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Coenred. A huscarl by trade Coenred is a member of the elite Saxon warrior class. He has served for some twenty years, his loyalty and courage being rewarded by his lord, Eorl Aelfgar of Mercia, many times over. Now that great nobleman is dead and only his vow to raise Aelfgar’s sons binds him to his life as a warrior. Edwin and Morcar were once respectful pupils but since becoming eorls themselves they have begun to resent the tutelage of one whom they see as a servant. They are now leaders of men, even if little older than boys, and each day wears at the patience of Coenred. Perhaps that is why he dreams of hanging up his sword and enjoying the fruit of his many years as a fighting man; his farm at Holderness where his mother and younger brother live.

As if to complete this domestic picture he meets the young widow Mildryth and she opens up in him a yearning for a life that he had denied himself whilst dedicated to being the best huscarl that he could be. Fate, however, decrees that his sword will be needed yet. Coenred is a man of honour and he cannot think of deserting his brother warriors when he learns of Vikings invading Northumbria again. His honour demands that he stands once more in the shield-wall, spear at the ready, fighting to defend not only Edwin and Morcar, not only the people of York, not even Mildryth herself; now he must fight to defend the crown of his king.

Mildryth. The widow of a theign Mildryth is cast out into the world by fate with only friends to call upon. The Saxon world is a dangerous place at the best of times and shows no compassion for a lone woman, especially one robbed of husband, son, wealth and lands. Only the good grace of her husband’s friend High-Theign Aethelwine of York, stands between Mildryth and destitution. Knowing that she cannot spend the rest of her life dependent upon someone without a blood tie to her Mildryth seeks to make her way in the world but a growing presentiment of danger approaching inspires her to seek protection from a man of proven worth, a warrior of reputation, the huscarl Coenred. She seeks only a protector but in Coenred she finds a man with a noble heart that she comes to much admire. However, the times seem to be against them, her husband’s murderer reappears beneath the banners of Vikings and she must ride the tide of her times as the storm of war descends upon York threatening everything she knows and the man she is growing to love.

Tostig Godwinson. Born the third son of the fabled Eorl Godwin of Wessex Tostig has always lived in the shadow of his older brother Harold. Promoted to the Eorldom of Northumbria Tostig lost his title when the people revolted against his harsh rule, one that was stained by the murder of theigns who did not actively support him. Exiled by King Edward, as counselled by Harold Godwinson, the Eorl of Wessex, Tostig left England with an open sore on his heart; one that could only be healed by vengeance. His first attempt to return to England ended in defeat to Edwin and Morcar, their huscarls led by Coenred, an event that earned them a hatred from Tostig second only that which he held for his brother. His second attempt fares much better with King Hardrada of Norway as his ally. Tostig Godwinson will lay waste to his enemies, claim the family lands of Wessex and the title that goes with them, and see his brother King Harold of England fall before the Viking War Wolf.

King Hardrada. The greatest living Viking of his day Hardrada of Norway finds life does not reflect his fame. A fruitless war against Denmark leaves his treasury spent; he looks to England, a weak claim to the crown, and the coming of Tostig Godwinson to revive his fortunes.  In battle there is no one as cunning or as dangerous, and he has at his command the largest Viking army ever to set foot in England. Riding his massive dragon-ship Long Serpent, up the River Humber it seems to many that Hardrada is the epitomy of Norse legend, but this is not a raid. King Hardrada needs the English crown and he sees the only way to win it is with a surprise attack on the north of the country whilst King Harold sits waiting for the Normans in the south. Only the Saxon army of the brother eorls Edwin and Morcar stand in his way, a warband built around a core of elite huscarls captained by Coenred. The eorls are but children, they would be fools to take the field against him at Fullford Gate. He is the War Wolf, never defeated in battle!.

