Northumbrian Struggles
III: Bloodaxe

In 937, Edmund (Eadmund) had fought alongside his half-brother, King Athelstan (Æþelstan), at the battle of Brunanburh, where their English forces roundly defeated a coalition comprising: the Scots, under King Constantine II; the Britons of Strathclyde, whose king was called Owain; and the Hiberno-Norse forces of, Constantine’s son-in-law, the Viking king of Dublin, Olaf Guthfrithsson (Olaf son of Guthfrith).

In October 939 Athelstan died, and Edmund, still only 18 years old, succeeded to the English throne. Olaf evidently saw an opportunity. He promptly crossed the Irish Sea,[*] and, seemingly unopposed, he swiftly occupied York. At this point, however, the chronology becomes somewhat uncertain. Symeon of Durham (HR Chronicle One) records, s.a. 939:

King Athelstan died; to him succeeded his brother Edmund in the kingdom. In this year King Olaf first came to York; thence marching south, he besieged Northampton; but effecting nothing there, he made a diversion to Tamworth and plundered all around; when on his return he had reached Leicester, King Edmund met him with an army. There was no hard fight, since two archbishops, Oda [of Canterbury] and Wulfstan [of York], reconciling the kings to each other, put a stop to the battle. And so peace being made, Watling Street became the boundary of each kingdom, Edmund governing the south, Olaf the north part.

Symeon seems to have run together two years (there is no annal dated 940 in HR Chronicle One). Presumably, Olaf established himself as king at York in early-940 —

— and marched south into Mercia later that year – although charter evidence indicates that Oda (whose father, incidentally, was a Dane) was not archbishop of Canterbury until 941.

The treaty brokered by the two archbishops represents a victory for Olaf. It gave him control of the, so called, ‘Five Boroughs’ – Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham, Stamford and Derby – Danish strongholds (with attendant territories) in eastern Mercia that had been brought under English rule more than twenty years previously.[*]

Having extended his area of influence southwards, Olaf turned his attention northwards, to English-held Northumbria – ruled from Bamburgh, extending from the Tees to the Forth. Symeon of Durham, s.a. 941 (HR Chronicle One), reports that:

Olaf, having plundered the church of St Balthere [i.e. St Baldred] and burnt Tyninghame [near Dunbar], soon perished; whence the men of York ravaged the island of Lindisfarne, and slew many. The son of Sihtric, named Olaf, reigned over the Northumbrians.

Olaf Sihtricsson proved to be a weaker leader than his cousin had been. In 942, Edmund won back the territory he had ceded to Olaf Guthfrithsson. Manuscripts A, B, C and D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle commemorate the event in alliterative verse:

In this year King Edmund, lord of the English, protector of men, the beloved performer of mighty deeds, overran Mercia, as bounded by Dore, Whitwell gate, and the broad stream, the River Humber; and five boroughs, Leicester and Lincoln, Nottingham and likewise Stamford, and also Derby. The Danes [of Mercia] were previously subjected by force under the Northmen [i.e. the Hiberno-Norse of York], for a long time in bonds of captivity to the heathens, until the defender of warriors, the son of Edward, King Edmund redeemed them, to his glory.
Translation by Dorothy Whitelock (1961)

And state that in the next year, 943:

King Edmund received King Olaf at baptism, and he royally gifted him.[*] And in the same year, after a good long interval, he received King Ragnald at the bishop’s hand.[*]

Symeon of Durham’s entry s.a. 943 (HR Chronicle One) states:

The Northumbrians drove their king, Olaf, from his kingdom.

Apparently then, in 943: Olaf Sihtricsson was baptized at Edmund’s court; he was then expelled by the men of York, who chose Ragnald (evidently, the brother of Olaf Guthfrithsson) as their king; subsequently, Ragnald was baptized at Edmund’s court.


The sequence of events presented so far on this webpage – which, since Murray Beaven’s paper ‘King Edmund I and the Danes of York’ (The English Historical Review, Vol.33, 1918: freely available online), has generally been the favoured sequence – depends on accepting Symeon of Durham’s placement (in HR Chronicle One) of Olaf’s Mercian expedition. So, in 940, Olaf Guthfrithsson marches into Mercia, a campaign which, following his raid on Tamworth and the showdown at Leicester, results in him gaining control of the Five Boroughs. He dies in 941, and Olaf Sihtricsson succeeds him. In 942, Edmund recovers the Five Boroughs, which results in Olaf Sihtricsson acknowledging Edmund as his overlord – symbolized by his baptism in 943.
Not all scholars agree, however. For instance, Clare Downham, in ‘The Chronology of the Last Scandinavian Kings of York, AD 937–954’ (paper freely available online: published in Northern History Vol.40 No.1, 2003), argues that Manuscript D’s dates are more reliable than those in HR Chronicle One. As a result, she proposes that Olaf Guthfrithsson did not march on Mercia in 940 – he simply stayed at York. He died in 941, and was succeeded by Olaf Sihtricsson. In 942, Edmund took control of the Five Boroughs.[*] In the same year, Olaf Sihtricsson raided Tamworth. In the next year, i.e. 943, following the showdown at Leicester, Edmund and Olaf Sihtricsson agreed terms, in which Olaf gained the Five Boroughs – the baptism of Olaf is seen as a condition of this treaty.

