Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1
Edward the Confessor - His Life and Reign.Pages: <1>
The English, on the death of Hardicanute, saw that a favourable opportunity had occurred for recovering their ancient independence, and shaking off the Danish yoke, which was insufferably galling to a proud and spirited people.
Prince Edward was fortunately at court at the time of his brother's death; and though the true Saxon heir was the descendant of Edmund Ironside, the absence of that prince in Hungary appeared a sufficient reason for his exclusion. Delays might be dangerous; the occasion might not again present itself, and must be eagerly embraced before the Danes, now left in the island without a leader, had time to recover from the confusion into which the death of their king had thrown them.
But this concurrence of circumstances in favour of Edward might have failed of its effect, had his succession been opposed by Godwin, whose power, alliances, and abilities gave him a great influence at all times, especially amidst those sudden opportunities which always attend a revolution of government, and which, either seized or neglected, commonly prove decisive. There were opposite reasons which divided men's hopes and fears with regard to Godwin's conduct. On the one hand, the credit of that nobleman lay chiefly in Wessex, which was almost entirely inhabited by English: it was therefore presumed that he would second the wishes of that people in restoring the Saxon line, and in humbling the Danes, from whom he, as well as they, had reason to dread, as they had already felt, the most grievous oppressions. On the other hand, there existed a declared animosity between Edward and Godwin, on account of Alfred's murder, of which the latter had been publicly accused by the prince, and which he might believe so deep an offence as could never, on account of any subsequent merits, be sincerely pardoned. But their common friends here interposed, and, representing the necessity of their reconciliation, obliged them to lay aside all jealousy and rancour, and concur in restoring liberty to their native country. Godwin only stipulated that Edward, as a pledge of his sincerity, should promise to marry his daughter, Editha; and having fortified himself by this alliance, he summoned a general council at Gillingham, and prepared every measure for securing the succession to Edward. The English were unanimous and zealous in their resolutions; the Danes were divided and dispirited; any small opposition which appeared in this assembly was browbeaten and suppressed; and Edward was crowned king with every demonstration of duty and affection.
The triumph of the English, on this signal and decisive advantage, was at first attended with some insult and violence against the Danes; but the king, by the mildness of his character, soon reconciled the latter to his administration, and the distinction between the two nations gradually disappeared. The Danes were interspersed with the English in most of the provinces, and spoke nearly the same language.
The joy of their deliverance made such an impression on the English, that they had an annual festival, which was observed in some countries even to the time of Spelman.
The popularity of Edward's accession was not destroyed by the first act of his administration, which was to resume all grants made by his immediate predecessors - a stretch of power, in most instances, attended by dangerous consequences to the kingly authority and the well-being of the state.
The poverty of the crown convinced the people of its necessity; and as these grants had been lavished chiefly upon their enemies, the Danes, as rewards for their services ia opposing them, the English regarded it as an act of justice rather than one of spoliation.
The new king treated his mother, the Queen Dowager, not only with coldness, but some degree of severity, on account of her having neglected him in his adversity. He accused her of preferring her son by Canute to his brother and himself - which, when the characters of her first and second husbands are compared, appears by no means improbable. He stripped her of the great wealth she had amassed, and confined her for the rest of her life in a convent at Winchester.
The accusation of her having been a party to the murder of her son Alfred, and of her criminal intercourse with the Bishop of Winchester, which she is said to have cleared herself from by walking barefoot over nine red-hot plough-snares, must be regarded as tradition merely.
The English fondly believed that by the accession of Edward they had delivered themselves for ever from the dominion of foreigners; but they soon found that they were in error; for the king, who had been educated at the court of his uncle in Normandy, had contracted so strong an affection for the natives of that country that his court was speedily filled by them.
This partiality will be considered by no means an unnatural one, when it is remembered that the natives of that populous and wealthy state were far more polished than the comparatively rude, unlettered Saxons, and their culture superior. The example of the monarch was not without its influence; the courtiers imitated the Normans both in dress and manners. The French became the language not only of the court, but of law; even the Church felt its influence, Edward creating Ulf and William, two Norman priests, Bishops of Dorchester and London. Robert, another native of the same country, was soon afterwards elevated to the primacy.
All these changes gradually excited the jealousy of the English nation; although it may be justly doubted whether the most far-sighted amongst them foresaw that it was gradually preparing the way for a fresh conquest of the country.
Amongst those who bitterly resented the innovation were Earl Godwin and his sons, the most powerful nobles in Britain.
The father, besides being Duke or Earl of Wessex, for the title was indiscriminately used, had the counties of Kent and Sussex annexed to his government. His eldest son, Sweyn, possessed the same authority in Oxford, Berkshire, Gloucester, and Hereford; whilst Harold, the second son, was Duke of East Anglia and governor of Essex.
The influence of this family was supported not only by immense possessions, but great personal talents - qualities which the ambition of Godwin rendered still more dangerous.
A prince of greater capacity and vigour than Edward would have found it difficult to support the dignity of the crown under such circumstances; and as the haughty temper of Godwin made him often forget the respect due to his sovereign, Edward's animosity against him was grounded on personal as well as political considerations - on recent as well as more ancient injuries. The king, in pursuance of his engagements, had indeed married Editha, the daughter of Godwin; but this alliance became a fresh source of enmity between them. Edward's hatred of the father was transferred to that princess; and Editha, though possessed of many amiable accomplishments, could never acquire the confidence and affection of her husband. It is even pretended that, during the whole course of her life, he abstained from all commerce of love with her; and such was the absurd admiration paid to an inviolable chastity during those ages, that his conduct in this particular is highly celebrated by the monkish historians, and greatly contributed to his acquiring the title of saint and confessor.
