Posts Tagged ‘Vikings’

The tiny Cumbrian hamlet of Grisdale (now called Mungrisdale) lies just north of the old Roman road from Penrith to Keswick. It is without any doubt the place from which the Grisdales of Matterdale took their name. I have previously discussed when and how the family name probably came into existence in an article called When did the Grisdales become Grisdales?, as well as in other articles on this blog. As I mentioned there it is conceivable, though by no means capable of being proved, that a certain Simon de Grisdale, who we find in Halton in Lancashire in 1332, was the first person from Grisdale who had moved away and took the name of his home place with him when he did. What I’d like to do here is to focus on the years around 1332 and try to say something of what life was like in Grisdale at this time.

mun

Grisdale/Mungrisdale today

Why 1332? I have chosen this date because in that year there was taken a tax assessment in Cumberland and elsewhere which survives. These assessments are known as Lay Subsidy Rolls (Lay meaning that the tax concerned was being levied on lay people not clerics). Here we find a list of the inhabitants of all the settlements in Cumberland who were due to pay the tax, based on the value of their ‘goods’. Grisedale (spelt here with an E) appears, as indeed does Matterdale. The list of Grisdale inhabitants runs as follows:

William Skraghird, Peter son of Hugh, William Slegh, William Riotis,  Robert son of John, Robert son of Gilbert, William son of Robert, Adam son of Peter…

Then there seven other people whose names have been ripped out but whose goods and tax assessment are given. The subsidy was ‘one-fifteenth’ and in total the value of the goods of the people of Grisdale was £ 36 33s 6d, giving a total tax due of £2 8s 11d. The sum due from the residents of Matterdale was similar: £2 11s 9d.

Grisdale in 1576

Grisdale in 1576

So there were fifteen men in Grisdale who were taxed. To get an idea of the total population we might multiple this by say four or five to take account of wives, children and other dependents and then add in a few un-free serfs and very poor cottagers. So maybe there were somewhere in the region of 70 to 85 people living in Grisdale in 1332. This number might have been reduced after the Black Death struck England in 1348, a plague that did affect Cumberland but not as severely as it did the south and midlands of the country.

You will have noticed that of the eight people named only three had surnames, William Skraghird, William Slegh and William Riotis, the others were still referred to by naming their father, for example Robert son of John. Note too that all the Christian names are basically French: William, Robert, John, Richard etc.

Was one of these fifteen named or unnamed people the early fourteenth-century progenitor of the Grisdales? One can’t say more than it’s quite possible.

Whatever the case, who were these people of Grisdale? What language did they speak? What was their origin? Who were their rulers?

Let’s start with the question of language. Originally Cumbria had been a Brythonic (i.e. British) speaking area before the Northumbrian English started to make inroads in the seventh century. The ‘English’ hadn’t made much of an impression in the more rugged and barren hilly areas, which would include Grisdale, and the British themselves remained in place for hundreds of years although they too preferred the more fertile valley or coastal areas to the inhospitable mountains.

Norse Fleet

Norse Fleet

The ethnic and linguistic mix changed radically in the early tenth century when Hiberno-Norse (i.e. Scandinavians from Ireland) started to settle in numbers in north-western England and particularly in Cumbria. They spoke an Old Norse language which had acquired some Irish words from their years in Dublin and other Irish ‘longphorts’. If you have a glance of a Lakeland map today you will immediately see the importance of this settlement, there are Norse place names everywhere. If you were to include field names and topographical names it would take a large volume just to list them (there are several such volumes).

Grisdale was and is one of these Norse place names. It means valley of the pigs (or perhaps valley of the wild boars). There are several Grisdales or Grisedales in Cumberland and even one just across the modern county border in Yorkshire.

It is clear that some of these tenth-century Norse settlers came to Grisdale (i.e. Mungrisdale) and named the place as such, either because they kept their pigs there or because there were wild pigs there when they arrived. I tend to the former explanation. When the first Scandinavians walked into the valley they were to call Grisdale they might have found one or two Cumbric-speaking British living in rude hovels or, equally as likely, they might have found the place completely empty. There were certainly British living in nearby Threlkeld when the Vikings arrived.

saints1

St Kentigern/Mungo

The valley would certainly have been much more wooded than it was to become.

The dedication of the later Chapel in Grisdsale is to St. Kentigern a sixth-century British monk (and incidentally the first Bishop of Glasgow), who was often called St. Mungo – hence the more recent name of the hamlet and valley: Mungrisdale. Whether Kentigern/Mungo had ever actually preached in ‘Grisdale’ in the sixth century is not known. His cult became popular in the twelfth century and it is quite possible, even likely, that the dedication of the chapel happened then – though this doesn’t exclude an oral memory of Kentigern in the area.

