The Danish Conquest: 1000 Years

13th century depiction of Svein Forkbeard
13th century depiction of Svein Forkbeard

The Danish Conquest: 1000 Years

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.

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.

In this series of posts I’ll reconstruct, as far as possible, the progress of the conquest through the course of the millennial year.

Part 1 – examines why the 1013/14 conquest is overshadowed by the Norman Conquest of 1066

Part 2 – Svein Forkbeard begins his campaigns to become King of England

Part 3 – looks at events of the winter of 1013/14

Part 4: The Death of Svein Forkbeard – focusing on the later legends surrounding Svein’s death

Part 5: Bargaining with the King – looking at events following Svein’s death

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