1.2 - Succession Crisis

  • Created by: TessBlyth
  • Created on: 27-05-19 14:46

The House of Godwin

The house of Godwin began in 1018, during King Cnut's reign when he made Godwin, Earl of Wessex. Political power in Anglo-Saxon England had strong family connections. Godwin had helped Edward the Confessor become king and in return, Edward married Godwin's daughter - Edith of Wessex in 1045. This gave them family links to the throne.

When Godwin died in 1053, his family's influenced was reduced. However, they re-built their control and had control of almost all of England by the mid-1060s. 

  • Harold Godwinson succeeded his father as Earl of Wessex - giving him riches, influence over thegns and a powerful position as the king's advisor.
  • In 1055, Tostig Godwinson became the new Earl of Northumbria.
  • In 1057, Gyrth Godwinson became Earl of East Anglia. A smaller earldom was given to Leofwine Godwinson in the same year.

Edward the Confessor gave the Godwins extensive power for several reasons:

  • He was kin to the Godwins because of his marriage to Edith.
  • England was under threat from Norway meaning he needed strong military leaders.
  • Harold's marriage to Edith the Fair 
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The House of Godwin

The only significant rival to the Godwin's left in England was Aelfgar, Earl of Mercia. He was exiled twice in he 1050s, teaming up with the Welsh king, Gruffuss ap Llywelyn, both times to fight for the return of his earldom. When Aelfgar died, King Edward and the Godwins were quick to act as they didn't want Llywelyn working with rivals again to challenge their interests. After a surprise attack in 1062, which Llywelyn escaped, Harold took a fleet round the coast of South Wales while Tostig led an army into North Wales.

Their joint strategy was a success and Harold sent Llywelyn's head to Edward, but it was Harold himself who appointed a new king of Wales who he could control. Harold assumed the role of sub regulus. 


  • Extensive landholdings made them very rich
  • The godwins were lords to many hundreds of thegns, making them powerful leaders
  • They were influential in the Church as they had persuaded Edward to appoint loyal bishops
  • The Godwins made political marriages
  • Harold was also Earl of Hereford 
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Harold's embassy to Normandy

Harold Godwinson went to Normandy in the early summer of 1064, on a mission for King Edward. He travelled to France but landed in Ponthieu - a small county between Normandy and Flanders. There, he was taken prisoner by Count Guy of Ponthieu, but Duke William heard of the capture and demanded that he handed him over. Harold then spent time with William in Normandy and helped him with two military campaigns, in return for weapons and armour. 

After relaying King Edward's message, Harold made an oath to William, swearing on two holy relics. This could have been an oath of allegiance; Harold swearing to support William' claim to the throne.

The Norman interpretation of the visit was that Edward commissioned Harold to talk to Duke william about his succession and it involved Harold swearing allegiance to him as future King.   The Anglo-Saxon interpretation is that Harold went to recover two hostages from William, Harold's brother and nephew - Wulfnoth and Hakon.

His embassy was significant because: it shows how Harold was King Edward's most trusted adviser, it was used by the Normans to strengthen William's claim to the throne and it was used to portray Harold as an oath breaker as he became King of England instead of helping William claim the throne.

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Uprising against Earl Tostig

Tostig Godwinson became Earl of Northumbria in 1055. Northumbria was important because it was very large, guarded the border with Scotland and had a long history of viking attacks. It was also very different from Wessex as much of it was part of the Danelaw (area that had been settled by the vikings). It is probable that a southerner like Tostig would have found understanding the Northumbrians difficult. 

Earl Tostig ruled for 10 years and in October 1065, there was an uprising against Tostig led by Northumbrian thegns for several reasons:

  • Tostig was a southerner and Northumbria had always been ruled by northerners.
  • Tostig taxed Northumbria too heavily and Danelaw areas were not used to heavy taxation, so resented this greatly.
  • Tostig had ordered the assassination of high-born Northumbrian rivals while they were his guests.
  • Tostig had been unjust, imposing new laws and abusing his power to get rid of rivals.
  • Tostig's friendship with Malcolm III, King of Scotland, meant he didn't defend Northumbria from Scottish attack.
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Uprising against Earl Tostig

The rising of 1065 began with rebels marching on York, the city from which Northumbria was governed. There, the rebels killed as many of Tostig's housecarls and servants as they could find and declared Tostig an outalw. They invited Morcar, the brother of the Earl of Mercia to rule instead.

King Edward help a conference to decide what to do about the rising. Instead of raising an army to  defeat the rebels, Harold instead met with them and passed on King Edward's agreement to their terms. Harold married Morcar's sister and was given landholdings in Mercia. By 1 November 1065, Tostig was exiled.

Harold agreed Tostig had pushed Northumbria too far and blamed Tostig for the rising. Tostig angrily accused Harold of having conspired against him, furious that he had not backed him. King Edward commanded an army to put down the rising but his orders were disobeyed. Edward therefore had no choice but to accept the rebels demands. 

  • Edward was old and ill
  • Harold needed a united kingdom to hold off the threats from Northumbria and Scandinavia
  • Tostig was a rival to the throne
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