The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27
The Prime Ministers Of England. — Earl Godwin.—(Continued.)
The Prime Ministers Of England.
In 1040 A.D., on March 17th, Harold I. died and was buried at Westminster. "After his funeral the nobles of almost the whole of England sent envoys to Hardicanute * at Bruges, where he was staying with his mother, and thinking it was for the best, invited him to come to England and ascend the throne. Thereupon he fitted out fifty ships, and embarking Danish troops, before midsummer sailed over to England, where he arrived about June 18th. He was received with universal joy and shortly afterwards crowned. † But let us return. Harthacnut's first act was to cause the body of his predecessor and brother (Harold) to be disinterred and after the head had been cut off to be thrown into the Thames. Some Danish fishermen finding it, buried the body in their own cemetery (St. Clement-Danes, in London). By this we see that even in death the Danes kept apart from the English. And furthermore what little reliance can be placed upon brotherly-love. The members of a family will often hate each other with intense and surpassing hatred. How necessary, therefore, is it for parents to guard against such hatred, by always acting consistently before a young family and promoting concord and goodwill. For the seeds of after strife are often times sown in childhood and if the plants bloom and flourish the parents are principally responsible. The weeding-out such seeds is a great trust, sadly neglected. King Canute's children appear to have been most bitter enemies.
When Harold was elected in 1035, the Witanagemote reserved a portion of the kingdom for Harthacnut, who, however, declined to leave the Continent. It is important to observe that this division of the kingdom by the Witan, was the last division of the Crown of England. Egbert was our first king (A.D. 800-839), but it took two centuries to completely consolidate the crown upon one single head, and 1035 A.D. saw the last division. Our ancestors jealously guarded their right of election to the throne, and it was found necessary to divide the crown so late as that year. Since that time England has remained one kingdom, this moreover, absorbed the independent sovereignties of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, which shows that civilization tends to bring about consolidation, and not disintegration. The English crown has often been competed for by different parties, but it has always remained a single crown.
* The name is written Hardicanute, Hardecanute, Harthacnut, Hardeknut. At the present time the spelling of Saxon names in works of English literature is in a transition state. It may be advisable to give the different modes so as to prepare the general reader for a future fixed and definite one. I am personally inclined to favour the current method, and to write Ædward, Edward; Ælfred. Alfred; Ædgithra, Edith; although coins and ancient charters give the first forms. The early writers appear to have delighted in using a perfectly unnecessary dipthory—ex. gra. Æthelred for Ethelred. Again, the word Swegen was most certainly pronounced Sweyn, as the Latin, Suanus, will testify. Some writers spell it Sveyn. The "g" appears to have been silent. I think, therefore, that the safest rule for modern writers is to adopt the simple form, and not to follow the method pursued at a time when reasonable spelling was misunderstood. This matter is of importance, if we desire to impart a general knowledge of our Saxon History.
† Florence of West., p. 142.
Before 1035 A.D. for a period of nearly six centuries, there was constant strife among the different Saxon kingdoms, and it is interesting to note this, and to compare it with the wonderfully peaceful progress inter se of the present British colonies, notably of Canada and Australasia. The Saxons, Angles, Jutes and Danes of England, were people speaking almost one language, whose habits, manners, and customs were alike. Quite similar are the circumstances of, say, the Australasian Colonies. The march of civilization does not impress the tendency above referred to, so much upon young as upon old communities, for the common language, habits, manners, or customs of neighbouring communities do not save them from war. Witness these old English troubles, or the present troubles in Chili, Peru, and Bolivia. Was it that our ancestors possessed sovereign powers in their local dominions? and does it follow that the want of sovereign office in young communities is almost a blessing? The tie which binds the different colonies to England may be a far more important one, (if their own peace and welfare for many years to come are considered,) than colonists are inclined to believe. Sacrifice that tie! Erect independent Legislatures possessing sovereign power, and war most assuredly will follow. It is almost a historical maxim, that the more legislatures the more war. Thus in Saxon England, under the Octarchy or Heptarchy, strife was constant and incessant. Less so under the three great Earldoms of Wessex, Mercia, and Northumbria; and still less so under the single crown. In further proof, it may be said that war has entirely ceased between England and Scotland since the union. Whether English statesmen acted beneficially in granting so many almost independent legislatures to the colonies, is uncertain. But having them, it becomes Colonial statesmen to act as Earls Godum and Leofire acted, in that wonderful spirit of conciliation with one another which brought about so many years of domestic peace. Even Siward—Warlike Siward—felt himself controlled by the conciliatory and merciful spirit shown by the two southern Earls. In this, Godwin was eminently the chief. Both he and his son Harold, as will shortly be seen, were conciliatory men. Leofrie fell into Godwin's way of thinking, and Siward followed Leofrie. Thus, England became united into one single crown. The very accidence, the very grammar of the word Federation is conciliation, and this conciliation must be displayed by leading public men. Quarrelsome, rash, or compulsory statesmen generally bring danger and trouble upon a community.
