Gospatric, Earl of Northumbria

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Earl of Northumbria
SuccessorRobert Comine

Gospatric or Cospatric (from the Cumbric "Servant of Saint Patrick"),[citation needed] (died after 1073), was Earl of Northumbria, or of Bernicia, and later lord of sizable estates around Dunbar. While his paternal ancestry is uncertain, his descendants held the Earldom of Dunbar, later known as the Earldom of March, in south-east Scotland until 1435.


Gospatric was a great-grandson of Æthelred II through his mother, Ealdgyth, and his maternal grandmother, Ælfgifu, who had married Uchtred the Bold.[1][2]

Issue about paternal lineage[edit]

Gospatric is identified as a son of Maldred, son of Crínán of Dunkeld.[3] Simeon of Durham definitively identifies him as Gospatric, son of Maldred, son of Crinan. It has been suggested that Maldred might not be the son of Crínán's known wife Bethóc, daughter of the Scots king Malcolm II, as Gospatric's descendants made no such claim when they submitted their pleadings in the Great Cause, however his direct descendant, Patrick, 7th Earl of Dunbar, did indeed make a claim to the throne during these pleadings to determine the succession to the kingship of the Scots after the death of Alexander III in 1286.[4]

Alternatively, some suggest Gospatric may have been the youngest son of Earl Uhtred the Bold (died 1016) or the grandson of Uhtred's discarded first wife, Ecgfritha, daughter of Aldhun, Bishop of Durham, through Sigrida, her daughter with Kilvert, son of Ligulf.[5] These lines of descent are not likely, because primary sources identify his mother as Ealdgyth, daughter of Uhtred the Bold and his third wife Ælfgifu, daughter of King Æthelred the Unready.It is this lineage that made him eligible to hold the earldom of Northumbria, although, he paid dearly for that privliedge.

Whatever his parentage may have been, Gospatric was clearly an important figure in Northumbria and Cumbria, with ties to the family of Earl Uchtred.

The Life of Edward the Confessor, commissioned by Queen Edith, contains an account of the pilgrimage to Rome of Tostig Godwinson, Earl of Northumbria. It tells how a band of robbers attacked Tostig's party in Italy, seeking to kidnap the Earl. A certain Gospatric "was believed because of the luxury of his clothes and his physical appearance, which was indeed distinguished" to be Earl Tostig, and succeeded in deceiving the would-be kidnappers as to his identity until the real Earl was safely away from the scene. Whether this was the same Gospatric, or a kinsman of the same name, is unclear, but it is suggested that his presence in Tostig's party was as a hostage as much as a guest.[6]

Harrying of the North[edit]

After his victory over Harold Godwinson at Hastings, William of Normandy appointed a certain Copsi or Copsig, a supporter of the late Earl Tostig, who had been exiled with his master in 1065, as Earl of Bernicia in the spring of 1067. Copsi was dead within five weeks, killed by Oswulf, grandson of Uchtred, who installed himself as Earl. Oswulf was killed in the autumn by bandits after less than six months as Earl.[7] At this point, Gospatric, who had a plausible claim to the Earldom given the likelihood that he was related to Oswulf and Uchtred, offered King William a large amount of money to be given the Earldom of Bernicia. The King, who was in the process of raising heavy taxes, accepted.[8]

In early 1068, a series of uprisings in England, along with foreign invasion, faced King William with a dire threat. Gospatric is found among the leaders of the uprising, along with Edgar Ætheling and Edwin, Earl of Mercia and his brother Morcar. This uprising soon collapsed, and William proceeded to dispossess many of the northern landowners and grant the lands to Norman incomers. For Gospatric, this meant the loss of his earldom to Robert Comine and exile in Scotland. King William's authority, apart from minor local troubles such as Hereward the Wake and Eadric the Wild, appeared to extend securely across England.[9]

Gospatric joined the invading army of Danes, Scots, and Englishmen under Edgar the Aetheling in the next year. Though the army was defeated, he afterwards was able, from his possession of Bamburgh castle, to make terms with the conqueror, who left him undisturbed till 1072. The widespread destruction in Northumbria known as the Harrying of the North relates to this period.


