Page images

CHAP. VII. He avoided however one bad habit of his age, that of choosing the time of divine service as the time for private conversation. It is mentioned as a special mark of his devotion that he scarcely ever spoke during

mass, except when he was interrupted by others.1 The His favour- mention of his friends and familiar companions leads us directly to his best and worst aspects as an English his reign. King. Like his father, he was constantly under the

ites at

different periods of

dominion of favourites. It was to the evil choice of his favourites during the early part of his reign that most of the misfortunes of his time were owing, and that a still more direct path was opened for the ambition of his Norman kinsman. In the latter part of his reign, either happy accident, or returning good sense, or perhaps the sheer necessity of the case, led him to a better choice. Without a guide he could not reign, but the good fortune of his later years gave him the wisest and noblest of all guides. The most honourable feature in the whole life of Eadward is that the last thirteen years of his reign were virtually the reign of Harold.

But in the days before that great national reaction, in for foreign- the period embraced in the present Chapter, it is the


peculiar character of the favourites to whose influence Eadward was given up which sets its special mark on the time. The reign of Eadward in many respects fore

Eadward's fondness

1 Vita Eadw. 415. Inter ipsa divinorum mysteriorum et missarum sacrosancta officia agninâ mansuetudine stabat, et mente tranquillâ cunctis fidelibus spectabilis Christicola, inter quæ, nisi interpellaretur, rarissime cui loquebatur." Compare the opposite description given of Henry the Second, who always talked of public affairs during mass (Gir. Camb. Exp. Hib. i. 46. p. 305 Dimock, and see more at large Stubbs, Benedict, ii. xxx.), and the curious story of his holding a discourse at such a moment with Saint Thomas of Canterbury himself, as told by Roger of Pontigny (Giles, i. 132). It is however somewhat differently told by William Fitz-Stephen (ib. i. 218). See Gentleman's Magazine, April, 1860, p. 386.

The Ayenbite of Inwyt (p. 20 ed. Morris) reproves this practice as a common fault; "And huanne be ssoldest yhere his messe ober his sermon at cherche, pou iangledest and bourdedest to-vor God."

[ocr errors]




stalls the reign of Henry the Third. The part played by CHAP. VII. Earl Godwine in many respects forestalls the part played by Earl Simon of Montfort. Eadward was by birth an His conEnglishman; but he was the son of a Norman mother; with Norhe had been carried to Normandy in his childhood; he mandy. had there spent the days of his youth and early manhood; England might be the land of his duty, but Normandy was ever the land of his affection. With the habits, the feelings, the language, of the people over whom he was called to rule he had no sympathy whatever. His heart was French. His delight was to surround himself with companions who came from the beloved land and who spoke the beloved tongue, to enrich them with English estates, to invest them with the highest offices of the English Kingdom. Policy might make him the political ally of his Imperial brother-in-law, but a personal sentiment made him the personal friend of his Norman cousin. The needs of his royal position made him accept Godwine as his counsellor and the daughter of Godwine as his wife. But his real affections were lavished on the Norman Promotion priests1 and gentlemen who flocked to his Court as to the mans to land of promise. These strangers were placed in im- high office. portant offices about the royal person,2 and before long they were set to rule as Earls and Bishops over the already half-conquered soil of England. Even when he came over as a private man in the days of Harthacnut,

of Nor

1 Vita Eadw. 414. "Abbates religiosos et monachos, potissimum autem transmarinos.. quam benigne susceperit." So Will. Malms. 220; "Pauperibus hospitibusque, maxime transmarinis et religiosis, benignus appellando, munificus dando." See Appendix C.

2 Vit. Eadw. 399. "Quum prædictus sanctæ memoriæ Edwardus Rex repatriaret a Franciâ, ex eâdem gente comitati sunt quamplures non ignobiles viri, quos plurimis honoribus ditatos secum retinuit idem Rex, utpote compos totius regni, ordinariosque constituit secretorum consilii sui, et rectores rerum regalis palatii." It is remarkable how seldom, especially in the early part of Eadward's reign, the foreigners appear to sign charters. They were doubtless jealously watched.

