Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 66


When King Magnus of Norway and Denmark died in 1045, he declared that his uncle Harald Hardrada should rule Sweden and Sweyn II should reign over Denmark. The two men had been allied in war against him, but on his deathbed with no better heirs he appointed them to stop the bloodshed. However they simply started fighting each other, as Harald went to war with Sweyn over Denmark. If you recall, Magnus and King Harthacnut of England had not so long ago signed a treaty over Denmark and Norway, before Magnus controlled both, that made each the other’s heir. Harald Hardrada wanted to recreate Cnut’s North Sea empire for himself, and he wanted the old treaty to mean that he had a claim to the English throne Harthacnut had once sat upon. Denmark was not his only goal. 

In either 1053 or 1057, Edward the Confessor learned about the existence of his relative Edward the Exile or Edward Ætheling (“crown worthy”). This other Edward was a surviving son of Edmund Ironside and had a stronger claim to the throne than the Confessor himself. King Edward invited his distant nephew back to England along with his Hungarian wife and young son Edmund, presumably to make the younger Edward his heir. Unfortunately Edward the Exile died almost immediately after arriving. The numerous natural early deaths (age 50 or younger) in the Wessex family line have caused historians to speculate on the possibility they carried one or more congenital disease. 

Meanwhile, William the Bastard Duke of Normandy had very good reason to think he was Edward’s presumed heir. During the English king’s falling out with his Godwin in-laws, the Norman Duke had held a Godwin son and grandson as civilized hostages to ensure no further misdeeds. William claimed that the childless Edward promised to make him, his cousin once removed on his mother’s side, the heir to the English throne. Some people immediately objected on the grounds of Williams low birth: his father was a duke and he’d inherited, but his mother had been a loose woman, an unmarried mother, a bastard maker. 

Construction on the cathedral King Edward commissioned was nearly complete on the December, 1065 day he walked through Northumbria with Queen Edith, Tostig, Harold Godwinson, and their retinue. Rebels rose up against them and Tostig cut down 200 men. He accused Harold of conspiring with the rebels, and of undermining his and Edith’s rule as earls. But no one would stand for Tostig and the king was forced to expel his favorite. He never recovered from the experience, becoming too ill to attend the opening ceremony of Westminster Abbey. He slipped into a coma, and regained consciousness only long enough to entrust England’s “protection” to Harold and Edith. This was a maddeningly vague word, not a helpfully precise word like “crown” or “throne” or “reign”. 

King Edward the Confessor died January 5, 1066 with no known heir. While the succession issue was usually resolved through primogeniture, inheritance by the oldest son, in truth English law did not say that it was an inherited power. Nor did it say the king could promise it away, to Normans or brothers in-law or by treaty. By law, the position of king was elected by the witengamot of clerics and secular leaders, all men. That body chose Harold Godwinson over the boy Edmund Ætheling and with that, the Earl’s legacy exceeded him. All the nobility were already gathered for the Christian Feast of Epiphany celebrated on January 6th, so the coronation of Harold II was held during that ceremony the very next day. 

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Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 65

The exiled Earl Godwin returned to England in 1052 with a show of force. He had enough supporters the King’s ministers feared civil war and an incensed Edward was forced to relent. The Godwins were restored to their former positions of Queen and Earls, all but Sweyn Godwinson who had died on the return voyage from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. For all that the Godwins feared Norman influence, the Godwin influence in Edward’s court cannot be overstated. On Easter Sunday 1053, Earl Godwin died, and the Wessex earldom passed on to Harold Godwinson. At that time none of his brothers were titled, and Sewyn’s old lands had been given to Edward’s nephew Ralph. 

However, between 1055 and 1057 a series of successions would take the Godwinsons from controlling a single earldom to suboirdinately ruling nearly all of England. In 1055 Siward, Earl of Northumbria died. His own son was too young to rule the earldom, so he left it to Tostig Godwinson. Tostig was Queen Edith’s favorite of her brothers, and he made her his co-Earl of Northumbria for the next decade. Unfortunately, like most early women rulers, she was unpopular with her people despite being beloved in her role as queen. Sexism is a huge mountain to conquer and probably harder a millennium ago. 

In 1053 King Edward received the head of the Welsh prince Rhys ap Rhydderch, which he’d put a bounty on. Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, son of the famous Lady Godiva, declared himself King of all Wales and all the Welsh princes. An Englishman named Ælfgar, who was son of the Earl of Mercia and the Earl of East Anglia himself, had been exiled for treason and in 1055 he allied himself with Gruffydd. On October 24th they invaded England at Herefordshire, setting the town ablaze and killing many villagers. 

