The first interruption to Tosti’s rule apparently came from outside when a Norse fleet, which had allied itself with Earl Aelfgar, raided England in 1058. This raid probably struck at the Irish Sea coasts of Tosti’s earldom, and Domesday Book records of wasted land in Amounderness may be confirmation of this. However, Earl Tosti appears not to have been blamed for failing to counter this ‘unexpected’ raid. Again in 1061, when Earl Tosti was on a pilgrimage to Rome, Malcolm of Scotland took advantage of his absence to raid the north of England, including Lindisfarne. This incident has been seen as a sign of weakness on Tosti’s part because no susequent retaliation is recorded. This may, of course, be a result of the paucity of our sources at this time, but it is also possible that Tosti was able to keep Malcolm in check with diplomacy. The author of the Vita Eadwardi hints at this when he speaks of Tosti wearing down the Scots ‘as much by cunning as by . . . military campaigns’ and indeed no further Scottish attacks are recorded until after the Conquest. It is possible that Tosti’s links with Gospatric, son of Maldred, Malcolm’s cousin, may have helped him to secure the latter’s quiescence.
William Kapelle claims that this Scottish invasion resulted in the loss of Cumbria, and in Earl Tosti’s position being undermined by his failure to recover it. However, there is no clear evidence for the loss of Cumbria at this date, and the arguments Kapelle advances in support of this claim are unconvincing. The existence of wasted land in Amounderness proves nothing as it could have been caused by the Norse raids of 1058, or by William’s later harrying of the north in 1069. The fact that King Malcolm held Cumbria in 1070 does not necessarily mean that he gained it in 1061, and it seems much more likely that this occurred in the immediate post-Conquest period when Northumbria was in a state of chaos. The suggestion that Earl Tosti was unable to retaliate militarily against Malcolm because of the insecurity of his position in Northumbria, where a force of 200 huscarls was needed to hold down the earldom itself, is absurd. In 1063 Earl Tosti’s position was sufficiently secure that he was able to lead a major force into North Wales, to participate in his brother’s great campaign, with no ill effects in Northumbria. This would have been impossible if he had faced widespread discontent in his own earldom. Indeed, the booty gained on the expedition may have reinforced his popularity there.
If we consider the evidence objectively it is apparent that the discontent against Tosti’s rule first arose not in 1055 or 1061 but after the successful Welsh campaign of 1063. This was probably when Tosti began to be drawn into the confused local politics of the Northumbrian nobility. Either late in 1063, after the Welsh campaign, or early in 1064, Tosti had Gamal, son of Orm, and Ulf, son of Dolfin, assassinated in his own chamber at York while they visited him under safe conduct. (The fathers of these men were probably the Orm who commissioned the Kirkdale sundial, and the Dolfin who fell in Siward’s battle with Macbeth in 1054.) The date is not clear from John of Worcester, who speaks of these killings taking place ‘the year before’ the death of Gospatric on 28 December 1064. This Gospatric, the son of Uhtred, was slain by order of Queen Edith while attending King Edward’s Christmas court. His murder was reportedly the result of the queen’s intervention in a dispute between Gospatric and her brother, Tosti. He was probably the same man who issued the famous writ concerning lands in Allerdale in Cumbria. What were the reasons behind these savage actions carried out by Earl Tosti, or on his behalf? It has been suggested that it was an attempt to stifle opposition by removing its potential leaders and this is certainly possible. Earl Tosti’s predecessor, Siward, had acted in a similar manner, killing Earl Eadwulf, who controlled the region beyond the Tees in 1041, in order to seize control of all Northumbria.
However, there is another possibility which could explain these actions by Tosti. When Tosti visited Rome in 1061, among his following was a young man named Gospatric, a kinsman of King Edward. This was almost certainly Gospatric, son of Maldred, a grandson of King Aethelred and cousin of King Malcolm, who was later to become Earl of Northumbria under William. This Gospatric, according to the Vita Eadwardi, which was written for Tosti’s sister, Queen Edith, showed considerable valour and loyalty in aiding the earl’s escape when their party was attacked by robbers on the return journey. The fact that Gospatric accompanied Tosti on this journey indicates that he had probably entered the service of the earl, and the prominence he is given shows that he had become an important member of his entourage. If this was the case, it would not be surprising if Tosti reciprocated by promoting Gospatric’s interests in Northumbria.
