Medieval England and Vikings: The Culmination of the Viking Influence on England, Part 3

Diorama with Vikings

The nobles were receptive to Edward’s request at the time, but future circumstances worked to the detriment of English acceptance of the Norman presence. Robert of Jumieges, archbishop of Canterbury, gave Godwin “a steady stream of abuse.” Another instance of pre-conquest abuse of the English is that in 1051, Edward allowed the Normans to build a castle in Herefordshire. From this castle, they “inflicted all the injuries and insults they possibly could on the king’s men in that region.” An incident with Eustace, brother-in-law of Edward, was more than Godwin could stand.

Eustace came to England from Normandy with his retinue. They got a bit rough with the people of Dover, and there were several deaths on both sides. Eustace anticipated some sort of violence, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that before he got to Dover, he and his men suited up in armor. This shows their reason for being in England was military, rather than for a family visit to Edward. The king demanded that Godwin punish the people of Dover for mistreating his distinguished Norman guests. Godwin refused to punish anyone without hearing their side of the story. Edward took Eustace at his word, and refused the hearing. Edward’s siding with the Normans fired the tempers of many patriotic Anglo-Saxons.

Most of England’s nobility had gathered at the site where the hearing was to take place, and were ready for battle, supporting either the king or Godwin. They saw, however, the possible decimation of Anglo-Saxon leadership, leaving England open for invasion. The potential civil war did not erupt. Later, Godwin and his sons were called before the king, under circumstances which put them at great disadvantage. At this royal court, they were outlawed. An English chronicler wrote,

If any Englishman had been told that events would take this turn he would have been very surprised, for Godwin had risen to such great eminence as if he ruled the king and all England: his sons were earls and favourites of the king, and his daughter was the king’s wedded wife.

While the Godwin family was in exile, Duke William paid a visit to England, with his retinue, and was warmly received by Edward. He came and went with safe passage.

Godwin and his family returned in 1052 with a great force and rallied English support on their way to see the king. They made their point and were fully re-instated to their previous positions. The Normans and French who had “promoted injustice and pronounced unjust judgements and counselled evil within [the] realm,” were outlawed. Archbishop Robert, and bishops William and Ulf escaped with the outlawed Normans and French. The pre-conquest encounters with the Normans served to harden the English against their future king. Godwin died in 1053 and Harold succeeded to his earldom. Aelfgar, one of Godwin’s sons succeeded to Harold’s old earldom. In 1055, Earl Siward died and Tostig, another of Godwin’s sons, succeeded to the earldom of Northumbria. All this power was put in the Godwin family’s hands by the king, and so recently after the incident which nearly put the country into civil war.

Earl Tostig misused his new authority, which soon led to a rebellion ending in Tostig’s being outlawed. Morcar, an ally of the Leofric family, was installed as earl of Northumbria. “By the close of the Anglo-Saxon period the nobility had extended its holdings, reduced the status of many freemen to serfs, and was challenging the crown.” The English were certainly learning to live in a feudal manner, if they were not feudal already. Edward the Confessor died on 6 January, 1066. On news of Edward’s death, three came forward to claim the English crown.

Harold Godwinson had a claim, in that he was the most powerful English earl, was elected by the Witan, and was responding to a death-bed request by Edward to assume the crown, however doubtful the circumstances may have been. Harold Hardrada and Tostig came, claiming Tostig had as much right as earl Harold. Duke William of Normandy had a claim in that he was of royal blood, and had been promised the crown by Edward. Harold Godwinson was crowned the same day Edward died.