« PreviousContinue »
RETURN OF SWEGEN.
to the west. The Earl of the West-Saxons accordingly CHAP. VII. sailed forth to the rescue, with forty-two ships belonging Godwine to the men of his Earldom. He took also two ships of sey. the King, commanded respectively by Harold and by his third son Tostig, of whom we now hear for the first time.2 Stress of weather however hindered them from
getting further west than Pevensey. While they lay there, a change, of the motive of which we are not told, was made in the command of the two royal ships which had accompanied Godwine. Harold gave up the ship which he had commanded to his cousin Beorn. This accidental change possibly saved Harold's life. For Swegen now came from Bosham to Pevensey, and there found his father and cousin. He there spoke with both of them. The result of their discourse was that Beorn Beorn enwas persuaded to undertake the office of intercessor with and slain the King on Swegen's behalf. What arrangement was by Swegen. to be proposed-whether Beorn brought himself to consent to the sacrifice which he had before refused-whether Swegen was to be again invested with his Earldom or only with his private lordships—whether Harold, Beorn, or
1 Abingdon and Worcester mention Godwine's going with forty-two ships, but Peterborough says more distinctly, "Da ge[wende] Godwine eorl west onbuton mid þæs cynges ii. scipum þan anan steorde Harold eorl and ban oðran Tostig his broðor, and landesmanna scipa xlii."
The first certainly authentic signature of Tostig seems to be in this year. Cod. Dipl. iv. 115. The charter, after the signatures of Godwine, Leofric and Siward, has those of "Harold Dux," "Beorn Dux," "Tosti nobilis," "Leowine nobilis." Leofwine must have been very young.
3 Chron. Petrib. "Da scyfte man Harold eorl úp þæs cynges scipe be Harold eorl ær steorde." Mr. Earle's conjecture that for "Harold eorl" we should read "Beorn eorl" is absolutely necessary to make sense of the passage. Parallel Chronicles, 343.
Was it some feeling that a brother's life had been at least in jeopardy that led William of Malmesbury, or those whom he followed, into the strange statement (ii. 200) that Swegen's penance was undertaken "pro conscientiâ Brunonis cognati interempti, et, ut quidam dicunt, fratris"?
CHAP. VII. Swegen was to be compensated in any other way for the surrenders which one or more of them would have to makeof all this nothing is explained to us. We hear however that Beorn, trusting to his kindred with Swegen,1 did not hesitate to set out to ride with him to the King at Sandwich. He even agreed to a proposal of Swegen, according to which they left the road from Pevensey to Sandwich, and went westward to Bosham. For this deviation from his original scheme Swegen made an excuse, which was doubtless more intelligible then than it is now, namely a fear lest the crews of his ships should forsake him, if they were not confirmed in their faith towards him by the presence of Beorn. The young Earl fell into the snare, and accompanied his cousin to the haven of Bosham. But when Swegen pressed him to go on board one of his ships, Beorn's suspicions were at last aroused, and he vehemently refused. At last Swegen's sailors bound him, put him in a boat, rowed him to the ships, and there kept him a prisoner. They then hoisted their sails and steered for Dartmouth.2 There Beorn was killed by Swegen's orders, but his body was taken on shore and buried in a church. As soon as the murder became known, Earl Harold,3 with others of Beorn's friends, and the sailors from London-a clear mark of Beorn's popularity-came and took up the body, carried it to Winchester, and there buried it in the Old Minster by the side of Beorn's uncle King Cnut.
The general indignation at the crime of Swegen was intense. The King and the army publicly declared the
1 Chron. Ab. "pa wende Beorn for þære sibbe þæt he him swican nolde." So Wig.
2 "To Dertamuðan," Chron. Ab. and Wig.; "to Axamudan," Chron. Petrib.
3 The personal share of Harold in the burial comes from the Abingdon Chronicle, the one least favourable to Godwine. Peterborough, so strongly Godwinist, is silent.
BEORN MURDERED BY SWEGEN.
murderer to be Nithing. This was the vilest epithet in the CHAP. VII. Swegen English language, implying utter worthlessness. It was declared evidently used as a formal term of dishonour. We shall Nithing by find it at a later time resorted to by a Norman King as a Gemót. means of appeal to his English subjects. William Rufus, 1087. when he needed English support, proclaimed in the like sort that all who failed to come to his standard should be declared to be Nithing. But this proclamation has a deeper importance than the mere use of this curious expression of public contempt. It is to be noted that the proclamation Functions is described as the act of the King and his army. Here is Witan disclearly a case of a military Gemót.2 The army, as repre- the army. charged by senting the nation, assumes to itself in time of war the functions which belonged to the regular Gemót in time of peace. The army declares Swegen to be Nithing, and it was doubtless the army, in the same sense, which had just before hearkened to, and finally rejected, his petition for restoration to his estates. So it was the army, Cnut's Danish army, which assumed to itself the functions of the English Witan by disposing of the English Crown on the death of the elder Swegen.3 In the ancient Teutonic constitution the army was the nation and the nation was the army. In the primitive Gemóts described by Tacitus, to which all men came armed, no distinction could be drawn between the two. But it should be noticed that the word
1 Chron. Ab. “And se cing þa and eall here cwæðon Swegen for niðing.” Cf. Chron. Petrib. 1088. “Da se cyng . . . sende ofer eall Englalande, and bead þæt æle man be wære unniðing sceolde cúman to he." Will. Malms. iv. 306. "Jubet ut compatriotas advocent ad obsidionem venire, nisi si qui velint sub nomine Niðing, quod nequam sonat, remanere.' Matt. Paris. p. 15 (Wats); "Absque morâ ut ad obsidionem veniant jubet; nisi velint sub nomine Nithing, quod Latine nequam sonat, recenseri. Angli, qui nihil contumeliosius et vilius æstimant quam hujusmodi ignominioso vocabulo notari, catervatim ad Regem confluentes," &c.
