Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Wulfric Spott - A Mercian Man of Means

Last month I wrote about Anglo-Saxon names, and mentioned Eadric Streona (the 'Grasping'). He does come into this story, but I wanted to talk about another man with an odd name: Wulfric Spott, a Mercian man of means.

Wulfric Spott was a man of wealth, but he wasn't an ealdorman; he was 'merely' a thegn, but he witnessed 43 charters as a minister and he had lands in Staffordshire and Derbyshire, estates in Shropshire, Leciestershire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire. His will also refers to lands in South Lancashire and Cheshire. He was the founder of Burton Abbey at Burton on Trent.

Confirmation of Wulfric's will, 1004

Straight away his will demonstrates his wealth:
First I grant to my lord 200 mancuses of gold, and two silver-hilted swords and four horses, two saddled and two unsaddled, and the weapons which are due with them.
A mancus of gold would be the equivalent of 4.25g, or a unit of around 30 pieces of silver.

Wulfric makes various other grants of land, but to his daughter he leaves a portion of land which seems to be exempt from the usual terms:
And the land at Tamworth is not to be subject to any service not to any man born, but she is to have the lordship.
As well as bequests of huge parcels of land - "And I grant to Aelfhelm and Wulheah the lands between the Ribble and the Mersey, and in Wirral" - he leaves personal items:
And I grant to my god-daughter,[the daughter] of Morcar and Ealdgyth, the estate at Stretton and the brooch which was her grandmother's.
The family of Wulfric Spott was one of the most influential and powerful of its day, with branches linked to the royal family and a regular involvement in power struggles and political rivalry. 

Wulfric seated on a horse, wielding a sword and clad in mail
Wulfric, from an 18th C pencil drawing of the stained glass window at Hall Hill, Abbot's Bromley

Wulfric Spott's brother Aelfhelm, ealdorman of Northumbria, was murdered in 1006, and his sons Wulfheah and Ufegeat were blinded. Wulfheah was one of the prominent ministri during the reign of Aethelred II (the Unready) and it's generally believed that Eadric Streona, ealdorman of Mercia 1007-1017, was Aelfhelm's murderer. His rise to power certainly would not have been hindered by the removal of prominent men who surrounded the king. The rivalry does not seem to have stopped there, for Eadric is named as the murderer of Sigeferth and Morcar, thegns of the Seven boroughs*. These brothers were members of this same family; Morcar was married to Wulfric Spott's niece. There is a possibility that they were related to King Aethelred  through his marriage to the daughter of Thored of Northumbria. 

Vacillating between the causes of Edmund Ironside and Cnut in the war of 1015-16, Eadric was playing a dangerous game. Edmund had defied his father, Aethelred II, and married Sigeferth's widow, thereby gaining the allegiance of the Northern Danelaw. Cnut's English wife, Aelfgifu of Northampton, was the daughter of the murdered Aelfhelm and the cousin of Ealdgyth, Morcar's widow. 

It is also possible that this family was connected to that of Leofwine, who held Eadric's ealdordom after the latter's death. His son Leofric succeeded him, and his son Aelfgar married Aelfgifu , who may have been the daughter of Ealdgyth and Morcar.

The Encomium Emmae Reginae shows us how important this family was. 

The Encomium Emmae Reginae - Emma receives it from the author
(her sons Harthacnut and Edward are in the background)

It was written for Cnut's second wife Emma, as a propaganda exercise for the claims of her son, Harthacnut, and in Book III it denies that Harald is Cnut's son. This in itself is not enough to refute Harald's claims, and the Encomium further denies that he is Aelfgifu of Northampton's son. Clearly his position as her son is important. If Emma denies that he is of this family, then she is not attacking them. The importance of Aelfgifu's kinship is clear, and Emma does not wish to offend this great family.

It's not clear exactly when Wulfric died, but the charter issued by Aethelred confirming his will is dated 1004 (pictured above) so we must assume that he died before this date. His mother, Wulfrun, was a noblewoman, after whom Wolverhampton is named. Hers was the only recorded name among the hostages taken by Olafr Gothfrithson when he took Tamworth in AD940. The fact that Wulfric Spott was also known as Wulfric son of Wulfrun, rather than of his father, suggests that she was a wealthy woman whose status outranked her spouse's.

From his will, it's clear that Wulfric did not squander any of the family fortune.

*The Five Boroughs or The Five Boroughs of the Danelaw were the five main towns of Danish Mercia (what is now the East Midlands). These were Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford.  There is a unique 1015 reference to the 'Seven Boroughs', which may have been included Torksey and York.


  1. I'm a bit confused...How does denying that Harald is Aefgifu's and Cnut's son not attack Aelfgifu? She had said that Harald was her son.

    1. It's the subtle difference of saying "I'm attacking this man's claims, but because I refute that he's your son, I'm not attacking you." But also the suggestion that it's simply not enough to say he is not Cnut's son, but he's not hers either - and thereby acknowledging, tacitly, the importance of the family. As you know, the Encomium was a powerful and very clever piece of work.

  2. Also confusing that Sigeferth's widow was also called Ealdgyth (modern Edith?). I live near Burton and must visit the Abbey now. I think there is a shopping centre in Wolverhampton called the Wilfruin Centre.

    1. Yes - I always get confused by the two Ealdgyths. I say two, there were many more, but two in the same family both connected to a Morcar is extra challenging! Yes, it is the modern Edith - much easier on the eye!

  3. Ealdgyth, Aelgifu and Elgiva are such common names among Anglo SAxon aristocracy. In the case of Edwy the Fair almost every female relative is called this. (especially his wife)

  4. Yes indeed - lots of women called Aelfgifu. And Aelfgifu wife of Eadwig's mother was called Aethelgifu, just to confuse matters even more! :-)

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