Olaf Sihtricsson, however, seems to have returned to Northumbria to contest for the throne. Perhaps this contest provided Edmund with the opportunity he had been waiting for. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (all manuscripts), s.a. 944:

In this year King Edmund subdued all Northumbria into his power, and expelled two kings, Olaf, Sihtric’s son, and Ragnald, Guthfrith’s son.[*]

The chronicler Æthelweard says (IV, 6) that:

… Bishop Wulfstan and the ealdorman [dux] of the Mercians expelled certain ‘deserters’, named Ragnald and Olaf, from the city of York, and delivered them to the power of the aforesaid king [i.e. Edmund].[*]

The Annals of Clonmacnoise note:

The king of the Danes was killed by the Saxons at Yorke.[*]

Ragnald Guthfrithsson disappears from history at this point, so it was probably he who was killed. Olaf Sihtricsson, however, escaped to Ireland and wrested the kingship of Dublin from Ragnald’s brother, Blacair Guthfrithsson (Annals of Ulster s.a. 945).

In the meantime, probably in 943, Constantine II had abdicated the throne of Alba (“in his old age, being decrepit”, says the Scottish Chronicle preserved in the Poppleton Manuscript – he had been king for more than 40 years). He retired into religion at St Andrews,[*] leaving the kingdom to Malcolm (Malcolm I), the son of his predecessor, Donald II.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, s.a. 945:

In this year King Edmund harried over all Cumbria [i.e. Strathclyde[*]], and gave it all up to Malcolm king of the Scots, on the condition that he should be his co-operator both by sea and land.[*]

According to Roger of Wendover (who reports the event s.a. 946):

… King Edmund with the aid of Leolin [Hywel?], king of Demetia [i.e. Dyfed], ravaged the whole of Cumbria,[*] and put out the eyes of the two sons of Dunmail, king of that province.

Presumably Strathclyde had provided a safe gateway into Northumbria for Olaf Sihtricsson and his relatives – a gateway that Edmund’s campaign was intended to close.


The circumstances are not mentioned, but in 942 Idwal ab Anarawd, known as Idwal Foel (the Bald), king of Gwynedd, was killed, say Welsh annals, “by the Saxons”, i.e. Edmund’s forces. Hywel ap Cadell, Idwal’s cousin, who was ruling in south-west Wales (Deheubarth), expelled Idwal’s sons, and took control of Gwynedd. Hywel now ruled all but the south-eastern corner of Wales. Tradition credits him with codifying Welsh law – possibly the reason he is remembered as Hywel Dda (the Good).

In the south-east (Morgannwg), one of Morgan ab Owain’s co-rulers, Cadell ab Arthfael, “was poisoned” (no further details) in 942. Morgan, who is known as Morgan Hen (the Old), continued to share the rule with his brother, Cadwgan.

Edmund is known (Flodoard Annales) to have despatched a mission to Hugh, duke of the Franks, in 946, to negotiate the restoration of Louis d’Outremer (who was Edmund’s nephew) to the throne of West Francia. However, his intervention into French politics was cut short.

In this year [946] King Edmund died, on St Augustine’s mass-day [26th May].

So state Manuscripts A, B, C and D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Manuscript D, alone, continues:

It was widely known how he ended his days, that Liofa stabbed him at Pucklechurch [Gloucestershire]. And Æthelflæd of Damerham, daughter of Ealdorman Ælfgar, was then his queen.

Manuscripts A, B, C and D then conclude their entry for 946:

And he [Edmund] had the kingdom six years and a half;[*] and then after him, Eadred ætheling, his brother, succeeded to the kingdom, and reduced all Northumbria under his power; and the Scots gave him oaths, that they would all that he would.

Eadred’s coronation took place, says Florence of Worcester, on the 16th of August, at Kingston.

It was during Eadred’s reign that Viking Northumbria was finally united with the rest of England, but there were plenty of twists and turns on the way. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts A, B and C, however, record none of them. Only Manuscript D has the next two entries:

In this year [947] King Eadred came to Tanshelf [Pontefract], and there Wulfstan the archbishop [of York] and all the Northumbrian council [witan] swore fealty to the king; and within a little space belied it all, both pledges and also oaths.
In this year [948] King Eadred harried over all Northumbria, because they had taken Eric [Yryc] for their king; and then in that harrying was the famous minster at Ripon burnt, which St Wilfrid built.[*] And when the king was homeward, the army [which] was within York overtook him from behind at Castleford, and there made great slaughter. Then was the king so indignant that he would again march in, and totally destroy the country. When the Northumbrian council understood that, they forsook Eric [Hyryc], and made compensation for the deed to King Eadred.

Who is Eric?  Well, he is conventionally equated to an exiled king of Norway, called, in saga tradition, Eiríkr blóðøx i.e. Eric Bloodaxe.