Whatever the case, it was these Scandinavian settlers from Ireland who gave the place its name, as they did to most of the other places in the locality. As I have said, the settlers spoke Old Norse sprinkled with a few borrowings from Irish Gaelic. They were to keep their language for quite a long time. As the years and even centuries went by they adopted just a few British words, such as the famous method of counting sheep, bowdlerized in more recent times to eeny, meeny, miny, moe, and, more importantly, through their contact with their English-speaking neighbours their language started to morph into the Cumbrian dialect.

There is very little evidence regarding exactly how and when Norse merged with a variety of northern English in Cumbria. What evidence there is suggests that by the early fourteenth century the ‘merger’ of the languages had gone some way, but it was still as much Scandinavian as it was English. The arrival of the Norman-speaking French in Cumbria in 1091 would have had no direct effect on this process. Indirectly of course, as Old English (Anglo-Saxon) morphed into Middle English under the influence of the conquerors’ French, the people of Grisdale would have French words in their vocabulary too, although whether any French-speaking lord would have understood a word they said is highly doubtful. But for sure by the fourteenth century most Cumbrians, whether they were of Norse, British or English descent, would have understood each other, although the dialect could change radically over distances of only a few miles and someone from the south would have been lost, as some still are.

I would like to stress that this mutual comprehensibility didn’t extend the predominantly French-speaking nobility (or not for a long time anyway). As mentioned, the Norman French first arrived in Cumbria in 1091, twenty-five years after the Conquest. See The Normans come to Cumbria. When they did the rugged independence the Norse Cumbrians of Grisdale and elsewhere had enjoyed for nearly two hundred years came to an abrupt end. As elsewhere in England pretty much all of northwest England was divvied up and given to Norman-French henchmen, the majority of local leaders and landowners were stripped of their position and wealth. We might mention names such as Ranulf de Briquessart (le Meschin), Ivo de Taillebois and many more.

warrior_drawingInterestingly though the ‘barony of Greystoke’ (to use the French title), which included Grisdale and Matterdale, seems to be one of the exceptions that proves the rule. Here a powerful local family with Norse roots and Norse names was able to reach an accommodation with the Norman colonizers. This was the family of Forne Sigulfson, who became the first Norman-sanctioned lord of Greystoke. (See my article about Forne here). It was Forne’s son Ivo who started to built the pele tower at Greystoke in about 1129. Note Forne’s totally Norse name and his son’s French name – Forne probably named his son Ivo to honour and ingratiate himself with the powerful local Norman enforcer Ivo Taillebois. This family with Norse ancestry continued to be the lords of Greystoke (and therefore the lords of the people of Grisdale) until 1306 when the title and lands passed to a slightly related family called Grimethorpe, who took Greystoke as their family name.

It would be nice to think that in the two hundred or so years following 1091 the fact that the lords of Greystoke were originally Norse meant that the simple farmers and shepherds of Grisdale escaped some of the horrors inflicted on the people of England by the hated Norman colonizers – but I think this is most likely wishful thinking.

Arnside, a Cumberland Pele Tower

Arnside, a Cumberland Pele Tower

Let’s say something about these local lords. They were pretty rough and ruthless types and despite the fact that they exploited the people of their ‘manors’ and stole any surplus, their lives, diets and dress were still very basic. In Cumbria, as I have said, they were mostly but not exclusively French-speaking Normans or sometimes Flemish. Initially they threw up wooden stockades to keep them safe from attacks by the conquered English. In Cumbria these were soon replaced by stone pele towers which served the same purpose and also provided some protection against later Scottish cattle raiders (reivers) and the occasional marauding Scottish army.

They were small stone buildings with walls from 3 to 10 feet thick, square or oblong in shape. Most were on the outskirts of the Lake District, but a few were within its boundaries. Designed to withstand short sieges, they usually consisted of three storeys – a tunnel-vaulted ground floor which had no windows which was used as a storage area, and which could accommodate animals.

The first floor contained a hall and kitchen, and the top floor was space for living and sleeping. The battlemented roof was normally flat for look-out purposes, and to allow arrows to be fired at raiders, and missiles hurled down on unwanted visitors….

Apart from their primary purpose as a warning system, these towers were also the homes of the lairds and landlords of the area, who dwelt in them with their families and retainers, while their followers lived in simple huts outside the walls. The towers also provide a refuge so that, when cross-border raiding parties arrived, the whole population of a village could take to the tower and wait for the marauders to depart.

As noted, Ivo FitzForne built the first stone fortification at Greystoke in about 1129, the building grew to become a large pele tower and in the 14th century after William de Greystoke obtained a royal licence to castellate it, the castle was further enlarged.

