Edward the Confessor: A Visitor to Worcester?

While listening to a lecture by Professor Simon Keyes of Cambridge, the leading authority on Anglo-Saxon charters, a passing reference to a charter from Worcester witnessed by Edward the Confessor caught my attention. It has always been said that the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor (reigned 1042-1066), unlike many later English rulers, never travelled as far north as Worcester. I feel this single charter written and witnessed in Worcester establishes that he did visit Worcester and the Cathedral at least once during his reign.

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Portrait of Edward the Confessor,’History of England’ (1767). Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

The evidence that Edward visited Worcester is based on a charter[1] dating from 1058. This charter, a grant of land in Norton, Worcestershire is to Dodda, a prominent thegn and landholder of the bishop of Worcester, Ealdred.  This charter is witnessed by Edward the Confessor.  After the dating clause at the beginning of the charter it reads ‘Sanctae Wigornensis Aecclesiae’ (‘the Holy Church of Worcester’), indicating this charter was actually signed at St Peter’s, the Anglo-Saxon cathedral.

To add confirmation to this all the witnesses that can be identified also come from Worcestershire and emphasise the ‘Worcester’ nature of this charter.

The King is the first witness, followed by the four senior witnesses, Ealdred, the Bishop of Worcester and grantor of the land. Athelwig, the Abbot of Evesham, Eadmund, the Abbot of Pershore and Godric, Abbot of Winchcombe.  All are Abbeys of the See of Worcester.

These are followed by four priests,  Wulstan, prior of Worcester, Wulfwig, a known witness to Lyfing the previous Bishop, Wylstan who was consecrated Abbot of Gloucester later in 1058 and lastly Aelfstan, Wulfstan’s brother who became prior after him.

The two deacons that follow, Godric and Godwin, are enlightening also. Deacons were not very high in the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Anglo-Saxon church, holding a clerical or administrative position, so are unlikely to have travelled far to be in attendance at a King’s court.

Of the ten thegns witnessing this charter, eight (including Brihtric, Dodda’s son) can be identified and are holders of land in Worcestershire.

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Map of Worcestershire by Emanuel Bowen (C18th). Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

The scribe is also known.[2]  He is recognised as a Worcester scribe associated with several Worcester manuscripts,[3]  including the vernacular charter[4] from Worcester announcing Wulfstan’s election to Bishop of Worcester by King Edward.

It is equally important who is not witnessing this charter and that is the absence of any of the ‘royal court’ who would have been present if this charter had been signed at Gloucester. [5] Other charters that Edward has witnessed include several of the royal court among the witnesses.

Edward spent the Easter of 1058[6] at Gloucester, less than a day’s journey from Worcester. It had been more usual for Edward to spend Christmas in Gloucester but in that year Edward spent Easter there,[7] probably at Kingsholm, where he had a palace. Bishop Ealdred was also in Gloucester for some of the Easter period as he consecrated Athelwig as Abbot of Evesham there on the 23rd  April 1058.[8]

So why would King Edward be in Worcester to sign this charter? Ealdred had been chosen to be the Bishop of Worcester by Edward himself and besides his episcopal duties served Edward as both a diplomat and leader of the army in the Welsh Marches. During the 1050s Edward’s reign was dominated by the search for an heir and problems with Gruffudd ap Llewellyn the Welsh king; Ealdred was a central figure in both.

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Reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry in ‘Anglo-Norman Antiquities Considered’ (1767). Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

 

The most powerful men in England under Edward the Confessor were Earl Godwin’s sons Harold and Tostig, and they had succeeded in getting Ælfgar[9], the heir to the earldom of Mercia, sent into exile. However Ælfgar made an alliance with Gruffydd ap Llewellyn and in 1055 the two of them joined forces to attack Hereford. Leofgar, the bishop of Hereford, was killed and Ealdred was called upon to negotiate peace terms with Prince Gruffydd.  The successful outcome of these talks resulted in Ealdred being rewarded with the vacant see of Hereford. But, in 1058, the year that Ealdred intended to leave the country on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the west of the country was in upheaval again. Edward had banished Ælfgar for a second time. But in 1058, allied with Gruffydd ap Llewellyn and a formidable Viking fleet under the control of Magnus, son of Harold Hardrada king of Norway, Ælfgar landed back in Wales.

Due to the unsettled situation Edward would no doubt have wanted to meet with Ealdred to ensure that the Welsh border was in safe hands and protected during his absence on pilgrimage. Therefore, that Edward was in Worcester in 1058 is no great surprise. It is highly likely he went to Worcester to discuss this security with Ealdred and thus was present to witness this grant to Dodda. The Bishop kept a residence in Worcester,[10] presumably on the site of the present ‘Old Palace’ and alongside the Cathedral, and it is likely the King stayed there.

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Coins from Edward the Confessor’s reign. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

There was no official ecclesiastical court until 1070. Consequently the probable place of issue is given by the phrase ‘Sanctae Wigornensis aecclesiae’ [the Holy Church of Worcester] at the beginning of the charter as most likely indicating this charter was actually signed at the Cathedral.

The weight of evidence demonstrates that this charter was witnessed by Edward the Confessor in Worcester after April 23rd 1058 AD, the date of the consecration of Athelwig Abbot of Evesham (a witness) and before 25th March 1058/9, [11] and that it was heard and witnessed in the Anglo-Saxon Cathedral of St Peter, Worcester.

 

Vanda Bartoszuk

 

[1].   BL Add Ch 19801 also known by it’s Sawyer number of S 1405.

[2]    Peter A. Stokes, English Vernacular Minuscule from Æthelred to Cnut, Circa 990 – Circa 1035, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2014.  pp. 74, 104.

[3]    Electronic Sawyer:http://www.esawyer.org.uk/about/index.html.  Nos. S. 1394 and S. 1399.

[4]    BL Add.  Ch. 19802.  Originally part of the collection of Christopher, 1st Viscount Hatton who borrowed and removed this collection from Worcester in 1644.

[5]    Especially if this was a Witenagamot there would certainly have been many of his court present as well as thegns from other counties.

[6]    Easter Day was 19th April in 1058.

[7]    Barlow, F., Edward the Confessor, University of California Press,  London, 1970 and Oleson, Tryggvi J. The Witanagemot in the Reign of Edward the Confessor. Oxford University Press, London, 1955.

[8]    Macray, W.D. (ed.). Chronicon abbatiae de Evesham, ad annum 1418. Rolls Series 29. London, 1863.

[9] Ælfgar was the son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and his wife Godgifu (Lady Godiva).

[10]   Somer Charter – now lost [S1437] A.D. 825.Record of the settlement of a dispute concerning swine-pasture at Sinton in Leigh contains “the oath ………. as produced in 30 days at the bishop’s seat at Worcester” – biscopstole = a bishop’s seat or residence.

[11]   The dating of this charter is by the year of ‘incarnation’, which began on the 25th March as opposed to the regnal year, which for Edward would have begun on the date of his coronation, the 3rd April.

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