King Cnut died on 12th November 1035, at Shaftesbury, and was buried in Winchester. He had three sons. Swein, one of his sons (probably the eldest, aged about twenty-one) from an early ‘marriage’ to the English noblewoman Ælfgifu of Northampton, had recently been obliged to abandon Norway – which he had ruled for five years, with his mother as ‘power behind the throne’ – when eleven-year-old Magnus Olafsson (Magnus I ‘the Good’) had invaded the country. Swein had taken refuge with Harthacnut, Cnut’s son (aged about seventeen) by his Norman wife, Emma (also called by the English name Ælfgifu), who for some seven years had been, nominally, ruling Denmark. Cnut’s other son (probably about nineteen) by Ælfgifu of Northampton (though his enemies alleged he was not, in fact, Cnut’s son), Harold, known as Harold Harefoot, was in England.
And immediately after his [Cnut’s] decease,[*] there was a great assembly of all the witan at Oxford; and Earl Leofric and almost all the thegns north of the Thames, and the lithsmen of London, chose Harold to the regency of all England, for himself and his brother Harthacnut, who was in Denmark. —
— And Earl Godwine and all the chief men of Wessex, opposed it as long as they could, but they could not prevail aught against it. And it was then resolved that Ælfgifu [i.e. Emma], Harthacnut’s mother, should dwell at Winchester with the king her son’s housecarls, and hold all Wessex under his authority. And Earl Godwine was their most devoted man. Some men said of Harold that he was the son of King Cnut and of Ælfgifu, the daughter of Ealdorman Ælfhelm [i.e. Ælfgifu of Northampton], but it seemed very incredible to many men; and he was, nevertheless, full king over all England.”
Manuscripts C and D are more forthright than Manuscript E, stating (s.a. 1035) Harold: “said that he was the son of Cnut and Ælfgifu of Northampton, though it was not true[*]”. The anonymous author of the Encomium Emmae Reginae writes (III, 1): “Harold, who is declared, owing to a false estimation of the matter, to be a son of a certain concubine of the above-mentioned King Cnut; as a matter of fact, the assertion of very many people has it that the same Harold was secretly taken from a servant who was in childbed, and put in the chamber of the concubine, who was indisposed; and this can be believed as the more truthful account.” According to Florence of Worcester (s.a. 1035), the paternity of Ælfgifu of Northampton’s other son, Swein, was also disputed: “This Swein was said to be the son of Cnut and Ælfgifu of Northampton … some, however, asserted that he was not the son of the king and the said Ælfgifu; but that the said Ælfgifu desired to have a son by the king, and being unable, ordered the new-born child of a certain priest to be brought to her, and fully persuaded the king that she had borne him a son.… Now, Harold said that he was the son of king Cnut and Ælfgifu of Northampton, although in truth he was not; for some say that he was the son of a cobbler, and that Ælfgifu had acted in the same manner in regard to him as she had done with regard to Swein; but because the thing is doubtful, we do not know that we can state anything certain respecting the parentage of either.”
Frank Stenton* notes: “The nickname ‘Harefoot’ by which he is generally known is not recorded before the late Middle Ages, but is probably contemporary.” And W.H. Stevenson*: “This convenient nickname is not recorded until a much later period, but, as Steenstrup remarks, Normannerne, iii. 420, n.3, Copenhagen, 1882, it must have been conferred upon him in his lifetime, since he was historically too unimportant to have earned one in a later time.” The first sign of the nickname is apparently in the late-12th century Liber Eliensis (Book of Ely) Harold is described (II, 91) as: “Harold, surnamed Harefoh [or Harefah, depending on manuscript]” It is only later still that the nickname, now Harefot, is explained. The seemingly late-14th century chronicle attributed (erroneously) to John of Brompton has it that Harold preferred to travel on foot, rather than on horseback, and he received his soubriquet from his running ability. In Henry Knighton’s chronicle, evidently composed at the end of the 14th century, Harold is said to have had: “a body like a hare”. Marc Morris*, though, comments: “his colourful cognomen, Harefoot, tells us nothing, for it was not recorded until the twelfth century (as Harefah) and probably arose from confusion with the Norwegian king Harold Fairhair.” Dr Morris does not, however, explain just why an 11th century king of England, who evidently achieved nothing of note during his brief rule, would be confused with Harald Fairhair (Old Norse Haraldr Hárfagri), the fellow traditionally credited with becoming, by force of arms, at the end of the 9th century, the first king of Norway.
* Sir Frank Stenton: Anglo-Saxon England, Third Edition (1971), Chapter 12, p.421 fn.2.
W.H. Stevenson: ‘An Alleged Son of King Harold Harefoot’, fn.12 (English Historical Review Vol. 28, 1913).