Later, s.a. 952, Manuscript E (also F) of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions the name of Eric’s father: Harald.
Eric Bloodaxe (Eric I of Norway c.930–c.935), a son of Harald Fairhair (Harald I), was ousted by his young half-brother Hakon, who, the sagas say, was raised in England, by Athelstan.
According to Heimskringla, a collection of sagas chronicling the kings of Norway, written in Old Norse, c.1230, by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson:
King Harald loved him [Eric] most out of all his sons and esteemed him most…
When King Harald was nearly 70, he got a son by a woman called Thora Mosterstang. Her family was from Moster… She was said to be the king’s handmaid…
Athelstan was at that time the name of the king in England who had then just taken over the kingdom…
… King Harald sent a ship west to England and put on it as captain Hauk Haabrok. He was a great warrior and very dear to the king. He gave into his charge his son Hakon. Hauk then went west to England to see King Athelstan and met him in London… Hauk went before the king and greeted him. The king bids him welcome. Then Hauk took the boy Hakon and put him on King Athelstan’s knee. The king looks at the boy and asks Hauk why he does that. Hauk replies: “King Harald bade you foster a handmaid’s child for him.” …
King Athelstan had Hakon baptised and taught the true faith and good morality and all kinds of courtly behaviour. King Athelstan loved him so much, more than he did all his kin, and after that everyone loved him who knew him…
King Harald was now eighty years of age; he now became infirm so that he felt he could not travel by land or manage the royal affairs. Then he took his son Eric to his high seat and gave him rule over the whole country…
King Harald lived 3 years after he had given Eric sole rule of the kingdom … King Harald died of sickness …
Harald Fairhair’s Saga Chs 32 & 37–42
Hakon, Athelstan’s foster-son, was in England at the time when he heard of the death of his father King Harald. He immediately got ready to set out. King Athelstan provided him with a troop of men and a good fleet of ships and fitted him out for the voyage very splendidly …
And when he [Eric] saw he had no means of withstanding Hakon’s army, he sailed west across the sea with those troops who were willing to go with him. He went first to Orkney and got from there a large force. Then he sailed south to England and made raids around Scotland wherever he came close to land. He also raided everywhere round the north of England. King Athelstan of the English sent word to Eric and invited him to accept rule from him in England, saying this, that his father King Harald had been a great friend of King Athelstan, and so he wanted to pay regard to that in dealings with his son. Then men went between the kings, and it was agreed on special terms that Eric should take Northumbria to hold from King Athelstan and defend the land there from Danes and other Vikings. Eric was to have himself and his wife and their children and all his men who had come there with him baptized. Eric accepted this offer. He was then baptised and received the true faith… He had his residence in York …
Hakon the Good’s Saga Chs 1 & 3
An episode in Egil’s Saga (anonymous, but sometimes also attributed to Snorri Sturluson) presents Athelstan in a less avuncular light:
Eric saw no other choice but to flee the land … they first went westwards over the main to the Orkneys… After that he went south with his force along the coast of Scotland, and harried there; thence still south to England, and harried there. And when King Athelstan heard of this, he gathered force and went against Eric. But when they met, terms were proposed, and the terms were that King Athelstan gave to Eric the government of Northumbria; and he was to be for King Athelstan defender of the land against the Scots and Irish.
In Heimskringla, Snorri goes on to contend that:
King Eric had large numbers of men around him, kept there a lot of Norwegians who had come with him from the east, and many more still of his friends came later from Norway. He held a small amount of land. Then he always went on raids in summer, raided Scotland and the Hebrides, Ireland and Bretland [Wales] and so increased his wealth. King Athelstan died of sickness. He had been king for 14 years and 8 weeks and 3 days. Afterwards his brother Jatmund [i.e. Edmund] was king in England. He was not keen on Norwegians. King Eric was also not on friendly terms with him, and the word went round about King Jatmund that he was going to appoint another king over Northumbria. And when King Eric heard this, he went raiding in the British Isles and took with him from Orkney Turf-Einar’s sons Arnkell and Erlend. Then he went to the Hebrides, and there were many Vikings and war leaders there and they joined forces with Eric. He then first of all took the whole army to Ireland and got from there whatever troops he could. Then he went to Bretland and raided there. After that he sailed south round the coast of England and raided there just as in other places, and all the people fled wherever he went. And because Eric was a very courageous man and had a large army, he trusted his forces so well that he went a long way up inland and raided and sought followers. The name of the king that King Jatmund had set there to guard the land was Olaf. He mustered an invincible army and went against King Eric, and there was a great battle there. A lot of Englishmen fell, and wherever one fell, 3 came down from inland in his place. And in the latter part of the day, the casualties turned against the Norwegians, and many people fell there, and at the end of that day King Eric fell and 5 kings with him.
Hakon the Good’s Saga Ch.4
Plainly, this story is not a comfortable match with the events presented by English sources. W.G. Collingwood (‘King Eirík of York’, Saga-book of the Viking Club Vol.2, 1897–1900, freely available online) writes: “Here, as elsewhere, Snorri is wrong on many points of chronology, topography, and English politics… These errors, natural in a writer 250 years after the event, trying to make history interesting, or writing with much picturesque feeling, do not invalidate the information he supplies”.  In other words, despite the anomalies, it was, indeed, Eric Bloodaxe who was king of York in 948. Most historians since Collingwood have echoed this view.
However, there is an alternative tradition regarding the death of Eric Bloodaxe. According to an Old Norse text known as Ágrip (believed to have originated in Norway c.1190, but surviving in an early-13th century Icelandic manuscript), Eric left Northumbria when the people became disaffected with his brutal government. He went raiding elsewhere in Europe, and was killed in Spain. If Eric Bloodaxe did, indeed, meet his end in Spain, then this is at odds with English sources that, as will be seen, indicate Eric, king of York, was killed in England.
There is, though, an independent source that indicates an Eric ruled at York before the year 947 (implied by Manuscript D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle). St Catroe (d.c.971) was a Scot of noble birth who became abbot of Metz. A Latin ‘Life’ of Catroe was written, probably in the 980s at Metz. It says that when Catroe left his homeland Constantine was king (i.e. before c.943). He then spent “some time” in “the Cumbrians’ land”, i.e. Strathclyde, which was ruled by his relative, Dovenald. Eventually, Catroe resumed his journey, travelling to meet “Eric in the town of York, because this king had as wife a relative of the godly Catroe”.[*] From York, Catroe travelled to London, and thence to King Edmund’s court at Winchester (so this must be no later than May 946). Edmund had Catroe escorted to the coast (from where he sailed to Boulogne), by an archbishop of Winchester called Otto – no doubt this is Oda, archbishop of Canterbury (by which token, it must be at least 941). Thus, if Catroe’s journey was completed in a single year, it must have occurred round-about 942, but at this time the throne of York was evidently filled by Olaf Sihtricsson, and thin though the record of the times preserved in English sources is, Eric’s presence would, surely, have been noticed. Assuming all the persons are correctly named in Catroe’s ‘Life’, and that its story is essentially correct, then it presents a chronological conundrum.
Whilst the ‘Life’ says that Eric’s wife was “a relative of the godly Catroe”, Norse tradition portrays Eric Bloodaxe’s wife as a beautiful but wicked Scandinavian called Gunnhild – indeed, according to Ágrip (§5), Eric “was called blóðøx, because he was a cruel and ruthless man, and mostly as a result of her council”.  W.G. Collingwood saw this difference as evidence that it was, in fact, one of the Olaf’s, not Eric, who Catroe met at York – which notion, at a stroke, renders the chronology of the ‘Life’ acceptable, and, from W.G. Collingwood’s standpoint, removes an obstacle to the identification of Eric, ruler at York, with Eric Bloodaxe. Clare Downham (Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland, 2007, Chapter 4), however, makes the eminently reasonable suggestion that Eric Bloodaxe and Eric of York are two distinct historical figures, who the sagas have fused into a single literary character: “such a conflation could have been motivated by a narrative desire to fill the gap in the story of the life of Eiríkr blóðøx once he had left Scandinavia.”  Dr Downham proposes that Eric of York was yet another descendant of, the famous, Ivar.
Elsewhere (‘The Chronology of the Last Scandinavian Kings of York, AD 937–954’, freely available online: published in Northern History Vol.40 No.1, 2003), Clare Downham makes the point that Catroe’s journey through Britain may have taken him more than a single year – particularly noting that his stay in Strathclyde “was prolonged”.  She writes: “In order to match this source [the ‘Life’ of Catroe] with other evidence, I tentatively suggest that Eiríkr ruled briefly in 946, nearer the time when he is recorded as active in Northumbria. This would encompass the final months of Edmund’s reign when a plot to kill the King may have been afoot in England. All versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle agree that Eadred subdued Northumbria immediately after his accession. This would have put an end to any such reign of Eiríkr.”

