"Queen Emma is one of the great neglected figures in history. Discuss."This is an essay, written in 1997 during the early part of a history degree course at Birkbeck College, University of London. It shows another aspect of the research required when preparing to write a historical novel.
It could be tentatively argued that the first chapters of the Norman conquest of England began in the spring of 1002, with the marriage of Emma of Normandy to Æthelred, King of the English.
Emma was a daughter of Richard of Normandy, great grandfather of William I of England, and sister to the ruling count, Richard II. Although of Scandinavian descent, the "Northmen" were, by the early eleventh century, mostly Christian and were rapidly becoming French. An alliance would prevent Vikings from using Norman ports from which to harass England. Henceforth, the Counts of Normandy would have a considerable interest in the English crown, with the ambition being that a son of Emma's would succeed to the throne. Two, Harthacnut and Edward, did rule, but both were childless, thus eliminating the prospect of Norman rule by direct succession.
Considering that the alliance between Normandy and England was to bring security from Viking raiders, it is ironic that when Æthelred died in 1016, Emma then married one of the most prominent Vikings of this period, Cnut, who conquered England and became king.
At the age of twelve, Æthelred had married Ælfgifu, a daughter of a northern earl, in order to win support. She was never consecrated as queen, for this position was taken by the already anointed Ælfthryth, her mother-in-law. The queen's duties were retained by Æthelred's mother until her death in 1002. Ælfgifu did not witness any royal documents, nor, it seems, was she responsible for the upbringing of her ten children. It was only after his mother's death that Æthelred took a second wife. It is unclear whether he had set Ælfgifu aside, or whether she had died; probably the latter.
Emma, unlike her predecessor, was anointed and became a queen who was to eventually carve for herself a significant position within the political estate of England. Her first son, Edward, was born circa 1005, with a second son, Alfred, coming a year or so later. The succession to the throne however, was disrupted in 1013 by an invasion of Svein Forkbeard of Denmark and his son, Cnut. In the autumn, Emma and her sons, at her initiative, fled to Normandy, soon followed by Æthelred himself.
In the spring of 1014 Æthelred dispatched ambassadors to England, with his young son Edward, accompanying them, to negotiate a return to the English throne. Shortly after Æthelred's reinstatement, his son by Ælfgifu, Edmund Ironside, began to act independently of his father. Emma, it seems, was also dissatisfied with her husbands succession of ill-advised failures, for she transferred her support away from Æthelred, to Edmund. In the Encomium Emma Reginae, Æthelred is not merely omitted as her husband, but his existence is significantly suppressed. Emma was a strong and determined women who knew her own mind, what she wanted, and was ruthless in her ambition to obtain it. It is doubtful that she would have chosen to deliberately forget her first husband because of infidelity, more likely, she was dissatisfied with his many failures and his continuing weakness as a king.(1)
Æthelred died in 1016, Edmund Ironside then occupied the throne and withstood Cnut, with the boy Edward, who was possibly no older than thirteen, at his side. That Emma had deliberately sent her eldest son to be with his half brother is not doubted, the opportunism would be typical of her character.
Edward would have been too young to stand against Cnut on his own, her only chance of recovering her position, wealth, and estates, would have rested on Edmund's success - with Edward prominent as his successor. Unfortunately for Emma's calculated hopes, Edmund died on 30th November 1016, and effectively in possession of the country, Cnut became king of England.
Danish kings would more commonly take wives near to home, yet Cnut contracted a marriage to Ælfgifu of Northampton; she was from a north Midlands family from which Edmund Ironside had also hoped to gain support. When he became king, Cnut turned to securing his position more positively, and took Emma as his second wife, in July 1017. Cnut had a reputation connected with paganism, and badly needed to establish his devotion to Christianity. The degree of involvement that Emma herself had in the betrothal negotiations is unknown, but she was certainly a shrewd, and politically, a wise woman. She was the legitimate and consecrated queen of England, could bring Cnut into alliance with Normandy, and provide the edge of respectability that he sought. As Queen, Emma had acquired expertise in English politics, an expertise Cnut could use. In addition, a king's widow, and her kin, were the obvious supporters of sons who could raise a challenge to a new king; marriage to Emma diverted support away from the two royal English sons, and neutralized any potential opponents.
The Widow could carry substantial influence, and could be in possession of considerable wealth. 'The master plan of the sixth or seventh century usurper had three stages. Murder the king, get the gold, marry the widow. Since the widow usually sat on the gold, the two went together.(2)
1) F. Barlow : Edward the Confessor p.35
2) P. Stafford: Queens Concubines & Dowagers p.50
Emma achieved a position of prominence under Cnut that she had not enjoyed under Æthelred. She benefitted from her second husband's control of three kingdoms and from his absences in Scandinavia. Cnut had not set his first wife, Ælfgifu, aside, but had set her as regent of Norway, it seems probable that he gave similar powers to Emma in England. Cnut had control of a vast territory, which included at times, in addition to England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden, the Viking colonies of the Isle of Man, the Scottish isles, and Ireland. He frequently needed to leave England. With Emma as Regent, the Country would remain secure.
The marriage, however, created conflicting loyalties regarding the succession, for Emma and Cnut both had sons by previous marriage - Emma's Edward and Alfred, Ælfgifu's Swegn and Harold Harefoot.
By Cnut, Emma had a third son, Harthacnut, and a daughter Gunnhildr, reducing Æthelred's sons, who were again in exile in Normandy, to little more than pawns. When Cnut died in November 1035, Harthacnut was ruling in Denmark. Emma pressed for his succession, not Edward's, claiming that in 1017 Cnut had sworn an oath that he would "never set up the son of any other woman to rule after him(3) When Emma had become Æthelred's second wife, she allegedly secured a similar promise, proclaiming that her sons, and not those of his first marriage, would succeed; if true, this would be a shrewd move, indicating Emma's astute grasp of political manoeuvring. Emma was, in both of her marriage situations, a second wife intending to gain precedence for her sons over any older, half brothers.
