Godwin's Clan - 1: Earl Godwin Adjudged Lacking - Banishment and Back From the Brink
The roots of mistrust were already planted when Eadward surrounded himself with Norman favourites, including brother-in-law Eustace of Boulogne...
In 1051 matters came to a head between Earl Godwin and King Eadward.
Godwin's eldest son Svein was already 'nithing', rejected even by the men of his own fleet who had earlier supported him despite the killing of his kinsman Earl Beorn. Godwin was deserted by his men, who refused to fight against the king and the earl was summoned to London to appear before Eadward and the rest of the Witan on September 21st, AD1051. Eadward was now at his strongest since coming to the throne nine years earlier.
The earl gave hostages to Eadward to guarantee his conduct but did not trust the king not to trick him. So Svein's young son Hakon and his own youngest son Wulfnoth were taken into care for the duration.
Godwin, Svein, Tostig, Gyrth and the women - the earl's wife Gytha and her two younger daughters Gunnhild and Aelfgyva as well as Harold's offspring - left for the court of Count Baldwin V of Flanders where they were welcomed with open arms. Harold and Leofwin sailed west across the Irish Sea to Dublin, to the court of King Diarmuid of Leinster. Diarmuid was well nkown around Britain for his open-handedness to those seeking refuge from persecution. He made Harold and Leofwin welcome, allowing them to stay until Godwin sent word to join him on the south coast of Wessex the year after. For their task they were given nine ships and men - mostly Dublin Danes - with which they would raid the north coast of Devon. This part of Wessex had been given by Eadward to one of his Normans, the newly created Earl Odda. The earl himself was with the fleet at Sandwich, together with Earl Ralph - who had been given Svein Godwinson's lands in Herefordshire.
When Godwin's ships showed in the Channel, coming from the north-east, Odda and Ralph panicked. Eadward recalled the survivors of a well-mauled fleet back to London after many of his ships' crews were taken off-guard. The men of the fleet were used to Godwin's form of leadership and the earl was by now sorely missed. With his sons Tostig and Gyrth, Godwin headed west for the Isle of Wight. There they met up with Harold and Leofwin with Diarmuid's ships. Svein in the mean time had set off eastward from Flanders on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to atone for for his many sins.
The combined fleets turned east again, gathering support along the South Saxon and Kentish coasts. What raiding was undertaken from here was on property owned by Eadward's Norman courtiers and abbots. On the whole, Godwin's progress up into the Thames was more of a rallying cry.
Eadward sent for support, but for the first time experienced difficulty recruiting to his cause. Ralph and Odda with their fifty ships had been chased upriver, and were all that lay between Eadward and a triumphal Godwin. Earls Leofric and Siward were nowhere to be seen, having been worried at how far the king might go after banishing Godwin's clan. Their thoughts may well have been, 'Am I next?' when the earl's lands had been given away. If Eadward could rig Godwin's downfall, what might they be subjected to?
Godwin landed at his Southwark estate on September 14th, AD 1052. There he awaited the turn of the tide to pass upriver under London Bridge. He took the time talking with the leading citizens, the ealdormen of London. When Godwin's forces looked on the opposition upriver of the bridge they found a much less resolute foe than when the earl had fled the year before. Bishop Eadred of Worcester - who as Archbishop of York was later instrumental in the coronation of William I - had tried to reach Harold before he left for the west, thus revealing his sympathies. He may have been passed over then for the appointment to the Archbishopric of York when Aelfric died.
As it was, neither side was willing to launch into civil war, and Bishop Stigand now led negotiations with the king on Godwin's behalf. A truce was called, and a meeting of the Witan agreed for the following day. With events turning again to favour Godwin those who had worked to achieve his downfall and banishment were to flee for their lives. Robert of Jumieges, the Archbishop of Canterbury was foremost amongst these, and left with Eadward's hostages Hakon and Wulfnoth for Normandy. He was to perpetuate the lie that Eadward had nominated the young duke, William, as his successor and set in motion another disastrous chain of events.
Salient issues: Svein Godwinson's abduction of the abbess of Leominster and the murder at sea of kinsman earl Beorn
Godwin Wulfnothson was the son of a South Saxon thegn, a rebel who had defied Aethelred 'Unraed' and turned to piracy, Godwin himself stayed true to his king, and to Aethelred's heir Eadmund 'Ironside'. Knut 'the Great' had won him over and rewarded his steadfastness with the earldom of Wessex. Under Aethelred's son Eadward Godwin saw his fortunes rise and fall, then rise again before dying at the Easter Feast in 1053.
Harold became the mainstay of the family, staff and main stave of Eadward until the old king died after Christmas 1065 - when he rose to the kingship, an able king for the short time of his reign despite setbacks and raids by wayward brother Tostig.
Svein, the bugbear
So what was it that set the earl on a collision course with his king? It certainly had a lot to do with the antics of his eldest son. Svein (or Sweyn, as he appears in many accounts), a spoilt brat in the modern understanding, was the apple of his father's eye.
He had psychological problems, thinking himself a Dane - as his mother was - and being ostracised by his siblings. His kinsman Beorn, the Earl of East Anglia - middle brother of three in the Danish royal family - was the only one who did not regard him as 'odd', and ended up being murdered by him. Svein had forfeited his earldom by earlier action and wanted Beorn to give up his earldom for him. His kinsman could not have done so, even had he wished to, without incurring the king's ire.
That in itself should have sent warning signals to his father. He had already brought down the king's wrath on himelf by abducting Eadgifu the abbess of Leominster and siring a son on her. He had been in his earldom in Herefordshire, dealing with Welsh-Norse attacks and was on his way back to court when he rested at the abbey as a guest. He probably met the abbess when dining, took a liking to her and misread her cordial friendship. There are no details, as it would have been the monks who recorded the incident and were unlikely to furnish their account with anything approaching understanding of the world around them. Hakon would be raised at court by Eadward's queen, Svein's sister Eadgifu. Killing Beorn was the 'last straw'.
Svein had to go. As it was he left England at around the same time as his father and the rest of the family went into temporary exile. Harold and younger brother Leofwin went to ask Diarmuid, the king of Leinster, for men and ships to help his father recover his earldom. Svein went to seek absolution, in Jerusalem of all places. It is possible that learning of his death caused Earl Godwin to suffer a stroke at the king's Easter feast in Winchester. Apparently Svein had been waylaid near Constantinople on his way back from the Holy Land.
Next - 2: Godwin Restored to Power