The most popular pretence on which Godwin could ground his disaffection to the king and his administration, was to complain of the influence of the Normans in the government; and a declared opposition had thence arisen between him and these favourites. It was not long before this animosity broke into action. Eustace, Count of Boulogne, having paid a visit to the king, passed by Dover in his return: one of his train being refused entrance to a lodging which had been assigned him, attempted to make his way by force, and in the contest he wounded the master of the house. The inhabitants revenged this insult by the death of the stranger; the count and his train took arms, and murdered the wounded townsman; a tumult ensued; near twenty persons were killed on each side; and Eustace, being overpowered by numbers, was obliged to save his life by flight from the fury of the populace. He hurried immediately to court, and complained of the usage he had met with. The king entered zealously into the quarrel, and was! highly displeased that a stranger of such distinction, whom he had invited over to his court, should, without any just cause, as he believed, have been exposed to such insult and danger. Edward felt so sensibly the insolence of his people, that he gave orders to Godwin, in whose government Dover lay, to repair immediately to the place, and to punish the inhabitants for the crime; but Godwin, who desired rather to encourage than repress the popular discontents against foreigners, refused obedience, and endeavoured to throw the whole blame of the riot on the Count of Boulogne and his retinue. Edward, touched in so sensible a point, saw the necessity of exerting the royal authority; and he threatened Godwin, if he persisted in his disobedience, to make him feel the utmost effects of his resentment.
The earl, perceiving a rupture to be unavoidable, and pleased to embark in a cause where it was likely he should be supported by his countrymen, made preparations for his own defence, or rather for an attack on Edward. Under pretence of repressing some disorders on the Welsh frontier, he secretly assembled a great army, and was approaching the king, who resided, without any military force, and without suspicion, at Gloucester. Edward applied for protection to Siward, Duke of Northumberland, and Leofric, Duke of Mercia, two powerful noblemen, whose jealousy of Godwin's greatness, as well as their duty to the crown, engaged them to defend the king in this extremity. They hastened to him with such of their followers as they could assemble on a sudden; and finding the danger much greater than they had at first apprehended, they issued orders for mustering all the forces within their respective governments, and for marching them without delay to the defence of the king's person and authority. Edward, meanwhile, endeavoured to gain time by negotiation; while Godwin, who thought the king entirely in his power, and who was willing to save appearances, fell into the snare; and not sensible that he ought to have no farther reserve after he had proceeded so far, he lost the favourable opportunity of rendering himself master of the government.
The English, though they had no idea of Edward's vigour and capacity, bore him great affection on account of his humanity, justice, and piety, as well as the long race of their native kings from whom he was descended; and they hastened from all quarters to defend him from the present danger. His army was now so considerable, that he ventured to take the field; and, marching to London, he summoned a general council of the nation, to judge the rebellion of Godwin and his sons.
These nobles affected at first a willingness to stand their trial, but demanded hostages for their safety, which were Indignantly refused. Soon afterwards, finding themselves deserted by the majority of their adherents, they disbanded their remaining forces, and fled the country.
Baldwin, Count of Flanders, gave shelter and protection to the earl and three of his sons, Gurth, Sweyn, and Tostig, the last being his son-in-law.
Harold and Leofwin, two younger brothers, took refuge in Ireland.
Godwin himself had fixed his influence too strongly in England, and had too many allies, not to make some efforts to retrieve his misfortunes. The Earl of Flanders permitted him, in 1052, to fit out an expedition in his harbours, which he directed towards Sandwich; but was compelled to retreat before the numerous fleet which Edward equipped against him.
The exile appears to have been far more politic and clearsighted than the king, who, satisfied with his success, and deeming his enemy completely crushed, disbanded his men and neglected his ships, whilst Godwin kept his in readiness. Deeming the time at last had come, he put to sea once more, and sailed for the Isle of Wight, where he was joined by his son Harold, with considerable succours, collected in Ireland.
Being now master of the sea, he plundered all the harbours of the southern coast, burning the ships of Edward, and called upon his followers in those counties which owned his authority to take arms in his cause. The appeal was not made in vain: such numbers flocked to his standard that he entered the Thames, and caused great terror to the citizens of London.
The king alone showed the resolution to oppose the rebels and defend the city to the last extremity. The nobles, however, fearing a civil war, and many of them conceiving Godwin to have reason, induced Edward to listen to terms of accommodation, which the affected humility of the earl, who declared that he only demanded a fair and impartial trial, materially assisted. It was stipulated that he should give hostages for his future loyalty and peaceable conduct; and that the primate, and all foreigners, should be sent out of the realm. Godwin died shortly afterwards, whilst sitting at table with the king. He was succeeded in the government of Sussex, Kent, and Essex, as well as in the office of Steward of the Household, by his son Harold, who, equally ambitious as his father, possessed more prudence and address. By a modest, sensible line of conduct, he succeeded in obtaining the favour of the king, and daily increased the number of his partisans, till his authority equalled that of the monarch himself.
Edward, who saw that his subject was becoming his equal, attempted to raise a rival to him in the person of Algar, son of Leofric, Duke of Mercia, whom he invested with the government of East Anglia; but Algar was speedily expelled from his government by the intrigues of Harold, who bitterly resented his nomination, the government of that province having been formerly in his own family.
This check, however, was not of long continuance. The young noble having married the daughter of Griffith, Prince of Wales, the influence of his father-in-law, backed by the authority of Edward, quickly reinstated him.