Seminar CCXXIV: being more careful about William Rufus

The seminar backlog now moves forward to 21st January 2015, when none other than John Gillingham was speaking to the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar of the Institute of Historical Research with the title, “Eadmer of Canterbury and William Longsword”, which was fun. The William Longsword in question, you see, was none other than King William II, otherwise known as William Rufus, but that is not what Eadmer, otherwise better known as biographer of Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, calls him. John was, for this reason and several others, out to argue that Eadmer was an under-appreciated, if very difficult, early source for William’s reign.1

Portrait of William Rufus from London, British Library, MS Royal 14 C VII, fo. 8v

I think, the earliest depiction of William II that’s not one of his coins (not very helpful in conveying the ‘inner man’ alas), from British Library MS Royal 14 C VII, fo. 8v, though here grabbed via Wikimedia Commons, “William II of England” by Matthew Paris, licensed under Public Domain via Commons. Click through for the MS, however. Note his portrayal as a supporter of the Church…

This is not to say that Eadmer liked William II at all; he has many terrible things to say about the king who supposedly forced his patron archbishop into morally-justified exile. Another way to see that, of course, is that Anselm’s hardline adherence to a private principle left England without the benefit of its chief clergyman’s guidance and help for years on end, whereas the responsible thing to do might have been what Anselm’s predecessor Lanfranc did and stay in the system, working with the king for change. This was, John argued, precisely the charge that Eadmer was protecting Anselm against, which meant making the other side of the argument, the king’s, correspondingly less reasonable. This is the axe which John sees Eadmer a-grinding.

Scribal portrait from Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, MS Ludwig XI 6, fol. 44v

Our culprit, Eadmer, probably at least, since it is a scribal portrait in a manuscript of Eadmer’s On the Life and Conversation of Anselm of Canterbury, now Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, MS Ludwig XI 6, fol. 44v, again here from Wikimedia Commons, by Unknown (illuminator, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons but again linked through to the source

With this identified, the interesting thing is how Eadmer doesn’t identify the same failings of the king as later writers do, most notably William of Malmesbury. For example, it is often suggested that William Rufus was gay, an idea which largely stems from accusations levelled by Church writers of sodomy at his court. Leaving aside the very broad way in which medieval writers could use that word, this turns out to come from Eadmer, although in reporting these evil stories he does say that they were untrue.2 William of Malmesbury and Orderic Vitalis subsequently both say that Rufus’s courtiers were effeminate but call the king an adulterer and fornicator, and the Brut says that he spent his energies on concubines. And the earlier writer Hugh of Flavigny instead condemns clerical sex, of the most heterosexual kind, at William’s court, in which obviously William was not a participant. But somehow it is the stories which Eadmer denies, though still reporting, which have stuck even among modern historians.3

A silver penny of William II struck at Rochester by Guthrothr between 1089 and 1092

You see what I mean… A silver penny of William II struck at Rochester by Guthrothr between 1089 and 1092, York Coins H4095, now in a private collection

The other side of this coin—ah-ha-ha—is that when one starts looking for other, more positive, appraisals of William’s reign, they’re not hard to find. Vernacular literature is usually positive and he seems to have enjoyed especial popularity in Normandy, perhaps just by not being his grim Crusader brother Robert Curthose but still: Orderic Vitalis, despite his other attacks, has a story about William landing in Normandy and spontaneous parades of people forming to run alongside his horse, cheering. Richard Sharpe, who was present, did put forward some other early and hostile sources like, not least, the law collection known as the Quadripartitus, but it does seem that, while it’s indubitable that William Rufus annoyed a lot of people, so many of them were apparently later churchmen that we probably can use a reappraisal of the reign, which it is therefore to be hoped John will give us!

1. Eadmer’s two works of relevance are his Historia Novorum in Anglia, transl. Geoffrey Bosanquet as Eadmer’s History of recent events in England: Historia novorum in Anglia (London 1964) and his De Vita et Conservatione Anselmi Cantuariensis, ed./transl. Richard Southern as Eadmer, The life of St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (London 1962). On William Rufus, until John gets his new work published, the standard works are Frank Barlow, William Rufus (New Haven 2000) and Emma Mason, King Rufus: the life & murder of William II of England (Stroud 2008).

2. I need a go-to cite on the medieval definition of sodomy, but for now Ruth Mazo Karras, “The Latin vocabulary of illicit sex in English ecclesiastical court records” in Journal of Medieval Latin Vol. 2 (Turnhout 1991), pp. 1-17, looks pretty relevant.

3. Named culprits here were Richard Southern, Saint Anselm and his Biographer: a study of monastic life and thought 1059-c. 1130 (Cambridge 1963) and Barlow, William Rufus.

