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Tuesday 19 June 2012

A Tale of a King, an Archbishop and an Earl: Part One

The Background to the Tapestry: A King, an Archbishop and an Earl.

Examining the relationships between three men                                      

Robert Champart was King Edward's great friend and counsellor. He was abbot of Jumieges (an abbey in Normandy) and during Edward's reign, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury until Earl Godwin and the Witan had him removed.  Robert accompanied Edward to England with other members of his household when Edward was invited by Harthacnut in the early 1040's. In June of 1042, Edward began his reign as King of England when his half brother Harthacnut died during a drunken seizure at the wedding of Tovi the Proud. It wasn't until 1046, however that we see Robert Champart in the witness lists of the King's charters. This appears to be a mistery considering Robert had advanced to Bishop of London in 1044 but there could be many reasons for this. Whatever they were, by 1046, Robert was attesting charters amongst the great men that worked in the King's council. According to Barlow on the bio of Edward the Confessor, not everyone would have been happy with the decision to make Robert Champart Bishop of London which the office had previously included the Abbacy of Evesham. A certain monk of Evesham, Wulfmaer (or known as Manni) was apponted to the abbacy and it may have been that there were those who thought that Wulfmaer should have had both vacancies. 

During the mid 1040's, Edward began taking control of his kingdom, inserting his royal authority over the church in their councils and appointing his bishops and other ecclesiastical postitions within the royal remit. It appears, as according to the Vita Edwardi Regis, that there was a  division being created, with one faction of men taking sides with who they wished to be appointed to the vacant sees when the current dignitaries died. Barlow implies that Robert Champart was leading the opposing party, siezing the vacant sees as they presented themselves and using his influence as Edward's close friend to give them to people with whom the locals were not familiar. Very often the important local men would give their backing to a candidate that the church had put forward only to find that Edward had sought advice elsewhere and appointed a stranger. Giving the London Bishopric to his close friend who then went on to exert great influence over the appointing of others, may have caused some resentment towards Champart.

IT would seem that one of these men who resented Champart was Godwin and most likely there was a mutual disrespect between them. Godwin would have disliked the influence that Champart had over the King and vice versa. Champart and his followers were no doubt attempting to turn the King against Godwin, which would not have been hard, given the part Godwin had played in Edward's brother's death. Alfred had been treacherously murdered by Harold Harefoot's henchmen after being handed over to them by Godwin. And the embarrassing behaviour of Godwin's unruly eldest son Swegn would have made things difficult for him also. Additionally, any advice that Godwin supported would have most likely been opposed, lead by or backed by Champart at every turn. One wonders how Edward would have coped with such differences at court.

In 1051, Robert was elevated to the highest ecclesiastical see, the Archbishopric of Canterbury. This had created some disturbances amongst the church due to the fact that the monks of that see had their own candidate for the post, Aethelric, a kinsman of Godwin's who was in support of the monks. Once again, the local candidate from that diocese was rejected and the post went to Edward's favourite. A few other posts went to strangers also. Cynesige, a royal clerk was appointed in the Archbishopric of York so Edward was setting in places his own choices for the church and causing great unrest not only amongst the  local dioceses, but also amongst the traditionalists who counted on the old customs that dictated the progress of clerics within the structure. For example, the Bishop of Worcester was the usual contender for the post of York.

Now that Robert was Archbishop of York, he was able at last to attack Godwin from the same height. Godwin, as Earl of Wessex was now accessible and the newly appointed Archbishop and the Earl were to openly wage war with each other. Robert began accusing Godwin of misapropriating the lands of Christ Church in Canterbury and whispered accusational rumours in the King's ear that Godwin had actually been directly responsible for Alfred's death ( a charge that Godwin had denied and was and cleared of under oath) and was now plotting the death of the King.

But Edward, it seemed was not totally under the Archbishop's spell, for Robert had refused to consecrate Spearhavoc in his newly appointed see of London because during his visit to the Pope to collect his pallium, the Pope had ordered him against it due to charges of simony. But Spearhavoc was Edward's chief goldsmith and was supposed to be working on a new crown for his King and Edward allowed him to continue as Bishop of London into the Autumn of 1051. It was during this time that Edward and his close Norman advisors, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Champart, may have been in some sort of negotitation with William of Normandy about an alliance to end the need for the heregeld that was collected yearly to pay for the fleet to defend the coasts from the piratical doings of Vikings who used Normandy as a port from which to launch their raids. William of Poitiers declares that Edward named William as his heir with the agreement of the Witan however this is not stated in any English source. Its quite plausible that negotiations were developing with Champart acting as a go-between and perhaps he visited William on his way back to England from getting his pallium and spoke on Edward's behalf.

So, it would seem that Robert Champart and Godwin were like scorpions about to sting each other. But which one sould strike first? And who would eventually win? More to follow in the second part of this post.                                                                  




Carol McGrath said...

Paula, this is really fabulous, wonderfully told and I believe a really good analysis of that event. Now I must read all your other posts too. Are you coming to the HNS Conf in September?

Paula Lofting said...

Alas I would really love to come to the conference but this year I dont think I am going to make it. It would have been lovely to meet you. Thanks for your kind words. My debut novel will be out shortly, Sons of the Wolf. Its about a family living in difficult times in the years leading up to the conquest.

alice said...

Hi everybody, here is a new novel about King Edward II of England, and a website dedicated to an exciting new archival research project aimed at discovering the truth about how he really died. The novel comes highly recommended by Kathryn Warner.