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Godwin's Clan - 1: Earl Godwin Adjudged Lacking - Banishment and Back From the Brink

Updated on June 11, 2019

The roots of mistrust were already planted when Eadward surrounded himself with Norman favourites, including brother-in-law Eustace of Boulogne...

Eadward had surrounded himself with his Norman favouritesm, and with brother-in-law Eustace of Boulogne had 'engineered' a confrontation with Earl Godwin over a fracas at Dover
Eadward had surrounded himself with his Norman favouritesm, and with brother-in-law Eustace of Boulogne had 'engineered' a confrontation with Earl Godwin over a fracas at Dover | Source
Earl Godwin himself could count a king of Wessex amongst his forebears, an uncle of Aethelred no less
Earl Godwin himself could count a king of Wessex amongst his forebears, an uncle of Aethelred no less | Source
Wessex, the heartlands - once the main kingdom of the Saxons, the earldom did not survive the Conquest because of its strong connection with Harold.
Wessex, the heartlands - once the main kingdom of the Saxons, the earldom did not survive the Conquest because of its strong connection with Harold.
English earldoms AD 1045. Feeling Godwin was getting above himself, earls Leofric of Mercia and Siward of Northumbria sided with Eadward against him. There was also the old rivalry between Mercia and Wessex that dated back to Penda's time (7th Cent)
English earldoms AD 1045. Feeling Godwin was getting above himself, earls Leofric of Mercia and Siward of Northumbria sided with Eadward against him. There was also the old rivalry between Mercia and Wessex that dated back to Penda's time (7th Cent) | Source

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

Svein and Beorn were on board ship In the Solent when Svein asked his kinsman to give him his earldom. Beorn answered that he could not without first asking the king. Svein slew him in front of the crew...
Svein and Beorn were on board ship In the Solent when Svein asked his kinsman to give him his earldom. Beorn answered that he could not without first asking the king. Svein slew him in front of the crew...
See descripton below
See descripton below | Source

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.

King at the centre, his bishops and lay advisers on either side - this was the meeting of counsellors, the Witanegemot that decided issues too complex for a shire court. They also advised the king on a course of action in the event of rebellion...
King at the centre, his bishops and lay advisers on either side - this was the meeting of counsellors, the Witanegemot that decided issues too complex for a shire court. They also advised the king on a course of action in the event of rebellion... | Source

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

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    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Thanks Russell. Robert of Jumieges was a big player who strutted on the same stage as Godwin, and upped anchor with Godwin's youngest son and one of his grandsons. This led to at least one tale of misery long after Robert's demise back in Normandy, namely the continued incarceration of Wulfnoth after William's death. The episode is touched on in my first historical book 'RAVENFEAST - Farewell to Legend'. See the 'RAVENFEAST' page on Hub-pages.

      Have a good New Year!

    • profile image

      russell croker 

      6 years ago

      this very good on history on robert of jurmieges

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      7 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Thanks Pam. I've got no claims on prior knowledge... Or have I? Most of what I know is gleaned from reading. i've got a shelf-ful of books about the time! My lot was probably scraping a living from the land up near the Lakes, and others were paying their dues in what is now Yorkshire

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Dapples 

      7 years ago from Just Arizona Now

      Voted up and awesome. You sure did a great job on putting all this history into a flowing narrative. I'm wondering if you might well be related to one of these men in history and that inspired you through the work of the narrative. I've thought of writing about my Kinnaird ancestry. R. de Kinnaird was a Norman who benefited from supporting the William you speak of. (But so far, methinks it is too much work.) Great hub.

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