The Danes

EngliscHeritage

THE DANES

 

In previous chapters dealing with the Vikings, and their “Grand Army,”, as it was called, was finally defeated and dispersed, but how, nevertheless, large parts of the Midlands and the eastern side of Britain, north of King Alfred`s enlarged Kindom of Wessex, remained in the hands of Danish settlers. In this chapter it will be shown how these Danes and their fellow-countrymen from theover the sea ultimately amalgamated with the English.

 

It must be remembered that these men were closely akin to the Anglo-Saxons in race, speech and customs, and that when, as often was the  case, they were converted to Christianity, they must have been quite as assimilable with the earlier inhabitants as, for example, Scots, highlanders living in England are with the English. Since their Grand Army had been scattered they could not put on airs as conquerors; nor could they be despised as defeated or abject men, for they had firm hold of their lands.

The two races, in fact, soon began to fraternize, and their upper classes were often so closely connected that in 941 A.D., for instance, we find an English Archbishop of York, wulfstan, upholding Danish rights, and a Danish Archbishop of Canterbury, Oda, opposing him on behalf of English interests; and twenty years later we hear of King Eadgar of England giving high office to many Danes.

 

There were times, of course, when the two races clashed. For example in 933 A.D., it will be recalled, Constantine, King of the Scots, joined with the Danes in rebellion against King Aethelstan, with the result thst the English army marched into Scotland, and drove the rebelsback as far as Aberdeen, while the fleet wrought destruction on the Scottish shores as far north as Caithness.

 

In 937 A.D., too, we find the Scots leagued with the British of Strathclyde and the Danes; and this time, as has already been related, Aethelstan inflicted so tremendous a defeat upon them at Bruanburh that for generations the battle was remembered with awe.

 

But by the beginning of the reign of Aethelred the Redless (978-1016 A.D.) which is the period reached in the last chapter, the Danish settlers had become a recognized part of Britain`s population, and were loyal subjects of the English King. They were mostly thickly settled in the areas around York, Derby, Lincoln, Leicester, Stamford, and Nottingham, and also throughout East Anglia and Essex; and in those regions there is to this day a Danish strain in the blood of the inhabitants almost as strong as the Anglo-Saxon element.

 

If you look at a map of England you will be able to see the extent of the Danish settlements by noticing the terminations of the place names; for those names are generally Danish which end in –by, meaning “homestead,” –thorpe or throp, “village,” –thwaite, “graasy slope,” –toft, “house,” –beck, “stream,” and –wick, “creek,” this last being the same as the Vik in the word Viking. These terminations, however, will also be found on the west coast, but there they indicate the positions of Norse, not Danish, settlements in the earlier days of the Viking incursions.

 

These Danish place-names seem to radiate inland from the Wash. In Leicestershire, Rutland, Northamptonshire, and Yorkshire, there are more Danish place-names than Anglo-Saxon; while in Lincolnshire there are 300 of them, more than are found in all the rest of England south of the Humber.

 

But Britain was not the only land whereon the Danish Vikings settled permanently. In the year 911 A.D., the state of Normandy/ Northmen was established and peopled by a Viking horde under their chieftain Rolf/Rollo, who was given the land by the river Sienne estuary, by the King Charles the Simple where Rolf pledged feudal allegiance to the King. His descendants ruled this settlement with increasing power, until the Seventh Duke of Normandy, William the Bastard invaded England, even though he had feudal allegiance to the King of France, hence why one of his sons fought for him against his own father and became Duke Robert of Normandy on the death of his father.

 

It is generally realized that William the Duke of Normandy was thus apure-blooded Danish Viking, and that his Norman were no other than the descendants of the Vikings of the Grand Army whom the Anglo-Saxon/English had driven from our shores, and hence were closely related to a large part of the population of England.

 

Also may be mentioned that there are many Danish place-names still to be found in Normandy, and some of those introduced into England by the Normans, and usually regarded as French, are actually Danish. The termination `–ville`, for example, is probably the Teutonic word `weiler`, meaning a “dwelling,” for it sometimrs has the form `Villiers,` and sometimes it is associated with a purely Danish name, as in the case of Haconville (Hakon`s House) and Tancarville (Tanker`s House). The English termination `-well` is in many cases probably the same word, as in Kettlewell and Bradwell.