Greystoke Castle in 1780 - the original pele tower can still be seen

Greystoke Castle in 1780 – the original pele tower can still be seen

So in 1332 Greystoke did not yet have a castle, the lords still lived in a large pele tower surrounded by their family, armed knights and servants. In that year William de Greystoke, the 2nd ‘Baron Greystoke’, was still a minor and the barony of Greystoke was in the custody of Sir Hugh d’Audley (whose daughter Alice was William’s mother). What do we know about this William de Greystoke, who on reaching his majority in 1342 was the feudal lord of the people of Grisdale? Besides the normal feudal extractions how else did William’s actions impact the people of Grisdale and other parts of his barony?

The main impact was of course war. An idea of the mentality of people like William de Greystoke can perhaps be gained from the words of another Cumberland medieval lord, Lancelot de Threlkeld:

The principal residence of the Threlkeld family was at Threlkeld in Cumberland; but they had large possessions at Crosby long previous to this time, for in 1304 and 1320 Henry Threlkeld had a grant of free warren in Yanwath, Crosby, Tibbay, &c., and in 1404 occurs the name of William Threlkeld, Knight, of Crosby. Sir Lancelot Threlkeld, Knight, was the son of Sir Lancelot Threlkeld, by Margaret, daughter and heiress of Henry Bromflatt, Lord Vescy, and widow of John de Clifford. He was wont to say he had three noble houses; one at Crosby Ravensworth for pleasure, where he had a park full of deer; one at Yanwath for comfort and warmth, wherein to reside in winter; and one at Threlkeld, well stocked with tenants, to go with him to the wars.

Lancelot’s Threlkeld tenants were his ‘stock… to go with him to the wars’. William de Greystoke also used his ‘stock’ of tenants to go with him to his wars, including without much doubt some from Grisdale and probably therefore some of the family that would become the Grisdales of Matterdale. I’ll have more to say about William de Greystoke at a later date, for now where did he go to fight his wars? After his majority in 1342 he:

Soon became embroiled in English campaigning on the continent: he was probably in Gascony in 1345–6, at the siege of Calais in 1347, and, perhaps, on the expedition of Henry, duke of Lancaster, to Prussia in 1351–2. In 1353 and again in 1354 he participated in unsuccessful Anglo-Scottish negotiations concerning the release of David II, king of Scots (an English prisoner since his capture at Neville’s Cross in 1346). In September 1354 Greystoke was appointed captain of the border town of Berwick: while he was absent campaigning once more in France it fell into Scottish hands in August 1355. As his second wife he had married Joan, the daughter of Sir Henry fitz Henry (Fitzhugh). He died on 10 July 1359 and was buried in Greystoke church.

So William and his knights plus his ‘stock’ of bowman tenants, no doubt including some from Grisdale, was most probably with sixteen year old Edward the Black Prince (the son of King Edward III) when the English army destroyed the French at the Battle of Crecy in 1346. He was also at the Siege of Calais during which the inhabitants suffered greatly and were reduced to eating dogs and rats. He also went to Prussia to help the Teutonic Knights fight the pagan Lithuanians, and was back again in France in 1355/56 where he and his men quite possibly fought in the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 when the Black Prince’s English army destroyed the French chivalry yet again.

The Siege of Calais

The Siege of Calais

 

Edward III and the Black Prince at Crecy, 1346

Edward III and the Black Prince at Crecy, 1346

 

It was for all this war service to the French-speaking English king, Edward III, which led to William being granted the right to crenellate his pele tower in Greystock in 1353 – to transform it into a proper castle.

Often these battles at the start of the Hundred Years War are presented as ‘English’ victories over the French. In the sense that it was the simple English soldiers and bowman who won the victories over the massed flower of French chivalry then this is true. But really it was about one group of French noble thugs fighting another group of the same for control of large parts of France. From the English king on down to more humble nobles such as William de Greystoke, while many of them now had started to understand and even speak English, their primary language was still French. A few years before Robert of Gloucester wrote:

And the Normans could not then speak any speech but their own; and they spoke French as they did at home, and had their children taught the same. So that the high men of this land, that came of their blood, all retain the same speech which they brought from their home. For unless a man know French, people regard him little; but the low men hold to English, and to their own speech still. I ween there be no countries in all the world that do not hold to their own speech, except England only. But undoubtedly it is well to know both; for the more a man knows, the more worth he is.

In 1362, Edward III became the first king to address Parliament in English and the Statute of Pleading was adopted, which made English the language of the courts, though this statute was still written in French! French was still the mother tongue of Henry IV (1399-1413), but he was the first to take the oath in English. That most “English” of Kings Henry V (1413–1422) was the first to write in English but he still preferred to use French. It is interesting to note that it was not until the days of Henry VII in the late fifteenth century that an English king married a woman born in England (Elizabeth of York), as well as the fact that Law French was not banished from the common law courts until as late as 1731.

