Rise of Edwin and Morcar, Ill-fated Earls

Coronation of Harold Godwineson Source: Wikipedia

If the mid-eleventh century is dominated by any theme, the rivalry between the great houses ranks close to the top. When Edward the Confessor became king, England was dominated by the Three Great Earls: Godwine of Wessex, Leofric of Mercia, and Siward of Northumbria. Edward made it his policy to leverage one (or two) against the other, which usually held him in good stead.

When Godwine died in 1053, Harold stepped into his shoes with hardly a ripple. But once old Siward died in 1055 and Leofric followed in 1057, the balance of power had shifted. Tostig was awarded the earldom of Northumbria and Aelfgar, Leofric’s son, was given Mercia (though he proved much less effective than his father). Gyrth and Lefowine split the earldom of East Anglia. So by 1057, the house of Godwine controlled all of England except Mercia. Poor Aelfgar must have felt himself at a huge disadvantage, which probably goes a long way toward explaining his alliance with Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, Prince of Wales (and thorn in King Edward’s side). But this didn’t last long either, for Aelfgar expired in December 1062. He was survived by two sons, Edwin and Morcar (or Eadwine and Morkere), and a daughter, Ealdgyth, who was married to Gruffydd.

So Edwin became the next Earl of Mercia, though apparently his early years were pretty uneventful. Gryffydd was on the run, and there is no indication that Mercia interfered in Welsh politics at this time. Presumably Edwin took back his sister after the Prince of Wales was killed by Harold Godwineson in 1063 (she is the same Ealdgyth, or Edith, who married Harold around the time he became king). In 1065 he was to become involved in his brother’s unlawful acquisition of Northumbria, with Welsh fighters in tow. Where did they come from?

Tostig’s tenure in Northumbria lasted 10 years, but in October of 1065 his disgruntled thegns rose up in rebellion while the earl was in the south with the king. It was well planned, and Tostig’s 200 housecarls were wiped out before they were able to mount an effective resistance. The rebels broke into the treasury, raided the armory, killed any and all of Tostig’s supporters, then declared a Witan to choose a new earl. This was not a legal procedure, for only the king was entitled to elect an earl. But the Northumbrians were jealous of their privileges and intended to compel King Edward to accept their decision. Morcar was their choice, and apparently he was elected unanimously. He just happened to be within calling distance and quickly swore himself in; needless to say, many historians believe he had secretly agreed to become earl during the planning stages.

Why did the Northumbrians choose an outsider and an inexperienced leader, at that? Perhaps this was the very reason: what better way to control a puppet ruler? Everyone knew that Morcar was the best candidate to antagonize the house of Godwine. But also, the men from Northumberland and the men from Yorkshire (north vs. south in the earldom) didn’t exactly get along; it’s a good possibility that Morcar was a compromise candidate, acceptable to all. Regardless, he took his place at the Witan and proceeded to lead a very disruptive mob south to confront the king. They plundered their way though Tostig’s lands so as to do the most damage to their declared enemy—even taking hundreds of captives.

Statues of Earl Leofric and Lady Godiva on Coventry City Hall

Somewhere around Northampton, the rebels paused, though their marauding continued. At this point they were joined by Edwin and a contingent from his earldom, supplemented by a large number of Welsh fighters. This new alliance seemed a little suspicious to many historians. Emma Mason in her “THE HOUSE OF GODWINE” proposed that there might be a connection between Edwin’s Welsh followers and the destruction of Harold’s new hunting lodge in Portskewett a few months before. Could it be that the attackers were on their way to join in Edwin’s “great rebellion that was about to break out”? I find this suggestion to be almost irresistible. Is it possible that Edwin and Morcar were hoping to build a whole new northern state, to bring England back to the days of the Danelaw?

