Gospatric and the earls of Dunbar

Next month sees the publication of a book which I suspect will be a useful resource for anyone interested in the final phases of the period covered here at Senchus. It deals with the Scottish earls of Dunbar who wielded great power in Lothian and along the eastern section of the English Border. These lords were descended from Gospatric, an 11th-century earl of Northumbria who received the earldom of Dunbar from the Scottish king Malcolm III.

Gospatric is one of those fascinating characters who emerged around the time of the Norman conquest of England. He was a shrewd operator with a knack for being in the right place at the right time during a volatile period in northern politics. His origins probably lay in what is now the English county of Cumbria, perhaps in Allerdale, but he had marital and kinship links with English and Scottish royalty as well as with powerful families in both kingdoms. After ruling various lordships in the lands west of Carlisle he bought the English earldom of Northumbria from William the Conqueror in 1067 and moved east, probably to Bamburgh, while retaining his Cumbrian assets. Within a year he joined a northern revolt against William but emerged unscathed and the two men patched up their friendship in 1070. A few months later Gospatric was at war with Malcolm III, king of Scots, who was trying to grab territory from Gospatric in Cumbria and Northumbria. In 1072 Malcolm and William made peace at Abernethy in Fife but the Norman king decided to unseat Gospatric from the Northumbrian earldom. Soon afterwards, however, Gospatric ended his differences with Malcolm and received (by way of compensation for Scottish raids) the newly-created earldom of Dunbar on Malcolm’s southeastern frontier. I don’t know much about Gospatric’s descendants but if they were cast in the same mould as the great man himself their success in gathering wealth and status is easily explained.

Here’s the basic info for the forthcoming book:

Elsa Hamilton, Mighty subjects: the Dunbar earls in Scotland, c.1072-1289
(Edinburgh: John Donald, April 2010)

Further details are on the publisher’s website via this link.


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