Northumbrian Period 3 – Osberht to Uhtred

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This section looks at:


GGU29 – Osberht (or Osbryht) of Northumbria (830-867)

Coins from Osberht’s reign

Osberht succeeded Aethelred (son of Eanred) as King of Northumbria from 840-862, though this was interrupted in 844 when the Viking Raedwulf usurped his throne. Little is known of Osberht‘s reign, though Symeon of Durham suggested he was sacrilegious in that he tried to wrest control of lands from the chuch.

In 862 Aella (see below), either his brother or a complete outsider, usurped the throne of Northumbria. By 867 Osberht and Aella were reconciled and they moved off into Scotland away from their southern threat, one source reports that they jointly took control of Sterling Castle.

As we will see below they were both killed by the Vikings at the battle of York on 21 Mar 867.

Osberht may have been buried in Thornhill, Yorkshire. A rare cluster of high status Anglian gravestones from that era, one bearing his name, were discovered in Victorian times in the graveyard of the ancient church of St Michael and All Angels.


GGF29 – Aella or Ælla (Abt 800 – 21 Mar 867)

Some sources suggest Aella was Osberht’s brother, others that he was an ousider-usurper, we have taken him to be his elder brother. Aella was King of Northumbria from 862-867.

Symeon of Durham had complained of Osberht seizing church lands, but Aella certainly did so too, he took estates at Billingham, Crece, Ileclif and Wigeclif, all from the church.

According to an Anglo-Norman genealogy, Aella had a daughter named Aethelthryth and through her he was the grandfather of Eadwulf of Bamburgh, ‘King of the Northern English’ (see above).

Aella stained glass window

Aella is reported as being something of a tyrant. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says he captured the (legendary?) Swedish-Danish Viking leader, Ragnar Lodbrok, and put him to death in a pit of snakes.

Imagined illustration of
Ragnar’s execution

The Chronicle suggests the 866 Viking invasion was triggered by Ragnar‘s execution. These Viking sources suggest that his sons organised the invasion. Reports suggest that the Vikings appeared to be running away, but that when the Anglians pursued them, they found themselves encircled.

According to the Ragnarssona þáttr, the army that seized York in 866 was led by ‘Björn Ironside, Hvitserk, Ivar the Boneless, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Ubba, the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok’. It was on 1 Nov 866 that the Vikings seized Northumbria’s capital, Eforwic (York). They did this almost bloodlessly because the Anglians were celebrating All Saints Day, and therefore ensconced inside their churches. The VIkings renamed the city as Jórvík.

The sons took and tortured Aella to death, using a method they call the ‘blood eagle’, which was very bloodthirsty, the ribs were severed from the spine and the lungs pulled out and backwards, to resemble wings. However Anglian reports said he died on the battlefield.

The Vikings appointed a puppet king of Northumbria, Ecgberht who reigned from 867-872, though little is reported of him or his reign. Symeon of Durham lists the leaders of the Viking army as Amund, Beicsecg, Frana, Guthrun, Halfdene [Halfdann], Harold, Hubba, Inguar [Ingvar], Osbern, Oscytell [Ketill] and Sidroc.

I could find no trace of the father of Aella and Osberht, nor can I establish who Aella married, though I have traced two daughters for him, the long-lived Blaeja [aka Hejuna] (784-874) and Aethelthryth. (865-?).

Blaeja was born in Northumbria and married the Dane Sigurd ‘Snake-in-the-eye’ Ragnarsson. (though he also went by his mother’s name, Sigurd Áslaugsson). The snake-in-the-eye epithet referenced a congenital mark in his eye that resembled the ouroboros, a serpent or a dragon eating its own tail.

Engraving of the Danish king Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, dated1670

Sigurd features in the Scandinavian sagas and histories, as a boy, he and his surviving brothers avenged the killing of two of their siblings by the Swedish king Eysteinn Beli (aka Östen). They assembled a fleet of twenty-nine longships and killed the king at his base in Uppsala.

