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GODWIN'S CLAN - 12: 1066 AFTERMATH - Wulfnoth, The Siege Of Exeter, And The Next Generation

Updated on August 7, 2017

Beginning of the end?

Huscarls grapple with Norman cavalry on the hillside. Leofwin was the first of the brothers to fall - in a move that went against him perhaps?
Huscarls grapple with Norman cavalry on the hillside. Leofwin was the first of the brothers to fall - in a move that went against him perhaps? | Source
Earl Gyrth rallies his men on Caldec Hill, Saturday October 14th, 1066
Earl Gyrth rallies his men on Caldec Hill, Saturday October 14th, 1066 | Source

An era ends, another begins

This portrait of Harold is possibly the closest any modern artist has portrayed him, and it resembles the figure on the western corner of Waltham Abbey church
This portrait of Harold is possibly the closest any modern artist has portrayed him, and it resembles the figure on the western corner of Waltham Abbey church | Source
A little-known side of Harold: he took his leisure time seriously, here shown on the Bayeux Tapestry with his hawk in Normandy as 'guest' of William
A little-known side of Harold: he took his leisure time seriously, here shown on the Bayeux Tapestry with his hawk in Normandy as 'guest' of William
A fanciful image of Eadgytha 'Swan-neck', Harold's hand-fast (common law) wife searching for him on Caldbec Hill. She would have been at least in her forties by this time
A fanciful image of Eadgytha 'Swan-neck', Harold's hand-fast (common law) wife searching for him on Caldbec Hill. She would have been at least in her forties by this time | Source
Tostig didn't toe the line, he went his own way. Sometimes he gained, sometimes he lost... Did he lose his life at Stamford Bridge?
Tostig didn't toe the line, he went his own way. Sometimes he gained, sometimes he lost... Did he lose his life at Stamford Bridge? | Source

By evening on Saturday, 14th October, 1066 Harold lay dead on Caldbec Hill.

His brothers Gyrth and Leofwin lay elsewhere. With them was their uncle Aelfwig, Abbot of the New Minster in Winchester. Tostig was assumed slain at Stamford Bridge near York, his body supposedly interred in St Mary Bishophill Junior (behind Micklegate) in York. The only surviving son of that generation was still held hostage in Normandy. Wulfnoth - named for his paternal grandfather - would never see his kin again, William (and William 'Rufus' after him) saw to that. Their sister Aelfgifu had died. The dowager queen Eadgytha and her sister Gunhild, who had taken the veil, were still alive although childless. Harold and Tostig had offspring, and their mother Gytha was alive still.. and fairly active.

The whereabouts of Gyrth's and Leofwin's corpses was unknown, their burials not recorded in any nearby church. Being unwed, their remains were left unclaimed, dumped likely into a mass grave with the other unknowns. There are myths and legends about Harold and Gyrth, that they were not dead, but the weight of history is solidly against that. Harold would not have sneaked away, and there is testimony that the corpse was haggled over by Gytha and William, and that one of his barons paid the duke for the body and had it conveyed to Gytha for burial. Harold had founded the college and rebuilding of the church at Waltham in thanks for being cured of a dangerous malady. The canons would have seen to the preparation of his body for burial under the supervision of Harold's elderly friend Dean Wulfwin.

Three of William's knights cornered and taunted Harold before slaying him, and his corpse would have been stripped of its finery, mail and weaponry. We have the account of his 'handfasted' wife, Eadgytha 'Swan-neck', identifying his racked corpse by a birthmark only she and Gytha knew of. One of his tormentors and killers, Count Eustace of Boulogne knew him well from his time at brother-in-law King Eadward's court. It was they who engineered the confrontation at Dover in AD 1051, and he was one of Eadward's cross-channel courtiers who had to leave when Earl Godwin and his sons returned a year later. He would not have mistaken Harold for anyone else, and his friend Walter Giffard sliced off Harold's manhood (for which he was sent home in ignominy) There was no way Harold could have survived.

And what about Svein Godwinson's son Hakon? He is thought to have been with his uncles on Caldbec Hill, and he is also deemed to have been in the shieldwall that threw Duke back William and his five hundred mounted knights from London Bridge weeks later. What happened to him after that is a complete mystery. Was he killed at London Bridge, or was he another of Godwin's clan who took refuge abroad? He might well have graduated with other Englishmen - nobles and men-at-arms alike - to the Varangian Guard in Miklagard? The possibilities are endless.

