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The Legacy of Viking Kings of England

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  1. Info for – Assess the reasons for the power and influence of the Godwin family Edward’s Vacillation and Weakness (inability to decide) The Legacy of Viking Kings of England Harefoot only became king of all of England when earl Godwin changed his mind and supported him, in the process playing a part in the death of Alfred. Edward gave the Godwins great power at various times during his reign, and then directly opposed them at other times. He married Edith, he promoted Sweyn and Harold upon his coronation, he gave Tostig his earldom and he gave Harold Godwinson command of English armies to campaign in Wales. On the other hand he jumped at the chance to exile the Godwins, he was unable to save Tostig from being expelled from Northumbria in 1065 and he never outright declared Harold as his heir until his deathbed. This is all evidence of a vacillating man – he just could not make up his mind about the Godwinsand this left them to gather power unchecked. He exiled Sweyn in 1046 after his campaign with King Gruffyd during which he kidnapped the Abbess of Leominster. He came back in 1049 only to be declared ‘nithing’ and sent once more into exile after murdering his cousin Beorn. Edward forgave Sweyn and restored him to some of his lands in 1050. Cnut needed a powerful Englishman to act as regent when he was in Norway or Denmark, Godwin was that man and he was still as powerful when Edward took the throne. Due to the Viking rule the Godwins owned vast tracts of land and were therefore the most wealthy family in England. Because of the structure of England in that earls had their own thegnsand the thegns owed them military service, the Godwins had their own personal army to call up. Because they owned so much land this would have been a formidable force. Edward’s weakness probably explains why he made Sweyn and Harold earls and married Edith at the beginning of his reign. One legacy of the Viking rule was that subsequent kings of Norway and Denmark felt they had a right to the throne. Edward therefore needed a united country in the face of potential invasion; he couldn’t afford conflict with the powerful Godwins which would leave England weak. In particular King Magnus of Norway threatened invasion from 1042-47. Edward’s weakness might explain why he ceded a lot of power to Harold Godwinson after 1052. King Cnut created the three great earldoms of Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex. This handicapped Edward’s power as king, meaning he couldn’t act without the consent and support of the three earls. Wessex was the earldom with the most wealth. Edward clearly did not have the best opinion of earl Godwin due to the death of Alfred but he was indecisive at times.

  2. Info for – Assess the reasons for the power and influence of the Godwin family Edward needed them Ambition of the Godwins Godwin successfully married his family to the royal line with Edith. The Godwins had strong links to the Viking countries and in particular Denmark. Gyrtha Godwin (wife) was the daughter of a Viking nobleman called Thorkel. This would have helped keep relations with Denmark peaceful. Harold Godwinson was a brilliant general and Edward used him to decisively defeat the Welsh in 1063. Godwin rose from obscurity to become the most powerful earl in England during the reign of Cnut. The family continued to seek ever-increasing power from then. Godwin must have had influence in the promotion of Sweyn and Harold Godwinson to earldoms. With Edward pursuing other areas such as hunting and the building of Westminster Abbey, he left Harold Godwinson as subregulus from 1052 onwards. Tostig clearly resented not being granted an earldom until 1055 when he was granted Northumbria. By 1057 - when earl Aelfgar was promoted to earl of Mercia after the death of Leofric- the Godwins controlled Wessex (Harold), Northumbria (Tostig) and East Anglia (Gryth). Leofwine had been given an earldom in Kent. Only Merica was not controlled by the Godwin family, there could therefore not be any more stark proof that this family was ambitious. In 1061 when Edward had a dispute with the Pope over the the appointment of Ealdred to the Archbishopric of York he sent Tostig who returned with the verdict that Edward sought. Eadlred was granted his pallium by the Pope (A pallium is a thing given to people by the Pope if they hold an important Catholic position of office and he approves). Harold Godwinson became king, seizing the throne after a long period during which he managed to position himself as subregulus. With Edward pursuing other areas such as hunting and the building of Westminster Abbey, he left Harold Godwinson as subregulus from 1052 onwards. In 1049 some Irish Vikings joined with King Gruffyd and raided along the River Severn into England. Edward sent Harold, Tostig and their cousin Beorn to deal with the threat.