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Denmark's History

28. Oluf Hunger

It was the people as a whole, who rose against King Canute in 1086 because of his demands for the hated "nefgjald" tax, the payment of tithes and the barrage of other religious decrees he issued after the leding fleet was dissolved in 1085.
But as soon as Oluf was declared king, there became a famine in Denmark. Priests and monks preached that the misgrowth was the people's own fault, as it was God's punishment for killing the holy king.
Oluf Hunger's story has a lot in common with the modern climate hysteria. Politicians, intellectuals and the mass media constantly preach that global warming and extreme weather are the people's own fault because they sinfully and selfishly emit CO2.

1. Misgrowth in Denmark

The Danish nobles kept their promise to Svend Estridsen to choose his sons as kings according to age. Oluf was the third eldest of Svend Estridsen's sons and at the same time the third to be elected king of Denmark.

Oluf Hunger

Etchings of Oluf Hunger made in the period 1500-1795. It has probably no portrait likeness. From the Royal Library.

The choice of a new king in 1086 fell quite naturally on the leader of the opposition to Canute, namely on his younger brother, Oluf.

The brothers Erik - that later received the epithet Ejegod - and Niels, who both supported Canute, were rejected. Eriks hasty escape to Sweden and Queen Edel and her little son Karl's departure to Flanders clearly demonstrates that the rebels had won a clear victory and enjoyed general support.

Saxo believes that especially the Jutes supported Oluf: "When Canute had been slain, the Jutes, because of the wicked conspiracy they still clung to, were particularly favorable to Oluf, gave him their votes and demanded eagerly to make him king, for they hoped that he would return their favour to them, since they had exposed themselves to much danger to get him the kingdom, whereas they did not think it advisable to entrust this dignity to any of his brothers, of whom they thought badly because of the great love they had harboured to Canute."

Quite exceptionally, Oluf was elected king of Denmark, even though he was not present at all at the county tings, because he was still a prisoner in Flanders with Canute the Holy's brother-in-law, Duke Baldwin. But the rebels must have thought that this problem could be solved.

A timeline of Danish history - Most of the kings except one are descendants of "Hardegon, son of a certain Sven", who invaded Jutland in the year 917 AD. as related by Adam of Bremen in the section on Bishop Hoger. But it is pedagogically appropriate to divide the succession of kings and thus history into dynasties, as this makes it far more manageable. It is easy to spot natural groups, such as the early Viking kings, whom I call the Knytlings, but who are also called the Jelling dynasty, separated from Svend Estridsen and his sons' period by the time of Magnus the Good. The civil war between Svend, Knud and Valdemar quite obviously separates Svend Estridsen and his sons from the Valdemars. The kingless time separates the Valdemars from Valdemar Atterdag and the union kings. The end of the Kalmar Union with the Stockholm Massacre, the fall of Christian 2, the Count's Feud and the Reformation was a crucial crossroads in Danish history. The ancient electoral monarchy was abolished in a coup in 1660 and replaced by a royal dictatorship, namely the absolute monarchy. The Oldenborg kings ruled in both elective monarchy and absolutist periods. Furthermore, it was an Oldenborg king, namely Frederik 7, who abolished absolute monarchy in 1848 in favor of the constitutional monarchy, according to which the royal power is defined in the constitution as hereditary. Own work.

The new king promised to comply with "King Harald's laws". It must have been the general expectation that he would bring back the good and peaceful times under Harald Hen.

But the Divine Powers had other plans; As soon as Oluf had placed himself on the throne, misgrowth and famine spread in large parts of northern Europe and not least in Denmark, and from this Oluf earned his nickname: "Hunger".

Sweyn Estridson was followed by five of his sons and then a grandson and a son of Erik Ejegod's daughter

Sveyn Estridson was followed by five of his sons, one after another. Then came Erik Emmune, son of Erik Ejegod and next Erik Lam, who was the son of Ragnhild, who was a daughter of Erik Ejegod. Own work.

Amid the misery, it was told that miracles happened by the slain king's grave in Odense. It is reported that Bishop Sven Normand in Roskilde had predicted the famine and reminded the people by sincere repentance to avoid the disaster. A budding acknowledgment of Knud's holiness grew forth, and many believed that the famine was God's punishment for the murder of the Holy King.

2. Oluf Hunger

Knytlinge Saga is the only source that says something about how Oluf looked like, true or false: "Olaf Svendson was of equal age with King Canute; He was a little man and very ugly in appearance, eloquent, and a great warrior"

Granite frame in Odder Church, Skodborg Herred

Granite frame in Odder Church, Skodborg Herred. Lion with leaf tail and decorative tongue standing above a tree. A woodcut motif that has been transferred to granite. Photo from Valdemarerne by Palle Lauring.

The saga's statement that Oluf was almost the same age as his big brother Canute, together with his father's, Sweyn Estridson, age and the forensic statements in connection with the investigation of Canute's bones in 2008, make it likely that he was born perhaps between 1042 and 1050 and thus around 40 years old, when he became king.

Ælnoth confirms that Oluf was eloquent. The leding gathering in Vestervig in 1085 chose him for their spokesman, and he went to Slesvig and presented the army's complaints to King Canute: "He came to the king with his entourage, bringing the army's errand and presented in an eloquent lecture the reasons for the complaints."

Saxo tells that Oluf was border earl in Slesvig: "Olaf, who was governor of Slesvig", making it likely that he had military qualifications - that he really was "great warrior", as Knytlinge Saga says.

Knytlinge Saga goes on to tell that: "Olaf Svendson was an authoritative, strict and unfriendly man; He was greedy for money." One might wonder about the saga's criticism on this point, for "authoritative and strict" was precisely what they praised Canute the Holy for - and the same Canute was also very active in collecting money fines and taxes.

Even Saxo, who is very critical of Oluf, must reluctantly admit that Oluf was a committed and responsible man, as he says Oluf during the Great Famine asked God to receive his life as a sacrifice with prayer to relieve the conditions of his people: "Therefore, one can not deny that pious he must nevertheless have been, because he sacrificed his own well-being for his subjects."