In the end, the Northumbrian rebellion was successful and the rebels forced Harold Godwineson—Edward’s spokesman—to accept their demands. They refused to take Tostig back, and went so far as to insist on his outlawry. The king reluctantly agreed to allow Morcar to remain as Earl, and presumably they went peaceably back home, having satisfied their destructive impulses.

Earls Edwin and Morcar were not destined to enjoy their status for very long. I’ll continue their story in my next blog entry.

New Release: THE SONS OF GODWINE

HaroldCoverFront3Emerging from the long shadow cast by his formidable father, Harold Godwineson showed himself to be a worthy successor to the Earldom of Wessex. In the following twelve years, he became the King’s most trusted advisor, practically taking the reins of government into his own hands. And on Edward the Confessor’s death, Harold Godwineson mounted the throne—the first king of England not of royal blood. Yet Harold was only a man, and his rise in fortune was not blameless. Like any person aspiring to power, he made choices he wasn’t particularly proud of. Unfortunately, those closest to him sometimes paid the price of his fame.

This is a story of Godwine’s family as told from the viewpoint of Harold and his younger brothers. Queen Editha, known for her Vita Ædwardi Regis, originally commissioned a work to memorialize the deeds of her family, but after the Conquest historians tell us she abandoned this project and concentrated on her husband, the less dangerous subject. In THE SONS OF GODWINE and FATAL RIVALRY, I am telling the story as it might have survived had she collected and passed on the memoirs of her tragic brothers.

This book is part two of The Last Great Saxon Earls series. Book one, GODWINE KINGMAKER, depicted the rise and fall of the first Earl of Wessex who came to power under Canute and rose to preeminence at the beginning of Edward the Confessor’s reign. Unfortunately, Godwine’s misguided efforts to champion his eldest son Swegn recoiled on the whole family, contributing to their outlawry and Queen Editha’s disgrace. Their exile only lasted one year and they returned victorious to London, though it was obvious that Harold’s career was just beginning as his father’s journey was coming to an end.

Harold’s siblings were all overshadowed by their famous brother; in their memoirs we see remarks tinged sometimes with admiration, sometimes with skepticism, and in Tostig’s case, with jealousy. We see a Harold who is ambitious, self-assured, sometimes egocentric, imperfect, yet heroic. His own story is all about Harold, but his brothers see things a little differently. Throughout, their observations are purely subjective, and witnessing events through their eyes gives us an insider’s perspective.

Harold was his mother’s favorite, confident enough to rise above petty sibling rivalry but Tostig, next in line, was not so lucky. Harold would have been surprised by Tostig’s vindictiveness, if he had ever given his brother a second thought. And that was the problem. Tostig’s love/hate relationship with Harold would eventually destroy everything they worked for, leaving the country open to foreign conquest. This subplot comes to a crisis in book three of the series, FATAL RIVALRY.

Available NOW on Kindle, and Paperback, and Audible

 

 

My review of HAROLD II: The Doomed Saxon King by Peter Rex

HaroldIII’m not quite sure where I would put this volume in my own line-up of pre-conquest history books. On the one hand, it covered the issues intelligently and carefully. On the other hand, many of the major books he cites in his bibliography are already on my bookshelf…especially the 20th century sources. So on the one hand, on an information gathering mission I didn’t learn anything majorly new. Nonetheless, I placed a lot of bookmarks which means he touched on little details that fleshed out my understanding.

In many ways, the value of this book is in the explanations of things we just might not be entirely sure about. For instance, we get interesting general details: “The manors of an earl were probably organized like the royal demesne, the ‘home farms’ of the monarchy, into either provisioning or revenue-producing units. Entries in the Domesday Book note the number of nights’ farm that could be obtained from a manor. They were the cost of overnight provisions for the king or lord and his whole household when visiting the manor.” That helps explain some everyday factors that usually slip past us. There are many other explanations of this kind that helped put things into perspective for me.

