Posts Tagged ‘English history’

Threlkeld is a lovely place in Cumberland. It lies between Keswick and Penrith and just next to Matterdale. I wanted to tell the story of ‘The Shepherd Lord’, Henry Clifford, the father of the first earl of Cumberland and I probably will. But maybe William Wordsworth , Arthur Clifford, Bishop Thomas Percy and even Isaac Albéniz, can tell it better.

In his long poem called The Waggoner, Wordsworth wrote:

And see beyond that hamlet small,
The ruined towers of Threlkeld Hall,
Lurking in a double shade.
By trees and lingering twilight made!
There at Blencathara’s rugged feet,
Sir Lancelot gave a safe retreat
To noble Clifford; from annoy
Concealed the persecuted boy.
Well pleased in rustic garb to feed
His flock, and pipe on shepherd’s reed,
Among this multitude of hills,
Crags, woodlands, waterfalls, and rills.

Isaac Albeniz

Isaac Albeniz

There is even an opera called Henry Clifford written in 1893-95, the first of a series of operas by Isaac Albéniz which were commissioned and supplied with English libretti by his wealthy English patron Francis Money-Coutts. You can listen to the ouverture here. I find it quite beautiful.

In his 1817 history of the Clifford family called Collectanea Cliffordiana Arthur Clifford tells the full story:

HENRY, LORD CLIFFORD, OF WESTMORELAND, / SURNAMED THE SHEPHERD.

“The life of Henry, Lord Clifford, surnamed the Shepherd, father of the first Earl of Cumberland, exhibited a memorable example of the awful vicissitudes of human grandeur. He is known in history by the name of Lord Clifford, the Shepherd, an appellation which he obtained from the following circumstance. His father, John Lord Clifford, being killed in the fatal battle of Towton, in the year 1460, fighting for Henry VI. and the house of Lancaster; and Edward Duke of York, obtaining the crown, the young Lord Clifford, who was then only seven years old, was exposed to such imminent peril from the victorious party, that his mother Lady Clifford found it necessary to conceal him at a’ farm-house, in the dress of a shepherd’s boy. The memory of his father, and grand-father, who was also killed in battle, was so hateful to the house of York, that all their property was confiscated, and their titles attainted ; and had young Henry been discovered, he would most probably have been put to death. He was first committed to the care of a shepherd’s wife, who lived at Lonsborough, in Yorkshire, the seat of Lady Clifford, his mother, who was a great heiress, and Baroness Vescy in her own right. This woman was particularly chosen for the purpose, as she had formerly been nursery-maid at Skipton castle; and therefore the young lord being well acquainted with her, and very fond of her, he the more readily submitted to his hard condition, and to be separated from his disconsolate mother. And she being examined about her children, replied, that she had given positive directions to have them transported beyond the seas, into the Low Countries, there to be educated, and she knew nothing further about them. This answer was the more readily believed, as she had taken the precaution, immediately on her husband’s death, to send both her children to the sea-side, and the youngest was actually sent into the Low Countries, there to be educated, where he soon after died.

Threlkeld Hall today

Threlkeld Hall today

In this manner, therefore, young Henry lived in complete disguise, near his mother at Lonsborough, till he was fourteen years of age; when his grandfather, Lord Vescy, dying, a fresh rumour prevailed in the court of Edward IV. that the young Lord Clifford was alive; and strict enquiry being made after him, his mother, with the help of Sir Launcelot Threlkeld, her second husband, had him removed, together with the same shepherd and his wife, into Cumberland, where a farm was taken for him on the borders of Scotland. Here he lived as a shepherd for about 18 years; but his good father-in-law often came on purpose to see him, and he was sometimes visited very privately by his affectionate mother. Is it possible to fancy a more romantic and more interesting situation?

The greatest inconvenience which resulted to Lord Clifford from this mode of life was, that his education was entirely neglected; as his mother was afraid even to have him taught to read or write for fear of discovery ; and it was not till he had been restored to his lands and honours that he learnt even to write his own name. But notwithstanding the total neglect of his education, he always appeared to be a very intelligent man, and was an excellent economist in the management of his estate, and fortune. He also became a great builder, and thoroughly repaired all his castles in the north of England, and in other parts; which having been in the hands of strangers for five and twenty years had fallen greatly into decay. Skipton castle, and the lands about it had been given by King Edward the Fourth, to Sir Wm. Stanley; and the county of Westmoreland to Richard Duke of Gloucester, afterwards King of England, by the name of Richard III. In this distressful situation, therefore, he lived as a shepherd till he was thirty- two years of age; when Henry VII. of the house of Lancaster, obtaining the crown, Lord Clifford was restored in blood and honours, and to all his baronies, lands, and castles, by an act of parliament in the first of King Henry’s reign, by which his attainder was reversed, and his property restored.

Lord Clifford having passed his youth in this lowly condition among the mountains, appears to have acquired a decided taste for rural retirement; for he passed the remainder of his life at a romantic spot called Barden Tower, in Craven, where he addicted himself with great assiduity and delight, to the studies of astronomy and chemistry, in which he was assisted by the monks of the neighbouring priory of Bolton. However, he was drawn out of his retreat in the year 1513, when near sixty years old, and was one of the principal commanders in the great victory obtained over the Scotch, at Flodden-field, when he shewed that the military genius of the family had neither been chilled in him by age, nor damped by the strange misfortunes of his youth, nor extinguished by long habits of peace. In the old metrical history of Flodden-field, the following description is given of the followers of Lord Clifford the Shepherd :

From Penigent to Pendle Hill,
From Linton to Long Addingham,
And all that Craven cotes did till
They with the lusty Clifford came.
All Staincliff hundred went with him
With striplings strong from Wharledale,
And all that Hanton hills did climb
With Longstroth eke, and Litton Dale;
Whose milk-fed fellows fleshy bred,
Well browned with sounding bows upbent,
All such as Horton fells had fed
On Clifford’s banner did attend.

Flodden Field 1513

Flodden Field 1513

Lord Clifford, the Shepherd, received a summons to the first parliament held in the reign of Henry VII., and to all the succeeding parliaments of that reign, as well as those of Henry VIII. until his death. But in the twenty-first year of the reign of Henry VII. he fell under the displeasure of that avaricious and umbrageous monarch, for having taken part with the commons against the tax-gatherers; so that the king ordered him to produce all his evidences, in order to show by what right he held his lands in Westmoreland, as well as the office of hereditary high sheriff of that county, which he performed to the complete satisfaction of the king and his council.

This Lord Clifford, of Westmoreland, was twice married. His first wife was Anne, only daughter of Sir John St. John, of Bletsho, and cousin-german to King Henry VII. She was a lady of singular virtue, goodness, and piety; and so great a housewife, that she was one of the first who caused those tapestry hangings to be made, which are so often mentioned by Shakespeare, and other early writers, by the name of Arras; but which in this Lady Clifford’s time, were a great rarity in England. Some of these hangings, with her arms and those of Lord Clifford wrought upon them, were remaining at Skipton castle, in the time of Charles I., but they appear to have been destroyed during the civil war between the king and the parliament. By this lady, Lord Clifford had three sons, and four daughters. His eldest son and heir, who was afterwards Earl of Cumberland, was born in the year 1493.

Lord Clifford’s second wife was Florence, or Florentia, daughter of — Pudsey, Esq. of an ancient family in Craven. By her he had two or three sons who died young, and one daughter named Dorothy, who was married to Sir Hugh Lowther, of Lowther, in Westmoreland, from whom the present Earl of Lonsdale is descended.

Lord Clifford’s widow survived him many years and took to her second husband,, Richard, Lord Gray, a younger son of Thomas, first Marquis of Dorset.

By his last will and testament, Lord Clifford appointed that his body should be interred by that of his grandfather, Henry Bromflete, Lord Vescy,. in the monastery of the White Friars, within the suburbs of London, provided he died in that city or neighbourhood. But in case he died in the north of England, he ordered his body to be buried in the abbey of Shapp, in Westmoreland,. or in Bolton-abbey, in Craven, to both of which he was a great benefactor. He died in one of his castles in the north of England, and ended his memorable life on the 23d of April, in the year 1523.”

The Nut Brown Maid by Joseph Southall

The Nut Brown Maid by Joseph Southall

Arthur Clifford also wrote that: “Dr. Whitaker, in his valuable history of Craven, has conjectured with great appearance of probability, that the romantic adventures of Lord Clifford, the shepherd, gave rise to the beautiful old ballad of the “Nutbrown Maid,” modernised by Prior, in his poem of “Henry and Emma.” The Dr. Whitaker Arthur Clifford refers to was Thomas Dunham Whitaker who was born on the 8th of June, 1759, at Rainham, in Norfolk. He wrote:

“Clifford had a miserly father and a jealous step-mother, and owing to the parsimony of the one and the repelling influence of the other, was led into pecuniary embarrassments, which were the natural result of the extravagance of the court.

To relieve himself of these embarrassments, he did not resort, as is the fashion at the present time, to accommodating Hebrews, but in keeping with the ruder and more picturesque character of the fifteenth century, in which he lived, he became an outlaw, gathered together a band of reckless followers, plundered religious houses, and terrorised whole districts to such an extent that the inhabitants were sometimes compelled to seek refusge in the churches.

Having “sown his wild oats” he reformed and married Lady Margaret Percy, daughter of the Earl of Northumberland. It was about the year 1502 that “The Ballad of the Nut Brown Maid” was first printed, and from internal evidences it is inferred that it must have been written within a very short period of that time. Clifford was celebrated in the use of the bow, and the words of the ballad ‘Such an archere, as men say ye be’, would well apply to him. The outlaw in the ballad, moreover, particularly describes Westmorland as his heritage, and thus identifies himself with Clifford. The high lineage of the “nut brown maid” is in keeping with that of Lady Margaret Percy, and it may be that the young outlaw lurked in the forests of the Percy family, and in a disguise, which he told her covered a knight, won the lady’s heart. The inversion in the ballad of the rank of the parties was probably nothing more than a veil of poetic fiction used to conceal an actual episode which was then recent and well known.”