Winter in Mungrisdale

Winter in Mungrisdale

I haven’t said much about the ordinary everyday life of the people of Grisdale in the fourteenth century. When they weren’t suffering at the hands of Scottish reivers and armies, being dragged to France to fight in the Greystokes’ wars or dying of the plague, they farmed a few small strips of land in the valley, tended the sheep on the moors, cut turf to keep them warm, kept a few pigs, worked on their lord’s home farm and tried to get enough money together to pay periodic taxes and regular rents. It was a hard life that wouldn’t change for centuries.

And so dear members of the extended Grisdale family, I hope this gives just a small inkling of where and from whom you come. If you have the name Grisdale/Grisedale your family name line will take you back to Grisdale in Cumbria in the early fourteenth century and, most likely, to the Scandinavians who arrived in Cumbria in the tenth century. Of course you’ll have dozens, even hundreds, of other genealogical and genetic ancestral lines as well, and in that sense you’re a mongrel like everyone else. But unlike other family names (such as mine) the great thing about Grisdale genealogy is that I have yet to find any proven case of someone bearing the name where it can be demonstrated that their family originates anywhere other than Matterdale and thus without much doubt ultimately from Grisdale (Mungrisdale).

Forget our thousand years of brutal kings and queens, our French lords, even (if you wish) the Scandinavian origins of your name. The Grisdale family is, with many others, about as English as you’ll get. That you most likely descend from a few tenth-century Vikings who became farmers and shepherds in remote Cumbrian Grisdale and your ancestors somehow survived centuries-long exploitation and repression to produce you (and even me) is, I think, something to rejoice in.

Rainbow_Over_Mungrisdale

Rainbow over Mungrisdale

This is on updated version of an earlier article.

Anybody with the name Grisdale today will, like everybody else on the planet, have an extremely mixed genealogical and genetic ancestry. They will have thousands of ancestors, some of whom will have originated in some surprising places. Surnames are usually passed down the paternal line although this is only one line among hundreds we might choose to explore.

Be that as it may. But one of the interesting aspects of the large Grisdale family is that wherever it is possible to trace a person’s ancestry it almost variably goes back to Matterdale. I have yet to find any instance of ancient Grisdale roots in Grisedale in Yorkshire (see here). My belief is that the place Grisdale from which the Grisdales of Matterdale took their name is actually modern Mungrisdale just north of Matterdale and not the Grisedale/Grisdale Beck, bridge, Tarn area just south near Patterdale  and certainly not Grisedale Pike near Kewsick. Mungrisdale was for long simply called Grisdale. See my article Which Grisdale did the Grisdales come from?

1576

1576 map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

 

Of course Grisdale (and its variant spellings) is in the first instance a place name. The etymology is quite clear: ‘dale’ is from the Old Norse ‘dalr’ meaning valley, while ‘gris’ is most likely from the Old Norse word gris, meaning boar, i.e. a wild pig. Whether the four Grisdales/Grisedales in Cumbria and Yorkshire were full of boars when they were settled by Scandinavians or whether they refer to the name of an original settler called ‘The Boar’ is unknown, though I tend to prefer the later interpretation.

oxfordI’ll concentrate here on the Cumberland Grisdales. Because Grisdale is a place name, then the early people taking the name were most likely styled as such because they came from there and had most probably moved some way away. They would have been referred to, for example, as John or Richard of Grisdale (or in the Norman French version John or Richard de Grisdale), to distinguish them from other Johns and Richards living nearby. If people lived in the same place, say Grisdale itself, they’d be no need to say they were ‘of Grisdale’.

Other naming patterns were also used. So one might have say a Robert (the) Butcher, John (the) Tailor or Richard Johnson (son of John). We often also find whole strings of ancestry: like John son of William son of Robert. The patronymic suffix son, as in Richardson, is a Germanic and Scandinavian usage; the Welsh used ‘ap’, Robert ap Rhys would become anglicised as Robert Price; in Scotland there is ‘Mac’, in Ireland ‘O’; while the Normans had ‘Fitz’. I’ve used names like John, Richard, William and Robert here because they were certainly common Grisdale names at a later date. But these names are all Norman and only started to be used extensively in England in the twelfth century after the Norman Conquest. Before that we might conjecture names like Sigulf (of) Grisdale – and Sigulf for example means something like Victorious Wolf! See my article When did the Grisdales become Grisdales? for a fuller discussion of names.

Let’s be more precise in locating the two Cumbrian Grisdales neighbouring Matterdale.

