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The Reign of Harold the First, surnamed Harefoot.
Canute, at his death (1), left three sons, Svein, Harold, and Hardicanute. In his life he had placed Svein over Norway (2), and he wished that Harold should rule in England, and Hardicanute in Denmark. At the council which met at Oxford to elect a new sovereign, the opinions were divided. The chiefs of Danish descent and connections chose Harold; the West-Saxons, headed by earl Godwin, preferred his brother Hardicanute, because his mother, Emma, had been the wife of Ethelred, and was a favourite with the Anglo-Saxons. The children of Ethelred who were in Normandy were also remembered; but the Danish dynasty was not yet unpopular, and Harold, by force or influence, obtained a portion of the kingdom, and seized the treasures which Emma possessed from the gift of Canute (3). Harold, at first, reigned at London, and north of the Thames; and Hardicanute in the west of England.
The murder of Alfred, one of the sons of Emma by Ethelred, lies heavy on the memory both of Harold and Godwin (4).
(1) He died at Shaftesbury, the 12th of November, 1034. MS. Tib. B. 1.
(2) Snorre, Saga Olafi Helga, p. 383. Florence calls his mother Northamtunensis Alfgivæ filiæ Alfhelmi Ducis, p. 398. Snorre names her Alfifo dottor Alfrims Jarls.
(3) Flor. Wig. 398. MS. Sax. Chron. Tib. B. 1. It is said of Harold that he was not Canute's son, but a cobbler's. The tale is, that his mother, having given no children to Canute, pretended pregnancy, and introduced first Svein, and afterwards Harold, as her own children. As Snorre does not mention it of Svein, it is probable that in both cases the rumour was the offspring of malignant competition. The auctor of Enc. Em. though he believes it, adduces only the plurimorum assertio for it, which is a better description of a rumour than of a fact. Florence states it as a res in dubio.
(4) I state this from the Encomium Emmæ. The author addresses the account to the mother herself, by whose orders he wrote it. (See his prologue.) He apologises to her for his brevity on Alfred's sufferings, and says, "Possent enim mulla dici si non tuo parceremus dolori,” p. 175. Considering, however, that he wrote to the youth's mother, his detail is sometimes horrible, for he describes part of their progress of operation. Malmsbury says, the deed took place between Harold's death and Hardicanute's election, p. 77.; but this cannot prevail against the contemporary above cited, strengthened as it is as to its occurrence under Harold, by Flor. 399.; Matt. West. 410.; and Hoveden, 438. Two of these make 600 men to have perished. The printed Saxon Chronicle has nothing of it. The MS. Tib. B. 1. gives a long account of it. It thus mentions the fate of the companions: "His geferan he todraf and rume mislice ofsloh, sume hi man with feo sealde, sume hreolice ac wealde, sume hi man bende, sume hi man blende, sume hamelode, sume hættode.” It adds, "Ne wearth dreorliere dæd gedon on thison earde syththan Thene comon."
Harold, though nominated king, could not obtain from the archbishop the regal benediction, because the children of Emma were alive. The archbishop, instead of committing to Harold the crown and sceptre, placed them on the altar, and forbad the bishops to give their benediction.
This conduct produced the effects which might easily have been foreseen. Harold despised the benediction as useless, and contracted a hatred against the Christian religion, and the children of Emma. When others were attending divine service, he called out his hunting dogs, or studied to occupy himself in some contemptuous pursuit. To get the youths, so imprudently set against him, into his power, he forged a letter to them in their mother's name, inveighing against himself, and desiring one to come to her to be counselled as to his conduct. The answer of the princes from Normandy expressed their obedience, and appointed a day and place. At the time so named, Alfred, the youngest, chose his military companions, and sailed. His waiting enemies too eagerly pressed on him when about to land, and he sailed to another part, still unconscious of the deceit. Godwin, now become a courtier to Harold, met him in the garb of friendship, and with the mockery of oaths. The innocent youth followed him to Guildford; there his warlike friends were artfully separated into little bands of ten, twelve, or twenty, to be more conveniently entertained at different houses. A few only remained with the prince. Food and wine were profusely given to all, till they sought the bed of rest; then the agents of Harold furtively took away their arms, and in the morning bound them in chains. Their fate was decided by a bloody decimation; the tenth man only was left unmurdered.
