THE BURIAL PLACE of KING CANUTE’S DAUGHTER?

BOSHAM CHURCH–West Sussex

Bosham is the perhaps earliest place of Christian worship in Sussex and probably the most famous. The earliest was on the edge of Chichester Harbour and dates to the Roman period, though little trace of that first building remains. Sometime around AD 681, St Wilfrid arrived in Sussex as part of his mission to convert the local inhabitants.

Much of Bosham’s history during the early Middle Ages is ecclesiastical. Bede mentions Bosham in his book The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, speaking of Wilfrid’s visit here in 681 when he encountered a Celtic monk, Dicul, and five disciples in a small monastery. The village is one of only five places that appear on the map attached to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of around this time.

The first building we know of for certain dates to the 10th century. Traces of that Saxon building still remain in the lower courses of the stonework in the west tower.

The tower was standing when Harold, Earl of Wessex and soon to be king of England, rode here with his men in 1064 prior to his ill-fated voyage to Normandy. The visit is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, which clearly shows the chancel arch of Bosham church, perhaps the same arch that can be seen today.

Bosham was the principal home of Harold Godwinson, King of England in 1066; the Bayeux Tapestry shows him and his entourage riding to Bosham before sailing to Normandy to meet William, Duke of Normandy. He is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry praying in Bosham Church before sailing to Normandy to parley with William as to who should have the throne of England on the death of Edward the Confessor.

Set into the floor before the chancel arch is a modern memorial to the 8-year-old daughter of King Canute, who tragically drowned at Bosham sometime around 1020. Bosham church is the traditional burial place of the little girl who is said to have drowned in the nearby river. Now, such tales are often thought to be little more than romantic local tales, but in this case, the story may have some truth in it.

In 1865 a stone coffin was discovered, within which was a small skeleton of the correct age, and dating to the early 11th century. Of course, we cannot be sure it was the skeleton of the princess, but the evidence does suggest some truth in the old tale. Enough truth that the skeleton was reburied with honour where it now lies by the chancel arch.

In 1954, workmen replacing stones under the chancel arch rediscovered the coffin thought to be of King Canute’s daughter, and also found a coffin containing a headless and legless skeleton; the coffin was resealed after examination of the remains by a coroner.

Certainly, Canute himself has ties to Bosham, for it was here that he famously bid the tide to cease. So as to demonstrate to his overly deferential courtiers the limits of a King’s powers.

There is also a legend that around this time Bosham Church was plundered by Danish pirates, who stole the tenor bell. As the pirate ship sailed away, the remaining church bells were rung. The tenor bell miraculously joined in, destroying the ship. The bell is still said to ring beneath the waters whenever the other bells are rung.

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  1. Few people know that King Harold’s son Magnus and his sister Gytha (and mother Edith Swanneck) went to their Danish kin after the failed attempt to oust the Normans. They then entered into regional geopolitics. Gytha married Vladimir II Monomakh of Kiev and their son Yuri Longarm went on to found Moscow. Gytha was buried at St Sophia’s Cathedral, Kiev, but her tomb now lies empty. Magnus became a great lord in Poland and was buried at Czersk castle, just outside Warsaw. His reputed remains were exhumed in 1966 and are in the Archaeological Museum in Warsaw. An attempt to extract DNA failed, but other tests were carried out with interesting results. Czersk castle has a website which mentions Bosham. In a recent development it has become apparent that President-Elect Biden is descended from Polish royalty and so is related by marriage to Canute!! Canute was related to the Piast dynasty by marriage, you see.

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