Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
THE BATTLE OF MALDON (Circa 991-995 AD)
19. “My eye sees fire east of the castle;
battle cries ring out, beacons are kindled!
Hosts of foemen hither will wend
To burn down the hall over thy head.
Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda (Hollander)
(991) When King Sweyn returned to Angleland he took his legion to Ipswich and learned from Princess Gyda that Jarl Olaf had taken his Hraes’ regiments by sea to Chelmsford to do battle with Earl Byrhtnoth. The Earl had insulted him by calling him a Danish churl of the Danelaw and Olaf had responded by telling him he was actually a Norwegian churl of the Gofockyourselflaw. Gloves came off, slaps were administered and another season of plundering was started. Sweyn left Princess Gyda a regiment of Hraes’ foot to protect Ipswich with and he sailed off for the harbour at Maldon, just outside of Chelmsford. Jarl Olaf and his Hraes’ regiments were already sacking the town of Maldon by the time he got there.
“Earl Byrhtnoth is dead,” Jarl Olaf told King Sweyn, passing him some wine as they shared the highseat in a longhall of the town, “but we captured his skald who has been composing a rendition of the battle ever since. Perhaps it is time he recited it for us!”
“THE BATTLE OF MALDON
EARL BRITHNOTH DECIDES TO FIGHT
Then he ordered each of his warriors, his horse to let loose
Far off to send it and forth to go,
To be mindful of his hands and of his high heart.
Then did Offa’s Kinsman first know
That the Earl would not brook cowardice,
Loosed he from his hands his darling to fly,
His Hawk to the wood, and to the battle strode.
From that one could tell that the chieftain would never
Weaken in the warfare – when he his weapons seized.
And after him Edric chose his chief to follow,
His friend in the fight – then ‘gan he forth to bear
The spear to the strife – high spirit had he,
So long as he with his hands to hold was able
His buckler and broadsword; his boast he fulfilled
That he by his friend’s side should fight.
BRITHNOTH PREPARES HIS ARRAY
Then did Brithnoth begin his men to bestow –
He rode up and counselled them – his soldiers he taught
How they should stand, and their standing to keep,
And bade them their round shields rightly to hold
Fast to their forearms, that they flinch not at all.
And when he had his folk fairly bestowed
He lighted there with his people, where he would liefest be
Where he knew his own troops were most to be trusted.
THE VIKINGS PARLEY
Then stood forth on the strand and sternly spake
The messenger of the Vikings, delivered his tidings;
He boastfully spoke, for the seafarers
Their sentence to the earl, where he stood on the shore.
“They sent me to thee, those bold seamen,
And bade me to say that thou must send swiftly
Ring-money for pledges. For you were it better
That you buy off this spear-rush with your tax,
Than that we should have so hard a battle.
What need we to vex us, if you will agree?
We will for this gold a sure compact make
If thou wilt agree to it – thou that art strongest.
If that thou be willing thy people to redeem,
To yield to the seamen at their own choice
Tribute for a truce, and so take peace of us,
Then will we with the tax to ship betake us
To sail on the sea – and hold truce with you.
Brithnoth made answer – his buckler he grasped,
Brandished his slender spear – and spoke.
“Hearest thou, sea-robber, what this people say?
For tribute they’re ready to give you their spears,
The edge poison-bitter, and the ancient sword.
War-gear that will bring you no profit in the fight.
Thou messenger of the seamen, back with thy message.
Tell to thy people, these far more hateful tidings,
There stands here a good earl in the midst of his men,
Who will this country ever defend,
The kingdom of Aethelred, mine overlord,
The folk and the ground – but they shall fall,
The foemen in the fight; too shameful methinks
That ye with our tribute, to ship should be gone
Without a blow struck – now that ye have thus far
Made your incoming into our land.
Nor shall ye so softly carry off our riches.
Sooner shall point and edge reconcile us,
Grim war-play indeed – before we give tribute.”
Bade he then to bear the shields, the warriors to go,
So that they on the river’s bank all stood.
THE TIDE DELAYS THE FIGHTING
Nor could for the water, the army come at the other,
For there came flowing, flood after ebb;
Locked were the ocean-streams, and too long it seemed
Until they together might carry their spears.
There by Panta’s stream in array they bestood,
Essex men’s rank, and the men from the ships,
Nor might any one of them injure the other
Except where from arrow’s flight one had his death.
The flood went out – the pirates stood ready.
Full many of the Vikings, eager for battle.
BRITHNOTH SETS A GUARD OVER THE FORD
Then bade the men’s saviour, one to hold the causeway,
A warrior war-hardened, that was called Wulfstan,
Courageous mid his kin – he was Ceola’s son,
Who the first foeman with his spear did fell
That bravest stepped forth upon the land-bridge.
There stood with Wulfstan warriors goodly
Aelfere and Maccus, high hearted both,
That never at the ford would turn them to flight,
But they steadfastly ‘gainst their foes made defence,
While their weapons to wield they were able.
THE VIKINGS ARE BAULKED
When they saw that, and keenly espied
That bitter bridge-guardians there they met
Then began they to feign – those loathed guests –
And begged that they might some foothold get,
To fare over the ford – the foemen to lead.
BRITHNOTH ALLOWS THE VIKINGS TO CROSS
Then did the earl, in his overweening heart
Lend land too much to that loathed people.
Then ‘gan he call out – across the cold water
Brighthelm’s son, and all the band listened.
“Now room is meted you, come swiftly to us,
Warriors to war. Only God knows
Who at the end shall possess this fight’s field”.
Then went the war wolves – for water they recked not.
The troop of the pirates, west over Panta.
Over the shining water they carried their shields
Seamen to the shore, their bucklers they shouldered.
