Godwin, Earl of Wessex

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Godwin of Wessex
Reign1020–1053
Bornprobably Sussex [1]
Died15 April 1053
Winchester, Hampshire, England
Spouse Gytha Thorkelsdóttir
Issue Sweyn, Earl of Herefordshire
Harold, King of England
Tostig, Earl of Northumbria
Edith, Queen of England
Gyrth, Earl of East Anglia
Leofwine, Earl of Kent
Wulfnoth
Alfgar
Edgiva
Elgiva
Gunhilda
House Godwin (founder)
Father Wulfnoth Cild

Godwin of Wessex (Old English :Godƿin; d. 15 April 1053) was one of the most powerful earls in England under the Danish king Cnut the Great and his successors. Cnut made him the first Earl of Wessex. Godwin was the father of King Harold Godwinson and Edith of Wessex, wife of King Edward the Confessor.

Kingdom of England historic sovereign kingdom on the British Isles (927–1649; 1660–1707)

The Kingdom of England was a sovereign state on the island of Great Britain from 927, when it emerged from various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms until 1707, when it united with Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Denmark constitutional monarchy in Europe

Denmark, officially the Kingdom of Denmark, is a Nordic country and the southernmost of the Scandinavian nations. Denmark lies southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and is bordered to the south by Germany. The Kingdom of Denmark also comprises two autonomous constituent countries in the North Atlantic Ocean: the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark proper consists of a peninsula, Jutland, and an archipelago of 443 named islands, with the largest being Zealand, Funen and the North Jutlandic Island. The islands are characterised by flat, arable land and sandy coasts, low elevation and a temperate climate. Denmark has a total area of 42,924 km2 (16,573 sq mi), land area of 42,394 km2 (16,368 sq mi), and the total area including Greenland and the Faroe Islands is 2,210,579 km2 (853,509 sq mi), and a population of 5.8 million.

Cnut the Great 10th and 11th-century King of Denmark, Norway, and England

Cnut the Great, also known as Canute, whose father was Sweyn Forkbeard, was King of Denmark, England and Norway; together often referred to as the North Sea Empire. Yet after the deaths of his heirs within a decade of his own, and the Norman conquest of England in 1066, this legacy was lost. He is popularly invoked in the context of the legend of King Canute and the tide, which usually misrepresents him as a deluded monarch believing he has supernatural powers, contrary to the original legend which portrays a wise king who rebuked his courtiers for their fawning behaviour.

Contents

Rise to power

Godwin's father was probably Wulfnoth Cild, who was a thegn of Sussex. His origin is unknown but 'Cild' normally refers to a man of rank. In 1009 Wulfnoth was accused of unknown crimes at a muster of Æthelred the Unready's fleet and fled with twenty ships; the ships sent to pursue him were destroyed in a storm. Godwin was probably an adherent of Æthelred's eldest son, Æthelstan, who left him an estate when he died in 1014. [2] This estate in Compton, Sussex, had once belonged to Godwin's father. [3] Although he is now always thought of as connected with Wessex, Godwin had probably been raised in Sussex, not Wessex [3] and was probably a native of Sussex. [1]

Wulfnoth Cild was a South Saxon thegn who is regarded by historians as the probable father of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, and thus the grandfather of King Harold Godwinson.

Thegn Term describing an aristocratic class in Anglo-Saxon England and medieval Scandinavia or a member of that class

The term thegn, from Old English þegn, ðegn, "servant, attendant, retainer", "one who serves", is commonly used to describe either an aristocratic retainer of a king or nobleman in Anglo-Saxon England, or, as a class term, the majority of the aristocracy below the ranks of ealdormen and high-reeves. It is also the term for an early medieval Scandinavian class of retainers.

Kingdom of Sussex former Saxon kingdom on the island of Britain

The Kingdom of the South Saxons, today referred to as the Kingdom of Sussex, was one of the seven traditional kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. On the south coast of the island of Great Britain, it was originally a sixth century Saxon colony and later an independent kingdom. The South Saxons were ruled by the kings of Sussex until the country was annexed by Wessex, probably in 827, in the aftermath of the Battle of Ellandun.

After Cnut seized the throne in 1016, Godwin's rise was rapid. By 1018 he was an earl, probably of eastern Wessex, and then by around 1020 of all Wessex. [2] Between 1019 and 1023 he accompanied Cnut on an expedition to Denmark, where he distinguished himself, and shortly afterwards married Gytha, the sister of the Danish earl, Ulf, who was married to Cnut's sister, Estrid. [4]

Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, also called Githa, was a Danish noblewoman. She was the mother of King Harold Godwinson and of Edith of Wessex, queen consort of King Edward the Confessor of England.

