Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sweyn Forkbeard/Sven Tveskæg

Sven Tveskæg/Sweyn Forkbeard * ca. 960 + 3. Februar 1014 in England. King of Denmark 986/87-1014 and of England 1013-1014. Sweyn died already 3. February 1014 in Gainsborough. His year of birth is not known, but he was probably in the middle of his fifties when he died. Sweyn was first buried in York Minster, but later transferred to Roskilde domkirke, where he today rests in an unknown place under the church together with his father Harald. Sweyn Forkbeard's nickname, which was probably used during his lifetime, unlike many royal nicknames, refers to a pitchfork-style moustache which was fashionable at the time, particularly in England, where Sweyn may have picked up the idea. Similar type moustaches can be seen depicted on English coins from the period and from the Bayeux tapestry.

Married to Swietoslawa of Poland/Gunhild

Harald 2.
Knud den Store
Estrid Svendsdatter
Santslaue, later a nunn in England
Gyda, married to Erik Jarl (Håkonson) of Norway.

Harald married a Slavic princess, so did his son Sweyn. The royal marriages were of a special importance and as far as we know the Danish kings always marrried women from abroad. This happened undoubtedly i.e. in order to avoid political complications and feuds with ambitious relatives and rejected rivals' families. It was probably also very important that a marriage with a bride from abroad could be a means to strengthen the power of Danish supremacy.

Adam of Bremen says that Sweyn's rebellion against Harald happened in archbisop Adaldag's last time, before his death 29 April 988. If the rebellion was before 987 it would have been mentioned in the material about bishop Adaldag - the rebellion year might be 987. Harald's death in Wollin a few days after his arrival was probably on 1. November 987. Adam says that Harald died on Halloween 1. November, since a mass was celebrated each year at that date for king Harald in Bremen, but he does not mention the year. Adam considered Harald a martyr, and Sweyn was responsible for his death. In his eyes Sweyn was a heathen and Harald a saint. It was either black or white, and then it was of no importance if Sweyn had built churches and founded two bishoprics. Since Sweyn wanted no connection to Hamburg-Bremen then he was an enemy of Christianity was Adam's opinion.

A fight at Haithabu is mentioned upon two runestones found there. One of the stones was raised by king Sweyn. "Kong Sven satte stenen efter sin hirdmand Skarde som var draget vestpå, men nu fandt døden ved Hedeby." (King Sweyn raised the stone after his hirdman Skarde who went west but now found his death at Haithabu). Both inscriptions probably refer to Sweyn Forkbeard's siege of Haithabu. If it happened at the campaign in 983, it meant that Sweyn either shared the rule with his father or that the stone was raised after he had succeeded his father on the throne. A destruction of Haithabu, which is mentioned by Adam, seems not to have happened. There are no archaological evidence that the city was exposed to any attacks.

Sweyn decided to give up Jelling and create a new royal mausoleum in the heart of Zealand. He moved the central point of the kingdom to Zealand and built close to the royal residence a church, "Den Hellige Treenigheds kirke" (The Holy Trinity's Church), where he buried his father and where Sweyn later had his last resting place. Sweyn's daughter Estrid buried her husband Ulf here. She replaced the wooden church with Denmark's first stone church where Roskilde domkirke lies now. Maybe the royal residence in Roskilde functioned long before the 1000s as a headquarter for the rulers of Zealand, but it is more likely that it had been moved to Roskilde from Lejre. Adam mentions Roskilde as "den danske kongeværdigheds sæde (the seat of dignity of the Danish king). It had been chosen by Sweyn as a burial place for himself and his father.

Lund was probably founded by Sweyn Forkbeard. But the royal power had been there long before that. Except the royal mint, which existed ab. 1020 - the coining in Lund probably began in the 990s - there are other things indicating that some sections of the cityplan had already been determined. From 990 until 1020 was Lund considered a village , but the very early and large church buildings and the explosive growth shows that it was more than that. Sweyn Forkbeard created a new power center in Skåne in a suitable distance from existing centers and probably upon land, which he himself or his father had achieved when the Jutlanders had the supremacy east of Øresund.

Adam did not believe Sweyn to be a devouted Christian, but never the less was Sweyn the founder of a church in Lund, latest ab. 990. In Norway he was remembered as an active Christian armour-bearer, and he founded the church in Roskilde with a burial place for his father and himself. But anyone who did not support the archbishop in Hamburg-breen was an enemy of Christianity in Adam's eyes. Sweyn was appearantly not interested in the German section of the church, he fetched his bishops in other places. Adam knew only one of Sweyn's bishops and he came from England.

