The Earls of Mercia

I began the Earls of Mercia series with the purpose of retelling the last century (just about) of Early England, up to just after 1066 and starting in 993. No mean feat for an author who’d not yet written a single work of historical fiction, but had begun writing with the intention of completing a Viking-Age alternative Icelandic fantasy series with dragons!

The first book, variously known as Ealdorman, Viking Sword, and now the corrected and preferred edition, of The Earls of Mercia’s Father, (currently only available in paperback) began with the intention of retelling this story using information from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the available charter evidence as compiled by Simon Keynes in The Diplomas of King Æthelred the Unready, only, and also available via the online Kemble, a resource which seems to have become unavailable although the Electronic Sawyer can still be accessed. This might sound weirdly difficult, but I was studying for my Masters at the time, and it all tied in with the research I was doing on the survival of sources and how they are variously interpreted.

I have continued to employ this technique, only searching outside these sources when I was, quite frankly, desperate for some more information. Not, I should make it clear, that I haven’t read extensive secondary sources as well but rather than be swayed by the interpretation of others, I wanted to take a fresh perspective. Yet, with that in mind, I will confess that in the earlier books I feel I was overly influenced – with more experience and more confidence – the stories have grown to become what I hoped they would always be.

With the above in mind, and an appreciation that is is all rather complex and complicated, I’ve compiled some genealogical details to assist my readers in knowing who everyone is (historical as well as fictional, when that happens), and how they fit together throughout the series of books. Sometimes it does feel as though a character disappears and then returns some books later – most notably for Edward and Alfred, children of King Æthelred and Lady Emma. Hopefully, these tables will help with such problems.

So, first, the family of Ealdorman Leofwine.

The identity of Ealdorman Leofwine’s father is postulated. Ælfwine is named in the Battle of Maldon poem, and the identification has been made that he was Leofwine’s father, by historians who know the period much better than I do.

The fact Leofwine had a daughter is postulated, because all that is known is that the grandson, Leofric, existed but not who his parents were. Equally, the marriage of Northman and the survival of two children for him, is fictional. The identity of Leofwine’s mother, and his wife, are unknown. No dates of birth are known for Leofwine and his children. Some authors will suggest he was much older than I portray him.

And next, the family of the king, Æthelred II.

(You can click on the image to make it bigger.)

There is some confusion about the number of daughters that Æthelred and his first wife had. The year of Lady Ælfgifu’s death is unknown, although it must have occurred before he married Lady Emma of Normandy. I am unaware of any children born to the daughters, but must imagine that they did have children with their husbands, and that these weren’t deemed worthy of mentioning.

It’s interesting to note that Æthelred used his daughters to make political marriages to bind his ealdormen (later names as earls) to him. I am not aware of the tactic being used by previous kings, other than King Alfred, but this is perhaps due to a lack of daughters, and the only king I can think who might have benefitted from such an action – Alfred’s son, Edward, known as the Elder – married his daughters to royalty on mainland Europe, or allowed them to become nuns (see The King’s Daughters).

This takes us to the children of Lady Emma, twice England’s queen.

Lady Emma was an unlucky and unfortunate woman as she outlived two husbands, and also, all but one of her five children. From about 1002, she lived in England, although she was exiled on two occasions, firstly seeking sanctuary with her family in Normandy during King Swein’s brief rule in 1013-1014, and then in Bruges, during the reign of King Harald, her husband’s son with another woman, who Lady Emma never acknowledged as his child, and who she believed had no right to claim the crown of England.

And now for the family of Earl Godwine.

And the family of Ulfr, as only then does it become evident as to who Earl Godwine married, and his relationship with King Cnut.

These noble families were all interconnected, and they are all primary characters in the events of the last years of Early England. While it becomes immediately apparent that Ealdorman Leofwine and his descendants were never offered the chance of wedding one of the royal children, it should also be noted that they did not have unwed daughters at those times.

RESOURCES

For those keen to research this period themselves, I would recommend the following books and resources. You might need to be patient, and I advise checking Abebooks, Ebay and other second hand book shops for copies, or consulting a library. I would say, as a rule of thumb, that the more expensive the book – the more academic the contents may prove to be – or the older the book. (I’m aware that many of these titles include the word ‘Anglo-Saxon.’ The move away from the term is a new.)

Start with a general book for the period – not easy to find, I appreciate, and then work from there depending on what fascinates you. I started by reading the monographs about the individual kings.

PRIMARY SOURCES

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles – translated and edited by Michael Swanton

English Historical Documents Vol 1 500-1042 – Dorothy Whitelock (a very expensive resource – perhaps best found in a library or online)

English Historical Documents Vol 2 1042-1189 – David C Douglas (as above. I was lucky to find some reasonably inexpensive copies but it took years)

An Atlas of Anglo-Saxon England – David Hill (It took me years but I eventually found a copy on Abebooks that didn’t break the bank)

The Life of King Edward who rests at Westminster – Frank Barlow

The Electronic Sawyer – online catalogue of Anglo-Saxon Charters – an amazing resource once you feel confident to explore the primary sources. Used to be part of the KEMBLE online resource but this seems to have disappeared, which is a great shame.

SECONDARY SOURCES

The Death of Anglo-Saxon England by N J Higham

The Earls of Mercia: Lordship and power in Late Anglo-Saxon England by Stephen Baxter

The Diplomas of King Æthelred the Unready 978-1016 by Simon Keynes (if you can get a first edition do so, as the reprint doesn’t include the tables which is very frustrating).

Æthelred the Unready by Levi Roach

Æthelred the Unready, the ill-counselled king by Ann Williams

Cnut, England’s Viking King by M K Lawson

The Reign of Cnut: King of England, Denmark and Norway by Alexander Rumble

Cnut the Great by Timothy Bolton

Queen Emma and Queen Edith by Pauline Stafford

Edward the Confessor by Frank Barlow

Edward the Confessor by Tom Licence (a new release in 2020)

Godwins: The Rise and Fall of a Noble Dynasty by Frank Barlow

Harold The Last Anglo Saxon King by Ian W Walker

(This post contains some Amazon Affiliate links.)