Meanwhile, Olaf Sihtricsson (known by the nickname Cuarán) had been involved in a struggle, against his cousin, Blacair Guthfrithsson, for the control of Dublin. Blacair was killed in 948, which allowed Olaf to turn his attention to York. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript E, s.a. 949:

In this year came Olaf Cwiran to Northumbria.

Olaf evidently established himself, once more, as king at York. The Scottish Chronicle notes that, around the same time:

In the 7th year of his reign, he [Malcolm I of Alba] plundered the English as far as the River Tees; and he seized a multitude of the people, and many herds of cattle.

The chronicler says that the raid was instigated by the aged Constantine II, but stories that Constantine had led the raid himself – having persuaded Malcolm to grant him the kingship for a week “in order to visit the English” – were not correct. Though he may well have taken advantage of the political turbulence in Viking held southern Northumbria, the motive for Malcolm’s raid on the English of northern Northumbria seems to have been profit. The Annals of Ulster place Constantine’s death in 952,[*] and the next entry in the same year states:

The foreigners won a battle over the men of Alba and the Britons [of Strathclyde] and the Saxons [i.e. the English of northern Northumbria].

It seems probable that the ‘foreigners’ were the (apparently considerable) forces of Eric, the previously rejected king of York. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript E, s.a. 952:

In this year the Northumbrians expelled King Olaf, and received Eric, Harald’s son.


Hywel Dda died in 950 – the Brut y Tywysogion calls him: “chief and glory of all the Britons”.[*] Idwal’s sons immediately returned to Gwynedd, and in 951 they defeated Hywel’s sons in battle at Carno (Montgomeryshire).[*] In 952 two of Idwal’s sons twice ravaged Dyfed, the heartland of Deheubarth.[*] In 954 there was “great slaughter” in a battle fought between Idwal’s sons and Hywel’s sons at Llanrwst (Gwynedd). It is presumed that, here too, Idwal’s sons were the victors, since they proceeded to ravage Ceredigion.[*] This was, apparently, the end of hostilities between Idwal’s sons and Hywel’s sons. Idwal’s sons, possibly along territorial lines, divided the rule of Gwynedd between themselves, though Iago seems to have had seniority. Of Hywel’s sons, however, Rhodri had died in 953 and Edwin died in 954 (maybe as a result of wounds received at Llanrwst), so Owain was left as sole ruler of Deheubarth.

Morgan Hen’s brother, Cadwgan, “was killed by the Saxons” in 951. Around the same time, one Nowy ap Gwriad, of unknown origin, appears as king of Morgannwg’s eastern province, Gwent.[*]

Eric reigned at York for two years. Manuscripts D and E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle both announce, s.a. 954:

In this year the Northumbrians expelled Eric, and Eadred assumed the kingdom of the Northumbrians.

Symeon of Durham (HR Chronicle One), at chronological odds with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, states s.a. 952:

Here ended the kings of the Northumbrians; henceforth that province was governed by earls [comites].

And in the next annal, i.e. s.a. 953:

Earl [comes] Oswulf received the earldom [comitatum] of the Northumbrians.

In an aside within his annal for 1072 (HR Chronicle Two), Symeon notes:

… the Northumbrians, their king [i.e. Eric] being driven out and slain by Maccus, the son of Olaf, pacified King Eadred by oaths and presents, and the province was committed to Earl [comes] Oswulf.

It seems likely that this Maccus was the son of either Olaf Guthfrithsson or Olaf Sihtricsson. Roger of Wendover (misplaced s.a. 950) provides further information:

King Eric, by the treachery of Earl [comes] Oswulf, was slain by a nobleman [consul] named Macon [equating to Symeon’s Maccus], together with his son Haeric and his brother Ragnald, in a lonely spot called Stainmore; after which King Eadred reigned in those parts.[*]

Charters show that Oswulf had been ruling English northern Northumbria (roughly, the country between the Tees and the Forth), from Bamburgh, with the title ‘high-reeve’, since at least 946.[*] Oswulf had apparently engineered Eric’s demise in 954, and as a reward, by Eadred’s gift, he became earl/ealdorman of all Northumbria.

