Eadric 'the Wild' - post-Conquest rebel and outlaw
Eadric Silvaticus (‘the wild’), who rebelled against king William I in the years after the Norman Conquest of 1066, has become something of a mythical figure. Alongside Hereward ‘the Wake’ and Robin Hood, he is imagined as part of a rich history of brave and almost painfully ‘English’ outlaws. But what about the real Eadric; are these myths well founded? And what of his remarkable nickname - ‘the Wild’; what might have been intended by its use?
Eadric before the Conquest
Constructed in 1086 after a survey of England, Domesday Book includes a wealth of evidence on pre-Conquest landholdings, alongside those holding land after the Conquest. Eadric appears often within Domesday Book, as an extensive landholder in pre-Conquest Shropshire and along the Welsh border. John of Worcester terms Eadric preptens minister (‘a powerful thegn’), and notes his close familial relation to Eadric Streona, the significant (later treacherous) early eleventh-century magnate.
Determining which lands in Domesday Book attributed to ‘Eadric’ belong to this individual specifically (rather than other similarly named individuals) is a difficult task,but the PASE database attributes to him land valued at £118.41. By Baxter and Lewis’ reckoning this makes him the seventy-sixth richest landowner in England on the eve of the Norman Conquest; this landolding is mapped below by the PASE database (which is well worth an explore if you haven’t seen it before). To this we might also add Witlæhge, which a charter within Hemming’s Cartulary also attributes to Eadric.
Photo Source: https://domesday.pase.ac.uk/Domesday?op=5&personkey=39528
Eadric the Rebel
Unlike many pre-Conquest landowners, Eadric did not disappear after the Conquest and it is for his role as a rebel against William I that Eadric is most readily remembered. The only near-contemporary account of Eadric’s participation in rebellion, the D text of Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, recounts that in 1067 Eadric and the Welsh rebelled in Hereford.John of Worcester’s Chronicle, finished at some point before his death in 1140, provides a little more information; Eadric
Herefordensem prouinciam usque ad pontem amnis Lucge deuastauit, ingentempque predam reduxit [‘laid waste Herefordshire up to the bridge over the river Lugg, and brought back great spoil’].
This appears to have been a localised dispute over land-holding, perhaps capitalising on the sudden political chaos to settle old grudges, and it seems unwise to interpret the violence in 1067 as a precursor to later rebellion on a national scale.
Orderic Vitalis’s Historia Ecclesiastica provides us with a second example of Eadric’s rebellious nature, when he attacked Shrewsbury alongside the men of Chester and the Welsh in 1069, perhaps in response to the arrival of a Danish fleet.1069 saw a much broader set of rebellions in the North of England, prompting William's brutal 'Harrying of the North' in response.
John of Worcester’s Chronicle (while ignoring this second act of rebellion) recounts a peace drawn up in 1070.In adding that Eadric accompanied the king on campaign to Scotland in 1072, it is unclear whether William had forgiven his rebellious underling or whether he wished to keep this troublemaker close at hand.
Photo Source: https://www.historytoday.com/history-matters/harrying-north
The Mythical Eadric
Eadric’s significance does not end there, however, and he remains an interesting figure to those studying the development of the ‘outlaw’ myth. He appears also in Walter Map’s De Nugis Curialium, a satirical work composed in the later twelfth-century by a Welshman then living in England. Map makes no reference to Eadric’s rebellion but weaves his narrative into a clearly fictional tale in which Eadric marries a fairy,in a play on a popular Welsh folktale.
What interests me a out Eadric, as a historian of nicknames, is the prevalence of his nickname. So we’re presented with a (deceptively) simple question: what did Eadric’s nickname actually imply?
Speaking literally, the medieval Latin silvaticus means ‘of or related to woodland’.It has been suggested that, as a nickname, it may apply to a literal forest dweller (perhaps working as a forester); as a large-scale pre-Conquest landowner, this certainly seems an unlikely interpretation for Eadric. Instead, most later historiography has seen Eadric's nickname as a metaphor. Tengvik’s seminal study into OE bynames translates it as ‘savage, wild’. Quite what the moral implications of this nickname would be are unclear.
Eadric's nickname is the subject of a ground-breaking essay by Susan Reynolds,an exceptional medieval historian who revolutionised the way we think about concepts of medieval 'feudalism'. Reynold’s argument depends on a single passage from the Norman chronicler Orderic Vitalis’ Historia Ecclesiastica. In describing the rebels of 1069, Orderic uses very specific vocabulary:
‘plures in tabernaculis morabantur, in domibus ne mollescerent requiescere dedignabantur, unde quidam eorum a Normannis siluatici cognominabantur. [many men lived in tents, disdaining to sleep in houses lest they should become soft; so that the Normans called them ‘wild men’]' (my own emphasis).
Reynold therefore believes that Eadric is being called ‘the rebel’, and his nickname is a direct reference to his violence in 1069. We might call this type of nickname ‘anecdotal’; in contrast to an ‘observational’ name that simply references a physical feature (eg. ‘the tall’, ‘with a beard’, ‘redhead’), anecdotal names contextualise and individual within past actions.
Now I have a few disagreements with Reynold here (with the necessary caveat that she was a far better historian than I can ever hope to be). Perhaps most obvious of these is the very limited evidence for the use of Silvaticus as a nickname for the rebels more generally and the lack of clarity of whether Eadric, far away from the rebels in the North, might even have classed as one. But I will leave these thoughts for now until they are fully formed in my finished PhD.
The important question, however, is whether this nickname was intended as a positive or a negative (or perhaps both). If, as Orderic suggests, the term Silvaticus does in fact come from the Normans, it is not hard to see it as a mocking term, implying the savagery of the English rebels. But might it not also be a term of respect and indeed praise, especially if used by other English?
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Although, on the appropriateness of this translation, see below.
‘Eadric Streona’, Oxford Dictionary of Biographies, https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-8511?rskey=nHbtEQ&result=1 (Accessed 10 June 2022).
A. Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest (Woodbridge, 1995), 92-3.
‘Eadric 48’, Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, http://www.pase.ac.uk (Accessed 24 May 2022).
Baxter and Lewis, ‘Domesday Book and the Transformation of English Landed Society, 1066–86’, 39.6
Diplomatarium Anglicum Ævi Saxonici, 449. Reynold’s survey of Eadric’s career omits this evidence.
ASC D, sub anno: 1067, 81.
JW, sub anno:1067, iii.4-5.
A. Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest, 14-15. and D. Bates, William the Conqueror (New Haven, 2016), 282.
Orderic Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, ii.228.
JW, sub anno: 1070, iii.14.
JW, sub anno: 1072, iii. 20.
Map, De Nugis Curialium, 154.
Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest, 92.
If you’re interested in the mythological Eadric, I would recommend reading this blog post: https://myblog.moonbrookcottagehandspun.co.uk/2021/02/09/eadric-silvaticus-legend-of-the-wildwood-shropshire-folk-hero/
‘Silvaticus’, Dictionary of Medieval Lain from British Sources, http://www.dmlbs.ox.ac.uk/ (Accessed 6 June 2022).
Tengvik, Old English Bynames, 355.
S. Reynolds, ‘Eadric Silvaticus and the English Resistance’, Historical Research 54/129 (1981), 102-5.
Orderic Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, ii.216-9.