Today on the eastern slopes of Helvellyn, running down to Lake Ullswater, we find a valley called Grisedale with Grisedale Beck (Scandinavian for stream) running down it. At the head of the dale lies Grisedale Forest, which was once a hunting preserve of the local lords, and then Grisedale Tarn. ‘Forest’ it should be remembered did not at this time primarily refer to a wooded area (though it might be so), it was an area strictly reserved for the nobility’s hunting of deer and even boars. In Norman times, these areas were tightly controlled and protected by the lords’ foresters and by forest law. Settlement within the forests was highly discouraged, even banned. As I have argued elsewhere I don’t presently think this is where our Grisdales originally came from. I prefer Mungrisdale which was for centuries just called Grisdale. In my article Which Grisdale did the Grisdales come from? I summarized the reasons for my preference:

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

‘There are two reasons I now believe that it is from this Grisdale that the Matterdale Grisdales derived their name. First, (Mun)grisdale has always been part of the barony and parish of Greystoke (the earliest records of this are from the thirteenth century). Matterdale too was part of the same barony, whereas Grisedale near Patterdale never was. As the barons of Greystoke were the lords and owners of Matterdale (including Dowthwaite) it was no doubt one of them (or less likely one of their vassals) who originally granted the ‘free’ tenancy of Dowthwaite Head Farm to one of their men from Grisdale. Second, while we know that (Mun)grisdale was a small hamlet, it was a significant enough settlement not only to have an early chapel but also significant enough to be mentioned as the place of birth, death and origin of many families recorded in the registers of Greystoke and to be included in the early manorial records of Greystoke. On the other hand it doesn’t seem that the Grisedale on the slopes of Helvellyn was ever more than a ‘chase’ or private hunting ground.’

Norse Fleet

Norse Fleet

So who had settled Grisdale originally? Clearly one or more Scandinavians, whether one was called ‘The Boar’ or not. And when? Well probably in the tenth century. Present day Cumberland and Westmorland (Land West of the Moors) were originally part of a British kingdom called ‘Cumbria’. The people were British and spoke a British language called Cymric – from whence the names Cumbria and Cumberland derive. They lived all over the area, more in the more fertile flatlands surrounding the hills but also partly in the uplands too. One example of an upland Cymric settlement is Great Crosthwaite near Keswick. Certainly this is a partly Scandinavian name – ‘thwaite’ is a Scandinavian word meaning clearing. But the Cross itself refers us back to the sixth century British Saint Kentigern, and a Celtic church and cross dedicated to him had probably stood on the site for centuries before the advent of the Vikings.

The Anglo-Saxons first started to arrive in southern Britain in the fifth century, later in the North East. They hadn’t managed to make much impression in the western mountainous regions of Cumberland, though they did a little more so in Westmorland. What made more impact was the arrival of Norwegian ‘Vikings’ in the tenth century from their bases in Ireland and the Isle of Man. First they raided and then they settled.

vikings_arrive

Vikings arrive

It was most probably one of these Hiberno-Norse ‘Vikings’, who might or might not have been called ‘The Boar’, who first settled Grisdale and gave it its name. For a fuller discussion of the Norse settlement see my article The first Scandinavian settlers in North West England.

One thing of importance is that until the great Norman monasteries and abbeys were founded in the twelfth century – such as Furness and Saint Bees – and they established a huge wool industry based on upland sheep ‘granges’, most of Cumberland was still forested. When individual Norwegians wanted to settle in these remote areas they usually first had to clear parts of the forest, creating ‘thwaites’.

Turning to the name Grisdale: probably coming from present day Mun(grisdale) some people ‘of Grisdale’ started to spread out and create or join other settlements. When exactly this happened is lost in the mists of time.. The first mention we find in the historic record of someone actually called ‘of Grisdale’ was a certain Simon de Grisdale in Halton in Lancashire in the Lay Subsidy Roll of 1332. There is also a burgess and farmer called Rolland de Grisdale in the newly created town of Kendal in 1404/7.  See my article When did the Grisdales become Grisdales?.

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

But the first Grisdales we can truly identify in any numbers were the Grisdales of Matterdale in the mid sixteenth century. The earliest mention is to a freee yeoman farmer John Grisdale farming at Dowthwaite Head in 1524. I wrote about John in an article called Dowthwaite Head and the first Matterdale Grisdales.  One or two other Grisdales appear quite early too in Crosthwaite and a few other Cumbrian areas, but these seem to have moved there from Matterdale.

Matterdale itself is a Scandinavian place name. It lies just a little south of Mun(grisdale) and just over the hill from Grisedale Beck near Patterdale. In later times it had three main hamlets: Matterdale End, Dockray and Dowthwaite Head. The Grisdales of Matterdale were found in all three. A major group of them became yeoman farmers in Dowthwaite Head, a place itself signifying a clearing made in the woods, probably by some Scandinavian – possibly Dudh. Others lived only a couple of miles away at Crookwath near Dockray. Crookwath means crooked ford or shallow in Old Norse. We don’t know whether such places as Dowthwaite and Crookwath were first cleared by Viking settlers in the early days of Norwegian settlement in the tenth century or much later by these settlers’ descendants, who were probably still speaking a roughly Norse language.

