Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Death of Godwine 1053

After William had departed, Englishmen became discontented at King Edward's increasing favor to the Norman strangers. In 1052 Godwine and his sons—Swegen only excepted—returned from exile. They sailed up the Thames and landed at Southwark. The foreigners hastily fled, and Edward was unable to resist the popular feeling.

 Godwine was restored to his earldom, and an Englishman, Stigand, was made Archbishop of Canterbury in the place of Robert of Jumièges, who escaped to the Continent. As it was the law of the Church that a bishop once appointed could not be deposed except by the ecclesiastical authorities, offence was in this way given to the Pope. Godwine did not long outlive his restoration. He was struck down by apoplexy at the king's table in 1053.

Harold, who, after Swegen's death, was his eldest son, succeeded to his earldom of Wessex, and practically managed the affairs of the kingdom in Eadward's name.

Harold was a brave and energetic man, but Edward preferred his brother Tostig, and on the death of Siward appointed him Earl of North-humberland. A little later Gyrth, another brother of Harold, became Earl of East Anglia, together with Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire, and a fourth brother, Leofwine, Earl of a district formed of the eastern shires on either side of the Thames. All the richest and most thickly populated part of England was governed by Harold and his brothers. Mercia was the only large earldom not under their rule. It was now under Ælfgar, the son of Leofric, who had lately died.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Duke William and the Norman Church

An Englishman, who saw much of Duke William in after-life, declared that, severe as he was, he was mild to good men who loved God.

The Church was in his days assuming a new place in Europe. The monastic revival which had originated at Cluny had led to a revival of the Papacy. In 1049, for the first time, a Pope, Leo IX., traveled through Western Europe, holding councils and inflicting punishments upon the married clergy and upon priests who took arms and shed blood. With this improvement in discipline came a voluntary turning of the better clergy to an ascetic life, and increased devotion was accompanied, as it always was in the middle ages, with an increase of learning. William, who by the strength of his will brought peace into the state, also brought men of devotion and learning into the high places of the Church. His chief confidant was Lanfranc, an Italian who had taken refuge in the abbey of Bec, and, having become its prior, had made it the central school of Normandy and the parts around.

With the improvement of learning came the improvement of art, and churches arose in Normandy, as in other parts of Western Europe, which still preserved the old round arch derived from the Romans, though both the arches themselves and the columns on which they were borne were lighter and more graceful than the heavy work which had hitherto been employed. Of all this Englishmen as yet knew nothing. They went on in their old ways, cut off from the European influences of the time. It was no wonder that Edward yearned after the splendor and the culture of the land in which he had been brought up, or even that, in defiance of English law, he now promised to Duke William the succession to the English crown.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Visit of Duke William. 1051

In Godwine's absence, in 1051 King Edward the Confessor received a visit from the Duke of the Normans, William, the bastard son of Duke Robert and the daughter of a tanner of Falaise.

Robert was a son of Richard II., and William was thus the grandson of the brother of Edward's mother, Emma. Such a relationship gave him no title whatever to the English throne, as Emma was not descended from the English kings, and as, even if she had been, no one could be lawfully king in England who was not chosen by the Witenagemot. Edward, however, had no children or brothers, and though he had no right to give away the crown, he now promised William that he should succeed him.

William, indeed, was just the man to attract one whose character was as weak as Edward's. Since he received the dukedom he had beaten down the opposition of a fierce and discontented nobility at Val-ès-dunes (1047). From that day peace and order prevailed in Normandy. Law in Normandy did not come as in England from the traditions of the shire-moot or the Witenagemot, where men met to consult together. It was the Duke's law, and if the Duke was a strong man he kept peace in the land. If he was a weak man, the lords fought against one another and plundered and oppressed the poor. William was strong and wily, and it was this combination of strength and wiliness which enabled him to bear down all opposition.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Banishment of Godwine. 1051

At last, in 1051, the strife between King Edward and the Earl broke out openly. Edward's brother-in-law, Eustace, Count of Boulogne, visited England. On his return his men made a disturbance at Dover, and in the riot which ensued some of the townsmen as well as some of his own men were slain.

Edward called on Godwine, in whose earldom Dover was, to punish the townsmen. Godwine refused, and Edward summoned him to Gloucester to account for his refusal. He came attended by an armed host, but Leofric and Siward, who were jealous of Godwine's power, came with their armed followers to support the king. Leofric mediated, and it was arranged that the question should be settled at a Witenagemot to be held in London.