37 responses to “Seminar CCXXIV: being more careful about William Rufus

  1. If not during his lifetime, when was William II first called “Rufus”? I wonder whether some later chronicler or historian carelessly transferred the epithet from Count Alan Rufus?

    I’ve read that Eadmer had some criticisms of Anselm, though I don’t recall any specifics.

    Eadmer repeats Anselm’s written accusation of an affair between Alan and Gunhild, Harold Godwinson’s daughter. Pace Richard Sharpe (who despite the syntax of the above article was most certainly not there), but I think Anselm was mistaken. The pattern of land transfers suggests that Alan may have married Edith the Fair and that William I, as was the custom, took Edith’s most lucrative manor as the price for allowing this. In that case, Alan was Gunhild’s stepfather, which puts an entirely different light on their mutual affection. Incidentally, Anselm quotes Gunhild as using an expression virtually identical with that used by the contemporary Matilda, Countess of Tuscany, for the “love” between her and Pope Gregory VII. Also, the two severe letters Anselm wrote to Gunhild were among those he removed from his archive, which might suggest the subsequent realisation of an error of fact.

    • That is all a long way beyond my knowledge, I have to confess. My only direct exposure to Eadmer was a few extracts as part of the bundle of primary sources in Oxford’s Special Subject on the Norman Conquest. The Bosanquet translation is not easy to find now, alas, or I’d suggest that the source itself is your best answer… Note, though, that I don’t know that ‘Rufus’ wasn’t a contemporary name, just that according to John it’s not the one that Eadmer uses.

  2. Two things: In reply to grdtobin, having read the letters from Anselm, the second in which Anselm replies to Gunnhild’s reply, there seems nothing paternal or avuncular in the implied relationship between Gunnhild and Alan. The reference is to a sexual relationship.
    Secondly, referring back to William II: how could he be accused of adultery when he was not married?

    • Good point! Presumably for sleeping with people who were?

    • I realise how Anselm interpreted Gunhild’s reply. It’s clear that she was no longer a virgin. But the way it’s worded does not name Alan as the man responsible for that. The statement Anselm virtually quotes, “I loved Alan, and he loved me” is almost verbatim what was said about Matilda of Canossa (Countess of Tuscany) and Pope Gregory VII, a relationship of a disputed nature. This coincidence I find curious. Was Gunhild saying that she and Alan were Platonic close friends, as Matilda said of the Pope and herself?

      • I do see what you mean. I’ve also been trying to work out how old Gunnhild would have been. There is reference to her being disappointed that she wasn’t made abbess of Wilton, implying that she only stayed there for that purpose. And then again, don’t we all assume that Anselm’s letters are written to that particular Gunnhild. It was, after all, a common enough name.

        • Harold and Edith “Swannesha” married about 1045, close to when King Edward made Harold the Earl of East Anglia, and soon after Edward married Harold’s sister.
          Wikipedia uses the year 1055 for Gunhild’s birth, but I don’t know it’s source. If we accept that, then she was 18 in 1073 and 38 in 1093.
          Lanfranc accepted that Saxon girls had been sent to convents like Wilton after 1066 for protection and declared they were free to marry, but Anselm apparently wanted them to become nuns.
          Anselm compromised his stand when he reluctantly approved of Edith of Scotland marrying Henry I, thus IMHO retrospectively legitimising Gunhild’s decision to leave Wilton. Maybe this is when he removed the harsh letters to her from his archive, out of sheer embarrassment.
          The identity of the recipient of those two letters has been considered carefully by many scholars, and they seem to be confident it is Gunhild of Wessex, King Harold’s daughter.

          • I thank you for your reply. I had come across the potential d’Aincourt connection and, likewise, thought it unlikely. So I’m glad to have that cleared up. I also agree with Gunnhild’s probable age and that Saxon girls (and widows) sought security in the convents. I therefore wonder why it should be so out of character for Alan and Gunnhild to have formed a ‘romantic’ attachment as mature adults in their later years (when all the shouting and most of the killing was done; when the danger of a Saxon princess being the focus of another uprising was gone).But I also can see that perhaps Alan had married Harold’s widow–which would explain the spread of his East Anglian holdings–and therefore the relationship was one of stepfather/daughter. Though something of this doesn’t feel right. But, short of time-travel, I think it’s something we never shall now. Unlikely that documents will now come to light.
            Again, I thank you for your reply.

            • “Something of this doesn’t feel right.” Can you elaborate?

              Incidentally, Alan and Edith (called Eadgifu the Fair in Domesday) may have been related by marriage. The dates of the marriages of Edward and Harold suggests a two-way intermarriage. Edith the Fair was also called Edith the Rich and held her lands in her own name, so she was descended from someone important.