The betrayed Alfred was hurried to the Isle of Ely. Vile judges were appointed over him, who directed his eyes to be taken out. The shocking scene was closed by his death. Emma withdrew to Bruges (1). By Hardicanute's absence in Denmark, Harold obtained all England (2). He died in 1040, and was buried at Westminster.
The Reign of Hardicanute.
This reign demands but few sentences. He had sailed the preceding year from Denmark to his mother, Emma, at Bruges. On Harold's death he was invited to the Eng
(1) Enc. 176. The author's account of Bruges shows it to have been then of commercial importance. Emma's name was also Elfgiva.
(2) Ingulf, 61. Flor. 400. marks 1037 as the year when this occurred. So the MS. Tib. B. 1. and B. 4.
lish crown; and he came with purposes of such degrading revenge, that he even caused the body of Harold to be dug up, decapitated, and thrown first into a marsh, and afterwards into the Thames. A fisherman found and the Danes buried it in a cemetery which they had in London (1). Such actions have so much of the barbarian spirit as to fix a stain of disgrace on those who practise them (2).
Hardicanute oppressed England with impositions which occasioned great misery. Insurrection followed, and military execution at Worcester added a dreadful catastrophe (3).
He projected to punish Godwin for Alfred's murder; but the Dane had a passion which predominated over his fraternal feeling; and the present of a splendid vessel, profusely gilt, and rowed by eighty men in sumptuous apparel and splendid armour, having each on his arm two golden bracelets, weighing sixteen ounces, expiated the crime of Godwin (4). He displaced a bishop for joining in the cruelty, who appealed to the same master-passion, and escaped (5).
It was, however, a laudable trait of fraternal affection in Hardicanute, that he welcomed the arrival of his half-brother Edward in England (6). The son of Ethelred was a more grateful object to the English, that the son of a foreign conqueror. In caressing so kindly a brother so dangerous, Hardicanute displayed a virtue in which an Athelstan was wanting.
His health was frequently assailed by disease (7); but he ended his two years' reign by an act of intemperance, at a nuptial feast at Lambeth a copious draught, as he stood in the mirthful company, occasioned him to fall senseless to the ground. He spake no more. He died in June, and was buried with Canute at Winchester (8).
His death separated the crowns of England and Denmark; and Magnus, the king of Norway, obtained the Danish sceptre.
(1) Flor. 402. Matt. West. 402. The MS. Chron. Tib. B. 1. This MS. contains many paragraphs in this reign not in the printed Chronicle.
(2) Even the age of Hardicanute condemned his cruelty: "Unde in singulorum ore hominum de eo haberi imprecatus ut tantæ crudelitatis non diu abesset animadversio."-Reg. Abb. MS. Cotton Lib. Claudius, C. 9. Malmsbury, p. 76., mentions it with disapprobation.
(3) Flor. Wig. 403. MS. Chron. Tib. B. 1. and B. 4. Matt. West. 413. Malmsb. 76. (4) Flor. Wig. Matt. West. (5) Malmsb. 77.
(6) Malmsb. 76. Flor. Wig. 403. (7) Ob morbos etiam quos frequenter patiebatur. (8) Flor. Wig. 403. Ingulf, 62. MS. Tib. B. his death not in the printed Chronicle.
Guil. Pict. 179.
and B. 4. contain passages on
The Reign of Edward the Confessor.
The Danish line had now become unpopular: the factions, which the administration of Dunstan had at first excited, had ceased, and a new generation had arisen. The nation inclined again to its ancient line, and Edward, the surviving son of Ethelred, and at that time in England, was chosen to be king. While Edward and his brother were friendless exiles, Godwin was their enemy, and even projected their assassination; but became the zealous partisan of Edward, and eagerly assisted to introduce him to the throne, when Canute's issue failed (1). The king was induced to marry Editha, the daughter of Godwin (2); but was neither ardent in his connubial nor filial attentions. At no long period after his coronation, he went, with three earls, suddenly to his mother, and spoiled her of all the property which she possessed (3).