Crookwath Barn

Crookwath Barn

We know that many people were well establised in different parts of Matterdale by 1332, because in the 1332 Lay Subsidy Roll we find their names (see here). We also find one of them was living at Crookwath and we know from people who had moved away that Dockray existed too – they took the name ‘de Dockray’.

While it seems reasonable to assume that such places as Grisdale, Matterdale, Dowthwaite, Dockray and even little Crookwath were Norwegian settlements this doesn’t necessarily mean that all subsequent people carrying the place name Grisdale as their family name were genetic descendants of these early ‘Vikings’. They quite possibly could be, but they could as well be, for instance, descendants of British Cymric people who happened ‘still’ to be living in the Grisdale area, or even later Anglo-Saxon or Norman immigrants, or a mixture of all three. If I refer today to ‘Robert from Scotland’ it doesn’t necessarily mean that Robert’s ancestors were Scots, they could have come from anywhere.

Gowbarrow Hall - A Stateman's Farm

Gowbarrow Hall – A Stateman’s Farm

What is sure is that in the years after 1524 and then following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1537 there started to be many Grisdales in Matterdale. We know this both from early entries in the Greystoke Parish records (Matterdale hadn’t yet got a church), from numerous Grisdale wils and from the Cumberland muster role in 1581 when nine Grisdale ‘bowmen’ from Matterdale turned up in Penrith to stand ready, once again, to defend Cumberland against the Scots. It was families such as these Grisdales who first started to carve out the landscape of Matterdale we see today. The Grisdale family or ‘clan’ became classic examples of what is called in Cumberland ‘statesmen’. They were still sheep farmers and tenants of the local lord but they had gained the ‘customary’ right to pass on their tenancies to their heirs. In the seventeenth century these ‘statesmen’ built single-story stone long-houses which accommodated their families and their animals, structures of Cumberland so noticeable to this day. These long-houses were either built on top of, or more usually next to, existing wooden long-houses, which often became the future barns or bryers.

What about the original question: ‘Were the Grisdales Vikings?’ The most likely conjecture is that the historic Grisdales of Matterdale had originated from not so far away (Mun)grisdale, but had done so in the fourteenth century before arriving in Matterdale towards the end of the fifteenth century from elsewhere (see here).

In addition, Grisdale was, it is clear, a Viking or better-said a Scandinavian settlement, dating perhaps from as far back as the tenth century. So it’s quite likely that they were descended, at least in the paternal line, from early Vikings, although by the time they appear in the historical record in any number, in the sixteenth century, they most likely would have had English, Celtic and even Norman ‘blood’ as well.

Greystoke Castle

Greystoke Castle

Another thing to consider more is family naming patterns. These, I think, also tend to argue for a later arrival. We don’t know much about early Scandinavian naming patterns in Cumbria but there is a lot of evidence from, for example, the many Nordic and Icelandic sagas. Some of which refer to events that took place in Britain. Here the patronymic suffix ‘son’ is usually used. Even in the early eleventh century, when Scandinavian Forne became the ‘first’ Norman Baron of Greystoke, he was referred to as Forne Sigulfson and his daughter Edith, who became King Henry I’s mistress, was called Edith Fitz-Forne Sigulfson (Edith daughter of Forne, son of Sigulf). See here and here.

Surnames, as we know them today, whether derived from occupations, places of settlement, topographical features or ancestors, only really started to stabilise in the late middle ages. I discussed what we might infer from naming patterns in my article When did the Grisdales become Grisdales?

The great days of Cumbrian statesmen such as the Matterdale Grisdales were not to last. Their economic prosperity declined. Some were able to take a step up to the level of local gentry, some sank into poverty and obscurity, others moved to the squalor of the industrial towns in Lancashire, yet more joined the army or the church or they went to sea, while others emigrated. The Grisdales of Matterdale did all of these.

The farm at Dowthwaite Head is the ‘cradle’ of the Matterdale Grisdales. When did the first person who would bear the Grisdale name arrive there? I’m afraid no definitive answer is possible. The family weren’t nobility and thus the early records of their lives are scant. So some of what follows is conjecture, some isn’t.

Grisedale Valley, Cumberland

Grisedale Valley, Cumberland

In an article titled Were the Grisdales Vikings? I discussed the Scandinavian/Norse-Irish name Grisdale. It just means Valley of the Pigs. There are several places called Grisdale or Grisedale in Cumberland. As I mentioned, the ancestors of people called Grisdale had at some point obviously moved from one of these Grisdales to elsewhere. At first they would have been called, just for example, John or Robert of (or ‘de’) Grisdale, to differentiate them other Johns or Roberts – like John (the) Forrester or Robert (the) Smith.

