Tag Archive | Michael Hirst creator of Viking on history channel

A good treason- a closer look at betrayals

As promised- I have calmed down, watched a second time and am now ready to deal with all of the various levels of betrayal. Before we get into the more serious issues and intense drama of the week, I just want to hand out a few small awards.

I know you all assume that Rollo’s behavior was the most disgusting and lowest of all… but really that award would go to our other treasonous traitor, Einar. Einar gets the prize for not only being a conspiring traitor but displaying the ultimate in cowardly behavior!

award for ultimate cowardly behavior

The next award is a much more prestigious one… Our Frankish knight Roland showed himself to be a true gentleman, a fine example of calm in the middle of a storm and grace under fire. Obviously, this man has dealt with Gisela’s outburst before. Her antics and behaviors did not appear to phase him in the least. He took a spit in the face from the little shrew and was gracious enough to thank her for it! 

roland gives thanks for a spit in the face

 

Now, unfortunately we need to move on to the more serious issues going on, the betrayals- the many levels and versions of betrayal besides the one that everyone was so outraged by. On the surface level, Rollo’s betrayal appeared to be so over the top and outright extreme that it may have caused one to not pay attention or look closer at everything else that was taking place. I admit that on the initial viewing, I was so shocked by this blatant in your face act of treachery that I focused only on that one scene and the rest of it seemed to fade in relation to this act.  When I watched a second time, I was determined to watch closer, pay attention to all of the little details that so often add up and mean something later on. 

levels and layers of betrayals

I mentioned previously that something felt off, didn’t make sense and it felt like I was missing something about the whole situation or event of  Rollo’s action against his men. After much discussion with others who shared my feelings and a second viewing of the episode, I think it has begun to make more sense for me.

Since Rollo’s betrayal was by far the most controversial and talked about one, I am going to deal with it first and get it over with. First of all, I want everyone to understand that I am not looking at this event from the perspective of a glossy eyed fan girl as a few have accused me of being. I am not a fan of Rollo based on Clive Standen’s looks. I have done research into Rollo’s history and I do understand that Rollo in history was as cut throat, power hungry and violent as any other leader or warrior of that time was.  So, I am not sitting here gasping in shock and horror that “my” guy Rollo could or would have done such a vicious act if he felt need to. Rollo is a battle hardened warrior with sometime dubious morals and ethics… yes, we all know that. Many people want to assume that he is just a big dumb oaf with no thought, no brain in his head and that he can’t survive or win without Ragnar or some other leader guiding him or setting ideas in his head. I am also not sitting here defending him or denying that he’s a betrayer because he is, most of them are! I do have doubts about his outright slaughter of his own men without some underlying reason that we as viewers may not have been informed of in a tell everything way… 

When I first watched the episode, I was appalled and furious at the direction Hirst just took Rollo down as if proving everyone else right in their assumptions. I was also annoyed with Hirst’s action because of his assurances to stick closer to Rollo’s truer history. I know from my own research that Rollo did not become one of the Franks, and that he had a group of Vikings who remained loyal to him throughout life and into the future of Normandy. Now after this second viewing, I realize that there may be far more going on with this situation than what we first saw on the surface.

In order to understand this situation better, we need to look at the events in Paris closer. Perhaps once I’ve provided this closer look, you will see the underlying issues and events that help to make more sense of this “betrayal”. I am not going to address the wedding here other than in the terms that it corresponds to people and events leading up to the final act. One of those people involved is Sinric.

At the wedding we see Sinric still with Rollo, still helping him along with understanding the ways of the French. Things seem to be fine with them during this time. Sinric guides him through the intricacies of the wedding and the bedding ceremony… until Rollo gets fed up and kicks everyone out. So, as far as we could know or tell things are still good with Sinric and Rollo.

sinric is still around to provide assistance

when rollo looks over to sinric in some confusion sinric nods to the bench for him to kneel

rollo follows the cue and kneels not all that happily himself

sinric is still here giving cues to rollo

rollo needs no instruction on preparing for this part

Some time after the wedding, we witness a sudden change and tension in the air between Sinric and Rollo. 

sinric seems ill at ease about something back in paris an odd meeting takes place between rollo and sinric

Sinric suddenly announces, “I have to leave!” When a puzzled Rollo asks him why, he rambles on his speech about being a wanderer, “I am a wanderer, I do not belong here, I do not not belong in Paris… I am a wanderer, I belong to the wide wide world…”

Sinric suddenly stands up and announces I'm leaving

Sinric suddenly stands up and announces I’m leaving

sinric gives an answer of I don't belong here, I don't belong in paris

sinric gives an answer of I don’t belong here, I don’t belong in paris

sinric continues with I'm a wanderer I belong to the wide wide world

sinric continues with I’m a wanderer I belong to the wide wide world

 

rollo of course answers sinric with I don't want you to leave

rollo of course answers sinric with I don’t want you to leave

When Rollo says he wants him to stay, Sinric’s reply is a little over the top or extreme… “If you want me to stay, you’ll have to cut off my feet!” It’s obvious that something is bothering Sinric and he wants to get the hell out of Paris

sinric's response if you want me to stay you will have to cut off my feet. obviously sinric wants to get out ofhere

sinric’s response if you want me to stay you will have to cut off my feet. obviously sinric wants to get out of here.

sinric's advice We may meet again after all everything that goes around comes around

sinric’s advice We may meet again after all everything that goes around comes around

Sinric also leaves Rollo some rather odd parting words, “We may meet again, after all everything that goes around comes around.”  It was an odd meeting and conversation that didn’t quite make sense at first. 

As soon as Sinric left, one of the Viking men from the camp showed up. Rollo was  happy to see his friend Eirik, greeted him and welcomed him. 

as soon as sinric leaves Eric shows up rollo is happy to see Eirik but Eirik does not look same

Rollo was happy to see Eirik but  Eirik didn’t  seem quite as happy to be meeting with Rollo. Now, on the surface at first glance we could assume that would be because Eirik has difficult news to share with Rollo and is worried for his “friend”.  I mentioned previously that something just did not feel right about any of this and after watching a second time, I paid closer attention to both Eirik and Rollo during this meeting.

Eirik is uncomfortable throughout the meeting where he says he has come to warn his friend about dissent in the camp. 

Eirik looks uncomfortable even before any discussion takes place

Eirik looks uncomfortable even before any discussion takes place

Eiric will not sit and immediately states we've had a meeting at the camp I thought you should know about

Eiric will not sit and immediately states we’ve had a meeting at the camp I thought you should know about.

Eirik evades rollo's question of how many and continues they don't want to fight for the franks, they don't want to fight against king ragnar

Eirik evades rollo’s question of how many and continues they don’t want to fight for the franks, they don’t want to fight against king ragnar.

Rollo quickly realizes this is not a friendly meeting and begins to watch Eirik closely as he asks him again how many men…

rollo quickly realizes this is not a friendly meeting between friends

rollo quickly realizes this is not a friendly meeting between friends

He asks Eirik again how many men are involved and watches Eirik as he answers

when rollo insists on an answer of how many Eirik responds with maybe half

If you watch both of their facial expressions closely throughout the conversation, it seems like Eirik is hiding something and Rollo knows it. Rollo is probably putting this together with the earlier odd conversation he had with Sinric and is coming to the conclusion that something is not right about any of this? This is the point where you need to understand that Rollo is not stupid.  He has spent years watching, observing, making his own mistakes and learning from those mistakes. Perhaps the adage of “it takes one to know one” might apply here. If we go with the notion that Rollo is or has been disloyal and a betrayer, then he might certainly recognize one who is being disloyal or attempting to betray him?

rollo then asks what about you eirik

rollo then asks what about you eirik

rollo's question to eirik what about you... you are so unhappy

rollo’s question to eirik what about you… you are so unhappy too?

remember rollo is watching eirik's response closely as eirik shifts his eyes and says no that's why I came straight here to warn you

remember rollo is watching eirik’s response closely as eirik shifts his eyes and says no that’s why I came straight here to warn you

rollo has an underneath the breath laugh at Eirik's statement that they want him to come back to the camp so they can talk to him Rollo knows

rollo has an underneath the breath laugh at Eirik’s statement that they want him to come back to the camp so they can talk to him. Rollo knows a set up when he hears one…

Rollo has been part of more than enough underhanded betrayals on his own and in dealing with those of others including Ragnar. His under the breath laugh or sigh at Eirik’s responses are a clue that he knows full well there is more to this than just a friendly meeting. 

rollo can play this game as well as eirik or kalf or others... go back and tell them I will come in due course

rollo can play this game as well as eirik,  kalf or any number of  others… go back and tell them I will come in due course

rollo goes on to eirik I will put all their minds at ease

rollo goes on to eirik I will put all their minds at ease

If you put all of this together and then watch the scene at the camp play out as Rollo arrives, it makes more sense… What you also need to think about is how and why Rollo might choose to deal with the men in the way he did. Eirik tells him maybe half the men are involved. Looking at this information from a military or battle perspective as Rollo would, he would have to ask himself these questions. Is Eirik being honest about that number? If he’s lying about the rest, he could be lying about the number involved as well. Then there is the question of which half? How does he know which half are involved and which half might be on his side? Rollo does not have the option as Kalf did to have a public meeting and weed them out… So Rollo has a dilemma on his hands. He is not about to just show up at the camp on his own if he has some gut feeling or warrior’s instinct that something about this meeting feels wrong. No, he is going to take what ever back up is available, and that would be his new allies- the Frankish forces. And, as difficult as this may be to swallow or accept, you need to understand another factor or thought involved in his decision making. He does not know which ones are the enemy so he has to assume that they all are. It becomes a matter of kill first ask questions later if there are survivors… it’s a matter of kill or be killed and Rollo does not plan on being the killed one on this day. This is where you see the beginnings of what a force Rollo and his Normans will become in the future. Is it cold hearted and vicious… yes that is exactly what it is, and that is what will win their battles in the future. Those who survive will not be quite so willing to go against such a force in the future.

What was going on in the camp as Rollo showed up?  First of all, look at the camp… it’s very large and spread out but the eventuall attack seemed to focus on one well guarded portion of it where a number of the men were.

the viking camp in paris

Let’s look at Eirik’s reactions and behavior… He tells his son, see I told you he would come. Eirik is basically admitting that his intent at that meeting was to get Rollo to show up here.  Eirik seems quite confident that Rollo believed all of his story and would be trusting enough to come to the camp on his own.

eirik tells his son I told you he'd come

eirik tells his son I told you he’d come

eirik and his family

eirik and his family

Now look at some of the people as Rollo arrives. A few appear happy to see him, are smiling and friendly… but not Eirik

rollo arrives at the camp seemingly alone rollo watches all of them there are a few men smiling at rollo's appearance but not eirik

Does this look like a man who is happy to see that his friend has shown up to make amends and mend differences?

this is not the look of a man who is happy that his friend has shown up to make amends or talk of peace

This is what Rollo sees waiting at the gate for him… does this group with Eirik look like they’re wanting to greet Rollo and sit down to any peaceful discussion with him? If you were Rollo, would you get down off your horse and walk into this group on your own?

 

eirik tells them to open the gates these men seem to be prepared for something other than a peacable sit down discussion

Rollo has put all of the odd suspicious fragments together and brought his newfound allies along with him. They are waiting in the woods for his signal… he is watching this group closely and has made his decision, whether right or wrong, that this was not a peace meeting he was invited to. He gives a signal to the men and a massacre begins. It’s bloody, gruesome,  unrelenting and in the end, yes Rollo has betrayed Ragnar and massacred his own people. I am not defending that action but I am suggesting that all is not quite what it appears and there is a very good possibility that some in that camp, such as Eirik were not as innocent as they may have seemed to be. Had some of those people not set about their own agenda of possibly betraying Rollo, it might not have come down to this final act of horrific bloodshed…

Eirik’s last words to Rollo were “You betrayed your own people, Ragnar will come… he will seek revenge for us” 

yes, there is a gruesome bloody and horrific massacre

In some way, perhaps Eirik was just as much at fault in setting up Rollo for a possible ambush and assuming that he could get away with it? It was an act some betrayal on both parts and had Rollo not listened to his gut instinct, his inner warrior self, he would probably be the one dead that day. In putting all of it together, Sinric’s parting words make more sense, have more meaning…” Sinric knew what was going to happen and did not want to be involved on either side of it. Far better to get the hell out of the way and watch to see what happens from a distance!

sinric's advice We may meet again after all everything that goes around comes around

sinric’s advice We may meet again after all everything that goes around comes around.

 

Rollo’s betrayal may have been the most blatant, controversial and despised one of the episode but it was just one of many. Another betrayal had to do with Kalf and his people… one which also ended up in a surprise massacre of his own people. Kalf, however had the benefit and advantage of being able to do it in a more open and public manner while Rollo had to resort to more covert measures. Kalf was also in a more enviable position of setting up his massacre in defense of Lagertha and in killing of a much despised enemy of everyone. Does that make it somehow more ethical or moral? I suppose that is highly debatable as well but most would probably agree that the end result in this case was acceptable except for one possible exclusion in the massacre. We’ll get to that exclusion in a bit. First let us look at the initial betrayal- which many would say was not really a betrayal because it involved Lagertha getting her earldom back… But, realistically and truthfully as much as we hate to admit it- it was a betrayal and gag… Einar had a valid point. That admission is still gagging me! This situation involves a long list of betrayals. From disgusting Einar’s original betrayal of Lagertha, Kalf’s betrayals of Lagertha, and then Ragnar to Slimey Erlandeur’s betrayals and then back again to Kalf’s betrayal of Einar in favor of Lagertha… It’s difficult to keep up with all of the conspiracies in Hedeby! Let’s just look at the most recent one for now. Originally Kalf received Einar’s backing for the Earldom on condition that they would bring down the entire Lothbrok dynasty. The only problem with that was that Kalf really does care about Lagertha so he betrays Einar by deciding that Lagertha should rule equally with him over Hedeby. 

kalf invites lagertha to the front kalf Lagertha and I will rule as equals as your earl that is my determination

This news does not sit well with Einar, and one other person seems perturbed with the idea as well…

einar hears the news of Kalf and lagertha sharing the rule he is not impressed

einar hears the news of Kalf and lagertha sharing the rule he is not impressed

erlanduer listens to kalf's speech and it appears he is not impressed either

erlanduer listens to kalf’s speech and it appears he is not impressed either

Ahhhh yes, now we come to slimey Erlandeur the scum of so many betrayals and low life acts that it’s hard to keep track of all of them. Erlandeur is an example of the advice his own Father gave once and one which Ragnar failed to follow… always kill the heirs because they will grow up to seek revenge. Ragnar made the mistake of letting this child grow to adulthood and now he is the bane of our existence with everyone asking, pleading the same thing… Why is this disgusting piece of garbage still alive? Erlandeur who in his own slimey way, makes everyone else look a bit better when compared to him!  Erlandeur’s first betrayal might consist of just staying alive to spite Ragnar? Now, it seems he’s involved in some multiple betrayal scheme and it’s hard to say whose side he’s actually on other than his own. Einar assumed that Erlandeur was on his side- that didn’t work out so well in the end. 

 

einar greets erlandeur

einar greets erlandeur

In a discussion with Kalf, Einar makes the comment that Erlandeur is with his group.

einar reminds kalf of the original agreement to overthow entire lothbrok dynasty. We believed you and so did Erlanduer who is with us.

einar reminds kalf of the original agreement to overthow entire lothbrok dynasty. We believed you and so did Erlanduer who is with us.

In Kalf’s final betrayal of Einar and group, we discover that for the moment at least Erlandeur seems to be on Kalf’s side even though his disgust of Lagertha is evident.  Kalf sets up a public meeting to vote on whether Lagertha should be co-ruler and invites everyone to cast their mark against her… what ensues is a surprise massacre of those people who step up to the pole to cast their no vote. Kalf has now killed his own people openly in public view of everyone. His comment is “and this is my answer… ” 

the group is attacked by those archers Kalf looks on as the group is slaughtered

And one of those archers enjoying the event… None other than Erlandeur

erlandeur is standing outside the group watching the event erlandeur hestitates when lagertha calls him to stop

At the end of the slaughter, the last man standing is Einer. He is only standing because he’s pinned to the pole by an arrow.

Einar meets an arrow

Erlandeur is quick to step in for one last shot to do away with Einar but is stopped from his fun by Lagertha

Erlandeur steps in to take one last shot at einar but lagertha stops him

erlandeur hestitates when lagertha calls him to stop

Lagertha gets her final and ultimate revenge on Einar

lagertha takes her last revenge on einar lagertha's blood revenge is complete

 

Now, let’s look at one last situation with layers of betrayal… No discussion of cunning, deception, and more subtle betrayal would be complete without mentioning Aslaug!

Her first act of possible treason or betrayal- to mention the death of a King out loud, especially when that King happens to be her husband!

aslaug asking who will succeed after Ragnar's death

aslaug asking who will succeed after Ragnar’s death

Her more subtle acts of betrayal… well, anything that casts a possible bad reflection of her spouse the King could be construed as betrayal for a Queen and she does seem to have a habit of that. Even her son Ubba notices.

ubba comments on aslaug's less than enthusiastic reaction to ragnar being awake Father's awake don't you care

ubba comments on aslaug’s less than enthusiastic reaction to ragnar being awake Father’s awake don’t you care?

She tries to cover her inner thoughts and fakes an overly sweet smile to her son with a reply of “Of course I care, run tell everyone the King is awake!”  For some reason I have to assume that Ubba is a pretty smart kid and she has not fooled him at all!

aslaug tries to fake it... her thought no I don't care I was hoping he wouldn't wake up...

aslaug tries to fake it… her thought no I don’t care I was hoping he wouldn’t wake up…

aslaug to ubba too sweetly Of course I do

aslaug to ubba too sweetly Of course I do

Next we move on to her underlying deceptions and schemes which would amount to betrayal… Let’s watch her visit to the slave market where she inspects the merchandise with a stereotypical Alibaba type slave trader.

an Alibaba like trader is in kattegat with his merchandise

aslaug and alibaba discuss the merchandise

After much browsing, she happens upon one item that catches her interest…

one item in particular catches aslaug's eye

Something about this particular slave causes her to pause, think and smile her sneaky smile

something about this slave causes aslaug to think and smile

Now, really what could be so intriguing or interesting about this specific slave girl? Could it be a thought that she knows how intriguing or interesting Ragnar might find this obviously foreign girl from some other culture or part of the world…

what could be so special about this particular slave to interest aslaug so much

Aslaug takes her new slave home, cleans her up and sets about putting her in Ragnar’s sight… Slave girl is now a house servant for Aslaug and family

aslaug's new purchase is now clean and presentable in her new role as servant

Yes, Ragnar quickly notices and Aslaug sits back with a smile…

all it takes is a glance at her and ragnar's interested... aslaug sits back with a smile

slave girl is not impressed

Obviously Aslaug has purchased this girl for some specific reason and placed her within sight and reach of Ragnar, knowing full well that he will be interested in her. Aslaug apparently has some plan of deception in mind and this girl is a part of that scheme. I really don’t think she’s set the girl out just so he will bed the slave girl and thereby leave Aslaug alone. Aslaug knows as well as the rest of us that there is little chance that he is going to be wanting to bed with herself anymore and she’s probably glad of that. No, she’s got some other plan in mind for this girl.

We’re all already well aware of the betrayals, treason and reasons for Floki’s current predicament so I am not going to go into those here. Now we just have to wait along with Floki and his family for whatever Ragnar decides is suitable punishment.

floki's reaction to ragnar's illness

I do have to say that this was one of the saddest and difficult reunions to watch.

floki's family reunion helga knows floki is going to beg her to do something ragnar must deal with floki

My personal thought on the circle Ragnar marked around Floki… Ragnar seems to be marking a distance between the people and Floki as if in a way to say, he’s not for your public abuse. I guess his thought might be of he’s mine to torture, not yours. 

ragnar marks a circle around floki

Updated added information!

 I recently had a very interesting discussion with someone connected to the show. Of course he could not give out any specifics- and I do not expect him to! But, he did provide some general information and insight on Hirst’s reasoning and rationale for this recent event with Rollo. Hirst has mentioned often that he is presenting Rollo’s story in a more historically accurate context so naturally for many of us this recent event was a little confusing. It is confusing unless you keep in mind and remember that Hirst is framing the story from a Viking perspective, and he has used various Norse Sagas and the Irish Annals as part of his reference. In most of those sagas it does refer to Rollo as a black sheep, one who was banished or exiled, or one who was not a legitimate ruler. This last reference comes from part of the Irish Annals on invasions and refers to some event where he tried to claim a crown or rule that he was not entitled to. Some of those sagas make mention that he was considered a traitor or betrayer to his people at some point in time. This is the frame of reference that Hirst is working from.
The sagas references to him as a betrayer of his people could also be looked at in the context that to them, his conversion to Christianity at that time would have been seen as a betrayal of his people and their beliefs. This is also the line of thinking that Floki is trying so hard to stand by with his justification for killing Athelstan. It also brings us to the issue of Ragnar’s relationship with Athelstan, his fake baptism and conversion to Christianity that his people witnessed and were aware of. Eirik brings up the fact that Rollo is now a “Christian” and that bothers the men… yet, it was okay with them for Ragnar to be a fake “Christian”.
In a last added thought, I am pretty sure this will probably be the last year for Rollo as part of the Vikings because Clive Standen has just been offered a leading role in another series! He has signed on to a role in a new series, Taken being produced for NBC!

Vikings Season 4 A Good Treason???

Vikings season has returned and I have watched the first episode… I will have a better in depth review in a few days, after I have had time for this initial mess to sink in. I just want to say for now that my first reaction to the events is not good. Mr. Hirst has mentioned in some interviews that this is a season for betrayals. Well, he certainly started the season off with a huge dose of it. Unfortunately, the betrayal I felt was from him!  I need to get this off my chest and vent for a few moments. First of all, any of you who visit this site on a regular basis should be well aware that Yes, I am a loyal follower and fan of Rollo. I took Hirst at his word when he assured us that he would deal with Rollo in a more authentic and historically accurate manner. My first thought and impression after watching this first episode is that Hirst completely threw that idea out the window and has chosen instead to once again paint Rollo as the villain, the traitor and now the truly lowest caliber of one who would turn on his own men and their families, putting him in a category even lower than Aethelwulf who at least felt he was doing his God’s work and slaying evil Pagans, not friends.

