Northern Lights on the Battle of Hastings.

by Kari Ellen Gade
The earliest sagas of the Norwegian kings are in general sparse in their comments on episodes and events taking place abroad and involving non-Scandinavian participants. Whereas Haraldr harðraði’s (Hardrule’s) invasion of England in 1066 and the battle of Stamford Bridge are documented in detail, little attention is paid to the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of England the same year. Neither Theodoricus nor Agrip mentions the Battle of Hastings, but in Heimskringla (ca.1230-1235) Snorri Sturluson gives the following account:1

But Harold then marched with his army to southern England because he had just learned that William the Bastard had invaded England from the south and subjugated the country. Harold’s brothers Swegn, Gyrth, and Waltheof accompanied him. The meeting between King Harold and Earl William took place south in England near Hast–ings. There was a great battle. There King Harold fell, together with his brother, Earl Gyrth, and a large part of their army. That was nineteen nights after the fall of King Haraldr Sigurðarson.
Similarly, the author of Fagrskinna (ca. 1225), one of Snorri’s sources, has little to say about Harold Godwinson’s last battle:2

Nineteen nights after the fall of King Haraldr Sigurðarson, King Harold Godwinson and William the Bastard fought in southern England. There fell King Harold and his brother Earl Gyrth, and the greater part of his army. Harold had then been king for nine and a half months.
In another of Snorri’s sources, Morkinskinna, we find the following curious account of the Battle of Hastings and last dealings between Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror:3
Now we pick up the story at the moment when William had arrived in southern Eng–land and was subjugating the country wherever he went.
He let the relics of Odmarus be tied to his standard, those very relics on which Harold had sworn. King Harold and William fought a great battle when they met. That was twelve months after the fall of King Haraldr Sigurðarson. The battle did not go in Harold’s favor. Then he said: “What is tied to William’s standard?” And he was told. “Then it may be,” said King Harold, “that there will be no escape.” There fell King Harold Godwinson and his brother Gyrth.
Although the texts of Heimskringla, Fagrskinna, and Morkinskinna differ some–what in their length and sequence of events, the wording of the three versions is sufficiently similar to posit a common exemplar, namely the *Oldest Morkinskinna (ÆMsk), which was available to both Snorri and the author of Fagrskinna.4 However, the extant version of Morkinskinna (MskMS) contains information which is not found in any other version, and which raises the following questions: Who was the obscure Odmarus and why did William amble onto the field of battle with Odmarus’s relics tied to his standard? And, more importantly, what was the source this information in Morkinskinna? In the following I shall discuss the historical background for the Battle of Hastings as it emerges from Old Norse, English, Norman, and Anglo-Norman sources, and attempt to shed some light on these questions.5

Anglo-Saxon wedding
Anglo-Saxon wedding


The section immediately preceding the Battle of Hastings in Morkinskinna provides us with William’s motivation for bringing Odmarus’s relics into the battle against Harold Godwinson. We are told that Edward the Confessor of England, being child–less and advanced in age, decided to appoint William of Normandy his successor to the English throne.6 He sent Robert, archbishop of Canterbury, to convey that mes–sage to William and later dispatched Harold Godwinson on the same errand. Harold arrived on the Continent and spent some time at William’s court. During his stay there, rumors arose about an amorous affair between Harold and William’s wife and, to counter those rumors, Harold asked for the hand of William’s daughter in mar–riage. Morkinskinna continues: “And in addition to that Earl Harold swore oaths to Earl William on the relics of Odmarus that he would never be opposed to him”.7 Harold Godwinson then went back to England, stayed with Edward the Confessor, and upon his death succeeded him on the English throne. When William learned that, he felt that Harold had broken his oath because Edward had appointed him, William, successor to the English throne.

Whereas Fagrskinna is silent about the events leading up to the Norman Con–quest, Snorri follows the Morkinskinna account but makes certain significant changes. According to him, Harold Godwinson, Edward the Confessor’s favorite, at one point set out for Wales in a ship, was blown off course, and landed by accident in Rouen, in Normandy.8 Then follows an expanded version of the story told in Morkinskinna about Harold, William’s wife, and Harold’s betrothal to William’s daughter, but no oath of allegiance is mentioned. After the betrothal Harold left for England and never returned to claim his wife.9 Upon Edward’s death Harold ascended to the throne. When the news reached William, he was enraged, first of all because, in his opinion, his kinship with Edward entitled him to the English throne, and, secondly, because he felt slighted by Harold’s failure to fulfill the marital obligations to his daughter. William consequently decided to invade England and claim his rights.10

Such is the account of the two Old Norse versions of the events that culminated in the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest. If we look to England, the Anglo–Saxon Chronicle provides no information about William’s motivation for the invasion. No mention is made of Harold Godwinson’s alleged visit to Normandy, to an oath of allegiance, or to a betrothal. Of the later Anglo-Norman historians, “Florence” of Worcester (d.1118) follows the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in his description of the events leading up to the Norman Conquest,11 but he does mention that William was Edward’s cousin, thus legitimizing, as it were, his claim to the English throne (“Nortmannorum comes Willelmus, Eadwardi regis consobrinus”).12 The anonymous Vita Æddwardi regis, written between 1065 and 1067 and most likely commissioned by Queen Edith,13 has nothing to say about Harold’s trip to Normandy, but its characterization of Harold, who was “rather too generous with oaths (alas!)” (“sed ille citius ad sacramenta nimis, proh dolor, prodigus”), would seem to support the view that Harold at some point had committed perjury.14

The silence of the earliest English sources about Harold’s visit to Normandy and his alleged oath to William is understandable in view of the fact that these works were written shortly after the events they recorded and in most cases have an English bias. The Norman historians, however, whose aim it was to extol William the Conqueror and to legitimize his claim to the English throne, have more to say on this subject.15 William of jumieges, who wrote his Gesta normannorum ducum between 1050 and 1070, gives the following account of Edward’s embassies to Normandy concerning the succession to the English throne:16

Etwardus quoque Anglorum rex disponente Deo succesione prolis carens olim miserat disci Willelmo Rodbertum Cantuariorum archipresulem ex regno a Deo sibi attributo illum statuens heredem. Sed et Heroldum postmodum illi destinauit cunctorum sue dominationis comitum diuitiis honore et potentia maximum, ut ei de sua corona fideli–tatem faceret ac Christiano more sacramentis firmaret.

According to William of Jumieges, Harold set out on his mission and drifted off course to Ponthieu where he was imprisoned and held for ransom by Count Guy. When the news of this reached William of Normandy, he sent envoys to Guy to free Harold, and Harold was forced to swear fealty to William with many oaths concern–ing the kingdom of England (“facta fidelitate de regno plurimis sacramentis”).17 William of Jumieges does not mention where the oath was taken, the year it was taken, or the nature of the relics on which Harold swore. When Edward died, William says, Harold usurped the throne, perjuring himself (“ex fidelitate peieratus quam iurauerat dud”).18

William of Poitiers, who was commissioned by William the Conqueror to write his Gesta Guillelmi ducis Normannorum et regis Anglorum, also mentions that Edward appointed William his heir and sent Archbishop Robert of Canterbury as his envoy to William (“Optimatum igitur suorum assenseu per Rodbertum Cantuariensem archipraesulem hujus delegationis mediatorem”), along with Godwin’s son and grandson as hostages to secure the promise.19 Later, when Edward felt death approaching, he sent Harold, whose brother and nephew were held hostage in Normandy, to recon–firm his earlier promise (“Fidem sacramento confirmaturum Heraldum ei destinavit, cunctorum sub dominatione sua dividis, honore atque potentia, eminentissimum: cujus antea frater et fratruelis obsides fuerant accepti de successione eadem”).20 William of Poitiers then proceeds to describe Harold’s being blown off course, his landing in Ponthieu, his imprisonment by Count Guy, and the subsequent rescue by William of Normandy. Harold was then brought to the castle of Eu, to Rouen, and finally to a council at Bonneville-sur-Touques, where he swore an oath to William to the effect that he would support William’s claim to the English throne; that he would surrender the castle of Dover and other fortifications to William; and that he would become William’s vassal.21 Neither the year of these events nor the identity of the relics on which Harold swore are mentioned. Upon Edward’s death, Harold usurped the throne, thus violating his oath, and William decided to defend his heritage with arms.22

