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Earl Godwin of Wessex and Edward the Confessor's Promise of the Throne to William of Normandy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 July 2016

Miles W. Campbell*
New Mexico State University


Recent years have seen a renewed interest in the Norman Conquest, an interest elicited in part by the nine-hundredth anniversary of that momentous event. Among the specific aspects of England's relations with the duchy of Normandy that have attracted the attention of scholars has been that of King Edward's bequest of the Anglo-Saxon crown to Duke William. These studies have touched lightly upon the role of Godwin, earl of the West Saxons, in the affair. A prominent, perhaps at times dominant figure at court during the first decade of Edward's reign, he has traditionally been portrayed as a staunch foe of Norman influence in England. Indeed, Godwin's opposition to the Confessor's pro-Norman policy is generally held to have brought England to the brink of civil war in 1051 and to have led to the flight of him and his family from the kingdom shortly after. Consequently it is strange to hear of the earl having given, with other members of the witan, an oath recognizing the duke of Normandy as Edward's heir and, moreover, having surrendered a son and grandson to secure his pledge. If the earl did make these concessions, and conceivably others, an explanation, in view of his alleged anti-Norman attitude, is desirable. There has been, however, no logical, cohesive account of his part in the succession crisis advanced. The tendency has been either simply to reject evidence that appears to be contrary to accepted theories or, if taken into consideration, to interpret it in a manner that has resulted in a wholly inconsistent picture of Godwin's conduct.

Copyright © Fordham University Press 

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1 Douglas, D. C., ‘Edward the Confessor, Duke William of Normandy, and the English Succession,English Historical Review 68 (1953) 526545, and William the Conqueror (London 1964) 166–169; T. J. Oleson, ‘Edward the Confessor's Promise of the Throne to Duke William of Normandy,’ English Historical Review 72 (1957) 221–228; F. Barlow, ‘Edward the Confessor's Early Life, Character and Attitudes,’ ibid. 80 (1965) 225–251, esp. 240ff, and Edward the Confessor (London 1970) 106–109; S. Körner, The Battle of Hastings, England and Europe 1035–1066 (Lund 1965) 76–157; R. A. Brown, The Normans and the Norman Conquest (New York 1968) 113–140.

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2 Freeman, E. A., The History of the Norman Conquest of England (Oxford 1868) II 125–162; B. Wilkinson, ‘Freeman and the Crisis of 1051,’ Bulletin of John Rylands Library 22 (1938) 373–374; Sir F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (2nd ed. Oxford 1957) 419, 555; Douglas, William the Conqueror 168; Brown, The Normans 119–126. See, however, Barlow, Edward the Confessor 109.

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3 A critical study of the sources regarding the events of 1051 will be found in Wilkinson, ‘Freeman and the Crisis of 1051’ 368–378. See also: Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England 554–557; Douglas, William the Conqueror 168–171; Brown, The Normans 119–126.

4 Guillaume de Poitiers, Gesta Guillelmi ducis Normannorum et regis Anglorum, ed. Foreville, R. (Paris 1952) 174, 176. Duke William, speaking of the Confessor's original bequest of the throne to him to Earl Harold on the occasion of the latter's visit to Normandy, notes: ‘Sane neque id absque optimatum consensu, verum consilio Stigandi archiepiscopi, Godwini comitis, Leurici comitis, Sigardi comitis, qui etiam jurejurando suis manibus confirmauerunt, quod post Edwardi decessum me reciperent dominum, nec ullatenus peterent in vita illius patriam hanc ullo impedimento contra me occupari. Obsides mihi dedit Godwini filium ac nepotem.’