If you take time to read through much of the historical information that I’ve provided over the past months concerning Rollo and his beginnings of Normandy, you will understand my dismay, frustration and disappointment over how this is starting out. I can not even begin to understand Hirst’s reasoning for this slaughter. The first thing that comes to my mind is that he has taken the easy way out of the corner he painted himself into with his treatment of Rollo. When you can find no other way out, just resort to your past practice of making everyone but Ragnar an evil villain. I can only assume that Hirst intends to now portray Rollo as that ultimate betrayer who will become a devoted loyal ally to the Franks and no one else. I have to say here too that this whole scene/ event felt extremely disjointed and unreal, as much of the episode did. For me, the event and scene felt off, it felt contrived and lacking in anything other than in your face blood and gore for effect. There was not even some limited half baked discussion or reasoning behind it. And, if Rollo is still so inept at the Frankish language, how did he manage to communicate and convey this well planned treachery by a group of now loyal to him Fankish warriors? There is just something so not right about this event that I hope there is some explanation later on in say the next few episodes. This feels like just another attempt to show everyone else in a bad light except Ragnar and company.  Somehow it felt more like we were watching some sort of dream, or perhaps nightmare sequences or scenarios throughout much of the episode.

I was expecting the disagreements between Ragnar and Bjorn so that did not really surprise me. Bjorn attempted do what he felt was right and of course was then criticized by Ragnar. Ragnar may be ill but is still capable of his deceptions… his comments to son Ubba were a behind the back stab at Bjorn and in some ways it reminded me of his non-committed answers to Rollo in previous years. By all rights, Bjorn should be the next King, but we see Ragnar’s play on that when he promises it to Ubba instead… creating an eventual rivalry between the brothers.

As to the introduction of Yidu… My initial thought on this situation? Aslaug purchased Yidu, making Yidu Aslaug’s property and not Ragnar’s. Somehow I do not think that Aslaug is going to appreciate Ragnar taking over her property. Unless of course, this is her intent? She knows how Ragnar is drawn to different and exotic places and people… perhaps it’s Aslaug who sets up the eventual relationship with the intent of using Yidu against Ragnar in some way later down the line. 

Ok, those are just my first thoughts on all of this. When I have calmed down from my personal feelings of betrayal by Mr. Hirst, I will be able to deal with this better… or not!

Ohhh By the way, Thanks so much Mr. Hirst for redeeming Rollo on one hand with his feelings and treatment of Gisela while stabbing him and the rest of his fans in the back with your other hand! 

 

 

From Rollo and Poppa to the De Senlis family

This is somewhat of an update to my previous post on Rollo as my ancestor.

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/tracing-my-past-back-to-rollo/

This particular investigation and discussion pertains mainly to genealogy/ancestry and  history of the real Rollo and his family. It has little or anything to do with Rollo’s character in the Vikings Saga other than to point out that Rollo did have loyal Viking followers and supporters as well as probably some Frankish ones as well. He may have cut his ties with family and could be considered a traitor in some ways but he did have men who backed him and would continue to back his family. This group of men and their families would remain loyal supporters all the way through to Rollo’s descendant, William the Conqueror. The descendants of these men would follow William to England. In return for their loyalty they would receive great wealth and land, and become leading English Nobility in those early days of  William and his sons.  Among these men were Osmond de Centville, Bernard de Senlis (who had been a companion of Rollo of Normandy), Ivo de Bellèsme, and Bernard the Dane  (ancestor to the families of Harcourt and Beaumont).  I mentioned these men in my previous post and am returning to them now as I feel that one of them plays an important part in a mystery from another branch of my ancestors and also provides a clue or key to the mystery surrounding Rollo’s wife, Poppa of Bayeux. (For my personal thoughts on how the history might relate to Michael Hirst’s creative and imaginative version of events in the Vikings Saga, you can scroll all the way to the end to read more on that.)

 

That man would be Bernard DeSenlis, the one specifically mentioned as a companion of Rollo’s.  After  researching some of the DeSenlis ancestry and  further investigation of Poppa’s possible genealogy, I personally believe that the Bernard DeSenlis mentioned as Rollo’s companion provides a link between those mentioned in Poppa’s genealogy and the DeSenlis family that shows up in my family ancestry.  While there is no definitive proof or documentation, and the link seems to get broken or at least very twisted somewhere along the line, my personal thought is that the DeSenlis line probably goes back to Poppa’s connection.  There often comes a point where you have to do your own research, weigh all of the evidence you have collected and make a choice as to what information you trust the most, what to you makes the most sense and then go with that line of reasoning. When you get to this point, you should also make it very clear to anyone else you are sharing the information with, that from this point on back you are basing your reasoning on suppositions and limited research. From this point on, you are making a hypothesis based on the limited evidence and resources available to you. Make it extremely clear that these are only your personal beliefs and thoughts. This is the case for me from this point back with the DeSenlis family and with family connections for Poppa.  My purpose here is not to provide concrete verifiable evidence because as far as I know, there is none at this time. What we have are a lot of pieces of circumstantial evidence that when pieced together may provide a possible or plausible theory.

First, we need to look at the varying versions of Poppa’s existence and genealogy.  The first version, the more widely accepted one is that she was the daughter of  “Count Berengar”, the dominant prince of that region, who was captured at Bayeux by Rollo in 885 or 889. This has led to speculation that she was the daughter of Berengar II of Neustria.  

It is speculated that her Father was Berengar II of Neustria. Berengar II (died 896) was the Count of Bayeux,  Rennes and Margrave of the Breton March from 886 until his death a decade later.  In 874, Brittany’s internal politics were thrown into turmoil when King Salomon was murdered by a rival. The resulting surge of Viking attacks made possible by the power vacuum was narrowly held at bay by a hasty Breton-Frankish alliance between Alan the Great of Vannes and Berengar of Rennes. Between 889-90, the Seine Vikings moved into Brittany, hard on the heels of the Loire fleet that Alan and Berengar had successfully driven out (this latter force had broken up into several small flotillas and sailed west). Alain again joined forces with Berengar of Rennes and led two Breton armies into the field. Finding their retreat down the Marne blocked, the Vikings hauled their ships overland to the Vire and besieged Saint-Lo, where the Bretons virtually annihilated the fleet.  Berengar is speculated to have married the daughter of Gurvand, Duke of Brittany, by which relationship he attained the countship of Rennes. This would make him brother-in-law of Judicael, Duke of Brittany. He is thought to be the Berengar of Bayeux whose daughter Poppa was captured in a raid and married to Rollo of Normandy. Various reconstructions make him father, grandfather, or great-grandfather of Judicael Berengar, later Count of Rennes.  As I’ve pointed out, this is the generally accepted version even though there is no definitive or verifiable proof. Because of that lack of proof, it may very well be possible that some alternate version holds just as much validity as this one. 

Poppa of Bayeux

Poppa of Bayeux

The alternate version of her existence and genealogy is provided by Robert Sewell as follows in excerpts from his document provided at  http://www.robertsewell.ca/poppa.html

The ancestry of Poppa, wife of Rolf the Ganger, 1st Duke of Normandy, seems to have two versions. It now appears that Poppa was a daughter of Gui, Count of Senlis and not a daughter of Count Berenger of Bayeux.  This makes Poppa, through her mother, a great granddaughter of King Bernard of Italy (b. 797, d. 818; King of Italy 813 – 817) King Bernard was a grandson of Charlemagne.

For the entire document please use the above link. For our purposes, I am providing the portion of the document that links Poppa to the DeSenlis name or family. 

Poppa, Wife of Ganger Rolf     According to Dudon, William Longue Épeé of Normandy had as his ‘avunculus’ (maternal uncle) Count Bernard of Senlis, the friend and consellor of Hugh the Great. The Chronicon Rothomagense (Labbe Bibliotheca Manuscriptorum Nova, I, p. 365) ano 912 confirms this and stated that Rolf married the daughter of Count Gui de Senlis, so if Bernard were the son of Gui, he would be the ‘avunculus” of William. Dudon, however calls Poppa the daughter of Count Berenger, but Dudon is not highly trustworthy. The name Bernard belongs in the family of the Counts of Vermandois, descended from Bernard, King of Italy. A Count Bernard, probably Bernard de Senlis is called be Flodoard (Annales ano 923, p. 15) the ‘consobrinus’ (cousin germain by the female side) of Herbert II Count of Vermandois.

     The Belgian érudit, J. Dhondt, in his “Études sur la Naissance de Principautés Territoriales au France pp. 119/120 n.) (Bruges 1948), suggests that Gui Count of Senlis married a sister of Herbert I Count of Vermandois (see p. 6 anti) and had issue Bernard Count of Senlis and probably Poppa, wife of Rolf.

 Pepin de Peronne, son of Bernard, King of Italy
Died after 846
His children included:

  • Herbert I Count of Vermandois, died between 900 and 904. His son:
    • Herbert II Count of Vermandois, died in 943
  • a daughter who married Gui, Count of Senlis. Their children:
    • Bernard Count of Senlis, adherent of Hugh the Great
    • Poppa who married Rolf, Count of Rouen

What this alternative version does is directly tie the previously mentioned Bernard DeSenlis to Poppa as her brother. It would make sense then that as Poppa’s brother, he would possibly become an ally of Rollo or at least a supporter of Rollo’s children. It would also make sense that he would continue to be allied with Rollo’s family such as in protecting Rollo’s grandson Richard I at the later time. In addition, this would provide some reason for ongoing connections, alliances or links between Rollo’s descendants and the DeSenlis families.  From my personal stand point or view, this version of Poppa’s lineage seems just as plausible or feasible as the other version mentioned. This alternate version makes the connection to the DeSenlis family and in doing so also connects the offspring of Poppa and Rollo to Hugh the Great and the future Capetian dynasty which Rollo’s grand daughter, Adelaide of Aquitaine married into.  Bernard DeSenlis was an adherent of Hugh the Great, who would have been a relative to him. During the battles to rescue and restore Rollo’s grandson Richard to his rightful control of Normandy, Hugh the Great eventually became involved in the fight and sided with the Normans.  One other thing this alternate version does is place Poppa as a descendant of Charlemagne and by doing so, place her as a distant relative of Charles the Simple.  Just because they were distant relatives did not necessarily mean they would have been on the same side or allied to each other in any way. In fact, it may have been the opposite case and might have posed some problem when Rollo made his treaty with Charles. Rollo and Charles signed the treaty of  St. Claire in 911.  At that time he would have already been with Poppa for some time and had both of his children by her.  This would mean that he already had a somewhat firm  alliance with the Count of Senlis and most likely with Herbert I Count of Vermandois along with his son Herbert II.  I mention this because at a later point in time, Herbert II would be an opposing force against Charles. He was just as adamant and vocal about his heritage from Charlemagne and Charles most likely was. Eventually, he was responsible for capturing Charles and holding him prisoner for three years. Later Herbert allied with Hugh the Great and William Longsword, duke of Normandy against King Louis IV, who allocated the County of Laon to Roger II, the son of Roger I, in 941. If you look at the descendants of Charlemagne, you will begin to understand that they were all descendants and proud of their ancestry but they were all competing and vying against each other for control and domination of the various parts of Francia.  As one of those descendants, Herbert I of Vermandois and his family were at odds with the current ruling factions of the time as well as with Baldwin of Flanders. Herbert controlled both St. Quentin and Péronne and his activities in the upper Somme river valley, such as the capture and murder (rather than ransom) of his brother Raoul in 896, may have caused Baldwin II to have him assassinated in 907. These were people who would probably have no qualms about developing some kind of alliances or under the table agreements with a Viking raider such as Rollo who may have been willing to assist a cause in return for some type of reward- monetary or otherwise… for example a spare daughter to use as security, seal a bargain and set up some ongoing continued alliance that might prove benefitial to both parties.

Sometime later when Dudo of Saint Quentin was rewriting the history of Normandy for Richard I, he may have chosen to downplay or omit completely some aspects of the history. 

Dudo does not appear to have consulted any existing documents for his history, but to have obtained his information from oral tradition, much of it being supplied by Raoul, count of Ivry, a half-brother of Duke Richard. Consequently, the Historia partakes of the nature of a romance, and on this ground has been regarded as untrustworthy by such competent critics as Ernst Dümmler and Georg Waitz. Other authorities, however, e.g.,J. Lair and J. Steenstrup, while admitting the existence of a legendary element, regard the book as of considerable value for the history of the Normans.

Although Dudo was acquainted with Virgil (Aeneid) and other Latin writers, his Latin is affected and obscure. The Historia, which is written alternately in prose and in verse of several metres, is divided into four parts, and deals with the history of the Normans from 852 to the death of Duke Richard in 996. It glorifies the Normans, and was largely used by William of Jumièges, Wace, Robert of Torigni,William of Poitiers and Hugh of Fleury in compiling their chronicles.

My last thoughts on Poppa’s genealogy and her relationship with Rollo are that it is probably closer to the second version than the first if you compare the other connecting threads and limited evidence.  If you look at the length of her relationship with Rollo prior to his receiving Normandy, you also begin to get a slightly different picture of Rollo and his ability to take this land offer and forge it into a Kingdom. He was involved with Poppa and her family from about 885 on and did not sign the agreement with Charles until after 911. What this gives us is not a Lone wolf, or man who is unfamiliar with Frankish customs and culture but rather a well seasoned warrior with close to 20 years of experience in with other Frankish territories and rulers.  Over that 20 years, he had most likely become well versed in Frankish affair and politics.  For what ever reason, Dudo chose to play down and omit that portion as well as play down the relationship or existence of Poppa’s connection in all of it. Then Dudo also chose to add in the somewhat doubtful relationship of Gisela, daughter of Charles without giving her much more credibility or history than he did for Poppa. Of course part of this could be due to the fact that Dudo was recounting the history to a male audience and was not so much concerned about the role of any women involved in the history. He most likely played down Poppa’s relationship because she was a wife more danico and it was not thought to be a valid Christian marriage even though the children were recognized as legitimate offspring of the Father.

As for the relationship or existence of Gisela of France, there is always the possibility that Rollo did marry her in the Christian way to seal the treaty.  It was not an uncommon practice back then to have both the more danico wife and the Christian one.  If as  mentioned, she died childless then her relationship and marriage to Rollo would have ended up being of little consequence as far as Dudo’s representation of history went.  I suppose if we look at it realistically, none of Charles’ other daughters receive much recognition either other than just being listed as his daughters. In fact none of his other children seem to be of much consequence other than his son, Louis IV of France. On a side note of interest, Louis’ Mother was Eadgifu of Wessix, grand daughter of Alfred the Great.  My thought on Gisela is that Dudo perhaps included her to tie in the connections to France and used her as a way to offset the presence of Poppa. By including Gisela, Dudo is in a way promoting the idea of Rollo having a Christian Royal wife and thereby putting down or negating Poppa’s ties or importance.  He was after all attempting to make the Normans look better in the eyes of other countries such as France at that time. The last thing he would have wanted to do during this time is bring up any reference or mention of Poppa’s possible connections to the earlier events and disputes that took place between territories vying for control of Frankish regions and previous rebellions against Kings of Francia. 

 

The De Senlis connection

 

Now that we have explored Poppa’s existence and her possible connections to the DeSenlis family, we can go on to the other mystery and broken link in the DeSenlis family.  That broken link shows up with Simon DeSenlis I of my family history. 

Simon de Senlis

Simon I de Senlis (or Senliz), 1st Earl of Northampton and 2nd Earl of Huntingdon jure uxoris born 1068 died between 1111  and 1113 was a Norman nobleman.

Simon DeSenlis

In 1098 he was captured during the Vexin campaign of King William Rufus and was subsequently ransomed. He witnessed King Henry I’s Charter of Liberties issued at his coronation in 1100. He attested royal charters in England from 1100–03, 1106–07, and 1109–011. Sometime in the period, 1093–1100, he and his wife, Maud, founded the Priory of St. Andrew’s, Northampton. He witnessed a grant of King Henry I to Bath Abbey on 8 August 1111 at Bishop’s Waltham, as the king was crossing to Normandy. Simon de Senlis subsequently went abroad and died at La Charité-sur-Loire, where he was buried in the new priory church. The date of his death is uncertain.

He reportedly built Northampton Castle and the town walls.  He also built one of the three remaining round churches in England, The Holy Sepulchre, Sheep Street, Northampton).

Simon 1st De Liz Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Holy Sepulchre 1 Holy_Sepulchre_Cambridge 2 Northampton-Holy Sepulchre

Simon was the third son of Laudri de Senlis, sire of Chantilly and Ermenonville (in Picardy), and his spouse, Ermengarde.

He married in or before 1090 Maud of Huntingdon, daughter of Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria, Northampton, and Huntingdon, by Judith, daughter of Lambert, Count of Lens. They had two sons, Simon II de Senlis, Earl of Huntingdon-Northampton, and Waltheof of Melrose, and one daughter, Maud de Senlis, who married (1st) Robert Fitz Richard (of the De Clare family), of Little Dunmow, Essex.

Following Simon’s death, his widow, Maud, married (2nd) around Christmas 1113, David I nicknamed the Saint, who became King of Scots in 1124. David was recognized as Earl of Huntingdon to the exclusion of his step-son, Simon; the earldom of Northampton reverted to the crown. Maud, 2nd Countess of Huntingdon, the Queen of Scots, died in 1130/31.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_I_de_Senlis,_Earl_of_Huntingdon-Northampton

There is little information given about his ancestry other than that his Father was Laudri De Senlis, born at 

BIRTH 1018 Senlis, Oise, Picardy, France

DEATH 1080 Senlis, Normandy, France

Laudri’s wife is named Ermengarde and no other information is documented for her.  There is some documentation of Laudri’s Father being a Foulques De Senlis, born 988, died 1050.

Simon was born in 1068, after William’s take over of England but his family must have been of some importance and there must have been some connection between his family and William’s otherwise William would not have offered his niece, Judith in marriage to Simon. During William’s take over of England and prior to that, he was no different from  other leaders or rulers of the time in that he used marriage alliances to his advantage as reward to those loyal to him, and at times to ensure loyalty among those he might have doubts about.  He first arranged marriages for his sister Adelaide of Normandy, then went on to arrange marriages for her daughter, Judith of Lens. William initially arranged the marriage of Judith to Waltheof of Northumbria- that may have been a case of ensuring the loyalty of Waltheof and gaining some control over Waltheof’s lands in Northumbria… unfortunately, that arrangement did not prove quite as successful as he may have planned. Waltheof eventually proved to be disloyal and William had him executed in 1076. This left Judith a widow with young children and some extremely valuable landholdings and titles in doubt or up for grabs. William rather quickly set about arranging another marriage for her to Simon De Senlis. Judith refused to marry Simon and she fled the country to avoid William’s anger. William  temporarily confiscated all of Judith’s English estates. Simon later married Judith’s daughter Maud and took over the Earldom of Huntington.  At the time of his marriage to Maud, he had already received land and title in the creation of Earl of Northampton. This would certainly suggest that he was not just some knight standing in line waiting for William to hopefully notice him and reward him with something, anything as recognition. There had to have been some reason or connection for William to bestow the first title and lands on him and then turn around and again reward him with either his niece or great-niece and Huntington.  As I mentioned, Simon was too young to have been among those who arrived with William to do first battle and conquer England so there must have been some other important connection between Simon’s family to William which William deemed of enough importance or value to reward Simon in such way.

Simon De Senlis  was not just some lowly unknown knight or nobleman of little wealth or station that William happened to run into and hand over a landholding and title to even before his marriage into William’s family. As early as 1080- 1084 he was already Earl of Northampton and was responsible for building Northampton Castle. Northampton Castle was one of the most famous Norman castles in England. It was built under the stewardship of Simon e Senlis, the first Earl of Northampton, in 1084. It took several years to complete, as there is no mention of it in the Domesday Book, a great survey of England completed in 1086. The castle site was outside the western city gate, and defended on three sides by deep trenches. A branch of the River Nene provided a natural barrier on the western side. The castle had extensive grounds and a large keep. The gates were surrounded by bulwarks made of earth, used to mount artillery. The castle was ‘obliterated’ by the arrival of a railway branch of what is now the West Coast Main Line in the 19th century, the station of which was built on the castle site and the construction of the original Northampton Castle railway station.

 800px-Northampton_Castle_Bastion 800px-Postern_Gate_of_Northampton_Castle_2013 Northampton_Castle_Postern

All of this information regarding Simon’s early adult years leads me to believe that Simon and his family were already held in some high esteem or regard by William. Simon was not born until mid 1060s  but by the time he was in his late teens or very early twenties he was already made Earl of Northampton and put in charge of constructing this Castle and defenses for this Earldom holding of William. This does not speak of some lowly or relatively unknown prize winner in William’s raffling off of rewards…

In order to find some connection to further back, we can look at the city of Senlis, France  and its history.  The monarchs of the early French dynasties lived here, attracted by the proximity of the Chantilly Forest and its venison, and built a castle on the foundations of the Roman settlement. In 987 the archbishop of Reims, Albéron called together an assembly, and asked them to choose Hugh Capet as king of France. However, the monarchs of France soon abandoned the city, preferring Compiègne and Fontainebleau. New life was given to the city in the 12th century, and ramparts were built. The popularity of the city later fell, and it slipped into decline. Today it remains an attraction for tourists for its long history and its links to the French monarchy.

Senlis ruins

Senlis ruins

Senlis Cathedral

Senlis Cathedral

Senlis2

stock-photo-ruins-of-royal-castle-in-senlis-castle-was-place-of-election-of-hugh-capet-in-completely

stock-photo-ruins-of-royal-castle-in-senlis-castle-was-place-of-election-of-hugh-capet-in-completely

Senlis fell under the ownership of Hugh Capet in 981. He was elected king by his barons in 987 before being crowned at Noyon. Under the Capetian rule, Senlis became a royal city and remained so until the reign of Charles X. A castle was built during this period whose remains still lie today. The city reached its apogee in the 12th and 13th centuries as trade of wool and leather increased, while vineyards began to grow. With an increasing population, the city expanded and required the construction of new ramparts: a second chamber was erected under Phillip II that was larger and higher than the ramparts of the Gallo-Romans. A municipal charter was granted to the town in 1173 by the King Louis VII. The bishop of Senlis and the Chancellor Guérin became close advisors to the King, strengthening Senlis’ ties to the French royalty. In 1265, the Bailiwick of Senlis was created with its vast territory covering theBeauvais and the French Vexin. In 1319, the town crippled by debt, was passed to the control of the royalty. Senlis became devastated by the Hundred Years’ War, but managed to escape destruction despite being besieged by the Armagnacs.

Hugh Capet was married to Rollo’s grand-daughter, Adelaide of Aquitaine and as a result of this connection, DeSenlis families of Senlis probably had some continuing loyalties and alliances or connections to Normandy through her. There is no verifiable proof however to link Simon any further back to the original De Senlis family connected to Rollo and Poppa.  All we can do is form our own theories and conjectures based on the amounts of circumstantial evidence.

Another version gives Simon a somewhat different  parentage and ancestry.

