Tag Archive | history

Discovering Aberdeen’s history: Start at the Tolbooth!

As I mentioned in my previous post, we did not originally plan to spend much time in Aberdeen and did not really know much about the city or it’s history.  Our  intent was just to fly into Aberdeen and then quickly head out towards Inverness.  Naturally, most people want to see Inverness or Edinburgh but really, how often do people list Aberdeen on their list of places of must visits for history or anything else?  I will be the first to admit that we were initially quite disappointed when we had to alter our plans and eliminate Inverness from our tour. Our first depressing and foreboding thought was one of, “Well this is just great, now we’re stuck in Aberdeen for three days. What are we going to do with three days in Aberdeen?”  At the time, we really had no other choice but to rather petulantly and grudgingly accept our fate and try to make the best of it.  At the end of three days however, we were complaining because we did not have enough time to see everything.  My personal thought as I left was of how and when I could make another visit!

Aberdeen city of history

The disaster that led to our longer stay in Aberdeen was actually one of  fate or the powers above intervening on our behalf. It provided us an opportunity to explore, discover and appreciate a city that in my personal opinion does not get nearly enough credit for it’s historical importance or it’s present day contributions. What I want to do is share some of what we discovered and maybe change your mind about Aberdeen.  Hopefully by the time I’ve finished, you will be interested and inspired to look at this city not just as a stopping or transfer point on your way to those other places, but as a destination in itself.

First, let’s look at why we even decided on Aberdeen as our starting point for our trip rather than one of the other flight options. Our original plan was to do a driving tour. We knew we wanted to visit Inverness as well as Edinburgh so when we looked at the map, we saw that Aberdeen would be a good option. It is located on the coast a few hours north of Edinburgh and also only a few hours from Inverness. The drive from Aberdeen to Inverness would take you along the Castle trail. The Aberdeenshire area of Scotland is most famous for the number of Castles located there (My main reason for wanting to back)! 

This is a map showing various sites of interest close to the Aberdeen area. Yes, there are even Standing Stones nearby- I will be doing more research on them!

castles near Aberdeen

This map shows Aberdeen in relation to Inverness and Edinburgh. I do want to add here that because of the way our plans were altered, we were unable to fit Inverness into our schedule.  It is very easily doable to take the train from Aberdeen to Inverness, then train from Inverness to Edinburgh. When I checked the train time, it states about a 2 1/2 hour trip from Aberdeen to Inverness. That is not the purpose or focus here though so I am not going to go further into it here other than to say that our experiences with the train and bus systems were great. I will definitely go that option in any future trips!

map showing Aberdeen

Now you understand our main reason for choosing Aberdeen as starting point and why we were looking at it as just a quick stop over. Fortunately, we were inadvertently rewarded with that unexpected longer stay to get to know Aberdeen better!

What we found in Aberdeen was a fascinating history that stretches back at least 8000 years. Besides that history, we discovered a city that is friendly and welcoming but  not a kitschy, over done or over crowded tourist magnet.  There is a wealth of history to be explored here but that is not it’s truest wealth, asset or value.

1969 considerable deposits of crude oil were discovered in the North Sea. Since then, North Sea Oil has come to eclipse Aberdeen’s traditional industries, employing an estimated half a million people living in and around the city. Aberdeen’s port has been improved and developed to serve the off shore oil rigs with the result that most of the fishing fleets have been moved along the shore to Peterhead. Economically this so called “European Oil Capital” has left other Scottish cities behind – indeed, by some accounts it is the wealthiest area in the UK outside the southeast of England.

Aberdeen is a Scottish success story. Any visitor to the city will be impressed by the lively bustle of its streets and the ceaseless activity in the port. The impact of the petroleum industry is undeniable, but in some senses it should not be seen as a development which entirely breaks with the past: Aberdeen has always been a successful port city and has always had an internationally minded economy. Today this  University City is home to around a quarter of a million people and provides cultural diversions for all ages. For the visitor its grand granite buildings, which shimmer like polished silver, its distinctive neighborhoods, its harbour and sandy beach, provide other, more natural, attractions.

Throughout our stay, we observed that the city seems to be undergoing  massive renovation and construction in just about every area from the outskirts of the airport to the city center and all points surrounding it. Do not let that deter or sway you from visiting the area! Our taxi driver pointed out that this work is all much needed and deserved by the city that has contributed so much financially to the UK and it’s about time they got something back! He took all of the construction in stride and gave us a pleasant and much amusing trip from the airport to our hotel near the city center.  I have to say that everyone we encountered during our stay was friendly and helpful with suggestions and commentary about their city.  One other added bonus- everything was less expensive than in Edinburgh! 

As I’ve pointed out, we didn’t know much about the city so one of our first stops was the Tourist information center located near the city center. They went out of their way to help us with everything from free maps to writing notes and directions on the map for us, to giving advice and directions on using the bus system along with which bus to take to different areas. They also offer a variety of day tours to activities and sites outside the city making it very easy to many of those sites if you’re not driving.  One added suggestion on the bus system that they pointed out- besides the city buses, there are buses going to many of the outlying villages and sites you might want to visit. We did not have extra time for those options but the staff will happily fill you in on how to get to certain sites- such as which bus to take, where you can catch the bus and what times they run.  Because we knew so little about the city or it’s history, they suggested we start with a quick tour of the Tolbooth museum which happens to be right across the street from them. I did mention that there is a great deal of renovation and construction going on throughout the city- the Tolbooth block/building is no exception but do not let that deter you from your visit!

Tollbooth tower renovations

Tolbooth block and buildings undergoing renovations

tollbooth and townhouse plaque

plaque on building next door to Tolbooth

Tolbooth Museum

The Tolbooth Museum is one of Aberdeen’s oldest buildings and one of the best-preserved 17th century gaols in Scotland. It features displays on local history and the development of crime and punishment through the centuries. It  provides a unique experience in the form of its atmospheric 17th and 18th century cells, original doors and barred windows. Displays include the Maiden and the blade of Aberdeen’s 17th century guillotine as well as some animated cell inhabitants. Regarding the animations-they were not scary. This is not a spooky type tour. I have heard a few people comment that they were a bit disappointed or let down as they were led to believe it would be more of a ghost, haunting or scarier type experience with more visual effects. If that is what you are looking for, this does not fit that category. It was a bit eerie and haunting but in a realistic way of getting a feeling of what it was like to be incarcerated here back then. 

banner-ackobites-cell

tolbooth museum

 

While the supposed main focus or purpose of the museum is it’s history as gaol or jail, it does provide an excellent introduction to the history of Aberdeen. It is a free tour and probably takes less than hour to do…  we spent a bit longer in there because we had an excellent tour guide who was very informative and gave much additional insight to the overall history. The first half of the tour is about the history of Aberdeen with displays and dioramas of the earliest beginnings of the area that originally consisted of two separate villages. Once our guide realized we were very much interested in the history, he probably went into more depth on it than usual. He seemed rather excited to share the added history with us and we enjoyed all of it! During the first portion of the tour, we learned about some of the early  events and people that had connections to Aberdeen. These important connections go back as far as the Picts and much of the history can be found around Aberdeen yet today.  The legend of Saint Machar tells that Machar was  a companion of St Columba on his journey to Iona.  God (or St Columba) told Machar to establish a church where a river bends into the shape of a bishop’s crosier before flowing into the sea. The River Don bends in this way just below where the Cathedral now stands. According to legend, St Machar founded a site of worship in Old Aberdeen in about 580. He ministered to the Picts around Aberdeen. For this reason he was described anachronistically as the first Bishop of the see of Aberdeen.  The church was also the site for another legend surrounding William Wallace. After the execution of William Wallace in 1305, his body was cut up and sent to different corners of the country to warn other dissenters. His left quarter ended up in Aberdeen and is buried in the walls of the cathedral. 

 

Robert the Bruce also had a connection to Aberdeen. In 1136, David I began the development of New Aberdeen north of the River Dee, and the earliest charter was granted by King William the Lion about 1179, confirming the corporate rights granted by David I, which gave trade privileges to the burgesses. This charter is the oldest surviving charter. The city received other royal charters later. In 1319, the Great Charter of Robert the Bruce transformed Aberdeen into a property owning and financially independent community. Bruce had a high regard for the citizens of Aberdeen who had sheltered him in his days of outlawry, helped him win the Battle of Barra and slew the English garrison at Aberdeen Castle. He granted Aberdeen with the nearby Forest of Stocket. The income from this land has formed the basis for the city’s Common Good Fund, which is used to this day for the benefit of all Aberdonians.

Aberdeen is also home to King’s College, one of the oldest universities in the British Isles.  In 1495, William Elphinstone, the relatively newly appointedBishop of Aberdeen, petitioned Pope Alexander VI on behalf of King James IV to create the facility to cure the ignorance he had witnessed within his parish and in the north generally. A papal bull was issued in February 1495 (1491 in the calendar of the day) founding the university; a royal charter later that year recognised Aberdeen’s status as equal to that of Scotland’s two existing universities at Glasgow and St Andrews. As a former professor at the University of Paris, Elphinstone modelled the university very much on the continental European tradition. Hector Boece, a fellow professor at Paris, was awarded the status of first principal of the new institution. It would not be until 1509, with the issuance of a charter by Elphinstone, that university life at King’s truly began. Construction of the chapel began in 1498; it was consecrated in 1509 and dedicated to St Mary. By 1514, the university had some forty-two members in the form of both staff and students.

Once you finish your tour of the Tolbooth, you can easily find monuments to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce on a walk around the city. You can take a city bus to Old Aberdeen to tour St. Machar’s Cathedral and King’s College. You can also easily take a bus to another site, the Gordon Highlanders Regimental museum which I will talk about later. 

William Wallace monument in Aberdeen

William Wallace monument in Aberdeen

William Wallace monument inscription 1

William Wallace monument inscription 1

William Wallace inscription 2

William Wallace inscription 2

Robert the Bruce monument in front of Marichal College building in Aberdeen

Robert the Bruce monument in front of Marichal College building in Aberdeen

Marichal College building in Aberdeen, now used as offices

Marichal College building in Aberdeen, now used as offices

St Machar's Cathedral in Old Aberdeen

St Machar’s Cathedral in Old Aberdeen

King's College entrance in Old Aberdeen

King’s College entrance in Old Aberdeen

gordon highlander museum2 gordon highlanders museum

 

The only thing you won’t be able to find is Aberdeen Castle! The Castle was situated on Castle Hill, a site today known as the Castlegate, near the City center.  

Castlegate area today

Castlegate area today

Mercat cross at city center

Mercat Cross at Castlegate area near Tolbooth Musuem in Aberdeen

You will see the unicorn throughout Aberdeen and other places in Scotland as it is Scotland’s national animal! You will also find mercat crosses in various cities of Scotland. A mercat cross is the Scots name for the market cross found frequently in Scottish cities, towns and villages where historically the right to hold a regular market or fairwas granted by the monarch, a bishop or a baron. It therefore served a secular purpose as a symbol of authority, and was an indication of a burgh‘s relative prosperity. Historically, the term dates from the period before 1707 when Scotland was an independent kingdom, but it has been applied loosely to later structures built in the traditional architectural style of crosses or structures fulfilling the function of marking a settlement’s focal point. Historical documents often refer simply to “the cross” of whichever town or village is mentioned. Today, there are around 126 known examples of extant crosses in Scotland,  though the number rises if later imitations are added.

Aberdeen’s mercat cross history would go back to that earlier history when it received  Royal Burgh status from David I of Scotland (1124–53). 

The cross was the place around which market stalls would be arranged, and where ‘merchants’ (Scots for shopkeepers as well as wholesale traders) would gather to discuss business. It was also the spot where state and civic proclamations would be publicly read by the “bellman” (town crier). The cross was also the communal focal point of public events such as civic ceremonials, official rejoicings, and public shamings and punishments, including executions. Some crosses still incorporate the iron staples to which jougs and branks were once attached. This would be the reason for it’s close proximity to the Tolbooth, which would often hold public executions right outside their door.

Despite the name, the typical mercat cross is not usually cruciform, or at least has not been since the iconoclasm of the Scottish Reformation. The cross atop the shaft may have been replaced with a small statue, such as a royal unicorn or lion, symbols of the Scottish monarchy, or a carved stone displaying the arms of the royal burgh, or, in the cases of ecclesiastical burghs or burghs of barony, the bishop’s or feudal superior‘s coat-of-arms. Thus the reason for the Unicorn at top of Aberdeen’s mercat cross.

Five crosses: at Edinburgh, Dundee, Perth, Aberdeen and Preston (modern Prestonpans) were supported by a drum-shaped understructure, known as a cross-house, with a platform reached by internal steps or ladder. In the case of Aberdeen‘s late 17th-century cross the platform is supported by a series of open semi-circular arcades. 

 

close up of unicorn at top of mercat cross

Close up of unicorn at top of mercat cross

 

views of city center city center view of black friars pub

The castle was surrendered to the English in 1295 and on 14 April 1296, the English King, Edward I arrived in Aberdeen and stayed in the castle as part of his tour of the east coast of Scotland having defeated the Scots.  However the next year, after defeating the English at Dunnottar Castle in 1297, William Wallace marched his men to Aberdeen during their campaign to retake the east-coast for the Scots.