Marc Morris: The Norman Conquest (2012), Chapter 2.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1009: “Brihtric, Ealdorman Eadric’s brother, accused Wulfnoth Cild [“the South Saxon”, add Manuscripts D and E] to the king [Æthelred the Unready]; and he [Wulfnoth] then went out and enticed ships to him until he had 20; and he then ravaged everywhere by the south coast, and wrought every kind of evil.” (Ealdorman Eadric is, of course, the infamous Eadric Streona, ealdorman of Mercia.[*]) An above-the-line addition to the abridged annal in Manuscript F, made to both the Old English and Latin versions, further identifies Wulfnoth as: “father of Earl Godwine”. On the other hand, Florence of Worcester does not associate this Sussex Wulfnoth with Godwine, but says (s.a. 1007) that one of Eadric Streona’s brothers was called Æthelmær, who had a son called Wulfnoth, who was the father of Earl Godwine. The generally held belief, though, is that Manuscript F is correct. The will of Athelstan, son of Æthelred the Unready (r.978–23rd April 1016) and full-brother of Edmund Ironside (r.1016; after 23rd April–30th November) who apparently died on 25th June 1014, contains the following bequest: “And I grant Godwine, Wulfnoth’s son, the estate at Compton which his father owned earlier.” The names Godwine and Wulfnoth, and the place-name Compton, are common, but it is usually supposed (1) that the Compton in question is the estate in Sussex (near Chichester) that the Domesday Book reports had been owned by Earl Godwine before the Norman Conquest, and (2) that it was confiscated from Wulfnoth Cild, by Æthelred, as a result of his escapade in 1009, and (3) that Wulfnoth Cild’s son, the future Earl Godwine, earned it back in the service of Athelstan.
In a whimsical yarn told by Walter Map, Godwine’s rise to power began when he, a cowherd’s son, organised generous hospitality for King Æthelred, who had become lost whilst hunting. Æthelred took Godwine into his service and, in due course, made him earl of Gloucester. Godwine became the scourge of Vikings: “England became, through his efforts, the fear of all neighbouring lands, she who had been their prey and plunder.” In similar vein, but lodged a little closer to reality, the Knytlinga Saga tells (§11) how Earl Ulf Thorgilsson got lost pursuing the fleeing English after the battle of Sherston (1016).[*] He came across a young man herding sheep. The young man, Godwine, agreed to guide him back to Cnut’s ships, but in the meantime took him to meet his father, a well-to-do farmer called Wulfnoth. Ulf spent the day enjoying the generous hospitality of Wulfnoth and his wife. At dusk, when Godwine and Ulf were about to depart, Wulfnoth asked Ulf, if he could, to get Godwine a place in Cnut’s service, since he would be in danger if the locals found out that he had helped a Dane to escape. Godwine and Ulf rode, on fine horses provided by Wulfnoth, to the ships overnight. It was only when they arrived that Godwine found out who his companion was. “The earl set Godwine on the high seat beside him, and treated him as equal with himself or his own son.” In due course, Ulf gave Godwine his sister, Gytha, in marriage, and, as a result of Ulf’s advocacy, Cnut made him an earl.
The Vita Ædwardi Regis says (I, 1) that Cnut, of all his newly acquired English nobles, found Godwine to be: “the most cautious in counsel and the most active in war.” Godwine accompanied Cnut on an expedition to Denmark (presumably the expedition of 1019–20[*]). Cnut was impressed by Godwine’s performance, and so appointed him to his council and gave him his sister in marriage. On their return to England, Godwine was made: “earl and office-bearer of almost all the kingdom.” Godwine’s wife, Gytha, was Cnut’s sister-in-law (Earl Ulf was married to Cnut’s sister, Estrith), not his sister. William of Malmesbury, though, claims (GR II §200) that Godwine was married twice, and that his first wife, who is not named, was Cnut’s sister. They had a son, again unnamed, who drowned when he was carried into the Thames by his horse. His mother was killed by a lightning bolt as punishment for her participation in slave-trading – exporting slaves bought in England (particularly beautiful young girls) to Denmark. William says that Godwine then “married another wife, whose descent I have not been able to trace”, and proceeds to list six sons of Godwine and Gytha as the sons of Godwine and the anonymous second wife.