Emma did not claim Cnut's first marriage to be unlawful, but cast doubts on whether he had sired Harold Harefoot. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; "Harold said that he was the son of Cnut and Ælfgifu of Northampton, but there was no truth in it.(4)
She chose her youngest son to follow Cnut, for such a son had better chance of success, and she probably calculated that being younger, he would be more amenable to her wishes and advice. Harthacnut would retain for her, as king of England and Denmark, her wealth and status. Having allied herself with the Danish dynasty through marriage to Cnut, it was doubtful that regard for her position would be forthcoming from Edward and Alfred. As a practical reason behind her planning, Harthacnut would be more likely to receive support from the Angle-Danish aristocracy who had risen to considerable power under Cnut. Her main ally proved to be Earl Godwine of Wessex. Godwine, whose wife was Danish, and men like him, would prefer to secure a stable future under the continuation of the strength of the Danish dynasty, rather than attempt to restore a son of Æthelred, a weak king. When Edward and Alfred arrived in England in 1036 to make a claim for the throne, there was virtually no support for either brother.
3) Encomium Emmae Reginae ed. A. Campbell p.33
4) P. Stafford: p.163
Neither did Emma support their attempts to claim their inheritance, attempts in which Alfred met a cruel death. The author of the Encomium Emmae Reginae, claims that a letter sent by Emma to summon her two sons by Æthelred to England, was a forgery; that it was a deliberate lure by Harold Harefoot. Godwine was implicated in this horrendous death, although he strongly denied the charges right up until his death in 1053. He intercepted Alfred's arrival in England and arrested him, the Encomium claims that Harold then took Alfred out of Godwine's control and tortured him by blinding him, wounds that were so terrible, the unfortunate young man died. One version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, C, firmly lays blame with Godwine. Florence, agrees, D suppresses his name and E has no entry for this date, 1036.
It is quite possible that Emma did call her sons to England. Edward would have been in his early thirties, and her position and support for Harthacnut were rapidly crumbling. The author of the Encomium defends Emma against criticism that she had failed to die with Alfred, "since it would have appeared wrong ..... if a matron of such reputation had died for worldly power"(5)
Edward, in the Encomium, discounts his own claims of succession in favour of Harthacnut. The author leaves us uncertain how Emma reacted to each of her sons between the period of 1035 and 1037: a source that suppresses the marriage that introduced Emma into England, and blatantly denies the paternity of a future king, more than twists the truth. There is no doubt regarding Emma's involvement in the matter of the succession, however, nor the depth of importance that she herself attached to it.
Emma was a woman of considerable wealth and because of that, held great political power. On Cnut's death, she retained possession of the royal treasury. By 1002, the towns of Winchester and Exeter automatically formed part of the dowry of English queens, held until their death or disgrace. Emma held three types of property which would provide her with revenue; dowry lands which returned to the royal estate upon her death; a share in the revenue from the royal demesne, which would effectively provide for her household, and properties acquired through grant or gift, with rights of free disposal. As with Cnut when he had become king, the possession of the royal treasury was crucial. It would contain essential royal documents, such as tribute lists, gold, silver, precious stones and weapons. Possibly also, the royal insignia.
By taking control of the treasury, Emma was able to attract - and hold - support.
She, with allies such as Godwine, continued to struggle against Harold Harefoot's claims to the throne for two years after Cnut's death, a clear indication of her strength and solid determination. Harthacnut, however, was forced to remain occupied in Denmark. Godwine was the crux of Emma's success, and when he unexpectedly switched sides to support Harold Harefoot, she fell swiftly from power.
5) P. Stafford p.5
Her choice of her youngest son had been astute, but the consequence of events outmanoeuvred her intentions. With her cause lost she fled into exile to Flanders, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, "Ælfgifu," the English form of Emma, "was driven out with no gentleness of heart in the raging winter." (6) Her own version in the Encomium states that she diplomatically withdrew.
In 1039, Harthacnut joined his mother at Bruges. Harold Harefoot's death in the same year gave him opportunity to renew his claim on England. It may have been during her exile that Emma commissioned the Encomium Emmae Regina to be written, possibly by a Flemish monk.(7) It is a work of praise for herself, and is a simultaneous demonstration that Harthacnut had been the right choice to become king of England. The Encomium claims that Cnut had promised the English throne to Harthacnut, and the author completely, and skillfully, suppresses Emma's first marriage to Æthelred. Her sons by that marriage, Edward and Alfred, are shown as sons of Cnut.
The Encomium shows that Queen Emma, and similarly, her daughter-in-law Edith, who later commissioned a work about Edward, were not merely literate, but women of distinguished learning. Such splendid books would be valueless to women who could not personally read and comprehend them. A modern quote emphasizes this point; when the model Naomi Campbell wrote a novel in conjunction with a "ghost writer", she was asked what the story was about, her reply "I don't know, I have not read it yet," was extensively self-demeaning. To have gained from commissioning the Encomium, Emma must have been able to fully appreciate its content.
The Encomium Emmae was commissioned by Emma while she was a living queen, she wished her own voice to be heard, her viewpoint and intentions to be seen. It clearly reveals her driving determination to control the succession to the throne of England, and is a biography that intends to establish her respectability and justify her actions. Emma was a woman who, in 1041, was coming close to loosing everything she had. The writer skillfully creates her as a woman of integrity, a loyal wife, and a caring mother: there is no hint of any bad behaviour towards her sons, especially in the matter of Alfred's death. Unlike Edith however, who was depicted as modest and chaste, Emma never managed to acquire a level of saintliness.
After his accession, Harthacnut invited his half brother to England. Edward remained at court until Harthacnut died. It is plausible that a family settlement was agreed while Emma was in exile in Bruges. Their strength would be increased if differences were set aside and the reward shared. The idea seems more likely to have been Harthacnut's rather than Emma's, for in the Encomium, she determines that Harthacnut's claim to the throne was stronger than Edward's and that his provision for Edward was out of brotherly love.
6) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles: trans. Anne Savage
7) P. Stafford
William of Poitiers, writing much later, gives a different explanation, saying that Harthacnut knew he was a dying man - a view easily surmised with hindsight. The renewal of family togetherness was the regrouping of a family desperately needing to reinstate itself. Actions dictated by necessity, not love.