5 The crisis of 1051 was ignited, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, as a result of Godwin's anger over the use of armed force by the military retinue of Count Eustace of Boulogne, the Confessor's brother-in-law, against the citizens of Dover when the latter, taking offense at the highhanded conduct of the Frenchmen, resisted them (MSS D, sub anno 1052 = 1051, E, sub anno 1048 = 1051). While the sources provide no explanation for Eustace's presence in England at this time, most historians have tended to dismiss the incident as having been, in itself, of little significance, important only in the response it elicited from the earl of Wessex: Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England 554; Douglas, William the Conqueror 168. Professor Brown, however, suggested that the count's visit, taking place as it did shortly after word of the Confessor's bequest of the throne had been transmitted to Duke William (infra, n. 6), may have been ‘in the nature of an embassy bringing duke William's acceptance’ of the English crown to Edward; The Normans 123. Barlow, while not rejecting completely this theory, was inclined to believe Eustace's visit was linked to his own family's claim to the English throne; Edward the Confessor 109. Brown, carrying his thesis further, noted that, in light of the subsequent interest shown by the Norman duke in Dover, ‘It is even possible that at this date [1051] as well as in 1064 Dover was to be a pledge of Edward's good faith, and that it was Eustace's attempt to occupy it on the duke's behalf that began the trouble’ (op. cit.). The reference to the year 1064 pertains to William of Poitiers' statement that Harold Godwineson, in the course of his well-known visit to Normandy, gave the duke an oath recognizing his claim to the English throne and pledging, among other things, to permit the duke to place a garrison of his troops in ‘Dover castle.’ This writer has sought to show that it is possible that there was, in fact, an attempt to establish a number of Norman garrisons in England in the years 1051–1052; ‘A Pre-Conquest Norman Occupation of England,’ Speculum 46 (1971) 2131.


6 Professor David Douglas demonstrated convincingly that William of Poitiers' claim that Robert of Jumièges, Edward's Norman appointee to the office of archbishop of Canterbury, had carried word of the king's bequest to Duke William was in agreement with evidence provided by other sources; ‘Edward the Confessor’ 534–538. His thesis that Robert, in the course of his journey to Rome to obtain his pallium (mid-Lent to June 21, 1051), informed William of Edward's bequest has been well received by scholars; Oleson, ‘Edward the Confessor's Promise’ 223; Körner, The Battle of Hastings 107. Professor Barlow, while apparently accepting the theory, contended Edward's relations with the duke were purely diplomatically motivated and did not reflect a sincere desire to see the Norman mount the English throne: ‘Edward the Confessor's Early Life’ 244; Edward the Confessor 106–109. Douglas, having shown that ‘the Norman chroniclers merit careful consideration’ (op. cit. 536), simply dismissed as ‘embroidery’ and ‘more disputable and less important’ (ibid). William of Poitiers' statement that Godwin acquiesced in the king's succession plan and gave hostages to Duke William to secure his pledge. There is, however, ample evidence that the duke did, indeed, hold relatives of the earl as hostages, a point Douglas conce ded in a later work; William the Conqueror 176 n. 1. On the hostages see Barlow, op. cit. 241 n. 3, and Edward the Confessor 301–306. Commenting upon the value of William of Poitiers and his countrymen as sources, Douglas observed that ‘these men are Normans but … they were not necessarily for that reason liars'; ‘Edward the Confessor’ 543. To assert that an oath of such far-reaching significance was given by one of England's most powerful nobles, a man generally held to have been strongly opposed to the Normans, exceeds mere literary embellishment; it is clearly too important not to be given further consideration.

7 Oleson, T. J., accepting William of Poitiers' claim of an oath having been given by Godwin, argued that it, together with the hostages surrendered to Duke William, must have been extracted from the earl by Edward in 1052. It was his contention that the earl, returning to England following the exile imposed upon him the previous year, was compelled, in order to obtain the king's pardon, to make these concessions; ‘Edward the Confessor's Promise’ 222–224. This theory has not received the acceptance of historians: Barlow, ‘Edward the Confessor's Early Life’ 243 n. 3; Douglas, William the Conqueror 170; Brown, the Normans 82. It is, in fact, untenable, for the sources make it clear that it was Godwin, not the king, who was victorious in 1052. As Körner noted, ‘It seems unrealistic, therefore, to imagine that, having returned so triumphantly, Godwine then accepted a Norman succession in England’; The Battle of Hastings 193.

