« PreviousContinue »
DEATH OF GODWINE.
neighbouring Abbeys of Thorney and Crowland, but the CHAP. IX. more distant houses of Coventry, the great foundation of his uncle, and Burton, the creation of Wulfric Spot.1 But in the eyes of English patriots, Abbot Leofric has won a still higher fame by an act less clearly coming within the range of his ecclesiastical duties. He was one of those great Lords of the Church who did not feel that they were hindered by their monastic vows from marching by the side of Harold to the great battle.2
The next great festival of the Church, the next great Easter assembly of the English Witan, beheld the death of the Winchesmost renowned Englishman of that generation. The King 1053. kept the Easter festival at Winchester, and on the Monday of that week of rejoicing, the Earl of the West-Saxons, with his sons Harold, Tostig, and Gyrth, were admitted to the royal table. During the meal Godwine fell from Godwine's his seat speechless and powerless. His sons lifted him from April 12, the ground, and carried him to the King's own bower, in hopes of his recovery. Their hopes were in vain; the Earl
never spoke again, and, after lying insensible for three and death, days, he died on the following Thursday. Such is the April 15. simple, yet detailed, account which a contemporary writer gives us of an event which has, perhaps even more than any other event of these times, been seized upon as a subject for Norman romance and calumny. There was undoubtedly something striking and awful in the sight of the first man in England, in all the full glory of his recovered power, thus suddenly smitten with his deathblow. He had been, as we have seen, ailing for some
1 Chron. Petrib. 1066. "He was leaf eall folc, swa þæt se cyng [Hugh speaks of the Lady as well] geaf Sče Peter and him þæt abbotrice on Byrtune and se of Couentre þæt se eorl Leofric, be was his eam, ær hæfde macod, and se of Crulande, and se of porneie." On Coventry, see above, p. 48; on Burton, see vol. i. p. 656.
2 Chron. Petrib. 1066. See vol. iii. p. 426.
CHAP. IX. months, but the actual stroke, when it came, seems to have been quite unlooked for. It was not wonderful that, in such a death at such a moment, men saw a special work of divine judgement. It was not wonderful that Norman about the enemies brought the old scandals up again, and that
death of Godwine.
they decked out the tale of the death of the murderer of Ælfred with the most appalling details of God's vengeance upon the hardened and presumptuous sinner. I shall elsewhere discuss their romantic inventions, which in truth belong less to the province of the historian than to that of the comparative mythologist.1 It is more important to mark that one English writer seems to see in Godwine's death the punishment of his real or supposed Bounty of aggressions on the property of the Church. On this last Gytha. score however the bounty of his widow did all that she could to make atonement for any wrongdoings on the part of the deceased. The pious munificence of Gytha is acknowledged even by those who are most bitter against her husband, and it now showed itself in lavish offerings for the repose of the soul of Godwine. His place of burial
1 See Appendix DD.
2 See Chron. Ab. 1052, and Appendix E. and DD.
8 Liber de Hydâ, 289. "Porro uxor ejus [she is "Geta, genus, ut aiunt, ex insulâ Norwegiâ ducens"], magnæ sanctitatis multæque religionis tramitem incedens, omni die duas ad minus missas studiose [see above, p. 28] audiebat, omnique fere sabbato per duo aut amplius miliaria nudis pedibus vicina ambiebat monasteria, largis muneribus cumulans altaria, largisque donis pauperes recreans." Of her gifts for her husband's soul we read in the Winchester Annals, p. 26; "Githa, uxor Godwini, femina multas habens facultates, pro animâ ejus multis ecclesiis in eleemosynâ multa contulit, et Wintoniæ ecclesiæ dedit duo maneria, scilicet, Bleodonam et Crawecumbam et ornamenta diversi generis." Of these lordships, Bleadon and Crowcombe in Somersetshire, Bleadon still remained to the Church at the time of the Survey (Domesday, 87 b), but Crowcombe had been alienated to Count Robert of Mortain (91 b). Another gift for her husband's soul made by Gytha to the church of Saint Olaf at Exeter-mark the reverence (see below, p. 374) of the Scandinavian princess for the Scandinavian saintis found in Cod. Dipl. iv. 264. This charter, signed by her sons Tostig and Gyrth as Earls, must be of a later date (1057-1065), and shows that her
BURIAL OF GODWINE.