Still a boy he accompanied his father to Scotland and the Scottish Isles where they killed local earls. Subsequently Sigurd and his brothers were appointed sub-rulers of these territories.

Ragnarssona þáttr states that when his father died, Sigurd inherited the Danish islands of Halland, Scania, Viken and Zealand. It is also possible he was for a time co-ruler of Denmark with his brother Halfdan, because Frankish sources mention Sigfred and Halfdan as rulers in 873. It is confusing because the name Sigurd and Sigfred were constantly interchanged in these times.

Of course, Sigurd was one of the sons who assembled the ‘Great Heathern Army’ that occupied and sacked York to bring Aella (Blaeja’s father) to York. They killed him to avenge the death of their father, Ragnar. Blaeja died in 875 in Jutland, Denmark, while Sigurd was killed in Frisia (NL) in 887.

The Last Kingdom has Aella, Osberht and Uhtred joining forces to fight the Vikings in York, the Vikings’ simulated retreat works and Aella is killed.


GGF28 – Eadwulf II of Bamburgh (?-913)

GGF28 – Eadwulf II was the son of my GGF 27 – Oswulfe I, Earl of Northumbria (885-963), he too was born at Bamburgh Castle.

But little is known except his epithet as ‘King of the Northern English‘. Coins issued in 905, during his presumed period of reign, used a new approach and bore no king’s name, showing York as their point of origin and they were inscribed as ‘St Peter’s money’.

However three records of the time all agree that he died in 913 – the chronicle of Æthelweard, the Irish Annals of Ulster and the Annals of Clonmacnoise. The two Irish sources call him king of the Saxons of the north while Æthelweard’s says Eadwulf ruled as reeve of the town called Bamburgh, and stated that he only ruled the northern part of Northumbria.

Eadwulf as an earl, flourished between about 890 and 912, and ruled an area north of the River Tyne and extending into what is now southern Scotland from the old Northumbrian royal centre at Bamburgh.

Certainly he was granted the Earldom of Bamburgh/Northumberland by first King Alfred the Great and again by his successor Edward the Elder. He swore allegiance to the Kings of England and was given the Earl title to be held by birth succession.

He married Aethelthryth (865-?) and they had four children (see below).

In 913 Eadred, son of Rixinc, invaded Eadwulf‘s territory and killed him, then seized his wife and went to the sanctuary of the lands of St Cuthbert south of the River Tyne.


GGM28 – Aethelthryth (865 – ?)

The daughter of Aella (or Ælla) – see above. Eadwulf and Aethelthryth had four children –

  • Ealdred I of Bamburgh (860-933)
  • Uhtred (881-950)
  • Adulf McEtuife or Aethelwulf (882-934)
  • Oswulfe (885-963) – see above.


GGF27 – Oswulfe I (or Oswulf or Osulf), Earl of Northumbria (885-963)

Born at Bamburgh Castle in 885, he was the high-reeve of Bamburgh, then later became the Earl of Bernicia in 930.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland
Bernicia was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom founded in 547. It covered the northern part of Northumbria and southern Scotland. Bernicia stretched from the River Tees, to the Firth of Forth and at times to the Solway Firth. It established its royal residence at Bamburgh on the coast, and another at Yeavering, about 20 miles (32 km) inland.

Deira was the neighbouring kingdom, spanning the southern part of Northumbria and northern Yorkshire, with York as its capital. Deira was situated between the Humber and River Tees.

The two kingdoms were often unified, but during this period it was most often the case that Bernicia was Anglian while Deria was Viking, with York renamed by the Norsemen as Jórvík.

Oswulfe and his wife Estrid Svensdatter (885-?) had two sons – Waltheof of Bernicia (920-970), and Sims of Yetherham (935-?).

