22 November 2009

1065: Revolt against Earl Tostig of Northumbria

A huge and efficiently-organised Northumbrian revolt arose directly against earl Tostig's rule, led by powerful thegns from Yorkshire, Mercia and Northumbria, but earl Tostig himself was in Wiltshire hunting with Harold...coincidence?

Had Harold covertly colluded with this concerted, huge rising of powerful thegns (who as a feuding earldom, had never before allied themselves together) as Tostig later accused Harold of, in 'revenge' for Tostig's suspected collusion in Gruffydd ab Llewelyn's attacks on Harold's own castle at Portskewet years before? 
Did Harold willingly sacrifice his brother for a secure northern alliance?

Tostig’s personal piety- and his Flemish wife Judith’s are beyond doubt. They had bestowed lavish gifts upon the church of St Cuthbert (also York, Beverley, Hexham and Ripon?).
Judith commissioned the Gospels of Countess Judith (now in Pierpont Morgan library in New York), written by English scribes and artists to record her generosity. This contained exquisite illuminations by the gifted artists that flourished in pre-1066 England.

Tostig had spent much of his early ten-year tenure establishing a close relationship with the thegns and churchmen of the northern earldom. He also made the wise decision of using a local man, Copsi, as his deputy. 

The Northern noble’s grievances against Tostig were;-

·        Tostig’s “enormous taxes which he had unjustly levied upon Northumbria”  These were much higher under him than traditionally in Wessex- not normal, as southern king’s wanted to sweeten the less agriculturally fertile and less financially wealthy North (for compliance) with lower taxes. Tostig had thus angered all of tax-paying Northumbria.
·        Due to Tostig’s retainer’s sacrilege, he had alienated himself from the community of St Cuthbert,
·        He had ruled too harshly and also skimmed off some profit from his treacherous dealings (“He oppressed the nobles with the heavy yoke of his rule because of their deeds…and was accused of punishing wrong-doers more from a wish to confiscate their property than for love of justice”) But then, ‘severe’ justice could simply mean efficient rule that stopped nobles guilty of the same crimes from benefiting?
·        The rebels demanded “a return to the laws of Canute”  which were now seen as a yardstick for good and just government.

In his later years, however, it seems he spent too much time attending to the affairs of King Edward, and left the running of Northumberland to his deputy Copsig ( lowly Yorkshire thegn) and secured by his Huscarl bodyguard. He had also, after the Welsh campaign, become drawn into local politics. 

The involvement in local Northumbrian noble blood feuds, which until then he had avoided, came to a head when he had two notable thegns, Gamal Ormson and Ulf Dolfinson, killed in his own chamber whilst they were under a safe conduct.
Tosti was also said to be behind the murder of Gospatric Uhtredson  (youngest son of the slain Uhtred) at the court of King Edward(Xmas 64) alledgedly with sister Queen Edith's connivance, or orders? 

Tosti had in his entourage another Gospatrick (Maldredson), a kinsman of King Edward and King Malcolm of Scots.
This Gospatric, who had acted valiantly during an attack on Tosti's party whilst returning from a visit to Rome in 1061/2, was the head of a rival family to that of his namesake.
Both were descendants of Ealdorman Waltheof of Northumberland (not the later Waltheof- the son of Earl Siward of Northumberland, though he was related). These killings were used as the main reason by the northern thegns when they rebelled. 

Tostig had also arrested a local brigand, Aldan-Hamel and imprisoned him at Durham, but he escaped and fled to the sanctuary of St Cuthbert’s church. Tostig’s retainers chased him and paused. Their leader, Barcwith, shouted out in anger  to break down the doors, and was about to do so when he was struck down by “an arrow from on high” He died in agony 3 days later.
What horrified the Northumbrians was the sacrilege- a grave crime and in English eyes the kind of thing that the Scottish raiders did.

But there was another underlying reason: money.
The northern shires had been subjected to a lower tax regime than those in the south. Tosti made the mistake of trying to redress this anomaly. The result was a revolt that involved 'all the thegns of Yorkshire' so the various versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tell us.
The reason for Tosti increasing the tax yield may well have been his need to refurbish his coffers after the expense of the joint 1063 Welsh Campaign with Harold, against Welsh 'king' Gruffydd ab Llewelyn (the Earl kept 1/3 of the take, the king got the rest).
Tosti may well have felt that he would be able to weather any local opposition as in his 10 year rule he had considerably reduced lawlessness in the earldom, curbed the power of local landholders and through intrigue and craft, neutralised the Scots. He seriously miscalculated. 

The tax, and the fact that his men were using arbitrary justice to enforce collection led that autumn to the thegns of Yorkshire and many others from throughout Northumberland to seize and occupy York and they slayed all 200 of Tostig's huscarls-  including Amund and Ravenswort- (the latter held lands near the estates of the rebels).
Now, their following snowballed into a full rebel army, and the next day they won what appears to have been a pitched battle. Against whom?
Having sacked the treasury and taken back what they deemed their's by right, the northern thegns then declared Tosti outlaw and sent for Morcar, the young brother of Earl Edwin of Mercia, to be the new earl. Their choice of an outsider, with no Northumberland connection and little Norse blood, appears to have been dictated by a need to avoid splitting the rebels by picking from the local powerful families with their long running blood feuds.
It would also have been influenced by the fact that Tosti was a favourite of King Edward and his brothers ruled most of England. Proclaiming Morcar earl would ally them with the next most powerful family in the land. Declared deposed by this odd alliance.

King Edward was so enraged (Tostig apparently being his favourite) that he(and his Norman advisors) was all for war, but Harold himself wasn't- again not wanting a crippling civil war to leave England open to foreign invasion.
Other earls and nobles felt likewise- as in 1051/2, and the campaigning season was hit by worsening weather.

Morcar led the massive rebel army south, killing, enslaving, plundering, terrorising, sacking &  raping through Lincoln and Derby

Joined by Mercian Earl Edwin (Morcar's brother), they were rebuffed for support by the townspeople at Nottingham, so Morcar allowed his men to run amok with vile atrocities (Maybe present were some of Gruffydd's disaffected warlike Welshmen still burning to avenge 1063? or local Northumbrian/Welsh mercenaries?).
They raided the local countryside for cattle & food, killing or enslaving all who would not support them- according to many sources the ravaging continued even after Tostig's deposition was endorsed.

Harold led a Royal army north to speak on the king's behalf- met them several times for discussions, often wild and heated- Tostig accusing Harold of complicity (though he swore an oath denying such charges at Northampton when reporting on negotiations) .
The rebels now moved to Oxford.
But finally, maybe to conceal his own possible complicity in ousting his brother,ceded to rebel demands(Tostig was overthrown and laws of Cnut's taxes revived) at Oxford on Oct 28th

Edward had meanwhile summoned the Witan in London to discuss the crisis, again hoping(as in the crisis of 1051-2) that support for the rebels would dissolve if he dragged his feet. 
It didn't, and Edward was so apoplectic that he had a series of strokes and was taken ill to his bed.

A few days later, a frustrated and embittered former earl, Tostig, his wife Judith and their children and retainers crossed the Channel for the winter under the protection of Judith’s brother Count Baldwin V of Flanders..