The Nut-Brown Maid is a ballad included by Bishop Thomas Percy in his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry of 1765. Percy wrote: “The sentimental beauties of this ancient ballad have always recommended it to readers of taste, notwithstanding the rust of antiquity which obscures the style and expression. The text is formed from two copies found in two different editions of Arnolde’s Chronicle, a book supposed to be first printed about 1521. The ballad of the “Nutbrowne Mayd” was first revived in The Muses’ Mercury for June 1707, 4to, being prefaced with a little “Essay on the old English Poets and Poetry,” in which this poem is concluded to be “near 300 years old,” upon reasons which, though they appear inconclusive to us now, were sufficient to determine Prior, who there first met with it. However, this opinion had the approbation of the learned Wanley, an excellent judge of ancient books. For that whatever related to the reprinting of this old piece was referred to Wanley, appears from two letters of Prior’s preserved in the British Museum [Harl. MSS. No. 3777].”

Here I use Arthur Quiller-Couch’s edition, contained in his The Oxford Book of Ballads of 1910. It’s exactly as the original except in slightly more modern English:

I

He.  BE it right or wrong, these men among
On women do complain;
Affirming this, how that it is
A labour spent in vain
To love them wele; for never a dele
They love a man again:
For let a man do what he can
Their favour to attain,
Yet if a new to them pursue,
Their first true lover than
Laboureth for naught; for from her thought
He is a banished man.

II

She.  I say not nay, but that all day
It is both written and said
That woman’s faith is, as who saith.
All utterly decay’d:
But nevertheless, right good witnèss
In this case might be laid
That they love true and continùe:
Record the Nut-brown Maid,
Which, when her love came her to prove,
To her to make his moan,
Would not depart; for in her heart
She loved but him alone.

III

He.  Then between us let us discuss
What was all the manere
Between them two: we will also
Tell all the pain in fere
That she was in. Now I begin,
So that ye me answere:
Wherefore all ye that present be,
I pray you, give an ear.
I am the Knight. I come by night,
As secret as I can,
Saying, Alas! thus standeth the case,
I am a banished man.

IV

She.  And I your will for to fulfil
In this will not refuse;
Trusting to show, in wordès few,
That men have an ill use—
To their own shame—women to blame,
And causeless them accuse.
Therefore to you I answer now,
All women to excuse:
Mine own heart dear, with you what cheer
I pray you, tell anone;
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

V

He.  It standeth so: a deed is do
Whereof great harm shall grow:
My destiny is for to die
A shameful death, I trow;
Or else to flee.The t’ one must be.
None other way I know
But to withdraw as an outlaw,
And take me to my bow.
Wherefore adieu, mine own heart true!
None other rede I can:
For I must to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

VI

She.  O Lord, what is this worldis bliss,
That changeth as the moon!
My summer’s day in lusty May
Is darked before the noon.
I hear you say, farewell: Nay, nay,
We dèpart not so soon.
Why say ye so?whither will ye go?
Alas! what have ye done?
All my welfàre to sorrow and care
Should change, if ye were gone:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

VII

He.  I can believe it shall you grieve,
And somewhat you distrain;
But afterward, your painès hard
Within a day or twain
Shall soon aslake; and ye shall take
Comfort to you again.
Why should ye ought? for, to make thought,
Your labour were in vain.
And thus I do; and pray you to,
As hartèly as I can:
For I must to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

VIII

She.  Now, sith that ye have showed to me
The secret of your mind,
I shall be plain to you again,
Like as ye shall me find.
Sith it is so that ye will go,
I will not live behind.
Shall never be said the Nut-brown Maid
Was to her love unkind.
Make you ready, for so am I,
Although it were anone:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

IX

He.  Yet I you rede to take good heed
What men will think and say:
Of young, of old, it shall be told
That ye be gone away
Your wanton will for to fulfil,
In green-wood you to play;
And that ye might for your delight
No longer make delay.
Rather than ye should thus for me
Be called an ill woman
Yet would I to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

X

She.  Though it be sung of old and young
That I should be to blame,
Theirs be the charge that speak so large
In hurting of my name:
For I will prove that faithful love
It is devoid of shame;
In your distress and heaviness
To part with you the same:
And sure all tho that do not so
True lovers are they none:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XI

He.  I counsel you, Remember how
It is no maiden’s law
Nothing to doubt, but to run out
To wood with an outlàw.
For ye must there in your hand bear
A bow ready to draw;
And as a thief thus must you live
Ever in dread and awe;
Whereby to you great harm might grow:
Yet had I liever than
That I had to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

XII

She.  I think not nay but as ye say;
It is no maiden’s lore;
But love may make me for your sake,
As I have said before,
To come on foot, to hunt and shoot,
To get us meat and store;
For so that I your company
May have, I ask no more.
From which to part it maketh my heart
As cold as any stone;
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XIII

He.  For an outlàw this is the law,
That men him take and bind:
Without pitie, hangèd to be,
And waver with the wind.
If I had need (as God forbede!)
What socours could ye find?
Forsooth, I trow, you and your bow
For fear would draw behind.
And no mervail; for little avail
Were in your counsel than:
Wherefore I’ll to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

XIV

She.  Right well know ye that women be
But feeble for to fight;
No womanhede it is, indeed,
To be bold as a knight:
Yet in such fear if that ye were
With enemies day and night,
I would withstand, with bow in hand,
To grieve them as I might,
And you to save; as women have
From death men many one:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XV

He.  Yet take good hede; for ever I drede
That ye could not sustain
The thorny ways, the deep vallèys,
The snow, the frost, the rain,
The cold, the heat; for dry or wete,
We must lodge on the plain;
And, us above, no other roof
But a brake bush or twain:
Which soon should grieve you, I believe;
And ye would gladly than
That I had to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

XVI

She.  Sith I have here been partynere
With you of joy and bliss,
I must alsò part of your woe
Endure, as reason is:
Yet I am sure of one pleasure,
And shortly it is this—
That where ye be, me seemeth, pardé,
I could not fare amiss.
Without more speech I you beseech
That we were shortly gone;
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XVII

He.  If ye go thyder, ye must consider,
When ye have lust to dine,
There shall no meat be for to gete,
Nether bere, ale, ne wine,
Ne shetès clean, to lie between,
Made of the thread and twine;
None other house, but leaves and boughs,
To cover your head and mine.
Lo, mine heart sweet, this ill diète
Should make you pale and wan:
Wherefore I’ll to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

XVIII

She.  Among the wild deer such an archère,
As men say that ye be,
Ne may not fail of good vitayle
Where is so great plentè
And water clear of the rivere
Shall be full sweet to me;
With which in hele I shall right wele
Endure, as ye shall see
And, or we go, a bed or two
I can provide anone;
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XIX

He.  Lo yet, before, ye must do more,
If ye will go with me:
As, cut your hair up by your ear,
Your kirtle by the knee;
With bow in hand for to withstand
Your enemies, if need be:
And this same night, before daylight,
To woodward will I flee.
If that ye will all this fulfil,
Do it shortly as ye can:
Else will I to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

XX

She.  I shall as now do more for you
Than ’longeth to womanhede;
To short my hair, a bow to bear,
To shoot in time of need.
O my sweet mother! before all other
For you I have most drede!
But now, adieu! I must ensue
Where fortune doth me lead.
All this make ye: Now let us flee;
The day cometh fast upon:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XXI

He.  Nay, nay, not so; ye shall not go,
And I shall tell you why—
Your appetite is to be light
Of love,I well espy:
For, right as ye have said to me,
In likewise hardily
Ye would answere whosoever it were,
In way of company:
It is said of old, Soon hot, soon cold,
And so is a womàn:
Wherefore I to the wood will go,
Alone, a banished man.

XXII

She.  If ye take heed, it is no need
Such words to say to me;
For oft ye prayed, and long assayed,
Or I loved you, pardè:
And though that I of ancestry
A baron’s daughter be,
Yet have you proved how I you loved,
A squire of low degree;
And ever shall, whatso befall,
To die therefore anone;
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XXIII

He.  A baron’s child to be beguiled,
It were a cursèd deed!
To be felàw with an outlaw—
Almighty God forbede!
Yet better were the poor squyere
Alone to forest yede
Than ye shall say another day
That by my cursèd rede
Ye were betrayed.
Wherefore, good maid,
The best rede that I can,
Is, that I to the green-wood go,
Alone, a banished man.

XXIV

She.  Whatever befall, I never shall
Of this thing be upbraid:
But if ye go, and leave me so,
Then have ye me betrayed.
Remember you wele, how that ye dele;
For if ye, as ye said,
Be so unkind to leave behind
Your love, the Nut-brown Maid,
Trust me truly that I shall die
Soon after ye be gone:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XXV

He.  If that ye went, ye should repent;
For in the forest now
I have purveyed me of a maid
Whom I love more than you:
Another more fair than ever ye were
I dare it well avow;
And of you both each should be wroth
With other, as I trow:
It were mine ease to live in peace;
So will I, if I can:
Wherefore I to the wood will go,
Alone, a banished man.

XXVI

She.  Though in the wood I understood
Ye had a paramour,
All this may nought remove my thought,
But that I will be your’:
And she shall find me soft and kind
And courteis every hour;
Glad to fulfil all that she will
Command me, to my power:
For had ye, lo, an hundred mo,
Yet would I be that one:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XXVII

He.  Mine own dear love, I see the prove
That ye be kind and true;
Of maid, of wife, in all my life,
The best that ever I knew.
Be merry and glad; be no more sad;
The case is changéd new;
For it were ruth that for your truth
Ye should have cause to rue.
Be not dismayed, whatsoever I said
To you when I began;
I will not to the green-wood go;
I am no banished man.

XXVIII

She.  These tidings be more glad to me
Than to be made a queen,
If I were sure they should endure;
But it is often seen
When men will break promise they speak
The wordis on the splene.
Ye shape some wile me to beguile,
And steal from me, I ween:
Then were the case worse than it was,
And I more wo-begone:
For, in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.

XXIX

He.  Ye shall not nede further to drede:
I will not disparáge
You (God defend), sith you descend
Of so great a lináge.
Now understand: to Westmoreland,
Which is my heritage,
I will you bring; and with a ring,
By way of marriáge
I will you take, and lady make,
As shortly as I can:
Thus have you won an Earle’s son,
And not a banished man.

XXX

Here may ye see that women be
In love meek, kind, and stable;
Let never man reprove them than,
Or call them variable;
But rather pray God that we may
To them be comfortable;
Which sometime proveth such as He loveth,
If they be charitable.
For sith men would that women should
Be meek to them each one;
Much more ought they to God obey,
And serve but Him alone.

