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Often, as I was studying the books of the ancients (1) and discovering numerous deeds of early times recorded in the most elegant language, I sighed continually at the perpetual silence to which the mightiest achievements of our own kings and chiefs have been consigned. They were no less great in their merit and in their proven virtue, but their distinction has not been proclaimed aloud to the same extent.

However, as this world grows old and evils gather apace, a man can strive to commemorate the things that ought to be remembered with all the care and industry he can muster, and he will still be wholly unable to deflect the shafts of defamation (2). And so for a long time I was in two minds: should I accept the charge of presumption and write down a short record of the pedigrees and successive reigns of our kings in my own style, unpolished as it is, or should I let them all pass away into silence? However, I thought it better not to avoid displaying my arrogance, and to penetrate the thickets of the neglected past, thus clearing the way for our successors, who will be armed with a sharp and lively intelligence and a fertile store of elegant learning, rather than that I should let the achievements of our famous princes be clouded over by the gloom of oblivion.

However, Martianus tells us that 'the statement of the unknown must not appear to be mixed with falsehood' (3), and lest I should seem to be narrating fable as history, I shall give an abbreviated account of what I have been able to ascertain by questioning aged men and ancient authorities (4). Not all kings have been equally celebrated for their victories, nor have all triumphed alike, and they certainly differed from each other in their claims to the kingdom. Therefore I shall attempt to commemorate those whose famous deeds I found to be known with more certainty. To the deeds of those whom fleeting fame has passed by I shall attend less urgently.

Peasants and princes share the common nature of all men, whereby reputation instigates this man to do well, while love of sloth tarnishes that one (5). This man endeavours to perpetuate his claims to nobility; little cares the other if glorious renown be dimmed. And so our tale will now restore to life the man whom our remotest forebears6 first commended to eternal remembrance.

[1] I have learned that Skiold was the first man to rule over the Danes, and if we may make a pun on his name, he was called this because he used to protect most nobly all the boundaries of the realm with the shielding power of his kingship (7). He was the first after whom kings were called Skioldunger in the poetry of the Icelanders (8).

He left heirs to the kingdom called Frothi and Halfdan (9). These brothers fought each other for the kingdom, and eventually Halfdan killed his brother and obtained the sole kingly authority (10). He begot a son called Helghi to inherit the kingdom, and Helghi was so exceedingly valiant that he became a pirate chief, and occupied himself with constant pirate raids. And since he had laid waste the shores of all the surrounding kingdoms and subjected them to his command with his pirate fleet, he was known as king of the sea (11).

His successor as king was his son, Rolf Kraki (12), who became powerful through his inherited valour, and was killed at Lejre. This was then the king's most famous residence, but now, near the city of Roskilde, it lies scarcely inhabited among quite the meanest of villages (13).

His son Rokil ruled after him, and he was known by the surname of Slagenback (14).

His son succeeded him as king and won a surname by his speed and vigour: in our common tongue people used to call him Frothi the Bold (15).

[2] His son and the inheritor of his kingdom was Wermund, and he so excelled in the virtue of prudence that he acquired a name for that. He is called Wermund the Wise (16).

He had a son called Uffi, who repressed his power of speech until the thirtieth year of his age. This was because of a dreadful disgrace which befell the Danes at that time. Two Danes had set out for Sweden to avenge their father, and together had killed his slayer (17). For at that time it was a shameful disgrace if two men put an end to one, especially as the superstitious heathens of those days (18) tried to devote their energy solely to acts of valour. So Wermund, mentioned above, held the government of his kingdom until his old age, and at last he was so worn out with age that his eyes were dimmed with senility (19).

When the news of his infirmity was spread abroad in the lands beyond the Elbe, the proud Teutons pompously puffed themselves up, for they were never content with their own boundaries. Their emperor sharpened his furious rage against the Danes, with a view to conquering the kingdom and acquiring a new scepter (20). Emissaries (21) were therefore sent to carry the commands of the proud prince to the king of the Danes – to Wermund, that is – and they laid before him a choice of two courses, neither of which was fit to choose. For he ordered him either to resign his kingdom to the Roman empire and pay tribute, or to find a man sufficiently skilled in battle to settle the matter by taking on the emperor's champion in single combat.