SENLIS or ST. LIZ, SIMON de, Earl of Northampton and Huntingdon (d. 1109), was son of a Norman noble called Randel le Ryche. According to the register of the priory of St. Andrew at Northampton (Monast. Angl. v. 190), he fought with his brother Garner for William the Conqueror at Hastings. But there is no mention of him in Domesday book, and it seems more probable that he did not come to England till about the end of the reign of William I (Freeman, Norman Conquest, iv. 604). According to the legends preserved in the pseudo-Ingulph and the ‘Vita Waldevi,’ Simon was given by the Conqueror the hand of Judith, the widow of Earl Waltheof of Huntingdon; but Judith refused to marry him on account of his lameness. Simon then received the earldom of Northampton and Huntingdon from the king, and eventually married Matilda or Maud, the daughter of Waltheof and Judith. The marriage is an undoubted fact, but probably must be placed, together with the grant of the earldoms, not earlier than 1089. According to the ‘Vita Waldevi,’ Simon went on the crusade in 1095, but he appears to have been fighting on the side of William Rufus in Normandy in 1098, when he was taken prisoner by Louis, son of the king of France (Freeman, William Rufus, ii. 190). He was also one of the witnesses to the coronation charter of Henry I in 1100 (Stubbs, Select Charters, p. 102). Afterwards he went on the crusade. He died in 1109, and was buried at the priory of La Charité-sur-Loire. Earl Simon built Northampton Castle, and founded the priory of St. Andrew, Northampton, according to tradition, about 1084, but more probably in 1108 (Monast. Angl. v. 190–1). By his wife, Matilda, Simon had two sons—Simon, who is noticed below, and Waltheof (d 1159) [q. v.], who was abbot of Melrose. A daughter Maud married Robert FitzRichard of Tonbridge.

There are some  ancestry and genealogy sources that list Simon as son of Ranulf “The Rich” De St. Liz. According to these sources, Ranulf was born about 1030, died 1080. His wife Ermengarde  was born circa 1033. They had one son, Simon De Senlis/De St. Liz. These other sources list Ranulf’s father as Foulques Senlis who was born circa 955.  These accountings would match somewhat closely the information listed for Simon’s Grandfather being one Foulques De Senlis. The discrepancy comes in Simon’s Father either being Laudrie or Ranulf. Both versions give his Mother’s name as Ermangarde. It’s possible that Laudrie and Ranulf are the same person and there is just a discrepancy or some confusion over Laudri’s name being either Laudri or Ranulf. This confusion could stem from mixing up the two differing versions of Simon’s ancestry.

Some researchers have attempted to link Simon to a different Ranulf the Rich. These researchers have used Ranulf (Ranulph) “The Rich” DeMeschines (Viscount De Bayeux) (1021-1089) as the Father of Simon De Senlis. The problem with this connection is that these are two different Ranulph the Riches. Ranulph “The Rich” DeMeschines, Viscount De Bayeux is documented as having married Alice/Alix of Normandy who was an illegitimate daughter of Richard III of Normandy. If you look into the documented history for Ranulf, Viscount of Bayeux there is no connection to Simon DeSenlis or the DeSenlis family.

Ranulf, Viscount of Bayeux was known better as Ranulf de Briquessart (or Ranulf the Viscount) (died c. 1089 or soon after) was an 11th-century Norman magnate and viscount. Ranulf’s family were connected to the House of Normandy by marriage, and, besides Odo, bishop of Bayeux, was the most powerful magnate in the Bessin region.  He married Margaret, daughter of Richard Goz, viscount of the Avranchin, whose son and successor Hugh d’Avranches became Earl of Chester in England c. 1070.  This Ranulf died in 1089 and his son was His son Ranulf le Meschin became ruler of Cumberland and later Earl of Chester. The Durham Liber Vitae, c. 1098 x 1120, shows that his eldest son was one Richard, who died in youth, and that he had another son named William.  He also had a daughter called Agnes, who later married Robert (III) de Grandmesnil (died 1136). 

Another source of evidence to support Simon De Senlis’ Father as Laudri or Landri De Senlis comes from the  Dictionary of the nobility, containing the genealogies, the history …, Vol. 3, p. 65; Lords and Viscount de Senlis, Senlis Bouteiller, by Stephen Pattou, 2003, p. 2

Spouses / Children:
Ermengarde

  • Guy I of Senlis, called “The Tower”, lord of Chantilly .. +
  • Hubert de Senlis, canon of Notre-Dame de Paris
  • Simon I SENLIS (ST. LIZ), Earl of Huntingdon and Northampton +

 Landri of Senlis, knight, lord of Chantilly Ermenonville

  • Married:
  • Died: Between 1070 and 1080

   Landry Senlis, I. name, Knight, Lord & Ermenonville Chantilly, married, in the reign of King Philip I, a lady named Ermengarde, where he had three sons who inherited his property after his death in the year 1080: – -1. Gui, which follows – 2. Hubert, Canon of Notre-Dame de Paris, named in the title of 1119 – 3.Simon, who went to England, where he was the branch of the Counts Hu [n] Huntingdon & Northampton, reported below.

   Marriage Information:

Landry married Ermengarde.

 

I know this is probably getting confusing for many of you who may not be as interested or familiar with genealogy. I will try to simplify and clarify the confusing matters a little as well as get into why this is important in tracing Simon DeSenlis back further to the DeSenlis families connected to Rollo and Poppa.  In researching family histories this far back where this is little documented evidence or proof, it becomes somewhat more like a crime scene investigation or suspect profiling! You need to pay close attention to all of  various clues that show up in different versions or documents pertaining to the person, the family, events of the time and even to those others they might be associated with. You need to be more detective/ researcher and less record keeper/copier, scribe or sheep. 

The basic facts we are certain of are that one Simon DeSenlis was born about 1065-68 and died between 1109-1113. His life after 1080 was well documented and accounted for. More than one source or account lists his parents as Laudri/Landry DeSenlis and wife Ermangarde so it is reasonable to make a connection and assumption for this being Simon’s family line. 

 I am not so much interested in the concrete absolute facts because I know there are few if any of those. What I am looking for is more of a plausibility or feasibility factor or link that would show  a possible connection between Simon DeSenlis’ family and William’s family back to Rollo and Poppa’s generation. I believe that I have already provided evidence that ties Simon and his immediate family to some closer connection with William. 

There are some sources that mention Simon’s Father and possibly a brother arriving in England with William on his initial invasion in 1066. The brothers are not listed in the Domesday book so it could be assumed that they both returned to Normandy after the initial battles. Laudri’s information lists him as being Knight, Lord & Ermenonville Chantilly with his eldest son, Gui presumably inheriting that title. The second son, Hubert went to the Church as Canon of  Notre-Dame de Paris. As a third son, Simon would most likely have had to look elsewhere for title, wealth or lands. If the family had connections to William, this would have been an opportune time for William to assist the family in carving out a destiny for young Simon. Laudri may have aided William and participated in the invasion of England with him but as he already had lands and title, he might have been happy to return home after that first invasion. He may have seen no reason to stay on in England during those early years. Simon was born during these early years of the conquest so it is possible that rather than seek reward or title for himself in England that he did not need or want, Laudri chose instead to have William bestow any reward or favor on this third son who would be in need of title and wealth.  Laudri’s place of birth and death are listed as Senlis, Oise, Picardie, France. As I have mentioned previously, there is some confusion as to Laudri’s name being Laudri or possibly as in some other sources, Ranulf… all of the other information for the two different names is the same (except for the faction that tries to connect Ranulf to Ranulf of Bayeux and we have already discussed that confusion!)

Laudri’s Father is listed as Foulques De Senlis in more than one source and there is some documentation of a Foulques DeSenlis born 988 died 1050 with a son listed as Landry DeSenlis.  This foulques was also listed as living in Senlis, Oise, Picardie.  Foulque’s Father is listed as Rothold DeSenlis born abt 958 and died before 1045 at Senlis. Bear with me please… we are almost at our point of interest or possible connection to Rollo and Poppa!

Rothold’s Father is listed as Bernard II DeSenlis, born about 919 died abt 1000 at Senlis. Now, it does stand to reason that if there was a Bernard II, then there must have been a Bernard I of Senlis? This brings us back to the Bernard of Senlis mentioned in the beginning of this discussion… You know, the one Bernard DeSenlis that I mentioned early on in connection to Rollo and Poppa. Let’s refresh some of our dates here for this to begin to make some sense. Rollo was born about 850, died abt 827-830. Poppa was born around 870 and died abt 930. Let’s also go back to that alternate version of Poppa’s genealogy- you know the one where it lists her as being a daughter of  one Gui, Count of Senlis and sister of a Bernard of Senlis… Hopefully you are beginning to see some connection?  This name of Gui shows up again in the later generation of Simon’s family where Simon’s older brother is named Gui or Guy so it may be an indication of a generational name being passed down.

Bernard II DeSenlis has listed as his Father, a Bernard I born 875 and died sometime after 928 in France. All of the various genealogies listed become quite sketchy and extremely muddy at this point and it’s difficult to sift through all of the irregularities and possibilities for confusing supposed family members. Most of the versions do however, seem to connect Bernard II and his Father, Bernard I back eventually to the same families and lineages mentioned in the alternate version of Poppa’s genealogy. If we sort through all of the possible inaccuracies and look for common threads, those common threads of similar names, locations and titles give us a fairly good idea of Poppa’s general family connections to the houses, dynasties or territories of early Francia such as Senlis, Vermandois, Chantilly, Soissons, Champagne but not Bayeux.   Some history alludes to the idea that Poppa was “captured” during a battle at Bayeux so perhaps that is how she got connected to Bayeux. It may have been a case where Poppa was with Rollo during this campaign that took place some time between 887 and 889. She may have already been his wife or concubine and some might have assumed that if she was not a Dane, she must be a captive or slave of his. And, realistically she may have initially been in a position of hostage/captive or security of some sort to ensure payment or alliance from her family. The problem or question that ever remains is just which family… 

To put the history, the possible family connections and how they might have come about into some perspective, it might help to look at Rollo’s earliest known history in Francia and some maps of the areas involved. During 885/86 Rollo was involved in a siege of Paris. The siege was not successful but rather than fight the Viking group, King Charles the fat instead encouraged and allowed the group to travel down the Seine to ravage Burgandy which was in revolt at the time. When the Vikings withdrew from France the next spring, he gave them 700 livres (pounds) of silver as promised. In some context, this shows that the Frankish rulers were not above using Viking raiders to their own benefit and advantage in setting them up to attack territories that might be some threat to them. They were more than willing to enter into agreements or alliances with these groups and use them as a sort of paid mercenary group to thwart their own personal enemies or oppositions.  If King Charles was not above this type of action, it would stand to reason that other local leaders would be willing to do the same.  The Viking raiders were not unfamiliar with the leaders of Francia. They were an ongoing, fairly constant presence in the area as far back as prior to 845. By 885 when Rollo’s group began their siege of Paris, bribery and payoffs to the raiding groups was a common practice and one might even assume that by this time each groups’ rulers, leaders and politics were well-known to each other. 

The siege of 885 lasted through 885 and well into 886. During that time, various Viking groups would venture out to other areas including  Le Mans, Chartres,  Evreux and into the Loire. This would have put them in the areas of  Senlis, Champagne, Picardie, Soissons and other places associated with Poppa’s family connections. Their time spent on the river Seine would have taken them through areas around Brittany and Bayeux, thus putting them in the middle of the unrest going on there as a result of King Saloman’s murder in the late 870s.  Some time in late 886 or 887, Rollo’s group did leave Paris but that does not mean he left Francia. From most accounts, he remained in Francia throughout this time raiding in different parts. If he spent this amount of time in the area, he most likely began to settle himself there, develop a name and reputation for himself and build some alliances even though those alliances may have been shaky at first and been a result of his “working” relationship or associations based on the business of mercenaries or being paid not to raid…

If you look at the locations on maps, you will see the close proximity of all the places and how the leading families may have formed uneasy alliances or waged wars against each other in land disputes.

This ancient map shows the areas of Vermandois in relation to areas of what would eventually become Rollo’s land of Normandy. Bayeux is situated on the coast within that area. It also shows the close vicinity of Bayeux to Neustria and Brittany or Bretagne.

map of ancient france

This map shows the region of Picardy in relation to Paris and to Normandy, as well as the Champagne area.

france

This is a detailed map showing the separate lands or holdings within Picardy with Senlis being the closest to the borders of what would become Normandy. 

Picardie_adm

Finally, this map shows a better representation of  Senlis in relation to Rouen and Paris.

Senlis on map with Rouen and Paris

I have stated numerous times through out this discussion that there is no absolute conclusive evidence or proof for either Poppa’s family connections or in later generations, Simon DeSenlis’ family connections. My main intent  in this article is merely to suggest that  possibility or plausibility for Poppa’s alternative family connections and that those connections lead to the possible and plausible connection to the DeSenlis family.  Perhaps one day there will be some concrete definitive answer to the puzzles of this history and ancestry, most likely though it will remain an ongoing mystery that people with connections to these lineages will continue to debate. The progresses made in the field of genealogical DNA testing may eventually provide some answers to possible  blood line connections or matches. I have submitted my DNA sample for testing and waiting for results but I really do not expect those results to give any conclusive evidence or answer to this particular puzzle. I think that for the most part, this history and ancestry will remain subjective and dependent on each individual’s personal perspective on the history and people involved. 

My last thoughts on all of this more factual accounting of history have to do with the fiction and fantasy aspect of it. These thoughts are for the Vikings Saga fans of Rollo’s character… We have seen the beginning of Rollo’s arrival in the Frankish world according to Michael Hirst’s version and creative take on the events. Hirst has given us what I believe so far, is a combined version of Poppa and Gisla where Gisla takes prominence and gains some identity or credit rather than Poppa. How that relationship plays out is yet to be seen. We will see this in season 4. What we will also hopefully see is the development of Rollo’s alliances and friendships with those Viking men who remain with him, and with those men of Francia that he must eventually make friends or alliances with in order to succeed in creating and building Normandy. I am reasonably certain that we will most probably not see any actual characterization of one such as Bernard DeSenlis- that in my humble little mind would just be too much to hope for or expect. What I do hope to see is some unfolding is some combination of people in a character that might represent varied facets or bits of actual history.

Roland's role in the story

During the last episodes of season 3, we were vaguely introduced to a character named Roland who we know little about as yet.  Huw Parmenter will be returning as Roland in season 4 and I am anxious to see how his character of Roland fits into the story as Rollo’s life begins in Francia.  From what little we were able to discern or conclude of him in season 3, he is one of Odo’s soldiers and there seems to be some connection between him and Gisela. What that connection might be is a mystery right now. At this point we have no idea what Roland’s story really is? Is he a future villain or foe of Rollo, is he a future friend? What is his connection to Gisela, Charles and Odo… is he some family or relative, or is he some lovesick champion or supporter of Gisela?  What we have seen briefly is him carrying out Odo’s orders, a few subtly foreshadowing scenes of him with Gisela, Charles and Odo but no real definitive clues as to his future role. 

gisla has trouble tearing herself away from the scene even as this man Roland urges her to leave

gisla has trouble tearing herself away from the scene even as this man Roland urges her to leave

and here again we have a long pause on Roland

and here again we have a long pause on Roland

do and roland visit the camp to find out why they have not left yet

Odo and roland visit the camp to find out why they have not left yet

roland, a man to keep an eye on in the future

roland, a man to keep an eye on in the future

Roland's story

Roland’s story is yet to come so we can only make guesses as to what his part in the story will be. These are just my personal thoughts on how his story might play out. I could be completely wrong on this, so please do not hold me to this guess! Roland’s name and his current position within the Royal court suggest some nod, tribute or imaginative illusive reference to a historical legendary figure of Roland who was a military leader under Charlemagne who became one of the principal figures in the literary cycle known as the Matter of France. You can read more about the history and legend of Roland in a previous post:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/prussia-saxony-and-roland-part-2/

Perhaps our character of Roland will become a future friend or ally for Rollo… It stands to some reason that Rollo is going to need some Frankish alliances or friends. He has already made comments in far previous episodes that he understands the importance of alliances… he made such comment in a discussion with Floki about Aethelwulf. If Hirst is setting Roland up as this type of relationship with Rollo then Roland could be a representation of some of those early Frankish men such as Bernard DeSenlis. The DeSenlis line had ties to Charlemagne so would fit into some representation that Roland might possibly portray depending on how Hirst decides to tell the story! He has already set up sort of connection in his combining of Poppa and Gisela. If he presents Roland as some family connection to Gisela rather than some thwarted loved interest, then by making Roland an ally we would see the representation or connection mentioned in history about Bernard DeSenlis being a relative of Poppa’s and of him being one of Rollo’s comrades or companions from the earliest year. If he then carried the story forward, this would feasibly set Roland up as having some role as events of the future might play out in Normandy. As I’ve said, these are just my personal thoughts and wishful thinking about Roland’s character- I would love to see it play out in this way as some underlying tribute or nod to my family connection and version of the history!

 

 

Tracing my past back to Rollo!

In my previous post, I shared my personal timeline going back to Uhtred the Bold, Bamburgh Castle and early Northumbria. Within that lineage, I found one Judith of Lens who married Waltheof of Northumbria and gave me that link back to the history of Northumbria. What is important and special about Judith of Lens is that she also takes me back to Rollo of Normandy! Many of us  know Rollo for his current claim to fame in the Vikings Saga. If you follow this blog, you are well aware that I have always had a certain affinity or fondness for Rollo. Of course, it does help that Clive Standen does such a fine job of portraying him and probably makes him much more appealing to watch than the real Rollo would have been.  As I’ve watched the series unfold, I have become much more interested in the character and true history of Rollo than that of Ragnar. That is not because of Clive’s portrayal of the character although that does not hurt, but because of the actual history and the importance of Rollo and Normandy.  If you look at the history of the Vikings and compare the events or accomplishments of Ragnar and Rollo, it is clear that as far as Viking history and events go, Rollo of Normandy had a far more important and long lasting impact than Ragnar Lodbrok.  Ragnar is more of a myth or legend and his claims to fame have come more from the actions of his sons than any of his own accomplishments. When you look at his sons, even their claims to fame were relatively short lived and can not really be documented much deeper than their individual involvements in the Great Heathen Wars that constituted one portion of the Viking era in England.  Rollo of Normandy though, left a dynasty and legacy of many future generations that is verifiable and documented. 

 

Season 4 of the Vikings Saga will soon be upon us and we will see how Michael Hirst’s version of the Viking era plays out. While we should all be in agreement that this show is more historical fantasy than actual history, Mr. Hirst has made numerous assurances and promises that he will present Rollo’s story more according to actual historical events than fantasy. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Rollo’s life and accomplishments are more historically sound than the events of Ragnar’s or even Ecbert’s…

By including Rollo in this family story as a brother of Ragnar, I think in a way that Hirst  painted or wrote his way into a corner with Rollo’s story. Now, he must find a way to get Rollo out of that corner, separate him from the confines of Ragnar’s story and from the events that will take place in England. So far, he has made a start at this separation by creating the rivalry and possible betrayal of Ragnar on the part of Rollo.  He has set up a scenario whereby it will be possible to set Rollo’s story up as separate from Ragnar and his family.  If you look at the truer history of Rollo, there is little actual documentation of his Danish or Norse family ties so it would seem that for what ever reason, Rollo did indeed separate himself from any of those family ties.  That is not to say that he separated himself from his Viking heritage, traditions or beliefs because throughout his life he seemed to hold on to many of those traditions and beliefs.  What we glimpse in previews of season 4 is Rollo realizing that he must choose between family and personal destiny. 

Rollo must follow his own destiny even if it means a betrayal of his brother Ragnar. I know that this story arc has in a way turned into an us against them, team Ragnar vs team Rollo following or feeling but in reality, this confrontation and closing has to take place for the story to move on.  Perhaps Rollo does have to betray Ragnar in order to achieve his own goals, his own success in life. If he has to betray Ragnar, so be it… Ragnar will be dead before Rollo anyway.  As for the future that the preview shows us, my bigger concern is for Bjorn- it appears as though power may be corrupting him and going to his head bit?  

Now, back to Rollo… he seems to be adjusting to the Frankish customs and life rather well if you ask me!

12494942_10156478820890249_6442139554579576026_n

credit to @teamStanden for the photos of Rollo!

rollo season4

I am digressing and getting a bit side tracked here because my main intent for this post is to share more about the real Rollo and my personal connection to him, ancient and distant as it may be! So, let us return to the original focus of this discussion- which is my path back to Rollo through Judith of Lens.  Let’s play a quick game of six degrees of separation… How are these people connected to each other?

Rollo and Uhtred

I have spent the past few weeks trying to sort through the tangled webs and branches of my tree and figure out this connection. There were some extremely tangled branches due that pesky habit they had back then of marrying relatives, casting off wives, disowning each other or legitimizing children of concubines and mistresses, and that does not include the habit of listing heirs or offspring by their land titles or such instead of a common surname! Anyway, I have now untangled enough to trace a lineage back through Judith of Lens to Rollo.

For those of you unfamiliar with Judith of Lens, you can read her story in this previous article.

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/my-ancestor-path-to-normandy-northumbria-and-even-a-uthred-the-bold/

You can also read more about her and Waltheof of Northumbria in a book by Elizabeth Chadwick called the Winter Mantle. The book is historical fiction- I definitely would not call it historical romance unless of course you consider a husband who commits treason and gets beheaded for it, and a wife who turns bitter and resentful a romance? Elizabeth Chadwick provides excellent historical details and events while creating two stories that cover the time and lives of Judith of Lens, Waltheof of Northumbria, their daughter Maude of Huntington and her husband Simon De Senlis. She also includes some a not so likable or pleasant portrayal of  Judith’s Mother Adelaide of Normandy who was a sister to William the Conqueror.  It is more of an epic lifetime saga than a romance and my only minor disappointment was in the fact that she ended the story before Simon’s death and Maude’s marriage to King David of Scotland! I will admit that had she included that portion, the book would have gone beyond the bounds of epic and been far too long for most people to keep going with the story. I am probably one of few who would endure the added length in order to read the rest of Maude’s story unfold! 

the winter mantle2

Judith of Lens

Judith of Lens

Maude of Huntington

Maude of Huntington

Adelaide of Normandy

Adelaide of Normandy

Waltheof of Northumbria

Waltheof of Northumbria

After picking through all of the threads of my lineage, here is my connection back to Rollo through Judith of Lens.

