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February 03, 2017


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The extent of the St. Brice's Day Massacre is debatable. We have Aethelred's own words, from a church charter in Oxford, describing slayings taking place in that town, and an archaeological find that may be related. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle also notes it as a slaying of "Danish men" in England. Later Norman chronicles extend the carnage to women and children, and one adds some lurid details. It must be admitted that later Norman chroniclers had a vested interest in making English kings look bad.

Period sources do give Gunhilde's death as a reason for Sweyn's invasion. This could be true, or it could be a "just so" story.

Eadric Streona would only just have gotten to court in 1002 and probably wouldn't have been at the Witan. Later in his life, he betrayed and killed a Danish nobleman who had accepted his hospitality, and he is generally the most famous English villain of the 11th century, so the plot seemed like it would be right up his alley. I put him in under fictional license.

Aethelred "the Unready" was actually Aethelraed Unraed, "Noble Counsel the Poorly-Counseled."

Of course there exist no records of the Witan meeting where the massacre was decreed. But we have Aethelred's word that it happened:

"For it is fully agreed that to all dwelling in this country it will be well known that, since a decree was sent out by me with the counsel of my leading men and magnates, to the effect that all the Danes who had sprung up in this island, sprouting like cockle amongst the wheat, were to be destroyed by a most just extermination, and thus this decree was to be put into effect even as far as death, those Danes who dwelt in the afore-mentioned town, striving to escape death, entered this sanctuary of Christ, having broken by force the doors and bolts, and resolved to make refuge and defence for themselves therein against the people of the town and the suburbs; but when all the people in pursuit strove, forced by necessity, to drive them out, and could not, they set fire to the planks and burnt, as it seems, this church with its ornaments and its books. Afterwards, with God's aid, it was renewed by me."


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