The author also tried to make sense of conflicting histories, especially concerning the battle of Hastings and its aftermath. Which came first, and who influenced who? And why? “Admittedly, some historians criticize the Carmen, believing it to be a twelfth-century product, but the balance of probability seems to favor an early date for this work, around 1068…” Was the arrow in the eye story an effort to portray Harold as being punished from God for his perjury? Or was there some confusion between his death by an arrow and Harold Hardrada’s arrow in the throat? How much was this story influenced by the nineteenth century restoration of the Bayeux Tapestry? As you might guess, these passages raise more questions than they answer, but these questions are probably unanswerable anyway, so we might as well learn as much background as possible.

I was interested to see that Tostig’s troubles in the north may have had much to do with reforming the out-of-balance low taxation in Northumbria (when compared to the rest of the country). According to the author, “There was a reform of the royal household in the interests of efficiency early in the 1060s…Tostig’s rule was then seen as tightening royal control of the north at a time when the Witan in England was dominated by Harold, which would explain why Tostig blamed Harold for the revolt and accused him of conspiring against him.” To me, this is a big statement. First of all, it implies that Tostig did not arbitrarily raise taxes, which supposedly sparked off the insurrection. And it also gives a reason why he would accuse Harold of fomenting the rebellion, aside from a mere hysterical reaction. There’s a lot of food for thought here, which certainly delves deeper than the usual bland interpretation of Tostig’s allegedly poor government.

So, overall, I would say I have benefitted from reading this book. The writing was a little hard to get through in places, and I feel the author jumped around a little bit, but it gave me some specifics where I needed them in an academic manner. If I didn’t know anything about the period, I would probably have had a hard time getting through the book. It was really more about explaining why certain things happened rather than merely telling us a straightforward history, although there is a certain amount of that, too. But I think the straight history passages served as a vehicle to get us to the good stuff: sorting out the evidence of our many sources.

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Malcolm III and Tostig Godwineson

Macbeth fighting Malcolm 19th cent. drawing by F.Wentworth

The friendship between Tostig Godwineson and King Malcolm of Scotland seems to have been largely overlooked, but it seems to me that it had a significant impact on Tostig’s career. When Tostig was made Earl of Northumbria in 1055, Malcolm had been unofficial king for a year or so. As usual, there is much confusion regarding this period, but it is thought that Malcolm reigned over Lothian—south of the Firth of Forth—and Strathclyde, or Cumbria. He would not officially be crowned while Macbeth lived, as Macbeth still ruled in the northern part of Scotland.

In 1054, Earl Siward of Northumbria invaded Scotland in conjunction with King Edward’s housecarls to put Malcolm on the throne. The invasion was very real; the battle of Dunsinane may have been apocryphal—though there was certainly a major battle somewhere. I was surprised to discover that Siward was not Malcolm’s uncle (did I get this from Shakespeare?). His interest in Malcolm was predominately political, for he was continually concerned about the safety of his northern borders. Historian William Kapelle (The Norman Conquest of the North) tells that before 1054, “both Edward and Siward must have hoped that as king he (Malcolm) would end the hostility that had characterized the northern border since 1006”.  Kapelle tells us most definitely that “Malcolm did not hold Scotland as England’s vassal. He was king of Scots by inheritance and battle; his obligation to King Edward rested solely on gratitude.” Alas for Tostig, his gratitude was fleeting.

But that was later. When Siward died a year after the famous invasion—his heart broken by the death of his son in battle—the earldom of Northumbria was awarded to Tostig. There’s no evidence that Tostig had met Malcolm yet, but in 1057, the new Earl joined Malcolm’s final expedition against Macbeth. They tracked down and defeated the fleeing king at Lumphanan in Abersdeenshire; Macbeth allegedly died a few days later at Scone. According to Edward A. Freeman, King Edward’s biographer tells us that “Macbeth…was first defeated by Siward, then by Tostig.” (History of the Norman Conquest Vol 3, Appendix EE). So in some eyes, Tostig carried on the conflict begun by his predecessor. It seems he must have had a vested interest.

