Saturday, August 8, 2009

The End of the Vikings and the Beginning of My New Life in Scandinavia

I finished the lecture series. It was actually life-altering in a weird and nerdy way. I don't agree with part of his conclusion, but everything else was terrific.

The age of the Vikings came to end for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that by the twelfth century most of Scandinavia had gone Christian. And as the religion grew, the vikings were scolded and told that it's not a very good idea to go raiding on their Christian neighbors. That isn't a very Christ-like thing to do!
Another reason I kind of touched on in the last post. By this point, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are all independent kingdoms. The idea of raiding wasn't necessary anymore because they were all a part of the greater European economy. Trade was up. Cities were up and running. The art of ship building that made the vikings immortal had been lost. Times had changed and the viking raids were not essential or even intriguing any longer. Now it was the Christian monarch and killing each other for the throne and killing others for Christ. Also! In the 14th century, 2/3 of the population died from the black plague, so there really wasn't anyone left to raid.

This conclusion makes sense. But the Professor Harl goes on to say that the vikings were to blame for the Crusades. He doesn't say they forced anyone directly. But they did force Europe to organize. The vikings were experts at exploiting weaknesses. European kingdoms were seriously bashed by the vikings and had to figure out how to protect themselves. The feudal monarchs were a result. And they may have set the stage for the Crusades to happen. The violence they inflicted on Europe may have inspired the crusaders and the knights to turn the tables on their neighbors in the east. I do not, however, see any real connection between the vikings and the crusades that followed. Show me some evidence, Professor!!

As the lecture concludes, a new chapter of my life opens. My job at Weber is over in two weeks, which means there may be enough time to get one more audio book in before I quit. After that, I'm going Scandinavia. Last night I bought the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. Starting with the mythology and the legends seemed essential. I also picked up a collection of the Icelandic Sagas. I'm serious about this shit, dawg!

That means History Books will be downsizing to focus on the vikings and Scandivian history and anthropology. Hopefully you will enjoy what is going on here. I think Dave Orr is the only one who reads this, and I know that he is pumped.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Vikings Part 4: Cnut should have worn a condom

Fast forward.

The Holy Roman Empire has formed in what is today Germany. And now they are dishing out their own havoc on Denmark, trying to convert those heathens with violence, just like Jesus did. The Vikings in Denmark don't like being pushed around, so they look for an answer to their problem. Being the southern-most part of Scandinavia, they have to deal with all the kingdoms of Europe, those annoying kingdoms and empires with their Christian God. But it seems to work. So they create the kingdom of Denmark. I'm pretty sure it starts with Harold Bluetooth, or maybe his father. But Harold's son, Sven Forkbeard, eventually takes the throne. During his reign, the king of England massacres a good number of Danes. Sven will not stand for this, so he decides to conquer England. It is slow-going, but he manages to expel the king and many earls to Normandy. He dies in the middle of his campaign, and his son, Cnut, takes over as king.

Cnut heads over to finish up in England, defeated Edward Ironsides, and he becomes King of England. He decides to stay in England for most of the rest of his life. Harold, his half-brother, takes over for him in Denmark. England, by this time, is a very well run state. They produce a lot of revenue. So Cnut stays where the money is. Yet he still rules like an outsider. The people of England don't take to well to him. Neither do Scandinavians. This is mostly due to his adversary, Olaf the Stout in Norway. Olaf became a saint after he died, so you can imagine many people liked him. He had the poets on his side, and therefore was well known everywhere.

After years of battling, Olaf is finally defeated and kicked out of Norway. Cnut is elected at the All Thing to be the King of Norway. Now, here we have what was three entirely different territories under one man. Cnut had a potential empire at his fingertips. For some reason, though, he gave Norway to his oldest son, Sven, about 18 months after he was heralded as king. Sven quickly loses control of Norway, but for a brief moment in time there was a united empire in the North Sea.

Cnut dies in 1035. The events that follow his death are nearly impossible to follow. I made up a really awesome diagram on the computer that will make it even more confusing for you. I can't figure out how to post it, so here is a picture instead of the rough outline I drew when I should have been working.

