Gyrth Godwinson

Gyrth, Earl of East Anglia and Oxfordshire, was the the fourth son of Earl Godwin and brother of Earl Harold. Gyrth accompanied his family into exile, fleeing to the court of Count Baldwin V of Flanders in 1051. The Godwins returned the following year having been reinstated to their former holdings by Edward the Confessor.

In 1061 Earl Gyrth made a pilgrimage to Rome in the company of his brother
Burhhard, son of Earl Aelfgar,
Ealdred, archbishop of York and
Gospatric, son of Arkell, a kinsman of King Edward.

In 1057, on the death of Ralph of Hereford, Gyrth took control of Oxfordshire jointly with Earl Aelfgar, and took full possession when Aelfgar was exiled in 1058. Aelfgar's father Leofric of Mercia died in 1057. As a result, earl Aelfgar took possession of his fathers earldom of Mercia, surrendering his former earldom of east Anglia to Earl Gyrth. Within East Anglia, Gyrth is the earl on the royal demesne manors and on the substantial manors of Costessey, Sedgeford, Langham and Great Ryburgh in Norfolk.

Sedgeford Church - Photo ©
Bernd Jatzwauk,
29 April 2006

Gyrth and his brother Leofwine shortly before the invasion, were responsible for the defense of the South Coast. They carried out this duty for four months before supply shortages in the early part of September forced them to disband. It is thought that Gyrth accompanied his brother Harold at Stamford Bridge, coming up against Harald Hardrada and his own brother Tostig. After their success at Stamford Bridge, having learned of William's landing in the south, Gyrth returned with Harold to London. It was here that Gyrth tried to persuade Harold to remain in London and allow himself to confront William.

"My dearest brother and lord, you should let your prowess temper your valour. You have only just returned worn out after the war against the Norwegians, and now you are hastening to fight once more against the Normans. Rest, I beg you. You ought to contemplate carefully what you pledged by oaths to the Duke of the Normans. Take care that you do not commit perjury and by this crime destroy yourself as well as the flower of our people and bring everlasting shame to our posterity. I have sworn no oath and owe nothing to Duke William, therefore I am ready to join battle boldly with him for my native soil. But you, my brother, should wait in peace wherever you like for the outcome of this war lest the liberty of the English should perish through your ruin."

All did not go well for Gyrth on that fateful day in 1066. It is said that Gyrth was cut down by the very hand of William himself, but legend also has it that he survived the battle and according to Michael, Chamberlain of the Church of Waltham, he was alive and well in the days of Henry the Second.

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