Gyrth (DNB00)

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GYRTH (d. 1066), earl of East Anglia, fourth son of Earl Godwine [q. v.] by his wife Gytha, daughter of Thurgils Sprakaleg, shared his father's banishment in 1052, and took refuge with him in Flanders. He also shared the restoration of his father and brothers in the following year. In 1057 he succeeded Ælfgar in the earldom of East Anglia, having perhaps received 'some smaller government at an earlier time' (Freeman, Norman Conquest, ii. 566). It seems that when he was appointed over the whole or part of East Anglia the king told him that he would give him something more (Vita Eadwardi, p. 410), and he did at some later time receive the earldom of Oxfordshire also. He accompanied his elder brother Tostig and Archbishop Ealdred on their journey to Rome in 1061 (ib.} There is no reason to doubt that he was with his brother King Harold at the battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 Sept. 1066, though the actual authority for his presence is somewhat untrustworthy (De Inventione Crucis, c. 20). According to Wace, who makes Gyrth almost the hero of one part of his poem (it 'is little short of a Gyrthiad,' Freeman), he prevented Harold from wreaking vengeance on the messenger whom Duke William sent to him at London bidding him resign the throne (Roman de Rou, 1. 11935). Before Harold left London, Gyrth advised him not to go in person against the invaders. He desired the king to remain in London and to let him lead such troops as were ready in his place. He had bound himself by no oaths, and if he fell his death would not be ruin, for the king would be left to restore the fortune of the war (William of Jumièges, vii. c. 35; Orderic, p. 500; Gesta Regum, i. 413: Roman de Rou, 1. 12041). On 13 Oct., the evening before the battle, Gyrth, according to Wace's story, went out with Harold to spy on the enemy. Harold proposed to retreat, his brother reproached him with cowardice, a quarrel ensued, and Gyrth struck at the king. This is of course mere romance. Again he is represented as refusing on his brother's behalf an offer from William of a personal interview. The duke offered certain conditions to the English king, one of which is said to have been that Harold should reign north of the Humber, and that Gyrth should rule over his father's earldom (Roman de Rou, 1. 12290; Gesta Regum, ii. 414). Wace also represents Gyrth as cheering the spirits of the English during the night before the battle, and as bidding Harold on the next morning not to be over-hopeful of success, and reproaching him for not having taken his advice and stayed in London. It is certain that he took his stand by his brother beneath the king's standard (Gesta Regum, ii. 415; William of Poitiers, p. 138; Roman de Rou, 1. 12971). After having failed in one great attack on the English line, the duke charged a second time, attacking the barricaded centre, where Harold and his brother and their following were standing. As the duke advanced at the head of his Normans, Gyrth threw a spear at him, which hit his charger and killed it. William rushed forward on foot and slew Gyrth with his own hand (Guy of Amiens, 1. 471-80). According to a legend which was evidently known to Wace (Norman Conquest, iii. 749), Gyrth as well as Harold escaped from the battle, and in the time of Henry II was seen by the king and many others, and gave information to the Abbot of Waltham about his brother's escape (Vita Haroldi, p. 211). This is of no historic value.

[Freeman's Norman Conquest, vols. ii. and iii.; Vita Edwardi, Lives of Edward the Confessor (Rolls [Ser.); Foundation of Waltham, or De Inventione S. Crucis, ed. Stubbs; William of Jumièges and Orderic, Duchesne; William of Poitiers, ed. Giles; Wace's Roman de Rou, ed. Pluquet; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Guy of Amiens and Vita Haroldi, Chroniques Anglo-Normandes, vol. ii. ed. Fr. Michel.]

W. H.