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HAROLD'S PERSONAL DEMEANOUR.
And we must add that, in his private life, he did not, CHAP. VII. at least in his younger days, imitate either the monastic asceticism of the King or the stern domestic purity of his rival the Conqueror. The most pathetic incident His conconnected with his name tells us of a love of his early with Eaddays, the days apparently of his East-Anglian government, neshals. gyth Swanunrecognized by the laws of the Church, but perhaps not wholly condemned by the standard of his own age, which shows, above every other tale in English history or legend, how much the love of woman can do and suffer.1
Earl of the
Earl of the
Such was the man who, seemingly in the fourth year Harold of Eadward, in the twenty-third or twenty-fourth of his East Anown age, was invested with the rule of one of the great gles, 1045; divisions of England; who, seven years later, became the Westvirtual ruler of the Kingdom; who, at last, twenty-one 1053; King, years from his first elevation, received, alone among English Kings, the Crown of England as the free gift of her people, and, alone among English Kings, died axe in hand on her own soil, in the defence of England against foreign invaders. One prince alone in the later history of Europe rivals the peculiar glory which attaches to the name of Harold. For him we must seek in a distant age and in a distant land, but in a land connected with our own by a strangely abiding tie. English warriors, soldiers of Harold, chafing under the yoke of the Norman Conqueror, sought service at the court of the Eastern
of his life I shall discuss elsewhere. I here add the Biographer's disclaimer (Vita Eadw. 409); "Porro de vitio præcipitationis sive levitatis, quis hunc vel illum sive quemvis de Godwino patre genitum, sive ejus disciplina et studio educatum arguerit?" There is a very remarkable passage further on (p. 422), in which the Biographer says that Harold was "ad sacramenta nimis (proh dolor) prodigus." The allusion clearly is to Harold's oath to William, which the Biographer never distinctly mentions.
1 I refer of course to the tale of Eadgyth Swanneshals, of which I shall have to speak again more than once.
CHAP. VII. Cæsar, and there retained for ages their national tongue, their national weapon,' and the proud inheritance of their Compari- stainless loyalty. The memory of England and of Harold becomes thus strangely interwoven with the memory of
with Con- the one prince of later times who died in a still nobler cause than that of the freedom of England. The King who died upon the hill of Senlac finds his only worthy peer in the Emperor who died before the Gate of Saint Romanos. The champion of England against the Southern invader must own a nobler martyr still in the champion of the faith and liberty of Christendom against the misbelieving horde who have ever since defiled the fairest and most historic regions of the world. The blood of Harold and his faithful followers has indeed proved the most fertile seed of English freedom, and the warning signs of the times seem to tell us that the day is fast coming when the blood of Constantine shall no longer send up its cry for vengeance unheeded from the earth.
Character of Swegen.
The second son of Godwine was no doubt raised to greatness in the first instance mainly because he was a son of Godwine; but his great qualities gradually showed that the rank to which he was raised by his father's favour was one which he was fully entitled to retain by his own merits. The earlier elevation of the great Earl's eldest-born was less fortunate. Swegen lived to show that he had a soul of real nobleness within him; but his crimes were great, he was cut off just as he was beginning to amend his ways, and he has left a dark and sad memory behind him. A youth, evidently of no common powers, but wayward, violent, and incapable of self-control, he was hurried first into a flagrant violation of the sentiment of the age, and next into a still fouler breach of the eternal laws of right. His end may well 1 See vol. i. p. 512.
CHARACTER OF SWEGEN.
arouse our pity, but his life, as a whole, is a dark blot CHAP. VII. on the otherwise chequered escutcheon of the house of Godwine. It was clearly felt to be so; the panegyrist of the family never once brings himself to utter the name of Swegen. Only one other child of Godwine of the calls for personal notice at this stage of our history. gyth. Lady EadEadgyth, his eldest daughter, became, nearly two years 1045. after Eadward's coronation, the willing or unwilling bride of the saintly monarch. She is described as being no less highly gifted among women than her brothers were among men; as lovely in person and adorned with every female accomplishment, as endowed with a learning and refinement unusual in her age, as in point of piety and liberality a fitting help-meet for Eadward himself. But there are some strange inconsistencies in the facts which are recorded of her. Her zeal and piety did not hinder her from receiving rewards, perhaps, in plain words, from taking bribes. This is undoubtedly a subject on which the feelings of past times differed widely from our own; still we are a little staggered when we find the saintly King and his pious Lady receiving money from religious houses to support claims which, if just, should have been supported for nothing, and, if unjust,
1 Chronn. Ab. Cant. 1044; Petrib. 1043. I shall discuss the exact date afterwards.
2 Vita Eadw. 415. She sat at his feet, unless he lifted her up to sit at his side. This must be compared with the account of the legislation about West-Saxon Kings' wives after the crime of Eadburh (Asser, M. H. B. 471 B). She had shown personal kindness to the Biographer (427) ;
"Scribes Reginam primo tibi subvenientem,
This perhaps gave occasion for the more elaborate and better known description in the false Ingulf.