Relationship to me

Robert I Rollo The Viking Rolf the Ganger Prince of Norway & Saint De Normandie Count of Rouen Ragnvaldsson (846 – 931)
34th great-grandfather
William I Longsword of Normandy 2nd Duke of Normandy (893 – 942)
son of Robert I Rollo The Viking Rolf the Ganger Prince of Norway & Saint De Normandie Count of Rouen Ragnvaldsson
Richard (The Fearless) of Normandy I (933 – 996)
son of William I Longsword of Normandy 2nd Duke of Normandy
Richard (The Good) Normandy II (963 – 1026)
son of Richard (The Fearless) of Normandy I
Robert I of Normandy (1000 – 1035)
son of Richard (The Good) Normandy II
Adelaide Normandy (1027 – 1090)
daughter of Robert I of Normandy
Judith of Lens (1054 – 1086)
daughter of Adelaide Normandy
Simon II Earl of Huntington De St Liz (1090 – 1153)
son of Maud Matilda Queen Consort of the Scots, Countess of Huntingdon and Northumbria
Simon III de Senlis (1138 – 1184)
son of Simon II Earl of Huntington De St Liz
Simon de Senlis (1181 – 1250)
son of Sir Simon IV Huntingdon DeSaintElizabeth DeSenlis St Liz*
William DeSaintElizabeth DeSenlis (1246 – 1286)
son of Simon De Saint Elizabeth de Senlis
Sir William St . Elizabeth Senlis (1274 – 1313)
son of William DeSaintElizabeth DeSenlis
Lady Alice De St Elizabeth (1300 – 1374)
daughter of Sir William St . Elizabeth Senlis
Richard Woodville De Wydeville (1385 – 1441)
son of Isabel “Lady of Swanbourne” de Lyons Godard
Joan Maud Wydville (1410 – 1462)
daughter of Richard Woodville De Wydeville
William Hathaway (1470 – )
son of Sir William XIII, Keeper of the Forest Dene, Hathaway
Robert Hathaway (1500 – 1545)
son of William Hathaway
Joan Hathaway (1536 – 1584)
daughter of Robert Hathaway
William Workman (1568 – 1628)
son of Joan Hathaway
John Workman (1590 – 1640)
son of William Workman
John William Workman (1600 – 1647)
son of John Workman
Dirck Jans Woertman (1630 – 1694)
son of John William Workman
Jan Derick Woertman (1665 – 1712)
son of Dirck Jans Woertman
Abraham Woertman Workman (1709 – 1736)
son of Jan Derick Woertman
William P Workman (1746 – 1836)
son of Abraham Woertman Workman
Amos Workman (1764 – 1844)
son of William P Workman
William Workman (1819 – 1906)
son of Isaac A. Workman
Charles W. Workman (1862 – 1956)
son of William Workman
Ward Harlan Workman (1924 – 1994)
son of Clarence Bertrand Workman
Judith Ann Workman
You are the daughter of Ward Harlan Workman
 So, Judith of Lens connects me to both Uhtred of Northumbria and Last Kingdom fame, and Rollo of history and Vikings Saga fame! In my previous post, I shared some of the history I learned about Northumbria. Now, I will share  more of the history surrounding Rollo and his dynasty. If you browse through my archives, you will find that I have already shared much of his history so I am not going to repeat all of it again. I am just going to add some of the history I’ve found about the family- the real family, not Mr. Hirst’s version of it, or the numerous variations and versions presented by Norse Sagas.  Because I am attempting to stick to the more factual details and documented evidence while tracing my ancestors, I am not going any further back than Rollo because there is just no concise or conclusive proof of anything beyond Rollo’s existence. One could include the information from Norse Sagas and such but that information is varying depending on which Saga one goes by. It’s difficult enough trying to piece together the sketchy documents there are for this far back let alone try to sift through numerous oral renditions written down centuries after the events. I have not included any of those possibilities in my family tree and will not include them here. Yes, I do know there are a great many stories and legends that take Rollo’s ancestry further back but at this point there is just not enough evidence to say conclusively exactly who his family really was. Historians can not even agree whether he was of Norse descent or Danish. Some documents list his origins as Danish and others list it as Norse. The only thing certain is that he was a Scandinavian Viking raider who managed to cut a good deal with a Frankish King for some coastal land which later became Normandy!
We know little or nothing factual about Rollo’s earlier life before Normandy but in reading through information on his son and grandson, we find that he did have a loyal group of Vikings that stood with him, supported him and went on to look after his interests/family after his death in 931. 
the warriors staying behind with rollo for the winter
When Rollo’s son William took over rule in 927, many of the men loyal to Rollo would eventually rebel against his son.  Rollo’s son William proved to be a bit of a disappointment to most.
William_longsword_statue_in_falaise
 It appears that he faced a rebellion early in his reign, from Normans who felt he had become too Gallicised. Subsequent years are obscure. In 939 William became involved in a war with Arnulf I of Flanders, which soon became intertwined with the other conflicts troubling the reign of Louis IV. He was killed by followers of Arnulf while at a meeting to settle their conflict in abt 940.  After having made rather a mess of his reign and the land of Normandy, his death also left the future uncertain because his heir was a young child at the time.  The age of Richard was not his only obstacle to his inheritance.  He was also the son of William I and a mistress and so was illegitimate. There were many who tried to take advantage of this for their own gain.
assassination of William Longsword

assassination of William Longsword

Richard was born to William I Longsword, princeps (chieftain or ruler) of Normandy, and Sprota. His mother was a Breton concubine captured in war and bound to William by a more danico marriage.  He was also the grandson of the famous Rollo. Richard was about 10 years old when his father was killed on 17 December 942.  William was told of the birth of a son after the battle with Riouf and other Viking rebels, but his existence was kept secret until a few years later when William Longsword first met his son Richard. After kissing the boy and declaring him his heir, William sent Richard to be raised in Bayeux. After William was killed, Sprota became the wife of Esperleng, a wealthy miller; Rodulf or Ralf  of Ivry was their son and Richard’s half-brother. 
Sproata, concubine of William I of Normandy

Sproata, concubine of William I of Normandy

It is with young Richard that we find the men who had been loyal to Rollo stepping up to save the boy and the future of Normandy. With the death of Richard’s father in 942, King Louis IV of France seized the lands of the Duchy of Normandy. The king installed the boy Richard in his father’s office, and placed him in the custody of the count of Ponthieu.  He then split up the Duchy, giving its lands in lower Normandy to Hugh the Great. The King used the excuse that he was seeing to the young nobleman’s education, but at the same time was giving some of Richard’s lands in Lower Normandy to Hugh the Great, Count of Paris.    Louis IV thereafter kept Richard in solitary confinement at Lâon, but the youth escaped from imprisonment with assistance of Osmond de Centville, Bernard de Senlis (who had been a companion of Rollo of Normandy), Ivo de Bellèsme, and Bernard the Dane  (ancestor to the families of Harcourt and Beaumont).  According to legend, Richard refused to eat while in captivity.  Because he appeared ill, the guard on him was relaxed. Osmond de Centville secretly entered Laon and smuggled Richard out of his confinement, reportedly by hiding him in a truss of hay. They then took refuge with Bernard of Senlis. In 1854 Charlotte Yonge retold the story of Richard in a series of stories called “The Little Duke.”  These stories, in turn, inspired Mark Twain’s book, “The Prince and the Pauper.”

Richard the fearless

Richard the fearless

Besides these men, another Viking is often mentioned in relation to Richard.  By 944 Louis IV’s soldiers had invaded Normandy again, and had seized control of Rouen, while Hugh the Great, Count of France invaded Lower Normandy around Bayeux. The alliance between Louis and Hugh, always historically unstable, broke down, when Bernard the Dane suggested to Louis that Hugh was getting more than his share of Normandy land. Hugh, in response to the King’s hostility, joined an alliance of Normans loyal to Richard and Danish Vikings under Harold (Harald) of Bayeux or of The Bassin.  This alliance ultimately defeated King Louis.  Harald continued to be of assistance to Richard and Normandy.    According to Flodoard, King Louis was invited to a meeting with this Harold in order to discuss peace terms.  Louis arrived with only a few men; Harold killed most of his men and Louis fled to Rouen where other Northmen, previously thought to be friendly to Louis, captured him.  He was only released to Hugh the Great when Louis gave his son Charles as a hostage at Rouen.  Although Louis was eventually given his freedom, the new alliance of Hugh of France and Richard of Normandy was now the new power in the region.

In 946, Richard agreed to “commend” himself to Hugh, the Count of Paris. At the age of 14, Richard allied himself with the Norman and Viking leaders in France, drove king Louis IV’s army out of Rouen, and successfully took back Normandy from him by 947.  Richard with the backing, the council and advice from those much older Viking Warriors took control and it might be said that he was the one most responsible for turning his Grandfather’s dream into a solid reality, a Kingdom to be reckoned with and if not liked, at least respected and possibly feared by other countries.   By 966 he was using the title “Marquis des Normands.” He never used the title Duke of Normandy, though some historians have retroactively assigned it to him. Richer of Rheims refers to him as “dux pyratorum” or “leader of the pirates”. In no sense did he mean “dux” as an official title.  Richard was also given the nickname of “Sans Peur” or The Fearless.  

Throughout Richard’s reign, there was continued connection and involvement with Viking factions which would suggest that while his Grand father Rollo may have severed personal family ties, he did not severe his connection to the Vikings.  In 961 a Viking band arrived in the Seine Valley and conducted raids towards the Brittany border and around Chartres.  It is possible these Vikings had the tacit support of Richard because the raids provoked hostility between Richard and an alliance of King Lothair and Theobald, Count of Chartres and Blois. Theobald attacked the Norman cities of Évereux and Roeun, and the Normans, in return, attacked Dunois and burned Chartres.  This conflict raged for four years. It is reported that Harold the Dane again came to the aid of Richard in 962.  Unless the medieval historians confused this war with the one of 945, this may be the same Harold who resided in the vicinity of Bayeux when William Longsword died. 

Eventually Richard did swear allegiance to Louis’ successor Lothar [Lothaire] in 965 at Gisors and the King acknowledged Richard’s rule over the Bessin, the Contetin and the Avranchin regions of Normandy. Richard promised to rebuild and restore the monastery of Mont. St. Michael, which he acquired in the agreement.    Other than these early conflicts, Richard’s long reign was relatively peaceful. After 965, Viking raids in the area ceased. Richard quarreled with King Æthelred (Ethelred) II of England.  At the time the Danes had invaded England and taken control over much of the eastern part of country.  Apparently the Normans had been purchasing a lot of the loot. In 991 Richard agreed to a non-aggression pact with King Æthelred, probably to keep either side from sheltering Viking marauders.

Gunnora wife of Richard the fearless

Gunnora wife of Richard the fearless

Gunnora

Gunnora

 Further evidence of the continued connection to the Danes is Richard’s relationship and eventual marriage to his concubine or mistress, Gunnora who was said to be of a noble family of Danes.  It is known that Richard had more than one mistress and one of these, Gunnora, he eventually married some time before 989.  Richard and Gunnora had eight children. She is sometimes called “Gunnora of Crépon” because she had a brother named “Herfast (Artfast) de Crépon” and nephew named “Osborn de Crépon.”  The term de Crépon was never attached to Gunnora’s name during her lifetime and, though Crépon is a town in Lower Normandy near Bayeux, there is no direct evidence that this was a location in which she ever lived.

Richard’s formal marriage to Gunnora was certainly carried out in order to legitimize their children, especially his eldest son and heir Richard II and his second son Robert who Richard had appointed as the Archbishop of Reoun.
All we know about Gunnora is that she was from a “noble family of Danes”, and so her family was probably one of the many Nordic settlers or their descendants that lived in Normandy.  According to Legend the young Richard was hunting in the forests of Normandy when he met and was attracted to a young lady named Sainsfrida (Senfrie), the daughter of a forester of Arques. Sainsfrida was, however, married and so sent her sister Gunnora to Richard.   The chronicles do not give the name of her parents.  Since their eldest son Richard II was born about 953, their relationship must have begun some time before this date.  In spite of conjecture in many family trees, there is absolutely no evidence that she was the daughter of Harold Bluetooth, King of Denmark.  She was referred to as Gunnora Harldsdottir but it is likely that she may have been the daughter of the previously mentioned Harald the Dane who, contrary to some popular assumption is not the same Harald as Harald Bluetooth. 
In looking at the differences between the failures of William and the successes of his son Richard, we probably need to look at them in relation to Rollo. By the time he was awarded Normandy, Rollo was a hardened professional warrior who was used to fighting for what he wanted. He most likely had not lived any easy life, nor had anything handed to him. When he finally achieved his goal of  wealth and land, he still had to work to hold on to it. He was a Viking and for the most part lived by Viking traditions and customs. One example of those customs was his “wife” Poppa of Bayeux.  The generally accepted theory is that Poppa was the daughter of Berenger II of Nuestria and was taken captive by Rollo during an attack on Bayeux in about 885. She was Rollo’s concubine or wife “more danico” in Norse/Danish tradition. She was not a slave and was most likely of high nobility.
statue of Poppa

statue of Poppa

Poppa of Bayeux

Poppa of Bayeux

 A more danico marriage meant “in the Danish manner” or “by Norse customary law“. It designates a type of traditional marriage practiced in northern Europe during the Middle Ages. It is possible, therefore, that marriage more danico was neither informal marriage nor even legitimized abduction, but simply secular marriage contracted in accordance with Germanic law, rather than ecclesiastical marriage.  More danico permitted polygyny (serial or simultaneous), but is not synonymous with it. The “putting away” of a more danico wife could apparently be done at the mere wish of the husband; the rights of the wife are unclear. Often the putting away was done with the intention of marrying a still higher-ranking woman more christiano; but since there are numerous instances of the husband returning to themore danico wife, it is possible that the relationship had merely been deactivated or kept in the background. The union could also be fully dissolved, so that the wife was free to marry another man. Her consent in the matter may or may not have been required; again, the consensual aspect is unknown.  By tradition and customary law, the children of such a relationship were in no way considered of lesser rank or disadvantaged with respect to inheritance. Many sons more danico went on to become dukes or kings by succession or conquest.
By accepting baptism and vassalage under a Christian prince under Charles the Simple after the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in 911, Rollo had placed the Vikings of Normandy on the inevitable path of Christianization; but they clung to some old customs. 
 

 Norman chronicler William of Jumieges uses the term explicitly to refer to two relationships:

  • Rollo, founder of the Norman dynasty, had taken captive at Bayeux, Poppa, daughter of a count, Berengar. Dudo of Saint-Quentin relates that they had been joined in marriage (“connubium”), William of Jumieges describing that Rollo had joined himself to her by more danico. She was mother of his son William Longsword. It is related that he put Poppa aside to marry Gisela, daughter of Charles the Simple, and that when Gisela died, he returned to Poppa. However, the absence of any record of this royal princess or her marriage in Frankish sources suggests the entire supposed marriage to Gisela may be apocryphal.
  • William Longsword in his turn, had a son and heir by a woman whose name is given as Sprota. William of Jumieges reports that Longsword was bound to her pursuant to the mos danicus (“danico more iuncta”).  The chronicler Flodoard refers to her simply as Longsword’s ‘Breton concubine’ (“concubina britanna”).  William would formally marry Luitgarde of Vermandois, daughter of Heribert II, count of Vermandois. [Dudo iii, 32 (p. 70)], who following William’s death remarried to Thibaut, count of Blois. Sprota, who was mother of Longsword’s heir, Richard I, Duke of Normandy, is said to have been forced to become concubine of Esperleng, the rich owner of several mills, by whom she became mother of Rodulf of Ivry, although it is unclear if this occurred at the time of William’s marriage to Luitgarde, or at his death.
  • Richard I carried on the tradition of more danico with Gunnora. She was his wife more danico or concubine as early as sometime in 950s even though he entered into a Christian marriage with Emma daughter of Hugh the Great, Count of Paris.  She was born about 943 and died after 19 Mar 968. After her death he eventually married Gunnora in the Christian manner to ensure legitimacy of their many children after the church began taking a stricter approach and view on the more danico marriages. 

While many may perceive the relationship between Rollo and Poppa as that of her being a captive slave or just a mistress, in reality it was more likely a relationship and marriage of importance in terms of alliances and politics of the time. Being of some high status herself, Poppa would probably have taken this relationship seriously and expected to be treated with the respect due her rank and status. When she gave birth to son William in 893, she provided the much needed heir to the dynasty and would have sealed an alliance between Normandy and Bayeux. William was the heir apparent most likely would have been treated with high regard and esteem… given advantages and a much easier life than Rollo had.  There is reference to Rollo being well attached to his son and at one point he sent William to Bayeux to learn more of the Norse ways of Northmen residing within Bayeux.  From most accounts though, William was far more interested in becoming more Frankish and as a result his own people rebelled against him. It seems that this may have been a case of  William possibly being over indulged, given too much advantage and not having had to truly work for his title… not such an uncommon occurence for many heirs or children of a parent who has worked to achieve wealth and standing.  William was born in 893 while Rollo was working towards his greatness. This meant that Rollo was absent during most of William’s youth so his upbringing was most likely left predominantly to Poppa who was of Noble birth and would have raised William within that context of privilage and esteem. Rollo ruled until 927, which put William well into adulthood with little chance of ruling… it probably seemed to him that Rollo was going to live forever! This situation left William as a well privelaged adult with not a whole lot to do besides enjoy his Father’s wealth. When Rollo turned over the rule to his son in 927, he may have had concerns but probably felt that his son was capable of ruling and continuing along the path he had set. He also had few other choices… William was his only son and at the time, he was the legitimate heir.  Had Rollo chosen someone else to rule, there would have been rebellion from some faction.

Rollo died in 931 and William quickly began to make changes and rebelling against his Father’s policies. He set about building up his allegiances and alliances to the French Kings which caused the Norman Nobles to dissent. In 935, he went so far as to marry his younger sister Gerloc to  William, Count of Poitou with the approval of Hugh the Great. At the same time he At the same time Longsword married Luitgarde,  daughter of Count Herbert II of Vermandois whose dowry gave him the lands of Longueville, Coudres and Illiers l’Eveque.  In addition to supporting King Raoul, he was now a loyal ally of his father-in-law, Herbert II, both of whom his father Rollo had opposed. 

At the time of his arranged marriage to Luitgarde, William had a wife more danica, Sprota as well as his son and heir, Richard. This new marriage left Sprota and Richard in a difficult situation.  He did provide for her and Richard during this period as there was reference to her living in her own household at Bayeux under his protection but she was now looked on as a cast off concubine rather than a wife. Richard was left to endure the being the subject of ridicule, the French King Louis “abused the boy with bitter insults”, calling him “the son of a whore who had seduced another woman’s husband.” 

William’s actions during this time led to his ultimate downfall and death which in turn led to his young son Richard having to fight against all odds to reclaim his title and regain control of Normandy. So, essentially Richard was in much the same position as his Grandfather Rollo had been, fighting and working to achieve his worth and his fame.  After regaining control of Normandy in about 960, Richard spent the remainder of his lengthy reign focused on Normandy itself, and participated less in Frankish politics and its petty wars. In lieu of building up the Norman Empire by expansion, he stabilized the realm and reunited the Normans, forging the reclaimed Duchy of his father and grandfather into West Francia’s most cohesive and formidable principality. Rather than outright war, Richard  used marriage to build strong alliances. His marriage to Emma of Paris connected him directly to the House of Capet. His second wife, Gunnora, from a rival Viking group in the Cotentin, formed an alliance to that group, while her sisters formed the core group that were to provide loyal followers to him and his successors.  His daughters forged valuable marriage alliances with powerful neighboring counts as well as to the king of England.  He also strengthened ties to the church presumably understanding how important the church alliances were. Richard also built on his relationship with the church, restoring their lands and ensuring the great monasteries flourished in Normandy. His further reign was marked by an extended period of peace and tranquility.

While William may not have been successful in his reign or achievements, his son Richard more than made up for his inadequacies. Also, William’s decision to marry his sister into the house of Poitou and Aquitaine would prove to be one of his better decisions. 

gerloc Adeila of normandy

Gerloc (or Geirlaug), baptised in Rouen as Adela (or Adèle) in 912, was the daughter of Rollo, first duke of Normandy, and his wife, Poppa. She was the sister of Duke William Longsword.  In 935, she married William Towhead, the future count of Poitou and duke of Aquitaine. They had two children together before she died on 14 October 962:

Through her son William IV of Aquitaine, she would be ancestor to Dukes of Aquitaine and to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Her daughter Adelaide would go on to become a Queen of France. 

Dukes of Aquetaine

Dukes of Aquetaine

Adbelahide or Adele or Adelaide of Aquitaine (or Adelaide of Poitiers) (c. 945 or 952 – 1004) was the daughter of William III, Duke of Aquitaine andAdele of Normandy, daughter of Rollo of Normandy.  Her father used her as security for a truce with Hugh Capet, whom she married in 969.  In 987, after the death of Louis V, the last Carolingian king ofFrance, Hugh was elected the new king with Adelaide as queen. They were proclaimed at Senlis and blessed at Noyon. They were the founders of the Capetian dynasty of France.

Picture Name Father Birth Marriage Became queen Ceased to be queen spouse
Adelaide of Aquitaine.jpg Adelaide of Aquitaine William III, Duke of Aquitaine c. 945 970 3 July 987 1004 Hugh
Susanna of Italy.jpg Rozala of Italy Berengar II of Italy c. 937 988 996 7 February 1003 Robert II
Berthe de Bourgogne.jpg Bertha of Burgundy Conrad of Burgundy c. 952 996 1035?
Konstancie Arles.jpg Constance of Arles William I, Count of Provence 986 1003 25 July 1034
Of Frisia Matilda.jpg Matilda of Frisia Liudolf, Margrave of Frisia c. 1024 1034 1044 Henry I
Anne Kiev.jpg Anne of Kiev Yaroslav I, Grand Prince of Kiev c. 1024 19 May 1051 1075
Bertha of holland.jpg Bertha of Holland Floris I, Count of Holland c. 1055 1072 1094 Philip I
Bertrade-montfort2.jpg Bertrade de Montfort Simon I de Montfort c. 1070 15 May 1092 1117
Adelaidesavojska.jpg Adélaide de Maurienne Humbert II, Count of Savoy 1092 3 August 1115 18 November 1154 Louis VI
Illus-050-1-.jpg Eleanor of Aquitaine William X, Duke of Aquitaine 1122 22 July 1137 1137 21 March 1152
annulment
1 April 1204

The list of the Capetian dynasty is actually much longer. This above list is just a partial list of Queen Consorts for the Dynasty which continued until the death of Charles the IV in 1328.  The dynasty had a crucial role in the formation of the French state. Initially obeyed only in their own demesne, the Île-de-France, the Capetian kings slowly, but steadily, increased their power and influence until it grew to cover the entirety of their realm. For a detailed narration on the growth of French royal power, see Crown lands of France.

