Trials and Tribulations

Manuscript D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that, in 1077:

… King Malcolm [Malcolm Canmore, king of Scotland] captured the mother of Mælslæhtan [almost a line is left blank at this point in the manuscript] and all his best men, and all his treasure, and his cattle; and he himself escaped with difficulty. —
— [there are six blank lines in Manuscript D at this point] And in this year was the dry summer, and wildfire came in many shires, and burned many villages; and also many towns were burnt.

Manuscript E of the Chronicle (which makes no mention of the Scottish business) says:

And in this year [1077] London was burnt, one night before the Assumption of St Mary [i.e. on the 14th of August], so extensively as it never was before since it was founded.

Manuscript E had begun its entry for 1077 by noting, rather ominously, that the peace agreed between King William I (the Conqueror) of England, and King Philip I of France: “lasted but a little while.”  Florence of Worcester (s.a. 1077) provides the reason:

Robert, the eldest son of the king, (because he was not permitted to possess Normandy, which had been assigned to him, in the presence of Philip, king of the French, before the arrival of William in England), went to France, and, with the assistance of Philip, committed great and frequent ravages in Normandy; he burned the towns, put to death the people, and gave his father no little annoyance and anxiety.

King William’s eldest son, Robert Curthose, had been present, with his parents and younger brother, William Rufus, at the dedication of St Stephen’s, Caen,[*] which was on 13th September 1077 – so his rebellion began after this date. He went to Flanders, but, his uncle, Count Robert I (Robert the Frisian), apparently didn’t want to provide him with any military backing, since, according to Orderic Vitalis (HE V: ii, 381), he then embarked on a vague walkabout, telling his grievances to any nobleman who would listen. Eventually,[*] he enlisted King Philip’s aid. Philip provided him with the castle of Gerberoy, near Beauvais, from which to mount his raids on Normandy. Obviously, King William was not going to let this situation continue, so he laid siege to the castle.

… King William fought against his son Robert outside Normandy, near a castle called Gerberoy; and the king William was there wounded …
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript E
… Robert fought against his father, and wounded him in the hand; and his [i.e. King William’s] horse was shot under him, and he who brought another [horse] to him was straightways shot with a cross-bow: that was Tokig son of Wigod.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript D
And his [the king’s] son William [William Rufus] too was there wounded, and many men were slain.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript E
And many were there slain, and also taken …
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript D
… and Robert went again to Flanders. We will, however, write down no more injury which he [did] his father ---[*]
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript D

A reconciliation between the king and his son was negotiated, and at Easter (12th April) 1080 Robert was in attendance at his father’s court.[*] After 14th July, King William sailed back to England.[*]

Returning to 1079, Manuscript E of the Chronicle reports[*]:

In this year Malcolm king of Scotland came into England, betwixt the two St Mary masses [15th August and 8th September], with a large force, and harried Northumberland until he came to the Tyne, and slew many hundred men, and carried home much money and treasure and men in captivity.[*]

Since Earl Waltheof’s spectacular fall from grace (he was executed in 1076), Walcher, bishop of Durham, had been in charge of Waltheof’s erstwhile north-Northumbrian (beyond the Tees) earldom. In his tract on the Church of Durham (LDE), Symeon of Durham writes:

Of truth, he [Walcher] was a man worthily beloved by all for the honesty of his life and the sobriety and gentleness of his disposition; but yet he displeased the natives by permitting his followers unrestrainedly to do whatever they pleased, nor did he curb them when they even acted wrongfully. And further, his archdeacon [who is not named, but it would seem that he was also Walcher’s chaplain, who was called Leobwine] swept away from the church many of its ornaments, and much of its money, and distributed them amongst his own friends and relations. And again, his knights carried themselves with excessive insolence towards the people, frequently plundered them by force, and they even killed some of the more influential of them. These ill-deeds of theirs the bishop neglected to punish; nor did he restrain them by the authority of his episcopal office …

Anyway, the whole entry for 1080 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports [*]:

In this year Bishop Walcher was slain in Durham, at a meeting, and a hundred men with him, French and Flemish. He himself was born in Lotharingia [he was a secular clerk from the church of Liège]. This the Northumbrians did in the month of May.