William of Jumieges’s Gesta normannorum ducum was interpolated before 1113 by the Anglo-Norman monk Ordericus Vitalis of Saint Evroult, who added to William’s account of the pre-conquest events several details, among them that Harold had been betrothed to William’s daughter during the stay in Normandy (“Deinde dux post–quam Heraldus fidelitatem sibi de regno pluribus sacramentis firmauit, Adelizam fil–iam suam cum medietate Anglici regni se daturum eidem spopondit”), as well as the fact that Wulfnoth, Harold Godwinson’s brother, remained in Normandy as a hostage when Harold returned to England.23 In book 3 of his Historia ecclesiastica (written between 1114 and 1123-1124), Ordericus repeats the information from his interpo–lated version of William of Jumieges, but adds that Harold’s oath of allegiance to William was sworn at Rouen in the presence of the Norman nobles, and that, after becoming William’s man, Harold swore on the most sacred relics to carry out all that was required of him (“et homo eius factus omnia qux ab illo requisita fuerant super sanctissimas reliquias iurauerat”).24 The identity of the relics is not mentioned, and Ordericus does not indicate the year in which Harold’s alleged mission took place.

Harold’s presence in Normandy and his oath on the relics is depicted on the Bayeux tapestry, dating from the end of the eleventh century and possibly commis–sioned by William’s half-brother, Odo of Bayeux.25 Here Harold is shown with his outstretched hands resting on two enormous caskets of relics.26 The oath is also men–tioned by Wace, who, in accordance with the Bayeux tapestry, places the oath at Bayeux and not at Rouen or Bonneville.27 Wace expands on the episode that describes the oath of allegiance, but he does not mention the identity of the relics in question:28
toz les corsainz fist demander

e en un leu toz assenbler,
tote une cove fist emplir,
pois les fist d’un paile covrir,
que Heraut ne sout ne ne vit,
n’il ne li fu mostre ne dit;
desus out mis un filatiere,
tot le meillor qu’il pout eslire
e le plus chier qu’il pout trover,
oil de boef l’ai oi nomer.

(He [William] sent for all the relics to be assembled at that place [Bayeux], and so many of them as to fill a whole casket. Then he covered them with a pall, so that Harold nei–ther saw them nor knew of their presence, for nothing was shown to him or told to him about it. Over it a philactery was placed, the most beautiful they could select and the most precious they could find: “oeil-de-boeuf” [“bull’s eye”] I have heard it called.)

We see, then, that most of the earliest Norman sources agree on the following points: 1) Edward appointed William his heir; 2) Edward’s bequest was communicated to William by Robert, archbishop of Canterbury; 3) some time later, Harold Godwinson was sent to reconfirm the promise, but he drifted off course to Ponthieu, was imprisoned by Guy, and later redeemed by William; 4) after having been brought to Normandy, Harold swore an oath to William. It is also equally clear that, with the omission of the fact that Harold drifted off to Ponthieu, was imprisoned by Count Guy, and rescued by William, the sequence of events in the Morkinskinna version follows the Norman tradition closely. As far as Snorri is concerned, his version of Harold’s visit to Normandy appears to follow that of William of Malmesbury and it will not concern us here.29
Scholars have long debated which, if any, of the versions of Harold’s trip to Nor–mandy and his alleged oath to William has a basis in history.30 It was argued above that the silence of the English sources in this matter is understandable, but it would appear that William of Poitiers, who wrote at the commission of William himself, could not have departed too far from the truth in his description of the events that prompted the Norman invasion of England. That is also the case with William of Jumieges, who was present at the monastery of Jumieges during the residency of the former archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Champart (d.1055), after Robert’s exile from England in 1052, and who would have been in an excellent position to obtain information about the affairs at Edward’s court.31

It has been suggested that, where the earliest Norman versions all agree, “they are probably all based on a single story, first composed by the duke’s advisers and sent to Rome early in 1066 to obtain the support of Pope Alexander II.”32 However that may be, it is curious that none of the earliest versions agrees on where Harold swore the oath to William, and, furthermore, that they mention neither the identity of the relics on which the oath was sworn, nor the year that event took place. The Carmen de Hastingae proelio, most likely composed before 1072 by Guy of Amiens, the uncle of Count Guy of Ponthieu, refers to the oath as “secret”: “Nescit que furtiva mihi periu–ria fecit,”33 and it could be that the conflicting information about the time, place, and content of Harold’s oath in the Norman sources indeed resulted from the fact that the circumstances surrounding that oath were never made public.34 If that was the case, the information in Morkinskinna about the relics of “Odmarus” is even more puzzling.


As far as the Battle of Hastings is concerned, the descriptions in the extant versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are quite brief and resemble the versions found in Heim–skringla and Fagrskinna:35

Meanwhile Earl William landed in Hastings on the day of the Feast of St. Michael. And Harold came from the north and fought with him before his entire army had arrived. He fell there with his two brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine.

Then William earl of Normandy came to Pevensey on the eve of the Feast of St. Michael. And as soon as they were able to move on, they erected a stronghold at Hast–ings. This was then told to King Harold, and he gathered a great army and came against him by the hoary apple tree. And William came upon him unawares before he could marshall his troops. But the king nonetheless offered him very hard resistance with those men who were willing to support him, and there was great slaughter on both sides. There King Harold was killed and Earl Leofwine, his brother, and Earl Gyrth, his brother, and many good men.

The Norman sources are very detailed, but only two historians, namely, William of Poitiers and Ordericus Vitalis, mention that the relics on which Harold swore were attached to William during the battle. According to William of Poitiers, William got ready for battle and placed those relics around his neck: “Appendit etiam humili collo suo reliquias, quarum favorem Heraldus abalienaverat sibi, violata fide quam super eas jurando sanxerat.”36 Ordericus Vitalis did not include that information in his interpo–lations in William of Jumieges, but it found its way into his Ecclesiastical History where he states that William prepared for battle by fortifying “his body and soul with the holy sacraments, and humbly hung the sacred relics on which Harold had sworn round his neck” (“reliquiasque sanctas super quas Heraldus iurauerat collo suo humiliter appendit”).37

In keeping with their earlier silence on this topic, neither William of Poitiers nor Ordericus identifies the relics; neither of them comments on the effect the sight of the relics had on Harold Godwinson; and in both accounts William wears the relics around his neck and not tied to his banner, as in Morkinskinna. Despite these differ–ences, there is certainly reason to believe that the Morkinskinna account ultimately was derived from a Norman source. Because William of Poitiers’s history fails to include all the details of the Morkinskinna version, it would appear that the author of Morkinskinna followed a version of a text derived from Ordericus’s Ecclesiastical History. When Morkinskinna places the relics around William’s banner instead of around William’s neck, this could stem from a confusion of information: according to most Norman sources, William rode into the Battle of Hastings carrying a sacred banner dedicated to Saint Peter, which had been given to him by Pope Alexander II;38 and the Morkinskinna author could have conflated the two traditions, namely, that of the relics hung around William’s neck and that of his holy banner. However, the identity of the saint on whose relics Harold swore his oath, and whose presence at Hastings looms so large in Morkinskinna, must have entered the Old Norse tradition from another source.


