Wulfgyth of Karletuna

A little bit of history . . .

I intended to cover the three related Late Saxon Wills in one post. Ha! I laugh myself silly. After the first two wills the word count already was far too high. Could I reduce it? I could, yes. Yet certain aspects of these wills raise issues already contended by interested historians; thus the need of supporting evidence and a cogent argument. These can’t be skimped. Time must be taken. Words used. Therefore, what was intended as one post, has become four.

1: Wulfgyth of Karletune
2: Ketel Alder
3: Edwin of Meltuna
4: Family Connections: Wulf, Wine and Thor

But first, I give thanks to Mary Muir (d.2011) for introducing me to these three wills. Local school teacher, historian and fieldwalker, she wrote a book on the history of Saxlingham Thorpe and Saxlingham Nethergate—A Good Place To Call Home. Turned out it was a good place to start my research.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t heard of Wulfgyth prior to this reading but I hadn’t realised her connection with Saxlingham. Her will has been much studied for what it reveals of a woman’s position in late Anglo-Saxon society. It has also become the focus of those who would see in her daughter, Ealdgyth, the much-sought Edith Swanneshals, hand-fasted wife of Harold Godwinson.  So, briefly to cover that before going further:

Edith Swanneshals

While many historians have tried to identify Mistress Swanneshals with the wealthy East Anglian landowner Eadgifu the Fair, others follow the tentative suggestion of historian Frank Barlow and try to meld her with Wulfgyth’s daughter Ealdgyth. But on the evidence of names, alone, both these identifications fail. In answer to the Eadgifu suggestion: Edith is not the later form of Eadgifu, but of Eadgyth. As to Wulfgyth’s daughter Ealdgyth:

Ead– = riches, prosperity
Eald– = old, honoured

The –l– is never dropped no matter how else the Anglo-Norman scribes might spell the name. Perhaps these scholars have serially suffered from senior-moments, else shared blinkers with their favourite horse while in search of the Lady. For no one of the Late Saxon/Anglo-Norman period would have been so misled. Eadgyth is not Ealdgyth.

Further, the one place that Eadgyth Swanneshals is known to have owned land—because she granted that land to St Benet’s abbey at Hulme—is at Thurgarton in Norfolk.  Okay, we might say that Thurgarton was a given to Harold by one of his free men when he was earl of Norfolk and Suffolk—and, later, he did have a power-base of commended men in the area—and that Harold in turn gave it to Mistress Swanneshals who in turn gave it to St Benets. But the dates seem against it, the gift being confirmed by King Edward in 1046, before Harold had had time to develop his following. As to the land belonging to Wulfgyth’s family, neither she nor her husband’s family are credited with land around here.

Wulfgyth’s Family

Wulfgyth, widow of king’s thegn, Eldwine (generally given in translation as the Mercian Ælfwine) was mother to five: two boys, three girls. Her use of the short-form for her two of her daughters, Bote and Gode for Botehild and Godgifu, suggests they’re still children—or at least not yet considered adult, perhaps not yet betrothed. While, on the other hand, the third daughter, Ealdgyth, is accorded an ‘adult’ name, implying she is the eldest and probably married.

Wulfgyth gives no similar clues to the birth-order of her two sons, yet the evidence of Domesday Book and that found in Ketel’s will suggests Ketel had a few years on his brother Ulfketel.

Ketel’s will makes mention of two uncles, Edwin and Wulfric. The word used implies uncles on his mother’s side, i.e. Wulfgyth’s brothers. Yet on closer reading perhaps only Wulfric is that while Edwin appears more likely the brother of Wulfgyth’s husband Eldwine. Certainly, the churches Edwin mentions would favour this interpretation. There’s also the Anglo-Saxon custom of name variation: Wulfgyth, Wulfric; Eldwine, Edwin(e). While elsewhere in England by the C11th the custom was falling out of use, perhaps due to influences incoming from France, in Norfolk and Suffolk it persisted into the C13th.


