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.

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