On this day in history : 3rd February 1014 – The death of Sweyn Folkbeard – England’s shortest-reigning king, with a reign of just 40 days….

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Sweyn Folkbeard, detail of a mid-13th-century miniature. Cambridge University Library. Public domain.

Sweyn was born around 960 AD and was the son of Harald Bluetooth, the first Scandinavian king to be baptised a Christian….

Sweyn Folkbeard – (known as such because of his long clefted beard) – grew up to be a brutal and violent man….but then – they were brutal and violent times…. During the mid 980s AD he led a revolt against his father and seized the throne…. Harald went into exile and died soon after….

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Sweyn and the Jomsvikings at the funeral ale of his father Harald Bluetooth. Painting by Lorenz Frolich c.1883-86. Public domain.

It was during the 990s AD that Sweyn began a campaign of fear and mass destruction in England…. King of England at the time – Ethelred the Unready – attempted to rid himself of the troublesome Dane by paying him off…. The ‘Danegeld Tax’ was intended to pay tribute to the Vikings and save the land from being ravaged. Only it did not work….the Danes continued to raid Northern England, albeit on a smaller scale…. Some Danes even began to settle here….

Ethelred was advised in order to save England he must get rid of the Danes once and for all…. On the 13th of November 1002 he ordered the complete massacre of all Danes in England – men, women and children (St. Brice’s Day Massacre)…. Among those to be slaughtered was Gunhilde, Sweyn’s sister….

Sweyn swore revenge…. In 1003 he arrived with a massive invading force….landing at Sandwich (Kent). From there he ravaged much of Southern England….terrifying the natives and forcing them into submission. He then proceeded north to the Humber – Northumbria surrendered…. Next Sweyn made his way to Winchester and finally turned his attention to London….

Ethelred resisted at first, putting up a fierce fight….but his subjects were terrified of the consequences. The English Earls, not happy with how their King was handling matters, reluctantly declared Sweyn King of England…. Ethelred fled to the Isle of Wight and from there to Normandy – where he joined his wife and children….

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Ethelred the Unready in an early thirteenth-century copy of the Abingdon Chronicle. Public domain.

Sweyn was made King of England on Christmas Day 1013 (although he was never crowned)…. He ruled from a fortification at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire…. On the 3rd of February 1014 he died suddenly…. Some say he had a fall from his horse, whilst others believe he died from apoplexy (stroke). He had reigned for just 40 days….

He was buried in England but later his remains were moved to Roeskild Cathedral, Denmark. He was succeeded as King of Denmark by his son, Harald II….

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Viking longboat ‘Hugin’ at Pegwell Bay, near to Sandwich Kent…. A gift from the Danish government in 1949….

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