This would probably involve Tosti in acting against the rival lines of the descendants of Ealdorman Waltheof and the murders of Gamal, Ulf and Gospatric would fit such a pattern. Gospatric, son of Uhtred, Lord of Allerdale, was the senior representative of the elder line of Waltheof’s descendants. The other two murdered men were closely linked to this Gospatric. Ulf, son of Dolfin, was probably the grandson of the Thorfinn MacThore to whom Gospatric had granted lands in Allerdale in his famous writ, during Earl Siward’s rule. Gamal was probably the grandson of his namesake who also appeared in Gospatric’s Allerdale writ, and son of the Orm who commissioned the Kirkdale sundial and who married Gospatric’s niece, Aethelthryth. All of these killings may therefore have been arranged to further the career of Tosti’s protégé Gospatric, son of Maldred, who came from the junior line of Waltheof’s descendants. Whatever the reason behind Earl Tosti’s actions, these deaths undoubtedly aroused opposition to his rule among those linked to Gospatric of Allerdale, north of the Tees.
This unrest was not the main cause of the rebellion of 1065, although the rebels did use these slayings as justification for their actions. The identified leaders of the rebellion, Gamelbearn, Dunstan, son of Aethelnoth, and Gluniarn, son of Heardwulf, were thegns of Yorkshire with no apparent links to Gospatric. They were unlikely to be interested in the rivalries of Waltheof’s descendants. Instead, the interests of the leading rebels were centred on the extensive lands they held in Yorkshire. Domesday Book records these lands, including one estate at Temple Newsham held jointly by Dunstan and Gluniarn, which lay mainly in the West Riding but also included houses in York itself.
It is John of Worcester who indicates the probable reason for the involvement of these men in the rebellion when he speaks of a huge tribute Tosti had ‘unjustly levied on the whole of Northumbria’. In addition, the Vita Eadwardi, although otherwise sympathetic to Tosti, admits that he had ‘repressed [the Northumbrians] with the heavy yolk of his rule’, possibly another reference to this tax. It appears that the northern shires may have had a much more favourable tax assessment than the rest of England. Earl Tosti seems to have made the mistake of attempting to redress this anomaly and impose on the northern shires a level of tax closer to that found in the rest of England. The exact change made is unfortunately unknown, but that it may have caused the rebellion is suggested by the widespread participation of minor thegns in the revolt, all of whom, naturally, would be affected by such a change. Thus Chronicle C speaks of the participation of ‘all the thegns of Yorkshire’ and notes that ‘all Tosti’s earldom unanimously deserted him’, while Chronicle D adds ‘all the thegns of . . . Northumberland’ as well. The rebellion was also led by fairly minor figures in contrast to the leaders of other revolts, such as Earls Godwine and Aelfgar.
The purpose of such an increase in the tax level was clear. It would result in a substantial increase in revenue for the king, and since the earl took a third of all such revenue, it would enhance his own wealth too. This may have been particularly important since Tosti’s participation in Harold’s Welsh campaign and his vigorous enforcement of justice must have been draining his coffers. Although he should have realized that such a move would be widely unpopular, he may have considered his position sufficiently secure by 1065 for him to take this chance. He had already secured his government of the Northumbrians through increased enforcement of law and order, which possibly involved intervention in local blood feuds and had probably reduced general unrest in the earldom. This and the elimination of possible threats from Wales and Scotland and from the local nobility may have contributed to what was to prove a false sense of security on Tosti’s part.
Whatever the reasons behind it, Tosti’s action was to prove a major error of judgement. A proposed increase in taxation naturally aroused a great deal of opposition, far more than his participation in northern feuds or enforcement of royal justice could have done. The reason for this opposition is not difficult to appreciate if we examine the landholdings of the three named leaders of the rebellion, Gamelbearn, Dunstan and Gluniarn, as recorded in Domesday Book. Consider, for example, the effect of an increase in the Northumbrian tax assessment from 2s on every 6 carucates to say 2s on every 4. This assessment still represented only a quarter of that of the rest of England, but would in effect increase the annual tax payments of these Yorkshire thegns by 50 per cent. Thus Gamelbearn, who held approximately 60 carucates of land and paid 20s at the original tax rates, would pay 30s at the new rate. Similarly, Dunstan, who held 48 carucates and originally paid 16s, would find this rising to 24s, and Gluniarn, with 39 carucates and paying 13s, would find himself liable for 19½s. Such proposed increases would indeed provoke a great deal of opposition, affecting as they did every thegn in the earldom. The sources also hint that Tosti was dispensing arbitrary justice, including killings and forfeitures, at this time, which may have been attempts to enforce collection of taxes at the new rate.