In the calendars of saints there are two candidates whose names could serve to identify them as the Odmarus in Morkinskinna, namely, Saint Otmar, patron saint of Saint Gall, and Saint Audomarus, patron saint of Saint-Omer in Flanders.39 There appears to be no link between the Alemannic saint and Normandy; and, although Saint Otmar’s bones were distributed over a large area indeed, there are no records of his presence in Normandy or in any area immediately bordering on Normandy.40

If we turn to the Flemish saint Audomarus, however, the situation seems more promising. Saint Audomarus, whose feast fell on 9 November (changed from 1 November after 807), was bishop of Therouanne. He founded the monastery of Saint Bertin in Sithiu on the river Aa, as well as the abbey of Saint Omer, which later gave its name to the city of Saint-Omer. Audomarus died after 667 and was buried in the church of Saint Martin at Saint-Omer.41

Saint-Omer is located in Flanders, which at the time of the Norman Conquest was ruled by Count Baldwin V father-in-law of William the Conqueror and half-brother of Judith, wife of Earl Tostig Godwinson.42 Saint-Omer was situated on the pilgrim–age route from England to southern and eastern France and Rome, and English pil–grims and merchants passed regularly through that city.43 The most famous pilgrim to make his devotions at the altars of Saints Audomarus and Bertin was Knutr inn riki (the Great), king of Denmark, Norway, and England, who visited their relics on his way to Rome in 1026 or 1027. The author of the Encomium Emmae reginae, a resi–dent either of Saint Omer or of Saint Bertin, who was commissioned by Queen Emma to write her encomium in 1040-1042, was an eyewitness on that occasion (“ut credibiliora fiant quae assero, quid in una urbe Sancti Audomari fecerit dicam pro exemplo, quod etiam oculis meis me uidisse recordor”).44 He gives a detailed descrip–tion of Knutr’s donations, and concludes as follows:45

Haec et alia his mirificentiora a domno Cnutone gesta uidi ego, uester uernula, Sancte Audomare, Sancte Bertine, cum fierent uestris in caenobiis; pro quibus bonis tantum regem impertate uiuere in caelestibus habitaculis, ut uestri famuli canonici et monachi sunt orantes orationibus cotidianis.

The literary specialty of the monastic house of Saint Bertin at Saint-Omer was histor–ical works and saints’ lives in rhyming prose, and not only Emmas encomium, but also the earliest Vita Edwardi was written by an ecclesiastic from Saint-Omer.46

In the eleventh century, Flanders was a haven for political refugees from England, as the following list shows:47

1037 Queen Emma is exiled to Baldwin in Bruges, Flanders;

1039 Horðaknutr arrives in Bruges;

1044 Knutr’s niece, Gunnhildr, is banished and goes to Bruges, where she stays for a long time before she leaves for Denmark;

1047 Swegn Godwinson is exiled to Baldwin in Bruges and stays all winter;

1049 Swegn Godwinson is outlawed after the slaying of Bjorn Olfsson and goes to Bruges to stay with Baldwin;

1051 Godwin and all his sons are exiled; Godwin and his wife, Swegn, Tostig, and Gyrth go to Baldwin in Bruges.

We see, then, that during the years 1037-1051, Bruges in Flanders served as a refuge for English exiles, and in particular for Godwin and his sons. However, when Tostig Godwinson was exiled in November 1065, right before the death of Edward on 5 Jan–uary 1066 and his brother Harold’s succession to the throne of England, he did not go to Bruges but to Saint-Omer. The entry for the year 1065 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reads as follows: “Tostig then went across the sea and his wife with him, to Baldwin’s country, and he set up winter quarters at Saint–Omer”.48 That information is corroborated by the Vita Ædwardi, where it is added that Saint-Omer was the place in Flanders where Baldwin’s court met on special days, and furthermore, the “first place met by those who have crossed the British ocean” (“Susceptum [Baldwin] ergo sororis sue maritum honorifice et gratanter more suo, iussit morari et quiscere a tot laboribus in castro quod ex nomine beati Audomari inibi principaliter quiescentis nuncupatur, quod precipuis diebus sollempnis eius curia ibi conueniat, Brittannieque occeanum permensis primum occurrat”).49

Thus it was from Saint-Omer, then, that Tostig Godwinson, according to Old Norse sources, set out to solicit support from Haraldr of Norway for the ill-fated attempt to invade England.50 It could well be that the connection between the Godwin family and Flanders, and, in particular, the city of Saint-Omer, “which is named after the famous St Omer who lies honourably within,”51 became part of oral tradition and found its way into the Morkinskinna account of the Anglo-Norman affairs before and during the Norman Conquest.

There is, however, another intriguing possibility that needs to be explored. It emerged from the discussion above that none of the earliest Norman sources gives the year or the place of Harold Godwinson’s oath to William. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has no entries for the year 1064, and, although some are uneasy about that dating, most scholars tentatively agree that Harold’s oath to William took place in Normandy in 1064.52 After reviewing all the evidence, Freeman, for example, states that “I have myself placed the event at the point of time which on the whole seemed least unlikely; but I confess to have had all along a lurking feeling that the whole story may have arisen out of something which happened in that earlier French journey of Harold’s, of which we have no details.”53 The visit to which Freeman refers is recorded in the Vita Ædwardi, where it is stated that Harold went on a pilgrimage to Rome and on his way stayed in France, where “he carefully observed the Frankish customs.”54 That journey is not mentioned in any other source, and Freeman tentatively dates it to the year 1058.55

There is evidence of the presence of Harold Godwinson on the Continent on yet another occasion, however. On 13 November 1056, Count Baldwin V of Flanders subscribed a diploma at Saint-Omer for the abbey of Saint Peter of Ghent, and among the witnesses were Harold Godwinson and Count Guy of Ponthieu, the very person who, according to Norman sources, held Harold captive after his shipwreck on the coast of Ponthieu.56 In his article “A Visit of Earl Harold to Flanders in 1056,” Philip Grierson brings up the possibility that Guy of Ponthieu could have brought his captive to Baldwin in Saint-Omer in the hope “that the count of Flanders might be prepared to take an active part in the negotiations over the payment of the ransom required by the count of Ponthieu.”57 However, after weighing the evidence, Grierson concludes that the most likely date of Harold’s oath was 1064, and he chooses to con–nect Harold’s presence at Saint-Omer in 1056 with a possible mission from Edward the Confessor to secure the return of the exiled Edward Etheling to England.58

The evidence for the year 1064 for Harold’s stay in Normandy rests on the lack of an entry for that year in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, as well as on the account of William of Poitiers to the effect that, after Harold swore the oath of allegiance to William, he partook in William’s Breton campaign against Count Conan.59 Harold’s presence on that campaign is also documented by the Bayeux tapestry, which places Harold’s oath after the Breton campaign.60 Neither William of Poitiers nor the tapestry men–tions the year of the campaign, but on indirect evidence it has been dated tentatively to 1064.61 Yet it is a historical fact that two of the main persons involved in the events that culminated in Harold’s perjury, namely, Count Guy of Ponthieu and Harold Godwinson himself, were present in Saint-Omer in November of 1056. We may ask, then, whether Guy on that occasion brought his captive to Baldwin, and whether Baldwin’s son-in-law William of Normandy had a hand in the release of the English hostage. And, furthermore, did Harold at that point swear an oath on the relics of Saint Audomarus, as is stated in the Old Norse Morkinskinna?


Our investigations have shown that the narrative elements contained in the pre-con–quest events related in Morkinskinna are also present in Ordericus Vitalis’s Ecclesiastical History that is, Edward’s bequest of the English throne to William, the two embassies to Normandy to convey that bequest (by Robert Champart and Harold Godwinson), Harold’s oath of allegiance on the relics, and his betrothal to William’s daughter.62 Furthermore, like Morkinskinna, Ordericus (following William of Poitiers) also locates the relics, on which Harold swore his fateful oath, at the scene of the Battle of Hastings.