In 1072 William the Conqueror stripped Gospatric of his Earldom of Northumbria,[10] and he replaced him with Siward's son Waltheof, 1st Earl of Northampton.

Gospatric fled into exile in Scotland and not long afterwards went to Flanders. When he returned to Scotland he was granted the castle at "Dunbar and lands adjacent to it" and in the Merse by King Malcolm Canmore, his cousin.[11] This earldom without a name in the Scots-controlled northern part of Bernicia would later become the Earldom of Dunbar.

Gospatric did not long survive in exile according to Roger of Hoveden's chronicle:

[N]ot long after this, being reduced to extreme infirmity, he sent for Aldwin and Turgot, the monks, who at this time were living at Meilros, in poverty and contrite in spirit for the sake of Christ, and ended his life with a full confession of his sins, and great lamentations and penitence, at Ubbanford, which is also called Northam, and was buried in the porch of the church there.


Gospatric was the father of three sons,[10] and several daughters:[10]


  • Under the alternative spelling Cospatrick, he appears as a major character in Nigel Tranter's 1979 historical novel Margaret the Queen.
  • Gospatric is one of the central characters of the novel Warriors of the Dragon Gold by Ray Bryant. The author employs the version that he is the youngest son of Earl Uchtred, so he is named Gospatric Uchtredsson in the book.


  1. ^ Anderson, A.O. (1990) Early sources of Scottish history, A.D. 500 to 1286, Vol. 2 Paul Watkins Medieval Studies
  2. ^ Anderson, A.O. (1991) Scottish annals from Early chroniclers A.D. 500 to 1286 Paul Watkins Medieval Studies, pg 81
  3. ^ Thus Fletcher, p. 76, table 3; Anderson, Alan O., MA Edin., Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers AD500 to 1286, London, 1908, p.96, citing Symeon of Durham, refers to "Gospatric, son of Maldred, Crinan's son", also pp 80–81, again citing Symeon, refer to the marriage of Aldgitha daughter of earl Uhtred to "Maldred, son of Crinan the thane". That "Crinan the thane", father of Maldred, and Crínán, father of King Donnchad, are one and the same person is by no means clear.
  4. ^ Duncan, pp. 348–349, table C.
  5. ^ Forte et al., p. 204.
  6. ^ Fletcher, pp. 152–154.
  7. ^ Fletcher, pp. 169–171; Higham, p. 242; Stenton, pp. 601–602.
  8. ^ Fletcher, p. 171,
  9. ^ Fletcher, pp 171–173; Higham, pp. 241–242; Stenton, p. 601.
  10. ^ a b c Anderson, Alan O., MA Edin., Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers AD500 to 1286, London, 1908, p.96
  11. ^ Anderson, Alan O., MA Edin., Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers AD500 to 1286, London, 1908, p.96, citing Symeon of Durham's Historia Regum, vol.ii, p.199
  12. ^ https://www.electricscotland.com/books/pdf/ScotsPeerageVol3.pdf pg 245
  13. ^ http://fmg.ac/Projects/MedLands/SCOTTISH%20NOBILITY.htm#GunhildaMOrm
  14. ^ The register of the Priory of Wetherhal by Wetherhal priory https://archive.org/details/cu31924028281883/page/n437/mode/1up


  • "Gospatric" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  • Clan Dunbar
  • Barrow, G.W.S., The Kingdom of the Scots. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2003. ISBN 0-7486-1803-1
  • Fletcher, Richard, Bloodfeud: Murder and Revenge in Anglo-Saxon England. London: Penguin, 2003. ISBN 0-14-028692-6
  • Forte, Angelo, Oram, Richard, & Pedersen, Frederik, Viking Empires. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-521-82992-5
  • Freeman, E. A. (1876). "THE EARLDOM OF GOSPATRIC". The History of the Norman Conquest of England (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 745–747.
  • Higham, N.J., The Kingdom of Northumbria AD 350-1100. Stroud: Sutton, 1993. ISBN 0-86299-730-5
  • Stenton, Frank M., Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973. ISBN 0-19-280139-2

External links[edit]

Peerage of England
Preceded by
Earl of Northumbria
Succeeded by
Robert Comine
Preceded by
Robert Comine
Earl of Northumbria
Succeeded by