Tostig went on to create a very strong friendship with Malcolm. In 1059, Malcolm accompanied Tostig to King Edward’s court, probably at York (first visit by a Scottish monarch in 80 years). Somewhere in that time frame, Tostig and Malcolm became sworn brothers—blood brothers, as it were. This was a strong tie between rulers, but it seems that Tostig took it more seriously than Malcolm, for the Scots raided across the border whenever it suited them. These hostile acts culminated in 1061 when Tostig went on pilgrimage to Rome in support of his favorite Bishop, Ealdred, who expected to receive his pallium from the pope. Malcolm took advantage of Tostig’s absence to lead the most vicious of all raids deep into Northumbria, and even the sacred abbey of Lindisfarne was not spared. Tostig is accused to have responded to this outrage with diplomacy rather than reprisals, much to the dissatisfaction of his earldom. They seem to have thought him ineffectual in defending them, though according to Freeman, Tostig’s growing unpopularity made it hard for him to raise troops. This sounds like a vicious cycle!

Could it be that Tostig wanted to keep his friendship with Malcolm intact to ensure his welcome if the occasion arose? It’s hard to say, though he evidently had an uneasy relationship with the northerners since the beginning of his rule. It seems unlikely he knew what was brewing in his earldom in 1065, for he was frequently in the company of King Edward—and was accused of neglecting his earldom. When the terrible and well-planned revolt broke out in Northumbria and all 200+ of his household were killed, Tostig was once again in far-off south, hunting with the King. Ultimately he was forced into exile, and the next time he set foot on English soil he was an outlaw intent on revenge—or at least getting his earldom back through force of arms.

Battle of Stamford Bridge: Cambridge University Library MS. Ee.iii.59

It was thought he was testing the waters, so to speak, in May of 1066 when he landed on the Isle of Wight with a handful of ships, mostly loaned from Normandy and Flanders. He worked his way around the coast of Wessex, impressing more English ships into service. After an aborted raid on Sandwich, he sailed north and stopped at the Humber, but earls Edwin and Morcar were ready for him and drove his little fleet back into the sea. At this juncture, most of his allies melted away, and he limped off with only seven boats in tow out of his accumulated sixty. This was when his friendship with Malcolm really gave him a boost, for the King of the Scots welcomed his sworn brother with open arms and reportedly gave him sanctuary for the rest of the summer. From this safe haven, Tostig is said to have recruited Scottish mercenaries as well as allies from the Orkney Islands, who were planning to join Harald Hardrada’s September invasion. King Malcolm did not accompany Tostig on his last campaign, but it is supposed he saw him off with a fond farewell.

I wonder if he said “good riddance” under his breath.

 

 

The Children of Harold Godwineson

by Horace Vernet
Edith Swanneck discovering King Harold’s corpse on the battle field of Hastings by Horace Vernet…Credit: Wikimedia

Like much of the eleventh century, the fate of Harold’s children is somewhat vague. We have a pretty good idea about the immediate years after the Battle of Hastings, but with the exception of Harold’s daughter Gytha we don’t exactly know what happened to them.

Harold’s long relationship with his handfasted wife Edith Swanneck produced five or six children. Godwine, the eldest, was named after Harold’s father. Then we have Edmund (named after Edmund Ironside?), Magnus, Gunhild and Gytha. The youngest son, Ulf, was probably from this marriage, but some historians think he was the twin brother of Harold from his father’s second marriage to Ealdgyth, sister of Edwin and Morcar and (uncrowned) Queen of England.

From the first, we don’t know what happened to Edith Swanneck. Legend has it that she was brought to the battlefield to identify King Harold’s mangled corpse, based on marks that only she would know. After that, she presumably accompanied the body to Waltham Abbey for burial, but we know nothing further after that. Where were the children all this time?