In summary, the rigorous imposition of justice by Tosti had probably interfered with traditional jurisdictions and with a local preference for the blood feud, and so aroused resentment from some local nobles. The promotion of the interests of Gospatric, son of Maldred, in preference to those of the senior line of the descendants of Ealdorman Waltheof had led to opposition from and the murder of men of this line. However, it was surely the attempted imposition of unaccustomed financial burdens in autumn 1065 which raised the temperature of the whole earldom to boiling point. Taxes may have been collected in the autumn after harvest and this would certainly fit the time-scale of the Northumbrian revolt. It has been suggested that the clerks of Durham had sought to incite the earldom to revolt by translating the relics of St Oswine to Durham and displaying them there in March 1065. However, a later life of St Oswine records Bishop Aethelwine presenting Countess Judith, Tosti’s wife, with some hair of St Oswine as a result of this same event. It would therefore seem unlikely that this translation was directed against the earl, but rather was part of Durham’s efforts to expand its collection of relics. In fact, it was in the autumn of 1065 that opposition began to form, its objective being the overthrow of Earl Tosti, his representatives and his new taxation. The absence of the earl, who had been called to the south on business at the royal court and had stayed on to hunt with King Edward at Britford in Wiltshire, provided the rebels with their opportunity.
On 3 October 1065 the thegns of Yorkshire and the rest of Northumbria descended on York and occupied the city. This accomplished, they proceeded to slaughter Tosti’s officials and supporters, including his huscarls Amund and Ravenswart, and to sack his treasury. These actions appear to confirm that the primary cause behind the revolt was the new taxes. They emptied the earl’s treasury in order to recover those unlawful taxes taken from them earlier, and took revenge on the officials who had sought to enforce that taxation through ruthless measures including forfeiture and killing. They seem to have missed Copsi, Tosti’s deputy, indicating perhaps that he too was absent from York, leaving the field clear for the rebels.
Once they had vented their initial anger on the symbols of Tosti’s rule, the northern thegns met to consider how to seek legitimacy for their rebellion. They did this by declaring Tosti outlawed for his unlawful actions and sending for Morcar, younger brother of Earl Edwin of Mercia, to be their earl. These brothers probably had sufficient reason to participate in Tosti’s discomfiture. Despite its sympathetic view of Tosti, the Vita Eadwardi admits ‘a long-standing rivalry’ between him and Aelfgar’s sons. This may have originated from Tosti’s elevation to the earldom in 1055, which had been considered by their father, Aelfgar, as a usurpation of his seniority. They probably believed that Tosti had deprived their father of a major earldom and probably contributed to his banishment later that year. What made the Northumbrians choose Morcar as Tosti’s successor?
The fact that Morcar was, in effect, an intruder has already been discussed, and indicates that he was not chosen for his connections with Northumbria. Neither was he chosen because of a lack of local candidates. There were at least three such men: Oswulf, son of the Eadwulf slain by Siward in 1041; Waltheof, the young son of Earl Siward; and Gospatric, son of Maldred, Tosti’s protégé. The last of these was probably unacceptable because of his close links with Tosti, and certainly so to the supporters of his murdered rival, Gospatric of Allerdale. Waltheof may still have been considered too young or was perhaps unacceptable as a son of Earl Siward, who was also remembered for his severe rule. This left Oswulf, a nephew of Gospatric of Allerdale, who would later be appointed to rule part of Northumbria under Earl Morcar and who became Earl of Northumbria soon after the Conquest. However, he was overlooked on this occasion, possibly because backing him would have aligned the partisans of his rival, Gospatric, son of Maldred, against the rebels. The latter Gospatric may have retained sufficient local support, even without his patron Tosti, to effectively bar Oswulf’s appointment. The fact that he had not been completely eclipsed by Tosti’s fall seems proven by his ability to take control of Northumbria in 1068. In a sense, therefore, the northern thegns had to look beyond their own region, and chose Morcar as the most senior nobleman currently available who lacked an earldom.