When the king heard this, he was dismayed. He called together all the chiefs of the kingdom in a body and questioned them carefully about what was to be done. For the king declared that he was unable to come to a decision. It was his duty to fight, and he was bound to protect the kingdom; but blindness had darkened his sight, and the heir to the kingdom was speechless and had grown slack with inactivity, so that it was commonly held that there was no hope of salvation to be expected from him. For Uffi, whom we mentioned above, had been sunk in gluttony from childhood, and had diligently applied himself to the kitchen and the cellar in the manner of the Epicureans (22). In such matters he had served with diligence rather than with sloth; for in his youth he had decided to preserve the strength of his body unspent. And so the king revealed the ambition of the Germans to the assembled chiefs and to a gathering of the whole kingdom, and the old man made repeated inquiries into how he was to make a choice which was scarcely a choice at all.

And while the whole crowd was sunk in perplexity and plunged into silence, Uffi was the only one who rose to his feet in the middle of the assembly. When all the people caught sight of him, they were astonished beyond words, for a speechless man was taking up an attitude as if to make a speech (23). As every rarity is held to be worth looking at (24), he held the attention of all of them.

Thus risen, from on high his speech he thus began (25).

'Let us not be troubled by the threats of these challengers. That habit of Teutonic turgidity is something they are born with: to brag with bombastic words and to dismay the weak and cowardly by threatening them with flatulent menaces (26). Nature brought me forth to be the sole and true heir of the kingdom: surely you must know that it rests on me alone boldly to meet the test of single combat, and to fall for the sake of the realm. Let us therefore knock the wind out of their threats, and tell them to carry back this message to the emperor: that his son and the heir to his empire, along with his most outstanding champion, must dare to meet me on my own.' He spake, and thus pronounced these words with haughty voice (27).

When he had finished the speech, the old man asked those sitting beside him whose oration it was. And when he heard from the bystanders that it was his own son who had uttered these words, who until then had been as if he were dumb, he ordered him to draw near and let him feel him. He touched him all over his shoulders and chest, his buttocks, calves and shins, and the other limbs of his body, and then he said: 'I call to mind that such a one was I, in the flower of my youth (28).'

What then? The date and place of the combat were fixed, and the envoys went back to their own country with the answer they had received.

[3] All that remains is to gather arms indisputably worthy of the warrior. The king had the best swords in the kingdom sought out and brought together, and Uffi wielded each one of them with his right hand and smashed them into the smallest fragments. 'Are these the weapons,' he asked, 'with which I am to defend my life and the honour of my kingdom?'

And when his father discovered how very outstanding was his skill at arms, he said, 'There is only one refuge left both for our kingdom and for our life.'

He ordered that he be led to a burial mound where he had once hidden a most well-tested sword (29), and, instructed by marks among the characters on the stones (30), he told them to dig up this supreme blade. He seized it at once in his right hand and declared, 'Here it is, my boy. Many a time have I triumphed with it, and it always protected me without fail.' So saying, he handed the sword to his son.

It was not long before the time appointed for the conflict was near at hand. Uncountable masses came together from all directions, and the place of battle was fixed on an island in the River Eider (31) so that the combatants should be separated from the crowds on either side and remain unassisted by any of their supporters. So the Germans sat down together across the river in Holstein, and the Danes were drawn up on this side of the stream. The king chose to sit in the middle of the bridge (32), so that if his only son should fall, he might throw himself into the depths of the river rather than survive the loss of both his son and his kingdom 'to carry his white hairs in sorrow' to the other world (33).

The combatants were let loose on either side and came together on the island in midstream. And when our noble warrior caught sight of the two men who were hastening to meet him as arranged, he roared from his mighty breast like a lion (34) and with a steady heart rushed boldly and without delay towards the two picked men, wearing at his side the blade which his father had kept hidden, as told above, and holding another drawn sword in his right hand.

As soon as he met them, he addressed them both in turn. We seldom read of such an occurrence, but our most rare of champions (35), whose 'remembrance will never be effaced (36),' encouraged his own adversaries to fight (37): 'If longing for our kingdom fires your ambition, and you want to gain possession of our wealth and power and plenty, you ought by rights to go ahead of your retainer. Then you may both extend the boundaries of your kingdom and win a reputation for valour in front of your watching warriors. However, let us set to (38)! Take a lesson in skill from your opponent, and feel the stroke of the smiter.'

