21 November 2011

In the Shadow of 1066 (Part 1 and Part 2)

Alditha – Harold’s Queen.

copyright 1066 the movie
Before he was crowned as King in January 1066, Harold Godwinesson had what we would now call a common law wife – Edyth Swannhaels - Edith Swanneck, Edith the Fair. As King he was obliged to make a Christian blessed marriage of alliance. There would, perhaps, have been two choices for him. A daughter of Duke William of Normandy could have been a possibility – I am convinced that a marriage agreement was made when Harold was in Normandy during 1064. A betrothal would have been made by William to secure Harold’s loyalty and pledge to aid his bid for the English throne. The engagement would have been broken off by a disgruntled father the day he heard news of Harold’s Coronation.
 I wonder if the girl was relieved or disappointed?

The other choice was the sister to the two Northern Earls, Edwin and Morkere of Mercia and Northumbria. She was Alditha, widow of the Welsh Prince Gruffydd, defeated, and some say slain, by Harold in 1063
There are two schools of thought regarding whether Alditha was pleased to be bargained off in a second marriage of convenience, depending on whether you are a Harold supporter or not. On one side, Harold is reported as being a brutal man, arrogant and conceited. It’s interesting that this view is more readily banded by the Welsh. The fact is, Gruffydd was murdered by his own people who then surrendered. In consequence, Wales was left to its own stewardship (similar to when Llewelyn ap Fawr ruled as Prince under John). Nor are there Norman tales of Harold being ruthless – on top of the rest of the Norman propaganda, I would have expected a blackening of his character. (Think subsequent kings who, for various reasons, were discredited.)
The widow Alditha and her young daughter, Nest, were escorted back to her own family in Mercia. This does not strike me as the action of a vindictive man. But I admit I am biased! Nest later married the Marcher Lord Osbern fitz Richard of Richard’s castle on the Hereford/Shropshire border, which gives rise to my personal belief that after 1066 Alditha fled to Wales. 
Actress Emily Hall
has been cast to play 'Alditta'
 in the movie 1066
Our first problem with Alditha is her name, there are several variants: Ealdgyth, Algytha, Alditta, Edyth,  Edith… take your pick. I favour Alditha to avoid confusion with Edith Harold’s sister and Edith his first wife. Alditha was the granddaughter of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, daughter of Ælfgar his son and successor. Ælfgar was unpredictable and hostile to the Godwine family and King Edward. Prior to his rebellion of 1062 he had already been banished once from the Kingdom.
Unhappy with Harold’s brother Tostig being made Earl of Northumbria, Ælfgar allied with Gruffydd of Wales, and began raiding the Welsh Marches and Herefordshire. The alliance – sealed by Alditha’s marriage circa 1057 – backfired however, as it gave Harold the excuse he needed to enter Wales and put an end to the many years of aggressive border warfare. Defeated, Ælfgar was exiled and died in 1062. Mercia passed to his son Edwin, and Northumbria went to Morkere when Tostig was exiled in 1065.
It is possible that Harold took Alditha as wife as early as 1063 after Gruffydd’s death, but this is unlikely, and to what purpose? Far more logical that the marriage took place after King Edward’s death to ensure the support of the North, and to provide assurance that Harold would not return Tostig to favour. It is not known whether she was crowned as Queen - again it is logical that she was, in order to secure her brothers’ position.
She had one son, Harold, born posthumously at Chester in late 1066 or early 1067. Her two brothers attempted a rebellion against William in 1068 and again in 1069, probably citing the young child as the legitimate heir. The Norman response was a winter march across the Pennines in 1069-70 to occupy Chester and to crush the two Earls in battle near Stafford. Alditha fled, either into Wales or to Dublin.
William of Malmesbury suggests that the young Harold later journeyed to Norway where he was well received by Olaf Haraldsson, and a Harold is found among the followers of Magnus Olafsson in 1098 when a battle was fought against the Norman earls of Shrewsbury and Chester. Thereafter, this Harold disappears from the records.
Was this was Harold Haroldsson? Or did he die as a young child? I think the latter. No proof, just gut feeling or an author’s fancy. 
What happened to Alditha – nobody knows.
A delight for fiction writers; we can make the story up and no one can contradict our ideas.

The Battle Site as it is today
Helen Hollick is author of 
Harold the King (UK title) I am the Chosen King (US title)
the story of the Battle of Hastings 
from the English point of view

(1066 the Movie is in development)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
In The Shadow of 1066 - Continued
Author Sarah Bower does not have a blog site, only Facebook.
As not all Internet users have access to Facebook I offered to put her contribution to this celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings here on my blog.

The Tapestry, the Reichsfuhrer and Two Fire Extinguishers: The Bayeux Tapestry in the Second World War
by Sarah Bower

October 14th 2011 marks the 945th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. At least one reason why this date stays in our minds is its commemoration in the Bayeux Tapestry. The Tapestry is remarkable for its longevity, its unique style and the light it sheds on the social and military mores of the early medieval period in Europe. It is also a piece of shameless Norman propaganda.
Nor were the Normans the only people to see its propaganda value. When the Nazis overran France in 1940, several of Hitler’s deputies became very interested in this unique and charismatic art work.
What ensued is a story of fantastic intrigue and adventure, and ultimately of survival against all the odds. As Hitler’s armies marched into Poland, the Bayeux Tapestry was taken off display and packed into a zinc lined crate, wrapped in sheets and liberally sprinkled with moth powder. The crate was stowed in a bomb proof shelter especially constructed for it in the cellars of its home, the Hotel du Doyen. And there it might have remained for the next five years had it not been for the peculiar obsessions of Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler.