There against the raiders ready stood
Brithnoth with his band, and with the bucklers bade
Form the shield wall, and make firm the ranks
Fast against the foes. Then was fighting nigh,
Fame in the fight – now was the hour come
When that those fated, must fall.
THE BATTLE OF MALDON
THE BATTLE IS JOINED
Now was riot raised, the ravens wheeled,
The eagle, eager for carrion, there was a cry on earth.
Then loosed they from their hands the file-hard lance,
The sharp-ground spears to fly.
Bows were busied – buckler met point
Bitter was the battle-rush, warriors fell
On either hand, the young men lay!
Wounded was Wulfmur, a war bed he chose,
Even Brithnoth’s kinsman, he with swords
Was straight cut down, his sister’s son.
Then to the Vikings was requital given.
I heard that Edward did slay one
Straightly with his sword, nor stinted the blow,
That at his feet fell – the fey warrior.
For this his thane did to him give thanks,
Even to his chamberlain – when he had a space.
THE ESSEX MEN STAND FAST
So stood firm the stout-hearted
Warriors in the war – they did keenly strive
Who with his point first should be able
From fey men to win life.
Warriors with weapons: wrack fell on earth.
They stood steadfast; Brithnoth stirred them,
Bade each of his men intend to the strife
That would from the Danes win glory.
A VIKING ATTACKS BRITHNOTH
Went one stern in battle – his weapon upheaved,
His shield for safety – and ‘gainst the chief strode –
As resolute against him the earl did go,
Each to the other did evil intend.
Sent then the seafarer a southern dart,
And wounded was the warriors’ chieftain.
But he shoved with his shield – so that the shaft burst,
And the spear broke, and it sprang away.
Wroth was the chieftain, he pierced with his spear
That proud Viking who gave him that wound.
Yet prudent was the chieftain; he aimed his shaft to go
Through the man’s neck – his hand guided it
So that he reached his sudden enemy’s life.
Then he a second swiftly sent
That the breastplate burst – in the heart was he wounded
Through the ring-harness – and at his heart stood
The poisoned point; the earl was the blither:-
Laughed then that high-heart – made thanks to God
For his day’s work – that his Saviour granted him.
A SECOND VIKING WOUNDS BRITHNOTH
Loosed then one of the foemen a dart from his hands,
To fly from his finders – that it rushed forth
Through the noble thane of Aethelred.
Close to his side stood a youth not yet grown
Wulfstan’s child – even Wulfmeer the younger.
He plucked from his chieftain that bloody spear
Then loosed the hard spear ‘gainst that other to go;
In ran the point – so that he on earth lay
Who ere had sorely wounded his chief.
Went an armed Viking against the earl
Who wished the earl’s jewels to plunder,
His armour and rings – and well-adorned sword.
Then Brithnoth drew his sword from sheath
Broad and brown edged – and at his breast-plate smote.
Too soon hindered him one of the seamen,
So that the earl’s arm he did injure.
Fell then to earth the fallow-hilted sword,
Nor could he hold the hard brand
Or wield his weapon.
BRITHNOTH’S DYING WORDS
Yet then this word did speak
The old warrior; cheered on his men
Ordered to go forward – his good brethren.
No longer could he firmly on his feet stand.
He looked up to heaven……..
“I thank Thee, Lord of all peoples
For all those joys that I on earth have known.
Now, my Maker mild – I have most need
That thou to my ghost should grant good.
That my soul to Thee may journey,
Into thy kingdom – O lord of the Angels,
May pass with peace – I do desire of Thee
That the hell-fiends may not hurt it.”
Then hewed at him those heathen men
And at both those men that stood him beside,
Aelfnoth and Wulfmeer – both fell;
Then beside their liege – their lives they yielded.
THE BATTLE OF MALDON
GODRIC BEGINS THE FLIGHT
Then fled those from the fight that wished not to be there.
Then were Odda’s sons first in the flight
Godric from the battle, and left his good lord
Who had often given him many a mare,
He sprang upon the horse that his lord had owned,
Upon the trappings where no right had he,
And with him his brothers – they both galloped off,
Godrinc and Godwig, they loved not the battle,
They went from that war – and the wood they sought,
They fled to the fastness – and saved their own lives,
And men more than had any right
If they had all bethought them of the blessings
That he had done them for their good comfort.
Even thus to him Offa one day ere had said
In the meeting-place where he held his moot.
That with proud minds many did then speak
Who later at need would not endure.
Then fell that leader of the folk,
Aethelred’s earl and all did see,
His hearth companions – that their lord was laid low.
MANY CONTINUE THE BATTLE
Then went forth the proud thanes,
Brave men – hastened eagerly,
And willed they all – for one of two things:
Their lives to lose, or their loved lord to avenge.
Thus urged them forth the son of Aelfric,
A warrior young in winters – with words he spake,
Aelfwin thus said – boldly he spoke,
“Think ye of the times when we oft spake at mead
When we on the benches did raise up our boast,
Henchmen in the hall – about hard strife,
Now may each one make trial of how bold he be.
Now will I tell my lineage to all
That I was in Mercia of a mighty kindred
Mine old father – Aldhelm was he called,
An alderman wise – and rich in wealth;
Nor shall the thanes mid the people reproach me,
That I would consent to flee from this fight,
My home to seek, now my lord lieth low,
Slain in the strife; but yet it most grieves me
For that he was both – my kinsman and my lord.”
Then went he forth – full mindful of the feud,
So that with his spear one he slew.
A pirate ‘mong his people – that he fell to the earth.
Slain by his weapon. He ‘gan to urge on
His comrades and friends – that they should go forth.