But he addressed the champion like this: 'Here is the place to broadcast the proof of your valour. Take the lead now, and make known to the Danes without more ado the prowess you have already exhibited to the Germans (39). Now you will be able to add to your reputation for skill in battle. If you go before your lord and protect him with your defending shield, you will be enriched with a gift of outstanding generosity. I implore you: let the experienced and valiant Germans do their best to instruct the Danes in the finer points of the art of combat (40), so that you may win the longed-for victory at last, and go back to your native land rejoicing in triumph.'

When he had finished his words of encouragement, he struck the champion's helmet with all his might, and the sword he struck with was 'distributed in two' (41). It made a noise that echoed throughout the whole gathering of warriors (42). The German cohort shouted aloud with delight, and the Danish phalanx on the opposite side were stricken with sorrowful despair and groaned in their grief. As soon as the king heard that his son's blade was shattered, he ordered that they should place him on the edge of the bridge.

And suddenly Uffi drew the sword he was wearing, dyed it in gore from that champion's hip, and with no further delay sliced off his head as well.

Thus 'playful Fortune, variable as the moon (43)', now mocked what had happened before, and looked with the unfriendly gaze of a stepmother (44) on those she had just now favoured to their boundless jubilation. When the old man heard of this, he regained his confidence and had himself returned to his former seat.

The victory was not in doubt for long, for now Uffi drove the heir of the empire to the bank of the island and there had no difficulty in slaying him with the sword. Thus he defeated two men on his own, and by his glorious courage he erased with splendour enough the shame which the Danes had incurred long before. The Germans went home ashamed of their dishonour, and their threats and their outrageous verbosity (45) were brought to nothing. After that, far-famed (46) Uffi ruled his kingdom in peace and tranquillity.

[4] He begot a son to whom he gave the name of Dan; Dan also bore the surname of the High-minded or the Proud (47). He was succeeded as king by his son Frothi, who was also called the Old.

After him his son Frithlefer undertook the government of the realm. His son was Frothi Frithgoths, who was also called the Magnificent because he embraced liberality above all other virtues: gold and silver he 'counted as clay (48)'. His son Ingiald succeeded him (49).

After his time no son succeeded his father to the throne for a space of many centuries. It passed to grandsons, or nephews, who, to be sure, were sprung from the royal stock on the one side (50).

The one who succeeded next, Olaf, vigorously subdued all the surrounding countries, even as far as across the River Danube, where he marched in triumph for seven days (51). However, in case I should be accused of making up stories and telling untruths, by stringing together the reigns of kings whom I have learned to be quite widely separated by intervals of time (52), and since I may have passed over many illustrious men, owing not to my idleness but to the unfruitfulness of my research, so I leave the inquiry to my diligent successor (53), that by his careful investigation he may supply what I have left out through memory's eclipse (54).

After this Sighwarth, the son of Regner Lothbrogh, invaded the kingdom of Denmark; having joined battle with the king, he killed the king and gained the kingdom. And while he was in possession of the conquered kingdom he took to his bed the daughter of the slain king (55). When he had had knowledge of her as a wife, the king's daughter asked him what he should call their offspring. The king answered and told her that after she had given birth, the mother would remember her girdle. And when the time of her giving birth had passed, she called the boy Knut, alluding to the word for knot (56), and he was the first who had that name in Denmark. And he was the only one sprung from the royal line after the Frothi whom we mentioned above (57).

While he was still a boy, a landowner from Sjzlland called Ennignup (58) was made guardian of the kingdom; but as soon as Knut came to manhood, he took control of the kingdom. Time passed, and he had a son whom he chose to call Snio (59). He had a son whom he called Klak-Harald (60).

He was followed by his son and heir, Gorm Løghæ, a sluggard who merely indulged in sensuality and regal drinking-bouts (61). His wife was that most glorious queen called Thyrwi, who was surnamed the Ornament of the Realm (62). And I cannot refrain from speaking of her laudable renown. For it is customary to relate the deeds of those whose reputation stands high above the rest.

[5] Now this Thyrwi whom we have mentioned was a woman conspicuous for every virtue. Nature strove to bless her with uncountable gifts. For she was fair of face, and the rose and the lily had been wedded to paint the pinkness (63) of her cheeks; and she was chaste, modest and cheerful, overflowing with an abundance (64) of all manner of courtesy. Furthermore, the kindness of Providence had enlightened her mind with such radiance that she was believed to have drunk from one spring the prudence of Nestor, the cunning of Ulysses, and the wisdom of Solomon. If only she had been cleansed by the spring of baptism, she might indeed be accepted as a queen of Sheba, who came to learn wisdom of Solomon: if only that lady had been orthodox (65).