The ‘grey areas’ should be read ‘speculation’, rather than hard evidence

As we shall see in the course of these posts, Wulfric’s estates were primarily in Suffolk, Edwin’s in Norfolk. Edwin had a particularly strong power base in the Hundreds of Humbleyard, Henstead and Loddon. Indeed, it’s impossible to read the Domesday entries for these Hundreds without tripping over his name. As to Wulfgyth, although the estates she bequeath are spread from central Kent to central Norfolk (see map below), her Wulf-family lands are solidly Suffolk.

Wulfgyth’s Bequests

Dated on internal evidence to 1042-53 (probably 1046), her will is the earliest of the three from this family. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles record severe weather through the years 1042 to 1047 with the death of livestock, humans, birds and fishes in great number, ultimately causing widespread famine. Then to cap it, more raiders appeared:

ASC E: 1046/1047
And in this same year Lothen and Yrling came to Sandwich with 25 ships, and there took untold war-booty, in men and in gold and in silver, such that no one knew what it all was … And they turned from there to Essex and raided there, and took men and whatever they could find, and then turned east to Baldwin’s land [Flanders]

Whether Wulfgyth was recently widowed or not, thoughts of her own mortality must have ridden her hard during these years. Perhaps she found herself ailing with whatever had taken her husband (if it wasn’t a Norse-man’s sword). Hence, she composed her will. I give the full text, in translation. Where there might be confusion over place-names I give the Old English originals in parenthesis:


On reading this, I immediately reached for my copy of Domesday Book to see which if any of Wulfgyth’s bequeathed estates remained in the hands of the designated recipients on the eve of the Conquest: ‘on the day King Edward was alive and dead’ (TRE). And there began a journey through the tangles of Old English place-names and my several disagreements on the accepted translations.

Friþetune (given as Fritton):

I started with the last granted estate:

And I grant Friþetune to Earl Godwine and Earl Harold

Fritton, said some scholar at some early stage of the will’s scrutiny. Fine. but Wulfgyth’s will fails to specify which Fritton: the one in Depwade, Norfolk; or the one in Suffolk’s half-hundred of Lothingland (which, post boundary changes, now sits in Norfolk). I expected Domesday Book to provide the answer.

The Depwade Fritton (Norfolk) presented free men enough to field a first team and reserves for three football clubs—spread across nine entries (i.e. 9 TRW holders, aka tenants-in-chief)—but no Earl Harold and no Earl Godwine (who, of course, by then was dead).

By contrast, the Lothingland Fritton (formerly in Suffolk) had only one entry—for the King’s Lands. Post-Hastings, William confiscated all lands belonging to the defeated Harold and his brothers. This must be the Fritton Wulfgyth intended.

Lands of the King:
In Fritton 2 free men held 80 acres…
In the same place Leofric, a free man, held 30 acres…

What, no Harold? Why then was the ‘vill’ (read that as parish) in the ‘King’s hand’? I’d venture to say, because almost all the free men in Lothingland—and there were loads—had been in commendation to Harold’s young brother Gyrth, then earl of East Anglia.

But what had happened to Wulfgyth’s bequest? Had Harold or Godwine granted it away to one of their men; this Leofric, for instance? For now, I left it to grow whiskers while I moved to the next grant.

Chadacre, Suffolk

Chadacre no longer exists, swallowed by its neighbour:

The same Wulfric held Chadacre TRE as a manor…

This same Wulfric held Shimpling, too, where he’s described as a thegn of King Edward.

Now the Countess of Aumale holds [both].

This ‘same Wulfric’ was Wulfgyth’s brother. How came he to be holding Chadacre when Wulfgyth had bequeathed it to her daughter Ealdgyth? Was Ealdgyth dead?

Essetesford (given as Ashford, Kent)

Though those who had identified Essetesford with Ashford in Kent had considerably more experience than me, I took one look at the map and said no. No way! What, a Suffolk-cum-Norfolk lady hold lands way down south beyond the Thames? Even if her will does include an estate in Essex, this must be a mistake. Where are the stepping stones, where the bridge from her East Anglian estates to her Kentish? And why did she hold no other manors there?

In hope of finding a more believable place for Essetesford, I checked out all similarly spelled place-names of that period in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Nothing. Nowhere. The scholars had it right: Essetesford was Ashford, in Kent.