Offa spake, his spear-shaft shook,
“Lo thou, Aelfwin, hast all heartened
Thanes at need – now our lord lieth,
The earl on the earth – for us all is need
That each one of us should hearten the other
Warrior to war, while he his weapon may
Have and hold, his hard blade,
His spear and good sword – for Godric hath us,
Odda’s coward son, all betrayed.
For many men thought when he rode off on the mare,
On that proud steed, that he was our lord.
And for that cause are the folk scattered over the field
The shield wall broken. May his plan come to nought!
For that he so many men hath set to flight.”
Leofsund spoke, his buckler uphove,
His shield for safety – and that man answered,
“I do promise this, that I will not hence
Fly a foot’s step, but shall further go
To avenge in the war my friendly lord.
Then shall not need in Sturmere the steadfast soldiers
To twit me with words, now my friend is fall’n,
For that I returned home without my lord,
Turned from the battle, but the sword shall take me,
The point and the steel.” And he, most wroth, departed.
Fought steadfastly – flight he despised.
Dunmer then spoke – shook his spear,
A humble churl – called out above all,
Bade each warrior – “Brithnoth avenge!
Now may not go he who thinketh to avenge
His friend among the folk, nor mourn for his life.”
THE BATTLE OF MALDON
THE LAST STAND OF THE THANES
And then they went forth – for life they recked not.
Then ‘gan the house men hardly to fight,
The fierce spear bearers – and they begged God
That they might avenge their friendly lord,
And on their enemies bring death.
Then the hostage ‘gan eagerly help,
He was in Northumbria of a hardy kin,
Eclaf’s child, and Aesferth his name.
He weakened not a whit in the war-play,
But he sent forth often a shaft,
Often he a buckler struck, often a man hit,
Ever and again he dealt out wounds
The while he his weapons might wield.
Then yet in the rank stood Eadward the tall,
Ready and eager – a boastful word spoke,
That he would not flee a foot’s space of land,
Or budge back, now that his better chief was fall’n.
He shattered the shield wall and fought with the soldiers
Until he his treasure-giver upon the seamen
Had worthily avenged – ‘ere he lay with the slain.
So did Aeturic – a noble companion,
Eager and impetuous – he fought keenly,
Sibright’s brother, – and full many more, –
Split the hollow shields, sharply parried.
The buckler’s edge burst, breast-plate sang
A grisly song. Then in the strife struck
Offa a seaman, that he sank to the earth,
And then Gadda’s kinsman the ground sought.
Soon in the struggle was Offa struck down
Yet had he done what he boasted to his friend
As he bragged before to his ring-giver:-
That they both to the burg should ride
Hale to their home, or in the battle fall,
On the war field perish of their wounds.
He fell like true thane at his chief’s side.
Then was breaking of bucklers, the seamen came on
Stern to the strife; the spear often pierced
A feyman’s body. Forth then went Wistan,
Thurstan’s son, with the enemy fought,
He was in the throng – of three men the bane
Ere him Wigelin’s son on the battlefield laid.
Then was stern meeting, stood fast
Warriors in the war, then men sank down
Wearied with wounds – slaughter fell on earth.
Oswald and Ealdwald all the while
Brothers both, urged on the men,
Their dear kinsmen, with words incited
That they there at need should hold out,
Stoutly wield their weapons.
Brythwold spoke, grasped his buckler,
He was an old comrade, urged the men,
He full boldly cheered his soldiers,
“Thought must be the harder, heart the keener
Spirit shall be more – as our might lessens.
There lies our chief all cut down,
Good man on the ground; for ever may he grieve
Who now from this war-play thinketh to go.
I am old in years – hence I will not,
But by the side of mine own lord,
By my chief so loved, I think to lie.”
And thus them all did Aethelgar’s son urge,
Even Godric, to the battle – oft he cast a spear,
A spear of slaughter to go upon the Vikings,
As he ‘mid the folk foremost went,
Smote and struck down till he sank down in the fight.
He was not that Godric who left the battle.
“What do think of it?” Olaf asked King Sweyn.
“What is this bridge our skald was talking about?”
“There was a causeway that connects the island we landed on with the mainland at low tide. Our skald is using the story of the Roman Hector on the Bridge to place three Saxon warriors on the causeway to block our advance. It is poetic license.”
“So, it didn’t happen?” Sweyn asked.
“Earl Brithnoth marked out the field of battle with hazel poles and they kept to their side of the field as required. We just crossed the causeway and set up our shieldwall on our side of the battlefield per standard practice.”
“We’ll pay him for his poem, but have him lose the Hector on the Bridge part,” Sweyn said, “or I’ll use my executive licence on him,” and they paid the skald a piece of gold and dismissed him, then began discussing the fall campaign.
“Should we plunder Chelmsfyrd or Colchester?” Olaf asked. “Chelmsfyrd is nearby but is strongly walled and Colchester is northeast, towards Ipswich, and poorly defended.”
“I think we should perhaps plunder both,” Sweyn said. “Rather than plunder one completely, as we’ve laid waste Maldon, let us plunder both in the Roman fashion, leaving half the citizens of each to carry on after we’ve gone. Once we’re done with Maldon, you take your regiments to Colchester and I’ll lead my legion to Chelmsfyrd. I daresay the Anglish have never seen a trebuchet!”
“Well, they’d never seen a kite shield before Maldon,” Olaf said of the Hraes’ regiments he was leading.
King Sweyn sent spies to Chelmsfyrd to spread lies about the way Earl Byrhtnoth had died, saying the Earl had not died at all, but had only been wounded and that he and his famed thanes had willingly bent over their shields for the Danes. Then he had the armour and weapons of the earl drawn out of the plunder, as well as the armour of his most illustrious thanes. Earl Byrhtnoth had been a proud and wealthy earl and had been noted for his fine and flashy armour. His gold trimmed helm sported a full fold-down face shield with bright golden moustaches above the breathing hole. His chainmail was brightly polished and trimmed in silver and his round shield was Roman red and had silver hawks upon it, falconry having been his favourite sport. And his great broad sword gleamed silver and was trimmed in gold. A Viking had died trying to get himself, too soon, the earl’s war gear.