They found the English hastily preparing to leave in an armada of one hundred ships. The speed of Wallace’s arrival from Dunottar caught the English unawares and at low tide the stranded ships were attacked in the harbour, the crew and soldiers slaughtered, the cargo taken and the ships burnt. The English Sheriff of Aberdeen, Sir Henry de Lazom had been left in charge of the Castle, but during the chaos of the attack he defected, declaring it in the name of the Scottish King, John de Balliol.  This account of William Wallace’s actions and victory in Aberdeen would certainly explain or justify why the English may have sent a portion of his executed body back to Aberdeen! 

It is thought the castle and fortifications were burned down  by King Robert the Bruce in June 1308, during the Wars of Scottish Independence immediately following the Harrying of Buchan. Bruce and his men laid siege to the castle before massacring the English Garrison to prevent its use by the English troops of Edward II. It is said the Scots showed no mercy but “slew every man who fell into their hands. Edward I, indeed, had already set the example of executing his prisoners, and it was not to be expected that the other side would fail to follow the same course”. On 10 July 1308, English ships left Hartlepool to help the English garrison.  However, by August 1308, Gilbert Pecche and the last troops had all been forced out of the city. Following the destruction of Aberdeen Castle, Bruce marched his men to capture Forfar Castle.  Legend tells that the city’s motto, Bon Accord came from the password used to initiate Bruce’s final push and destruction of the castle.  Bon Accord translates to Good Agreement. 

In the first part of the Tolbooth’s history tour, you will find a diorama display of the earliest days of Aberdeen.  At that early time, it was still two separate villages and there were three hills. The city began as two separate burghs: Old Aberdeen at the mouth of the river Don; and New Aberdeen, a fishing and trading settlement, where the Denburn waterway entered the river Dee estuary.  The city was burned by Edward III of England in 1336, but was rebuilt and extended, and called New Aberdeen. The city was strongly fortified to prevent attacks by neighbouring lords, but the gates were removed by 1770. 

Aberdeen was in Pictish territory and became Gaelic-speaking at some time in the medieval period. Old Aberdeen is the approximate location of Aberdon, the first settlement of Aberdeen; this literally means “the mouth of the Don”. The Celtic wordaber means “river mouth”, as in modern Welsh (Aberystwyth, Aberdare, Aberbeeg etc.). The Gaelic name is Obar Dheathain (variation: Obairreadhain) (obar presumably being a loan from the earlier Pictish; the Gaelic term is “inbhir”), and in Latin, the Romans referred to the river as Devana. Mediaeval (or ecclesiastical) Latin has it as Aberdonia. You can see a remnant of the Pictish history on a tour of St Machar’s Cathedral.

Pictish carving at Machar's Cathedral

Pictish carving at Machar’s Cathedral

pictish cross stone information at Machar's Cathedral

pictish cross stone information at Machar’s Cathedral

Over the centuries, the rivers were diverted at various times and two of the three original hills disappeared. Aberdeen Castle sat on Castle hill (Castlegate). This is the only remaining hill. The other two hills were Port hill where the early City Gate was, and St. Catherine’s hill which has been completely leveled. Those three hills are represented on the city’s shield of arms and on the city’s banner flag by three towers.  

coat of arms for Aberdeen

coat of arms for Aberdeen

City Banner flag of Aberdeen

City Banner flag of Aberdeen

 

tolbooth2

 

The second half of the Tolbooth tour went further up the stairs to the cells with history of the jail and it’s various inhabitants from some early witches, a pirate, a lot of debtors, and some Jacobites after the rebellion of 1745. As he talked about the Jacobites, our guide gave us some insight from the standpoint and perspective of ones who were not Jacobites but suffered consequences and affects of the various rebellions. His comments and thoughts gave me pause for thought and inspired me to learn more about all of the sides, the reasons and complexities of so many events taking place over the years,  which combined and culminated in the last Jacobite rebellion.  Most of the tour history on the cells and inhabitants dealt with the period of that last rebellion and later. If you look at Aberdeen’s earlier history and the date the prison was built, it most likely played a part in the rebellions and civil wars during the 1600s. 

The Tolbooth was built between 1616 and 1629 by Thomas Watson, a master mason from Old Rayne. The Wardhouse of the Tolbooth was the prison for both the Royal Burgh of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire until the 19th century.

Over the centuries The Tolbooth has witnessed, and often played a part in, some of the key events in Aberdeen’s and Scotland’s history. During the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, when the Duke of Cumberland stayed in Aberdeen in order to put down the rebellion here before leaving for Culloden, he posted troops on the steeple of The Tolbooth to watch out for rebels and very visibly display the reasserting of royal authority. After the rebels had been defeated at Culloden hundreds of rebel prisoners were brought back to The Tolbooth where they were interrogated. In the mid-18th century The Tolbooth was one of the many places associated with one of the darkest episodes of Aberdeen’s history. A number of Aberdeen’s merchants and magistrates organised the kidnapping of hundreds of children from both the town and countryside. These children were then stored in various places, including The Tolbooth, before being transported to the Americas and sold as indentured servants.

Regarding the Tolbooth’s involvement in that darker part of Aberdeen history- the child slavery mentioned above, the Tolbooth museum was more recently involved in opening the curtains of that shrouded more secret history. On 11-06-07 the city of Aberdeen pulled back the curtain on a dark part of the cities history. At the Tolbooth Museum “Open to the Public” they had re-enactments of a very dark part of Aberdeen’s past history and helped to tell the stories of those children.  You can read the story of one of those abducted children here:

The Tale of Peter Williamson   http://unknownscottishhistory.com/articleseventeen.php

The Tolbooth stopped being used as a prison in the 19th century and was replaced by Aberdeen’s first ‘modern’ prison, the Bridewell, built on what we now call Rose Street. The Tolbooth remained in use during the time the Bridewell was opened and after, when the Bridewell was replaced by the East Prison on Lodge Walk, as a holding prison. The Tolbooth survived when the new Townhouse was laid out. The front of The Tolbooth was encased in granite, but the rear of the building still shows its original sandstone with its 17th century battlements. 

For anyone interested in history, this museum is an excellent introduction to the history of Aberdeen. It was my first stop on the way to learning about Aberdeen’s long, turbulent past and how it fit in with the rest of the many events that shaped and forged what Scotland has become today.  My only caution to those visiting the museum- it is not suitable for anyone with mobility difficulties as the only way to reach the museum is by way of very narrow medieval type spiral type steps up to the different levels. Because of the building, there is no way to provide any assistance or other option to reach the upper levels- my meaning in this- there is no way for them to say install a lift or elevator.  It is also probably not suitable or appropriate for young children who would not really understand much of the history presented. 

You can plan your visit to the Tolbooth for early in the morning and then head out to all of the other sites of interest within the city. After our visit to the Tolbooth, we went to the Maritime museum which was fairly short walk from city center. This museum gives you a great history of Aberdeen’s long connection to the sea as a port city from it’s earliest beginnings to it’s present day importance in the oil industry. There are a number of hands on activities for children and it also currently has a toy history exhibit which everyone will find interesting and fun!

Aberdeen maritime museum early diving suit at maritime museum robot diver at maritime museum

After the Maritime museum, we went back up to city center and embarked on a self guided walking tour of the city. The maps provided by the tourism office were excellent and we found it easy to find our way around the city. We stopped at St Nicholas Kirk which is easy to spot due the Arches. It is close to city center and you really can’t miss it!

St Nicholas Arch

St Nicholas Arch

St Nicholas kirkyard information

St Nicholas kirkyard information

walkway to St Nicholas Kirk

walkway to St Nicholas Kirk

graves and tombstone in St Nicholas kirkyard

graves and tombstone in St Nicholas kirkyard

St Nicholas Kirk

St Nicholas Kirk

We continued our walking tour and eventually found the William Wallace monument. It was a long walk but we had a beautiful day for it and the city was full of sites and scenery to view.

views of the city

Later in the afternoon, we returned to city center and headed out in the opposite direction with a trek down to the harbor, the old fishing village neighborhood of Footdee or Fittie. The guidebooks and tourist info are a little misleading about this area… it is not a living history village but is an actual residential neighborhood with it’s buildings still being those old stone cottages from the days of the original fishing village. It was a nice walk down to the harbor and beach though. You can walk along the seawall walk behind the cottages towards the beach area. 

footdee seawall walk footdee-fittie

north sea coast3 North sea coast at Aberdeen north sea 2

On our walk back up from the beach we found a great little pub called Fittiebar. You won’t find this pub/bar on the tour guides. It is not one of those trendy touristy type places, it is in the working neighborhood of the docks. There is nothing fancy about it. It is a casual comfortable working class place to grab a pint, a plate, relax and probably enjoy the company of regulars and friends. The menu is on the board listing the specials for the day, though the Bartender/server did laugh and mention that one of these days they get posh and order some real menus… My personal advice- don’t change a thing! Possibly the best part of the experience was seeing her mix up the batter for our fish with an addition of beer from the tap! 

fittie bar2

Fittiebar in Aberdeen

IMG_7531 fittie bar menu

That was our first day in Aberdeen! In my next post, I will share more of our stay in Aberdeen along with more of it’s history. This awesome Granite city so full of  interesting history that I am intrigued and fascinated with all of it! As I mentioned in the beginning, everyone is so interested in the other cities and places such as the Highlands and Edinburgh that Aberdeen and the area around it does not get the attention it deserves!  I look forward to returning and exploring more of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book review: A Year of Ravens

I need to break from our Viking adventures for a few moments to share some thoughts on an excellent book! Before the Normans conquered, before the Vikings invaded, before the legends of Arthur, before someone invited Saxons to settle, the island of Britannia was already home to numerous separate native Celtic tribes that together would be knows as the Britons. These tribes were the original kingdoms of the island and just as any other kingdoms would, they fought with each other for domination and control of the land… until one outside force arrived and began to take control. In AD 43 the Roman Empire began its conquest of the island, establishing a province they called Britannia, which came to encompass the parts of the island south of Caledonia (roughly Scotland).  This Roman invasion and domination would last until some time in the 5th century. 

The Celtic tribes were varied in their reactions and acceptances of the Roman conquest. The Roman conquest was a gradual one that actually could be seen as a somewhat peaceful and benefitial  alliance between the tribes and the Roman Empire. In common with other regions on the edge of the empire, Britain had enjoyed diplomatic and trading links with the Romans in the century since Julius Caesar‘s expeditions in 55 and 54 BC, and Roman economic and cultural influence was a significant part of the British late pre-Roman Iron Age, especially in the south.

Between 55 BC and the 40s AD, the status quo of tribute, hostages, and client states without direct military occupation, begun by Caesar’s invasions of Britain, largely remained intact. Augustus prepared invasions in 34 BC, 27 BC and 25 BC. The first and third were called off due to revolts elsewhere in the empire, the second because the Britons seemed ready to come to terms. According to Augustus’s Res Gestae, two British kings, Dubnovellaunus and Tincomarus, fled to Rome as suppliants during his reign, and Strabo‘s Geography, written during this period, says that Britain paid more in customs and duties than could be raised by taxation if the island were conquered. 

During this early time of Roman involvement, many of the tribes were fighting between themselves and in some cases they sought the assistance and intervention of Rome to strengthen their sides. By the 40s AD, the political situation within Britain was apparently in ferment. The Catuvellauni had displaced the Trinovantes as the most powerful kingdom in south-eastern Britain, taking over the former Trinovantian capital of Camulodunum (Colchester), and were pressing their neighbours the Atrebates, ruled by the descendants of Julius Caesar’s former ally Commius.  In fact, when Claudius eventually mounted his invasion and takeover, it’s intent was to force a reinstatement of client King Verica, who was an exiled king of the Atrebates.

England_Celtic_tribes_-_South

map showing locations of Celtic tribes in southern part of Britain during Roman occupation.

Map_of_the_Territory_of_the_Brigantes.svg

Map showing the Brigantes tribe region during Roman occupation

 

I am only sharing this very basic pre-history of the Roman involvement to point out that during the lengthy process of their conquest, there were tribes that willingly chose to ally themselves with Rome, either for economic benefit, political advantage or in some cases, perhaps they saw a larger picture and felt that resistance was not in their best interests.  Because the tribes looked at themselves as separate entities rather than a unified force against one opposing force, they were unable to come together in the beginning stages to prevent a take over that many of of them did not see coming in the first place.  In a way it directly relates to future invasions of their land by the Saxons and then by the Vikings. It could be said that Rome’s occupation of the island destroyed their unity and ability to fight as a that one united force… but, realistically it might better be said that their unity was not there in the first place and it allowed for a situation in which Rome could conquer them. Had they been able to come together from the beginnings of the rebellions, there are times when they could have defeated the Roman forces.  Boudicca’s rebellion was one of those times and events. 