Harthacnut's reign was brief. We can only guess at the extent of Emma's grief at his death in 1042. After all her struggles, with her hopes and expectant ambition, she must have been devastated. The crown passed to her eldest born son, Edward, but events proved this to be of little comfort to her.
For most of his life Edward had lived in exile in Normandy. His mother had abandoned him to marry the man who had ousted his father, and had, so rumour said, been involved with the killing of his brother. There was no love between son and mother.
Soon after his consecration in November 1043, Edward, accompanied by his earls, rode to Winchester to accuse Emma of treason, and to dispossess her of her lands and movables, although he stopped short at outlawry or exile. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, "they came unexpectedly upon the lady and deprived her of all the treasures which she owned and which were beyond counting, because she had been very hard to the king, her son, in that she did less for him than he wished both before he became king and afterwards as well. (8)
It is possible that Emma had been determined to continue in her previous vein by continuing to exercise her Queen's rights - she had undoubtedly been regent of England while Cnut had been abroad, and had been a guiding hand to Harthacnut. Edward may not have accepted her interferences with government. Emma's confidant, Stigand, was appointed bishop of East Anglia soon after Edward's consecration, probably appointed by Emma herself, one "straw too many" that pushed Edward beyond endurance. He deposed Stigand, confiscating all his possessions, "because he was closest to his mother's council". (9)
Edward also granted an estate at Mildenhall, that had been Emma's, to Bury St Edmunds, and the eight and a half hundreds relating to Thingoe, Suffolk, in her possession. These were returned to her, for at her death, Edward regranted them to the abbey.
Whether by her own strength of character or her son's remorse, she was soon reinstated into favour, although at a lower scale. Stigand was restored in 1044. Styled as the king's mother, Emma regularly witnessed charters until her son's marriage, either those who drafted the documents ignored her fall, or it was too brief a period to be noticed.
A queen mother, especially one of learning and with a leaning towards continuing her own status, could hold extensive influence over a son. As a means of satisfying personal revenge, queens as stepmothers or mothers-in-law, could, if they so wished, create numerous problems for their sons.
8) H. Leyser: Medieval Women p.80
9) Chron. C
Æthelred did not marry Emma until his mother had retired to Wherwell Abbey, possibly even after she had died. She had dominated the early part of his reign, and Emma was equally as prominent at Harthacnut's side during his brief kingship. When Edward married Earl Godwine's daughter Edith however, Emma retired to Winchester, an indication that her influence at court, and her domination over her son, had decreased.
Emma died on 6th March 1052. She was buried in the Old Minster, Winchester near Cnut and Harthacnut.
It is regrettable that later queens of England are discussed at length, appreciated or condemned, depending on their worth, while the known queens of pre-Norman history are considerably neglected - even ignored. I believe I am correct in saying that Emma was the only woman in British history to have been Queen twice, the wife of different ruling Kings. This makes her unique. Emma was an intriguing woman, on a par with the later Eleanor of Aquitaine. Emma's only detriment; there is little documented, independent evidence of her life and character. For all that, she has a significant place in English history.
Queens, concubines and Dowagers: The king's wife in the early middle ages
Medieval Women: A social history of women in England 450- 1500
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Women in Anglo-Saxon England
Colonnade (British Museum Publications)
Edward the Confessor
Eyre & Spottiswode
Translator, Anne Savage:
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles
William Heinemann Ltd
"This is an excellent essay, your enjoyment in writing it is clear. It is ironic that Emma, the first English queen known to have written (or commissioned) her story, showing an awareness of history as important, should have been so neglected. She lived to be 60, not a bad age in the period, which shows a remarkable constitution! I particularly like your use of primary sources."
80% 10.3.1997 J Mountain B.A. B.Sc.
Note: I went on to write my full thesis on Queen Emma, giving a more detailed account of this remarkable woman's life.
"How decisive were changes in military tactics by the Scots in their victory atThis is an essay, written in 1998 during a history degree course at Birkbeck College, University of London.
Bannockburn in 1314?"
Following the successive years of war and disruption between Scotland and England, Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, made peace with King Edward I of England, in 1302, when it must have seemed possible that John Balliol could still be re-instated as King of Scotland. However, by 1304, Bruce had changed direction and made an alliance, in secret, with William Lamberton, Bishop of St Andrews, who was later to become an important leader in the support of Scottish independence.
Edward finally crushed any influence that the Balliol family might hold when he took Stirling Castle in 1304, and in 1305, William Wallace was captured and executed on a charge of treason at Smithfield in London.
But if Edward I felt any complacence of security of dominance over Scotland, it was short lived. Towards the end of that year, Robert Bruce began a campaign for a new rebellion against English rule. It is possible that Bruce took the opportunity of exploiting the fact that Edward was already becoming ill - he died in 1307 - although one wonders why Bruce did not merely wait for a natural end of Scotland's long term enemy.
Maybe Bruce wanted to assert his authority before any "free-for-all" came into being by the void that would certainly form after Edward's dominance was removed. It must have been well known, and the potential understood, that Edward's eldest son, was not the capable military leader, or powerful man that his father had been. Or, had Edward learnt of Bruce's alliance with Macedon? Out of favour with England, and with nothing to lose, Bruce may have taken the proffered chance to try and take the Scottish throne for himself. Balliol had declared no interest in the matter, and if he could win the backing of a few prominent Scottish nobles, Bruce may have even hoped for the failing Edward to grant his support. If he did, he did not get it.
Bruce attempted to make peace with the Comyn family - who had previously been staunch supporters of Balliol - on l0th February 1306 in a meeting held in the church of Greyfriars at Dumfries with John Comyn of Badenoch.
There was an argument, about what and started by whom, is not known, but it ended with Bruce stabbing Comyn before the altar, thus destroying any hope of reconciliation, and indeed, making the situation worse than ever it had been, for there was now a blood feud between the two families of Comyn and Bruce. For the murder, Bruce was excommunicated by Pope Clement V, but he was not condemned by the Church of Scotland.