The Earl of Herefordshire, Ralph the Timid, King Edward’s nephew was slain, as was Ælfgar’s father, the Earl of Mercia. King Edward resolved the conflict with diplomacy. Ælfgar inherited his father’s earldom of Mercia, but his old district of East Anglia passed to Gyrth Godwinson. The youngest Godwinson brother Leofwine was given a new earldom carved out of Harold’s large Wessex district, and Harold was given Ralph’s territory which had once been Sewyn’s as compensation. By 1057 the Godwin family held all of England except The earldom of Mercia and the throne. 

Meanwhile in Scotland that year on August 15th, Malcolm (who may or may not have spent his childhood sheltered in Edward’s court) killed Macbeth. Macbeth was briefly succeeded by his stepson Lulach, but Malcolm slew him as well “by treachery” on September 23rd. He was crowned King Malcolm III. After the Norman conquest of England he would marry one of the last Anglo-Saxon princesses, Margaret daughter of King Edward and Queen Edith. She would become St. Margaret of Scotland. They gave their children English names, laying a not so subtle stake to the English throne. Malcolm and Margaret were ancestors of Mary Queen of Scots and James VI of Scotland and I of England, who put their bloodline back on the English throne at last in 1603.

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today,part 64 

Edward the Confessor was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. He restored the House of Wessex to the throne after — years under the rule of his stepfather Cnut, his stepbrother Harald Harefoot, and his half-brother Harthacnut. His moniker of “Confessor” says he was a saintly man, but not one who was martyred (like his uncle of the same name). Edward was crowned at the cathedral at Winchester on April 3rd 1043 by Archbishop Eadsige. He married Eadgyth (Edith) of Wessex, the daughter of Earl Godwin on January 23rd, 1045. This marriage was going to be a partnership. They declared so in statements made at the wedding and in the then-new act of crowning the queen as well as the king. 

In 1040 Duncan I of Alba had died while trying to invade the lands of Macbeth, Moray. The Scottish king is real though the Shakespearean plays were based on popular novels, and have little to do with history. Duncan’s children were sent away for safety. There’s some dispute over where they went, but a one theory is that the eldest son Malcolm spent some boyhood years protected in the court of Edward the Confessor. Sweyn Godwinson became the Earl of Herefordshire near the Welsh border in 1043, but quickly fell out of the King’s favor. He absconded with the Abbess of Leominster in 1047, with a plan to marry her and acquire the abbey property for himself. 

He was exiled of course. In the intervening period, younger brother Harold and Danish cousin Beorn had both inherited earldoms as well. The Godwin family now subordinately controlled the south of England. Sewyn’s young relatives, who’d been given his lands, did not support his 1048 bid to be reinstated. That year he had his cousin Beorn murdered in retaliation and was again exiled from England. Beorn’s older brother Sewyn II of Denmark”submitted himself to Edward as a son” in hopes Edward would help him in his North Sea fight against Magnus, but Edward declined. Fortunately for them, Magnus died in October 1047. 

Yet Earl Godwin’s influence as the second most powerful man in the country was so great, he had his firstborn restored despite the King’s wishes. Perhaps this was why Edward refused to elevate  Godwin’s choice of Archbishop in 1051, another relative, and instead appointed Jumièges. The new Archbishop accused the Earl of Wessex of illegally holding episcopal properties. Then in September of that year Edward’s sister Godgifu visited England with her second husband, Eustace of Boulogne. His men got into a kerfuffle with some locals. Edward tasked his earl with punishing the local burgesses, but Godwin refused to do so. He felt Normans and foreigners held too much influence at Edward’s court. 

It was too much obstinacy. Godwin was charged with plotting to kill the king just as he’d killed the king’s brother Ælfred years ago. Edward remarked all would be forgiven if Godwin could return Ælfred to him unharmed. Godwin fled with his family in late 1051, some to Flanders and some to Ireland. Undoubtedly he was remembering the vengeance Edward had repaid on Harthacnut’s corpse for their sin. At this point the marriage between Edward and Edith was damaged, possibly forever. Edward repudiated childless Edith, daughter of his enemy, and sent her away to a nunnery. 