William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon agree that Earl Godwine, as commander of the English contingent, acquitted himself well on campaign with Cnut in Scandinavia. William of Malmesbury, though , implies (GR II §181) it was on the occasion that the battle of the Holy River was fought (c.1026), in which Earl Ulf was one of Cnut’s opponents, and that, as a result of the sterling performance of the Englishmen, Godwine was given an earldom. Henry of Huntingdon, on the other hand, says (HA VI, 15) it was “in the third year” of Cnut’s reign, which must refer to the 1019–20 expedition – Henry tells a unique story in which Earl Godwine’s Englishmen rout the Wends (who lived on the southern Baltic coast) – but does not associate the event with Godwine’s acquisition of an earldom, or, indeed, a wife.
The, clearly acrimonious, negotiations at Oxford, between Harold’s party north of the Thames, and Harthacnut’s to the south (i.e. Wessex), are not mentioned in Manuscripts C and D of the Chronicle. Instead they report that, following Cnut’s death, Harold sent men to Emma’s residence in Winchester:
… and caused to be taken from her all the best treasures, which she could not withhold, that King Cnut had possessed; and yet she sat there within as long as she might.[*]
In Manuscript D Harold is said to have “succeeded to the kingdom”, whereas there was, in fact, no king of England – though Harold would rule overall as regent, Wessex would be held, by Emma and Godwine, on behalf of the absent Harthacnut. Apparently, Cnut’s successor in England would be decided only when Harthacnut arrived.
By the summer of 1036, Ælfgifu of Northampton had returned to England. Cnut’s daughter by Emma, Gunnhild, married Henry, the son of Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II, in June 1036. In July or August, one Immo, a priest at Conrad’s court, wrote a letter to Azeko, bishop of Worms, in which he repeats news that had just been brought by envoys from England.[*] The envoys had reported to Gunnhild that Ælfgifu – according to Immo, the envoys referred to her as Gunnhild’s “wretched and wicked stepmother” – was scheming to prevent Harthacnut, Gunnhild’s brother, succeeding to the English throne. Ælfgifu had met with leading supporters of Harthacnut, and, by pleading and bribery, tried to get them to switch their allegiance to herself and her son. She had failed to persuade the magnates to her cause, and they had sent messengers to Harthacnut, urging him to come to England.
Emma had, of course, been married to King Æthelred before her marriage to King Cnut. Her sons by Æthelred, Edward and Alfred, had spent Cnut’s reign exiled in Normandy.[*]
Edward and Alfred’s uncle (Emma’s brother) Richard the Good, duke of Normandy (Richard II), died in 1026. He was succeeded by his eldest son, another Richard (Richard III). Richard immediately faced, and overcame, a challenge by his younger brother, Robert. Soon after (in 1027), however, Richard died – possibly poisoned – and Robert became duke (Robert I ‘the Magnificent’).
Soon after the battle of the Holy River, c.1026, Cnut had Earl Ulf Thorgilsson killed. Ulf’s widow, Estrith, was Cnut’s sister. It would appear that, in an attempt to strike-up an alliance, Cnut gave Estrith to Duke Robert in marriage, but that Robert soon repudiated her.[*]
According to William of Jumièges (VI, 9), Robert was very close to Edward and Alfred (“he adopted them as brothers”), and he: “sent envoys to King Cnut demanding that, their banishment now being surely more than sufficient, he should be merciful to them and for love of him, albeit too late, restore to them their own. Cnut, however, rejected these salutary admonitions and sent the envoys back empty-handed.” Robert was furious. He assembled an invasion fleet at Fécamp. The fleet set sail, but was blown off course – fetching up on the island of Jersey. Continuing adverse weather conditions prevented the fleet crossing to England, so Robert abandoned the invasion and returned to the mainland. In due course (VI, 11), however, Cnut sent envoys to Robert: “announcing that the king was ready to restore half the English kingdom to the sons of Æthelred, and establish peace for his lifetime, because he was gravely ill. Therefore the duke, having already postponed his naval expedition, broke off that enterprise until he should have first returned from Jerusalem which he had long had a burning desire to visit.” Leaving his illegitimate only son, seven-year-old William, as regent, Robert departed for Jerusalem. He died at Nicaea during the return journey, in July 1035, and William the Bastard became duke of Normandy.
In about 1015 Olaf Haraldsson, known as Olaf the Stout (father of Magnus the Good), wrested Norway from Danish suzerainty, and established himself as king of Norway (Olaf II; St Olaf). The chronology indicated by Snorri Sturluson, in the ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’, though, places this in 1019. At any rate, Snorri claims (Chapter 27) that, before he became king, Olaf met-up with Edward and Alfred in Normandy, early in Cnut’s reign. Olaf and the brothers hatched a plan to retake England – Olaf was to get Northumbria as his reward. They landed in England (Chapter 28), and captured a stronghold called Jungufurða. It soon became apparent to Æthelred’s sons, however, that they were vastly outnumbered by Cnut’s forces, so they decided to return to Normandy. Olaf carried on to Northumbria, where he plundered Valdi, another unidentified site. From there he crossed to Norway – securing the kingdom the following year.