And the foremost men of the earl’s retinue had equally famous weaponry, not as costly, but famously deadly. Bright round shields, polished helms and brightly feathered spears. Sweyn outfitted a troop of his heavy cavalry with this war gear as the lies of the earl being alive spread throughout Essex. When the slaver ships arrived and carried off the people of Maldon, Olaf took his regiments to Colchester and King Sweyn wore the royal armour of Earl Byrhtnoth as he led a round shield equipped cavalry troop to Chelmsfyrd, followed at a distance by two regiments of Hraes’ kite shielded heavy cavalry and at an even further distance by two regiments of kite shielded foot. He led an almost full legion of his famed Hraes’ mobile troops against the Saxons of Essex and far back at the port of Maldon, marines were unloading trebuchets from the holds of his troop transport warships, trebuchets he hoped he wouldn’t have to use.
Scouts who knew the lay of the land rode with the vanguard and, as they approached Chelmsfyrd, Sweyn signalled for his heavy cavalry to halt and the troop trotted gayly towards the city gates as though returning from a joust in Colchester. Knightly thanes rode about their earl as though laughing about the sport they’d had, and Sweyn had a hawk on his arm and another in the air above him and the Saxon warriors on the towers straddling the gates began waving at the earl and his men and they sent some lightly armed cavalrymen forth to greet them and, when they rode in amongst the earl’s men, they realised it was a trap when they saw riders doubled up behind the knights, but they were dragged down from their mounts and slain as the earl’s men rode gayly about them and the second riders jumped on the emptied horse and took their place. Knights held back from the troop and pretended to joust about as they rode over the bodies to keep them from the sight of the sentries and the rest of the troop entered the city. They tied their horses to the gates so they couldn’t be closed and they rushed up into the towers and took them by force. They then waved the brightly feathered spears of the earl’s thanes in signal for the halted heavy cavalry to charge and they set about the grim task of holding the gates, for the Saxons soon realised their defences had been compromised by the screams of the warriors thrown from the towers.
Chelmsfyrd had fallen in under an hour and Colchester did not last as long. Half the folk from each city were enslaved and marched down to the sea, where slaver ships awaited them and held them for three days so ransoms could be arranged. An army was being equipped in London to march out to meet the Danes, but it wasn’t expected to arrive for another week. It was said that King Athelred ‘the Unready’ would be riding out at the head of it, but King Sweyn had made no plans to welcome him. He had plans to be long gone for Denmark and Olaf would be back with Princess Gyda in Ipswich and the Danelaw. If the London fyrds moved against the Anglish of Suffolk, Olaf would take his warfleet and princess to Normandy and await King Sweyn there and then they would move against London in the early spring. Jarl Olaf and Earl Byrhtnoth had been foils in a short sword duel of kings and the earl was dead and the jarl was rich.
But the Anglo-Saxon king moved faster than expected and arrived with his army sooner than expected and trapped King Sweyn and his legion inside the walls of Chelmsfyrd with half of its citizens. Jarl Olaf and his regiments had already returned to Ipswich so, King Sweyn faced the London fyrds and King Athelred alone. The first thing he did was lock all the gates. Then he continued plundering the city while the Saxons were locked without, but now, the Saxon women were plundered up on the battlements of Chelmsfyrd in full view of the Anglo-Saxon army below. There were not many priests left in the city because many younger monks had been enslaved and sent to Kiev. They were educated and fetched good prices in Baghdad. But some of the older priests were taken up into the towers of the front gates and were thrown out of them to their deaths. Finally a spokesperson for the king rode up to the gates and asked for a meeting with the Viking leader.
“We offered to leave the harbour of Maldon for a payment of silver and Earl Byrhtnoth refused us and he died in battle. We shall give your king the opportunity of not making that mistake again.”
“How much silver would you require for this boon?” the messenger asked.
“Ten thousand pounds of silver!” Sweyn told him, and, when he whistled under his breath, Sweyn said, “And if the king comes back with a lower offer, the price will go up to fifteen thousand. We have a few more old priests we can fling from the towers and we have a few Saxon nobles we can then add into the mix.”
“No need for that,” the messenger said, remounting his horse. “I’m sure the king shall meet your demands.
But there was much debate about paying a ransom in the pavilion of King Athelred. “We don’t bargain with terrorists!” one earl exclaimed and an archbishop responded with, “It’s not your men being tossed from the tower.”
The entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for that year said:
‘A.D. 991. This year was Ipswich plundered; and very soon
afterwards was Alderman Byrhtnoth slain at Maldon. In this
same year it was resolved that tribute should be given, for the
first time, to the Danes, for the great terror they occasioned by
the sea-coast. That was first 10,000 pounds. The first who
advised this measure was Archbishop Siric.’
King Sweyn celebrated Yuletide in Roskilde and he invited everybody in Scandinavia who mattered, and every prince and manager of the Hraes’ stations throughout the north. He invited Duke Richard of Normandy to come, but he didn’t bring his legion of Cataphracts with him. As King Sweyn had fully expected, he brought Jarl Olaf Tryggvason and Princess Gyda. The fyrds of London had moved against the Danelaw. Queen Consort Gunhild Burizleifsdottir was very happy to meet Olaf again and she was delighted to meet his new wife, Princess Gyda. She told Gyda, “I’m so happy he has found you! He was so distraught at the death of my sister, Geira, I didn’t think he would ever find happiness again, but I’m so happy to see that I was wrong.”
