Osulf I of Bamburgh
The peninsula of Bamburgh, with the modern castle
|Died||between 954 and 963|
Cause of death
|Known for||Betraying Erik Bloodaxe and being the first recorded High-Reeve of Bamburgh|
|Title||High-Reeve of Bamburgh
Ealdorman of York
Osulf (fl. 946—54) was high-reeve of Bamburgh and ruler of Northumbria. Sometimes called "earl", he is more surely the first recorded high-reeve of Bamburgh and the man who, after assisting in the death of its last independent ruler Erik Bloodaxe, administered the York-based Kingdom of Northumbria when it was taken over by the Wessex-based King Eadred of England in 954.
He appears at least 5 times in witness lists for charters, some of which may be genuine, in the years 946, 949, and 950. In 946 and 949 he witnessed charters as "high reeve"  In 949 he witnessed an Evesham grant as well as a grant by King Eadred to Canterbury Cathedral as dux. And in 950 an Osulf Bebbanburg is alleged to have witnessed as Eorl.
Osulf is the first man specifically designated "high-reeve" of Bamburgh. High-reeve is Old English heah-gerefa, which Alfred Smyth thought was influenced by the Scottish word mormaer, which possibly has the same meaning ("High Steward"). Judging by the North People's Law, a high-reeve was not the same as an ealdorman (dux), having only half an ealdorman's wergild.
Osulf's origins are unclear. Many historians assume him to have been the son of Ealdred or a relative of Ealdred and his father Eadulf, English rulers of the York-based Northumbrian kingdom. Richard Fletcher and David Rollason thought he might be the Osulf Dux who had witnessed charters further south in the 930s, which if true would extend Osulf's floruit back to 934.
Erik Bloodaxe and domination of all Northumbria
Though Eadulf and Ealdred appear to have ruled Northumbria, in the years running up to 954 the kingdom was controlled by the Scandinavians Amlaíb Cuarán and Eric Bloodaxe. According to Roger of Wendover's Flores historiarum (early 13th century), Osulf was responsible for a conspiracy with a certain Maccus that led to the betrayal and death of Eric Bloodaxe, King of Northumbria, "in a certain lonely place called Stainmore".
Following this, Osulf is said to have taken control of all Northumbria. Although this part of the Flores historiarum was compiled centuries later and contains some obvious anachronisms, Roger of Wendover appears to have used certain earlier sources, no longer extant, which would add credibility to the story. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle names King Eadred as the new ruler of Northumbria following the expulsion of Erik:
Her Norðhymbre fordrifon Yric, 7 Eadred feng to Norðhymbra rice
In this year the Northumbrians drove out Eric and Eadred succeeded to the kingdom".
This is why Richard Fletcher thinks Osulf was working at Eadred's instigation, and that a grateful Eadred promoted Osulf ruler of the entire Northumbrian sub-kingdom. However he got there, it was with Eadred's consent and overlordship, at least according to our sources. De primo Saxonum adventu summarises his status as follows:
Primus comitum post Eiricum, quem ultimum regem habuerunt Northymbrenses, Osulf provincias omnes Northanhymbrorum sub Edrido rege procuravit.
First of the earls after Erik, the last king whom the Northumbrians had, Osulf administered under King Eadred all the provinces of the Northumbrians.
Similar sentiments were expressed in the related Historia Regum: "Here the kings of Northumbrians came to an end and henceforth the provinces was administered by earls". Eadred's takeover and Osulf's rule thus represent the beginning of permanent West Saxon control of the North. Historian Alex Woolf argued that this take-over was a personal union of crowns rather like that between Scotland and England in 1603.
Death and legacy
Little else is known about Osulf's period in power. The Chronicle of the Kings of Alba says that in the time of Ildulb mac Causantín (954—62), Edinburgh was abandoned to the Scots, though nothing is said about the involvement of Northumbrians or Osulf.
The date of Osulf's death is not known. He was probably dead before 963, as that is the date Oslac appears for the first time as ealdorman in York. It is unclear whether Oslac was related to Osulf. According to the De primo Saxonum adventu, Northumbria was divided into two parts after Osulf's death. Osulf had at least one son, Waltheof, who ruled Bamburgh from 975.
|High-Reeve of Bamburgh
x 946–954 x 963
pos. Eadulf Evil-child
|Ruler of Northumbria under Eadred of Wessex
- Sawyer 520 (PASE) & Sawyer 544 (PASE)
- Sawyer 550 (PASE) & Sawyer 546 (PASE)
- Sawyer 552a (PASE)
- Smyth, Warlords and Holy Men, p. 235
- Seebohm, Tribal Custom in Anglo-Saxon Law, p. 363; North People's Law (Halsall)
- E.g. Fletcher, Bloodfeud, pp. 39, 41
- Fletcher, Bloodfeud, p. 42; Rollason, Northumbria, p. 266; see also Oswulf 14 at PASE
- Costambeys, "Erik Bloodaxe"; Hudson, Viking Pirates, pp. 37—8
- Forte, Oram and Pedersen, Viking Empires, p. 117
- Rollason, Northumbria, pp. 65—6
- Costambeys, "Erik Bloodaxe"
- ASC D (etc), s.a. 954
- Fletcher, Bloodfeud, p. 41
- Arnold (ed.), Symeonis Monachi Opera Omnia, vol. ii, p. 382; trans. Anderson, Scottish Annals, p. 77
- Quoted in Woolf, Pictland to Alba, p. 190
- Woolf, Pictland to Alba, pp. 190, 191
- Smyth, Warlords, p. 232
- Fletcher, Bloodfeud, p. 44; Rollason, Northumbria, pp. 266—7
- Fletcher, Bloodfeud, p. 44
- Arnold (ed.), Symeonis Monachi Opera Omnia, vol. ii, p. 382
- Rollason, Northumbria, p. 267
- "The North People's Law", Medieval Sourcebook: The Anglo-Saxon Dooms, 560-975, Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies, retrieved 2009-01-18
- Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England Database Project, 2005, retrieved 2009-01-18
- Anderson, Alan Orr, ed. (1908), Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers A.D. 500 to 1286 (1991 revised & corrected ed.), Stamford: Paul Watkins, ISBN 1-871615-45-3
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- Costambeys, Marios; Harrison, B. (2004), "Erik Bloodaxe (Eiríkr Blóðöx, Eiríkr Haraldsson) (d. 954), viking leader and king of Northumbria", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/49265, retrieved 2009-01-18
- Fletcher, Richard (2003), Bloodfeud: Murder and Revenge in Anglo-Saxon England, London: Penguin Books, ISBN 0-14-028692-6
- Kapelle, William E. (1979), The Norman Conquest of the North: The Region and Its Transformation, 1000–1135, London: Croom Helm Ltd, ISBN 0-7099-0040-6
- Forte, Angelo; Oram, Richard; Pedersen, Frederik (2005), Viking Empires, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-82992-5
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- Woolf, Alex (2007), From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070, The New Edinburgh History of Scotland, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 978-0-7486-1234-5