The Norman chronicler William of Jumièges reports (VII, 5) that when Edward got news of the “long-awaited death” of Cnut, he:
… set sail as soon as possible with 40 ships filled with armed men and crossed the sea to land at Southampton where he met a great host of English gathered against him. He at once engaged them and slew a large number. Although the victor, he withdrew to the ships with his men, for he saw that he could not obtain the English kingdom without a larger force, and putting the fleet about he returned to Normandy with rich booty.
“Meanwhile”, says William (VII, 6), Alfred, “with a considerable force”, went to the port of Wissant, from where he crossed the Channel to Dover. Though Edward’s expedition to England was not recorded by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, that of his, apparently younger, brother, Alfred, was. Manuscript C, s.a. 1036:
In this year the innocent ætheling Alfred, son of King Æthelred, came hither, and would go to his mother, who sat in Winchester; but Earl Godwine would not permit that, nor other men also who could exercise much power; because the public voice was then greatly in favour of Harold, though it was unjust. [The remainder of the annal is in verse] But Godwine then impeded him, and in captivity set him, and his companions he dispersed; and diversely some slew; some they for money sold, some cruelly killed, some they bound, some they blinded, some mutilated, some scalped. No bloodier deed was done in this country since the Danes came, and here made peace. Now is our trust in the beloved God, that they possess bliss joyfully with Christ, who were without guilt so miserably slain. The ætheling yet lived, every evil they vowed him, until it was resolved that he should be led to Ely, thus bound. As soon as he was near the land, in the ship they blinded him; and him thus blind brought to the monks; and he there abode the while that he lived. After that, he was buried, as to him was befitting, full honourably, as he was worthy, at the west end, to the steeple full nigh, in the south porch. His soul is with Christ.
It would appear that Alfred’s ill-fated expedition to England was made late in 1036, since an Ely calendar (Trinity College Cambridge MS O.2.1) dates his death the 5th of February (1037, presumably).
The Encomium Emmae Reginae provides an extraordinary account of the events culminating in Alfred’s death. The Encomiast says (III, 2) 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. (III, 3)
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 Edward’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 (1035–67), 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. (III, 4)
After Alfred’s soldiers had retired for the night, “men leagued with the most abominable tyrant Harold” (III, 5) 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. (III, 6)
It would seem that, despite what the Encomiast says, the intention was to maim Alfred, not kill him. William of Poitiers – whose account of both Edward’s brief expedition to England and Alfred’s fatal one is for the most part similar to William of Jumièges’ – says that Harold wanted Alfred’s suffering to scare Edward, but that Alfred did not live long after his eyes were put out because the point of the knife used for the job had wounded his brain. William of Poitiers has Alfred blinded and his companions beheaded in front of Harold, in London, and Alfred then sent to Ely “in shameful nakedness on a horse … with his feet tied beneath the horse”. The remainder of Alfred’s force are either imprisoned or killed by disembowelling. On the subject of disembowelling! In the tale told by Geffrei Gaimar, Godwine, on his own account (Gaimar’s story is erroneously set after the deaths of both Harold and Harthacnut), intercepted Alfred at Guildford. Godwine’s men beheaded nine out of ten of Alfred’s Norman force:
Then they took Alfred,
They carried him to Ely.
There they put out his eyes.
Round a stake they had him tied,
His great intestine they drew out
With spikes, which they had made,
There they had him tied thus
To draw out his bowel,
So that he could no more stand on his feet.
His soul fled, and they rejoiced
That they had murdered him thus.
For love of Godwine they did this.
Estoire des Engleis 4831–4842
Both William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon also date Alfred’s demise incorrectly. William of Malmesbury (GR II §188) puts it soon after Harold’s death, in 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 was subsequently sent to Ely, where he died a short time later. (William concludes his brief report: “I have mentioned these circumstances because such is the report; but as the Chronicles are silent, I do not assert them for fact.” Clearly the version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle used by William was akin to Manuscript E.) Henry of Huntingdon (HA VI, 20) shifts the date to 1042, after Harthacnut’s death. 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: “only a very few escaped.” Alfred was taken to Ely, his eyes were put out, and he died. Blame for the whole thing is placed firmly with Godwine: “a mighty earl and a ruthless traitor”. Both William and Henry believed that Alfred was older than Edward – Henry claiming that Edward was: “Alfred’s younger and more simple brother.” Gaimar and the Encomiast (a contemporary of the events, but not an unimpeachable source) say that Edward was the elder. 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.
