Book I

1. Sveinn, king of the Danes, was, I declare, as I have ascertained from truthful report, practically the most fortunate of all the kings of his time, so that, as seldom occurs, his happy beginning was followed by an end much happier from both the spiritual and the worldly point of view. He, then, derived his descent from a most noble source, a thing of foremost importance among men, and the government of the empire which he administered brought him great worldly honour. The divine power granted him such great favour, that even as a boy he was held by all in close affection, and was hated only by his own father. No fault of the boy deserved this: it was due only to envy. When he grew to be a young man, he increased daily in the love of his people, and, accordingly, his father's envy increased more and more, so that he wished, not in secret, but openly, to cast him out, affirming by oath that he should not rule after him. The army, grieved by this, deserted the father, adhered to the son, and afforded him active protection. As a result they met in a battle, in which the father was wounded, and fled to the Slavs, where he died shortly afterwards. Sveinn held his throne undisturbed. I wish to indicate briefly how truly actively and wisely he conducted his worldly affairs in the meanwhile, in order that, after this digression, it may be easier to pass on in succession from these matters to what followed. When Sveinn was at peace, and in no fear of any attack by his foes, acting always as if in fear of danger, and indeed of pressing danger, he attended to the strengthening of any positions in his fortresses, which might not have resisted hostile forces, should they have appeared, and, preparing everything necessary for war, he permitted no remissness in his men, lest their manly spirit should, as often happens, be softened by inactivity. Nevertheless, he could have found no activity so irksome, that his soldiers would have been unwilling, if he impelled them to it, for he had rendered them submissive and faithful to himself by manifold and generous munificence. So that you may realise how highly he was regarded by his men, I can strongly affirm that not one of them would have recoiled from danger owing to fear of death, but, unafraid, would have gone out of loyalty to him against innumerable enemies alone, and even with bare hands against armed men, if only the royal signal should be given to them as they went. And lest any man think that I am lying, and concocting what I say from regard for any person's favour, in what is to follow, it will be plain to any one paying due attention, whether I am telling the truth or not. For it is abundantly plain to all, that it is the habit of human nature that fervour of mental activity, arising from favourable circumstances, unduly stimulates the spirits of some, and that some will undertake matters owing to the excessive liberty which they enjoy in time of leisure, which they would hardly contemplate, much less perform, if placed in unfavourable circumstances.

2. And so when in the continuity of a settled peace all matters were turning out favourably, the soldiers of the above-mentioned king, confident that they would profit by the firm steadfastness of their lord, decided to persuade him, who was already meditating the same plan, to invade England, and add it to the bounds of his empire by the decision of war. "Thorkell," said they," your military commander, Lord King, having been granted license by you, has gone to avenge his brother, who was killed there, and leading away a large part of your army, exults that he has conquered. Now, as a victor, he has acquired the south of the country, and living there as an exile, and having become an ally of the English, whom he has conquered through your power, he prefers the enjoyment of his glory to leading his army back, and in submission giving you the credit of his victory. And we are cheated of our companions and forty ships, which he led with him, manned from among the best Danish warriors. Let not our lord suffer so grave a loss, but go forth leading his willing army, and we will subdue for him the contumacious Thorkell, together with his companions, and also the English who are leagued with them, and all their possessions. We are certain that they cannot resist long, because our country men will come over to us readily. If they are willing to do so, the king, sparing his commander and the Danes shall advance them with honours; but if they are unwilling, they shall know whom it is that they have despised. Deprived of country both here and there, they shall pay the penalty among the foremost enemies of the king."