Her rebellion was enough of a crisis to cause Emperor Nero at the time to seriously consider pulling all Roman troops and involvement out of Britain at this early time in their occupation. Unfortunately, despite earlier victories, her army made crucial mistakes that led to their final defeat. Her forces vastly outnumbered the Romans in the battle of Watling Street and had they chosen a different strategy that what they did, they should have been able to win that last battle. For what ever reasons, they chose to meet the Romans head on in a battle of open ground. Previous victories and successes by Briton forces and others against the Romans and each other were won not by head on battles but by more surprise attacks. It also did not help matters that the army brought with them their entire villages and placed them at the edges of the battle location thereby allowing for the slaughter of everyone, not just the army involved in the battle. 

 

With that bit of pre-history and thought in mind, we can move on to the main focus of this post! The book, A year of Ravens is an excellent historical fiction look at one event where the Britons could have managed that defeat and been successful at their attempt to drive the Romans out of their land. It looks at the event of Boudica’s rebellion from all perspectives- the Romans, the Client Kingdoms, the ones who were intent on rebellion against the massive strength of Rome, and from the standpoint of those who had little say in the event. 

The book is a unique collaborative project by seven authors with seven separate yet connected stories of the events leading up to the final battle and aftermath. It addresses the issues that I touched on in the pre-history discussion including reasons for a Client Ruler’s acceptance and alliance of Roman governance. It also gives us an understanding of various Roman perspectives. Not every Roman was stereotypical bad nor did they all agree with what was taking place. In that same line, not every Briton was good or a true believer in the rebellion. 

A year of Ravens

by Ruth Downie, Kate Quinn,Stephanie Dray, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney , Russell Whitfield, E. Knight

Britannia: land of mist and magic clinging to the western edge of the Roman Empire. A red-haired queen named Boudica led her people in a desperate rebellion against the might of Rome, an epic struggle destined to consume heroes and cowards, young and old, Roman and Celt . . . and these are their stories.

A calculating queen sees the sparks of revolt in a king’s death.

A neglected slave girl seizes her own courage as Boudica calls for war.

An idealistic tribune finds manhood in a brutal baptism of blood and slaughter.

A conflicted warrior hovers between loyalty to tribe and loyalty to Rome.

A death-haunted Druid challenges the gods themselves to ensure victory for his people.

An old champion struggles for everlasting glory in the final battle against the legions.

A fiery princess fights to salvage the pieces of her mother’s dream as the ravens circle.

A novel in seven parts, overlapping stories of warriors and peacemakers, queens and slaves, Romans and Celts who cross paths during Boudica’s epic rebellion. But who will survive to see the dawn of a new Britannia, and who will fall to feed the ravens?

These separate stories come together so well to tell a larger story of Briton and of Rome, of  mistakes on both sides that brought about the rebellion. In telling their separate stories of one particular point in time and one event that had such an impact on the history of Britain, these seven authors have created a vivid and realistic picture to show us all of the sides. It is grim, harsh and gritty, and fault is laid on all of those sides for the decisions and actions that led to the battles of Boudica. Yet, despite all of the fault and harsh reality, there is an underlying message of  understanding, forgiveness and hope amid such a dark future that lies ahead for so many. Boudicca’s rebellion has failed but her legend will live on to inspire others in the future. 

One of the most interesting and compelling stories for me was not that of Boudicca herself, but of another Queen for the most part forgotten in history. The story of Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes in northern Britain at the time. Cartimandua or Cartismandua (reigned c. ad 43 – c. 69) was a 1st-century queen of the Brigantes, a Celtic people living in what is now northern England. She came to power around the time of the Roman conquest of Britain, and formed a large tribal agglomeration that became loyal to Rome. Our only knowledge of her is through the Roman historian Tacitus, though she appears to have been widely influential in early Roman Britain.

Perhaps we know little about her because her story is one of loyalty to Rome. Author Stephanie Dray’s interpretation of this little known Queen provided such a detailed look at this woman who would have been considered a traitor to the Briton’s cause. It presented an understanding of some of those reasons why a ruler would choose alliance and loyalty to Rome to ensure the future of their people- even if the people did not appreciate it, resented the decision and would choose to spit on said ruler’s grave… As Cartimandua points out in this story, “At least my people will be left alive to spit upon my grave!”  She may have been hated by her people but she was able to look beyond that hatred and be at peace with the decisions she made in order to buy her people time and life in an uncertain future.

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

Another of the stories that caught me up was the story of Duro the Iceni warrior and Valeria the Roman wife turned slave. Both of these characters were fictional but came truly alive and believable through Kate Quinn’s story telling. This is the story of an aging battle hardened and weary warrior who is Boudicca’s most ardent supporter and leader of her army- second only to her and the council… Duro is the old warrior set in his ways and beliefs, struggling with changes that he can not accept. Valeria at first appears as the stereotypical Roman wife also set in her Roman ways and beliefs. On the surface their relationship is one of detest for each other and the other’s ways. They are on opposite sides in every way possible but underneath all of the opposition and hatred, there is a level of understanding between them. They both know that should the other side win, their own personal life and future will cease or change forever. Duro continues to look to the past he remembers before the Romans but Valeria reminds him that it is wishful thinking and that past will never be again. Valeria reaches within herself to find a person, a warrior that she never knew existed… she will fight for life and survival no matter what, and she can appreciate that Duro has taught her that. Valeria is young enough and strong enough to change her ways of thinking in some ways and to understand that her world has changed. She is on the verge of some new life while Duro is at the end of his and know it. He can not change as his world is changing but Valeria gives him the one thing that matters most to him in the end… a renewed relationship with a son that he spent years pushing away. This story leaves an open ending with Valeria embarking on a new journey, a renewed life forever changed by her experience and her relationship with Duro.  This is about as close to a romance as any of the stories get and it is one that left me wondering about the what ifs… and the future for Valeria on her return to husband. My personal what if was this… what if Boudicca’s army had listened to advice and won the battle? Where would that have left Duro and Valeria?  I could actually see some of that version that Duro dreamed of!

All of the stories were excellent. I have only chosen to highlight the two that touched me the most!

This overall story is balanced with more than enough historical research to enrich the fiction that is woven around the often limited facts. I found myself completely swept up in the individual stories and not wanting them to end. I was left with an overwhelming appreciation of the writing and the history, an almost obsessive need to know more about all of the people whether real or fictional and the events that were taking place during this time. While it began as an effort by the various authors to tell Boudicca’s story, what it did was tell the story of so many others involved in the history taking place during her life time. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To kill a queen… or not

The title of this Vikings episode is a bit misleading in that no Queen actually meets her death in this episode! Ohhh, so sorry for that spoiler. And, on that spoiler note- if you have not watched the current season yet and do not want spoilers, please exit the page immediately! This page as well as most of the other Vikings episode related pages here does contain spoilers. There, that is your warning!

This article is a look at the darker side of attempting to kill a queen and my personal thoughts on all of it. We’ve already looked at the lighter moments and now we must visit the usual harsher, darker facts with all of their possible underlying meanings or future consequences.  Before we get into my thoughts, I want to suggest another article regarding the history involved in this episode. Patricia Bracewell has shared her views here and it is well worth reading! 

http://www.patriciabracewell.com/2016/02/vikings-4-episode-2-kill-the-queen/

I mentioned that the title is misleading because no Queen actually dies. There is great attempt and thought of killing one Queen outright, and then there is underlying and possible wishful thinking of killing a Queen- or at least wishing she were dead… 

I am going to talk about that wishful thinking first because that is the one that bothered me the most and left me conflicted once again. This underlying thought or wish involves Ragnar and Aslaug. Please keep in mind that I am not really a fan of either one of these two and am generally critical of both their behaviors. While I am not a fan of Aslaug, towards the end of last season I did see some redeeming attributes to her character in her dealings with Porunn and in the way she dealt with the Christian priest. Aslaug may be sneaky, manipulative, loose moraled and power hungry but she is a firm believer in the old ways and beliefs. That being said, she stood her ground in defense of those beliefs and suffered for them. In the first episode, when Bjorn arrested Floki, you could see the doubt and concern on her face.  Bjorn is arresting Floki for the murder of Athelstan, a Christian that many of those villagers-Bjorn included had expressed the exact same feelings and fears about as Floki did. 

even aslaug is not too sure about bjorn's decision

even aslaug is not too sure about bjorn’s decision

There a great number of fans out there who feel that Aslaug is the evil incarnate equivalent of Rollo and that she got exactly what she deserved in this episode. What is conflicting for me is that these are generally the same people who take a moral high road, condemning Rollo and the Christians while praising Ragnar and all things Viking.  In this instance, Aslaug took a stand for the old beliefs, for the threat to those beliefs and she gets condemned for it.  Fans who are so outraged by Rollo’s behaviors such as “raping” a slave girl and treating Siggy so badly, applaud Ragnar’s treatment of Aslaug in this instance with their voices of “she deserved it”.  I guess she “deserved it because she had the nerve to question Ragnar’s authority, his rule and thus proved herself once more disloyal to him because she placed her loyalties to the Gods above that of her King. Realistically, there are so many other offenses that she could have been justifiably  punished for had they been public knowledge (and, I think that with Ragnar’s habit of keeping tabs on everyone, he does know of those offenses). To me this event just shows that Ragnar is losing control of his well maintained facade of calmness under pressure. 

Floki had a valid point when he made the statement that he was loyal to the Gods first and foremost and would continue to put his religion above his loyalty to Ragnar. I am not necessarily condoning Floki’s action either in killing Athelstan. He knew it was wrong, he knew what the consequences would be. If he felt so strongly that Athelstan and Ragnar’s involvement with the Christian were such a threat to his personal beliefs and his loyalties, then he should have chosen to walk away from Ragnar right then rather than resort to the secretive killing that he did.  

aslaug stands up to ragnar for floki because he's right what did he do so wrong he killed a christian.

aslaug stands up to ragnar for floki because he’s right what did he do so wrong he killed a christian.

Ragnar is correct when he makes the comment, “This is not about religion, this about loyalty and respect…” Ragnar has chosen personal power and control over the more moral and ethical reasoning of what is good for the people. He has brought this debate or issue over Floki down to the most personal of levels- a dispute between two one time friends who now differ in their most basic core belief systems. Neither of them will back down from their belief that they are right and because of that, everyone else will be dragged into the dispute and suffer for it.   The problem with Ragnar’s current thinking and method of leadership is that it as turned to one more of fear than anything else. These people have experienced his better side of ruling for the good of all of them and now thrust into a position of following him not so much because they trust his judgement but because they most likely fear they will suffer the same fate as Floki.  There are times when instilling fear is necessary, but that sort of thing generally happens in the beginning of one’s rule as a means of gaining some control over a situation or group of people. It usually does not play out so well to use the fear tactic against those who originally on your side and assumed that you were on theirs.  

As floki mentions, there comes a point in one’s life when one must make a decision on whether or not to follow a leader based on one’s personal ethics, morals and beliefs. In a way, Floki’s decision to follow his own conscience speaks of what others will have to decide in the future. Do they follow Ragnar blindly without question just because he is their leader no matter what he decides to do… or do they at some point begin to question his motives, his personal agenda and his methods? This is much the same position that Ragnar and his followers were in when they questioned King Harald’s rule and Horik’s rule… Ragnar is now putting himself close to that same category as those two leaders that he fought to bring down. 

ragnar is losing control this is not about christians this is about loyalty!

ragnar is losing control this is not about christians this is about loyalty!

Ragnar is outraged that Aslaug would even think of taking Floki’s side in this. He is determined that he is King and he is right no matter what and anyone who would question his actions is guilty of disloyalty or treason. His rage causes him to lose control and he strikes out at Aslaug, knocking her down… the look on his face is one of utter contempt and that underlying thought of wishing he could do more to her, wishing her dead. To be honest, I was waiting for him to add a final blow or kick to her while she was down on the floor. 

ragnar takes his anger out on aslaug

Ragnar takes his anger out on Aslaug

Realistically, the situation between Ragnar and Aslaug comes down to them both wishing the other was dead! The rather sad part about Aslaug’s story direction in the show is that in the Sagas, Aslaug remained loyal to Ragnar and went so far as to sew him a magic shirt to protect him against the Snakes she foresaw for him in England. Unfortunately, I do not see Aslaug sewing him anything in the future other than possibly a shroud!

I guess this pretty much rules out that majic shirt to protect from snakes

While Aslaug’s treatment did not sit well with me, the even more disturbing event was the fallout of this personal quarrel for others, mainly Helga and her daughter. Her situation apparently did not sit too well with Ragnar either because he did appear genuinely bothered by her situation.  It could be said that Helga brought about her situation on her own by helping Floki to escape in the first place. While that might be a fair assumption, it does nothing to detract from the true emotional torture that Helga was enduring by being caught in the middle of this argument. She has to stand by and watch her husband tortured for his refusal to give up on his personal beliefs, his denial of any wrongdoing, and his unwillingness to compromise those values even in the face of suffering to his family. In fact, he goes so far as to use Helga’s emotional tie in still loving him as a means of saving himself. He is as guilty and as stubborn as Ragnar in this situation and is only thinking of himself. 

helga tries to stop the children a difficult reunion to watch

I do have to mention here that as much as I feel for Helga’s pain and the suffering she endures, she does bear some responsibility and some blame for the events that brought her so much pain and grief.  First of all, my one frustrated thought with her actions began when she subjected little Agriboda to that visit with Floki tied to the stake? Was she perhaps hoping that the sight of his child seeing him like this might spark some balancing thought in Floki’s head? Some thought of “What am I doing to my family, should I not have some care about them above my own needs or thoughts?” If that was her intent, then of course it failed miserably and Floki used Helga’s feeling to manipulate her into doing something she knew was wrong.  When Ragnar asked her later why she did it, she made a comment about love… She allowed her love of Floki to take precedence over her love of her child. Perhaps this is why she must suffer a torture far greater than that of Floki. 