"Having given this example of vengeance and barbarity against one dead brother, the new King, with a great show of fraternal affection, commenced an extensive judicial enquiry into the murder of Alfred. He himself, being a Dane, no man of Danish race was cited by him to appear before the justice seat, and Saxons were alone charged with a crime, which could only have been useful to their masters. Godwin, whose power and doubtful designs inspired great fears, was the first accused; he presented himself, according to the English law, accompanied by a great number of relations, friends, and witnesses, who with him, swore that he had taken no part, directly or indirectlly, in the death of the son of Ethelred." (The oath of numerous friends and witnesses "that a prisoner was innocent" was the highest form-of Saxon defence. It was apparently the basis of the jury system; for in those times, as indeed in the present day, in sparsely populated countries, a man's neighbours, and dependants, can best judge of his guilt or innocence of a particular crime. The Anglo-Saxon Race is not an impulsive race. If numerous friends and witnesses state that a man is innocent of a crime, we may accept, the statement as correct, as the statement would not be made at all, if doubts existed.)" This then perfectly legal proof was not sufficient to satisfy a King of foreign race; and in order to give it value, it was necessary for the Saxon chief to back it with rich presents, the details of which, if not wholly fabulous, would lead one to believe that many of the English assisted their countryman to buy off this prosecution, instituted in bad faith. Godwin gave King Harde Knut a vessel adorned with gilt metal (gold), and manned with eighty soldiers, each with a gilt helmet, a gilt axe upon his left shoulder, a javelin in his right hand, and on each arm bracelets of gold, weighing six ounces. A Saxon bishop, named Leofwin ("Lyfing"), accused of having assisted the son of Ulfnoth in his alleged treason, like Godwin, cleared himself by presents. *
* Thieny, Vol. I., p. 119. This vessel must have been a very large one, as the ordinary vessel of the time, only carried twenty men. Thus the Royal dues fix m the town of Dover were twenty vessels of twenty men each, for fifteen days' service in the year.
Florence of Westminster states : "Moreover, he (Godwin) made oath to the King, with almost all the chief men and greater Thanes in England, that it was not by his counsel, or at his instance, that his brother's eyes were put out, but that he had only obeyed the commands of his lord, King Harold."*
King Harthacnut's actions are scarce worthy of notice. He heavily taxed the people, and two of his collectors (Feader and Thurstan) were killed by the citizens of Worcester. Whereupon Leofric, Earl of Mercia; Siward, Earl of Northumbria; and Godwin were sent against the city to waste it with tire and sword. They duly carried out the king's commands, although Godwin appears to have privately sent the inhabitants notice to leave the city and save their lives. Worcester was not in his earldom, but doubtless it was with a heavy heart that Godwin saw an English city given up to tire and sword to please almost a foreign prince. But this was the manner of the times, just as afterwards Edward wished Godwine to punish Dover. These two earls, Leofric and Siward, are important men in our history; stout men and true each of them, and contemporaneous with Godwin. The three ruled England for Edward,—but Godwin as chief,—and they ruled their respective divisions well. Leofric was the husband of Godgifu, the Lady Godiva of legend, a remarkable historical event concerning which the chroniclers say exactly nothing. Earl Leofric appears always to have been a peaceable, easy-going, conciliatory man, (slightly, but only slightly jealous of Godwin,) and his wife was a sensible Englishwoman. There is about as much truth in the story of "Peeping Tom of Coventry" as there is in all the nonsense Shakespeare wrote about Macbeth's wife Gruach, or in the legend of King Knut and the sea waves. Earl Siward is the Siward of Shakespeare,—"Warlike Siward,"—Old Siward,—the protector of Malcolm (the son of the murdered Duncan),—the father of young Siward who perished in the battle wherein Macbeth afterwards fell. This famous King Macbeth appears to have been a good ruler in Scotland just as Edward happened to be in England. Duncan's death was decreed by his own subjects, if indeed they did not murder him. The removal of an obnoxious ruler in those days was commonly by assassination. Of course the blame fell upon Macbeth, and Shakespeare has very graphically entombed the legend in his verse, but both Shakespeare and our school histories give us a very faint idea of the mode of life and ways of our Saxon forefathers. It is important, however, to notice how strongly the men living in this particular time have impressed themselves upon our history.
In 1041 A.D. Edward came over from Normandy, and was well received by Harthacnut, and remained at his Court. On the 8th June, 1012, Hardicanute fell down dead at a carouse, and he was buried near his father, Canute, at Winchester. "His brother, Edward, laconically adds the historian,† was proclaimed king at London, chiefly by the exertions of Earl Godwin and Living (Lyfing), Bishop of Winchester."These two men, be it remembered, were the persons principally charged with the crime of "putting out Alfred's eyes," which, perhaps, may have caused the prince's death. They were arraigned only for " putting out his eyes." The chroniclers are silent as to the exact cause or manner of Alfred's death.