Also in 954, Malcolm, king of Alba, “was killed”, announce the Annals of Ulster.

Eadred was not a well man, and, as Florence of Worcester relates, in 955 he:

… fell sick, so that his life was despaired of; upon which a messenger was dispatched with urgent speed to summon Dunstan [abbot of Glastonbury], the king’s confessor. The holy abbot was hastening to the palace, and had accomplished half his journey when he heard these words distinctly uttered by a voice from above, “King Eadred now rests in peace.”  At this sound, the horse on which he was riding, struck with awe at the angel’s voice, fell to the earth lifeless, but Dunstan received no injury. —
— The king’s corpse was carried to Winchester, and interred by abbot Dunstan himself in the Old Minster with the highest honours.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Manuscript A, s.a. 955:

In this year died King Eadred, on St Clement’s mass-day [23rd November] at Frome; and he reigned nine years and a half;[*] and then Eadwig succeeded to the kingdom, the son of King Edmund.
The last entry for the year 937 in the Annals of the Four Masters (an Irish compilation made in the 1630s) announces the departure of “the foreigners”, i.e. the Vikings, from Dublin. However, comparison of entries common to the Four Masters and the, generally reliable, Annals of Ulster, shows the former to be two years behind true date at this time, so it would appear that it was very late in 939 that Olaf Guthfrithsson set sail for England.
Olaf Sihtricsson arrived at York in 940 – the Annals of the Four Masters say, explicitly, that Amlaíb Cuarán (Amlaíb is the Irish form of Olaf, the nickname Cuarán means ‘of the sandal’) went to York (s.a. 938 = 940). This Olaf’s father, Sihtric, was the king of York who died in 927. Athelstan had driven Olaf out of Northumbria in the same year. Following Olaf Guthfrithsson’s death, in 941, Olaf Sihtricsson became king of York, so it is possible that Manuscript D is referring, under the correct year, to the latter’s succession, but the language of the entry (“the Northumbrians belied their fealty oaths”) seems more appropriate as a reference to Olaf Guthfrithsson’s initial take-over of York.
Wulfrun was a Mercian noblewoman. She was no doubt taken to obtain a ransom, and she was certainly freed. In 985 she was granted lands (S860), by King Æthelred (Ethelred the Unready), most of which were at a place called Heantun. Heantun was thus Wulfrun’s-Heantun, and is now Wolverhampton.
Although evidently a new annal – in Manuscripts B and C it has the conventional annal beginning Her (‘In this year’) – this entry is not actually dated 943 in Manuscripts A, B and C, but runs on from the verse which comprises Annal 942. The next dated annal being 944. In Manuscript D, however, there is an annal dated 943, and this entry brings it to a close – the initial part of the annal being Manuscript D’s unique account of Olaf Guthfrithsson’s Mercian campaign, which would seem to belong to 940. So, in Manuscript D, the transition from the initial part of Annal 943 to the last entry runs: “… King Olaf gained King Edmund’s friendship; and King Edmund then received King Olaf at baptism …”  It appears, then, that the first King Olaf is Olaf Guthfrithsson, but the second King Olaf is Olaf Sihtricsson.
There is some evidence to suggest that Sihtric, Hiberno-Norse king of York, subsequently acquired control of Lincoln, the most northerly of the Five Boroughs. (See Grandsons of Ivar.)
“In this year” is a translation of the Old English Her, and it is the conventional way of beginning an annal in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It would appear, then, that two separate annals have been run together.
The English rank immediately below king was ‘ealdorman’. The equivalent rank among Scandinavians was ‘earl’ (Old Norse: jarl). Latin-writers, however, employed old Roman titles – usually comes (plural: comites; genitive singular: comitis), source of the modern English word ‘count’, or dux (plural: duces; genitive singular: ducis), source of the modern English word ‘duke’ – to represent the vernacular titles.
“kinsmen” in Manuscript A.
Highlighted phrase in Manuscript D only.
In Manuscript E, the highlighted phrase is rendered: “two men of royal race, Olaf and Ragnald.”
By Æthelweard’s chronological computations, this event is dated 948. He proceeds to say that Edmund’s wife, Ælfgifu, died in the same year[*], and then adds that Edmund died “during the same revolution of time”.  Edmund died in 946.
This notice appears s.a. 937, an annal recording events that are reliably dated (Annals of Ulster) 944 and 945.
A burh (dative: byrig) – from which the modern word ‘borough’ – is a fortified site.
St Andrews is not named in the Poppleton Manuscript, but it is in some other, later, king-lists. List D, for instance: “he resigned the kingdom of his own accord, and served God for five years in the habit of religion, becoming abbot in [the monastery of] the Culdees of St Andrews. There too he died and was buried.”
A.A.M. Duncan (Scotland: The Making of the Kingdom, 1975, Chapter 5, p.104): "In the ninth century a movement towards reform, a stricter observance by clergy of celibacy, of a sabbatarian Sunday, and of canonical hours, spread from Ireland to Scotland. These ‘vassals of God’, céli De, whence Culdees, were established at Brechin, Abernethy, Loch Leven, Monifieth, Monymusk, Muthill and St Andrews, and indeed the only other monastic communities in Scotia are so shadowy that few are known to have existed.”
Highlighted section not in Manuscript E.
The Annales Cambriae (A-text) report this event: “Strathclyde was laid waste by the Saxons.”
By 927 the Strathclyde Britons had apparently extended their territories south of the Solway Firth, to the river Eamont (just below Penrith), which is on the border of the traditional English counties of Cumberland (to the north) and Westmorland. In 1974, Cumberland and Westmorland (with a part of Lancashire) were merged to form the new county of Cumbria. Originally, though, ‘Cumbria’ was synonymous with ‘the kingdom of Strathclyde’. Whilst the name Strathclyde, i.e. ‘Valley of the Clyde’, is geographically derived, the name Cumbria (and Cumberland) is derived from the ethnicity of its people. It comes from the Britons' own name for themselves – in modern Welsh, Wales is Cymru (pronounced: Cum-ri), and the Welsh are Cymry (also pronounced: Cum-ri) – and simply means ‘Land of the Britons’.