It’s my belief that the Grisdales of Matterdale most likely came from next door Grisedale Valley. Grisedale Beck runs down through the valley from Grisedale Pike, under Grisedale Bridge, to finally empty into Lake Ullswater near Patterdale. It’s a rather deserted place today but hundreds of years ago the records show it was a thriving small community. Most likely one or more person/s moved the few miles from Grisedale to Matterdale and it was from him or them that the family took its name. (See new view here.)

One shouldn’t be too concerned by more modern variant spellings: Grisdale, Grisedale or even Grizedale. It’s all the same name. In all the earliest records there were in fact no Es and certainly no Zs. When early Grisdales signed their names, or they are mentioned elsewhere, we find Grisdale, Grysdale, Grysdall, Grysdal, Grysdell. Grysdel and even Grysdaille. The variant E was usually added later by priests at the time of baptisms, marriages or deaths. Gris after all is the Old Norse word for a pig.

When did the move from ‘Grisedale’ to Matterdale happen? And where exactly did the earliest members of the family settle?

Dowthwaitehead Farm

Dowthwaitehead Farm

The earliest historically attested Grisdale in Matterdale was farmer John Grisdale. In 1524, in a survey of the barony of Greystoke he is listed as a ‘yeoman’ and as a ‘free tenant’. His farm was given as being at Dowthwaite Head. John is not only the only Grisdale mentioned but he was also the only ‘free tenant’ of any name living at Dowthwaite Head. He was clearly an adult man and might have been born sometime, say, between 1475 and 1500. I guess he was living with a wife, and possibly already had children, and raising sheep there. Dowthwaite Head was without any doubt the ‘cradle’ of the Matterdale Grisdale clan. Some of the family remained there for at least three hundred years – while others moved to other areas in Matterdale and from there further afield.

Vikings come to Cumbria

Vikings come to Cumbria

Before I go further, maybe we should pause a little and consider a couple of linguistic matters. First, regarding the thousands of Norse place names in Cumbria; names that gave many families their name. As elsewhere, Matterdale is full of them: Dowthwaite, Crookwath, Thornythwaite, Lowthwaite and even Matterdale itself, to name but a few. The Norse-Irish Vikings first settled in Cumbria in the tenth century. The whole area had been peopled by Cumbric speaking Britons for centuries. Around the fringes of the mountains there were also English villages, founded by Northumbrian immigrants/conquerors. The Norse-Irish carved out space for themselves and gave them Norse names. Matterdale itself contains the Norse dalr, meaning valley. While ‘Matter’ could derive from a Norse person’s name, although there are more poetic explanations. Grisdale also. Thwaite is Old Norse for a clearing made in the forest, and so Dowthwaite was a clearing either made by a person (dubh?) or near a place like the River Dove in Yorkshire – from whence the present-day Douthtwaite we find there. One could go on.

The question is often: When were these places first established? When were the thwaites cut out of the forest or from the thorns? One should beware implying that all these names go back to the tenth or even the eleventh century. These Norse settlers continued to speak a form of their Scandinavian language well into the twelfth century. And even as the language slowly morphed in Cumbrian English they still kept many Norse words. For example, a thwaite remained the word for a clearing for centuries and is still used as such today.

With this let’s return to Dowthwaite Head, the cradle of the Matterdale Grisdales. Dowthwaite valley runs southwest from the tiny Matterdale village of Dockray, up to its ‘Head’ under the bleak hill of Great Dodd. The question of who (or what) was the original Dow or Dubh can’t be answered. The answer is lost forever in the mists of time. But when was the forest cleared? When was the thwaite cut? It could have been at any time between the tenth and the fifteenth century, by which time the name was firmly established.

Dowthwaite from Dowthwaite Head

Dowthwaite from Dowthwaite Head

I understand that the present farmer living at Dowthwaitehead Farm believes the place was named after a ‘mine manager’ who once lived there. I would certainly like to discuss this with him, but it must be openly said that there is absolutely no written evidence for this view. None. There was a little mining in and around Dowthwaite, but there are no written records of it. If this putative ‘manager’, Mr Dowthwaite, existed at all, which I doubt for now, he would have had to have been there prior to about 1500. He would also have probably had to have lived there for a fair old time for the valley, the farm, and for the surrounding Dowthwaite Crag and Dowthwaite Moss, in fact for the whole area, to have been named after him. It’s interesting to note that during the whole of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and beyond, there is not a single person called Dowthwaite anywhere in Matterdale, which is interesting given the proliferation of the family name Dowthwaite/Douthwaite in Cumberland and Westmorland.

