Why were the crises of 1051 and 1052 significant?

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History Essay

Aaron Culhane

Why were the crises of 1051 and 1052 significant?

It is without doubt that the crises of 1051-52 played a significant role in Britain’s history. The crises not only led to the contradicting and confusing saga over the successor to Edward’s throne but also to the ongoing powerful reign of the Godwin Family in the country’s history for a generation. There were four main factors in which to argue whether the crises were in fact significant. Theses were the constant feuds with Edward and Godwin which both humour and confuse historians even today, the opinion that the King was really only king in name and did not have any real authority over the country, the sudden explosion of Godwins’ into the key positions in England and of course the matter of who was entitled to King Edward’s throne.

The crises of 1051 and 1052 can be probably put down to two main characters, whom held very important positions in how the country was run. King Edward and Godwin had an ongoing feud since the day they first came into contact with each other. Ever since, they were constantly snapping at each other’s heels and basically trying to win minuscule battles over the other one. The crises were very significant in that they inevitably brought the relentless vendetta to a head. The key factor in this argument was the death of Edward’s brother Alfred in 1036. Alfred, whilst on a conquest with Edward, was captured and handed over to his death by Godwin as an offering to Cnut. This sparked outrage between the two from then on. As McLynn puts it, “Edward still blamed Godwin for Alfred’s death and hated him for it.” So already we can build up a picture of an almost very weary and cautious relationship, constantly wondering if Edward is ever going to seek his revenge. In response Godwin did what he probably did best and passed the blame onto HarthaCnut. Godwin, like Edward, was very much a family man. He tried desperately to get his family in major roles in the running of the country. But it was more then likely this fault of caring too much for his family that caused another row between the two. Godwin’s eldest, Swein, to put it in a nutshell, was bizarre. Swein was made an exile from the country by Edward for raping a nun and holding her hostage. Godwin tried for many a year to have his son returned and forgiven. However McLynn quotes Edward only had one opinion on the matter and that was that he “He cordially loathed Swein.” Swein and Godwin together tried every trick in the book to have him returned to England but Edward refused. Not for the first time this then led to another dispute. The constant feud was developing but it was missing an instigator for the argument to escalate beyond no return. This character was introduced when Robert of Jumieges stepped onto the scene. Edward was trying desperately to put as many of his past Norman friends into the key roles in England. When the Archbishop of Canterbury role became vacant Edward took it upon himself to bring Robert of Jumieges into the Limelight. Robert of Jumieges becoming archbishop of Canterbury was obviously an unpopular choice. Robert of Jumieges a convinced enemy of Godwin, took the view that his elevation allowed him total freedom of speech and at once denounced Godwin as having stolen church lands at Canterbury. When Godwin tried to swallow the insult, possibly from a total royal pardon for Swein, Jumieges took his restraint as weakness and added the malicious slander that Godwin would do with Edward what he had previously done with Alfred. Godwin was outraged by this and was furious that this man was so high up in the religious pecking order. When Robert failed to gain these lands back he responded with a whispering campaign with King Edward, reminding him of Godwins involvement of the death of his brother. This accusation was a particularly sensitive issue with both Edward and Godwin, one, which had never really been resolved. The next key event in the Chapter of Edward’s and Godwin’s feuds was the arrival of Eustace of Bologne at Dover in 1051. There are two theories as to why there was so much havoc and trouble between Eustace of Bologne’s men and the locals at Dover. The first being that Eustace came dressed in armour with his men almost prepared for a fight. Supposedly he outraged locals with his bad temperament and disgraceful drunken behaviour. When Eustace’s men begun rampaging through the town, demanding food and lodging at sword point the citizens hit back. The other theory is that Godwin had become tired of Edward and Robert of Jumieges pathetic squabbling and decided to get some pay back. He apparently warned the locals of Dover of Eustace’s arrival and told them to give him and his men a slightly rougher than usual welcoming and not offer any food or accommodation. Either way they both resulted in the same outcome. When one of the locals struck back killing one of Eustace’s men Eustace then ordered his knights to charge; they cut down men and women with their swords and trampled children and babies to death under their horses’ hoofs. The locals then retaliated with a large heavily armed posse, which expelled the intruders. However both sides took heavy casualties. 19 of Eustace’s men were killed whilst 20 Dover men were slaughtered and an unknown number of women and children. Eustace then stormed back to Gloucester to report the grievous insult to the Kings guests and blamed Godwin for the whole affair. Eustace demanded for the loss of his men that Godwin must punish the town of his own thegns and kinsmen. Unsurprisingly Godwin refused and they went to trial. Robert of Jumieges had a great time in stirring matters up even worse than what they already were. So both sides began to mobilise their troops for a big showdown.

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Edward managed to force Godwin out and to flee not because he had great war tactics or large forces but purely because he had the support of the two earls Leofric and Siward. In 1052 Godwin and his family return ready for action. The two sides arm up again. This time, however Edward does not have the support of the earls and has to accept the Godwin’s terms. Godwin now has all his lands restored under his name and Edward’s reign had ended apart from his title. The main authority and power were now in the hands of Godwin. As ...

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