Knytlinge Saga says that Oluf was married to a daughter of Harald Hårderåde: "Olaf Svendson was married to Ingerid, a daughter of the Norwegian king Harald Sigurdson and a sister to King Olaf Kyrre." There are no reports that they had children.

Coin minted by Oluf Hunger

Coin minted by Oluf Hunger. It looks like he has a mustache and his hair arranged in short braids. Photo Revolvy.

Oluf was the leader of the opposition to Canute in 1085.

Saxo has a long account of how Oluf initially applauded and encouraged Canute's plan for an attack on England, but in fact harbored sly plans: "He initially told Olaf about his secret plans, and as he encouraged him to put them into action, he revealed them to the people of the country, who all eagerly applauded them. But he, about whom the king had thought that he returned his brotherly love, was secretly his rival." - "not because he hoped his brother would be able to recapture the mighty England, but that he might arouse hatred against him, who ordered this leding when it became apparent how difficult a matter it was." - Oluf "returned his pious love by scheming to take his life. He knew that he had become hated because he by new laws had reestablished the before ignored rigour and justice." - "For the great men, whose violent deeds the king had subdued by his regulations, teamed up with Olaf in his brother-murderous plans."

The invasions plans must have been prepared in 1084, the fourth year of Canute's reign, and one can think that already by then was a great deal of resistance against Canute.

Then Saxo plays somewhat out of tune by writing that it was Canute, who came in time to Vestervig to the leding gathering, and the entire fleet then was delayed because Oluf did not come. Hence, Canute left the leding assembly to go to Slesvig and take Oluf prisoner and send him to Flanders. It is somewhat contrary to Ælnoth's report, according to which Canute all the time stayed in Slesvig and did not at any time show himself in Vestervig.

Detail of a mural in Jelling Church from the beginning of the 1100's. Jesus and John the Baptist are preaching to the people. Magnus Petersen unveiled the paintings in 1874. Due to the very poor state of conservation, he chose to copy them, and then remove them completely from the walls, subsequently to re-paint them after the copies. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

As before, we must appoint Ælnoth to the most reliable witness as he wrote a few years after the events from "information of trustworthy people of both sexes and both classes", who had personally experienced the events in their lifetime.

As Saxo uses expressions like "to end his days" and "brother murderous enterprise", we can believe that the conspiracy's goal was to kill the hated King Canute, which was also the traditional way of getting rid of an unwanted king. A leding gathering, where he was surrounded by all the armed men of the kingdom, could have been the ideal place, in which the whole kingdom would share the responsibility for the killing. Knowledge of such a conspiracy can explain Canute's strange refusal to appear personally in Vestervig to the leding that he himself had ordered.

The English chronicle writer Radulfus Niger has a somewhat different story, which also has Oluf as leader of the resistance to Canute: "After him, his brother Canute followed. When he had arranged a military expedition against England, his brother Olaf, who chased after the people's favor, gave the army permission to return home. Angry over this, his brother sent him as a prisoner to Count Robert of Flanders. At the end, when the king's bailiffs squeezed the people har for taxes and fines, they stood up against him until he succumbed to them, a martyr in death."

3. Captivity in Flanders

Ælnoth says that Canute took his brother Oluf in custody and "sent after dragging out the negotiations for a long time his aforementioned brother into custody to Flanders to the highly noble Duke of the West Country region, Robert, who were his relatives through his daughter, namely Queen Edel." But he says nothing about how Oluf came free of captivity, so he could take care of his royal duties.

On the other hand, Saxo tells how Canute's and Oluf's brother, Niels, agreed to offer himself as a hostage instead of Oluf: "To get him back so that he could take over the kingdom, they had to pay a sum of money and make Niels, both his and Canute's brother, hostage to his release. It was no small testimony of brotherly love." The money was quickly collected: "However, the Danes competed to collect the money that should be paid to for the hostage to come back, and to pay the settled amount."

Mural in Vellev Church

Mural in Vellev Church at Langå. King Herodes gives orders to the murder of the children in Bethlehem. We must think that it can imagine a Danish king from 1000-1100 and one of his men. He is sitting on a folding chair decorated with animal heads. Perhaps the kings brought such a chair when they traveled around the country and judged in many county tings. Photo Kalkmalerier.dk

Knytlinge Saga has a different story, as it here are the brothers, Thorgunna's sons, Svend and Astraad, who are in prison in Oluf's place and not Niels: "It was then decided to ask Thorgunnas sons to go west to Flanders to Duke Baldevin to try to get Olaf released in one or another way. As these men had been King Canute's dearest friends, they thought that they were the most likely person to get him released as soon as possible." - They were well received by the Duke and his daughter, Edel, who was now a widow after her husband, King Canute's death in Odense. - "The queen was delighted at their coming, and questioned them accurately on the events that had recently taken place in Denmark."

But - the saga tells - the Duke was not inclined to release Oluf readily: " - so I will make you a condition; Olaf will be released provided that he pays thirty marks gold, but under the condition that you must sit here in iron, until Olaf has paid the now settled amount of money." - "If Olaf does not want to pay the now settled amount of money, you will never get out of this guard and this prison." - "Olaf gave his oath promise that he would release these men the very quickest it was possible for him; He also swore to the Duke that he would pay the money." - "Olaf was then on these condition taken out of the prison, and Svend and Astraad were again put into the same and iron was put on their hands and feet."

But when Oluf had become king in Denmark, he did not hurry to redeem the brothers. The saga tells that Svend and Astraads friends reminded him about them: "The king answered them with anger, commanded them not to speak like that to him, and added: "These brothers have good days at Duke Baldevin as they well deserve, for they have long served the brothers in law, and now they, therefore, are paid as deserved."

Detail of the front of the Golden Altar from the beginning of the 1100's, originally placed in Lisbjerg Church near Aarhus, now in the National Museum. It consists of gilded copper plates mounted on oak. Virgin Mary, the Queen of Heaven, sits dignified on her throne chair with the crowned King of Heaven on her lap. On the arch above her stands "Civitus Hierusalem", the city of Jerusalem. Photo Erik Horskjær De danske Kirker.