William of Malmesbury's account of her (ii. 197) is singular; "Femina in cujus pectore omnium liberalium artium esset gymnasium, sed parvum in mundanis rebus ingenium; quam quum videres, si literas stuperes, modestiam certe animi et speciem corporis desiderares."
CHAP. VII. should not have been supported at all.1 But Eadgyth has been charged with far heavier offences than this. She Suspicions seems to have become in some degree infected with her loyalty to husband's love of foreigners, perhaps even in some sort to have withdrawn her sympathies from the national cause. She has won the doubtful honour of having her name extolled by Norman flatterers as one whose heart was Her al- rather Norman than English. And all her reputation for leged share in the mur- gentleness and piety has not kept her from being branded der of Gos- in the pages of one of our best chroniclers as an accomplice in a base and treacherous murder. Her character Her rela thus becomes in some sort an ænigma, and her relation
tion to her husband.
to her husband is not the least ænigmatical part of her position. One of Eadward's claims to be looked on as a saint was the general belief, at least of the next generation, that the husband of the beautiful Eadgyth lived with her Eadward's only as a brother with a sister. If this story be true, a alleged chastity. more enlightened standard of morality can see no virtue, but rather a crime, in his conduct. We can see nothing to admire in a King who, in such a crisis of his country, himself well nigh the last of his race, and without any available member of the royal family to succeed him, shrank, from whatever motive, from the obvious duty of
1 Hist. Rams. cxiv. (p. 457). Abbot Elfwine, wishing to obtain certain lands bequeathed to the monastery by one Ethelwine the Black, but which were withheld from it by one Ælfric the son of Wihtgar, "apposuit quoque de divitis crumena dispendio viginti marcas auri, quibus gratiam Regis mercaretur, Ædthitha [sic] quippe Reginæ sedulitatem quinque marcarum auri pretio exegit interponi, ut pias ejus preces regiis auribus fideliter importaret." So again, in a charter of 1060 in Cod. Dipl. iv. 142, Eadgyth lays claim to certain lands claimed by the Abbey of Peterborough, but on the intercession of her husband and her brothers Harold and Tostig (none of whom seem to have taken anything), and on the gift of twenty marks and certain church ornaments, she is induced to confirm the grant. That she looked carefully after her rents in money, kine, and honey, and after the man who stole her horse (Cod. Dipl. iv. 257), is no blame to her. 3 Flor. Wig. 1065.
2 Will. Pict. 199 A, B (Duchèsne).
* See Appendix B.
CHARACTER OF EADGYTH.
raising up direct heirs to his Crown. But it seems CHAP. VII. probable that this report is merely part of the legend Evidence of of the saint and not part of the history of the King. His writers. contemporary panegyrists undoubtedly praise Eadward's chastity. But it is not necessary to construe their words as meaning more than might be asserted of Ælfred, of William, of Saint Lewis, or of Edward the First. The conjugal faith of all those great monarchs remained, as far as we know, unbroken; but not one of them thought it any part of his duty to observe continence towards his own wife. Still, from whatever cause, the marriage of Eadward and Eadgyth was undoubtedly childless; and the relations of the royal pair to each other in other respects are hardly more intelligible. Eadgyth is described as the partaker of all her husband's good works, and as nursing him with the most affectionate care during his last sickness. Yet, at the moment of his reign when he could most freely exercise a will of his own, if he did not absolutely of his own accord banish her from his court, he consented, seemingly without any reluctance, to her removal from him by the enemies of her family and her country. The anxiety of Eadward's Norman favourites to separate Eadgyth from her husband is, after all, the most honourable record of her to be found among the singularly contradictory descriptions of her character and actions.
We thus find, within a few years after the accession of Greatness Eadward, the whole of the ancient Kingdoms of Wessex, and his Sussex, Kent, Essex, East-Anglia, and part of Mercia, under the government of Godwine, his two elder sons, and his nephew. His daughter meanwhile shared the throne of England with a King whom he had himself placed upon it. Such greatness could hardly be lasting. It rested wholly on Godwine's own personal character and influence, 2 Ib. 403. See below.
1 Vita Eadw. 431 (cf. 433).