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Waltheof, was the younger son of Earl Siward of Northumbria. After the Battle of Hastings he submitted to William the Conqueror and he was allowed to keep his estates.

In 1072 Waltheof became Earl of Northumbria. William also arranged for him to marry his niece Judith. This strategy did not work and in 1075 he joined a revolt led by Ralph, Earl of Norfolk and Roger, Earl of Hereford. Waltheof was captured and was executed on 31st May 1076. Waltheof was the only prominent Englishman to be executed in William's reign.

Waltheof - History

Edward the Confessor: King of England, married to Harold's sister, Edith. He died in January 1066 without an heir.

King Cnut: King of England 1016-1035. Cnut was the King of Denmark, who exploited the fragmented nature of England to seize the throne in 1016. He ruled with the help of the English Earls Godwine and Leofric.

William of Normandy: Bastard son of Duke Richard II, Edward the Confessor's father-in-law. William had a very shaky claim to the English throne, but what he did have in his favour was a dukedom full of Norman knights, all eager for a share of newly conquered land.

Harold Godwinson: Son of Godwine and Earl of Wessex. Harold was very powerful by 1066. He was possibly richer than the King, and had established alliances with all the major magnates of England. He could claim only a tenuous link by marriage to the family of Cnut, but he was the brother-in-law of King Edward and despite having the weakest claim to the Crown, he was in the strongest position. William claimed that Harold had sworn an oath to deliver the Crown up to William on King Edward's death. This is probably a fiction.

Edwin and Morcar: Grandsons of Leofric, Earls of Mercia and Northumbria. Previously arch enemies of the Godwinsons, they seem to have made a deal with Harold in 1065, who helped Morcar into the Earldom of Northumbria in return for their support when Edward died.

Tostig: Brother of Harold and ex-Earl of Northumbria. Deposed by the Northumbrians in favour of Morcar, Tostig fled to Norway, where he plotted revenge against his brother Harold.

Harald Hardrada: King of Norway. Persuaded to invade Northumbria in 1066 by Tostig. Their victory at Fulford and their defeat and death at Stamford Bridge probably ensured the success of William's invasion at Hastings.

Waltheof: Earl of Huntingdon and rightful Earl of Northumbria. Waltheof was too young to take up the Earldom of Northumbria when his father died in 1055, so it went to Tostig. He was old enough for the Earldom in 1066, but it was given to Morcar. His subsequent actions after the Conquest can be interpreted (to a point) to be attempts at getting his Earldom back.

Edgar the Aetheling: Aetheling means 'throneworthy' and was the title given to the legitimate heir to the Crown. Edgar however, was too young in 1066, and nobody wanted an unstable regency.

Swegn Estrithson: King of Denmark. Arguably the most powerful of the contenders, Swegn could claim direct descent from King Cnut. However, he was distracted by his own kingdom, and it was not until he died that his second son, Cnut the Holy, concentrated on England.

Archbishops Stigand and Ealdred: Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Primates of England.

On this day in 1076, William the Conqueror had Northumbrian Earl Waltheof II beheaded for treachery — the only major noble executed by the Norman king.

When the Norman Conquest brought William the Conqueror to power, the nobles didn’t know the Normans would be able to keep what they’d won … and being nobles, they started plotting.

Multiple revolts shook the northern marches where Waltheof had his domain, and the burly Northumbrian, according to skald Thorkill Skallason, was a Norman-killing machine.

Waltheof burned a hundred
Of William’s Norman warriors
As the fiery flames raged
What a burning there was that night!

Our day’s principal made nice with the Conqueror and even got dynastically wedded to William’s niece, Judith.

But his fame as a warrior and strategically positioned estates soon had conspirators wooing him for another run at rebellion — the Revolt of the Earls, which would turn out to be the last serious resistance to the last successful invasion of Britain.

Waltheof either (accounts are radically at odds) signed on and then got cold feet, or got entrapped into it, or didn’t join but also didn’t report it when he found out, or got shopped for political reasons by his Norman bride. (Judith, suspiciously, got to keep his huge tracts of land after Waltheof lost his head for the property-confiscating offense of treason.)

Whatever the case, he was soon obliged to throw himself on the mercy of the king. He got a royal wife as his first prize for a brush with treason. His second prize was, he was decapitated.

Waltheof is supposed to have made such a delay at the scaffold with the Lord’s Prayer that the headsman got impatient and lopped off his dome after the words “Lead us not into temptation.” Devotional legend says that the severed head completed the prayer.

Thorkill Skallason remembered the last English earl still keeping it real under William’s rule.

William crossed the cold channel
and reddened the bright swords,
and now he has betrayed
noble Earl Waltheof.
It is true that killing in England
will be a long time ending
A braver lord than Waltheof
Will never be seen on earth.

Another quarter-millennium elapsed before another English earl — Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster — was put to death in the realm.

Waltheof’s story is told in detail in the context of The history of the Norman conquest of England, available free from Google books, and directly from the relevant primary documents here.


Waltheof (d. 1076). Waltheof was the son of Siward, earl of Northumberland and victor over Macbeth, who died in 1055. Waltheof did not then inherit the earldom, presumably because he was too young, and it passed to Tostig, brother of Harold Godwineson. But on Tostig's exile in 1065, Waltheof became earl of Huntingdon. In 1069 he joined the Danish attack on York, but submitted to William the Conqueror in 1070, and was made earl of Northumberland two years later. He was also given a niece of the king in marriage. But in 1075 he was on the fringes of another conspiracy against William, who had him executed at Winchester the following year. The cause of his downfall has been discussed, but presumably William was exasperated at a man who had rebelled once, been given a royal bride, and was disloyal again. A man of great strength and piety, Waltheof was revered by some after his death and reputed to have been a hero to the English, though his ancestry was Danish. On this showing he was technically the last Englishman to be an earl in the Norman period.

