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Swegen Godwinson (c. 1023 - 1052) was the eldest son of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, and brother of Harold II of England.

Early life[]

Swegen was born about 1023, and was made Earl of Hereford about 1043. He signed his first Royal Charter in 1044. For a time, Swegen thought himself to be a son of King Canute, and that this was only settled when his mother brought forth witnesses to his parentage. It was supposed that he had been named after his alleged grandfather, Canute's father, Sweyn, although there was little evidence supporting this.

Campaign and Banishment[]

From the start, Swegen sought peace with Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the King of Gwynedd in northern Wales. This allowed the King of Gwynedd to gain the upper hand on Gruffydd ap Rhydderch, King of Deheubarth and his main Welsh rival. Swegen supported the King of Gwynedd with more than words of alliance; in 1046, he joined in on an invasion of Deheubarth.

It was on his return from this campaign that Swegen committed his first fatal crime: deeply in love, he abducted Eadgifu, the Abbess of Leominster and kept her in his care for a year. Finally he was persuaded to give her up, and was exiled in 1046 0r 1047 after the intervention of Bishop Lyfing and Bishop Edsige. They had two sons, Magnus and Hakon. Hakon was later kidnapped by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert of Jumieges along with Wulfnoth Godwinson, prompting Harold Godwinson's ill-fated ransom journey to Normandy.

During his exile he travelled first to Flanders, then to Denmark before returning to England in 1049 to beg for forgiveness. He appears to have been expelled from Denmark for an unspecified offence. His brother Harold and cousin Beorn first opposed Swegen's return, but Beorn eventually agreed to support him. While accompanying his cousin to meet the King, Swegen had Beorn murdered and was again exiled, condemned as a niðing, a man of no honour.

Pardoned & Restored[]

Swegen was pardoned, despite his crimes, the following year, and restored to his office. Some say it was his father Earl Godwin who pleaded his case to the King, others that is was Aldred, or Ealdred, Bishop of Worcester who had met him in Flanders returning from his pilgrimage. In any case, his last stay in England would not be long, for in 1051, Earl Godwin and all his sons were exiled from England following a dispute with the King. Swegen received the sternest judgement of them all, exiling him for life. Again, he flew to Flanders, this time never to return.


Driven by remorse for his sins, he undertook a barefoot pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It was on his return from there he was killed, although the sources differ on where. His exile and eventual death left Harold as the heir apparent of the Godwinson family.