Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Edric Streona

EDRIC or EADRIC, STREONA (d. 1017), ealdorman of the Mercians, the son of a certain Æthelric, was a man of ignoble birth, and was perhaps the Eadric whom Archbishop Oswald describes as his thegn in a charter of 988, and to whom he grants land belonging to the church of Worcester, and may with more certainty be supposed to be the thegn Eadric who attests a charter of Æthelred in 1001 (Kemble, Codex Dipl. 666, 705). The name Streona (Flor. Wig. 1006) is usually (Lappenberg; Freeman; Powell; Green) held to be a nickname derived from Eadric's greediness after wealth, and to signify the ‘Gainer’ or ‘Grasper.’ An attempt has been made to prove that this is not the case, that ‘Streona’ has nothing to do with acquisitiveness, and that it is not a nickname, but a second proper full name (Academy, 11 July 1886, p. 29). The English-born Orderic, however, no doubt knew what the name meant when he wrote ‘cognomento Streone, id est acquisitor’ (506). This, however, has been denied, and his explanation has been described as an ‘erroneous surmise’ (ib. 4 June 1887, p. 397). The history of Eadric's career is full of difficulties. Chroniclers and historians of the twelfth century describe him as guilty of an unequalled series of treacheries and other crimes. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ is silent as to some of these evil deeds, while it speaks plainly of others, and even in reading the chronicle some allowance should perhaps be made for the readiness with which men of a defeated and conquered people set down their disasters to the treachery of one or more of their leaders. In one case at least Eadric has been accused unjustly, in others his guilt may fairly be questioned, the evidence is insufficient or contradictory, or the crime attributed to him is in itself unlikely, but even so enough will remain to prove that he was false and unscrupulous. William of Malmesbury represents Eadric as taking a leading part in the massacre of the Danes in 1002, a story that may at once be dismissed as resting solely on his assertion (Gesta Regum, ii. 177). Eadric first appears in a chronicle in 1006, when it is said that he invited Ælfhelm, earl of Northumbria, to be his guest at Shrewsbury, entertained him two or three days, and then went hunting with him, and that when the earl was separated from the rest of the party, he caused the town executioner (or a butcher? carnifex) named Porthund to slay him. This incident is told only by Florence, who is scarcely so safe an authority for the eleventh century as for earlier times; it sounds legendary, and it is difficult to see how it was that Eadric was entertaining guests at Shrewsbury; he was not yet ealdorman of the Mercians (Norman Conquest, i. 356). He was made ealdorman of the Mercians in 1007, and by 1009 had married Eadgyth, one of the daughters of King Æthelred; the two events are of course to be connected. It was then due to the personal liking the king had for him that this man of mean birth was thus raised to a position of wealth and power which made him almost an independent prince in middle England. He was endued with a crafty wit and a persuasive tongue (Flor. Wig.) It is not unlikely that he rose by the downfall of a thegn named Wulfgeat, who seems to have been his predecessor in the royal favour (Norman Conquest, i. 355).