My other thought is one of Why is Helga living down here in the cold, in a way at the edge of nowhere… Has she been shunned by the others or has she set herself apart from everyone because she feels some guilt for the part she has played? Her present circumstances also bring us back to Aslaug. Aslaug who stood up and defended Floki’s actions yet apparently felt no concern for Helga’s situation. What ever the reason, Helga is living a destitute life and her child is suffering because of it. 

helga and abrigoda living in cold at the edge of nowhere

helga and abrigoda living in cold at the edge of nowhere

agriboda is sick and coughing helga tries to comfort her while ragnar says I don't blame you...

agriboda is sick and coughing helga tries to comfort her while ragnar says I don’t blame you…

Ragnar does show some concern for her welfare and leaves a bag of food for them.

ragnar does take pity on helga and leaves a bag of food for her

ragnar does take pity on helga and leaves a bag of food for her

Later we see how the actions of everyone, including Helga have played a part in the greatest torture and pain… the loss of an innocent child. While Floki may be suffering extreme physical torture at the hands of Ragnar, Helga is experiencing the far greater torture of having to bury her child and probably coming to the understanding or realization that she must share some guilt in this senseless death brought about mainly because two men were too self involved and egotistical to waiver on their mindset, and because she put her feelings for Floki above the needs of her child. It was a sad, painful event to watch and there was a moment when it seemed that even Ragnar might have some feelings of his own complicity in this death.

burying an innocent child

does this death have any affect on ragnar well he does step in and dig the grave...

does this death have any affect on ragnar well he does step in and dig the grave…

a few moments of compassion

a few moments of compassion

The one thing I did not understand was when Ragnar asked Helga if she had told Floki… How could she have told floki when Ragnar has him already enduring his own personal torture???

floki is enduring his own punishment so really how could helga have told him of agriboda's death

 

In contrast to Helga’s actions and the result of them, on the other side of the sea in Wessex we see a far different version of a Mother’s struggle to keep her child alive. And, it comes from the one woman you would probably least expect it of given her previous behaviors. From what we’ve seen of Princess Kweni in the past, I have to say that I did not expect her to have much Motherly instinct or concern for her child other than for how she might use said child to her own advantage. 

In our return to Wessex, we saw an outright attempt to kill Queen Kweni- and not an attempt from those in Wessex… though I have some doubts or suspicions on who might have actually instigated this overthrow and ousting of her. Ecbert’s response to the event was along the lines of “save the child, just be sure to keep the child alive no matter what” He had no concerns for Kweni’s survival.

There was the usual disagreement between Ecbert and Aethelwulf over how to put down this rebellion and rescue those being held hostage- Kweni and her son. There was also dispute and dissent from the local Noblemen over having to call their troops up for this event. Ecbert does take note of those balking at the deployment and actually gives them some foreshadowing sound advice…

Ecbert and Aethelwulf have some disagreement over how to proceed.

Ecbert and Aethelwulf have some disagreement over how to proceed.

I am quite certain that this Nobleman and the one next to him may eventually feel some pain of retribution for their dissenting remarks… As we’ve seen in the past, Ecbert does not forget who made what comment.

wessex noblemen balk at having to raise their armies

wessex noblemen balk at having to raise their armies

Ecbert must explain the necessity of keeping a standing army ready because Ragnar and those Northmen will most assuredly return to our shores!

ecbert must explain the necessity of keeping a standing army

ecbert must explain the necessity of keeping a standing army

Aethelwulf is in charge of leading an army into Mercia to rescue Kweni and child.

Ecbert and Aethelwulf present a united front despite their differences.

Ecbert and Aethelwulf present a united front despite their differences.

aethelwulf is in charge of training the army.

aethelwulf is in charge of training the army.

As Aethelwulf trains and prepares his forces, in Mercia a damsel in distress awaits rescue…

a damsel in distress in a tower...

a damsel in distress in a tower…

The battle was intense and brutal but despite some minor problems and setbacks, Aethelwulf held his own in this battle. He is not the only one that held their own. Locked in the tower with armed guards, Kweni proved her warrior spirit and her Motherly instinct!

and it's aethelwulf to the rescue... maybe?

and it’s aethelwulf to the rescue… maybe?

 Aethelwulf is having a few problems defeating his foe...

Aethelwulf is having a few problems defeating his foe…

aethelwulf I should have ate breakfast

why waste arrows when rocks work just as well

why waste arrows when rocks work just as well

While Aethelwulf was battling the tower, Kweni waged her own defensive attack against foes who meant to harm her and her child. She did it armed with nothing but a seriously scary needle, a blanket and a human shield. This woman was in a life and death battle for the life of her and her child and she was determined to win!

A seriousl scary looking needle!

A seriousl scary looking needle!

well that needle is good for something anyway

well that needle is good for something anyway

kweni's found her battle mode

Kweni shows her warrior battle mode

kweni must have heard about Einar's tactics of using a human shield

kweni must have heard about Einar’s tactics of using a human shield

Kweni fights back with the rage of a Mother

Kweni will fight to the death for her child

Kweni does have a motherly instinct after all nobody messes with her baby

Kweni does have a motherly instinct after all nobody messes with her baby Magnus!

Eventually Aethelwulf does come to her rescue and her response is perfect!

Aethelwulf finally makes it to the top of the tower to rescue damsel kweni

Aethelwulf finally makes it to the top of the tower to rescue damsel kweni

kweni's response... what took you so long!

kweni’s response… what took you so long!

In a way, Helga’s story and Kweni’s have that parallel contrast that Hirst loves so much. We have Helga as one who has basically lost her way, her will and seems in some way to have given up the fight. On the other hand, we have Kweni who against all odds, has lost none of her fighting instinct to survive and keep her child alive.

A mother's will and way

To Kill a queen… the lighter moments!

Before we delve into all of those serious moments, questions and thoughts, let’s look at the somewhat lighter moments of trying to kill a queen or just thinking about killing one in Ragnar’s case. Part two will deal with the darker serious thoughts. 

First of all, I have to say that for me personally, some of the best moments were just watching Bjorn on his trek into the wilderness. Maybe it’s just because being from the northwoods winter wilderness of Minnesota, the scenery and his day out on the ice brought back some memories of home for me. I could relate a bit to his ice fishing and have experienced the activity in a similar fashion. When I was little, my Dad used to take us out on the lake without benefit of fancy ice houses or such for us… No, no comforts of a nice warm fish house for us- although, we did drive the car out on the lake and when our whining got too much for him, we were allowed to warm up in the car! So, let’s enjoy Bjorn’s trek into the wilderness and his day on the lake!

bjorn in the wilderness bjorn's out on the ice having a good day fishing bjorn ice fishing... bjorn gets in some ice fishing

When ice fishing, it’s a good day when you catch anything!

That's a good size fish Bjorn too bad fishing contests won't start for another few hundred years at least... but it's a keeper

And, realistically Bjorn’s got what looks to be a pretty well equipped cozy little cabin up there… honestly, I’ve probably stayed in worse places. Seriously, roughing it and learning to survive in the wilderness- how bout you forget the cabin and try winter camping for a few nights, Bjorn! 

bjorn fishing bjorn's cabin in the woods bjorn enjoys the fish and his cabin

Ok, enough of Bjorn’s survival vacation in the woods. Floki was off on his own survival excursion. While it was a far more serious and dangerous one than Bjorn’s there were some entertaining and questionable moments to it… such as this one

wonder boy super hero ubba

That’s right, Ubba has already begun his ascent to super hero! He seemingly leads the search for Floki and needs no wilderness tracking lessons because he already knows more than the men of his village.

Ubba the boy seems to be in charge of this search for floki

Ubba the boy seems to be in charge of this search for floki

Meanwhile in Wessex, there’s a battle going on to save damsel in distress. Kweni’s in the tower of Mercia and Aethelwulf’s doing his best to rescue her but he’s having a few small problems…

aethelwulf I should have ate breakfast

In Paris, Rollo’s problems seem minor compared to those of everyone else! He spends some time attempting to bond with Odo and Roland… and perhaps teach them a bit of battle strategy?

I know... let's play boats

Odo likes the idea…

odo is impressed with rollo's demonstration

Roland… not so much!

odo translates he's telling us to build more boats roland's still not impressed

let's play boats

Male bonding time over… Rollo gets a makeover, is not so impressed with it and makes a slight error in judgement.

rollo gets a makeover

rollo gets a makeover

rollo is not impressed with this new stylist

rollo is not impressed with this new stylist

rollo tries to impress gisela

Yes, I am sorry to say… the majority of us would have to agree with Gisela’s reaction to Rollo’s attempt at chivalry, courtly manners or whatever it was he thought he was doing!

rollo's attempt to impress hilarious

Advice to Rollo: Pay close attention to who you take your visual clues and lessons from… the fashionista and foppish tailor is probably not your best bet as one to learn your courtly manners from. Pay more attention to Roland in the future- he may end up being a traitor and a player but he is a safer bet for moderate and appropriate social etiquette than the tailor!

be careful who you take lessons from

Speaking of Roland… even in the middle of  a serious and slightly difficult moment, he pulls off the gentlemanly overtures.

roland still the gentleman

Now look how that subtly played apology worked out for him!

roland and therese continue their game

 

Back in Kattegat, there were some very dark and serious moments. To ease my mind, I suppose I tried to find the dark humor…

I guess this pretty much rules out that majic shirt to protect from snakes

And, in Wessex, Judith did provide a startled moment of humor for me…

judith thinks she sees her athelstan...

 

Today’s ancestry and history lesson sponsored by the Gaunt family!

Ok, today’s ancestry and history lesson has nothing to do with the Viking era or the early Anglo-Saxons. No, today we are going to move forward a few centuries to some equally interesting family members. I have to admit that finding these ancestors has made me more appreciative of my more boring, average and mundane life! This week’s ancestry research has connected me to some families that I am not really sure I necessarily want to be descended from? I am beginning to realize why so many of my ancestors tried to stay on the edge of Royal and Nobility politics, why their fortunes may have took a down turn eventually and why they might have jumped at the chance to head for the wilds of America first chance they got!  I have found myself caught up in the web of Nobility and Royalty of the 1300s- a web of scheming, plotting and feuding families that would equal to anything earlier generations could have thought of!  After trying to sort through some of it, I will no longer complain about sifting through generation after generation of plain ordinary families who left little trace of their history.  

This family history update is brought to you by the Gaunt family… John of Gaunt and his rather illustrious family that includes some royalty, some nobility, some rather famous friends, plus assorted wives, and a  professional mistress who made good. 

blanche of lancaster and katherine swynford

I am not going to share the entire book that it would require to document events of this family. I just want to share the beginning of this family saga that will eventually drag us through the War of the Roses with ancestors on both sides of the long drawn out battle for the crown and the power of the English monarchy. A family saga that will come to include the Gaunt descendants, the Beaufort, Nevilles and the Percy families.

John of Gaunt is my 17x great grandfather by way of his daughter Joan Beaufort with Mistress turned wife, Katherine Swynford.

joan beaufort

Many people who have some interest in medieval history may be familiar with Katherine Swynford, one of the more famous or infamous mistresses who made good and managed to retire comfortably to wifedom… You may not realize that she was also a pre-cursor to the now somewhat familiar and infamous idea of the not so trusted Nanny idea.  She is also some proof that occasionally the role or career of long term mistress does pay off if one is willing to stick it out and ignore the bad press and scandal associated with the career. 

Let’s look at John of Gaunt first… he was no stranger to bad press and rumors himself! John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, (6 March 1340 – 3 February 1399) was a member of the House of Plantagenet, the third surviving son of KingEdward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. He was called “John of Gaunt” because he was born in Ghent, then rendered in English as Gaunt. When he became unpopular later in life, scurrilous rumours and lampoons circulated that he was actually the son of a Ghent butcher, perhaps because Edward III was not present at the birth. This story always drove him to fury. 