In his introduction to Heimskringla III, Bjarm Aðalbjarnarson noted that the Mor–kinskinna version bears semblance to the accounts by Ordericus Vitalis and William of Jumieges.63 The presence of the relics on which Harold swore, however, is not men–tioned by William of Jumieges, nor was that information incorporated into Orderi–cus’s interpolations in William’s work. Hence, it is clear that the Gesta normannorum ducum could not have served as the source of the Morkinskinna account.

As far as William of Poitiers is concerned, Harold’s betrothal to William’s daughter, which figures quite prominently in Morkinskinna, is not stated explicitly as taking place during Harold’s stay in Normandy, but is only implied in a later section: “Imo voluit patris Godwim potentiam 1111 ampliare, et natam suam, imperatoris thalamo dignissimam, in matrimonium, uti fuerat pollicitus, tradere.”64 Thus it is unlikely that William of Poitiers’s History could have been the source available to the Morkinskinna author.

Ordericus’s Ecclesiastical History is the only version to incorporate all the elements present in the Morkinskinna version. It is doubtful, however, that the author of Morkinskinna had access to a copy of Ordericus’s Historia ecclesiastica.65 It was not widely disseminated,66 and, if the author of Morkinskinna had Ordericus’s work before him, it is not clear why Morkinskinna in general provides so much misinformation about English and Norman affairs.67 On the other hand, the wording of Morkinskinna is in places very close to that of Ordericus’s history. Consider the following example, of passages from Morkinskinna: “then he [Edward] sent Robert, archbishop of Canterbury, to his kinsman William in Normandy, and wanted to designate him as his successor; and another time he sent Earl Harold on the same mission to William”, and from Ordericus: “Eduardus nimirum propinquo suo Willelmo duci Normannorum primo per Rodbertum Cantuariorum pontificem, postea per eundem Heraldum integram Anglici regni mandauerat concessionem.”68

It is possible, however, that the source available to the author of Morkinskinna was not the work of Ordericus Vitalis himself, but an abbreviated and interpolated version of either his Ecclesiastical History or of William of Jumieges’s Gesta normannorum ducum. We know that such versions existed, and one of them, Quedam exceptiones de historia normannorum et anglorum, is still extant.69 Quedam exceptiones is an abbrevia–tion of the C version of William’s Gesta normannorum ducum, with interpolations relating to the Fitz Osbern family.70 It was composed between July 1101 and some–time during 1103 by someone with access to that family, in particular to Bishop Osbern of Exeter; its place of composition is unknown.7l The text survives in a com–posite manuscript, London, BL Cotton Vespasian A.xviii fols. 157-162v, and was written by one scribe. It has been dated to the early twelfth century.72 What is peculiar, however, are the verbal correspondences with the Old Norse Morkinskinna. The following excerpts will suffice to demonstrate the point.73


When Edward the Good was king of England and childless, then he sent Robert, arch–bishop of Canterbury, to his kinsman William in Normandy, and wanted to designate him as his successor; and another time he sent Earl Harold, the son of Godwin, on the same mission to William.

Quedam exceptiones

Interea rex Edwardus carens sobole Willelmum Normannorum ducem cognatum suum sibi constituit heredem Angliam dimittens, primum per Robertum archipresulem Cantuariorum quem propter hanc causam direxit in Normanniam, dehinc per Heroldum filium comitis Goduini.

And again Morkinskinna

William became king and died of illness in Normandy. After him his son, William Rufus, ruled for fourteen years. He died of illness. Then his brother Henry, the second son of William I, succeeded him as king.

And Quedam exceptiones

[William] regnauitque annis .xxii. et in Normannia antequam transfretaret in Angliam rexit ducatum Normannie .xxx. annis feliciter. Quo mortuo regnauit Willelmus filius eius pro eo annis .xiii. . . . Anno autem .xiii. regni sui occubuit Willelmus rex Anglorum uenando sagitta. Cui successit Henricus frater eius.

Because Quedam exceptiones fails to include information incorporated into Morkin–skinna, such as the presence of the relics at the Battle of Hastings, it is unlikely that this particular work was the immediate source of Morkinskinna; but I suggest that a work of a similar nature was available to, and used by, the author of Morkinskinna. And, furthermore, because the list of William’s successors in Morkinskinna stops with Henry I and does not include the years of his reign (so also Quedam exceptiones), I propose that Morkinskinnds Anglo-Norman source must have been written prior to the death of Henry I in December 1135.

Excerpts of the genealogical information and the events leading up to the Norman Conquest as related by Quedam exceptiones were copied verbatim from a similar source into the chronicle of Roger de Hoveden, under the caption “Descriptio gene–alogix ducum normannorum, a Rollone primo duce usque secundum Henricum regem Anglix, et qua auctoritate quave ratione sanctus rex Eadwardus ducem Willel–mum constituit hxredem.”74 As Gustav Storm has shown, an earlier and expanded version of “Descriptio genealogiæ” could have served as a source for the anonymous author of Historia Norwegiae, which would seem to confirm the presence of such abbreviated versions of Anglo-Norman historical writings in Scandinavian territory in the early thirteenth century.75 Whether the source of Morkinskinna was a Latin import or an Old Norse translation of a Latin exemplar (or Old Norse excerpts from a Latin exemplar?) is of course impossible to ascertain; but because there is scant evidence that the author of Morkinskinna knew Latin, the latter seems more likely.

If we return to Saint Odmarus and his relics, we cannot exclude the possibility that the name of this saint was given in Morkinskinna’s foreign source. But because all other versions, both English and Norman, as well as Anglo-Norman, are silent on this point, it would appear that the name of the saint in Morkinskinna has a different provenance. If “Saint Odmarus” indeed was concocted by the Morkinskinna author, it is not clear why he would have settled on an obscure Flemish saint who was not ven–erated in the North, rather than on a more mainstream figure of devotion: William’s banner, for example, was dedicated to Saint Peter, and the famous cathedral in Caen, founded and endowed by William and his place of burial, was dedicated to Saint Stephen.76

It seems more likely that there existed an independent Old Norse tradition con–necting the Flemish saint with the Godwin family, in particular with Harold Godwinson and Harold’s perjury. As suggested above, that tradition could stem from the Godwin family’s ties to Flanders and from Tostig’s refuge at Saint-Omer in 1065–1066. But it is also possible that the reference to Saint Audomarus in the Old Norse Morkinskinna has its roots in historical events that took place in the autumn of 1056 at Saint-Omer and involved Baldwin of Flanders, Guy of Ponthieu, Harold Godwinson, and William of Normandy. It could well be that Harold’s mission to the Conti–nent in 1056 was aimed at obtaining the release of the English hostages (his uncle and nephew) from the Norman duke through the mediation of Baldwin of Flanders, William’s father-in-law and the half-brother of Tostig Godwinson’s wife Judith.

Henry of Huntingdon explicitly states that Harold was on his way to Flanders when he drifted off course to Ponthieu, and in his Historia novorum in Anglia, Eadmer maintains that the sole purpose of Harold’s journey was to obtain the release of his uncle and nephew.77 Eadmer does not give the date of the mission; he only states that it took place some time after Godwin’s death: “Is [Harold], elapso modico tem–pore, licentiam petivit a rege Normanniam ire et fratrem suum atque nepotem qui obsides tenebantur liberate, liberatos reducere.”78 Godwin died on 15 April 1053, and the phrase “elapso modico tempore” would appear to fit the year 1056 better than 1064.

If we assume that Harold was on his way to secure the release of his relatives when he drifted off course to Ponthieu and was imprisoned by Guy, Guy could have brought the English earl to Baldwin’s court in Saint-Omer, where the ensuing negoti–ations could have involved Harold’s swearing an oath of some sort to William upon the relics of Saint Audomarus. Such a reconstruction of events must admittedly remain speculative, but in light of the conflicting evidence from the earliest Norman sources, it should not be dismissed out of hand.