In 954, Oswulfe Ealdfuling, as earl of Bamburgh, conspired with Earl Maccus, son of Olaf Guthfrithsson (or perhaps Sihtricsson), to kill Eric Bloodaxe, the then King of Jórvík. The Battle of Stainmore was more of an ambush than a battle, at a location along the old route from Scotch Corner to Penrith. In the battle Maccus also killed five kings from the Hebrides and two earls from Orkney.

As a result, the Viking Kingdom of Jórvík was dissolved and annexed to Bernicia to become a re-united Northumbria, with Oswulfe the king of all Northumbria.

But this region was then pledged to the Wessex-based King Eadred (or Edred) of England. The Historia Regum states that Here the kings of Northumbrians came to an end and henceforth the province was administered by earls. Oswulfe was effectively demoted to become the Earl of all Northumbria, acting as a local administrator for the king.

The Coronation Stone, Kingston Upon Thames

Eadred was the son of Edward the Elder‘s third wife, Edgiva. When Edward died the Witan concluded Edward’s two other son’s were too young to succeed him, so Eadred became king at 21. He was subject to a wasting illness, yet exhibited a courageous resolve and became the last of the great warrior kings of Wessex. Crowned at Kingston-upon-Thames he received pledges of allegiance and submission from the Welsh rulers and the Northumbrian ealdormen. However, in 955, he died while in his thirties, at a palace in Frome, Somerset and was buried at Winchester Cathedral.

In 963, Oswulfe was betrayed and killed, while apparently in Denmark.

According to the De primo Saxonum adventu, Northumbria was then divided into two parts, the southern part, from the Humber to the Tees, came under the control of a Norseman, Oslac (from 966-975), but he was later discredited and exiled. The other part between the Tees and the Firth of Forth, were under the dominion of, the delightfully-named, Eadwulf Evil-child, it is presumed to be implying he had a wild childhood, something of a bad-boy.

Some suggest that Oslac and Eadwulf were sons of Oswulfe, or related in some other manner.

But to date my tree shows Oswulfe’s sons as Waltheof (the father of Uhtred the Bold) and my GGF26 – Sims of Yetherham.

Bamburgh also holds the grave of Grace Darling (1815-1842), the daughter of a lighthouse keeper on the Faroe Islands. On the 7 Sep 1838, Grace saw the wreck of the Forfarshire on an island close to the lighthouse. It had split in half while carrying 63 people. Grace and her father realised that the seas were too strong for the lifeboat to reach them, so they rowed a mile in the storm to the site in a small rowing boat and rescued four men and the sole female survivor and rowed them back to safety in the lighthouse. Nine others had escaped by lifeboat. Grace and her father were awarded RNLI medals for their bravery, and the news reports elevated Grace to a national hero. She is buried in the churchyard of St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh, and there is a museum to her there.

I have to confess that my attention was drawn to Oswulfe I‘s elder son, my GGU26 (Great Grand Uncle 26) Waltheof of Bernicia (920-970) and his son my 1C27RUhtred (or Uchtred) ‘the Bold’ (971-1016), also Earl of Northumbria.

I am a fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series, and its main protagonist Uhtred, who was born at Bamburgh Castle in Northumbria. His Uhtred is of course a work of fiction, but based upon Uhtred the Bold, because Bernard Cornwell has also traced his family back to these Northumbrians.


GGU26 – Waltheof of Bernicia (920-995)

Waltheof, the elder son of Oswulfe, was born at Bamburgh Castle. He became Earl of Bernicia in 930 at age 10. His first name exhibits Danish influence, most probably from his mother Estrid Svensdatter (daughter of Sven). But he was also known as Siward Cadwulf Cadel.

Statue of Waltheof, at Crowland Abbey, Lincs

He was later the earl of Northampton.

He married Aelfleda (940-1030) and they had two sons Uhtred the Bold (971-1016) and Eadwulf Cadel (?-1020). In 980 he became the 2nd Earl of Northumbria. In 995 he died at Bamburgh Castle at the age of 75.

