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Harold Godwineson, the Last Anglo-Saxon King, owed everything to his father. Who was this Godwine, first Earl of Wessex and known as the Kingmaker? Was he an unscrupulous schemer, using King and Witan to gain power? Or was he the greatest of all Saxon Earls, protector of the English against the hated Normans? The answer depends on who you ask.
He was befriended by the Danes, raised up by Canute the Great, given an Earldom and a wife from the highest Danish ranks. He sired nine children, among them four Earls, a Queen and a future King. Along with his power came a struggle to keep his enemies at bay, and Godwine's best efforts were brought down by the misdeeds of his eldest son Swegn.
Although he became father-in-law to a reluctant Edward the Confessor, his fortunes dwindled as the Normans gained prominence at court. Driven into exile, Godwine regathered his forces and came back even stronger, only to discover that his second son Harold was destined to surpass him in renown and glory.
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Canute's housecarls—his personal fighting force—had eventually settled into their own section of London, near the king's residence, complete with barracks, brothels, and alehouses. It was to one of the latter that Ulf directed Godwine, to celebrate his good fortune.
But the Saxon had something on his mind that was more important than celebrating. With his new status came an elevation in rank that placed him almost on a level with a Jarl. Surely this must bring him closer to wedding the woman of his choice. He tried to drink the ale that Ulf shoved into his hand, but the liquid tasted bitter to him. Godwine was not really thirsty; it was time to screw up his courage now before his companion was too far gone in drink.
"Ulf," he said earnestly, putting a hand on the Jarl's arm. Jesting with an old acquaintance, it was a moment before Ulf gave Godwine his full attention.
"Eh? What is it?"
"Ulf, there is something I must ask you."
"Well, out with it lad. We have some heavy drinking to do."
"It is about your sister."
Grimly, Ulf put down his mug. "I hoped I was imagining things. Godwine, do not press me on this."
"Ulf, if I am to be an Earl, does that not make me worthy of her suit?"
The Jarl slapped his hand on the table. "Curse you, man, are you mad?"
Godwine's eyes flashed. "I have never been more serious in my life. I love her."
"Godwine, you are my friend. Else I would throttle you for your insolence. Mind your place. Earl or not, you are the son of a Thegn, and son of a Thegn you will remain. She is not for you."
Ulf did not seem to notice he had attracted an audience. But Godwine did and pushed the mug back into Ulf's hand. "I understand you all too well, Ulf. I am good enough to be your friend, but not your brother-in-law."
"Now, do not take it that way. I am very fond of you and wish you well. How does my sister take your suit?"
Frowning, Godwine did not answer.
"I thought so. Forget about her, lad. She is too proud, too haughty. Why do you think I have not married her off yet? She has not found a man good enough for her."
Thinking the issue closed, Ulf ordered more ale. He was soon so immersed in conversation with the others, that he didn't notice Godwine slip out the door.