30 August 2014

The Danish Conquest: 1000 Years


This installment is from an alert by Medievalists in their newsletter, which features this excellent article, the first of five on the subject, about the Invasion of England by Danish Vikings early in the 11th century. Links to the other four blog articles by the author on the invasion follow this first article . (Ed.)
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By Eleanor Parker
Published Online on A Clerk of Oxford Blog (2013-14)
1013-1014 sees the 1000th anniversary of a successful invasion of England – and not many people seem to have noticed. The invader was the Danish king Svein Forkbeard, who in the closing days of July 1013 descended on England with a formidable fleet. Before the year was out, he had forced the English king Æthelred to flee the country, and was acknowledged as king by large parts of England. Although Svein did not live long to enjoy his victory, his success enabled his son Cnut to repeat the venture a few years later, resulting in a triumphant two-decade reign, during which England was part of a great pan-Scandinavian empire.

13th century depiction of Svein Forkbeard
This invasion changed the history of England. If Svein and Cnut hadn’t wreaked such chaos in Æthelred’s family early in the eleventh century, the kingdom would not have been up for grabs in 1066, when William of Normandy decided to put his oar in – and no Norman conquest means an entirely different England. But the story of Svein’s conquest is interesting for all kinds of other reasons beside this: what it tells us about England’s place in Europe (and Scandinavia), about ethnic and cultural identity among the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ people then and now, and about the north/south divide within England which persists to this day (literally). The millennial anniversary of this conquest deserves a little more fanfare, and over the next few months I’m going to do my bit to provide some.

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