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GODWIN'S CLAN - 10: Tostig's Downfall As Earl Of Northumbria And Return For Revenge

Updated on December 22, 2017

Much was achieved by Tostig after his appointment by Eadward to the earldom of Northumbria in AD1055, although all this would count for nought ten years later .

Tostig Godwinson's acceptance by the northern nobles AD 1055 - a strong man was needed to succeed Siward in this unruly earldom
Tostig Godwinson's acceptance by the northern nobles AD 1055 - a strong man was needed to succeed Siward in this unruly earldom | Source
Godwin's clan, Tostig was the third son and fourth of the earl's offspring by Gytha Thorkelsdatter
Godwin's clan, Tostig was the third son and fourth of the earl's offspring by Gytha Thorkelsdatter
Northumbria, not the easiest earldom to rule. Once a kingdom, at other times two kingdoms either side f the Tees (Bernicia and Deira - part of the Danelaw for most of the 10th Century, Eirik Haraldsson's kingdom of Jorvik near the end of the 10th)
Northumbria, not the easiest earldom to rule. Once a kingdom, at other times two kingdoms either side f the Tees (Bernicia and Deira - part of the Danelaw for most of the 10th Century, Eirik Haraldsson's kingdom of Jorvik near the end of the 10th)

... As Tostig hunted with King Eadward at Britford in Wiltshire on October 3rd, AD 1065...

Northumbrian nobles and thegns fell on the Earlsburh in York, slaying any and all of Tostig's huscarls still about. The next target was the treasury, confirming that the main bugbear was the earl's heavy taxation. Yet it was not only taxation itself but the methods by which taxes were taken from unwilling contributors - by torture, forfeiture and murder.

[The main protagonist of Tostig's harsh rule Copsig was away at the time - possibly with the rest of Tostig's huscarls 'on business'. Copsig, of Anglo-Danish parentage had connections around Northumbria south of the Tees, his family was well off, landed and his reach extended into the old Danelaw region south beyond Northumbria. He would re-surface officially around the time William set off for Normandy after handing Copsig the part of the earldom held previously by Gospatrick's kinsman Osulf]..

Their anger spent, the thegns met to think up a reason to give the king for what might have been seen as an unwarranted attack on the earl's property. This brought out the declaration of Tostig's actions being unlawful in themselves, and the call for Earl Eadwin's younger brother Morkere to be made earl in his stead.

To Aelfgar's sons this was a God-given way of belittling the scion of a rival clan, believing Tostig had done their father out of his rightful due. Earl Aelfgar should have had seniority over Godwin's third son but for Queen Eadgytha and Earl Harold putting a rival claim to King Eadward on Tostig's behalf. Not that the king needed a lot of persuasion. Tostig was a favourite of the king's and he was after all Eadgytha's favoured brother (over Harold).

Of all men, why Morkere? He was not chosen for his links with Northumbria. In this he was as far as was Tostig from any of the noble clans. There was after all Oswulf, son of the Eadwulf slain by Earl Siward in AD1041; there was also Waltheof, now older but unlikely to have stood much chance against being bullied into doing the bidding of men claiming to be his father Siward's 'friends'. And there was Gospatric, son of Maldred, friend of Tostig. He was too close to Tostig to be thought of as an ideal candidate, so he would have to bide his time. Oswulf would be chosen to rule north of the Tees under Morkere. So because of internal rivalries they had to look beyond their boundaries - but not too far, hopefully - for a new earl, and Morkere seemed the most likely of all the available candidates.

Morkere also served to take the heat away from them in the light of King Eadward's own preference for Tostig, and that he was brother to the most senior of the earls. Besides, the young Mercian candidate would draw help from Earl Eadwin for their cause. The Godwinsons would then be limited to the southern third of the kingdom. With the new earl-elect the rebels took the road south by way of the eastern Danelaw shires where Tostig held lands connected with the earldom of Northumbria. They razed his other estates along the way.

Harold met them at Northampton without an armed following. He was there to talk to the rebels, not to force them back. Talks were probably heated, tempers high due to the nature of the northern thegns' cause and they way they had seized Tostig's property and slain his followers.

Tostig wished to keep the earldom and the queen - his sister - was with him in this, as was the king. The alliance of nobles had sought the support of Earl Eadwin, who had with him some of his Welsh allies - no doubt still smarting from the humiliation inflicted on them three years earlier. They too wanted to see Harold and Tostig brought down to size. Neither side would yield, however. Talking was made harder by the depth of feeling and Tostig was willing to risk civil war for his own ends. But the rebels wanted no more of him, insisting Morkere be made earl.

