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Uhtred the Bold

(died 1016)


Uhtred the Bold was ealdorman of all Northumbria for a ten year period from 1006 to 1016. He was the elder son of Waltheof I, ealdorman of Bamburgh, son of Osulf I, whose family had ruled Bernica from the fortress of Bamburgh on the Northumbrian coast. Osulf of Bamburgh, high-reeve or heah-gerefa of the northern part of Northumbria, had taken part in the plot to kill Erik Bloodaxe, Viking ruler of York. He may possibly have been the son Eadulf of Bamburgh, the 'King of the Northern English' who died in 913.

Ethelred the RedelessUhtred assisted in the removal of the remains of St Cuthbert from Chester-le-Street to Durham and married Ecgfrida, the daughter Aldhun, first Bishop of Durham, the advantageous marriage brought Uhtred several estates which had formerly belonged to the church. The couple had two children, Ealdred, Earl of Northumbria and Eawulf .

In 1006 King Malcolm II of Scotland (died November 1034) invaded Northumbria and laid siege to the city of Durham. At this time the Vikings were carrying out raids on the south of England and the weak and ineffectual King Ethelred II, known as 'the Redeless' (pictured right) was unable to send aid to the north. Uhtred's father, Ealdorman Waltheof, was too elderly and ailing to offer resistance and remained in his castle at Bamburgh.

Uhtred assembled an army from Bernicia and Yorkshire and won a decisive victory against the Scots, whose heads were later impaled on stakes and formed a grisly display on Durham's walls. King Malcolm escaped from the bloody battlefield alive. The victorious Uhtred was rewarded by King Ethelred with the ealdormanry of Bamburgh even though his father still lived. Ethelred had Ealdorman Ælfhelm of York murdered by the treacherous Eadric Streona, and allowed Uhtred to succeed Ælfhelm as ealdorman of York, thus uniting northern and southern Northumbria under the house of Bamburgh.

Uhtred dismissed his wife, Ecgfrida, returned her dowry and in attempt to form alliances with the Danes in Deira, married Sige, daughter of Styr, a wealthy citizen of York. The marriage produced two children, Eadulf, later Eadulf III, and Gospatric.

In 1013 King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark launched an invasion of England, Uhtred submitted to him at Gainsborough, as did all of the Vikings in the north. In the winter of 1013, Ethelred fled to the Isle of Wight and later joined his wife and children in Normandy, where they had taken refuge with her nephew, Duke Richard. After London had finally submitted to him, Sweyn was accepted as king of England by Christmas 1013.

He was fated to reign for just five weeks and died suddenly of an apoplexy, on 3rd February, 1014, while threatening the Abbey of Bury St. Edmund's. The Witan hastily recalled Ethelred, causing Canute, the son of Sweyn, to flee. At which Uhtred and many others, transferred their allegiance back to Ethelred. Ethelred was "received with joy". A further year of his disastrous rule taught his long suffering subjects and the Witan to repent their hasty gesture.

EthelwulfUhtred married Ethelred's daughter Ælfgifu and in 1016 Uhtred campaigned with Ethelred's eldest son, Edmund Ironside, in defence of Wessex. While Uhtred was away, Sweyn's son, Canute, invaded Yorkshire, whereupon Uhtred performed homage to him as King of England. King Ethelred died in London in 1016, while Canute literally hammered at its gates.

Uhtred was summoned to a meeting with Canute, he travelled to the rendezvous point at the hamlet of Wiheal on the southern boundary of Northumbria and in accordance with custom he and his men gave up their swords and axes. Uhtred the Bold and his men were then murdered by the Northumbrian magnate, Thurbrand the Hold, with assistance from Uhtred's own servant, Wighill and with the connivance of Canute.

'After King Æthelred's death, when Cnut had laid hands upon the whole kingdom of England, he sent to the earl ordering him to come to him as his new lord. He did so, having accepted safe conduct for his journey and return. On the appointed day, he entered the king's presence at Wiheal to discuss terms of peace; through the treachery of a powerful king's thegn, Thurbrand, known as "Hold", the king's soldiers who had hidden behind a curtain spread across the width of the hall, suddenly sprang out in mail and slaughtered the earl and forty of his chief men who had entered with him.'

Uhtred was succeeded by his brother Eadwulf Cudel. Canute appointed a Norwegian, Eric of Hlathir, ealdorman in southern Northumbria.

The murder of Uhtred by Thurbrand the Hold started a Northumbrian blood feud which was to continue for several generations. Blood feuds between families in Anglo-Saxon England were a vicious cycle of retribution that often lasted for generations. Uhtred's son Ealdred subsequently avenged his father by killing Thurbrand in around 1024, Thurbrand's son, Carl took vengeance by murdering Ealdred. Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria, Ealdred's grandson, had his soldiers ambush and kill most of Carl's sons and grandsons.

Uhtred's dynasty continued to reign in Bernicia through Ealdred, Earl of Bamburgh (killed 1038) his son from his marriage to Ecgfrida, and Eadulf (killed 1041) his son from his marriage to Sige, and briefly Eadulf's son Osulf held the earldom of northern Northumbria 1067 until he too was killed. Eadulf's brother Cospatric began the Swinton Family dynasty, his son Eadulf Rus famously murdering William Walcher, Bishop of Durham which led to William the Conqueror sending an army northwards to harry the region again. Uhtred's marriage to Ælfgifu produced a daughter, Ealdgyth, who married Maldred, brother of Duncan I of Scotland and who gave birth to a son, Gospatric, who was Earl of Northumbria from 1068 to 1072.