The bishopric in Lund was probably also established by Sweyn Forkbeard. The first Bishop with English basis working in Denmark was Gotebald who was appointed by Sweyn Forkbeard "to teach in Skåne". It is not likely that Sweyn fetched his bishops on his expeditions to England, but he might have met English missionaries in Norway where they might have worked since before 975. Gotebald could as a missionary-bishop in Norway be fetched to Skåne by Sweyn after Olaf Tryggvason's death ab. 1000. He might even have been the first bishop of Lund, which seems to have been a more important church center, because it had more churches than Roskilde. In king Knud's rule the most important Danish mint was in Lund, and it is likely that Sweyn did some comprehensive coining there. It is reasonable to assume that Gotebald had his bishopric in Lund.

In the 990s a lot of German and English coins came to Denmark, and many of these coins made in Sweyn's rule had an English type as model. Once in a while they used English stamps, but most coins had stamps made in Denmark on basis of English coins, and they were often awkward. Imitations of Aethelred's coins were produced in large numbers in the 990s and in the beginning of the 1000s at a place in the eastern Denmark, probably in Lund. Sweyn also produced coins in his own name, which imitated an English coin issued ab. 995-97, but also in this case it was produced in Lund. There are few of these coins and only eight copies are known, they have got the same front stamp, but two various backsides. They are the first Danish coins with inscription, and it mentions both the king's and the mintmaster's name. The mintmaster was named Godwine and he must have been an Englishman.

The development from village into town depended on workmen and merchants coming to the town with their families living and working there. Every landlord could in theory have workmen and merchants as tenants - and many great landowners undoubtedly gave the workmen board and lodging at their farms, the same hospitality as they showed their priests, but the only one who could give protection or give guaranties for the security of the foreigners was the king, and nothing indicates that any other chief than the king gathered merchants and workmen in special settlements. There is much evidence that Sweyn Forkbeard and Cnut the Great did this, often in connection to the bishoprics they established. In the beginning both laymen and priests were just tenants at the king's property - the church had its own land not until the middle of the 1000s - and most towns stayed in the Crown's possession. The secular citizens paid a half-yearly rent to the king.

Both in the first and later years Sweyn was successful as a ruler. He founded and built two churches, he issued coins in his own name in or shortly before 997 at the same time as a large Danish production of imitations of English coins in Lund; he had the absolute power in Denmark, two important expeditions to England took place under his leadership, by all acounts in 991 and three years later. Adam's negative evaluation of Sweyn's rule is different from the real circumstances, but his hostile attitude to Sweyn has influenced the narratives of later writers. The positive stories have been forgotten or ignored, amongst others a tribute-paper to Cnut's Queen Emma, in which the writer says that Sweyn was the happiest of kings at that time.

Sweyn did not maintain the fortifications and bridges his father had built, they were falling into decay. Maybe they were to expensive to maintain, furthermore it would not be the most popular thing he could do, since Harald's fall might partly have someting to do with the economic burdens imposed on the Danish people. Apart from this there was no need of the fortifications anymore. There was no immediate danger of a German invasion, and although the pirates still were at work, the private viking fleets around 990s were mostly occupied in expeditions to England. Sweyn had a strong army which caused the greatest respect both in Germany and in England.

Sweyn Forkbeard and Olaf Tryggvason did some expeditions to England in the 990s. Olaf was christened in England and king Aethelred himself was his confirmation's witness - besides the English paid him a considerable amount to make him give up his campaigns in England and gave him a direct support in Norway when he returned home, conquered and killed jarl Håkon. After their father's death Erik and Sven Håkonson stayed at the Swedish king Olof Skötkonung. Sven married Olof's sister Holmfrid and Erik married Sweyn's daughter Gyda. Sweyn Forkbeard later married Olof's mother. The two Håkonsons and Olof Skötkonung were now allies of the Danish king.

