Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Siward (d.1055)

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SIWARD, Earl of Northumberland (d. 1055), called Digera or the strong (Vita Ædwardi, p. 401), a Dane, is said to have been the son of a Danish jarl named Biorn. According to legend he was descended from a white bear and a lady. Fitting out a ship, he is said to have sailed to Orkney, where he overcame a dragon, went thence to Northumbria, and, in obedience to a supernatural command, to London, where he entered the service of King Edward the Confessor. In that capacity he is described as slaying Tostig, the Earl of Huntingdon, who was stated to be the queen's brother-in-law, and he received Tostig's earldom (Origo et Gesta Siwardi ap. Scriptores rerum Danicarum, iii. 288; Bromton, cols. 945–6). As a matter of fact, he probably came to England with Canute, and received the earldom of Deira after the death of Eadwulf Cutel, the earl of Northumbria, when the Northumbrian earldom appears to have been divided (Sym. Dunelm. i. 219). He is described as earl in the attestation of a charter dated 1026 (Codex Dipl. iv. No. 742; if this charter is genuine, Freeman's belief as to the date when Siward became earl, Norman Conquest, i. 587, and n. 1, needs modification). He married Ælflæd, daughter of Ealdred, earl of Bernicia, the nephew of Eadwulf Cutel. In 1041 he was employed by Hardecanute [q. v.], along with Earls Godwin [q. v.] and Leofric [q. v.], to ravage Worcestershire. At the king's instigation [see under Hardecanute] he in this year slew his wife's uncle Eadwulf, who had succeeded his brother Ealdred in Bernicia, and received his earldom, becoming earl of the whole of Northumberland from the Humber to the Tweed (Sym. Dunelm. i. 91), and also held, probably at a later date, the earldom of Huntingdonshire (Codex Dipl. iv. No. 903; Norman Conquest, i. 792, 3rd ed.). He accompanied Edward the Confessor from Gloucester to Winchester when, in 1043, the king seized the treasures of his mother Emma [q. v.] Ethelric, bishop of Durham, complained to him in 1045, that he had been driven out from his bishopric by the clerks of Durham, for he had been elected against their will; he offered the earl money to reinstate him, and Siward compelled the clerks to receive him back (Sym. Dunelm. u.s.).

Siward upheld Edward the Confessor [q. v.] in his quarrel with Godwin in 1051. The story that he joined Archbishop Stigand [q. v.] and Earls Godwin and Leofric, in advising the king to appoint Duke William as his successor, and in swearing to uphold this arrangement (William of Poitiers, p. 129), is incredible as it stands, but may refer to a promise made by Edward during William's visit in this year (cf. Norman Conquest, ii. 296–303, iii. 678). In pursuance of the king's command, Siward invaded Scotland both by sea and land with a large force in 1054. The king of Scotland was Macbeth [q. v.], who had slain his predecessor Duncan I [q. v.], the husband of a sister or cousin of the earl (Skene), and Siward's invasion was evidently undertaken on behalf of Duncan's son Malcolm [see Malcolm III called Canmore]. A fierce battle took place on 27 July; the Scots were routed, Macbeth fled, and Malcolm appears to have been established as king of Cumbria in the district south of the Firths of Forth and Clyde. Many of the earl's followers were slain in the battle, both English and Danes, and among them his elder son Osbeorn and his nephew Siward. It is said that when he heard that Osbeorn had fallen, he asked whether he had received his death wound before or behind, and on being told that it was before, said, ‘I am right glad, for no other death would be worthy of me or my son’ (Hen. Hunt. p. 194). Early in 1055 he died at York. When he felt that his end was near, he is said to have cried, ‘How shameful is it that I could not have died in one of all my fights, and have lived on to die at last like a cow,’ i.e. lying in his bed. Then he bade his attendants arm him with his breast-plate, helmet, and shield, and give him his sword and gilded axe, that he might meet death as a warrior, and so standing fully armed he died (ib. p. 196). Siward had built a minster at a place called Galmanho, close to York, where the abbey of St. Mary afterwards stood, and dedicated it to St. Olaf, and there he was buried. He was of almost gigantic size; he seems to have been violent and unscrupulous, but must on the whole have been a just as well as a strenuous ruler. By his first wife Ælflæd, he had two sons, Osbeorn and Waltheof [q. v.] On his marriage with her he gave her Barmpton, near Darlington, and five other estates which were claimed by the church of Durham; she, however, declared that they were hers by hereditary right, and left them to her son Waltheof (Sym. Dunelm. i. 219–20). His second wife was Godgifu, a widow, who died not long after her marriage to him. Before she married him she gave Ryhall and Belmesthorpe, near Stamford, to the monastery of Peterborough, to pass to the monks after her death, but when she died Siward made agreement with the abbot that he should keep them during his life (Codex Dipl. iv. No. 927). Siward and his son Osbeorn, called by Shakespeare ‘young Siward,’ appear in ‘Macbeth.’

[A.-S. Chron. ed. Plummer; Flor. Wig. (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Sym. Dunelm. (Rolls Ser.); Vita Ædwardi ap. Lives of Edward the Conf. (Rolls Ser.); Will. of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum (Rolls Ser.); Will. of Poitiers ap. Gesta Wilhelmi I, ed. Giles; Hen. Hunt. (Rolls Ser.); Langebek's Scriptores Rerum Danicarum; Kemble's Codex Dipl. (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Freeman's Norman Conquest; Skene's Celtic Scotland.]

W. H.