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The execution of Waltheof, the last English earl

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This edited article about Norman England first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 580 published on 24 February 1973.

If William the Conqueror had written his memoirs, like so many old soldiers do today, he might have had a resentful thing or two to say about the English subjects whom he conquered. For 20 years they made life as unpleasant for him as they could. Throughout his reign many of them never gave up hope that they would drive out the Norman king and replace him with an Englishman.

Always willing to help them rebel were the Danes. Their interest, of course, had nothing to do with aiding a neighbour they simply hoped that in the furore of a rebellion they could sail quickly and pick up some booty while no one was looking!

Three years after the Normans came, the English in the north rose up against them and the Danes hurried to their ships to see what was in it for them. Landing, they joined the English in their march on York, where William had built two castles and filled them with Norman soldiers.

Learning of the vast numbers of the rebels, the Norman commander at York decided to burn the city. The fire, he thought, would at any rate hamper their attack and keep them away from the castles.

The plan did not work. For with the English that day in 1069 was a man who was fearless of both Normans and fire. He was Waltheof, the great Earl of Northampton and Huntingdon and he was as tall and strong as a giant, with arms like a blacksmith’s.

Unflinching, mocking the angry flames, Waltheof led his men through the fire and forced the Normans to come out at him. And as they rushed out he stood by the city gate striking at them with his battleaxe.

With each stroke a head rolled from its body and, it is said, by the end of that day the great Earl, his face glistening with sweat, his clothes scorched by the fire, had killed a hundred of the hated Normans. Their bodies were then fed to the wolves of Northumbria.

The Battle of York was a sorry defeat for the Normans. Altogether that day they lost 3,000 men, and the English burned their two castles to the ground.

By the time William, convulsed with rage, had hurried up from London to the scene of the outrage, the Danes had sailed away with their ships filled with plunder, and the English had scattered silently far and wide. The Conqueror entered a city in ruins, where the stench of acrid smoke still hung in the air and the charred embers still blistered the hardest hands.

Retribution against the common people was swift and devastating, but it was the testy retribution of an enraged man who knew he could not win an argument and lashed out at everything he saw. When he left York he left a ruined county behind him. For nine years no fields were tilled, no corn was grown in Northambria. Where once all was full of life and joy, only the blackened ruins of homes and villages could be seen.

William made sure there would be no more northern risings to trouble him, and, his anger satiated, he returned to London exhausted and eager to forget, even perhaps to forgive.

For this stern, iron-willed man could sometimes forgive, and in the fullness of time he forgave Waltheof. He gave the earl back his lands and to make his friendship more sure, he gave him his niece Judith as a wife.

William’s generosity made Waltheof a unique Englishman in England. All the important land in England had been given to Normans and Waltheof was the last of the English to be a great landowner under the domination of the Conqueror. The Norman barons, always greedy for more, did not like this situation at all.

For some years Waltheof enjoyed his privileges and retained the Conqueror’s friendship. But one day William had to make a trip to Normandy, and while he was away Waltheof received an invitation to attend the wedding of Ralph, the Earl of Norfolk, with Emma, the sister of Roger, Earl of Hereford.

Waltheof well knew the danger posed by this invitation. He knew that several times before William had declared that the wedding was not to take place, and he had expressly forbidden it before his departure for Normandy.

But the Earls of Norfolk and Hereford, although they were both Normans, were tired of William’s strict rule and were eager to find a reason to overthrow him. They thought they had a good chance while he was away in Normandy and, paying no heed to his orders, they arranged for the marriage to take place.

The wedding feast was celebrated with great splendour. When the noble guests were all heated with wine the Earl of Norfolk rose and began to make a fiery speech attacking the absent king.

“He has done many bad things,” declared the Earl. “All men hate him and would rejoice at his death.” Then, turning to Waltheof, he said, “Let us unite to throw the tyrant king out of England. When we have succeeded, we will divide the land three ways – between the Earls of Norfolk and Hereford, and our good friend Earl Waltheof.”

Waltheof seems at first to have hesitated and then hardly knowing what he did, for he had drunk so much wine, to have agreed to join them.

As soon as he was himself again, he was full of remorse. Consumed with anxiety, he went to Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury and told him what had happened at the illegal wedding feast. With some sense of the way he knew William would react, Lanfranc advised the penitent earl to go at once to Normandy and ask for the King’s pardon.

It was good advice, and Waltheof took it. He went to Normandy and there, kneeling at William’s feet, he received a dubious pardon from the outraged King, who by now was far more concerned at the turn of events in England.

For while Waltheof was travelling to Normandy, the Earls of Hereford and Norfolk had raised a rebellion against the absent King. The Danes, ever skulking about the coast, quickly rushed in to give their own kind of assistance.

William at once set sail for his kingdom, but before he reached England again Lanfranc had led the royal army against the rebels and crushed them. By the time the King’s ship docked there was peace in England again.

Waltheof hoped that this was the end of an embarrassing incident, but he hoped for too much. The truth was, William no longer trusted the English earl. The Danish fleet was still off the coast of England and William was afraid that Waltheof might form an alliance with the Danes. The earl had not been back in England for many days before he was seized and imprisoned.