King Edward the Confessor. Born sometime around 1003 in what is now Oxfordshire Edward fled with his mother and siblings to Normandy in 1013 when England was subjected to an invasion by the Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard. Whilst England suffered the reign of Norse monarchs Edward built up support for his claim to the throne throughout northern Europe, particularly in Normandy. In 1041 Edward was invited back to England by the Danish King Harthacnut, who was suffering failing health, and formerly recognised as the latter’s heir. Harthacnut died on 8th June 1042 and Edward became King of England, he was crowned at Winchester Cathedral on 3rd April 1043. Edward married Eorl Godwin’s daughter Edith 2 years later. The marriage was not sufficient to stop King Edward and Eorl Godwin falling out and he banished Godwin and his entire family, even sending Queen Edith to a nunnery. Eorl Godwin forcibly returned from exile with his sons and an army, however, and King Edward was forced to return the Godwin family back to their lands and titles. This forced reconciliation led to many of Edward’s Norman advisors and supporters fleeing England in response. Another crisis with the Godwin family occurred in 1065 when Tostig Godwinson was ousted as Eorl of Northumbria in a popular revolt against his harsh authority. Although a favourite with King Edward Tostig could not raise any support to force his return to his earldom. Unable to act, and despite Tostig’s claim that Harold Godwinson was in league with the rebels, King Edward had no choice but to exile Tostig, an event that caused a serious rift in the Godwin family. Not long after this incident King Edward’s health declined rapidly leading to his death early in January 1066. He was succeeded by Harold Godwinson.

Harold Godwinson. Born in 1022, the second son of Eorl Godwinson of Wessex and Gytha Thorkelsdottir, he was made Eorl of East Anglia in 1045. Ever a close supporter of his father he followed him into exile in 1051. Harold appears to have taken an active part in engineering the family’s forced return from banishment a year later. Around 1046 Harold began a long relationship with Ealdgyth Swannesha, with whom he had at least 6 children. Their marriage was not undertaken by the church and never acknowledge by the clergy but posed no problem to the rest of the Saxon world. Harold’s older brother Sweyn died in 1052 so when their father died a year later he was promoted by King Edward to the Eorldom of Wessex. He worked with King Edward to help manage the kingdom, undertaking wars on the king’s behalf against the Welsh in the form of King Gruffydd ap Llywelyn. In 1061 Harold was shipwrecked on the coast near Ponthieu. He was captured by Count Guy of Ponthieu but Guillaume, Duke of Normandy, ordered his release. Harold accompanied Duke Guillaume on campaign. Harold seems to have distinguished himself as both a brave and capable warrior; Duke Guillaume even knighted him in the Norman fashion. It was at this point that Harold was tricked, as he claims, into swearing an oath, clearly under duress, over hidden sacred relics, to support Guillaume’s claim to the English crown when King Edward eventually died. Eorl Harold returned to England in time to see his brother Tostig’s misrule of the Eorldom of Northumbria plunge the kingdom into a dangerous crisis. Harold chose to side against Tostig and advised the king to exile him, an act that brought Harold closer to the throne but caused a fatal schism in the Godwin family. When King Edward eventually died in January 1066 Harold took his chance, claiming the crown. He divorced Ealdgyth Swannesha and married Ealdgyth of Mercia, once the Queen consort of King Gruffydd ap Llywelyn. There may have been political considerations behind this as her father, Eorl Aelfgar, had been a competitor of the Godwins and her brothers, Edwin and Morcar, were continuing that rivalry. In surviving texts Harold Godwinson is described as a good looking man, tall and very active. There is no doubt as to his bravery and personal ability in combat. He seems also to have been a shrewd politician.

Branda. A robust Saxon woman of simple tastes Branda is a coerl, a member of the peasant class. Her husband Hereward insists that they are geneatas, the highest of the peasant sub-classes. He is a successful grain seller, popular in the neighbourhood and known for his honesty. They live in an impressive house for peasants, a reflection of both Hereward’s business acumen and the fact that Anglo-Saxon society rewarded ability. Branda is proud of her family, especially her eldest son Caelin, but also enjoys working in High-Theign Aethelwine’s great hall, the centre of social and political life in York. Despite their difference in station she befriended Mildryth when she arrived destitute and newly widowed. Her kindness was repaid with a strong friendship between the two women that does not recognise the difference in their social status. Branda admires Mildryth’s stoical strength, her refusal to surrender to despair, and can only imagine what dark depths her friend sank to when her husband and son were murdered by Tostig Godwinson. She questions why Mildryth chooses a warrior like Coenred and thanks God that her husband Hereward is so mild mannered that he would never dream of picking up a spear to fight the invading Vikings, but then she never counts on the madness of war that infects even the kindest of people with a dangerous blood lust.

