Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Gytha Thorgilsdatter ~ Godwin of Wessex

Gytha/Gyda Thorgilsdatter/ Thorkelsdottir (Old English: Gȳða Þorkelsdōttir), also called Githa~ Godwin Wulfnotson of Wessex. ( Old English:  Godƿin)

Gytha -(from wikipedia).
Gytha/Gyda,  –1040–, was a daughter of Thorgils Styrbjørnsson Sprakaleggg/Sprakling and a sister of Ulf Jarl, who was married to Estrid, a daughter of Svend Tveskæg and a sister of Canute the Great. At an expedition in England Ulf was said to have had assistance from Godwin, whom he therefore protected and recommended to his brother-in-law king Canute. He soon learned about Godwin's skills, and Godwin, who had married Gytha ab. 1019, became Earl of Wessex in 1020 and the king's special counselor. Godwin was a skilled warrior, but also ingenious, knowledgeable and of character. He possessed great eloquence and an ability to win people. Gytha seems to have been his equal of character, she held sincere piety and was very charitable to the church and to the poor.

Gytha shared the shifting fate of her husband. Godwin kept his power under Hardicanute and under Edward the Confessor, who married Godwin's daughter Eadgyth/ Edith in 1045. Godwin and his sons, who also were in high positions, were for a period the most distinguished governors of the kingdom. But gradually the French influence began to make an impact on the king, and when Godwin - supported by the public opinion - would not yield to this, he was banished from the country in 1051. He went with his family to Flanders.

When Godwin arrived with a fleet at the coast of England and people joined him, Edward felt obliged to let him return in 1052. Godwin became ill not long after and died 15 April 1053. His son Harald/Harold inherited his position and influence and ascended the throne after Edward's death in 1066. But William of Normandy made his claim, and in the Battle of Senlac (Hastings) the same year Harold was killed together with his two brothers Leofwine and Gyrth. Gytha arrived the day after the battle to William and asked having Harold's body delivered against paying his weight in gold. Her request was rejected.

Godwin's party had still after the conquest of the country a strong support from the western Shires, and during a rebellion in 1068 was Exeter, where Gytha lived, the center of the movement. The city had to surrender to William, but before the gates were opened, Gytha had escaped and sought refuge in some islets in the British Channel. She later went to Saint Omer in Flanders. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Gytha left England after the Norman conquest,  together with the wives or widows and families of other prominent Anglo-Saxons, all the Godwin family estates having been confiscated by William. Little else is known of Gytha's life or future, although it is probable that she went to Scandinavia (like her granddaughter and namesake), where she had relatives. Her surviving (and youngest) son Wulfnoth lived nearly all his life in captivity in Normandy until William the Conqueror's death in 1087. Only her eldest daughter Queen Edith (d. 1075) still held some power (however nominal) as widow of Edward the Confessor. Gytha's year of death is unknown.