Thus, at the accession of Edward, Godwin held command of the greatest earldom of the South,—Wessex, including Sussex and Kent, Dover being esteemed his town, as will soon be seen when we come to the matter of Count Eustace of Boulogne. What is now termed the Goodwin (properly Godwin) sands, doubtless formed portion of the earl's estate, Pevensey (his residence) was looked upon by Saxon England as the seat of Saxon justice. His two sons,—Harold (who afterwards contested with William the Norman for the English Crown), and Sweyn, the eldest,—commanded large tracts of country in central and western England. Harold, indeed, almost reduced Wales to the state of an English province. His daughters were also well married. We may say that Godwin and his family had the command of the richest half of England. The other sons were Tosty (or Tostig), Gyrth (or Gurth), Leofwin and Wulfnoth. The daughters, according to Freeman, were Eadgyth (Edward's Queen), Gunhild (properly Gunnilla), and A'Efgifu ‡ (properly Elfira). Godwin's relations in Denmark by his marriage with Gytha the daughter of Ulf, were powerful persons, and closely connected by blood with the reigning family. Eadgyth (or Edith), the daughter of Godwin, who became Queen, exhibits in the great charm of her character, a proof that in the family of the ambitious Earl she had received a gentle nurture.
* p. 143,
† Florence of Worcester.
‡ Norman Conquest, App. F., Vol. 2,
Ingulphus, the Monk of Croyland says of her in a Latin hexameter "As the thorn is the parent of the rose, so is Godwin of Editha" (Sicut spina rosam. genuit Godwinus Editham), and he adds, " I have seen her many times in my childhood, when I went to visit my father, who was dwelling in the King's palace. Oftentimes, when I was returning from school, would she question me in my grammar, or my verses, or my logic, in which she was skilful; and when, after much subtle argument, she had concluded, she would by her hand-maiden give me some pieces of money, and send me for refreshment to the buttery." This rose never saw another rose bloom from her tree. Her husband, with the superstition of the cloister, first neglected her. Then came a time when he persecuted her. She was forced upon the King, a mature man of forty, say some of the chroniclers, and they put these words into Godwin's mouth, "Swear to me that you will take my daughter for your wife, and I will give you the Kingdom of England. According to others, Edward was as unwilling to receive the Kingdom as to be encumbered with a wife. *
We will not search too closely into Edith's character, but content ourselves with the opinion of Ingulphus concerning her. †
It has before been said that William of Malmsbury, like the other Monkish historians of the Norman time, were prejudiced against Godwin, but this is Malmsbury's account of the succession of Edward the Confessor, to the throne :
"Edward receiving the mournful intelligence of the death of Hardecanute, was lost in uncertainty what to do, or whither to betake himself. While he was revolving many things in his mind, it occurred as the better plan, to submit his situation to the opinion of Godwin. To Godwin therefore he sent messengers, requesting that he might in security have a conference with him, Godwin, though for a long time hesitating and reflecting, at length assented, and when Edward came to him, and endeavored to fall at his feet, he raised him up; and when relating the death of Hardecanute, and begging his assistance to effect his return to Normandy, Godwin made him the greatest promises. He said : "It was better for him to live with credit in power, than to die ingloriously in exile; that he was the son of Ethelred, the grandson of Edgar : that the Kingdom was his due : that he was come to mature age, disciplined by difficulties, conversant in the art of well-governing from his years, and knowing from his former poverty, how to feel for the miseries of the people : if he thought fit to rely on him. there could be no obstacle; for his authority so preponderated in England, that whenever he inclined, there fortune was sure to favour. If he assisted him, none would dare to murmur, and just so was the contrary side of the question; let him then only covenant a firm friendship with himself, undiminished honors for his sons, and a marriage with his daughter; and he who was now shipwrecked almost of life and hope, and imploring the assistance of another should shortly see himself a king."
"There was nothing which Edward would not promise, from the exigency of the moment; so pledging fidelity on both sides, he confirmed by oath everything that was demanded. Soon after, convening an Assembly at Gillingham, Godwin, unfolding his reasons, caused him to be received as king, and homage was paid to him by all. He (Godwin) was a man of ready wit, and spoke fluently in the vernacular tongue; powerful in speech, powerful in bringing over the people to whatever he desired. Some yielded to his authority; some were influenced by presents; others admitted the right of Edward; and the few who resisted in defiance of justice and equity were carefully marked, and afterwards driven out of England."
[Continued on Page 13.]
* Knight Hist, Vol. I, p. 162. Mr. Knight evidently thought poorly of the character of the Earl. Dr. Lingard says: "The character of this powerful Earl has been painted by most of our historians in colours of blood. They describe him as a monster of inhumanity, duplicity, and ambition." Hist., Vol. I, p. 288.
† Edith is charged with many things by late historians, but no object can be served by repeating them. As Freeman says: "That she looked carefully after her rents in money, kine, and honey, and after the man who stole her horse, is no blame to her." We should like to see stronger evidence before condemning Edith, and any lady is to be fully excused for looking carefully after the loss of a favourite horse. I am sorry Tennyson has accepted the modern dictum touching Queen Edith.