Cnut leaves each of his three sons a piece of his vast empire. Sven had Norway. Denmark was left to Harthacnut, and England went to Harold Harefoot. For an English king, this was a very Scandinavian thing to do. Alfred the Great had started the tradition for Anglo-saxon kings to leave the entire kingdom to one heir. Scandinavian tradition cut up the kingdom and handed out parts to different successors. This was a recipe for disaster. Sven had been kicked out of Norway and died soon after. The people chose St. Olaf's son, Magnus, to take the throne. They wanted to shake off Danish rule for good, so they tried to take Denmark. Harthacnut had other things to worry about, so he concocted a treaty in 1038 that said that should he or Magnus die of natural causes, the other will inherit his kingdom. They were both young (Magnus at a ripe 10 or 11), and expected to live too long for this treaty to even matter to them. It was mainly so that Harthacnut could get Magnus off his back so he could focus on England.

Harthacnut was the obvious heir to the crown of Denmark. To him, England was under Danish rule, so it belonged to him. But Harold Harefoot wasn't going to stand for that. He quickly snagged the crown in England. So the stage was set. Harthacnut gathered his forces and prepared for an attack on his brother in England. But before he could make a move, Harold Harefoot died unexpectedly in 1040. Harthacnut was king of both England and Denmark by default. Here he had raised all this money and had nowhere to go. He then set his eyes on Norway to complete the empire his father had built. But in 1042, after partying too hard, he died before he could make a move! In just under seven years, all three of Cnut's sons had died, hadn't even reached the age of 25.

With the death of Harthacnut, it looked like the thrones of both England and Denmark were wide open. Magnus the Great, however, pulled out that gem, that treaty of 1038. According to it, he was the rightful heir to the throne of Denmark and therein England because Harthacnut had died naturally. Suddenly, the power shifted from the Danes to the Norse. Magnus quickly takes over Denmark and sets his eyes on England.

Here is where it starts getting crazy.

Two men pop up in Scandinavia. The first, Sven Estredsin, was a nephew of Cnut. He was a terrible warrior and lost nearly every battle he fought. But he was focused on one thing: Denmark. He did not care for Norway. He immediately challenged Magnus and shifted the kings focus on him instead of England. The second man was Harold Hardrade, a half brother of St. Olaf. He proposed to help Magnus fight Sven if the king agreed to split Norway between them. Magnus agrees and together they defeat Sven over and over. He keeps coming back! Before Norway can be carved up, Magnus dies! This is in 1047. And according to that pesky treaty of 1038, the kingdom is goes back to Harold Hardrade. Now, he has both Denmark and Norway. Sven, however, finally sneaks in and gets a hold of Denmark.


Go back to England. After Harthacnut died, Edward the Confessor, son of the king who Cnut had ousted, takes the throne. He is weak and is actually ruled by different earls and powerful families. Everyone knows Edward is on his way out. He dies in early 1066. There are quickly three suitors for the throne: Harold II, the son of Godwin, a powerful earl in England; Harold Hardrade, the king of Norway; and William of Normandy. All things considered, William and Harold II had no legitimate claims to the thrones. They were very weak connections. Harold Hardrade, the half-brother of St. Olaf, probably had the closest thing to a legit claim to the English throne. And of course, he is going to make the first move to get what is rightfully his.

Harold Hardrade takes a fleet of 300 ship filled with vikings to England and easily take York. Harold II takes his measly royal army and rides north to meet the Norse in what is the Battle of Stanford Bridge. Harold II annihilates Harold Hardrade's forces. Only 25 ships return to Norway with the few that survived. Before Harold can bask in his victory, William of Normandy invades in the south. Harold II rides down to meet him in the incredibly important and decisive Battle of Hastings. William the Conqueror comes out on top and thus England becomes a Carolingian feudal kingdom.

In the end, the three-piece empire developed into three distinct kingdoms. William took England and made it an official Christian kingdom. The kingdom of Denmark already existed, but it was taken over by the eternal loser Sven Estredsin. And even though he lost in England, Harold Hardrade left Norway to his family. Cnut was long forgotten and disliked by generations after.

Did you follow all that?