In Domesday Book, at Ashford in Kent was split between two estates:

Lands of Hugh de Montfort
[TRE] Thorgisli held it of Earl Godwine …
[TRE] William held it of King Edward …

Yea, I know, Earl Godwine died in 1053. But that’s one of the quirks of Domesday Book. The dead can still hold land. (Don’t ask me how, though I suppose as long as their ‘estates’ were still collecting the dues . . . it was probably down to the widows.)

Wulfgyth makes no mention of ‘holding’ the Essetesford estate off another, be it King Edward or Earl Godwine. Though it’s possible, since the king and, one assumes, Earl Godwine had witnessed the will, that the relevant party had agreed to the transfer of tenure. Which could leave Ealdgyth as the wife of either Thorgisl or William. Or she could be dead, her inheritance bequeathed to either Earl Godwine or King Edward. That would fit neatly with the situation already found at Chadacre and confirm the general conclusion had from Ketel’s will (see next post).

Stisted, Essex

Wulfgyth bequeathed her estate at Stisted:

to Christ Church [Canterbury] for the sustenance of the monks in the community

But she made it on condition that her sons, Ulfketel and Ketel, should have use of the estate during their lifetime. I expected this to be verified on the pages of Domesday Book. What did I find?

[TRE] Holy Trinity held Stisted as a manor…

Okay, so Christ Church or Holy Trinity, it’s all Canterbury to me. And at least it looked like the widow’s bequest had reached home, even if it did mean that both sons were now dead. Still, to double check it I turned to PASE (the online Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England). Half a hide at Stisted was held TRE & TRW by the monks of Christ Church.

I also discovered—thank you, PASE—that King Edward had confirmed the grant of this land to Christ Church. No other details given, just the source charter: S1047. Next stop,  Electronic Sawyer (online catalogue of Anglo-Saxon charters):

S1047 (summary):
A.D. 1042 x 1066. King Edward to Christ Church, Canterbury; grant of land at Chartham, Kent, and Walworth, Surrey, and confirmation of land at Sandwich, Eastry, Folkestone, Thanet, Adisham, Ickham, Chartham, Godmersham, Westwell, East Chart, the other Chart, Berwick, Brook, Warehorne, Appledore, Mersham, Orpington, Preston, Meopham, Cooling, Farningham, Hythe, Hollingbourne, Farleigh, Peckham, all in Kent; at Patching and Wootton in Sussex; at Walworth, Merstham, Cheam, and Horsley in Surrey; at Southchurch, Laver, Milton (Hall) in Prittlewell, Lawling in Latchingdon, Bocking, St Osyth and Stisted in Essex; at Hadleigh and Monks Eleigh, Suffolk; at Monks Risborough in Bucks.; and at Newington and Britwell Prior, Oxon.

Not all the charters on Electronic Sawyer have English translation. This one had, but . . .


. . . the bits I wanted have been elided […] Back to the original and the relevant passage:

c: Hec sunt nomina terrarum quas ut michi iudicatum est adpresens Christi ecclesia habet […] On Estsexan: Suthcyrcan, Lagefare, Middeltun, Lællinges, Boccinges, Cicce, Stigestede.

transcribed by yours truly

So was this estate at Stisted (Stigestede), which Wulfgyth c.1046 bequeathed to her daughter, land already donated to Christ Church? And if so, by whom?

… were it the gift of the king or a bishop or an earl or a thegn …
[says King Edward’s charter S1047]

That would explain Wulfgyth’s insistence that it was to go to Christ Church, even if first she’d allow her sons the use of it. Clearly, the estate was leasehold (see end of this post for definitions). And since the usual term for leasehold was 3 generations, it would have been her father, or her father-in-law (the former more likely), who’d made the arrangement. This is confirmed in King Edward’s confirmation grant:

… the estates which in my father’s day belonged to Christ Church …

Edward’s father was King Æthelræd, r.978-1013 (first part); r.1014-1016 (second part)—which effectively provides a floruit date for Wulfgyth’s father.

Also on Electronic Sawyer I found this . . .

S1646 (summary):
A.D. 1042 x 1066. Godwine and Wulfgyth to Christ Church, Canterbury; grant of land at Stisted and Coggeshal, Essex. 