And Gyda replied, “I’m so happy to see that you have found King Sweyn. He and Olaf do so get along. They seem to complement each other.”
King Erik of Sweden and his entourage soon showed up and Jarls Haakon and Eirik arrived from Lade and visited with Queen Consort Aud. King Sweyn visited with Queen Sviataslava and King Erik visited with his sister, Queen Gyritha. Queen Consort Sigrid had also come from Sweden, but she felt left out again and spent a lot of time with the new babies of the Queen Consorts Gunhild and Gunhilde. It was while visiting with Gunhild that she met Jarl Olaf and she was immediately attracted to the young jarl and he, too, showed interest, even though Sigrid was a bit older. She was tall and lithe and youthful in her demeanour and her long flowing locks were sensuous and Gyda was very pregnant.
It was in Roskilde that Jarl Olaf also met Jarl Haakon for the first and only time. They did not get on well, considering the fact that they were both Norwegians visiting in Denmark. Jarl Olaf was a young Christian noble who looked down on the older Jarl Haakon, the Aesir prince who was more warlock than priest and was rumoured to be a rapist to boot. And Jarl Haakon knew that Olaf was King Trygve’s son, but was more slave-spawn than anything else. Haakon was the living embodiment of the reason Olaf had converted to Christianity. Olaf had ambitions of following in his father’s footsteps and pagan jarls like Haakon would never accept a former slave as their king any more than they would a jarl who had bent over for King Sweyn, as word was getting out that Sigvald had done. And here in the court of King Sweyn, Jarl Haakon had found both, Jarls Olaf and Sigvald, the fain and the fallen, toasting and regaling with true Scandinavian royals, and his daughter Aud telling him that Olaf was sampling King Erik’s Swedish stock.
Nothing came of this clash of Christian and Aesir jarls, but only because Aud made sure nothing came of Olaf’s interest in her fellow queen consort’s booty. And because King Sweyn used the festive season to further his plans against Angleland. During the Yuletide feasting and New Year’s boasts, Sweyn announced that he planned on taking Angleland from King Athelstan before three years were up. He got Duke Richard’s support in using Normandy as a base from which to attack King Athelred, even though Richard overtly kept a neutral position in the conflict. Then he got Jarl Haakon’s support in the form of Norse warriors from the Nor’Way and he got King Erik’s support of Swedish warriors and warships. He knew he had his son, Prince Valdamar’s support and the support of his Hraes’ legions, even though Valdy couldn’t make it to the feast because he was too busy focking his seven hundred or so wives. And he felt he had Jarl Olaf’s full support in this, even though he was now a Christian, because half his Danish wives were Christian and he had supported Valdy in his conversion to Christianity.
King Sweyn had softened towards Christians over the years. He had been a staunch pagan when he had first come to Denmark and had met Jarl Haakon here, but he was forming plans to become an Emperor, and that would involve at least preliminary baptism in the Orthodox Christian faith, but he had to keep his Aesir faith as well. He had seen in Hjorungavagr what paganism could do for him and he needed the Aesir warriors and Valkyries of his legions that would fight and die for their places in Valhall if he was to recapture Bulgaria and conquer the Levant and return Egypt and Italy to the Roman fold.
Jarl Olaf was making plans as well, to become a king, and that involved converting all Norway to Latin Christianity that would be more accepting of former slaves. When the Apostle Peter had gone to Rome and had begun preaching Christianity, the slaves of Rome were his first converts. The one true god religion with the one true heaven where slaves would be treated as well as kings drew only one type of convert, at first, and that was slaves. The Vanir religion of the Romans, the religion they had brought west with them from fallen Troy, saw Christianity as far more of a threat than the other mystical religions that came to Rome from the Middle East. No other exotic religion promised one heaven where god treated all equally. Not even the other one true god religions of the Persians and the Jews. The slaves of Rome found Christianity attractive and this frightened the Vanir priests of Rome, for the Roman Empire was a slaver state and half the population were slaves.
The Vanir Emperors of Rome, the followers of Zeus-pater and Mars and Mercury, were so afraid of Christianity and its slave followers that they started pogroms against Christians and would often crucify them in their gladiatorial arenas and in the evenings they lit up crucified Christians as human candles to light up their gladiatorial combats. They were a slaver state and their economy ran on the conquest of all the states around them. Half the populations of the conquered states would be enslaved and sent back to Rome, the whole country plundered, and the other half would remain to rebuild their cities and pay heavy taxes to Rome for their freedom. When the states rebelled, as they all too often did, the Roman legions would return to reconquer them and again, half the population would be enslaved, the whole country plundered and the remaining half left to clean up the mess or else. Pax Romana was a cruel farce. For every century that Rome ruled, you could count the years of peace on one hand. The Romans were Vikings before Vikings were Vikings and Sweyn needed the old Roman Vanir religion returned to complement his own Aesir religion because war was business and the tri-partite gods religion was the religion of war. But he could be accepting of Christianity because not everyone was capable of being a warrior and Sweyn was fine with that.
But Olaf Tryggvason wanted to be king of Norway and, if only Christians could accept that, then everybody in Norway would have to be Christian, no exceptions. The pagans would never accept him and it would take just one witch or warlock to poison him, so there could be no exceptions. The tri-partite gods religion was a death cult and, if it could not accept him, it would kill him.
While these two leaders struggled with their personal ambitions, Queen Consort Sigrid, in her boredom, watched. She had caught the attention of the younger man, but the older leader proved more elusive. And she preferred her kings…pagan.