Leolin is an Anglicized form of the Welsh name LLywelyn. It is probably a scribal error, Hywel being intended – Hywel was, of course, king of Dyfed, and more. Though the A-text of the Annales Cambriae (Annals of Wales) reports that “Strathclyde was laid waste by the Saxons”, it makes no mention of Welsh involvement.
The witness-list to an undated charter (S1497) places Hywel (Eowul subregulus) in attendance on Edmund, at Kirtlington, Oxfordshire. This is the only extant record of a Welsh king visiting Edmund’s court.
In the year following Hywel’s death, the A-text (i.e. Harleian MS 3859) of the Annales Cambriae simply records “the battle of Carno”.  The B-text goes further: “The battle of Carno between the sons of Hywel and the sons of Idwal.”  The C-text, however, adds the battle to the same annal in which it records Hywel’s death: “Hywel king of the Britons, called the Good, died, to whom succeeded Owain, his son. But two sons of Idwal, namely Iago and Ieuaf, whom Hywel had expelled from the kingdom [of Gwynedd], arrived unexpectedly and fought against Owain near Nant Carno [nant = stream], and they were the victors.”  In fact, Hywel had three living sons: Owain, Rhodri and Edwin.
William of Malmesbury supplies a more intricate tale. He says (GR II §144) that Liofa, who had been banished six years previously, was spotted, by Edmund, sat next to one of his guests at a banquet being held to commemorate St Augustine (of Canterbury). Edmund: “leaped from the table, caught the robber by the hair, and dragged him to the floor; but the other secretly drawing a dagger from its sheath, plunged it with all his force into the breast of the king as he lay upon him.[*] Dying of the wound, he gave rise, over the whole kingdom, to many fictions concerning his decease. The robber was shortly torn limb from limb by the attendants who rushed in, though he wounded some of them ere they could accomplish their purpose.”
See Æthelberht I of Kent.
Roger of Wendover (s.a. 946), in his telling of the tale, says that Liofa: “cut the king’s throat”.
The relics of St Wilfrid were removed from Ripon and taken to Canterbury, where they were received by Archbishop Oda. Oda, himself, says this in the preface he wrote to a poem he commissioned, from one Frithegod, in honour of Wilfrid. According to William of Malmesbury (GP I §15), Oda was on campaign with Eadred, and oversaw the transfer of Wilfrid’s relics.
According to saga tradition, after succeeding his father, Halfdan the Black, king of Vestfold (south-eastern Norway), Harald initiated a series of battles against other local rulers – culminating in a great victory at Hafrsfjord (round-about 890). Egil’s Saga (Ch.9) says: "This was the last battle King Harald had within the land; after this none withstood him; he was supreme over all Norway."  Harald Fairhair is regarded as the first king of Norway.
Seven (vii) weeks, not 8 (viii).
Snorri Sturluson begins Heimskringla with the statement: “In this book I have had written old stories about those rulers who have held power in the Northern lands and have spoken the Scandinavian language, as I have heard them told by learned men, and some of their genealogies according to what I have been taught, some of which is found in the records of paternal descent in which kings and other men of high rank have traced their ancestry, and some is written according to old poems or narrative songs which people used to use for their entertainment. And although we do not know how true they are, we know of cases where learned men of old have taken such things to be true.”
The ‘Life’ says that Catroe was conducted, by his Cumbrian host, “to the city of Leeds [usque Loidam Civitatem], which is the boundary of the Northmen and the Cumbrians”, where he was handed over to a nobleman called Gunderic, who conducted him to York. It is, however, difficult to imagine how the border of Strathclyde could have been as far south as Leeds (Loidis). It is popularly suggested that Carlisle (Lugubalia) may have been meant, whilst Tim Clarkson (The Men of the North, 2010, Chapter 9) talks of: “a frontier settlement called Loida, perhaps near the River Lowther in Westmorland”.  On the other hand, Michael Wood (In Search of the Dark Ages, 1981, Chapter 7, p.158) opines: “political boundaries (or zones of control) advanced and receded rapidly in the Dark Ages, and in the 940s, with the constant changes of regime in York, there is nothing improbable in the idea [that Leeds could be considered as the Cumbrians’ border].”
This is Dyfnwal (in Irish Domnall), Anglicized as Donald, who was apparently the son of Owain, the king of Strathclyde last heard of in 937, at the battle of Brunanburh. In 945, the eyes of Dyfnwal’s sons were put-out on Edmund’s orders, and control of Strathclyde was handed-over to Malcolm I of Alba. Dyfnwal, though, seems to have retained (or perhaps recovered) his position, and lived on for another thirty years – the Annals of Ulster record the death of “Domnall son of Eógan [Owain], king of the Britons” s.a. 975, but he had, evidently, abdicated and been succeeded by his son at least a couple of years before then.
Note: the notion, propagated by late-14th century Scottish chronicler John of Fordun, that Strathclyde was by this time a sub-kingdom of Alba, ruled by the heir to the throne of Alba, has been rejected (see Constantine II).
The date of Wulfstan’s death is uncertain. He certainly outlived Eadred, who died on 23rd November 955, featuring (with the title ‘archbishop’) in a charter of Eadred’s successor, Eadwig, dated 955 (S582), but whether he lived into 956 is not quite so certain. There is a charter of Eadwig’s (S605), attested by Archbishop Wulfstan, that is dated either 955 or 956, depending on manuscript, so that is not conclusive.
