Godwin, Earl of Wessex

From Academic Kids

Godwin (sometimes Godwine) (c.1001 - April 15, 1053), was one of the most powerful lords in England under the Danish king Canute the Great and his successors. Canute made him the first Earl of Wessex. Godwin was the father of Harold II and of Edith of Wessex, wife of Edward the Confessor.


Godwin was a seventh generation descendant of King Ethelred of Wessex, the elder brother of Alfred the Great. His descendants were passed over in the royal succession, but became prominent nobles in the kingdom. Godwin's father was Wulfnoth Cild (c.983-1015) who was Thegn of Sussex. 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.

Godwin was a major supporter of Edmund Ironside, the son of King Aethelred 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 became one of Canute's advisors, and accompanied him to Denmark to suppress a rebellion there. In 1022 he married Thyra Sveinsdóttir, Canute's sister. She died soon afterwards, but Godwin continued to gain prestige and in 1023 he was the most powerful earl in England.

Godwin married again to another Danish noblewoman, Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, granddaughter of the legendary Viking Styrbjörn Starke and great-granddaughter to Harold Bluetooth. The marriage resulted in the birth of many children:

  1. Sweyn Godwinson, Earl of Mercia (c. 1025-1052). 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. 1025-October 14, 1066)
  3. Tostig Godwinson, Earl of Northumbria (c. 1026-September 25, 1066).
  4. Edith of Wessex, (c. 1030-December 19, 1075), queen consort of Edward the Confessor
  5. Gyrth Godwinson (c. 1030-October 14, 1066)
  6. Gunhilda of Wessex, a nun (c. 1035-1080)
  7. Ælfgifu of Wessex (c.1035)
  8. Leofwine Godwinson, Earl of Kent (c. 1035-October 14, 1066)
  9. Wulfnoth Godwinson (c.1040)

On November 12, 1035, Canute died. His kingdoms were divided among three rival rulers. Harold Harefoot, illegitimate son by Aelgifu of Northampton, usurped the throne of England. Harthacanute, legitimate son by Emma of Normandy, reigned in Denmark. Norway rebelled under Magnus the Noble. On 1037, the throne of England was reportedly claimed by Alfred of Wessex, 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 blinded and soon died.

On March 17, 1040, Harold Harefoot died and Godwin supported the accession of Harthacanute to the throne of England. When Harthacanute himself died (June 8, 1042), Godwin 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. 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. Godwin soon became the leader of opposition to growing Norman influence as Edward drew advisors, nobles and priests from his former place of refuge.

Exiled from the kingdom in September 1051 for refusing to punish the people of Dover for a violent clash with the visiting Eustace II, Count of Boulogne, Godwin returned the following year with an armed force, compelling Edward to restore his earldom.

On April 15, 1053, Godwin died. His son Harold succeeded him as Earl of Wessex, an area then covering roughly the southernmost third of England. Harold later succeeded Edward the Confessor and became King of England in his own right.


  • Mason, Emma. House of Godwine: The History of Dynasty
  • Stenton, F.M. Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford History of England), 2001
  • Walker, Ian. Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King, 1997

Preceded by:
New creation
Earl of Wessex
Succeeded by:
Harold II
Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Kent
Succeeded by:
Leofwine Godwinson

Template:End box

External links


de:Godwin von Wessex


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