Godwine Haroldson

Rougemont Castle - Photo ©
Derek Harper, 1 November 2005

Godwine Haroldson, perhaps nearing the age of twenty in 1066, was the eldest son of Earl Harold and his Handfast wife Eadgyth Swanneshals (Edith Swanneck). Godwine's seniority is evident by the fact that he was the only son of Harold to have been presented with land. This land was recorded to have been held in Nettlecombe and Langford Budville, Somerset. Godwine is thought to have been present at the siege of Exeter in 1068, accompanied by his two brothers Eadmund and Magnus. Godwine and his resistance followers held out against William's army for 18 days before finally surrendering. After the siege william built Rougemont Castle to protect from any further rebellion. The gate-house of the castle still survives today and can be seen at the top of Castle street in the City of Exeter.

The Siege of Exeter 1068.
William upon his return from Normandy in December, found Exeter in open rebellion, forcing him to mount a full-scale offensive against the citizens of Exeter.

The siege as told by Ordericus Vitalis.
Exeter was the first to contend for freedom, but being attacked with vigour by powerful troops it was compelled to submit. It is a rich and ancient city, built in a plain, and fortified with much care, being distant about two miles from the sea coast, where it is reached by the shortest passage from Ireland or Brittany. The townsmen held it in great force, raging furiously, both young and old, against all Frenchmen. In their zeal they had invited allies from the neighbouring districts, had detained foreign merchants who were fit for war, and built or repaired walls and towers, and added whatever was reckoned wanting to their defences. They had also engaged other towns, by envoys they sent, to join in league with them, and prepared to oppose with all their strength the foreign king, with whom before they had no connection. When the king heard of these proceedings, he commanded the chief citizens to take the oath of fealty to him. But they returned this reply: " We will neither swear allegiance to the king, nor admit him within our walls; but will pay him tribute, according to ancient custom." To this, the king gave this answer: "It does not suit me to have subjects on such conditions." He then marched an army into their territories, and in that expedition called out the English for the first time. The elders of the city, when they learned that the king's army was approaching near, vent out to meet him, entreating for peace, promising to obey all his commands and offering him such hostages as he required. When, however, they returned to their fellow citizens who were in great alarm at the guilt they had incurred, they found them still determined to persist in their hostilities, and for various reasons roused themselves to stand on their defence. The king, who had halted four miles from the city, was filled with anger and surprise on receiving this intelligence. In the first place, therefore, he advanced with five hundred horse to reconnoitre the place and the fortifications, and to ascertain what the enemy was doing. He found the gates shut, and crowds of people posted on the outworks, and round the whole circuit of the walls. In consequence, by the king's order, the whole army moved to the city, and one of the hostages had his eyes put out before the gate. But the mad obstinacy of the people neither yielded to fear nor to commiseration for the fate of the other hostages ; but strengthened itself in the determination to defend themselves and their homes to the last. The king therefore strongly invested the city on all sides, assaulted it with the utmost force of his arms, and for many days continued his attacks on the townsmen stationed on the walls, and his efforts to undermine them from beneath. At length the chief citizens were compelled, by the resolute assaults of the enemy, to have recourse to wiser counsels, and humbling themselves, to implore mercy, a procession of the most lovely of the young women, the elders of the city, and the clergy, carrying the sacred books and holy ornaments, went out to the king. Having humbly prostrated themselves at his feet, the king, with great moderation, extended his clemency to the repentant people, and pardoned their offences as if he had forgotten them obstinate resistance to his authority, and that they had before treated with insult and cruelty some knights he had sent from Normandy, and who were driven by a storm into their port. The citizens of Exeter were full of joy, and gave thanks to God at finding that, after so much anger and such terrible threats, they had made their peace with the foreign king better than they expected. William refrained from confiscating their goods, and posted strong and trusty bands of soldiers at the city gates, that the army might not force an entrance, in a body, and pillage the citizens. He then selected a spot within the walls for erecting a castle, and left there Baldwin de Meules, son of Count Gislebert, and other knights of eminence to complete the works and garrison the place. Continuing his march afterwards into Cornwall, the furthest extremity of Britain. and having everywhere restored order by his sudden movements, he disbanded his army, and returned to Guent in time for the vacation at the feast of Easter.

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