Harold Godwinson’s women

aeflgyvva.jpgIn 1064, so yes slightly before the start date of my self imposed chronological constraint, Earl Harold Godwinson ended up on the wrong side of the Channel.  The Malmesbury Chronicle says that he went on a fishing trip and got blown off course due to bad weather whilst the Bayeux Tapestry depicts Harold arriving to retrieve various relations who had been held hostage for several years.  Whatever the truth of it Harold swiftly found himself being handed over to Duke William in Rouen and during his time in Normandy even taking part in William’s military campaign in Brittany.

Both the Malmesbury Chronicle and the writer of the Jumieges Chronicle report that Harold agreed to support William’s claim to the English throne at this time but that William offered his eldest daughter Adeliza to Harold as a deal sweetener.  Apparently the girl wasn’t yet old enough to marry the handsome English earl but when she did come of age William offered his daughter together with a handsome dowry. Borman notes that Adeliza would have been about seven-years-old in 1064. Borman continues her story by suggesting that it was William’s wife, Matilda, who brokered the deal and that the woman in the Bayeux Tapestry titled “Aelfgyva” is in fact Adeliza.  The woman in the Bayeux Tapestry is an adult, and of course, Adeliza would not have been married until she reached puberty so it could be that the creators of the tapestry are looking to the future.  Borman (page 81) adds that it is possible that the woman is framed in a ducal doorway on the tapestry and that the priest touching her cheek is actually removing her veil – so a depiction of the betrothal ceremony.  The only problem, apart from the obvious age thing, is that why anglicise Adeliza’s name?  The tapestry is, after all, Norman despite its English crafting.  Borman also makes the very good point that there is a subtext in the tapestry.  There are a couple up to marginal naughtiness in the borders of the tapestry at this point in the story – and it hardly seems to apply to Adeliza.  Borman goes on to suggest that Aelfygvva is actually Harold’s sister who was fetched across to Normandy for a corresponding Norman-English marriage to cement the agreement.

Walker notes that one source suggests a plan to marry Harold’s sister to Duke William – which can’t have been the case as his wife Matilda might have objected.  More plausibly there may have been a projected marriage between Harold’s sister and William’s eldest son Robert. Walker also offers the suggestion that Harold was actually on his way into continental Europe to arrange an advantageous match for his sister when he got blown off course and ended up as a ‘guest’ of William.

Freeman notes that the lady in question could be a courtesan provided for Harold at Rouen or even, and I’m still not quite sure why she’d be in the Bayeux Tapestry a mistress of either Cnut or Harold’s brother Swegn (who happened to also be an abbess- the mistress that is). Freeman presents the argument that the lady in question is none of the above but actually Queen Emma who changed her name to one that tripped off Saxon tongues upon her marriage to Aethelred (the Unready). Emma ultimately married Aethelred’s enemy Cnut having left the children of her first marriage in Normandy (Alfred and Edward – who became the Confessor and despite being Saxon was actually very Norman).  At a later date she was accused of impropriety with the Bishop of Winchester – not to mention the blinding and eventual death of her own son Alfred at Ely.  Freeman argues that not only did Emma have a Norman link but demonstrated the chaos of pre-conquest England in the minds of the Normans as well as the perfidy of the Godwinson clan – Emma having been linked in her policies to Harold’s father (the treacherous Earl Godwin.) Double click on the image to open a new page and a post on the Medievalists.net published in 2012 with more detail about who the mysterious Aelfgyvva might be and why.

 

Now that’s what you call an aside!

The Malmesbury Chronicle, to go back to the original point of the post, says that William’s daughter died before she could be married to Harold and this added to Harold’s justification for breaking his oath to support William.

There’s also the small matter that Harold was some forty years older than his intended bride and possibly already had a wife in the form of  Edith Swanneck.  History always seems a bit vague about what to call this particular Edith.  Some texts refer to her as Harold’s mistress, others as his common law wife.  It appears that the couple were hand fasted in the Norse  not-entirely-Christian-somewhat frowned upon by the Church-tradition.  Harold had several children with Edith Swanneck and they were not regarded as illegitimate at the time but then when Harold made his claim to the throne it was deemed sensible that he should make a more acceptable marriage to the widow of his enemy Llewelyn – Edith of Mercia to strengthen his position.  It was Edith Swan neck who, according to legend,  went in search of Harold’s body in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings.

History is a bit vague about when Harold married Edith of Mercia but they were certainly married by the time he became king in 1066.  In the aftermath of Hastings, history’s last sight of Edith is heading in the direction of Chester in the company of her brothers.

Borman, Tracy (2011 ) Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror.  London: Jonathan Cape

Freeman, Eric ( 1991)  Annales de Normandie. The Identity of Aelfgyva in the Bayeux Tapestry  Volume 41  number 2 pp. 117-134 http://www.persee.fr/doc/annor_0003-4134_1991_num_41_2_1886#annor_0003-4134_1991_num_41_2_T1_0119_0000 (accessed 13th June 2016 23:35)

Walker Ian W. (2010) Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King Stroud: Sutton Publishing

 

2 Comments

Filed under Eleventh Century, Norman Conquest

2 responses to “Harold Godwinson’s women

  1. I would totally bingewatch that series.

  2. Sir Kevin Parr Bt

    Great read and so understandable we can not now say what really happened beyond the bare facts. I stood alongside the tapestry in the room made for it to be fully displayed in near the graves of King Henry 11 and his sons Geoffrey and Richard Lionheart. It was for these relatives I had made my journey to see. The tapestry came second but all explained in five languages suggests the veil lifting but of Harolds sister. An Earl would hardly be fishing in the English channel as pirates haunted that passage.He went in a Royal party of many ships no doubt to find a husband of power from his sister seems to me the only remaining story. His grave, found in my life time, was thrilling news but not enough coverage was made available other than his head was bashed in by a broad sword, as we suspected be the case.

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