Himmler had established a ‘research’ arm of the SS, the Ahnenerbe, the ‘Ancestral Heritage’ unit, devoted to proving the existence of a lost Aryan master race and German descent from it. Ahnenerbe projects included experiments on the effects of high altitude and freezing on the human body, carried out on the inmates of Dachau, and Dr. August Hirt’s collection of skulls, acquired through the execution of various different racial types at Auschwitz. In 1942, its art historians turned their attention to establishing the Tapestry’s credentials as an Aryan art work, on the grounds that the Normans were descended from the Vikings.
A number of interest groups wanted to keep the Ahnenerbe’s hands off the Tapestry, not just the French but also the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, the body responsible for Goering’s wholesale looting of art works from conquered countries. The Reichsmarschall had a particular liking for tapestries and carpets. Goebbels could see the propaganda value, in 1940, of Germany ‘bringing home’ a work which showed an Aryan people conquering Britain. But Himmler was so keen for the SS to acquire the work he had even allocated a space to hang it in his own renovated medieval castle in Westphalia.
Wrangled over constantly by these different interest groups, this ancient, fragile strip of embroidered linen made no less than five journeys over open roads with little to protect it from Allied bombing raids other than its devoted custodian, M. Falue, and a couple of fire extinguishers. One journey, which would not have seemed out of place in an episode of ‘Allo, ‘Allo, took place in a 10cv van converted to run on gas produced by burning wood or charcoal in order to get around petrol rationing. Even now, knowing the Tapestry to be safe in its purpose-built home in Bayeux, the thought is horrifying!
It seems hardly surprising that a celebrity like the Tapestry should have been present at the liberation of Paris. It was en route to Germany before the Allies could gain possession of it. The Allies, however, were alerted to Himmler’s plans via coded messages intercepted by Bletchley Park. Even so, it was the last Nazi commander of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz, who probably saved it, by telling the two SS men charged with taking it out of the Louvre that the palace was already in Allied hands and he could offer them no back-up to get into the building and get the Tapestry out. Von Choltitz was later awarded the Legion d’Honneur for his refusal to carry out Hitler’s command to ‘reduce Paris to rubble.’
In November 1945, the Tapestry was put on show in the Louvre, to coincide with Churchill’s visit to the city. Doubtless Churchill appreciated the significance for a resurgent France of this great display of a French conquest of the English. Once again, the Tapestry had a role to play in a propaganda war.

I am immeasurably indebted to the work of the late and much lamented Carola Hicks in her book, The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece for the information in this article. Any errors are mine not hers.
© Sarah Bowe
8th October 2011
Sarah Bower is a novelist and short story writer. 
Her first novel The Needle and the Blood, published by Sourcebooks Inc 
was Susan Hill's Book of the Year 2007

7 comments: from the original post

Blodeuedd said...
Great post :) So fascinating and I do like this time in history in England, perhaps cos it is the time closest to me in a way, since Norwegians and Danes ran around earlier 
Allison Macias said...
Wow. I love this. Its such a wonderful historic soap opera. I couldn't imagine being taken as a wife by my deceased husband's enemy. Talk about resentment!
Hus said...
So many points to consider! Edith/Eadgyth/Ealdgytha or whatever the variant one wishes, was a common Anglo-Saxon noblewoman's name and usually re-worded to 'Matilda' by the Normans who couldn't pronounce it! Harold proved himself anything other than cruel (by the standards of the times anyway) after Stamford Bridge after 25th Sept 1066 when he allowed the surviving Norwegians ('24 out of 300 ships') to go home unmolested, including a grateful Prince Olaf. The Norman noble girl- whoever she was and most certainly part of the entire 1064 oath proceedings in Normandy, would have been married off to another noble quickly enough. As for Edith Swanschalls, she must have been jealous and heartbroken to see her love married off Christian-style to another, also called Edith/Eadgyth. But she was also a nbole lady (we think) and would have very much understood the Politicking of the age, and relented reluctantly? Besides, every century provided great men whose heart really lay elsewhere whilst being forced to marry for Politics? Look at Charles and Diana in 1981?
Christina said...
This is all fascinating stuff! I love the name Alditha, it's very pretty. Look forward to hearing more about this!
paulalofting said...
Good to read stories of the women in these accounts. As with everything around this era, there is little evidence wrtten down about the character of the main players howwever its not that difficult to work out the sort of person someone may have been by their deeds and Harold's deeeds showed that he could be ruthless, bbut no more so than a man of his time, but mostly they showed his compassion, patience and bravey. His sister's deeds hint at her arrogance and her self-centredness and i have always imagined that Alditha would have loved and respected Harold, after all she did name her son Harold obviously for his father. Harold's mother Gytha must have been a force of nature, judging by her brave stance against the Normans at Exeter and as for Edith Swanneck, I can only imagine that she was beautiful, graceful and gentle, for Harold must have loved her to have kept her for so long. Thanks for this very thought provoking post, Helen.
Karen said...
Just finished reading "I Am the Chosen King" and I could not put it down... even though I knew the outcome. Wonderful, wonderful book!
Helen Hollick said...
thank you Karen

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