We know that Gunhild took refuge in Wilton Abbey, a favorite establishment of her aunt Editha (Edward the Confessor’s wife). Perhaps Gunhild was already settled at the Abbey for her education and thus remained there after the battle. Years later, she left the Abbey in the company of Count Alain le Roux, Lord of Richmond, who was the recipient of many estates belonging to her mother. It seems that she had little vocation for the veil and took advantage of an opportunity to go back to her own lands. She and Alain lived together until his death, and afterwards she took up with his brother, Alain le Noir who inherited the estates. After le Noir’s death, she disappears from the records.

Alain le Rouge, source: Wikipedia

The three eldest sons of Edith may well have accompanied their mother to Ireland. Diarmaid of Leinster, the same King who sheltered Harold Godwineson back in 1051, is said to have welcomed Harold’s sons in their exile. It’s also possible that they went to Exeter, a stronghold of the Godwine family where their grandmother Gytha resided. Exeter became a focal point of local rebellion; King William took this threat seriously enough to lay siege to the city for 18 days in the winter of 1068. Apparently the besieged were not in agreement, for they capitulated to William while Gytha, accompanied by her allies, fled to the island of Flat Holm in the Bristol channel and stayed for many months.

The Irish King permitted the sons of Harold to recruit a fleet of mercenaries and invade England on two separate occasions; the last invasion proved a costly disaster in manpower and Magnus was probably killed. It’s possible that Gytha waited until it was clear that her grandsons’ cause was hopeless before leaving Flat Holme for good and traveling to Flanders. She may have entered a convent at St. Omer. Or she might have gone back to Scandinavia, where the presiding King of Denmark was her nephew.

It was thought that Godwine and Edmund probably went to Scandinavia as well, along with their sister Gytha. If they thought King Swegn would help militarily, they were destined to be disappointed. Our knowledge of their fate disappears after this, but Swegn was able to use his influence to set young Gytha up in a royal marriage. Her new husband, Vladimir Monomakh, prince of Smolensk was said to be handsome and rich, and she lived, in apparent contentment, until 1107.

Ulf, surprisingly, ended up a hostage in William the Conqueror’s court. Whether he was captured after the Exeter siege (which would make him a son of Edith Swanneck) or captured as a baby in Chester (which would make him a son of Ealdgyth) is unknown. He stayed in captivity until King William’s death in 1087, when he was released into the custody of Duke Robert, who knighted him and set him free. By all indications Ulf wisely stayed on the continent and has been identified as Loup Fitz Heraut (Wulf son of Harold) whose signature has been found in charters.

This leaves us with young Harold Haroldson, son of Queen Ealdgyth and heir to the throne if all had gone differently. Ealdgyth was heavily pregnant by the battle of Hastings, and afterwards her brothers Edwin and Morcar whisked her off to Chester for safekeeping. It is thought that the child’s uncles might have had it in mind to use him as a figurehead in a future bid for the throne, but they never got that far. When Ealdgyth found herself with no defenders, she is said to have fled to Ireland with her son. After he grew up, Harold apparently found his way to Norway.  In 1098 he accompanied King Magnus III Barelegs on an expedition to Ireland, but all traces are lost after this point.

It is ironic that Godwine and his clan, once the most powerful force in England, should be reduced to historical footnotes in two generations. And it’s even more ironic that through his daughter Gytha and her son (Mstislav I Vladimirovich the Great), Harold’s blood still flows through the royal houses of Europe all the way to the present day.

Did Harold die from an Arrow in the Eye?

The Bayeux Tapestry gave us an iconic image of Harold pulling an arrow from his eye. It must be Harold: the name is embroidered around his head and spear. And since the Tapestry is created so close in time to the actual event, it is considered one of the major sources of documentation and hence to be trusted. But somehow, even the identification of the wounded hero is questioned by some, and further investigation raises more questions than it answers. Why?

