Edward, son of Æthelred the Unready, having spent most of his life exiled in Normandy, was recalled to England in 1041, seemingly with the intention of establishing him as the heir of his, possibly ailing, half-brother, King Harthacnut.*
Harthacnut died on 8th June:
“And all the people then received Edward for king, as was his natural right.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript C
Edward was about thirty-nine years old when he succeeded to the English throne in 1042. After his death he came to be regarded as a saint – he was canonized in 1161 – and is known as Edward the Confessor.
Harthacnut's death had also left the Danish throne vacant. According to Scandinavian tradition, as related by Snorri Sturluson, Harthacnut and Magnus Olafsson, king of Norway (Magnus I ‘the Good’), had agreed that if one of them died without a son, then the survivor would inherit the kingdom of the other.* Accordingly, Magnus assembled a fleet and sailed to Denmark, where he was accepted as king without opposition. Magnus, though, believed that his agreement with Harthacnut entitled him to rule England also.
Snorri tells how Magnus installed Swein – the son of King Cnut's sister, Estrith, and Earl Ulf Thorgilsson – as his regent in Denmark. Swein's father, Ulf Thorgilsson, had acted in a similar capacity under Cnut. Ulf subsequently betrayed Cnut, and Cnut had him killed.* Snorri says that after Magnus had been acclaimed king in Denmark, Swein, who had been a refugee in Sweden since his father's death, travelled to Norway and submitted to him. Swein ingratiated himself with Magnus, and the king decided to make him an earl and put him in charge of Denmark. Before long, however, Swein assumed the title king, and began to contend with Magnus for the Danish throne. This ‘like father, like son’ story of betrayed trust is, however, contradicted by a rather better placed source.
Swein Estrithsson, himself,* was an informant of Adam of Bremen, so presumably Adam's reportage reflects Swein's own account of events. The resulting story, though, contains obvious distortions, which serve to bolster Swein's interests. In this instance (II, 74), Magnus' success in establishing himself as king of Norway (actually 1035) and his take-over of Denmark are blurred together, the combined event being placed just before Harthacnut's death. Harthacnut is said to have put his kinsman Swein in charge of a fleet to oppose Magnus.* Having been defeated, Swein returned to England to discover that Harthacnut had died and Edward had been chosen as his successor. Adam (i.e. Swein himself) maintains that Edward was afraid Swein would press his own claim to the English throne, and so, to mollify him, agreed that, even if he had sons of his own, Swein would be his heir. Happy with the deal, Swein returned to Denmark to carry-on the fight against Magnus.
The foremost earl in England, Godwine, an Englishman who owed his position to Cnut, was married to Swein's aunt, Earl Ulf's sister, Gytha, and Swein's brothers, Beorn and Osbeorn, evidently lived in England. It was apparently thanks to Godwine's advocacy that Edward was chosen to be king, but it is hard to believe there were any feelings of friendship between the two men – Godwine had previously favoured Cnut's sons and had delivered Edward's brother, Alfred, to his death in 1037.*
Edward's coronation took place, at Winchester, on Easter Day (3rd April).*
|A mid-13th century illustration, from a verse ‘Life’ of St Edward the Confessor (Cambridge University Library MS Ee.iii.59)*, showing Edward's reception in England, on the left-hand side, and his coronation, on the right.*|
On 16th November, Edward, apparently acting on the advice of the witan, rode from Gloucester to Winchester, accompanied by the three great earls of England, Godwine of Wessex, Leofric of Mercia and Siward of Northumbria, with their retinues, and descended unannounced on his mother's residence:
“... and they bereaved her of all the treasures which she owned, which were untold; because she had before been very hard to the king her son, inasmuch as she had done less for him than he wanted before he was king, and also since then. And after that they let her reside therein.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript D
“... the king caused all the lands which his mother possessed to be seized into his hand; and took from her all that she possessed in gold and in silver, and in untold things; because she had before held it too firmly from him.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscripts C and E*
“And soon after, Stigand was deposed from his bishopric [East Anglia], and all that he owned was seized into the king's hand; because he was closest in his mother's counsel, and she went as he advised her, as it was supposed.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript C
According to the ‘Chronicle’, then, Emma had seemingly incurred Edward's wrath by neglecting his interests before he became king, and by subsequently withholding wealth he believed was rightly his. Emma had, of course, abandoned Edward in Normandy, so he no doubt felt resentment on that score, and she had a track-record for keeping royal funds to herself,* but the sudden, dramatic, action taken in November 1043 seems like a response to something more pressing. The ‘Translation of St Mildrith’, written half-a-century after the event, provides a surprising (and completely uncorroborated) motive for the king's swift retribution:
“While he [Edward] was reigning in peace like unto Solomon, his own mother was accused of inciting Magnus, king of Norway, to invade England, and it was said that she had given countless treasures to Magnus. Wherefore this traitor to the kingdom, this enemy of the country, this betrayer of her own son, was judged, and everything she possessed was forfeited to the king.”*
St Mildrith, in spirit of course, intervenes on Emma's behalf (which is the whole point of the story) – Edward regrets his actions, begs his mother's pardon, and reinstates her.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Emma and, indeed, Stigand do seem to have quickly recovered their positions (though probably without the help of St Mildrith). Manuscript E of the ‘Chronicle’ notices Stigand's restoration to his bishopric in 1044, and Emma appears in the witness-lists of two charters (S1001, S1006), first after Edward, before 25th July 1044.*
In the same year, presumably in anticipation of an invasion by Magnus Olafsson, Edward:
“... went out to Sandwich with 35 ships ...”*‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscripts C and E
On 23rd January, Edward married Edith (Old English: Eadgyth), the daughter of Earl Godwine and Gytha (sister of Earl Ulf). Charter evidence indicates that, about the same time, both Harold, son of Godwine and Gytha, and Beorn Estrithsson (Swein's brother), nephew of Godwine and Gytha, were given earldoms – Harold's earldom was East Anglia, Beorn's included Hertfordshire. Harold's older brother, another Swein (OE: Swegen), of whom much more later, had already been given an earldom that included Gloucestershire and Herefordshire at the beginning of Edward's reign.*
In the summer of 1045:
“... King Edward gathered a great ship-force at Sandwich [“no man had seen any greater ship-army in this land”, Manuscript C], on account of the threatening of Magnus of Norway; but his and Swein's [Swein Estrithsson's] war in Denmark hindered him from coming hither.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript D*
“... and Magnus won Denmark.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript D
Snorri Sturluson tells of the three battles thus far fought by Swein and Magnus. Each had ended in victory for Magnus and Swein's flight. At this stage, Snorri suggests that Magnus, after a diplomatic exchange with Edward, shelved his invasion plans.* There now appeared on the scene Magnus' uncle (a half-brother of his father), Harald Sigurdsson, later known as Harald Hardrada (literally ‘Hard-counsel’, implying ruthlessness), who had had an adventurous career in southern and eastern Europe. Harald and Swein met at the Swedish court (where Swein had taken refuge), they formed an alliance, and, having collected an army, invaded Denmark. Magnus made preparations to oppose them. Before battle was joined, however, Magnus, secretly, made an offer to share the rule of Norway with Harald. Swein was suspicious of Harald's loyalties, and, after an argument, had an assassin make an attempt on Harald's life. This act of treachery persuaded Harald that he should join Magnus.*
“And Swein also sent hither, praying for aid against Magnus, king of Norway; that 50 ships should be sent to his aid. But it seemed unadvisable to all folk; and then it was prevented, by reason that Magnus had a great strength in ships....
.... And he then ousted Swein, and with much man-slaying won the land; and the Danes paid him much money, and received him for king. And that same year Magnus died.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript D*
Magnus died on 25th October 1047. Snorri Sturluson says that Magnus decreed from his death-bed that Harald Sigurdsson should rule Norway, but Swein should rule Denmark – an arrangement that Harald, who thought it was his hereditary right to rule both Norway and Denmark, was obliged to accept.
“In this year Swein came again to Denmark, and Harald, the paternal uncle of Magnus, went to Norway after Magnus was dead; and the Norwegians received him; and he sent hither to this country about peace.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript D
The threat of invasion had passed (for the time being anyway).
In the opening years of his reign, when the threat of invasion was ever present, Edward expelled a number of high-profile figures – presumably they were suspected fifth-columnists. Manuscript D of the ‘Chronicle’ reports:
“And in this year [i.e. 1044] the noble woman Gunnhild, King Cnut's kinswoman, was banished; and afterwards she long resided at Bruges, and then went to Denmark.”
Whilst in 1046, all manuscripts of the ‘Chronicle’ report that a worthy called Osgod Clapa was exiled. It was at the wedding-feast of Osgod's daughter that Harthacnut had his fatal seizure. At some stage, Osbeorn Estrithsson (brother of Swein and Beorn) was banished from England.
|In 1046:||“Osgod Clapa was outlawed before Midwinter.” Manuscript C
“Osgod the staller was outlawed.” Manuscript D
“Osgod Clapa was driven out.” Manuscript E
Earl Godwine's eldest son, Swein, held an earldom that included Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. Actually, according to a late-11th century Worcester monk called Hemming*, Swein claimed that his father was not Godwine at all, but was King Cnut. His appalled mother is said to have gone to great lengths to prove that Godwine was, indeed, his father, but Swein persisted with his claim. Anyway, in 1046 Earl Swein allied himself with Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, king of Gwynedd, and they carried-out a raid into southern Wales*. On his way home from the raid, Manuscript C of the ‘Chronicle’ reports that Swein:
“... ordered the Abbess of Leominster to be fetched to him, and had her while it suited him, and then let her go home.”
Florence of Worcester says (retrospectively, s.a. 1049) that the abbess “whom he had corrupted” was called Eadgifu. The Worcester monk Hemming maintains that Swein kept the abducted abbess as his wife, for a full year, until he was threatened with excommunication by Eadsige, archbishop of Canterbury, and Lyfing, bishop of Worcester. To get his own back, Swein appropriated three estates from the church of Worcester. Sadly for the veracity of Hemming's testimony, Lyfing died on 23rd March 1046, and Eadsige resigned, for health reasons, in 1044 (he returned to office in 1048). Nevertheless, a year after the abduction, Swein was compelled to quit England, and Florence of Worcester presents the two events as cause and effect. Manuscript E of the ‘Chronicle’ notes that he “went out to Baldwin's land [i.e. Flanders]” in 1047. He overwintered at Bruges, and then departed in the summer. It is evident that he went to Denmark – presumably entering the service of his cousin, Swein Estrithsson.
“In this year there was a great earthquake widely throughout England.* And in the same year Sandwich and the Isle of Wight were ravaged, and the best men who were there, slain.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript C
Manuscript E provides some details of this Viking raid. The fleet of twenty-five ships was led by two chieftains, Lothen and Yrling. After plundering Sandwich, they sailed to Thanet, but were beaten off by the locals. Crossing the Thames, they then ravaged Essex. Manuscript C says that “King Edward and the earls went out with their ships”, but the Vikings must have escaped capture, since Manuscript E reports that they sold their ill-gotten gains in “Baldwin's land”.
Baldwin V, count of Flanders, had joined a rebellion against Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor. Baldwin had devastated Henry's palace at Nijmegen. In 1049, Henry assembled a large, multi-national, force against Baldwin:
“Moreover Swein [Estrithsson], king of the Danes, was there, at the emperors bidding, with his fleet, and swore fealty, for that occasion, to the emperor.”Florence of Worcester
“He [Henry] sent also to King Edward, and craved naval-aid [scipfultumes] from him, that he would not allow him [Baldwin] to escape from him by water. And he [Edward] went then to Sandwich, and there continued to lie with a great ship-army [sciphere], until the emperor had from Baldwin all that he wanted.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscripts C and D
Whilst Edward was at Sandwich, Swein Godwinesson (the abbess corrupter), having committed some serious offence which had forced his departure from Denmark, arrived with eight ships at Bosham, Sussex.* Swein travelled overland, to Sandwich, to seek the king's pardon. It would appear that Edward was prepared to restore Swein to his earldom, but this was vigorously opposed by Swein's brother, Earl Harold, and his cousin, Earl Beorn Estrithsson, between whom Swein's estates seem to have been divided.* Swein was sent away empty handed, and given four days safe-conduct to return to his ships. In the meantime, Henry and Baldwin had come to terms. The Mercian contingent of the English fleet was allowed to return home. Edward remained at Sandwich with a few ships, but a detachment of forty-two ships of the Wessex contingent, plus two royal vessels, commanded by Godwine, Beorn and, another of Godwine's sons, Tostig, set-off to deal with “hostile ships” which “lay westward and were harrying” (MS E). These “hostile ships” were a Viking fleet of thirty-six ships, from Ireland, which had formed an alliance with Gruffudd ap Rhydderch, who ruled in southern Wales, and were raiding along the river Severn.*
Edward had just dispersed his forces when he was informed that Osgod Clapa, whom he had outlawed in 1046, was in Flanders with a substantial fleet. In preparation for the impending attack, Edward recalled as many ships he could. Exactly what happened next is difficult to fathom. It isn't clear if Osgod himself participated in the ensuing raid, which ended badly for the Viking fleet.
The fleet commanded by Godwine et al. was lying weather-bound at Pevensey, when Swein, the proverbial bad penny, turned-up. He persuaded Beorn to accompany him to Edward, at Sandwich, and help him regain the king's favour. Fearing no treachery from his cousin, Beorn and just three of his men rode-off with Swein. Beorn, however, was led to Swein's ships at Bosham. He was taken captive and carried onboard. They sailed to Dartmouth, where Beorn was killed and buried.* No motive for the crime is given. Of Swein's original eight ships, six deserted him. Two of them were captured by “the men of Hastings and thereabouts” (MS D). Their crews were killed and the ships taken to Edward, at Sandwich.
“And Swein then went east to Baldwin's land, and resided there all the winter, at Bruges, with his full protection.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript E
Earl Harold, Swein's brother, had Beorn's body reburied in the Old Minster, Winchester, adjacent to King Cnut.
“And then the king and all the army declared Swein a nithing.”‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript C
It seems that King Edward's standing navy comprised fourteen ships. His confidence that the threat of invasion was over is reflected by the fact that early in 1050 he paid-off nine crews, who “went away, ships and all” (MS C).*
Also in the first quarter of 1050, Bishop Ealdred of Worcester and Bishop Hereman of Ramsbury travelled to Rome: “on the king's errand” (MS C).* Presumably it was on the return journey that Ealdred met-up with Swein Godwinesson. Ealdred must have been persuaded that Swein was a reformed character, since he accompanied him back to England, and, says Florence of Worcester, “set him at peace with the king”. Swein was restored to his earldom.