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 63 

On November 12th, 1035 King Cnut of England, Denmark, and Norway died. Norway went into rebellion under Magnus the Good, the bastard son of Olaf II, Norway’s king before Cnut had dethroned him in 1028. Harthacnut was crowned King Canute III of Denmark, but with tensions in the North Sea as they were, he couldn’t go to England to retrieve that crown. He’d taken in his half brother Svein Knutsson and Svein’s mother Ælfgifu after they were deposed in Norway, and agreed to help retake the country. Svein died before ships could launch. Harthacnut’s navy was mighty. In 1036, 1038, or 1039 (?), the two evenly matched men reached a truce by declaring each the other’s heir if neither had a son before their deaths. Until then Harthacnut could keep Denmark and Norway belonged to Magnus. 

In 1035 Harald Harefoot tried to claim English crown for himself but Æthelnoth, the Archbishop of Canterbury, refused to coronate him, a legal requirement for becoming king. Further Æthelnoth forbid all other British clergy from doing so. However, the wizengamot elected to make Harald regent in his half-brother’s absence, ruling all of England save Wessex – that earldom would be under Queen Emma’s regency. The Queen Mother Emma was whisked away from London by the Earl of Wessex kept protected, or imprisoned, on his properties, surrounded by his retinue of disciplined huscarls (bodyguards). A letter was sent to Emma’s sons with Æthelred, Edward and Ælfred, accusing Earl Godwin of sexual advances and begging for their protection. Historians disagree on whether this letter was written by Emma or Harold I, as both were figures highly involved in political intrigue with stakes in bringing the young men to England.

Earl Godwin met Ælfred and his Norse bodyguards in late December, as they came from Sussex towards London. He pretended to come in friendship, and led them into an ambush. Ælfred’s eyes were put out, making him legally unsuitable for the duties of a Medieval king. Godwin had him taken to a monastery to have his wounds tended to by monks, but he died of the injuries regardless  after what was probably an agonizing six or seven weeks. Ælfred passed on February 5th, 1036. In 1037, with Harthacnut still absent in Denmark, Harald Harefoot pressed the wizengamot to recognize him as king. They relented. He was crowned King Harold I and died two years and sixteen weeks later on March 17th, 1040. 

Harthacnut was preparing an invasion force to claim his English birthright (which suggests 1039 as the treaty date with Magnus) and arrived shortly after Harold’s death in June 1040. He came with a fleet of 62 warships, taking no chances he’d be overpowered. King Harthacnut was coronated, but he was never beloved. He had grown up in a foreign land and felt to many like a foreign king. He also rose taxes in 1041 significantly to pay for his foreign shiproansgnusgnus g gnus sent a few letters announcing his intention to interpret their heir-swap treaty as if it had always included the throne of England, should Harthacnut die first first. He did. Harthacnut passed young (age 24) and suddenly at a wedding, midway through a toast to the bride and groom’s health. Poison and stroke are the popular theories among historians. 

Whether he anticipated his early demise or simply missed the company of the older half-brother he was raised isn’t recorded fact. Harthacnut invited Edward, his brother by their mother Emma, son of Æthelred, back to court in 1041 as a co-King and named him heir of England, publicly and with much fanfare. The nobles celebrated the choice, all except perhaps the most powerful earl in the country, Earl Godwin. He supported Edward’s ascension but must have known Edward held him responsible for his full brother Ælfred’s death by blinding. Once he became King, one of Edward the Confessor’s first acts was to dig up the royal remains of Harold I and desecrate them. He beheaded the corpse and had it thrown in the sewer, then dredged back up again only to be tossed into the River Thames. Some fishermen supporters of the old king retrieved his body and took it to a secret church field for final peace. 

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 62

King Cnut the Great ruled England for about twenty years. One of his first moves was to marry Queen Emma, daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, in 1017. At that time she took the Viking name Ælfgifu, meaning “elf gift”. Emma was the widow of Æthelred and the mother of Princes Edward and Ælfred and Princess Godgifu. Together Cnut and Emma had a son Harthacnut and a daughter Gunhilda. Cnut eliminated potential threats to his reign, including members of Æthelred’s household and family. Emma’s adult children took refuge at the estate of their uncle, Duke Robert I of Normandy, and lived through their stepfather’s reign. 