Bruce pressed ahead with his claim and was crowned King of Scotland at Scone on both March 1306. Despite the Papal excommunication, he had the support of Bishop Lamberton, Murray, the Bishop of Moray, and Bishop Wishart of Glasgow who absolved Bruce of his sins.
Aymer de Valence, Comyn's brother-in-law, was appointed by Edward I to deal with Bruce, which he did at the battle of Methven on 19th June. Defeated, Bruce headed west with his few followers, and was almost captured in August near Tyndrum by the MacDougalls of Lorne, kinsmen of the Comyns. Fearing for his womenfolk, Bruce sent them, for safety, to Kildrummy Castle in Aberdeenshire. The castle, however, was taken and Bruce's wife, daughter, sister Mary and the Countess Isabella of Buchan, who had placed the coronet on Bruce's head at his kingmaking, taken prisoner. Bruce's brother Neil, and his brother-in-law, the earl of Athol were captured, and like Bruce's other two brothers, Alexander and Thomas, brutally executed.
The extent of support for Bruce in Scotland, at this time, is open to question, for historians are divided as to opinion regarding whether it was the Celtic, Gaelic speaking Scots or the English speaking Scots who actually followed his 'cause.' It is more probable that a proportion of both sides did so. Barrow maintains that patriotism for Scotland was equal sided, and, especially in Lothian, there is no evidence for greater or lesser support from either faction.(1) Bruce the Elder had married into Carrick, a Gaelic area, and resentment against England, among the English speaking Scots, must have been great. Many towns, castles, and the east coast ports were still firmly in English hands, causing mass disruption to trade and the essence of daily life. Survival must have been a continuous struggle.
After Bruce defeated the English in Ayrshire, Edward 1 summoned his host to Carlisle, but he died on 13th July 1307. Even after Edward's death, however, it was still some years before Bruce managed to finally establish his leadership over his own, many, enemies in Scotland.
Bruce was, however, beginning to become an outstanding military leader, starting to change his tactics of warfare by slowly moving away from the old style of guerilla fighting. From 1309 onwards, he was becoming increasingly more secure, with the power of the Comyns finally destroyed by a victory over another John Comyn, the Earl of Buchan, at Inverness in 1308.
His tactics changed again, to the harassing of English territory, holding the north of England, literally, to ransom, by obtaining exorbitant extortion rates for settlements of peace etc. raising about E20,0O0. This was, as in William the Conqueror's time, a "Harrowing of the North." Rents dropped and the value of land decreased, apart from in the Durham proximity, where an agreement was made with the Scots.
Edward II did very little to help protect the north. He came north in 131O and returned in 1312, but there was rampant civil war against him in England, and his problems there were too rife to concentrate on matters pertaining to Scotland.
1) Lecture Notes. V. Wall 4.3.98 Morley College
Nicholson states that at this period, (1310 - 14), Bruce was "identifying himself with 'Nationalism'."(2) His supporters, notably James Douglas, the son of a firm opponent of Edward 1, and Thomas Randolph, Bruce's nephew, were increasing steadily in power and influence, while English power, with the falling of the major ports back into Scottish hands, was being reduced to the holding of only scattered garrisons. Bruce was undertaking a policy of destroying castles and garrisons rather than leave them standing for a possible English re-occupation, and by 1314, most English held positions had fallen - except for Stirling and Berwick.
Edward Bruce, Robert I's surviving brother, had laid siege to Stirling Castle for three months in 1313 and had rashly agreed to a truce whereby, if an English army had not relieved the castle by midsummer's day 1314 - a year ahead - the Castellan, Sir Phillip Mowbray, would surrender. This gesture, although chivalrous and no doubt well- intentioned at the time, was most unwise. It was probably prompted by gambling on the fact that Edward II was experiencing great difficulties with his barons in England, but, of course, it was a challenge that no king could ignore. Indeed, it is probable that Edward II regarded it as a stroke of great fortune, for a new, and pointed, campaign in Scotland may restore his credibility and gain for him the support he desperately needed - and should he defeat Bruce, a likely outcome given the superior number available to the I English host, his prestige would far surpass any previous troubles or problems.
From Bruce's point CIA view, however, the challenge was nothing short of total folly, for it committed Scotland into open conflict with the full might of English power, a confrontation which, for the past six years, he had been attempting to particularly avoid.
Edward II did little to prepare before the end of 1313, the final writs for service were not issued until May 1314. These called for "21,540 men ..... with 12,500 summoned from the northern counties, 5540 from Wales, 3000 from Lincoln and 500 from Leicester and Warwick"(3). It is highly doubtful that all these arrived at the assembly point at Wark before Edward marched on 17th June. There has been much controversy over the logistics of both armies, but a reasonable maximum size of the force that marched into Scotland would be considerably less, possibly nearer 18,000 men. 2,500 were heavy cavalry.(4) (Smurthwaite puts the figure lower, at 1000 knights.) Of the 16- 17,000 infantry, there is no means of knowing how many were archers, although in the first writs, which were subsequently cancelled, "5,000 had been summoned from a total of five counties and more from Wales."(5) Edward's baggage train was immense in value and side, for confident of victory, every luxury had been brought north with the King.
There is no way of knowing the number of men that Bruce could call upon. The armies he commanded during his guerilla operations seldom amounted to more than a few hundred. Even now, in 1314, he was still not in total command of Scotland, with those prudent enough to remain 'on the fence' and others bold enough to oppose. According to Seymour, "we may place some confidence in Barbour's(6) figure and say that the Scottish infantry numbered no more than 7,000 and were probably nearer 6,000, and that there were 500 horse."
Additionally, there were possibly another 3,000 or so men known as the 'small folk' who held enthusiasm, but not the expertise or training of more regular soldiers.
2) Lecture Notes. V. Wall 4.3.98 Morley College
3) Smurthwaite p. 76
4) Seymour p. 92
5) Seymour p. 92
6) John Barbour of Aberdeen. The Bruce p. 198 from Seymour, p. 92
As they were poorly weaponed and equipped, they were kept at the rear, ready to engage in any pursuit, should it be necessary. The Scottish infantry were mostly armed with pikes, or carried an axe and shield. Bruce began training and drilling those infantry who were available in early April, and as his forces assembled, he put them into three battle formations under Sir James Douglas, Edward Bruce and the earl of Moray, with a fourth battle held in reserve under his own command. By 22nd June, Edward's army had reached Falkirk, 10 miles from Stirling. Bruce awaited the English on a plateau of woodland known as 'the Park' - he would need all knowledge of the terrain to counterbalance the significant difference in superior numbers.