Places can of course be named after people and not just the other way round. We see it all the time: From old Bir-ming-ham (the settlement of ‘Bir’s’ people), to the more modern Thompson’s Farm. But if a pre-1500 Mr Dowthwaite gave the valley his name (whether he was a mine manager or not), this just begs the question of where the Dowthwaite was he came from. There is only one other Douthwaite (with a U) that I know of: Douthwaite Dale near Whitby in Yorkshire. I don’t find the idea of a very early Mr Douthwaite/Dowthwaite trekking from near the coast of northeast England, across the barren Pennines, all the way to Matterdale, very convincing at all. I prefer to believe that Dowthwaite was so called because it was a forest clearing, a thwaite, cut from the wood or thorns of Matterdale. Whenever that occurred and whoever did the cutting.

Dacre Coat of Arms

Dacre Coat of Arms

There is another fact that we can throw into the pot. It may or may not be relevant. In 1418, an Inquisition Post-Mortem was taken of the barony of Greystoke on the death of Baron Ranulph de Dacre. His lands were surveyed and the rents payable by each one listed. Nearby Watermillock is listed as providing £4, 6s 9d per annum from its ‘tenants’. But Matterdale has no tenants mentioned and is termed a ‘forest’ yielding £10 per annum. A forest here does not mean it was wooded, though some of it still may have been. Rather it means it was a private hunting ground belonging to the barony, which yielded £10 in forest dues. Such hunting ‘forests’ were tightly regulated. Any encroachments, whether by poachers or by farmers, were severely punished in the Forest Court. So Matterdale was in all likelihood either not settled at all in the early fifteenth century, or not settled very much. It certainly didn’t have ‘customary’ free tenants paying rents. My guess is that the thwaite of Dowthwaite had been cut from the forest at an earlier date but that there probably was no one living there by 1418, but this cannot be proved.

As one or two of the ‘natives’ in New York used to say when I was a student there thirty years ago: ‘Enough already!’

Does this all mean that yeoman farmer John Grisdale was the first Grisdale to settle at Dowthwaite Head? And was he the first sheep farmer there? We don’t know and we probably never will. He may have been. What is known is that for the next two or three hundred years the Grisdale family were often the only family living at Dowthwaite Head, although marriages did later bring in other names, such as the Atkinsons. To me this all smacks of a ‘founder event’ as they say in human population genetics.

Let me finish by considering numbers for a minute. As I have mentioned, John Grisdale was the only ‘yeoman’ free tenant living at Dowthwaite Head in 1524. He was also the earliest person bearing the Grisdale name I can find anywhere in Matterdale. He was probably married with children, and it’s not out of the question that there might have been one or two of his other relatives living with him – though if you look at the size of the place I wouldn’t imagine too many. If John was the first Matterdale Grisdale (for which there is no proof at all), then does this gel with the way the family multiplied in the decades to come?

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church records didn’t start until 1634, even though the church itself had been founded in 1580. There is a yawning gap in our knowledge between these two dates. Prior to the foundation of the church, the people of the valley had had to trudge in all weathers to Greystoke Church for baptisms, marriages and burials. They wrote at the time to the Bishop of Carlisle saying that the snow often prevented them getting to Greystoke – so they asked for a church to be authorized in Matterdale itself. I’ll tell the interesting story of Matterdale Church another time. Here we’re concerned with the sixteenth-century Grisdales. Despite the fact that the earliest ‘clerks’ of Matterdale Church failed to keep records of baptisms, marriages and deaths taking place there until the 1630s, there are in fact still a number of other sources and records from the sixteenth century.

The first of these is Greystoke Church’s Parish register. Between 1560 and 1597, we find sixteen Matterdale Grisdales mentioned, mostly their burials. All of them from Dowthwaite Head or simply from Matterdale. To this record we can add three others. First there are some sixteenth-century Grisdale wills. I have nine between 1565 and 1600. They are difficult to read but most of them say that they are the wills of people living at Dowthwaite Head. Next there are a couple of mentions in 1569 and 1571 of two Grisdales working as peat carriers: John Grysdel and Edward Gristal . They were bringing peat from the peat bogs at Flasco, near Penrith, to the German-run copper smelters at Keswick. Finally, in 1581, the Cumberland militia was called out yet again in the face of the never-ending threat from Scottish raids. At the Penrith Muster nine Matterdale ‘bowmen’ of military age turned out: John, William, Christopher, Robert, Edward, Richard and three named Thomas.

I won’t attempt here to describe or differentiate all these families nor relate them to their seventeenth-century descendants. What I’d like to highlight is this: By the latter part of the sixteenth century there were at the most a single handful of separate, though related, Grisdale families living at Dowthwaite Head and, by now, elsewhere in Matterdale. The situation wasn’t much different immediately after the records of Matterdale Church began. This was all about two or three generations after John Grisdale was found in 1524 at Dowthwaite Head. This would have been plenty of time to see such a growth in numbers.

So maybe John Grisdale, who was probably born in the last quarter of the fifteenth century, was the first to bear the name in Matterdale? Or maybe he wasn’t! It’s just a thought.

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.