Delighted to host Mercedes Rochelle today with the fabulous LAST GREAT SAXON EARLS SERIES:
THE SONS OF GODWINE
They showed so much promise. What happened to the Godwines? How did they lose their grip? Who was this Godwine anyway, first Earl of Wessex and known as the Kingmaker? Was he an unscrupulous schemer, using King and Witan to gain power? Or was he the greatest of all Saxon Earls, protector of the English against the hated Normans? The answer depends on who you ask.
He was befriended by the Danes, raised up by Canute the Great, given an Earldom and a wife from the highest Danish ranks. He sired nine children, among them four Earls, a Queen and a future King. Along with his power came a struggle to keep his enemies at bay, and Godwine’s best efforts were brought down by the misdeeds of his eldest son Swegn.
Although he became father-in-law to a reluctant Edward the Confessor, his fortunes dwindled as the Normans gained prominence at court. Driven into exile, Godwine regathered his forces and came back even stronger, only to discover that his second son Harold was destined to surpass him in renown and glory.
EXCERPT: Conflict between Swegn Godwineson and his cousin Beorn
Swegn did not know where his father was, but he felt that only Godwine could help his cause now. He headed toward Dover first, thinking that was a good starting point. But he missed Godwine by half a day. His father had embarked with a small fleet and was sailing to Pevensey, which had been attacked by raiders.
Swegn rode hard on his trail. Arriving at Pevensey, he saw that Godwine was still present. There was no time to waste; Swegn leaped from his horse and ran to the great hall.
But he was too late. Beorn had already preceded him.
Swegn froze at the door, discovering Godwine in earnest conversation with his cousin. Despite himself, Swegn was overcome with that familiar surge of jealous rage, threatening to impair his badly needed judgment. Hoping for a happy reunion, he was greeted instead with a strained expression and a guarded smile.
“You are always welcome, son,” Godwine said, standing. “I hope you come in peace.”
“Father,” Swegn faltered, then glared at Beorn. “Will you leave us alone?”
“I think not,” Beorn retorted.
Godwine said nothing.
“Father, my brother and cousin seek to keep me from my earldom. Why do they need my lands, when they have their own?”
Godwine’s expression softened. “Swegn…”
“As I was making my peace with Edward, they came charging in and refused to cooperate. They turned him against me by their selfish bickering.”
Godwine swung on Beorn. “You did not tell me that. Is it true?”
“Partly. It would have happened anyway, in time.”
“How do you know that?” Swegn snarled.
“Because I know what kind of man you are.”
“Stop, both of you!” Godwine shook his head. “We are supposed to stick together. If our family is divided, our enemies will tear us to pieces.”
Shamed, the others stopped.
“And you, Swegn. Are you so selfish you didn’t take thought to ask about your son?”
Swegn’s eyes widened. “My son?”
“Yes, for all you care. He is at Winchester with Gytha.”
“What is his name?”
“Back at Leominster. They are no longer an Abbey, thanks to you, but the sisters continue to care for the poor.”
Swegn turned away to hide his feelings. Godwine swung on Beorn. “I am ashamed of you, and Harold, too. You should never have humiliated Swegn before the king. You have ruined all I worked for, these many months. I must start over again.
“What were you thinking of? Only your greed? If that’s what was so important to you, I could have given you compensation out of my own earldom.”
Beorn sighed. “Perhaps I can return to Edward, and change my position.” Swegn’s shoulders stiffened.
Godwine stared at Beorn, his eyes narrowing. “Do you mean that?”
“Yes, uncle. I would never willingly defy you.”
Swegn turned, incredulous. “What about Harold?”
Godwine said, “He has already taken some of the ships and headed west, after the raiders. But I think I can talk him into agreeing, as well.”
Swegn looked at Beorn. “You would do this for me?”
“I do it for your father.”
Satisfied, Godwine did not see the hate flow between the two.
Rather than return directly to the king at Sandwich, Swegn convinced Beorn that it was better to return overland to his ships. “Some of my crew are mercenaries,” he said. “I dare not leave them so long without a leader, or they may turn into pirates, in truth.”
Beorn looked him up and down. “It is in the opposite direction.”
“But then we can sail back to Sandwich, and make up for the lost time.”
Nodding uncertainly, Beorn agreed.
Their trip to Bosham was conducted in silence. The only thing Swegn said was to insist that Beorn sail on the same ship he did. Reluctantly, his cousin agreed.
Leaving their horses at Godwine’s estate, they had soon embarked on their way to Sandwich. The storms had passed to the west, and the sky was clear before them. Beorn stood at the bow of the ship, gazing forward, as if he could propel them faster toward their destination through sheer will. He heard rather than saw Swegn come up behind him.
“I suppose you think you have won,” Beorn said finally, turning distastefully to his cousin.
Swegn gave him a frown. “I will not have won until I have rid my family of your unwanted presence.”
Despite himself, Beorn was stung. “What makes you think your presence is so desirable?”
“I am the eldest. At least my father loves me.”
“Pah. He feels guilty, that’s all. Not that you deserve it.”
At first, Beorn didn’t realize the effect his words would have. But one look at Swegn told him he had gone too far.
His face flushed, Swegn was grabbing a knife from his belt. He snatched another from one of the crew and tossed it to his cousin.
“All right,” he growled, “let’s have it out once and for all.”
Beorn was ready. He caught the handle and crouched, point out.
They circled, feinting with the knives, left hands held out to block. Already several men were watching curiously.
Swegn looked eager, almost too anxious, while Beorn set his mouth, searching for an opening. The Dane lunged all of a sudden, flicking the point across Swegn’s face; then he smiled. A tiny line of red ran across the other’s cheek.
Swegn slowly touched the cut then crouched even lower, eyes deadly. He suddenly reversed the knife in his grip, drawing the blade backward across Beorn’s vision; the Dane threw up his arm for protection, taking a long slash across his forearm.
They had both drawn blood; both knew this was to the death. Swegn’s cut settled him down; he eased into a steely control, losing that edgy nervousness. Beorn lashed out at him; he ducked easily, responding with a thrust to the side. He missed his mark, only tearing the other’s tunic.
But Beorn was back again, feinting and striking, slashing again and again at his face. He was fast and effective, and Swegn had to step backwards, on the defensive; the blade cut into his right wrist, then slashed his other cheek.
Suddenly, Swegn switched the knife to his left hand, flying at his foe like a whirlwind. Caught off guard, Beorn tripped and fell, his knife flying. Somehow, Swegn couldn’t stop his thrust; before Beorn even hit the deck, the blade was buried in his chest. Gasping, Swegn looked at the witnesses. “You saw,” he said, wiping his bloody cheek. “It was a fair fight.”
Mumbling, the others turned away.
For a time, Swegn stared at his cousin, who sprawled awkwardly on a pile of ropes. He felt no relief, no satisfaction from the deed. Rather, he felt overwhelmed with self-pity. Now look what happened. Why couldn’t Beorn keep his mouth shut?
“Turn around,” he ordered. “We cannot go to Edward now.”
They proceeded west until Swegn decided what to do. By the time they reached Dartmouth, only two of the eight ships were with him; the rest had just sailed away. He put in at the town, so they could at least bury the body in the local church.
That done, the two ships sailed to Flanders.
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Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. She believes that good Historical Fiction, or Faction as it’s coming to be known, is an excellent way to introduce the subject to curious readers. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story.
Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended!
Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.
Social Media Links: Website: https://mercedesrochelle.com/Twitter: https://twitter.com/authorrochelle
Thank you very much for hosting Mercedes Rochelle today, too, with such an enticing excerpt. Very kind of you. xx