The History of the Hwalas

King Sigefrith, the third Lord Hwala, is directly descended on his paternal line from the Danish royal family of the Tenth Century.

Caedwulf Gormssen the Viking (9381000)

Sigefrith’s great-​​grandfather Caedwulf was the youngest son of King Gorm the Old of Denmark. Caedwulf’s elder brother was Harold Bluetooth, King of Denmark and Norway, who claimed on a monument to have converted the Danes to Christianity. He missed at least one, however, for Caedwulf was a pagan all his life. He was a savage Viking, famous for hanging his slain enemies upside-​​down from the prows of his ships.

Establishment in Britain (1000)

In 1000, Caedwulf and his only known son, Eadwin, captured a fort atop a sea-​​cliff in Sussex, on the south coast of England. Rather than pillaging and departing, Caedwulf decided to make it his base in Britain. After killing its former lord, he forced the man’s fourteen-​​year-​​old daughter Fyra to marry Eadwin and left the two behind.

Eadwin, First Lord Hwala (9761026)

Caedwulf died only months after taking the fort, but Eadwin’s wife was pregnant by that time, and he decided to stay. He named his fort Hwælnæss, or “whale-​​cliff,” and was himself known as Eadwin Hwala – Eadwin the Whale. He always claimed the name Hwælnæss came first, after the whales that passed near the shore, but it is more likely that the fort was named for the man, since Eadwin was very fat. He was the first Lord Hwala.

Saint Brice’s Day Massacre and baby Sigefrith (1002)

On November 13, 1002, on Saint Brice’s Day, the English king Æthelred the Unready ordered the slaughter of all Danish men in England. Fyra’s elderly maternal grandfather Byrhtwald was a member of the powerful Stearn family, and a close friend of the king. Perhaps due to his intervention, or perhaps merely because Hwælnæss with its cliff-​​fort and fleet was so difficult to take, Eadwin and his family were spared. The massacre was never forgiven, however, and Eadwin and his descendants would never be close to the House of Wessex.

Eadwin’s wife convinced him to convert to Christianity shortly before she died, in December, 1002, at age sixteen. They had one son, Sigefrith. Eadwin never remarried after her death, though he had many mistresses.

Danish raids and alliance with the Cild (1002 – 1012)

From 1002 through 1012, Eadwin Hwala joined his ships and men to a series of raids launched by Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark, son of Harald Bluetooth. The raids were in part intended as retribution for the Saint Brice’s Day Massacre, in which Sweyn’s own sister was killed. 

In 1009, Wulfnoth Cild, Thane of Sussex, having been falsely accused of some treachery, rebelled against the King and led part of the royal fleet into piracy. He ravaged the southern coast of England, but perhaps hoping to later profit from Eadwin’s animosity towards Æthelred, he never attacked Hwælnæss. When the royal navy finally closed in on him, with eighty ships to his twenty, a storm blew up, and Eadwin allowed Wulfnoth and his ships to take shelter at Hwælnæss. The pursuing ships were dashed against the cliffs. The next day, Eadwin and Wulfnoth killed the survivors and torched the royal ships that were still seaworthy. Wulfnoth was exiled for his rebellion, but his son Godwin was allowed to retain his lands and titles, and the Hwalas would ever after retain close ties to his family.

King Sweyn of Denmark and England (1013 – 1014)

In 1013, Sweyn invaded and conquered England and sent Æthelred fleeing to Normandy.

Eadwin Hwala joined Sweyn in his conquest. Among the men aboard his ships was a young boy named Ælfden, a member of the Stearn family, which, though in decline, was still of some note in Sussex. During a trip to Denmark in 1013, at the age of twelve, Ælfden fell in love with Gytha, a twelve-​​year-​​old Princess. She was one of Sweyn’s many illegitimate children, but her mother was a Hingwar: a member of an ancient Norse house. Ælfden too was a descendant of the line through his mother. Gytha conceived a child out of wedlock, and was hastily sent to England to marry the boy as soon as it was discovered. Their first son Britmar was born in 1014.

Sweyn Forkbeard himself died in February, 1014, and Æthelred the Unready returned to retake the English throne.

England recaptured (1015 – 1016)

In 1015 and 1016 Sweyn’s son Canute led a massive campaign against Æthelred and his son from his first marriage, Edmund Ironside. Princes Edward and Alfred, Æthelred’s sons from his second wife, Emma of Normandy, fled to to their mother’s country.

In 1016 Æthelred died, and Canute forced a nearly-​​defeated Ironside to divide the country between them. Wulfnoth Cild’s son, Godwin, fifteen-​​year-​​old Thane of Sussex, backed Edmund, while Eadwin Hwala had always aided Canute. However, Edmund died the same year, leaving Canute sole ruler. For the next twenty-​​six years England would be ruled by Danes, to the benefit of the Hwalas.

