensium Provinciarum dux, ‘ealdorman/earl of the Northumbrian Provinces’. It is not usual for areas of jurisdiction to be given in witness-lists, and in S881 both Ælfhelm and Waltheof are simply dux, though Ælfhelm is the senior figure, appearing 3rd in the list, whilst Waltheof is 7th and last.
The anonymous author, writing in Latin, uses the term comes in lieu of the vernacular title ‘earl’.
A.A.M. Duncan certainly believes this to be the case. In a footnote, he states, unequivocally: “Uhtred was already earl of all Northumbria (both provinces) if he led the men of both provinces against the Scots.”
Bernard Meehan suggests there may be a twofold error. Firstly, that a scribal slip-up has converted 949 (DCCCCXLIX) into 969 (DCCCCLXIX), and, secondly, that Malcolm son of Kenneth (Malcolm II) has been confused with Malcolm son of Donald (Malcolm I): “It is just possible that the scribe intended to write DCCCCXLIX (949), when King Malcolm I is recorded as having plundered the English as far as the Tees.”  Malcolm I’s raid is recorded in the Scottish Chronicle preserved in the Poppleton Manuscript. It is not absolutely dated, but placed in “the 7th year of his reign”, and the Annals of Ulster place an event dated to his 10th year in 952.
Uhtred’s marriage to Styr’s daughter is said to have been conditional on Uhtred killing Styr’s enemy, Thurbrand. What became of the daughter isn’t mentioned, but Uhtred would appear to have failed to keep his side of the bargain, since it was a Thurbrand (presumably the same man) who would eventually be the agent of Uhtred’s death (see Ironside).
The formula Symeon uses to date this siege is: Cnut died in 1035; it occurred in the 5th year of the reign of his son, Harold, which was also the 20th year of Bishop Edmund at Durham. Symeon later mentions that Edmund died during his 23rd year in the bishopric. In the Historia Regum, Edmund’s elevation to the bishopric is placed in 1020, and his death in 1042.
According to Symeon, in both the Libellus de Exordio (II, 20) and in the Historia Regum, Ealdhun became bishop in 990 – initially at Chester-le-Street, and from 995 at Durham. This information, and other material derived from the Libellus, was subsequently added to the Chronicon ex Chronicis of Florence of Worcester. The death of Bishop Ealdhun is back-referred to in an addition to the Chronicon entry s.a. 1020 (written in the lefthand margin of Oxford, Corpus Christi College MS 157) – an anecdote concerning the election of Ealdhun’s successor taken from Libellus III, 6 – but notice of the battle at Carham has not been transferred to the Chronicon.
The Annals of Ulster s.a. 1018: “The hairy star [i.e. a comet] appeared this year, during the space of a fortnight in autumn time.”
Thietmar of Merseburg (VIII, 29): “In the month of August [1018], a new star appeared next to the Plough and terrified all who saw it, with its distant rays.… This shining star was visible for more than 14 days.”  (Thietmar died on 1st December 1018.)
The circumstantial detail Symeon provides in the Libellus de Exordio – that “Cnut was ruling the kingdom of the English”, which couldn’t possibly be applicable before the death of Edmund Ironside on 30th November 1016; the, independently attested, appearance of a comet – supports the date 1018. Frank Stenton, however, writes: “Symeon states [in the Historia Regum] that the English leader was Earl Uhtred, who is known to have been killed in 1016 [well, that may not be the case]. As names are better remembered than dates, this statement outweighs any argument for 1018 founded on the chronological details given above [i.e. in the Libellus de Exordio].”  By this (unconvincing) reasoning, from what is known of Uhtred’s movements in 1016 (see Ironside), the battle of Carham could not really be later than 1015.
Mr Meehan suggests that there was a “Durham tradition of an encounter between Uhtred and Malcolm” that was “undated and imprecise”, and that in the Historia Regum it was attributed to the battle of Carham, but in the tract De Obsessione Dunelmi this same vague tradition was applied to details of a siege of Durham that took place in 1039, to produce, in effect, a phantom siege involving Uhtred and Malcolm. (See The Siege of Durham.)
In Manuscript C only there is an additional phrase, saying that the infamous ealdorman Eadric Streona had advised the killing, at this point.
“King Cnut” in Manuscript E.
“the king” in Manuscripts C and D.
Symeon’s piece on the earls of Northumbria s.a. 1072 is very similar to a section of an anonymous early-12th century Durham tract, De Primo Saxonum Adventu. In the place where Symeon defines the Tyne as the southern boundary of the northern earldom, the De Primo Saxonum Adventu version has Tees.
Earl Eric (Yrik dux) last appears in the witness list of a charter of 1023 (S960). Earl Siward (Siward dux) first appears in the witness list of a charter of 1033 (S968).
Dux is another term employed by Latin-writers in lieu of the vernacular title ‘earl’.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Florence of Worcester, who provides extra detail, report Uhtred’s death s.a. 1016 before Æthelred’s death (23rd April), but De Obsessione Dunelmi, though mentioning no dates, places it after Æthelred’s death.[*]
William F. Skene and Edward A. Freeman both accept that Uhtred was killed in 1016, and assume that it was Uhtred’s brother, Eadwulf Cudel, who was defeated at Carham in 1018.
