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The Silvatici
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Organizational information
Founder

Swegn Hraefning

Leader's title

Aetheling

Headquarters

Isle of Ely (1067-1071; no fixed headquarters thereafter)

Locations

England

Related organizations

Assassins
Kingdom of Denmark
Kingdom of Scotland

Historical information
Date formed

1067

Additional information
Notable members

Swegn Hraefning
Eadgar Aetheling
Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury
Archbishop Ealdred of York
Eadwine Aelfgarson, Earl of Mercia
Morcaer Aelfgarson, Earl of Northumbria
Eadric the Wild
Hereward the Wake
Oswulf II of Bernicia
Cospatric, Earl of Northumbria
Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria
Bishop Aethelwine of Dunholm

The Silvatici, as they were dubbed by the Normans, were a federation of Anglo-Saxon nobles in post-1066 England loosely affiliated with the Assassins. Their combined deeds and reputation would inspire the later legend of Robin Hood.

History[]

Background[]

Many of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy, from thegns to earls, died alongside Harold Godwineson at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, honour-bound to continue fighting even after Harold fell. This included two of Harold's own brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine. The earls of Mercia and Northumbria, the brothers Eadwine and Morcaer, who had not gone south with Harold after Stamford Bridge, were among the most powerful of the survivors.

They hurried to Lunden and, after sending their sister (Harold's widow Ealdgyth) into hiding at Legaceaster, tried unsuccessfully to claim the throne for themselves. They were soon joined there by other surviving Anglo-Saxon magnates - witan - chiefly the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Stigand and Ealdred, and the 15-year-old earl of Oxenefordscire, Eadgar Aetheling, the great-nephew of Eadweard the Confessor who had been rejected as king by the witan for his youth only months before.

The witan assembled at Lunden subsequently elected Eadgar king in continued opposition to the invader William of Normandy. However, this opposition was largely nominal, and Eadgar II's disputed reign would be brief, as the witan failed to muster an effectual military response, and within a month William's forces had secured Wessex and reached the Thames. Finally, on 10 December, Eadgar and the witan rode out of Lunden and submitted to William.

It soon became clear that William intended to supplant the native aristocracy entirely with his Templar Norman barons, as he immediately took the witan as his captives and intended to bring them to Normandy with him. It was only through the cunning intervention of a trio of Assassins that they were separated from William and freed. These Assassins were Swegn Hraefning, an Anglo-Norse thegn descended from the Raven Clan, and his allies Eadric the Wild and Hereward the Wake, also Mercian thegns. Joined by doppelgangers provided by the continental Brotherhood once they were a safe distance away, the three Assassins explained these would be left behind as a decoy for William and, if successful, would be able to spy on his court.

Foundation and early successes[]

It was at Swegn's urging that Eadgar called a new, secret witenagemot at Ely Abbey in 1067. Here, the Assassin Swegn laid out his arguments for continuing to fight the Norman Templars from the shadows as his Order did. With most of the nobility already acquainted with and sympathetic to Swegn and his philosophy, there was broad agreement with this plan, which effectively marked the birth of the Silvatici. Even Archbishop Stigand, previously noted for his Templar sympathies, conceded that there was no other course of action in light of their failure to stop the Normans in the aftermath of the battle of Hastings.

It was decided that the Saxon nobles return to their posts and hinder Norman activity however they could, focusing wherever the leaders of the as-yet unnamed Silvatici deigned. Archbishops Stigand and Ealdred would be responsible for keeping tabs on William and his nobles and hindering their efforts to interfere in the affairs of the church, with the support of the other bishops in attendance. Swegn was to be mentor and guardian to the teenaged aetheling to groom him for kingship, with the aid of the boy's mother and elder sisters.

From this time forward, the centre of gravity for the covert rebellion of the Silvatici was around Mercia and Northumbria, and East Mercia in particular, for it was here in the old heartlands of the Raven Clan that Swegn and his allies were most powerful and numerous. It was from this base that the Silvatici gained their first success; asserting Eadgar's right to the Earldom of Oxenefordscire - assigned to him by the witan that had elected Harold Godwineson king as compensation for the crown - against William's appointee, the Templar Enguerrand.