Eadric's six brothers to some extent shared his elevation. One of them, named Brihtric, described by Florence as deceitful, ambitious, and proud, had a quarrel with Wulfnoth, child of the South-Saxons, which caused the dispersion of the great fleet raised against the Danes in 1008. While Florence represents Brihtric as wholly to blame in the matter, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,’ though it passes no judgment on either of the disputants, makes it evident that Wulfnoth was by no means a man whose innocence is to be lightly assumed. After the dispersion of the English fleet Thurkill's army, which had now taken up its permanent quarters in the Isle of Wight, plundered the southern shires at its will. At last Æthelred gathered an army and got between the Danes and their ships. The people were ready to fight, but Eadric prevented them ‘as it ever yet had been’ (A.-S. Chron. 1009). Florence improves on the simple words of the ‘Chronicle,’ and dwells on the artifices and eloquence with which the ealdorman used to restrain the army from attacking the enemy. It is evident that the chronicler considered that Eadric acted treacherously. His treachery on this and similar occasions was probably of a special kind. As a Mercian, and as ealdorman of the Mercians, he would not be disturbed by any ravages the Danes might make in Wessex. His great aim must have been to keep them out of Mercia, and he may well have considered that this would be best accomplished by abstaining from exciting their feelings of revenge by inflicting a defeat upon them, which, however signal, would certainly not have put an end to their invasions. In 1011, during a short period of peace with the Danes, which was obtained by a heavy payment, Eadric made an expedition into South Wales, and desolated St. David's (Brut y Tywysogion, 1011; Annales Menevenses, 1011). This expedition was no doubt undertaken to secure the Mercian border against attack, for the success of the Danes must have tempted the Welsh to make forays (Green). Osbern, in relating the sack of Canterbury by the Danes in the September of this year, represents Eadric as allied with Thurkill, and as joining in the siege of the city. This story may safely be rejected as fabulous (Anglia Sacra, ii. 132; Norman Conquest, i. 385). Nor is any importance to be attached to the assertion of the St. Albans compiler that he accompanied Æthelred in his flight from England in 1013 (Wendover, i. 448). At the meeting of the ‘witan’ in Oxford in 1015, Eadric invited Sigeferth and Morkere, the chief thegns of the Danish confederacy of the ‘Seven Boroughs,’ into his chamber, and there had them treacherously slain (A.-S. Chron.; Flor. Wig., and later writers); the story told by William of Malmesbury (Gesta Regum, ii. 179) of the burning of the thegns' followers in the tower of St. Frideswide's is due to a confusion between this incident and an actual occurrence which took place during the massacre of 1002 (Parker, 146, 154). The guilt of the assassination must rest on others as well as Eadric; the king evidently approved of it, and it is probable that the ‘witan’ did so. We do not know whether the thegns were held to be concerned in any conspiracy; if so, there was nothing strange in their punishment by what we should consider an act of private violence rather than by a judicial execution. At the same time Eadric's treachery, and his disregard of the obligations of hospitality, evidently shocked the feelings of the age. The marriage of the ætheling Eadmund with the widow of Sigeferth, and the establishment of his power in the Danish district, must have been regarded with jealousy by Eadric as likely to weaken his own position, and this feeling may perhaps explain some parts of the ealdorman's conduct, which taken by themselves are altogether inexplicable. Nor is it too much to assume that Æthelred's ineffectual opposition to his son's marriage was offered in the interest of the favourite.

