Eadric Streona

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Eadric
Ealdorman of Mercia
Reign 1007 – 25 December 1017
Predecessor Ælfric Cild
Successor Leofric
Spouse(s) Eadgyth
Father Æthelric
Died 25 December 1017
London, England

Eadric Streona (fl. 1002 – 25 December 1017) was the Ealdorman of Mercia from 1007 to 1017. He gained infamy for the murder of political rivals and siding with the Danes during their reconquest of England, despite being the son in law of King Æthelred, leading many to regard him as the greatest traitor of Anglo-Saxon England.

Early life[edit]

Family[edit]

Eadric's family appear to have had interests in Shropshire and Herefordshire. John of Worcester names Eadric's father as Æthelric a thegn who attended court from the late 980s onwards and his brother's as Brihtric, Ælfric, Goda, Æthelwine, Æthelweard, and Æthelmær, of whom the last is said (probably mistakenly) to have been the father of Wulfnoth, who was the father of Earl Godwin, the chronicler also left a blank space between Ælfric and Goda, as if for the name of another brother.

Thegns bearing these names occur among the witnesses to the charters issued in the name of King Æthelred II in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. It is interesting that the thegns in question occur quite often in groups of two or three, which might be interpreted as evidence that they were members of the same family. Æthelric was accompanied from the mid-990s onwards by one or more of his sons (not including Ælfric); and if only to judge from the witness lists, it may be that the name of the other brother was Æthelnoth.

Early career[edit]

Eadric himself is first identifiable in the witness lists, with his father, in 1002 and members of his family seem to have been present at court in some strength in 1004–5; there are no lists which Eadric appears on in 1006, but Eadric was reported in that year for being involved in the killing of ealdorman Ælfhelm:

The crafty and treacherous Eadric Streona, plotting to deceive the noble ealdorman Ælfhelm, prepared a great feast for him at Shrewsbury at which, when he came as a guest, Eadric greeted him as if he were an intimate friend. But on the third or fourth day of the feast, when an ambush had been prepared, he took him into the wood to hunt. When all were busy with the hunt, one Godwine Porthund (which means the town dog) a Shrewsbury butcher, whom Eadric had dazzled long before with great gifts and many promises so that he might perpetrate the crime, suddenly leapt out from the ambush, and execrably slew the ealdorman Ælfhelm. After a short space of time his sons, Wulfheah and Ufegeat, were blinded, at King Æthelred’s command, at Cookham, where he himself was then staying.

—John of Worcester[1]

Eadric does appear among the thegns in 1007 at St Albans Abbey,[2] in which year he was appointed ealdorman of Mercia. It may have been in 1007, or thereabouts, that Eadric married Eadgyth, daughter of King Æthelred, reflecting or accounting for his sudden rise to prominence, for John of Worcester implies that the marriage had taken place by 1009.

Ealdorman of Mercia[edit]

Tribute[edit]

Eadric was appointed the Ealdorman of Mercia in 1007, the position had been vacant since 985 when his predecessor Elfric Cild was driven into exile after being accused of treachery, however Eadric must have been on better terms with king Ethelred as he was soon married to his daughter Eadgyth, Ethelred ordered a new fleet of warships, organised on a national scale to be built, but this was weakened when Wulfgeat, who was accused by Edric's brother Brihtric of treason, turned to piracy.[3]

With England vulnerable to seaborne invasion, an army led by Thorkell the Tall arrived in 1009 and wreaked havoc in much of the country, when Æthelred was willing to deal with him militarily Eadric dissuaded him. This indecisiveness led to another two years of conflict and only ended when Eadric while in London oversaw the payment of £48,000 at Easter (13 April) in 1012. Also negotiated at this time was the freedom of Ælfheah of Canterbury, but the Archbishop refused to be ransomed and was killed by his captors in frustration.[4] In the same year Eadric ravaged St David's in Wales.

Invasion[edit]

In 1013 Sweyn Forkbeard arrived in England with the intention to crown himself king of England. By the end of 1013 English resistance had collapsed and Sweyn had conquered the country, Eadric's position at this time is not clear but according to Roger of Wendover Eadric "crossed over" the channel to Normandy with queen Emma "and a hundred an forty soldiers", Æthelred followed them in January 1014.

