The Full Wiki

More info on Godwin, Earl of Wessex

Godwin, Earl of Wessex: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

Godwin of Wessex ( ; c. 1001–15 April 1053), also known as Goodwin, was one of the most powerful lords in England under the Danishmarker king Canute the Great and his successors. Canute made him the first Earl of Wessex. Godwin was the father of King Harold Godwinson and Edith of Wessex, wife of King Edward the Confessor.

Rise: support of Edmund, then Canute

Godwin's father was probably Wulfnoth Cild who was a thegn of Sussex, although later documents describe his father as a churl. Wulfnoth was supposedly a sixth generation descendant of King Ethelred of Wessex, the older brother of Alfred the Great; Ethelred's descendants were passed over in the royal succession, but became prominent nobles in the kingdom. However this descent of Godwin is still being researched, and should not be taken as certain. Wulfnoth led a section of the royal fleet into piracy and as a consequence had his lands forfeited, and was exiled. It was left to his young son, Godwin, to improve the family fortunes after his father's death in 1014. In his day, Earl Godwin was seen as very much of a new man, who had been "made" by two advantageous marriages to Danish noblewomen.

Godwin was a major supporter of Edmund Ironside, the son of King Ethelred the Unready. While Edmund was in rebellion against his father, Canute and his army invaded England. Edmund was killed, along with many of his supporters, but Godwin survived and pledged his loyalty to Canute. He befriended Canute's brother-in-law, Earl Ulf, and became one of Canute's advisors, accompanying him to Denmark to suppress a rebellion there. By 1018 he was an earl, becoming Earl of Wessex in about 1019. In 1022 he married Thyra Sveinsdóttir (also called Thyra Swensdottir), Canute's sister. She died soon afterwards without issue, but Godwin continued to gain prestige and by 1023 he was the most powerful earl in England.

Height of power: support of Harold

On 12 November 1035, Canute died. His kingdoms were divided among three rival rulers. Harold Harefoot, Canute's illegitimate son with Aelgifu of Northampton, seized the throne of England. Harthacanute, Canute's legitimate son with Emma of Normandy, reigned in Denmark. Norway rebelled under Magnus the Noble. In 1035, the throne of England was reportedly claimed by Alfred Aetheling, younger son of Emma of Normandy and Ethelred the Unready, and half-brother of Harthacanute. Godwin is reported to have either captured Alfred himself or to have deceived him by pretending to be his ally and then surrendering him to the forces of Harold Harefoot. Either way Alfred was blind and soon died at Elymarker.

In 1040, Harold Harefoot died and Godwin supported the accession of his half-brother Harthacanute to the throne of England. When Harthacanute himself died in 1042 Godwin finally supported the claim of his half-brother Edward the Confessor to the throne. Edward was another son of Emma and Ethelred, having spent most of the previous thirty years in Normandy. His reign restored the native royal house of Wessex to the throne of England.

Later conflicts, decline, and death

Despite his alleged responsibility for the death of Edward's brother Alfred, Godwin secured the marriage of his daughter Edith (Eadgyth) to Edward in 1045. As Edward drew advisors, nobles and priests from his former place of refuge in a bid to develop his own power base, Godwin soon became the leader of opposition to growing Norman influence. After a violent clash between the people of Dovermarker and the visiting Eustace II, Count of Boulogne, Edward's new father-in-law, Godwin was ordered to punish the people of Dover (as he and Leofric, Earl of Mercia had done in Worcestermarker, in Leofric's own earldom). This time, however, Godwin refused, choosing to champion his own countrymen against a (visiting) foreign ruler and his own king. Edward rightly saw this as a test of power, and managed to enlist the support of Siward, Earl of Northumbria and Earl Leofric. Godwin and his sons were exiled from the kingdom in September 1051. However, they returned the following year with an armed force, which gained the support of the navy, burghers, and peasants, so compelling Edward to restore his earldom. This however set a precedent to be followed by a rival earl some years later, and then by Godwin's own son in 1066.

On 15 April 1053 Godwin died suddenly, after collapsing during a royal banquet at Winchestermarker. Some colourful accounts claim that he choked on a piece of bread while denying any disloyalty to the king. However this appears to be later Norman propaganda, contemporary accounts indicate that he just had a sudden illness, possibly a stroke.

His son Harold succeeded him as Earl of Wessex, an area then covering roughly the southernmost third of England. With the death of Earl Siward (1055) and later Earl Ælfgar (1062), the children of Godwin were poised to assume sole control. Tostig was helped into the earldom of Northumbria, thus controlling the north. The Mercian earl was sidelined, especially after Harold and Tostig broke the Welsh-Mercian alliance in 1063. Harold later succeeded Edward the Confessor and became King of England in his own right. At this point, both Harold's remaining brothers in England were earls in their own right, Harold was himself king and in control of Wessex, and he had married the sister of Earl Edwin of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria (who had succeeded his brother Tostig). Godwin's family looked set to inaugurate a new royal dynasty.


Godwin married a second time to a Danish noblewoman, Gytha Thorkelsdóttir (also known as Githa), said to be the granddaughter of the legendary Viking Styrbjörn Starke and great-granddaughter to Harold Bluetooth, king of Denmark and thus also ancestor to King Canute. The marriage resulted in the birth of many children:
  1. Sweyn Godwinson, Earl of Herefordshiremarker (c. 1023-1052). At some point he declared himself an illegitimate son of Canute the Great but this is considered to be a false claim.
  2. Harold II of England (c. 1022-14 October 1066)
  3. Tostig Godwinson, Earl of Northumbriamarker (c. 1026-25 September 1066)
  4. Edith of Wessex, (c. 1030-19 December 1075), queen consort of Edward the Confessor
  5. Gyrth Godwinson (c. 1030-14 October 1066)
  6. Gunhilda of Wessex, a nun (c. 1035-1080)
  7. Ælfgifu of Wessex (c. 1035)
  8. Leofwine Godwinson, Earl of Kentmarker (c. 1035-14 October 1066)
  9. Wulfnoth Godwinson (c. 1040)
  10. Marigard of Wessex (6 February 1033 – 6 August 1083)

Family Trees

In popular culture

Godwin has been portrayed by Torin Thatcher in the film Lady Godiva of Coventry (1955) and by Bill Wallis in an episode of the British educational TV series Historyonics entitled "1066" (2004).


  • Mason, Emma. The House of Godwine: The History of Dynasty. Hambledon Press, 2003.
  • Stenton, F.M. Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford History of England), 2001.
  • Thorne, J.O. and Collocott, T.C. Chambers Biographical Dictionary, Revised Edition. (Edinburgh: Chambers, 1984) ISBN 0-550-16010-8
  • Walker, Ian. Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King, 1997.
  • Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists Who Came to America Before 1700 by Frederick Lewis Weis, Lines: 1B-15, 1B-23, 1B-26, 166-23.


External links

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address