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Wednesday 8 May 2013

A Tale of a King, an Archbishop and an Earl: Part 4

The Background to the Tapestry: A King, an Archbishop and an Earl, Part 4

In which the Godwins return to power, Robert Champart flees their retribution and Edward throws in the towel.

The Godwins were forced into exile in the autumn of 1051. Harold and younger brother Leofwin went west to find Swegn's ship to take them to the court of Macdiarmid in Ireland to drum up support there. The rest of the family fled to Flanders to seek refuge with Count Baldwin IV, that is at least nearly all of the rest of them.The ones left behind were Queen Edith and the hostages,  Godwin's youngest son Wulfnoth and the boy believed to have been the son of Swegn, Hakon. Edith was eventually sent packing to a nunnery. Her decision to stay loyal to her husband would backfire on her. Edward might have beeen prepared to keep her at first but whatever happened, she eventually had to go. Robert Champart, also known as Robert de Jumieges might have had other ideas for a new wife for Edward, perhaps a Norman alliance. As for Hakon and Wulfnoth, Godwin and Swegn were never to see their boys again.
  Champart had recently been conscecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury, a decision that had angered Godwin and the supporters of the popular candidate for the job, Aelfric as reported  here in Part One. At sometime in 1051, either before or after the Dover incident and Godwin's exile, Robert travelled to Rome to recieve his bishop's pallium from the Pope. Some Norman sources state that he sought out Duke William in Normandy on his way back and was opening negotiations up on Edward's behalf to strengthen ties between Edward and William. If he could get the Duke on side, Edward could save the cost of manning and maintaining the warships necessary to ward off raids from Vikings  launching their attacks from ports in Normandy. In return for William's support some say that Champart, acting on Edward's behalf offered William the heirdom to the crown of England. There is no evidence to say that William had any part in the plot to oust Godwin, but if Champart truly did indeed visit William at this time, he might well have learned of the man's unpopularity  from Robert. Whether Eustace of Boulogne was at William's court at this time is not known but the events that followed the Dover Incident and subsequent exiling of Godwin seem very coincidental indeed.
The only one of the Anglo Saxon chronicle to report William's visit to Edward's court was the D Chronicle:

" Then soon Earl William came from beyond the sea with a great troop of French men and
the King recieved him and as many of his companions as suited him, and let him go again."   

This was also reported by Florence. Strangely one can only wonder why such an important visit was not recorded in any of the other chronicles.  Some historians, such as Ian Walker, have expressed their belief that the visit never took place and that it was Norman propaganda that inserted the comment at a later date after 1066. As we do not know for sure that Champart went to Normandy at that time, I think it is safe to say that the visit could well have happened. And William did not pluck the claim that Edward had offered him the crown of England out of the air. Something must have happened or been said in order for the seed to have been planted within the Duke's mind all those years ago. Why else would he embark on such a major mission to wrest his crown from Harold Godwinson years later in 1066?

So a series of consequences has emerged, we see Godwin gradually becoming more and more out of favour with the King; whisperings of treason about Godwin in Edward's ear by the Earl's number one enemy, Robert Champart; the possibility of Champart  talking  with William of Normandy about the succession to the English throne; then Eustace of Boulogne causes a fracas in Dover that most likely went worse than he thought it would (men dying on both sides) and the consequent exiling of a  recalcitrant Earl Godwin. Following on from that, we have a youthful William of Normandy cross the seas as if he has been summoned by the King who lets "him go again." Contrived? Perhaps. The evidence does not confirm this solidly, however one could be forgiven for the conjecture that from these events, something was afoot in the court of Edward in 1051 that was not favourable to the Godwins. Or perhaps it was nothing more than a series of coincidences, in any case, whatever it was, it gave Edward a brief interlude from Godwin's control.

For 9 months or so Edward was free from the Yoke of Godwin. In that time, he put aside his wife in a nunnery, most likely on the advice of Champart. Edith's Encommium states that she was sent away with an escort for  her own safety and given consideration as to her comfort, however another source states that she was stripped of all her lands and wealth and sent packing with only her maid for company. It is also possible that Edward may have been considering a new marriage alliance urged on by the Normans who were now counselling him. If this was so, there does not seem to have been any moves made towards this. Either Edward was not in a hurry to wed another woman having just got rid of one, or he was simply paying lip service to those around him. Champart might have been dissapointed at the pace of change, however he was about to have a rude awakening in the form of Godwin's return.

In the next episode we see what happened on Godwin's return

Apart from the sources mentioned references are from:

Barlow F (1997) Edward the Confessor (2nd ed) Yale University Press, US.  
Stenton F (1971) Anglo Saxon England (3rd Ed) Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Swanton M (2000) The Anglo Saxon Chronicles (2nd ed) Phoenix Press, London.


Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

Fascinating! I know very little about the pre-Conquest England (not my cup of tea, I guess ;-)), so I really enjoy the posts on Threads to the Past. I cannot agree more, William couldn't have taken his claim to the English crown out of nowhere. Something must have been said or done.

Have you read The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower, BTW? I love how the author's explanation why Harold had decided to support William's claim to the English throne:-)

Paula Lofting said...

Hi Kasia

Yes I have read Needle in the Blood its an excellent book. I will be exploring more the rivalry between Harold and William in this blog. I am glad to have you along!