Bayeux tapestry (English
Godwin of Wessex (died 15 April 1053) was one of the most powerful earls 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 King Harold Godwinson and Edith of Wessex, wife of King Edward the Confessor. Godwin's father was probably Wulfnoth Cild, c. 1014, who was a thegn of Sussex, who is regarded by historians as the probable father of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, and thus the grandfather of Harold Godwinson. It is known that Godwin's father was called Wulfnoth, and in the view of Frank Barlow the Godwin family's massive estates in Sussex are indisputable evidence that Wulfnoth was the South Saxon thegn.  His origin is unknown but 'Cild' normally refers to a man of rank. In 1009 Wulfnoth was accused of unknown crimes at a muster of Æthelred the Unready's fleet and fled with twenty ships; the ships sent to pursue him were destroyed in a storm. Godwin was probably an adherent of Æthelred's eldest son, Æthelstan, who left him an estate when he died in 1014. This estate in Compton, Sussex, had once belonged to Godwin’s father. Although he is now always thought of as connected with Wessex, Godwin had probably been raised in Sussex, not Wessex and was probably a native of Sussex 
After Canute seized the throne in 1016, Godwin's rise was rapid. By 1018 he was an Earl, probably of eastern Wessex, and then by around 1020 of all Wessex. Between 1019 and 1023 he accompanied Canute on an expedition to Denmark, where he distinguished himself, and shortly afterwards married Gytha , the sister of the Danish Earl, Ulf, who was married to Canute's sister Estrid. 12 November 1035, Canute died. His kingdoms were divided among three rival rulers. Harold Harefoot, Canute's illegitimate son with Ælfgifu of Northhampton, seized the throne of England. Harthacnut, 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 Ætheling, younger son of Emma of Normandy and Æthelred the Unready, and half-brother of Harthacnut. 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 at Ely. In 1040, Harold Harefoot died and Godwin supported the accession of his half-brother Harthacnut to the throne of England. When Harthacnut himself died in 1042 Godwin supported the claim of Æthelred's last surviving son Edward the Confessor to the throne. Edward had 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. 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 Dover and the visiting Eustace, Count of Boulogne, Edward's brother-in-law, Godwin was ordered to punish the people of Dover (as he and Leofric, Earl of Mercia had done in  Worcester, 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 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 Winchester. 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 in 1066. 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. But instead Harold was overthrown and killed in the Norman Conquest.

Gytha and Godwin's children.
1. Edith of Wessex (c. 1020-18 December 1075) queen consort of Edward the Confessor.
2. Harold II Godwinson of England (c. 1022 - d.14 October 1066)
3. Sweyn Godwinson, Earl of Mercia  (c. 1023 - d. 29 September 1052).
4. Tostig Godwinson , Earl of Northumbria (c. 1026 - d.25 September 1066)
5. Gyrth Godwinson ( c. 1030 - d.14 October 1066)
6. Leofwine Godwinson, Earl of Kent ( c. 1035 - d.14 October 1066)
7. Wulfnoth Godwinson ( c. 1040 - d. after 1087)
8. Alfgar, possibly a  monk in Rheims.
9. Edgiva.
10.Elgiva/Ælfgifu (c. 1035 -  d. c. 1066).
11.Gunhilda , a nun ( c. 1035 - d. 24 August 1087).

F.M. Stenton:  Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford History of England), 2001
Ian Walker: Harold : The Last Anglo-Saxon King, 1997
Ann Williams: The English and the Norman Conquest, 2000.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Thorgils Sprakaleg

Bayeux tapestry

Thorgils Sprakaleg was a Danish (or Swedish)? famous chieftain, whose grandsons became Kings of Denmark and England. He is also named Thrugils, Torgils, Thorkel and Torkel, while his byname Sprakaleg is found in variations: Sprakelegg, Sprakelæg, Spragelæg, Sprageleg, Sprakeleg, Sprakalägg, Sprakling and other variants. In Swedish Torgils Sprakalägg (Torkel Styrbjörnsson), in English Thorgil Sprakling. In Knytlingesaga he is called "the fast".

NB: Thorgils Sprakaleg is not identical to Thorkel the Tall. 

His fame is mostly obvious in the status and position of his children, but there are no concrete history handed over about Thorgil's life. Saxo says in a small characteristic that Thorgils did not differ from his father's courage and masculinity. According to Florence of Worcester and Saxo Grammaticus his father's name was Bjørn (Latin Ursius) (i.e. urso, Latin for bear, björn in Scandinavian languages), but his paternal ancestry is much disputed.. There is no name of a wife (in some places on the internet is seen the name Sigrid of Halland as his wife without any source given), but it would be reasonable to assume that either his mother-in-law or his own mother was named Gytha (Gȳða), since this name was used regularly among several generations in his descendants ( the first was his daughter).