The duke had no political or religious motives to demand ransom; only he had by a stroke of luck got a king in his power and that he wanted to have the most of.

Whether it was Niels or Thorgunna's sons who were left as hostages, Oluf was probably tired of pouring money into the bottomless hole, called Duke Baldwin of Flanders, thinking that the Duke would not mistreat men, who had stood his daughter near, when she stayed in the barbarian foreign country in the north; sooner or later he would release them - which also happened.

Knytlinge Saga is world literature, which undoubtedly is based on real events, as far as its Icelandic writer knew them. But the English monk Radulfus Niger, who usually was very well-informed about Danish affairs, confirms Saxo's report that it was Niels, who went to prison in Flanders in Oluf's place: "Olaf, who now followed in the line of kings, was now in prison in Flanders; and Nils, who, after him, was the first to take the government, because: they had concluded the covenant by oath that the eldest always should be king after the predecessor. Nils then released his brother from captivity, because of his loyalty, and he himself remained as a hostage instead of him. As now, after his brother had got his freedom back, he refused to redeem him, he was haunted for his entire life with the nuisance of famine and hunger."

We also note that Radulfus confirms other English sources that Sweyn Estridson's sons had made the oath that they would follow each other after age; and moreover, this was Niels' motivation to help his brother free.

4. King of Denmark

Roskilde Chronicle says that after the killing of Canute, Oluf was appointed king at a meeting consisting of great men from across the country: "Then the great men of the kingdom came together, chose his brother Olaf as king and took him as a ruler over the whole kingdom of Denmark." We can imagine that it was a meeting of the same nature as he leding gathering at Isøre, namely a preparatory meeting for chieftains from all over Denmark, where they agreed on a common candidate to ensure that the same king was chosen in all of Denmark's "lands"; then Oluf was probably chosen by the Jutlanders on Viborg Ting first, as North Jutland was the largest land.

Miniature from the Dalby Book, Evangelist Matthew

Miniature from the Dalby Book, which is a Gospel manuscript that belonged to the monastery in Dalby in Scania. The drawing shows the Evangelist Matthew. The Gospel Book is one of the Royal Library's greatest treasures. It has been dated to the second half of the 11th century. Photo Lund University "En omvärdering av attributionskriterierna".

The all-dominant event in Oluf's reign was a very serious and prolonged famine, which gave him his byname "Hunger." Svend Aggesen writes: "At his (Canute's) death his brother Ole came to rule in Denmark. Under him it was that the fierce famine broke out in the country, so that he from that got the epithet "Hunger".

There is no doubt that there were serious crop failure and famine in Denmark, almost all sources say that. But they differ in, how they describe it. Saxo describes a Denmark on verge of ruin, where most of the people died of starvation, while other descriptions are more subdued.

Saxo writes very dramatically: "In the spring and summer, the strong heat dried out all the crops on the fields, and in the autumn it rained so heavily that what had grown up in low-lying or such places went bad as a result of the steady flooding caused by the frequent showers;" - "and the fields that were completely flooded looked far and wide like real lakes." - "Yes, the peasants even had to sail around in boats in the flooded fields and collect the few ears that drifted on the water, and then they dried the rotten crumbs that were left in the oven, grinded them and made porridge of them for they were no good for bread. The result was that there was such a famine that the largest part of the country people perished of lack of food." - "The rich became poor, and the poor died." - "for the rich got, when their food run out, for gold and silver, what they needed to save theie life, but the poor, who had neither money nor food hung, everywhere starved pitifully to death."

Markus the Evangelist in the Dalby book

Miniature from the Dalby Book, which is a gospel manuscript that belonged to the monastery in Dalby in Scania. The drawing shows Markus the Evangelist. Photo Lund University Lund Universitet "En omvärdering av attributionskriterierna".

Roskilde Chronicle expresses itself much less dramatic; Here one gets the impression that the peasants used the bad times as an excuse to do as they had always done, namely slaughtered and eaten horses, who could not work anymore, which practice the priests had forbidden: "In his time for 9 years there was a great famine in Denmark, so that people could hardly refrain from eating the impermissible and forbidden; For since under compelling distress the law sometimes is broken and violated, so they killed horses to eat them, and many slaughtered even their dogs. Nobody laid tables with different dishes and nobody cared to show any lavishness."

Saxo also believes that only in Denmark there was bad weather: "But the neighboring countries was full of grain, so it was obvious that it was the individual people, who should be punished, and it was not a common famine." But it has been shown that there were climate problems in several countries in northern Europe. Three English chronicles tell of agricultural crisis in England during Oluf's reign in Denmark.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1086 reports: " And the same year there was a very heavy season, and a swinkful and sorrowful year in England, in murrain of cattle, and corn and fruits were at a stand, and so much untowardness in the weather, as a man may not easily think; so tremendous was the thunder and lightning, that it killed many men; and it continually grew worse and worse with men. May God Almighty better it whenever it be his will!" Florence of Worcester writes about the same year: "There was a great murrain among the cattle, and the atmosphere was very sickly."

The founder on a framestone in Ørsted Church

The founder and his wife on framestone in Ørsted Church, Rougsø Herred west of Randers. A great man had let the church build or given abundant gifts to it. Foto Lennart Larsen.

And for the year 1087 was reported in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle: "Such a sickness came on men, that full nigh every other man was in the worst disorder, that is, in the diarrhoea; and that so dreadfully, that many men died in the disorder. Afterwards came, through the badness of the weather as we before mentioned, so great a famine over all England, that many hundreds of men died a miserable death through hunger. Alas! how wretched and how rueful a time was there! When the poor wretches lay full nigh driven to death prematurely, and afterwards came sharp hunger, and dispatched them withall!"

William of Malmesbury writes for the period 1092-1100: "In his sixth year there was such a deluge from rain, and such incessant showers as none had ever remembered."

