The Northumbrian Coup Against Earl Tostig


Tostig Godwinson became the Earl of Northumbria in 1055. His brother was Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex and his brother-in-law was King Edward the Confessor of England (r. 1042-1066). Encouraged by his own power and that of his relations, Earl Tostig began to act tyrannically in Northumbria, angering his local liegemen in various ways. The least nefarious of these abuses was a poorly explained increase on Northumbrian taxes. More scandalous, however, were the assassinations of several noblemen that occurred at that time in Northumbria, which the locals attributed to the machinations of Tostig and the fellow members of his House of Godwin.

By 1065, the Northumbrians were fed up with Tostig’s rule. According to the chronicler, Florence of Worcester (d. 1117), the assassinations of three prominent Northumbrians (named of Cospatric, Gamel and Ulf) were what finally caused the region to rebel against its tyrannical leader. Around October 3, 1065, a coup was reportedly launched by a group of local Northumbrian noblemen. At a time when Earl Tostig was away from Northumbria, the members of the coup marched with a small army to the earl’s seat of power at York. The rebellious force skillfully infiltrated the city, systematically executed around two hundred of Tostig’s loyal administrators, and seized control of the treasury and armory in York. With the city of York firmly in the conspirators’ hands, the maneuverings in Northumbria against Tostig transitioned out of the shadows and became a more public affair. Noblemen and peasants rallied behind the coup, and an anti-Tostig army was mobilized which reached a formidable size.

Earl Harold Godwinson led the English response to the Northumbrian revolt, leading on behalf of the increasingly ill King Edward the Confessor. By the time he and his army arrived on the scene of the rebellion, Harold Godwinson found the Northumbrians organized and well-led by a prospective earl named Morcar. As Morcar’s leadership among the rebels was stable and his Northumbrian army had formidable strength, Harold Godwinson was not enthusiastic about attacking the rebel force, even if it was his brother Tostig’s earldom that was at stake. Instead of going to war and crushing the rebellion, Harold Godwinson instead opened up negotiations with Morcar and the rebel leadership. During these negotiations between the English army and the Northumbrian rebels, Harold Godwinson did not put up much of a fight for his tyrannical brother, Tostig. Instead, England accepted Morcar as the new Earl of Northumbria, and Tostig Godwinson was outlawed.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Image from page 44 of “The book of the Bayeux tapestry” edited by Hilaire Belloc (c. 1914), [Public Domain] via flickr and Creative Commons).


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