Saturday, 21 January 2012


Gytha Thorkelsdottir,  the mother of King Harold II, he who died at the battle of Hastings, spent  many years in Exeter and was perhaps the foundress and certainly a patron of Saint Olave's church in Fore Street.  When, in 1068, William of Normandy came to Devon and besieged Exeter and the city held out  against him for eighteen days, Gytha was living there but she escaped, "perhaps down the Exe" says Derek Gore in his 'concise history' of the Vikings in Devon.   Gytha is said to have been accompanied by other women who had lost their loved ones at Hastings.   She herself had lost three sons there and a fourth, Tostig, who was on the 'wrong' side at Stamford Bridge.  Gytha is then said to have taken refuge with her widows on Flatholm Island in the Bristol Channel and later to have found safety in Scandinavia..

It is a pity about that 'perhaps'  in 'perhaps down the Exe' but it can't be helped.  It was a long time ago!  But I am allowing myself an image of this longboat full of widows and the old, proud mother of dead and living jarls being pulled down the channels of the Exe and so out to sea,  the women frightened and desperate but at the same time excited and just a bit exalted to be giving the great Conqueror the slip.

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