However the situation suddenly changed when Sweyn died on 3 February 1014. The crews of the Danish ships in the Trent that had previously supported Sweyn immediately swore their allegiance to his son Cnut, but leading English noblemen sent a proposal to Æthelred to negotiate his restoration to the throne. He was required to declare his loyalty to them, to bring in reforms regarding everything that they disliked and to forgive all that had been said and done against him in his previous reign. Æthelred soon regained his throne with assistance from Olaf Haraldsson and Cnut went back to Denmark while his allies were punished for their co-operation with him.

In 1015 there was a council held in Oxford, during the event Eadric invited the brothers Sigeferth and Morcar two thegn's from the Seven Burh's in the East Midland's, unfortunately for them Eadric had them killed possibly because of their collabaration with the Danes, it enabled prince Edmund to take their land.[5]

Return of the Danes[edit]

Cnut arrived in August from Denmark with an invasion force of about 200 ships at Sandwich in Kent but immediately went off plundering in Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset, Eadric collected an army at Cosham where king Æthelred lay sick and Edmund in the North where his new territories lay, Eadric apparently had the intention of betraying Edmund but when their armies came together he could not, their armies separated without incedent and Eadric soon took forty ships from the royal fleet with him to Cnut and entered into his service.[6]

In around new year Eadric accompanied Cnut into Warwickshire where they plundered, burned and slew all they met, prince Edmund assembled an army to face them but the Mercians with him refused to fight the Danes so it disbanded, Edmund did assemble another and with the assistance of Earl Uhtred of Northumbria they plundered Eadric's land in Staffordshire, Shropshire, and Cheshire.[7] Uhtred returned to his occupied Northumbria to submit to Cnut but he was killed, manuscript C of the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' asserts that Uhtred was killed "by the advice of Ealdorman Eadric". This claim is, however, rendered unlikely by the testimony of John of Worcester and Symeon of Durham, who name the agent of Uhtred's death as one Thurbrand a rival of his, he was replaced with Eric Haakonsson.[8]

Æthelred died on 23 April in London, his son Edmund was elected king of what was left of his father's kingdom, but he was left little time as the Danish army went south to London, Edmund left for Wessex, Eadric and Cnut followed him and two inconclusive battle's were fought at Penselwood in Somerset and Sherston in Wiltshire which lasted two day's, the first day was bloody but inconclusive, on the second Edmund had the upper hand but Eadric:[9]

... cut off the head of a man named Osmear, whose face and hair were very like king Eadmund's, and, holding it up, cried out that it was useless for the English to fight, saying, "Oh! ye men of Dorsetshire, Devonshire and Wiltshire, flee quickly; ye have lost your leader: Lo! here I hold the head of your lord and king Eadmund: flee with all speed." When the English heard these words they were terror-struck, more by the atrocity of the thing than by the credit which they gave to their informer.

—John of Worcester

Edmund's forces did flee but they realised he was still alive and fought with him till dusk, Eadric and Cnut under the cover of darkness returned to London, leaving the battle, Edmund soon relieved London, driving Eadric an Cnut away and defeated them after crossing the Thames at Brentford, but Suffering heavy losses, he withdrew to Wessex to gather fresh troops, and the Danes again brought London under siege, but after another unsuccessful assault they withdrew into Kent under attack by the loyalist's, after another defeat at Otford, Eadric met Edmund at Aylesford and he was accepted back, Cnut set sail northwards across the sea to Essex, and went up the River Orwell to ravage Mercia.

Battle of Assandun[edit]

Main article: Battle of Assandun
Ashingdon hill, one of the possible location's of the battle.

The English intercepted Cnut at a place called Assandun - either Ashingdon, in south-east, or Ashdon, in north-west Essex, where Cnut had been plundering. On 18 October 1016 there was a battle fought there, during the engagement Eadric fled the field of battle for uncertain reasons with his detachment of the army which included the Magonsæte [men of Herefordshire and Shropshire]. The writer of the Encomium Emmae Reginae writing c.1040 mention's that 'according to some' and 'what many assert' was that Eadric had previously made a deal with Cnut to desert Edmund, he apparently did so when he saw that the Danes were losing ground, however it was evidently still being talked about and wasn't for certain, the battle ended in victory for Cnut.