The Scots did, however, have several advantages beyond local knowledge of the lie of the land, for additionally, they were developing a strong sense of national identity, and for the righteousness of their cause. Nevertheless, there was much at stake for Edward II. if Robert I could encourage his followers with a noble cause, then Edward had a carrot to dangle of rich reward. When he reached Berwick, among other prospective grants, he bestowed the lands of Robed's supporter, Thomas Randolph, the Earl of Moray, on to Hugh Despenser. Obviously, Edward had greater hopes than the mere relieving of Stirling Castle.
Leaving Berwick on 1 nth June, Edward II had great optimism, even though time was running short for the agreed 'deadline'. His spirits were more "like a man going joyously on pilgrimage .... than a King going to war."(7)
Bruce awaited the English approach at Torwood, but then withdrew to the stronger position of New Park. The Bannock Burn, one of the many tributary streams of the River Forth, flowed across the low lying Carse of Stirling, an area pitted with marsh and muddy streams, although for the most part there was a good depth of clay above the soggy peat.(8)
King Robert took measures to hinder the English advance as best he could. He ordered 'pottes' or pits to be dug, with sharpened spikes set within and disguised with branches and grass - a 'booby trap', which would cause casualties, and force the enemy lo group together at a designated spot. They proved to well suit their purpose.
The Scottish king drew his men up in a "somewhat irregular formation for he had to be prepared for more than one contingency."(9) The density of the woodland to the west, meant Edward could not outflank Bruce to that side, but he could attempt to pass beneath the escarpment and try to turn the flank, or make direct for Stirling Castle, or set in motion a frontal attack.
Bruce occupied the ground from near the Burn to where, today, a monument to him stands', his brother was to his left, with, to guard the road, the Earl of Moray's men further back nearer St Ninian's Church. Understanding the nature of the soft terrain, Bruce held the cavalry as reserve. The 'small folk' were left in the valley between Gillies Hill and Coxethill.
Things went bad for Edward from the beginning, when a quarrel broke out between the Earl of Gloucester and the Earl of Hereford, both of whom thought they ought be in command of the vanguard - Edward solved the problem by diplomacy rather than sense, by appointing them both joint commanders.
7) Bingham p. 100
8) Seymour p. 98
9) Seymour p. 93
Nearing the Park, the English saw their first glimpse of the Scots host, a group of horseman, one of whom was undoubtedly Bruce himself. Realising a possibility of ending a conflict with a single blow, Sir Henry de Bohun, the nephew of the Earl of Hereford, charged the group with lance set - according to legend, Bruce, who conveniently had axe to hand, merely side-stepped and split de Bohun's skull in two. A ferocious encounter with the remainder of those English who had crossed the Burn followed, where the English were worsted. Gloucester narrowly escaped capture when he was unhorsed. The English knights managed to rejoin their army without many casualties and Bruce recalled the pursuing Scots. A fact which clearly illustrates his control, authority and level of command over discipline.
Moray's schiltron, near the church, remained steady in the face of repeated charges from Clifford's cavalry, but unable to break the phalanx, Clifford was forced to withdraw, with his men badly mauled. Some rejoined the main army, others fled to the castle. These two repulses affected English morale, and no more action took place that night, but Edward was determined to see battle on the morrow. He headed east, and crossed, with, no doubt, extreme difficulty, the Bannock Burn during the night, his exhausted men camping on the 'Carse'. The exact location of the following day's battle however, is unknown.
Daybreak brought the Scots from the woodland of the Park, forming into four schiltrons. As the range closed, English archers came into action, gaining the upper hand, but the English cavalry charged Edward Bruce's schiltron, thus disabling the use of arrows. Moray's schiltron closed with the English right, followed by Sir James Douglas, his schiltron attacking the English center.
Faced by solid, seemingly unbreakable formations of pike and shield, the English cavalry failed to scatter the Scots. With each repulsed charge, riderless and wounded horses ploughed back through their own English lines of infantry. The English battles at the rear could not come forward because of the confusion "and when Edward deployed his archers on the enemy left, they were ridden down by the Scottish cavalry."(10)
The English were steadfastly pressed backwards, and the sight of the 'small folk' appearing, running to join the attack, finally finished morale. Men turned to flee, the Scots broke through the English line, and the battle was won, Many hostages were taken by the Scots, including the Earl of Hereford, for whom Bruce exchanged his wife, daughter, sister and the Countess of Buchan. Sir Phillip Mowbray, who had held Stirling castle, changed sides, and allied with the Scots. The victory of Bannockburn obtained the vital position of Stirling for the Scots, and left Bruce seemingly triumphant, yet the war between Scotland and England was not over.
Bruce made great effort to reconcile everyone he could after Bannockburn, and on the surface he succeeded, yet the rifts which went back to the disputed succession in the 1 290.s were not yet healed. Indeed, Bruce was not recognised as king by Edward II alone, for the Pope and the King of France steadfastly refused to recognise him as such. A number of nobles failed to make peace with Bruce after Bannockburn and went into exile to become a group known as ''the disinherited, who were to lead a movement to restore John Balliol's son, Edward, after Bruce's death.
10) Smurthwaite p. 79
Edward II raided Scotland in 1322, but the Scots raised an impressive counter attack, winning a series of victories, capturing Berwick in 1318. Not until in 1328 Edward III signed the treaty of Northampton, which recognised Robert Bruce as king of an independent Scotland.
Bruce's tactics for Bannockburn were not haphazard or trusting to luck, for he had a definite plan by dividing his army into the four, strong schiltrons. However any plan can go amiss, but Bruce undoubtedly held the conviction of courage and the belief in the right of his cause. He had proven his ability to keep discipline, and to lead men into victory, whether by the use of guerilla tactics, harassment or in pitched battle.
