English adventurers in the Black Sea just before the First Crusade

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

This is sort of a precursor to the Crusades, with less of a goal, and more random adventuring:

This sequence of events appears to underlie all four of the sources mentioned above and is moreover supported by contemporary Byzantine sources too, as Jonathan Shepard has convincingly argued.(2) As to the date of this emigration of disgruntled Anglo-Saxon lords and their followers, Christine Fell makes a good case for it having taken place in the mid- to late 1070s, after the death of King Sweyn of Denmark in c. 1074 (who the English had hoped would come to their aid), with the Chronicon Laudunensis actually assigning a date of 1075 to the arrival of the English in Constantinople. If so, then they arrived in the reign of Michael VII (1071–78) and the siege that they helped relieve was that of the Seljuk Turks, which occurred in his reign and would makes sense of the fact that the Edwardsaga states that Constantinople was being besieged by a ‘heathen folk’. The main objection to this is that both the Edwardsaga and the Chronicon Laudunensis both claim that the English arrived early in the reign of Alexius I Comnenus (1081–1118); however, as Fell points out, this does not fit with their description of the besieging of Constantinople by ‘heathen folk’ nor the Chronicon’s stated date for their arrival. The simplest explanation is probably that the English emigrants arrived in the mid-1070s under Michael VII, relieving the siege by the Turks then, but their later extensive use by the more famous Alexius I Comnenus—as documented in Byzantine sources—led to the wrong name becoming attached to the reign in which they arrived.(3) With regard to their leader, the English form of the Edwardsaga’s name Sigurðr was Siward/Sigeweard and is usually considered to be the original name attached to the tale, not least because the name Siward was borne by a number of high-status men in mid-eleventh-century England, unlike the Chronicon Laudunensis’s Stanardus. Indeed, there were two English lords called Siward who are known to have joined Hereward the Wake’s rebellion in 1071, and it is by no means impossible that ‘Sigurðr, earl of Gloucester’ was one of these two, as a number of commentators have suggested, especially as one of them owned extensive lands in Gloucestershire.(4)

This bit, in particular, plays out very similar to the Crusades, and occurs just a few years before the First Crusade.

[I]t seemed to earl Sigurd and the other chiefs that it was too small a career to grow old there in that fashion, that they had not a realm to rule over; and they begged the king to give them some towns or cities which they might own and their heirs after them. But the king thought he could not strip other men of their estates. And when they came to talk of this, king Kirjalax [Alexius I Comnenus] tells them that he knew of a land lying north in the sea, which had lain of old under the emperor of Micklegarth [Constantinople], but in after days the heathen had won it and abode in it. And when the Englishmen heard that they took a title from king Kirjalax that that land should be their own and their heirs after them if they could get it won under them from the heathen men free from tax and toll. The king granted them this. After that the Englishmen fared away out of Micklegarth and north into the sea, but some chiefs stayed behind in Micklegarth, and went into service there.
Earl Sigurd and his men came to this land and had many battles there, and got the land won, but drove away all the folk that abode there before. After that they took that land into possession and gave it a name, and called it England [Nova Anglia, ‘New England’, in the Chronicon Laudunensis]. To the towns that were in the land and to those which they built they gave the names of the towns in England. They called them both London and York, and by the names of other great towns in England. They would not have St. Paul’s law, which passes current in Micklegarth, but sought bishops and other clergymen from Hungary. The land lies six days’ and nights’ sail across the sea in the east and north-east from Micklegarth; and there is the best of land there: and that folk has abode there ever since.(5)

Post external references

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