Well, one thread of discussion is the identity of the figure at Harold’s right, falling to the ground in the process of getting his leg cut off. As we learned from the 11th century Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, Harold was hacked up by four attackers (one of them might have been William). From 12th century Wace we learned that Harold was wounded in his eye by an arrow, then felled while still fighting, struck “on the thick of his thigh, down to the bone”. So many historians think the second figure is Harold. A third opinion is that both figures are Harold, since the Tapestry could be read like a long cartoon, where one scene leads to the next.

I recently learned about evidence that gives credence to the third theory, but only a close-up view will enlighten: a row of holes next to the second figure’s eye, that looks suspiciously like stitches that have been removed! An arrow? If so, Harold Arrowholesthen clearly this is the same figure as the other. As historian David Bernstein tells us in a thoroughly investigated “The Blinding of Harold and the Meaning of the Bayeux Tapestry”, there are three possible explanations for this row of holes: 1. They are traces of original stitches, which must have indicated an arrow above his eye (not in it). 2. Traces of an arrow sewn in by a later “inspired” restorer, that were subsequently removed by that person or someone else, or 3. Traces of an unrelated repair. Bernstein pretty much discards the third possibility. But what of #2?

from bayeux-tapestry.org.uk

I should have realized that the Bayeux Tapestry was subjected to a few major restorations during its 900+ year-old existence. From what I can gather, it was restored in 1730, 1818, 1842 and most recently in 1982. It is recorded that the Victorian-era restorations are fairly easy to determine because the wool used for the embroidery left stains on the edges of the holes. But how many figures were altered considerably beyond their original form? And does Harold’s death scene count among the alterations? Sketches drawn by Antoine Benoît before the 18th century restoration do not indicate the row of holes next to the prone Harold’s eye, so it is apparent they might have been added later.

Bernstein tantalizingly reassured us in his manuscript that the 1982 restoration was bound to enlighten us through scientific analysis, but so far I haven’t been able to find the results of this event. Meanwhile, he gave us a theory as to why the Tapestry shows an arrow in the eye when not one of the six contemporary accounts mention it at all. He theorized that the arrow represented the hand of God in retribution for Harold’s oath-breaking. After all, the Tapestry was a Norman creation (propaganda tool?) and it is possible that William saw this supernatural intervention as an expression of God’s approval.

 

Lands belonging to Harold Godwineson and King Edward

Land belonging to Harold and Edward
These maps were taken from Ian Walker’s HAROLD, THE LAST ANGLO-SAXON KING. Because I read that Harold was the wealthiest landowner in England, I was particularly taken with the big difference between what he owned as Earl and Edward the Confessor’s personal wealth. How much would Harold have inherited at Edward’s death?

Walker devotes a whole chapter of his book to Harold’s lands and wealth. According to the author: “There are four principal sources of lands in this period. The first was family land inherited from relatives. The second was ‘bookland’ or land granted by diploma, most often by the king or another lord and in return for loyal service. The third was land attached to an office like that of an earl… The fourth was straightforward purchase.”

We know that Harold inherited a great deal of wealth from his father, who was granted many forfeited estates by Canute. It’s interesting to see how much land Harold owned in East Anglia after having ceded that Earldom to Gyrth. Presumably some of these lands were granted to him by local men to secure his support. Also, his wife Edith Swanneck was wealthy in her own right and many of the estates came with her. We see a heavy concentration of properties in Herefordshire, which probably came from Swegn’s forfeited estates, possibly from the murdered Beorn, and from Earl Ralf, who died in 1057.

The author gave us their relative values, calculated from the Domesday book. In 1066, Harold’s land values were £2846 plus £836 held by his men. The whole Godwine family held lands valued at £5187 plus £1428 for their men, while King Edward’s land was only valued at £3840, plus the value of his men, which was the land of every man in England! I would guess the latter uncalculated value would accrue to Harold once he became king? And what of the rest? It’s pretty mind-boggling to me.