As he had used the approaching death of Edward I to consolidate his taking of the Scots throne, he used the defeat of Edward II at Bannockburn to assert his strength even more forcefully.
The Life & Times of Edward the Second
Book Club Associates 1973
( © Weidenfeld & Nicholson )
Robert the Bruce
Pitkin Pictorial 1968
Scotland Through The Ages
Michael Joseph 1987
Battles in Britain Vol 1 1066 - 1746
Sedgwick & Jackson 1979
The Complete Guide to the Battlefields of Britain
Mermaid Books 1993
Medieval Scotland : the making of an identity
Macmillan Press Ltd 1997
"An excellent essay with a comprehensive account of the Battle of Bannockburn. Your emphasis on the discipline instilled by King Robert is important, especially in the Scottish cavalry, who, as you know, fled at Falkirk in 1298. Again, as you know, we are uncertain whether Robert was present at Falkirk, but he must have learned some lessons from that disaster. The use of cavalry against English bowmen is one lesson surely he learned from Wallace's defeat at Falkirk. Edward II's loss of his line of archers was a decisive turning point at Bannockburn. At Falkirk, the schiltrons, so affective at Bannockburn, were rendered impotent by the English archers. "
83% 16.3.1998 V Wall M.A.
"What motivated Edward the Confessor's support of Duncan's son MalcolmThis is an essay, written in 1998 during a history degree course at Birkbeck College, University of London.
in his claims to the Scottish throne?"
"Freedom from continental entanglements, from invasion and civil war made it almost inevitable .... that Edward and his earls should pay some attention to other powers in the British Isles."(1)
It appears that, unlike many of his contemporaries, Edward had no plans to acquire an empire for himself; his policies towards Scandinavia, Scotland and Wales - and perhaps even to Normandy - were consistent to achieving peace with his bordering kingdoms through a purely defensive or conciliatory nature.
Scotland had coalesced into a kingdom during the tenth century, with Edmund's leasing of Cumbria to Malcolm I in 946 "on condition that he should be his ally both on sea and land."(2) and after Edgar's grant of Lothian to Kenneth II, circa 973, but the boundary between England and Scotland was ragged and ill-defined, it's area often fluctuating.
Under Duncan I (1034 - 1040) vast areas in the north were still held by various Scandinavians, but even so, a recognisable kingdom had been formed, one similar to that of England, and, also similar to England, the succession to the crown was often disputed.
Among the descendants of Kenneth Mac Apin, king of Alba, various members of the several branches of kindred regularly dethroned each other whenever the ideal opportunity of a successful "coup" occurred. Thus, on 14th August 1040, Macbeth killed Duncan, and aided by Gruoch, his wife - who centuries later became transformed into the notorious Lady Macbeth of Shakespeare - he began an effective and powerful rule.
1) Frank Barlow : Edward the Confessor p.201
2) Chron. from: Frank Barlow : Edward the Confessor p. 201 footnote 4
There is a likelihood that Duncan had married a woman descended from earl Waltheof of Northumbria,(3) and after his father's death, Malcolm Canmore, (Big Head) the eldest-born son, may have sought safety in Cumbria with his uncle, Maldred.
Later, although this is not reliably attested, it was widely believed in Scotland that Malcolm was present at the English court of Edward the Confessor, where he received an education.(4) Because of his own previous lengthy exile into Normandy, Edward may have been sympathetic to the plight of exiled princes. Certainly, shielding a rightful heir to a neighbouring kingdom could have the possibilities of many advantages, especially to a king who pursued the ultimate aim of maintaining a substantial peace along his boundaries. Malcolm would be made welcome at an English court, his presence an ongoing threat to any undesirable ambition that Macbeth may have contemplated against England.
This was a ploy which the English king obviously followed, for in the summer of 1054, when Malcolm would have been of a suitable age to attempt to retake his rightful kingdom - he would have been about twenty-three - Edward ordered earl Siward of Northumbria to invade Scotland in an attempt to place Malcolm on the throne.
The English army advanced into Scotland via the eastern route, Edward providing some of his own housewares among the numbers, and on 27th July, earl Siward met Macbeth in battle in Pedhshire, north of the Tay. It was a fierce engagement, with both sides suffering the consequence of serious casualties. On the Scottish side, the French who had joined Macbeth, two years before after fleeing from Herefordshire, were killed, their death is mentioned in Chronicle D.(5) Siward lost his elder son, Osbern, and his sister's son, while many English and Danes were also killed, including several of Edward's elite housecarls.
3) Frank Barlow : Edward the Confessor p. 202
4) Frank Barlow : Edward the Confessor p. 202
5) Frank Barlow : Edward the Confessor p. 202
Osbern's death directly affected England, for when Siward died in the following year, 1059, his only surviving son was a child of too young an age to be appointed the powerful ruler of the most unsettled of all the English earldoms. Several descendants of English lords were situated at Bamburgh in Northumbria, all must have been potential successors, but Edward took advantage of this unexpected opportunity to replace the governing of Northumbria with a man who had a loyal and ultra-close association with his court - Tostig, the son of earl Godwine of Wessex and brother to his wife, Edith.
The battle, despite the numerous deaths, was a victory for the English. Macbeth was put to flight, and Siward returned to Northumbria wit: much plunder. Malcolm took possession of Lothian and Cumbria, but did not achieve the complete ruling of the kingdom until later, when on 15 August 1057, he killed Macbeth in another battle, accomplishing final victor in 1058, by defeating Lulach, Gruoch's son.
"The inheritance of Malcolm III was a Celtic realm, remote, moneyless, but with a tradition of submission to one king which, however slender, AAAS 11//0 centuries old and no longer fragile."(6) Scotland was Malcolm's by hereditary right. His later reputation was established through Shakespeare's historically inaccurate play "Macbeth" and the hagiography which over-enthusiastically praised his eventual wife, Margaret, the fact that he was directly responsible for the death of his predecessor, Macbeth, and his stepson, Lulach, calls for very little remark in the situation of eleventh century Scotland.
