The Scandalous Life and Death of Swein Godwinson, Harold’s elder brother

Swein Godwinson, the eldest son of Earl Godwin and Harold’s elder brother, led a tumultuous life. According to the man himself, he was the son, not of Earl Godwin but of King Cnut. However, his mother denied the claim vehemently. In 1046, Swein abducted Eadgifu, the abbess of Leominster, intending to marry her and claim the Leominster estates. When the king refused to agree to the marriage, Swein released Eadgifu, who returned to Leominster. But her abbey was disbanded, which suggests Eadgifu may not have been an entirely unwilling abductee. Swein fled to Flanders. In 1049, Swein returned, hoping to reclaim his territories, which had been split between Harold and a cousin, Beorn. Beorn eventually agreed to help Swein, but Swein ended up abducting Beorn too. The end for his cousin was worse than for the abbess: Swein murdered him. As a result, Swein was outlawed again. However, Earl Godwin engineered his forgiveness, but when the Godwins were exiled in 1051, Swein left the rest of the family to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and atone for his sins – these being so heinous that he went barefoot. But Swein, purged of his sin, died on the way back before he could sin again.


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