Malcolm III and Tostig Godwineson

September 3, 2015 by Mercedes Rochelle | Filed under General Topics, Malcolm Canmore, The Sons of Godwine.

The friendship between Earl Tostig and King Malcolm of Scotland seems to have been largely overlooked, but it seems to me that it had a significant impact on Tostig’s career. When Tostig was made Earl of Northumbria in 1055, Malcolm had been unofficial king for a year or so. As usual, there is much confusion regarding this period, but it is thought that Malcolm reigned over Lothian and Strathclyde, or Cumbria, south of the Firth of Forth. He would not officially be crowned while Macbeth lived, as presumably Macbeth still ruled in the northern part of Scotland.

In Wikipedia’s entry about Earl Siward’s Dunsinane campaign, it was stated that “It has been suggested that the chief consequence of Siward’s expedition was not the overthrow of Mac Bethad, but the transfer of British territory—perhaps previously lying under Scottish suzerainty—to Northumbrian overlordship.” If so, it’s possible that Malcolm swore fealty to King Edward for Lothian and Strathclyde and ruled there under the careful eye of his uncle Siward…for a year. But broken by the death of his son at Dinsinane, Siward died and the King awarded Northumbria to his favorite, Tostig.

It’s hard to say what overlordship Tostig may have had in relation to Malcolm. But what we do know is that in 1057, Tostig joined Malcolm’s final expedition against Macbeth. They tracked down and defeated the fleeing king at Lumphanan in Abersdeenshire; Macbeth allegedly died a few days later at Scone. According to E.A. Freeman, Edward’s biographer tells us that “Macbeth…was first defeated by Siward, then by Tostig.” (Vol 3, Appendix EE). So in some eyes, Tostig carried on the conflict begun by his predecessor. It seems he must have had a vested interest.

He went on to create a very strong friendship with Malcolm. In 1059, Malcolm accompanied Tostig to King Edward’s court in 1059 (first visit by a Scottish monarch in 80 years). Somewhere in that time frame, Tostig and Malcom became sworn brothers: blood brothers, as it were. This was a strong tie between rulers, but it seems that Tostig took it more seriously than Malcolm, for the Scots raided across the border whenever it suited them and Tostig seems often to have responded with diplomacy rather than reprisals. This was much to the dissatisfaction of his earldom, who seem to have thought him ineffectual in defending them. But this wasn’t all; according to Freeman, Tostig’s growing unpopularity made it hard for him to raise troops, which sounds like a vicious cycle. It culminated in 1061 while Tostig was on pilgrimage with his brother Gyrth (now Earl of East Anglia) and his favorite Bishop, Ealdred. Apparently Malcolm led the most vicious of all raids deep into Northumbria, and even the sacred abbey of Lindisfarne was not spared. When Tostig returned home, once again he apparently resorted to negotiation, for no further mention is made of violence from either side.

Could it be that Tostig wanted to ensure his welcome if the occasion arose? It seems unlikely he knew what was brewing in his earldom in 1065, for he was frequently in the company of King Edward, neglecting his earldom. When the terrible and well-planned revolt broke out in Northumbria and all 200+ of his household were killed, Tostig was once again in far-off south, hunting with the King. You can read more of the Northumbrian revolt here. Tostig was forced into exile, and the next time he set foot on English soil, he was an outlaw intent on revenge. This most likely took place around May of 1066.

After an aborted raid on Sandwich, he sailed north and stopped at the Humber, but Edwin and Morcar were ready for him and drove his little fleet away. At this juncture, most of his allies (volunteers or impressed into service) melted away, and he limped off with only seven of his original sixty boats in tow. This is when his friendship with Malcolm really gave him a boost, for the King of the Scots welcomed his sworn brother with open arms and reportedly gave him sanctuary for the rest of the summer. From this safe haven, Tostig is said to have recruited Scottish mercenaries as well as allies from the Orkney Islands, who were planning to join Harald Hardrada’s September invasion. King Malcolm did not accompany Tostig on his last campaign, but it is supposed he saw him off with a fond farewell.

I wonder if he said “good riddance” under his breath.


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