(992) In the early spring, before the assembling of the great merchant fleet, King Sweyn and Jarl Olaf took their fleets to Angleland and learned that an Anglo-Saxon fleet had been assembled in London to meet them. As their longships progressed up the Thames they were met by an Anglish ship captained by Alderman Elfric and he warned them of an impending attack awaiting them before London. King Sweyn sent on a scout ship to verify Elfric’s report and it ran into an ambuscade of Saxon ships that were hidden under overgrowth along the banks of the Thames. Six Vikings fled downstream in a four oared boat, but all others on the ship were slaughtered. When no further Viking ships came upstream, the Saxon ships broke out from under cover and rowed downstream to meet the Viking fleet. A great battle was fought between three hundred Viking longships and three hundred Anglo-Saxon warships and there was a great slaughter, but in the end the Vikings controlled the river.
The entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for that year said:
‘A.D. 992. This year the blessed Archbishop Oswald departed this
life, and sought a heavenly one; and in the same year died
Alderman Ethelwin. Then the king and all his council resolved,
that all the ships that were of any account should be gathered
together at London; and the king committed the lead of the
land-force to Alderman Elfric, and Earl Thorod, and Bishop Elfstan,
and Bishop Escwy; that they should try if they could anywhere
without entrap the enemy. Then sent Alderman Elfric, and gave
warning to the enemy; and on the night preceding the day of
battle he sculked away from the army, to his great disgrace. The
enemy then escaped; except the crew of one ship, who were slain
on the spot. Then met the enemy the ships from East-Anglia, and
from London; and there a great slaughter was made, and they took
the ship in which was the alderman, all armed and rigged. Then,
after the death of Archbishop Oswald, succeeded Aldulf, Abbot of
Peterborough, to the sees of York and of Worcester; and Kenulf to
the abbacy of Peterborough.’
King Sweyn returned to Denmark with his legion and ships and led the merchant fleet east into Hraes’. His trading in Baghdad was uneventful, but when he returned to Angleland in the fall it was to raid. He met Jarl Olaf in Rouen and they took their combined fleet back to Ipswich to put Princess Gyda back in her highseat hall there. King Sweyn left a regiment of Hraes’ foot there for her security. Then, operating out of Ipswich they raided Kent and captured Sandwich and plundered the city and surrounding area. Hraes’ slaver ships followed and they took away all the people that could not ransom themselves. Jarl Olaf then returned to his wife in Ipswich and King Sweyn returned to his wives in Denmark for the winter. Again, Yulefest was celebrated in Roskilde and guests were invited from around the northern lands, Denmark being centrally located to all involved.
Jarl Sigvald and his wife Astrid arrived and Sigvald brought news that King Burizleif of Poland was unhappy that he had not as yet received the hand of Princess Thora in marriage. He wanted King Sweyn to redeem his chest of gold so, Sweyn sent Thora north to Lade so the witch Hallveig could restore Thora’s virginity. When she got back, Sweyn had her pack up her belongings and dowry and, much against her wishes, sent her and her retinue of handmaidens and guards to Wollin with Sigvald and Astrid where she was married off to the Polish king.
(993) In the spring Olaf and Sweyn’s combined fleets again ventured up the Thames and, while Sweyn’s Hraes’ legion ships explored the walls of London for weaknesses, Olaf led his fleet further west past London and sacked and plundered the town of Staines. Slaver ships sailed right past London to collect up the people of the town for sale in Baghdad and Constantinople. The London fyrds could not march out and save them with such a great fleet just sitting on the river in front of the city. The people of Angleland were shaken. The king sent out spies to learn more about the Viking leader, Olaf Tryggvason. They knew all they needed to know about King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’, or so they thought, but the Christian Viking leader, Olaf, was an enigma.
The combined fleet sailed back down the Thames and returned to Sandwich to raid Kent and King Sweyn put his legion under the command of Olaf when he left to lead the great merchant fleet east. Olaf raided all summer in southern Angleland and, when King Sweyn returned in the fall to raid, Olaf convinced him to attack Northumbria with him because London seemed very well defended at that time. He also pointed out that Bamburgh Castle in Northumbria had been a stronghold for Sweyn’s father, King Ivar many years earlier but was now ruled by the Strathclyde Britons. So the Viking fleet headed north past Ipswich and Sweyn took note of the fact that Olaf didn’t even stop to visit his wife, Princess Gyda, as they sailed by. They caught the Welsh by complete surprise and took Bamburgh Castle without a fight and they used the castle as a base from which to raid Northumbria. Indeed, they caught most of the north by surprise, for their raids were largely unopposed because defences were scant or non-existent and their legion took town after town until the city of York fell and was plundered, all, except Castle York which was owned by the Hraes’ descendants of Prince Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ Hraerikson and ran the company station there. They conquered the Northumbrian lands all the way to the mouth of the Humber River and slaver ships came up the Humber and the Ouse Rivers to take away the Angles of York and the Welsh of Bernicia.
The entry of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for that year read:
‘A.D. 993. This year came Olaf with three and ninety ships to
Staines, which he plundered without, and went thence to Sandwich.
This year was Bamborough destroyed, and much spoil was there taken.
Afterwards came the army to the mouth of the Humber; and there
did much evil both in Lindsey and in Northumbria. Then was
collected a great force; but when the armies were to engage, then
the generals first commenced a flight; namely, Frene and Godwin
and Frithgist. In this same year the king ordered Elfgar, son of
Alderman Elfric, to be punished with blindness.
An Anglish army was raised in the north but, when it went up against Sweyn’s mobile legion, the leaders fled and the army surrendered and the soldiers’ supplications were taken as they were bent over their shields and half of the troops were enslaved and sent off to Baghdad and the eunuch armies in the east. King Athelred was so enraged by this treasonous behavior that he had Earl Elfgar, the son of Alderman Elfric who had fled their last fight, blinded for the treason of his father.