Wordsworth of course wasn’t content with a few lines, he had to tell the story at greater length, which he did in Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle upon the Restoration of Lord Clifford, the Shepherd, to the Estates and Honours of his Ancestors:

High in the breathless Hall the Minstrel sate,
And Emont’s murmur mingled with the Song.
The words of ancient time I thus translate,
A festal strain that hath been silent long:—

From town to town, from tower to tower,
The red rose is a gladsome flower.
Her thirty years of winter past,
The red rose is revived at last;
She lifts her head for endless spring,
For everlasting blossoming:
Both roses flourish, red and white:
In love and sisterly delight
The two that were at strife are blended,
And all old troubles now are ended.—
Joy! joy to both! but most to her
Who is the flower of Lancaster!
Behold her how She smiles to-day
On this great throng, this bright array!
Fair greeting doth she send to all
From every corner of the hall;
But chiefly from above the board
Where sits in state our rightful Lord,
A Clifford to his own restored!

They came with banner, spear, and shield;
And it was proved in Bosworth-field.
Not long the Avenger was withstood—
Earth helped him with the cry of blood:
St. George was for us, and the might
Of blessed Angels crowned the right.
Loud voice the Land has uttered forth,
We loudest in the faithful north:
Our fields rejoice, our mountains ring,
Our streams proclaim a welcoming;
Our strong-abodes and castles see
The glory of their loyalty.

How glad is Skipton at this hour—
Though lonely, a deserted Tower;
Knight, squire, and yeoman, page and groom,
We have them at the feast of Brough’m.
How glad Pendragon—though the sleep
Of years be on her!—She shall reap
A taste of this great pleasure, viewing
As in a dream her own renewing.
Rejoiced is Brough, right glad, I deem,
Beside her little humble stream;
And she that keepeth watch and ward
Her statelier Eden’s course to guard;
They both are happy at this hour,
Though each is but a lonely Tower:—
But here is perfect joy and pride
For one fair House by Emont’s side,
This day, distinguished without peer,
To see her Master and to cheer—
Him, and his Lady-mother dear!

Oh! it was a time forlorn
When the fatherless was born—
Give her wings that she may fly,
Or she sees her infant die!
Swords that are with slaughter wild
Hunt the Mother and the Child.
Who will take them from the light?
—Yonder is a man in sight—
Yonder is a house—but where?
No, they must not enter there.
To the caves, and to the brooks,
To the clouds of heaven she looks;
She is speechless, but her eyes
Pray in ghostly agonies.
Blissful Mary, Mother mild,
Maid and Mother undefiled,
Save a Mother and her Child!

Now who is he that bounds with joy
On Carrock’s side, a Shepherd-boy?
No thoughts hath he but thoughts that pass
Light as the wind along the grass.
Can this be He who hither came
In secret, like a smothered flame?
O’er whom such thankful tears were shed
For shelter, and a poor man’s bread!
God loves the Child; and God hath willed
That those dear words should be fulfilled,
The Lady’s words, when forced away
The last she to her Babe did say:
“My own, my own, thy fellow-guest
I may not be; but rest thee, rest,
For lowly shepherd’s life is best!”

Alas! when evil men are strong
No life is good, no pleasure long.
The Boy must part from Mosedale’s groves,
And leave Blencathara’s rugged coves,
And quit the flowers that summer brings
To Glenderamakin’s lofty springs;
Must vanish, and his careless cheer
Be turned to heaviness and fear.
– Give Sir Lancelot Threlkeld praise!
Hear it, good man, old in days!
Thou tree of covert and of rest
For this young Bird that is distrest;
Among thy branches safe he lay,
And he was free to sport and play,
When falcons were abroad for prey.

A recreant harp, that sings of fear
And heaviness in Clifford’s ear!
I said, when evil men are strong,
No life is good, no pleasure long,
A weak and cowardly untruth!
Our Clifford was a happy Youth,
And thankful through a weary time,
That brought him up to manhood’s prime.
– Again he wanders forth at will,
And tends a flock from hill to hill:
His garb is humble; ne’er was seen
Such garb with such a noble mien;
Among the shepherd-grooms no mate
Hath he, a Child of strength and state!
Yet lacks not friends for simple glee,
Nor yet for higher sympathy.

To his side the fallow-deer
Came and rested without fear;
The eagle, lord of land and sea,
Stooped down to pay him fealty;
And both the undying fish that swim
Through Bowscale-tarn did wait on him;
The pair were servants of his eye
In their immortality;
And glancing, gleaming, dark or bright,
Moved to and fro, for his delight.
He knew the rocks which Angels haunt
Upon the mountains visitant;
He hath kenned them taking wing:
And into caves where Faeries sing
He hath entered; and been told
By Voices how men lived of old.
Among the heavens his eye can see
The face of thing that is to be;
And, if that men report him right,
His tongue could whisper words of might.
Now another day is come,
Fitter hope, and nobler doom;
He hath thrown aside his crook,
And hath buried deep his book;
Armour rusting in his halls
On the blood of Clifford calls,—
‘Quell the Scot,’ exclaims the Lance—
Bear me to the heart of France,
Is the longing of the Shield—
Tell thy name, thou trembling field;
Field of death, where’er thou be,
Groan thou with our victory!
Happy day, and mighty hour,
When our Shepherd, in his power,
Mailed and horsed, with lance and sword,
To his ancestors restored
Like a re-appearing Star,
Like a glory from afar
First shall head the flock of war!”

Alas! the impassioned minstrel did not know
How, by Heaven’s grace, this Clifford’s heart was framed:
How he, long forced in humble walks to go,
Was softened into feeling, soothed, and tamed.

Love had he found in huts where poor men lie;
His daily teachers had been woods and rills,
The silence that is in the starry sky,
The sleep that is among the lonely hills.

In him the savage virtue of the Race,
Revenge and all ferocious thoughts were dead:
Nor did he change; but kept in lofty place
The wisdom which adversity had bred.

Glad were the vales, and every cottage-hearth; The Shepherd-lord was honoured more and more;
And, ages after he was laid in earth,
“The good Lord Clifford” was the name he bore.

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‘Et Strat Clut vastata est a Saxonibus’ (And Strathclyde was devastated by the Saxons) – Welsh  Annales AD 946.

‘This year King Edmund ravaged all Cumberland, and granted it to Malcolm, king of the Scots, on the condition that he should be his fellow-worker as well by sea as by land.’ – Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for AD 945.

‘How king Eadmund gave Cumberland to the king of the Scots.’ – A.D. 946. ‘Agapetus sat in the Roman chair ten years, six months, and ten days. In the same year king Eadmund, with the aid of Leoling, king of South Wales, ravaged the whole of Cumberland, and put out the eyes of the two sons of Dummail, king of that province. He then granted that kingdom to Malcolm, king of the Scots, to hold of himself, with a view to defend the northern parts of England from hostile incursions by sea and land.’   Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History, circa 1235.

King Edmund

King Edmund

In the year 945/6 a British king of Cumbria (the kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons) called ‘Dunmail’ was probably defeated in battle by the West-Saxon English king Edmund. The event has become legendary. A small kernel of historical truth has been embellished over the centuries to make of King Dunmail a veritable King Arthur or an Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, an heroic figure who lies sleeping, to be called upon one day to return and save his people in their hour of need. I will discuss the historical facts and setting in a forthcoming article. Dunmail was probably Cumbrian King Dyfnmal ap Owain (Donald son of Owen), and he certainly wasn’t the ‘last king’ of the Cumbrians. But here I’d simply like to draw together just a few of the myriad versions of the legend.

Let’s begin with William Wordsworth. In his 1805 poem The Waggoner he wrote:

Meanwhile, uncertain what to do,
And oftentimes compelled to halt,
The horses cautiously pursue
Their way, without mishap or fault;
And now have reached that pile of stones,
Heaped over brave King Dunmail’s bones;
His who had once supreme command,
Last king of rocky Cumberland;
His bones, and those of all his Power
Slain here in a disastrous hour!

Dunmail Stones

Dunmail Stones

Countless generations of tourists to the Lake District have been told that this ‘pile of stones’, which can still be seen on Dunmail Raise as it rises south from Thirlmere, marks the spot of the battle and even, in many versions, Dunmail’s burial place.

Although the seeds of the legend of Dunmail find their origins in the comments of Roger of Wendover in the early thirteenth century quoted above, for a long time antiquaries and travel writers stuck to the basic facts and stated the uncertainty of matters. King Charles 1’s surveyor John Ogilby in his The Traveller’s Guide: Or, A Most Exact Description Of The Roads Of England (1699) only said that there was “a great heap of stones called Dunmail-Raise-Stones, supposed to have been cast up by Dunmail K(ing) of Cumberland for the bounds of his kingdom”.

In 1774, in A Tour of Scotland and the Hebrides, Thomas Pennant wrote:

On a high pass between the hills, observe a large Carnedd called Dunmail Wrays stones, collect6ed in memory of a defeat, A.D. 946. given to a petty king of Cumberland, of that name, by Edmund 1. Who with the usual barbarity of the times, put out the eyes of his two sons, and gave the country to Malcolm, king of Scotland, on condition he preserved in peace the northern parts of England.

William Gilpin said in his Observations, relative chiefly to Pictureseque Beauty, Made in the Year 1772, On several Parts of England; particularly the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland, and Westmoreland (1786):

 … we came to the celebrated pass, known by the name Dunmail-Raise, which divides the counties of Cumberland and Westmoreland. The history of this rude monument, which consists of a monstrous pile of stones, heaped on each side of an earthen mound, is little known. It was probably intended to mark a division, not between these two northern counties; but rather between the two kingdoms of Scotland and England, in elder times, when the Scottish border extended beyond its present bounds. And indeed this chain of mountains seem to be a much more natural division of the two kingdoms, in this part, than a little river in champaign country, like the Esk, which now divides them. It is said, this division, was made by a Saxon prince, on the death of Dunmail the last king of Cumberland, who was here slain in battle…

Dunmail Raise

Dunmail Raise

Around the same time, 1784, Thomas West wrote in A guide to the lakes of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire:

… the road ascends to Dunmail-raise, where lie the historical stones, that perpetuate the name and fall of the last king of Cumberland, defeated there by the Saxon monarch Edmund, who put out the eyes of the two sons of his adversary, and; for his confederating with Leolin, King of Wales, against him wasted his Kingdom, and then gave it to Malcolm, King of Scots, who held it in fee of Edmund A.D. 944 or 945. The stones are a heap and have the appearance of a karn, or barrow. The wall that divides the counties is built over them, which proves their priority of time in that form.

