Earl Godwin

Godwin, the son of Wulfnoth, was a large landowner in England. Although an Anglo-Saxon, Godwin decided to give his support to the Dane, Cunate the Great, when he became king of England in 1016.

In 1017 Cunate divided his kingdom into four earldoms - Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia and Wessex. Whereas he chose Danes as earls of Northumbria and East Anglia, he appointed Godwin as the Earl of Wessex.

In 1019 Godwin accompanied Cnut on a visit to Denmark. Cnut was impressed with Godwin and arranged for him to marry Gytha, the sister of Earl Ulf, the most powerful of all the Danish earls. The couple had several children including Swegen, Edith, Harold, Tostig and Gyrth.

By the time Edward the Confessor became king in 1042, Earl Godwin was the most powerful Anglo-Saxon in England. To maintain Godwin's loyalty Edward married his daughter, Edith. Godwin hoped that his daughter would have a son but Edward had taken a vow of celibacy and it soon became clear that the couple would not produce an heir to the throne.

Godwin's sons also became powerful figures in England. Swegen was earl of Hereford, Gloucester and Oxford whereas Harold held the earldom of East Anglia. A nephew, Beorn, was earl of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

In 1044 Edward brought Robert, abbott of Jumieges, to London. Soon after his arrival, Robert of Jumieges began making accusations against Godwin, including the claim that he had murdered Elfred, the king's brother. Godwin's power was also undermined by the behaviour of his son, Swegen, who was outlawed in 1046 for seducing the abbess of Leominister.

Robert of Jumieges became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1050. He now tried to use his new position to destroy Godwin's influence with Edward the Confessor.

In 1051 a group of Normans became involved in a brawl at Dover and several men were killed. Edward the Confessor ordered Godwin, as earl of Wessex, to punish the people living in the town for this attack on his Norman friends. Godwin refused and instead raised an army against the king. Godwin marched on Gloucester but a war was averted when it was agreed that the Witan would sort out the dispute.

The earls of Mercia and Northumbria remained loyal to the king and the Witan eventually declared that Godwin and his sons had five days to leave England. Godwin and his sons, Harold, Tostig and Gyrth joined Swegen in Flanders.

Over the next year Edward the Confessor increased the number of Norman advisers in England. This upset the Anglo-Saxons and when Godwin and a large army commandeered by his sons, Harold and Tostig, landed in the south of England in 1052, Edward was unable to raise significant forces to stop the invasion. Most of the men in Kent, Surrey and Sussex joined the rebellion.

Godwin's large fleet moved round the coast and recruited men in Hastings, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich. He then sailed up the Thames and soon gained the support of Londoners. Godwin now forced Edward to send his Norman advisers home. Godwin was also given back his family estates and was now the most powerful man in England.

Godwin died at Winchester on 14th April, 1053 and his place as the leading Anglo-Saxon in England was taken by his son Harold.