Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The House of Godwin: Origins, Wulfnoth the Pirate

The Godwins were the most prolificly famous family of the first half of the 11thc. But just who were they? We all know who Harold Godwinson was and to some extent who his father Godwin was. But just where did they spring from? The following is a short introduction to who the father of Godwin was, Wulfnoth, son of an  ealdorman Athlmaer whose lineage can be traced back through the old dynastic line of the Wessex Kings. Yes, Harold was a noble with royal blood. Far more throneworthy than William the Duke of Normandy, who did not have an ounce of Wessex blood in him.

In 1008, King Aethelred ordered that a large fleet of warships from all over the country should be built equating to one from three hundred and ten hides, so 310 ships. Wulfnoth Cild, father of Godwin, was Captain of a fleet that was brought to Sandwich with the rest of the ships from the other parts of England to lie in wait in the defence of this country against the Viking raiders. This time was a great period of intrigue and Eadric Streona was one of the most prominent men at court. He seems to have been a cunning and sly man who took it upon himself to rid the court of any rivals he thought might be in the way of his advancement. Well his brother Beortric might not have been any better for as the Anglo Saxon Chronicle says he accused Wulfnoth of some unknown charges which John of Worcester stated was unjust. These charges, whether unjust or not, may have had something to do with betrayal perhaps and could have been along the lines of Wulfnoth going over to the Danes, though there is no evidence of this, nor is there any evidence that it was Beortric's charge against him. Incensed, Wulfnoth was said to have 'turned away with 20 ships and raided everywhere along the south coast and wrought every kind of harm.'
Beortic chased after him with 80 ships, vowing to get him and bring him back to meet the King's justice but unfortunately for Beortric, his ships were met with a great storm and they were cast ashore only to be burnt by Wulfnoth who meted his own justice out to his enemy.
Hearing of his fleet's misfortune, the King fled back to London and appears to have left the rest of the fleet at Sandwich in confusion as to what they should do. The crews brought the ships back to London and thus the great deterrent against the Danes ended its purpose.
So with the ships gone from Sandwich, the Vikings were able to invade at Harvest time and made their way from Sandwich into Kent and to Canterbury. Wulfnoth was cast out as an outlaw and his property was confiscated.
Later Wulfnoth's father,  an Ealderman called Aethelmaer, defected to the Danish King Swein, most likely followed by his son Wulfnoth. Both of these men died around 1014.


Pat Bracewell said...

Nice summary, Paula. I think you're being a little hard on Aethelmaer, though. Yes, he defected to King Swein in 1013, but by that time, so had everybody else!

paulalofting said...

Sorry Pat, not sure why you think I am being hard on Athelmaer? I was just stating a fact.

Unknown said...

I thought he was Prince Wulfnoth, Son of a King of Anglia or Kent?!