As a younger brother of Edward, Prince of Wales (Edward, the Black Prince), John exercised great influence over the English throne during the minority of Edward’s son, who became King Richard II, and the ensuing periods of political strife. Due to some generous land grants, John was one of the richest men in his era. He made an abortive attempt to enforce a claim to the Crown of Castile that came courtesy of his second wife Constance, who was an heir to the Castillian Kingdom, and for a time styled himself as such. So, let’s just say that John was a pretty catch even if he wasn’t in line for a crown! John of Gaunt’s legitimate male heirs, the Lancasters, include Kings Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI. His other legitimate descendants include his daughtersQueen Philippa of Portugal and Elizabeth, Duchess of Exeter (by his first wife Blanche of Lancaster), and Queen Catherine of Castile (by his second wifeConstance of Castile). John fathered five children outside marriage, one early in life by a lady-in-waiting to his mother, and four by Katherine Swynford, Gaunt’s long-term mistress and third wife.

john.gaunt.4

John was the fourth son of King Edward III of England. His first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, was also his third cousin, both as great-great-grandchildren of King Henry III. They married in 1359 at Reading Abbey as a part of the efforts of Edward III to arrange matches for his sons with wealthy heiresses. Upon the death of his father-in-law, the 1st Duke of Lancaster, in 1361, John received half his lands, the title “Earl of Lancaster”, and distinction as the greatest landowner in the north of England as heir of the Palatinate of Lancaster. He also became the 14th Baron of Halton and 11th Lord of Bowland. John inherited the rest of the Lancaster property when Blanche’s sister Maud, Countess of Leicester (married to William V, Count of Hainaut), died without issue on 10 April 1362.

John received the title “Duke of Lancaster” from his father on 13 November 1362. By then well established, he owned at least thirty castles and estates across England and France and maintained a household comparable in scale and organisation to that of a monarch. He owned land in almost every county in England, a patrimony that produced a net income of between £8,000 and £10,000 a year.

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

Since we are looking more at his personal life here, I am not going to go into great detail about his professional life as in his politics, or his battle accomplishments-or lack of them. Despite any other faults or errors he may have made, he was loyal to his King. When Edward III died in 1377 and John’s ten-year-old nephew succeeded as Richard II of England, John’s influence strengthened. However, mistrust remained, and some suspected him of wanting to seize the throne himself. John took pains to ensure that he never became associated with the opposition to Richard’s kingship.

blanche of lancaster

As I mentioned, we are looking more at his personal life here- his marriages, and affairs of the heart so to speak.  On 19 May 1359 at Reading Abbey, John married his third cousin, Blanche of Lancaster, daughter of Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster. The wealth she brought to the marriage was the foundation of John’s fortune. Blanche died on 12 September 1368 at Tutbury Castle, while her husband was overseas. Their son Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV of England, after the duchy of Lancaster was taken by Richard II upon John’s death while Henry was in exile. Their daughter Philippa became Queen of Portugal by marrying King John I of Portugal in 1387. All subsequent kings of Portugal were thus descended from John of Gaunt.

marriage_of_blanche_of_lancster_and_john_of_gaunt_1359

Jean Froissart described Blanche (following her death) as “jone et jolie” (“young and pretty”). Geoffrey Chaucer described “White” (the central figure in hisBook of the Duchess, believed to have been inspired by Blanche: see below) in such terms as “rody, fresh, and lyvely hewed”, her neck as “whyt, smothe, streght, and flat”, and her throat as “a round tour of yvoire”: she was “bothe fair and bright”, and Nature’s “cheef patron [pattern] of beautee”. Of course she was young and probably pretty… she was born in  March 1345, although the year 1347 has also been suggested. So, given that birth date she was all of 13 or 14 at the time! 

Gaunt and Blanche’s marriage is widely believed to have been happy, although there is little solid evidence for this. The assumption seems to be based on the fact that Gaunt chose to be buried with Blanche, despite his two subsequent marriages, and on the themes of love, devotion and grief expressed in Chaucer’s poem (see below) – a rather circular argument, as it is partly on the basis of these themes that the couple’s relationship is identified as the inspiration for the poem. Blanche and Gaunt had seven children, three of whom survived infancy.

Tomb_of_John_of_Gaunt_and_Blanche_of_Lancaster

Tomb_of_John_of_Gaunt_and_Blanche_of_Lancaster

Blanche died at Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire, on 12 September 1368 while her husband was overseas.  She was 23 years of age at the time of her death, although Froissart reported that she died aged about 22. It is believed that she may have died after contracting the Black Death which was rife in Europe at that time. Her funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London was preceded by a magnificent cortege attended by most of the upper nobility and clergy. John of Gaunt held annual commemorations of her death for the rest of his life and established a joint chantry foundation on his own death. 

It may have been for one of the anniversary commemorations of Blanche’s death that Geoffrey Chaucer, then a young squire and mostly unknown writer of court poetry, was commissioned to write what became The Book of the Duchess in her honour. Though Chaucer’s intentions can never be defined with absolute certainty, many believe that at least one of the aims of the poem was to make John of Gaunt see that his grief for his late wife had become excessive, and to prompt him to try to overcome it.

In 1374, six years after her death, John of Gaunt commissioned a double tomb for himself and Blanche from the mason Henry Yevele. The magnificent monument in the choir of St Paul’s was completed by Yevele in 1380, with the assistance of Thomas Wrek, having cost a total of £592. Gaunt himself died in 1399, and was laid to rest beside Blanche. The two effigies were notable for having their right hands joined. An adjacent chantry chapel was added between 1399 and 1403.

While John probably did love Blanche, and possibly grieved excessively for her, I have to think that he was not grieving too excessively for her… we have only to look at the appearance of Katherine Swynford in his household to give some proof of this. That is aside from the fact that he also married again in 1371 to Constance of Castile. 

Katherine was the daughter of Paon de Roet, a herald, and later knight, who was “probably christened as Gilles”. She had two sisters, Philippa and Isabel (also called Elizabeth) de Roet, and a brother, Walter. Isabel later became Canoness of the convent of St. Waudru’s, Mons, c. 1366. Katherine is generally held to have been his youngest child. However, Alison Weir argues that Philippa was the junior and that both were children of a second marriage. Katherine’s sister Philippa, a lady of Queen Philippa’s household, married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer

In about 1366, at St Clement Danes Church, Westminster, Katherine, aged sixteen or seventeen, contracted an advantageous marriage with “Hugh” Ottes Swynford, a Knight from the manor of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire, the son of Thomas Swynford by his marriage to Nicole Druel. She had the following children by him: Blanche (born 1 May 1367), Thomas (21 September 1368 – 1432), and possibly Margaret Swynford (born about 1369), later recorded as a nun of the prestigious Barking Abbey nominated by command of King Richard II.

Katherine became attached to the household of John of Gaunt as governess to his daughters Philippa of Lancaster and Elizabeth of Lancaster. The ailing duchess Blanche had Katherine’s daughter Blanche (her namesake) placed within her own daughters’ chambers and afforded the same luxuries as her daughters; additionally, John of Gaunt stood as godfather to the child.

Some time after Blanche’s death in 1368 and the birth of their first son in 1373, Katherine and John of Gaunt entered into a love affair that would produce four children for the couple, born out of wedlock but legitimized upon their parents’ eventual marriage; the adulterous relationship endured until 1381 when it was truncated out of political necessity and ruined Katherine’s reputation. On 13 January 1396, two years after the death of the Duke’s second wife, Infanta Constance of Castile, Katherine and John of Gaunt married in Lincoln Cathedral. Records of their marriage kept in the Tower and elsewhere list: ‘John of Ghaunt, Duke of Lancaster, married Katharine daughter of Guyon King of Armes in the time of K. Edward the 3, and Geffrey Chaucer her sister’.

On John of Gaunt’s death, Katherine became known as dowager Duchess of Lancaster. She outlived him by four years, dying on 10 May 1403, in her early fifties.

Coat of arms of Katherine Swynford as Duchess of Lancaster, after her marriage to John of Gaunt : three gold Catherine wheels (“roet” means “little wheel” in Old French) on a red field. The wheel emblem shows Katherine’s devotion to her patron saint, Catherine of Alexandria, also known as Saint Catherine of the Wheel,although there was once extant a copy of her seal’s impression, ca. 1377, showing her arms of three Catherine wheels of gold on a field Gules, a molet in fess point empaling the arms of Swynford (Birch’s Catalogue of Seals.
Children of Katherine and John of Gaunt:

The descendants of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt are significant in English and Scottish history. Their four children had been given the surname “Beaufort” and with the approval of King Richard II and the Pope were legitimated as adults by their parents’ marriage in 1396. Despite this, the Beauforts were barred from inheriting the throne of England by a clause in the legitimation act inserted by their half-brother, Henry IV, although modern scholarship disputes the authority of a monarch to alter an existing parliamentary statute on his own authority, without the further approval of Parliament. This provision was later revoked by Edward VI, placing Katherine’s descendants (including himself) back within the legitimate line of inheritance; the Tudor dynasty was directly descended from John and Katherine’s eldest child, John Beaufort, great-grandfather of Henry VII, who based his claim to the throne on his mother’s descent from John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III. John Beaufort also had a daughter named Joan Beaufort, who married James I of Scotland and thus was an ancestress of the House of Stuart.  John and Katherine’s daughter, Joan Beaufort, was grandmother of the English kings Edward IV and Richard III, the latter of whom Henry Tudor (thus becoming by conquest Henry VII) defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field; Henry’s claim was strengthened by marrying Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV. It was also through Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmoreland that the sixth queen of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr, descended.  John of Gaunt’s son — Katherine’s stepson Henry of Bolingbroke — became Henry IV after deposing Richard II (who was imprisoned and died in Pontefract Castle, where Katherine’s son, Thomas Swynford, was constable and is said to have starved Richard to death for his step-brother). John of Gaunt’s daughter by his first marriage to Blanche of Lancaster, Philippa of Lancaster, was great-great-grandmother to Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII and mother of Mary I of England. John of Gaunt’s child by his second wife Constance, Catherine (or Catalina), was great-grandmother of Catherine of Aragon as well.

We could just leave the story here and conclude that in this instance, the mistress wins… but does she win by default and longevity or is she truly the love of his life who waited patiently on the side lines until he could marry her? Was Blanche the one he truly loved as Chaucer would suggest in some of his works, and Katherine won by the fact that she survived and stuck it out for that ultimate final pay out of marriage and legitimacy for their children. At the time of their marriage in 1396, all of the children were adults and were legitimized by the Pope- which while they were already set upon high standing positions- would greatly benefit the rest of their futures. 

To put his relationships with both women in some perspective and reasoning, we can probably look at John’s character, his ideals and his friendship with one other person of importance, Geoffrey Chaucer.

One account and description of his appearance and character gives some clues to his mindset. 

John was dark-haired, with piercing eyes and a narrow, angular face. He was almost two metres tall (as his suit of armour at the Tower of London, “the Giant”, bears out). He was a superb judge of character, which attributed for his political finesse. And he was also an extremely proficient political negotiator. He did not enjoy battle, so was generally not successful in the field.

He had very strict ideas about chivalry, which he also expected from his knights. The pastimes he enjoyed were gaming (dice and chess) and hunting. He loved splendour but not pomp, was richer than the King (to quote R. Gablé: “as rich as a heathen caliph”), which was probably why he was in charge of the exchequer during Richard II’s reign. Those who disliked him would probably not have believed it, but he was a strongly loyal person. His far-sightedness and political expertise were held in great esteem abroad; but in England his true character was not appreciated, particularly by the people and the Church. It was one reason why he became very unhappy in later years, in spite of the fact that he was able to conceal his feelings in this (and many other respects). According to Candace Robb, he enjoyed a laugh but was quick to hold a grudge.

Blanche was the perfect lady. She was blonde, with an angelic appearance and had had an excellent upbringing. John loved and, above all, admired her greatly. He never really recovered from her death, although they could be said to have been companions rather than lovers. In an arranged marriage, one could probably consider a relationship of this kind a happy one.

Constanza was dark-haired and small. John evidently married her in a fit of euphoria (the throne of Castile) and under his father’s instructions. He was quick to see that he and Constanza would never see eye to eye, as they differed too greatly. She had a penchant for the Church, was fairly prude and, to John’s mind, too austere.

Katherine was a redhead and tall. She was, so to speak, the sunshine of his life. His mood brightened whenever she entered the room. When she was near him, or merely at the thought of her, his “troubled lot” became half as bad. Lists still exist of the many gifts he gave her (wine, money, estates etc.), which were intended to make her life easier and in consideration of what she had done for him. The fact that he could not marry her and love her officially troubled him greatly. In his view, their marriage was all too short. 

To put his relationships with both women in some perspective and reasoning, we can probably look at John’s character, his ideals and his friendship with one other person of importance, Geoffrey Chaucer. I have not made reference to John’s relationship or marriage to second wife Constance or Constanza because I think in all probability it was not any love, or lust match at all. It was an arranged marriage for political and economical reasons and did not play any part in his romantic notions or feelings for dead Blanche or living Katherine. It probably was more of a hindrance as he grew older and wanted to legitimize his relationship with Katherine for her benefit and for the benefit of their children. 