After helping Eadwine, Morcaer, Eadric, and Hereward to temporarily prevent the Normans from advancing into Mercia, Swegn ventured north with Morcaer and helped their ally Oswulf II of Beornice to assassinate Copsige - the known right-hand man of the fallen Templar Tostig Godwinesson and most likely one himself - who had submitted to William and received Tostig's former earldom of Northumbria, at Morcaer's expense. However, when Oswulf claimed the earldom for himself (as the grandson of Uhtraed, an earl murdered 50 years previously) in the aftermath, this led to friction with Morcaer, who had been installed as earl by the Northumbrian people after they overthrew Tostig.

When Oswulf conveniently died in an apparent fight with an outlaw in autumn, the suspicions of Swegn and his allies, including Oswulf's cousin and successor Cospatric, fell swiftly on Morcaer. It coincided with a growing distrust among the Silvatici for the brother earls, who were perceived to be unwilling to risk much for freedom from the Normans, much less Eadgar's cause, having failed to obtain the throne for themselves in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings. However, subsequent investigation by Swegn revealed that the outlaw who murdered Oswulf was the Norman Templar Robert de Comines, who seized Northumbria from Cospatric.

Swegn, Morcaer and Cospatric immediately set about mobilising their supporters in the earldom, most notably Cospatric and Oswulf's kinsmen Halden and Ligulf, and Bishop Aethelwine of Dunholm. They were also joined by Waltheof, then earl of Northamptonshire and a maternal kinsman of Cospatric and Oswulf. Ignoring Bishop Aethelwine's warnings, Robert de Comines established himself in Dunholm, where he was surrounded and trapped by Silvatici forces, and burned alive in the bishop's house on 28 January 1069.

The Harrying of the North and the search for allies[]

Despite their success in restoring Cospatric, the killing of Robert de Comines brought the wrath of King William down on Northumbria, in what would later be known as the Harrying of the North. Moreover, in the time that Swegn had been in Northumbria, 3 of the witan were lost. Raedulf Stalre, the Breton earl of East Anglia whose epithet derived from the military post he had occupied under Eadweard the Confessor, had died. Cadoc, earl of Cornwall, had been deposed by William in favour of Brian of Brittany. Archbishop Ealdred had defected to the Normans and been assassinated by Swegn in turn on 11 September 1069.

Swegn and Waltheof elected to make their way south to court the new earl of East Anglia, Raedulf Wadaer. The son of Raedulf Stalre, he was already a lord in Brittany upon inheriting his father's titles in England, and showed little interest in English affairs. As he had not taken up the Silvatici cause as his father had either, they decided it was vital to ascertain and if possible secure his loyalty.

They arrived in East Anglia in December to find the new earl had been unable to assume his duties as Danes had occupied Norwic. Both being of Anglo-Scandinavian descent, Swegn and Waltheof opted to attempt to parley with these Danes. Able to talk their way into Norwic, they met with the leader of the Danes, Jarl Thrugot Fagerskind of Jylland, and were immediately set on edge. Thrugot knew of Swegn and his Assassin loyalties and his guards appeared to be quietly surrounding them as he spoke. Noticing his Templar ring too late, both were captured and arrested.

Some days passed before their usual jailor was apparently replaced; Raedulf had sent his brother Heardwine to free them. Heardwine told them that Raedulf's forces were in the process of retaking the city, and after helping them recover their possessions, the three soon joined the fray, but failed to find Thrugot. Reasoning that Thrugot and his forces would be retreating to his ships to return to Denmark, Raedulf correctly deduced they may have dropped anchor at Lothuwistoft, an Anglo-Danish fishing village to the southeast.

