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THE Danish conquest of England, although the power of the kings of that nation continued but a short time, made great changes in the condition of the country. The customs and laws that had hitherto been observed only in the lands granted by Alfred to the Danes, spread into almost all the kingdom, and the civilization which the great king had striven so hard to introduce was well-nigh swept away.
England might be considered to be in three divisions-the West Saxon, subject to the old laws of Alfred; the Mercian, which had a law of its own; and the East Anglian and Northern portion, where the population was chiefly Danish, and which was therefore more under the immediate power of the Danish kings. Under them, London became the royal residence instead of Winchester, and several words in our language still attest their influence upon our customs. Of these is the word Hustings, for a place of public assembly; and the title of Earl, for which the English language afforded no feminine, till it borrowed the word Countess from the French, reminds us that the Northern Jarls were only governors during the king's pleasure, and that their dignity conferred no rank on their families.
Under the Danish kings, the other divisions of England fell under the The great Earldoms rule of three great Earls. The Danish Northumbria was ruled by the great Northman Siward Biorn; Mercia was governed by the house of Leofric, an old noble family connected with the ancient line of Mercian kings.
There were many of this family named Leofric, and it is probably of the one living at this time that the curious old tradition of Coventry belongs, which related how his wife, the Lady Godiva, rode through the town with no covering but her abundant hair, to obtain from him the remission of the townspeople from his oppressive exactions, a story of which the memory is kept up at Coventry by a holiday, and the procession of the Lady Godiva,
Wessex had become the portion of Godwin, son of Ulfnoth, and great nephew to the traitor, Edric Streona, the murderer of Edmund
Ulf's disgrace (legendary).
Ironside. There is a story, probably a mere fiction, that this family was of mean origin, that Ulfnoth was a herdsman of the south of Warwickshire, and that Godwin first rose to distinction in the following manner :-Ulf, a Danish Jarl, who had married a sister of Knut, was separated from the army after one of the battles with Edmund Ironside, and after wandering all night, met in the morning with a youth driving a herd of cattle. He asked his name, and the reply was, "I am Godwin, the son of Ulfnoth, and you, I think, are a Dane."
Ulf confessed that he was, and begged the young man to show him the way to the Severn, where he expected to find the fleet.
"The Dane would be a fool who trusted to a Saxon," answered Godwin; and when Ulf continued his entreaties, he explained that the way was not long, but that the serfs were all in arms against the Danes, and would kill both him and any one whom they found guiding him. Ulf offered the young herdsman a golden ring for his reward; he looked at it a moment, then said, "I will take nothing from you, but I will be your guide," and led him home to his father's cottage, where he was hidden through the whole day. At night, when he prepared to set forth, Ulfnoth told him that Godwin would not be able to return, since the peasants would kill him for having protected a Dane, and therefore begged that the Jarl would keep him among his own people, and present him to the King.
Ulf promised, and this, it is said, was the foundation of Godwin's greatness; but there is great reason to doubt the tale, and it is far more probable that the family was anciently noble. Godwin married Gyda, the sister of Ulf, and thus was brought into near connexion with Knut; but Ulf, his patron and brother-in-law, soon after was killed in one of those outbursts of violence and cruelty to which Knut seemed to return whenever he went back to his own savage North.
Knut had been defeated by the Swedes at Helge, and was at Roskild, when he was playing at chess in the evening with Ulf, and, making an oversight, lost a knight. He took the piece back again, changed his move, and desired his opponent to go on playing; but the Jarl, choosing to play chess on equal terms or not at all, threw down the board, and went away.
66 Run away,
Ulf the Fearful!" said Knut.
Ulf turned back, and answered, "Thou wouldst have run further at Helge river! Thou didst not call me Ulf the Fearful when I came to thy help while the Swedes were beating thee like a dog."
Knut brooded on the offence all night, and in the morning sent his page to kill the Jarl. The page found him at his prayers in church, and therefore refrained, but Knut sent another of his followers, who slew him as he knelt.