              My best guess, which is shared by some, is that her grandparents were Aethelred II and his first wife, Aelfgifu of York, most of whose children had high station.

              Bill Flint drafted a book in which he argued that Edith’s mother was Wulfhilda, Lady of East Anglia, and that the latter was the Wolgyth (aka Wulfgyth) whose donations were witnessed by King Edward and Earl Harold. With some caveats (eg why was Eadgifu was called Ealdgyth in those texts), I think this a plausible suggestion. (I’ve read that the name “Wulfhilda” is used for this lady only in a Danish text written a century or two later.)

              In this scenario, Alan’s father Eudon, son of Hawise, sister of Emma of Normandy, Aethelred’s second wife, is related in this sense to Wolgyth, a daughter of Aethelred and his first wife Aelfgifu of York, making Alan and Edith the Fair second cousins, of a sort, by marriage. Of course the shared blood relative was King Edward the Confessor.

              Interesting then that Alan ended up as the most important magnate in both East Anglia and Yorkshire, in that sense a successor of Harold, Gyrth, Wolgyth and Aelfgifu.

              • I have always thought Eadgifu/Edith a lady of an important family, though I must admit I was thinking more of the Mercian dynasty.
                As to what doesn’t seem right: it’s little more than a feeling, difficult to pinpoint, and the best I can say is were the relationship, as you say, of step-parent, then I’m surprised in all the letters and all the chronicles it was not mentioned. Yes, I know it’s a matter of what survives.
                But at this point I have to bow out. I do not have your resources (which I do appreciate your sharing of them) and so must accept your word.

                • Wolgyth’s sisters included Eadgyth, Lady of the Mercians and Aelgifu, Lady of the Northumbrians.

                  Wolgyth’s donations mention her sons Ketil and Ulfketil and her daughter Eadgyth. There are records of their gifts also.

                  Ulfcytel Snillingr was an important man, perhaps Ealdorman, of East Anglia, who died in the battle of Assundun against the Danes in 1016. He’s thought to be Wolgyth’s husband. Certainly the names of the sons and daughter, the locations of the gifts and the names and ranks of the witnesses are consistent with the two strands of the hypothesis: Wolgyth as Aelfgifu of York’s daughter and wife of Ulfcytel of East Anglia.

                  As to sources, I have nothing that isn’t publicly available on the Internet, except books I ordered through it or bought in popular bookshops.

                  • Could you clarify a matter for me. You write that Alan possibly married Eadgifu the Fair, the East Anglian pre-conquest female magnate; am I right that she was Edith Swannhals, Harold’s handfasted wife, therefore his widow and the mother of Gunnhild? And if so, what evidence, other than circumstantial, is there for this identification. It’s not that I dispute it, but I have yet to find that evidence. I tend to distrust later historians’ glib glosses. If such evidence is available on the internet a link or pointer would be appreciated.
                    And I’m finding that some scanned library that used to be free access now are being put into print and are no longer available on-line. In addition, where a publication has a limited potential readership the publishers price it out of my reach. Also, without being a member of an academic institution several doors remain closed to me. I do not have abundant funds.

                    • Your concerns are valid. I don’t know if any contemporary document that states that Eadgifu, alias Edith the Fair and Rich, was identical with Harold’s wife Edith “Swanneshals” (“Gentle Swan”).

                      It’s possible they could have been two different ladies. But the coincidence of Harold being made Earl of East Anglia about when he married suggests his wife was heiress to an earlier Earl. This ties in so well with the evidence about Ealdgyth, daughter of Wolgyth and sister of Ketil and Ulfketil, and their association with King Edward and Harold that Harold’s wife is almost certainly this Ealdgyth.

                      This leaves the question of whether Ealdgyth daughter of Ulfcytel Snillingr and Wolgyth, half-sister of Edward the Confessor is distinct from Eadgifu the Fair/Rich.

                      If they are distinct, then Eadgifu is another (exceptionally, by her name) wealthy heiress in the same region. Who then were her parents?

                      Given the dynastic power structures of the time, of which I gave some details previously, Eadgifu was probably another of Aethelred’s descendants. But where to fit her into the tree?

                      You may be right to question overly neat reductions. After all, some people used to think that Alan Rufus was the same person as his much younger closer-than-first-cousin Duke Alan IV “Fergant” who was also red-haired and a very formidable military commander. (The Normans were very scared of Alan IV and ran away whenever they’d trespassed and his army approached. William I gave him his daughter Constance’s hand in marriage in 1086 to placate him.)