Of course, it is possible that Harold sent the letter quoted by the Encomiast to Edward and Alfred; but it is also possible that Emma sent the letter herself. It does seem likely that Emma encouraged Edward and Alfred to return to England – after all, support for the absent Harthacnut was waning, and her own position was under threat. The general consensus, though, 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 pussyfoots around Godwine’s involvement in the affair, which, given that the earl was the most powerful magnate in England when the Encomium was written, is perhaps not surprising. Godwine, of course, had risen to power under a Danish king. He would not have relished the prospect of a return of the old Anglo-Saxon line, and, in the absence of Harthacnut, Harold was to be preferred over Æthelred’s sons.
In this year Harold was chosen over all for king, and Harthacnut rejected, because he was too long in Denmark. And then they drove out his [Harthacnut’s] mother Ælfgifu [i.e. Emma] the queen, without any mercy, against the stormy winter; and she came then to Bruges beyond sea, and Earl Baldwin [i.e. Count Baldwin of Flanders] there well received her, and kept her there while she had need.[*]
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C and D
In the Encomium Emmae Reginae (III, 7–8), Emma was not driven out, but made a “decision” to go into exile. Once settled comfortably in Bruges, Emma, says the Encomiast, sent for her son, Edward. He came to her, but, though having sympathy for her situation, said he was unable to help her “since the English nobles had sworn no oath to him”. Having suggested that she should seek help from “his brother”, i.e. Harthacnut, Edward returned to Normandy. Emma sent messengers to Harthacnut, informing him of Alfred’s murder, and begging him to come to her as soon as possible:
The horror of so great a crime made his ears tremble … he burned in his heart to go and avenge his brother’s injuries, nay more, to obey his mother’s message.
Encomium Emmae Reginae III, 8
And in this year also came Harthacnut to Bruges, where his mother was.[*]
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript C
In this year King Harold died.
In this year King Harold died at Oxford, on the 16th of the Kalends of April [i.e. 17th March], and he was buried at Westminster.[*] And he ruled England 4 years and 16 weeks.[*] And in his days, to 16 ships 8 marks were paid for every rower, as had been done in King Cnut’s days.
Then was Harthacnut sent after at Bruges; it was imagined to be well done. And he then came hither with 60 ships before midsummer, and imposed a very heavy tax, so that it was borne with difficulty; that was 8 marks for each rower [“and 12 marks to every helmsman”, adds Florence of Worcester].
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C and D
And in this same year King Harthacnut came to Sandwich, 7 nights before Midsummer [i.e. 17th June]. And he was immediately received both by English and by Danes; though his counsellors afterwards cruelly requited it, when they decreed that to 62 ships should be paid, for each rower, 8 marks. And in this same year the sester of wheat went to 55 pence, and even further.
And then was everyone unfriendly to him [i.e. to Harthacnut] who had before desired him; nor did he perform aught kingly while he reigned. He caused the dead Harold to be dragged up, and had him cast into a fen.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C and D
Florence of Worcester tells how Archbishop Ælfric, “and certain others”, accused Earl Godwine and Lyfing, bishop of Worcester, of being responsible for Alfred’s death. An irate Harthacnut deprived Lyfing of his bishopric (giving it to Ælfric). The next year, he reinstated Lyfing, “who had appeased him” (financially of course). Godwine appeased him with the gift of a magnificently equipped warship[*]:
And besides this, in company with nearly all the chief men and thegns in England, he [Godwine] made oath to the king that it was not by his counsel or desire that the king’s brother had been deprived of his eyes, but that he had only obeyed the commands of King Harold his master.
In this year the army-tax was paid; that was 21 thousand and 99 pounds. And after that, there were paid to 32 ships, 11 thousand and 48 pounds.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript E
In this year Harthacnut caused all Worcestershire to be ravaged, for the sake of his two housecarls, who demanded the heavy tax; when the people slew them within the town, in the minster.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C and D
Florence of Worcester provides more detail:
… [Harthacnut] sent his housecarls over all the kingdom to collect the tax which he had imposed. But the citizens of Worcester and the Worcestershire men rose in rebellion, and on Monday, the 4th of the Nones of May [i.e. the 4th of May], slew two of them, named Feader and Thurstan, who had hidden themselves under the roof of one of the towers of the monastery of that city.
Furious, Harthacnut despatched every earl in England, and most of his housecarls, to Worcester:
… with orders to slay all the inhabitants if they could, to plunder and burn the city, and lay waste the country round about.[*] On the 2nd of the Ides of November [the 12th of November] they began to lay waste the city and province, and continued for 4 days …
Most of the locals, however, had fled the area. Some had fortified Bevere Island, in the Severn, where they defended themselves until the crisis was over, at which point they were allowed to resume their lives in peace.