John believed in the idea of chivalry, honor and most probably that ideal of romantic courtly love. His marriage to Blanche was arranged but obviously there was some attraction and care for each other. After all, apparently she spent much of the short lived marriage pregnant. They were married for ten years and she bore seven children although only three survived. Their marriage was cut short by her untimely death at the fairly young age of 22. Added to the tragedy of her death was the fact that she died while he was away. Being the chivalrous man that he was and also given that he held some ideal or notion of that romantic love, he most likely would have indulged or dwelt on that idea of eternal love ever after.  As often happens with the death of someone close, the relationship takes on a more positive or glowing light than it may have actually been in reality. While they might have been relatively happy or at least not entirely miserable together, he may have put more outward mourning and grief over her death because of some feelings of guilt in not being there for her. Thus in death, she became that epitome, that idol of romantic love that the living could not compete with. Having went through a similar experience myself, I completely understand the adage that you can not compete with a dead lover.  No matter how he felt about Katherine, there would probably always have been a shadow or presence of  “perfection” Blanche

This could be what Chaucer was referencing and referring to when he suggested to John that he was over doing the grief stricken husband role and it was time to move on. He had already moved on partially but he needed to finally put closure to it all and give everyone a chance to go on as well. 

Geoffrey Chaucer was a life long friend of John Gaunt and most probably influenced him a great deal.  

Geoffrey_Chaucer_(17th_century portrait

Geoffrey Chaucer ( c. 1343 – 25 October 1400), known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of theMiddle Ages and was the first poet to be buried in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

While he achieved fame during his lifetime as an author, philosopher, and astronomer, composing a scientific treatise on the astrolabe for his ten-year-old son Lewis, Chaucer also maintained an active career in the civil service as a bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat. Among his many works, which include The Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame, the Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde. He is best known today for The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer was a crucial figure in developing the legitimacy of the vernacular, Middle English, at a time when the dominant literary languages in England were French and Latin.

Chaucer was a close friend of and served under the patronage of John of Gaunt, the wealthy Duke of Lancaster (and father of the future King of England). Near the end of their lives Lancaster and Chaucer became brothers-in-law. Chaucer married Philippa (Pan) de Roet in 1366, and Lancaster took his mistress of nearly 30 years, Katherine Swynford (de Roet), who was Philippa Chaucer’s sister, as his third wife in 1396. Although Philippa died c.1387, the men were bound as brothers and Lancaster’s children by Katherine—John, Henry, Thomas and Joan Beaufort—were Chaucer’s nephews and niece.

Chaucer_Duchess blanche of lancaster

Chaucer_Duchess blanche of lancaster

Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess, also known as the Deeth of Blaunche the Duchesse, was written in commemoration of Blanche of Lancaster, John of Gaunt’s first wife. The poem refers to John and Blanche in allegory as the narrator relates the tale of “A long castel with walles white/Be Seynt Johan, on a ryche hil” (1318–1319) who is mourning grievously after the death of his love, “And goode faire White she het/That was my lady name ryght” (948–949). The phrase “long castel” is a reference to Lancaster (also called “Loncastel” and “Longcastell”), “walles white” is thought to likely be an oblique reference to Blanche, “Seynt Johan” was John of Gaunt’s name-saint, and “ryche hil” is a reference to Richmond; these thinly veiled references reveal the identity of the grieving black knight of the poem as John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and Earl of Richmond. “White” is the English translation of the French word “blanche”, implying that the white lady was Blanche of Lancaster.

Believed to have been written in the 1390s, Chaucer’s short poem Fortune, is also inferred to directly reference Lancaster. “Chaucer as narrator” openly defies Fortune, proclaiming he has learned who his enemies are through her tyranny and deceit, and declares “my suffisaunce” (15) and that “over himself hath the maystrye” (14). Fortune, in turn, does not understand Chaucer’s harsh words to her for she believes she has been kind to him, claims that he does not know what she has in store for him in the future, but most importantly, “And eek thou hast thy beste frend alyve” (32, 40, 48). Chaucer retorts that “My frend maystow nat reven, blind goddesse” (50) and orders her to take away those who merely pretend to be his friends. Fortune turns her attention to three princes whom she implores to relieve Chaucer of his pain and “Preyeth his beste frend of his noblesse/That to som beter estat he may atteyne” (78–79). The three princes are believed to represent the dukes of Lancaster, York, andGloucester, and a portion of line 76, “as three of you or tweyne,” to refer to the ordinance of 1390 which specified that no royal gift could be authorised without the consent of at least two of the three dukes.  Most conspicuous in this short poem is the number of references to Chaucer’s “beste frend”. Fortune states three times in her response to the plaintiff, “And also, you still have your best friend alive” (32, 40, 48); she also references his “beste frend” in the envoy when appealing to his “noblesse” to help Chaucer to a higher estate. A fifth reference is made by “Chaucer as narrator” who rails atFortune that she shall not take his friend from him. While the envoy playfully hints to Lancaster that Chaucer would certainly appreciate a boost to his status or income, the poem Fortune distinctively shows his deep appreciation and affection for John of Gaunt.

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

 

On a final note, there are a few books related to Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt that you might find interesting. I have not read them as yet, but am suggesting them because I trust the author! I do plan to read more about her now. 

mistress of the monarchy by alison weir

Acclaimed author Alison Weir brings to life the extraordinary tale of Katherine Swynford, a royal mistress who became one of the most crucial figures in the history of Great Britain. Born in the mid-fourteenth century, Katherine de Roët was only twelve when she married Hugh Swynford, an impoverished knight. But her story had truly begun two years earlier, when she was appointed governess to the household of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of King Edward III. Widowed at twenty-one, Katherine became John’s mistress and then, after many twists of fortune, his bride in a scandalous marriage. Mistress of the Monarchy reveals a woman ahead of her time—making her own choices, flouting convention, and taking control of her own destiny. Indeed, without Katherine Swynford, the course of English history, perhaps even the world, would have been very different.

history of royal marriages and the monarchy by alison wier

George III is alleged to have married secretly, on 17th April, 1759, a Quakeress called Hannah Lightfoot, daughter of a Wapping shoemaker, who is said to have borne him three children. Documents relating to the alleged marriage, bearing the Prince’s signature, were impounded and examined in 1866 by the Attorney General. Learned opinion at the time leaned to the view that these documents were genuine. They were then placed in the Royal Archives at Windsor; in 1910, permission was refused a would-be author who asked to see them. If George III did make such a marriage when he was Prince of Wales, before the passing of the Royal Marriages Act in 1772, then his subsequent marriage to Queen Charlotte was bigamous, and every monarch of Britain since has been a usurper, the rightful heirs of George III being his children by Hannah Lightfoot, if they ever existed.’ From Britain’s Royal Families

Britain’s Royal Families is a unique reference book. It provides, for the first time in one volume, complete genealogical details of all members of the royal houses of England, Scotland and Great Britain – from 800AD to the present. Here is the vital biographical information relating not only to each monarch, but also to every member of their immediate family, from parents to grandchildren. Drawing on countless authorities, both ancient and modern, Alison Weir explores the royal family tree in unprecedented depth and provides a comprehensive guide to the heritage of today’s royal family.

 

 

 

 

A woman’s worth is in her… hands and her mind

As we read and view history now, there is much emphasis, attention and focus on the battles, the conquests and wars. We watch the historical docudramas and fantasies play out in books, movies and the small screen, and we make much of those warriors and their great or not so great feats. We give great attention, admiration and acclaim to those women throughout history who were involved in the battles- real or imagined. We are generally presented with an image of women of great beauty, tremendous courage or spirit, or we get a portrayal that puts the woman as down trodden, abused and of worthless status.  Women are seldom depicted, portrayed or given attention/acclaim for the other  status or contributions which the majority of them back them actually held or made. 

Anglo Saxon women stitch their way into history

Aelle and judith

 

We typically assume that a woman’s worth or value was set in stone. We have this impression that it was tied to the status she was born into, to her physical attributes, and to her ability to breed. In some ways, yes it was tied to those things, but there were other ways that she could be deemed of great value or asset to her family, her household, her village or her kingdom. These abilities would not necessarily bring her great fame or recognition in future generations but they would ensure that she survived and more important for us in those future generations, her family survived to create a next generation that probably benefited from her untold, unknown contributions. 

I am not going to downplay the fact that a woman’s life was difficult in the past, no matter what rank or status she was. Then again, a man’s life was  no less difficult during those times. Nobody had a truly easy time of it back then.  What I want to talk about today though, is the thought or idea that there were ways for a woman to achieve some status, some value and some degree of upward mobility in those early medieval or dark ages. Ways that were not dependent upon her family status or wealth, her appearance, her fighting ability/ spirit or her breeding capacity… because realistically, looks faded quickly in those times and they would have faded in some direct proportion to her success at breeding! In order to make it through those times and create a next generation, every survivor whether man, woman or child had to have some fighting spirit to a certain extent so that asset that we deem so noble and great now would have been viewed  in a context of  the woman’s value being based not on her fighting spirit or ability but just on the fact that she was not weak of body or mind. Her breeding ability would not be apparent at first appraisal or trade negotiation but would be more based on her family history of breeding and on her health. 

rollo and gisla

Of course for the wealthy noble families, a woman’s worth was directly based on her family’s wealth, bloodlines and connections to power bases. Her appearance had little to do with her value and neither did her fighting spirit other than she should have enough spirit in her to fight to survive and to keep her household intact and alive in event of a siege when her spouse was off fighting elsewhere. Every woman should have that attribute.

What I am looking at are those other attributes, abilities, talents or  that a woman could use to her advantage whether she be high ranking nobility, a mid level family member of some noble household, low born serf, or even a slave child. No, I am not going to touch on that one “profession” or “skill” that women have used to their advantage probably since the beginning of time!  I will leave that for some other discussion. There were any number of other ways and skills that a female could use to her benefit and advantage throughout time. Most of those abilities were learned skills that also involved some innate or gifted by God talent. These skills, as I’ve already mentioned, would not give them great fame or recognition other than in their personal sphere of influence. They were however, most often extremely necessary skills that would ensure the survival of the entire community in which they lived. These women possessed skills in areas that we give little thought or credit to now. They were the midwives, the healers, the cooks, the dairy maids, the spinners and weavers of cloth, and the needle workers.  Every woman was expected to have some fundamental knowledge and ability of these skills, even those most noble and Royal women. These were skills essential to keeping a household or community alive and then of thriving and prospering.   A woman who was talented or gifted in any of these skills was deemed of some high status or value to her community and as such was rewarded well for her skills so that she would remain within that community. These women were often well known through out their local areas and regions. Their skills were prized and their families, their Lords or owners and those above them would usually make effort to ensure that the women were well compensated or cared for, well treated, healthy and loyal to their benefactors. Much as a man might be prized or valued for his fighting abilities, his horsemanship, his metal working, woodworking or seamanship, these women were looked at as valued commodities. Their value was tied to their skill or their ability in a certain area that had nothing to do with Noble lineage, appearance or breeding capacity.  Yet, while the men with certain skills could go on to make names and recognition for themselves, be rewarded with monetary wealth, land grants or positions that would eventually bring them to Noble status, the women were largely forgotten and became just a backdrop for the fabric and tapestry of history that they helped to create.  They might become wives of those men, they might gain entry to some Noble status by being a part of a much coveted inner circle of women but for the most part their names, their lives and their contributions are long forgotten and generally passed off as unimportant in the great events of history. We will never know who they were, but we can see remnants and reminders of those unknown women, those untold stories even today as we view some of what they created and left as their communal identity.

siggy tries to help Lagertha

The women that I want to give credit to and shed some light on are those women who so often receive little or no attention acclaim for their contributions. These are those women who, so early in history, picked up a needle and thread, and began to not just clothe the rest of us but to leave a piece of themselves and their story in everything they sewed. These are the women we give no thought to, that are relegated to the backdrop of history. These women and their creations in that hidden, protected and shrouded space of a women’s bower  solar, or even the confines of a nunnery  are considered or deemed of little interest or importance in a story. Their creations, their accomplishments and their life’s work are portrayed as insignificant, mundane, and of no real consequence or value… after all it was just women’s work? It was often just women’s work, skill and efforts that kept an injured bleeding man alive after an accident or a battle. Caring for the wounded was part of a woman’s work and quite often, a woman who had great skill with a needle would be called upon to stitch up wounds as well. 

medieval women sewing 3

I want to look a bit at those unknown women, the history of their skill or art and give you a perspective on how such a talent might have allowed even the lowest born or captured slave girl an opportunity to rise above her circumstances. I am not going to delve into the entire history of sewing or stitching here. I want to put into some perspective or relation to the early medieval history of the Viking era and forward from that.  The reason I put it in relation to the Viking era is that the type of stitching that the Anglo-Saxon women became so recognized and renowned for is their embroidery skills that may have had origins in early Danish needle work. I put it in relation to slave girls because many of the girls who were taken and sold into slavery by early Viking raiders were children of farmsteads and villages of many various places. They were not necessarily the poorest, untrained or unskilled lowest forms of humanity that we would imagine or picture them as. Girl children were generally taught the basics of stitchery from their earliest years and would have carried that knowledge or skill with them where ever they went in the future. Many children were sold as household slaves to families that could afford that luxury and not all of them were sorely abused but actually valued as some sort of asset by the household.  Slaves were a costly investment, a valuable asset, and it would make little sense to abuse them and completely destroy their value.  Even in the early Saxon times of England, slavery was a somewhat common circumstance. 