                    • Yes, I do remember reading of the confusion over the Alans.
                      I have to say, if the East Anglian was Harold’s Edith Swannehals, and she was closely related (in whatever form) to Edward the Confessor, that would explain why Edward wasn’t happy with Harold around the time of Harold’s marriage to (sorry, top of the head, don’t remember her name) the widow of the (ditto excuse) Welsh king. It could have been taken as a rejection of his dynasty.
                      BTW, I have read your suggestion that Geoffrey of Monmouth conflated Alan Rufus with Arthur, or at least based the story upon Alan. And as a writer of quasi-historical fiction, I have to point out that it’s common practice to pluck from the past suitable names to bolster the story and give it apparent veracity. Are you sure Geoffrey didn’t do the same?

                    • Crimsonprose, please clarify re your authorial insight into Geoffrey of Monmouth’s methodology.

                      Later medieval writers called him a shameless liar for throwing fact and fantasy together and calling the result “history”. But Eudon’s son and heir Stephen was alive, and very rich and powerful (though even quieter than Alan) when Geoffrey wrote his story; he could hardly have been fooled by thin disguises. I suppose it’s possible Stephen was one of Geoffrey’s sponsors. The Iliad, the Song of Roland and other works of similar nature read as though they were designed to praise all the noble families who were willing to pay their authors for this. Do you think perhaps that Geoffey had a similar assignment?

                      As to Alan spending time in Edward’s England, I’m almost sure of it: what I don’t know are the dates. Since Alan held Wyken Farm before 1066, he must have spent time there, if only to see what he’d been given. As a very minor English lord, he may have helped his labourers tend the animals. His abiding affection for the small Richemont estate in Normandy may reflect a closeness to the land there too.

                      Incidentally, Wyken Farm is close enough to Edith the Fair’s estates that he would surely have known of her. As a cousin once removed of King Edward’s, it’s plausible that Alan was known to her.

                      If Edith the Fair were quite distinct from Harold’s wife, then her age would be very uncertain. We could reasonably assume that as a landowner she was over 18 in 1065, and then, I suppose, it’s possible she and Alan were engaged. If the wedding plans were interrupted by the events of 1066, but proceeded afterwards, then that’s another possible explanation for the transfer of all those properties.

                      I’d really love to know whether Eudon har any direct involvement with England back then. Events both before 1066 and after 1075 show that he and Ralph the Staller’s family were close allies, irrespective of what suited William the Conqueror.

                      Speaking of William and Eudon, the battle in which they fought on opposite sides was the siege in 1055 of William’s new castle at Ambrieres in Mayenne, a Viscounty where the interests of Brittany, Anjou, Normandy and Maine all intersected. Eudon opposed Conan who opposed Anjou which opposed Normandy which opposed France. Complicated!

                      Alan was in Rouen either between January and August 1066 or between March 1067 and the date of William’s return to England, because (according to Keats-Rohan) William assented to Alan’s donation of two churches just outside the town walls to the abbey of St Ouen during 1066-1067. One of those churches, St Pelletier’s, had been a gift from William to Alan. It would be very good to know the date more precisely; then we might know whether the gift was for services rendered at Hastings or before. (The Norman-Breton, or rather anti-Conan, War of 1064-1065, perhaps?)

                    • My comment was made from an author’s viewpoint only. And above all, Geoffrey was that, a storyteller, whether that story passed for genuine history or not. If Tolkien wasn’t above plucking names from a backlog of history I doubt that Geoffrey was. As to whether Stephen sponsored him—did he need such sponsorship? Perhaps Stephen was flattered that his family, particularly his brother, had served as a template. Geoffrey pulled on several known sources for his History including Virgil, Polybius and the Welsh monk Nennius, though he managed to mangle it worse than I ever do. (see my post on Geoffrey: )
                      But your suggestion of an earlier marriage—or at least betrothal between Alan and Eadgifu—might tally with the Domesday entry for Great Abington, Cambs. Held by Aubrey de Vere in 1086, “TRE a priest held of Eadgifu the Fair; now Count Alan claims this land back.” BTW, is it known when Eadgifu the Fair died? And while you say that Alan held Wicken pre-Hastings, Domesday (Penguin translation) gives Eadgifu the Fair as holding TRE.
                      It seems we both have the same area of research—though I’ve now moved away from Alan and am researching the castellans of Brittany, yet of the same period. I have come across charters of Alan’s in the process but am no longer recording them. Though I doubt there’s anything there you’ve not seen.

                    • Eadgifu the Fair’s death date, like that of Edith Swannesha, seems unknown. Historians seem to assume that she died before Alan received her properties, but I’ve not seen any evidence cited.

                      There are several place names similar to Wicken. In 1086 Alan held a few of these. Careful of the spelling variations, though: Wicken, Wiken, Wyken. Your Wicken may not be Wyken Farm. I’m relying on the spreadsheets in PASE Domesday, a very handy source which also gives the date estimates and issuers of some charters and some of their witnesses. I think it’s ongoing and incomplete. The same is true of Little Domesday is said to be quite detailed (alas, I don’t own a copy) so it should name who the overlords and local tenants were. If Alan held Wyken Farm of an overlord, it ought to say who s/he was.

