Godwin, Earl of Wessex

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Godwin of Wessex (Old English: Gōdwine) (990 – 15 April 1053), was one of the most powerful lords in England under the Danish king Cnut the Great and his successors. Cnut made him the first Earl of Wessex. Godwin was the father of King Harold Godwinson and Edith of Wessex, wife of King Edward the Confessor.


Rise: support of Edmund, then Cnut

Godwin's father was possibly Wulfnoth Cild who was a thegn of Sussex, although later documents describe his father as a churl.[1] Wulfnoth led a section of the royal fleet into piracy and as a consequence had his lands forfeited, and was exiled. In his day, Earl Godwin was seen as very much of a new man, who had been "made" by two advantageous marriages to Danish noblewomen.

Godwin was a major supporter of Edmund Ironside, the son of King Æthelred the Unready. While Edmund was in rebellion against his father, Cnut and his army invaded England. Edmund was killed, along with many of his supporters, but Godwin survived and pledged his loyalty to Cnut. He befriended Cnut's brother-in-law, Earl Ulf, and became one of Cnut's advisers, accompanying him to Denmark to suppress a rebellion there. By 1018 he was an earl, becoming Earl of Wessex in about 1019.

Height of power: support of Harold

On 12 November 1035, Cnut died. His kingdoms were divided among three rival rulers. Harold Harefoot, Cnut's illegitimate son with Ælfgifu of Northampton, seized the throne of England. Harthacnut, Cnut's legitimate son with Emma of Normandy, reigned in Denmark. Norway rebelled under Magnus the Noble. In 1035, the throne of England was reportedly claimed by Alfred Ætheling, younger son of Emma of Normandy and Æthelred the Unready, and half-brother of Harthacnut. Godwin is reported to have either captured Alfred himself or to have deceived him by pretending to be his ally and then surrendering him to the forces of Harold Harefoot. Either way Alfred was blinded and soon died at Ely.

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