He should not to be confused with the later Waltheof (?-1076), the son of Siward, earl of Northumbria (1041-1055) and of Aelflaed (daughter of Aldred another earl of Northumbria).
He submitted to William I in 1067 and married William’s niece, Judith.


1C27R – Uhtred (or Uchtred), ‘The Bold’, Earl of Northumbria (971-1016)

Uhtred from the TV series

Our Uhtred was born either at Bamburg Castle, or elsewhere in Bernicia.

Malcolm II of Scotland laid siege on Durham, while king Aethelred was heavily engaged against the Danes in the south of England, so could not lend assistance. Waltheof was too old to fight, so stayed safely within Bamburgh Castle. Aelfhelm of York also chose to take no action. So Uhtred earned his epithet ‘the Bold‘ by assembling an army from Bernicia and York against the Scots, he was successful. Local women washed off the severed heads of the Scots, paid for the work by being given a cow for each head. The heads were then displayed on stakes around the Durham walls. Uhtred was rewarded by King Aethelred II with the Earldom of all Northumbria.

In 995 he is recorded, by Symeon of Durham, as helping the bishop to move the remains of St Cuthbert from where it had been stored when Lindisfarne had been threatened by the Danes. They were relocated to a new Durham cathedral.

That same year, Uhtred married Ecgfrida (973-1087), the daughter of Bishop Ealdhun (or Aldhun) of Durham. The marriage brought with it a number of estates that had previously been the property of the church.

They had a son, Ealdred (1007-1038) who married Aedgina (951-?). Ealdred and Aedgina had three daughters Etheldritha, Aelflaed and Aeldgyth. Ealdred would be murdered by the son of Thurbrand the Hold in a blood feud that had started when Thurbrand had murdered Uhtred.

Ecgfrida was supplanted by a second wife, while she herself remarried someone called Kilvert, they had Sigrida Kilvertsson (1020-1087) and Ligulf Kilvertsson (1035-1080). [Ligulf married Aeldgyth, daughter of Ealdred, both closely descended from Ecgfrida.]


In 1016, Uhtred faced King Malcolm once more. The Scottish king had allied with Owain the Bald, King of Strathclyde, and they razed much of Northumbria, and faced Uhtred’s local force at the Battle of Carham, which took place south of the River Tweed.

Symeon of Durham described the battle: “…while Cnut ruled the kingdom of the Angles, a comet appeared for thirty nights to the people of Northumbria, a terrible presage of the calamity by which that province was about to be desolated. For, shortly afterwards, nearly the whole population, from the river Tees to the Tweed, and their borders, were cut off in a conflict in which they were engaged with a countless multitude of Scots at Carrun [Carham].”

It was Uhtred’s forces this time which suffered the heavy losses. By this point, parts of north Northumbria had been reclaimed by the Scots.


Uhtred married his second wife Sigen Styrsdottir (975-?) in 1006/7, she was the daughter of Styr, a rich York citizen. He had two sons with her – Gospatric FitzUhtred and Eadwulf III of Bamburgh (some sources add a third son, Aldred). Unfortunately, as a result, Uhtred inherited Sigen’s father Styr’s enemy, Thurbrand the Hold.

Gospatric was born at Bamburgh castle and was reported as ‘treacherously slain’ in 1065 along with the thanes, Gamel (son of Orm) and Ulf (the son of Dolfin). The treachery was ordered by Queen Edith (or Ealdgyth), the wife of Edward the Confessor. Her plot was hatched to benefit her brother Tostig. The following year, after the feast of St. Michael the archangel, Monday 3rd of October, the Northumbrian thanes, Gamelbearn, Buustan (son of Athelneth), and Glonicorn, (son of Heardulf), entered York with Bletlijn and Rhywallon, princes of North Wales with two hundred soldiers, to revenge Gospatric.

