GODWINE (d. 1053), son of Wulfnoth, earl of the West-Saxons, the leading Englishman in the first half of the 11th century. His birth and origin are utterly uncertain; but he rose to power early in Canute’s reign and was an earl in 1018. He received in marriage Gytha, a connexion of the king’s, and in 1020 became earl of the West-Saxons. On the death of Canute in 1035 he joined with Queen Emma in supporting the claim of Hardicanute, the son of Canute and Emma, to the crown of his father, in opposition to Leofric and the northern party who supported Harold Harefoot (see Hardicanute). While together they held Wessex for Hardicanute, the ætheling Ælfred, son of Emma by her former husband Æthelred II., landed in England in the hope of winning back his father’s crown; but falling into the hands of Godwine, he and his followers were cruelly done to death. On the death of Hardicanute in 1042 Godwine was foremost in promoting the election of Edward (the Confessor) to the vacant throne. He was now the first man in the kingdom, though his power was still balanced by that of the other great earls, Leofric of Mercia and Siward of Northumberland. His sons Sweyn and Harold were promoted to earldoms; and his daughter Eadgyth was married to the king (1045). His policy was strongly national in opposition to the marked Normanizing tendencies of the king. Between him and Edward’s foreign favourites, particularly Robert of Jumièges, there was deadly feud. The appointment of Robert to the archbishopric of Canterbury in 1051 marks the decline of Godwine’s power; and in the same year a series of outrages committed by one of the king’s foreign favourites led to a breach between the king and the earl, which culminated in the exile of the latter with all his family (see Edward the Confessor). But next year Godwine returned in triumph; and at a great meeting held outside London he and his family were restored to all their offices and possessions, and the archbishop and many other Normans were banished. In the following year Godwine was smitten with a fit at the king’s table, and died three days later on the 15th of April 1053.
Godwine appears to have had seven sons, three of whom—King Harold, Gyrth and Leofwine—were killed at Hastings; two others, Wulfnoth and Ælfgar, are of little importance; another was Earl Tostig (q.v.). The eldest son was Sweyn, or Swegen (d. 1052), who was outlawed for seducing Eadgifu abbess of Leominster. After fighting for the king of Denmark he returned to England in 1049, when his murder of his cousin Beorn compelled him to leave England for the second time. In 1050, however, he regained his earldom, and in 1051 he shared his father’s exile. To atone for the murder of Beorn, Sweyn went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and on the return journey he died on the 29th of September 1052, meeting his death, according to one account, at the hands of the Saracens.