 

After the year 990 A.D., the Viking attacks on England began again with great violence; but now they were often directed as much against their own kin settledin England as against the English. Profiting by the notorious weakness of king Aethelred, the Vikings held town after town to ransom. In 991 A.D., Ipswich was taken, and the invaders were bought off; and in 993 A.D., they sacked Bamburgh, and ravaged the northern coasts.

 

In the year 991 A.D. the poem . `The Battle of Maldon` was written, this is an epic of this era. Three weeks before Whitsun, the Norwegian Vikings had sailed up the river Blackwater, landing at the island of Northey, which is just down from Maldon, they reckon there was about 2,000 to 4,000 fighting men, there leader is believed to be Olaf Tryggvasion, Byrhtnoth was the ealdorman of Essex, with the thegns and fyrd he lead them to the causeway which led to the island. There battle commenced, this was the second battle here, the Vikings were heavily defeated last time just over a year previous, so they were here for revenge, they had just destroyed Ipswich, so were ready to fight Byrhtnoth, and once again the battle was not going the Vikings way, so they asked to be able to cross the causeway, Byrhtnoth for whatever decided to grant hteir wish and so battle commenced again, it was evenly matched until one of Byrhtnoth`s thegns decided to retreat on a horse given to him by his ealderman, unfortunately others thought it was Byrhtnoth so starting to fall away which disastrous, which allowed the Vikings to get at Bryhtnoth who they killed, his personal thegns would not stop fighting and all went down fighting for their ealdorman, the Vikings were victorious but like the English had been so depleted that they had trouble sailing their ships away, later they were given Danegold 10.000 Roman pounds, so to buy them off, the first in England given by King Aethelred who was advised to do this by Sigeric Archbishop of Canterbury and the alderman of the south west provinces. Bryhtnoth`s body was found after the battle, but had no head, the monks of Ely Cathedral to take his body back there as he was their patron. Today Maldon has a statue of Bryhtnoth which stands at the end of the promenade facing the Island of Northey where he fought his last battle so courageously.

 

Then in 994 A.D., with nearly hundred ships they attacked London; but, in the absence of King Aethelred – always a ludicrous figure far away from the place where he and his men were needed – the citizens put up so stout a resistance that at last the enemy withdrew.

 

At this time the Vikings were under the leadership of Sweyn, or Swegen, the exiled King of Denmark; and, being beaten off from London, this chieftain led his men into Sussex and Hampshire, where at length Aethelred bought him off, and he retired to Denmark, there regaining his throne, and also that of Norway.

 

In 997 A.D. and 998 A.D., the raids were renewed; and it may be that the English resistance weakened partly because there was a widespread belief that the world would come to an end in the year 1000 A.D., which would mean that the invaders, who were regarded as children of the Devil, would then receive the desired punishment without human effort. But the ominous date passed, and in 1001 A.D., the Vikings were swarming over the south of England, where many settled down to live under the terms of treaties made with them.

 

Then in 1002 A.D., while the main Viking army was absent, Aethelred, suspecting a revolt, issued orders that all these Danish settlers in the south were to be massacred, and there was an appalling slaughter of them on St. Brice`s Day, 12th November, in rightful revenge for which king Sweyn returned with a large army, and devastated all Wessex, while the Danish settlers of the north recognized him as their champion.

 

Things went from bad to worse during the next few years, and the government`s muddle and mismanagement brought so many humiliations on the English that they began to think of Sweyn with respect, the result being that at last the ridiculous Aethelred was turned out of the country by his disgusted subjects, and was forced to seek refuge at the court of Duke Richard of Normandy, whose sister Emma he had married. Sweyn at once proclaimed himself King, and all those parts of northern and eastern England where the Danes had been long settled accepted him willingly, and soon the south followed suit without much misgiving, since it did not seem that he had any intention of interfering with English freedom, or of replacing Englishmen with Danes.