Edward was at first menaced with the competition of Magnus, the king of Norway, who had subdued Denmark into obedience. Magnus sent letters to Edward (4), claiming the crown, and Edward assembled a great fleet at Sandwich to dispute his landing (5). Embarrassed by a rival for his Danish sceptre, in Svein, the son of Ulfr, Magnus resolved not to risk the enterprise (6).
Svein requested the aid of Edward against Magnus; and Godwin, whose first patron had been Svein's father, urged that fifty
(1) Ingulf, 62. Malmsbury states at length a sort of bargain which Godwin made with Edward, before he supported him, 80.
(2) Ingulf knew her, and describes her as very beautiful, meek, modest, faithful, virtuous, and the enemy of no one. She had none of the barbarism of her father and brothers. She was even literis apprime erudita, a lady of learning. He adds, "I have very often seen her, when only a boy. I visited my father in the royal court. Often as I came from school she questioned me on letters and my verse; and, willingly passing from grammar to logic, she caught me in the subtle nets of argument. I had always three or four pieces of money counted by her maiden, and was sent to the royal larder for refreshment," p. 62. But even this fair rose, as the chroniclers call her, was stained with blood. See further.
(3) Flor. 404. Sax. Chron. 157. In the Appendix to the Saxon Dictionary, a fragment of a Saxon chronicle is quoted, E. Cod. MS. G. Lambardi exarata in Bib. Ecc. Chr. Canterb. The fragment begins with Edward's reign. It is not the same with the printed one, nor with the two MSS. in the Cotton Library. I shall quote it as Lamb. MS.
(4) As the successor of Hardicanute. Snorre, Magnesi Goda, c. 38, 39. (5) Lamb. MS. Sax. Chron. at Cambridge.
(6) "I think it," he declared, "right and most convenient that I should let Edward enjoy his crown, and content myself with the kingdoms which God has given me." Snorre, p. 52.
ships should be sent to him. But as Magnus was known to be well skilled in maritime affairs, the earl Leofric and the rest of the council opposed it as unadvisable (1). Magnus soon drove out Svein from Denmark, but died much lamented the same year (2). Svein then obtained the Danish crown; and Harald Hardrada, who afterwards perished in his invasion of England, the son of Syguard Syr, and by his mother the brother of St. Olave, succeeded in Norway (3). Harald is highly extolled for his wisdom (4). He sent letters of friendship to Edward, whose amicable answer established peace between their kingdoms. Thus passed over the disturbing question between England and the Baltic states. Edward and his council wisely suffered the hostility to die quietly away. Hence Svein's second application for assistance against Harald, though again supported by Godwin, was negatived by the good sense of Leofric and the community (5).
The character of Edward was amiable for its gentleness and kindness, and laudable for its piety; but it did not unite strength of mind with these interesting qualities. There is a simplicity in his exclamation to the low peasant who had displeased him, "I would hurt you if I were able," which almost implies imbecility. Men of rank and power, however inferior in understanding, know sufficiently their means of aggression against those of meaner condition who offend them. That Edward, when angry enough to desire to punish, should suppose that, although king, he had not the power, displays an ignorance of his authority, that is not reconcileable with his intellect. But as he reigned with more virtue, so he had better fortune than his father. His mild and equitable government was so popular, that a festival is said to have been annually celebrated in England, to express the national joy at the deliverance from the Danish kings (6). His provinces were under the administration of men of talents appointed by his predecessors (7). The unanimity of the country gave effect to their measures. England again became respected abroad, and no foreign power attempted to disturb its tranquillity.
But a new cause of internal discussion and contest, and ultimately of a great revolution, was silently rising up from preceding events. The marriage of Ethelred to a princess of Normandy;
(1) Flor: 406, 407. Lamb. MSS.
(2) Lamb. MSS. Snorre says, that he dreamt that his father appeared to him, saying, "Choose, my son, whether you will become my companion immediately, or live long the most powerful of kings, but by the commission of a crime which can never be expiated." The choice of Magnus was perplexed, but he decided with discreet virtue. "Father! do you choose for me."-"Be with me," was the answer of the vision. Snorre adds, that he awoke, told his dream, and afterwards died. Har. Hard. c. 28.
(3) Snorre, c. 30, 31. Flor. 407.
(4) Snorre, c. 36.
(6) Spelman, Gloss. Voc. Hocday.
(5) Flor. 407.
(7) Malmsb. 79.