Godwin had, before this, gained too much favour to be likely to fall with his brother-in-law. He was with the King on an expedition against the Wends, and on the night before an intended battle, made a sudden attack without Knut's knowledge, and completely routed them. His
talents were so much appreciated, that he received the great Earldom of CAMEO IV. Wessex, the portion of England least under the power of the Danes, and where the old line of Alfred was most loved and regretted, since it was Godwin. their hereditary kingdom.
For this reason Godwin was desirous to maintain the Danes in England after Knut's death, and to keep the scattered royal line at a distance. Harthaknut, whom the will of his father had called to the succession, was absent in Denmark, and Godwin caused his brother, Harold Harefoot, to be crowned in haste, though the Archbishop would not sanction the usurpation, placed the crown and sceptre on the altar, and forbade the bishops to give him their blessing.
Alfred and Edward, the two sons of Ethelred the Unready, had in the meantime been brought up under the protection of their uncle, Richard the Good, of Normandy, dwelling for the most part in those beautiful Abbeys of Fescamp and Jumièges, which had been endowed by the piety of the Dukes, and where they grew up in godliness and virtue, with gentle manners and civilized tastes, far unlike to those which prevailed in their native land. Robert the Magnificent was a great friend to them, and his death on his pilgrimage made their abode in Normandy far less peaceful and secure.
Soon after the coronation of Harold Harefoot, they received a letter purporting to come from their mother, Emma, widow of Knut, inviting them to assert their claim to their father's throne. Edward, with a band of Normans, met his mother at Winchester, but he could not keep his followers from plundering the country, and finding little hope of success, gave up the attempt, and returned to Normandy. Alfred landed at Sandwich, in Kent, and was so well received by the Archbishop and people, that Godwin, becoming alarmed, had recourse to treachery, pretended to own him as King, and conducted him to Guildford. Thither King Harold sent his Danes, who seized the prince's followers, after Godwin's men had dispersed them through the town and stupified them with drink. Every tenth man was killed, the rest were sold for slaves, and Alfred himself was carried to Ely, where his eyes were torn out, and he died of the injury. His mother, Emma, fled to Bruges, and this makes it probable that either she never sent the letter at all, or was only the innocent instrument of Godwin's desire to rid himself of the royal family, but her son Edward believed her to have been knowingly concerned in this horrible transaction, and never regarded her as guiltless of his brother's death. It is possible that Godwin may also have been free from treachery, and have meant well by the prince. Her other son, Harthaknut, left Denmark to join her at Bruges, Harthaintending in the spring to drive Harold from the throne, but death was beforehand with him. Harold died in 1040, and Harthaknut had only to come to England to take possession of the crown. Both these young men were, at heart, savage Danes; and the first deed of Harthaknut, on his arrival, was to satisfy his vengeance for the usurpation of his throne and the murder of Alfred, by causing Harold's corpse to be taken
from its grave, the head cut off, and the body thrown into a marsh. He threatened to punish Godwin, but the Earl averted his wrath by the present of one of the long serpent-like keels prized by the Danes, the prow gilded, and the crew of eighty men, each fully equipped, and with a gold bracelet on the left arm.
Harthaknut was pacified by this gift, and contented himself with sending for his surviving half-brother Edward from Normandy, and treating him as became the Atheling. The wild half-heathen court of Harthaknut was a strange and bewildering change for the gentle Edward, whose habits and tastes were only suited to the convent where he had spent his early days, and who found in the rough affection of his Danish brother, his only protection from the fierce spirits around. His grief and dismay were great when, after he had spent a few months in England, he heard that Harthaknut, at the wedding-feast of the daughter of the Dane, Osgood Clapa, from whom Clapham is named, had died suddenly, immediately after an excessive draught of wine.
Edward found himself left without protection in the hands of the fierce men who had murdered his brother. He was forty years old, and of an inactive timid disposition, which unfitted him for taking any bold measures in this emergency; his affections were in the convents of Normandy, and with the young son of his friend, Duke Robert, and he earnestly entreated Godwin to allow him to return in safety thither.
