Book 2, Chapter 9, Edward 975 AD to 1016 AD – Sweyn’s Revenge
It was, however, an impolitic revenge, and but that its authors were blinded to all reflection, it might have been foreseen that sure and fearful retaliation would be provoked. Among the slain in this massacre was Gunhilda, sister to Sweyn. This princess had embraced Christianity, and had married Palig, an English earl of Danish descent. Her husband and children were killed before her eyes, and she herself was put to death by lingering tortures, declaring, amidst her agony, the swift retribution which her brother would inflict.
No sooner did the news reach him than he prepared to take dire vengeance. He collected a large fleet, greater than any which had before invaded England, and manned it with picked soldiers from among those who flocked to his banner from every part of the north, instigated by the prospect of fresh plunder and rapine. He first landed at Exeter, and that stronghold was treacherously surrendered to him by Earl Hugh, a Norman, who had been placed in the command by Ethelred at the wish of his wife Emma.
Sweyn and his troops then marched through Devon, Somerset, and Wiltshire, plundering and murdering on all sides, and as Henry of Huntingdon relates, after gayly eating the repasts which the Saxons were forced to prepare for them, they slew their hosts and set fire to their houses. An army was sent to oppose their progress, under command of the hoary traitor Aelfric, who feigned sickness and ordered a retreat, in which the Saxons suffered great losses, and after which the invaders were suffered to retire unmolested to their ships, with immense booty, with which they sailed to Denmark.
The next year they landed in Norfolk, and took and sacked Norwich and nearly all the towns of the district, notwithstanding the resistance and the bribes of Ulfketul, the governor of East Anglia. To add to the miseries of the people, a famine broke out, owing to the neglected condition of agriculture, and the repeated incursions of the Danes, and a pestilence, in the form of a species of dysentery, reduced the exhausted and impoverished natives still more. Added to these evils was the mischief wrought by another traitor, Aedric, who, after the death of Aelfric, had been appointed to the dukedom of Mercia. This man was a great favourite with Ethelred who bad given his daughter in marriage to him, after having raised him from an obscure condition, and yet, he revealed to the enemy all the king’s counsels, and for years inflicted much injury upon his country through his infamous treachery.
Conduct such as this helped to bring about the crisis. Foes without were too surely aided by traitors within, and thus the efforts of the patriotic party were frustrated. The country was overrun, and the king was shut up in London. Sweyn indulged without molestation in the pursuit of plunder and vengeance. During four years England presented the mournful spectacle of a nobility divided by faction, treason, and murder, of a king unequal to the duties of his station, and of a people the sport of an exasperated and vindictive enemy. If the winter afforded a pause from the horrors of war, the barbarians were always prepared to recommence their devastations in the spring if a season of scarcity compelled them to retire for a while they reappeared with the following harvest.
Each county was successively the scene of their ravages, and the natives who fell into their hands experienced every species of insult, torment, and death. Every village, town, and city was invariably given to the flames. There were indeed instances in which the despair of the inhabitants inflicted severe punishment on the invaders, but as often as the English armies ventured to oppose them in the open field, they were routed with the most dreadful slaughter. At length in 1007 Sweyn had quenched his thirst of revenge, and consented to a peace on the payment of thirty six thousand pounds of silver. The amount of the Danish exactions thus rose year by year. Becoming more rapacious with success they demanded more from the abject monarch, and between the levies made by the royal officers for the purpose of raising these successive bribes, and the spoliation of property by the Danes in their inroads, the people of England must have been sorely pressed.
Chapter 9, Edward the Martyr
Chapter 9, Ethelred
Chapter 9, Sweyn’s Revenge
Chapter 9, Thurkill Ravages England
Chapter 9, Edmund Ironside
Categories: Book 2