The Morkinskinna version of the Battle of Hastings, then, was based on a conglomerate of sources – written and oral, foreign and native – and it not only provides us with a unique insight into the working methods of the earliest Icelandic compiler of the Norwegian kings’ sagas, but it may also serve to shed new light on an issue that never has ceased to puzzle historians, namely, on the events that culminated in the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of England.

Viking  Ship  on  the  sunset
Viking Ship on the sunset

End Notes

1. Heimskringla III, ed. Bjarni Abalbjarnason, Islenzk fornrit 28 (Reykjavik 1951) 194. All translations from Old Norse, Old English, and Old French are my own. The orthography of the citations from Morkinskinna has been normalized. The battle of Stamford Bridge took place on Monday, 25 September 1066. William the Conqueror landed at Pevensey on 28 or 29 September and marched on to Hastings (Ordericus Vitalis [henceforth OV], The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, ed. and trans. Marjorie Chibnall, 6 vols. [Oxford 1969-1980] 2.170 n. 2). The battle took place on 14 October at Senlac (OE “Sandlacu”), a short distance from Hastings (OV 2.172). Heimskringla is the only Old Norse source to mention the loca–tion of that battle, and the name “Helsingjaport” appears to be a scribal corruption of OE “Hæstingaport” (see the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle [henceforth ASC]: Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel with Supplementary Extracts from the Others, ed. Charles Plummer, 1: Text, Appendices and Glossary [1892; repr. Oxford 1952] D, 199). For convenient English translations of the sections dealing with the Battle of Hastings in the most pertinent primary sources, see The Battle of Hastings Sources and Interpretations, ed. Stephen Morillo (Woodbridge 1996) 1-53.

2. Fagrskinna-Noregs konunga tal, ed. Bjarni Einarsson, Islenzk fornrit 29 (Reykjavik 1984) 293.

3. Morkinskinna, ed. Finnur Jonsson, Samfund til udgivelse of gammel nordisk litteratur 53 (Copenha–gen 1928-1932) 285-286.

4. For a discussion of the relationship between Heimskringla, Fagrskinna, and Morkinskinna, see Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Om de norske kongesagaer, Skrifter utgitt av det norske videnskaps-akademi i Oslo 2, his–torisk-filosofisk klasse, 1936, no. 4 (Oslo 1937) 135-236. The *Oldest Morkinskinna (ÆMsk) has been dated to around 1220 (ibid. 136), and the extant manuscript (MskMS) was written around 1275 (see Morkinskinna [n. 3 above] iv; Jonna Louis-Jensen, Kongesagastudier. Kompilationen Hulda-Hrokkinskinna, Bibliotheca Arnamagnxana 32 [Copenhagen 1977] 63).
5. The scholarly literature on the Norman Conquest is vast, and this article will refer only to works directly pertaining to the topic at hand. For the most exhaustive, yet highly subjective, discussion of primary sources, see Edward A. Freeman, The History of the Norman Conquest of England, Its Causes and Its Results 3: The Reign of Harold and the Interregnum, rev. American ed. (Oxford 1873). David C. Douglas (William the Conqueror. The Norman Impact upon England [Berkeley 1964] 427-434) and Frank Barlow (Edward the Confessor [Berkeley 1970] 345-351) give bibliographical overviews of the most important primary sources. For bibliogra–phies of secondary sources, see Douglas 434-447 and Barlow 351-357. See also Eric John, “Edward the Confessor and the Norman Succession,” English Historical Review 371 (1979) 241-267. There is no exhaustive scholarly discussion of the Battle of Hastings in Old Norse sources (but see Bjarni Aoalbjarnarson’s notes on “Haralds saga Siguroarsonar” in Heimskringla [n. 1 above] 168-174, 193-197).

6. Morkinskinna (n. 3 above) 284-285.

7. Ibid. 285.

8. Heimskringla (n. 1 above) 169.

9. Ibid. 170.

10. Ibid. 170-171. Morkinskinna, Fagrskinna, and Heimskringla make Emma of Normandy, Edward’s mother, William’s aunt (Morkinskinna [n. 3 above] 34, 284; Fagrskinna [n. 2 above] 291, 293; Heimskrin–gla [n. 1 above] 168; see also Danakonunga sogur, ed. Bjarni Guonason, tslenzk fornrit 35 [Reykjavik 1982] xcix n. 24, c, 107 n. 2). The same mistake occurs in certain English sources (Florence of Worcester [henceforth FW]: Chronicon: Florentii Wigorniensis monacbi Chronicon ex chronicis, ed. Benjamin Thorpe, 2 vols. [1848-1849; repr. Vaduz 1964] 1.225; Symeon of Durham: Symeonis monachi Opera omnia 2: His–toria regum, eadem historia ad quintum et vicesimum annum continuata, per joannem Hagulstadensem: acce–dunt varia, ed. Thomas Arnold, Rolls Series [1885; repr. Wiesbaden 1965] 183; Roger de Hoveden [henceforth RH]: Chronica Magistri Rogeri de Houedene, ed. William Stubbs, 4 vols., Rolls Series [1868; repr. Wiesbaden 1964] 2.235; Henry of Huntingdon: Henrici archidiaconi Huntendunensis Historia anglo–rum, ed. Thomas Arnold, Rolls Series [1879; repr. 1965] 187). In reality, Emma was the daughter of Rich–ard I, duke of Normandy (942-996), sister of Richard II, duke of Normandy (996-1026). Richard II’s sons (Emma’s nephews) were Duke Richard III (1026-1027) and Duke Robert I (1027-1035), William’s father.

11. FW 1.224-227.

12. Ibid. 1.225; see n. 10 above. For a detailed, but highly biased, discussion of William’s claim to the English throne, see Freeman (n. 5 above) 182-191. For a more recent discussion, see John (n. 5 above).

13. Vita Ædwardi [henceforth VÆ]: The Life of King Edward who rests at Westminster, attributed to a monk of Saint-Bertin, ed. and trans. Frank Barlow, ed. 2 (Oxford 1992) xxiii, xxix-xxxiii.

14. VÆ 80/81.

15. For exhaustive discussions of the different versions of Harold’s journey to Normandy, his capture by Guy, redemption by William, and the alleged oath of allegiance, see Freeman (n. 5 above) 144-170, 448–469, and Barlow (n. 5 above) 220-229.

16. William of Jumieges [henceforth WJ]: The Gesta normannorum ducum of William of Jumieges, Orderic Vitalis, and Robert of Torigni, ed. and trans. Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, 2 vols. (Oxford 1992-1995) 2.158, 160.

17. Ibid. 2.160.

18. Ibid.

19. William of Poitiers [henceforth WP]: Guillaume de Poitiers Histoire de Guillaume le Conguerant, ed. and trans. Raymonde Foreville, Classiques de histoire de France au moyen age 23 (Paris 1952) 30, 32.

20. Ibid. 100.

21. Ibid. 100-104, 172, 176.

22. Ibid. 146-148.

23. WJ 2.160. Wulfnoth remained a prisoner of William’s until William’s death in 1087 (FW 2.20). For a discussion of the English hostages at the Norman court, see Barlow (n. 5 above) 301-306.

24. OV 2.136.

25. Freeman (n. 5 above) 377-385.

26. English Historical Documents 2: 1042-1189, ed. David C. Douglas and George W Greenaway (London 1953) 235, 252.

27. Wace: Guillaume le duc, Guillaume le roi: Extraits du Roman de Rou de Wace, poete normand du Xlle siecle, ed. and trans. Rene Lepelley (Caen 1987) 42. Ordericus locates the oath at Rouen (2.134; so also Vita Haroldi: The Life of King Harold Godwinson, in Three Lives of the Last Englishmen, trans. Michael Swanton, Garland Library of Medieval Literature set. B 10.[New York and London 1984] 19-20, 26).

