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SWEYN I

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Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 224 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SWEYN I., KING OF DENMARK ( -1014), son of Harold Bluetooth, the christianizer of Denmark, by his peasant mistress Aesa, according to the Jomsvikinga Saga, though more probably his mother was Queen Gunild, Harold's consort. The lad was a born champion and buccaneer. His first military expedition, in alliance with the celebrated Jomsborg Viking, Palnatoke, was against his own father, who perished during the struggle (c. 986). Six years later he conducted a large fleet of warships to England, which did infinite damage, but failed to capture London. During his absence, Denmark was temporarily occupied by the Swedish king, Eric Sersel, on whose death (c. 994) Sweyn recovered his patrimony. About the same time he repudiated his first wife Gunild, daughter of duke Mieszko of Poland, and married King Eric's widow, Sigrid. This lady was a fanatical pagan of a disquieting strength of character. Two viceroys, earlier wooers, were burned to death by her orders for their impertinence, and she refused the hand of Olaf Trygvesson, king of Norway, rather than submit to baptism, whereupon the indignant monarch struck her on the mouth with his gauntlet and told her she was a worse pagan than any dog. Shortly afterwards she married'Sweyn, and easily persuaded her warlike husband to unite with Olaf, king of Sweden, against Olaf Trygvesson, who fell in the famous sea-fight off Svolde (r000) on the west coast of Rugen, after a heroic resistance immortalized by the sagas, whereupon the confederates divided his kingdom between them. After his first English expedition Sweyn was content to blackmail England instead of ravaging it, till the ruthless massacre of the Danes on St Brice's day, the 3rd of November 1002, by Ethelred the Unready (Sweyn'ssister was among the victims) brought the Danish king to Exeter (1003). During each of the following eleven years, the Danes, materially assisted by the universal and shameless disloyalty of the Saxon ealdormen, systematically ravaged England, and from 991 to 1014 the wretched land is said to have paid its invaders in ransoms alone 158,000. Sweyn died suddenly at Gainsborough on the 13th of February 1014. The data relating to his whole history are scanty and obscure, and his memory has suffered materially from the fact that the chief chroniclers of his deeds and misdeeds were ecclesiastics. It was certainly unfortunate that he began life by attacking his own father. It is undeniable that his favourite wife was the most stiff-necked pagan of her day. His most remarkable exploit, Svolde, was certainly won at the expense of Christianity, resulting, as it did, in the death of the saintly Olaf.. Small wonder, then, if Adam of Bremen, and the monkish annalists who follow him, describe Sweyn as a grim and bloody semi-pagan, perpetually warring against Christian states. But there is another side to the picture. Viking though he was, Sweyn was certainly a Christian viking. We know that he built churches; that he invited English bishops to settle in Denmark (notably Godibald, who did good work in Scania); that on his death-bed he earnestly commended the Christian cause to his son Canute. He was cruel to his enemies no doubt, but he never forgot a benefit. Thus he rewarded the patriotism of the Danish ladies who sacrificed all their jewels to pay the heavy ransom exacted from him by his captors, the Jomsborg pirates, by enacting a law whereby women were henceforth to inherit landed property in the same way as their male relatives. Of his valour as a captain and his capacity as an administrator there can be no question. His comrades adored him for his liberality, and the frequent visits of Icelandic skalder to his court testify to a love of poetry on his part, indeed one of his own strophes has come down to us. As to his personal appearance we only know that he had a long cleft beard, whence his nickname of Tiugeskaeg or Fork-Beard. See Danmarks riges historie. Oldtiden og den celdre middelalder, pp. 364—381 (Copenhagen, 1897—1905). ( R. N. B.)
End of Article: SWEYN I
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