                      There’s an intriguing phrase in, I’m pretty sure it’s, Little Domesday: “when the land was divided between the King and the Count”, the King being William I and the Count being Alan Rufus. Is this evidence of something other than the usual feudal hierarchy? Several other unusually grand and abiding concessions to Alan regarding law and commerce suggest so: Royal sheriffs had no authority in Richmondshire; all of Alan’s tenants and men were free to trade anywhere in England without transit fees – up to 1641! I wonder whether Eudon pledged his troops on condition?

                    • I find Little Domesday makes interesting reading, but raises more questions than it answers. You and I are not alone in seeking an understanding there. But what hope have we when the ‘professional’ historians still do not agree on even the purpose of the survey. And much is missing; not just the odd hamlet or church but whole estates. The Domesday Survey, surely a mind-numbing exercise, has proven useful in so many ways. But it is not perfect. I also know how easy it is to project answers where they don’t belong. For such reason I am always seeking proof. But there often is no proof, only suppositions, only cleverly reasoned arguments. And another generation of writers reel out the newly-reasoned lies. Sorry for the cynicism, but this I have found to be the way of history.
                      Myself, I use it to bolster tales, to give a cast of veracity to my fiction. But I also try to uncover the truth, and expose the centuries of gloss (hence my sister-blog, Crimsons History, where, wherever possible, I cite the source and give any online links. It has proven popular, but it’s time consuming to produce. and so I concentrate on fiction, on fantasy)

                    • And a further thought: you asked what the connection between Alan and Baldwin abbot of St Edmundsbury. The answer might be that Baldwin had been physician to Edward the Confessor, and as a cousin Alan might well have spent his formative years with ‘Cousin Ed’.There is so much we don’t know; our answers can only ever be in the nature of speculation.

    • Stephen of Whitby, first abbot of St Mary’s York, who knew Alan personally from before he became a monk, retrospectively described Alan (and I’m translating the Latin as best I can here) as “very powerful in both worldly wealth and moral probity”.

      Steven would surely have known of the relationship, whatever it was, between Alan and Gunhild, yet he saw nothing improper about it.

      • Yet as I understand it, the relationship was extremely short-lived, (about 3 months) immediately before Alan’s death, which would also be at a time when William Rufus, himself ailing, thought himself dying and thus was forgiving everyone their trespass against him–which if there was anything to the Gunnhild-Alan relationship might be counted as such. However, I’m not academically trained, I am a writer. I might prefer to see what isn’t there. I shall certainly look up this Stephen of Whitby. For reasons obscure, this man Alan has long interested me.

        • Richard Sharpe wrote a well-received paper arguing that Alan and Gunhild got together, maybe married, during the 1070s and that Matilda d’Aincourt was their daughter, which would explain why she had the authority to donate some of Alan’s properties to the Church. It would also be in accord with Alan’s close political, military and economic connections to Matilda’s husband Walter d’Aincourt, who had a status in the royal court out of all proportion to his landholdings.
          Sharpe also argued that the reason Walter and Matilda’s eldest son William is described on his burial plaque as of Royal descent is because of his great-grandfather King Harold.

          My own view agrees with a suggestion by Trevor Foulds, that Matilda d’Aincourt was Princess Matilda, daughter of King William I and Queen Matilda. Orderic Vitalis and other chroniclers overlook her, but she’s attested in Domesday and in a couple of Royal documents. Most scholars seem to think Matilda died young, but her being the mother of William d’Aincourt best fits his Royal descent and the naming patterns of her descendants, as well as her own name. In addition, it explains why William II entrusted Walter with a Royal writ in an important mission around August 1088, especially as every other commander in the army sent to Durham at that time was a Royal relative of some degree.

          Matilda’s gifts on behalf of Alan can be explained by two facts: (1) Alan allowed other non-relatives to act on his behalf in this manner; and (2) according to the Register of the Honour of Richmond, Alan owed his possession of Richmondshire to a favourable intervention by her mother the Queen in 1068/1069. This was shortly after she gave birth to Henry, traditionally in Selby, Yorkshire, at a time when the land was, to put it mildly, very troubled. (Perhaps Alan had done her a kindness?)

          • That paper of Sharpe’s being R. Sharpe, “King Harold’s Daughter”, The Haskins Society Journal Vol. 19 (Woodbridge 2007), pp. 1-27, an early version of which was the subject of my first ever seminar report here, I believe? I have nothing else of use to add but this is a great conversation to watch, I’m only sorry that WordPress keeps queuing your comments for approval…

            • Thank you, Jonathan. A report from that period states, as I recall, that there was great sorrow at Alan’s death “without offspring of his body”.
              Another curious phrase. Perhaps the meaning is that although he had no children of his own, he adopted someone? Gunhild?