Alas, no English translation. After I had struggle through my own translation I then found this, in ‘The Annals of Coggeshall’ under the heading:

Godwin, Earl of Kent
One of Canute’s favourites was Godwin, who long survived him, and lived to possess under Edward the Confessor, almost all the power. Among his possessions was the lordship of Coggeshall which—together with Stisted and Chich (St Osyth) the latter of which he had as a gift of Canute—he gave to the monks of Dorobernia or Canterbury.

So, it was Earl Godwine who gave the Stisted estate to Canterbury? No, but wait. King Edward’s grant confirms lands given ‘in my father’s day’. Yet Godwine didn’t begin his rise to power until taken under King Cnut’s wing (r.1016-1035). Until then he was the son of a troublesome Sussex thegn, Wulfnoth—and still very young. Though the fact King Æthelræd’s son, Æthelstan, bequeathed Godwine the return of his father’s forfeited land at Compton does suggest intimate dealings with the æthling, which possibly flowed over into support of Æthelræd’s next heir, Edmund (r.1016, briefly).

How, then, did Godwine come by this Essex estate that he gave so kindly to Christ Church?

‘The Annals of Coggeshall’ continues with the grant in translation:

I, Godwin and Wolfgith, with the permission and consent of my lord King Edward, give to the Church of Christ in Dorobernia [Canterbury] part of the land of our right, called Stigestede and Coggeshael, in East Sexia, exempt from all secular services, as I have held it up to this time from my aforesaid lord King Edward, and from his father (Ethelred). If any one takes them from the right of the same Church may God take away from him his glory

Further, an entry found in “Antiquities of Canterbury”:

AD 1046, Ulfgyth, widow of Elfwine, and Godwin, with the consent of Saint Edward the king, gave to the Church of Christ in Dorobernia, Stisted, Coggeshale, in Essex, for the sustenance of the monks, exempt like Adesham†.

†A lordship in Kent given to the monks by Ethelbald

Though a later script (like, post Hastings and beyond) this second entry does verify the Wulfgyth of Godwine’s grant as the same Wulfgyth who bequeathed her estate at Stisted to her daughter Ealdgyth. Yet Wulfgyth’s will makes no mention of an estate at Goggeshall. Ah, but Ketel’s does (sorry, you’ll have to wait for that).

The simplest explanation would be that Wulfgyth had commissioned Earl Godwine (by way of commending) to act as her ‘land agent’ and hence Godwine had named himself alongside her. In all probability, her father received the two Essex estates, Stisted and Coggeshall, in return for a large cash payment intended to help King Æthelræd in his extremis—i.e. to pay off the Vikings.

In the spring of 1002 the English bought a truce for £24,000
In 1007 an expedition was bought off by a tribute of £36,000.
In April 1012, the army of Thorkell the Tall and his brother Hemming harried England until bought off by a ‘tribute’ of £48,000.

Electronic Sawyer contains several charters issued by King Æthelræd for land in return for large sums of money.

Clearly, these Essex estates had been granted to Wulfgyth’s father on lease for three generations, they then must go to the monks of Canterbury. After all, what cared Æthelræd for these estates; he’d be long dead by then and the eternal salvation of his soul was far more important.

Earl Godwine’s involvement becomes more understandable when it’s realised that King Cnut granted him Chich (St Osyth) also in Essex though by no means neighbouring. Godwine granted this estate to Canterbury, probably at the same time.

S1645 (summary):
A.D. 1042 x 1066. Godwine to Christ Church, Canterbury; grant of land at St Osyth, Essex. 

[E]go Godwinus, concedente et consentiente domino meo rege Eaduuardo, dedi ecclesie Christi uillam patrimonii mei nomine Cice ad uictum monachorum in eadem ecclesia Christi in Dorobernia, pro salute anime mee, liberam ab omni seruitute seculari sicut dominus meus rex Cnut illam michi dedit.