As you’re wading through all of this you may be wondering where Gisela of France is, and why she is not mentioned anywhere in this information?  Well, Gisela is not here because there simply is not enough verifiable evidence to back up her existence let alone her marriage to Rollo.   

Gisela of France, also called Gisella or Giséle (fl. 911), was traditionally a French princess and the consort of Rollo, duke of Normandy. Gisela had no children.  According to tradition, Rollo was betrothed to Gisela, daughter to the king of West Francia, Charles the Simple, after his conversion to Christianity upon his ascension as ruler of Normandy in 911. The marriage and the existence of Gisela are not confirmed. This excerpt from a book called Dictionary of Heroes gives an account of the supposed legend pertaining to Rollo and Gisela and also reaffirms the lack of any proof or evidence to back up the story.  If she did exist and did marry Rollo, she died childless and he maintained his previous relationship with Poppa, the Mother of his children.  So, for the purposes of lineage and ancestry or descendants of Rollo she would be inconsequential. Also, the accounts taken from the treaty of Saint Clair Epte only state that Rollo offered to marry her as a goodwill gesture. Since there is no definitive proof or documentation of any such actual marriage taking place, perhaps Rollo or Charles decided that the baptism would suffice and there was no need to carry things to such extreme as the marriage between the Viking and a Princess of France!

Rollo and Gisela from dictionary of heroes

There is a Gisela listed as a daughter of Charles the Simple and his first wife Frederuna, daughter of Dietrich, Count in the Hamaland. Together they had six daughters:

  • Ermentrude
  • Frederuna
  • Adelaide
  • Gisela, wife of Rollo (existence doubtful)
  • Rotrude
  • Hildegarde

There is always the possibility that having six daughters, Charles may have been willing to part with one of them in order to achieve some sort of peace but it does seem rather doubtful that a Carolingian King would allow for such an arrangement with one of their princesses that were so highly valued and esteemed. My one thought on this is that the daughter must really have annoyed and irritated him- obviously she would not have been a favored daughter for him to so willingly have traded her to a heathen Viking warrior. Hmmm come to think of it, perhaps it did happen and perhaps Hirst has given us a somewhat more accurate portrayal of history than we give him credit for?

gisla is still a young girl wanting her own way

gisla he disgusts me he makes me want to vomit charles with a rather unhappy Gisla at the mass rollo and gisla

If Mr Hirst goes for more historical accuracy with Rollo’s story, perhaps this will be a short lived marriage… Gisla will meet some sort of untimely or unfortunate demise and a woman named Poppa will show up. It’s hard to say where Mr. Hirst will take any of the story but at least now you know truer details of Rollo’s dynasty and legacy that includes so many generations of famous descendants as well as ordinary peons like myself.

And, at least now I know why I feel so compelled to remain loyal to Rollo despite his many faults, flaws and errors in judgement! 

 

 

 

 

Uhtred of Bebbanburg has arrived!

Yes, Uhtred of Bebbanburg has arrived on our small screens! In case you missed it, the premiere of The Last Kingdom aired on Saturday via the BBC America channel. It will make it’s debut in the UK on Oct. 22 by way of BBC2. Because of that short delay for many viewers, I will try not to give out too many spoilers in this initial review. If you know me at all, you will understand what an extremely difficult challenge this will be for me!

Before we get into the review, we should refresh ourselves on some basic information related to the premise of the show. Everyone who follows this blog should be well aware that the show is based on the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell.  I have made numerous references to the author and the books here and have the utmost praise and appreciation for his work! You can visit his official site for more information on all of the books!

http://www.bernardcornwell.net/

The Last Kingdom is a contemporary story of redemption, vengeance and self-discovery set against the birth of England.

This historical drama comes from BBC America, BBC Two and the Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning producers of Downton Abbey, Carnival Films.  The series is an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling series of books ‘The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Stories’ by BAFTA nominated and RTSD award-winning writer Stephen Butchard.

For more information:  http://www.bbcamerica.com/the-last-kingdom/

And to read a review of the programme: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/10/arts/television/review-the-last-kingdom-offers-a-fight-with-swords-for-identity.html?_r=1

The creator of the show are using the books as their guideline but will use their own creative license in telling the story. What this means is that there will be changes made in order to transition the stories to a workable format for the small screen. Bernard Cornwell is fine with this idea so you should be as well. Mr. Cornwell is not involved in this production at all and was happy with this arrangement. He created the initial story and is as excited as the rest of us to see how the show goes about creating this version of it. I am mentioning this now because I know full well how some book purists will make much fuss about the slightest variations to the story. There have already been complaints about such minor details as Uhtred’s hair color… Please believe me when I assure you that once you start watching this series, you will be so engrossed in the story that you will care little about the color of Uhtred’s hair!

Another point I want to be clear on for some viewers who may be interested in the series because of their fandom of the Vikings series on History Channel. I have had comments from a few viewers that would suggest some slight misconceptions or misunderstandings regarding these two very separate shows that are dealing with the same time period. The Last Kingdom is not in any way related to, linked to or based on the Vikings series. Other than the fact that they do deal with the same time period and a few of the same historical figures, they are two completely separate individual entities. They tell two very different versions of the same basic history and any resemblance between characters is simply due to similarities in somewhat common names of the time for the most part. The Vikings Saga is more along the lines of historical fantasy while The Last Kingdom is most definitely in the category of historical fiction. I recently read a comment that sums this up perfectly… there is history and then there is Hirstory! Hirst’s version is fun and entertaining- while it does contain some level of historical reference it has veered well into the fantasy realm. You can read more about my thoughts on the differences between historical fiction and historical fantasy here:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/historical-fiction-vs-historical-fantasy/

historical fiction

As I mentioned, there are a few key historical figures that show up in both shows. For the time being those characters are limited to Ubba (son of Ragnar Lodbrok) and the adult sons of Aethelwulf- Athelred and Alfred.  The Ragnar in the Last Kingdom is not connected or related in any way to Ragnar Lodbrok. Ivar the Boneless has not yet made any appearance in Last Kingdom and depending on how the events play out, he may not appear at all. The importance in Last Kingdom is set more on Ubba and another Danish leader, Guthrum. 

ubbe of Vikings Saga

Ubbe of Vikings series

ubba of Last Kingdom

Ubba of Last Kingdom

Sons in Viking series vs Sons in Last Kingdom

Athelred and Alfred of vikings seriesAethered and Alfred in last kingdom

The last and important figure to clear up any confusion on is this King… This is Ecghbert of Northumbria, the ridiculous puppet King of Nothing set in place and allowed to rule by the Danes after their battle at Eorfic/York in which they defeated the Kings of Northumbria- Aelle and Osberht. This King is not related to or connected to King Ecbert of Wessex in any way!

Ecghbert the ridiculous puppet king for Danish masters

ecbert sends aethelwult to mercia to deal with queen kwentirith

Ecgberht (died 873) was king of Northumbria in the middle of the 9th century. This period of Northumbrian history is poorly recorded, and very little is known of Ecgberht.

He first appears following the death of kings Ælla and Osberht in battle against the Vikings of the Great Heathen Army at York on 21 March 867. Symeon of Durham records:

Nearly all the Northumbrians were routed and destroyed, the two kings being slain; the survivors made peace with the pagans. After these events, the pagans appointed Egbert king under their own dominion; Egbert reigned for six years, over the Northumbrians beyond the Tyne.

Historians presume that Ecgberht ruled as the Great Army’s tax collector and that he belonged to one of the several competing royal families in Northumbria. The next report of Ecgberht is in 872: “The Northumbrians expelled their king Egbert, and their Archbishop Wulfhere“. Finally, Ecgberht’s death is reported in 873, and it is said that Ricsige succeeded him.

I wanted to address this matter of Ecbhbert now because there has been a bit of confusion for some about him from those who are not quite so familiar with the history surrounding this time period.  It is details such as these that put Last Kingdom more firmly in the historical fiction category. Many of the events in this series have some verifiable historical basis and many of the characters you will see are there because of their documented  involvement in such events.

Now, with some of that basic information covered, I can give you my thoughts on this show. My first and primary thought is this- If you have not seen it, go find it now and watch it! The first episode is available on the official website:

http://www.bbcamerica.com/the-last-kingdom/

If you have not read the books, I would also highly suggest you go find them as well! While it is not necessary to have read the books in order to enjoy and understand what is going on in the show, the books are excellent and well worth the read. It’s difficult for me to make a realistic appraisal and determination on the importance of having read the books because I have read the books so it does bias my thought on that.  I do think that the creators have done a great job so far in telling this story on it’s own merit as a stand alone piece that can be viewed and immensely enjoyed without benefit of having read the books. It immediately immerses you in the harsh and gritty reality of the time period.  Even without having read the books, I believe that I would have been just as swept up and sucked in quickly to the story of Uhtred as he lives through the battles taking place around him for survival, for power and control of lives and land.  I read an interview with the writers/creator of the show where they stated their vision, their goal in wanting to create a world that are as realistic as possible- not fake or cliché representations or stereotypical images of this past. One writer commented on his initial doubts and how all he could foresee were the unrealistic images of  medieval type feasts with goose legs being waved around. I admit too that when I read about this attempted production, I had my own doubts. I had some serious worries that this would turn out as a slaughtering of Bernard Cornwell’s series. I also had concerns that maybe my personal expectations were far too high regarding any attempt to re-create this work on screen. Even as the premier episode approached and I saw glimpse of what it would be, I still had some fearful doubts about whether they could pull this off, whether I would be cringing in disappointment at what had been done to a story that I am so devoted to.  Those doubts quickly vanished as soon as the show began!

From the very beginning you are placed so quickly and firmly in Uhtred’s world that you forget about any minor details that might have caused you moments of doubt.  As I mentioned earlier, I could care less what color Uhtred’s hair is or any number of other insignificant details. I have the highest praise for the creators of this series and their successful efforts to pull us into the story and the world of the Danes and the Saxons as they both try to shape their futures and their destinies. They have done an incredible job of immersing us in that world, presenting a picture of not just a larger scale war on the horizon but of the smaller battles and confrontations on a personal level. Are there inaccuracies as far as clothing or weapons or fighting strategies… yes of course I’m sure there are and I am sure that any number of critics will be quick to point them out. Do those small inconsistencies really make such a difference in the telling of the story- no they do not! I was so involved in the story that I did not have time to sit and debate on whether those shields were exactingly accurate or whether the Viking army would have really used such a shield wall as was portrayed. 

There has been a bit of debate already on the validity or accuracy of the initial battle scene between the Danish army and the Northumbrians. It may not necessarily have been a truly accurate depiction but it worked so well in doing what I think it was intended to represent. The Danes and their army were a force to be reckoned with. They were well trained and prepared for battle at this time while still being cautious in their strategies. The Northumbrians were not prepared for this onslaught and not ready to deal with this attack. They were already in a weakened state of chaos due to the fighting between their two Kings. The Danes were well aware of this inner strife and the thought of many is that this why they chose to invade Northumbria first.  The initial battle scene in the show did an excellent job of portraying this lack of cohesion on the part of the Northumbrians.

a less battle ready or prepared Saxon army a well trained and prepared shield wall army

We also see from the beginning that this invasion by the Danes is not just one of raiding and pillaging for wealth and then returning to their homeland. This is also a personal journey, a seeking of land to settle, of a place to call home and to put down roots in. Ragnar the elder makes that clear at the beginning- for him is not so much a battle for just for wealth, but for a place to raise his family.

why they came in the first place

The show has only 8 episodes this first season to tell the story of the first two books from Cornwell’s series of 9 books. They have done an amazing job so far of compressing the storylines and moving us quickly along on the path of Uhtred’s life from childhood to adult, from heir of Bebbanburg to Danish slave boy to loved and recognized son of the Danish warrior, Ragnar and then to a young man who has lost everything whose only hope or chance of reclaiming any of it lies with the last Kingdom, Wessex and it’s leaders- Alfred and his brother Athelred. The episodes are fast paced, riveting and full of details and clues to the future so it’s important to pay close attention to some of those scenes and discussions!

Uhtred with his medallion young Uhtred refused to listen and followed Father to war... his uncle let him go with hopes that he will fall uhtred captured by danes2 Uhtred looks on as Ragnar threatens Kjartin with fighting within the hazel branches You bought me for how much Too much uhtred the dane comes out of the water Uhtred the Dane immerges from the water uhtred as a young adult

Book readers can rest assured that while there may be changes to the storyline, the most important and relevant details are still presented although in some altered ways. Cornwell’s spirit and style is still maintained throughout those adaptions and you will feel that essence within the changes. Episode one sticks very close to the book but compresses it into the one hour time frame. There is horror, heartbreak and humor enough to balance those most painful moments. There are also so many heart touching moments within the horror and humor that you can not help but feel like you are a part of this tapestry, this story of life.

Take her to Valhalla with you

One scene that caused some confusion for a few viewers was where the priest, Father Beocca is baptizing young Uhtred and appears to be trying to drown the boy… never fear, Beocca is simply teaching Uhtred a lesson and repaying him for his earlier disrespect of reading, writing and religion! Beocca will forever be Uhtred’s faithful friend and supporter even when Uhtred would prefer him not to be… and when Beocca is so frustrated with him that he would rather not support him!

baptizing Osbert to Uhtred

One other thing that I need to mention in my profound appreciation of the series creators is the way that they have provided us with some time frames and locations, and given us a translation from the Old English spellings/pronounciations to more modern versions! My undying gratitude for now knowing how to pronounce some of those words!

Eoferwic york Loidis Leeds

 

I have already watched episode 2 but I know there are a great many people who have not been able to view it yet so for now I am going to keep my review of it limited to my overall impressions and general thoughts on it. For me personally, it was even better than the first episode if that’s possible. I do think that this episode may rile up some of the book purists though in that this episode takes a distinctly altered path from the books. It presents us with some detailed history that was included in the books but which is still extremely valuable in setting up the future storyline. It takes us on a slightly different path through the events but I do believe it will still bring us to the same place and events. There are some variations on how or why certain things come about but they work so well that I was quite happy with how it is playing out. Ubba and Guthrum will begin to take on their value and importance in the story and the history. We will see the beginnings of Uhtred’s rocky relationship with Alfred forming and we will see Alfred’s beginnings of a leadership role. We will also see the difficulties he faces within his personal life…  One thing I would highly suggest- if you should ever be invited to dine with Alfred, you should probably just politely make some excuse and decline the offering. Even Alfred has trouble managing to swallow it or tell the difference between the offerings of broth and gruel!

ailswith

And, just one last thought… Really, Alfred considering what we know of your wife, who could blame you for being tempted by some others?

temptation of the flesh

For more information on the history of Wessex and Alfred, you can read my previous article:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/from-ecberts-dream-to-alfreds-reality/

I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to The Last Kingdom and that you will continue to join me on this epic journey with Uhtred of Bebbanburg! In upcoming posts I will try to provide some helpful historical information including some maps and some additional reference material as I come up with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Ecbert’s dream to Alfred’s reality

From Egbert's fantasy to ruler of Wessex

In the previous article, From Charlemagne to Egbert and Wessex, we looked at the real Ecbert and some history of Wessex. I used  representations and comparisons from Michael Hirst’s Vikings Saga. In this article, I will continue with that and in addition, I will add some comparison to the upcoming BBCA Last Kingdom series based on Bernard Cornwell’s books about that time period. I hope this will gives fans a bit more real history on how Alfred actually came to inherit the crown of Wessex.

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/from-charlamagne-to-egbert-and-wessex/

Viewers and fans of the Vikings Saga by Michael Hirst are waiting to see what the fate of Ecbert, Aethelwulf, and little Alfred will be in Hirst’s version of history. Hopefully there will be some answers or resolution in the upcoming season. Right now, we are left with the puzzle of how Hirst will weave facts into his ongoing story of the Vikings. He has promised us and made assurances that baby Alfred is indeed based on the Alfred the Great of history and will eventually be King of Wessex. He has also made reference to a future in which the sons of Ragnar will grow up and become those well known warriors involved in the Great Heathen conquests of the Kingdoms of Britain, fighting against Alfred.

Fans and potential viewers of the upcoming Last Kingdom are aware of history from Uhtred’s personal point of view after Alfred has succeeded to the throne of Wessex and becomes embroiled in the fight to save Wessex from the Heathen Armies of Northmen. Cornwell does an excellent job of presenting the history from Uhtred’s perspective and of providing a look at the events taking place after Alfred inherited the Crown.

The unanswered question or puzzle remains… What happened in between those times? How did Wessex go from Egbert’s dream or fantasy of conquering it all and being that all powerful Bretwalda to being a last holdout against the Danes with a sickly young King stuck in a swamp having little hope of holding on to his own Kingdom let alone uniting all of them to defeat the Northmen, the Heathens.

We covered Egbert’s actual role in the events that led to his rise and his eventual fall in the previous article. Along with that, we also covered much of Aethelwulf’s role and history as it relates to Wessex.  We do need to look a bit closer at some of Aethelwulf’s history here because it does set up the path for his younger son Alfred to come into his own as King of Wessex.

aethelwulf vikings2

We know that Aethelwulf was the only child of Egbert and on Egbert’s death in 839,  Aethelwulf inherited the throne of Wessex.  his wife Osburh was the mother of all his children. She was the daughter of Oslac, described by Asser, as a man who was descended from Jutes who had ruled the Isle of Wight.  Æthelwulf had six known children. His eldest son, Æthelstan, was old enough to have been appointed King of Kent in 839, so he must have been born by the early 820s, and he died in the early 850s.  The second son, Æthelbald, is first recorded as a charter  witness in 841, and if, like other brothers, he began to attest or witness documents  when he was around six, he would have been born around 835; he was King of Wessex from 858 to 860. Æthelwulf’s third son, Æthelberht, was probably born around 839 and was king from 860 to 865. The only daughter, Æthelswith was probably born around 840 and married Burgred, King of Mercia in 853.  The other two sons were much younger: Æthelred was born around 848 and was king from 865 to 871, Alfred was born around 849 and was king from 871 to 899. 

aethelwulf with baby Athelred

aethelwulf with baby Athelred

In the interest of condensing the timeline and history, Hirst  conveniently eliminated some of these children in his version of the history. In Hirst’s story, we see depictions of only the youngest two sons and a change in the Mother from Osburh to Judith (Judith’s background has been completely changed presumably to allow for some added connection between Wessex and Northumbria).  Whether or not Judith will bear any more children is still unknown to viewers at this time… the only way this would play any importance in Hirst’s story depends partially on how he deals with the plaguing detail or issue of Mercia. We will see how the issue of Mercia was dealt with in the real history of Aethelwulf and his children. We  also see a slightly more accurate accounting of Mercia’s fate in Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series.

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about athelstan

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about Athelstan

I understand Hirst’s rationale for leaving the other children out of the story in his effort to tighten up the storyline and focus more on a future that directly involves those two youngest brothers in the wars against the Vikings.  Those other children however, are important to the history of Wessex, to how the real Alfred came to his power and how he maintained relationships and allies with such Kingdoms as Mercia.

In the previous article, we established that for the most part, Aethelwulf provided a well balanced and stable reign of Wessex from 839 until his death in 858.  He had limited encounters with Viking attacks or raids and other than a few defeats, he managed to contain any real threat from them. During his reign he took measures to improve his Kingdom’s relationship and alliance with Mercia by marrying his only daughter, Aelswith to King of Mercia, Burgred in 853. He then assisted Mercia in a successful attack on Wales to restore the traditional Mercian hegemony over the Welsh. These events helped to seal the formal  allegiance between Mercia and Wessex even after Mercia began to be taken over by the Danes. This alliance would become critical in later years when Alfred would be dealing with Mercia.  Personally, I would like to see Hirst address this ongoing alliance in his story because it is so important to later events.

Aethelwulf  provided a well balanced and stable reign for his Kingdom, and he attempted to maintain stability in his family life despite some rather difficult situations.  Aethelwulf had six children by his first wife Osburh.  It is not known what actually happened to Osburh… she probably died but then again, may have been set aside so Aethelwulf could make the advantageous marriage to Judith of Flanders. Which ever the case, to say that Aethelwulf’s older sons were unhappy with their Father’s second marriage is an understatement of the event! What caused much of the dissent  was the fact that as part of the marriage agreement, Judith would be given the status of anointed Queen, and therefore any offspring she might produce would immediately take precedence in the succession of rule. Fortunately, Judith never had any children by Aethelwulf so that issue did not come up.  By the time of his second marriage in 856, his older sons were adults and were already capable of ruling in some capacity. Oldest son, Athelstan was ruling as King of Kent up until the early 850s.  He would have been the first in line for succession after Aethelwulf but unfortunately died before any of this mess started. So, one son down- four to go… the two youngest, Athelred and Alfred were children during this time and would probably not have had any expectations of ever really ruling anyway. That leaves two remaining sons to be discontented with Father’s marriage and possibly take matters into their own hands.

Athelbald was the second son, and after his brother’s death in 851, he was next in line to rule Wessex.  In 855 he became regent of Wessex while his father, Æthelwulf, visited Rome. His younger brother Æthelberht became king of Kent.  When the sons learned of Aethelwulf’s marriage to Judith, there was a plot or threat of rebellion against Aethelwulf.  Æthelwulf returned to Wessex to face a revolt by Æthelbald, who attempted to prevent his father from recovering his throne. We need to give Aethelwulf some credit here as he went out of his way to appease Athelbald and avoid a civil war by allowing Aethelbad to continue to rule Wessex itself (or the western part of Wessex) while he took Kent and the other eastern parts of the kingdom.

In Aethelwulf’s will, he made provisions for the succession of rule. The kingdom was to be divided between the two oldest surviving sons, with Æthelbald getting Wessex and Æthelberht taking Kent and the south-east. The survivor of Æthelbald, Æthelred and Alfred was to inherit their father’s bookland – his personal property as opposed to the royal lands which went with the kingship – some historians argue that this probably means that the survivor was to inherit the throne of Wessex as well.  Other historians disagree. Nelson states that the provision regarding the personal property had nothing to do with the kingship,  and Kirby comments: “Such an arrangement would have led to fratricidal strife. With three older brothers, Alfred’s chances of reaching adulthood would have been minimal.”   This would have immediately discounted any children of the three older brothers for succession and set a dangerous precedent for any offspring in future lines. I do not believe that Aethelwulf would have willingly set up such a precedent and have to agree that he most likely assumed it to mean that Athelred and Alfred would receive shares of his personal holdings.  What is interesting to note here is that in this basic history of Aethelwulf, his reign, his trip to Rome, or his will , there was no mention of any writ or provision that may have been made for Alfred’s future accession of the crown.