The author Per Ullidtz states that there was famine in Lothringen and England in 1087, in 1089 again in Lothringen and in 1091 in England. In 1092 the Saxon great men had to flee the country, and a gathering of princes was prevented by the prevailing misery. In 1094 there was great mortality in Germany, France, Burgundy and Italy.

Therefore, monks' and priests' incessant propaganda that the famine only hit Denmark and was God's punishment for that the Danes had killed the holy king, was completely untrue; but the Danish peasants could not know anything about the situation in other countries.

As previously told Oluf's brother Erik, who later earned the epithet Ejegod, fled to Sweden after he had escaped the showdown in Odense. Perhaps he stayed in the estates mentioned in Valdemar's Book of Journals called "Syghridlef" and is supposed to have been located in Västergötland. One can believe that it was the estates, which came into the royal family, when Sweyn Forkbeard married Sigrid the Haughty. Sweyn Estridson sought refuge in Sweden several times during his struggle against Magnus the Good, and he probably stayed there too.

Not all Danes were convinced that the famine was God's punishment for the killing of Canute. Roskilde Chronicle, which is kindly disposed toward Oluf, only mentions that under his successor came suddenly the good years: "After his death, his brother Erik the Good followed him on the throne. Immediately ceased the hated famine, and the punishment of God gave way from the people. But whether this abundance came because of Eric, and the former famine because of Olaf, it must He decide, who knows everything before it happens and arranges everything, when and as He will; for none of them deserved the destiny, they got."

Frescoes of King Canute the Holy in Scania. Most murals with "Canute king" are found in churches in Scania. Funen has none, and in Jutland are probably very few and insignificant.
From let to right: Emmislöv Church, Ästra Vemmerlöv Church, Ästra Herrestad Church, Brunnby Church, Ästra Vemmerlöv Church - all in Lund Stift. Photo Kalkmalerier.dk

It is said that according to one of the Swedish rhyme chronicles, the Swedish king Inge the Elder, Stenkils son, during Oluf's reign should have won five battles in Scania and ruled for three years, until he was finally killed there, who knows - maybe by Oluf. The historian J.G.F. Ræder has suggested that the fugitive Erik together with king Inge for some years had a great influence in Scania, so that the people themselves volunteered to join Erik.

5. A Saint is being created

Immediately after the killing of Canute the Holy, there was no remorse to be traced in the Danes. But as soon as Oluf had placed himself on the throne, a series of very difficult years began for the Danish peasants as the harvest failed for several consecutive years. Gradually monks' and priests' incessant propaganda found fertile ground for their message that the famine was God's punishment of the Danes for the killing of the holy king.

Saint shrine is carried in procession. On certain days of the year, the shrines of saints were carried through the streets in a solemn procession. Thus, the holy shrines of Saint Albans and Canute must have been carried through the streets of Odense. A monk splashes vievand in front of the procession's route, another carries the cross. A king follows the procession and waves to the crowd. Below the shrine are the sick and disabled looking for miraculous healing. Drawn by the chronicler Matthew Paris in 1200-59.

It is an ancient idea that the king is responsible for the good relationship with the gods, and his first duty is to stay on good terms with the heavenly powers, who are in charge of the sun and rain and good harvest. Chinese sources tell of Xiongnu, the Huns' ancestors on the Eurasian steppe, that their king's main duty was to worship the powers of Heaven: "Early every morning, the king, Shan-ju they called him, went outside the camp to worship the sun at dawn. In the evening he worshiped the moon." All Chinese emperors went on a certain day of the year to the Temple of Heaven to sacrifice to Heaven for good year.

Ynglinge Saga says that the Swedes used to blame the kings for climate change: " - and there came very bad years and starvation there; they gave the king the blame for the that, like the Svears are used to give the king the blame for both good years and bad years. Olav was not a blot man (blot means sacrifice to the gods), and that the Svears did not like, and they thought the bad years came of that. The Svears then gathered an army, came against King Olav, surrounded the house and burned it with him inside and gave him to Odin, and bloted him to get good year."

Minitaure from the Dalby Book, the Evangelist Lukas

Miniature from the Dalby Book, which is a handwritten gospel that has belonged to the monestary in Dalby in Scania. The drawing shows the Evangelist Lukas. Photo Lund Universitet "En omvärdering av attributionskriterierna".

It must be assumed that the kings led important religious cermonies in connection with the cult of Thor, Odin and Frey.

With Christianity the kings became somewhat relieved as archbishops and priests took over a large part of the responsibility for the relationship to the Powers of Heaven. But after the Lutheran Reformation, the responsibility again rested heavily on the shoulders of the kings, and the new national churches were naturally led by the kings.

The idea that the prince was responsible for the good relationship with the celestial power - and thus for the whims of the climate - lasted for centuries. The historian Palle Lauring says that: "Well four hundred years later Gustav Vasa saw the Swedish peasants come in furious mood to Stockholm blaming him because the grain would not grow, so there is nothing strange in finding that faith alive in Denmark's medieval."

Aided by priests' and monks' constant propaganda, the believe that Canute was sacred spread little by little. The Danes had offended the Celestial Power by killing him, and the famine was God's punishment for their crime.

Oluf had no direct resposibility in the murder, because he was a prisoner in Flanders, when it happened. However, as a king, he obviously showed unable to prevent the wrath of Heaven, as kings should.

In Roskilde Chronicle is told that Bishop Svend Normand foresaw the famine and advised the Danes to make penance for the killing of Canute: "The rise of this misfortune the honorable bishop Sven had predicted just after Canute's killing, and he gave therefore, with his paternal reminders, many this advice: by remorse to keep it away. But because God hardens, whom he wants, and feel sorry with, whom he wants, he hardened everybody's hearts and struck them, as it was predicted, with misfortune."

Miniature from the Dalby Boo, the evangelist Johannes

Miniature from the Dalby Book, which is a handwritten gospel that belonged to the monastery in Dalby in Scania. The drawing shows the evangelist Johannes. Photo Lund University "En omvärdering av attributionskriterierna".