              Re Walter d’Aincourt: Domesday records him as a lord in Derby before 1066. So if it’s the same Walter, not a son (and I think our Walter’s father was a Ralph), then he was rather old to be marrying Gunhild’s daughter!

              Domesday records an “Alan” as owner of Wyken Farm near Ixworth in Suffolk in 1065. In 1086 this had passed to one of Alan Rufus’s associates, Peter of Valognes, who may have been ethnically Breton as the name Muriel occurred in his immediate family. Peter held a swathe of land close to and parallel to Alan’s. King Harold may have confiscated it during his purge of Continentals, but William I was known to reallocate lands among his loyal barons on occasion.

              In any case, the parish church for Wyken Farm is Bury St Edmunds, where Alan was laid to rest. This convinces me of two things: (1) Alan Rufus owned Wyken Farm at the end of the reign of his father’s cousin Edward the Confessor; (2) Alan was sentimental about his early farming properties (another being Richemont, County Aumale, Upper Normandy).

              Alan’s family and the monks of St Mary’s York pressed Abbot Baldwin to move Alan’s body from the usual place where her first buried it, the graveyard outside the south door, to a location inside the Abbey of St Edmunds (I presume nearer to the saint’s shrine). Whether St Edmund had any personal meaning to Alan, I don’t know. If so, perhaps it was through Edith the Fair?

              Alan’s paternal cousin Duke Conan II who died having conquered northern Anjou en route to Normandy via Mayenne (western Maine), was descended via his mother from Louis IV of France, grandson of Edward the Elder.

              Whether Alan had any English blood is doubtful, but his father was descended from Alan II, godson of King Athelstan who supported his successful year-long expedition circa 936 against the Loire Vikings by which he liberated Brittany. So the Bretons had reason to be thankful to the House of Wessex, which may explain their liking for the name Alfred.

              Quite possibly some of the exiles may have stayed in England: they had lived there for over 20 years, plenty of time to settle in and intermarry.

  3. According to Orderic Vitalis, the many barons involved in the Rebellion of 1088 owed their lives (and in many cases restoration) to the intervention of William II’s loyal supporters. Of these, Alan was the most powerful, according to the Domesday records.

    It may be significant that after Alan’s death, William II was utterly ruthless in punishing rebels: mutilating and/or executing them without pause.

    Alan’s epitaph asserts that at his death, “Anglia turbatur”, which I take to mean that England was distraught, or more literally, thrown into a spin.

    Having studied Alan’s career and what contemporaries wrote about him, I am convinced there are many very good reasons to be interested in his contributions to England’s history.

  4. Incidentally, I’m currently pushing an (evidence-based) point of view that’s bound to be really controversial, on as many websites as I can find that are interested in this sort of thing.

    I think I know the identity of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s King Arthur: to be precise, his provenance.

    Recall that Geoffrey said that the book he translated came from Brittany. What I think he’s really saying, while being careful not to spell it out, is that he’s writing a fictionalised account of Alan Rufus.

    Geoffrey introduced Arthur’s parents, Uther Pendragon and Igraine of Cornwall. The penny dropped for me when I juxtaposed these with the names of Alan’s parents, Eudon Penteur and Orguen of Cornouaille. Other Arthurian characters can also be identified, such as Duke Hoel of Brittany (Alan’s maternal uncle) and Arthur’s paternal uncle, the reimagined Ambrosius Aurelianus, Arthur’s supposed paternal uncle who was poisoned while fighting rebels, which is the story of Alan’s paternal uncle Duke Alan III, who died of poisoning while besieging Roger I of Montgomery – a famously controversial matter.

    Eudon’s contribution to the invasion of England earnt him a mention in the battle array of Charlemagne in the “Norman French” (ie, Gallo) version of the Song of Roland, alongside Geoffrey of Anjou (another contributor on the left wing) and Richard of Normandy (presumably Richard I, ancestor of both Eudon and Duke William). That was the triumvirate, if you will that would dominate politics in the region for some time: Anjou, Brittany and Normandy.

    Alan’s command of armies, and of the Royal household knights, in campaign across England and northern France, were quite Arthurian in scope. Of course he wasn’t the only commander, indeed Odo of Bayeux, Geoffrey of Coutances, and even Hugh, the Earl of Chester, get more “airtime”. However, Alan was either with the King, or representing him, for much of the time, and his property acquisitions match the forfeitures of Saxon, Breton and Notman rebels up to 1086, suggesting that he had to have a significant role in the Royal victories. After that date, we don’t have such detailed records of landholdings.

    Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account of the arrogant Roman ambassadors demanding tribute and of Arthur defeating the Roman armies in battle, I suggest, might be veiled references to the Norman barons’ armed conspiracy to replace William II with Robert Curthose in 1088. Alan was the largest landholder among the loyal barons as well as the commander of battle-hardened veterans, so it’s no surprise that William II authorised him to seize the rebels’ lands. This was evidently successful, after two or three months, and must have involved a lot of fighting. It’s notable that both William and Alan issued charters at Rochester, the last enemy stronghold.

    Odo of Bayeux was exiled from England for life – it’s not clear to me what happened to his estates – and went to Normandy. Several months later, Alan escorted William of St Calais to Southampton to take ship also. On the surface St Calais was being punished, but I suspect there was more to it. He quickly became a counsellor to Robert, in frequent opposition to Odo’s advice. Robert being indecisive was stymied by this and Normandy was effectively neutralised, even as England built up its army and navy.

    In late 1090 an armed rebellion in Rouen, led by Breton merchants, very nearly toppled Robert’s government. Indeed, had not the young Prince Henry and his Knights made a successful sally from the city keep, it probably would have been all over for Robert, who’d already fled. This was followed in early February by an invasion from England which quickly overran half the duchy. Negotiations, under the papal eye, led to further concessions of territory. Normandy was effectively finished as a power. The quick recall and restitution of St Calais smacks of a reward for a job well done.

    Alan was at Dover with William II in late January 1091, so it looks as though he was involved in preparations at least. It’s conceivable that, with his extensive battle experience, he may have led the army of invasion.

    Even ignoring Alan’s conciliatory treatment of so many Anglian and Cumbrian lords, his exclusion of Royal sheriffs from Richmondshire and his closeness to King Harold’s daughter, he was definitely not a favourite of the majority of Norman barons, despite the clemency displayed to them in 1088. The invasion of Normandy would only have entrenched this division.

    Given Henry’s role in the defence of Rouen, when he became King in 1100 people such as Geoffrey of Monmouth who admired Alan’s attitudes and exploits would have had to tread carefully. Removing the account to a mythical past and renaming most of the characters solved that difficulty.

    • PS: Alan’s epitaph describes him as “Stella … rutilans”, a brilliant red-gold star. This matches Arcturus, Alpha Bootis, the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere. Its name is Greek for “Guardian of the Bears”, Ursa Major and Minor. This is apposite because Alan commanded the bodyguard for William I and II.

      The nearest zodiacal constellation to Arcturus is Virgo. Alan’s surcoat and banner are always depicted as bearing heraldic ermine, a symbol of honour, purity, Brittany and the Virgin Mary. I’m minded of the Welsh tale of Arthur carrying an “image” of the Virgin into battle.

      Alan was the “constructor” of St Mary’s Abbey, York. Another symbol of St Mary is the Rose. In Alan’s epitaph he is called “the flower of the kings of Britain” (or Brittany, the two are not always distinguished). Which flower? Alan’s Breton name is Alan ar-Rouz. The motto of the Dukes of Richmond is “En la rose, je fleurie”, ie “I flourish in the rose”.

      Other embellishers of the Arthurian tales, from Wace to Malory, were either admirers of Alan, acquainted with Alan’s family, or had their works edited by them. For example, Malory’s story was renamed and printed by Caxton’s press. What is less known is that Caxton was funded and his books edited by a son and a daughter of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, who was descended, as so many people were, from Alan’s brother and heir Stephen. She identified as Breton to the extent that when Henry VII declined to send an army, one of her sons made a personal journey to Brittany to defend it from France, dying in battle.

      • I have to admit that that all strikes me as too many connections; there’s no way all of that can be emplotted, since so much of it would do nothing for the plot except just allow another character to be fitted in. But there’s a minimum version I could probably except in which Geoffrey raided the prosopography of a recently heroic line from Britain the Lesser for some of his names. Is Geoffrey the first source of the Uther name, however? There seems to be some ambiguity, and if the name is in the corpus already, then Geoffrey’s borrowing of it becomes much less compositional and much more coincidental. And one might argue that the use of the name by the actual comital family suggests it still had currency. I could see it either way, I suppose, but either way round Geoffrey could have been doing very much less with it than you imply. I suppose that an argument would then have to analyse how the character and the owner of the name would have been seen in conjunction and see if it looks like a deliberate strategy.

        Mind you, Geoffrey was sufficiently good at selling his story that part of its appeal may even have been that every reader could find his family in there somewhere!