The two infant sons of the deceased King Edmund, Edward the Exile and Edmund, had been excluded from inheriting the throne by treaty at the Battle of Assandun. Still in 1016 Cnut had them sent away to his half-brother Olof Skötkonung, King of Sweden to be killed not on English soil. Olof was an old ally of their grandfather, and instead smuggled the princes to the safety of the Hungarian court under King Stephen I. In 1028 Cnut learned of their continued existence and sent assassins after them, so the brothers were forced to move again. Yuroslav the Wise, Grand Prince of Kiev gave them refuge. Records show the brothers lived in Kiev in the 1040s, when their friend and fellow exile Andrew of Hungary decided to make a bid for his country’s throne. They likely fought with him. Edmund married a Hungarian princess and died some time before 1054.

Cnut of course also had two sons with his handfast wife, Ælfgifu of Northampton, Svein Knutsson (also written Sweyn II) and Harald Harefoot. They were also supposed to be kept out of the running for the English crown. Cnut kept them and their mother in Scandinavia. History suggests he was a bigamist, and did not ever repudiate his first wife, a sore point between him and the Church. In 1018 Cnut inherited the Danish crown from his brother and the next year he went to claim it. Even better, he and Emma had a son they named Harthacnut. Seven years later, combined forces from Sweden and Norway attacked Denmark. Cnut sailed over and conquered the invaders. In 1028 he was crowned the King of Norway as well. Cnut the Great became his name.

The Danish-Norman marriage alliance between Cnut and Emma was part of a larger Viking protection benefit having him as king provided. The upside of already being conquered by Vikings was no longer being subjected to Viking raids and wars. In his first years he focused on administration and taxation, to pay off the Viking armies and send them on their way. Over £75,000 were raised and spent. Cnut established a standing navy with 300 ships. He also expanded upon the existing system of grouping multiple shires together under the administration of a single man. But he replaced the post of British ealdorman with the Scandinavian jarl or “earl”. For the first year he only appointed Norse men for the job, but as he got know and trust Englishmen he elevated noble families of Olde England as well. One of the English he trusted so was Godwin, Earl of Wessex, who wed Cnut’s sister-in-law Gytha Thorkelsdóttir in 1023. 

Cnut’s dearest friend was the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II. The two men were close in age, alike in temperament, and shared their Christian faith. Conrad II gifted Cnut with the land bridge connecting the Scandinavian islands with the European continent in 1035, as a token of everlasting friendship between their empires. They arranged for Cnut’s only (historically known) daughter Gunhilda to marry Conrad II’s son and heir Henry III, but she died before the wedding could take place. Cnut appointed his youngest son Harthacnut co-King of Denmark under a regent in 1028, and put Svein and his regent mother in charge of Norway in 1030. Norway was lost to Magnus the Noble in 1035, and Svein and Ælfgifu had to take shelter at the Danish court after. 

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 61

King Sewyn Forkbeard ruled England for only five weeks before dying of natural causes, on February 3rd, 1014. His eldest son Harald II was crowned King of Denmark but the Danish fleet in Britain wanted his younger boy Cnut to be King of England. Meanwhile the English counselors who had submitted to Sewyn a scant month before were now writing to Æthelred, urging him to come back. In their letter the nobles tried to negotiate terms; they would throw their support behind their former, rightful, English king, if he would enact the reforms they desired. An agreement was reached and in 1014 Æthelred came back to England and drove out Cnut with the aid of the soon-to-be King of Norway, Olaf Haraldsson (reigned 1015-1028). 

Cnut’s army withdrew in April, 1014. Back in Denmark he sought out allies. Norway was subject to Danish sovereignty, and was co-ruled by two brothers, Svein and Eirikr. The second brother was an in-law to the Danish royal household and glad to help King Cnut reconquer England. Cnut’s maternal uncle the Duke (and future first King) of Poland, Boleslaw the Brave was also ready help his kinsman. Another ally, the King of Sweden Olof Skötkonung was, according to Icelandic legend, Cnut’s half-brother through their mother Sigrid the Haughty. 

She earned that moniker for refusing Olaf Tryggvason’s marriage proposal which came with a required conversion to Chrianity. In the legend he slapped her face with a glove in anger. She icily told him this would be “the cause of his death”. Then Sigrid set about a decades long mastermind plot of political international intrigue that involved six countries, three births, two husbands, and countless invasions. Historians aren’t certain if she was real or a legend, but her sons were certainly borne by someone so I choose to believe. 

