Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Guide to 'Triquetra': 2. The Jelling Dynasty

Harald Bluetooth (King of Denmark 958-986, King of Norway 970-986)

Harald Bluetooth began ruling Denmark in 958AD & left the Danes a notable legacy. Whilst he did not get to England, he laid the foundations for his son to do so by consolidating and reinforcing Denmark as a single entity.
His achievements in this area form the core of his story and some of this is now key archaeology in Denmark.

The Jelling Rune Stones

One of the Jelling Stones in Denmark is a carved stone monument he erected in memory of his parents, which relates not just where and from whom he comes from personally but announces how he was the king to make the Danes Christian.
The 'Heimskringla', another important document once again penned by Snorri Sturluson, says the same thing. The Heimskringla is a series of sagas of Norwegian kings that takes other notable neighbouring kings into its annals.

The Kringla Leaf - c.1260

We spent a great deal of time with this document, working with several sagas for all three of our Danish kings.
Neil Oliver recently emphasised in his historical work on the Vikings that becoming Christian was highly politically advantageous, offering a certain amount of protection from Christian neighbours. Whether Harald was truly converted remains open to question, though he did build a church at Jelling.

Harald was also practical king, shoring up the land defences, or the Danavirke (Dane-work) against outside invaders. This extensive series of ditches still remain in parts of Denmark and were reinforced further during later eras.

We are told Sweyn Forkbeard, his son, decided he wanted something to rule over & requested to have part of Denmark for his own. Harald was going to keep his kingdom in one piece, no matter what.
Thus came Harald's downfall. Not taking "no" for an answer, Sweyn gathered forces to attack his own father, Harald was wounded and died. Sweyn took over the whole kingdom of Denmark & Norway in 986AD.

Sweyn Forkbeard (King of Denmark 986-1014, King of Norway 986-995, 999-1014)

Sweyn goes raiding, choosing England as a target. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us Sweyn raided for a considerable number of years. In Triquetra, there are extracts from the highly vivid descriptions of battle from the heroic Old English poem 'The Battle of Maldon', that actually took place in 991 in Essex.

Sweyn last came to England in 1013, 1000 years ago. The people, presumably ground down by raiding, accepted him as king.

Sweyn Forkbeard Coin

On Christmas Day 1013, Sweyn was officially declared King Of England, as well as already being King elsewhere. He didn't last long, about 5 weeks or so. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states he died around Feb 3rd 1014. His remains rested in York for a while before being transferred back to Denmark. Having achieved his prize he didn't live long enough to really enjoy it or leave any lasting personal influence.

With this irony came, for me, a little Anglo-Saxon philosophy. Life, they believed, was on loan, nothing lasts forever. Death awaits us all. Triquetra sums this up prior to Sweyn's demise in a passage from Beowulf to convey this attitude of the times.

A page of Beowulf from the British Library

Cnut The Great (King of England 1016-1035, King of Denmark 1018-1035, King of Norway 1028-1035)

Cnut became King of England eventually in 1016, after re-conquering England as Aethelred had returned to England when Sweyn died.

Cnut's ruling style was somewhat different to his predecessors. In order to be accepted by the English people, he chose to be like them. He supported the Christian church, spent money and made a very public show of paying due respect. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dutifully records this activity. He transferred the bones of St Alphege, the Anglo-Saxon archbishop of Canterbury killed by vikings in 1012, to Canterbury. He paid for new bells at Winchester Cathedral.

Cnut gives a cross to Hyde Abbey

In 1020, he wrote a ground-breaking letter now preserved in the York Gospels, declaring the kind of Christian king he intends to be and how he believes his people should also behave. This letter is not written in Latin, the language of the church and scholars, but in Old English, the language of the people.
By now, he was king of England, Denmark, Norway and had parts of Sweden and Scotland also. Where Gorm the Old started with little, Cnut had the North Sea Empire to rule.
As a powerful Christian figure he could attend important European functions, such as the crowning of Conrad II as the new Holy Roman Emperor.

In 1035, after 20 years of a highly successful reign, Cnut died and was buried in Winchester Cathedral, where his remains still rest today.