On the fifth day, the city having been burnt, everyone went home with great booty, and then the king’s anger was appeased.
Still in 1041:
And in this year, shortly after, came his [Harthacnut’s] maternal brother Edward, the son of King Æthelred, from beyond sea, who before, for many years, had been driven from his country; and yet was sworn in as king; and he then dwelt so in his brother’s family while he lived.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C and D
At length, Edward son of King Æthelred, was recalled, through the intervention of Bishop Ælfwine of Winchester and Earl Godwine; the thegns of all England gathered together at Hursteshevet, and there it was heard that he would be received as king only if he guarantee to them upon oath that the laws of Cnut and his sons should continue in his time with unshaken firmness.
Edward’s return to England is the final event mentioned in the Encomium Emmae Reginae. Not surprisingly, the Encomiast makes no mention of the misery of Harthacnut’s reign:
… he arranged all his affairs in the calm of peace, and being gripped by brotherly love, sent messengers to Edward and asked him to come and hold the kingdom together with himself. Obeying his brother’s command, he was conveyed to England, and the mother and both sons, having no disagreement between them, enjoy the ready amenities of the kingdom.
Encomium Emmae Reginae III, 13–14
Why would Harthacnut and the English magnates think it was a good idea to recall Edward and involve him in the government? Well, it seems unlikely that Harthacnut was simply “gripped” by love for a half-brother he had never met. William of Poitiers says (I, 5) that he was frequently ill, which made him very conscious of his mortality – in other words, Harthacnut was expected to die before too long. This notion is not substantiated by English sources, and could easily be retrospective surmise on William’s part, but the fact remains that, in 1041, Edward would appear to have been put in place as, the childless, Harthacnut’s heir.
Returning to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
And also in this year [i.e. 1041] Harthacnut betrayed Earl Eadwulf while under his safeguard; and he was then a pledge-breaker.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C and D
Eadwulf, a son of Earl Uhtred, governed northern Northumbria (bounded by the Tees and the Tweed) from Bamburgh[*]. Symeon of Durham notes that:
… when he [Eadwulf] had gone to be reconciled in friendship with Harthacnut, he was put to death by Siward, who then himself held the whole province of the Northumbrians; that is, of the district from the Humber to the Tweed.[*]
In this year died Harthacnut, as he stood at his drink; and he suddenly fell to the earth with a terrible struggle, and then they who were nigh took hold of him, and he afterwards spoke not a word; and he died on the 6th of the Ides of June [8th of June]. —
In this year died King Harthacnut at Lambeth, on the 6th of the Ides of June. And he was king over all England two years less 10 nights; and he is buried in the Old Minster at Winchester with King Cnut his father. —
— And all the people then received Edward for king, as was his natural right.[*]
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C and D
— And before he [Harthacnut] was buried all the people chose Edward for king in London [“chiefly by the exertions of Earl Godwine and Lyfing, bishop of Worcester”, adds Florence of Worcester]. May he hold it while God shall grant it him![*]
Witan: the king’s advisory council, composed of important secular and ecclesiastical personages.
Lithsmen (liðsmen): Shipmen, men of the fleet.
Housecarls (Old English huscarl, from Old Norse húskarl, literally ‘house-man’) were the household troops of the king or an earl.
Alistair Campbell* writes: “‘full king’, a phrase which regularly implies kingly power without perfect constitutional standing.”
* Encomium Emmae Reginae (1949), Introduction.
In fact, Manuscript E (also its abridged bilingual relative, Manuscript F) places Cnut’s death, which occurred in 1035 (on 12th November, not recorded by E and F), s.a. 1036 – there being no entry s.a. 1035.
“Ælfgifu of Northampton” in Manuscript D.
“the other Ælfgifu” in Manuscript C.
The Scandinavian title ‘earl’ (Old Norse jarl; Old English eorl) superseded the Anglo-Saxon title ‘ealdorman’ during Cnut’s reign (1016–1035). In the witness-lists of Latin charters both vernacular titles are conventionally represented by the term dux.
Ealdorman Leofwine first appears in witness-lists in 994. A charter of 997 (S891) identifies him as being, at that time, ealdorman of the Hwicce (Leofwine Wicciarum Prouinciarum dux) – a region of Mercia corresponding, roughly, to Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and western Warwickshire. The charter record suggests that he died in 1023.
The Old English cild equates to ‘child’ in modern English, but it is also used as an epithet that apparently denotes high status.
The Knytlinga Saga (§10) presents the battle of Sherston, which was actually a bloody stalemate, as a resounding victory for Cnut’s army.
Highlighted phrase in Manuscript C only.