There is an unspoken message in this set of charters. While some historians have tried to tag a Danish ancestry on Wulfgyth, based on the names of her sons, Ketel and Ulfketel, not only is this a nonsense notion, taking no notice of the medieval custom whereby the father named the child, but also these charters plainly show her father supported King Æthelræd in his fight against the Danes. He may even have died alongside Ulfcytel (Ulfketel) Snelling in 1016.

This of the leaseholds explain the otherwise anomalous existence of her estates in Essex, and Kent.

Sumerledeton (given as Somerleyton, Suffolk)

Those translators, with their greater experience, have given Somerleyton as the modern form of Sumerledeton:

And I grant to my two daughters, Gode and Bote, Saxlingham and Sumerledeton

While it’s easy to see why the translation, yet the Somerleyton entry in Domesday Book is less than convincing.

Lands of the King:
In Somerleyton 90 acres; they belong to Gorleston
There are 20 free men with 90 acres belonging to the manor…

And in Somerleyton, I free men, Ulf, under the same commendation [to Earl Gyrth]

In Somerleyton, I free men, Wihtræd the priest, held 40 acres

Lands of Ralph the crossbow man:
In Somerleyton, 1 free man, Alweald, commended to Gyrth

True, in Saxlingham one Æthelweard was in King Edward’s lordship (i.e. a thegn), and a man might (confusingly) be commended to more than the one lord, which might lean us towards accepting this place-name on the grounds of ‘here is the same man, he must be husband to one of the daughters’. Yet, as with Ealdgyth and Eadgifu, Alweald and Æthelweard are not the same name.

Domesday Book offers us another option: another ‘vill’ (read parish) named Sumerledetuna—Somerton in Suffolk:

Lands of St Edmund’s Abbey
1 free man belonging to St Edmund held 30½ acres

Lands of Robert fitzCorbucion:
 [one of Robert’s men] holds Somerton which Starcher held [1 carucate] under the glorious King Edward as a manor

PASE very kindly gives us the lowdown on this Starcher aka Styrcar/Styrger. He held land in Leighton Buzzard, Beds; at Bensted and Tolleshunt Magna, Essex; at Tooting Bec, Surrey; at Somerton, Suffolk; and . . .  wait for it! At Saxlingham, Norfolk. He is given as a housecarl of King Edward (basically, that’s the Scandinavian word a king’s thegn).

Not only this, but Somerton, in Suffolk, lies within a spit of Chadacre and Shimpling, where Wulfgyth’s brother Wulfric had two estates (he’d also an estate close by at Boxted). These estates probably formed the kernel of the Wulf-family’s ancient estate. So, it seems likely this Starcher/Styrger was wed to one or other of Wulfgyth’s daughters. But which one?

Saxlingham, Norfolk

As already seen in Enter the Scribes, Bote’s holding at Saxlingham was remembered, even centuries later, as Botenhaugh. At first, that suggested to me that Bode had never married. But after re-reading Ketel’s will, I must amend that. Ketel mentions Bote as having the estate at Somerton. Clearly she is the sister married to King Edward’s thegn Styrger, who held a mean 30 acres here, though he held much larger estates elsewhere.

That leaves her sister, Gode (Godgifu) to hold the other 30 acres in Saxlingham, recorded TRE in the hands of Wulfnoth, a free man commended to Archbishop Stigand. Stigand was Ketel’s chosen lord, and Wulfnoth continues the Wulf– family name. I’m happy to assign him as Godgifu’s son.

Another look at Frietuna

Before going further, and after the Somerleyton/Somerton confusion, I took another look at Friþetune. Could there be another place named the same in Domesday Book? And indeed there is. Frinton-on-Sea, in Essex.

The spelling of Frinton, in Domesday Book, is Frietuna. More-on, it’s remarkably close to Earl Godwine’s estate at St Oswyth. TRE there were two manors, both of 3 hides:

Lands of Count Eustace
Harold held as a manor…

Lands of Geoffrey de Mandeville
Leofsunu held as a manor …

That first entry (Lands of Count Eustace) is the one, for Wulfgyth had granted the estate of Friþetune to Earl Godwine and Earl Harold. And here is Harold. Case closed. Though there is still the question of how Wulfgyth came by the estate. Another of her father’s leaseholds?