Ulf the Earl Danish nobleman

Ulf was a Danish earl (jarl) and regent of Denmark. Ulf was the father of King Sweyn II of Denmark and thus the progenitor of the House of Estridsen, which would rule Denmark from 1047 to 1375, which was also sometimes, specially in Swedish sources, referred to as the Ulfinger dynasty to honor him.

Estrid Svendsdatter of Denmark, was a Danish princess and titular Queen, a Russian princess and, possibly, Duchess of Normandy by marriage. She was the daughter of Sweyn Forkbeard and perhaps Gunhild of Wenden and sister of Cnut the Great. By Ulf Jarl, she was the mother of the later King Sweyn II Estridson and Beorn Estrithson. The dynasty that ruled Denmark in 1047–1412 was named after her. She was known in Denmark as Dronning Estrid, despite the fact that she was not married to a King and not a queen regnant.

Height of power: support of Harold

On 12 November 1035, Cnut died. His kingdoms were divided among three rival rulers. Harold Harefoot, Cnut's illegitimate son with Ælfgifu of Northampton, seized the throne of England. Harthacnut, Cnut's legitimate son with Emma of Normandy, reigned in Denmark. Norway rebelled under Magnus the Noble. In 1035, the throne of England was reportedly claimed by Alfred Ætheling, younger son of Emma of Normandy and Æthelred the Unready, and half-brother of Harthacnut. Godwin is reported to have either captured Alfred himself or to have deceived him by pretending to be his ally and then surrendering him to the forces of Harold Harefoot. Either way Alfred was blinded and soon died at Ely.[ citation needed ] According to the contemporary Abingdon manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , Godwin had Alfred's retainers executed, blinded, maimed, and scalped: "no more horrible deed was done in this country since the Danes came and made peace here". [5]

Harold Harefoot King of England

Harold I, also known as Harold Harefoot, was King of England from 1035 to 1040. Harold's nickname "Harefoot" is first recorded as "Harefoh" or "Harefah" in the twelfth century in the history of Ely Abbey, and according to late medieval chroniclers it meant that he was fleet of foot.

Ælfgifu of Northampton regent

Ælfgifu of Northampton was the first wife of Cnut the Great, King of England and Denmark, and mother of Harold Harefoot, King of England. She was regent of Norway from 1030 to 1035.

Harthacnut King of Denmark and King of England

Harthacnut, sometimes referred to as Canute III, was King of Denmark from 1035 to 1042 and King of England from 1040 to 1042.

In 1040, Harold Harefoot died and Godwin supported the accession of his half-brother Harthacnut to the throne of England. When Harthacnut himself died in 1042 Godwin supported the claim of Æthelred's last surviving son Edward the Confessor to the throne. Edward had spent most of the previous thirty years in Normandy. His reign restored the native royal house of Wessex to the throne of England.

Edward the Confessor 11th-century Anglo-Saxon King of England and saint

Edward the Confessor, also known as Saint Edward the Confessor, was among the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England. Usually considered the last king of the House of Wessex, he ruled from 1042 to 1066.

Normandy Administrative region of France

Normandy is one of the 18 regions of France, roughly referring to the historical Duchy of Normandy.

Later conflicts, decline, and death

Despite his alleged responsibility for the death of Edward's brother Alfred, [6] Godwin secured the marriage of his daughter Edith (Eadgyth) to Edward in 1045. [7] As Edward drew advisors, nobles and priests from his former place of refuge in a bid to develop his own power base, Godwin soon became the leader of opposition to growing Norman influence. After a violent clash between the people of Dover and the visiting Eustace II, Count of Boulogne, Edward's father-in-law, Godwin was ordered to punish the people of Dover (as he and Leofric, Earl of Mercia had done in Worcester, in Leofric's own earldom). This time, however, Godwin refused, choosing to champion his own countrymen against a (visiting) foreign ruler and his own king. Edward saw this as a test of power, and managed to enlist the support of Siward, Earl of Northumbria and Earl Leofric. Godwin and his sons were exiled from the kingdom in September 1051. Godwin, along with his wife Gytha and sons Sweyn, Tostig and Gyrth sought refuge in Flanders, while his sons Leofwine and Harold fled to Dublin, where they gained the shelter and help of Diarmait mac Máel na mBó, King of Leinster. They all returned to England the following year with armed forces, gaining the support of the navy, burghers, and peasants, so compelling Edward to restore his earldom. This however set a precedent to be followed by a rival earl some years later, and then by Godwin's own son, Tostig, in 1066.

Edith of Wessex Queen Consort of England

Edith of Wessex was a Queen of England. Her husband was Edward the Confessor, whom she married on 23 January 1045. Unlike most English queens in the 10th and 11th centuries, she was crowned. The principal source on her life is a work she herself commissioned, the Vita Ædwardi Regis or the Life of King Edward who rests at Westminster, which is inevitably biased.