Florence of Worcester provides detail. He says that Walcher’s killing was carried out:

… in revenge for the murder of Ligulf, a thegn of noble birth. This man held many possessions by hereditary right throughout England; but because in all parts of the land the Normans were at that time continually giving vent to their ferocity, he withdrew himself with all his people to Durham, by reason of the sincere affection which he bore to the holy Cuthbert … under whose protection he had lived for a long time, sometimes in the town, sometimes on the possessions which he held in those districts. —
— The arrival of this person was not unpleasing to bishop Walcher, who was greatly devoted to the same saint [i.e. Cuthbert] in all things. For this reason he became so much beloved by the bishop, that he [Walcher] would not transact or arrange the weightier matters of his secular business without his [Ligulf’s] advice. Wherefore his [Walcher’s] chaplain, Leobwine, whom he had so much exalted that scarcely anything was moved in the bishopric or in the county without his consent, goaded on by envy, and puffed up with excess of pride by reason of his own power, arrogantly opposed himself to the aforesaid Ligulf, treating as if they were worthless his judgements and counsels, and by every means striving to bring them to nothing. Frequently, also, arguing with him in the presence of the bishop, not without threats, did he provoke him to anger by opprobrious words.
Florence of Worcester s.a. 1080

Walcher had delegated the administration of the earldom to his relative, Gilbert. After a particularly fierce argument with Ligulf, Leobwine sought out Gilbert, who perhaps was also jealous of Ligulf, since he readily agreed to Leobwine’s request that Ligulf be put to death.

Gilbert … having collected the knights of the bishop and of Leobwine himself, set out one night for the town where Ligulf then lived, and wickedly slew him in his own house with nearly all his household.
Florence of Worcester s.a. 1080

When he heard of the killings, Bishop Walcher realized that there could be terrible consequences. He took to his castle, and sent messengers throughout his earldom, saying that:

… so far from being privy to the death of Ligulf, he had outlawed from Northumbria his murderer, Gilbert, and all his companions, and was prepared to purge himself according to the pope’s judgement. Then the bishop and the relatives of the deceased (after having sent messengers to and fro, and a truce being mutually given and accepted) appointed a place and day on which to meet and conclude a firm peace with each other.
Florence of Worcester s.a. 1080

On the 14th of May, at Gateshead, the meeting took place. Rather than hold discussions in the open air, surrounded by the crowd – who had “banded together for an evil purpose”, says Symeon of Durham (LDE III, 24) – Walcher and his advisers (“his clergy and the more honourable of his knights”, says Florence of Worcester) ensconced themselves inside a church.

According to Florence, Walcher conducted his negotiations at arms length – communicating with the people outside via chosen followers. Symeon’s LDE version of events has it that Walcher “summoned the chief men from among the people” to meet with him in the church. Anyway, Florence says Walcher failed to convince the mob outdoors that he had not ordered Ligulf’s death:

Wherefore they at first put to death all those of the bishop’s party who were found out of doors, a few saving themselves by flight. Seeing this, in order to satisfy the fury of his enemies, the bishop ordered the aforesaid Gilbert, his kinsman, whose life they were seeking, to go out of the church.[*] The knights followed on his footsteps as he went out, to defend him; but forthwith they were attacked upon all sides by the enemy with sword and spear, and in a moment destroyed, only two English thegns being spared by reason of consanguinity. Leofwine, the dean of Durham, because he had often given much assistance to the bishop against them, and the other clergy, they slew as soon as they came forth. But the bishop, when he saw that their fury could not be mitigated by any means short of the death of the chief author of all the calamity, Leobwine, requested him to go forth; being entirely unable to prevail upon him, he proceeded himself to the gates of the church, and begged that his own life might be spared. This being refused, he covered his head with the border of his robe, went forth, and soon perished by the swords of his enemies. Then they commanded Leobwine to come forth, and when he refused, they set fire to the walls and roof of the church. But he, choosing rather to end his life by fire than sword, bore the flames for some time. At length, half burnt, he leaped from the building, and having been dashed in pieces he died a wretched death, paying the penalty of his wickedness.
Florence of Worcester s.a. 1080

Now, in the LDE account, the implication is that the “people” never had any intention of a negotiated settlement with the bishop – in effect, the Gateshead meeting was a trap. The “chief men”, whom Walcher had summoned into his presence for discussions, left the bishop “and a very few of his followers” inside the church, whilst they exited “as if for the purpose of deliberation”.