 

Thus England, without a fight in the end, became one kingdom with Denmark and Norway; but Sweyn only lived a few weeks to rule over the united countries, dying suddenly at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire in February 1014 A.D. He was succeeded by his son Cnut, or Canute, but Aethelred was invited back by English nobility and he was able to defeat Cnut who had not completed his preperations in Lindsey, on leaving he left the people at the mercy of an evenging Aethelred, his son `from his first marriage`Edmund Ironside, revolted against his father on the treatment of the people of Lindsey, this caused disorder in the country so when Cnut came back in 1015 A.D. he was able to win large parts of the country, and in this Edmund rejoined his father, who died whilst defending London on 23rd April 1016 A.D., Edmund became King, fighting Cnut at the battle of Ashington where Cnut was victorious, Ashington is in Essex, six miles/9.6km north of Southend-on-Sea, it was a hard for battle, who, a few years later built a memorial church on the spot, where prayers were said alike for the Danish and English dead. This church, called St. Andrew`s still stands at Ashington, though it has been so much altered in mediaeval days that Cnut`s masonry has to be looked for closely.

 

After the battle Edmund Ironside retreated across country to Gloucetershire with Cnut after him; but the Danes and the English, realizing that Cnut was really desired as King in the North, and that Edmund was equally desired in the South, persuaded the rivals to divide the Kingdom along those lines. The two kings met on the island of Olney amongst the marshes beside the Severn, a place now a meadow close to Deerhurst, a village near Tewkesbury; and there the pact was made.

 

But a few weeks later Edmund died suddenly at Oxford at the age of 22, was he poisoned on the behest of Cnut? Edmund was buried at Glastonbury, whereupon Cnut was acknowledged king of the whole country, as well as Denmark, Norway, and now Sweden also. Edmund left a son, Edward, who was called Edward the Exile who with his brother was sent to Sweden than later into Europe, know doubt King Cnut wished them to die out of it. Edward the Exile was invited back to England by King Edward the Confessor, `son of King Aethelred the Unready and Queen Emma,` who saw him as a legititmate heir to the throne, unfortunately he died a few days after arriving. Was he dispatched by someone? But he had a daughter, who would marry the King of Scotland, and later became St. Magaret, who herself had a daughter called Matilda, who married King Henry I of England, so the English blood line continued in the royal family right up to today. Edgar the Aetheling son of King Edmund Ironside, was coronated by the Witan after the death of King Harold at Senlac Ridge / Battle of Hastings, but submitted to the Duke of Normandy after the sheer violence he threatened to the English, which he confirmed whilst he crowned himself at Westminster Abbey, when his troops turned on the people outside and slaughtered many.

 

Meanwhile, however, the Danish Cnut sent hisarmy back to Denmark, agreed at agreat assembly held at Oxford to rule according to English, not Danish law, and fell so wholly under the spell of England that you would not have known him for a Dane at all; while his Danish subjects and the English were so fully amalgamated that very little difference between them is to be observed. England, of course, was a far richer and more cultured country than Denmark, Sweden, or Norway; and Cnut was inclined to turn to his new subjects rather than to his old in all his difficulties.

 

He lived most of the time in England, Winchester and London being his capitals; he appointed English bishops to Scandinavian sees; and he made use of English soldiers and generals in his wars in Norway and on the shores of the far-off Baltic. A great northern Empire, centred in England, came into being under his authority; the Danes in England began to speak of themselves as Englishmen; English ships and sailors cruised in Scandinavian waters; and in 1027 A.D., we find Cnut at Rome, obtaining privileges for English travellers and pilgrims, and exemption from taxes for English clergy living in Rome, at the same time that he was pushing Danish interests and arranging a favourable adjustment of his Scandinavian frontiers.

Cnut`s character was curious. At first he was hot-tempered, and in his fits of passion committed acts of cruel severity of which he was afterwards heartily ashamed; but soon he cultivated greater restraint, and, indeed, considering his violent nature, his self-control was remarkable. He was an emotional, sentimental man, and in a letter he wrote to his subjects from Rome and in other documents he displayed a most earnest desire to be regarded as the father of his people. In 1032 A.D., we find him praying at the tomb of his former rival, Edmund Ironside, at Glastonbury, and causing a pall to be made for it of beautiful workmanship, wrought with the hues of a peacock. At Durham he walked five miles/8km with bare feet in honour of St. Cuthbert; and on another such pilgrimage to a saint`s tomb he was seen to shed tears and to heave great sighs. He made grants of land to the Church “for the pardon of his offences,” and “the forgiveness of his sins”; and in other ways he shows his eagerness to be regarded as a pious and humble ruler.

 

He governed wisely and with great understanding of English prejudices, and was beloved by all men; and his death at Shaftesbury in 1035 A.D., at the early age of 38, came as a national blow. He was buried in the minister of Winchester, where now the Cathedral stands.