Walsingham, Norfolk

And again, confusion—though my Penguin translation of Domesday gives it, clearly, as being a hamlet of East Carleton, not ‘the other’ Walsingham, in North Norfolk, famous of its abbey, and wells, and as a centre of Christian pilgrimage even today. However, my Penguin version (and all before it) still got it wrong. Walsingham is a hamlet of nearby Wrenningham, not East Carleton. More-on, it was known as Little Wrenningham at least to early C19th. (Often the man on the ground—or woman—knows more than the academic in his whispering Oxford towers.)

Lands of Ranulph Peverel
Walsingham [in East Carleton] Warin holds [of Ranulph Peverel] where Ketel, a thegn of Stigand’s held TRE for 1½ carucates

Here I felt quite excited at finding the right person in the right place. It also implied more-or-less said that Ketel was alive in 1066—not forgetting in Domesday Book the dead can still hold land! But where is Ulfketel?

It is known that Ketel’s successor post-Hastings (TRW) was Ranulph Peverel. Wulfric’s was Countess of Aumale and Roger de Poitou (as far as I can identify his estates). While Edwin’s was exclusively his son-in-law Godric the steward. And Ulfketel’s?

Ulfketel’s successor was Roger Bigod, sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk at the time of the Domesday Survey. But even the closest reading of Bigod’s holdings in the Carleton cum Wrenningham area of the Humbleyard Hundred turns up no glimmer of Ulfketel’s portion. Unlike Ketel and Edwin, in this Hundred he holds no men in commendation. Yet cross the river Tas into Henstead Hundred and his name as a commended lord is . . . lauded. Evidently, Ulfketel still was alive and thriving in 1066. Maybe the brothers decided some deal between them regards their mother’s bequeathed estates of Walsingham, East Carlton and Harling. Perhaps. But perhaps is there some other explanation.

East Carleton

Despite Wulfgyth bequeathed this estate equally to her two sons, again there is no sign of Ulfketel.

Lands of Ranulph Peverel
[East] Carleton the same Warin holds [of Ranulph Peverel] where Godric, a free man of Ketel’s held 75 acres

Ketel mentions a brother named Godric in his will (see next post, Ketel Alder).


[East] Harling

The ‘vill’ of Harling was early divided to three distinct parts later name as West Harling, Little or Middle Harling, and Market or East Harling. This is seen even in Domesday Book where each of the three parts are granted each to a different tenant-in-chief.

Lands Robert de Verly:
 In [East or West] Harling Auti held TRE 1 carucate…

Lands of William d’Ecouis:
In [East or West] Harling Ketil, a free man, held TRE 2 carucates for a manor. Now Ingulf holds it.…

Lands of Count Alan:
[East or West] Harling Ansketil holds 4 carucates of land which Ulfkil, a freeman, held TRE…

And, lo! Here we find the elusice Ulfketel (Ulfkil). And note, he estate weighs in at 4 carucates, while Ketel’s is half of that. But—spoiler alert!—this wasn’t Ulfketel’s only estate as we’ll discover in Part 2: Ketel Alder.

Brief Author’s Note:
Although Francis Blomefield in his Topographical History of the County of Norfolk is a valuable source of local information, sometimes he connects the wrong dots. Here he gives Ansketil as the son of Ulfkil. Yet PASE gives this Ansketil as one of Count Alan’s men, Ansketil de Fourneaux who held lands in Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire, as well. Wiki lists Fourneaux as a French commune either in the Loire department, or in Manche or in Calvados . . . i.e. this Ansketil was very definitely of Norman origin. The name of Fourneaux is evidenced in the later manorial history of the parish.

Summary of Wulfgyth’s will

Now at the end of Wulfgyth’s will, what have we learned?

1: That her unnamed father had supported King Æthelræd’s attempts to protect his land and people by giving him money to buy off the Vikings—and in return received land in Essex, and probably in Kent as well, which then was held as a 3-generation leasehold with reversion to Christ Church, Canterbury.

2: That regardless Eldwine, her husband, had been a king’s thegn, Wulfgyth’s chosen lord when dealing with the legalities of leasehold land was Earl Godwine—who also held land in Essex destined for the religious community at Canterbury.