Shortly after this, the riotous crowd raised a shout, and then all on the sudden the work of death was begun, without the least regard being paid to humanity.
Symeon of Durham LDE III, 24

The bishop’s men outside were killed, and the church was torched. The bishop’s followers (none being named) were killed as they fled from the flames. Finally, the bishop was left alone in the burning building.

Unable any longer to endure the cruel intensity of the raging flames, he recommended his soul in prayer to God, and going towards the door, he made the sign of the cross with his fingers; and having covered his eyes and head with the mantle in which he was at that time robed, he was pierced through, upon the very threshold, alas! alas! with lances; and even his dead body was stricken with numerous wounds, for such was their brutal ferocity, that not even his death could satisfy them.
Symeon of Durham LDE III, 24

Walcher’s body was so badly mutilated that the monks of Jarrow had difficulty recognizing it when they collected it, and then transported it, via Jarrow, to Durham:

… where it was interred with a funeral less honourable than became a bishop; for, immediately after this abominable slaughter, his murderers had come thither [to Durham], and were raging up and down the city, intending to storm the castle, and put to death such of the bishop’s retainers as still survived. But they [the bishop’s retainers] defended themselves manfully, and the assailants, worn out with their ineffectual efforts, and having lost some of their number, raised the siege upon the fourth day, and departed in various directions; and all those persons, whom the murder of the bishop had made objects of detestation both to God and man, either died by some kind of violent death, or, abandoning their homes and property, wandered in exile in foreign lands.
Symeon of Durham LDE III, 24


Previously (LDE III, 23), Symeon had told a tale in which, before Walcher’s killing, one Eadwulf, from the village of Ravensworth (“no great distance from Durham”), awoke from the dead and related how he had seen “the eternal torments of hell” being prepared for, “the originator of the bishop’s murder”, a certain Waltheof: “There is waiting for him an iron chair, glowing with eternal fire; the crackling sparks which fly off from it on all sides are thrown out from inextinguishable flames. On each side of it there are standing terrible attendants – I mean evil spirits – holding chains of iron; and ere long they will place Waltheof on that seat, and bind the miserable wretch down upon it with fetters, which cannot be broken, of fire unquenchable.”  After Walcher’s death, Waltheof “was himself slain by his wife’s brother, and so passed to the pains of hell”.
However, in HR (during a lengthy digression on the earls of Northumbria s.a. 1072), Symeon maintains that the agent of Walcher’s death was Eadwulf Rus: “he is said to have killed him with his own hand; but he was himself afterwards slain by a woman, and was buried in the church of Jedburgh”.  Symeon identifies Eadwulf Rus as the grandson of Gospatric, son of Uhtred, erstwhile earl of the whole of Northumbria.[*] (Symeon’s piece on the earls of Northumbria s.a. 1072 is similar to a section of an anonymous early-12th century Durham tract, De Primo Saxonum Adventu, and in this latter text Eadwulf, though without the surname Rus, is said to have been responsible for the bishop’s death, but he is Gospatric’s son, not his grandson.)
In retaliation for this horrible murder, King William the same year ravaged Northumbria [i.e. north of the Tees]; sending thither Odo, bishop of Bayeux, with a large military force.
Symeon of Durham HR s.a. 1080[*]
… Odo, bishop of Bayeux, who was second only to the king, and many of the chief nobles of the kingdom, came to Durham, with a large body of troops, and, in revenging the bishop’s death, they reduced nearly the whole land into a wilderness. The miserable inhabitants who, trusting in their innocence, had remained in their homes, were either beheaded as criminals, or mutilated by the loss of some of their members. False accusations were brought against some of them, in order that they might purchase their safety and their life by money. Moreover, the aforesaid bishop [i.e. Odo] had removed some of the ornaments of the church, one of which was a pastoral staff, of marvellous material and workmanship, for it was made of sapphire; and this, having been deposited in the castle, which was made a garrison for the troops, speedily vanished.
Symeon of Durham LDE III, 24
In the autumn of this year, the same King William sent his son Robert to Scotland against Malcolm; but having gone as far as Egglesbreth [Falkirk] he returned without accomplishing anything, and built a new castle on the river Tyne [i.e. Newcastle].
Symeon of Durham HR s.a. 1080[*]

Walcher was replaced, as bishop, by William, abbot of St Vincent’s, Le Mans. Walcher’s earldom, however, passed to one Aubrey (identified as Aubrey de Coucy), though, in his digression on the earls of Northumbria, HR s.a. 1072, Symeon of Durham comments that Aubrey: “being of very little use in difficult affairs, returned to his country”.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has but one brief notice s.a. 1081:

In this year the king led a force into Wales, and there freed many hundred men.  (See The Bellicose Welsh.)

