Gospatric, Earl of Northumbria

Gospatric, Earl of Northumbria

Gospatric or Cospatric (from the Cumbric "Servant of Saint Patrick"), (died after 1073), was Earl of Northumbria, or of Bernicia, and later lord of sizable estates around Dunbar. While his ancestry is uncertain, his descendants held the Earldom of Dunbar, later known as the Earldom of March, in south-east Scotland until 1435.



Gospatric is often said to have been a son of Maldred son of Crínán of Dunkeld.[1] If this is correct, Maldred was apparently not the son of Crínán's known wife Bethóc, daughter of the Scots king Malcolm II, as Gospatric's descendants made no such claim when they submitted their pleadings in the Great Cause (though according to this link his descendant, Patrick the Seventh Earl of Dunbar, did indeed make a claim to the throne during these pleadings) to determine the succession to the kingship of the Scots after the death of Alexander III in 1286.[2] Alternatively, rather than being descended from a half-brother of King Duncan I (Donnchad mac Crínáin), Gospatric may have been the youngest son of Earl Uchtred the Bold (died 1016). Another reconstruction would make Gospatric the grandson of Uchtred's discarded first wife, Ecgfritha, daughter of Aldhun, Bishop of Durham, through Sigrida, her daughter with Kilvert son of Ligulf.[3] Whatever his parentage may have been, Gospatric was clearly an important figure in Northumbria and Cumbria, with ties to the family of Earl Uchtred.

The Life of Edward the Confessor, commissioned by Queen Edith, contains an account of the pilgrimage to Rome of Tostig Godwinson, Earl of Northumbria. It tells how a band of robbers attacked Tostig's party in Italy, seeking to kidnap the Earl. A certain Gospatric "was believed because of the luxury of his clothes and his physical appearance, which was indeed distinguished" to be Earl Tostig, and succeeded in deceiving the would-be kidnappers as to his identity until the real Earl was safely away from the scene. Whether this was the same Gospatric, or a kinsman of the same name, is unclear, but it is suggested that his presence in Tostig's party was as a hostage as much as a guest.[4]

Harrying of the North

After his victory over Harold Godwinson at Hastings, William of Normandy appointed a certain Copsi or Copsig, a supporter of the late Earl Tostig, who had been exiled with his master in 1065, as Earl of Bernicia in the spring of 1067. Copsi was dead within five weeks, killed by Oswulf, grandson of Uchtred, who installed himself as Earl. Oswulf was killed in the autumn by bandits after less than six months as Earl.[5] At this point, Gospatric, who had a plausible claim to the Earldom given the likelihood that he was related to Oswulf and Uchtred, offered King William a large amount of money to be given the Earldom of Bernicia. The King, who was in the process of raising heavy taxes, accepted.[6]

In early 1068, a series of uprisings in England, along with foreign invasion, faced King William with a dire threat. Gospatric is found among the leaders of the uprising, along with Edgar Ætheling and Edwin, Earl of Mercia and his brother Morcar. This uprising soon collapsed, and William proceeded to dispossess many of the northern landowners and grant the lands to Norman incomers. For Gospatric, this meant the loss of his earldom to Robert Comine and exile in Scotland. King William's authority, apart from minor local troubles such as Hereward the Wake and Eadric the Wild, appeared to extend securely across England.[7]

Gospatric joined the invading army of Danes, Scots, and Englishmen under Edgar the Aetheling in the next year. Though the army was defeated, he afterwards was able, from his possession of Bamburgh castle, to make terms with the conqueror, who left him undisturbed till 1072. The widespread destruction in Northumbria known as the Harrying of the North relates to this period.


In 1072 William the Conqueror stripped Gospatric of his Earldom of Northumbria,[8] and he replaced him with Siward's son Waltheof, 1st Earl of Northampton.

Gospatric fled into exile in Scotland and not long afterwards went to Flanders. When he returned to Scotland he was granted the castle at "Dunbar and lands adjacent to it" and in the Merse by King Malcolm Canmore.[9] This earldom without a name in the Scots-controlled northern part of Bernicia would later become the Earldom of Dunbar.

Gospatric did not long survive in exile according to Roger of Hoveden's chronicle:

[N]ot long after this, being reduced to extreme infirmity, he sent for Aldwin and Turgot, the monks, who at this time were living at Meilros, in poverty and contrite in spirit for the sake of Christ, and ended his life with a full confession of his sins, and great lamentations and penitence, at Ubbanford, which is also called Northam, and was buried in the porch of the church there.

He was the father of three sons,[8] and a daughter named Uchtreda, who married Donnchad II of Alba, the son of King Malcolm Canmore.

The sons were:,[8]

  • Gospatric who was killed at the battle of the Standard in 1138 was his heir.
  • Dolfin, who seems to have received from Malcolm the government of Carlisle. Dolfin has also been identified with Dolfin de Bradeley and is believed to be the progenitor of the Bradley, Staveley, De Hebden, and Thoresby families.
  • Waltheof of Allerdale


Gospatric is one of the central characters of the novel "Warriors of the Dragon Gold" by Ray Bryant. The author supports the version that he is the youngest son of Earl Uchtred, so he is named Gospatric Uchtredsson in the book.


  1. ^ Thus Fletcher, p. 76, table 3; Anderson, Alan O., MA Edin., Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers AD500 to 1286, London, 1908, p.96, citing Symeon of Durham, refers to "Gospatric, son of Maldred, Crinan's son", also pp 80–81, again citing Symeon, refer to the marriage of Aldgitha daughter of earl Uhtred to "Maldred, son of Crinan the thane". That "Crinan the thane", father of Maldred, and Crínán, father of King Donnchad, are one and the same person is by no means clear.
  2. ^ Duncan, pp. 348–349, table C.
  3. ^ Forte et al., p. 204.
  4. ^ Fletcher, pp. 152–154.
  5. ^ Fletcher, pp. 169–171; Higham, p. 242; Stenton, pp. 601–602.
  6. ^ Fletcher, p. 171,
  7. ^ Fletcher, pp 171–173; Higham, pp. 241–242; Stenton, p. 601.
  8. ^ a b c Anderson, Alan O., MA Edin., Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers AD500 to 1286, London, 1908, p.96
  9. ^ Anderson, Alan O., MA Edin., Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers AD500 to 1286, London, 1908, p.96, citing Symeon of Durham's Historia Regum, vol.ii, p.199


Peerage of England
Preceded by
Earl of Northumbria, first time
Succeeded by
Robert Comine
Preceded by
Robert Comine
Earl of Northumbria, second time
Succeeded by

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