According to Adam of Bremen Olaf Tryggvason was prompted to attack Sweyn by his Danish wife Tyre/Thyra (Sweyn's aunt) This was Olaf's last fight. He was conquered by the united forces of Sweyn Forkbeard, Olof Skötkonung and Erik Håkonson. Saxo and Snorri Sturlusson added more to the story in the 1200s, where both Tyre and Olof Skötkonung's mother had a principal role. The most liked version of the battle takes place at the island Svold somewhere at the Baltic coast, but there are so many versions of the famous battle that it is impossible to unravel the real course of events. After Olaf Tryggvason's death Sweyn Forkbeard's position was secured. The two Håkonsons ruled in Norway acknowledging Sweyn's supremacy, and Sweyn had a friendly relation to Olof Skötkonung who was now his son-in-law. Apart from this there was no trouble from the Germans, they had enough to do with the Slavs.

As the leader of expeditions westwards Sweyn saw to that his men were rewarded just as generously as men of other great Viking leaders. The purpose of the Viking expeditions was to take possession of a rich booty for the pay of his warriors on whom his power depended. The members of a lid (army) had to be paid. Loyalty was not just a question of honour, it was a question of profit. The Roman writer Tacitus said 900 years earlier that it is impossible to keep a large flock of warriors with supplies without violence and war. The generosity of the chief fed by war and plunder. At the Baltic it was possible to purloin a rich booty, but when Sweyn became king the preferred destinations of the Viking attacks was western Europe.

When it showed that the English were willing to pay large sums to the Vikings, the fleets grew bigger and bigger. In the 990s almost all expeditions went to England, and two of those took place under Sweyn's lead, the first probably in 991 when Essex was attacked and the other three years later. Olaf Tryggvason participated both times, probably as Sweyn's ally. From 997 till 1016 when king Athelred died there were attacks and extorting of the people each year. The leaders are not always mentioned and some of the attacks were carried out by Vikings from Ireland. Nothing indicates that Sweyn came back to England before 1003, but other Danes did. One was Pallig, Sweyn's brother-in-law who let himself recruit by the English to help them in their defence. He was heartily received by king Athelred and loaded with gifts, but he was not a reliable allied, in 1001 he changed side and joined a Viking fleet, which was on its way to attack southwest England.

When Adam talks about Sweyn it is as if he is talking about quite another person than Sweyn Forkbeard. His claim that Sweyn was in exile in Scotland for fourteen years is not popular among historians. Sweyn built churches in Denmark during that period, like in Lund and Roskilde, and he was also the leader of Viking campaigns in England. Besides was a story about his capture and a ransom with large sums, a story which grew more and more dramatic each time it was told. After Harald's death Adam told about a Swedish invasion of Denmark - and although the Danes and Swedes came to blows whenever it was possible this story is not considered reliable. The Danish kings in the Viking period practised a certain control of the traffic to and from the Baltic, even of the Swedes. Thietmar of Merseburg was closest to the events, he wrote his chronicle in the first 30 years after Sweyn became king. Thietmar was not af friend of Sweyn, who had killed his uncle and cousin in a campaign, but he does not mention the invasion and neither does the tribute paper to queen Emma. And as for Adam's story about the destruction of Haithabu, then there are no archaological indications of this.

Pallig's treachery might be one of the reasons why Aethelred in 1002 ordered to kill all Danes in England. The English chronicle writer says that the king had been informed that he would be murdered together with all his council. The order was carried out on St. Brictii day, 13. November. There was no large massacre, but several Danes in England, especially in the cities were killed by the help of civil Englishmen who probably thought it was a just revenge for the gruesome attacks and treachery of the Danes. The massacre was confirmed in a letter of 1004 in which Aethelred confirms the privileges which the closter of St. Friedewide in Oxford had. This confirmation was necessary since the closter church and all its archives were destroyed during the action against the Danes in 1002. The Danes had broken all locks and doors and had taken refuge in the church, and when the English could not chase them out, they set fire to the church. Among the killed were Pallig and his wife Gunhild, Sweyn's sister and their son, and maybe there is some thruth in that Sweyn came back to England to avenge the death of his family and other Danes. In 1003 and 1004 he mainly attacked cities, but he was of course also interested in demanding payments. He probably gathered a rich booty during these years.