Canute's saint description, Pasio, says something similar: "That's why God let his punishment immediately follow as a chastisement: almost throughout Denmark he caused sorrow by rainshowers, disease, famine and scarcity for so long, until many more people by visions and revelations realized that the poor body of the king, which was pitiful thrown into the ground and hitherto had remained unheeded, should be taken up and highly honored among the saints."

And indeed, at the same time as Canute's bones were taken up from his cold grave in the ground in April 1095 and placed in a real saint-shrine, the sun broke through, a storm was displaced by clear sunshine, and the famine became past. The shift from storm to sunshine was one of three arguments for Canute being elevated to a saint.

Once, when Oluf was on the island of Funen - says Knytlinge Saga - a priest from Albani Church in Odense came to him to ask for his permission to announce Knud's holiness. The king replied: "Do not dare to say such lies, for I know many things in King Knud's life, which proves that he is far from being a saint. You should also know for certain that if anybody speaks more of this in front of me, then he will face the certain death."

Sweyn Estridson's son's family tree. Five of Sweyn Estridson sons succeeded him as king, one after the other. Several sources tell that to avoid civil war all the sons swore that they would let the elder be king first and then succeed him according to age, and it looks much like they kept their promise. Niels the Old had only one son with his wedded wife, namely Magnus the Strong, and he fell in the battle of Fodevig; but not until he had got his son Knud. The later kings were all sons of Erik Ejegod; however, Erik Lam was a grandson. Erik Lam was followed by the warring kings Svend, Knud and Valdemar, and the outcome of their fighting was that Valdemar became sole king.
Oluf was undoubtedly a talented and committed king, who would have got a far better legacy, if he did not have the climate against him.
Saxo was Valdemar the Great's man, and he praised Erik Ejegod, his own king's ancestor, beyond all and did his best to belittle his rivals, the other sons of Sweyn Estridson, including Oluf - but he was nevertheless compelled to admit that Oluf was a pious and responsible king, who sacrificed his own life for his subjects' welfare.

Canute supported very much churches and monasteries and gave many great gifts to the clergy, which certainly contributed to that he by the same class was declared holy. But as a saint he had trouble coping the competition with the Norwegian Olav the Holy. The Danes could not forget that they themselves had killed him because of his claim for payment of tithes and large and aggressive collection of taxes, fees and fines. Only more than a hundred years later he was taken into grace as the patron-saint of merchant guilds.

6. Oluf's death and burial

Oluf's death is mysterious. It is hard to ignore that Saxo more than implies that his death was a sacrificial death: "As he willingly sacrified himself to free the country of the misfortune and prayed that everyone's agony should come upon his head alone. Then he sacrificed his life to benefit his countrymen." Thus, to be understood that he voluntarily sacrificed himself to the Higher Powers - presumably the Christian God - to save his people. As Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross to save mankind, and Odin hung in the ash Yggdrasil, devoted to himself.

The king-sacrifice has deep roots in our heathen past. The Tollund man was not a thrall, who was sacrificed to the gods as a piece of cattle. He had well-groomed nails and hands that did not show traces of hard work. He may have been a local king, who sacrificed himself to the gods to save his people in a difficult situation. He still had the rope around his neck, when he was found.

Domalde on the blot-bench. Illustration by Erik Werenskiold in Heimskringla the National edition.

Swedish historians believe that the king-sacrifice may have been a permanent institution in Uppsala. Ynglinge Saga tells us that King Domalde was sacrificed for good year: "Domalde took inheritance from his father Visbur and ruled the countries. In his day was hunger and hardship in Svitjod. Then the Swedes made great blot at Upsaler. In the first fall they bloted oxen, but the year did not become better by this; The next fall they bloted humans, but the year became the same or even worse. But in the third fall, the Swedes came numerous to Upsaler at the time when the blots should take place. The chieftains counseled and agreed that Domalde, their king, must be the cause of the misfortune, and that they should blot him for good years, carry arms on him and kill him and color the frames in the temple with his blood. And this they did." And it worked.

The Roman chronicler Amminius wrote that the famous Gothic king Ermanaric took his own life, when the Huns attacked. It is not told how he died. Amminius wrote: "He soothed his fear by taking his own life". It sounds unlikely that such a fierce old warrior king, who was feared all over, should have been overwhelmed with fear. We must believe that he hanged himself as a sacrifice to the Gods to save his people.

Saxo tells about Oluf's death: "Then, lifting up his eyes to heaven and praying humbly to God the Almighty that if he was angry with his people, then let him suffer for this in their place, for he thought that the hard times that befell the country, was the most unfortunate destiny that it could have". "Heaven heard his prayer, he got a quick end of his misery, because by his pious prayer" - "He gave himself death and saved his coutry." - "Therefore, you cannot deny that pious he must have been because he sacrificed his own welfare for his subjects'."

Granite font in Nørre Lyndelse Church on Funen. A ruler with a tough and decisive expression on the face sits on a chair holding with his right hand the sword, and in his left hand a lily, which we believe represents the trinity, the right Catholic faith. Foto Lennart Larsen.

Ælnoth writes something similar, but somewhat cryptic: "But after Canute had been taken up from the ground, and it was clearly demonstrated that he was a God's saint, it happened that King Olav, as we have said before, became his successor in the kingdom, and under whose rule hunger and plague, disease and fear of enemies had filled up the Danish country, was destroyed by grief, and right as if he was not selected to behold God's mighty works, he left both life and the royal chair."

According to Ælnoth, Canute lay in the ground for eight years and nine months. His placing in shrine must then have taken place in late March or early April 1095. Canute's saint description says: " - and now it came to pass by the ruling of God that while the holy martyr Canute's elevation and placing i shrine took place, Olaf's abolition of earthly dignity occurred."

However, according to Nekrologium from Lund Cathedral Oluf did not die before 18. August 1095. Thus, Canute's placing in shrine and Oluf's death did not happen completely at the same time. But for the monks it has been enough that it happened in the same year.

