Posted by: kljolly | March 26, 2012

Aldred’s parents

In my previous post on Aldred’s family, I concluded with locating Aldred’s birth circa 920 at the Easington estate center granted by the community of St. Cuthbert to Alfred, son of Brihtwulf.  I also thought of making his mother Tilwif, sister of Tilred, abbot of Heversham who also fled to the Northumbrian territories of St. Cuthbert and later became abbot of the community at Chester-le-Street.

My follow up question is finding the location in Cumbria from which Alfred fled “pirates” westward over the mountains.  My first thought was the Eden valley, rich in sculptural and place name evidence  for Anglian and Scandinavian presence; it also connects to Northumbria via the trans-Pennine pass from Stainmore.  My second thought, given the “pirate” reference in Alfred’s story,  is the valley of Kent where Heversham is, a likely port of entry for Irish Norse “pirates.”

Irish Sea

Irish Norse were driven out of Dublin circa 901-902 and began harrying the British coast.  Ingimund, for example, harried from Wales to Chester and beyond, settling in the Wirral between the Dee and Mersey with a mix of Norse, Danes, and Irish.   However, over the course of the first two decades of the tenth century, Æthelflæd Lady of the Mercians (and her brother King Edward), fortified, invaded, and negotiated stronger borders.  The Mercians and Wessex took back control of  the Wirral with settlements on their terms, most notably at Chester.  Meanwhile, Ragnall fought a battle off of the Isle of Man in 914, but eventually took York, battled the Scots at Corbridge in 918, and settled with Edward in 920.

This activity suggests that Irish Norse may have sought ports northward in Cumbria, causing Anglians in Cumbria  like Alfred, Tilred, and Eadred to flee westward over the mountains to the safety of the community of St. Cuthbert’s Northumbrian estates.  Within Cumbria, the southern coastline seems more likely for the the point of departure over the mountains (and we at least know Tilred came from Heversham in the south).  North of St. Bee’s to Workington and the Carlisle area, the picture is a bit different where the Strathclyde Britons are active, initially allying with Scots and Anglians against the Scandinavian incursions (until at least 920; by 926 their alliances shift to incorporating Scandinavians).

The Kent River valley is probably better as a location for Alfred than the Eden Valley, not only for fleeing pirates but also to maintain his connection to his imagined brother–in-law Tilred at Heversham.  However, I want to keep my links to Eden valley somehow.

Morecambe Bay

The Kent River Valley leads into Morecambe Bay, with Tilred’s monastery at Heversham sitting near the northeast head.  Further into the valley lies Kendal, a possible estate center for Alfred.  Kendal and Heversham, Bailey notes (p. 80), are unusual as the only two sites in Cumbria showing a break in the continuity of Anglian to Scandinavian sculptural evidence; and the Kent valley shows a high incidence of Gaelic-Norse and Norwegian names.  If indeed that sculptural discontinuity can be connected to Tilred’s flight from Heversham, then imagining Alfred abandoning Kendal would match.   The Kendal church of the Holy Trinity has evidence of Saxon foundations and a fragment of a ninth-century Anglian cross.

Anglian cross shaft fragment, Kendal

The Eden Valley, on the other hand, has numerous attractions, if not for Alfred fleeing pirates, then perhaps for the third Anglian fleeing Cumbrian in the HSC, Eadred son of Ricsige.  The Eden Valley connects Carlisle in the northwest, runs southeast all the way to Stainmore and the trans-Pennine crossing to Northumbria, the route presumed taken by those fleeing.  It also has numerous sites of sculptural and place name evidence for British, Anglian, and Scandinavian presence (see  Bailey and Fellows-Jensen), as well as historic events:  Penrith, Dacre, Eamont, Appleby, and my favorite, Kirkby Stephen.  In this image, you can also see Kendal in the Kent valley just to the south.

Eden Valley, Cumbria

Kirkby Stephen is interesting for its transition from Anglian to Scandinavian settlement.  On the surface, the name Kirkby identifies it as Scandinavian (-by names), but as Fellows-Jensen notes (pp. 77-80), the Scandinavians would rename a place Kirk (church)-by because it already had a church when they got there.  So it was presumably an Anglian vill  long before, and after is known to have included the surrounding townships of  Waitby, Nateby, and Soulby in its parish.

Even more interesting is the Scandinavian sculptural fragment showing a bound figure.

Kirkby Stephen Scandinavian sculpture

Tempting as it is to identify it as Loki of Scandinavian legend and hence evidence of “paganism,” Bailey (pp. 138-39) is right to point out that it could easily be Satan (or a heretic) in Christian iconography, or both synergistically combined as is often found in Scandinavian Christian monuments (see Gosforth).

So, I guess I should put Aldred’s father Alfred and mother Tilwin at Kendal in the Kent Valley, but perhaps have them travel through  the Eden Valley via Kirkby Stephen, perhaps interacting with Eadred son of Ricsige there.  Later, Aldred can make a tour through his parent’s old stomping grounds.


Bailey, Richard N.  Viking Age Sculpture in Northern Britain.  London:  Collins, 1980.

Fellows-Jensen, Gillian.  “Scandinavian Settlement in Cumbria and Dumfriesshire:  The Place Name Evidence.”  In The Scandinavians in Cumbria, ed. John R. Baldwin and Ian D. Whyte.  Edinburgh: Scottish Society for Northern Studies, 1985), pp. 65-82.


  1. […] M6 (not sure about the roads) and the A685 in order to get to Kirkby Stephen in the Eden valley, where I am locating Aldred’s family.  Kirkby Stephen has more evidence of Scandinavian take over of Anglian sites in place name […]

  2. […] Some scholars argue her legend in fact begins with the potent arm ring as a pagan item and grew from there into a Christian saint’s life.  Others find correlations with similarly named earlier Irish heroines.  But the more compelling assessment argues that her legend has distinct Scandinavian components that locate its origins in the late 9th-early 1oth century:  the arm ring as a powerful object on which oaths are sworn, an Irish-Scandinavian alliance with a forced marriage to a Norwegian prince, fleeing a suitor across the waters to take up a religious vocation (like the Scandinavian legend of St. Sunniva), and of course the viking pirates who drive her into Northumbria, a likely late ninth century-early tenth century scenario fortified by Scandinavian place names and stone carvings (another reason to visit St. Bee’s as well as nearby Gosforth). The articles by John Todd and Clare Downham, below, give me confidence in placing Bega in Cumbria in the 880s, then fleeing Cumbria for Northumbria with Aldred’s parents. […]

  3. […] a priest at Chester-le-Street circa 950.  I have already created a scenario for his family and his parents fleeing from Cumbria to Northumbria.  I have also posited an early stint as priest at Crayke circa […]

  4. […] with the interests of Chester-le-Street and their pro-Athelstan view.  I have identified his family as Northumbrians coming from Cumbria over the Pennines in 913-14 and receiving land from […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: