By alancaster149 – from : GODWIN’S CLAN – 7: KIN OF KINGS
Harold Godwinson’ s Path to the Throne – Harold as Earl of Wessex…

Harold as Earl of Wesse
Harold as Earl of Wesse

The Greatest Pretender
As a warrior leader Harold Godwinson was a strategist without equal. He had helped his father Earl Godwin regain his earldom in 1052, checked Gruffyd ap Llewellyn’s raiding in the Welsh Marches – succeeding in cornering him in Snowdonia, forcing the prince’s underlings to surrender his severed head – and he had taken his own brother Tostig and ally Harald Sigurdsson by surprise at Stamford Bridge near York, defeating them.

His greatest gamble was in hastening too quickly to the South Coast to halt William on his way to London. That gamble might have paid off but the timing of his advance told against him. This, his last gamble cost the lives of him, his brothers Gyrth and Leofwin and some of the flower of English nobility.

The son of a Sussex thegn, Wulfnoth Aethelmaerson, Harold’s father Godwin was born in the last decade of the 10th Century. Godwin Wulfnothson had been raised to the earldom of Wessex by Knut Sveinsson shortly after Knut’s accession to the throne of England, despite his support of Knut’s opponent Eadmund ‘Ironside’, son of Aethlred II. He had sworn support for Knut, been taken to Denmark along with other English nobles to show their mettle in putting down a rebellion and impressed his new king. In fact Godwin impressed the new king so much he was offered the hand of Gytha, sister of Jarl Ulf Thorgilsson.

Gytha first gave Godwin a son, Svein, named after Knut’s father, Svein Haraldsson, nicknamed ‘Forkbeard’. Harold followed a year or two later, with Eadgytha, Tostig, Gyrth, Gunnhild, Aelfgifu, Leofwin and Wulfnoth coming in fairly quick succession.

Svein was spoilt by his father, believing almost that whatever he did would be forgiven him. He was wrong, repented, tried to win forgiveness by going on pilgrimage to the Holy Lands and was murdered on his way home. Eadward breathed out on learning of Svein’s death. There would be one less of Godwin’s clan to endure. He was married to one of them, Eadgytha, and the next son would become more powerful than his father had been, almost eclipsing the king himself and finally succeeding him by ‘slight of hand’, or so it would seem to the Godwinsons’ rivals.

Tostig was the one member of the Godwin clan to strike a note with Eadward, and he had the ear of his sister Eadgytha. He was given the earldom of Northumbria on the death of Earl Siward because the old man’s surviving son Waltheof was too young to take the reins of such a great and potentially savage earldom. But he was a flawed diamond. Yet Tostig had assisted his older brother with his land forces, riding across Northumbria across the north-west corner of Mercia past Chester and into north Wales over the River Dee. Between them they had forced Gruffyd into a corner in a pincer movement, Harold taking his forces by ship through the Irish Sea. They had gone to Rome on behalf of Eadward, by then considered too frail for long journeys. Tostig had crossed the wrong nobles in Northumbria, however, when he returned to take over the reins. His sister Eadgytha had colluded for him, arranging the murder of one of the young nobles of the house of Bamburgh whilst he visited Eadward. What with his sister Eadgytha’s complicity and his ‘friend’ Copsig’s graft, Tostig was on a short leash when the nobles put forward the Earl of Mercia Eadwin’s brother Morkere for their earl to replace Tostig. Harold was seen by his brother as being unhelpful in the extreme, going as far as to marry Eadwin and Morkere’s widowed sister Aelfgifu. King Eadward was pained to see his favourite son of Godwin ousted in this fashion and Eadgytha ceased to communicate with Harold.

How different it all was in the summer of 1051, when Godwin and his sons Tostig, and Gyrth raided on the south coast and Wight, whilst Harold and Leofwin came over from Ireland with Dublin Danes and ships willingly given by King Diarmuid of Leinster as a token of friendship. With their father Godwin the sons had shown how powerful they really were with the almost universal support of Wessex. Eustace, Count of Boulogne on his way home through Dover had roused the ire of the townsolk by having the guests of one of the inns near the harbour turfed out to accommodate him and his retinue. In the fracas that followed Eustace was pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables and some of his men were hauled from their mounts and killed. Eadward wanted Godwin to punish the dover townsfolk but he refused to do the king’s bidding. Eadward next demanded Godwin let another of the king’s nobles punish them and he was stubbornly opposed in this too. An impasse was reached and Earls Leofric and Siward sided with the king, even many of Godwin’s own men refusing to fight against the king. A meeting was arranged in Southwark, across the river from the City of London, hostages were demanded for Godwin’s good conduct. His youngest son Wulfnoth and Svein’s son Hakon were chosen to be hostages and taken into Eadward’s custody. On Godwin’s triumphant return to power and with the appointment of Stigand to the Archbishopric of Canterbury Robert of Jumieges – Eadward’s choice for the post – fled to Normandy taking the boys with him.

Godwin died suddenly in 1053 and Harold was raised from Earl of East Anglia to Earl of Wessex to fill his father’s shoes. In 1055 Tostig was given Northumbria in recognition of his military prowess. The two brothers stood unassailable at the pinnacle of their power. Only Eadwin of Mercia, Leofric’s grandson, stood between the Godwin clan and complete domination of England under Eadward’s kingship. Gyrth was given East Anglia and Leofwin took over part of Harold’s earldom, Essex, Herfordshire and Kent. With Eadgytha at Eadward’s side the king could not breathe out too freely…

A decade or so on, in 1064 Harold sailed to the continent with a retinue of his huscarls, some say for fishing. Another version has it he was on a mission for Eadward, as envoy to William. Both versions agree he was shipwrecked of the coast of Pointhieu, taken as hostage by Count Guy and ‘rescued’ by Guy’s overlord William. Harold was taken on campaign into Brittany, rescued one of his men from quicksand and went hunting with the Norman duke. Unwittingly Harold swore an oath to uphold William’s accession to the throne of England on the bones of two saints, one of them being Saint Denis. Breaking this oath was going to cost, dearly.

On again, to 1065, and Tostig is deposed as Earl of Northumbria. His men in the Earlsburgh in York are killed, as are others in his Northampton estates. Eadwin’s brother Morkere is the preferred choice and Harold is obliged to support their claims, much to the anger of Eadgytha. She breaks off all communication with her brother hereafter.

Fast track again to January, 1066. Harold and several other members of the Witan attended the old king on his deathbed. Eadward is said to have beckoned Harold to his side, and in his dying breath nominated Harold to follow him into the kingship. This is one version. Another is damning, that Harold almost squeezed Eadward’s dying breath from him to claim he had been named successor. History is written by the survivors. The Witan supported his claim over that of the youth Eadgar the aetheling because the kingdom needed a strong leader. Harold had the connections, he knew the right men and held their respect. Nevertheless eight months elapsed, during which Harold reigned well, a model of kingship. He did have the common touch, was not overbearing as Eadward had been from time to time, and was genuinely popular!

The writing was on the wall, however, and the waters were running under the bridge. Time was not on Harold’s side. Men took sides against him in the question of the succession. Senior churchmen such as Ealdred, Archbishop of York. He had the support of Stigand, but the Archbishop of Canterbury was ‘tainted’ with simony. In Eadward’s time as bishop of Winchester he had accepted the nomination of Canterbury without giving up his bishopric, and was consquently refused his pallium by Rome. Harold had therefore been crowned by Ealdred to keep his kingship ‘clean’. But in the eyes of many Harold was a usurper.

Red Dragon of Wessex
Red Dragon of Wessex

A watch was kept on the South Coast during the summer of 1066 for William’s ships.

The fyrd had to be stood down after a few weeks to allow the men home and attend the harvest. Others were called on to fight off Tostig’s attacks on the south and east coasts and Tostig lost many of his Flemings, Danes and renegade Englishmen to his brother’s well-trained fyrdmen. Before long he was back again with the help of King Malcolm ‘Canmore’ of Scotland in the company of Harald Sigurdsson. The Norse king was following up a claim according to an agreement on the succession to the throne of England between his nephew Magnus and Harthaknut Knutsson. Svein Estrithsson of Denmark was unwilling to take on his kinsman Harold and had pointed Tostig on to Harald Sigurdsson, ‘Hardradi’ (the ‘Hard Ruler’) – possibly hoping to be rid of him at last! Harald was fed up of his own men accusing him of getting fat, old and useless. He was going to show them he still had fire in his belly! At least he convinced his followers of that on September 20th at the battle on the southern outskirts of York at Gate Fulford. He and Tostig entered the city, demanded gold and hostages and retired to the banks of the River Derwent at Stamford Bridge, halfway between York and Riccall, where their combined fleet was drawn up where the Derwent met the Ouse.

Harold Godwinson had already left London with Gyrth and their huscarls, the core of the army, recruiting men on the way through the old Danelaw shires in the east midlands. He reached York only days after the battle, found out where Harald and Tostig were camped and headed there forthwith. Together with earls Eadwin and Morkere and the survivors of Gate Fulford Harold advanced to the Derwent. The Norse king was happy to see the dustcloud in the west over the ridge, but Tostig somehow had the feeling something was not right. His fears were borne out by the size of the dustcloud, followed shortly after by the appearance of men in bright, shining mailcoats, with shiny new weapons, helmets and shields atop the ridge, ‘like a field of broken ice’ in the bright sunlight.

The Norsemen were at a disadvantage. Much of their equipment had been taken back to the ships, many – like King Harald himself in his long blue overshirt – had neither shield nor chainmail. Riders were sent to the ships for reinforcements and equipment whilst those who had the necessary gear formed a shieldwall and held off the English as best they could. Harald, being taller than most men was hit in the throat by a well-aimed arrow and took a long time to die. Men from the ships under the elderly stallari Eystein Orre came, many died with heat exhaustion before they could fight, having run from Riccall in chain mail, carrying weapons and spare equipment. Eystein himself collapsed and the fight began, back to the ships. Not wishing to die beside his king as was expected of him, Styrkar, Harald’s younger stallari made his escape, killing a carter on his flight from the battlefield to steal one of his horses. The rest were cut down by the vengeful Northumbrians and Mercians who had suffered Harald’s attack days before. Of the three hundred or so ships that brought the invaders from all over the Norse world, only a score were needed to take the survivors home. Harald’s successor Olaf and his younger brother Magnus had to swear that they would never launch another attack on English soil before they were allowed to leave.

News came to Harold whilst he was celebrating victory in York, that William had made a landing one the south coast and his men were plundering the surrounding hundreds to supply his men. There was just time to breathe out again before the long way south to meet the Normans.



By alancaster149 – from alancaster149.hubpages.com/hub

Northumbrian Nobility at War with itself joins Forces to rebut

Bamburgh  Castle  now.
Bamburgh Castle now.

Arnkell, son of Ecgfrith, had married into the Bamburgh kindred.
His wife Sigrid was half-sister to Ealdred, and had been married to Eadulf, by whom she was mother to Earl Osulf. She was also aunt to Gospatric, son of Maldred. Arnkell’s own kindred were from Deira – south of the Tees, now Yorkshire – and he and his son Gospatric held about 285 carucates* of land in Deira, to which should be added the estates of the Bishopric of Durham. It was claimed in her mother’s right as grand-daughter of Bishop Ealdhun of Durham.
The four sons of Karli, another clan in the eastern Deira region now the East Riding of Yorkshire, were connected to the House of Bamburgh (Baebbanburh) by a long-standing feud that dated back to the first year of Knut’s reign, when Karli’s father Thorbrand the Hold killed Earl/Ealdorman Uhtred of Bamburgh. Thorbrand was in turn killed by Uhtred’s son Ealdred and Ealdred fell to Karli Thorbrandsson. In AD1038 Karli invited him to his hall in the Forest of Risewood (near Stamford Bridge, East Riding) and murdered him in an ambush.
The matter rested there for a while. Karli himself was dead by 1069, when his four sons were listed amongst the rebel leaders of the Northumbrian rising against William. The presence of both Gospatric and the sons of Karli in the same host (army) shows the depth of feeling amongst the rebels, although the feud could always flare up again (it did begin anew in AD1074). A powerful motive was needed for these entrenched enmities to be buried, even if only briefly, and the key had to be the Norman presence in the north – and in particular a castle within the bounds of York (Eoferwic).
A writ of AD1069 addressed to “all the thegns, French and English, of Yorkshire” shows that the Norman settlement, or was it entrenchment, in the North had begun in earnest.
Hadrian  Wall
Hadrian Wall

William de Percy and Gilbert de Ghant – a Fleming – were established by AD1069 at the latest and it may be significant that the latter’s only manor in the shire was at Hunmanby (near Scarborough), once owned by Karli Thorbrandsson. William Malet held three estates in Holderness which had been Knut Karlason’s and in AD1086 the jurors of Holderness testified concerning these and other lands that they had not seen the king’s writ or seal for them! This suggestion of Norman waywardness on the part of Malet does not stand alone. The jurors of the Ansty Wapentake (Danelaw equivalent of the Saxon Hundred, an administrative district) testified about land in Scagglethorpe and Poppleton that “they saw William Malet in possession… but they did not know in what manner he held it”, i.e., how he came by it.
The community of York Minster later believed that Malet had seized the goods, if not the land, of the Church. If Malet’s remit included collection of the geld levied in AD1068 his actions may well have aroused hostility. The Anglo-Norman historian William of Malmesbury mentions a quarrel between Archbishop Ealdred and the king over an ‘unsupportable tax’ levied on the diocese, presumably in AD1068.
Viking  Ship
Viking Ship

Warkworth Castle
Warkworth Castle

West Saxon customs (particularly in respect to tithes) was only ended by King Eadward’s promise to ‘renew the laws of Knut’. As for those nobles north of the Tyne they had been as likely to submit to the authority of the Scots’ kings as those of the Wessex dynasty. The men of the north killed Robert de Commines and his Norman knights in AD1069 in the same spirit as they had despatched Tostig’s Danish huscarls in AD1065. In only one respect did they go further. In AD1065 they chose a new earl – Morkere – and in AD1069 they had a rival candidate (Eadgar the aetheling) for the kingship to William.
This was an eventuality that had been feared by the powers that be in Winchester as far back as rule over the infant Aengla Land by the kings of Wessex had begun under King Aelfred’s grandson Aethelstan. In AD1013 Uhtred of Bamburgh, ealdorman of Northumbria, and the northern nobility shocked Wessex by being the first to acknowledge Svein ‘Forkbeard’ Haraldsson as king of England. Now there was a West Saxon aetheling Archbishop Ealdred had been willing to crown after the death of Harold. However, if Eadgar had expected to be crowned by him in AD1069 he would be bitterly disappointed. By then Ealdred was a staunch supporter of William’s. Nevertheless the treat to the Norman king was real. Eadgar’s rights were still being voiced by 12th Century writers.
William’s recognition of the danger to him posed by support for Eadgar was demonstrated by his ostentatious crown-wearing amidst the smouldering ruins of York at Christmas, AD1069 after the rebellion had been savagely put down.
There would be no doubt as to who was the crowned head of the Aenglish state.

