Sweyn Forkbeard: First Viking King of England

Sweyn Forkbeard First Viking King of English

Viking history was full of great heroes and kings. In the previous blog post, we dwell into the life and legacy of Danish King Harald Bluetooth who united the Danes under one single banner. However, Harald was usurped by his own son whose name was Sweyn Forkbeard. Like father, like son, Sweyn Forkbeard brought the fear of Viking beyond the border of Denmark becoming the first Viking King of England.

Family Background of Sweyn Forkbeard

Being the son of Harald Bluetooth, Sweyn Haraldsson (960AD – 1014AD) was never a normal guy. The Sweyn Forkbeard name can be seen from many medieval sources like Chronicles of Anglo-Saxon, Snorri Sturluson’s work, or Adam Bremen’s literature, etc.

The identity of Sweyn’s mother has always been remaining a mystery. Some say that woman was Gunhild while others believe her name was Tove. There has been no agreement by far.

Viking warrior Sweyn Forkbeard

Commonly, a Viking King like Harald Bluetooth would be busy with raids and political issues. Hardly did he have time for his children. And some of Harald’s children were sent to Harald’s men who would help the king to raise his children up. And legend had it that Harald Bluetooth sent Sweyn Forkbeard to Palnatoke a Viking hero and also a true pagan in blood.

The reason why Sweyn had the name Forkbeard was because of his fork-like beard.

Revolt and Crown

Not only was Harald Bluetooth was famous for his success in uniting the Danes but also introducing the Danes with Christianity. Harald was among the first Viking Danish kings who got baptized. He submitted himself to the cross.

This baptism whether because of political matter or Harald’s religious belief itself did trigger off waves of protests. In the Viking community at that moment, the Vikings still found it hard to abandon their Norse Pantheon. And now, their King submitted himself to the new religion without hesitation.

Palnatoke (who raised up Sweyn) was among those against the baptism of the King. Scholars believed that it was Palnatoke who stood behind the revolt plan of Sweyn Forkbeard.

Adam of Bremen depicted Sweyn as a pagan in blood too. He hated his father’s new religion which was possibly fuelled by Palnatoke. Around mid 980s, Harald brought about a political revolt dethroning his father. Some sources mentioned that Sweyn pushed his father into exile while others claimed the death of Harald Bluetooth right in the battle with his own son.

Sweyn Forkbeard the first Viking King of england
Sweyn dethroned his father, Harald Bluetooth, only to become the King of Denmark

Sweyn declared himself King of Denmark and carried on ancestral path – raiding and pillaging. At this point, Viking attacks were not just hit and run ones. Rather, they became organized territorial invasions. The new King then shifted his focus to Anglo-Saxon, especially Wessex.

The reigning King of England at this point was Æthelred the Unready.

Many times that Sweyn wreaked havoc in the land of Æthelred. The Anglo-Saxon king felt so tired with wars that he offered Sweyn treasures to leave his kingdom. But Sweyn Forkbeard came back time after time.

English King then was advised to take action on the Danes who lived in Wessex. The king ordered to kill them all. And there came the St Brice Day Masacre on November 13th 1002. Nearly all of the Danes living on the land of England were sentenced to death, no matter in what method. And one of the victims was assumed to be the sister of Sweyn Forkbeard.

On hearing what Aethelred had done with the Danes, Sweyn could not help but assembling his greatest army.

What must come comes. Sweyn Forkbeard declared to behead Aethelred. Although Sweyn managed to dethrone the king, he could not kill Aethelred who had fled in exile. On the Christmas Day of 1013, Sweyn declared himself the Viking King of England.

But Sweyn’s reign did not last for long. It lasted for five weeks, until 3 February 1014, Sweyn died. His body was returned to Denmark to unite with his fallen brothers. The great sons of Sweyn Forkbeard continued to carry the family’s legacy. One of the most famous sons of Sweyn was Cnute the Great King of England.

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