Swegn and Waltheof opted to ride out alone and assassinate Thrugot, with Waltheof distracting and dispatching Thrugot's forces at the docks while Swegn took advantage of the chaos to move in for the kill, ultimately assassinating Thrugot from the mast of his longship. Taking Thrugot's ring finger as proof of the deed for Raedulf, he also found a letter from a mysterious Templar known only as The Stanchion, alluding to the Norman Templars' plans to punish the Northumbrians and especially the Silvatici for Robert de Comines' death, and urging Thrugot to distract them by identifying and making trouble for their allies in the south of England.

Fearing what this meant, after reporting to Raedulf in Norwic and affirming his allegiance, Swegn and Waltheof immediately set off for Denmark, to seek either King Svend's aid or answers for his vassal, Thrugot's actions, ideally both. Arriving at Roskilde in February 1070, they found Svend grateful for the news of Thrugot's death (he had been a political rival of the king's) and gladly pledged to aid their cause in Northumbria in return. While in Roskilde, Swegn also took the time to despatch a messenger to reach out to one Prior Alboin in the heart of Occitania, in fact Aelfwine Haroldsson, the last descendant of Cnut the Great who had left England in the days of Eadweard the Confessor; a potential rival claimant that Swegn had been reluctant to approach before.

At Swegn's prompting, the two witan made a short detour to Norway on the way back to England in order to court Tostig Godwinesson's sons, Scule and Cytel, or Skuli and Ketill as they were known in Norway, and hopefully through them be able to find the rest of the Godwinesson clan. Swegn forced his misgivings about their own designs for the English throne out of his mind for the sake of securing aid for Northumbria.

Scule and Cytel, eager to help fight the Normans, revealed that most of the surviving Godwinesson men were scattered in exile across Europe since Harold's sons had recently given up on trying to retake England with Irish aid after a series of politically and militarily disastrous attempts, save their uncle Wulfnoth who was imprisoned in Normandy. Meanwhile their grandmother Gytha, their aunt the Queen Dowager Eadgyth, and Harold's common law wife Eadgifu Swannhnesce were being held in some unspecified location in England and being forced to embroider a tapestry commemorating William's path to the throne of England. Their cousin Gytha Haroldsdohtor who had been sheltering with them in Norway, they said, had recently travelled east in search of alliances, and they had heard nothing further from her.

Landing at Bebbanburh with Scule and Cytel in tow, Swegn and Waltheof soon found signs of the devastation visited on Northumbria by William's men in their absence; crops and tools destroyed, whole settlements burned to the ground, with many emaciated people strewn around, dead or starving to death. Learning from the locals that Eadgar and his family had gone north into Scotland, Swegn followed them there, while Waltheof, Scule and Cytel sought out Cospatric and the others.

Finding the aetheling and his family at Dunkeld Abbey attempting to negotiate a marriage alliance with their host, King Malcolm III, Swegn soon won the king's admiration and, by adeptly persuading him of the political advantages of a marriage alliance with the legitimate royal family of England (not least of all a valid excuse to lead military expeditions into England) was able to secure Malcolm's marriage to Eadgar's eldest sister Margaret. It was shortly after the festivities concluded, however, that Swegn received an emergency summons from Morcaer; though King Svend had come to the relief of Northumbria as pledged, he had since returned to Denmark, having been paid off by William, who had now turned his attention to their base at the Isle of Ely. Deciding Eadgar and his family would be safest at Malcolm's court for the time being, Swegn departed for Ely without them, but not before Malcolm gifted him a group of elite gallowglass mercenaries led by Eadwulf Rus, a kinsman of Oswulf and Cospatric and ealdorman of Hrocasburhscire.

On their journey south they encountered Cospatric, Waltheof, Scule, Cytel and their forces still entangled with Robert de Comines' remaining loyalists. Eadwulf and Swegn's timely arrival helped decide the battle in Cospatric's favour. Informing Swegn and Eadwulf that Morcaer had been with them before news came of the attack on Ely, Cospatric declined to assist them personally as he was needed in Northumbria to help rebuild after the devastation wrought by the Normans' scorched earth tactics, but pledged the support of Waltheof, Scule, Cytel, as well as Bishop Aethelwine and whatever forces he was able to muster among the Haliwerfolc.