Winter had temporarily withdrawn its challenge and replaced it by a small, cold sun on the day that the Council met to try the case of Earl Waltheof. It was not easy to show that he had done anything worthy of great punishment, since he had hastened to the King to confess his fault. But there were those jealous enemies, the greedy Norman barons who wanted Waltheof’s lands.

And there was Judith, the Earl’s Norman wife. She was his chief accuser, loud in condemnation of her husband, for, it was said, she had fallen in love with a Norman nobleman and wanted to marry him.

William, as head of the Council, could not make up his mind on a verdict. For months, while Waltheof languished in jail, he deliberated. At last, fearing to let the English earl go free, he passed sentence of death.

The order was given that he was to be beheaded at once, for it was feared that if the people knew what was about to happen, the English would rise to save their hero from their enemies. Thus it was that men were still in their beds when, on the last day of May, the great earl was led out to die on one of the hills which overlook the city of Winchester.

He came out dressed in all the regalia and badges of an earl. These, when he reached the place of execution, he gave to the few poor people who gathered round at that early hour to see him die. Then he knelt and prayed, for so long that the Normans who stood round grew impatient.

The headsman feared that the news that the earl was about to die would soon spread, for already the shrill voice of the cock could be heard in the distance. The earl was still praying, having fallen with his face on the ground in the earnestness of his prayers, when the headsman interrupted him, saying, “Rise we must do the bidding of our master.”

“Wait yet,” answered Waltheof. “Let me at least say the Lord’s Prayer.”

He rose and knelt down again, but as he began to pray again the headsman lost his patience. The blade fell, and Waltheof’s head rolled to the ground. Men said the head was heard to finish the prayer.

So died the last English earl – a hero to his oppressed countrymen, and a threat to their masters. The English wept for him as a martyr and after his death they honoured him as a saint and spoke of miracles that happened at his tomb.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 6th, 2014 at 8:56 am and is filed under Historical articles, History, Royalty. You can follow any comments on this article through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


The Domesday Book records that Walthamstow at the time of the Norman Conquest was composed of four separate village settlements, in forest clearings connected by tracks. The parish at the time was called Wilcumestou’, probably Old English for ‘the welcome place’, and comprised two manors. The larger of the two was held by Waltheof the Saxon Earl of Huntingdon, who married King William’s niece Judith in 1070. Waltheof was executed in 1076 for plotting against the King, and through the marriage of his daughter Alice and Ralph de Toni in 1103 the manor passed into the hands of the de Toni family, where it remained for the next two hundred years. Ralph became Lord of the Manor, renamed Walthamstow Toni, and is credited with founding the current church.

In existence by the 12th century, St.Mary’s Church raised the status of the Church End settlement, and today it is the only one of the original settlements still recognisable as a village nucleus. As the ‘centre’ of Walthamstow the Church End area prospered and grew. The Manor House of Walthamstow Toni was built on the edge of Berry Field where the Ancient House stands today. The Ancient House itself is a timber framed ‘hall’ house dating from the 15th century and was erected after the new manor house ‘Toni Hall’ was built in Shernhall Street. In 1730 Walthamstow Vestry (the Local Government of the time) erected a simple eight roomed house on a one acre site, formerly part of the Church Common, for use as a Workhouse and for Vestry meetings. The building was enlarged in 1756, 1779 and 1814 and has had a multitude of uses: Walthamstow police station, armoury, builders yard, private house and since 1931 a local museum.

The village inn (the original Nags Head) was established on the adjacent corner to the Ancient House sometime during the Tudor period, as were the Monoux Almshouses and school to the north of the church. George Monoux is an important figure in the history of Walthamstow and he was a great benefactor to the area. He was a wealthy city merchant of the Tudor period, a member and master of the Drapers Company, Lord Mayor of London 1514 and 1528, and MP for the City of London in 1523. He lived much of his life at ‘Moones’, his estate in what is now Billet Road, and was responsible for both the Almshouses and school that bears his name, a causeway and two early bridges over the Lea, and the major restoration and extension of St.Mary’s Church in which he is buried.

In the 18th and early 19th century Berry Field, part of which was the Church Common, was gradually being encroached upon, with the erection of the Workhouse (now Vestry House Museum) in 1730, the Squires Almshouses in 1795 and the National School in 1819. St.Mary’s Infants School was built in 1828 on the Vicars Glebe, the remainder of which is still recognisable today as the site of Walthamstow Girls School, a Grade II Listed neo-Georgian building of the early 20th century. In 1830, 10 Church Lane was built on land that had been part of the gardens of the Ancient House. It is a typical late Georgian house and was occupied until the early years of the 20th century by the Reed family of builders. The original Nags Head remained on the corner of Orford Road/Church End until the erection of the new pub in 1859, when both the Inn and the adjacent 18th century cottages were demolished and replaced by a grocers shop and four houses. The four houses survive today but the grocers shop was demolished in 1959.

The year 1850 saw the start of a dramatic transformation in Walthamstow as the Church Common south of Vestry House was first enclosed then split up for building purposes in 1853. The arrival of the Great Eastern railway in 1869/70 accelerated the already rapid urbanisation of the area as fields, commons and the grounds of the great houses were transformed into the terraced streets of Walthamstow that we know today. By the late 1870’s the Orford Road area with its new Town Hall, shops, school and later hospital and church hall had become the centre of town, and the old village was already a relic of the past. That the village survived this dramatic period of change largely unscathed is remarkable, and it is rightly regarded as the most important Conservation Area in the Borough.

