Æthelmær the Stout

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Æthelmær the Stout or Æthelmær Cild (died 1015) was ealdorman of the western provinces (or south-western England[1]) from c. 1005 to 1015.[2] He was the son of Æthelweard the historian, and descended from King Æthelred I.

Together with his father, he was a patron of the homilist, Ælfric of Eynsham. In 987 Æthelmær founded or re-founded Cerne Abbey, and in 1005 founded Eynsham Abbey and made Ælfric its first abbot.[3] Ælfric dedicated his Lives of the Saints to Æthelmær.[1]

In a charter of 993 in which King Æthelred II laments his past misrule, which had resulted “partly on account of the ignorance of my youth, and partly on account of the abhorrent greed of certain of those men who ought to administer to my interest”, Æthelmaer is acknowledged, along with King’s uncle, Ordulf of Tavistiock, as a loyal counsellor, and from the mid 990s he generally appears first among the ministers witnessing charters, followed by Ordulf, Wulfheah and Wulfgeat.

Upon the death of his father Æthelweard in 998, no ealdorman was appointed to the Western Provinces, though both Æthelmær and Ordulf, whose father Ordgar had preceded Æthelweard, would have been obvious candidates.

Æthelmaer founded monastic houses at Cerne in Dorset in 987, and at Eynsham in Oxfordshire in 1005, appointing Aelfric the first abbot.

From 1006 the notorious Eadric Streona leapfrogs Æthelmaer, Ordulf, Wulfgeat and Wulfheah, to the head of the list of ministers. Wulfheah is known to have been blinded after Eadric murdered his father, ealdorman Ælfhelm of York, while Wulfgeat was deprived of all his lands; it may be significant that, if correctly identified with the 'Ælmaer' in the will of Æthelstan Ætheling, Æthelmaer's estate at Hambledon also appears to have fallen into royal hands. Ordulf is another who ceases to witness after 1006, and it is possible that the Æthelmaer who continues to attest charters after this date is another prominent thegn, Æthelmaer son of Æthelwold. Another Æthelmaer who occasionally attests charters at this time in a lower position is possibly one of the brothers of Eadric Streona.[4]

By 1013 Æthelmaer had evidently regained any lost favour as he had assumed his father's old ealdormanry of the Western Provinces. In this year he and his followers surrendered to the Danish invader Swein Forkbeard, who was encamped at Bath. He died in 1015.

One of his sons Æthelnoth, became Archbishop of Canterbury. Another, Æthelweard, was killed by Cnut in 1017, while a son-in-law also called Æthelweard was exiled in 1020.[1]

Æthelmær has also been tentatively identified as the father of Wulfnoth Cild, who was the father of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, and grandfather of King Harold II.[5] However, this theory of the ancestry of the Godwins is not accepted by most historians.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Patrick Wormald, Æthelweard, Oxford Online DNB, 2004
  2. ^ Frank Barlow, The Godwins, Pearson, 2002, p. 21
  3. ^ Malcolm Godden, Ælfric of Eynsham, Oxford Online DNB, 2004
  4. ^ Simon Keynes, "The Diplomas of King Æthelred 'The Unready' 978-1016", 1980
  5. ^ Anscombe, "The Pedigree of Earl Godwine" in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 1913, 3rd Series, Vol. 7