Thursday, November 7, 2013

Deposed English Queen

The deposed queen of England Alditha fled to Ireland after the resistance to the Norman invasion led by her brothers Edwin and Morcar ended in their defeat. After Hastings in 1067 she gave birth to the deceased king’s son and named him Harold after his father. The infant travelled with her to Dublin around 1069/70 and both disappear from recorded history thereafter.   

King Harold's mother, Gytha also held out against the Norman invaders and when William returned to Normandy, France in 1067, she fortified and held Exeter in Devon, the fourth largest city in the land. The Normans besieged the city in mid-winter and before it capitulated Gytha sailed with Harold's daughter Gytha and his sister, Gunnhild to the island of Flatholme in the Bristol Channel.

Harold’s sons Godwine and Edmund also fled to Ireland in the aftermath of Hastings and were hosted at the court of the king of Leinster Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó. In 1068 he supplied them with a fleet of 90 ships and they sailed to Bristol with a force of Dublin Norse mercenaries. They attempted to make Bristol their base but the locals resisted and they were forced to try and take it by force. Their resistance may have been due to a fear of drawing forth William's wrath. However, the city held and the brothers sailed off with plunder they had taken from the surrounding countryside. They came back the following summer to try and take Exeter but their army was heavily defeated and the two brothers returned to Dublin with the remnants. The failure of the Haroldsons to re-establish a base in England caused Gytha and the family with her on Flatholme to seek refuge with Count Baldwin VI of Flanders. Godwine and Edmund left Ireland and journeyed to the court of their cousin, King Swein of Denmark with the intention of enlisting his help to retake England. With Swein's death in 1074 all trace of the bothers was also lost to history.

Image: a panel from the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the death of the King of England after he was shot with an arrow through his eye. These days the entire tapestry can be viewed at Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux, Normandie, France. It is worth a visit.

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