It’s only when we get to the Romantic era of Wordsworth and later into the Victorian and Edwardian periods that the legend really starts to take shape. I particularly like John Pagan White’s 1873 poetic rendition in his Country Lays and Legends of the English Lake Country:

KING DUNMAIL.

They buried on the mountain’s side
King Dunmail, where he fought and died.
But mount, and mere, and moor again
Shall see King Dunmail come to reign.

Mantled and mailed repose his bones
Twelve cubits deep beneath the stones ;
But many a fathom deeper down
In Grisedale Mere lies Dunmail’s crown.

Climb thou the rugged pass, and see
High midst those mighty mountains three,
How in their joint embrace they hold
The Mere that hides his crown of gold.

There in that lone and lofty dell
Keeps silent watch the sentinel.
A thousand years his lonely rounds
Have traced unseen that water’s bounds

His challenge shocks the startled waste,
Still answered from the hills with haste,
As passing pilgrims come and go
From heights above or vales below.

When waning moons have filled their year,
A stone from out that lonely Mere
Down to the rocky Raise is borne,
By martial shades with spear and horn.

As crashes on the pile the stone,
The echoes to the King make known
How still their faithful watch they hold
In Grisedale o’er his crown of gold.

And when the Raise has reached its sum,
Again will brave King Dunmail come ;
And all his Warriors marching down
The dell, bear back his golden crown.

And Dunmail, mantled, crowned, and mailed,
Again shall Cumbria’s King be hailed ;
And o’er his hills and valleys reign
When Eildon’s heights are field and plain.

Grisedale Tarn

Grisedale Tarn

W. T. Palmer’s version of 1908 in The English Lakes is more elaborate, literally more inventive and certainly historically incorrect regarding the English king involved and the identity of the Cumbrians themselves:

The cairn of Dunmail, last king of Pictish (sic) Cumbria slain in battle with Edgar (sic) the Saxon, is here, a formless pile of stones. There is a legend concerning this spot.

The crown of Dunmail was charmed, giving to its wearer a succession in his kingdom. Therefore King Edgar (sic) of the Saxons coveted it above all things. When Dunmail came to the throne of the mountainlands a wizard in Gilsland Forest held a master-charm to defeat the purpose of his crown. He Dunmail slew. The magician was able to make himself invisible save at cock crow, and to destroy him the hero braved a cordon of wild wolves at night. At the first peep of dawn he entered the cave where the wizard was lying. Leaping to his feet the magician called out, “Where river runs north or south with the storm” ere Dunmail’s sword silenced him forever. The story came to the ear of the Saxon, who after much inquiry of his priests found that an incomplete curse, though powerful against Dunmail, could scarcely harm another holder of the crown. Spies were accordingly sent into Cumbria to find where a battle could be fought on land favourable to the magician’s words. On Dunmail raise, in times of storm even in unromantic to-day, the torrent sets north or south in capricious fashion. The spies found the place, found also fell-land chiefs who were persuaded to become secret allies of the Saxon. The campaign began. Dunmail moved his army south to meet the invader, and they joined battle on this pass. For long hours the fight was with the Cumbrians; the Saxons were driven down the hill again and again. As his foremost tribes became exhausted, Dunmail retired and called on his reserves—they were mainly the ones favouring the Southern king. On they came, spreading in well-armed lines from side to side of the hollow way, but instead of opening to let the weary warriors through they delivered an attack on them. Surprised, the army reeled back, and their rear was attacked with redoubled violence by the Saxons. The loyal ranks were forced to stand back-to- back round their king; assailed by superior masses they fell rapidly, and ere long the brave chief was shot down by a traitor of his own bodyguard.

“My crown,” cried he, “bear it away; never let the Saxon flaunt it.”

A few stalwarts took the charmed treasure from his hands, and with a furious onslaught made the attackers give way. Step by step they fought their way up the ghyll of Dunmail’s beck—broke through all resistance on the open fell, and aided by a dense cloud evaded their pursuers. Two hours later the faithful few met by Grisedale tarn, and consigned the crown to its depths — “till Dunmail come again to lead us.”

And every year the warriors come back, draw up the charmed circlet from the depths of the wild mountain tarn, and carry it with them over Seat Sandal to where their king is sleeping his age-long sleep. They knock with his spear on the topmost stone of the cairn, and

from its heart comes a voice, “Not yet; not yet; wait awhile, my warriors.”

In 1937 Arthur Mee wrote in The Lake Counties:

A little south of Wythburn the high road crosses over into Westmorland. Beside it at the top of the pass is a great heap of stones known as Dunmail Raise, with its own little tradition of something that happened on this boundary 1000 years ago. Here, it is thought, the battle took place in which the Saxon king Edmund defeated Dunmail, the last king of Cumbria, whose territory was then handed over to King Malcolm of Scotland.

More recently another writer put it thus:

Dunmail Raise marked the boundary between Cumberland and Westmorland, the name coming from a heap of stones which in folklore marks the burial place of the last King of Cumberland, King Dunmail or, as sometimes spelt, Domhnall. In 945, King Edmund, who ruled almost undisputed over the remainder of England, joined forces with King Malcolm of Scotland in order to defeat the last bastion of Celtic resistance in his kingdom. In his last battle, King Dunmail was killed by Edmund himself. His body was carried away by faithful warriors, and buried under a great pile of stones.

King Edmund is reputed to have captured Dunmail’s two sons and had their eyes put out. The Crown of King Dunmail was thrown into Grisedale Tarn on the Helvellyn range. Legend has it that the crown was enchanted, giving its wearer a magic right to the Kingdom, thus it was important to prevent it from falling into Saxon hands. On victory, Edmund gave Cumberland to King Malcolm of Scotland, and it was only when Canute came to the throne that Cumberland came back under English rule in exchange, 87 years later, for Lothian.

The Kingdom of Cumbria -  Strathclyde

The Kingdom of Cumbria – Strathclyde

In their Ghoulish Horrible Hair raising Cumbrian Tales (1981), Herbert and Mary Jackson add yet more details:

In the aftermath of a ferociously fought battle near Dunmail Raise, just south of Thirlmere reservoir, between King Dunmail of Cumberland and the Saxon army, in the year circa 940 AD, the following legend is written:

After the battle, as King Dunmail lay dying, his last words were. “My crown, bear it away, never let the Saxon flaunt it.”

For it was known that whoever wore the crown of Dunmail would succeed to the Kingdom of Cumbria. The King’s personal body guard removed the crown from the head of their dying monarch and with unprecedented gallantry fought their way through the Saxon lines.

Eventually they reached Grisdale tarn, where with all due ceremony and reverence, the crown was consigned to its deepest waters, with these words, “Till Dunmail come again to lead us.”

Each year, on the anniversary of the King’s death, his warriors return to the tarn. The crown is retrieved and carried back to the cairn of stones under which their beloved Dunmail lies. In turn, the warriors knock with their spears on the topmost stones of the cairn.

From that grave a voice cries out. “Not yet; not yet – wait a while my warriors.” The day is yet to come when the spirit of Dunmail will re-join his warriors and crown a new King of Cumbria.

King Owain, Dunmail’s father, came to the throne in circa 920. A battle took place on the flat of a mountain top at Ecclfechan. What happened to Owain after the battle against the English in which he lost in 938 is not known. But his son went on to succeed him.

Shortly after this, another battle took place as they fought step by step up the Ghyll of Dunmail’s beck – broke through all resistance on the open fell, and, aided by a dense cloud, evaded their pursuers. Two hours later the faithful few met by Grisdale Tarn, and consigned the crown to its depths – “till Dunmail come again to lead us.” And every year the warriors come back, draw up the magic circlet from the depths of the wild mountain tarn, and carry it with them over the Seat Sandal to where the king is sleeping his age long sleep. They knock with his spear on the topmost stone of the cairn and from its heart comes a voice. “Not yet; not yet – wait a while my warriors.”

Cumbrian Flag

Cumbrian Flag

It’s all wonderful stuff but there is not a shred of historical evidence for any of it. That a battle was fought in 945/6 between a Cumbrian (Strathclyde British) king and the English king Edmund is quite likely and it’s also quite possible that Edmund was in league at this time with King Malcolm of Alba (Scotland). It’s even possible that the king was the historically attested Cumbrian, King Dyfnwal ap Owain, and even that his two sons had their eyes put out by Edmund – although the earliest mention of this blinding was by the thirteenth-century Roger of Wendover. All the rest is legend, if not purely literary myth, but is a great yarn.

I will show in my forthcoming article that Dunmail/Dyfnwal certainly wasn’t the last king of Cumbria and probably didn’t die in the battle against the English either; facts that haven’t stopped local sub-aqua clubs searching for Dunmail’s crown in Grisedale tarn! I hope they find it.

In three previous articles I kept hovering around Gospatric, an earl of Northumbria in the eleventh century. Sometime before or after the Norman Conquest he issued a writ granting the use of some of his lands in northern Cumbria to one of his men: Thorfinn Mac Thore. It’s a fascinating document not least because it is written in old English (Anglo-Saxon). It’s also about the only such written source we have concerning the governance of Cumbria in the pre-Norman era, i.e. before King William Rufus first captured Carlisle in 1092. But who was Gospatric?

Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick

It’s been a question which has generated several conflicting answers over the years. Let me start my own investigation with his name. Gospatric (or Gospatrick) is a British name and means ‘Servant of Patrick’.

The Cumbric personal names Gospatrick, Gososwald and Gosmungo meaning ‘servant of St…’ (Welsh/Cornish/Breton gwas ‘servant, boy’) and the Galloway dialect word gossock ‘short, dark haired inhabitant of Wigtownshire’ (Welsh gwasog ‘a servant’) apparently show that the Cumbric equivalent of Welsh/Cornish gwas & Breton gwaz ‘servant’ was *gos.

Patrick refers to Saint Patrick, who was, and still is, the patron saint of Ireland, but who was originally a mainland British-born ‘Celt’ before being captured by Irish pirates and brought up in Ireland.

The languages the native British and Irish spoke at the time of the Anglo-Saxon advent in the fifth and later centuries are usually grouped by linguists into two groups: Goidelic, which includes Irish and Scots Gaelic, and Brythonic, which includes what is now Welsh and, importantly for us, Cumbric; plus  Cornish and Breton.

Gospatric is undoubtedly a Brythonic Cumbric name.