28. Wace 42-43.

29. William of Malmesbury [henceforth WM]:Willelmi Malmesbiriensis monachi de gestis regum anglorum, ed. William Stubbs, 2 vols., Rolls Series (London 1887) 1.279-280; see also Heimskringla (n. 1 above) xxviii. For an overview of other versions in which the broken betrothal is seen as the sole source of William’s grudge against Harold, as in Heimskringla, see Freeman (n. 5 above) 464-465. William, it would appear, had made a habit of extending his power through marital alliances: not only did he himself marry Mathilda, daughter of Baldwin V of Flanders, but sometime after 1055 Count Herbert of Maine was betrothed to one of William daughters, and Herbert in return engaged his sister Margaret to William’s son Robert Curthose (WP 88; OV 2.304; see Douglas [n. 5 above] 73).

30. After examining the extant sources, Freeman (n. 5 above) 163 concludes, “Harold then, I admit, swore, but when he swore must remain a matter of conjecture. And, if we are thus left to conjecture as to the time when Harold swore, we are equally left to conjecture as to the place.” Similarly Barlow (n. 5 above) 228 states that “the truth about Harold’s embassy to Normandy in 1064 or 1065 cannot be estab–lished: the evidence is too unreliable. All we can do is to list the main possibilities.” See also Douglas (n. 5 above) 175-177.

31. WJ l.xlvii. Robert Champart, the alleged envoy from Edward to William of Normandy, was the former prior of Saint-Ouen, Rouen (1035-1042). He accompanied Edward the Confessor to England, where he was consecrated bishop of London (1044-1050). In 1050 he was elected archbishop of Canterbury, but he was subsequently exiled from England in 1052 along with other Norman dignitaries after the reinstatement of Godwin and his sons (WJ Lxxv). Doubts have been cast on the historicity of Robert’s mission, but it could have taken place in 1051, which could account for the presence of William of Normandy at Edward’s court later that year (ASC D 176; see Barlow [n. 5 above] 107-108; Douglas [n. 5 above] 169).

32. WJ l.xlvii; see also Barlow (n. 5 above) 221.

33. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio of Guy Bishop of Amiens, ed. Catherine Morton and Hope Muntz (Oxford 1972) 16.

34. Ibid. 71.

35. ASC E 198, D 199.

36. WP 180, 182.

37. OV 2.172/173.

38. See WP 154, 184; OV 2.142; WM 2.302; Freeman (n. 5 above) 215.

39. See M. van Uytfange, “Audomarus,” in Lexikon des Mittelalters (Munich 1980) 1.1197-1198, and W Vogler, “Otmar,” in Lexikon des Mittelalters (Munich 1993) 4.1560-1561. The name of the Alemannic saint is also given in sources in its Latin form Audomarus (Johannes Duft, St. Otmar in Kult and Kunst [St. Gall 1966] 37 n. 11), and Audomarus of Konstanz was occasionally confused with the Flemish Audoma–rus of Coutances (ibid. 38, 102 n. 6).

40. Ibid. 42-48.

41. See Georges Coolen, “Saint Colomban et Saint Omer,” in Milanges Colombaniens Actes du congres international de Luxeuil 20-23 juillet 1950 (Paris 1950) 361-375, and Vita Audomari, ed. W Levison, MGH Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 5.753-764.

42. See Philip Grierson, “The Relations between England and Flanders before the Norman Conquest,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society ser. 4, 23 (1941) 99-100 n. 5; see also Freeman (n. 5 above) 433-442.

43. Philip Grierson, “A Visit of Earl Harold to Flanders in 1956,” English Historical Review 51 (1936) 94; idem (n. 42 above) 94; and VÆ x1vii.

44. Encomium Emmae reginae, ed. and trans. Alistair Campbell, Camden Third Series 72 (London 1949) 36.

45. Ibid.

46. For the literary connections between Saint-Omer and England, see VIE xlvii-liii.

47. ASC CDEF 160-161; C 160; D 165; E 166; CE 171; CDE 172, 176. See also Grierson (n. 42 above) 96-103.

48.ASC C 192.

49.VÆ 82183.

50. Tostig’s journey to Norway is mentioned in all Old Norse sources (Theodrici monachi Historia de antiquitate regum norwagiensium, in Monumenta Historica Norvegiae. Latinske kildeskrifter til Norges histo–rie i middelalderen, ed. Gustav Storm [1880; repr. Oslo 1973] 56; Agrip of Noregskonunga sogum, ed. Bjarni Einarsson, Islenzk fornrit 29 [Reykjavik 1984] 39; Fagrskinna [n. 2 above] 274-276; Heimskringla [n. 1 above] 172-74; Morkinskinna [n. 3 above] 262-264). That journey is otherwise attested only in Ordericus Vitalis’s interpolations in William of Jumieges: “Heraldum Herfagam Northweghe regem adiit, ipsumque supplex ut se iuuaret rogitauit. Ipse uero precanti Tostico libenter adquieuit” (WJ 2.162), as well as in his Ecclesiastical History (OV 2.142, 144). The latter version, greatly expanded, contains a dia–logue between Tostig and Haraldr of Norway reminiscent of the dialogue found in Morkinskinna 263–264. Scholars have doubted the historicity of that journey (Heimskringla xxix n. 1), and the account in Morkinskinna shows that the author of that work had access to two conflicting versions of Tostig’s mission to Haraldr (264): “Ok pat segja sumir menn, at Tosti jarl sendi Gothorm Gunnhildarson til fundar vib Harald konung at bjdoa honum Noroimbraland meo svardogum ok eggja hann til vestrfarar. Ok for Gothormr til Noregs, en Tosti su6r um sja til Vallands at hitta maga stns” (“And some men say that Earl Tostig sent Gothormr Gunnhildarson to meet with King Haraldr and offer him Northumbria with pledges and incite him to travel west. And Gothormr went to Norway, but Tostig went south across the sea to Normandy to find his in-laws”).

51. VÆ 83.

52. Freeman (n. 5 above) 468 surveys the dates assigned to Harold’s visit in the different sources (1056, 1059, 1063, 1064), and settles on the year 1064 as the most likely candidate. But he admits that “at the same time . . . I do not commit myself to the date or to anything else” (ibid.). See also Barlow (n. 5 above) 221, 228, and Douglas (n. 5 above) 175. John (n. 5 above) 260 suggests that Harold’s visit to William took place between 1 November and 28 December 1065.

53. Freeman (n. 5 above) 163.

54. VÆ 53; see also Vita Haroldi (n. 27 above) 17-18.

55. VÆ 52 n. 125; but see Grierson (n. 43 above) 93-94.

56. Grierson (n. 43 above) 91-92; idem (n. 42 above) 100-101; VÆ 52 n. 125; Barlow (n. 5 above) 217.

57. Grierson (n. 43 above) 92.

58. Ibid. 94-97. Edward Etheling, the son of Edmund Ironside, Edward the Confessor’s half-brother, returned to England from Hungary in 1057 and died shortly after his arrival (ASC DE 187-188).

59. WP 106-114.

60. Douglas and Greenaway (n. 26 above) 234-235, 248-251; see also Ordericus’s interpolations in William of Jumieges, WJ 2.160, and OV 2.136.

61. Freeman (n. 5 above) 145-162, 471-472; Grierson (n. 43 above) 92-93; Barlow (n. 5 above) 221; Douglas (n. 5 above) 178-179.

62. Both Morkinskinna (n. 3 above) 285 and Heimskringla (n. 1 above) 193 report a curious story to the effect that William the Conqueror, prior to his departure for England, kicked his wife with his spur and killed her. That story is also referred to by William of Malmesbury, who admits to having heard it but attaches no credence to it (WM 2.331). It appears to be an oral variant of an episode related by Ordericus Vitalis, according to which Harold Godwinson, before riding into battle against William, kicked his mother, who tried to restrain him, with his spur (WJ 2.168; OV 2.172).