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Waltheof (d.1076)

WALTHEOF, or Lat. Waldevus or Guallevus (d. 1076), Earl of Northumberland, was the only surviving son of Siward [q. v.], earl of Northumbria, by his first wife, Elfleda, Ælflaed, or Æthelflaed, one of three daughters of Earl Ealdred or Aldred, son of Earl Uhtred [q. v.] Waltheof was a mere boy at his father's death in 1055. From the fact that he had learned the psalter in his youth it may be conjectured that he was intended for the monastic life, that the death of his elder brother [see under Siward ] caused this intention to be abandoned, and that his early training was not without some influence on his life. At a later time he was Earl of Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire, the most probable date for his appointment being that of the downfall of Tostig [q. v.] in 1065 ( Freeman , Norman Conquest, ii. 559–60). That he took part in the battle of Fulford against the Danes is unlikely (it is asserted only by Snorro, Laing , iii. 84, where there seems a confusion between him and Edwin the brother of Morcar [q. v.]), and there is no trustworthy evidence that he was at the battle of Hastings (ib. p. 95 Freeman , u.s. iii. 352, 426, 526). Along with other great Englishmen, he was taken by the Conqueror to Normandy in 1067.

When the Danish fleet was in the Humber in September 1069, Waltheof joined it with some ships, and in the fight at York with the garrison of the castle took his stand at one of the gates, and as the French fugitives issued forth from the burning city cut them down one by one, for he was of immense strength his prowess on this occasion is celebrated by a contemporary Norse poet, who says that ‘he burnt in the hot fire a hundred of the king's henchmen’ (Corpus Poeticum Boreale, ii. 227). After the Danes had left England he went to meet the king, who was encamped by the Tees in January 1070, submitted to him, took an oath of fealty, and was restored to his earldom ( Orderic , p. 515). William gave him to wife his niece Judith, a daughter of his sister Adelaide, by Enguerrand, count of Ponthieu, and in 1072 appointed him to succeed Gospatric [q. v.] as earl of Northumberland. He was friendly with Walcher ​ [q. v.], bishop of Durham, and was always ready to enforce the bishop's decrees.

Through his mother Waltheof inherited the blood feud which had been begun by the murder of his great-grandfather, Earl Uhtred, and, hearing in 1073 that the sons of Carl, the murderer of his grandfather Ealdred, were met together with their sons to feast at the house of their eldest brother at Settrington in the East Riding, he sent a strong band of men, who fell upon them unawares, slew them all except two of Carl's sons—Canute, who was extremely popular, and Sumorled, who chanced not to be there—and returned to their lord laden with spoil of all kinds. In 1075 he was present at the wedding feast of Ralph Guader [q. v.] or Wader, earl of Norfolk and he was invited to join in the conspiracy, that was made on that occasion, to divide the whole country between him and the Earl of Norfolk and Hereford, one of them to be the king and the other two earls. He appears to have been entrapped against his will into giving his consent ( Flor. Wig. an. 1074 Orderic , pp. 534–5, represents him as refusing his consent, but swearing secrecy). He repented, and as soon as he could went to Lanfranc [q. v.] and confessed to him the unlawful oath that he had taken. The archbishop prescribed him a penance, and counselled him to go to the king, who was then in Normandy, and lay the whole matter before him. He went to William, told him what he had done, offered him treasure, and implored his forgiveness. The king took the matter lightly, and Waltheof remained with him until his return to England, when the rebellion was over. Before long, however, the Danish fleet, which had been invited over by the rebels, appeared in the Humber, and the king caused Waltheof to be arrested and imprisoned.

At Christmas he was brought to trial before the king at Winchester, on the charge of having been privy to, and having abetted, the late rebellion, his wife Judith informing against him. He allowed that he knew of the conspiracy, but flatly denied that he had in any way abetted it. Sentence was deferred, and he was committed to stricter custody at Winchester than before. In prison he passed his time in seeking to make his peace with God by prayers, watchings, fastings, and alms-giving, often weeping bitterly, and daily, it is said, reciting the whole psalter, which he had learned in his youth (ib. p. 536 For. Wig. ) He is also said to have besought the king to allow him to become a monk (Liber de Hyda, p. 294).

Lanfranc expressed his conviction that the earl was innocent of treason and that his penitence was sincere ( For. Wig. ) That he did take the oath of conspiracy seems as certain as that he speedily repented of doing so. It is probable that the other conspirators, with or without his assent, used his name to induce the Danes, with whom it would have great influence, to invade England that he did not tell this to the king, and possibly was not aware of it and that when William found that the Danish fleet had come, he thought far more seriously of Waltheof's part in the conspiracy than before, and was led by his niece, the earl's wife, to believe, truly or falsely, that her husband was the cause of their coming.

On 15 May 1076 his case was considered in the king's court he was condemned to death for having consented when men were plotting against the life of his lord, for not having resisted them, and for having forborne publicly to denounce their conspiracy. The order for his execution was soon sent down to Winchester, and early on the morning of the 31st he was led forth from prison before the citizens had risen from their beds, for his guards feared that a rescue might be attempted, and was taken to St. Giles's Hill, which overlooks the city. He wore the robes of his rank as earl, and when he came to the place where he was to be beheaded distributed them among the clergy and the few poor men who happened to be present. He asked that he might say the Lord's prayer. When he had said ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ his voice was choked with tears. The headsman would wait no longer he drew his sword, and with one blow cut off the earl's head. The bystanders declared that they heard the severed head clearly pronounce the last words of the prayer, ‘but deliver us from evil, Amen.’