The Siege of Ely[]

Swegn and his company arrived at Ely in early 1071, having been obliged by the oppressive Templar Norman presence in Mercia to carefully make their way south through the wilderness. They found Morcaer, Hereward, and the local abbot Thurstan, leading a desperate defence of the area.

Though the foggy marshes of Ely favoured a defending force and the Silvatici enjoyed the support of the locals, the Normans had superior manpower and supplies. Swegn questioned the absence of Eadwine, to whose earldom Ely belonged; Morcaer told him he had come across Eadwine in the wilds after leaving Cospatric's company. Upon telling him of the Norman advance upon Ely, Eadwine had elected to go to Scotland to retrieve Swegn and Eadgar and secure Scottish reinforcements if possible. His failure to return had prompted Morcaer to send the message Swegn had received at Dunkeld. Since the Normans had closed in, they had failed to send any further messages to their allies, and wary of them ending up in Norman hands and exposing their allies to William's retribution, were reluctant to try.

Suspecting Eadwine of treachery but seeing little use in pointing fingers at this juncture, Swegn decided that he, Eadwulf, and Hereward would each take a few hand-picked men, spread out across Ely and harass the Normans with guerilla tactics, stealing or sabotaging their supplies and eliminating patrols, hopefully making it possible to get messages to their allies for reinforcements. Aethelwine and Thurstan were tasked with recruiting the locals into a fyrd. Morcaer and the main body of their existing force would be holding their ground at Ely Abbey in the meantime.

Members[]

The Witan[]

Founding members of the Witan are marked in bold

  • Aetheling - Eadgar of Wessex (1067-1074)
    • Wita - Swegn Hraefning
    • Wita - Archbishop Stigand (1067-1072)
    • Wita - Archbishop Ealdred (1067-1069); Bishop Aethelwine (1069-1072)
    • Wita - Earl Eadwine (1067-1071)
    • Wita - Earl Morcaer
    • Wita - Eadric the Wild
    • Wita - Hereward the Wake
    • Wita - Earl Waltheof Sigewardsson (1067-1076); Thorold of Bolingburh (after 1076)
    • Wita - Oswulf II of Beornice (1067); Earl Cospatric (1067-1073); Ligulf of Lumley (1073-1080); Eadwulf Rus (1080s)
    • Wita - Earl Raedulf Stalre (1067-1068); Earl Raedulf Wadaer (1068-1075); Heardwine Raedulfsson (after 1075)
    • Wita - Earl Cadoc (1067-1068)

Other members[]

  • Agatha - mother of Eadgar Aetheling
  • Margaret - eldest sister of Eadgar Aetheling, later a Saint and Queen of Scotland
  • Cristina - elder sister of Eadgar Aetheling
  • Halden - Oswulf II's half-brother
  • Morcar, Uhtred, and Ragnhild - children of Ligulf of Lumley
  • Gytha Thorkelsdottir - mother of Harold Godwinesson
  • Godwine, Eadmund, Magnus, Gytha, Gunhild, Wulf, and Harold - children of Harold Godwinesson
  • Eadgifu Swannhnesce - former common-law wife of Harold Godwinesson
  • Ealdgyth Aelfgarsdohtor - widow of Harold Godwinesson, and King Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Wales, sister of Earls Eadwine and Morcaer
  • Eadgyth Godwinesdohtor - widow of Eadweard the Confessor, Harold Godwinesson's sister
  • Wulfnoth Godwinesson - brother of Harold Godwinesson
  • Hacon Swegnsson, Scule and Cytel Tostisson - nephews of Harold Godwinesson
  • Harold Raedulfsson - son of Raedulf the Timid, earl of Hereford under Eadweard the Confessor
  • Prior Alboin - previously known as Aelfwine Haroldsson, (probably illegitimate) son of King Harold I Harefoot and last agnatic descendant of Cnut the Great.
  • Thurstan - abbot of Ely
  • Theodwine and Guthfrith - secular governors of Ely Abbey after Thurstan's death
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