What of Bosham? Perhaps it belonged to his mother? I have more questions than answers, but that’s history for you.

 

Map of Stamfordbridge Campaign

FreemanStamfordbridge
Click for larger image

Once again I stumbled across a very helpful map in Volume 3 of Freeman’s History of the Norman Conquest. In my mind I had trouble locating the relative locations of these important spots so this is very helpful to me.

The sequence of events:
1) Harald Hardrada lands at Riccall, leaving his fleet there. The small Northumbrian fleet may have withdrawn to Tadcaster.
2) Hardrada and Tostig march to Gate Fulford. Eadwine and Morkere march from York and meet them at Fulford in battle. The English were slaughtered. This happened on a Wednesday; York is said to have surrendered immediately after the battle and formally capitulated on Sunday Sept. 24. Supplies were promised; 150 hostages were given. Hostages from the rest of the shire were also promised, to be delivered at Stamfordbridge. Hardrada returned to Ricall.
3) That same Sunday evening, Harold Godwineson reached Tadcaster by the old Roman Road. He would have had to pass due west of Riccall. Did he know about the fleet?

4) Monday morning Hardrada went to Stamfordbridge with 2/3 of his army, leaving the rest at Riccall. Harold Godwineson marched to York, was greeted enthusiastically, and passed directly through the city toward Stamfordbridge. Apparently Hardrada only reached Stamfordbridge a short time before Godwineson.

I learned that the actual battle was probably fought a little less than 3 miles north of Stamfordbridge and a bit inland at a place called “Battle Flat”.  I’m still working on this confusing scenario!

 

 

Did Edward the Confessor give the crown to Duke William?

William pays court to the English leaders by James William Edmund Doyle from Wikipedia

In my mind, this is one of the most provocative questions of the Middle Ages. In 1066, Duke William acted with the surety of someone who believed in what he was doing. To take such a big risk, he must have had good reason. William did not have a drop of royal blood in him, and his relationship to King Edward was a bit convoluted; Queen Emma, Edward’s mother, was his great-aunt.  There were closer blood-ties to the English throne than his. So his claim must have relied on Edward’s alleged promise. Interestingly, this claim comes almost exclusively from the Norman chron-iclers; the English chroniclers are silent on the subject. That in itself is enough to raise some eyebrows. Or is it?

Much of the argument is based on whether Duke William crossed the Channel and visited King Edward while the Godwine clan was in exile. Florence of Worcester, writing a half century later, states that he did. Modern historians seem to conclude that this was unlikely, as William was still probably fighting to secure his own throne. Of course, this visit or non-visit would determine whether William’s claim was first-hand or second-hand. Did Edward personally declare William his heir, or did the announcement come through Archbishop Robert of Jumièges?

There is a reference that a grateful Edward, still in exile, promised William the crown in their younger days. I think we can safely discard this one, since Edward was about 25 years older than William. It has been suggested that Edward was throwing around promises of succession (kind of like Elizabeth I and promises of marriages). If Duke William did visit England in 1052, it is possible that Edward, cocky after having rid himself of the troublesome Godwines, was asserting his will. Maybe he meant it, maybe he didn’t. Surely Edward knew he didn’t have the right to give away his crown; that decision was made by the Witan.

If we accept the theory that William did not visit Edward in England, then the big promise was probably delivered by Archbishop Robert, presumably after his outlawry on the heels of Godwine’s return in 1052. There seems to be little doubt that Robert kidnapped the hostages Wulfnoth and Hakon when he unceremoniously fled from London. Whether or not this was with Edward’s connivance is uncertain, though it must have reflected unfavorably on the King since they were Edward’s hostages. If Robert did forcibly abduct the boys, this could explain why his exit was so violently resisted; perhaps there was a last-ditch effort to save Godwin’s son and grandson.