Immo mentions that Gunnhild had recently been ill, but, “thanks be to God”, she was now much better. She died on 18th July 1038. Henry was Holy Roman Emperor 1046-56 (Henry III).
Rodulfus Glaber (IV, 6) is clear that Duke Robert married a sister (unnamed) of King Cnut, but he hated her and divorced her.
Adam of Bremen avers (II, 52) that it was Robert’s father, Richard, to whom Cnut gave his sister (here called Margaret) “by way of alliance”. After Richard repudiated her Cnut gave her to Earl Ulf, and Richard, fearing Cnut’s revenge, fled to Jerusalem and died. Actually, it was Robert, not his father, who went to Jerusalem and died.
Given the time of Ulf’s death (c.1026), Estrith can hardly have married him after she had parted company with Duke Robert – according to the Knytlinga Saga (§11) Estrith was already married to Ulf when Cnut invaded England (1015).
In a scholium (40), Adam of Bremen states that Cnut gave Estrith (here called Estrith, not Margaret): “in marriage to the son of the king of Russia.” Presumably this was after she and Robert divorced.
A note added after the original text was written.
Margaret was probably Estrith’s baptismal name. In another scholium (38), Adam notes that Cnut: “Having put away his pagan name … received the name Lambert in baptism.”
The Latin term clito is equivalent to the Old English æþeling, i.e. ‘ætheling’ – meaning a male of royal blood who is considered to be eligible for the throne.
In the Introduction to his 1949 edition of the Encomium, Alistair Campbell writes: “A final word must be said on the Encomiast’s curious story about the forged letter. It is obviously not to be taken seriously.” In his Introduction to the 1998 reprint of the same work, Simon Keynes concludes: “it is the way the letter, so phrased, serves the particular purposes of the Encomiast, as opposed to the nefarious purposes of Harold or the political purposes of Emma, that recommends the presumption that the whole story is a glorious fabrication.”
Highlighted phrase in Manuscript C only.
Immediately prior to its notice of Harthacnut’s journey to Bruges, Manuscript C reports that: “the Welsh slew Edwin, the brother of Earl Leofric, and Thorkell, and Ælfgeat, and very many good men with them.” The Welsh in question were the forces of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn (who had just seized the throne of Gwynedd).
See A Tale of Two Gruffudds.
Manuscript E did not have an entry for 1039, but the chronicler failed to leave the annal blank, and placed this material, actually pertaining to 1040, s.a. 1039. Manuscript E is now running one year behind the true date.
Harold’s rule is reckoned to have started about a fortnight after Cnut’s death.
Incidentally, Harold’s mother, Ælfgifu of Northampton, simply disappears from history. What became of her is unknown.
This is the first appearance of Westminster in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Incidentally, Florence of Worcester, who didn’t know the date of Harold’s death, places Harold’s death in London, but he presumably just assumed this from the place of his burial. In a charter (S1467) reference is made to Harold being “in Oxford, so very sick that he lay in despair of his life”.
Elsewhere (GP III §115), William of Malmesbury says that Archbishop Ælfric “is loathed” because he had instigated the desecration of Harold’s body.
But Godwine, in order to purchase the king’s friendship, gave him an exquisitely wrought galley, with a gilded prow, well fitted with all warlike stores, and manned with eighty chosen soldiers, splendidly armed. Every one had on each arm a golden bracelet, weighing sixteen ounces, and wore a triple coat of mail and a helmet partly gilt, and a sword with gilded hilt girt to his side, having a Danish battle-axe adorned with silver and gold hanging from his left shoulder; whilst in his left hand he held a shield, the nails and boss whereof were also gilded, and in the right hand a lance, in the English tongue called ategar.
Florence of Worcester s.a. 1040
Florence notes that, at this time, Ælfric was still holding the bishopric of Worcester. William of Malmesbury indicates (GP III §115) that Ælfric had not been made welcome in Worcester, and consequently it was he who: “instigated Harthacnut to burn down the city and plunder the inhabitants, because of their obstinacy in standing up to the king’s tax-gatherers.”
Highlighted phrase in Manuscript C.
Manuscript D: “then chose Edward and received him for king”.
Manuscript E continues: “And all that year it was very sad in many and various things, both in tempests and in earth-fruits [i.e. crops]. And so much cattle perished in this year as no man before remembered, both through various diseases and through bad weather.”
The Encomiast, a master in the art of being economical with the truth, who was intent on airbrushing Æthelred out of Emma’s history, refers (II, 18) to Edward and Alfred in such a way that, if the reader did not know any better, it could be assumed that the boys were born to Cnut and Emma after Harthacnut, and that their parents had sent them to Normandy to be educated!