Edwin son of Octa. A young peasant who knew very little of the world Edwin suddenly found himself without a home or family when raiders struck their settlement on dark night. Unable to identify who had burnt down his house, killing his parents and his siblings, Edwin was made an outcast by circumstance. A chance encounter with Coenred changed his fortunes, at least initially. He became a huscarl’s shield-bearer with little prior knowledge as to the dangers this position would expose him to, but hunger and the cold will make any offer of employment seem like a boon. Raised on a farm Edwin is strong and unafraid of hard work, however, and quickly ingratiates himself with his new master. He is both brave and loyal even if he lacks a warrior’s training or weapons and armour. Just when it seems that he has secured his position, however, Coenred is called to the field of battle and all Edwin can do is stay and protect Mildryth until either his master returns or the Vikings storm the city of York.

Wulfhere. Born in the south of England Wulfhere has migrated north to escape the consequences of his many crimes. Currently working as a butescarl, a mercenary sword, for a rich theign Wulfhere is always on the look out for ways to improve his situation. No deed is below him, theft and murder are his acquaintences, but he desires a life of ease most of all. He came across Mildryth in Ripon when she lodged a claim at the Hundred Court against Tostig Godwinson for compensation after he murdered her husband and son. It was both her beauty and the prospect of her coming into a small fortune that attracted Wulfhere and chance that caused their paths to cross once again in York. He knows that a battle can create opportunities for a man of a predatory nature to enrich himself and while the Saxons fight hard he is happy to stand in the rearmost ranks of the army but when things go against them he knows the way back to York and especially to Mildryth’s home. One way or another Wulfhere will end the day getting what he wants most.

Eorl Edwin and Eorl Morcar. Eorl Aelfgar’s father, Eorl Lefric of Mercia, lived until he was 89 years old, unfortunately that was not the fate for the son who died at the age of 32. Despite his short life Aelfgar did much to consolidate the power of his house. He competed with the Godwins and like them was even exiled by King Edward and returned from banishment with an army, making an ally of England’s enemy King Gruffydd of Wales. Coenred served Aelfgar faithfully and was rewarded on many occasions by him. Perhaps Aelfgar had a presentiment of his own death when he asked Coenred to swear to raise his two young sons, Edwin and Morcar, in the manner of eoldermen. In 1062 Edwin became the Eorl of Mercia following his father’s death at the age of 16, boys becoming men in the Saxon world at the age of 15. His brother Morcar was promoted to the Eorldom of Northumbria in 1065 when he was also only 16. These positions were of great importance and authority for such young men. By 1066 both Edwin and Morcar had tired of Coenred as their teacher, he was after all, really just another of their servants even if he had been one of their father’s favourites. This resentment on their part had become a serious cause of strain between the 3 men. Like their father both Edwin and Morcar sought to rival the Godwins for honour and glory, an appetite not dulled by the marriage of their elder sister to King Harold. The coming of Tostig Godwinson with the War Wolf, King Hardrada of Norway, to the gates of York seems like a heaven sent opportunity for the young eorls to eclipse their rivals. Coenred’s words of wisdom fall on deaf ears; Eorl Edwin and Eorl Morcar will have their moment on the bloody field no matter what the cost to the people of York, Northumbria or England.

The Sorrow Song Trilogy Timeline: if you would like to see how the history of 1066 developed to the moment of apocalyptic climax then please left click here

The Sorrow Song Trilogy © 2013 Peter C. Whitaker. All Rights Reserved.

Edwin & Morcar
The Sorrow Song Trilogy Timeline.pdf