Their second son, Eadwulf III, had become Earl of Northumbria in 1038, but he too was slain in 1041 by Siward, who became Earl of Northumbria, reputedly acting upon the orders of King Harthacnut.

Tostig and Edith were brother and sister of Harold Godwinson. As their eldest brother, Sweyn, had been exiled, it was Harold whobecame the last Anglo-Saxon king, as Harold II. He was probably the first to be crowned at Westminster Abbey.

He had to face first an invasion by his brother Tostig and Harald Hardrada of Norway. At the battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 Sep 1066, his army killed them both. They then had to hasten south almost three hundred miles to try to stop William of Normandy‘s invasion.

Bayeux Tapestry depiction of Harold’s death
Harold Rex interfectus est, “[Here] King Harold is killed”

Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings on 14 Oct 1066. The Norman invasion had begun,
and William became the king.

Uhtred was married for a third time in 1009, to Aelfgifu (Edith) (997-1042), the daughter of Aethelred the Unready (or Æthelred) , King of the English (906-1016) and his wife, another Aelgifu (963-1002).

Uhtred and Aelfgifu had two daughters Ealdgyth (1015-1086) and Aelfthryth (or Algitha).

Silver pennyfrom Aethelred’s reign

Aethelred reigned from 978 to 1016, taking the throne at the age of 12.
The ‘Unready’ in his epithet is said to have meant ‘ill-advised’.

He was constantly harrassed by the Danes, these attacks increased in the 980s, and even more seriously in the early 990s. Following the Battle of Maldon in 991, Æthelred paid tribute, or Danegeld, to the Danish king. But, in 1002, Aethelred ordered the St. Brice’s Day massacre of Danish settlers.

In 1013, King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark invaded England, forcing Aethelred to flee to Normandy and he was replaced as king by Sweyn. After Sweyn died in 1014, Aethelred returned to the throne, but died just two years later.

Uhtred’s daughter, Ealdgyth first married Maldred of Scotland, Lord Of Carlisle and Allerdale, who was in 1034 appointed as King of the Cumbrians, his kingdom included Strathclyde and the Lennox. They had two sons, Gospatric, who was the first Earl of Dunbar and Earl of Northumbria, and the second son had his father’s name, Maldred. Both Maldred’s were killed in the same battle in 1045. Ealdgyth later married Alfgar III, Earl of Mercia, and they had several children.

The ‘Houses of Uhtred and Siward’ above shows a Waltheof II. In 1075 this Waltheof joined the Revolt of the Earls against William the Conqueror. His motives for taking part in the revolt are unclear, as is the depth of his involvement. However he repented, confessed his guilt first to Archbishop Lanfranc and then in person to William, who was at the time in Normandy. He returned to England with William but was arrested, brought twice before the king’s court and sentenced to death. He spent almost a year in confinement before being beheaded on 31 May 1076 at St. Giles’s Hill, near Winchester.

In 1016 Uhtred was campaigning with Aethelred‘s son Edmund Ironside in Cheshire. While away, Sweyn’s son, Cnut, invaded Yorkshire, his forces were strong and so Uhtred was obliged to acknowledge him as King of England. Uhtred was summoned to a peace meeting with Cnut, and on the way there, he and forty of his men were murdered by Thurbrand the Hold at Wighill, with the connivance of Cnut.

Uhtred was succeeded in Bernicia by his brother Eadwulf Cudel.

The killing of Uhtred by Thurbrand the Hold started a blood feud that lasted for many years. Uhtred’s son Ealdred subsequently avenged his father by killing Thurbrand, but Ealdred in turn was killed by Thurbrand’s son, Carl. Eadred’s vengeance had to wait until the 1070s, when Waltheof II, Eadred’s grandson had his soldiers kill most of Carl’s sons and grandsons. This is an example of the long-lived Northumbrian blood feuds that were common at this time. 

Now let’s take a look at my Norse ancestry

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