Malcolm III's reign is significant, for, particularly after the conquest of England by Duke William of Normandy, he attempted to extend the frontier of his kingdom by taking advantage of the dramatic turbulence that subsequently arose in the north of England.
Before the advent of 1066, however, Earl Tostig may have attempted to secure Malcolm's friendship. Edward would have wanted such an alliance with Malcolm - hence, no doubt, his orders to Siward to confront Macbeth, and his direct involvement by the supplying of housewares into the invasion force. Undoubtedly, a pre-requisite of any English help in returning Malcolm to his throne, would have been such an agreement of later cc-operation and friendship, if not the more direct insistence of homage. This latter is highly plausible, as a year after Malcolm's return to Scotland, in 1059 - a very short period of time - he was escorted to Edward's court at Gloucester by Tostig, Cynsige, archbishop of York and Otherwise, bishop of Durham. Although the reasoning behind this visit may also have been Maicolm's hope of attempting to recover the English estates that had been set aside in the tenth century. No Scottish king had undertaken such a visit for more than eighty years, when Kenneth I went to Edgar's court.
6) A.A.M. Duncan : Scotland, the Making of a Kingdom p. ll6
According to Scottish tradition(7) it was during this time in England that Edward offered Margaret, the daughter of Edward "the Exile" in marriage; however, Malcolm decided to ally with the Scandinavian north by taking Ingiborg, daughter of Thorfinn earl of the Orkneys and Caithness, as his wife. Thorfinn is a figure mentioned by saga, which is often inaccurate and exaggerated in detail, but archaeological excavation at his chief seat of Brough of Birsay on Orkney, has perhaps confirmed that Thorfinn was, indeed, a man of great power, influence and importance. Saga claims that he fought against Karl, Hundi's son, an unidentified name, who might have been Duncan I, but is more probably Macbeth himself. Since Ingiborg was Thorfinn's daughter, an alliance against Macbeth, or his supporters, seems a more likely scenario.(8)
Malcolm's gratitude tor Edward's help in recovering the Scottish throne, and any mutual agreement with Tostig, faltered in 1061 when he raided deep into Northumbria, taking advantage while Tostig was away on pilgrimage to Rome. On his return, Tostig appears to have restored the amicable relations with Malcolm, for it was to Scotland, and to join forces with Harald Hardrada, that the earl sailed in 1066, after quarrelling with his brother Harold, who was, by then, the enthroned king of England.
Apart from this one specific incident of raiding - and we by no means know Malcolm's reasons behind it - if Edward's direct intention of helping him to defeat Macbeth was primarily to secure a substantial peace in the North, then his aim was justifiable and well fulfilled. Edward's actions secured a lasting, peaceful border between England and Scotland, a peace that was only broken by the Norman Conquest and subsequent events of post 1066.
7) Frank Barlow : Edward the Confessor p. 203
8) A.A.M. Duncan: Scotland, the Making of a Kingdom p. 100
Edward the Confessor
Yale University Press 1997 edition
Scotland, the Making of a kingdom Vol 1
Mercat press 1975
Sir Frank Stentor
Oxford History of England 1987 edition
The Life of King Edward the Confessor
Alistair Cambell ed.:
Encomium Emmae Reginae
Camden (Royal Historical Society) 1949
Queen Emma & Queen Edith
The English & the Norman Conquest
"A good, well argued essay, and given the problems of Scottish sources, having to rely mainly on English historians and commentaries, you have covered the main issues well."
70% 4.2.1998 V Wall M.A.
"Describe the current state of knowledge about the use of horses in this period."This is an essay, written in 1999 during a history degree course at Birkbeck College, University of London.
"Britain in the first millennium AD was far from being stocked only with a multitude of undersized ponies"(1)
Until recently, it was widely accepted that Anglo-Saxon armies consisted solely of infantry formation, horses being used only for transportation. But as Ann Hyland opines, "this seems a complete waste of potential energy and resources."(2) suggesting that while it is unthinkable that entire armies were mounted, wealthier men were more than capable of undertaking mounted fighting, and of utilising the horse in a variety of offensive tactics, as circumstances of battle, terrain etc., dictated.
Mounted warfare during the Anglo-Saxon period is shown in sculpture and referred to in manuscripts. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 937 is a record of Aethelstan's triumph over the Scots - the corresponding Croyland Chronicle on this campaign is very clear: "... and Singin unhorsed the Scottish king"(3)
The Native British pony (the present-day breeds of Welsh, Fell, Dales, Exmoor etc.,) were enhanced during the Roman occupation by the cross breeding of new stock and bloodlines, introduced into Britain through cavalry regiments raised from countries holding established equestrian cultures and known for breeds of superior quality. The most priced war horses being the Frisian, Burgundian and Thuringian. These Roman imports would have rapidly improved British stock by adding height, bulk and speed to the already established stamina, intelligence and ability to survive a poor winter climate and sparse food. Britain had - and still has - a rich wealth of these strong and hardy ponies, some around the 12 - 13 h.h. mark, others reaching 14.2 h.h. It is significant that the modern day Fell and Dales breeds resemble the modern Frisian, a breed of horse that was much valued in antiquity and remained highly prized in later Medieval times.
Some degeneration of breeding must have occurred as the Anglo-Saxon period initially developed, once deprived of the organised resources of knowledge and trade of the Roman administration and army. But horses were still required, if not for riding, then as pack ponies and vehicle pulling. References to horses and riding run throughout the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and are scattered among the Welsh laws of Hywel Dda (died 950) reflecting the importance of the equine among Welsh society.
Giraldus (c1146 - 1223) comments that the Welsh interest in life consists of "caring for their horses and keeping their weapons in good order"(4) and that their leaders "ride into battle on swift mettlesome horses."
1) Hyland p 67
2) Hyland p 72
3) Hyland p 76 notes Ingulph : Croyland Chronicle 1775
4) Hyland p 70 notes - Giraldus Cambrensis "Description of Wales" in Gerald of Wales Book 1 Ch 9
Bede (died 735) relates an anecdote about Bishop Aiden, who apparently gave a gift from King Oswine, a well bred horse, to a beggar. Annoyed, the king exclaimed that a common bred horse was the more suitable offering. The love of racing among young clerics was also remarked upon by Bede.