It is not known, where Oluf is buried, but the fact that he is listed in the Nekrologium in Lund indicates that someone had an obligation to the king's soul and perhaps his grave too.

7. Denmark's geography

The fourth book of Adam of Bremen's work on the Hamburg-Bremen archbishop-seat's history, "Description of Islands in the North", is a description of the seat's mission field that was Scandinavia and the Wendish areas in northern Germany. We must believe that it was written after his visit to Sweyn Estridsson in Denmark around 1075. He tells that he got many details from king Sweyn's own mouth.

Adam tells about the extent of the country and the trade routes, both measured in day trips, the most important cities, how the landscape looked, the customs of the population and many other things.

Initially, Adam states firmly that Denmark goes to the river Eider: "From our Nordalbings this Denmark is separated by the river Eider, which originates from deep in the pagan forest Isarnho."

Danish cities, provinces, islands and sea routes as mentioned in Adam of Bremen's "Description of Islands in the North". Adam and his copyists, who possibly authored the skolies, have clearly spoken much with merchants and sailors, they say that ships regularly departed to specific destinations from Ribe, Slesvig, Aarhus, Aalborg and Scania; and not only this, but also often how many days and nights sailing, it will take to arrive. About Bornholm, which is not on this map, he writes: "Bornholm, this Skâne and Gothland nearest located island, which is Denmark's famous harbor and a safe place for the sailors, which regularly depart for the Barbarians or to Greece." Slesvig and Ribe was clearly Denmark's most busy ports.
Copenhagen apparently did not exist in Sweyn Estridson and his sons' time.

There are three days' journey between Slesvig and the crossing to Funen and further two to four days journey if one wanted to go the whole way to Aalborg: "Jylland's width from Eider and upward is somewhat more abundant, but withdraws again, together to the tongue formed corner called Vendsyssel and here ends Jutland. The crossing from there to Norway is very short."

Adam saw Jutland as barren and uninhabited, almost like a desert: "There the land is barren; when one excludes the parts located near a stream, everything is looking almost like a desert; It is a salty and naked heath." - "One can hardly enough find cultivated land here and there, hardly suited to dwellings for humans."

However, along the coasts there were even big cities: "But where the sea embrace it in its arms, it has even great cities."

Mural of a ship in Siljan Church in Norway

Mural with a ship in Siljan Church west of Tønsberg in Norway. The striped square sail reinforced with ropes we know from the Viking ship, but this ship seems a little more chubby. We recognize the tower in the aft end, which had already been described in the fleet, which Sweyn Forkbeard led against England. The steering oar seems replaced by a conventional rudder. Photo Riksantikvaren Oslo.

The most important was: "Slesvig, also known as Hedeby, is washed by an arm of the barbarian sea, which by the inhabitants is called Slien, from which the city has its name. From this port ships depart regularly to Slavenland, to Sweden, to Semland, and even so far as to Greece"

Another very important port city was Ribe: "A city that in the same way also is surrounded by its river, which flows from the ocean, and from which there is sailing to Friesland, or even to England, or to our Saxland." A skolie (later addition) elaborates Ribe's trade links to Einkfal in Flanderne, Prawle in England, St. Mahe in Bretagne, Ferrol at St. Jago in Galizien, Lissabon, Gibraltar, Barcelona, Messina on Sicily and finally Acre in the Holy Land - All provided with sailing times in days and nights: "From Ribe, one can sail to Einkfal in Flanders in two days and as many nights; from Einkfal to Prawle in England in two days and one night. This is England's most outmost part to the south, and the sailing to there from Ribe is bending in the southwest direction. From Prawle to St. Mahe in Brittany in one day; from there to Ferrol at St. Jago in three days and three nights." - and so forth all the way to Acre.

"Summer-night under the Greenland coast about the year 1000". Painted by Jens Erik Carl Rasmussen, who was born in Ærøskøbing in 1841. He was a Danish painter, especially known for his Greenland and naval paintings. He fell in 1893 overboard in the North Atlantic between Orkney and Shetland from the Greenland merchant brig Peru and drowned. Photo Bruun Rasmussen 2011.

A third important Danish city was Aarhus: "This city is divided from Funen by a very narrow strait, which has its inlet from the Baltic Sea, penetrates in long bends towards the North between Funen and Jutland, just until the before-mentioned city Aarhuus, from which there is sailing to Funen and Sælland, probably also to Scania or all the way to Norway." Also in other old sources, there is some confusion about, from which city was crossing to Funen. Thus Knytlinge Saga writes that the insurgents "were in Randers and got there ships for crossing the strait". There is a strong current in the Lillebælt and only little space for crossong against the wind in case of headwind; It may have been more convenient to sail from Aarhus to Funen than directly across the strait.

Adam also mentions Viborg: "About midway between Aarhuus and Vendsyssel is Viborg at - " Viborg is also mentioned by Ælnoth and in several sagas.

At the mention of Funen, Adam gets a little disorder in the geography and the corners of the world: "A not insignificant island is Funen, which rises behind the island called Vendsyssel, in the entrance to the barbarian gulf." It can be understood that if one enters the Kattegat from the north, you first come to Vendsyssel and then to Funen. "Here is the big city of Odense."

He continues: "In addition, there are 7 other smaller islands up to Fyen in an easterly direction for the same, those we have previously described as fertile on grain; namely Møen, Fehmarn, Falster, Laaland, Langeland"

Balance weight used by the viking age's merchants from around year 1000 found in Viking Age Dublin. Viking Ireland National Museum of Ireland. Photo Viking Ireland National Museum of Ireland.

A skolie tells: "Between Sælland and Funen is a small island called Sprog; really a robbers cave and a scare for all saylors passing by". Adam confirms that many Danish islands originally had very short names such as Sprog and Sams. Some believe that such names on natural formations originate from the period of the stone age hunters. Only later they got added -ø and came to be called Sprogø and Samsø.