Incidentally, the anonymous author of De Obsessione Dunelmi, like Symeon of Durham, uses the Latin comes to represent the vernacular ‘earl’.
Symeon of Durham, writing in Latin, uses the term comes in lieu of the vernacular title ‘earl’.
See The Lothian Question.
A.A.M. Duncan, though, argues that the Scots had lost control of “some or all of Lothian” in the decades since Edgar had granted it to Kenneth II: “It was recovered by the Scots in or just after 1018 when Malcolm II, hoping to take advantage of the uncertain position of Northumbria, launched an attack which met the levies of the land from Tees to Tweed under Earl Uhtred at Carham and thoroughly defeated them.”
On the other hand, Alfred P. Smyth reckons: “Malcolm’s victory at Carham can have had little bearing on the Scottish occupation of Lothian, which had been an accomplished fact for half a century, but it could have had everything to do with more ambitious Scottish claims on the overlordship of Bernicia [i.e. the northern province of Northumbria]. If we seek a reason for the slaying of Uhtred after his visit to Cnut’s court, it must surely be in part at least for his apparent disloyalty in recognizing Malcolm (after Carham) as his overlord in Bernicia.”
The section of the Historia Regum that covers this period comprises Florence of Worcester’s chronicle regurgitated, with the odd unique entry slotted in at the appropriate place. Therefore, s.a. 1016 appears the report of Uhtred’s death à la Florence, but s.a. 1018 is the unique report of Uhtred’s involvement at Carham.
In the Writ, Gospatric states: “it is my will that the men dwelling with Thorfynn at Cardew and Cumdivock shall be as free, along with him, as Melmor and Thore and Sigulf were in the days of Eadred.”  Who is this Eadred (Eadread in the text)?  A.O. Anderson muses: “a former tenant of Allerdale?” which seems a reasonable notion. Eadred is a perfectly acceptable Anglo-Saxon name, but F.W. Ragg, in 1903, suggested: “Eadread should, I think, be Ealdread, who was Earl of Northumberland after Uhtred”.  This idea seems to have gained some traction, and, were it to be correct, the implication would be that Earl Ealdred had control of the recovered territory before Siward acquired the northern province of Northumbria.
The name Thorfynn mac Thore apparently demonstrates Hiberno-Norse (i.e. having mixed Irish and Scandinavian background) immigration, being two Scandinavian names linked by the Gaelic mac - Thorfynn son of Thore.
See here for further detail.
The name Yorkshire (Eoforwicscire) first appears in the written record s.a. 1065 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Manuscripts C and D). Lancashire had no separate existence at this time. In the Domesday Book, the southern part, between the Ribble and the Mersey is included in Cheshire, whilst the north is included in Yorkshire.
The Historia Regum contains two overlapping chronicles – both cover the period 848–957. This material is s.a. 883 in Chronicle Two.
See St Cuthbert’s Journey to Durham.
In fact, no early source says where the border between Bernicia and Deira lay. Indirect evidence, however (discussed by P. Hunter Blair*), strongly indicates that the Tees formed the boundary.
* ‘The Boundary Between Bernicia and Deira’, Archaeologia Aeliana Series 4, Vol. 27 (1949), freely available online.
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
De Obsessione Dunelmi (On the Siege of Durham) was written, almost certainly at Durham, in the late-11th or early-12th century. A 16th century addition to the sole surviving, later-12th century, copy (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 139) claims the author was Symeon of Durham, but the text itself provides no reason to believe this late attribution.
‘The Siege of Durham, the Battle of Carham and the Cession of Lothian’, in The Scottish Historical Review Vol. 55.1 (1976).
The Early Charters of Northern England and the North Midlands (1975), Chapter 9 (p.146 fn.2).
‘The Dealings of the Kings of England with Northumbria in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries’, in The Anglo-Saxons: Studies in Some Aspects of Their History and Culture Presented to Bruce Dickins (1959).
‘The Battle of Carham, 1018’, in The Scottish Historical Review Vol. 55.1 (1976).
Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius, hoc est Dunhelmensis, Ecclesie (Tract on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham).
Sir Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, Third Edition (1971), Chapter 12 (p.418 fn.2).
Celtic Scotland: A History of Ancient Alban Vol. 1 (1876), Chapter 8.
The History of the Norman Conquest of England, Its Causes and Its Results Vol. 1, Third Edition, Revised (1877), Chapter 6.
Charters are referred to by their number in Sawyer’s catalogue.
Available online: The Electronic Sawyer.
Scotland: The Making of the Kingdom (1975), Chapter 4 (pp.96–98).
Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD80–1000 (1984), Chapter 7 (pp.234–237).
Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286 Vol. 2 (1922), p.37.
‘A Charter of Gospatrik’, The Ancestor No. VII (1903).
Anglo-Saxon charters are referred to by their number in Sawyer’s catalogue.
Available online: The Electronic Sawyer.