need hardly be mentioned. The man who was greater CHAP. IX. than a King, the maker and the father of Kings, found Godwine his last resting-place among Kings. His corpse was laid in the Old by that of the King under whom he had risen to greatness, by that of the Lady whose rights he had so stoutly defended, by that of the first King whom he had placed on the West-Saxon throne, by that of the murdered nephew whose death had cast the first shade of gloom upon his house. The Earl of the West-Saxons, dying in the WestSaxon capital, was buried with all pomp in the greatest of West-Saxon sanctuaries, in the Old Minster of Winchester. That renowned church was enriched with lands and ornaments in memory of the dead. But the noblest General offering of all was the grief of the nation which he had grief of the saved. His real faults, his imaginary crimes, were all forgotten. Men remembered only that the greatest man of their blood and speech was taken from them. They thought of the long years of peace and righteous government which they had enjoyed under his rule; they thought of the last and greatest of his great deeds, how he had chased the stranger from the land, and had made England England once again. Around the bier of Godwine men wept as for a father; they wept for the man whose hand had guided England and her people through all the storms of so many years of doubt and danger. They deemed not that, ages after his death, calumnies would
pious anxiety still continued. Of Gytha's religious scruples a specimen will be found in Appendix E. She is also said (Tanner, Notitia Monastica, Devon. xxv.; New Monasticon, iv. 435) to have founded a College at Hartland in Devon. A secular establishment founded by Harold's mother should be noted.
1 Chron. Ab. 1053. "And he lið þær binnan ealdan mynstre." Vita Eadw. 408. "Tumulatur ergo condigno honore in monasterio quod nuncupant veteri Wintonie, additis in eâdem ecclesiâ multis ornamentorum muneribus et terrarum reditibus pro redemptione ipsius animæ."
2 Vita Eadw. 408. "Exsequiis suis in luctum decidit populus, hunc patrem, hunc nutricium suum regnique, memorabant suspiriis et assiduis fletibus."
CHAP. IX. still be heaped upon his name. They deemed not that the lies of the stranger would take such root that the deliverer for whom they mourned would live in the pages of pretended history as Godwine the traitor. The time is now come to redress the wrong, and to do tardy justice to the fair fame of one of the greatest of England's worthies. True esti- To know what Godwine was, we have but to cast away Godwine's the fables of later days, to turn to the records of his own time, to see how he looked in the eyes of men who had seen and heard him, of men who had felt the blessings of his rule and whose hearts had been stirred by the voice of his mighty eloquence. No man ever deserved a higher or a more lasting place in national gratitude than the first man who, being neither King nor Priest, stands forth in English history as endowed with all the highest attributes of the statesman. In him, in those distant times, we can revere the great minister, the unrivalled parliamentary leader, the man who could sway councils and assemblies at his will, and whose voice, during five and thirty years of political strife, was never raised in any cause but that of the welfare of England. Side by side with all that is worthiest in our later history-side by side with his own counterpart two ages afterwards, the second deliverer from the yoke of the stranger, the victor of Lewes, the martyr of Evesham-side by side with all who, from his day to ours, have, in the field or in the senate, struggled or suffered in the cause of English freedom-side by side with the worthies of the thirteenth and the worthies of the seventeenth century-will the voice of truthful history, rising above the calumnies of ages, place the name of the great deliverer of the eleventh, the Earl of happy memory,1 whose greatness was ever the greatness of England, whose life was one long offering to welfare, and whose death came fittingly as the crown
1 Vita Eadw. 408. "Dux felicis memoriæ."
TRUE CHARACTER OF GODWINE.
of that glorious life, when he had once more given peace CHAP. IX. and freedom to the land which he loved so well.
§ 2. From the Accession of Harold to the Earldom of the West-Saxons to his first War with Gruffydd.
The great Earl was dead, and the office which he had held, an office which no man had ever held before him,1 was again at the disposal of the King and his Witan. As Godwine's death had happened at the Easter festival, the Great Council of the nation was doubtless still in session. We may therefore assume, with perfect safety, that the appointments which the Earl's death rendered needful were made at once, before the Assembly dispersed. The Nature of nature of the succession to these great governments must sion to by this time be perfectly well understood. The King and his Witan might nominate whom they would to a vacant Earldom; but there was a strong feeling, whenever there was no special reason to the contrary, in favour of appointing the son of a deceased Earl. In Earldoms, like those of Mercia and Northumberland, where an ancient house had been in possession for several generations, this sort of preference had grown into the same kind of imperfect hereditary right which existed in the case of the Crown itself. It would have required a very strong case indeed for King and Witan to feel themselves justified in appointing any one but a son of Leofric to succeed Leofric in the head government of Mercia. But in the case of Wessex and East-Anglia no such inchoate right could be put forward by any man. The old East-Anglian house Special had doubtless become extinct, either through the slaughter Eastof Assandun, or through the executions in the early days Anglia, of Cnut.2 If not extinct, it had, at all events, sunk into
2 See vol. i. p. 320: cf. 411.