Cymru

Cymru

The Brythonic (‘British’) languages were all basically just variants of the same language. The Welsh today call their language Cymraeg and themselves Cymry. The country is called Cymru. The French version is Cambria, as in the Cambrian Mountains. The same people who lived in the north-western region of present-day England and over a large swathe of southern ‘Scotland’ were called Cumbrians; their land Cumbria and their language Cumbric. It’s the same word for essentially the same people. From this we obviously get modern Cumbria and the anglicized Cumberland. All these names are descended from the Brythonic word combrogi, meaning ‘fellow-countrymen’.

The use of the word Cymry as a self-designation derives from the post-Roman era relationship of the Welsh with the Brythonic-speaking peoples of northern England and southern Scotland, the peoples of Yr  Hen Ogledd (English: The Old North). It emphasised a perception that the Welsh and the ‘Men of the North’ were one people, exclusive of other peoples.

To understand better who Earl Gospatric was we need to understand a bit about the history of Britain from the time of the Anglo-Saxon advent up to and after the Norman invasion, particularly the history of the northwest of the country. Over time the Cymry (Welsh) had become cut off from their cousins in Cumbria, although undoubtedly many links were maintained by sea for centuries. Starting in around AD 600 the Angles under King Aethelfrith of Northumbria had started to make incursions into Cumbria, including into large tracts of what is now lowland Scotland.

Aethelfith conquered more territories from the Britons than any other chieftain of king, either subduing the inhabitants and making them tributary, or driving them out and planting the English in their places.

The Kingdom of Cumbria -  Strathclyde

The Kingdom of Cumbria – Strathclyde

In ‘English’ Cumbria the Northumbrians did establish settlements but these were in general restricted to the lowlands and along the coast, they made almost no impression on the mountain fastness of the Lake District or in Galloway in the southwest of present-day Scotland. These areas were still predominantly the realm of the Kingdom of Cumbria, often referred to as the Kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons. Westmorland for example, where there was more Anglian settlement than in Cumberland, is an English word simply meaning ‘West of the Moors’, and the moors were the Pennines, over which the Angles had to come. The centuries-long battle for hegemony in the north of Britain involved three powers: the kings and later earls of Northumbria, the kings of Gaelic Alba (Scotland) and the kings of Cumbria (Strathclyde Britain). There were two other participants: the Norse-Irish Viking who started to arrive in this part of the world in the tenth century and the Gaelic Galwegians, who were feared as barbaric rapers, pillagers and general wreakers of havoc, until they were finally absorbed into Gaelic Scotland.

The borders of the kingdom of Cumbria ebbed and flowed – at one stage they possibly stretched from the Clyde all the way to Chester – mostly down the west coast of the British island but also in ‘Scotland’, including most of the Scottish lowlands.

Once the Norse-Irish Vikings has started to raid and settle in Cumberland they also started to make incursions and raids over the Pennines into English Northumbria and into Cumbrian regions in present-day southern Scotland. Shifting alliances continually fought each other for dominance. It was at least in part these Norse Viking raids that prompted the Northumbrians to try to get a better grip on Cumberland and Westmorland.

King Edgar at Chester in 973

King Edgar at Chester in 973

The kings of Cumbria did eventually have to acknowledge their allegiance to the ‘West Saxon’ English king Edgar at Chester in 973. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded:

This year Edgar the etheling was consecrated king at Bath, on Pentecost’s mass-day, on the fifth before the ides of May, the thirteenth year since he had obtained the kingdom; and he was then one less than thirty years of age. And soon after that, the king led all his ship-forces to Chester; and there came to meet him six kings, and they all plighted their troth to him, that they would be his fellow-workers by sea and by land.

One of these kings was Malcolm, king of the Cumbrians, who together with King Kenneth II of Scotland, Maccus of the Isle of Man and several unidentified Welsh kings rowed King Edgar across the River Dee in Chester.

But Northumbrian and later English hegemony in Cumbria remained for a long time very incomplete, mostly nominal, and always contested by the Cumbrians themselves.

It’s a long and complicated history. I particularly recommend William E. Kapelle’s magisterial The Norman Conquest of the North and Tim Clarkson’s The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland. But let’s return to Gospatric, the Cumbric eleventh century earl of Northumbria. There are many questions; not least how a British Cumbrian chieftain became an English earl? Here are a few things we do know about Earl Gospatric:

In late 1067 Oswulf, the short-lived titular earl of Northumbria, was ‘killed by bandits’. Gospatric ‘who had a plausible claim to the earldom given the likelihood that he was related to Oswulf and Uchtred, offered King William a large amount of money to be given the Earldom of Bernicia. The King, who was in the process of raising heavy taxes, accepted’.

In early 1068 Gospatric joined with Edgar Atheling (the English claimant to the throne), Edwin earl of Mercia and Earl Morcar his brother, in an uprising against William the Bastard. They lost and Gospatric was stripped of the earldom.

William replaced Gospatric as earl by a Fleming called Robert Cumin (or de Comines). As I described in my article The Normans Come to Cumbria, this was to lead to another rising of the North of England, with the support of the Danish king Swein. Gospatric joined this too.

The Harrying of the North

The Harrying of the North

King William heard of the revolt and, says Orderic Vitalis: ‘Swift was the king’s coming’, with ‘an overwhelming army’. Norman massacres ensued and William ravaged York and its church. Many of the English magnates escaped, including Gospatric, hopefully to fight another day. Annoyed with these pesky and rebellious Northerners, William committed regional genocide: the mildly named Harrying of the North.

In early 1070 Gospatric submitted himself to King William, who, interestingly, re-granted him the earldom. He remained earl until 1072 when William took the earldom  away once more and gave it to Waltheof, Danish earl Siward’s son.

Gospatric fled to find refuge in ‘Scotland’, and for a time in Flanders, before returning to Scotland. The Scottish King Malcolm III Canmore (probably Gospatric’s uncle) then granted him the future earldom of Dunbar (Lothian).

Sometime shortly thereafter it is contended that Gospatric died. Chronicler Roger of Hoveden wrote:

Not long after this, being reduced to extreme infirmity, he sent for Aldwin and Turgot, the monks, who at this time were living at Meilrose (Melrose), in poverty and contrite in spirit for the sake of Christ, and ended his life with a full confession of his sins, and great lamentations and penitence, at Ubbanford, which is also called Northam, and was buried in the porch of the church there.

Details of Earl Gospatric’s death are debated. I’ll leave that aside for the present.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

All historians are in agreement that it was because of Gospatric’s blood relationship (of whatever type) with the ancient earls of Northumbria, based on their castle of Bamburgh, that he was deemed eligible and acceptable to become earl of Northumbria, even if only for a few years. Certainly this relationship was with the Bamburgh earl Uchtred ‘the Bold’, who died around 1016.

Before going further we need to try to distinquish between several different Gospatrics (or Cospatrics). All were descended from Northumbrian earl Uchtred.

First there is Gospatric the third son of Earl Uchtred’s by his second wife Sige (daughter of Styr, son of Ulf). Unlike his two brothers Ealdred and Eadulf we know that this Gospatric never became earl of Northumbria; Simeon of Durham tells us this explicitly. It seems clear that this Gospatric was murdered in 1064 on the orders of Earl Tostig, King Harold’s brother, and that it was either his son or grandson Eadulf (‘called Rus’) who led the massacre of Norman Bishop Walcher and his men at Durham in 1080. From the date of his death and from the explicit statement of Simeon of Durham we know that this Gospatric was not the earl Gospatric, although some believe he might have been the Gospatric who issued the Cumbrian writ.

Next, Simeon of Durham is quite explicit that earl Gospatric was the son of Cumbrian ‘Prince’ Maldred (maybe even ‘King’) by his wife Ealdgith (Edith) of Bamburgh, the daughter of Northumbrian earl Uchtred and his third wife Aelfgifu, daughter of English King Ethelred ‘the Unready’. I concur with the bulk of Scottish and northern English historians in seeing this ‘earl’ Gospatric as being the issuer of the Cumbrian writ.

Thirdly there is a third Gospatric: the son of Sigrida and Arkil son of Ecgthryth. Sigrida is seen as being the daughter of Yorkshire thegn Kilvert who married Uchtred’s discarded wife Ecgthryth (daughter of Durham bishop Aldhun). This Gospatric was therefore also related to Earl Uchtred. There is much more to explore here but as it’s somewhat tortuous and even incestuous I’ll leave it for another time.

So it was assuredly his descent from Uchtred that legitimized Cumbrian Maldred’s son Gospatric becoming earl of Northumbria in 1068. To place Uchtred in a little context this is what William Hunt wrote about him in the Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1900, Vol 58):

UCHTRED/UHTRED (d. 1016), Earl of Northumbria, was son of Waltheof the elder, earl of Northumbria, who had been deprived of the government of Deira (Yorkshire), the southern part of the earldom. Uhtred helped Ealdhun or Aldhun, bishop of Durham, when in 995 he moved his see from Chester-le-Street, to prepare the site for his new church. He married the bishop’s daughter Ecgfrida, and received with her six estates belonging to the bishopric, on condition that as long as he lived he should keep her in honourable wedlock. When in 1006 the Scots invaded Northumbria under their king, Malcolm II (d. 1034), and besieged Durham, Waltheof, who was old and unfit for war, shut himself up in Bamborough; but Uhtred, who was a valiant warrior, went to the relief of his father-in-law the bishop, defeated the Scots, and slew a great number of them. Ethelred II (968?–1016), on hearing of Uhtred’s success, gave him his father’s earldom, adding to it the government of Deira. Uhtred then sent back the bishop’s daughter, restoring the estates of the church that he had received with her, and married Sigen, the daughter of a rich citizen, probably of York or Durham, named Styr Ulfson, receiving her on condition that he would slay her father’s deadly enemy, Thurbrand. He did not fulfil this condition and seems to have parted with Sigen also; for as he was of great service to the king in war, Ethelred gave him his daughter Elgiva or Ælfgifu to wife. When Sweyn, king of Denmark, sailed into the Humber in 1013, Uhtred promptly submitted to him; but when Canute asked his aid in 1015 he returned, it is said, a lofty refusal, declaring that so long as he lived he would keep faithful to Ethelred, his lord and father-in-law. He joined forces with the king’s son Edmund in 1016, and together they ravaged the shires that refused to help them against the Danes. Finding, however, that Canute was threatening York, Uhtred hastened northwards, and was forced to submit to the Danish king and give him hostages. Canute bade him come to him at a place called Wiheal (possibly Wighill, near Tadcaster), and instructed or allowed his enemy Thurbrand to slay him there. As Uhtred was entering into the presence of the king a body of armed men of Canute’s retinue emerged from behind a curtain and slew him and forty thegns who accompanied him, and cut off their heads. He was succeeded in his earldom by Canute’s brother-in-law Eric, and on Eric’s banishment the earldom came to Uhtred’s brother, Eadwulf Cutel, who had probably ruled the northern part of it under Eric.

