Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Beorn

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BEORN, earl of the Middle Angles (d. 1049), was the son of Ulf, the famous Danish jarl, put to death in the reign of Cnut, and of Estrith, Cnut's sister. He was therefore a nephew of Gytha, the wife of Earl Godwine, and brother of Sweyn, called Estrithson, who succeeded to the throne of Denmark 1047. Although on the accession of Eadward the Confessor the friends of Sweyn were marked for punishment for the hopes they entertained of placing him on the throne, and Beorn's brother Osbeorn was banished, Beorn himself remained in England, and probably in 1045, the year of Eadward's marriage to Godwine's daughter Eadgyth, received the earldom of the Middle Angles; for his first signature as earl belongs to that year (Codex Dipl. iv. 99), and his appointment was doubtless connected with the marriage of his cousin. His earldom took in all the country between the Humber and the Nen, while south of Northamptonshire — which was attached to the earldom of Siward — he was also earl over Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Huntingdonshire. He may therefore be described as 'earl of the Middle Angles, of eastern or Danish Mercia' (Freeman, Norman Conquest, i. 656–60). On the banishment of Godwine's eldest son, Swegen, in 1046, his lordships were divided between his cousin Beorn and his brother Harold. In 1049 Swegen came back to England, left his ships, some seven or eight in number, in harbour at Bosham, went to the king, who was then at Sandwich with the fleet, and craved his pardon. Harold and Beorn withstood him, though he seems to have made a special appeal to his cousin; for they were not willing to restore him the lands which the king had given them, and Swegen went back to Bosham disappointed. It happened that a report was raised at Sandwich that the Danes were harrying the west coast. Earl Godwine accordingly set sail with the ships of the country people and with two of the king s ships, one of them being under the command of Harold, who, however, gave up the command to Beorn. This fleet was weather-bound at Pevensey; and while Godwine and Beorn were there Swegen came and prayed his cousin to go with him to the king and help him to make his peace. Beorn agreed, and, trusting to his kinship with Swegen, rode off with him, taking only three companions. So secure did he feel that heassented to his cousin's request that he would turn out their way and go with him to his ships; for Swegen declared that he feared that his crews would desert him unless they saw that he had gained his cousin over to his cause. When they came to Bosham, Swegen invited Beorn to go on board. He vehemently refused, but the sailors seized him, bound him, and rowed him to one of the ships. They then set sail for Dartmouth, and there slew him by Swegen's orders. He was buried in the church. When Harold and Beorn's friends and seamen, who were in London, heard of his murder, they went to Dartmouth, took up his body, carried it to Winchester, and buried it in the old minster by the side of King Cnut, his uncle.

[Anglo-Sax. Chron.; Freeman's Norman Conquest, ii. 10–104 passim.]

W. H.