Waltheof was tall, well made, and extra-ordinarily strong. Matchless as a warrior, he was weak and unstable in character he seems to have been made a tool of by the conspirators in 1075, and was probably so deficient in insight as to interpret the Conqueror's clemency to him in 1070 as a sign of weakness, and the subsequent favour that he showed him as a proof that his importance was far greater than it really was. In spite of his vengeance on the family of Carl, which must be viewed in connection with the barbarous state of the north and with the doings of his immediate ancestors, he was a religious man, a constant and devout attendant on divine services, and very liberal to the clergy, monks, and poor. He enriched the abbey of Crowland in South Lincolnshire, bestowing on it the lordship of Bar ​ nack in Northamptonshire, to help Abbot Ulfcytel in building his new church, and placed his cousin Morkere, the younger son of Ligulf [see under Walcher ] by Waltheof's mother's sister, at Jarrow to be educated as a monk, giving the convent with him the church and lordship of Tynemouth ( Symeon , Historia Regum, c. 166 Monasticon, i. 236). Nevertheless he unjustly kept possession of two estates in Northamptonshire that had been given to Peterborough by his stepmother, and had after her death been held, with the consent of the convent, by his father Siward for his life. He entered into an agreement with the abbot Leofric, in the presence of Edward the Confessor, by which he received five marcs of gold in consideration of at once giving up one of the estates, keeping the other for his life, but broke the agreement and kept both. During the reign of Harold he repented, and, going to Peterborough, assured the convent that both should come to it on his death (Codex Diplomaticus, iv. No. 927) they were, however, both held by the widow (Norman Conquest, iv. 257).

Waltheof's execution was an unprecedented event, and the Conqueror, who, though terrible in his punishments, never condemned any one else to death, must have been influenced in his case by some special consideration such as would be afforded by the belief that he was the main cause of a foreign invasion. The act of severity has been regarded as the turning point in William's reign, and was believed to have been connected with his subsequent troubles and ill-success ( Freeman , u.s. p. 605 Orderic , p. 544). Though his father was a Dane by birth, Waltheof was regarded as a champion of English freedom and a national hero, and his penitence and death caused him to be venerated by the English as a saint and martyr. His body was first buried hastily at the place of execution a fortnight later the Conqueror, at Judith's request, allowed Abbot Ulfcytel to remove it to Crowland, where it was buried in the chapter-house of the abbey. Ten years later Ulfcytel was deposed, possibly because he encouraged the reverence paid to the earl's memory at Crowland ( Freeman ). His successor, Ingulf [q. v.], caused Waltheof's body to be translated and laid in the church in 1092, when, on the coffin being opened, it was found to be undecayed and to have the head united to it, a red line only marking the place of severance. Miracles began to be worked in great number at the martyr's new tomb ( Orderic Will. Malm. Miracula S. Waldevi). The next abbot, Geoffrey (d. 1124), though he was a Frenchman, would not allow a word to be spoken in disparagement of the earl, and was rewarded with a vision of Waltheof in company with St. Bartholomew and St. Guthlac, when the apostle and the hermit made up by their alternate remarks an hexameter line to the effect that Waltheof was no longer headless, and, though he had been an earl, was then a king ( Orderic ). Under the next abbot, Waltheof, the son of Gospatric, the monks sent to the English-born Orderic, who had beforetime visited their house, to write an epitaph for the earl, which he did and inserted in his ‘History.’

Waltheof left three daughters. The eldest, Matilda, married, first, Simon de Senlis, who was in consequence made earl of Northampton [q. v.] by him she was mother of Waltheof (d. 1159) [q. v.] she married, secondly, David I [q. v.] king of Scotland. The second, Judith, married Ralph of Toesny, the younger and the third married Robert FitzRichard [see under Clare, Richard de , (d. 1090?)] ( William of Jumièges , viii. 37). His widow Judith founded a house of Benedictine nuns at Elstow, near Bedford (Monasticon, iii. 411).

[Flor. Wig. (Engl. Hist. Soc.) A.-S. Chron. ed. Plummer Orderic, Will. of Jumièges (both ed. Duchesne) Sym. Dunelm., Will. of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum, Liber de Hyda (all Rolls Ser.) Will. of Poit. ed. Giles Vita et Passio Wadevi, Miracula S. Waldevi ap. Chron. Angl.-Norm. vol. ii. ed. Michel, of no historical value except as regards the cult Corp. Poet. Bor. Freeman's Norm. Conq.]

The History of Fotheringhay Castle

While in the UK on my Mary Queen of Scots tour, we visited many historic sites associated with her life story. This included a trip to Fotheringhay Castle, the scene of her execution on February 8, 1587. There is virtually nothing left of this significant castle but I climbed twenty three feet up to the top of the motte, looking down on the River Nene and across to the village and church and couldn’t help but feel something significant happened here. It turns out this castle has a pretty incredible history encompassing more than just Mary’s execution.

The motte of Fotheringhay Castle (Photo by the author)

From the north, we entered the site through one of those crisscross gates. The land is a working sheep farm. To the west, there was a picturesque view of the village with the lantern tower of the church in full view. To the east, there was a field but you could tell there were some buildings existed on the spot at one time. Most likely this was the location of the Great Hall where Mary’s execution took place. And to the south the River Nene was lazily flowing by.

It is believed that in the time of the Angles and the Danes there was a ford over the river here before the bridge was built and a mound was erected to oversee and defend the crossing. Domesday Book which was commissioned by William the Conqueror indicates that Judith of Lens owned the manor at Fotheringhay. Judith was a niece of William, being the daughter of his sister Adelaide of Normandy, Countess of Aumale. In 1070, Judith married Earl Waltheof of Huntingdon and Northumbria. They had three children, their eldest daughter being named Maud.