3: That she had at her disposal two estates in central Suffolk (Somerton and Chadacre), and four estates in Norfolk, three south-east (Saxlingham, East Carleton and Little Wrenningham), one almost upon the Norfolk-Suffolk border (Harling).

4: That her brother Wulfric had estates clustering around hers in Suffolk strongly suggests this was the core of the Wulf-family’s ancestral lands. Harling too is part of a cluster, this on the Norfolk-Suffolk border. While the Norfolk estate was almost certainly part of Eldwine’s patrimony, this ‘borderland’ was most likely Wulf-land (but more of that in Part 2: Ketel Alder)

5: That Wulfgyth’s eldest daughter, the much disputed Ealdgyth, died even before 1060 (as evidenced by the dating of Ketel’s will, see next post in the series).


Finally, while researching this series of posts I encountered the speculative notion that Wulfgyth was the daughter of Ulfcytel Snelling, an ealdorman of East Anglia, possibly of Norfolk, who fell fighting against Cnut’s men at Battle of Ashingdon in 1016. This would explain her son’s names with her husband wishing to honour her dead father. It might also explain why her family held less land than might be expected of a king’s thegn. For I have no doubt the bulk of Ulfcytel’s estates was taken by the new King Cnut, to be distributed amongst his followers. But there is also a story that King Æthelræd gave his daughter Wulfhild as wife to Ulfcytel. If this second story is true, then first cannot be,. While I agree that Wulfgyth’s name might suggest it, anyone with knowledge of the events 1050 to 1066 would immediately realise this cannot be so.

Five years into his marriage with Earl Godwine’s daughter, Edith, King Edward still had no son to succeed him to the English throne. Had it been otherwise, the Battle of Hastings would never have happened. King Edward’s solution forms a pre-echo of King Henry VIII’s. He wanted a divorce, the freedom to find a more fertile wife. But there was Edith’s father, Earl Godwine, second only to the king in his power. He knew Godwine would never allow the divorce. So Edward laid the problem at the feet of Robert de Jumiéges, the newly seated Archbishop of Canterbury. The archbishop responded by voicing and amplifying various accusations against Earl Godwine. Then, when Godwine asked for trial to defend himself and clear his name, it was refused him. Godwine stormed off, his family, followers and wealth in tow, to seek refuge in Flanders where his son Tostig had recently married the count’s daughter Judith. King Edward, prompted by his archbishop, declared Godwine exiled. Now King Edward could divorce the infertile Edith and find a more productive wife.

But before that could happen, Godwine powered his way back into England, and turned the table on Robert de Jumiéges, revealing his manipulations. Robert fled. With a hive of bees in his bonnet regards Godwine and his family, he continued his insinuations and manipulations in Normandy and in Rome. Ultimately, him and his lies lay beneath William of Normandy’s claim to the English throne.

With Godwine reinstated, so was Edith—pulled out of the convent where she’d been put in cold storage. But the problem of succession remained. Edward desperately needed an heir, and if not of his body, then of his ancestral line. There were several choices. His nephew by his sister Godgifu, countess of Boulogne, was already in England: Earl Ralph. But the fact he’s more commonly known as ‘Ralph the Timid’ might clue us to why he wasn’t chosen. There were others. Ralph’s brother Walter, Count of the Vexin, in France—though he died in 1063 in very suspicious circumstances, while held captive by William of Normandy (yes, him, the Conqueror).

Now think upon this: If those who’d have Wulfgyth as daughter of Ulfcytel and Wulfhild were correct, then Ketel and his brother Ulfketel would also be potential heirs. Is there any hint of them being approached, their names being mentioned, their suitability considered? Any hint they may have been by William? No. Not at all. Ipso facto, Wulfhild was NOT Wulfgyth’s mother.

As it happens, Edward found an heir of the male line to be his successor: Edward the Exile, son of Edmund Ironside, King Edward’s half-brother. He was found in Hungary, where he’d been living it up since taken there, by many a detour and at only a few months old, after King Cnut’s victory in 1016. He was at once recalled to England, to be declared the legitimate heir. But, alas, he died almost immediately upon arrival in 1057, leaving his young son Edgar to bear the title of Ætheling. If only Edgar had been that little bit older . . . but born ca 1051, he was barely adolescent when King Edward died. And what with the Scandinavian claim to the throne, aggravated by a very pissed-off exiled Earl Tostig, and with William across the Channel in Normandy making noises that the throne had been promised to him, England needed a man for its king. A strong man, proven in battle. Thus, King Edward and his witan named Harold as him.

