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Leofric (d.1057) (DNB00)

LEOFRIC (Lat. Leuricus), Earl of Mercia (d. 1057), was son of Leofwine, ealdorman of the Hwiccas (Worcestershire), and brother of Northman, slain by Cnut's orders in 1017. His father, probably after the death of Eadric or Edric Streona [q. v.] in 1017, became earl of Mercia. Leofric witnesses charters as ‘minister’ or thegn, perhaps from 1005 (Kemble, Codex, No. 714), or earlier, to 1026, in which year he is also described as ‘dux’ (ib. Nos. 742, 743), though the charter is probably spurious (Norman Conquest, i. 461 n.) Florence (an. 1017) says that on Northman's death Cnut made Leofric earl in his stead, and that he always regarded him with affection. In the face of the later descriptions of Leofric as thegn, the first statement is hard to accept, and it has been suggested that the passage contains a confusion between Leofric and his father Leofwine (ib. u.s.) Leofric may have received some government, perhaps that of Chester, before held by Northman, and he certainly had a grant from Cnut of Hampton, Worcestershire, formerly granted by Ethelred to Northman (comp. Kemble, Nos. 662 and 938). By 1032 Leofric was an earl, and as Leofwine does not appear as a witness to charters after 1024, it may fairly be assumed that at some date between 1024 and 1032 Leofric succeeded his father in the earldom of Mercia, which was at that time of less extent than the ancient kingdom, for portions had been cut off to form inferior earldoms, and though Leofric's superiority was no doubt recognised by other earls, his immediate rule probably did not for many years after he had received his father's earldom extend beyond Cheshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, and the North Welsh border (Norman Conquest, ii. 557–61; Green, Conquest of England, p. 498). Yet he was possessed of immense power in middle England, and ranked with Godwine and Siward as one of the three great earls among whom the government of the kingdom was divided. Chester was the head of his earldom, and no doubt the place where he chiefly resided, and he was therefore sometimes described as Earl of Chester (Kemble, No. 939).

The rise to power of Godwine and his house was evidently grievous to Leofric, and this feeling must have deepened as governments were heaped on members of Godwine's family until they hemmed the Mercian earl in on every side except the north. While, however, he was constantly opposed to Godwine, he always deprecated violent measures, and played the part of a mediator, ‘which was dictated to him by the geographical position of his earldom’ (Norman Conquest, ii. 49). On the death of Cnut, in 1035, he upheld the claim of Harold at a meeting of the witan at Oxford, and was the means of bringing the dispute to an end by his proposal, which was adopted in spite of Godwine's opposition, that the kingdom should be divided [see under Godwin and Harold I]. In 1041 Harthacnute sent him with Godwine, Siward, and other great men to punish the people of Worcester and the neighbourhood for a revolt [see under Hardecanute]. On the accession of Edward the Confessor [q. v.] he was again employed in conjunction with the two other great earls, being ordered to despoil the king's mother, Emma [q. v.], of her treasure. In 1047, and perhaps again in 1048, he successfully opposed in the witenagemot Godwine's proposal that help should be sent to Swend of Denmark. It is probable that he profited by the decline of Godwine's influence at court, and that the death of Beorn [q. v.], in 1049, led to a large increase in his power; for it must have been at that time that Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, and perhaps some other districts over which Beorn had been earl were reunited to the Mercian earldom (ib. p. 561). In 1051 Leofric received a summons from the king to come to his help; for Godwine and his sons had taken up arms. He marched with a small force to Gloucester, where Edward was, but when he and the other earls who were on the king's side saw how matters stood, they sent messengers through their earldoms to raise all their forces. War seemed imminent, when Leofric interposed, declaring that it would be folly for Englishmen to fight with one another, and so lay their land open to the attack of a foreign enemy; for the chiefest men in the country were in the two armies. He advised, therefore, that both sides should give hostages, and should keep the peace, and that the quarrel should be decided at a future meeting of the witan. His advice was followed. That the banishment of Godwine and his sons implied an increase of Leofric's power is evident from the grant of Harold's earldom of East Anglia to Leofric's son Ælfgar [q. v.] When, on the return of Godwine, the foreign officials were expelled, two Normans, Osbern, the son of Richard, builder of Richard's castle, Herefordshire, and his ally, Hugh, surrendered to Leofric, as probably the superior of Ralph, earl of the Magesætas, and Leofric granted them a guard to take them safe to Scotland. If, as is supposed (Freeman), Odda held the earldom of the Hwiccas, he was also no doubt more or less subordinate to Leofric (comp. Kemble, Nos. 766 and 805), and by one means or another the Mercian earldom had by this time been greatly extended (Conquest of England, p. 536). The assertion which, according to William of Poitiers (p. 130), was made by Duke William, that Leofric, with the two other great earls, advised Edward to declare the duke heir to the throne in a meeting of the witan, and confirmed the decree by oath, is certainly untrue (Norman Conquest, iii. 678–681). The predominance of Earl Harold [see Harold II] in the affairs of state after 1053 must have been galling to Leofric, and was resented by Ælfgar. Leofric evidently remained loyal during his son's revolt, and in 1056 joined Harold in making peace between the king and Gruffyd. He died in his house at Bromley, Staffordshire, on 31 Aug. 1057, at a good old age, and was buried in the minster, which he and his wife had built, at Coventry. By his wife Godgifu—the Godiva [q. v.] of legend—he had, as far as is known, only one son, Ælfgar, the notion that Hereward [q. v.] was his son being erroneous. Leofric was temperate in counsel, patriotic, and religious (his reputation for piety is illustrated in the legendary life of the Confessor, Lives of Edward the Confessor, p. 401); he was bountiful to ecclesiastical foundations, and in common with his wife appears ‘to have taken a special interest in the buildings and ornaments of the houses which he favoured’ (Norman Conquest, ii. 48). His character alone is sufficient to prove the absurdity of the part assigned to him in the legend of which his wife is made the heroine. At Coventry he and his wife built the church and monastery dedicated to St. Mary, richly endowed it, gave it many valuable gifts, and procured that it should be exempt from episcopal control (Monasticon, iii. 177, 191; Kemble, No. 939; Gesta Regum, c. 341); at Chester they repaired St. Werburgh's (Monasticon, ii. 370; Florence, an. 1057); Evesham received a grant of Hampton (Monasticon, ii. 18; Kemble, No. 938); at Wenlock they rebuilt the church founded by St. Milburg (Monasticon, v. 72; Florence and Gesta Regum, u.s.); and Worcester, Stow in Lindesey, and Leominster they enriched with gifts (Monasticon, i. 600; Kemble, No. 766; Florence and Gesta Regum, u.s.)

[Freeman's Norman Conquest, vols. i. and ii. passim, iii. 677, 681, iv. 809; Green's Conquest of England, pp. 427, 480, 502, 514; Anglo-Saxon Chron. ann. 1036, 1043, 1048, 1052, 1056, 1057 (Rolls Ser.); Flor. Wig. ann. 1017, 1039, 1051, 1057 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Kemble's Codex Dipl. vols. iii. and iv. u.s.; William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum, pp. 237, 242, 388 (Rolls Ser.), Gesta Pontiff. p. 309 (Rolls Ser.); Dugdale's Monasticon, u.s.; Lives of Edward the Confessor, pp. 169, 250, 251, 401 (Rolls Ser.); Will. of Poitiers, ap. SS. Rerum Gest. Willelmi Conq. p. 129, ed. Giles; see also under Godiva.]

W. H.