The entry s.a. 1082 is similarly brief – but rather more surprising in content:

In this year the king seized Bishop Odo; and in this year there was a great famine.

It would seem that Odo – King William’s half-brother, bishop of Bayeux and earl of Kent – not content with the considerable power he already wielded, had set his sights on the papacy.

He [Odo] had wonderful skill in accumulating treasure, possessed extreme craft in dissembling, so that, though absent, yet, stuffing the wallets of the pilgrims with letters and money, he had nearly purchased the Roman papacy from the citizens.

According to Orderic Vitalis (HE VII: iii, 188–9), Odo had heard a prediction, by “certain sorcerers at Rome”, that a person of his name would become pope. Odo bought a palace in Rome and bribed senators. He prepared to go there, in the company of “Hugh, earl of Chester, and a goodly company of distinguished knights”.[*]  King William heard of the plan: “he considered that it was fraught with injury to his own kingdom as well as to others”.  Sailing from Normandy, the king intercepted Odo at the Isle of Wight.

… the king … threw him into confinement, saying that he did not seize the bishop of Bayeux, but the earl of Kent.
William of Malmesbury GR III §277

Orderic puts words into the king’s mouth:

… my brother, to whom I entrusted the care of my entire kingdom, has laid violent hands on her substance, has cruelly oppressed the poor, has seduced my knights on frivolous pretences, and has spread disorder through the whole of England by his unjust exactions.
HE VII: iii, 191

Odo was taken to Normandy and imprisoned in Rouen Castle, but he evidently did not forfeit his English estates – he is the wealthiest tenant-in-chief recorded in the Domesday Book.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle s.a. 1083:

“In this year arose the discord at Glastonbury, betwixt the abbot Thurstan and his monks. It came first from the abbot’s lack of wisdom, so that he misruled his monks in many things. —
— And the monks complained to him, in kindly fashion, and asked that he would rule them rightly, and love them, and they would be faithful to him, and obedient. But the abbot would naught of this, but did them evil, and threatened them worse. One day the abbot went into the chapter-house and spoke against the monks, and wanted to misuse them, and sent after laymen [evidently Norman knights], and they came into the chapter-house upon the monks full armed. And then the monks were greatly afraid of them, knew not what they were to do, but fled in all directions. Some ran into the church and locked the doors after them; and they went after them into the monastery and wanted to drag them out, as they dared not go out. But a rueful thing happened there on that day. The Frenchmen broke into the choir, and hurled missiles towards the altar where the monks were; and some of the knights went up on the upper floor, and kept shooting downward with arrows toward the sanctuary, so that in the rood that stood above the altar there stuck many arrows. And the wretched monks lay about the altar, and some crept under, and earnestly cried to God, imploring his mercy, since they could obtain no mercy from men. What can we say, but that they shot cruelly, and the others broke down the doors there and went in, and put some of the monks to death and wounded many therein, so that the blood came from the altar upon the steps, and from the steps on the floor. Three were there put to death, and eighteen wounded.

Florence of Worcester provides a postscript:

The matter was brought to a judicial investigation, and when it was clear that the greater share of the blame belonged to the abbot, the king removed him, and placed him in his own monastery in Normandy. Most of the monks were dispersed through bishoprics and abbacies, and placed in custody by command of the king. After his death, the abbot purchased back his abbacy from his son, King William [Rufus], for five hundred pounds of silver, and wandering about for some years over the possessions of his church, at length finished his days in misery, far from the monastery itself, as well he deserved.