And now, as promised, some definitions:

Bequeathed Lands


Granted in return for a sum of money, leasehold land could be freely held only for the agreed term—usually either the leaseholder’s lifetime, or for 3 generations. The land was then returned to its owner. However, in troubled times this might be overlooked, and frequently was. Leasehold land could not be alienated.


Though initially granted by the king as a foundation grant to a religious house—who then might grant it on—in later years kings granted book-land to favour their nobility. Book-land was freehold. The only condition attached was the three burdens of the king’s protection, and bridge and road building. More-on, the tributes and services due to the king were transferred along with the land, including judicial rights. Unlike Leasehold land, Book-land could be alienated, thus frequently found its way back to the monasteries.

Patrimony, or Family-land

There were no laws, yet, as regards the inheritance of family-land, though there were customs that differed between the countries.

Primogeniture, which later became the norm in England, required that the eldest surviving son inherit the family-land, entire. Where no sons survived, it was either divided between the daughters, or (infrequent in England), given entire to the eldest daughter who then would pass it to her eldest son.

In ‘parage’, a system not seen in England at this date, the entire kin-group held the land in common; thus none could be granted away (alienated) without the consent of the others.

With partible inheritance, the norm in England at this period, the family-land was divided (equally) between all surviving sons. As with primogeniture, in the absence of sons it was divided between the daughters.


Land the bride brought to her marriage, an allotment taken from her parents’ combined estate. Though it could comprise ‘acquired’ land, it was most often her own mother’s dower-land. A bit like mitochondrial DNA, the land passed from mother to daughter. The dower-land wasn’t given as an incentive to marry a daughter with few other attractions, but to ensure an income for the daughter should the husband run foul of the law or be killed in battle—these were troubled times! During the marriage the husband might manage his wife’s dower-land along with his own, and even account it as his. But it was not his to alienate without her consent. While a wife’s dower-land might be destined as dower-land for her own daughters. It was a wise woman who promised it, yet kept it in hand till the day she formally bequeathed it away.


Also called ‘morning-gift’ or ‘marriage-gift’, was land given by the husband to his bride on the morning after wedding. As with the dower-land, it remained his to manage and account during his lifetime. As with the dower, it was there to ensure an income when/if she was widowed. As with dower-land, the wife was free to give it where she willed. Often this was bequeathed to her sons; even if it comprised ‘acquired’ land yet, coming from the husband’s family, it had the essence of patrimony.

Acquired Land

People sold land. It might be no more than a few acres; just to raise enough funds to pay the taxes or to replace a worn-out plough or . . . the reasons are many. But there were times, too, when an entire manor was sold. As said, these were hazardous times when fortunes might suddenly turn on their head. It was also a time popular for pilgrimage, and that required money. Obviously, leasehold land could not be sold. And neither could dower and dowry, without the wife’s consent. Which means that most ‘acquired’ land was somebody’s family-land (patrimony), else book-land.

There were two other sources of ‘acquired’ land:

1: A lord might freely grant land to the men he held in commendation. Such ‘honoured’ men rose in status—thus giving an additional boost to their lord’s status, too. This was seen frequently with the king, who granted book-land to his favoured few. But it was something that cascaded down even to the small-holding free men.

2: Any man or woman might bequeath to his commended lord land which he had freely held–as it would seem Wulfgyth bequeathed Frinton to Earl Godwine and his son Earl Harold. Though it’s possible that Frinton was a single lifetime leasehold, due to return to the Godwine family.

Part 2: Ketel Alder follows shortly.

About crispina kemp

Spinner of Asaric and Mythic tales
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1 Response to Wulfgyth of Karletuna

  1. Pingback: Sunday Picture Post: Treading in my Several-Times-Great-Grandma’s Steps | crispina kemp

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