In the end Godwine was outlawed and banished with all his family. Swegen went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and died on the way back.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Edward the Confessor

The Seal of Edward the Confessor
The English were tired of foreign rulers. 'All folk chose Edward king.'

Edward, the son of Æthelred and the brother of the murdered Ælfred, though an Englishman on his father's side, was also the son of the Norman Emma, and had been brought up in Normandy from his childhood. The Normans were now men of French speech, and they were more polite and cultivated than Englishmen. Edward filled his court with Normans. He disliked the roughness of the English, but instead of attempting to improve them as the great Ælfred had formerly done, he stood entirely aloof from them. The name of the Confessor by which he was afterwards known was given him on account of his piety, but his piety was not of that sort which is associated with active usefulness. He was fond of hunting, but was not active in any other way, and he left others to govern rather than himself.

For some years the real governor of England was Earl Godwine, who kept his own earldom of Wessex, and managed to procure other smaller earldoms for his sons. As the Mercia over which Leofric ruled was only the north-western part of the old kingdom, and as Siward had enough to do to keep the fierce men of North-humberland in order, Godwine had as yet no competitor to fear. In 1045 he became the king's father-in-law by the marriage of Edward with his daughter, Eadgyth. Edward, however, did his best for his Norman favourites, and appointed one of them, Robert of Jumièges, to the bishopric of London, and afterwards raised him to the Archbishopric of Canterbury.

Between Godwine and the Normans there was no goodwill, and though Godwine was himself of fair repute, his eldest son, Swegen, a young man of brutal nature, alienated the goodwill of his countrymen by seducing the Abbess of Leominster, and by murdering his cousin Beorn. Godwine, in his blind family affection, clung to his wicked son and insisted on his being allowed to retain his earldom.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Sons of Cnut. 1035—1042

King Cnut died in 1035. Godwine and the West Saxons chose Harthacnut, the son of Cnut and Emma to take his father's place, whilst the north and centre, headed by Leofwine's son, Leofric, Earl of the Mercians, chose Harold, the son of Cnut by an earlier wife or concubine. Godwine perhaps hoped that Harthacnut would make the West Saxon earldom the centre of the empire which had been his father's. Cnut's empire was, however, breaking up. The Norwegians chose Magnus, a king of their own race, and Harthacnut remained in Denmark to defend it against the attacks of Magnus.

In Normandy there were two English Ethelings, Ælfred and Edward, the sons of Æthelred by Emma, who seem to have thought that the absence of Harthacnut gave them a chance of returning to England. Ælfred landed, but was seized by Harold. He was blinded with such cruelty that he died. His death was, truly or falsely, attributed to Godwine. As Harthacnut still remained in Denmark, the West Saxons deposed him and gave themselves to Harold, since which time England has never been divided.

In 1040 Harold died, and Harthacnut came at last to England to claim the crown. He brought with him a Danish fleet, and with his sailors and his house-carls he ruled England as a conquered land. He raised a Danegeld to satisfy his men, and sent his house-carls to force the people to pay the heavy tax. Two of them were killed at Worcester, and he burnt Worcester to the ground. In 1042 he died 'as he stood at his drink' at a bridal.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cnut's Government

King Cnut had thus made himself master of a great empire, and yet, Dane as he was, though he treated Englishmen and Danes as equals, he gave his special favour to Englishmen. He restored, as men said, the laws of Eadgar—that is to say, he kept peace and restored order as in the days of Eadgar. He reverenced monks, and once as he was rowing on the waters of the fens, he heard the monks of Ely singing. He bade the boatmen row him to the shore that he might listen to the song of praise and prayer.

He even went on a pilgrimage to Rome, to humble himself in that city which contained the burial places of the Apostles Peter and Paul. From Rome he sent a letter to his subjects. 'I have vowed to God,' he wrote, 'to live a right life in all things; to rule justly and piously my realms and subjects, and to administer just judgment to all. If heretofore I have done aught beyond what is just, through headiness or negligence of youth, I am ready, with God's help, to amend it utterly.' With Cnut these were not mere words.

It is not likely that there is any truth in the story how his flattering courtiers told him to sit by the sea-shore and bade the inflowing tide refrain from wetting his feet, and how when the waves rose over the spot on which his chair was placed he refused to wear his crown again, because that honour belonged to God alone, the true Ruler of the world. Yet the story would not have been invented except of one who was believed to have been clothed with real humility.