Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ælfgar

ÆLFGAR, Earl (d. 1062?), was the son of Leofric of Mercia and his wife Godgifu, the ‘Lady Godiva’ of legend. Bitter jealousy existed between the ancient Mercian house and the new and successful family of Godwine. When, in 1051, Godwine and his sons gathered their forces against the king and his foreign favourites, Ælfgar and Leofric were among the party which stood by Eadward at Gloucester, and on the outlawry of Harold his earldom of East Anglia was given to Ælfgar. The new earl ruled well, and the next year, on the restoration of Godwine's house, cheerfully surrendered the government to Harold. On the death of Godwine in 1053, the West Saxon earldom was given to Harold, and East Anglia was again committed to Ælfgar. In 1055, at the Witenagemot held in London, Ælfgar was accused of treason, and was outlawed ‘for little or no fault at all,’ according to all the Chronicle writers, save one. The Canterbury writer, however, who was a strong partisan of Harold, says that Ælfgar owned his guilt, though he did so unawares. He fled to Ireland and engaged eighteen ships of the Northmen. He crossed to Wales and made alliance with Gruffydd of North Wales. With Gruffydd and a large host of Welshmen, Ælfgar and his Norse mercenaries invaded Herefordshire. Ralph, the king's nephew, the earl of the shire, met the invaders with an army composed both of Frenchmen and English. He foolishly compelled his English force to go to battle on horseback, contrary to their custom. He and his Frenchmen fled first, and the battle was lost. Ælfgar and his allies entered Hereford. They sacked and burnt the minster and the city, slaying some and taking many captive. To check this invasion the whole force of the kingdom was gathered under Earl Harold, and Ælfgar and his allies were chased into South Wales. In 1055 Ælfgar made peace with Harold, was reconciled to the king and restored to his earldom. On the death of Leofric, in 1057, Ælfgar received his father's earldom of Mercia. The position of his new earldom as regards Wales and Ireland encouraged his restlessness, and the weakness and instability of King Eadward the Confessor made rebellion no serious matter. It was probably while the only force capable of maintaining order in the kingdom was removed by the pilgrimage of Harold, that Ælfgar was, in 1058, outlawed for the second time. His old allies were ready to help him. Gruffydd and a fleet of the Northmen, which seems to have been cruising about on the look-out for employment, enabled him to set his outlawry at defiance and to retain his earldom with the strong hand. In one good deed Ælfgar and Harold acted together. On the surrender of the see of Worcester by Archbishop Aldred in 1062, both the earls joined in recommending Wulfstan for the bishopric (Will. Malm., Vita S. Wulstani, lib. i. c. 11; ap. Wharton's Anglia Sacra, ii. 251). Soon afterwards, probably in the same year, Ælfgar died. His wife's name was Ælfgifu. He left two sons, Eadwine and Morkere, who played a conspicuous part in English history. A charter of the abbey of St. Remigius at Rheims records that Ælfgar gave Lapley to that house for the good of the soul of a son of his named Burchard, who was buried there (Dugdale, Monasticon, vi. 1042; Alien Priory of Lappele). His daughter, Aldgyth, married her father's ally Gruffydd, and, after the deaths of Ælfgar and Gruffydd, married as her second husband Harold, her father's old enemy [see Aldgyth].

[Anglo-Saxon Chron.; Florence of Worcester; Vitæ Edwardi Regis, ed. Luard, in Rolls Series; Freeman, Norman Conquest, ii.]

W. H.