The River Nene flows by the south of the site of Fotheringhay Castle (Photo by the author)

Maud was married to Simon de St. Liz (Senlis), the Earl of Huntingdon and Northampton and he was the first to build a castle at Fotheringhay. This building was most likely made of wood and the present motte and inner bailey are possibly his work. The site was chosen to control an important river crossing but the castle probably was never considered an important military stronghold.

After Simon de St. Liz died in 1113, King Henry I of England arranged for his widow Maud to marry Prince David of Scotland. David gained domination over Maud’s vast estates in England including Fotheringhay. David became King of Scots in 1124 and Fotheringhay was passed on to his son Henry and his grandsons King Malcolm IV and King William the Lion. William gave the castle to his brother David, 8th Earl of Huntingdon who was one of the barons who rebelled against King John in 1215. King John seized Fotheringhay and it was granted to William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. He managed to hang on to the property until December 1219 when he gave the castle to King Henry III.

View of the village and church of Fotheringhay from the top of the motte of the castle (Photo by the author)

At some point in the thirteenth century, the wooden castle was replaced with stone. Fotheringhay was considered to be part of the dowry of King Henry’s sister Joan when she was married to Alexander II, King of Scots although control was never actually transferred to Alexander. In 1221, custody of the castle was given to Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent. William II de Forz, 3rd Earl of Albemarle rebelled against King Henry III and captured Fotheringhay, installing his own garrison. Henry raised a royal army which he took to Fotheringhay and Forz fled rather than meet them. King Henry retained control of the castle and it remained in royal possession until the reign of King Edward II when it was granted to John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond.

When John of Brittany died, his granddaughter Mary St. Pol inherited it. Mary was an interesting woman. In 1321 she married Aymer de Valance, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke and half-brother of King Henry III. Aymer died three years later. They had no children and Mary lived at Fotheringhay in her widowhood devoting herself to religion. In a charter from King Edward III in 1347, Marie was given the authority to found a house of scholars in Cambridge. In memory of her husband, she gave part of her fortune to the university, allowing students to study there and also gave property for them to live in. It is known as Pembroke College and it is the oldest college with an unbroken constitution from its foundation to survive on its original site.

There are historical records from 1341 indicating a stone tower stood on the motte. Also mentioned, within the inner bailey, are two chapels, a great hall, chambers and a kitchen. A group of buildings known as The Manor lay north west of the motte on the site of the Castle Farm. When Mary St. Pol died in 1377, by Royal Grant the castle was passed on to Edmund Langely, the fourth surviving son of King Edward III. Edmund was responsible for spending a great deal of money considerably enlarging and rebuilding the castle. In 1385, Edmund was granted the title of Duke of York and Fotheringhay became the principal seat of the Yorkists. Edmund died in 1402 and was succeeded by his eldest son Edward. Edward died at Agincourt in 1415 supposedly of the heat from being locked in his armor. His dying wish was to be buried in the collegiate church at Fotheringhay and he was interred there in December 1415.

Fotheringhay passed on to Edward’s brother Richard Plantagenet, Earl of Cambridge who was beheaded on suspicion of conspiracy against King Henry V. His son, Richard, Duke of York inherited the castle and it became the favored home of the Yorkist family. King Richard III was born at Fotheringhay in 1452 and Margaret of York, the future Duchess of Burgundy is believed to have been born here in 1446. During the height of the War of the Roses, Richard, Duke of York fought for the throne of England and his wife, Cecily Neville supported her husband’s efforts. Richard died at the Battle of Wakefield along with his son Edmund, Earl of Rutland in December 1460. Cecily’s eldest son did become King Edward IV and she soon received confirmation of her lands and rights. As a widow with enormous personal wealth she continued her patronage of religious houses and the college founded by her husband at Fotheringhay. She outlived her husband by thirty six years and adopted the role of Yorkist matriarch and entertained guests at the castle.

After her daughter Margaret left to marry Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in June of 1468, Cecily moved to Berkhamstead Castle. Fotheringhay was granted to her son King Edward along with other estates. By 1469, King Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville would occasionally make Fotheringhay their residence. After Cecily Neville died in 1495, King Henry VII gave Fotheringhay to his wife, Elizabeth of York, King Edward IV’s daughter. King Henry VIII gave the castle to his wife Katherine of Aragon as part of her dower and she spent a great deal of money restoring the castle.

Under Queen Mary I, Fotheringhay became a state prison when Edward Courtenay was held in custody there on the charge of being implicated in the rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Queen Elizabeth I visited Fotheringhay in 1566. She may have remembered this visit when later in her reign she chose the castle as the place to hold the trial and execution of Mary Queen of Scots. The castle site was in a marshy landscape and access was difficult, especially during the heart of winter. The authorities thought it was a secure place and would discourage rash attempts to rescue her.

Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate her throne in July of 1567, turning it over to her infant son who became James VI, King of Scots. For unexplained reasons, after a daring escape from Lochleven Castle, she rode south to England, placing herself at the mercy of Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth never forgave Mary for claiming the throne of England and held her in genteel custody. For the nearly twenty years of her captivity, Mary was the subject of many conspiracies and plots to kill Elizabeth and put herself on the throne. Eventually, through the efforts of a spy network orchestrated by Sir Francis Walsingham, Mary was implicated in what was called the Babington Plot. There was written confirmation that Mary was willing to kill Elizabeth and take the throne.