Æthelwulf died on 13 January 858. He was succeeded by Æthelbald in Wessex and Æthelberht in Kent and the south-east. The prestige conferred by a Frankish marriage was so great that Æthelbald then wedded his step-mother Judith, to Asser’s retrospective horror; he described the marriage as a “great disgrace”, and “against God’s prohibition and Christian dignity”.  When Æthelbald died only two years later, Æthelberht became King of Wessex as well as Kent, and Æthelwulf’s intention of dividing his kingdoms between his sons was thus set aside. In the view of Yorke and Abels this was because Æthelred and Alfred were too young to rule, and Æthelberht agreed in return that his younger brothers would inherit the whole kingdom on his death, whereas Kirby and Nelson think that Æthelberht just became the trustee for his younger brothers’ share of the bookland.

It was shortly after Aethelwulf’s death that the Danes would begin to have their impact on all of the Kingdoms including Wessex. As Aethelbald’s reign was so short and marred by the scandal of his marriage to his Father’s wife, Judith, there little is known of his reign.  Only one charter survives, witnessed by king Æthelbald, king Æthelbert and Judith, suggesting that he was on good terms with his brother.  Æthelbald died at Sherborne in Dorset on 20 December 860. Asser, who was hostile to Æthelbald both because of his revolt against his father and because of his uncanonical marriage, described him as “iniquitous and grasping”, and his reign as “two and a half lawless years. Asser was of course, biased in his opinion and would have considered anything done by Aethelbald as lawless. He died childless so the rule of Wessex went to his brother Aethelberht.

With the death of Aethelbald, the separate rule of Wessex and Kent was set aside.  Unlike his predecessors, Æthelberht did not appoint another member of his family as under-king of Kent probably because his brothers were too young to take over that role and there were no other family members. A charter issued in the first year of Æthelberht’s reign reflects an extraordinary new kind of assembly: it was the first charter of a West Saxon king to include a full complement both of West Saxon and of Kentish witnesses.  Aethelberht ruled Kent from 858 and then ruled all of Wessex from 860 until 865.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes Æthelberht’s reign as one of good harmony and lasting peace. Though this was true of internal affairs, the Vikings were becoming a great threat, unsuccessfully storming Winchester and ravaging eastern Kent. He died in 865 leaving no children.

If you look at the rule, the early deaths and the lack of offspring by any of the older sons, it’s probably easy to see why Hirst chose to eliminate them from his storyline as being unimportant to the overall story. While they may indeed seem insignificant or unimportant, they do show how Wessex suffered from some instability and lack of true leadership or guidance after Aethelwulf’s death. There was a quick succession of rulers who had little time to get a firm grasp on the events that were taking place around them. This all led directly to the turmoil and disarray that would suddenly leave Alfred in charge. 

A number of other things contributed to Alfred’s unique and unexpected inheritance besides his brothers’ untimely deaths.  Aethelwuth for all practical purposes had planned well for the future of Wessex but as much as he had planned, some things just did not go according to those plans. Take for instance, the marriage of his daughter to the King of Mercia… this marriage should have well sealed that alliance and put a descendant of Aethelwulf on the throne of Mercia.  Unfortunately, the marriage did not result in any children. Her marriage did probably signal the subordination of Burgred to his father-in-law and the Saxon kingdom at a time when both Wessex and Mercia were suffering Danish (Viking) raids.  Repeated Danish incursions over the years gradually weakened Mercia militarily and in 868 Burgred was forced to call upon Æthelswith’s brother King Æthelred of Wessex to assist him in confronting an entrenched Danish army at Nottingham.  In 874, the Danes would achieve some victory in Mercia when they succeeded in driving Burgred out of the country. He fled to Rome along with wife Aethelswith.  Bergred died in Rome and Aethelswith died sometime later at Pavia, Italy. If the name of Pavia sounds a bit familiar, that is because it is the same place that the earlier Queen Eadburh ended up at!  

On the surface, the failure of Ealswith to produce an heir and the abandoning of his Kingdom by husband Bergred might look like part of the bad luck and worst case scenarios for Aethelwulf’s plans. In reality though, they went along with all of the other coincidental events that became part of Alfred’s miraculous fortune or seemingly blessed fate. These events left Mercia without a stable or strong King and extremely vulnerable to later Viking attacks and conquest. They also left Mercia easily open to later being taken over and controlled by Alfred.  The situation with Mercia could have, and almost did go so wrong, yet somehow it ended up working in Alfred’s favor just as other events did.

As I mentioned, Aethelwulf planned well for the future and could hardly be blamed for the events that changed those plans. Earlier I mentioned Aethelwulf’s trip to Rome and the mysterious writ or document that would come to play such an important part in Alfred’s claim to the crown later. Much is made of this document as some proof that Aethelwulf was paving a way for Alfred’s ascent to the crown.  In reality, why would he have done such a thing? He could not have foreseen the events that would take place in his Kingdom and had already paved the way for his older sons to inherit. Since this document did play such an important part in the future, we should look at what really happened on that trip to Rome and what that writ actually was.

In 853, Aethelwulf sent not just Alfred, but his older brother Athelred as well to Rome, probably in connection and preparation for his own forthcoming visit. So, first of all this was not some special visit set up just for young Alfred’s benefit. Later historians and biographers such as Alfred’s own monk, Asser would lessen the focus on Athelred and alter the facts to the promotion of  Alfred. The reality is that both sons were sent on this early trip as emissaries of goodwill in preparation for Aethelwulf’s future trip in 855. Some historians argue that the journey suggested Alfred was intended for the Church. Others argue that the trip and a declaration by the Pope were actually intended for just the opposite purpose by Aethelwulf. By gaining the Pope’s favor and affirmation of throne worthiness for them, he was protecting both of them against the possibility of being forcibly tonsured to the Church by the older brothers. 

 The document was simply a letter from Pope Leo IV in which he responded to Aethelwulf’s goodwill gesture of presenting his sons to the Pope. Pope Leo IV most likely invested both boys with a belt of consul and referred to them as his spiritual sons thus creating a spiritual link or alliance between the two Fathers.   Alfred, and possibly Æthelred as well, were invested with the “belt of consulship”. Æthelred’s part in the journey is only known from a contemporary record in the Liber Vitae of San Salvatore. What this term consul meant at that time was that the Pope was  simply recognizing them as official Diplomats. This investiture was by no means any bestowal of anointment to Kingship.  At some later point historians such as Asser would misconstrue or misrepresent the term (probably on purpose) and the letter from the Pope to mean that Alfred was being confirmed as anointed King.   There is absolutely no evidence, reason, or justification for such an action by the Pope at that time nor any reason that Aethelwulf would ever have had such intent or plan in mind for his youngest son. No one could have foreseen any future that would call for such an action that would spell disaster for any Kingdom and certain death for those two youngest sons should the Pope take such a controversial and extreme step.

No one, not even the Pope could foresee a future for Wessex that would involve three adult sons- three Kings dying in quick succession with no heirs and a grown daughter married to a King also producing no heir! No one could foresee a Kingdom so wealthy and so stable, falling so quickly into disarray that it was left basically to the two youngest sons who were never expected or  trained to rule the Kingdom. No one could foresee a future that included all of the other Kingdoms quickly falling to Viking conquests and leaving that last Kingdom of Wessex with it’s unprepared new rulers to fend off such a similar attack and fate. No one, certainly not Aethelwulf, the Pope or even young Alfred himself  could foresee or envision a future that would require a frail and sickly last son (who would probably have preferred a quieter, more churchly life) to step forward, become the leader of his Kingdom and all of the other Kingdoms against an invading army intent on conquering all of Britain.

The trips to Rome were not special treatment or favor shown to Alfred or his brother Athelred. The trips were part of Aethelwulf’s plan to improve his own alliances with Rome and with the Frankish Empire. The youngest sons were allowed to go on these trips because they were considered expendable… the succession to the throne was already firmly set in place and if something should happen to either Aethelwulf or the boys during their trip, the throne was safe in the hands of the older brothers. Aethelwulf took the boys on his trip and there was no ulterior motive to any of it other than what may have possibly been Aethelwulf’s own plan to secure himself a second wife and a closer alliance with Francia. The boys would most likely have looked at the entire trip as a grand adventure.  Athelred was born in 848 and Alfred in 849, so at the time of these trips they were very young children of no more than 6 or 7 years old. They were not destined to be rulers so would have been allowed some greater freedom from political and reigning indoctrinations… meaning they would have probably enjoyed the trip for what it was to them, not much more than a family vacation. They went on this extended vacation with their Father and returned home to Wessex with a new Step Mother who was not all that much older than them.  That event also would not have been such an odd occurrence and the boys would have just went on with their lives as usual.   Even their Father’s death in 858 would not have had all that great of impact on these youngest boys’ lives. Aethelwulf had made solid plans and arrangements for everyone’s futures and as the boys were so young and not considered really important to the matter of succession, once again they would probably have carried on as usual with their studies and little thought toward the future.

At the time of their trips to Rome with Aethelwulf, the boys would have been close in age to these two young boys who will portray Athelred and Alfred in season 4 of the Vikings.

Athelred and Alfred Judith's sons

The two boys who will portray Athelred and Alfred in season 4 of Vikings.

Little is known about the childhood of either Athelred or Alfred other that their trip Rome and Francia with Aethelwulf. There is mention that Alfred was sickly from the time of his childhood and it is thought that he probably suffered from Crohn’s disease. There is also some mention that he spent time in Ireland seeking cures for his ailments. As such a sickly child, he probably spent much of his time doing things that did not require a great deal of physical ability- such as reading or studying with tutors and Priests.  He may not have been expected even to survive to adulthood and so less attention would have been paid to his overall training or expectations of him. He was probably left much in the care and raising of those tutors and Priests who would have assumed that should he survive to adulthood, he would naturally choose a life with the church. What other option or choice would there be for him realistically as a youngest son too frail and sickly to fight and make a name or wealth for himself on his own?  His older brother Athelred was given more recognition and attention. Athelred held the title of Aetheling at least as early as 854.  He first witnessed his father’s charters as an Ætheling in 854, and kept this title until he succeeded to the throne in 865. There is no evidence or mention of this title being attached to Alfred during his childhood, so one would have to assume that at that time, Alfred was deemed of far less importance than even his brother that was so close in age to him.

During the earliest years of the Anglo-Saxon rule in England, the word ætheling was probably used to denote any person of noble birth. Its use was soon restricted to members of a royal family. The prefix æþel- formed part of the name of several Anglo-Saxon kings, for instance Æthelberht of Kent, Æthelwulf of Wessex and Æthelred of Wessex, and was used to indicate their noble birth. According to a document which probably dates from the 10th century, the weregild of an ætheling was fixed at 15,000 thrymsas, or 11,250 shillings, which was equal to that of an archbishop and one-half of that of a king.

 

Everything began to change for Wessex and for the two youngest sons of Aethelwulf when those older brothers died in such quick succession leaving no heirs. In addition to those untimely deaths, the Danes decided to take their conquest of Northumbria further south into Mercia and were paying close attention to what was happening within Wessex. Wessex, after all was the true prize. Wessex was the wealthiest and the most stable of all the Kingdoms thanks to Egbert and to Aethelwulf.  In the early 860s, the Northmen which included Norse as well as Danes began to arrive on the isle of Britain in great numbers seemingly with the sole intent of conquering it for their own. Prior to this time, there had been Viking raids or attacks throughout the Isle in limited numbers and for the most part the Kingdoms of Britain had always been able to defend themselves and keep the attacks contained. Wessex was so successful in their prior defenses that when the Heathen Army decided to strike in full force in the 860s, they chose to avoid Wessex and begin their assaults further north instead. Some might assume or suggest that this initial assault was more of a personal revenge attack designed and orchestrated by the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok as a retaliation against Aelle of Northumbria for his killing of their Father.

What one needs to do though is look at the invading forces and the initial assaults for what they actually were and what they entailed or involved. This was not a simple onslaught or personal attack led by one particular family or country against one person or Kingdom. The Great Viking Army or Great Danish Army, known by the Anglo-Saxons as the Great Heathen Army was a coalition of Norse warriors, originating from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, who came together under a unified command to invade the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that constituted England in AD 865. Since the late 8th century, the Vikings had settled for mainly “hit-and-run” raids on centres of wealth, such as monasteries. However, the intent of the Great Army was different, it was much larger than the usual raiding party and its purpose was to conquer and claim land more so than just spoils or riches. This was a well planned campaign to settle, not to seek revenge or wealth and leave.  These forces had no intent devour, destroy and depart, they were determined to conquer and remain.

During early campaigns, the Danes had made attempts to take Wessex and were always defeated, this would suggest that they chose instead to focus on the Northern areas first, build up their forces and conquests before again attempting to defeat the prize of Wessex.  The Vikings had been defeated by the West Saxon King Æthelwulf in 851, so rather than land in Wessex they decided to go further north to East Anglia.  Legend has it that the united army was led by the three sons of Ragnar Lodbrok: Halfdan Ragnarsson, Ivar the Boneless, and Ubba. Norse sagas consider the invasion by the three brothers as a response to the death of their father at the hands of Ælla of Northumbria in 865, but the historicity of this claim is uncertain.

King Aella of Northumbria

As I mentioned, this was a well planned campaign, probably years in the making and involving a great deal of intense preparation and forehand knowledge of what was going on in the Kingdoms of Britain. The Danes did not go into this war on a whim or a sudden and intense desire for personal revenge… if the possibility for such personal revenge happened to come up during such battles then so be it, that would just be an added bonus for those who were able to carry that revenge out in addition to their overall goal. Just as with any well planned, organized campaign, the Danes would have had their own spies deep within the kingdoms to keep them apprised of the situations in each area and allow them to determine which places would be most easily defeated first. They probably knew full well the weaknesses of the various kingdoms and made their initial decisions based on those weaknesses. This would have been their reasoning for starting further north and working down towards Wessex, all the while paying close attention to the critical events taking place in Wessex… namely the weakening and demise of capable rulers.  The Danes were in no hurry to grab and go this time, and as they quickly managed to conquer the other kingdoms, they could settle in and wait for Wessex to weaken because they had every assumption that these last two rulers of Wessex would be easily defeated and controlled just as the other kingdoms had been.

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If you look at a map of the Army conquest that includes a timeline, you can see that their initial focus was East Anglia and then to move on to Northumbria before attempting to gain control of Mercia and Wessex. Obviously, East Anglia was an important coastal territory for them and as we will see in a future discussion of Northumbria, that kingdom was already in serious disarray because of feuding between royal families, so would have been an easy target. If Ragnar’s sons chose to extract some type of personal revenge during that assault, well so much the better for them on a personal basis, but I do not think that Northumbria was singled out specifically for just that reason!

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Right now, we are only focusing on the events of Wessex that led up to the frail and most unlikely candidate for King anyone might imagine, Alfred to end up as ruler of Wessex. We’ll look at the events of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia in separate discussions.

As I already mentioned, the third brother Aethelberht was King of Wessex from 860 to 865 when he died with no heirs. In 865, Athelred  became King. Keep in mind that with the demise of those three older brothers, Wessex was left with the two youngest sons who no one, not even they themselves had ever expected to become King. Athelred would have been about 17 at the time he took over the rule. He was young and most likely somewhat inexperienced, and at same the time he took the crown, the Heathen Army arrived. Within only a few short years, that army would take over East Anglia, Northumbria and move into Mercia. In 868, Athelred’s brother in law, Bergred of Mercia appealed to Wessex for help against the Danes. Æthelred and his brother, the future Alfred the Great, led a West Saxon army to Nottingham, but there was no decisive battle, and Burgred bought off the Vikings. In 874 the Vikings defeated Burgred and drove him into exile.

Despite Athelred’s youth, he did manage to accomplish something his older siblings failed at… he produced heirs! A charter of 868 refers to Wulfthryth regina and there were two known sons,  Æthelhelm and Æthelwold.  Æthelwold disputed the throne with Edward the Elder after Alfred’s death in 899. The accepted assumption on them not succeeding to the rule is that they were too young so the crown passed to Alfred instead.

From 868 on, Wessex was deeply involved in the war against the Heathen Armies, assisting in the fight to keep Ivar the Boneless out of neighboring Mercia. By 870, the Vikings turned their attention to Wessex, and on 4 January 871 at the Battle of Reading, Æthelred suffered a heavy defeat.  Although he was able to re-form his army in time to win a victory at the Battle of Ashdown, he suffered further defeats on 22 January at Basing, and 22 March at Meretun.

Surprisingly, despite the youth and inexperience of both Athelred and his younger brother Alfred, they were capable fighters and defenders. Alfred joined his older brother in the battles, fighting along side him and was credited with the success of their battle at Battle of Ashdown on the Berkshire Downs, possibly near Compton or Aldworth. Even though they seemed to be fighting a losing war, the two young brothers proved themselves to be worthy opponents.  They were not about to just give up and run like their brother in law Bergred would do.

alfred is crowned and england is born

alfred is crowned and england is born

 

In April 871, King Æthelred died, and Alfred succeeded to the throne of Wessex and the burden of its defence, despite the fact that Æthelred left two under-age sons, Æthelhelm and Æthelwold. This was in accordance with the agreement that Æthelred and Alfred had made earlier that year in an assembly at Swinbeorg. The brothers had agreed that whichever of them outlived the other would inherit the personal property that King Æthelwulf had left jointly to his sons in his will.  The deceased’s sons would receive only whatever property and riches their father had settled upon them and whatever additional lands their uncle had acquired. The unstated premise was that the surviving brother would be king. Given the ongoing Danish invasion and the youth of his nephews, Alfred’s succession probably went uncontested.

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While he was busy with the burial ceremonies for his brother, the Danes defeated the Saxon army in his absence at an unnamed spot, and then again in his presence at Wilton in May. The defeat at Wilton smashed any remaining hope that Alfred could drive the invaders from his kingdom. He was forced instead to make peace with them, according to sources that do not tell what the terms of the peace were. Bishop Asser claimed that the ‘pagans’ agreed to vacate the realm and made good their promise.   the Viking army did withdraw from Reading in the autumn of 871 to take up winter quarters in Mercian London. Although not mentioned by Asser or by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Alfred probably also paid the Vikings cash to leave, much as the Mercians were to do in the following year.  Hoards dating to the Viking occupation of London in 871/2 have been excavated at Croydon, Gravesend, and Waterloo Bridge. These finds hint at the cost involved in making peace with the Vikings. For the next five years, the Danes occupied other parts of England as well.

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Because this discussion is meant only to give us some insight into how Alfred came to rule, I am not going to go into how he proceeded with his reign and his long battle to defeat the Heathen Army despite insurmountable odds. We’ll save that for a future discussion.  The only additional and important matter to remember right now is his alliance, however shaky at the time, with Mercia. In 868, when his brother in law Bergred asked Wessex for help against the Heathen Army, Alfred married a member of the Mercian Royal family. This move would back up the alliance already  put in place with his sister’s marriage to Bergred. While his sister’s marriage produced no offspring which would further firm the alliance and put a Wessex descendant on the throne of Mercia, Alfred’s marriage would prove fruitful and enable him to gain sufficient control of Mercia. When Alfred took over his rule and managed to regain enough power to take back Mercia, he took control of Mercia by marrying his daughter Aethelflaid to an Ealdorman of Mercia who was one of his supporters in the English part of Mercia.

Alfred’s battles against the Danes would continue for most of his life. He died in 899 and the Danes did not give up on the thought to conquer Wessex completely until around 896. At the end of this year and early in 895 (or 896), the Danes drew their ships up the River Thames and River Lea and fortified themselves twenty miles (32 km) north of London. A direct attack on the Danish lines failed but, later in the year, Alfred saw a means of obstructing the river so as to prevent the egress of the Danish ships. The Danes realised that they were outmanoeuvred. They struck off north-westwards and wintered at Cwatbridge near Bridgnorth. The next year, 896 (or 897), they gave up the struggle. Some retired to Northumbria, some to East Anglia. Those who had no connections in England withdrew back to the continent.

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Alfred, against all odds managed to basically be the last man or heir standing in line for the rule of Wessex. Fortunately for Wessex and the rest of England, he was by no means as weak or frail as everyone supposed him to be. He was a highly intelligent, well educated man who was keenly adept at the strategies of warfare. While he was devoutly religious, he was open minded and not so rigidly set in past “acceptable” doctrines or rules. This mindset enabled him to often think outside the box and do what ever he deemed necessary to find solutions to the situation with the Heathen Armies. From 879 on, Alfred carried out a dramatic reorganisation of the government and defences of Wessex, building warships, organising the army into two shifts which served alternately and establishing a system of fortified burhs across the kingdom. This system is recorded in a 10th-century document known as the Burghal Hidage, which details the location and garrisoning requirements of thirty-three forts, whose positioning ensured that no one in Wessex was more than a long day’s ride from a place of safety. In the 890s these reforms helped him to repulse the invasion of another huge Danish army – which was aided by the Danes settled in England – with minimal losses.

Alfred also reformed the administration of justice, issued a new law code and championed a revival of scholarship and education. He gathered scholars from around England and elsewhere in Europe to his court, and with their help translated a range of Latin texts into English, doing much of the work in person, and orchestrated the composition of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. As a result of these literary efforts and the political dominance of Wessex, the West Saxon dialect of this period became the standard written form of Old English for the rest of the Anglo-Saxon period and beyond.

The Danish conquests had destroyed the kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia and divided Mercia in half, with the Danes settling in the north-east while the south-west was left to the English king Ceolwulf, allegedly a Danish puppet. When Ceolwulf’s rule came to an end he was succeeded as ruler of “English Mercia” not by another king but by a mere ealdorman named Aethelred, who acknowledged Alfred’s overlordship and married his daughter Aethelfaid. The process by which this transformation of the status of Mercia took place is unknown, but it left Alfred as the only remaining English king.