In connection with the description of Funen, he says: "Around it lies small islands, all of which are rich in grain." Which shows that even there were robbers on Sprogø, it was still possible in Sweyn Estridson's time to live and grow grain on the small islands. Later, the Slaws would attack and kill and abduct thousands on the small islands and along the coasts. We can believe that very small islands, such as Lyø, became almost depopulated, and this made it possible for Valdemar Sejr to arrange the fatal hunt on the island in 1223.

Adam continues his description of Sjælland: "This island is famous for its mens' bravery as well as its lush grain growth, and also considerable big as it has a length of two days travel and about the same width. Its capital is Roeskilde, the Danish king's seat." - "In east it is facing the promontory in Skåne, where the city of Lund is located." And elsewhere: "From Sælland there are crossings to many places in Skåne; The shortest leads to Helsingborg, which can also be seen from there."

The Vinland map has been dated to around the year 1434, which is 60 years before Columbus discovered America. The map shows Europe, North Africa, Asia and the Far East, which continents were known by travelers from the 1400's. In the Northwest Atlantic Ocean in the top left corner of the map are also seen the "Vinland Islands". The text on the card reads: "By God's will after a long journey from the island of Greenland to the south towards the most distant remaining parts of the West Sea, by sailing to the south in the middle of the ice, Bjarni and Leif Eiriksson discovered a new land, extremely fertile and even with vine - which island they called Vinland." The map was first found in 1950 along with a script called "Tartar Relations", and was quickly labeled as a forgery, the ink contained some titanium compounds, which are also found in modern inks. However, Scientists from the University of Arizona, the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and The Smithsonian Institution,have carbon-dated the document to around 1434. They believe that titanium is a very common element in the Earth's crust, and it may have been also in old ink. Photo Maine State Museum.

Adam ends his description of Denmark by mentioning Skåne which: "is among all Danish provinces the loveliest of appearance; Therefore it is also said to be armed with men, rich in crop, equipped with commodities, and - at present - filled with churches. Skåne is twice as big as Sælland; It contains namely 300 churches, while Sælland only has half as many, and Fyen one third." A skolie comes with the cryptic message: "Its capital is Lund that England's Conqueror, Canute, would make to London's rival."

The Maine Penny or the Goddard coin

The so-called Maine Penny is the most convincing evidence that Scandinavians reached North America. The coin was found in 1957 by an amateur archaelogist named Guy Mellgren in an old Indian rubbish heap at Naskeag Point, Brooklin, Maine. It was filed together with thousands of other findings, and it remained in the archieves for almost 20 years. First in 1974, the Maine Penny was discovered in the Maine State Museum's archives. It is what remaines of a Norwegian coin issued by Olav Kyrre, who was king of Norway 1067 - 1093. All evidence of Norsemen's presence in North America are exposed to allegations that they are fakes. But one can believe that if someone wanted to falsify this finding, they would have chosen a more convincing whole coin. Photo Maine State Museum.

Sweyn Estridson told Adam about the discovery of Vinland: "He also told that many in this part of the ocean have discovered an island called Vinland because wild vines grow there that carry the best wine. That also on the island is an abundance of grain, which is self-sown, is something I have from reliable Danes reports and not from fantastic stories. Behind this island, he says, there are no other habitable islands in the ocean, but all that lies further out is covered with huge ice masses and an infinite fog."

Adam himself did not draw any map, but in 1909, Axel Anton Bjørnbo made a map based on Adam's rather careful distance statements in day trips.

Adam's descriptions of Denmark and southern Scandinavia seem quite realistic and reliable, but the farther he gets away from Hamburg-Bremen, the more amazing the stories become. He writes that the Amazonans lived in the women's land far away to the northeast, and they killed the whole army of the Swedish prince of Anund; Here lived the Dogheads, the Canibals, the one-eyed Cyclops, the one-legged Himantopods and other mysterious people: "Me, the Danish king, honestly and repeated from memory, told of a people, who have the custom to go from mountain areas down on the plains; they are not very high of growth, but in strength and agility even a Swede find it hard to cope with them. Where they come from is unknown; once a year or every three years they arrive. And when you do not frantically stands against them, they destroy the whole region, and then retire again. Many other stories are in circulation, which I have to leave to eyewitnesses to tell about." One get to think about whether they could have been the persistently sought descendants of the ancient hunters from Hunters Stone Age.

8. Society

Adam describes Sweden almost like the ideal of a Germanic elective monarchy. It must be something that he has from Sweyn Estridson: "Their royal family is very old; but the king's power rests on the people's voice. What the public welcomes, must the king confirm unless his decision, that they sometimes, although reluctantly comply with, please them better." - "At home at themselves they amuse themselves to be each others' equals. But in the war they obey their king, or whom he considers to be the most skilled among them, in everything."

Garmo Stave Church on Maihaugen

The altar in Garmo Stave Church on Maihaugen, Lillehammer. In Oluf Hunger's time most churches were still made of wood and have most likely looked like the Norwegian stave churches. This stave church was built in the 1200's. Photo Camilla Damgård Maihaugen "Tradisjon og Levemåte"

Danish men were some tough types; they went to their execution with a merry remark and a smile on the lip: "Other punishments than executioner's ax and servitude are not used; and who has got his judgment takes pride in being merry. Crying and complaints and others in our part of the World good signs of remorse are for the Danes such an abomination that even over their sins or for their dear deceased it is not allowed to shed tears." And in a skolie: "The ax hangs on the square for everyone's eyes and threatens criminals with death sentence; and who has got such a judgment, him you will see gloat over the coming of death and go to the execution place as for a guest party."

Also Ælnoth is talking about: "- the untamed people's wildness and innate hardness."

Unfaithful women met no understanding or forgiveness, Adam continues: " - when a woman has been dishonored, she will be sold immediately."

In the Germanic kingdoms in the Migration Period, 4-5 hundred years before the dramatic events in Odense, the people were divided into three castes, which were: free men, freedmen and thralls. This division can still be recognized in Sweyn Estridson's Denmark.