Godwin becomes Earl (1015 – 1023)

In 1015 Wulfnoth Cild died in exile, and his baby son Cynewulf was sent back to Sussex to be raised by Godwin. Young Godwin gradually grew closer to King Canute, in part due to the influence of his father’s friend, Eadwin Hwala. In 1019, at the age of eighteen, Godwin was made Earl of Wessex, and in the same year he married Gytha, a member of the Danish royal family. By 1023 he was the most powerful earl in England.

The arrival of the Fritholafs (1018)

In 1018 an obscure Saxon knight named Vortigern arrived in Wigen, to the east of Hwælnæss. In some unclear circumstances he was apparently granted or otherwise obtained the title. His Russian wife Krà was famed for her beauty, and made herself all the more captivatingly mysterious by never learning a word of English. Their son Vortigern was born in Wigen in 1019.

The Danish Princesses and the Stearns (1022 – 1026)

In 1022 the youngest of the three Stearn brothers, Scur, married a local girl named Annys. In 1023 she died in childbirth, bearing Scur’s only son, Swein.

That left only the eldest brother unmarried–Healfden: frail, crippled, and disagreeable, but heir. In 1025 Gunhilde, the elder sister of Princess Gytha, came to England to marry him. He was 24 and she 28. Their first child, a daughter named Britamund, was born in 1026.

Sigefrith Eadwinssen, Second Lord Hwala (1001 – 1053)

Eadwin Hwala died in 1026, aged 50, making his only son, Sigefrith, the second Lord Hwala at the age of 25.

The Stearns and the Hingwars (1031)

Ælfden Stearn – erstwhile thirteen-​​year-​​old father – died in 1031 at the age of 29. By then he had had two sons, and his elder brother Healfden had only had a second daughter, Gunhilde. Ælfden had also made a better name for himself in England and abroad.

The Hingwar title had already come through two generations of women and risked dying out, so upon Ælfden’s death, his widow Gytha began having her seventeen-​​year-​​old son Britmar called Lord Hingwar. He was the first man to bear the title since the death of Gytha’s grandfather Siegfried Hraefenssen in 989.

Only months after Ælfden’s death, Gytha also arranged Britmar’s marriage to Adela, the youngest daughter of Count of Flanders, thereby establishing a lasting alliance between the Houses of Hingwar and Flanders. 

All of this further diminished the influence of the Stearns, whose name had been kept in the royal consciousness mainly through Ælfden’s exploits. The youngest brother, Scur, was best-​​known for being a gambler and a scoundrel. Thenceforth the Hingwars would be second only to the Hwalas in southern Sussex.

Britmar and Adela had two sons, Ælfden in 1032 and Leofric in 1035. Ælfden was raised as heir, and young Leofric was sent to the castle at Hwælnæss to serve as a page to Lord Hwala.

King Harold I Harefoot (1035 – 1040)

In 1035 Canute the Great died. His son Harold I Harefoot became King of England after him, though Harold’s half-​​brother Harthacanute was supposed to inherit the crowns of both England and Denmark.

King Harthacanute (1040 – 1042)

Harold I died in 1040, just as Harthacanute was raising a fleet against him. Harthacanute became King and ruled England and Denmark until his death. He was very unpopular and levied burdensome taxes. The story of Lady Godiva dates from his reign: Godgifu, wife of the Earl of Mercia, rode naked through the streets of Coventry to protest the taxes.

In 1041 Harthacanute called his half-​​brother Edward – the son of his mother Emma and her first husband, Æthelred the Unready – back to England and made him his heir. Harthacanute died while drinking in 1042.

Family marriages (1041 – 1042)

In 1041, at the age of 39, Sigefrith Hwala at last took a wife: Britamund, the frail but pretty fourteen-​​year-​​old eldest daughter of Healfden Stearn. Their only child, a son they named Sigefrith, was born in May of 1042. Young Lady Hwala never fully recovered her health after the birth.

The pirate’s son takes a wife (literally)

In August of 1041 Earl Godwin’s men were raiding along the coast of Wales. Among them was Godwin’s baby brother Cynewulf, now aged 26. While scouting on the outskirts of Aberffraw, the seat of the Prince of Gwynedd, Cynewulf spied a lovely maiden stepping out of a church, and he made up his mind to have her. She was small enough and he strong enough that he simply pulled up his horse alongside her, lifted her up onto his saddle by the collar, and galloped off. He did not learn until later that he had made off with Gwynn, the daughter of Prince Iago himself. 

Their daughter Matilda was born the following August, and Gwynn died two days later. Cynewulf never remarried, and Matilda was raised among the men of the court of her uncle, Earl Godwin.