By Ecgfrida, Uhtred had a son named Ealdred (or Aldred), who succeeded his uncle, Eadwulf Cutel, in Bernicia, the northern part of Northumbria, slew his father’s murderer, Thurband, and was himself slain by Thurbrand’s son Carl; he left five daughters, one of whom, named Elfleda, became the wife of Earl Siward and the mother of Earl Waltheof. By Ethelred’s daughter Elgiva, Uhtred had a daughter named Aldgyth or Eadgyth, who married Maldred, and became the mother of Gospatric (or Cospatric), earl of Northumberland. He also had two other sons—Eadwulf, who succeeded his brother Ealdred as earl in Bernicia and was slain by Siward, and Gospatric. His wife, Ecgfrida, married again after he had repudiated her, and had a daughter named Sigrid, who had three husbands, one of them being this last-named Eadwulf, the son of her mother’s husband. Ecgfrida was again repudiated, returned to her father, became a nun and died, and was buried at Durham.

Earl Gospatric was certainly the son of Maldred, Simeon of Durham tells us and William Hunt agrees. But I believe there is another clinching factor in the identification of Earl Gospatric’s as the issuer of the Cumbrian writ: his many Cumbrian connections.

Maldred’s parents were Cumbrian ‘Thane’ Crínáin (Mormaer), Abbot of Dunkeld, and Princess Bethoc, the daughter of Scottish King Malcolm II. Maldred’s brother (and Gospatric’s uncle) was Duncan I (Donnchad mac Crínáin), who was killed by Macbeth, but who had became the first ‘Cumbrian’ King of Scotland via his descent from his grandfather the Scottish King Malcolm II. (It’s interesting to note that the chronicler Florence of Worcester later called King Malcolm III (Canmore) ‘the son of the king of the Cumbrians’. His father was Duncan I)

King Malcolm Canmore

King Malcolm Canmore

The detailed genealogical arguments are lengthy and at times obscure; nothing is totally certain. But the important thing is that if the majority of historians are correct not only can Gospatric’s putative ancestry explain his link to the earls of Northumbria (and hence his title to the earldom) but also much of what we know of him and his descendants in later years. Gospatric’s father Maldred was probably born into a Cumbrian family (in its wider sense) in Dunbar in Lothian. He was certainly Lord of Allerdale in present-day northern Cumberland and might also for a time have been king of the Cumbrians. Gospatric himself was also ‘Lord of Allerdale’; it is clearly in that capacity that he issued his famous writ granting lands in Allerdale to his man Thorfinn Mac Thore. The lordship of Allerdale was to pass down in Gospatric’s family in the generations to come, firstly to his son Waltheof. Regarding Dunbar and Lothian, after his was stripped of his Northumbrian earldom by William the Conqueror in 1072, Gospatric was granted ‘Dunbar and lands adjacent to it’ by Scottish King Malcolm III (Canmore) – who was King Duncan I’s son and thus Gospatric’s cousin. This Lothian grant later became the earldom of Dunbar (or Lothian) and was passed to Gospatric’s son Gospatric II and then to his descendants. (It seems Gospatric’s daughter Ethelreda also married King Malcolm III Canmore’s son King Duncan II.)

So what we are seeing in the person of Earl Gospatric is a powerful lord of impeccable royal Cumbrian descent and credentials; also descended from and related to the Gaelic Scottish royal family as well as the Bamburgh earls of Northumbria, and even descended from English King Ethelred! He was a native British Cumbrian Prince (or at least an ‘earl’) whose family had held extensive lands in greater Cumbria (in the kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons) in pre-Norman Conquest days, perhaps for many generations.

Kenneth mac Alpin

Kenneth mac Alpin

There used to be, and unfortunately still sometimes is, a tendency in both English and Scottish historiography to regard events in the north of ‘England’ and in the south of ‘Scotland’ as being driven, in England, by English Kings and Anglian Northumbrian earls, with periodic interventions of Norse Vikings and Danish Kings. They interacted with ‘Gaelic’ Kings of Scotland – descendants of Kenneth mac Alpin. Through a long process and countless struggles the borders between England and Scotland were finally fixed roughly where they are today. This is a bit of a travesty of history. The native kings and people of Strathclyde Britain – the ‘Cumbrians’ – are either almost erased from history or seen as more or less ‘defunct’ by the eleventh century.

It’s only when we correct this aberration that we can really understand who Gospatric was. When we do so many of the things we know about him, and particularly of his descendants, start to be seen in a clearer light.

It has often been maintained that Gospatric’s position in Cumberland was owed to the Danish earl of Northumbria, Siward (Sigurd), who came to prominence as one of Danish king Cnut’s (Canute’s) strongmen in the region after Cnut had conquered Northumbria in the 1010s. In 1033 Siward became earl of York and in 1041/2 earl of Northumbria.  In 1054 he defeated Macbeth. It has been suggested by William E. Kapelle that as part of the ongoing struggles for mastery over northern England and southern Scotland, Siward invaded Cumberland sometime before 1055, when he died. Was it then that Siward installed Gospatric in lands in Cumberland, including the lordship of Allerdale?

Now there is little doubt that Cumbrian Gospatric at some time owed allegiance to Earl Siward, this seems clear from the wording of his famous writ, regardless of its date and whether or not Siward was alive or dead at the time of its writing. He orders ‘that (there) be no man so bold that he with what I have given to him cause to break the peace such as Earl Syward and I have granted to them … ’. I reproduce this writ again in full:

Gospatric greets all my dependants and each man, free and dreng, that dwell in all the lands of the Cumbrians, and all my kindred friendlily; and I make known to you that my mind and full leave is that Thorfynn  MacThore be as free in all things that are mine in Alnerdall as any man is, whether I or any of my dependants, in wood, in heath, in enclosures, and as to all things that are existing on the earth and under it, at Shauk and at Wafyr and at Pollwathoen  and at bek Troyte and the wood at Caldebek; and I desire that the men abiding with Thorfynn at Cartheu and Combetheyfoch be as free with him as Melmor and Thore and Sygulf were in Eadread’s days, and that (there) be no man so bold that he with what I have given to him cause to break the peace such as Earl Syward and I have granted to them forever as any man living under the sky; and whosoever is there abiding, let him be geld free as I am and in like manner as Walltheof and Wygande  and Wyberth and Gamell and Kunyth and all my kindred and dependants; and I will that Thorfynn have soc and sac, toll and theam over all the lands of Cartheu and Combetheyfoch that were given to Thore in Moryn’s days free, with bode and witnessman in the same place.

Allerdale

Allerdale

What I would like to ask, perhaps rhetorically, is this: Even if Siward had invaded Cumbria as Kapelle suggests, is it not more likely that Earl Siward was able to come to terms with a resident Cumbrian lord Gospatric, whose family had held the lordship of Allerdale, and no doubt other Cumbrian lands, for quite a long time? No doubt Gospatric’s family connections with both the ancient Northumbrian house of Bamburgh and the kings of Scotland helped as well? This is how I see it.

Of course I’ve not yet addressed the hoary question of the dating of Gospatric’s writ. Was it pre-Conquest or post-Conquest but prior to William Rufus’s arrival in Carlisle in 1092? I haven’t even addressed the question of whether the ‘Dolfin’ who was the lord of Carlisle in 1092 and who William Rufus expelled was Gospatric’s son? A view held by most but not all historians. Nor even have I examined when and where Gospatric was to die? I hope to return to these issues.

In the eleventh century present-day English Cumbria was neither predominantly peopled by descendants of Norse Vikings, nor unequivocally ruled by either the kings of England or the kings of Scotland. All of these had an important role to play to be sure, but the case of Gospatric makes it clear that the native Britons, the Cumbrians, were still there and in some cases still powerful; even though the heyday of their power had surely passed. It was only after the Normans really started to get a grip on the region under King Henry I that the Cumbrians finally make their exit from history

Sources and references:

Tim Clarkson, The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland, 2010; H. W. C. Davis, England under the Normans and Angevins 1066 – 1272, 1937; Archibald A. M. Duncan, Scotland: The Making of a Kingdom, 1975; Marjorie O. Anderson, Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland, 1973; William E. Kapelle, The Norman Conquest of the North, 1979; Ann Williams, King Henry 1 and the English, 2007; James Wilson, An English Letter of Gospatric, SHR, 1904; William Farrer, Early Yorkshire Charters, Vol 2, The Fee of Greystoke, 1915; John Crawford Hodgson , The House of Gospatric, in A History of Northumberland, Vol 7, 1901; James Wilson, A History of Cumberland, in William Page (ed) The Victoria County Histories; W G Collingswood, Lake District History, 1925; Edmund Spencer, The Antiquities and Families in Cumberland, 1675; John Denton, An Accompt of the most considerable Estates and Familes in the County of Cumberland (ed R S Ferguson, 1887); Sir Archibald C. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters Prior to AD 1153, 1905; Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest, 2012; Roy Millward and Adrian Robinson, The Lake District, 1970; Richard Sharpe, Norman Rule in Cumbria 1092 – 1136, 2005.

The early history and dating of the first lords of the barony of Greystoke in Cumberland is of interest not only in itself but also because it can help shed light on the governance of Cumbria both prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066 and in the years and decades which followed. This is the subject of this article. It is a very partial story of how a Norse-descended Cumbrian lord was able to survive and even thrive under the Norman yoke. As you will see the investigation leads us down several unexpected avenues.

Greystoke Castle

Greystoke Castle

The first Norman-recognized lord of Greystoke was Forne son of Sigulf. Forne’s own son Ivo started to build Greystoke castle in about 1129 at the time of his father’s death. What I’d like to explore is Forne’s likely date of birth, something of his career and his two known children: Ivo and Edith. Ultimately the question is whether Forne was one of King Henry 1’s ‘new men’, whether he was one of the men that the Anglo-Norman monk and chronicler Orderic Vitalis referred to as being ‘raised from the dust’, or as I and many other historians believe to be the case, maybe he was rather already a significant lord or even magnate before Henry made use of his services? Also was his father Sigulf also a power in the north of England, perhaps even in pre-Conquest days? Many of the contentious issues regarding these questions, while perhaps not being capable of being completely resolved, can at least be illuminated by a close attention to possible dates. Some historians of the North have paid little attention to mundane questions such as the likely births, deaths and ages of the people involved; things that are the stuff of genealogists and family historians.