 

To see more of Alfred’s battle for Wessex, you should plan to watch BBCA’s upcoming series, The Last Kingdom based on those novels of the Viking era by Bernard Cornwell! I would also suggest that you read the books! You knew I would get this plug in eventually- It starts on October 10 and I will be here with my thoughts on all of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Charlemagne to Egbert and Wessex

The beginnings of Egbert's power plots

The beginnings of Egbert’s power plots

Since we’ve recently spent a great deal of time discussing Charlamagne, Roland along with matters of Saxons and Danes, I find this a perfect time to bring us back to Egbert and Wessex.  There is a definite connection or relationship between the real Egbert and Charlamagne that we will see as we learn more about Egbert… the real Egbert as opposed to the more fictional creation of Michael Hirst.  I give Hirst credit though, as he has captured much of what may have been part of Egbert’s character or personality.  Although Hirst has played much with the timeline and numerous other events, I believe that he and Linus Roache have done an excellent job of portraying this King with a rather dubious or sketchy past and a highly questionable set of ethics or morals.  To aid and illustrate some points of this discussion, I have taken the creative liberty and license of using some of the Vikings Saga characters as representatives of the actual history!

ecbert's response Indeed Thank God

This discussion will pertain to the real history of Egbert, his connections to Charlamagne and some history of Wessex.  Where ever possible I will attempt to relate it to Hirst’s version but that will be a bit difficult as very little of Egbert’s true history matches Hirst’s portrayal of him other than his possible personality flaws and the fact that he does have a son named Aethelwulf!  My intent with this article is twofold. First, it will give you a clearer picture of the real history surrounding this King that we all love to hate. Second, the factual information concerning Wessex may  be helpful  as many of us prepare for the premiere of Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series which will begin next month!  If the series stays somewhat close to the books, we should get a slightly more factual accounting of the events taking place in the four kingdoms during the Viking era.  Keeping that in mind, I am trying to transition us a bit from the historical fantasy of Hirst’s Vikings Saga to the more realistic historical fiction of Cornwell’s version.

For those of you anxiously waiting on the premiere of Last Kingdom series, here is the most recent preview!

Some time ago, I began a series of articles about Kingship- a look at some of our Characters and the historical facts related to their Kingship. You can read the previous articles here:

I am King

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/i-am-king-really-why-and-how/

horik and ragnar2

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/horik-and-ragnar-part-of-the-oldest-monarchy-in-europe/

In those previous articles we looked at some of the Danish history and rights to rule. This article is part of that series in that it will answer Egbert’s supposed right to rule in Wessex… I say supposed because there is some debate among various historians about his actual right to that Kingship.

ecbert gets carried away with his description of kwentirith's fate if she does not comply ecbert listens he can do nothing to stop this unless she admits in public who is the father

 

The most important thing to remember about Egbert’s true history compared to our Vikings Saga is the timeline factor. Egbert in reality had little or no documented involvement with those Northmen raiding or Viking in other areas such as Northumbria. Egbert had more than enough to contend with in keeping his own Kingdom under his control and he was far more focused on his goal of conquering all of the other Kingdoms. He would not have been concerned about the occasional expected Viking raids during his lifetime. That matter of Lindisfarne… that was a matter for Northumbria to deal with and besides, he was not even in the country at the time so why should it concern him!  Hirst has set his version of the events to encompass anywhere from the earliest raid in 793 to raids in the 900s. During Egbert’s lifetime the raids on the British Kingdoms were mainly limited to the more northern areas and would not really have affected Egbert and his southern concerns that much.  England had suffered Viking raids in the late eighth century, but there were no attacks between 794 and 835, when the Isle of Sheppey in Kent was ravaged.  

Egbert of Wessex was born some time in the 770s , was King of Wessex from 802 until his death in 839. His father was Ealhmund of Kent. In the 780s Egbert was forced into exile by Offa of Mercia and Beorhtric of Wessex, but on Beorhtric’s death in 802 Egbert returned and took the throne. In reality, Egbert would not have had any connection to Ragnar or for that matter Aelle of Northumbria- they both appeared on the scene after his death. During Egbert’s lifetime, the Kingdom of Northumbria was ruled by a King named Eanred who ruled for over 30 years. Given the instability and turbulence of Northumbria or any of the Kingdoms at the time, this would have been a significant accomplishment! There are records of Egbert’s involvement with Northumbria.  in 829 Egbert of Wessex “led an army against the Northumbrians as far as Dore, where they met him, and offered terms of obedience and subjection, on the acceptance of which they returned home” thereby  temporarily, extending Egbert’s hegemony to the entirety of Anglo-Saxon Britain.  Within a generation of Eanred’s death, Anglian monarchy in Northumbria had collapsed and would be under the control of the Danes.  Eanred and Egbert both had close connections with Charlemagne and thus would most likely have maintained some sort of peace or alliances with each other at least until after Charlemagne’s death in 814. For example, Egbert’s march against Northumbria did not take place until many years after Charlemagne’s death.

Stone_of_Ecgbert_-_Dore_19-07-05

 

Very little is actually known about Egbert’s early life. The first 20 or so years remain somewhat shrouded in mystery possibly due to the fact that he was sent into exile at a fairly young age. There is also some discrepancy over how long he spent in exile. Some put the amount of time at 3 years while others propose that may have actually 13 years. My personal thought is that it was probably somewhere in between. He is assumed to have been exiled in about 789 and little was mentioned of him until his return around the year of 802 when he finally managed to gain the crown of Wessex. The place of his exile is extremely important and we will get to that shortly.

Before we get to his exile, we should look at what little we do know about his early life and his possible qualifications for said crown of Wessex as well as a possible reason for his feelings of resentment against  Mercia.  I did mention that his supposed qualifications for the crown seem to be a bit vague or sketchy and historians debate whether he had actual claim or if some of his lineage was padded, even completely fabricated to give him legitimate right to the crown. He did not hold a direct line inheritance because there was at one point some break in the line and he was a descendant of a brother to a previous King,  Ine of Wessex, who abdicated the throne in 726. Some debate that he was actually of Kentish descent while others insist that he truly was of West Saxon Royal blood going back to the originator of the Kingdom, Cerdic. That link to Cerdic was vital to his claim because it was a requirement set by the Papal authorities centuries before when they gave their stamp of approval to Kingship and divine right in those early Kingdoms being set up by the newly Christianized Saxons.

cerdic is not happy

In 784, Egbert’s Father appeared in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a King of Kent.  According to a note in the margin, “this king Ealhmund was Egbert’s father [i.e. Egbert of Wessex], Egbert was Æthelwulf’s father.” This is supported by the genealogical preface from the A text of the Chronicle, which gives Egbert’s father’s name as Ealhmund without further details. The preface probably dates from the late ninth century; the marginal note is on the F manuscript of the Chronicle, which is a Kentish version dating from about 1100. This would suggest or attest to Egbert’s Kentish ties rather than any to Wessex.  It was not until the crown of Wessex came into dispute and up for grabs that Egbert conveniently had those earlier ties to Wessex.

To better understand what was going on during Egbert’s early years before he would have been capable of making any bid or move for himself, we need to look at the most important other power players of the time… Offa of Mercia and Cynewulf of Wessex.   Offa of Mercia, who reigned from 757 to 796, was the dominant force in Anglo-Saxon England in the second half of the eighth century. The relationship between Offa and Cynewulf, who was king of Wessex from 757 to 786, is not well documented, but it seems likely that Cynewulf maintained some independence from Mercian overlordship.  Cynewulf appears as “King of the West Saxons” on a charter of Offa’s in 772;  and he was defeated by Offa in battle in 779 at Bensington, but there is nothing else to suggest Cynewulf was not his own master, and he is not known to have acknowledged Offa as overlord.  Offa did have influence in the southeast of the country: a charter of 764 shows him in the company of Heahberht of Kent, suggesting that Offa’s influence helped place Heahberht on the throne. The extent of Offa’s control of Kent between 765 and 776 is a matter of debate amongst historians, but from 776 until about 784 it appears that the Kentish kings had substantial independence from Mercia.

Egbert’s Father, Ealhmund became King of Kent in 784 but seems to have suffered one of those all too common “convenient”  accidents  or illness causing his demise or disappearance shortly afterward. This would have left the rule of Kent vulnerable as Egbert was most likely a child at the time.  There is evidence that Offa then conveniently stepped in to dominate Kent during the 780s with the goal apparently going beyond overlordship to outright annexation of the kingdom. He has been described as “the rival, not the overlord, of the Kentish kings”. It is possible that the young Egbert fled to Wessex in 785 or so; it is suggestive that the Chronicle mentions in a later entry that Beorhtric, Cynewulf’s successor, helped Offa to exile Egbert.

Cynewulf was murdered in 786. His succession was contested by Egbert, but he was defeated by Beorhtric, most likely with Offa’s assistance. Egbert was probably exiled in 789, when Beorhtric, his rival, very conveniently  married the daughter of Offa of Mercia. In reading about Offa’s daughter, Eadburh, those who are familiar with Kwentirith of Hirst’s saga may see some similarities between Eadburh and our lovely Kweni…

Am I corrupt Why yes I am kwentirith

Am I corrupt Why yes I am… kwentirith

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eadburh

For a more in depth look at Eadburh and Kweni, you can also read my previous article here:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/vikings-trivia-who-is-princess-kwenthrith/

 Offa essentially managed to take control of both Kent and Wessex with Egbert’s exile and his daughter’s marriage to Beorhtric.  From 789 until after his death, he and his successor, Cenwulf maintained control of the three Kingdoms- Mercia, Kent and Wessex.  During most of that time, we would have to assume that Egbert remained in exile in a very important place developing very important allies to assist in his claim to hopefully eventually regain control of Wessex.

In 789, Egbert was exiled and went to Francia which of course was ruled by the all powerful Charlemagne. Charlemagne maintained Frankish influence in Northumbria and is known to have supported Offa’s enemies in the south. Another exile in Gaul at this time was Odberht, a priest, who is almost certainly the same person as Eadberht, who later became king of Kent. According to a later chronicler, William of Malmesbury, Egbert learned the arts of government during his time in Gaul. My reason for believing that Egbert was there for closer to 13 years than just 3 is that the time frame fits with the 13 years. He left in 789 and did not make a reappearance until 802. Also, it would have taken him longer than just 3 years to learn as much as he did and for Charlemagne to have such influence on him and his future actions. One other piece that adds to this theory is the thought by some historians that his wife was a woman named Redburga and she was a relative of Charlemagne’s. Virtually nothing is known about her other than this name so we can only assume that possibly she died in childbirth in Francia.  If this were the case, her being a relative of Charlemagne’s it would make sense or explain better the connection and alliance between Charlemagne and Egbert- especially if you take into account that Egbert’s only child was presumably Redburga’s and would inherit any crown that Egbert managed to claim. Charlemagne would surely have seen this as a benefit to his own empire and would have been even more induced to help Egbert claim a crown.   My last reasoning for the 13 year period is that for much of that time of the late 80s to 90s Charlemagne would not have been at his court to develop any sort of connection with the young exiled Egburt, or the other exiled Priest Eadberht who he would later back as successor to the crown of Kent. The time period of just three years is just too short for all of these things to have happened and for Egbert to return to Wessex with the backing of Charlemagne.

 

During Egbert’s time in exile, Offa died in 796 and passed the rule  of Mercia on to Cenwulf. Cenwulf was King of Mercia from December 796 until his death in 821. He was a descendant of a brother of King Penda, who had ruled Mercia in the middle of the 7th century. He succeeded Ecgfrith, the son of Offa; Ecgfrith only reigned for five months, and Cenwulf ascended to the throne in the same year that Offa died.  Immediately after his succession, Cenwulth had to deal with  rebellion from Kent. In 796 when Offa died, Eadberht III Praen, the exiled priest returned to claim his rule of Kent. During the years of 785 to his death, Offa completely ruled Kent.  The confusing point here for me is why Egbert did not claim Kent? It was his Father that was King of Kent when he died in 784 so really by all rights, Egbert should have been next in line for Kent not Wessex.  What ever the reason or case, it was Eadberht who took Kent in 796 with the support and protection of Charlemagne. Charlemagne supported Northumbria and thus opposed any actions of Offa and the southern Kingdoms. It is thought that he saw Eadberht’s rule of Kent as being good for Frankish interests.  There was a serious difference of opinion or agreement though between Charlemagne and Pope Leo on this matter. Pope Leo sided with Offa, accepted a Mercian reconquest of Kent and excommunicated Eadbert, on the grounds that he was a former priest. Cenwulf  captured Eadberht in 798. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cœnwulf “ravaged over Kent and captured Eadberht Præn, their king, and led him bound into Mercia.” A later addition to the Chronicle says that Eadberht was blinded and had his hands cut off,  but Roger of Wendover states that he was set free by Coenwulf at some point as an act of clemency.  Eadberht Praen’s death marked the end of Kentish independence or separate rule. The question still remains for me as to why Charlemagne backed Eadberht in the first place to rule Kent rather than Egbert… unless the plan all along was to put Eadberht on the throne of Kent and Egbert on the throne of Wessex when an opportunity arose. The process of proving one’s legitimate rights and lineage to the Papal authorities would have been lengthy and involved. It was not a process that could have been accomplished quickly- nothing involving the Papal authorities was quick, easy or cheap.  Gaining this stamp or seal of approval from the Pope for Egbert’s right to rule Wessex could very well have been a slow one that started far earlier than 802 when Beorhtric died. In order for Egbert to step in so quickly after his death and assert his rights would suggest that the process had already been going on for some matter of time and Egbert was merely waiting for the right time to make his claim.

 

In 802, Beorhtric of Wessex died. Beorhtric’s dependency on Mercia had  continued into the reign of Cenwulf. At Beorhtric’s death, Egbert returned and took the crown of Wessex. Egbert came to his rule probably with the support and backing of both Charlemagne and the Pope because there was never any dissent or argument from them over his rule. I’ve already mentioned Charlemagne’s support and interest in Northumbria. It could be feasibly assumed that Charlemagne was looking at ways to gain a power base and dominating interest in those southern Kingdoms as well to upset Offa’s control of those areas. He first backed the priest, Eadberht in the take over of Kent. When that take over turned out to be a disaster, Charlemagne would probably have put more thought and planning into any next move. He did still have one exile left with a somewhat weak claim to Kingdoms in Britain. He could feasibly support Egbert in some attempt to regain that small Kingdom of Kent, but Beorhtric’s death brought a much bigger treasure or Kingdom into the picture. If Egbert’s lineage or link to that Royal line of Wessex could be strengthened and approved by the Papal officials, Charlemagne would end up with a strong, formidable ally in Wessex which would benefit both the Church and the Frankish Empire.  Egbert would have easily seen the advantages and benefits of Wessex over Kent and readily agreed with any plan presented to him that might assure him the Crown of Wessex.  Perhaps he was thinking from the very beginning that Wessex would prove a much better deal than the smaller Kingdom of Kent if he could manage to pull it off. All one has to do is look at the map of kingdoms in 800 to see it’s obvious which Kingdom Egbert would take the chance to fight for, given chance or opportunity! The key to any success in a venture such as this would have been proving and promoting his legitimate lineage and claims to the Papal authorities so he would have their stamp of approval on such an acquisition.

anglo-saxon_kingdoms

Anglo-Saxon kingdoms circa 800

 It was most likely during this time that Egbert’s supposed lineage back to the first King of Wessex was brought up, promoted and presented to the Papal authorities as his proof that he had a legitimate claim to the Kingship of Wessex. This was crucial because the Kingship of Wessex was based on that lineage. In the earlier centuries when Saxons were settling and building Kingdoms in Britain, even they understood the benefits of having some Christian backing or approval to seal their claims and thereby avoid more wars.

just a representation of the early Saxon ruler Cerdic and his son Cynric... courtesy of King Arthur movie!

just a representation of the early Saxon ruler Cerdic and his son Cynric… courtesy of King Arthur movie!

This is where we need to look at the history of Wessex and it’s Saxon origins to better understand or comprehend the importance of Egbert’s claim that his lineage could be traced back that far. Wessex was originally founded by the Saxon Cerdic and his son Cynric. Cerdic and Cynric took rule over the area known as Wessex in 519. At that time, they were of course Pagans and not necessarily all that concerned with the Christian approval. The Christian Church however quickly proved it’s strength, power and dominance in Britain and many rulers would eventually be converted to Christianity or profess that they were in order to avoid more conflicts and to reap the obvious benefits of being connected to and protected by the Church. The church, in effort to convert and gain influence or control in Pagan Kingdoms would eventually come up with a way to Christianize or legitimize those Pagan rulers claims of  right or reason to rule by some divine right God given right. In Wessex, this  process of legitimizing  the Royal line probably came with the conversion and baptism of a King Cynegils in about 630. Cynegils was a descendent of Cerdic and Cerdic’s line was then  eventuall given legitimacy and approval by a move that would cause disagreements within the church from then on. As part of their conversion process in Britain and later some areas of Scandinavia, the Church set up the process of accepting a supposed lineage back to Wodin or Odin as a form of that Divine right to rule. In Cerdic’s case the supposed lineage was given even more approval by creating a lineage that went so far back as Biblical Patriarchs. This lineage of his is also connected to one found in the history of Kings of Northumbria so it seems that it was a useful tool in creating a Divine lineage for many of those once Pagan Angle and Saxon Kings in Britain. That presumed and supposed lineage might also have set up the ongoing relationship or dynamics between Wessex and Northumbria.   Cynegils’ successor (and probably his son), Cenwealh, who came to the throne in about 642, was a pagan at his accession. However, he too was baptised only a few years later and Wessex became firmly established as a Christian kingdom. Cynegils’s godfather was King Oswald of Northumbria and his conversion may have been connected with an alliance against King Penda of Mercia, who had previously attacked Wessex.  Northumbria and Wessex seemed to have an ongoing close working relationship.

In those early years of Wessex, the successors followed the lineage of Cerdic but at some point there were breaks in the line. That lineage however, was used over the centuries of rule as a general precedent in determining rulers for Wessex. One of those successor was Ine of Wessex, whom Egbert would later claim his lineage link to. Early sources agree that Ine was the son of Cenred, and that Cenred was the son of Ceolwald; further back there is less agreement.  Ine’s siblings included a brother, Ingild, and two sisters, Cuthburh and Cwenburg. Cuthburh was married to King Aldfrith of Northumbria,  and Ine himself was married to Æthelburg.  Bede tells that Ine was “of the blood royal”, by which he means the royal line of the Gewisse, the early West Saxon tribal name. Gewisse was the name of the early tribe that Cynegils descendent of Cynric and Cerdic ruled.  Ine ruled Wessex for almost 40 years and laid a foundation for the future success of Wessex.  Ine was the most durable of the West Saxon kings, reigning for 38 years. He issued the oldest surviving English code of laws apart from those of the kingdom of Kent, and established a second West Saxon bishopric at Sherborne, covering the territories west of Selwood Forest. Near the end of his life he followed in Caedwalla’s footsteps by abdicating and making a pilgrimage to Rome. The throne then passed to a series of other kings who claimed descent from Cerdic but whose supposed genealogies and relationship to one another are unknown.

During the 8th century Wessex was overshadowed by Mercia, whose power was then at its height, and the West Saxon kings may at times have acknowledged Mercian overlordship. They were, however, able to avoid the more substantial control which Mercia exerted over smaller kingdoms. During this period Wessex continued its gradual advance to the west, overwhelming the British kingdom of Dumnonia. At this time Wessex took de facto control over much of Devon, although Britons retained a degree of independence in Devon until at least the tenth century.   As a result of the Mercian conquest of the northern portion of its early territories in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, the Thames and the Avon now probably formed the northern boundary of Wessex, while its heartland lay in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Dorset and Somerset. The system of shires which was later to form the basis of local administration throughout England (and eventually, Ireland, Wales and Scotland as well) originated in Wessex, and had been established by the mid-eighth century.

The biggest blow of course for Wessex was when Cynewulf of Wessex was murdered in 786 allowing Offa to step in and take control of the Kingdom. The interesting thing about Cynewulf is that he may have come to his reign in the first place under the influence or support of  Mercia.  Cynewulf became king after his predecessor, Sigeberht, was deposed. He may have come to power under the influence of Æthelbald of Mercia, since he was recorded as a witness to a charter of Æthelbald shortly thereafter. It was not long before Æthelbald was assassinated, however, and Mercia fell into a brief period of disorder as rival claimants to its throne fought. Cynewulf took the opportunity to assert the independence of Wessex: about 758, he took Berkshire from the Mercians. Cynewulf was also often at war with the Welsh.

Sigeberht succeeded his distant relative Cuthred, but was then accused of acting unjustly. He was removed from power by a council of nobles, but given control of             Hampshire. There, he was accused of murder, driven out and ultimately killed. It is possible that this happened under the influence of Æthelbald of Mercia. His brother Cyneheard was also driven out, but returned in 786 to kill Sigeberht’s successor Cynewulf.

The Story of Cynewulf and Cyneheard in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Entry for the year 755 AD in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

A.D. 755. This year Cynewulf, with the consent of the West-Saxon council, deprived Sebright, his relative, for unrighteous deeds, of his kingdom, except Hampshire; which he retained, until he slew the alderman who remained the longest with him. Then Cynewulf drove him to the forest of Andred, where he remained, until a swain stabbed him at Privett river, and revenged the alderman, Cumbra. The same Cynewulf fought many hard battles with the Britons; and, about one and thirty winters after he had the kingdom, he was desirous of expelling a prince called Cyneard, he who was the brother of Sebright. But he having understood that the king was gone, thinly attended, on a visit to a lady at Merton, rode after him, and beset him therein; surrounding the stronghold without, ere the attendants of the king were aware of him. When the king found this, he went out of doors, and defended himself with courage; till, having looked on the etheling (prince), he rushed out upon him, and wounded him severely. Then were they all fighting against the king, until they had slain him. The king’s warriors were alerted by the woman’s cries to the tumult and, whosoever became ready fastest, ran to where the king lay slain. The etheling (prince) immediately offered them life and riches; which none of them would accept, but continued fighting together against him, till they all lay dead, except one British hostage, and he was severely wounded. When the king’s thanes that were behind heard in the morning that the king was slain, they rode to the spot, Osric his alderman, and Wiverth his thane, and the men that he had left behind previously; and they met the etheling at the town, where the king lay slain. The gates, however, were locked against them, which they attempted to force; but he promised them their own choice of money and land, if they would grant him the kingdom; reminding them, that their relatives were already with him, who would never desert him. To which they answered, that no relative could be dearer to them than their lord, and that they would never follow his murderer. Then they offered that their relatives may have safe passage. They replied, that the same request was made to their comrades that were formerly with the king; “And we are as regardless of the result,” they rejoined, “as our comrades who with the king were slain.” Then they continued fighting at the gates, till they penetrated it, and slew the etheling and all the men that were with him; except one, who was the godson of the alderman, and whose life was spared, though he was often wounded. This same Cynewulf reigned one and thirty winters. His body lies at Winchester, and that of the etheling at Axminster. Their proper paternal ancestry goes in a direct line to Cerdic.

In 779, Cynewulf was defeated by Offa of Mercia at the Battle of Bensington, and Offa then retook Berkshire, and perhaps also London. Despite this defeat, there is no evidence to suggest Cynewulf subsequently became subject to Offa (as his successor, Beorhtric, did).

In 786 Cynewulf was surprised and killed, with all his Thegns present, at Merantune (now called Marten, a hamlet in the county of Wiltshire), by Cyneheard the Atheling, brother of the deposed Sigeberht. Some historians have speculated that the relation of this in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle may be an application of a traditional story and not accurate in its details.  The murder of Cynewulf was also considered to have taken place at Merton in Surrey, but modern historians, including the Rev G. H. Godwin now ascribe it to some place of the same name near Winchester.