The laws of King Ine (688 - 726) comment that the horse-wealh was held in high regard, and that he had charge of the king's stud. The position of horse-weard, the watcher of the king's horses, is also mentioned. He appears also in Æthelberht's laws (860-6). These references suggest that the horse-wealh managed a self-contained stud, where controlled breeding was practised, while the "free-range" system, stallions running freely with mares, were under the management of the horse-weard.
There are indications of the size of such studs under the Welsh laws and Anglo-Saxon wills. A brief reference from the time of Athelstan (924 - 39) mentions that he had received as a gift, 300 fine coursers and their trappings. This more than adequately shows the extent of a king's wealth in horse-flesh and implies that acquiring new blood and different breeds occurred much earlier than assumed. Previously it has been accepted that serious horse-breeding and the introduction of quality stock was a result of the Norman Conquest.
Horses appear in several references in the poem Beowulf written between 680 - 800. Racing is mentioned as Danish warriors spur their bay horses renowned for speed and stamina and:
"Then, as a sign of victory, Hrothgar, son of Healfdene
Presented to Beowulf ....
With glancing bridles, one with a saddle
Studded with stones - battle seat of the Danes."(5)
Not to be outdone by the generosity of Hrothgar's gift, Beowulf presents four matching bays and three graceful horses, complete with brightly coloured saddles.
These references hint at several customs of this period: warriors of renown and wealth rode swift, quality bred animals; fighting on horseback was by no means unknown among the Anglo-Saxon people; import and export - or at least, widespread trade - was conducted, and horses of quality were the accepted currency of royal gifts.
Horses are often mentioned first in the tally of possessions due to the Crown as heriot.
"Heriot to the lord (the king) 200 parks of red gold, two silver cups and four horses, the best I have"(6)
5) Julian Glover: adaptation of Beowulf
6) Dorothy Whitlock : Anglo-Saxon Wills p3 & note p 10
Wills illustrate the point as effectively:
"and I leave to the monastery .... 100 wild* horses and 16 broken stallions ... "
Will of Wulfric, a Mercian thane, 1002(7) (* unbroken)
Because of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, where the English fought on fool and the superiority of the Norman cavalry overcame the English, it has been generally accepted that William brought with him an entirely new method of warfare - mounted cavalry.
That the English never fought on horseback is difficult to believe - Anne Hyland asks: "why was so much emphasis put on the heriots of the ruling classes where warhorses had to be accompanied by the requisite saddle, burnie, helmet and weapons."(8) If the elite of the army merely used horses for riding to battle and then dismounting, any breed or category of horse would have sufficed. It is also notable that William continued the same heriot levy, indicating that pre-conquest equine usage remained unchanged.
Another convincing argument that the pre-c|nquest English were familiar to warfare on horse-back is displayed by the occurrence of events during Earl Harold of Wessex's (later Harold II) visit to Normandy some few years before 1066. He and his retinue were invited to join in a cavalry campaign by Duke William in Brittany. As Anne Hyland emphatically points out, there is an extreme difference between sitting on a pony as transport, compared to the competent skills required in riding and fighting on a warhorse. "The latter requires a degree of confidence in one's own riding ability."(9) Had Harold and his retinue not held this ability, there would have been no advantage in providing them with such animals, indeed they would have been a liability lo William's campaign.
Horses were used at Harold's victorious battle prior to Hastings at Stamford Bridge in September 1066. Although sagas cannot always be relied upon, the saga of Snorri Sturleson, the Heimskringla, is accurate in its main points.(10) The saga states that the English had cavalry, and were not an infantry force. As a second point, Florence of Worcester states that Harold assembled a cavalry in order to repel a landing by his brother Tostig. Florence also mentions several other areas where cavalry were used: against Macbeth in 1054 and the Welsh in 1063.
Finally, a considerable number of horseshoes have been found at the scene of the battle. Harold went north at a considerable, unexpected speed. Fast travel wears horseshoes quickly, loosening the clenches (nails) that hold the shoes on securely, thus creating the easy loss, especially in fast manoeuvring or on churned ground - events and terrain comparable to a battlefield. A horse accustomed to wearing shoes will quickly go lame.
7) Dent & Goodall p 53
8) In Hyland notes : Robertson - Laws of Kings of England p 209ff Canute II
9) Hyland p 95
10) Hyland notes : R. Glover - English Warfare in 1066
This may well dictate why Harold relied upon infantry at Hastings. Too many horses would have been unfit for use; horses would have been exhausted by their continual use for patrolling throughout the summer and by the march north, where a significant number must have been lost. The Heimskringla states that weapons were aimed at the horses as much as the riders.
The Bayeux Tapestry depicts several instances of horses being violently overturned, one scene in particular, where a horse has his skull cloven by an axe, highly illustrates the severe loss of horses suffered by the Normans. Duke William himself had three horses killed from under him.
The English therefore were efficiently skilled at defending against repeated cavalry charges - a skill that cannot be learnt by trial and error in the heat of battle, but acquired through previous experience.
Anthony Dent and Daphne Machin Goodall
A History of British Native Ponies
(first published 1962 under the title of The Foals of Epona)
Julian Glover (adaptation from translation by Michael Alexander and Edwin Morgan)
Alan Sutton 1987
The Medieval Warhorse
Sutton Publishing 1994
Warfare under the Anglo-Norman Kings 1066 - 1135
Boydell Press 1994
Crusader - By horse to Jerusalem
Dorothy Whitlock ed and Trans
Oxford University Press 1930
"This interesting essay covers an important area, which has been neglected. Æthelstan may have fought on horseback, while Cnut and Æthelred issued laws concerning the export of horses. The emphasis on Hastings, which was an important battle but an unusual one, has distorted our view of Anglo-Saxon warfare, as you demonstrate beautifully."
75% 8.3.1999 J Mountain B.Sc. B.A.
|Extra Mural Certificate: A Distinction was awarded in 1999 on the basis of these essays.
Extra Mural Diploma: I graduated the course in 2000 with Merit.