3. When the king heard their exhortation in this matter, he began to wonder not a little, that what had long before entered his mind, though he had dissimulated and concealed, had been present in the hearts of his soldiers, who did not know his thoughts. And so having summoned Kmitr, his elder son, he began to inquire what were his views concerning this matter. He, questioned by his father, fearing to be accused, if he opposed the proposal, of wily sloth, not only approved of attacking the country, but urged and exhorted that no delay should hold back the undertaking. Therefore, the king, supported by the counsel of his chief men, and relying upon the goodwill of his soldiers, ordered that a numerous fleet should be prepared, and that warning should be given on all sides to the entire military power of the Danes to be present under arms at a fixed date, and in obedience to the king's wish, to perform with the utmost devotion whatever they were commanded. Messengers soon traversed the whole country at the command of their king, and admonished the tranquil people, in order that no member of so great an army should escape the choice by which every warrior of the land must either incur the king's anger or hasten to obey his command. What then? They mustered without any objection, and, having been provided with the arms of war, were presented troop by troop to the king and showed themselves prepared for danger or death if only they could perform the will of their lord. The king, seeing this innumerable host, ordered his wishes to be made known by means of heralds, that is to say, that he desired to arm a fleet against the English, and to bring all their country under his rule by force or stratagem. When this had appealed to all, he first selected persons to take charge of his own kingdom, lest while he was incautiously seeking a foreign one, he should lose the one which he held securely, and intent upon both, should rule neither. He had two sons of excellent qualities, and he took the elder in his own company, placing the younger at the head of the government of his whole kingdom, and attaching to him a military force and a few of his chief men, to instruct the boy wisely, and be a wall to him by their counsel and arms.

4. And so, everything being duly arranged, he reviewed the comrades of his expedition, and leaving his younger son in his place, went to his ship surrounded by armed soldiery. There was no delay: on all sides men were proceeding to the shore, and a variety of armed men were on every side. When at length they were all gathered, they went on board the towered ships, having picked out by observation each man his own leader on the brazen prows. On one side lions moulded in gold were to be seen on the ships, on the other birds on the tops of the masts indicated by their movements the winds as they blew, or dragons of various kinds poured fire from their nostrils. Here there were glittering men of solid gold or silver nearly comparable to live ones, there bulls with necks raised high and legs outstretched were fashioned leaping and roaring like live ones. One might see dolphins moulded in electrum, and centaurs in the same metal, recalling the ancient fable. In addition, I might describe to you many examples of the same celature, if the names of the monsters which were there fashioned were known to me. But why should I now dwell upon the sides of the ships, which were not only painted with ornate colours, but were covered with gold and silver figures? The royal vessel excelled the others in beauty as much as the king preceded the soldiers in the honour of his proper dignity, concerning which it is better that I be silent than that I speak inadequately. Placing their confidence in such a fleet, when the signal was suddenly given, they set out gladly, and, as they had been ordered, placed themselves round about the royal vessel with level prows, some in front and some behind. The blue water, smitten by many oars, might be seen foaming far and wide, and the sunlight, cast back in the gleam of metal, spread a double radiance in the air. What more? At length they approached the territories whither they were bound, and an ill-omened rumour of the matter disturbed the natives who dwelt nearest the sea. There was no delay: where the royal fleet cast anchor, the inhabitants of the place flocked to the port, prepared in vain to refuse access to a force stronger than themselves. Then, leaving their ships, the royal soldiers landed, and boldly made ready for an encounter on foot. At first the enemy gave battle, and put up a severe resistance, afterwards, fleeing in fear of peril, they afforded their pursuers the opportunity to inflict casualties both in wounded and slain. So the king, exploiting the first battle at will, invaded the adjacent region and scattered the enemy and put them to flight. Then, rendered bolder by such a victory, he returned to his ships, and invaded in the same way the many other ports which are all round that country. Finally, he conquered the whole country with so much exertion, that, if any one should wish to narrate his whole history in full, he would weary his hearers not a little, to his own detriment, without in any degree succeeding in touching upon everything, as was his intention.

5. But I, leaving these affairs for another to narrate, desire, merely touching upon them, to hasten on to other matters, and to turn my pen to the death of Sveinn in order to illuminate the beginning of the happy reign of King Knútr. For, when the king who has been often referred to was enthroned over the whole country of the English, and when already scarcely anyone resisted him, he survived for a period which was short, although it was glorious. Feeling, therefore, that the dissolution of his body was threatening him, he summoned his son Knútr, whom he had with him, and said that he must enter upon the way of all flesh. He exhorted him much concerning the government of the kingdom and the zealous practice of Christianity, and, thanks be to God, committed the royal sceptre to him, the most worthy of men. The Danes, over whom he had the lawful right to rule, very strongly approved this matter, and rejoiced that he was established as king over them, while his father was still alive. When this was so arranged, the father prayed the son, that if he should ever return to the land of his birth, he should carry back with him the body of his father, and should not let him be buried a stranger in a foreign land; for he knew that he was hateful to those people owing to the invasion of the kingdom. Soon afterwards he paid the last dues to nature, returning his soul to the heavens, and giving back his body to the earth.


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