This quote appears in a digression on the earls of Northumbria, HRs.a. 1072.
William of Malmesbury (GR III §253): “Siward, a most celebrated earl, whom by a Danish term they called Digera, which implies Strong.” Henry of Huntingdon avers (HA VI, 22) that Siward: “the mighty earl of Northumbria [was] almost a giant in stature, very strong mentally and physically”. (Incidentally, whilst William uses the Latin comes in lieu of ‘earl’, as is conventional, Henry prefers to use consul.)
The formula Symeon uses to date the siege is: Cnut died in 1035; the siege 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.
It is evident (see King of All Britain) that, by 927, the Strathclyde Britons had extended their territories south of the Solway Firth, to the river Eamont (just below Penrith), which is on the border of the traditional English counties of Cumberland (to the north) and Westmorland. In 1974, Cumberland and Westmorland (with a part of Lancashire) were merged to form the new county of Cumbria. Originally, though, ‘Cumbria’ was synonymous with ‘the kingdom of Strathclyde’. Whilst the name Strathclyde, i.e. ‘Valley of the Clyde’, is geographically derived, the name Cumbria (and Cumberland) is derived from the ethnicity of its people. It comes from the Britons’ own name for themselves – in modern Welsh, Wales is Cymru (pronounced: Cum-ri), and the Welsh are Cymry (also pronounced: Cum-ri) – and simply means ‘Land of the Britons’.
Florence, a Latin-writer, here uses dux in lieu of ‘ealdorman’.
The Latin title dux later found its way directly into English usage, via the French duc, to become ‘duke’. (King Edward III made the Black Prince the first English duke, the duke of Cornwall, in 1337.) Just as ‘earl’ superseded ‘ealdorman’, so comes tends (there are, of course, exceptions) to supersede dux in Latin chronicles. The Latin comes is the source of the French title comte, Anglicized as ‘count’, a title that was not adopted in England (though ‘countess’ was – in the British peerage, an earl’s wife is a countess).
It is nowhere recorded when Siward married Ealdred’s daughter. It is possible they were already married by 1041. However, the couple had only one recorded child – a son, called Waltheof, who, maintains Henry of Huntingdon (HA VI, 24), “was still a small boy” at the time of Siward’s death (1055). This would suggest that the marriage took place after Siward had eliminated Earl Eadwulf and acquired northern Northumbria. (It might be suspected that Henry of Huntingdon was simply guessing, but by 1066 Waltheof evidently held an earldom that included Huntingdonshire, so this detail may well have been local knowledge.)
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla – a collection of sagas chronicling the kings of Norway, written in Old Norse – was composed about 1230.
Walter Map’s De Nugis Curialium (Courtiers’ Trifles) – an entertaining collection of gossip and anecdotes – was written, piecemeal, between about 1181 and 1192.
Mid-13th century, Icelandic. Possibly written by Olaf Thordsson, ‘the White Poet’, nephew of the famous Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson.
Vita Ædwardi Regis qui apud Westmonasterium requiescit (Life of King Edward who rests at Westminster). Commissioned by Queen Edith (daughter of Earl Godwine, wife of King Edward the Confessor), who died in 1075, and seemingly written during the period 1065–7. Like the Encomium Emmae Reginae, the anonymous author was probably a monk from the monastery of Saint-Bertin, at Saint-Omer in Flanders (now France), working in England. The sole surviving manuscript (BL Harley 526), of c.1100, is incomplete – it would appear that eight pages are missing.
Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the Kings of England).
Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon, first produced his Historia Anglorum (History of the English) about 1130. He later revisited the work – revising and extending – several times. The final version concludes with the accession of Henry II in 1154.
The Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church) was written between 1072 and 1076, though Adam continued to revise it until his death c.1081.
Burgundian monk Rodulfus Glaber (the Bald) wrote his Historiarum Libri Quinque (Five Books of Histories) during the period c.1030–c.1046.
William, a monk of Jumièges Abbey, completed the Gesta Normannorum Ducum (Deeds of the Dukes of the Normans) c.1070–1. He dedicated it to the 7th duke, the illegitimate son of Robert the Magnificent, William I, sometimes called William the Bastard, but best known as William the Conqueror.
Anglo-Norman chronicler Geffrei Gaimar wrote his Estoire des Engleis (History of the English), for a Lincolnshire patroness, round-about 1140. It is the earliest known historical work to have been written in the French language, and is in verse (actually, octosyllabic rhymed couplets). In fact, the Estoire des Engleis is the latter part of a longer work, but the earlier part has not survived. The existing work covers the period from the arrival in Britain of Cerdic (495) to the death of William Rufus (1100). Up to 959, it is based on a lost version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.