Saxo Grammaticus reports legendary that this Ursius/Björn was the son of a bear and a fair Swedish maiden. The Danish historians P.F. Suhm and Jacob Langebek equate Thorgil's father Bjørn and the Swedish prince Styrbjørn or Styrbjørn the Strong, who was a son of the Swedish King Olof Bjørnsson and married to Harold Bluetooth's daughter Thyra (one of Harold Bluetooth's wives was Styrbjørn's sister). The Danish royal family in the Middle Ages (from 1047 till 1412) descended paternally from the first historical known Swedish royal family in Sweden, called Bjørn Jernsides ätt or Munsøätten, which died out on the male line around 1060. No sources support directly a relation like this, and although plausible reasons can be said as  a support for the theory, there are just as many arguments against, (fx.: Saxo and the Knytlingesaga mention both Thorgils and Styrbjørn without indicating a relationship).

Thorgils' children were Ulf (d. 1027), a steward and Earl of Canute the Great in Denmark, whose son became King Sweyn II of Denmark (Svend Estridsen) , Eilaf (also Earl of King Canute) and Gytha Thorgilsdatter, who was to marry Godwin, Earl of Wessex and become mother of Harold Godwinson, King of England. A few present scolars are of the opinion that Thorgils was killed in the Battle of Svold, which supposedly happened in Øresund. If so his year of death would be the year 1000, but it seems that this information builds upon a false base and might origin from * Ohlmarks Novel. It is probable that he died before 1009, since one of his sons appears as one of the leaders in the England-expedition that year - and since Thorgils always is referred to in past tense in the Sagas. It is not wrong to say that he had died, before his sons began to distinguish themselves. 

What makes Thorgils so interesting is that two of his children became parents of later kings, his son Ulf Jarl, Earl of England and later Jarl of Denmark, was married to Canute the Great's sister Estrid. Estrid and Ulf had among several children a son, Svend (Sweyn), who in 1047 became King of Denmark and thereby the ancestral father of the Danish medieval kings. They had also a daughter Gytha, who was married to Godwin, Earl of Wessex, whose son Harold was King of England from January till October 1066. Although he was king for only a short time and although two of his brothers were killed in the Battle of Hastings like himself (the brother Tostig was killed in the Battle at Stamford Bridge the month before), then there are today  numerous descendants after Gytha and Godwin. Almost each present or earlier European royal house descend from these. ( like Valdemar the Great's mother Ingeborg of Novgorod).
Another son of Thorgils was (if the informations are reliable) a son Eilaf Jarl also called Eilif, Ejlif, Ejlaf and Eglaf, who is mentioned in different contexts with his brother Ulf. He took part in several expeditions and signed various diplomas in the 1020s, although the family ties are not mentioned at these occassions.
The name Thorgils does not seem to have been used often by the descendants. In various sources is only one occurrence of a descendant named after Thorgils, one of Svend Estridsen's many sons, who thus was a great-grandchild of Thorgils Sprakaleg. He later settled in the East, at Gardarike, according to Knytlingesaga.

Roskilde Vikingeskibsmuseum

The Scania writer *Åke Ohlmarks let in his novel-saga  Konungariket Skånes Undergång from 1975 Thorgils Sprakalägg be the last king  (989-1000) of the independent Scania kingdom. Thorgils is in this story son of Toke Gormsson, a son of Gorm Skåning and a son's son of Guldharald. Ohlmark let Thorgils be married to a woman named Ragnfrid.
In Claus Deleuran's cartoon-version of  Danmarkshistorien "Illustreret Danmarkshistorie for folket",  is a drawing of a young Thorgils together with his father Bjørn.


Danske vikingekonger - én slægt med mange grene, April 2011.

Saxo Grammaticus Danmarkshistorie, 10. bog, kapitel 15, afsnit 4 Peter Zeebergs oversættelse)
Ulf Jarl, Gyldendal - Den store Danske
Johannes Steenstrup, Normannnerne, bind 3 ss.259-260,332,350;392-393
Knytlingesaga, kapitel 2. 
Ulf Jarl, Dansk biografisk lexicon, Carl Frederik Bricka.

photo Roskilde Vikingeskibsmuseum: grethe bachmann