Eadgytha, daughter of Earl Godwin and Gytha Thorkelsdatter, Eadward's queen and widow (AD 1025-75)
Eadgytha, daughter of Earl Godwin and Gytha Thorkelsdatter, Eadward's queen and widow (AD 1025-75) | Source
Maelcolm III 'Canmore', king of Scotland, husband of Margarethe
Maelcolm III 'Canmore', king of Scotland, husband of Margarethe | Source

Eadgytha, the dowager queen complied with William's demand for payment of tribute.

An interesting alliance sprang up between them, and she was allowed to keep all her possessions, with extensive estates in Wiltshire. Eadgytha spent the rest of her life in seclusion in or near Winchester. She died in Winchester a week before Christmas, AD 1075. William had her buried with honour near her husband in Westminster's abbey church. The only other member of the clan to live on in England was Harold's daughter Gunhild. She had been taken to Wilton's nunnery for shelter during uncertain times. A tumour which had damaged her eyes was cured by Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester, said to have made the sign of the cross over her when she visited the abbey. She was still at Wilton in the care of the abbess, Christina, daughter of Eadward 'the Exile' (and grand-daughter of King Eadmund 'Ironside'. Another woman there was was Christina's niece Eadgytha, the daughter of King Maelcolm III and Margarethe (Christina's older sister).

King Maelcolm 'Canmore' had his sights set on her wedding the elderly but very wealthy Breton Alan 'Rufus', Lord of the Honour of Richmond (formerly Earl Eadwin's private estate near the River Swale in North Yorkshire). Instead, around AD 1093 Alan abducted Gunhild from the cloister. They had probably met when Alan went to 'look over' his intended, Eadgytha. Certainly Gunhild in her thirties did not object, and she went to live with him until his death soon after. Alan 'Rufus', second cousin of the king is thought to have been commander of the Breton contingent at Caldbec Hill near Hastings, and in attendance on his kinsman when king. Alan's brother Brien/Brian had driven Gunhild's brothers - Godwin, Eadmund and Magnus - from near Tavistock in south Devon during their attempts to muster support for Godwin's kingship in AD 1068. Sooner than go back to Wilton after Alan's death she decided to wed the third son, Alan 'the Black' ('Niger'), Count of Brittany. Maelcolm had tried to persuade the king's son and heir William 'Rufus' to wed his daughter, but in AD 1100 with his inclinations being otherwise he palmed her off onto his younger brother Henry 'Beauclerc'.

Gunhild was abducted by Alan 'Rufus', although that might not be the right word... 'Eloped with' might be closer

In an illustration that owes influence to later mediaeval apparel, Alan 'Rufus' swears allegiance to William I, his kinsman the king.
In an illustration that owes influence to later mediaeval apparel, Alan 'Rufus' swears allegiance to William I, his kinsman the king. | Source
Dublin Danes recruited by King Diarmuid of Leinster would sail wih Harold's son Godwin, and his brothers Eadmund and Magnus. They were to secure Wessex against the Normans
Dublin Danes recruited by King Diarmuid of Leinster would sail wih Harold's son Godwin, and his brothers Eadmund and Magnus. They were to secure Wessex against the Normans | Source

Two of Godwin's clan were still held hostage in Normandy at the time of William's death in AD 1087.

Harold's youngest brother Wulfnoth had been held there from being handed over to King Eadward in AD 1051, along with Harold'd nephew Hakon, against Earl Godwin's good conduct in negotiations with the king in Southwark (part of Earl Godwin's lands south of London Bridge) that year after the riot in Dover. Hakon had been brought back by Harold after swearing the oath of loyalty to William under duress. The second hostage with Wulfnoth now was Harold's youngest son Ulf/Wulf by Eadgytha 'Swan-neck'. Ulf was released from captivity by William's first son Robert 'Curthose', who also befriended Eadgar 'the Aetheling'. With Ulf now was Duncan, son of Maelcolm 'Canmore', taken as hostage when the Scots' king was obliged to sign the Treaty of Abernethy in AD 1074. Knighted by Robert, Duncan joined William 'Rufus' in England. He disputed the succession in Scotland with Donald Bane. Although he mounted the throne in AD 1094 he was murdered after a half year as king. Ulf disappeared off the pages of history, perhaps joining and dying defending Duncan.

