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Sveinn Tjúguskegg, known also as Sweyn I Forkbeard and Sven the Dane, (960 – February 3, 1014), was king of Denmark and England, as well as parts of Norway. He was a Viking leader and the father of Canute the Great. On his father Harald Bluetooth's death in late 986, he became King of Denmark; in 1000, with allegiance of the Trondejarl, Erik of Lade, he was ruler over most of Norway. After a long effort at conquest, and shortly before his death, in 1013 he became King of England. For the last months of his life, he was the Danish sovereign of a North Sea empire, which only his son Canute was to rival in northern Europe.

Sweyn Forkbeard's nickname, which was used during his lifetime, unlike many royal nicknames, refers to a pitchfork-style moustache which was fashionable at the time, particularly in England, where Sweyn picked up the idea.

Life and Kingship[]

Sweyn's father, Harald Bluetooth, was the first of the Scandinavian kings to officially accept Christianity, in the mid-960s. According to Adam of Bremen, an 11th century historian, Harald's son Sweyn was baptised Otto, paying tribute to the German king Otto I who was Holy Roman Emperor. Forkbeard is never known to have officially made use of this Christian name though. He did not use it on the coins he proudly sent forth, and when he was given the English crown by the Witenagemot of Anglo-Saxon nobles, in 1013, he took the crown as king Sweyn.

Sweyn was a rebellious son, who lead an uprising against his father, in 987, and chased him out of the court, forcing him to abandon his kingdom. Harald spent the rest of his days with the Slavs, in Wendland. As King, he built churches in Denmark at Lund and Roskilde, and led Danish raids against England between 1002 and 1012, notably in Wessex and [[East Anglia] in 1003-1004, when a 1005 famine forced him to return home.

Sweyn's motice was revenge for the St. Brice's Day massacre of England's Danish inhabitants on November 13, 1002, when Ethelred the Unready ordered the killing of every Dane in England, save those in the Danelaw. Sweyn's sister and brother-in-law were killed in the massacre. He acquired massive sums of Danegeld through the raids, and in 1013, he personally led his forces in a full-scale invasion.

The contemporary Peterborough Chronicle, one of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, states:

before the month of August came king Sweyn with his fleet to Sandwich. He went very quickly about East Anglia into the Humber's mouth, and so upward along the Trent till he came to Gainsborough. Earl Uchtred and all Northumbria quickly bowed to him, as did all the people of Lindsey, then the people of the Five Boroughs. He was given hostages from each shire. When he understood that all the people had submitted to him, he bade that his force should be provisioned and horsed; he went south with the main part of the invasion force, while some of the invasion force, as well as the hostages, were with his son Canute. After he came over Watling Street, they went to Oxford, and the town-dwellers soon bowed to him, and gave hostages. From there they went to Winchester, and the people did the same, then eastward to London.

But the Londoners destroyed the bridges that spanned the river Thames, and Sweyn suffered heavy losses and had to withdraw. He thence went "from there to Wallingford, over the Thames to Bath, and stayed there with his troops; Ealdorman Aethelmaer came, and the western Thegns with him. They all bowed to Sweyn and gave hostages."

London had withstood the assault of the Danish army, but the city was now alone, isolated within a country which had completely surrendered. Sweyn Forkbeard was accepted as King of England following the flight to Normandy of King Ethelred the Unready in late 1013. With the acceptance of the Witenagemot, London had finally surrendered to him, and he was declared king on Christmas day.

Sweyn was based in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, and began to organize his vast new kingdom, but he died there on February 3, 1014, having ruled England unopposed for only five weeks. His embalmed body was subsequently returned to Denmark, to be buried in the church he built in Roskilde. He was succeeded as King of Denmark by his elder son, Harald II, but the Danish fleet proclaimed his younger son Canute king. In England, the councillors had sent for Ethelred, who upon his return from exile in Normandy in the spring of 1014 managed to drive Canute out of England. However, Canute returned to become King of England in 1016, while also ruling Denmark, Norway, and parts of Sweden, Pomerania, and Schleswig.


Sweyn's wife was Sigrid the Haughty. His son was Canute the Great. He was tolerant of paganism while favoring Christianity, at least politically.