When Ælnoth is talking about "the common people", he probably thinks of the ordinary free men, as Ælnoth's "common people" is enterprising and self-conscious. Several times he mentions the "noble" eller "noble-born", which is clearly more than "common people" because they have access to the king and can convince him of the usefulness of various proposals.

For example, when a leding is being ordered against England, the "common people" is very active in the project: "However, day by day the fleet was armed, and both the noble-born and the commoners rushed with all possible zeal against a country that stood so high in reputation both for its fertility and its wealth of goods." And when king Canute finally allowed the leding gathering to return home to their farms, it was after consultation with the "noble-born": "When the king now by the noble-born's and great men's intervention allowed this, they lifted joyfully the anchors out of the sand."

We must believe that the "noble-born" were particularly distinguished free men, a class of nobility, who had larger properties than other free men. Ælnoth also mentions "great men", which expression is also known from the sagas. It may be a different term for the"noble-born" or the term may also include some less important nobles.

Illustration from the 1200's, which represents the Day of Judgment. Top Jesus with his wounds who let the trumpets sound, which is the signal that the dead rise from their graves. They are divided into two groups, which the are saved and the condemned. The condemned are taken away by an angel with drawn sword to a dull final in the black pot, which is not black. The saved are brought to a better place, which resembles some kind of sauna or bath. The condemned seem to send us a smile, while they saved look more grim.
William the Conqueror's list of his new English possessions was originally known as Liber de Winlonia, but was soon called the Doomsday Book, which is now its official title. It got its popular name already in the 1100's because its decisions, like God's decisions on Judgment Day, could not be appealed. From National Archives British Library.

Ælnoth tells us that he has his information from: " - story of trustworthy people of both sexes and both classes." We can believe that the two classes were clergy and laymen.

Freedmen were former thralls and probably descendants of these. It was profoundly despicable to be decendants of thralls. Canute the Holy's son, Karl, was killed in front of the altar in the church of St. Donatians in Bruges, because some nobles had been accused of being decendants of thralls, and Karl did not defend them. Freemen in Denmark have probably been even more conscious of their position in society.

Sagas and chronicles really tells very little about the little lower layer of society. But we can glance furtively at England, where William the Conqueror quantified his new possessions in 1085-86 in the Doomsday Book.

Forty percent of people mentioned in the Doomsday Book are listed as "villani". Keeping in mind that the most common village name suffix in Normandy is "-ville", we must believe that they are the peasants, the freemen, the core of the army and the nation's basis. Some of them had farms up to 30 hectares, but were still obliged to perform two or three days of work on their master's land. We should not be too negative to their duty to work for others. A not very developed money economy must have ways to transfer value, which does not involve monetary payments.

Under "villani" in the social hierarchy came "bordars" (?) Who had less land and were required to do more services.

Below them again came "cottars" - which word reminds of cottage - who had even less land, perhaps a few hectares and a vegetable garden. They may have been craftsmen, shepherds or the like. They must have been the freedmen.

In the bottom of the social hierarchy were the thralls, who accounted for about 10% of the total population. They could be bought and sold and had no right to own anything. One can imagine that the proportion of thralls was slightly larger in Denmark than in England. Most seem to have worked as a plow-men, servants and dairy-maids.

Scandinavian merchant sells a female thrall, probably a cheating wife - after the scene to judge in a place by a Russian river. Painting by Tom Lovell (1909-1997). He was an American painter and illustrator who painted historical motifs from the American West and illustrations to National Geographic Magazine and much more. From "Through the Shattered Lens".

One can believe that the number of thralls in Scandinavia decreased gradually by great men, who bought thralls, gave them the opportunity to redeem themselves and then helped them to start fishing, agriculture or crafts, as told in Olav's Saga that Erling Skjalgsson in Rogaland of Norway did It states: "Erling had all time at home on the farm 30 thralls, and also other thralls; he determined the day's work for his thralls and furthermore gave them time and allowed, all who wanted, to work in the twilight or nights; He gave them arable land to plant grain for themselves and letting the crop be to their own gain. He determinded worth and ransom money for all of them; many succeded to buy themselves free after the first year or the second, but everybody, who had some qualities, freed themselves in three winters. With these money Erling bought other thralls; but some of his freedmen he helped to start herring fishing and some he helped to other trades; some chopped down woodland and made themselves farms there, and everybody he in some way helped to get started in a good way."

There is no crucial date, when one can say that then a certain king abolished slavery by a decisive decree. It is most likely that it disappeared gradually. As late as in the Jutland Law of 1241, there are provisions for thralls.

9. Links and literature

Roskildekrøniken Heimskringla
Svend Aggesen Heimskringla
Knytlinge Saga Heimskringla
Saxo Grammaticus Heimskringla
Full text of "Danmark under Svend Estridsen og hans Sønner" J. G. F. Ræder - Archive.com
William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the kings of England. Archive.org
Page:The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Wikisource
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Eleventh Century Yale Law School Library
Ælnoths fremstilling af Knud den helliges historie Heimskringla
Kongerækken Kongehuset
Harald Hens love Historisk Tidsskrift - Jørgen Olrik inc. Radulfus Niger på dansk.
Studier over Ælnoths skrift om Knud den hellige Hans Olrik i Historisk Tidsskrift.
Studier over Ælnoths skrift om Knud den Hellige Hans Olrik i Historisk Tidsskrift - som PDF.
Knud den Helliges gavebrev 1085 Danmarkshistorien.dk
Knud den Hellige (1080-86) Den Store Danske
Kong Knuds lidelseshistorie also called: "Passio sancti kanuti regis et martiris" - Heimskringla.
Full text of "The chronicle of Florence of Worcester" Archive.org
Kulturkontakter og den Danske Historiebevidshed i 1100-tallet Roland Scheel
Danmarks monarkers historie Del 1 år 700 - 1700 Tom Thygesen's Weblog
Adam af Bremen: Om Landene og Øerne i Norden Heimskringla
Danmarks Historie 4 - Ole Fenger - Gyldendal og Politikken.
Saxo Grammaticus oversat af Fr. Winkel Horn - Sesam.

Bent Hansen - last changed:


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