Take for example, young Uhtred and his friend Brida… they were initially slave children but became part of the family…

Uhtred with his medallion

Brida, however, was not a girl who showed much interest or talent in stitchery!

brida's humor

Rather than seeing the often worst case scenario of a slave child (I am in no way advocating or promoting slavery in any way!) Try to see the possibility or scenario in which a child sold or captured into a slave situation is not quite so misused or abused but becomes in some way, a part of that household- granted a lowest member but still, a valuable working asset to it… Imagine a girl child who has some rudimentary knowledge or skill and displays some interest and talent in that said skill.  The art of stitchery was not one which everyone had skill, talent or patience for. It also took a great deal of time and many hands involved to create any finished product. A child who displayed any skill or talent for it would immediately rise in value to the person or family they were attached to. Any small girl slave who showed such talent would probably be looked on favorably, treated well and further trained in this art. In this way, depending on her skill and talent, she might eventually be rewarded for her services and her loyalty to the household. This young girl who started as slave in the household or community might feasibly be rewarded with her freedom and become a valued member of the larger community. She had a God given gift or talent that she used to her benefit and advantage, improving her circumstances. Perhaps she then married a skilled member of the community whose ability or skill was also valued. Her needle skills would have moved her to a status that allowed or enabled her to be worthy of such a man within that society and as such a valued couple, their children would be of better circumstance or status. They train their children in their skills and the children also inherit their talents, which makes them even more valuable in this system of society… and within a few generations, any slave status is for the most part forgotten other than in some dark family history or in some reference to lowly beginnings leading to good fortunes. Future generations might use these beginnings in order to make themselves look better to those might have some cause to rebel against them or resent their present status. It might be used also as a reminder to family members not to forget their own more humble beginnings when relating to the serfs, peasants or slaves now under them.

judith trying to remain calm

I mentioned earlier the connection between the Anglo-Saxon needle work and art and that of Scandinavia. The history of needle work goes back to the earliest beginnings of time and every culture or society had knowledge and skill of it. From those earliest beginnings of just sewing a seam together to create a functional piece of clothing became an art form that even those earliest of people used to decorate and embellish their clothing. The basics of those hand sewn stitches have remained unchanged to this day.  The art of embroidery has been found worldwide and several early examples have been found. Works in China have been dated to the Warring States period (5th-3rd century BC).  In a garment from Migration period Sweden, roughly 300–700 AD, the edges of bands of trimming are reinforced with running stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, tailor’s buttonhole stitch, and whipstitching, but it is uncertain whether this work simply reinforced the seams or should be interpreted as decorative embroidery.   It is during the mid 9th century with the intermixing of Scandinavian or Viking culture and the Anglo-Saxon culture that we see the beginnings of the needle work art that the Anglo-Saxons would become so recognized for.  The Anglo-Saxons may have had already begun this process and progress in the artwork but it after the arrival of the Scandinavians that we see tangible evidence of their work. It was probably during these times too that the variations in stitching from Scandinavia, Francia and other places all began to merge together in the sewing rooms of once more isolated English kingdoms. It was during this time period that the women of Anglo-Saxon England- the ones who did the majority of  any sewing back in this time- began to be more exposed to so many other variations of patterns, materials, textiles and threads of other far off places and cultures. The Vikings brought with them all of those other varied exposures to the world and when they began to settle in Anglo-Saxon, so did all of those cultural experiences. 

I am going to focus on the needle art of embroidery here, which is what the Anglo-Saxons became most renowned for.Normally we tend to think of embroidery as smaller stitched designs on clothing, pillows, towels. We don’t envision this work on a large wall hanging scale. When we think of large scale designs and stitching we think of tapestries.  There is a difference between the tapestry art and the hand sewn needle work known as embroidery. The term tapestry generally refers to weaving on a loom and is most often thought of in terms of heavier wall hangings or rugs. The tapestry did not reach a level of high point, widespread availability or use in Europe until about the 13th century. Prior to this, the wall hangings would have been the hand stitched embroidered creations that women would work together on as a group, often requiring years to complete. 

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

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

During these dark  daunting early centuries that were filled with fear, bloodshed, battle, death and destruction all around them, women would take solace or possibly find some sort of peace in one activity that allowed them to escape for a time into a realm of another place… one where they could create their own world. In a world so controlled and dominated by men, this activity became one of the few things that they could have complete control over.  The women took a necessary, mundane chore of sewing and turned it into a creative art form that we remain in awe of to this day.  When we look at examples left of their work today, we seldom think of the process that went into their creations back then. We seldom give thought to the conditions they worked in to create these pieces of art that often they considered as just an adornment or embellishment to add some color or variety to their otherwise plain and similar garments. 

judith and her cross 2

judith's cross to bear

judith’s cross to bear

This type of hand stitching required a great deal of skill as well as keen eyesight, fine motor abilities, hand to eye coordination, extreme patience along with such abilities as being able to differentiate between colors and patterns. In addition to these skills, there must be one involved who was talented and skilled at drawing out a pattern with a piece of charcoal on to a piece of material because that is where the entire process began. Before a woman or group of them could begin the stitching process, the background material had to be prepared for them. In our current day, we can easily find almost any pattern and transfer it to a background. In their day, the transfer process was just as involved and detailed as the sewing process.  It required a finely skilled and talented artist to draw out the idea with the charcoal which was then sewn over and expanded upon by the sewers.

If the woman in charge of the project, or whose idea the project was could not draw, and most of them could not- just as most of can not now- she would have to find someone who could put her idea or concept on cloth for her. This would take some of the control out of her hands and put her at a slight disadvantage but she could generally regain artistic control once the initial pattern or design was set for her. If it was a small project such embellishing a personal gown or a tunic, she could and would most likely work on it alone. If were something larger, say a wall hanging, bed covering or draperies, it would probably be worked on by a group of women. Often these larger projects would be a group involvement from beginning to end. The women would decide together what image or design they wanted to create, they would all be included in overseeing the drawing of the design and they would stitch it as a group effort… much like in future generations women would work on a quilt together. These group projects might be designed for a wall of a great hall that they were all familiar with as visitors or residents. It could be a done as a special gift from the group of women in honor of a Wedding, or some other celebration or commemoration, or in many cases it might be created as a gift or donation to the Church.  Of the few remaining pieces of work, the majority are church finery or vestments. 

There was another crucial requirement and note of importance as well… the cost involved in the materials.  The materials, threads and needles were dearly expensive back then. Great caution and care were taken to ensure that none of these items would be wasted, misused or otherwise damaged by one who was not proven to be capable, experienced or talented in this skill.  Most any woman, be she lowly peasant serf woman, warrior shieldmaiden, or common farm wife could sew a basic seam together, manage to mend a rip or tear, or even place a few simple decorative stitches upon a garment but few women had the time,  the skill or creative talent to do much more than that.

vikings_gallery_1_3-P lagertha vikings_gallery_1_5-P lagertha and daughter gyda and lagertha

Imagine for a few moments, one of your favorite small screen shieldmaidens, Lagertha of Vikings Saga… Look at her and her family. When she was a young farm wife and Mother, she managed to adequately clothe them all but realistically she did not have time to  spend on decorating their garments lavishly, nor did she probably have the creative skill necessary or the keen interest in it. She accomplished the basics and that was about it.

katheryn-winnick-stars-as-shield-maiden-lagertha-in-history-channels-vikings

lagertha caught in middle of father and son

lagertha caught in middle of father and son

lagertha and her shieldmaidens

In more recent years, she has spent most of her time in warrior mode but she does show that she appreciates the finery of much more intricately and well detailed sewing. Somewhere in Hedeby, in England or in Francia, there have been women involved in the hand stitching of her dresses. Those women have most probably been well compensated in some way for their efforts. If they did not receive some benefit or reward for this time consuming work, they most likely would not continue to do it. You will never know anything about these women but when you see their work, you will appreciate it and remark upon it’s quality and fineness. What is important for you to keep in mind when you look around you in the various settings of the time is that every single piece of clothing, every wall hanging, table cover, blanket or drapery hanging was sewn by hand!

silence as judith tries to find courage to tell aethelwulf her condition

silence as judith tries to find courage to tell aethelwulf her condition

in wessex judith has given birth to a son

 Another example would be the Lady Judith and the ladies of her small court… Judith may have some skill, talent and inclination towards this activity but it is highly doubtful that she has time to devote towards this effort, what with other responsibilities she might have. What Judith would do is have this group of ladies in her service devote time to these endeavors.  In choosing her ladies, she would of course first have to choose women of high rank and noble status but should she come across a young girl or woman with exceptional skill but not status, she could always find ways to fit such a talented one into her circle- even if it is on the edge of it and all of the household members know that the woman is there only for her skills. For the woman to be included in any way would be a step up for her, one that if she has any common sense or reasoning at all, she will understand the benefits and advantages of.  This young woman may have begun her life in the village and found ways to display her innate talent in the decoration of her own clothes, those of her family. Seeing her talent, neighbors and others in the village might have bartered or traded with her to adorn their garments as well… her skills would eventually come to the notice of those of importance and thus she would gain the entry or footing within or around the nobility for herself and her family. Will she ever reach far enough up to attain some form of noble status? Probably not, but she will have raised her family to another level up,  achieved some added level of comfort and security for them so she has proven her worth and value just by that accomplishment. 

ragnar's christian conversion is marched through the streets of paris for all to see and celebrate

my lady judith you have been found guilty of adultery

During the 800s  the Church was becoming a much more powerful force to be reckoned within England,  people were becoming increasingly devout and the Church would take advantage of this religious devotion. Noblewomen would begin to concentrate much of their creative talents in the needle work art to show their religious devotion to the Church. The women would spend vast amounts of time and energy on creating master pieces of hand stitched artwork for the adornment of the Church, and it’s priests. These gifts were not just donations to show the family’s devotion.  It is during this time that the quality and skills of these devout Anglo-Saxon women began to be recognized throughout the Church’s broad sphere of influence. The Church and Priests praised these works, appreciated them and set a great deal of worth or value on them. The families- the women were well aware of the value and would use the gifts as bargaining tools to garner favor with the Priests. A donation of such a finely worked altar cloth, wall hanging or even clothing item to the Priest or Bishop could go a long way in being pardoned or forgiven for some transgression or in a favor/request being approved. 

A great many women during this time also sought solace and sanctuary within the Church’s cloistered walls. As the wars and battles took over their lands and their lives, many women found refuge in the cloistered and protected walls of the Nunneries and Convents. Some of course were sent there as punishments by husbands or families.

 i-am-a-bride-of-christ-i-can-not-show-my-face-to-any-man-i-am-not-any-man-i-am-king-ecbert


i-am-a-bride-of-christ-i-can-not-show-my-face-to-any-man-i-am-not-any-man-i-am-king-ecbert

Other young girls were given to the Church by their families as a show of the family’s devotion or patronage of the Church.  And, yet other young girls and women sought out the sanctuary willingly for varying reasons ranging from true devotion and commitment to having no where else to go.  If one had no where else to go, the Church was usually willing to take them in, provide for them and hopefully train them for a life devoted to God’s calling.  Many of these young women were taught the needle work skills and if they showed talent for it, they would continue their training in the art. The most talented of these women would go on to spend their lives devoted not so much to the Church but more in some devotion to their craft, their art.  These women benefited from the seclusion of the Church sanctuary that allowed and enabled them to completely focus on their creativity without having to concern themselves with outside distractions such as husbands or breeding a new generation. They were still faced with the battles that would often end up taking place within their confines, the destruction and decimation that took place all around them, but in many ways they were safer and better off within the holy walls than they would have been outside of them.  

You might ask or wonder how the women who resided within the cloistered walls of a nunnery, devoted their lives to God and to their art form would be considered of value or worth to their family’s future. Granted, these women would not have been responsible for creating a next generation but often times they were directly responsible for a next generation benefiting from their efforts or contributions. Within these holy walls, these women were often looked upon with great favor and praise from those in higher levels of power such as Bishops and Cardinals. Their talents were highly valued and they often rose in status or position of their own type of power within the constraints of the convent. As a result of their talents and  creations, their order or Nunnery would rise in acclaim and fame… the women may not have needed or desired any material wealth or gain, but they might find themselves in positions to ask for some boon or favor for family outside those walls. These women were not above or beyond bartering, bargaining and negotiating for rewards that might help their families… in fact they were often quite good at it. In some ways it was expected of them by their families- it was part of the reason for giving a child to God. This child was often given to the Church with some expectation that the child would rise in status there and become the family’s inside connection to the Church’s power base. During the early medieval times, the women of the Nunneries were a power base that was extremely important and influential. 

During the dangerous centuries, the consecrated life became identified more exclusively with monasticism. Nuns and monks clustered in large houses organized according to a variety of rules that emphasized discipline and routine. The day was divided into segments for sleeping, eating together, performing manual labor, and always, chanting the office in a perennial outpouring of praise to God. Women responded in great numbers to the attraction of this life. They planted new communities on the frontiers of the Christian world, contributing to the process of converting barbarian tribes.