Wulfstan’s obit appears in both Manuscripts D and E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Manuscript E places it s.a. 956, as does Florence of Worcester. Manuscript D places it s.a. 957, but D’s obit is accompanied by another entry (the exiling of Dunstan, abbot of Glastonbury) that is best dated 956. Manuscript D adds detail not present in Manuscript E – that Wulfstan died on the 17th (xvii) of the Kalends of January, i.e. 16th December, and was buried at Oundle, Northamptonshire (in the diocese of Dorchester). Florence of Worcester agrees that Wulfstan was buried at Oundle, but dates his death the 7th (vii) of the Kalends of January, i.e. 26th December (as, indeed, does the 12th century, anonymous, Chronicle of the Archbishops of York). Now, to an annalist starting the year at Christmas (see Anno Domini), 26th December 955 would be assigned to 956, and it would be expected to be at the beginning of the annal, but Florence places Wulfstan’s obit at the end of Annal 956. In short, Wulfstan died either in December 955 or December 956.
The English rank immediately below king was ‘ealdorman’. The equivalent rank among Scandinavians was ‘earl’ (Old Norse jarl; Old English eorl). Latin-writers, however, frequently employed the old Roman title comes (plural comites), source of the modern English word ‘count’, in place of the vernacular titles. Another popular Roman title used to the same effect, particularly in charters, is dux (plural duces), source of the modern English word ‘duke’. Sometimes other Roman terms are pressed into service – princeps, source of the modern English word ‘prince’, for instance. In this annal, Macon is titled consul, which has been translated here as ‘nobleman’. In English Historical Documents c. 500–1042 (Second Edition, 1979, Item 4), however, this too, like comes (genitive singular comitis) in the same sentence, is translated as ‘earl’.
In his paper ‘Hogback Monuments in Scotland’ (published in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Vol. 105, 1972–74, available online), J.T. Lang writes: “The earliest forms of hogback are found in the Allertonshire area of North Yorkshire, those from Brompton being well executed copies of long houses with bombé sides and large muzzled bears as end-beasts, each occupying a third of the monument.”
Dr Downham suggests: “It is possible that the area of the ‘Five Boroughs’ was still subject to an established élite of ‘Northumbrian’ landholders and officials who retained their status under Æthelstan’s suzerainty. These may be the ‘Northmen’ or ‘heathens’ who are mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s poem on Edmund’s recovery of the ‘Five Boroughs’, who are said to have oppressed the Danish majority.”
He notes that she was subsequently venerated as a saint: “At her tomb, by the assistance of God, even at the present day numberless miracles are performed, at the monastery commonly called Shaftesbury.”
Alan R. Rushton (Royal Maladies: Inherited Diseases in the Ruling Houses of Europe, 2008, p.97) opines: “He [Eadred] most likely had a congenital narrowing of the esophagus (achalasia) or a fistula between the trachea and the esophagus that inhibited his swallowing and may have predisposed him to a fatal pneumonia due to aspiration of food or drink.”
The only extant example of a coin issued in the name of a Welsh king was apparently minted in England for Hywel Dda. The obverse inscription (pictured) reads HOWÆL REX. Its style and the name of the moneyer, Gillys (which is on the reverse), suggest the silver penny was made at Chester during Eadred’s reign. Since just one coin has survived, it seems more likely that it was made as a presentation piece, rather than for use as currency. (See: C.E. Blunt, ‘The Cabinet of the Marquess of Ailesbury and the Penny of Hywel Dda’, in the British Numismatic Journal Vol.52, 1982, freely available online.)
The same three Welshmen, again only Hywel is titled (regulus), witness a charter of Eadred’s dated 949 (S544), in which Cadmo appears as Cadmon. John Edward Lloyd (A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest Vol.1 Second Edition, 1912, Chapter 10 fn.66) thought that Cadwgan may have been meant, but Dorothy Whitelock, in a footnote to the translation of S520 quoted here (English Historical Documents c. 500–1042 Second Edition, 1979, Item 105 fn.14), writes: “Cadmo (elsewhere Cadmon) looks more like Welsh Cadfan than an error for Caducan ( = Cadwgan, brother of Morgan) as suggested by Lloyd.”
In another of Eadred’s charters dated 949 (S550), Hywel appears with the title rex, alongside Morgan, who is accorded the title regulus.
The Annales Cambriae place Hywel’s obit – “Hywel king of the Britons [“called the Good” add Text-B and Text-C] died” – three years after Edmund’s, which would tend to indicate that Hywel’s death should be dated 949. However, Hywel seems to have attended Eadred’s court at Abingdon in 950 – the witness-list of a charter issued at the time (S552a) features Howel regulus cum Morcante (Hywel regulus with Morgan). Symeon of Durham (HR Chronicles One & Two) places Hywel’s obit s.a. 951, but the, usually very reliable, Annals of Ulster place it s.a. 950.
Five names appear in the Welsh annals as sons of Idwal: Iago, Idwal, Ieuaf, Rhodri and Meurig. In the B-text of the Annales Cambriae the two sons of Idwal responsible for raiding Dyfed are named as Iago and Idwal. In the C-text and the Brut y Tywysogion, though, the two sons are named as Iago and Ieuaf. (No raids on Dyfed are recorded in the A-text, and it is the Brut which says that Dyfed was raided twice.) In 988, ‘Idwal son of Idwal’ died according to the B-text, but according to the C-text and the Brut it was ‘Ieuaf son of Idwal’ who died. Since Ieuaf translates as ‘Junior’, it would appear that Idwal and Ieuaf are one and the same. However, a character who was killed in 980, referred to in most incarnations of the annals simply as Idwal, appears in some Brut y Tywysogion texts as ‘Idwal Fychan (an epithet which also translates as ‘Junior’) son of Idwal Foel’. Further, in a late-medieval genealogical tract, Achau Brenhinoedd a Thywysogion Cymru (§7c), both Ieuaf and Idwal Fychan are named as sons of Idwal Foel. (This tract names five sons of Idwal, but has Cynan instead of Rhodri.) It seems, then, that Idwal and Ieuaf (called Idwal by AC B-text) are different sons of Idwal.