The other members of Godwin's clan went into exile, at first mainly in Dublin with King Diarmuid (in full: Diarmait mac Mael na mBo) of Leinster. They may also have spent time with King Svein in Roskilde. Diarmuid took Dublin in AD 1052, assumed the kingship of the 'foreigners' (the Dublin Danes), which he relinquished to his son Murchad (forefather of the Mac Murroughs). That year Diarmuid had given Harold and his brother Leofwin his men and ships to join their father off the Isle of Wight that summer, and gave Harold's sons men and ships in their bid to win over western Wessex (Devon, Dorset and Somerset). Magnus sustained wounds when raiding Tavistock and was taken to grandfather Earl Godwin's estate at Bosham, where he is thought to have recovered from his wounds and 'taken the cloth'.

Harold Haroldson would find a welcome amongst the nobles at the court of King Magnus 'Barelegs'

King Magnus 'Barelegs' chose to wear a kilt in the manner of the Scots. After tangling with Earl Hugh de Avranches of Chester he was killed whilst foraging at Downpatrick in Ireland
King Magnus 'Barelegs' chose to wear a kilt in the manner of the Scots. After tangling with Earl Hugh de Avranches of Chester he was killed whilst foraging at Downpatrick in Ireland | Source

Knut Sveinsson brought a large fleet to invade England AD 1075, to join another rising.

By the time he reached these shores the rising had petered out. He returned to Denmark with booty, being 'bought off' as his uncle Jarl Osbeorn and father Svein Estrithsson had been in AD 1070. However, having tasted the desire for conquest - he came twice before, in AD 1069 and AD 1070 - he planned another invasion when king [AD 1080-86] and entered into a coalition with his father-in-law Robert 'the Frisian', the count of Flanders, and Harald Sigurdsson's heir Olaf III of Norway. On hearing of the invasion plans William put England on a siege footing. However Knut's invasion plans proved unpopular amongst his nobles and he was chased around the Danish isles until he was cornered and murdered at Odense church on Fyn, Denmark. The invasion and any rising planned by the English was stymied.

In AD 1096 King Magnus 'Barelegs' entered the Irish Sea with a fleet from the north. On Anglesey he took on Hugh de Avranches, Earl of Chester before withdrawing.

From being befriended by Knut 'the Great' and wedding his sister-in-law Gytha, Earl Godwin's star seemed to be on the rise. Darker times were to come after Knut's death in AD 1035, and Eadward's brother Aelfred was abducted on his way to see his mother Emma. Eadward blamed Godwin, although the perpetrator was Knut's first son Harold 'Harefoot'. A well adorned ship, complete with crew seemed to ease his pain. Soon after Eadward became king Godwin gave him his daughter Eadgytha in wedlock... An odd relationship resulted, with sometimes hair-raising results. Harold took the mantle of the Earl of Wessex after his father and all seemed to be back on course again... Contrary to popular misconception by many historians, the story did not end in AD 1066.

Exeter, a siege and flight to Flanders

One of the underground passages beneath Exeter that Gytha, the womenfolk and her grandsons used to evade capture by William when his siege ended
One of the underground passages beneath Exeter that Gytha, the womenfolk and her grandsons used to evade capture by William when his siege ended | Source
Gytha Thorkelsdatter, sister of Jarl Ulf of Denmark, given to Earl Godwin in wedlock by Knut at the height of his reign as a reward for his loyalty
Gytha Thorkelsdatter, sister of Jarl Ulf of Denmark, given to Earl Godwin in wedlock by Knut at the height of his reign as a reward for his loyalty | Source

Earl Godwin's widow Gytha took refuge in Exeter with the women of the family during AD 1067.

They were joined later in the year by Harold's sons and the city closed to William on his return to England in the autumn. William laid siege over winter, bringing in siege engines. When he took the burh early in AD 1068 the Godwin family was gone, having taken a large amount of their wealth. They eluded William's men to take refuge on Flatholm, an isle off the north coast of Devon in the Bristol Channel, before being taken to safety, landing at St Omer in Flanders as guests of Tostig's brother-in-law Count Baldwin. Harold's much younger sister Gunhild took the veil. After William's coronation she also went into exile to St Omer, going on from there to Bruges and on to Roskilde before returning to Bruges. She died there on 24th August, AD 1087, around the same time as William died at Caen.

