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hige sceal the heardra: a possible descent from Maldon

In reviewing Stephen Baxter’s Earls of Mercia for The American Genealogist one thing that struck me was a possible descent from a casualty at the Battle of Maldon — even one of those whose stirring speeches are preserved in the great fragmentary Anglo-Saxon poem. Ealdorman Leofwine, founder of a dynasty of Mercian earls, might have been son of an Aelfwine, who himself might have been the man of that name who fell at the Battle of Maldon in 991, and appears in the poem. Aelfwine boasts about his descent from a “mighty kindred” in Mercia (whose memory he must not disgrace), and is the first to vow not to leave the battle after his own lord, duke Beorhtnoth, has fallen — he promptly wades back into the fray (to his own certain death) and fells a Dane with his spear. It is not he, but one of those who follows him into the fray, who voices the famous couplet —

This couplet has many translations. Though he declines to use as many of the cognates as some other translators, Tolkien’s may serve well:

Will shall be the sterner, heart the bolder,
spirit the greater as our strength lessens.

The descent from this Aelfwine would be through his great-great-granddaughter Ealdgyth, sister of earls Edwin and Morcar, and consort first of Gruffyd of Wales, and then of Harold Godwinson; her Welsh daughter Nest has countless traceable descendants.

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