Neither Idwal’s nor Hywel’s sons are named in the annals. The ravaging of Ceredigion is only reported in the Brut y Tywysogion.
Rhodri’s death is the last event recorded in the A-text of the Annales Cambriae. In fact, in a year count from Hywel Dda’s death, which was evidently in 950, Rhodri’s death should be assigned to 954. However, if counted, not only from Edmund’s death (946), as previously placed in the A-text and B-text, but also the death of Edmund’s son, Edgar (975), as later placed in the B-text, then 953 it is.
Edwin is an English name. John Edward Lloyd (A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest Vol.1 Second Edition, 1912, Chapter 10, pp.336–7) avers: “All that is known of Hywel points him out as a warm admirer … of English civilisation”, and suggests that Edwin’s name was: “possibly given him out of compliment to the young son of Edward the Elder who perished in 933.”  This son of Edward the Elder, though, was the half-brother of Athelstan whom Athelstan was said to have had drowned for his treachery, and D.P. Kirby, in a paper titled ‘Hywel Dda: Anglophil?’ (The Welsh History Review Vol.8 No.1, 1976, freely available online), suggests that Hywel’s choice of name for his son was “possibly a calculated jibe at – not a compliment to – Athelstan”.  The feelings that the Welsh, in general, had for the English may be gathered from the poem Armes Prydein (The Prophecy of Britain), thought to have been composed in south Wales in the mid-10th century, which looks forward to the day when an alliance of the non-English inhabitants of the British Isles (even the Vikings of Dublin), together with the Bretons, eject the English from Britain.
Nowy would be succeeded in the kingship by his son and two grandsons. Their reigns are recorded in the Book of Llandaff. Nowy’s son and successor was called Arthfael. Arthfael is said (p.244, Evans & Rhys edition) to have murdered his brother, Elise. Rhodri and Gruffydd, who evidently succeeded Arthfael as joint rulers, were the sons of Elise.
In S520, dated 946, Oswulf (Osulf) is titled ‘high-reeve’. In S544, dated 949, he is ‘high-reeve at Bamburgh’. In S550, dated 949, and S552a, dated 950 (his latest appearance in a charter), he is ‘Oswulf Bamburgh’. In S546, dated 949, he is titled dux. (An Oswulf dux also features in charters of 934, and it is widely suggested that he is the same man.)  It would seem, however, that high-reeve (heahgerefa) was a lower rank than ealdorman. In Norðleoda Laga (North-people’s Law), a text probably dating from the period 1002–1023, the wergild of an ealdorman (who has the same worth as a bishop) is twice that of a “king’s high-reeve”. In this text, the high-reeve is equated to the Scandinavian rank of hold. Their worth is twice that of a thegn.
The monetary value, based on rank, of a person’s life.
The Scottish Chronicle: “And Constantine died in [Malcolm’s] 10th year, under the crown of penitence, in good old age.”
A West Saxon king-list – a single leaf preserved in British Library MS Cotton Tiberius A iii – which, it has been demonstrated, was originally appended to Manuscript B of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and so was probably written in 977/8 (it is generally identified by the Greek character β), gives Edmund a reign length of “six years and a half, less two nights”.  Since Athelstan died on 27th October 939, Edmund’s reign length is evidently reckoned from his coronation,[*] which was apparently about 29th November 939.
King-list β had previously assigned Athelstan a reign of “14 years, and 7 weeks, and 3 days”, which is clearly reckoned from his coronation on 4th September 925.
From the death of Edmund (26th May 946) to the death of Eadred (23rd November 955) is almost exactly nine years and six months.
King-list β assigns Eadred a reign of “9 years and 6 weeks”.  Florence of Worcester, though, says that Eadred’s coronation took place on 16th August 946, so β’s reign-length doesn't match either measure.
Morgan, titled regulus, is the only Welsh ruler to feature in the witness-list of S633, a charter of Eadred’s successor, Eadwig, dated 956. This is the last appearance of a Welsh king in an Anglo-Saxon charter.
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
Historia Regum (History of the Kings).
The king-list known as ‘List D’ was, its prologue indicates, compiled around 1180 (though it stops at 1058), but it survives in a manuscript of c.1500 (National Library of Scotland MS Advocates’ 34.7.3).
Gesta Regum Anglorum
(Deeds of the Kings of England).
Gesta Pontificum Anglorum
(Deeds of the Bishops of England).
Anglo-Saxon charters are referred to by their number in Sawyer’s catalogue.
Available online: The Electronic Sawyer.
John of Fordun’s Chronica Gentis Scotorum (Chronicle of the Scottish Nation) is the earliest full-scale history of Scotland – from legendary origins to the year 1153 in five books. John would appear to have composed his chronicle in the mid-1380s – in the concluding passages of Book V, there is reproduced a genealogy of King David I (r.1124–1153) that the writer says he got from Walter Wardlow, bishop of Glasgow, to whom he gives the title Lord Cardinal of Scotland, which would only be appropriate for the period 1384–1387.
The Book of Llandaff (Liber Landavensis), dating from the early-12th century, is noted for a collection of 159 charters that purport to record grants of property made to bishops of Llandaff from the fifth century to the eleventh century. In that respect, the charters are a fiction, designed to provide the diocese of Llandaff, southeast Wales, with an antiquity it did not in fact possess. It would seem, though, that they are generally based on genuine grants made to other churches – that it is possible to detect the later Llandaff accretions, and to infer rough dates for most. Having said that, the charters’ authenticity is the subject of continuing debate.