63. Heimskringla (n.1 above) xxviii.

64. WP 230.

65. For a review of the Scandinavian information in Ordericus’s Ecclesiastical History see Lucien Musset, “L’image de la Scandinavie dans les ceuvres Normandes de la periode ducale (911-1204),” in Les relations litteraires franco-scandinaves au moyen rage, Bibliotheque de la Faculte de philosophie et lettres de l’Univer–site de Liege fasc. 208 (Paris 1975) 193-213. Hans Bekker-Nielsen (“The French Influence on Ecclesiasti–cal Literature in Old Norse,” in Les relations . . . 140-141 n. 10) maintains that Ordericus Vitalis was known in medieval Scandinavia, but I have been unable to trace the source of that information.

66. OV 2.xxv.

67. To mention a few: the dates of Edward’s death and Harold Godwinson’s coronation are wrong (the fifth and seventh day of Christmas [Morkinskinna (n.3 above) 262]; the correct dates are January 5 and 6 [OV 2.136]); the genealogy of William is wrong (Morkinskinna 284; see n. 10 above); the nickname “langaspjot” (“long spear”) coined from the French longespee (“long sword”) is attached to Robert the Magnif–icent, William’s father, rather than to William I of Normandy, father of Richard I (284); the reign of William Rufus is given as fourteen years and he is said to have died of illness (286; William reigned thir–teen years and was killed in a hunting accident); the Battle of Hastings is said to have taken place twelve months, rather than nineteen days, after the battle of Stamford Bridge (286); Earls Morcer of Northum–bria and Waltheof of Huntingdon are said to be sons of Godwin, and furthermore, according to Morkin–skinna, Morcer fell at the battle of the river Ouse (267-268).

68. Morkinskinna (n. 3 above) 284-285; OV 2.134.

69. Printed in WJ 2.292-304.

70. Some of the interpolations in Quedam exceptiones appear to have been derived from Ordericus’s Eccle–siastical History For instance, in both Harold Godwinson’s oath is said to have taken place in Rouen (WJ 2.291, 301; OV 2.136).

71. WJ 2.292.

72. Ibid. 2.290.

73. Morkinskinna (n. 3 above) 284-285; WJ 2.301; Morkinskinna 286; WJ 2.304.

74. RH 2.239-241. Compare the following relevant passages: “Hic 7Edwardus carens sobole, Willelmo cognato suo Normannorum duci misit Robertum Cantuariensem archiepiscopum, et de regno eum con–stituit hxredem. Sed et comitem Haraldum post eum misit” (RH 2.240-241); “[William] regnavit autem annis viginti duobus. Quo mortuo, regnavit Willelmus filius ejus pro eo annis tredecim . . . . Willelmus autem rex, decimo tertio anno regni sui, occiditur venando sagitta. Cui successit Henricus frater ejus” (RH 2.241). A similar version, incorporating passages corresponding to Quedam exceptiones not printed in the Rolls edition of Roger de Hoveden’s chronicle, is found in Leges anglo-saxonicae ecclesiasticae et civiles, ed. David Wilkins (London 1721) 209-210, as a preface to the laws of William the Conqueror (“De duc–ibus normannorum in Neustria, qux modo vocatur Normanniae”).

75. Storm (n. 50 above) xxi-xxii, 91, 121; see also Bjarni Gubnason (n. 10 above) c-cii; of a different opinion is Svend Ellehoj, Studier over den aldste norrone historieskrivning, Bibliotheca Arnamagnxana 26 (Copenhagen 1965) 161-163, 171-174. Because Historia Norwegiae shares information with “Descriptio genealogix” that is not included in Morkinskinna, it is unlikely that the two Old Norse versions ultimately went back to the same text (“Cui successit Henricus frater ejus, et regnavit triginta sex annis. Hic erat pas–tor ferarum et custos nemorum, quern Merlinus Ambrosius leonem justitix in Historia Regum nomi–navit” [RH 2.241]; “iste genuit Wilelmum rufum et Henricum fratrem ejus, qui in prophetia Merlini regis leo justitix prxnominatus est” [Monumenta Historica Norvegiae 91]). For a discussion of the age and prov–enance of Historia Norwegiae, see Bjarni Adalbjarnarson (n. 4 above) 1-54.

76. FW 2.20. St. Odmarus or Audomarus does not appear to be among the saints worshipped in the North. See Margaret Cormack, The Saints in Iceland Their Veneration from the Conversion to 1400, Sub–sidia Hagiographica 78 (Brussels 1994).

77. Henry of Huntingdon 196. Eadmer: Eadmeri Historia Novorum in Anglia, et opuscula duo de Vita sancti Anselmi et quibusdam miraculis ejus, ed. Martin Rule, Rolls Series (London 1884) 6; so also Symeon of Durham (n. 10 above) 182-185.

78. Eadmer 6.

This article was first published in Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies v.28 (1997) We thank the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies of the University of California Los Angeles for giving us permission to republish this article.

(via De Re Militari)

O legado desconhecido da Inglaterra medieval.

Site criado pela Universidade de Oxford disponibiliza gratuitamente imagens e documentos históricos dos povos anglo-saxões ancestrais

por Pietro Henrique Delallibera

Na maioria dos livros didáticos brasileiros, a Inglaterra só parece entrar em cena na Idade Moderna, sendo a França a grande “protagonista” do período medieval. Por sorte, um site criado pela Universidade de Oxford está disponibilizando gratuitamente um acervo riquíssimo sobre a história dos anglo-saxões entre os séculos V e XI.

Chamado de Woruldhord , o projeto reúne uma grande quantidade de fotografias e documentos de época que foram doados por museus, bibliotecas, universidades e centros de pesquisa de todo o mundo. Ao todo, 400 instituições colaboram com o site, que já conta com cerca de 4.500 objetos digitais em seu acervo. E o melhor: o uso dessas imagens e textos, desde que para fins não-comerciais, é livre e gratuito.

O internauta poderá encontrar, por exemplo, uma reprodução da íntegra do poema épico Beowulf, considerado uma das mais importantes obras escritas no idioma do período, um ancestral do atual inglês. Mas o grande destaque do Woruldhord é seu banco de imagens: dividido em categorias como “igrejas”, “armas” ou “joias”, o acervo traz fotografias de grandes monumentos da Inglaterra medieval e de achados arqueológicos guardados em museus de todo o globo.

Os criadores do site, professores Stuart Lee, Anna Caughey e Tom Birkett, esperam que o conjunto de imagens e textos reunidos ajude educadores de todo o mundo a ensinar a história dos anglo-saxões e do Old English, idioma falado na Grã-Bretanha durante o período medieval.

Old English in Middle-Earth.

August 27, 2010 by Stuart Lee

Part One

To help create this brief introduction to Old English – the language of the Anglo-Saxons – I have consulted Mitchell and Robinson’s Guide to Old English, Dorothy Whitelock’s revised version of Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Reader, and J.R. Clark Hall’s Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Out of respect for Tolkien’s feelings I have avoided the great Bosworth and Toller dictionary, although it remains a necessary tool for anyone who is serious about working on Old English. There are books, tapes, and teaching materials which will help you further.

If you have not yet read The Lord of the Rings, chapter references will help you to find the relevant passage.

As we know, Tolkien loved the language of the Anglo-Saxons, the people of Germanic origin who first came to Britain as a mercenary force after the Romans had left. They settled here and developed their own society, culture and language. That language is generally known, especially in its written form, as Old English, usually abbreviated to OE. Tolkien worked on it professionally as a philologist and translator, and used it creatively in The Lord of the Rings.

There were many dialect forms of Old English. Tolkien preferred the dialect of the west midlands known as Old Mercian and once said he thought he would speak nothing but Old Mercian.

