Sweyn Forkbeard was king of Denmark from 986 to 1014 and in 1013, shortly before his death, he became the first Danish king of England. He was the father of King Harald II of Denmark, King Cnut the Great and Queen Estrid Svendsdatter.
Sweyn gained his Danish crown when he overthrew his father, Harald Bluetooth, sometime in the mid 980s. After establishing himself in Denmark, he led a large Viking fleet to England with the intention of capturing London. He would be unsuccessful and while away Eric Sersel, King of Sweden took advantage of his absence and occupied Denmark. Sweyn recovered Denmark on the death of Eric in in 994.
Sweyn’s relationship with the Swedes would improve following Eric’s death and he would build an alliance with Swedish king Olof Skötkonung and Eirik Hákonarson, Jarl of Lade, against Norwegian king Olaf Tryggvason. At the battle of Svolder in 999 or 1000, Sweyn and his allies defeated and killed King Olaf I Trygvessön of Norway and divided his kingdom between them.
Sweyn’s attentions now returned to England, but rather than invading he instead resorted to extracting payment by blackmail. However, in November 1002 King Æthelred the Unready ordered the St. Brice’s Day Massacre resulting in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Danes in England. Among the dead was Gunhilde, who may have been the sister of Sweyn. The Massacre would instigate a change in policy from the Danish king, who turned to raiding the English coast in revenge. Sweyn campaigned in Wessex and East Anglia in 1003–1004, but a famine forced him to return to Denmark in 1005. Further raids took place in 1006–1007, and in 1009–1012 Thorkell the Tall led a Viking invasion into England. Sweyn acquired massive sums of Danegeld through the raids and in 1013, he led his forces in a full-scale invasion.
The contemporary Peterborough Chronicle (part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) states:
“...before the month of August came king Sweyn with his fleet to Sandwich. He went very quickly about East Anglia into the Humber's mouth, and so upward along the Trent till he came to Gainsborough. Earl Uchtred and all Northumbria quickly bowed to him, as did all the people of the Kingdom of Lindsey, then the people of the Five Boroughs. He was given hostages from each shire. When he understood that all the people had submitted to him, he bade that his force should be provisioned and horsed; he went south with the main part of the invasion force, while some of the invasion force, as well as the hostages, were with his son Cnut. After he came over Watling Street, they went to Oxford, and the town-dwellers soon bowed to him, and gave hostages. From there they went to Winchester, and the people did the same, then eastward to London.”
By this time however, Thorkell the Tall had defected to the English and lead them in their defence of London. Sweyn therefore turned towards Bath where the western thanes submitted to him and gave hostages. The Londoners then followed suit, fearing Sweyn's revenge if they resisted any longer. King Æthelred sent his sons Edward and Alfred to Normandy, and himself retreated to the Isle of Wight, and then followed them into exile. On Christmas Day 1013 Sweyn was declared King of England.
Based in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, Sweyn began to organise his vast new kingdom, but he died there on 3 February 1014, having ruled England for only five weeks. His embalmed body was returned to Denmark for burial. Sweyn's elder son, Harald II, succeeded him as King of Denmark, while his younger son, Cnut, was proclaimed King of England by the people of the Danelaw. However, the English nobility sent for Æthelred, who upon his return from exile in Normandy in the spring of 1014 managed to drive Cnut out of England. Cnut soon returned and became king of all England in 1016, following the deaths of Æthelred and his son Edmund Ironside; he succeeded his brother as King of Denmark in 1019 and eventually also ruled Norway, parts of Sweden, Pomerania, and Schleswig.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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