King Edward the Confessor (1042 – 1066)

Upon the death of King Harthacanute, the House of Wessex returned to power with Edward, later known as “The Confessor”. He had a peaceful reign, but the power of the monarchy was waning as the power of the Earls grew. In 1045 Edward married Earl Godwin’s daughter, Edith. His sympathies for the Normans – his relatives on his mother’s side – made trouble for him with the English.

The Stearns in Denmark (1042 – 1047)

In July, 1042, Scur Stein’s only son Swein kidnapped Lady Hwala’s sister, Gunhilde, and took her to Denmark. With some intervention from Danish royal relatives, he was forced to marry her there, and became a knight in the service of the Danish Crown. Their son Sigefrith Stearn, Sir Brede’s father, was born in Denmark in 1043 and would become every bit the scoundrel his father was. Gunhilde died giving birth to their second son Ælfden, in 1047. He would go on to become an abbot.

The death of Lady Hwala and arrival of Cenwulf (1048 – 49)

In May, 1048, when young Sigefrith was six years old, his mother Britamund died.

In the following year Cenwulf, the youngest son of Vortigern, second Saxon Baron of Wigen, came to Hwælnæss as a page. Quite close to Sigefrith in age, he would become the boy’s best friend.

Lord Hwala remarried in 1049 to Gytha, an unconnected lady whom he fancied. She was a good stepmother to young Sigefrith, and bore two daughters to her husband, both of whom died of diphtheria in infancy.

Godwin in exile (1051 – 1052)

In 1051 the people of Dover had a violent clash with a visiting Norman who was a friend of the King. Edmund ordered Earl Godwin to punish the people, but Godwin refused. For his disobedience, he was exiled. Cynewulf and nine-​​year-​​old Matilda accompanied them, first to Denmark, then to Ireland, from whence Godwin raised a fleet and returned the following year. He was greeted by such an uprising of support from the peasants, the nobles, and the navy that Edmund was obliged to restore him to his earldom.

Sigefrith, Third Lord Hwala (1053 – )

Sigefrith, Second Lord Hwala, died in April, 1053, at the age of 51. Eleven-​​year-​​old Sigefrith became the third Lord Hwala, and his father’s seventeen-​​year-​​old squire Leofric became his father-​​figure as well as a sort of elder brother to him.

Earl Harold (1053 – 1066)

In 1053, Earl Godwin died, and his son Harold became Earl of Wessex. In 1058 Harold also became Earl of Hereford, and was the most powerful man in England after the King.

In 1062 Harold departed on a series of campaigns against Wales. The Hwalas had always kept good relations with Godwin’s family, but in this instance Sigefrith, by then an imposing twenty-​​year-​​old knight, joined him with his men. Harold was impressed with Sigefrith’s keen mind and his ability to lead men, and Sigefrith’s star rose rapidly.

It was during these campaigns that Harold and Sigefrith became acquainted with Alred Sebright, an obscure but wealthy knight, who saved Harold’s life in the thick of battle. Alred wooed and won Matilda, whose father Cynewulf had died in 1061.

King Harold (1066)

At the end of 1065, the childless King Edmund fell into a coma without having announced a successor. On January 5, 1066, he woke for a moment and was supposed to have pointed at Harold, choosing him just before he died. The nobles agreed, electing him to the kingship.

However, William of Normandy claimed that Edmund had promised the crown to him. He also claimed that Harold had once sworn on the Cross that he would support William’s claim, and for this reason the Church backed William morally and financially, and he prepared his invasion.

Harald Hardrada

King Harold prepared by assembling his army in the south. Sigefrith and his men and Sir Alred were among them. However, the weather stopped the Normans from sailing, and on September 8, running out of supplies, Harold disbanded his army.

The same day, King Harald Hardrada of Norway, who also claimed the crown, began an invasion of his own. He arrived in what is now Yorkshire, and on September 20th, he defeated the English Earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria at the Battle of Fulford.

Harold regrouped his army and led them on a forced march to meet Hardrada. On September 25th Harold’s army triumphed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.


Two days later, the Norman fleet landed in Sussex and hastily entrenched themselves. Harold marched his exhausted army back to the south and met the Normans near Hastings on October 14th. After nine hours of hard battle, Harold was killed and his army routed.

The Coldest Winter (1066 – 1067)

Leofric, shot through the heart, was left for dead on the battlefield. Alred left them at once, hurrying to Winchester to save Matilda. Sigefrith and Cenwulf stayed nearby for a few days, attempting to rally what men they could, but Hwælnæss was immediately occupied by Normans, and Sigefrith never saw his ancestral home again.

After Cenwulf was reunited with his wife, his greatest concern was her safety. Frustrated and despairing, Sigefrith separated from them and went off alone in search of men he could join or lead in rebellion.

Thus ends the history of the Hwalas of Hwælnæss, and commences the story of the Kingdom of Lothere.