The Great Hall of Fotheringhay Castle most likely stood on this grassy area below the motte (Photo by the author)

After the intercession of the English Parliament, Mary was brought to trial at Fotheringhay in the Great Hall on October 14 and 15, 1586. She was found guilty on October 25 and sentenced to death. Queen Elizabeth signed the death warrant on February 1, 1587 and her ministers hastened the execution before she changed her mind. Mary was told on February 7 that her execution was set for the next day. Mary spent the night executing her will and attending to her affairs.

There are different accounts of the execution but the tradition is that the executioner botched the job and it took several blows to sever the head. When the executioner went to pick up the head, he picked it up by the hair, only to have the hair remain in his hand and the head roll away as Mary was wearing a wig. One version of the story has one of Mary’s dogs emerging from underneath her skirts, refusing to leave her corpse. Mary’s corpse was kept at the castle until July when it was taken to Peterborough Cathedral and buried there.

A description of the castle exists from 1625. After that, Fotheringhay was abandoned and gradually all its stone masonry and walls were demolished with the materials being used to build other buildings. The Great Hall was stripped of its furnishings in 1628. The staircase Mary Queen of Scots had descended to her execution was used in the Talbot Inn in Oundle and can still be seen there today. The castle was fully gone by the eighteenth century.

All that is left of the masonry of Fotheringhay Castle. Plaques commemorate King Richard III on the left and Mary Queen of Scots on the right (Photo by the author)

A large block of limestone rubble, all that exists of the castle, sits beside the river surrounded by an iron fence. It was put there in 1913. There are three plaques on the fence. One states this is all that remains of Fotheringhay castle. One was placed there by the Stuart History Society and commemorates the death of Mary Queen of Scots. The third plaque was set up by the Richard III Society and commemorates the birth of King Richard. This is a small memento of the momentous events that occurred here. It’s a pity there isn’t more of this historic monument left.

Further reading: “Fotheringhay and Mary Queen of Scots” by Cuthbert Bede, “Cecily Neville, Mother of Kings” by Amy License

History of the Tower Gardens Estate

“Tottenham is first mentioned in written records in Domesday Book (1086), when the Lord of the Manor was Waltheof, son of Gospatric, Earl of Northumberland. Both father and son are commemorated in local street names.” (Haringey Before Our Time, Ian Murray, 1993)

Note: Waltheof Road, Waltheof Gardens and Gospatrick Road are all on the Tower Gardens Estate. The main gates of Lordship Rec are directly opposite Waltheof Road.

In the second half of the 19th century the population of Tottenham increased approximately ten-fold, and by the end of 1900 Tottenham was a village suburb of London, still surrounded by fields, but connected to London by railway and tramline. With the establishment of White Hart Lane Estate (now Tower Gardens Estate) and the Urban

District of Tottenham in the 1920s the last of the remaining farmland was lost. Today, Tottenham forms part of the Borough of Haringey lying within Greater London one of the world’s largest conurbations.

Tower Gardens Estate itself was built in two principal phases, the first occurring between 1899 and 1914 the second, somewhat extended phase, involving the northern streets, including Gospatrick and Henningham Roads, was essentially completed in the late thirties, although De Quincey Road and Morteyne Road were built as early as 1914-15, and Topham Square was developed as a special project in 1924 to house families coming from poor housing in Shoreditch.

The estate occupies a special place in history as one of the world’s first garden suburbs. It consists of low rise and almost entirely residential buildings, and possesses high architectural standards. Most of the estate (the whole southern side, and part of the northern side), was designated as a Conservation Area by the Council in 1978.

The area south of Risley Avenue was designed by W. E. Riley mainly as a rectangular grid of terraced houses with two storeys and constructed with red or yellow London stock brickwork some of these houses are gabled and faced by slate and ceramic tiling in a style that reflects the Arts and Crafts movement.

Many of the flats and houses north of Risley Avenue were designed by G. Topham Forrest after 1918, and much influenced by Belgian trends compared with the earlier layout the housing is less dense, initially incorporated four allotment gardens, and is organized around a central axis, namely Waltheof Gardens, which provided for tennis
courts and a community club.

The ‘butterfly’ junction of Risley Avenue and Awlfield Avenue is very characteristic of the Garden City approach to housing initiated by Ebenezer Howard in his classic work: ‘Garden Cities of To-morrow’ from which first the Garden City movement and later the notion of a Garden Suburb emerged. (The book was first published in 1898 with the title: ‘To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform’.)

“Its object is, in short to raise the standard of health and comfort of all true workers of whatever grade – the means by which these objects are to be achieved being a healthy, natural, and economic combination of town and country life, and this on land owned by the municipality.” (Ebenezer Howard 1898)



  • 1903: First house built on the estate, on the north side of Lordship Lane in North Tottenham. The whole area was fields and farmland. London County Council are given land in order to build quality housing and gardens an ‘urban garden estate’ – for working class people currently in overcrowded homes in Tower Hamlets (despite opposition from the local press and Councillors). hence the estate is named Tower Gardens. However, from the beginning many people refer to it as the ‘White Hart Lane Estate’, which later comes to cover a much wider area of homes built later on.


  • 1910-11 Local allotment sites laid out.
  • 1914: First wave of 954 homes completed, and put on the rented market. The rents are fairly expensive for many who had hoped to move to the estate, and tend to be occupied by working class artisans and the ‘working poor’.
  • 1914: Residents send delegation to the London County Council to demand a public hall be built on the estate for residents, as originally agreed by the architect in 1911.


