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Saturday, 22 September 2012

A Tale of A King and Archbishop and an Earl: Part Two

Edward the Confessor

The Background to the Tapestry: A King, an Archbishop and an Earl, Part 2.


The cause of Edward's dislike of Godwin

In the last post about these three men, we looked at the triangular relationship between these important men. Earl Godwin of Wessex was desperately trying to win favour with  King Edward, keep his standing at court as Dux Anglorum and earn the respect of the other earls. Robert Champart, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury had the ear of the King, being as he had been his good friend and confidante for many years, and he was not going to lose it. Edward favoured Robert, even though he was wed to Godwin's daughter, Edith and Godwin was in the dubious position of having been implicated in Edward's brother's murder. As we saw previously, Robert had begun to influence further the King's already poor opinion of his leading Earl  and the trio were now placed thus, with Edward and Champart on one side and Godwin on the other.

Godwin's rise to power was really quite remarkable. He rose from a lowly thegn to an Earl very quickly when he transferred his allegiance from the deceased English King, Edmund Ironside, to the conquering Dane, Cnut. His apparent unwavering loyalty to Edmund in a time when men were hedging their bets over whose side would be more expedient to follow, had impressed Cnut and the Danish King preferred to have men like Godwin amongst his retainers than the fickle Eadric Streona who had betrayed Edmund for Cnut. Cnut died after a 20 or so year reign and by then, Godwin's power as Earl of Wessex was immense. 

During the confusion that followed Cnut's death,his widow, Emma, Edward's mother, was pushing for her son Harthacnut to return to England from the troubled kingdom of Denmark  and take his rightful place as King. Emma was quite an intrepid lady and following the death of her first husband Aethelred and the demise of her stepson Edmund Ironside, she entered into a marriage with the victorious Cnut. Thus, Emma ensured her place in society as England's leading lady and dominance over Cnut's mistress Aelfgifu, mother of Harold Harefoot. But Harthacnut was bogged down by the trouble between his kingdom of Denmark and Norway, which had been lost to Magnus I by Cnut's not so very clever mistress Aelfgifu. He was unable to return to England for five years. Confused? Cnut's  family tree  here might explain his relations a little more clearly.

Godwin had always supported Emma in her quest to ensure that her son Harthacnut succeded to his birthright, however with most of the country's leading  nobles backing Harold Harefoot, Godwin was backed into a corner and he capitulated his support to the newly crowned king Harold. This is probably the first time that Godwin's reputation as a loyal and honourable man would be compromised and clearly showed that if the chips were down, he looked after number one first. In the unrest and indecisiveness of the days that followed Cnut's death, Godwin, now older and looking for security,  abandoned Emma and her son Harthacnut in favour of Cnut's other son, Harold Harefoot. Harold it seemed, was in the right place at the right time and Harthacnut wasn't.
Emma and Cnut

It was during Harold's reign that King Edward's (remember him?) brother Alfred was murdered on a visit to England. Their mother Emma had supposedly written to them in their place of exile, her homeland Normandy,asking them to come to England as she was in need of them. Whatever the truth in this, Alfred was intercepted by Godwin who had been ordered to capture him by Harold. He handed the prince over to Harold's henchmen and he was cruelly blinded and killed. When Harold Harefoot dies of an illness in 1040 Harthacnut returns and takes the crown. Godwin clears himself on charges of murder and takes his place as Earl of Wessex in Harthacnut's new regime.

Godwin may have cleared himself of any implication in Alfred's murder, protesting that he had not known what fate was to befall the prince, but Edward was perhaps not convinced and when Robert Champart began whispering poison in the King's ear about how he had heard rumours of his part in the deed, Edward's mind began to work overtime on his resentment and he and Robert most likely plotted to get rid of the Godwins (or at least Godwin himself) once and for all.

Read what happens next in part 3 of this series
Barlow F (1997) Edward the Confessor (new edition) Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

Barlow F (2003) The Godwins Longman, Great Britain

Swanton M (2000) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (new ed) Phoenix Press, Great Britain.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great blog, this could really be helpful with our history lessons as I home educate my children.