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Thursday 14 February 2013

A Tale of a King, an Archbishop and an Earl: Part 3

The Background to the Tapestry: A King, an Archbishop and an Earl, Part 3.

In which the relationship between the three men completely breaks down.

In the first two episodes of this series, we have looked at the backgrounds of each men and they're relationship to each other. When Edward arrived back in England to take the crown after his half brother Harthacnut's demise, he was a mature man probably in his late thirties and most likely by this time quite an embittered man. He despised his mother for her abandonment of him and his siblings in favour of the man who brought about the downfall of his father Aethelred's regime and he must have already heard the rumours that Godwin, the Earl of Wessex had been responsible for his brother Alfred's death earlier, which would have coloured his opinion of the man already. At this time, Robert Champart, the King's close  friend and Norman advisor, appeared to be viewing Godwin as a rival. Godwin wanted a closer relationship to the King and was pressing for Edward to marry his daughter Edith from the outset of his crowning, I would imagine. Edward dallied over this marriage and one can imagine Godwin's forbearance and patience as Edward played the waiting game until he finally agreed to marry Edith Godwinsdottor in1045.
It was around 1046 that we see Robert Champart witnessing documents for the first time as Bishop of London. Around the early 50's, Robert and Godwin's enmity toward each other was becoming evident as Champart began accusing Godwin of misappropriating church land and they began having public rows. Robert was starting to whisper poison about Godwin in the King's ear that he had got rid of Alfred, his brother, and now he was hoping to get rid of him. So Edward was cultivating  his dislike of Godwin  with the help of his Norman counsellors and to increase Godwin's frustration at Edward's reliance on the Norman camp in his court, Edward made Robert Archbishop of Canterbury.
There were two important issues that exasperated the situation between the two men further; the behaviour of Swegn, Godwin's eldest son and the Dover Incident. Swegn's insubordinate behaviour did nothing to improve relations between the King and his father and the Dover Incident was to bring things to a mighty head as we shall see:

Swegn Godwinson - Bad Boy of Wessex
Swegn was the black sheep of the Godwin family. His crimes were mainly a) allying himself with the Welsh Gruffydd of Gwynedd who was a natural enemy of the Mercian ruling house b) kidnapping the Abbess Eadgifu of Leominster when he was refused permission to marry her, possibly to gain her lands, and keeping her for a year before returning her to her Abbey c) tricking his cousin Beorn into helping him and then murdering him dumping his body in the sea and d) accusing his mother of adultery and claiming that Cnut was his real father. Countess Gytha had to swear her innocence before a council of important women. Fathers were meant to be responsible for the good behaviour of their offspring. Poor Godwin must have had one hell of a headache on his hands. And having a family full of boys must have taken its toll on him over the years. Harold certainly did not seem to approve of Swegn's behaviour for he refused to support his plea to the King to return to his lands and I have to wonder how well he got on with Tostig when in the end they betrayed each other so devastatingly. Godwin must have loved Swegn despite his son's denial that he was his father, for he petitioned Edward for his son's return from exile, even  after Swegn had killed his cousin Beorn, younger brother of Swein Estrithson, then ruler of Denmark. Godwin it seems had a soft heart when it came to his family, but I have a feeling of relief  for him that he did not live to see the terrible infighting that tore his surviving sons apart later in their lives. For whatever his reasons, Edward did allow Swegn to return to England in 1050 and Swegn seems to have shown a desire to reform for he caused no more trouble after that until he died around a couple of years later on a pilgrimage.
The Dover Incident: The Plot to Oust Godwin
It was in the 1051's that, according to Edith's Vita Edwardi, Godwin's dispute with Champart came to a head and the Dover incident occurred. Champart, it is believed, had begun counselling Edward that Godwin had been responsible for killing his brother Alfred and was now hoping to be rid of him as well. It appears that Edward  allowed himself to be drawn into a plot to oust the Godwins from power, even the country. It was clear that the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury wanted to be rid of Godwin. He had been accusing him of misapropriation of Canterbury's churchlands and the two men had openly argued about it. As  Barlow (2002), citing Walter Map's late 12thc document The Trifles of Courtiers,  in his book The Godwins, he had got Bosham by trickery. He evidently had said to the Archbishop of Canterbury (probably not Champart but his predecessor) who owned the land, "Lord, do you give me Bosham?" The Archbishop was apparently so startled that he replied in surprise, "I give you Bosham?" The Earl and his men promptly fell at the Archbishop's feet and thanked him profusely for the gift! Walter's amusing collection of stories are riddled with doubtful evidence so one cannot be totally sure of the veracity of this tale. However Godwin does have a reputation for using cunning to acquire lands and if the Vita can be anything to go by, despite its pro-Godwin theme, there was a quarrell between Champart and Godwin about alleged misappropriation of Canterbury's lands. But the Anglo Saxon Chronicle makes no mention of Robert Champart's part in Godwin's downfall and puts the blame on the Dover Incident. One day, in 1051, it states that Eustace of Boulogne, second husband of the King's sister Goda, popped over for a visit to his brother-in-law Edward. According to the Chronicle, he stayed awhile, spoke with the King what he wanted, then left. Let us look at what happened following the Count taking leave of the King to go home.
Eustace and a party of his men, most likely numbering around 40-50 men or so, are traveling to Dover to leave for Boulogne. They decide to stop the night in the burh, high up on a cliff and ringed by a defensive wall. But The Frenchmen appear to have left their manners behind with the King and are said to have put on their coats of maille before entering the burh and demanded to board with some townsfolk in their homes who, understandably not very happy at this intrusion, put up resistance and a fight ensued. The result was the death of 20+ inhabitants of Dover and 19 Frenchmen. An outraged Eustace escapes with what is left of his men and rides back to the King to protest at this abhorrent indignity served upon them by the people of Dover. Edward is of course outraged and calls upon Godwin to answer for his townsmen. Dover was in Kent which was then part of his jurisdiction of Wessex. Godwin refuses to punish his men as the King has demanded, perhaps after hearing first hand from his surviving Doverian thegns  what has happened there.
What followed was that the King, now buoyed on by his new found confidence and encouraged by  the counsel of his Norman friends, was furious that Godwin had refused to act on his orders to punish Dover by razing it to the ground. He called the Great Council of nobles, the Witan, to meet on the 8th of September. Godwin met his sons Harold and Swegn and all their own men at his manor of Beverstone, 15 miles south of Gloucester where Edward was holding court. With Edward was Earls Leofric, his nephew Ralph and Siward and their armies. It was a very dangerous time and for the first time in years, England was on the brink of a civil conflict.
With this fractious state of affairs, the King's party thought it wise to suggest that Godwin give  hostages to the King and then meet up later on the 21st of September in London when charges against Godwin could be heard with cooled tempers. It was then that most likely, Godwin's youngest son Wulfnoth and Swegn's son Hakon was thought to have been transferred to the King's household to provide surety for their father's good behaviour. This temporary lull in the storm shows one of two things, either that few men on the King's side really wanted to go to war with Godwin, or that the Earls, believing that this time Godwin had gone too far, gave them time to muster their full forces. Champart, newly returned from Rome with his pallium must have been gloating.
 Godwin's position was now quite fragile.He was not without support, he had the whole of Wessex on his side, however this was about to change. As Godwin and his family set out to attend the court in London he lost some men who had decided that although they supported their Earl, they did not want to go against their rightful annointed King. The King had refused Godwin safe conduct and the  reciept of  hostages from the Earls  to ensure safe passage to court. It was not looking good for Godwin and his supporters, especially when arriving at Godwin's manor at Southwark across the Thames, the King demanded that he handed over all the King's thegns that were with him.Thegns made up the bulk of the middle status society. They could either be very wealthy, holding important offices or hold the minimum requirement of 5 hides of land and lesser services. If they held land from the king, they would be 'king's thegns' however if their land fell in an Earl's jurisdiction, it might be that they owed their allegiance to the earl rather than the king, which it looks that in the case here of Godwin, that was how it was.
 And so Godwin, having lost a vast amount of men already was caught betweeen a rock and a hard place. In Ian Walker's book Harold, the Last Anglo Saxon King, he states that all the thegns of Harold returned to the King, suggesting that as Harold had only been lord over his East Anglian Earldom for 7 years, he had not had time to build  bonds between him and his men fully sufficient enough warrant such risk-taking, especially when the King's forces now lay close to the homes of Harold's men. The Godwins had lost all credibility.
 On the otherside of the River, Edward and his supporters were in a far better position. Edward announced that Swegn was now outlawed and demanded that Godwin and Harold appear before the King to answer all the charges brought against them. Godwin sent messages back to ask for guarantees that no harm should come to them. A more confident Edward than had ever shown himself before to be, refused his plea. He wanted Godwin dealt with. Sending Bishop Stigand as an intermediary, according to the Vita Edwardi, Stigand wept as relays the King's message to Godwin. "You may have the King's peace when you return his brother alive to him, with all his men and all their possessions that had been taken from them." If true, the King was referring to the charge that Godwin had been the cause of Alfred, his brother's death.Amongst the other charges Edward would put before Godwin would be the charge of plotting to kill the King as he had done his brother. Godwin had confirmed this by attepting to act with force against the King.  Presumably Stigand, a long standing friend of Godwin's, was weeping because this was an impossible request. Godwin knew that it was the end of the road for him now. According to the Vita, Godwin pushed the table, got up and rode away.
The family now refused to attend the court; without terms they knew they were in danger. The only option was to flee. Edward declared them all outlaws in October 1051 and gave them 5 days to leave the country. After that they could be subject to threats to end their lives if they were found to still be at large. Edith Godwinsdottor, the King's wife, was to be sent into a nunnery some time later. She too, although loyal to Edward throughout, it seems, was to suffer for being a Godwin.

Edward had managed to at last achieve a show of strength and power that had alluded him for the last 9 years of his reign. Robert Champart had helped to engineer the ousting of the Godwins, paving the way clear for him to have the King's ear to himself. A chance for more Normans to advance unhindered in the King's regime. And not long after, it is said that a certain duke was to visit with the King and plant the seeds of a Norman takeover. Was the downfall of Godwin planned or just an opportunity arisen for the King and Champart? See what you think as we explore the events that followed the Gowins flight.

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