Thursday, 3 March 2011

Tostig, Alfgar and the Earl of Northumbria


by Sons of the Wolf on Thursday, 03 March 2011 at 22:16

 The Scandinavian Earl Siward, held the post of Northumbria throughout much of Cnut's reign, the whole of Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut's up until the early years of Edward the Confessor's reign. There is much recorded of him in legend but in reality, one would have to believe that there was little difference in the character of the man of the sagas and the man of reality. When he died in 1055, he must have been a great age and although he had converted to christianity, the story goes that his dying wish was that he be given a traditional Viking ceremony. his body sailing out to sea on a burning boat with his sword placed in his hand. He was actually buried at St Olaf's church in york. Possibly the death of his son Osbjorn and his wife's nephew at the battle of Dunsinane may have spurred an already old man to his grave. I like to think that perhaps his wife, in tribute, might have sent one of his boats, alight and furnished with his gear, out into the sea for him, whilst his body lay buried in the Christian manner. He left one surviving son, Waltheof, who was a child of only about 5 or 6 years old at the time, born of his young wife Aelfflaed, obviously not his first liason. Due to Waltheof's young age, the vacancy of earl was now open. Who should think themselves up for the job?

Contender No 1 was Tostig Godwinson, younger brother of Earl Harold of Wessex. Tostig was, like his brother Harold, a seasoned warrior and had married Judith of flanders, half sister to Baldwin V who was father of William of Normandy's wife Matilda. It would be easy to imagine that he may have harboured a childhood jealousy against his older more popular brother Harold, which may explain his later resentment toward Harold as grown ups, that would lead to their tragic confrontation in 1066 at Stamford Bridge. He seems to have been portrayed as more serious of character than his elder brother who was described as affable, gracious to all men and possessed charm and wit. Nonetheless, he appears to have been the favourite of both the King and Queen. Edith certainly was fond of him and because of this, he most likely got the post instead of Alfgar. For Edith, who had not that long ago been cast aside and sent away to a nunnery in shame, it would have been more expedient to have both her brothers in strong postions, so that never again would she ever be treated in such a degrading manner.

Contender No 2 was Alfgar Earl of East Anglia, son of Earl Leofric of Mercia. The old Earl was a sort of Mercian version of Siward. By the time he died in 1057, he was quite aged. He was married to Lady Godgifu/Godgyva of  legendary fame, notorious for her supposed naked ride through the streets of Coventry. Leofric and Godgifu's wayward son Alfgar was a bit of a rebel and by all accounts had trouble controlling his temper which seemed to have got him officially exiled at least twice for uttering treasonable words. It was in 1055 at a council to cast votes for the new Earl of Northumbria that he was first in trouble.  No source tells us exactly what he had done wrong  but the AS ms C&D states that he was 'outlawed without any fault of his' . In the ms E, Alfgar was said to have been 'traitor to the king and all the people of the land. And he admitted this before all the men that were gathered there, although the words shout out against his will.'  One can imagine him blurting out some terrible insult against the king and then realising that he had put his foot in his mouth somewhat to his detriment and rather publicly. What ever it was, and one can only imagine, it led to him being exiled. Most likely, when he heard that Tostig was to recieve the earldom, he did not take  kindly to it and in a fit of pique lost his temper and spoke out against it. You can imagine the intesity of his feelings, after all,  the Godwin brothers appeared to be the king's current favourites and were already in charge of a large portion of the kingdom's earldoms, not to mention the role that Harold Godwinson now played as Dux Anglorum. With Tostig now entrenched in the North, the balance was now definitely tipped in their favour.

1 comment:

Kathryn Warner said...

Great post! I find Siward a fascinating character.