CHAP. VII. Eadward had brought with him his French nephew,1 and Ralph the Timid was but the forerunner of the gang of foreigners who were soon to be quartered upon the country, as these were again only the first instalment of the larger gang who were to win for themselves a more lasting The Nor- settlement four and twenty years later. In all this the quest be- seeds of the Conquest were sowing, or rather, as I once gins under before put it, it is now that the Conquest actually begins.

man Con

The reign of Eadward is a period of struggle between
natives and foreigners for dominion in England. The
foreigners gradually win the upper hand, and for a time.
they are actually dominant. Then a national reaction.
overthrows their influence, and the greatest of living
Englishmen becomes the virtual ruler. But this happy
change did not take place till the strangers had become
accustomed to look on English estates and honours as
their right, a right which they soon learned to think
they might one day assert by force of arms.
The foreign
favourites of Eadward were in truth the advanced guard
of William. The conquests of England by Swegen and
Cnut, the wonderful exploits of his own countrymen in
the South of Europe, no doubt helped to suggest to the
Norman Duke that it was not impossible to win England
for himself with his sword. But it must have been the
feeling, on the part both of himself and of his subjects,
that England was a land already half won over to Norman
rule, which made the succession to the English Crown the
cherished aim of the life of the mighty ruler who was now
growing up to manhood and to greatness on the other side
of the sea.

Relations between Eadward

The elevation of Eadward to the throne of course involved the establishment in still greater honour and autho2 Vol. i. p. 526.

1 Vol. i. p. 519.







rity of the man to whom his elevation was mainly owing, CHAP. VII. the great Earl of the West-Saxons. I have already thrown and Godout some hints as to what the real relations between Eadward and Godwine probably were.' There is not a Norman shadow of evidence for those calumnies of the Norman against writers which represent Godwine and his sons as holding and his the King in a sort of bondage, as abusing his simplicity and confidence, sometimes as behaving to him with great personal insolence, sometimes, they even venture to add, practising all kinds of injustice and oppression throughout the Kingdom. The English writers tell a widely different tale. The contrast between the two accounts is well set forth by a writer whose sympathies lie wholly on the Norman side, but who makes at least an effort to deal fairly between the two. In the English version Godwine and his sons are high-minded and faithful counsellors of the King; they are patriots who stood forward as the leaders of the national feeling against his foreign favourites, but who were never guilty of any undutiful word or deed towards the prince whom they had themselves raised to power. Eadward probably both feared and suspected Godwine. But there is nothing to show that, up to the final outbreak between Godwine and the foreigners, the great Earl had ever deviated from even formal loyalty to his sovereign. There is distinct evidence that more than one of his sons had gained Eadward's warmest personal affection. From all that we can see, Godwine was not a man likely Character to win the same sort of personal affection from Eadward, wine. perhaps not even from the nation at large, which was afterwards won by Harold. That Godwine was the representative of all English feeling, that he was the leader of every national movement, that he was the object of the deepest admiration on the part of the men at least of his

of God

2 Will. Malms. ii. 197. See Appendix D.

1 See above, p. 15.


CHAP. VII. Own Earldom, is proved by the clearest of evidence. it is equally clear that Godwine was essentially a wary statesman, and in no sense a chivalrous hero. We have seen that, mighty as was the power of his eloquence, he did not trust to his eloquence only. He knew how to practise the baser as well as the nobler arts of statesmanship. He knew how to win over political adversaries by bribes, threats, and promises, and how to find means of chastisement for those who remained to the last immoveable by the voice of the charmer. When we think of the vast extent of his possessions,2 most or all of which must have been acquired by royal grant, it is almost impossible to His rela acquit him of a grasping disposition. It is also laid to his ecclesiasti- charge that, in the acquisition of wealth, he did not always regard the rights of ecclesiastical bodies. This last charge, it must be remembered, is one which he shares with almost every powerful man of his time, even with those who, if they took with one hand, gave lavishly with the other. And accusations of this sort must always be taken with certain deductions. Monastic and other ecclesiastical writers were apt to make little or no distinction between acts of real sacrilege, committed by fraud or violence, and the most legal transactions by which the Church happened Godwine's to be a loser. Still it should be noticed that Godwine

tions to

cal bodies.


lack of bounty to the Church.

stands perhaps alone among the great men of his own age in having no ecclesiastical foundation connected with his name. As far as I am aware, he is nowhere enrolled among the founders or benefactors of any church, religions

1 See above, p. 9.

2 See vol. i. p. 471. The French biographer of Eadward says (p. 57);

Ke par plaiz e par achatz

De grant aver out fait purchaz ;
Mut out cunquis par boesdie

"Godwin k'out mis entente

Cunquere tresor e rente,

Mut fu garniz e estorez

D'or e de argent dunt out asez, Plus ke par chivalerie." 3 See Appendix E.

« PreviousContinue »