All the Old English we are about to look at is primarily in the West Saxon dialect because that came to be the main literary language in Anglo-Saxon England and many of the most important texts that have survived are written in it, although they may have been composed in other dialects.

If you want to speak like the Anglo-Saxons it will take a much more detailed course than this short introduction to learn all the grammar, but you can learn some sounds and some words and phrases that are of particular interest as you read The Lord of the Rings.


The first steps in OE begin with learning some of the special Old English letter forms that are used in it, and how they sound. Old English used a few runic forms, especially þ (it is called thorn) which looks like a /p/ with a long ascender (the bit sticking up); and ð (which is called eth) which looks like a /d/ with a curved ascender with a little line through it. They describe the particular /th/ sound each is used for – the hard form of /thorn/ and the soft form of /eth/. TRY SAYING the words ‘thorn’ and ‘eth’ TO HEAR THE DIFFERENCE IN THE SOUND OF THE RUNES- it is quite subtle.

Next you need to recognise the very commonly used vowel combination æ (called ash, but more correctly spelt in OE, asc). It always has the sound of the /a/ in mat/hat/cat.

Then we have the frequent eo which is sounded – e+o but the sounds are run together, not said separately. You will be familiar with this if you have seen the films or listened to the BBC radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

As Tolkien uses it in names, the /e/ in this combination should sound like the /a/ in ‘hate’, not like the /e/ in ‘bet’. It is a much harder vowel sound. The reason for this particular pronunciation is because names like ‘Éomer’ and ‘Éowyn’ borrow their ‘Eo’ syllable from the word for ‘horse’ – eoh, and this is a stressed syllable.

As a useful rule for pronunciation we can say that OE vowels are pronounced more like vowels in German or French.

There are some tricky consonants in OE. As with the name of the æ vowels sound, it is called /ash/ but the word is spelled asc in OE where the consonants sc taken together have a /sh/ sound.

The cg in OE words like ecg (meaning an edge or sword) is pronounced as /dge/ as in MnE (Modern English) ‘ledge’, ‘hedge’.

c can also be tricky. If you see it in a text with a dot over it then it is pronounced as we pronounce ‘ch‘.

Sometimes g will appear with a dot over it, or italicised in a word. This means that it has a ‘y’ sound. This happens frequently when making past tenses in OE. A dotted or italicised ge is tacked onto the front of some verbs to make a past tense, as in gelædan (guided, led). In these cases it has a /y/ sound, so the word is pronounced ‘yelædan’.

Using what you have just read, try saying this: Meriadoc gelædde þone eoh ‘Meriadoc led the horse’.

Be sure to sound the final /e/ of gelædde and þone. There are no really silent letters in OE. For example, cniht – ‘boy’ or ‘squire’, needs to have its /c/ sounded [it is not dotted so it has its usual sound], and even its /h/ needs to be ‘breathed’ in.

The ge is also sometimes found at the start of nouns like geweorc (work) and has the same /y/ sound. Modern editors always show by dotting or italicising the ge if it should be pronounced as a /y/ or should be left lone as a /g/.

It can also happen in the middle of words. If we look back a moment, just to make life difficult, in OE the word for ‘hedge’ is spelt hege, but the /g/ is pronounced as a /y/ so it sounds like ‘heye’, from which ‘hay’ as in the High Hay, is derived.

Words and phrases

Probably the best known OE phrase Tolkien borrowed, and one which is fun to use with friends, is the greeting Wes þu hal. It means roughly ‘good health to you’.

The archaic word ‘wassail’ comes from it and Tolkien uses a modern spelling form in the phrase – ‘Westu Theoden hal‘

The later greeting ‘Ferthu hal‘, or ferþu hal means roughly ‘health to your spirit’. See The Two Towers, Book 3 Chapter VI for the use of both these greetings.

There are lots of OE words that Tolkien transfers straight into The Lord of the Rings, mostly into the Rohan episodes.

For example: The names Theoden and Thengel are both common nouns in OE simply meaning ‘prince’ or ‘lord’. The OE word for ‘king’ is cyning and is pronounced with a hard /c/ (a /k/ sound) and note that the /y/ is pronounced as /i/ with lips in a whistling position so it sounds like the /u/ in French ‘tu’. See The Two Towers, Book 3 Chapter VI.

We could then say Theoden cyning rad þone eoh = ‘Theoden the king rode the horse’.

If we learn the verb ‘to be‘ in OE, we make up other sentences of our own. And this is easier than you may expect!

We can say things like – se hring is gold – ‘the ring is gold’; þeoden is wlanc – ‘The prince is proud’. You can see that is does not need to be translated. It has come down to us unchanged, so you use the language of the Anglo-Saxons every day of your life if you speak English!

There are many words in Modern English (MnE) that are the same, or almost the same as words in OE, as you can see with the spelling of ‘hring’ – only the /h/ is missing from the modern word.

Some examples:

* Sam wyrceþ = Sam works [sounds like ‘Sam worketh]
* Frodo bideþ = Frodo waits [biden gave us the word we use in the phrase ‘biding her (or his) time’]
* Gollum biteþ = Gollum bites
* Se stan is heard = the stone is hard
* Ylfe lufiaþ steorran = Elves love stars
* Sam lufaþ Rose = Sam loves Rose
* Ic eom cald = I am cold
* þu eart cild = you are a child [the /c/ of ‘cild’ may be dotted to show that it should be pronounced as /ch/]
* he is wicing = he is a viking
* heo is wif = she is a woman
* wit waciaþ = we two keep watch [‘wit’ is the special OE pronoun used to mean ‘we two’]
* we þencaþ = we think
* git swimmaþ = you two swim [‘git’ is the special OE pronoun used to mean ‘you two’]
* ge cunnon = you all can / know how to

It is easy to ask questions –

* Hwær is se hring? = where is the ring?
* Hwaet hring? = what ring?
* Hwær eart þu = where are you? [this will sound like ‘where art thou?’]
* Hwy stande ge idele? = why are you standing idle? [this will sound like ‘why stand ye idle?’]
* Hwa is se cyning? = who is the king?

Some harder bits

We know that Theoden is cyning. Note that OE does not always use the definite article as we do in MnE (Modern English). The definite article in MnE is ‘the‘. When it is used in OE its form depends on whether the following noun is masculine, feminine, or neuter, and singular or plural. This is something we all need to look up until we have learnt the vocabulary very well.

Because OE is an inflected language, like French, German, Latin, the definite article the has different forms, and nouns change their endings depending on where they are used in a sentence.

OE may begin a sentence with a definite article, e.g. Se cyning – the king (a masc. noun with a masc. definite article). Seo cwen – the queen (fem. noun with fem. definite article). þæt sweord – the sword (neut. noun with neut. definite article).

But in a sentence OE does not always use the definite article in the way we do, so we find sentences like Oswald cyning his cynedom geheold hlisfullice. (Oswald the king held his kingdom gloriously.) You can see how Tolkien adopted this way of referring to a king as the form he uses to name the king in Rohan where he is addressed as ‘Theoden king’, not ‘King Theoden’.

With care we can come up with our own sentences such as se hol bytla feoll in þæm smygle.

Remember when pronouncing a sentence like this to sound all vowels and consonants. Remember /æ/ has the sound of /a/ in ‘mat’, and note that the /g/ in smygle is itself a /y/ sound so the word sounds like ‘smiyl’. The form of the word perhaps reminds us of Smeagol who lived in a hole, but Tolkien seems to have derived /smial/ from the OE word although he says in the Appendices that it is pronounced like ‘smile’. [Smeagol’s sneaking suggests his name has a closer relationship to OE /smeagan/, a verb which means ‘to investigate, look closely into’].

The whole sentence – se hol bytla feoll in þæm smygle means ‘the hole-dweller fell into the burrow’. Which is better, as we know, than saying se hol bytla feoll in þæt wætere (the hole dweller fell into the water)!