30 May 2013

Atheling Athelstan's will, 1014

Drawn up on June 25th 1014, the will of aethling Athelstan stresses the atheling’s legitimacy to the title of his estates in that he was either given them by the king (his father) or by senior nobles.

There are clues to some tension between him and his father, the king (Ethelred II), in that it makes a direct appeal to the witan and nobles to ensure that the king kept his word.
In other words, he believed that his own father would continue to turn his back on him, even after death.

The beneficiaries were;

• Sigeferth and Morcar, leading thegns from the Danelaw (brothers of Canute's first wife, Aelfgifu of Northampton), whom he must have known well (he had given Sigeferth a mailcoat previously- v.expensive).
• Athelstan’s brother Edmund would later take Siferth’s widow as his wife, disobeying the king.
• Thurbrand the Hold (whom Canute had bidded assassinate Earl Uhtred), another beneficiary, had given Athelstan a horse
• Leofwine, maybe the earldorman of the W.Mercian region of the Hwicce,had given him a fine white horse.
• Ulfkitel Snilling -the hero who had resisted the Vikings successfully many times during Ethelred's dire reign, had once given the atheling a silver-hilted sword.
• We can make out from the Will that Aethelwold, father of Aethelmaer (both slain in the purges of 1005-6), had left a widow when he died and the atheling had cared for her.
• The atheling had taken BYGRAVE from a certain 'Leofmere,' but restored it by his will. It was still in his hands during the Confessor’s reign.
• One notable mention in the will is the son of Sussex thegn Wulfnoth- Godwin. He was ‘restored’ to his father’s estate at Compton by the atheling. His sons would be earls, and one a future king

Those who gained the most from this Will;

The atheling’s brothers Eadwig and Edmund, mostly the latter- a fine sword, trumpet, athelstan’s E.Anglian estates and another sword which had once belonged to King Offa of Mercia.

The E.Anglian connection is significant because it links the atheling with with the patrimony of the descendants of his namesake Athelstan ‘half-king’ who were firmly committed to the Edmund lobby.
By this inheritance, Edmund’s roots would be firmly in the Danelaw and the symbolic gift of the sword is revealing that atheling Athelstan is giving Edmund the nod to rule the kingdom- not Edward (son by Emma).
Even their names Athelstan and Edmund are revealing- they too had had wealthy, powerful ancestors of those exact names, where an Edmund succeeded his brother Athelstan too!

So on his deathbed, the atheling lay dying knowing that the king, his own father, had forsaken him for Edward and Alfred, and so he preferred Edmund to succeed his estates than to half-brother (half-Norman).
He and his full brothers had made alliances with powerful nobles across the country who had a grievance against Ethelred. They had either been sidelined by the king in his governmental purges (engineered by his father's chief advisor, the slimy Edric of Mercia) or had a background on the Edwardian side in the accession crisis of 975.