Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sweyn (d.1052)

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SWEYN or SWEGEN (d. 1052), earl, the eldest son of Earl Godwin or Godwine [q. v.] and his wife Gytha, was early in 1043, when Edward or Eadward, called the Confessor [q. v.], had become king, appointed to an earldom that was partly Mercian and partly West-Saxon, for it included Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and Somerset (Codex Diplomaticus, iv. No. 767; Flor. Wig. an. 1051; Freeman, Norman Conquest, ii. 36). In alliance with Gruffydd ab Llewelyn (d. 1063) [q. v.], king of the Welsh, he made a successful expedition in 1046 against Gruffydd ab Rhydderch [q. v.], king of the South Welsh. On his return he sent for Eadgifu, abbess of Leominster, made her his mistress, and, after a time, sent her home again (A.-S. Chron. an. 1046, ‘Abingdon’). He wished to marry her, and, when he found that he might not, he left England and went to Flanders, where he was received by Count Baldwin V, and remained there during the winter (ib. an. 1045, ‘Peterborough’). He was outlawed, and his earldom was divided between his brother Harold (1022?–1066) [q. v.] and his cousin Beorn [q. v.] In the summer of 1047 he went to Denmark, where the king, Swend Estrithson, was defending himself against Magnus of Norway. He joined in the war, and is said to have gained booty in sea-fights. He returned to England with eight ships in 1049, landed at Bosham in Sussex, went to the king at Sandwich in Kent, was received by him, and offered to become his man. It was proposed that all that he formerly had should be restored to him. Harold and Beorn, however, declared that they would give up nothing that the king had given them; they prevailed against him, and he was ordered to leave England with his ships in four days. He went to Pevensey, where his father and his cousin then were, lured Beorn to ride with him to Bosham, treacherously caused him to be seized and put on board one of his ships, sailed to Dartmouth, and there had him slain [see under Beorn]. The murder aroused great indignation. The king and the army declared him ‘nithing,’ and six of his ships deserted him. The two that were left him were chased by the men of Hastings, who took them and slew their crews. Swegen himself escaped, again went to Flanders, and spent the winter at Bruges. In the spring of 1050 Bishop Aldred [q. v.] brought him back and made his peace with the king and the witan; his outlawry was reversed, and he was restored to his earldom. During the quarrel between the king and Earl Godwine, Swegen joined his forces to those of his father and his brother Harold, the three meeting at Beverstone in Gloucestershire. In September, before the outlawry of Godwine and the rest of his sons, the witan again outlawed Swegen, and, in company with his father and others of his father's family, he for the third time went over to Flanders, and took refuge with Baldwin at Bruges. In penitence for the murder of Beorn, he undertook, while in Flanders, to make a pilgrimage barefoot to Jerusalem. He accomplished his vow, and on his way back died, on 29 Sept. 1052, from an illness caused by exposure to cold in Lycia (Flor. Wig. sub an.) or at Constantinople (A.-S. Chron. sub an. ‘Abingdon’), or, according to William of Malmesbury, he was slain by the Saracens (Gesta Regum, ii. c. 200). He left a son, named Hakon, probably by the abbess Eadgifu. This Hakon was either sent as a hostage to the court of William of Normandy by Edward the Confessor (William of Poitiers, pp. 107, 111, 130; Eadmer, Historia Novorum, i. 5; Sym. Dunelm. Historia Regum, i. 151), or accompanied his uncle Harold to William's court (Norman Conquest, iii. 685), and in either case returned to England with him. Nothing more is known about him. Freeman supposes him to have been at the battle of Senlac or Hastings (ib. p. 475); and it has been suggested that he was the earl Hakon who was with the Danes at York in 1075; but, as that Hakon had a son in the expedition, the suggestion is highly improbable (ib. iv. 586; Lappenberg, Norman Kings, p. 168).

[All that is known about Sweyn may be found in Freeman's Norm. Conq.; A.-S. Chron. ed. Plummer; Kemble's Codex Dipl., Flor. Wig. (both Engl. Hist. Soc.); Will. of Poitiers, ed. Giles; Eadmer, ed. Migne; Sym. Dunelm., Will of Malm. (both Rolls Ser.)]

W. H.