After a holiday break and getting settled into a new semester of classes, I am back on Aldred’s trail at the battle of Brunanburh, 937.
I have set him down at Heysham, where he is picked up by his Strathclyde cousin and taken to the camp of Constantine and Anlaf. After refusing to fight (a 19 year old Northumbrian in clerical orders with ambivalent views about the rightness of either side), he skives off from the baggage train eastward into the fells, where he gets picked up by Athelstan scouts and dragged over to the other side’s camp.
So, I am thinking to have some churchman at Athelstan’s camp grab hold of this troublesome young man, but what is a likely name? Off I went to PASE and the Electronic Sawyer, and found more puzzles in the charters.
First of all, three Malmesbury charters of Athelstan dated to 21 December 937 (S434, S435, S436) mention the land grants as for Athelstan’s cousins, Ælfwine and Æthelwine, who died at Brunanburh (according to 12th century sources). But Keynes, et. al. say the date is spurious and the charters are from 935 (the texts do say the 11th year of Athelstan’s reign, which would be 935). So was the dedication added just post-Brunanburh in 937, and if so why?
Second, another charter dated to 937 (S439) but thought spurious actually mentions that it was the year of the battle: Anno siquidem incarnationis dominice . dcccc . xxxvii . qui precessit annum quo bellum celebre in Bruningafelda factum fuit. This at least shows a backward looking effort to link the battle to land grants.
Third, an interesting character shows up in some of the Athelstan charter witness lists, “bishop Seaxhelm,” in one instance called “bishop of St. Cuthbert’s” (S436). This has to be a reference to the bishopric of Lindisfarne located at Chester-le-Street, but I don’t recall seeing this terminology used (plus the bishop at this date is Wigred, 928-944).
PASE identifies three Seaxhelms, but questions if the first two might be the same (e.g., the abbot became a bishop in 934):
- Seaxhelm 1: (e/m x) Abbot, 931×934. S412, S416, S417, S418, S418a. In several of these, Bishop Wigred (PASE Wigred 4), also signs.
- Seaxhelm 2: (m x) Bishop, fl. 934-937. S425 (also signed by Wigred in 934 but none later), S434, S436 (where Seaxhelm is styled bishop of St. Cuthbert’s)
- Seaxhelm 3: (m x) d. 947; Bishop of Lindisfarne for six months in 947. This Seaxhelm is described by Symeon of Durham (LDE, II:19), as thoroughly disreputable, but the date is not secure.
I find it very tempting to put a Seaxhelm at the battle of Brunanburh in Athelstan’s camp, just because of the Chester-le-Street and Cuthbert connection. But which Seaxhelm?
Wouldn’t it be fun to associate the bad Seaxhelm 3 with someone claiming to be a “bishop of St. Cuthbert’s” in 935-937, when Wigred is not around? But one has to assume that the Seaxhelm 2 signing S436 is also the Seaxhelm in S434 (but curiously not in S435) since they are part of a set of 3 charters done together in 935. Given the addition of the cousins’ deaths, the “of St. Cuthbert’s” could have been added at the same time, either in 937 right after the battle, or arguably much later in the surviving cartulary copies we are relying on here, when we have a number of Anglo-Norman historians adding details to their accounts of the battle.
This brings up the last issue, which is that the 12th century and later historians have so much juicy material about people and the battle that I am tempted to use, William of Malmesbury in particular. But I am inclined to want to stay with pre-Norman sources wherever possible. I am an Anglo-Saxonist, after all.