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Sweyn Godwineson

Sweyn Godwineson (d.1052). The eldest son of Earl Godwine, Sweyn was awarded an earl's title in 1043 but a wild streak in his nature led to personal disaster. In 1046 he seduced the abbess of Leominster, fled to Denmark, and on his forced return to England, apparently for some unspecified crime committed in Denmark, became responsible for the murder of his own cousin, Earl Beorn, at Bosham. This further crime was regarded as especially heinous. Beorn had been interceding with King Edward on Sweyn's behalf. By special procedures more Scandinavian than English, Sweyn was adjudged ‘nithing’ in an assembly of the whole army, that is to say ‘a man without honour’. He was outlawed and took refuge in Flanders. The influence of his father and the support of Bishop Ealdred enabled him to return and he was appointed to an earldom which involved extensive jurisdiction in the western shires. His new powers did not last long, and he went into exile again in the autumn of 1051, this time with the rest of the Godwine family. He died on his way back from a penitential pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and so did not live to enjoy the rewards reaped by his brothers on their successful return to England in 1052.

Henry Loyn

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