Queens and noble women who inherited great wealth, and could, according to the laws of the Germanic peoples, deploy that wealth as they saw fit, established houses for as many as two hundred women. Managing land and legally presiding over the inhabitants, these great abbesses were intrinsic components of the new feudal ruling class. They sent troops to war, held court, and enjoyed all the rights of noble men. Each monastery stood autonomous (though increasingly these became standardized under the Benedictine Rule). From the sixth through the tenth centuries, abbesses generally came from local ruling families, and they educated young women and helped to preserve the intellectual heritage of the ancient world. The original literary work of some of these nuns survives, most notably the histories, poetry, and drama of Hroswitha, a tenth-century Saxon nun whose learning may even have extended to some knowledge of Greek.

http://www.ctlibrary.com/ch/1991/issue30/3019.html

 

Sewing for a household or a community was time consuming chore that required a number of women and hands to complete the task. Those who owned large landholdings were responsible for a great many people under them. Part of this responsibility including feeding and clothing all of those workers that were part of the extended household or holding. A responsible Lord would provide sets of basic clothing for his underlings at least once a year. The way one’s workers looked directly reflected on the Lord… a poorly clothed or fed worker showed a lacking on the part of the Lord. If you were to visit a holding where the workers were dirty, poorly dressed and fed, and thus unhappy, you would take notice of that and remember it… If you were of equal or higher standing, you might not be inclined to visit this holding again and you might also be somewhat less than favorable in your dealings with this land holder. If one of these poor workers were for some reason leave this holding (could you blame them?) and end up seeking service at your holding, you might take them in and use them to your advantage- in finding out more about what is going on at that place. 

 

Because the chore of sewing was such a major effort and undertaking, entire rooms or floor of a residence might be set aside for it’s purpose. This space may have been in close proximity to the Lady’s personal chambers or even connected to it. It did need to be a space of good lighting though and as much as possible would have been situated with windows to help with the lighting.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

1400660855p23crypt-c-jigsawdesign-publishingandpetersmith medieval sewing room

A kind of hierarchy also developed within this domain of women. Less skilled or capable women would be assigned more menial tasks as cutting and sewing basic garments for the underlings- although at times, every woman would participate in this task in order to get it done in time to hand out the garments. Women with a bit more skill were allowed involvement in sewing for higher ranking family members and such… and finally the most  skilled and talented women would form the most highly prized and coveted inner group that did the fine stitching under the direct supervision of the Lady or Matron of the holding. Even if such a woman was not so talented in this area, she was still in charge and although she did not have talent, she would have a keen eye for the finished product and it’s quality. She might appoint one of her ladies that were more talented in the art to be her supervisor in this area.  We have already discussed how a young girl or woman might gain entry to this rather hidden space. Once she gained her entry based on her talent and hand skills, she must also be intelligent enough to maneuver her way through this hierarchy of women. She would not be well accepted, and she would find resentments against her from some of these women. This inner circle was a highly coveted place to be because it put them in close proximity and ear of the Lady. They could use this position to influence the Lady and possibly her husband. If they could gain much favor with the Lady, they could reap added benefits for their own families. No matter how talented a young woman was, she would not go far or succeed in this space if she did not have some wits about her!  This inner sewing sanctuary was far more than just women sewing- it was about women vying for their own power and it probably would have been just as dangerous in that secluded sanctuary as it was out on the battle field. At least on the battle field, the fighting was out in the open and you could determine your enemies… in this women’s battle field, the enemies could be well hidden and disguised as your friend- a friend who might be willing to stab you in the back if it meant favor or advantage for her over you. Make no mistake, a woman intent on power can be far more of a threat than a man with a sword!

We have looked at the history, the importance, the Church’s involvement in this art form and I hope that I have shown how a woman’s innate God gifted talent for this handiwork or craft of stitchery could be considered as her worth or value. I think that I have shown too, that besides her talent or skill, she must also have a keen intelligent and creative  mind in order to use this skill or talent to her advantage and benefit. Without the fortitude to think ahead, think on her feet, use the common sense and reasoning that God also gave her, this woman’s talent means little or nothing. It would take the talent and the keen mind working together for a woman to use this gift as her value, her worth and move her family upwards to some better position in life. 

I have also mentioned the fact that while these women will ever remain unknown and most of their accomplishment are long destroyed and forgotten about, there are still remnants and reminders of their creative talents with us today. These unknown women were the creators of such historically important works as this… 

This piece of embroidered stitching is one of the most important remnants left to us. It is the Bayeux Tapestry which details the events of William the Conqueror and the battle of Hasting. 

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

bayeux tapestry bayeux tapestry2 bayeux tapestry7

There is a great deal of mystery and controversy over it’s origins and creation but there is a general consensus that it was made in England and created in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Some theories and trains of thought propose that is was commissioned by Bishop Odo.

Scholarly analysis in the 20th century concluded it was probably commissioned by William’s half-brother, Bishop Odo, who, after the Conquest, became Earl of Kent and, when William was absent in Normandy, regent of England.

The reasons for the Odo commission theory include: 1) three of the bishop’s followers mentioned in the Domesday Book appear on the tapestry; 2) it was found in Bayeux Cathedral, built by Odo; and 3) it may have been commissioned at the same time as the cathedral’s construction in the 1070s, possibly completed by 1077 in time for display on the cathedral’s dedication.

Assuming Odo commissioned the tapestry, it was probably designed and constructed in England by Anglo-Saxon artists (Odo’s main power base being by then in Kent); the Latin text contains hints of Anglo-Saxon; other embroideries originate from England at this time; and the vegetable dyes can be found in cloth traditionally woven there. Howard B. Clarke has proposed that the designer of the tapestry was Scolland, the abbot of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, because of his previous position as head of the scriptorium at Mont Saint-Michel (famed for its illumination), his travels to Trajan’s Column, and his connections to Wadard and Vital, two individuals identified in the tapestry. The actual physical work of stitching was most likely undertaken by female seamsters. Anglo-Saxon needlework of the more detailed type known as Opus Anglicanum was famous across Europe. It was perhaps commissioned for display in the hall of his palace and then bequeathed to the cathedral he built, following the pattern of the documented but lost hanging of Byrhtnoth.

Another thought or speculation is that King Edward’s wife Edith of Wessex had some involvement in it’s creation. After the events at Hastings, Edith was the sole remaining senior member of the Godwin family to survive the Norman conquest on English soil, the sons of Harold having fled to Ireland. She remained alive until 1075 and lived in seclusion but was paid all due respect by William. She died at Winchester on 18 December 1075.  Matthew Parisrecords a tradition that her death brought an end to an illness from which she had been suffering at some length. She was buried together with her husband in Westminster Abbey and her funeral was arranged by William. The northern author of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Manuscript D, reports:

Edith the Lady died seven nights before Christmas in Winchester, she was King Edward’s wife, and the king had her brought to Westminster with great honour and laid her near King Edward, her lord.

Edith was brought up at Wilton Abbey. She was an educated woman who spoke several languages, skills she probably acquired at Wilton. She remained attached to it, and in later years rebuilt its church.  Her niece, Gunhild of Wessex, would also be educated at Wilton.

The Vita Edwardi emphasised her piety. She helped Giso, the Bishop of Wells, secure the endowments of his see, and gave lands to Abingdon Abbey, but the monks of Evesham alleged that she had the relics of many monasteries brought to Gloucester so that she could select the best for herself. When Gervin, abbot of Saint-Riquier, who was visiting the English court, rejected her kiss of greeting, she took offence. Edward reproved her, and she accepted the rebuff, even going on to urge English churchmen not to kiss women, although they did not object to the custom.

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

Some of the mysteries surrounding the tapestry would point to the idea or thought that Edith could have had some connection to it’s creation. First of all, Edith maintained close connections to the Church and it’s power base throughout her life. She was well known as a pious and devout woman loyal to the Church and it’s leaders. She probably did have some connection or knowing of Bishop Odo and perhaps this creation was a sort of co-sponsored project.  Harold is shown as brave and his soldiers are not belittled. Throughout, William is described as “dux” (duke) whereas Harold, also called dux up to his coronation, is subsequently called “rex” (king). The fact that the narrative extensively covers Harold’s activities in Normandy (in 1064) indicates that the intention was to show a strong relationship between that expedition and the Norman Conquest starting two years later. It is for this reason that the tapestry is generally seen by modern scholars as an apologia for the Norman Conquest. Certainly no one was going to come out and renounce William’s actions, not even the Church was willing to do that. But, this project or creation could have been seen or meant in an underlying way to make some appeasement for the events.

Edith would have maintained some strong connections and influences with the various convents and may have been responsible for setting up and arranging for the stitchery do be done at certain selected ones. This would have been looked at as a great favor and honor to a convent selected to do such work.  Only convents with the most skilled and talented sewers would have been selected for this honor. 

The artistic context of the work could also lead back to Edith. Edith was a child of some Danish heritage and would have most likely learned some Danish variations of stitchery during her youth. Many of the Convents made use of these variations as well, showing the Danish influences in Anglo-Saxon sewing.  Tapestry fragments have been found in Scandinavia dating from the ninth century and it is thought that Norman and Anglo-Saxon embroidery developed from this sort of work. Examples are to be found in the grave goods of the Oseberg ship and the Överhogdal tapestries.

A monastic text from Ely, the Liber Eliensis, mentions a woven narrative wall-hanging commemorating the deeds of Byrhtnoth, killed in 991. Wall-hangings were common by the tenth century with English and Norman texts particularly commending the skill of Anglo-Saxon seamstresses. Mural paintings imitating draperies still exist in France and Italy and there are twelfth century mentions of other wall-hangings in Normandy and France. A poem by Baldric of Dol might even be describing the Bayeux Tapestry itself.  Therefore, the Bayeux Tapestry was not unique at the time it was created—rather it is remarkable for being the sole surviving example of Middle Ages’ narrative needlework.

On a final note to this discussion, I just want to leave you with some examples of what these Anglo-Saxon women locked away in their bowers and their nunneries were responsible for eventually creating.  Opus Anglicanum or English work is fine needlework of Medieval England done for ecclesiastical or secular use on clothing, hangings or other textiles, often using gold and silver threads on rich velvet or linen grounds. Such English embroidery was in great demand across Europe, particularly from the late 12th to mid-14th centuries and was a luxury product often used for diplomatic gifts. Their beginning of the art form in the 800s culminated in the more famous stitched master pieces of later years.

Some earliest remains of Anglo-Saxon needle work during 8th and 9th centuries

Anglo -Saxon Embroidery - A Fragment of the Maaseik

Anglo -Saxon Embroidery – A Fragment of the Maaseik

cuthburt_maniple_c909

cuthburt_maniple_c909

An example of Viking era needle work in 10th century. The original clothing items were found in the Mammen graves.

The so called Mammen finds date from the late 10th Century. The main find was the grave of what appears to be a high ranking man. He was dressed in several layers of woollen fabric (2/1 twill), most of which was decorated in some way.

The fragments contained several motifs worked in stem stitch. It is impossible to tell the original colours of the fabrics and the threads used to embroider them, as they are all now a dark brown colour (altered by elements in the soil in which they were found). However, it is possible that they were once brightly coloured.

mammen_full_outfit Viking example of Viking stitchery in 10th century

mammen_full_outfit Viking example of Viking stitchery in 10th century

http://medieval.webcon.net.au/extant_mammen.html

 

opus anglicanum

opus anglicanum

anglo-saxon examples of needle work

anglo-saxon examples of needle work

This example shows the use of beadwork within the needle art 

medieval stitchery with beadwork

This is an example of the needle work art as it progressed into the later 13th and 14th centuries.

Butlerbowden_cope later example of opus anglicum about 1330

Butlerbowden_cope later example of opus anglicum about 1330

Finally, this is an example of the size of some of the creations and present day efforts to maintain and repair the works as much as possible without interfering with the original design.

Alice-Cole-Conserving-a-Cope

Alice-Cole-Conserving-a-Cope

After reading all of this, I only hope that you come to have a better appreciation and understanding of the idea that a Woman’s worth and value could indeed be in her hands and her mind!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Rollo and Poppa to the De Senlis family

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Poppa of Bayeux

Poppa of Bayeux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The De Senlis connection

 

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

Simon de Senlis

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

Simon DeSenlis

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

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

Simon 1st De Liz Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Holy Sepulchre 1 Holy_Sepulchre_Cambridge 2 Northampton-Holy Sepulchre

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

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

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

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

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

BIRTH 1018 Senlis, Oise, Picardy, France

DEATH 1080 Senlis, Normandy, France

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

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

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

 800px-Northampton_Castle_Bastion 800px-Postern_Gate_of_Northampton_Castle_2013 Northampton_Castle_Postern

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

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

Senlis ruins

Senlis ruins

Senlis Cathedral

Senlis Cathedral

Senlis2

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

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

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

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

Another version gives Simon a somewhat different  parentage and ancestry.

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

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

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

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

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

Spouses / Children:
Ermengarde

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

 Landri of Senlis, knight, lord of Chantilly Ermenonville

  • Married:
  • Died: Between 1070 and 1080

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

   Marriage Information:

Landry married Ermengarde.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

map of ancient france

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

france

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

Picardie_adm

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

Senlis on map with Rouen and Paris

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

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

Roland's role in the story

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

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

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

and here again we have a long pause on Roland

and here again we have a long pause on Roland

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

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

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

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

Roland's story

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

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

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