Normans European ethnic group emerging in the 10th and 11th century in France

The Normans are an ethnic group that arose in Normandy, a northern region of France, from contact between indigenous Franks and Gallo-Romans, and Norse Viking settlers. The settlements followed a series of raids on the French coast from Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, and they gained political legitimacy when the Viking leader Rollo agreed to swear fealty to King Charles III of West Francia. The distinct cultural and ethnic identity of the Normans emerged initially in the first half of the 10th century, and it continued to evolve over the succeeding centuries.

Count of Boulogne

The Count of Boulogne is a historical title in the kingdom of France. The city of Boulogne-sur-Mer became the centre of the county of Boulogne during the ninth century. Little is known of the early counts, but the first holder of the title is recorded in the 11th century.

On 15 April 1053 Godwin died suddenly, after collapsing during a royal banquet at Winchester. According to one colourful account by the 12th-century writer Aelred of Rievaulx, Godwin tried to disclaim responsibility for Alfred Ætheling's death with the words "May this crust which I hold in my hand pass through my throat and leave me unharmed to show that I was guiltless of treason towards you, and that I was innocent of your brother's death!". He swallowed the crust, but it stuck in his throat and killed him. [8] However, this appears to be no more than Norman propaganda, contemporary accounts indicating that he just had a sudden illness, possibly a stroke. According to the Abingdon version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , under the year 1053: "On Easter Monday, as he was sitting with the king at a meal he suddenly sank towards the footstool bereft of speech, and deprived of all his strength. Then he was carried to the king's private room and they thought it was about to pass off. But it was not so. On the contrary, he continued like this without speech or strength right on to the Thursday, and then departed this life." [9]

His son Harold succeeded him as Earl of Wessex, an area then covering roughly the southernmost third of England. With the death of Earl Siward (1055) and later Earl Ælfgar (1062), the children of Godwin were poised to assume sole control. Tostig was helped into the earldom of Northumbria, thus controlling the north. The Mercian earl was sidelined, especially after Harold and Tostig broke the Welsh-Mercian alliance in 1063. Harold later succeeded Edward the Confessor and became King of England in his own right in 1066. At this point, both Harold's remaining brothers in England were earls in their own right, Harold was himself king and in control of Wessex, and he had married the sister of Earl Edwin of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria (who had replaced Tostig). Godwin's family looked set to inaugurate a new royal dynasty, but instead Harold was overthrown and killed in the Norman Conquest.

Family

Children

Family tree

Legacy

It is sometimes claimed that the Goodwin Sands off the coast of Deal in Kent owe their name to Earl Godwin; that they were once an island owned by him, but that the sea washed the island away in 1097. However, no such island is mentioned in Domesday Book, which was compiled in 1085-86, nor is there any geological evidence for its existence, [11] and Goodwin has been alternatively explained as an ironic name for a dangerous shoal, deriving from the Old English for "good friend". [12]

Godwin has been portrayed by Torin Thatcher in the film Lady Godiva of Coventry (1955), by Norman Rodway in the BBC TV series Churchill's People (1974–75), and by Bill Wallis in an episode of the British educational TV series Historyonics entitled "1066" (2004). Godwin is also the lead character of Justin Hill's novel, Shieldwall (2011).

See also

Notes

  1. 1 2 Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Godwine"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. 1 2 Ann Williams, Godwine, Oxford Online Dictionary of National Biography, 2004
  3. 1 2 Bibbs, Hugh (1999). "The Rise of Godwine Earl of Wessex" . Retrieved 17 January 2013.
  4. Pauline Stafford, 'Edith, Edward's Wife and Queen', in Richard Mortimer ed., Edward the Confessor: The Man and the Legend, The Boydell Press, 2009, p. 121
  5. "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Abingdon manuscript". Archived from the original on 2017-08-20. Retrieved 2017-08-18.
  6. Weir, Alison (1996) Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy. London: Random House. ISBN   0-7126-7448-9, p. 24
  7. Weir, p. 33
  8. Douglas, David C. (1990) William the Conqueror: The Norman Impact Upon England London: Methuen. ISBN   0-413-24320-6, pp. 412-413.
  9. Douglas, David C. (1990) William the Conqueror: The Norman Impact Upon England London: Methuen. ISBN   0-413-24320-6, p. 412.
  10. Weir, pp. 34–36
  11. Lloyd, J. (14 August 2016). "The Lost Island of Lomea". The Rural Voice. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  12. Ekwall, Eilert (1960). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names (4th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 201. ISBN   0198691033.

Sources

Peerage of England
New title Earl of Wessex
c. 1019–1053
Succeeded by
Harold Godwinson
Earl of Kent
1020–1053
Succeeded by
Leofwine Godwinson

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