Let’s start this exploration with Forne’s two known children.

William Rufus

William Rufus

As far as we know Ivo was Forne’s first son. After Forne’s death in about 1129/30, Ivo was reconfirmed by Henry I in his father’s northern estates – most importantly the barony of Greystoke in present-day Cumberland. The charter confirming this still exists. Although it is not an original thought, I have suggested elsewhere that Forne named his son Ivo after the first Norman ‘strongman’ sent by King William II (or as he is often called William Rufus) to try to subjugate Cumbria. His name was Ivo Taillebois. Ivo Taillebois was a Norman from lower Normandy and he probably arrived in Cumbria with or shortly after William Rufus’s captured Carlisle in 1092. This was the first time the Normans ‘arrived’ in Cumbria, although for quite a long time thereafter they were holed up in their new castles, from where they periodically sallied forth to pillage and rape. It seems that Norman Ivo didn’t last long; he died in either 1093 or 1094. If Forne, whose family all bore Norse names, gave his son the decidedly French name of Ivo, then this, I hazard to suggest, was quite possibly to ingratiate himself with Ivo Taillebois. And if so that would only have made sense if Ivo son of Forne was born while Ivo Taillebois were still alive in Cumbria, i.e. between 1092 and 1094. It could no doubt have been slightly later, ‘in remembrance’ of Ivo Taillebois, but I find this unconvincing. Such a date of birth is of course just conjecture, but I will suggest later that in terms of Forne’s likely age and Ivo’s death it makes sense.

But we can pin things down even more if we consider Forne’s daughter Edith Forne Sigulfson, who became King Henry I’s mistress. It is well established that Edith bore King Henry one son, called both Robert fitz Edith (son of Edith) and Robert fitz Roy (son of the king). There was probably also a daughter called Adeliza. When was Edith Henry’s mistress? I think the evidence indicates that it was in the early 1120s. As Ann Williams writes in her excellent essay Henry 1 and the English:

Henry was clearly playing away, though the aggrieved party was not Queen Matilda (Henry I’s first wife) but her successor Adeliza of Louvain.

Why is this dating of Henry and Edith Forne’s liaison likely? In about 1142 the Norman Robert of Torigny wrote that their son Robert was still young and unmarried. In fact the first mention of this Robert was in the Pipe Roll for 1130/31, ‘when his lands, which lay in Devonshire, were being administered by guardians (‘vigiles’)’. So Robert was clearly still a minor in 1130/31.

Robert fitz Edith (Robert fitz Roy) later supported his half-sister, the ‘Empress Maud’, against King Stephen at the siege of Winchester in 1141. Therefore, as Ann Williams rightly suggests, it’s probable that Robert was born in 1122/23.

Osney AbbeyRobert would also attest various charters in the period between 1141 and 1147, in which he was referred to as ‘Robertus filius Regis’ i.e. Robert the king’s son. When the empress Maud confirmed the  grant made to Osney Priory (later an Abbey) in Oxford, first made in 1129 by Edith Forne’s later husband Robert d’Oilley but at her instigation, the empress calls Robert ‘Robertus filius regis frater meum’, i.e. ‘Robert the son of the king, my brother’. Not only that but Edith also got her son Robert to make a grant to her beloved Osney, in which he is referred to as ‘Robertus Henrici regis filius’, and this grant was made with the consent of his half-brother ‘Henrici de Oleio fratris mei’, that is ‘Henry d’Oilley my brother’, the son of Edith by her later husband Robert d’Oilley. Robert fitz Edith (fitz Roy) was to marry the widowed Norman heiress Maud of Avranches, probably in the late 1160s, but possibly in the 1140s.Their only daughter Maud FitzRoy died in 1224, which might argue for a somewhat later marriage date for her parents. Robert fitz Roy himself in 1172, possibly aged around 50.

If all this dating evidence is in any way correct, and I believe it is, then it is possible, likely even, that Edith first met King Henry during his one and only visit to York and Carlisle in 1122. If Edith had been a relatively young woman at the time, perhaps only in her early twenties, then she could have been born either in the later 1090s or the very first years of the 1100s. If so when Edith died around 1157 she would have been roughly sixty.

All that's left of Wetheral Priory

All that’s left of Wetheral Priory

Let’s take stock. The evidence seems to indicate that Forne was having children in the 1090s. This narrows down his possible birth a bit. In the 1090s Forne could perhaps have been been in his twenties, thirties or maybe even in his forties. But to narrow this down even more let’s look at what else we know about him.

All historians of the north of England in the period agree that Forne was one of King Henry’s trusted officers in the region in the 1120s. He witnessed many important charters during this time. His co-signatories being the few other members of Henry’s locally important men, including Robert de Brus and King David of Scotland. Also, between about 1106 and at the very latest 1112, Forne was a witness to the foundation charter of Wetheral Priory in Cumbria. In addition, at some point between 1115 and 1122, King Henry confirms that he has given ‘Forne son of Sigulf’ land in Thornton-le- Moor in Yorkshire:

H(enricus) rex Anglorum Turstino archiepiscopo et Nigello de Albini et Ansch(etillo) de Bulmer et baronibus de Euerwicsira salutem. Sciatis me dedisse Fornoni filio Sigulfi terrain de Torentona que est de feodo Robert! Malet, unde Alueredus filius Ilvingi reddit xx.s. per annum pro omnibus illis consuetudinibus quibus tenet aliam terram suam; et Walterus Espec eum inde seisiri faciat. Testibus: cancellario Ranulfo et Pagano filio Johannis, apud Windesor.

Dr. Hugh Doherty of Oxford University has also rediscovered the confirmation of Forne in his lands made by Henry I.

All this establishes without too much doubt that Forne was already a significant force in the North before King Henry visited Carlisle in 1122. This is strongly confirmed by the fact that Forne appeared ‘at the gathering in 1121 of the ‘chief men’ (principales vires) who heard the claim of the community of St. Cuthbert to Tynemouth Priory’. ‘Forne is listed alongside Robert de Brus, Alan de Percy, and Walter Espec (who precede him) and Robert de ‘Witeleven’ and Odard sheriff of the Northumbrians (‘vicecomes Northymbrensium’), who follow him, with the unnamed maiores of the shire and many others.’

Forne may also have been a witness to the charter for Scone Abbey in 1120, although the authenticity of this attribution is still somewhat contentious.

What all this makes abundantly clear is that Forne, the ‘first’ lord of Greystoke, who had children in the 1090s, was already a major player in Cumbria and in the north in general by at least the early 1100s.

Nunburnholme Church

Nunburnholme Church

Yet we can go further back to the Domesday survey of 1086 ordered by William the Conqueror. Here we find a Forne in possession of some pretty decent lands in Yorkshire. Remember the vast bulk of Cumbria and all of Northumberland were not included in the Domesday survey because they were yet to come under Norman control and thus we don’t know if he possessed lands there as well. In Domesday Forne is mentioned as one of the ‘taini regis’ of the East Riding of Yorkshire holding a manor at Nunburnholme. The critical relevance of Nunburnholme is that this estate was in later years always an integral part of the barony of Greystoke! Forne also held other lands in Yorkshire in 1086, in Millington and Biebly for instance, which were also later parts of the barony of Greystoke. This is all, I suggest, no coincidence. All historians who have seriously looked at the question agree: the 1086 Yorkshire Forne and Forne Sigulfson were one and the same.

Putting all the evidence together it would appear that Forne, the ‘first’ Norman lord of Greystoke, was probably a youngish man in 1086, had children in the 1090s and was later a powerful northern officer of King Henry until his death in about 1129/30. So we might tentatively conjecture that he was born in or around the period 1060 to 1065, just before the Conquest. This would mean that at the time of his death he was about 65 to 70. This seems reasonable.

Taking their lead from William Farrer in his Early Yorkshire Charters of 1915, several historians have suggested that Forne was one of King Henry’s ‘new men’; that he was ‘raised from the dust’. Farrer himself put it thus:

Of Sigulf, the father of Forne, nothing whatever is known. Possibly he was the son of an unnamed sochman of the East Riding contemporary with the Domesday Survey. Forne, his son, comes into prominence during the second decade of Henry I’s reign as a trusted minister of the crown in Yorkshire.

Note the supposed simple ‘sochman’ Farrer conjured up was not Sigulf but his father (if we take ‘he’ to refer to Sigulf and not Forne). In his wonderful 1979 book The Norman Conquest of the North, William E. Kapelle contends that Forne was ‘in reality, a Northumbrian new man’.

I believe all the available evidence suggests that this was not the case.

Certainly Henry wanted to put his own men in charge in the North, but this doesn’t mean that they all came from nowhere, that they were very simple and relatively unimportant men. They were in fact mostly already ‘noble’ Normans or Anglo-Saxons, perhaps not great magnates but significant people nonetheless. I can’t help but agree with Ann Williams:

It is likely… that Forne was rather more than a sokeman’s son or even a minor thegn. He seems in fact to have been one of the local magnates of Cumbria, ‘where title to their land’ (as Professor Barlow has observed) ‘went back well before the Norman annexation’.

King Henry 1

King Henry 1

Remember the Norman annexation referred to was of Carlisle in 1092 by William Rufus.

There are two other indications that this was the case. First, Forne’s daughter Edith became King Henry’s mistress and the mother of maybe two of his children. I’ve suggested this liaison followed Henry’s visit to Carlisle in 1122. To me it goes against the grain of all the available historical evidence that a king such as Henry would form an enduring sexual liaison with a simple sokeman’s daughter; a woman whom he later married off to an important man and also gave  to her a significant estate in her own name. Henry himself had more mistresses and concubines than perhaps any other king of England. But all of Henry’s numerous other known mistresses were members of quite powerful families; they were not peasants or anything approaching it. Some historians, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, have suggested that Forne’s rise to power was due to his daughter’s relationship with Henry.  It no doubt helped, but as Henry 1’s greatest biographer Charles Hollister put it:

The mother of a recognized bastard (and Edith’s son… was recognized) would usually have been a woman of at least minimal social status.