Tostig's sons Skuli and Ketil left England in September, AD 1066.with Harald Sigurdson's sons Olaf and Magnus for Norway. The story goes that Olaf granted them lands in Norway. Their mother Judith stayed in Flanders for a while before going north to Svein Estrithsson's court. Two years before Svein's death she wedded Welf IV, Duke of Bavaria. Welf was a forebear of the Brunswick bloodline. On her deathbed Judith endowed the monastery of Weingarten near Lake Constance with treasures and relics that dated back to her time with Tostig in Northumbria.

According to Northumbrian sources, two sons and a daughter of Harold - Godwin, Eadmund and Gytha - took shelter with kinsman Svein Estrithsson in Roskilde. Eadric, the master of King Eadward's ship had taken them there and took shelter with them from William's wrath. Nothing more is known of Godwin and Eadmund, although Gytha led a very eventful life.

She was given in wedlock - in Harold's absence - by King Svein to Valdemar the Grand Prince of Koenungagard (Kiev), the son of Jaroslav 'the Wise' and Ingigerd, daughter of King Olaf of Sweden. Gytha bore Valdemar seven sons and three daughters. Her eldest on was named Mistislav/Msistislav Harold, from whom stem most of the royal families of northern Europe and Scandinavia (including Elizabeth II)..

From Gytha, daughter of Harold, stems a bloodline that spans centuries...

Gytha, grand-daughter of Gytha, given in wedlock by Svein Estrithsson (on Harold's behalf) to Valdemar the Grand Prince of Smolensk and Koenungagard (Kiev)
Gytha, grand-daughter of Gytha, given in wedlock by Svein Estrithsson (on Harold's behalf) to Valdemar the Grand Prince of Smolensk and Koenungagard (Kiev) | Source
Earl Aelfgar's daughter Aeldfgytha/Aeldgifu, sister to earls Eadwin and Morkere wedded King Harold in a dynastic move to unite the kingdom. At Chester she bore him a son he never saw, Harold Haroldson.
Earl Aelfgar's daughter Aeldfgytha/Aeldgifu, sister to earls Eadwin and Morkere wedded King Harold in a dynastic move to unite the kingdom. At Chester she bore him a son he never saw, Harold Haroldson. | Source

Harold's blood carried forward by Gytha through her son Mstislav Harold to half the royal families of Northern Europe and Scandinavia

Mstislav Harold - the line came down from Harold Godwinson through Gytha and this young man via Denmark and Hanover... So we've had a descendant of Harold on the throne since 1953
Mstislav Harold - the line came down from Harold Godwinson through Gytha and this young man via Denmark and Hanover... So we've had a descendant of Harold on the throne since 1953 | Source

Harold's queen from early 1066, Aeldgifu was taken from London to safety in Chester by her brothers, earls Eadwin and Morkere.

They themselves were taken to Normandy early in AD 1067 as hostages by William with Earl Waltheof and Eadgar the 'Aetheling'. Aeldgifu gave birth to a son she named Harold, and may have been taken to safety in Ireland with him. She vanishes from the pages of history around this time, whereas Harold Haroldson re-surfaces around two decades later with Magnus 'Barelegs'. young Harold was welcomed by the West Norse because of his father's fair treatment in September, AD 1066 of Olaf and Magnus Haraldsson after their father fell at Stamford Bridge. Young Harold is said to have sailed with Magnus' fleet, visiting the Northern Isles on the way to the Irish Sea. As mentioned earlier Magnus tangled with the Norman 'Marcher' earls Hugh de Avranches and Hugh de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury after they had beaten the by now ageing Welsh princes Bleddyn and Rhiwallon. Hugh de Montgomery was felled by a stray arrow and Magnus withdrew with his fleet. He would later be killed foraging in Ireland. We know nothing more of Harold Haroldson.

Harold Godwinson, at whose door the downfall of Anglo-Saxon England has been laid, was an honourable man who enjoyed life to the utmost. He made the most of his wealth, using it well for his benefit as well as that of his underlings. He was fair-minded, a lover of women and a good soldier where needed. As with the treatment of Harald Sigurdsson's sons Olaf and Magnus, he was magnanimous in victory, a hero-figure, yet according to Norman chroniclers he was morally lacking. Although Anglo-Danish, with the Danish side of him foremost, he is still seen as a national hero by English people.

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