Jarl Olaf overwintered in York and used the Hraes’ legion to subdue and secure Northumbria. King Sweyn visited Princess Gyda in Ipswich and relieved the Hraes’ regiment he had left with her, giving her fresh troops for security. King Sweyn then returned to his wives in Denmark for the winter and, again, Yulefest was celebrated in Roskilde and guests were invited from all about the northern lands.
Jarl Sigvald and his wife Astrid arrived with a chest of gold for Sweyn and Sigvald brought news that King Burizleif was very pleased with his new Queen Consort Thora. Princess Astrid told Queen Consort Gunhild that Thora was very unhappy with her lot in Poland, their father, King Burizleif, being much older than her. And Thora was not the only unhappy queen consort in the northern lands. When King Erik ‘the Victorious’ arrived from Sweden, Sweyn learned that Queen Consort Sigrid had divorced him and had returned to her very ample holdings in West Gotland, just south of Norway. Divorce was quite simple in the Aesir religion. One had only to tell one’s spouse in public, “I divorce thee,” three times and the divorce was complete. Sometimes it was a little too simple, but it did give Scandinavian women a lot more freedom than other women of the time, and Queen Sigrid ‘the Haughty’ had decided it was time to exercise that freedom. King Erik was upset, but was still doting over Queen Svia, so, he accepted her decision. But Queen Svia was unhappy as well. She enjoyed being doted over but she reminded King Sweyn, as he slept inside her in his palace in Roskilde, that the arrangement was temporary and that King Sweyn had to get on with pursuing his contract with the Romans for a co-Emperorship, with or without his conquest of Angleland. “You are being distracted by this bright copper object called Angleland when you should be going after the shiny gold prize called Rome!” she remonstrated her lover. “Now that Queen Sigrid is gone, King Erik devotes all his sexual energy on me. If it persists, I’m going to flee to Kiev as arranged.”
“But what of Queen Aud?” Sweyn asked. “Doesn’t she share the load?”
“King Erik focks her once a week, whether she needs it or not,” Svia replied. “The rest of her time is devoted to her scriptorium and her books. She is very devoted to saving ‘The Lying Sagas of Denmark’ from their predicted destruction. I think your grandfather put a little more into her than just education when she trained under him in Tmutorokan.”
“I do not doubt that,” Sweyn agreed. “I think he slept in her bum.”
(994) In early spring, King Sweyn returned to Angleland with a Danish mobile legion he had been training in Liere, stationed out of the old Fortress of King Frodi. He met Jarl Olaf with his Kievan mobile legion in Sandwich for a planned a surprise attack on London. Sweyn hoped that their diversionary attack upon Northumbria the prior fall would shift the king’s attention north, and the regiments that remained in York began a spring plundering campaign to support the deception. But when their fleet quickly sailed up the Thames they found the fyrds of London quite prepared for an attack and the beefed up Roman walls around the city were well manned and well equipped. King Sweyn attacked the walls with his ship mounted trebuchets, but towers had been added to the old walls to strengthen them against missile attack and the walls along the river were even stronger than the walls facing the land, which was unusual for fortifications, but London had been attacked by Vikings many times before and they always came up the river.
Jarl Olaf continued with his strategy of plundering upstream of London to dishearten the Anglo-Saxons by operating out of the already sacked town of Staines and plundering the town of Reading from there. The whole surrounding area was plundered in an attempt to draw out the fyrds of London, but they stood fast within their walls. Finally, King Sweyn ran out of time and had to return to Denmark to lead the great merchant fleet east. He left Jarl Olaf his Danish legion with instructions to ravage southern Angleland all summer and they would attack London again in the fall. Sweyn planned to take his Kievan mobile legion back east for a rest and he wanted to bring another fresh Kievan legion back with him from the east in the fall.
Trading in the east was becoming pretty routine. The Fenja, fine furs, came via the Nor’Way trade route and the Menja, slaves, came via the Dan’Way courtesy of Ireland, Angleland and Flanders, and Viking traders from Iceland to Finland were involved in the raiding and trading. Other goods such as fine Frankish wines, Irish liquors, Scottish whiskeys, Baltic amber, Swedish tonstone, Hraes’ honey and Khazar Vayar all made their way to the Middle East as well, in return for gold and silver and silks and spices, fine China and glass wares and nautical gear and kites and sky lanterns and specialized weapons of war. There were cataphracts in Normandy and trebuchets in Denmark and rocket arrows in Kiev, but Greek fire was always just out of King Sweyn’s grasp. The Byzantines kept their stolen secret weapon safe and the Alchemists’ Guild, from whom they’d stolen it, were trying hard to keep it controlled, but some Arab alchemists had gotten access to the fuel of it, although the firing tubes were still beyond them so, they launched it from catapults. Sweyn tried to get some from the Caliphate in Baghdad to use against London, but the Caliphate feared the Varangians more than their Roman enemies so, the only things that king Sweyn brought with him to Angleland was a fresh Kievan legion and a fresh load of tonstone from Sweden.
While the Anglo-Saxons were celebrating a religious festival, Jarl Olaf called it the Nativity of Saint Mary, King Sweyn ordered the assault upon London on the Eighth of September, 994 A.D. and trebuchets from aboard longships on the Thames launched flaming pots of Arab Greek fire that Sweyn had stolen from Caliphate armouries into the city with devastating results. Several churches were burned and the parishioners within toasted, military barracks were set aflame and the troops within were consumed by the flames but Sweyn had not been able to get enough of the stuff to send the city up in flames and the fires were all brought under control. So, trebuchets were set up on land to try to reduce the weaker landward walls, but the fyrds of London attacked them in numbers and would set the siegeworks aflame and then retreat back into the city.