Cutting though the academic caution and understatement, I think we can get the point. Forne was in all probability already a northern magnate when Henry came to Carlisle in 1122. It’s quite possible, though we can’t prove it, that Henry and Edith first met in that year in either Carlisle or York. It was his only visit to the North if we exclude his reputed Yorkshire birth.

As Ann Williams says:

Since he (Forne) is addressed in a royal writ of 1121, he must already have held some office in Yorkshire and Northumbria and would therefore have been present to greet the king on his arrival in the north.

This brings us to the hoary question of the status and the dates of Forne’s father Sigulf. That his father was called Sigulf is certain. All historians agree. In the foundation charter of Wetheral Priory, perhaps dating from as early as 1106 but definitely not later than1112, he is called Forne son of Sigulf, as indeed he is elsewhere.

The Kingdom Of Cumbria -  Strathclyde

The Kingdom Of Cumbria – Strathclyde

As I discussed in my article The Normans come to Cumbria, Sigulf is mentioned in ‘earl’ Gospatric’s famous writ, written in English, which granted, or more likely reconfirmed, Thorfinn Mac Thore in his estates in Allerdale, in northern Cumbria. Let me reproduce this writ or letter again in full:

Gospatric greets all my dependants and each man, free and dreng, that dwell in all the lands of the Cumbrians, and all my kindred friendlily; and I make known to you that my mind and full leave is that Thorfynn  MacThore be as free in all things that are mine in Alnerdall as any man is, whether I or any of my dependants, in wood, in heath, in enclosures, and as to all things that are existing on the earth and under it, at Shauk and at Wafyr and at Pollwathoen  and at bek Troyte and the wood at Caldebek; and I desire that the men abiding with Thorfynn at Cartheu and Combetheyfoch be as free with him as Melmor and Thore and Sygulf were in Eadread’s days, and that (there) be no man so bold that he with what I have given to him cause to break the peace such as Earl Syward and I have granted to them forever as any man living under the sky; and whosoever is there abiding, let him be geld free as I am and in like manner as Walltheof and Wygande  and Wyberth and Gamell and Kunyth and all my kindred and dependants; and I will that Thorfynn have soc and sac, toll and theam over all the lands of Cartheu and Combetheyfoch that were given to Thore in Moryn’s days free, with bode and witnessman in the same place.

The Sigulf mentioned here is now generally accepted as being Forne Sigulfson’s father. It also seems clear from the wording that Sigulf was already dead at the time Gospatric wrote this writ. This touches on many hotly debated issues regarding the dating of the writ itself and on Gospatric’s own life and status at the time.

As the writ was written in ‘old’ English, in Anglo-Saxon, it has been suggested that it dates from the 1050s or even the 1040s. I will return to the evidence for such a dating at another time. Others have dated the writ later. Ann Williams writes: ‘Charles Phythian Adams has recently suggested that his (Forne’s) father was the Sigulf (the name, incidentally, is not common) named as a tenant of land in Cumbria in a writ issued by Gospatric of Allerdale, which Phythian-Adams further argues should be dated 1067-69.’ In fact Forne’s parentage was mentioned by numerous historians years ago. Regarding the dating of Gospatric’s  writ, the Rev. James Wilson wrote in 1904:

The date of this charter may be assigned to some period before the conquest of 1092, but perhaps after 1067 when Gospatric purchased the earldom of Northumberland from William the Conqueror, or more probably after 1072, when King Malcolm of Scotland gave him Dunbar and the adjacent lands in Lothian.

If Forne Sigulfson was born as I am suggesting around 1060 to 1065, then the earlier datings of Gospatric’s writ seem suspect. Sigulf must have been alive at the time of his son Forne’s birth or at the very least nine months before?

There is much more to be explored and said about Gospatric, (who was certainly a former earl of Northumbria and, given his name, probably of Cumbric descent), and his unique writ. I will return to this matter another time.

But let’s return to the subject of this article: Forne Sigulfson. As we have seen, he was already a Yorkshire land holder in 1086. His holding in Nunburnholme, for example, was held in ‘King Edward’s (the Confessor’s) time’ by Morcar. This is without any doubt the Northumbrian earl Morcar. As this is so then who held Morcar’s ‘manor’ of Nunburnhome between 1066 and 1086 when Forne surely held it? We don’t know. Although Earl Morcar didn’t die until 1087, after his participation in the rebellion against William the Conqueror initiated by the Abbot of Ely in 1071, he had been captured and imprisoned by the Conqueror. Morcar had already ‘forfeited’ (had been robbed of) his lands, including those in Yorkshire and Northumbria. It seems that by 1067 earl Morcar’s earldom had already been granted to Copsi. But Copsi himself was soon killed by Osulf, and he in turn was also soon killed. The earldom of Northumbria passed in 1068 to none other than our Gospatric. Sigulf was undoubtedly Gospatric’s ‘man’, and Sigulf’s son Forne held Nunburnholme in 1086. Gospatric was finally (for a second time) stripped of the earldom of Northumbria in 1072. Perhaps it was in 1072, or even back in 1068, that Nunburnholme was granted to (or maybe even already held by) Forne’s father Sigulf? Sigulf was most likely Gospatric’s man when he was earl of Northumbria. This is all conjecture and I really shouldn’t go further down this hazy route.

Simeon of Durham

Simeon of Durham

This thought does however lead to another one. The almost contemporary chronicler Simeon of Durham mentioned a local magnate called Forne filius Ligulfi in his Historia Regnum. The suggestion has on occasion been made that Simeon’s Forne son of Ligulf was the one and the same as Forne Sigulfson, and that this Ligulf was the one who was will killed in a very important clash in Durham in 1080 which sparked a northern rebellion against the Conqueror. While discussing Edith Forne, medieval historian Horace Round once speculated, ‘if the bearer of so uncommon a name was identical with the Forne Ligulfson (“Forne filius Ligulfi”), who is mentioned by Simeon of Durham, in 1121, as one of the magnates of Northumbria, and if so, whether the latter was son of the wealthy but ill-fated Ligulf, murdered near Durham in 1080. Should both these queries be answered in the affirmative, Edith (Forne) would have been named after her grandmother “Ealdgyth,” the highly born wife of Ligulf.’

Personally I don’t, yet, find this identification convincing, although I acknowledge that it could be the case. We shouldn’t put too much store on the spellings of Ligulf and Sigulf. The letters S and L have often been conflated or confused. In later times in Cumbria even Forne’s father Sigulf was quite often written as Ligulf. But Ligulf, unlike Sigulf, was a pretty common name in the North at the time. There are many examples. I’ll have to put this question aside for the time being. As I have said, at present I can’t support the identification of the ‘Cumbrian’ Sigulf and the Northumbrian Ligulf who was killed at Durham in 1080, but I admit the dates and some other facts look tempting.

So what is the conclusion regarding Forne the first lord of Greystoke?

Ivo fitz Forne (to use the new Norman naming pattern) was the man who first started to build Greystoke castle in about 1129, around the time his father died. In fact at first this was more of a simple defensive ‘peel’ tower than the classic Norman castle it would later become. Forne his father was already a magnate in the north of England in 1086 before becoming one of Henry 1’s key northern officers. And Forne’s father Sigulf was, at the very least, a powerful Cumbrian land holder in the days before the Norman Conquest. Whether he was also a magnate in Yorkshire and Northumbria is open to question.

When the Normans invaded and conquered England the vast majority of the English, whether magnates, thegns or simple people, lost their land and were reduced to de facto feudal serfdom. Some however, particularly in the North, were able to make an accommodation with the hated French conquerors and even prosper. Forne’s Norse family was one of these. As Ann Williams puts it:

It was by securing the cooperation of such native lords in Cumbria that the Norman kings fixed their authority in the region.

The Norman Conquest was a disaster for the English people

The Norman Conquest was a disaster for the English people

This we can understand. Local rulers have always tried to hold onto their power and privilege when new rulers arrive. Only when they can’t do so do they resist and usually perish. The historical examples are legion. But for the people of the north of England, as for England in general – be they of Cumbric (northern British), Scandinavian, or Anglo-Saxon stock – the advent of the Normans was a disaster. The English people suffered under their yoke for centuries. It doesn’t much matter that the Normans themselves were the descendants of northern Vikings, Normans means North Men, or even that Normandy itself was settled almost two centuries earlier by Vikings from the east of England and by the Norse-Irish from both Ireland and Cumbria. What matters is that present-day England and the English people were brutally and unequivocally reduced to servile status by a French invader and conqueror. Some see this as a good thing for England’s future development, and we all have to interpret history, I however do not. The question is: ‘Whose side are you on?’ I’ll state the point quite clearly: I’m on the side of the majority, the vast bulk of English people who have been repressed and exploited ever since 1066.

I don’t want to engage in counter-factual history, although it is, I admit, nice to dream of what might have happened if King Harold had defeated William the Bastard at Hastings or the kings of Denmark had managed to dislodge the Conqueror. But sticking to real history, what did the Norman invasion mean for the people of England? First, it meant brutal repression and reduction to servile status. There was even genocide in the North. Second, it meant being a source of taxes for the French-speaking ‘English’ Plantagenet and Angevin kings. Third, England was a pool of soldiers, who later became ‘cannon fodder’, for these French kings’ of England; for their rampages in France against their French cousins, or in the Holy Land. And then, later on, English people were dragged all over the world to fight in meaningless wars, to conquer untold countries, which became the British Empire; to die in a parts of the world that were ‘forever England’. England, and Britain, might have become a world power, but what did it ever mean for the majority of the English or British people? Answer this yourself.

Sources and references:

William E. Kapelle, The Norman Conquest of the North, 1979; Ann Williams, Henry 1 and the English, 2007; James Wilson, An English Letter of Gospatric, SHR, 1904; William Farrer, Early Yorkshire Charters, Vol 2, The Fee of Greystoke, 1915; John Crawford Hodgson , The House of Gospatric, in A History of Northumberland, Vol 7, 1901; James Wilson, A History of Cumberland, in William Page (ed) The Victoria County Histories; W G Collingswood, Lake District History, 1925; Edmund Spencer, The Antiquities and Families in Cumberland, 1675; John Denton, An Accompt of the most considerable Estates and Familes in the County of Cumberland (ed R S Ferguson, 1887); Sir Archibald C. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters Prior to AD 1153, 1905; Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest, 2012; Roy Millward and Adrian Robinson, The Lake District, 1970; Richard Sharpe, Norman Rule in Cumbria 1092 – 1136, 2005.