Professor Barlow argued that there is no evidence that Godwin was, indeed, opposed to a Norman succession: op. cit. 250; Edward the Confessor, 109. This thesis, like that of Oleson, is in sharp conflict with the studied opinions of an overwhelming majority of historians (supra, n. 2). It would seem to be in conflict with his earlier view that the struggle between Archbishop Robert, the most prominent Norman in England in 1051, and the earl appeared to be ‘more political than ecclesiastical and more one of persons and nations than of principle [italics mine]’; ed. Vita Edwardi regis qui apud Westmonasterium requiescit (London 1962) 17 n. 2. His view that the anti-Norman violence which swept the kingdom following Godwin's return in 1052 was merely the result of a personal vendetta on the part of the earl directed against a few enemies and that his restoration brought ‘no signof an immediate change in England's foreign policy’ (‘Edward the Confessor's Early Life,’ 250) is not convincing. In 1052 ‘… the victory lay with the family of Godwine. The royal authority in England had been challenged and defeated, and the Norman policy of the king had been broken’; Douglas, William the Conqueror 170. As Brown has observed, ‘That Edward's Norman sympathies and preferments lead to the crisis of 1051 … is as clear as anything can be in the haze which inadequate English sources draw over the politics of the reign’; op. cit. 119.

8 Swein, whose earldom included the shires of Oxford, Gloucester, Hereford, Somerset, and Berkshire, appears as dux in 1043. It is possible that Harold was named earl of East Anglia in 1044. See: Anglo-Saxon Writs, ed. Harmer, F. E. (Manchester 1952) 435; Freeman, Norman Conquest II 555–568.

9 Douglas, William the Conqueror 166. According to Florence of Worcester Edward's election was due largely to the efforts of Godwin and Lyfing, bishop of Worcester; Chronicon ex Chronicis, ed. Thorpe, B. (London 1948–49) I 196–197. Stenton discounted this assertion, pointing to the statement of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (MS E sub anno 1041 = 1042) that Edward was proclaimed by popular acclamation; Anglo-Saxon England 417 n. 2. He noted elsewhere (ibid. 419), however, that ‘The formidable group of Anglo-Danish warriors and statesmen which accepted Edward as king by popular choice and right of birth had no affection for the dynasty to which he belonged.’ Earlier, prior to his return to England from his exile in Normandy, Edward is alleged to have spoken of his lack of support among the nobles of England; Encomium Emmae Reginae, ed. A. Campbell (Roy. Hist. Soc., Camden 3rd ser. 72; London 1949) 48.

10 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles are silent as to any opposition to Edward's claim to the throne. William of Malmesbury does, however, refer to such opposition although he does not indicate its source: De gestis regum Anglorum, ed. Stubbs, W. (Rolls Ser. 90; London 1887–89) I 239. According to Adam of Bremen Edward's rival was Sweyn Estrithson who, as Canute's nephew, laid claim to the English kingdom; History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, ed. F. J. Tschan (New York 1959) 108. In the face of this threat, Adam asserted, Edward named the Dane his heir. While a majority of historians have been inclined to dismiss the German prelate's story as unlikely, L. M. Larson saw no reason to do so; ‘The Efforts of the Danish Kings to Recover the English Crown after the Death of Harthacnut,’ Annual Report, American Historical Association (1910) 74–75. He suggested that Edward's marriage to Godwin's daughter was meant to win the earl away from possibly supporting Sweyn.

11 Vita Edwardi 19–21. Robert of Jumièges, who is portrayed by Edward's biographer as the primary source of the conflict between Godwin and the king, is depicted as having sought to convince the Confessor that the West Saxon was preparing to attack him as he had his brother. Earl Godwin had been forced to stand trial for his part in the murder of Alfred shortly after Harthacanute's ascension of the throne in 1040. At that time Godwin pleaded that his role had been simply that of an agent carrying out the orders of his king; Florence of Worcester, I 194–95.

12 Anglo-Saxon England 419.

13 Florence of Worcester states Swein sought to marry Edith; I 201. This, not his kidnapping and seduction of the abbess, appears to have been the act for which he was banished, for, as Adam, R. J. discerned, a law of Canute called down punishment on those ‘so presumptuous as to take to wife a professed nun or woman who has taken religious vows.’ A Conquest of England (London 1965) 48. See Liebermann, F., Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen (Halle 1903–16) I 274 sec. 16, 17.

14 Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England 419; Hodgkin, T., The History of England from the Earliest Times to the Norman Conquest (London 1920) II 449; Barlow, ‘Edward the Confessor's Early Life’ 239.

15 Supra note 10.

16 Barlow, ‘Edward the Confessor's Early Life’ 250.

17 Anglo-Saxon Chronicles MS D sub anno 1048 = 1047; Florence of Worcester I 201.

18 MS D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, sub anno 1045 = 1044, records the expulsion of Gunnilde, a kinswoman of King Canute, and her sons. All chronicles note the banishment of Osgot Clapa, a famed companion of Canute, in 1046. Barlow saw these actions as evidence of Edward's desire to eliminate from his court the Danish influence which had become entrenched during the reigns of Canute and his sons; ‘Edward the Confessor's Early Life’ 239.

19 Anglo-Saxon Chronicles MS D sub anno 1049 = 1048; Florence of Worcester I 201.

20 Supra note 10.

21 Anglo-Saxon Chronicles MSS D sub anno 1050 = 1049, C sub anno 1049. Osgot Clapa, banished from England in 1046 (supra note 18), put into the harbor of Wulpe, in Flanders, with a fleet of twenty-nine ships (thirty-nine according to MS D). Warned of the presence of the Danish vessels, Edward gathered all available ships to withstand the anticipated attack. The Dane, however, returned to his homeland with a portion of his fleet. A few of the ships reportedly sailed to England, striking Essex, and then perishing, either destroyed by storms or sunk by Anglo-Saxon ships.

The previous year Sandwich and the Isle of Wight were hit by vessels under the command of Lothen and Yrling; ibid. MS E sub anno 1046 = 1048. Larson, believing the leaders of this raid were Norwegians engaged in a private enterprise, suggested that it was unlikely that they could have sailed from Norway without permission of that land's king; ‘Efforts of the Danish Kings,’ 74–75. It is also conceivable that the attack was launched to discourage any English attempt to provide aid to Sweyn of Denmark, a harsh reminder of the perils of involvement in the Scandinavian struggle.

22 Edward the Confessor's Early Life’ 239.

23 Ibid. 245.

24 Grierson, P., ‘The Relations between England and Flanders before the Norman Conquest,Trans. Roy. Soc. 4th ser. 23 (1941) 95ff.

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25 Edward the Confessor's Early Life’ 245ff.

26 Anglo-Saxon Chronicles MSS C sub anno 1049, D sub anno 1050 = 1049.

27 Edward the Confessor's Early Life’ 246–247. While the date of William's marriage to Matilda has not been determined exactly, it would seem to have taken place in either 1051 or 1052. There is no doubt, however, that the proposed union was discussed as early as 1049; in that year Pope Leo IX placed a ban on the projected alliance at the council held at Rheims; Douglas, William the Conqueror 391–395.

28 Edward the Confessor's Early Life’ 248–249.

29 The determined adherence of the Confessor to his original bequest bespeaks a commitment exceeding mere political expediency. In 1052, following the triumphant return of Earl Godwin from exile, Edward's plans for the succession were, it is clear, rejected by the nobles of England (supra note 7). In 1057 Edward the Atheling, the long-exiled son of Edmund Ironside, returned to England; there is no question that it was intended that he be named the Confessor's heir: Douglas, William the Conqueror 171–172; Brown, The Normans 126–127. Following his death, however, within a matter of days after his arrival in his native land, it would seem that the king was able, in the absence of an alternate candidate, to advance the candidacy of Duke William. The success of his campaign would seem to have been clearly demonstrated by the events of 1064 when Earl Harold Godwinson, in the course of his visit to Normandy, reaffirmed the Confessor's earlier bequest. It is not unlikely that Edward, as Oleson suggested, never personally forsook his original promise of the crown to the Norman; ‘Edward the Confessor's Promise’ 227.

30 Anglo-Saxon Chronicles MS D sub anno 1050 = 1049.

31 Ibid. MSS D and C (sub anno 1049) state that he came ‘hypocritically,’ saying that he wished to become the king's ‘man.’ Professor Oleson, in discussing the incident, made it clear that the power to punish and pardon in Anglo-Saxon England, as in Scandinavia, was vested in the hands of the king: speaking of the northern lands specifically he noted ‘Only on special occasions are the matters of the gravest importance, such as war and peace, or the succession to the throne [italics mine], dealt with at the ping. … How much the more would this be the case in a society such as the Anglo-Saxon which knew no national assemblies?’; The Witenagemot in the Reign of Edward the Confessor (Toronto 1955) 103 note 1. Thus, under this constitutional structure, both the Confessor's ability to pardon, on his own initiative, Swein subsequently, and, at the same time, his necessity to seek the approval of the witan — including Earl Godwin — for his plans regarding the succession is evident.

32 Sub anno 1049.

33 Sub anno 1045=1049.

34 MS C has the two nobles declare that they would give nothing to Swein that the king had given them, presumably referring to the lands forfeited by him at the time of his initial banishment. MS E states that they held Swein not entitled to any of the things Edward had given him.

35 I 202–203.

36 Sub anno 1050=1049. He did so, the chronicler notes, ‘because of their kinship.’

37 MSS C, D, E. Taking Beorn on board his ship, Swein sailed west to Dartmouth; there the imprisoned earl was slain and his body buried in a nearby church.

38 Ibid. See infra note 68.

39 This was the conclusion of Plummer, C., Two Saxon Chronicles Parallel (Oxford 1892–99) II 231.

40 Anglo-Saxon Chronicles MSS C sub anno 1050, D sub anno 1047=1050.

41 Norman Conquest II 109.

42 Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England 553; Brown, The Normans 81.

43 Edward the Confessor in History,Trans. Roy. Soc. of Canada, 3rd ser. 2nd sec. 53 (1959) 33.

44 Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen 124–125: ‘At the same time [1049] the English also seceded from the Danish kingdom. The rebellion was started by the sons of Godwin, who, we said, were the sons of the aunt of the Danish king whose sister King Edward had taken in marriage. Entering into the conspiracy, they forthwith slew Bjorn, one of King Swein's brothers, who were dukes in England, and drove the other, Osbern, with all his followers out of the fatherland. And Godwin's sons held England in their power, for Edward was contented with life alone and the empty title of king.’ Harold's opposition to his brother Swein, noted by virtually every source, belies the charge — or implication — that he was involved in the murder of Beorn. Similarly, the banishment of Godwin and his family in 1051 clearly refutes the assertion that Edward was powerless after 1049. These errors, however, resulting in all likelihood from the fact that the events were seen dimly from a distance, do not render invalid Adam of Bremen's basic contention that Beorn's murder was, in some way, a consequence of a struggle over the fate of the English throne. While there is no mention in the sources of Osbern Estrithson's involvement in the events of 1049, it is known that he was in England prior to that date and that in 1070 he took part in King Sweyn's abortive invasion of northern England; Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England 421, 594.

45 Supra note 10.

46 Barlow, ‘Edward the Confessor's Early Life’ 238–240; Körner, The Battle of Hastings 138–145, 154–157; Brown, The Normans 138 note 153. It is accepted, however, by Larson, ‘Efforts of the Danish Kings’ 74, and Ramsay, Sir J. H., Foundations of England (London 1898) I 436.

47 Edward the Confessor's Early life’ 249–50.

48 Supra note 30.

49 Edward the Confessor's Early Life’ 249.

50 Eadmer, Historia novorum in Anglia, ed. Rule, M. (Rolls Ser. 81; London 1884) 4. On the hostages see: Barlow, ‘Edward the Confessor's Early Life’ 241 note 3; Brown, The Normans 124.

51 The Battle of Hastings 130 note 17. Brown observed of the surrender of the hostages that ‘the most obvious implication is that earl Godwin was opposed to the nomination of duke William as heir and had to give them as surety for his adherence to it.’ The Normans 124. In spite of the callous nature displayed by Swein, there is no reason to assume automatically that concern for the welfare of his son, presumably the offspring of his liaison with the Abbess Edith, would not have served, if only slightly, to insure his compliance to an oath given Edward. The fact that the king could at any time, if he desired, banish the pardoned earl again would, of course, have been an even greater guarantee of his obedience.

Barlow, it has been noted (supra note 16), suggested Godwin might have personally preferred that the English crown pass to one of his Danish nephews. Certainly, in view of the earl's close association with Denmark from an early date and, as has been underscored in this paper, his apparent continued pro-Danish orientation, this is a reasonable assumption. It is possible that support for such a thesis is actually to be found in the oath which, according to William of Poitiers, the earl of Wessex and others of the witan gave Edward (supra note 4). It is stated that they promised not to permit England to be occupied in any manner which might hinder William's succession (‘… nec ullatenus peterent in vita illius patriam hanc ullo impedimento contra me occupari.’). It is difficult to see who other than Sweyn Estrithson the king or duke might have feared as a potential rival for the throne — certainly not King Harald of Norway — or who they could have viewed as a supporter of the Dane strong enough to constitute a threat other than Earl Godwin. In line with this theory, notices in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (MS C, sub annis 1049, 1050) provide information lending itself to interesting speculation. In 1049 Edward dismissed, with pay, nine ships and their lithsmen crews; the following year he discharged the remaining five ships and crews. Is it possible that the Confessor feared that these mercenary seamen might constitute a dangerous pro-Danish rallying point? Concerning the lithsmen and interpretations of the significance of their dismissal, see: Freeman, Norman Conquest II 114–115, 123–124; Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England 425–426; Oleson, Witenagemot 3–4; L. M. Larson, The King's Household in England before the Norman Conquest (Bull. Univ. of Wise. 100; Madison 1904) 152–71; C. W. Hollister, Anglo-Saxon Military Institutions (Oxford 1962) 16–18.

52 He was named to the post in 1049 to succeed Bishop Eadnoth. His actual confirmation did not take place until the following year when, in the company of Bishops Ealdred and Herman, he went to Rome. It was probably in the course of this journey that Ealdred informed Swein that Edward had granted him a pardon; Freeman, Norman Conquest II 109.

53 Vita Edwardi, 19.

54 Ibid.

55 Anglo-Saxon England 554. MS E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (sub anno 1048=1051) refers in particular to the anger of Godwin and his sons over those ‘foreigners’ who had ‘built a castle in Hereford in Earl Swein's province, and had inflicted every possible injury and insult upon the king's men in those parts.’ Concerning this and other castles in the same region, see: Round, J. H., Feudal England (London 1895) 317331; J. Beeler, Warfare in England 1066–1189 (Ithaca [New York] 1966) 199; Brown, The Normans 115–117.

56 Vita Edwardi 24.

57 Ibid. note 5.

58 Körner, The Battle of Hastings 188.

59 Supra note 28.

60 The daughter of Baldwin IV of Flanders, her mother was Eleanor of Normandy, the daughter of Duke Richard the Good and niece of Queen Emma, the Confessor's mother.

61 Oleson noted that ‘There is some evidence that Tostig and Harold were not on friendly terms and that Edward may have been able to play the one against the other.’ ‘Edward the Confessor in History’ 34. He suggested elsewhere that Harold's decision to go to Normandy in 1064 might have been based on the belief that if he did not, Tostig would be sent; ‘Edward the Confessor's Promise’ 226 note 3. In 1065 Tostig, then earl of Northumbria, was driven from his earldom and the kingdom as the result of an uprising against him. At that time he reportedly accused Harold of having instigated the rebellion; Vita Edwardi 53. Freeman, while not prepared to accept the idea of any enmity between the brothers prior to that event, devoted several pages to various legends which did speak of such hostility; Norman Conquest II 623–628.

In addition to the tensions which seem to have existed in the relations between Harold and Tostig, there is reason to believe that Harold's sister Edith, the Confessor's queen, supported her husband in the succession question; ibid. III 635–636. Moreover, Freeman also cited (ibid. II 102 note 5) a passage in William of Malmesbury (Gesta regum II 200) which he suggested implied Swein had intended to murder Harold as well as his cousin Beorn. Thus it would not seem inconceivable that, as early as the period 1049–1051, a sharp breach had developed among Earl Godwin's offspring over a question of paramount importance — that of the fate of the Anglo-Saxon crown.

62 Supra note 5.

63 Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England 555.

64 Supra note 55.

65 Anglo-Saxon Chronicles MS E sub anno 1048=1051.

66 Supra note 5.

67 The most complete treatment of the crisis is to be found in Wilkinson, ‘Freeman and the Crisis of 1051’ 368–387. See also Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England 553–557; Oleson, The Witenagemot 105–108.

68 Anglo-Saxon Chronicles MSS D sub anno 1052=1051, E sub anno 1048 = 1051. The wording found in MS D has provided scholars with certain minor difficulties. It refers to the assembly which was to be convened in London as a stefna rather than a witan or, as in the case of MS E, a gemot. The stefna was, however, reasonably identified by Larson, L. M. as having been, in essence, the military tribunal of the housecarls, that body of semi-professional warriors which, introduced into England by either Sweyn Forkbeard or his son Canute, constituted the nucleus of the Anglo-Saxon army until the Conquest; The King's Household 152–169. He presented convincing arguments that this military body, organized as a gild with its own code of laws, possessed the right to try its members for crimes ranging from misdemeanors to murder and treason. In 1049 Swein Godwinson, having slain Beorn, was declared an ‘outlaw,’ not by the witan, but by the here (Anglo-Saxon Chronicles MS C sub anno 1049) — a term customarily applied to the standing army of the housecarls. The logical conclusion to be drawn is that Swein, in murdering Beorn — both being members of the housecarls — was subject to punishment at the hands of the stefna. See Larson, , op. cit.; Oleson, The Witenagemot 103–105; and infra note 72.

69 Anglo-Saxon Chronicles MS D sub anno 1052=1051.

70 Ibid.

71 The Witenagemot 107.

72 Apparently Godwin and Harold, like Swein, were to be judged by the stefna of the housecarls. MS E (sub anno 1048 = 1051) notes that the two men were ordered to appear before the king's council with twelve men. Larson observed that the Lex Castrensis, the body of law governing the housecarls of the Danish king, required that in controversies ‘over lands and plunder the oaths of six house-carles were required, the six to be selected by lot from the division to which the accused belonged; but the power to decide still lay with the gemot’; The King's Household 160–161. While drawn from a law code for the housecarls of Denmark, it is probable that it was similar to that which governed the here of England. While the charges against Godwin and Harold were more serious than those referred to by Larson, it seems reasonable to assume that the twelve men demanded of the earl and his son were to be fellow housecarls, men to serve as ‘witnesses.’ The fact that, under the laws of the housecarls, the task of trial and judgment was, at least in certain cases, shared by the stefna and the gemot, may account for the use of both terms by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles for the assembly at London. The circumstances surrounding Godwin's trial at this time are but one example of many to be discerned throughout his public career that strongly suggest that his rise to prominence at court was the consequence of his martial skills as a member of King Canute's housecarls.

73 Anglo-Saxon Chronicles MS E sub anno 1048=1051; Vita Edwardi 25.

74 MSS D and E state she was sent to Wherwell, while the Vita Edwardi (23) holds she was sent to live at Wilton.

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