We have to assume that aside from Eadgytha and Eadward on his side, his younger brothers Gyrth and Leofwin also wished him restored, although there is no record of their opinion in this. Harold was in a quandary, wishing to support Tostig, and according to Chronicle 'C' the Earl of Wessex hoped for agreement between both parties, with his brother perhaps holding on to the earldom. On the strength of his older brother's skills in diplomacy Tostig may have specifically asked for Harold's help. Rancour set in, however, and Tostig became embittered at Harold's apparent inability to have him reinstated despite the necessary consensus within Northumbria being against him. Skilled diplomat that he was, Harold lost ground against the nobles who stubbornly pressed for Morkere to be made their earl by the king.

He drew back from civil war, as his father had done in AD1051 at Southwark. At the Oxford Council on October 28th he had already reached his decision when the meeting opened. Telling the assembly that short of a war wihin the kingdom he would not push the Northumbrian thegns into taking back Tostig as their earl. The Vita Eadwardi tells of the arguments raised against putting the rebellion down by brute force. Harold advised that they should yield to the demands raised. He would have been aware of Duke William's ambitions, and if they were to mount cohesive resistance to him they would need everyone on their side. The outcome of the meeting brought accusations of collusion from Tostig. The rest of Godwin's clan and the king must have been shocked at the thought of the former earl facing banishment.

Harold felt it necessary to swear an oath absolving himself from blame. Was there any truth in Tostig's accusation against Harold? The rebellion arose out of a situation in the north that Harold could not have known of - still less than Tostig - and there were no pointers at the time of any rivalry between the two brothers, especially as they had campaigned so successfully together against Gruffyd in AD1063. Suggestions have been made to the effect of Harold feeling threatened by Tostig's presence and in his own ambitions toward the throne. As it was when Harold did take the throne Eadwin and Morkere, aside from all the English nobles outside Wessex and the Godwinson holdings saw Harold as a usurper. There could have been no prior collusion with them.

There is nothing to suggest either that Tostig supported the claim to the throne of Eadgar 'the aetheling'. Also, any notion of Tostig's desire for the kingship would have rested on shaky ground with his lack of any widespread influence in the kingdom. The evidence points to him being a supporter of his brother, as he had always been. There remains the timing of any desires Harold might have had of taking the throne. As yet the king in his sixty-third year still showed no sign of weakening beyond natural ageing. By the time Eadward died in the normal course of events 'the aetheling' Eadgar would have been in a strong enough position to take over the kingdom, both in his physical standing and in political strength. He would be better known in the course of time, but time was running out as it proved.

In taking the initiative Harold's 'removal' of Tostig and Eadgar through prior treaty with Eadwin and Morkere can be ruled out, although not altogether dismissed out of hand - but it is unlikely. The Mercian brothers would not have found it hard to ditch Harold and side with 'the aetheling' if their own standing was compromised in the event of a plot being uncovered. Furthermore Harold would not have been so foolish and short-sighted as to risk his own high standing.

Next - 11: After the Rift

Aftermath, September 20th, 1066 and on to Gospatric's earldom in 1068 under William

Part of the battleground at Gate Fulford south of York where the combined fyrds of Eadwin and Morkere were routed on September 20th, 1066 by Harald and Tostig
Part of the battleground at Gate Fulford south of York where the combined fyrds of Eadwin and Morkere were routed on September 20th, 1066 by Harald and Tostig | Source
Harald Sigurdsson and Tostig take the surrender of York by Earl Morkere and his older brother Earl Eadwin of Mercia
Harald Sigurdsson and Tostig take the surrender of York by Earl Morkere and his older brother Earl Eadwin of Mercia | Source
The family tree of Uhtred of Bamburgh and Earl Siward - Gospatric became Earl of Northumbria in AD 1068 under William I before Waltheof briefly held the earldom until implicated in a plot to remove William
The family tree of Uhtred of Bamburgh and Earl Siward - Gospatric became Earl of Northumbria in AD 1068 under William I before Waltheof briefly held the earldom until implicated in a plot to remove William

From becoming premier earl under Knut, Godwin's star rose as Earl of Wessex. It was to be a bumpy ride, however. Eadward accused Godwin of having his brother Aelfred murdered by order of Harold I ('Harefoot'). Godwin's way out was to pay for a handsome ship he gave the king in 1042. Godwin next had daughter Eadgytha wed to Eadward, who felt the closeness of his in-laws claustrophobic. Svein, Godwin's eldest son did not help. From promising beginnings as earl of Herefordshire, keeping out the Welsh, he had the abbess of Leominster adbucted and seduced her. From then on Svein's path led downhill. Harold was the saving of the clan. When his father died suddenly at the Easter Feast in 1053, due to the empathy between him and Eadward he was made Earl of Wessex. Read on...

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