  • White Hart Lane Estate Welfare Association [WHLEWA], based on the Tower Gardens Estate, is formed in 1919 and organises a wide range of well-supported activities, events, sub-committees etc over the next 20-30 years, including whist drives, dances, sports clubs (including cricket, bowls, netball, tennis, football, cycling and swimming), annual sports days, ‘mums and dads’ days in August, flower competitions/garden club and a savings/loan club. A monthly Newsletter (delivered by street reps to all homes) is produced up to the 1950s.
  • In particular residents continue to campaign unsuccessfully for their own meeting hall, and to be able to meet in the council-run estate office (which the Council refuse).
  • Fireworks and bonfires are organised annually in many streets on Nov 5 th (at least up to 1945 when the LCC set up ‘anti-bonfire patrols’).
  • Another long-running tradition (which may have continued up till the ‘80s) is by neighbours commemorating a local death by making financial collections, and laying wreaths on the pavement outside the home of the deceased.
  • 1924: Topham Square flats completed.
  • New, poorer residents begin to arrive, via LCC waiting lists, in the 1920s and ‘30s from demolished areas of central London.
  • 1929: After 10 years of proudly holding their own garden competitions, the Garden Club is invited by the LCC to take part in an LCC one for local residents. There is controversy when LCC judges produce a disparaging, negative report.


  • The WHLEWA lobbies the LCC for improvements for domestic electric lighting, baths, hot water, rent reductions. All requests refused.
  • 1938: the Loan Club has 800 members it removes £18,000 from their bank for a xmas payout.
  • Street parties held throughout the estate on the date of the royal ‘silver jubilee’ and also the 1937 coronation (dates tbc).
  • Many ‘better off’ residents move out to the new suburbs in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
  • 1936: 10,000 people attend the public opening of Lordship Recreation Ground, opposite the estate.


  • Bomb dropped on The Roundway, killing at least one resident. Street parties held throughout the estate at the end of the war to celebrate peace.
  • Local Garden Club and Loan Club continue to flourish
  • Residents take over the Waltheof Club (which had been a private building) for a community centre.


  • Large and lively sports days organised in 1952 and ‘53 in the Tower Gardens by the WHLE Residents Association (note name change).
  • The Garden Club and Loan club continue to be very active. But the WHLERA newsletter ceases.
  • 1959: The Morris House surgery opens one of the first purpose built health clinics in the country.


  • The WHLERA has a brief revival and successfully lobbies Tottenham Council for safety barriers in Tower Gardens park, repairs to local roads and improvements to school toilets and playgrounds.


  • 1978: The pre-1915 parts of the estate (the southern areas i.e. most of the homes) are designated a Conservation Area.
  • Haringey Council take over the management of the estate (from the GLC).


  • 1980: New ‘Right to Buy’ laws lead to increasing percentage of private ownership of local homes. In 1981 Haringey Council bring in Design Guidelines to protect the historic character of the homes in the conservation area.
  • Early ‘80s: Tower Gardens Estate Conservation Committee very active.
  • Tower Gardens Residents Association and other residents campaign for the regeneration of the Tower Gardens park, and for a new Playcentre.
  • June 1985 ‘House and Home’, a BBC programme about the estate, is broadcast
  • Residents blockade prevents traveller caravans occupying Waltheof green.
  • 1988-90 30-40 local residents in ‘short-life’ accommodation campaign, with some success, for full tenancies. They hold local protests and some evictions are resisted. A well-supported residents petition calls for all local empty properties to be brought into use for the homeless.


  • 1990: Waltheof Club members campaign for Roundway crossing.
  • A neighbours dispute in Tower Gardens Rd leads to a tragic murder.
  • Mid -1990s: A neighbourhood watch group is formed for a couple of years.
  • Playcentre parents group organise summit meeting over safety in the TGs park.
  • 1998: Tower Gardens Residents Network [TGRN] formed. Meets at least monthly throughout the next 5 years. Organises a wide range of activities, public meetings and campaigns, and regularly leaflets the estate. Members receive monthly bulletins.
  • The Tower Gardeners gardening club formed. Organises trips, new planting on verges around the estate, and campaigns for improvements to the TGs park.


  • 2000: The TGRN and a firm of consultants each separately conduct a successful survey of residents views and concerns – with similar results. They show traffic calming and better facilities (especially for youth) as top priorities.
  • 2000: TGRN launch campaign for traffic calming and Home Zone improvements. Estate officially designated as a ‘Home Zone’ development area. Major works programme (£1m) starts in 2001, and continues until 2005.
  • 2001: The association actively helps to launch the Haringey Federation of Residents Associations
  • Regeneration works are done in the Tower Gardens park following a series of public planning meetings involving the Tower Gardeners, TGRN and Haringey Council.
  • TGRN continues to be active until the end of Dec 2003 [membership – 212 households], but declines during 2004.
  • 2006. A residents association is re-formed.

Info from ‘A History of Life on the Tower Gardens Estate’ by Diana Bligh (1996) – based on source documentation and oral history. [Copy in Bruce Castle Museum]. Updated to 2004 from TGRN archives.

2 Inaccurate: Blood Feuds

Uhtred the Bold was still surrounded by blood feuds, don't be mistaken. But he wasn't necessarily the one who saw them through. Uhtred the Bold was killed in Thurbrand the Hold in 1016 after Ethelred had lost control of England to King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark a few years earlier.

Thurbrand was then killed by one of Uhtred's sons, Ealdred. He was then killed by Thurbrand's son, Carl. Ealdred's grandson then took vengeance for his family years later. Such a loving family.

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Watch the video: 54 Waltheof Road (May 2022).