When Cnut invaded England in the summer of the same year, Eadric raised an army and joined forces with Eadmund. A quarrel broke out between them. Eadric is said to have endeavoured to betray the ætheling (A.-S. Chron.; by Florence to have tried to slay him), and the two leaders parted company. Æthelred was now lying dangerously ill at Corsham, and the succession of Eadmund would have been followed by the ruin of Eadric, who accordingly made alliance with Cnut, and joined him with forty ships, the remains probably of Thurkill's fleet (Norman Conquest, i. 414). Cnut now received the submission of the West-Saxons, and raised forces from them, while Eadmund's marriage had made him powerful in the north. This explains the conduct of Eadric, who, early in 1016, marched with Cnut into Mercia; he wished to strike at the seat of the ætheling's power. The allied army met with no resistance; Earl Uhtred submitted to Cnut, and was assassinated. This murder, which is attributed to Eadric's counsel (A.-S. Chron. 1016), was really the result of an old Northumbrian feud (Symeon, 80; Norman Conquest, i. 416). Æthelred was now dead, Cnut and Eadmund were each recognised as king in different parts of the kingdom, and the Danish king's army was largely composed of Englishmen. Eadric no doubt shared in its various movements during the first half of this year. His presence at the battle of Sherston in Wiltshire in July is specially recorded. It is said that, seeing that Eadmund's army was getting the better of the army of Cnut, he cut off the head of a man who was like Eadmund, and holding it aloft cried aloud to the English army to flee, for their king was dead (Flor. Wig.) This story is not in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,’ and may or may not be true. It evidently comes from some ballad which was used by Henry of Huntingdon in writing his account of the battle of Assandun; he represents Eadric as using this stratagem at Assandun, and gives the very words he is said to have shouted, ‘Flet Engle, flet Engle, ded is Edmund’ (756). William of Malmesbury follows Florence. Later in the year Eadric, impressed, we are told, by the gallant resistance of Eadmund, was reconciled to him and owned him as his ‘royal lord’ (Flor. Wig.) At the moment when Eadmund's success was at its height, and he had driven the army of Cnut into Sheppey, Eadric met him at Aylesford and persuaded him to forbear attacking the Danes in their place of refuge, and to lead his army into Essex. The chronicler declares that his counsel was evil, and so very likely it was. Florence says that he deceived the king, but it is difficult to see what room there was for deceit in the matter. Eadmund was able to act upon his own judgment, and whether he agreed with Eadric or allowed himself to be swayed by advice which he did not approve of, the responsibility must rest on him. While Eadric may have intentionally given him evil counsel, he may, on the other hand, have advised him as he thought best; anyway, Eadmund must have known exactly what his chances of success were, and it is quite possible that they were not so great as the chronicler believed. At the battle of Assandun or Ashington in Essex, Eadric led the men of Herefordshire and other forces from Mercia. He and his men were the first to flee: he ‘did as he had often done before; first began the flight with the men of Worcestershire and Herefordshire, and so betrayed his royal lord and all the people of the English kin’ (A.-S. Chron.) The ‘Encomiast’ represents him as fleeing before the battle began, and mentions, though with doubt, the belief that he had secretly promised the Danes to desert Eadmund (Encomium Emmæ, ii. 9). Florence says that Cnut's army was getting worsted until Eadric, according to a previous arrangement with the Danish king, fled with all his men. Henry of Huntingdon gives the Sherston story of the false assertion of Eadmund's death as happening at Assandun, and the Ramsey historian (c. 72) combines the stories of the two battles, asserting that Eadric was the first to flee, and that he called out as he fled that Eadmund was slain. The fact of his flight is certain, and it may fairly be assumed that he acted a traitor's part. In common with the other nobles of the land he wished to bring the war to an end, and was foremost in proposing a reconciliation and a division of the kingdom between the two kings at Olney in Gloucestershire (Enc. Emmæ, ii. 12). Very shortly after this meeting, on 30 Nov., Eadmund died at London (A.-S. Chron.; Flor. Wig.) His death is ascribed to Eadric by Scandinavian historians, by William of Malmesbury, and by other later English writers. That his death was sudden is certain, that it was violent may fairly be inferred, and that Eadric, his old enemy, had a hand in it seems probable [on this subject see under Edmund Ironside]. According to Henry of Huntingdon the deed was actually done by Eadric's son; Eadric came before Cnut and hailed him as sole king, and Cnut forthwith had him slain for his treachery. This is mere legend, and its connection with David's behaviour when he was told of the death of Saul is obvious. In 1017 Eadric is said to have advised Cnut to put Eadward's two sons to death; but his advice, if he ever gave it, was not followed (Flor. Wig.) He was, we are told, consulted by Cnut as to the best means of procuring the death of the ætheling Eadwig; he said that he knew a man who would slay him, a noble named Æthelward. Cnut applied to Æthelward, but he would not slay the ætheling, though to content the king he promised that he would do so (ib.) This story is also doubtful [see under Edwy, ætheling]. Eadric was again given the earldom of Mercia, but when he was in London the following Christmas he was slain in the palace by the king's orders, ‘very rightly’ (A.-S. Chron.), because Cnut feared that he might act as treacherously towards him as he had acted to his former lords, Æthelred and Eadmund (Enc. Emmæ, ii. 15). His body was thrown over the wall of the city, and was left unburied (Flor. Wig.)

[Every recorded incident in Eadric's life has been treated exhaustively by Dr. Freeman in his Norman Conquest, i. 3rd ed. passim. In the present article Florence of Worcester has been followed less closely than in the professor's work. J. R. Green's Conquest of England, 399–418, contains a defence of Eadric, which is ingenious rather than critical. The chief original authorities are the following: Anglo-Saxon Chron. an 1007–71; Florence of Worcester, i. 159–82 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Encomium Emmæ, ii. c. 9, 12, 15, Pertz; Henry of Huntingdon, p. 752–7, Mon. Hist. Brit.; Symeon of Durham, Twysden, cols. 81, 166–76; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum, i. 267, 297–305 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Roger of Wendover, i. 448 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Annales Menevenses, Anglia Sacra, ii. 648; Brut y Tywysogion, Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 851; Orderic, p. 506, Duchesne; Kemble's Codex Dipl. iii. 241, 317. Parker's Early History of Oxford, pp. 146, 150–160, 266 (Oxford Hist. Soc.)]

W. H.