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Godwin of Wessex, also known as Godwine, Goodwin, Godwyn or Goodwyn (1001– April 15, 1053) was one of the most powerful lords in England under the Danish king Canute the Great and his successors. Canute 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.

Godwin's Rise[]

Godwin's father was Wulfnoth Cild who was Thegn of Sussex, a sixth generation descendant of King Ethelred of Wessex, the older brother of Alfred the Great; Ethelred's descendants were passed over in the royal succession, but became prominent nobles in the kingdom. Wulfnoth led a section of the royal fleet into piracy and as a consequence had his lands forfeited, and was exiled. It was left to his young son, Godwin, to improve the family fortunes after his father's death in [[1014]. 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 Ethelred the Unready. While Edmund was in rebellion against his father, Canute and his army invaded England. Edmund was killed, along with many of his supporters, but Godwin survived and pledged his loyalty to Canute. He befriended Canute's brother-in-law, Earl Ulf, and became one of Canute's advisors, accompanying him to Denmark to suppress a rebellion there. By 1019 he was Earl of Wessex. In 1022 he married Thyra Sveinsdóttir, Canute's sister. She died soon afterwards without issue, but Godwin continued to gain prestige and by 1023 he was the most powerful earl in England.

Second Marriage[]

Godwin married a second time to a Danish noblewoman, Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, the granddaughter of the legendary Viking Styrbjörn Starke and great-granddaughter to Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark and thus also ancestor to King Canute. The marriage resulted in the birth of many children:

Height of Power[]

On November 12, 1035, Canute died. His kingdoms were divided among three rival rulers. Harold Harefoot, Canute's illegitimate son with Aelgifu of Northampton, seized the throne of England. Harthacanute, Canute's legitimate son with Emma of Normandy, reigned in Denmark. Norway rebelled under Magnus the Noble. In 1037, Alfred Aetheling, younger son of Emma of Normandy and Ethelred the Unready and half-brother of Harthacanute, attempted to claim the throne of England. Godwin deceived Alfred by pretending to be his ally and then surrendering him to the forces of Harold Harefoot. Alfred was blinded and soon died at Ely.

In 1040, Harold Harefoot died and Godwin supported the accession of his half-brother Harthacanute to the throne of England. When Harthacanute himself died in 1042 Godwin finally supported the claim of his half-brother Edward the Confessor to the throne. Edward was another son of Emma and Ethelred, having spent most of the previous thirty years in Normandy. His reign restored the native royal house of Wessex to the throne of England.

Later Conflicts[]

Despite his alleged responsibility for the death of Edward's brother Alfred, Godwin secured the marriage of his daughter Edith (Eadgyth) to Edward in 1045. As Edward drew advisors, nobles and priests from his former place of refuge in a bid to develop his own power base, Godwin soon became the leader of opposition to growing Norman influence. After a violent clash between the people of Dover and the visiting Eustace II, Count of Boulogne, Edward's new brother-in-law, Godwin was ordered to punish the people of Dover (as he and Leofric, Earl of Mercia had done in Worcester, in Leofric's own earldom). This time, however, Godwin refused, choosing to champion his own countrymen against a (visiting) foreign ruler and his own king. Edward rightly saw this as a test of power, and managed to enlist the support of Siward, Earl of Northumbria and Earl Leofric. Godwin and his sons were exiled from the kingdom in September 1051. However, they returned the following year with an armed force, which gained the support of the navy, burghers, and peasants, so compelling Edward to restore his earldom. This however set a precedent to be followed by a rival earl some years later, and then by Godwin's own son in 1066.


On April 15, 1053 Godwin died suddenly, after collapsing during a royal banquet at Winchester. His son Harold succeeded him as Earl of Wessex, an area then covering roughly the southernmost third of England. With the death of Earl Siward in 1055 and later Earl Aelfgar in 1062, the children of Godwin were poised to assume sole control. Tostig was helped into the earldom of Northumbria, thus controlling the north. The Mercian earl was sidelined, especially after Harold and Tostig broke the Welsh-Mercian alliance in 1063. Harold later succeeded Edward the Confessor and became King of England in his own right. At this point, both Harold's remaining brothers in England were earls in their own right, Harold was himself king and in control of Wessex, and he had married the sister of Earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria, who had succeeded his brother Tostig. Godwin's family looked set to inaugurate a new royal dynasty.