The Earl, however, saw that neither Saxons nor Danes would submit to the authority of one who was not of royal blood, and that the best hope of preserving the power he had acquired in the latter reigns, was by setting up a weak king, and governing in his name. He therefore replied by tendering his submission to Edward, and promising to support him on the throne, on condition that he would marry Edith, his daughter, so fair, so gentle, and pious a lady, that it was a saying, " Even as the rose springs from the thorn, so springs Edith from Godwin." She was very learned, and Ingulf, who afterwards was the secretary of the Conqueror, and Abbot of Croyland, loved to remember how, when he was a boy come from his convent-school to visit his father at the court, the Lady Edith would send for him, examine him in his studies, and end by causing her maiden to count out three or four coins into his hand, and sending him to the royal larder for refreshment.
Edward was thus placed upon the throne, and every act performed of his own free will showed his gentleness and desire for his people's good. At the request of Edith, he abolished the Danegeld, or money raised first to bribe the Danes, and then as their tribute; indeed, it was said that he had seen a vision of an evil spirit dancing on the gold thus collected; he made new laws in hopes of preventing crime, and set so strict an example of attention to every rule of the Church, and giving alms so largely, that he gained the love of his people, and fixed his memory in their hearts so strongly, that he was revered as a Saint, and the title of Confessor was given to him, though it properly only applies to one who has suffered everything short of martyrdom, for the sake of the Christian faith.
The times were too rude and violent for a king of so soft a mould : crimes were committed which he had no power to restrain, and, weak- Edward the handed and bewildered, he seems to have acted in great matters much | Confessor. as he did in the following adventure. He was lying on his bed when a person came into the apartment, and, thinking him asleep, stole some money out of a chest. The King let this pass, but when the thief returned for a second handful, he quietly said, “Sirrah, you had better take care, for if Hugolin, my chamberlain, catches you, he will give you a sound beating." Hugolin soon came in, and was much concerned at the loss. "Never mind," said the King, the poor man wants it more than we do."
The sons of Godwin were growing up rude, high-spirited young men, who presumed on their connexion with the King to hold him cheap, and laugh at him to his face. Sweyn, the eldest, was the worst, and at last caused himself to be banished from the realm by the crime of carrying off the Abbess from the Convent of Leominster. He then spent the life of a pirate, in the course of which he visited the coast, and, while pretending to attempt to be reconciled to his family, treacherously murdered his cousin Biorn. After six years he repented, went barefoot on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and died while returning. The other brothers were stained with no such enormities, but they were dreaded and disliked by the king, who naturally turned to the friends of his youth, the Normans.
Norman dresses and customs were introduced, the King's own handwriting was in the foreign character, and he expressed his assent to the laws by appending to them an impression of his seal, after the fashion of the kings of France. He likewise invited many of his old friends from Normandy, gave some of them lands in England, where they built fortified castles, and bestowed the bishoprics and abbeys upon Norman ecclesiastics. Great discontent arose upon this, and Godwin and his sons took advantage of them to gain popularity, by strenuously opposing everything Norman, and maintaining, as they said, the old English
Eustace als Gernons (the Whiskered), Count de Mantes, who had married the King's sister, came to visit Edward. At Dover, a squabble took place between his followers and the townspeople, in which several persons on both sides were killed. Edward ordered Godwin to chastise the townspeople, but, instead of this, the Earl collected an army, and marched upon the King himself. They would have made him prisoner but for Leofric of Mercia, and Siward, Earl of Northumbria, who both came to his rescue, and drove Godwin and his family into exile.
Edward now felt himself truly King of England, and was able to enjoy a short visit from the Duke of Normandy, who came to see him, and probably then first conceived the hope of obtaining the crown of the illgoverned and divided country that seemed ready to fall a prey to the first vigorous enemy.
Earl Godwin was not long in assembling his friends, and making a
Norman propensities of Edward.