200 Viking longships packed with 10,000 warriors set out for the British Isle in 1015. They landed at Wessex in September and subdued the English there as the year closed. The Ealdorman (literally “elder man”, a magistrate over a group of shires) of Mercia defected to Cnut’s side, and added his 40 ships and their crews to the Viking tally. The fighting was fierce, close, and more constant than anything England had seen in a lifetime. Scandinavian forces took hostages from each conquered territory to ensure it didn’t rebel after they left. They tore up through the island from Wessex and Mercia toward Northumbria. London remained protected behind its sturdy stone walls. 

Æthelred’s son Edmund Ironside led most of the battles against Cnut and his armies. He was getting on in years and died of old age at about 50, on April 23rd, 1016. Edmund was crowned King of England and continued the war against the Vikings. Finally in October of that year, it all came to a head. Edmund had made a break from London’s fortified city walls to amass an army in the royal family’s home seat of Wessex to the South. Cnut split his vast army in two – half to go after King Edmund, and half to besiege London. Cnut won a resounding victory at the Battle of Ashingdon on October 18th and Edmund was sorely wounded. Still Cnut did not try to claim the whole of England for himself during Edmund’s life. Wessex was Edmund’s while Cnut controlled everything else; Edmund would also named Cnut as his heir. November 30th Edmund died, just six weeks later, and Cnut became King of all England once again.

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 60

The English crown stayed with the House of Wessex through a succession of many short reigning kings. Æthelred the Unready came to power at an early and unsteady age. He was no more than 10 when his father King Edgar the Peaceful died in July 975, leaving his bellicose older (suspected bastard) half-brother Edward to inherit the throne. There were many nobles and clergy who preferred a child king under his regent mother Queen Ælfthryth (which means “elf strength” if you want the ultimate hipster old lady name for your baby.) A power struggle ensued between the supporters of the two brothers, Edward and Æthelred, one which probably did not include their direct participation. 

Edward’s backers came out on top and he was crowned in 975. He (or his handler-ministers) began redistributing lands his father had seized from nobles to grant to monasteries and otherwise undoing King Edgar’s monastic reforms. In 978, during an informal visit to his half-brother Prince Æthelred and stepmother the Dowager Queen Ælfthryth, King Edward was stabbed to death by members of their household staff. All historic evidence points to this plot being devised without the knowledge of their young master. Yet 12-year-old Æthelred ascended to the throne, amid a cloud of suspicion that he had ordered his older brother’s death. King Edward became Edward the Martyr, and he became Æthelred the Unready. 

Beginning in 980, Danish ships raided English coastal cities of Cheshire and Hampshire. Cornwall and Devon followed in 981, and Dorset in 982. Sometimes these vessels would rest and take harbor at Normandy in France, just across the English Channel, before making the voyage back to the Norse lands. The Normans were former Vikings themselves, long since settled alongside Catholic France now, and considered the Danes to be a type of long lost cousin. They were happy to offer assistance to the marauders of England. This created enormous tensions between the English and the Normans they were just now coming into contact with, as allies of their enemies the Danes. In 991, Pope John XV intervened to negotiate peace between the two Christian peoples. His original letter was lost, but a copy is preserved in an early 11th century manuscript. 

Æthelred paid tribute to the Danes for peace, called Danegeld or “Dane gold” starting in 991. In 994, a Danish fleet sailed through the Thames estuary towards London. After a stalemate battle, Æthelred signed a peace treaty. The Viking Olaf Tryggvason, who was already Christian, was confirmed in a new ceremony with Æthelred as his sponsor. England paid about £22,000 of silver and gold to the Danish fleet. Some of the Vikings stayed as new mercenaries of King Æthelred. Olaf returned to Norway with a promise never to come back to England in hostility, a promise which he kept. But Olaf wasn’t the only Viking leader, and by 997 England was under Danish attack once again. 

On St. Brice’s Day, November 13th, 1002, Æthelred ordered the murder or execution of every Danish man in the kingdom. One woman who died that bloody day was Gunhilde, sister of the King of Denmark  and Norway Sweyn Forkbeard. He had not shown a prior interest in the British Isle, but after her death made repeated invasions. Avenging her seems the most likely motive for his actions. Swelyn Forkbeard’s first invasion of 1004 at East Anglia was successfully defended against. His second attempt in 1007 was bought off at a price of £36,000. It was his third invasion in the year 1013 that won him the English throne and crown. Æthelred resisted but was forced to flee and seek refuge with his sons Edward and Ælfred in Normandy in exile. Sweyn Forkbeard was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1013. But it wasn’t to last forever.