Orderic Vitalis refers to the Glastonbury incident, and concludes:

I could relate many such instances, if they would edify the readers mind; but such subjects are by no means agreeable, and, therefore, without dwelling on them, I gladly employ my pen on other matters.
HE IV: ii, 226

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ends its entry s.a. 1083:

And in the same year died Matilda, King William’s queen, on the day after All-Hallows mass-day [i.e. on 2nd November]. —
— And in the same year, after Midwinter, —
— the king caused a great and heavy tax to be exacted over all England; that was, for every hide, two and seventy pence.
Manuscript D is one year ahead of the true date, so this entry appears s.a. 1078.
See Toil and Trouble.
Manuscript E’s dating is correct.
Orderic Vitalis (HE IV: ii, 295) says that Robert, who was chubby-faced, short and stout, was commonly called ‘Fat-legs’ (Gambaron) and ‘Short-boots’ (Brevis-ocrea). William of Malmesbury (GR IV §389) implies that King William himself gave Robert the latter nickname (Curta-ocrea in Malmesbury’s rendition), which is generally given in the Frenchified form ‘Curthose’.
Nicknamed from his colouring (Latin rufus = ‘red’). According to William of Malmesbury (GR IV §321): “he was well set; his complexion florid, his hair yellow; of open countenance; different coloured eyes, varying with certain glittering specks”.
At this point Manuscript D ends – the bottom of the page being cut away.
Davis Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum No. 96.
Prou Recueil des Actes de Philippe Ier No. 94.
The charter, by King Philip in favour of the church of Saint-Quentin of Beauvais, is dated: “at the siege of Gerberoy conducted by the aforementioned kings, Philip king of the French and William king of the English, in the year of the incarnation of the world 1079”.  It is signed by both Philip and William.
Orderic says that Robert Curthose: “wandered in foreign lands for five years to no purpose.”  As will become apparent, this timescale is incorrect.
Although the following event occurred later in 1079 than the siege of Gerberoy, it is placed before it by Manuscript E, and by Florence of Worcester (it is not recorded by Manuscript D).
An anecdote, which appears s.a. 740 in the Historia Regum (traditionally attributed to Symeon of Durham), tells how, during one of his “frequent incursions” into Northumbria, involving “a more numerous army than usual”, King Malcolm (“a man truly of most ferocious and brutal disposition”) was halted at the Tyne (the river was swollen without rain, and a thick mist fell) by the miraculous intervention of “St Acca, and the other saints who repose in it [the church of Hexham]”.  (Acca, bishop of Hexham, died in 740, hence the anecdote.)
Davis Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum No. 123.
Manuscript E is from now on, to all intents and purposes, the only version of the Chronicle. (A late-12th century hand made an addition to Manuscript D, which, though dated 1080, i.e. MLXXX, applies to 1130, i.e. MCXXX. Also, there is a fragment – actually a single leaf – which covers 1113 and 1114, but independently from Manuscript E, and this is known as Manuscript H.)
Gospatric was not an earl. He is generally believed to be the “noble Northumbrian thegn” who was murdered on on 28th December 1064 (see 1065).
Gospatric’s father, Earl Uhtred, had also been murdered (see Ironside) – in 1016 according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but this date is the subject of debate (see The Battle of Carham).
William of Malmesbury tells this story, in less detail than Florence of Worcester, in both GR (III §271) and GP (III §132). In William’s accounts, Gilbert himself makes the decision to leave the church, in a noble attempt to save the bishop.
King William was still in Normandy, at Caen, on 14th July 1080 (Davis Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum No. 125).
Florence of Worcester has no record of Robert’s expedition into Scotland.
Chronicon Monasterii de Abingdon, edited by Joseph Stevenson (1858), Vol. II, Pages 9–10. Translation by Alan O. Anderson: Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers, A.D. 500 to 1286 (1908), Page 104, Footnote 1.
For instance, Earl Aubrey’s Warwickshire estates are written-up (Great Domesday, folio 239v) as if they were in his possession, except in the past tense – i.e. he “held” them, not he “holds” them – and the listing concludes: “These lands of Earl Aubrey are in the king’s hand. Geoffrey de la Guerche has charge of them.”
William of Malmesbury (GR III §277): “knights eagerly flocked to him from all parts of the kingdom”.
William of Malmesbury (GR III §270 and GP II §91) agrees with Florence’s numbers.
See Anno Domini.
Florence of Worcester reports that King William ravaged Northumbria, but he does not mention that it was actually Odo who carried out the task.
Volume and page of Augustus Le Prevost’s five volume edition of the Historia Ecclesiastica (1838–1855).
Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the Kings of England).
Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis Ecclesie (Tract on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham).
Gesta Pontificum Anglorum (Deeds of the Bishops of England).