        • Too many connections between Alan and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Arthur? I’m surprised there are so few: just [Alan] busily smashing the Saxons and the [Normans], his two parents’ names, a couple of facts about his [maternal uncle] and an irresistibly juicy story about his paternal uncle’s death.

          Arthur as King is one of Geoffrey’s inventions. However, if William had died at Hastings but Alan rallied the troops, either Eudon or he could have claimed the throne of England. As it is, William allegedly designated Alan his “nephew”, presumably meaning that if William’s line died out, Alan would take the throne.

          Too many allusions in the epitaph? Bear in mind that Alan’s family contrived these after the facts. Perhaps they thought of Alan as a new Arthur?

          Or, just perhaps, Alan was the original Arthur of the Britons? The oldest manuscripts that mention Arthur’s name are centuries younger than Alan, and scholars wonder whether the brief mentions of him were shoe-horned in by editors.

          The oldest story, in style, of the Mabinogion has been estimated to have been written in the period 1060 to 1100. This is suspiciously coincident with Alan’s rise to fame.

          At the least, as Jonathan implies, Alan may have given the notions behind Arthur a mighty boost.

          What would the Welsh have thought of Alan? On the one hand, his brother Brian had participated in the Battle of Stafford where a combined Welsh and English rebellion was crushed. Alan may also have been present as a commander in the Conqueror’s army.

          On the other hand, the Bretons refused to join William’s army’s attack on the inoffensive people of Cheshire – probably why Alan received no land there and Hugh of Avranches snagged the lot.

          The contemporary Angevins recorded that Alan’s male line descended from Count Ridoredh of Vannes, a Welsh name in a Welsh speaking county of Brittany, settled by people from either Gwynedd or Gwent (Caer Gwent or the adjacent Caerleon). Even if his family’s move north had lost them their Welsh tongue, he would have known his mother’s Cornish dialect. So the Britons could have claimed him as their own. His brother Brian’s position as first Earl of Cornwall (according to their nephew Alan, first Earl of Richmond) and victories over Saxon invaders (Harold’s sons) would also have helped.

          • The Cumbrians had reason to be fond of Alan: he promoted them. For example, one Gospatric, a tenant of his, was a tenant-in-chief in 1086.

            The puzzle over whether Arthur was from the north, west, east or south of Britain, or from Gaul for that matter, might be explained by Alan and Brian being militarily active all over the place.

        • Cumbrian exiles settled in the “Arthurian” parts of Scotland, and named their heirs “Alan”.

          During the time of Alan’s brother Count Stephen (died 1136) there was an influx of Bretons to Ayrshire (FitzAlans/Stewarts, Bruces and others).

          Henry II’s grandson Arthur I of Brittany was a descendant of Count Stephen’s, as was William de Tancarville, who trained and knighted Sir William Marshal.

          So there are plenty of ways Alan’s story spread across Britain and France. Perhaps “King Arthur” was a way of making him immortal?

        • Jonathan, “Eudon” is just one of very many variations on the same (ironically) Germanic name meaning “possessor of wealth”. We’re all familiar with some of these examples: Audo, Odo, Odon, Otto, Ottone, Eudes, Eudo, Eozen, Otho, Udo.

          Presumably it entered the Breton sovereign house through their line of descent from the Robertians (pre-Capets) such as Robert I, brother of the heroic Count Odo (Eudes) who defended Paris from the Vikings in 885-886.

          • Oh yeah. Not sure what I was thinking there but it obviously wasn’t philology!

            • Speaking of comparative linguistics, “Eudon” and its variants look related to the “Ead” in “Eadgifu” and “Edward”, which similarly means “wealthy”. E.g. “Eadgifu” means “wealthy gift”. In Latin this name was written as “Edeva”, “Ediva”, or “Edgiva”. (Compare “Godgifu” which became “Godiva”.)

              At this juncture, the question must be asked: what did “Ealdgyth” become in Latin?

              Then there’s yet another similar name, “Eadgyth”, without the “l”. How did that transliterate?

          • Incidentally, I don’t know why William’s and Matilda’s marriage was considered by the Church to be consanguineous, whereas Alan IV and Constance faced no such objection. Maybe the double-cousin business a few generations earlier was too subtle for the Holy See to compute? But even so, they both descended from Duke Richard I, Gunnora, Duke Conan I and Ermengarde of Anjou (daughter of Geoffrey Greycloak), and that still seems closer than any conceivable common ancestry of Duke William II of Normandy and Matilda of Flanders.

            • Wow, I’ve just counted up and you’ve been averaging three longish comments a day since I put that post up. I’m happy to see conversation and dialogue in my blog’s comments, don’t get me wrong, but some of these seem like speculations and questions that would perhaps be more easily found and better followed-up on your own blog? If I could post at the rate and length you’ve been commenting my backlog would have gone long ago…

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