What did Robert do with the hostages? Ultimately he turned them over to Duke William. It has been suggested he told the Duke that King Edward declared William his heir with the approval of the Great Earls, and was sending the two hostages as surety. In all likelihood, William was inclined to accept this offer; why not? It all looked pretty convincing on the surface. This is the version I favored in THE SONS OF GODWINE.

Shrine of Edward the Confessor from Matthew Paris, Cambridge Univ Library (Ms Ee 359)

This leads us to Harold Godwineson’s fateful visit in 1064, which opens up another slew of questions. The Norman chroniclers asserted that he came on King Edward’s orders to affirm the promise of the crown to William. Or did he come to negotiate the release of the hostages? Or was he merely blown across the Channel by a storm? Regardless, he became an unwilling pawn in William’s grand plan. It appears that the Duke had already made up his mind to go for it! Harold wasn’t permitted to leave until he swore to support William’s claim for the English throne. Although he swore the oath under duress, breaking his vow in 1066 was destined to follow Harold until the end, and probably encouraged the Pope to throw his support behind the Norman Duke—not an insignificant factor.

Could it be that Archbishop Robert made up the whole Edward story, as a personal revenge on Godwine and England for having treated him so shabbily? If he did fabricate the whole thing, it was a revenge served up cold, because Robert died a couple of years later and never saw how far Duke William was willing to go.

 

Review of “The House of Godwine” by Emma Mason

The House of Godwine: The History of a DynastyThe House of Godwine: The History of a Dynasty by Emma Mason

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book some months ago, and today, as I was looking up a detail for more clarification, I realized that this volume was full of paper slips marking important passages. Then I realized I never reviewed this book which I keep on hand while working on my historical fiction projects. Well, I suppose this is a classic case of taking a book for granted, since I’m still actively using it.

I find “The House of Godwine” to be a clear, detailed and useful history that goes farther than merely recording pertinent details. Emma Mason skillfully puts “two and two” together and ventures to explain how certain events occurred or why people did what they did. For instance, when Harold launched his lightning attack on the court of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn in 1062: “It has been suggested that Aelfgar died in the Christmas season, possibly while attending court, and that this opportunity was seized to attack his ally Gruffydd ap Llewelyn before he learned of the earl’s death and could reinforce his own position.” Now, I knew about the Christmas campaign for years but never thought to associate it with Aelfgar’s death. This may or may not have happened as suggested, but the explanation is compelling.

In case you are wondering, yes, Emma uses extensive Notes to support her work. In fact, out of 281 pages, the Notes and Index start on page 203. As far as I can tell, she used her sources to best describe an event (such as the Battle of Hastings), then gave references every step of the way. So at Hastings, for instance, she gave us a depiction of the battle with notes every few sentences referencing many different sources. All total the battle description was thorough and it made a lot of sense. The same technique is used throughout the book.

I would say The House of Godwine is not an ideal history for beginners. It is not light reading, but for someone versed in the basics, the details here are welcome and useful. I picked up many things I hadn’t run across before. Another for-instance: “Harold knew that Norman plans for invasion of England were now well under way. William of Poitiers wrote that he sent spies to report back with more detailed information. One of these men was captured and his cover story was blown. He was taken before the duke, but instead of condemning him William seized the opportunity to send a message intended to demoralize his rival…” That’s the kind of detail I just gobble up!

The book starts with a good overview of England’s culture and politics before and during Aethelred’s reign, and ends with how the survivors after Hastings dealt with the new regime. This is where I discovered that Count Alain le Rouge, who led the Breton contingent at Hastings, carried off Edith Swanneck’s daughter Gunhild from her exile at Wilton abbey. Since Alain held much of the land previously owned by Gunhild’s mother, the daughter’s presence presumably calmed his Anglo-Danish tenants. She stayed with him until he died then became his brother’s partner in turn. I learned this tidbit just in time to incorporate it into my debut novel. Needless to say, I was thrilled. This is one book I will have to read more than once.

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