So, Mercia most probably had a hand in putting Cynewulf on the throne of Wessex,  then possibly when Offa took over the rule of Mercia he decided that Cynewulf may not be so much of a puppet ruler as previously thought. It’s highly probable that Offa had a hand in the later murder of Cynewulf which enabled him to place a more easily controlled Beorhtric on the throne of Wessex.  From all accounts, Beorhtric seems to have been an obedient and loyal “Puppet” King of Wessex. Beorhtric died in 802 from unknown cause. The only details of his death were written much later by Asser the Scholar/Monk advisor to Egbert’s grandson, Alfred the Great. Asser recorded the story that Beorhtric had died from being accidentally poisoned by his wife, Eadburh. She fled to a nunnery in Francia, from which she was later ejected after being found with a man. The provenance of this story is dubious. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Beorhtric was buried at Wareham in 802, possibly at the church of Lady St. Mary. Asser’s story is of questionable accuracy since his chief motive was to slant or bias all history in favor of Alfred and his family.

Just a hint here Kwentirith when everyone throws empty cups at you you may have a few friend problems!

A comparison of Kweni’s poisoning her brother to that of Eadburh’s poisoning of her husband… it always leaves a lasting impression on one’s subjects!

The story does pose an interesting line of thought or theory however.  Please keep in mind that the following thoughts are  my own personal view and speculation on the situation and the events. Little is actually known about Beorhtric, his wife Eadburh or the events surrounding his death. We do know that Eadburh was the daughter of  King Offa and she married Beorhtric in 789 around the same time that Egbert was sent or fled on his own to exile in Francia. Two possibly authentic charters of 801 show Eadburh as regina (queen), a title which was rarely used for king’s wives in Wessex in the ninth century. So, Eadburh was given the high status of being a recognized and anointed Queen of Wessex- probably thanks to much behind the scenes scheming by Offa. As a recognized Queen, she would have held a great deal of power along side her husband, and she most likely would have used that power to benefit Offa and promote his causes. Or perhaps she harbored ambitions of her own once she was given such a position. As the anointed Queen, she would still hold her place as Queen of Wessex if her husband should happen to die. Any offspring that she might have would of course be heirs to the throne. As far as anyone knows, she did not have any children so there was no continuing line to pass the rule on to.

 According to Asser, Eadburh became all powerful, and often demanded the executions or exile of her enemies. She was also alleged to have assassinated those men whom she couldn’t compel Beorhtric to kill through poisoning their food or drink. In 802, according to Asser, Eadburh attempted to poison a young favourite of the king but instead killed both of them. The young man may have been called Worr, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the death of both men shortly before the succession of Egbert.  So, in 802 Beorhtric died of some unknown circumstance and that would have left Eadburh in sole power of Wessex. By this time, Eadburh’s Father, Offa was dead so there was no family loyalty or agenda between Eadburh and the new King of Mercia, Coenwulf . Coenwulf was only distantly related to Offa’s line and it would seem that he may have had less loyalty to that old lineage.  He had a stable working relationship with Beorhtric and numerous surviving documents suggest that he was making attempts to repair relations with the Papal authorities after the various events and actions that Offa was involved. In the earlier case of  Eadberht Præn and Kent, Coenwulf made no move to intervene or retake Kent until he had specific approval from Pope Leo. In light of these facts, Coenwulf probably would have made no move to side with Eadburh, promote any claim of hers to rule of Wessex or even offer her protection unless he had approval from those Papal authorities.

If we view Asser’s recounting of  Eadburh in the context of it possibly starting out with some shreds or grains of truth to it, we get a basic picture that the Queen Eadburh did have some high regard for her status and she eventually began to rule in a similar fashion as her Father, Offa. She was probably not all that well liked by the citizens of Wessex who would have most likely viewed both her and Beorhtric as Offa’s puppets. She had the misfortune to not have any offspring that would guarantee her a continued spot on the throne either as Queen in her own right or as Regent for a young heir. And the third strike against her was of course that she was a woman… granted there were a few female Queens during this period but it was extremely rare, and those that were allowed to hold that status were usually some direct blood descendent of the original ruling line- Eadburh was not a blood descendent and she had to have known that should Beorhtric die, her chances at holding on to the crown were slim to none.  Perhaps her poisoning of Beorhtric was accidental and she was just unlucky? Or, perhaps she did have some loftier ambitions and knowing that her rule of Wessex was not going to ever be a truly achievable goal, so she chose another route or goal instead…

During the time of Beorhtric’s rule, Egbert was residing in Francia presumably under the guidance and tutoring of Charlemagne and other powerful leaders of the Frankish Empire. He was not a prisoner there, he was free to come and go as he pleased, free to seek out whatever guidance or support he could gather from any number of sources such as those all important Papal authorities. He also probably maintained some clandestine contacts with people of Wessex and Kent throughout this time. He did have a half sister named Alburga who was married to Wulfstan, and ealdorman of Wessex. When Egbert returned to Wessex after Beorhtric’s death, Wulfstan fought a battle against a group of Mercians who were rebelling against Egbert’s reign. Wulfstan probably had some prior knowledge of Egbert’s plan and was a supporter of him.  What we have is a situation or case of Egbert waiting patiently in Francia for his chance to return and claim a crown… He obviously made good use of his waiting period and was able to devise a well laid plan that included the backing of  such people as Charlemagne and the Pope. He merely had to sit back and wait for the right moment to implement his plan. It’s rather clear that he had no interest in claiming Kent, but was after the bigger prize of Wessex, which would be more benefit to his supporters in the long run. 

His problem was how to conveniently get rid of those already sitting on the throne of Wessex without resorting to all out war? War would be a messy and expensive situation . There was always the chance that he might not win, and besides that he wanted to make a good impression on the residents of Wessex. He wanted the subjects of Wessex to be on his side and for there to be no question as to his legitimate right to the throne.  He probably wanted to be seen as the rightful ruler, the heir apparent, the mistreated true King who would save Wessex from the control of Mercia. How could he go about such a scheme and ensure his success in this venture?

My personal speculation on this scenario is that he would have used his covert connections in Wessex,  and thus would have had some knowledge or inkling of Eadburh’s actions, behaviors and possible ambitions. It’s entirely possible or plausible that Egbert may even have some contact with Eadburh herself. Perhaps Egbert in some way influenced or insinuated to Eadburh that it might be to her benefit to involve herself in his plan for Wessex.  Possibly Egbert offered her some loftier reward in return for her assistance, some higher status or ranking than she could hope to achieve remaining in Wessex…

The first key to his overall plan would have been to get rid of Beorhtric in some way that did not lead back to him or place any hint of  suspicion on him. The convenient “accidental” death of  Beorhtric placed all of the blame or suspicion on Eadburh… she was held responsible for the death and would never be able to rid herself of that suspicion in the eyes of her subjects. Maybe she made a serious blunder in her plan or in Egbert’s supposed plan. Had she been more careful about this death, perhaps there would have been some other option for her than the eventual exile.

There is never any mention of when Egbert’s first wife died, but we would assume that she died prior to his return to Wessex. The most reasonable option for Egbert and Eadburh both would have been for him to just marry her after Beorhtric’s death, but her role in his death pretty much ended that option. Egbert wanted Wessex to like him and trust him. That was certainly not going to happen if he then married Eadburh with her stain of blame on her.  So, what was he to do with this inconvenient Queen now? He couldn’t send her back to Mercia, they probably did not condone her actions either and would most likely have been insulted and even more ready to wage war.  By all rights, he could have had her executed for her part in Beorhtric’s death, or at the very least had her permanently confined to some nearby Nunnery where he could keep an eye on her.

Kwenthrith1

Strangely enough, he chose another option that almost seemed more of a reward than any punishment! What Egbert did was send her immediately into exile to the Court of Charlemagne where he had just returned from. For me, that suggests that in some way, she was actually being rewarded for any possible involvement. By sending her to Charlemagne’s personal Court, he was getting her out of Wessex away from any continued questions or suspicions, and he was giving her ample opportunity to create a better situation for herself. What she did with that opportunity was up to her… if she made a mess of it such as she did with Beorhtric’s death, that was on her shoulders not Egbert’s! In his mind, he probably justified his actions as being the best option left in repaying her assistance or involvement in this messy secret operation. He now had Wessex, and had she behaved herself and not botched things up, she most likely could have been either continued Queen of Wessex or one of Charlemagne’s wives instead of dying in the streets of Pavia, Italy.

kwentirith seems overly upset at seeing uncle killed

An unfortunate side note and result of Eadburh’s supposed wicked and despicable behavior… after her exile, very few women in the 9th century would ever be allowed or granted the title of regina (queen). According to Asser this was because of the shame Eadburh had brought on the position. However, Offa and Beorhtric had driven Egbert into exile in the 780s, and the blackening of her name may also have been partly due to a desire to discredit Beorhtric.  Asser also writes  that as a result of the aristocracy’s resentment for Eadburh, the status and influence of the subsequent queens was diminished and they were titled not ‘queen’ but ‘king’s wife’; the queen was also prohibited from sitting beside the king on the throne. This changed again when Charles the Bald insisted that his daughter Judith, who married King Athelwulf, be properly crowned queen.  This presents an interesting idea in connection to Hirst’s storyline surrounding Judith. We all know that he has presented a scenario where his version of Judith has the potential to possibly be endowed with such  status by bearing such a blessed, special and Saintly child, Alfred.  The way he has written the story so far does seem to leave this window open for Judith as option that would give her that very loose thread of historical connection.

judith holds her own in this game of power panic and fear on judith's face

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/viking-saga-judiths-story/

Now, back to the reality of Egbert and Wessex! In 802 the fortunes of Wessex were transformed by the accession of Egbert. With his accession the throne became firmly established in the hands of a single lineage.  Egbert quickly established a firm hold of the Kingdom and proved his dominance and far reaching power. Early in his reign he conquered the remaining western Britons still in Devon and reduced those beyond the River Tamar, now Cornwall, to the status of a vassal. In 825 or 826 he overturned the political order of England by decisively defeating King Beornwulf of Mercia at Ellendun and seizing control of Surrey, Sussex, Kent and Essex from the Mercians, while with his help East Anglia broke away from Mercian control. In 829 he conquered Mercia, driving its King Wiglaf into exile, and secured acknowledgement of his overlordship from the king of Northumbria. He thereby became the Bretwalda, or high king of Britain. This position of dominance was short-lived, as Wiglaf returned and restored Mercian independence in 830, but the expansion of Wessex across south-eastern England proved permanent.

aethelwulf and ecbert

 

Map of Kingdoms during Egbert's reign

Map of Kingdoms during Egbert’s reign

 in 825 that one of the most important battles in Anglo-Saxon history took place, when Egbert defeated Beornwulf of Mercia at Ellendun—now Wroughton, near Swindon. This battle marked the end of the Mercian domination of southern England.  The Chronicle tells how Egbert followed up his victory: “Then he sent his son Æthelwulf from the army, and Ealhstan, his bishop, and Wulfheard, his ealdorman, to Kent with a great troop.” Æthelwulf drove Baldred, the king of Kent, north over the Thames, and according to the Chronicle, the men of Kent, Essex, Surrey and Sussex then all submitted to Æthelwulf “because earlier they were wrongly forced away from his relatives”This may refer to Offa’s interventions in Kent at the time Egbert’s father Ealhmund became king; if so, the chronicler’s remark may also indicate Ealhmund had connections elsewhere in southeast England.  This would also  suggest that Egbert had certainly not forgotten or forgiven Mercia and Offa’s earlier actions against Kent and Wessex.

The consequences of Ellendun went beyond the immediate loss of Mercian power in the southeast. According to the Chronicle, the East Anglians asked for Egbert’s protection against the Mercians in the same year, 825, though it may actually have been in the following year that the request was made. In 826 Beornwulf invaded East Anglia, presumably to recover his overlordship. He was slain, however, as was his successor, Ludeca, who invaded East Anglia in 827, evidently for the same reason. It may be that the Mercians were hoping for support from Kent: there was some reason to suppose that Wulfred, the Archbishop of Canterbury, might be discontented with West Saxon rule, as Egbert had terminated Wulfred’s currency and had begun to mint his own, at Rochester and Canterbury, and it is known that Egbert seized property belonging to Canterbury.  The outcome in East Anglia was a disaster for the Mercians which confirmed West Saxon power in the southeast.

Michael Hirst actually provides  a very good portrayal or representation of this important battle with his episode “Wanderer”.  If you discount the use of our Vikings as mercenaries in the battle, it does seem to be a good depiction of the overall event and the resulting defeat of Mercia. I have a previous article that details the episode along with the actual events and location of that battle of Ellendun.

they're at the top of that hill

they’re at the top of that hill

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/vikings-wanderer-part-one-let-us-speak-of-ecbert/

By 829, Egbert had reached the high point of his power and gained the much sought after control and domination that he seemed so intent on. His victory over Mercia enabled him to once and for all claim the title of  bretwalda, meaning “wide-ruler” or “Britain-ruler”, in a famous passage in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

And the same year King Egbert conquered the kingdom of Mercia, and all that was south of the Humber, and he was the eighth king who was ‘Wide Ruler’.

His domination  was short lived.  The very next year in 830, Mercia rebelled and regained it’s independence.  Both Wessex’s sudden rise to power in the late 820s, and the subsequent failure to retain this dominant position, have been examined by historians looking for underlying causes. One plausible explanation for the events of these years is that Wessex’s fortunes were to some degree dependent on Carolingian support. The Franks supported Eardwulf when he recovered the throne of Northumbria in 808, so it is plausible that they also supported Egbert’s accession in 802. At Easter 839, not long before Egbert’s death, he was in touch with Louis the Pious, king of the Franks, to arrange safe passage to Rome.  So, throughout most of his rule, it would seem that Egbert reaped the benefits of support and backing from the Franks. Beginning in  the late 820s though, the Franks started to experience their own problems.  the Rhenish and Frankish commercial networks collapsed at some time in the 820s or 830s, and in addition, a rebellion broke out in February 830 against Louis the Pious—the first of a series of internal conflicts that lasted through the 830s and beyond. These distractions may have prevented Louis from supporting Egbert. This would have leveled the power play field between Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia and meant that Egbert no longer had the upper hand or deeper resources as his winning edge.

Despite the leveled playing field,  Wessex retained control of the south-eastern kingdoms, with the possible exception of Essex, and Mercia did not regain control of East Anglia. Egbert’s victories marked the end of the independent existence of the kingdoms of Kent and Sussex. The conquered territories were administered as a subkingdom for a while, including Surrey and possibly Essex.  Kent lost it’s independence early on but in 825, after the defeat of Mercia, Egbert sent Æthelwulf with an army to Kent, where he expelled the Mercian sub-king and was appointed sub-king. After 830 he maintained good relations with Mercia, and this was continued by Æthelwulf when he became king in 839, the first son to succeed his father as West Saxon king since 641.

aethelwulf's christian zealotry over takes all other thoughts

Although Æthelwulf was a subking under Egbert, it is clear that he maintained his own royal household, with which he travelled around his kingdom. Charters issued in Kent described Egbert and Æthelwulf as “kings of the West Saxons and also of the people of Kent.” When Æthelwulf died in 858 his will, in which Wessex is left to one son and the southeastern kingdom to another, makes it clear that it was not until after 858 that the kingdoms were fully integrated.  Mercia remained a threat, however; Egbert’s son Æthelwulf, established as king of Kent, gave estates to Christ Church, Canterbury, probably to counter any influence the Mercians might still have there.

aethelwulf and ecbert athelstan with aethelwulf and ecbert

In 838, Egbert and Æthelwulf granted land to the sees of Winchester and Canterbury in return for the promise of support for Æthelwulf’s claim.  These agreements, along with a later charter in which Æthelwulf confirmed church privileges, suggest that the church had recognised that Wessex was a new political power that must be dealt with.  Churchmen consecrated the king at coronation ceremonies, and helped to write the wills which specified the king’s heir; their support had real value in establishing West Saxon control and a smooth succession for Egbert’s line.  Both the record of the Council of Kingston, and another charter of that year, include the identical phrasing: that a condition of the grant is that “we ourselves and our heirs shall always hereafter have firm and unshakable friendships from Archbishop Ceolnoth and his congregation at Christ Church.    Egbert died in 839, and his will, according to the account of it found in the will of his grandson, Alfred the Great, left land only to male members of his family, so that the estates should not be lost to the royal house through marriage. Egbert’s wealth, acquired through conquest, was no doubt one reason for his ability to purchase the support of the southeastern church establishment; the thriftiness of his will indicates he understood the importance of personal wealth to a king.  The kingship of Wessex had been frequently contested among different branches of the royal line, and it is a noteworthy achievement of Egbert’s that he was able to ensure Æthelwulf’s untroubled succession.

 

In 853 Aethelwulf improved his alliance with Mercia by marrying his daughter Æthelswith to King Burgred of Mercia, and in the same year he joined a Mercian expedition to Wales to restore the traditional Mercian hegemony. In 855 Æthelwulf went on pilgrimage to Rome. In preparation he gave a “decimation”, donating a tenth of his personal property to his subjects; he appointed his eldest surviving son Æthelbald to act as King of Wessex in his absence, and next son Æthelberht to rule Kent and the south-east. He spent a year in Rome, and on his way back he married Judith, the twelve- or thirteen-year-old daughter of the West Frankish King Charles the Bald. When Æthelwulf returned to England, Æthelbald refused to surrender the West Saxon throne, and Æthelwulf agreed to divide the kingdom, taking the east and leaving the west in his son’s hands. On Æthelwulf’s death in 858 he left Wessex to Æthelbald and Kent to Æthelberht, but Æthelbald’s death only two years later led to the re-unification of the kingdom. In the twentieth century Æthelwulf’s reputation among historians was low, and he was seen as pious and impractical, but historians in the twenty-first century regard him as one of the most successful West Saxon kings, who laid the foundations for the success of his son, Alfred the Great.

family dinner in wessex Ecbert's somewhat rude and condescending comments A toast to my son.

family dinner in wessex Ecbert’s somewhat rude and condescending comments A toast to my son.

Egbert’s conquests brought him wealth far greater than his predecessors had enjoyed, and enabled him to purchase the support which secured the West Saxon throne for his descendants.  The stability brought by the dynastic succession of Egbert and Æthelwulf led to an expansion of commercial and agrarian resources, and to an expansion of royal income.  The wealth of the West Saxon kings was also greatly increased by the conquest of south-east England, and by the agreement in 838–39 with Archbishop Ceolnoth for the previously independent West Saxon minsters to accept the king as their secular lord in return for his protection.  Aethelwulf  continued to maintain the close relationship with the Franks that Egbert had formed and based his ruling system on their traditions. There were strong contacts between the West Saxon and Carolingian courts. The Annals of St. Bertin took particular interest in Viking attacks on Britain, and in 852 Lupus, the Abbot of Ferrières and a protégé of Charles the Bald, wrote to Æthelwulf congratulating him on his victory over the Vikings and requesting a gift of lead to cover his church roof.

aethelwulf threatens kwentirith's men and demands they take him to kwentirith

Despite earlier historians’ accounts and views of him being a religious fanatic or zealot, for all practical purposes Aethelwulf  maintained a stable and balanced reign. He managed to successfully set up long lasting alliances that would lay the foundations of Alfred’s future success. He seemed to understand the importance of  building working relationships in order achieve stability and success in the long run rather short term accomplishments.

 

It was not until the end of Egbert’s rule that the Danes began to make their presence felt in Wessex. In the southwest, Egbert was defeated in 836 at Carhampton by the Danes, but in 838 he won a battle against them and their allies the West Welsh at the Battle of Hingston Down in Cornwall. In 843 Æthelwulf was defeated by the companies of thirty-five Danish ships at Carhampton in Somerset. In 850 sub-king Æthelstan and Ealdorman Alhhere won a naval victory over a large Viking fleet off Sandwich in Kent, capturing nine ships and driving off the rest. Æthelwulf granted Alhhere a large estate in Kent, but Æthelstan is not heard of again, and probably died soon afterwards. The following year the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records five different attacks on southern England. A Danish fleet of 350 Viking ships took London and Canterbury, and when King Berhtwulf of Mercia went to their relief he was defeated. The Vikings then moved on to Surrey, where they were defeated by Æthelwulf and Æthelbald at the Battle of Aclea. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the West Saxon levies “there made the greatest slaughter of a heathen that we have heard tell of up to the present day”. The Chronicle frequently reported victories during Æthelwulf’s reign won by levies led by ealdormen, unlike the 870s when royal command was emphasised, reflecting a more consensual style of leadership in the earlier period. In 853 a Viking army defeated and killed ealdermen Ealhhere of Kent and Huda of Surrey at Thanet, and in 855 Danish Vikings for the first time stayed over the winter on Sheppey, before carrying on their pillaging of eastern England. However, during Æthelwulf’s reign Viking attacks were contained and did not present a major threat.

 

Æthelwulf died on 13 January 858. According to the Annals of St Neots, he was buried at Steyning in Sussex, but his body was later transferred to Winchester, probably by Alfred the Great.  He was succeeded by Æthelbald in Wessex and Æthelberht in Kent and the south-east. The prestige conferred by a Frankish marriage was so great that Æthelbald then wedded his step-mother Judith, to Asser’s retrospective horror; he described the marriage as a “great disgrace”, and “against God’s prohibition and Christian dignity”.  When Æthelbald died only two years later, Æthelberht became King of Wessex as well as Kent, and Æthelwulf’s intention of dividing his kingdoms between his sons was thus set aside. In the view of Yorke and Abels this was because Æthelred and Alfred were too young to rule, and Æthelberht agreed in return that his younger brothers would inherit the whole kingdom on his death, whereas Kirby and Nelson think that Æthelberht just became the trustee for his younger brothers’ share of the bookland.   After Æthelbald’s death Judith sold her possessions and returned to her father, but two years later she eloped with Baldwin, Count of Flanders. In the 890s their son, also called Baldwin, married Æthelwulf’s granddaughter Ælfthryth.

Unfortunately for Wessex and the sons of Aethelwulf, the Danes would soon arrive on the scene in full force and everything would quickly change.  We will save that for the chapter in our real and imagined history of Wessex and the Viking invasion where we will look at how that blessed infant Alfred ended up with the crown of Wessex and what he had to do to keep that crown on his head. We will go from Hirst’s version to Cornwell’s and piece  it all together with the more real history.

his name is Alfred He shall be great

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about athelstan

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about athelstan

alfred is crowned and england is born

alfred is crowned and england is born

Alfred the Great