Next – 4: Uprising in Northumbria
The land measure ‘Carucate’
* The land measure ‘Carucate’ touched on in the body text above was used primarily in the Danelaw counties in the east of England between East Anglia and Northumbria. It was around 120 acres in size, or about 490,000 square metres (or 490 hectares). The carucate was introduced to England by the Danes under Knut and was comparable to the hide in Wessex, and was sub-divided into ‘oxgangs’ or ovates. The land tax levied was known as ‘carucage’.

1066 – The Battle of Hastings.

1066 The Battle of Hastings. Normans conquest England


It’s the 14th of October, 1066 and two opposing armies come together on Senlac Hill to argue Harold’s right to the English throne or uphold William the Bastard’s claim of an old king’s dying behest.
For the Normans the ominous sight of Harold’s Saxon shield wall straddling Senlac ridge with the dragon banner of Wessex and his own personal banner of the Fighting Man, flying in the stiffening breeze greets them on this bleak October morning.
William relied on basic tactics with archers in the front rank weakening the enemy with arrows, followed by infantry which would engage in close combat, culminating in a cavalry charge that would break through the English forces. However, his tactics did not work as well as planned. William’s army attacked the English as soon as they were ready and formed up. Norman archers shot several volleys but many of the arrows hit the shield wall and had very little effect. Believing the English to have been softened up, William ordered his infantry to attack. As the Normans charged up the hill, the English threw down whatever they could find: stones, javelins, and maces. The barrage inflicted heavy casualties among the Norman ranks, causing the lines to break up.

The infantry charge reached the English lines, where ferocious hand-to-hand fighting took place. William had expected the English to falter, but the arrow barrage had little effect and nearly all the English troops still stood, their shield wall intact. As a result William ordered his cavalry to charge far sooner than planned. Faced with a wall of axes, spears and swords, many of the horses shied away despite their careful breeding and training. After an hour of fighting, the Breton division on William’s left faltered and broke completely, fleeing down the hill. Suffering heavy casualties and realising they would be quickly outflanked, the Norman and Flemish divisions retreated with the Bretons. Unable to resist the temptation, many of the English broke ranks, including hundreds of fyrdmen and Harold’s brothers, Leofwyne and Gyrthe. In the following confused fighting, William’s horse was killed from underneath him, and he toppled to the ground. Initially, many of William’s soldiers thought that he had been killed, and an even greater rout ensued. It was only after he stood up and threw off his helmet that William was able to rally his fleeing troops.

William and a group of his knights successfully counter-attacked the pursuing English, who were no longer protected by the shield wall, and cut down large numbers of fyrdmen. Many did not recognise the Norman counter-attack until it was too late, but some managed to scramble back up the hill to the safety of the housecarls. Harold’s brothers were not so fortunate—their deaths deprived the English of an alternative leader after the death of Harold. The two armies formed up, and a temporary lull fell over the battle. The battle had turned to William’s advantage, since the English had lost much of the protection provided by the shield wall. Without the cohesion of a disciplined, strong formation, the individual English were easy targets. William launched his army at the strong English position again and many of the English housecarls were killed.

With such a large number of English fyrdmen now holding the front rank, the disciplined shield wall that the housecarls had maintained began to falter, presenting an opportunity to William. At the start of the battle the hail of arrows fired at the English by William’s bowmen was ineffective because of the English shields. Though many on the front ranks still had shields, William ordered his archers to fire over the shield wall so that the arrows landed in the clustered rear ranks of the English army. The archers did this with great success. Legend states that it was at this point that Harold was hit in the eye by an arrow. Many of the English were now weary. William’s army attacked again, and managed to make small chinks in the shield wall. They were able to exploit these gaps, and the English army began to fragment. William and a handful of knights broke through the wall, and struck down the English king. Without their leader and with many nobles dead, hundreds of fyrdmen fled the field. The housecarls kept their oath of loyalty to the king, and fought bravely until they were all killed.
William’s victory placed a foreign ruler on the throne of England.


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