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Swein Forkbeard's Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England, 991-1017

Swein Forkbeard's Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England, 991-1017

Ian Howard
Volume: 15
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 203
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  • Book Info
    Swein Forkbeard's Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England, 991-1017
    Book Description:

    From the battle of Maldon in 991 during the reign of Æethelred (the Unready), England was invaded by Scandinavian armies of increasing size and ferocity. Swein Forkbeard, king of Denmark, played a significant part in these invasions, which culminated in the domination of England and the long reign of his son, Cnut. This analysis of the invasions demonstrates beyond doubt that Æthelred was no indolent and worthless king who bribed invading Vikings to go away: his relationship with the Scandinavian armies was more complex and more interesting than has been supposed. It is equally apparent that Swein was more than a marauding Viking adventurer: he was a sophisticated politician who laid the foundations for a great northern empire which was ruled by his descendents for many years after his death. New insight into this exciting period of English history is gained by focusing on the activities of Swein Forkbeard and, after his death in 1014, the Danish warlord Thorkell the Tall, both outstanding warriors and political leaders of what is sometimes called 'the Second Viking Age'. Many factors leading to the invasions and conquest are investigated through a critical analysis of the chronology of events, an explanation of the economic background, plotting the itineraries of the Scandinavian armies, and a fresh examination of the sources, including the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, the ‘Encomium’, and ‘John of Worcester's Chronicle’. IAN HOWARD has a PhD from Manchester University and is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. After a career in industry and commerce, he has returned to full-time research and has produced several papers covering a variety of aspects of early medieval history.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-159-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. General Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    Matthew Bennett
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xi)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    This book deals with the Scandinavian invasions of England during the reign of King Æthelred II (the Unready), starting with an invasion leading to the battle of Maldon in 991 and concluding with the Danish conquest of England more than twenty years later. Swein Forkbeard, king of Denmark, played a significant part in the invasions of England until his death in February 1014. The conquest was completed by his son, King Cnut the Great, who was acknowledged as king of all England at the beginning of 1017.

    Attention is focused upon the activities of Swein Forkbeard and, after his death,...

  8. 1 Propaganda and Legend: Accounts of the Invasions and Conquest of England
    (pp. 1-11)

    We are fortunate in having a number of documentary sources for events in this period, some of which focus directly on the invasions. The manuscript sources include annals from the various versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC)¹ that are contemporary, or nearly contemporary, with events. A related source is the Chronicle of John of Worcester (JW)² which, though written about one hundred years after the events, draws upon the ASC and some other early sources that are no longer otherwise extant. The Encomium Emmae Reginae (Encomium)³ is a source dating from the mid-eleventh century, containing information about Swein Forkbeard’s final...

  9. 2 Hindsight: Features Explaining the Invasions and Conquest
    (pp. 12-30)

    The invasions show how the objectives of Swein Forkbeard and his Scandinavian followers changed, over time, from raiding and tribute seeking to a conquest that must have seemed impossible in 991 but was achieved with comparative ease in 1013–14. More than the objectives may have changed during the period of Swein’s invasions. Professor Niels Lund has pondered the question of whether the ‘Viking armies’ were transformed from privately raised forces (lið) to ‘state armies recruited on the basis of a Public obligation’ (leding). Professor Lund concludes that:

    there can be little doubt that the armies involved were bigger and...

  10. 3 Swein Forkbeard’s First Invasion
    (pp. 31-53)

    In 1986, Professor Niels Lund published an important paper that discussed:

    the organisation of those Viking armies which under the leadership of Swein Forkbeard and his son Cnut succeeded in conquering England in the second decade of the eleventh century: were the forces of these kings privately organized, like the ones operating in the ninth century, or were they state armies recruited on the basis of a public obligation on all free men to serve the king in war?¹

    Professor Lund’s paper explains that this question ‘has an important bearing on the problem of the formation of the state of...

  11. 4 Swein Forkbeard’s Second Invasion
    (pp. 54-71)

    The annal for 1000 in ASC C D E records that ‘the king went into Cumberland¹ and ravaged very nearly all of it’ and his fleet ravaged the Isle of Man. It adds that the enemy fleet had gone to Normandy. This is a strange sequence of events, since there is no explanation for the Scandinavian army ceasing its raiding activities and going to Normandy. John of Worcester amends the order of events so that the enemy fleet went to Normandy first.² This seems logical since King Æthelred could hardly have led an army to ravage ‘Cumberland’ if he had...

  12. 5 The Invasion in 1006
    (pp. 72-98)

    As noted in Chapter 4, p. 68, above, the invasion in 1006 may in some respects be regarded as a continuation of the invasion of 1003–1005, which had been directed by Swein Forkbeard. Writing in the twelfth century, Henry of Huntingdon said that Swein led the invasion:

    In the fifth year [1005], the Danes sailed for their own country; but meanwhile there was no lack of calamity to the English, for they were visited with a desolating famine, beyond any known in the memory of man.

    In the sixth year [1006], the audacious Sweyn reappeared off Sandwich with a...

  13. 6 Swein Forkbeard’s Third Invasion
    (pp. 99-123)

    The victory achieved by King Swein Forkbeard and his allies at Svold, over Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, allowed Swein to feel sufficiently confident of his control over Denmark to undertake an overseas campaign in England during the period 1003 to 1005.¹ However, there is some contradictory evidence in our sources about Swein Forkbeard and the political situation in Scandinavia, evidence that was examined by Sawyer in 1991, when he answered some of the criticisms of sources favourable to Swein, particularly the Encomium Emmae Reginae.² The Encomium was evidently written on the instructions of Queen Emma: she was in a unique...

  14. 7 Thorkell the Tall and the English Succession
    (pp. 124-143)

    Before his death, Swein Forkbeard had been acknowledged as king of England: ‘all the nation regarded him as full king’ and ‘the citizens of London submitted and gave hostages’.¹ King Æthelred, with his family and supporters, had been driven into exile. They had taken valuables and money with them and were apparently being allowed to use Normandy as a base from which to mount an invasion to recover the throne. At some point, during his period of exile, King Æthelred seems to have come to an arrangement whereby St Olaf, a future king of Norway, and his lið agreed to...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 144-146)

    Three periods of Anglo-Saxon history are particularly well documented: the reigns of Alfred the Great, Æthelred (the Unready), and Edward the Confessor. Much has been written about the reigns of Alfred and Edward, but, by comparison, little attention has been paid to the reign of Æthelred.

    An examination of the sources for Æthelred’s reign shows that he and his councillors have been victims of much malign propaganda. In the period immediately after his death, Æthelred’s failure to combat and defeat invading armies was contrasted unfavourably with the dynamic actions of his son, King Edmund Ironside, and it was suggested that...

  16. Appendix 1. Heimskringla
    (pp. 147-162)
  17. Appendix 2. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A reconstruction of the annal for the year 1008
    (pp. 163-168)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 169-178)
  19. Index
    (pp. 179-188)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 189-189)