Book 2, Chapter 9, Edward 975 AD to 1016 AD – Edmund Ironside
The great nobles, too, were more intent upon quarrelling among themselves than in uniting for the defence of the national honour and safety. The history of Uhtred and his family will afford a striking proof of this, and also of the barbarism of the times. When Malcolm, king of Scotland, laid siege to Durham, Uhtred assumed the office of his aged father, the Earl Waltheof, and defeated the enemy. After the victory he selected the most handsome of the slain, whose heads by his orders were cut off, washed in the river, and with their long braided hair fixed on stakes round the walls of the city.
To reward this service Ethelred appointed him earl, and gave him his daughter Elfgiva in marriage. His former wife Siga was the daughter of the opulent thane Styr. With her he had espoused the quarrels of the family and engaged to satisfy the revenge of his father in-law by the death of that nobleman’s enemy Thurebrand. But Thurebrand frustrated all his machinations, and at last obtained the consent of Canute to inflict on his foe the punishment which had been designed for himself. The murderer, however, fell soon after by the sword of Aldred, the son of the man whom he had murdered. The duty of revenge now devolved on Ceorl, the son of Thurebrand.
The two chieftains spent some years in plotting their mutual destruction: by the persuasion of their friends they were reconciled, and the reconciliation was confirmed by oaths of brotherhood, and a promise of making together a pilgrimage to Rome. Aldred visited Ceorl at his house, was treated with apparent kindness, and then was treacherously assassinated in the forest of Ridesdale. Ceorl escaped the fate which he merited, but at the distance of many years, his sons, while feasting at the house of the eldest brother near York, were surprised by Waltheof, the grandson of Aldred.
The whole family was massacred with the exception of Sumerlede, who chanced to be absent, and Canute, who owed his life to the pity inspired by his amiable character. The hereditary feud, which had now continued for five generations, was at last extinguished by the Norman Conquest. From it the reader may judge of the disunion, mistrust, and treachery which prevailed in armies composed of the retainers of chieftains, bound by what they considered a most sacred duty, to seek the destruction of each other. To this, in a great measure, the success of the Danes was owing.
Chapter 9, Edward the Martyr
Chapter 9, Ethelred
Chapter 9, Sweyn’s Revenge
Chapter 9, Thurkill Ravages England
Chapter 9, Edmund Ironside
Divisions and Treachery among the English
Categories: Book 2