It is not known who headed the Danish army which in 1006 attacked England and collected a tax of 36.000 pounds, but one of the fleets in 1009 was headed by the famous Torkel, a brother of Sigvald, whose troups had been conquered at Hjørungavåg by jarl Håkon. Another fleet headed by Hemming joined Torkel's ships, and Eilif who later served Cnut the Great. It was assumed that Torkel in some way represented Sweyn's interests, but he was actually Sweyn's enemy. After three years of looting the English agreed at Easter 1012 to pay 48.000 pounds. A part of the fleet spread in all directions, but Torkel came to king Aethelred with 45 ships from the fleet promising him to defend England. Torkel was obviously the leader of an independent lid. (Viking army)

An English chronicle writer wrote his work when the defeat was complete. His valuation is marked by the English breakdown, and it became a basis of later judgements of Aethelred as an unfortunate king. The English were lucky once in a while, but to conquer a fleet or buying themselves free did not secure the peace - more fleets arrived constantly. In far away areas where the king seldom came or never visited was his power dependent on his bailiffs and the local aristocray. In Danelagen these men were mainly of Scandinavian descent, but in all parts of England there were magnates - both of English and Danish descent - who found it lucrative to support the Vikings. In 991 a magnate of Essex was suspected of supporting Sweyn, and gradually, as the situation grew worse there were still more accussations of treachery. The attacking armies were probably both larger and better organized than 100 years before, and much indicates that they were unusually well-disciplined. When Sweyn in 1013 arrived in England, his base was Gainsborough in the heart of Danelagen, and most residents subjected to his will. It would have been foolish to make them furious over some thoughtless looting , but it was not an easy task to control an army who used to live from booty. It is remarkable that the chronicle writer underlines that Sweyn's troups did not vandalize before they had passed Watling Street which was the border of Danelagen, but "when they had passed Watling Streeet, they made the worst destructions any army could cause".

Sweyn's invasion of England in 1013 was not an ordinary expedition. His purpose was to conquer England. By conquering the supremacy of England Sweyn hoped to avoid the fate which had happened to earlier Danish kings who had been brought down by homecoming Viking leaders. When Sweyn organized his conquest of England, the inhabitants were exhausted by the constant attacks and king Aethelred felt threatened by his son Edmund's claim of sharing the power. Sweyns' conquest went fast. At summertime he went into Sandwich at the coast of Kent and sailed along the east coast where he established his base in Gainsborough at the river Trent. After he had made the Northumbrians and the people of Danelagen give in, he marched south, leaving his young son Cnut with the responsibility of his hostages who had to secure peace in the occupied areas. He only met a weak opposition in the southern England, and in the end of the year king Aethelred had left England finding asylum in Normandy. Sweyn was now acknowledged "as valid king of the whole nation". He could only enjoy his victory for two months, the third February 1014 he died in Gainsborough. The army elected Cnut his successor, but the English sent for Aethelred, and he mobilized an army against the occupation troups. Cnut sailed home leaving his father's hostages without hands, noses and ears.

Sweyn had left Denmark in the care of his oldest son Harald, while he was in England, maybe Harald was already co-king. He was chosen to succeed his father as king of the Danes, Cnut accepted this and concentrated about re-conquering England. During a year he gathered the necessary troups from all Scandinavia, and many from Mälardalen. In this year (1014-1015) Cnut and Harald fetched their mother from Slavia, which might mean that she had gone home to her brother Burislaw, who was a ruler in Poland. The brothers buried their father's body - which had been brought to Denmark by a "certain English lady" - in the church he had built in Roskilde.

Sweyn Forkbeard and Cnut the Great had by their lucky attacks in England increased their wealth and power immensely. During Sweyn and Cnut's rule the power area of the Danes stretched over parts of Sweden as well as the English kingdom. The Danish kingdom had been strengthened thanks to the reforms Gorm's three successors carried through. It was in their rule the mint system was put in order and mint was striken all over the kingdom. The countries on both sides of Øresund were brought under firm and direct royal control, and both Roskilde and Lund were founded. The Danish royal power began in Jutland, and in the first centuries of the kingdom Jutland had been the center. When the scalds still celebrated Cnut the Great as Jótlands jøfurr, Jutlands chief, it was in remembrance of the past. But by supplementing the Jutland power with a firm grip of the rule of the Danish Isles and Skåne - the large areas which had until then been considered the outer districts of the kingdom , the "mark" of the Danes - the last great Viking kings Harald, Sweyn and Cnut had created a strong and vital unity with a future. Danmark.

Source: Peter Sawyer, "Da Danmark blev Danmark", Politikens Danmarkshistorie, Bind 3, 1988.

translation grethe bachmann  ©copyright

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