2 On military Assemblies, Macedonian, Ætolian, and even Achaian, see Hist. Fed. Gov. i. pp. 413, 511, 549.
See vol. i. p. 365.
4 See vol. i.
CHAP. VII. used is not that which denotes the armed levy of the Kingdom, but that which expresses the army in its special relation to the King. This fact exactly falls in with the practical, though not formal, change which had taken place in the constitution of the ordinary Gemóts.2 The military Gemót which passed this sentence on Swegen was not the whole force of England, for we were just before told that the contingents both of Mercia and Wessex had left Sandwich. This assembly must have consisted of the King's Comitatus of both kinds, of the Thegns bound to him by the older and more honourable tie, and also of the standing force of the Housecarls, or at any rate of their officers.3 Setting churchmen aside-though we have seen that even churchmen often bore arms both by land and by sea-such a body would probably contain a large proportion of the men who were likely to attend an ordinary Witenagemót. By an assembly of this kind, acting, whether constitutionally or not, in the character of a National Assembly, the outlawry and disgrace of Swegen were decreed.
It would seem that this decree preceded the translation deserted by of Beorn's body to Winchester, a ceremony which may not
most of his ships, escapes to Flanders.
improbably have been ordered by the Assembly. For it was before that translation that the men of Hastings, most probably by some commission from the King or his military council, sailed forth to take vengeance on the murderer. Swegen was already forsaken by the great part of his following. Of his eight ships six had left him. Their crews were probably rough Wikings from the North,
1 Here, which implies a standing force, very often a paid force, not fyrd, the general levy of the country. 2 See vol. i. p. 101.
3 On the Housecarls, as a later and inferior form of the Comitatus, see vol. i. p. 441.
"Lytel ær þan" (namely the second burial of Beorn), the men of Hastings set forth, according to the Worcester Chronicle, the only one which mentions their exploit.
ACTION OF THE ARMED GEMÓT.
men familiar with all the horrors of ordinary pirate warfare, CHAP. VII. not troubled with scruples about harrying a land whose people had never wronged them, but who nevertheless shrank from the fouler wickedness of slaying a kinsman by guile. Two ships only remained with Swegen, those doubtless whose crews had been the actual perpetrators of the deed. The men of Hastings chased and overtook these ships, slew their crews, and brought the ships to the King.1 How Swegen himself escaped it is not easy to see; possibly the men of Hastings still scrupled personally to lay hands upon a son of Godwine. At any rate the murderer baffled pursuit, and again took shelter in his old quarters. Baldwin, so lately restored to his dominions, again began his old practice of receiving English exiles, and Swegen spent the whole winter at the court of Flanders under the full protection of its sovereign.2
of the act
The story of the murder of Beorn is told in so minute Character and graphic a way that it seems impossible to throw doubt of Swegen. on any part of the tale. And every account represents the deed as a deed of deliberate treachery.3 An act of mere
1 So I understand the words of the Worcester Chronicle. The men of Hastings go after Swegen and take "his twa scypa"-the only ships he then had. To explain his having only two ships the writer adds, “ehta scypa he hæfde ær he Beorn beswice; syddan hine forleton ealle buton twam." The only meaning of these words seems to be that which I have given, though it involves the difficulty as to the personal escape of Swegen. But it is clear that Florence took them differently; "Dimiserunt illum sex naves, quarum duas paullo post cœperunt Hastingenses. . . Swanus vero ad Flandriam duabus fugiens navibus ibi mansit." This accounts for his escape, but I cannot see how "his twa scypa" can mean two of the ships which had left him. The Abingdon Chronicle also mentions the desertion of the six ships, but not the exploit of the Hastings men.
For other examples of the vigorous action of the men of the "Cinque Ports" in 1293 and 1297, see Walter of Hemingburgh, vol. ii. pp. 41, 158 (Hist. Soc. Ed.).
2 Chron. Ab. "And par wunode mid Baldwine." Chron. Petrib. "And Swegen gewende pa east to Baldewines lande, and sæt þær ealne winter on Brycge mid his fullan gride."
3 Chron. Wig. 1050.
"Swein eorl bæd Beorn eorl mid facne," "ær he Beorn beswice." Chron. Ab. 1049. 66 ær he Beorn amyrðrode."