The legionary transport ships used their trebuchets to reduce a section of the river walls to scalable heights and an assault did make its way into the city but the fierce fighting of the fyrds drove the Vikings back out. London just would not fall. One more legion would have done the trick, but Sweyn had only brought the one from Kiev. King Athelred was within the walls and could match him man for man and they were fighting from within the walls. A besieging army should be two or three times stronger than those being attacked, but at even odds even the superior fighting skill of the Vikings was negated. And King Sweyn knew better. He had led armies in the east that had numbered over sixty thousand and he had run out of men against the Romans. Now here in the west he was becoming accustomed to their large armies of five or ten thousand and his two legions had seemed a veritable host and the London fyrds had matched him man for man.
King Sweyn settled in for a long siege and sent his heavy cavalry out plundering the countryside around London and they loaded up their ships with wealth. Soon King Athelred sent out messengers asking for respite from the plundering and King Sweyn set a price of sixteen thousand pounds of silver which was met. For that sum the fighting would be halted for the winter and the Danes and Norwegians withdrew from London into the south of Angleland and they occupied the city of Southampton and the Isle of Wight. Slaver ships arrived and half the citizens of Southampton were enslaved and taken east to Kiev. Jarl Olaf remained in Southampton with his Norwegian fleet and the Kievan legion while King Sweyn took his Danish legion back to Denmark with him.
King Sweyn held Yuletide festivities once more in Roskilde and he learned from Jarl Sigvald that Thora was unhappy with her life in Poland and was pleading to come back to the west. Jarls Haakon and Eirik made it this year and that gave Sweyn and Eirik a chance to reconnect and when Eirik’s sister, Queen Consort Aud, arrived from Sweden they learned from her that Queen Svia had left Sweden and had gone to Kiev. King Erik ‘the Victorious’ was in a rage and had taken his warfleet east into Hraes’ to go after her. When Prince Valdamar had refused to send her north to King Erik, the Swedish royal burned Novgorod to the ground, but it was actually the older smaller town of Staraja Ladoga, which wasn’t as bad, but, still, it set a precedent that would carry far into the future. Erik didn’t dare go further into Hraes’ for there was a full legion waiting for him in Novgorod and a few more waiting for him in Kiev. Hraes’ was not called the land of forts for nothing. King Erik finally arrived in Roskilde halfway through Yule and Queen Aud soon had him cooled down.
Back in Angleland, King Athelred had received more information from his spies on Jarl Olaf and his preliminary baptism. Further, he ordered the people of Wessex to supply provisions to the Norwegians and the Danes and he sent priests to the Christian Viking to plead for peace in exchange for the provisioning and they offered the Vikings whatever they required. Then the king sent Bishop Elfeah and Alderman Ethelwerd to Jarl Olaf to talk of religion and final baptism and they gave up hostages to be left with the ships and they led Jarl Olaf with great pomp and ceremony to King Athelred in the town of Andover west of his capital in Westminster. There the king offered to be Olaf’s sponsor in final baptism and honoured him with royal presents and accepted him as King of Norway and offered to be his ally in the Christianization of Norway. In return, King Olaf promised to bring the Christian faith to Norway and to never again treat Angleland or Christian countries with hostility. King Olaf then brought all his Norwegians to Westminster where they were baptised in the Latin Christian faith. The Kievan legion that King Sweyn had left under his command was already Orthodox Christian, baptised during Prince Valdamar’s conversion to Christianity when he married Princess Anna Porphyrogennetos in Cherson, but King Olaf insisted that King Athelred and his bishops baptise them in the Latin Christian faith and provide them all with young Anglish Christian wives to tie them to their new Norwegian lord and their new home in York, for Olaf got for himself the official titles for all the lands that King Erik Bloodaxe had ruled in Northumbria. He promised King Athelred that it was from Northumbria that he would take Christianity into Norway and make that country an Anglish ally as well.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for that year read:
‘A.D. 994. This year died Archbishop Siric: and Elfric, Bishop of
Wiltshire, was chosen on Easter-day, at Amesbury, by King
Ethelred and all his council. This year came Anlaf and Sweyne to
London, on the Nativity of St. Mary, with four and ninety-ships.
And they closely besieged the city, and would fain have set it on
fire; but they sustained more harm and evil than they ever
supposed that any citizens could inflict on them. The holy
mother of God on that day in her mercy considered the citizens,
and ridded them of their enemies. Thence they advanced, and
wrought the greatest evil that ever any army could do, in burning
and plundering and manslaughter, not only on the sea-coast in
Essex, but in Kent and in Sussex and in Hampshire. Next they
took horse, and rode as wide as they would, and committed
unspeakable evil. Then resolved the king and his council to send
to them, and offer them tribute and provision, on condition that
they desisted from plunder. The terms they accepted; and the
whole army came to Southampton, and there fixed their winter-quarters;
where they were fed by all the subjects of the West-Saxon
kingdom. And they gave them 16,000 pounds in money. Then
sent the king; after King Anlaf Bishop Elfeah and Alderman
Ethelwerd; and, hostages being left with the ships, they led
Anlaf with great pomp to the king at Andover. And King Ethelred
received him at episcopal hands, and honoured him with royal
presents. In return Anlaf promised, as he also performed, that
he never again would come in a hostile manner to England.’
(995) King Sweyn spent the early spring trying to bring peace between King Erik and Prince Valdamar but he had to rush back to Angleland when he learned that Jarl Olaf had abandoned him in southern Angleland and had set himself up as a king in Northumbria, apparently with King Athelred’s support. He visited Princess Gyda in Ipswich and learned that Olaf had totally abandoned his family there. Gyda was in tears and was afraid of what would happen to her and their young children, but Sweyn assured her that he would leave his Hraes’ regiment there for her protection and he returned to Denmark with his legion and took no operations against the Anglo-Saxons that year.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for that year read:
‘A.D. 995. This year appeared the comet-star.’