Edmund and Cnut made peace on the advice of Eadric on Ola's island near Deerhurst, is what decided that England would be split in half at the Thames, Cnut in the North and Edmund in the south, however Edmund did not live much longer and Cnut became sole ruler of England, Eadric held his position [10]

Death[edit]

Eadric, along with several English nobles, was executed at London on Christmas Day, 1017. according to the Encomium Emmae Reginae (which may have a pro-Cnut bias) Edric's killer was Eric Haakonsson, Cnut ordered Eric to "pay this man what we owe him" and he chopped off his head with his axe[11] under claim that those executed had not fought "faithfully" for their liege Edmund and "whom he (Cnut) knew to have been deceitful, and to have hesitated between the two sides with fraudulent tergiversation".[12] This is said to have been as a result of Eadric beating Cnut at chess and refusing to change the rules in Cnut's favor. This story is likely apocryphal with the explanation that Cnut saw Eadrics treachery with Edmund as being a signal of Eadric treacherous and duplicitous nature.

[a]t the Lord’s Nativity, when [Cnut] was in London, he gave orders for the perfidious ealdorman Eadric to be killed in the palace, because he feared to be at some time deceived by his treachery, as his former lords Ethelred and Edmund had frequently been deceived; and he ordered his body to be thrown over the wall of the city and left unburied.

—John of Worcester[13]

The later chronicler Geoffrey Gaimar relates the story of Edmund Ironside being murdered on the privy.

But whether the traitor ended his life one way or the other, it does not much matter; since this is sufficiently clear, that he, who had deceived so many, by the just judgement of God met with condign punishment.

Eadric Streona's head was said to have been placed on London Bridge and his body thrown into the Thames much to the delight of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which say's "it was rightly done".

Reputation[edit]

Assessment[edit]

A page from Hemming's Cartulary, an 11th-century manuscript.

As has been mentioned Eadric Streona gained infamy for many deed's throughout his life, the extant of his involvement cannot be known for certain in these acts he has been accused of committing, in Frank Stentons own opinion Eadric was a man "to whom unknown crimes may be safely attributed". William of Malmesbury described him as "the refuse of mankind and a reproach unto the English".

The fact that he was entrusted with high office by three successive kings (Æthelred, Edmund Ironside, and Cnut) may show that they saw him as an important ally.

Name[edit]

Eadric's nickname "Streona" is loosely translated as the "Acquisitive" or the "Grasper" and first appears in Hemming's Cartulary.[14]

In culture[edit]

In 2005, Streona was selected by the BBC History Magazine as the 11th century's worst Briton.[15] He features as the central villain in the anonymous play Edmund Ironside, now part of the Shakespeare Apocrypha. In this play, Edricus (as his name has been Latinized) is the bastard son of peasants who raises himself to the level of earl through lies and flattery. Proud of his talent for dishonesty, he would be happy to see either the Danes or the Saxons rule England, but supports the Danes for reasons of personal expediency. Eadric is also a character in a tragedy by the Danish romantic playwright Adam Oehlenschlæger "Canute the Great" (1838).

See also[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Darlington and McGurk, Chronicle of John of Worcester, vol. ii, pp. 456–9
  2. ^ Sawyer 916, esawyer.org.uk, retrieved 2014-11-25 
  3. ^ Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1007: "In this year also was Edric appointed alderman over all the kingdom of the Mercians.".
  4. ^ Swanton 1996, p. 142.
  5. ^ Williams 2003, p. 120.
  6. ^ Jones 1984, p. 370.
  7. ^ Lawson 2004, p. 28.
  8. ^ Trow 2005, p. 59.
  9. ^ Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, pp. 148–50
  10. ^ Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1017: "This year King Knute took to the whole government of England, and divided it into four parts: Wessex for himself, East-Anglia for Thurkyll, Mercia for Edric, Northumbria for Eric."
  11. ^ Campbell 1998, p. 30.
  12. ^ Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1017: "This year also was Alderman Edric slain at London".
  13. ^ http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000Q36000/exectoda-20
  14. ^ Williams 2003, p. 70.
  15. ^ "UK | 'Worst' historical Britons list". BBC News. 2005-12-27. Retrieved 2010-06-21. 

Sources[edit]

  • Williams, Ann (2003), Aethelred the Unready: The Ill-Counselled King, London: Hambledon & London, ISBN 1-85285-382-4 
  • Lawson, M. K. (2004), Cnut – England's Viking King (2nd ed.), Stroud: Tempus, ISBN 0-7524-2964-7 
  • Trow, M. J. (2005), Cnut – Emperor of the North, Stroud: Sutton, ISBN 0-7509-3387-9 
  • Swanton, Michael, ed. (1996), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, New York: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-92129-5 
  • Campbell, Alistair, ed. (1998), Encomium Emmae Reginae, London: Cambridge University 
  • Jones, Gwyn (1984), A History of the Vikings (2nd ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-285139-X