In those days the emperor, Otto, had made Denmark tributary (66). I think it was because of the inactivity of the king, who was given over to the pleasures of gluttony, as we recorded above. When Otto learned of this, he arrogantly conceived a fierce longing to try and inflict a mark of shame (67) on the kingdom. He even made a thorough attempt to ensnare the modesty of the above-mentioned queen with his wiles. He therefore sent envoys to meet the queen in private under the pretext of collecting the tribute, and they were also given instructions to suggest to her that a queen of her surpassing beauty and prudence ought rather to be an empress, and rule over the Roman empire, than remain the queen of a tributary or no more than middling kingdom. 'So take the wiser course,' say they.' Do not carelessly refuse the powers that are offered you. Cherish the renown of so famous a prince in your inward affection with a lasting and unshakeable return of his love, and just as his love's embrace enfolds you, so let your reciprocal emotion succumb to his friendly vigour (68).'

When she heard those words, she asked for time to deliberate, so that she might reply to such a choice greeting with a kindly and appropriate answer in the same terms. And since they delayed but a short while, the urgency of the matter drove her to collect her thoughts more pressingly. Thus, when they asked her what answer they should take back to their lord, that far-famed and commendably virtuous lady, who alone deserved to be called queen, had devised a stratagem in her cunning mind, and she began to coax them with the most honeyed words (69) – as the saying goes, 'You bear honey in your mouth, but gall lies hidden in your heart (70).'

These were the words she poured forth, as if in prophecy: 'May my tongue cleave to my jaws if I remember thee not (71).' To her questioners she indicated that she consented and was ready to carry out the vow. However, she made it clear that, if she were to scorn the bed of her own husband and fly to the embraces of another man as an adultress, she would be embarking on a momentous undertaking. Much money would therefore be needed to atone for and indemnify so great an undertaking and so infamous a wrong: money to be paid out to the inhabitants of the kingdom, both male and female, to stop the mouths of slanderers. Indeed, she contrived with womanly blandishments that, if they wished to accomplish their purpose, they must concede the tribute to herself for three years in order to atone for that same misdeed.

And so they immediately set out for the emperor at great speed to bring back to him her reply and the condition attached to it. This he accepted with the utmost readiness and joyfully promised what she asked for, provided only that she gave security for their pact with hostages. The envoys hasten back to Denmark and convey the emperor's wishes to the queen, demanding hostages to confirm the agreement. Twelve of the most noble sons of her chief men are selected as hostages without delay, to go to Saxony with the envoys.

[6] Meanwhile the queen sent a decree throughout the kingdom that the entire population of the whole realm (72) should be called together and assemble near Schleswig (73), and all those who had their abode within the kingdom were to set to work with their own hands to build a strong fortification with all speed. However, she helped those who were pressed by lack of worldly goods by supporting them with the tribute: this was how she spent the tribute which she had obtained by deceit. She gave none the privilege of exemption: the young, the old, and all adults who were neither impeded by their infancy nor prevented by the weakness of old age, were obliged to labour at that fortification (74). They all had to obey her, because everyone, rich and poor alike, tilled her fields like tenant fanners. For in those days our kings exercised lordship over all land in the kingdom by right, just as they possessed the power to rule (75). And so it was she, first of all, who built that marvellous work which thereafter always presented the surest defence of the Danes against the fury of the Germans, as if they were fenced in by a hedge (76).

When she had devoted two years' labour to this, news of this enormous construction came to the emperor's ears. Once again he sent envoys to Denmark, and they shrewdly inquired why the queen was applying herself to this kind of work, unless she was trying to break their agreement. The queen always had a ready answer, and this is how she replied to them: 'I cannot adequately express my astonishment that a prince of such outstanding prudence, who by the grace of the Lord has borne aloft his throne almost to the stars (77) and by his penetrating counsel has subjected so many ferocious peoples to his empire, should deign to inquire the meaning of her plans from an incapable woman. For I think what even your intelligence must have deduced cannot have been hidden from his: that there is no way through for the passage of infantry or cavalry in your direction except over a smallish stretch of level ground where I have now erected this enormous obstacle of a wall. Whereas previously the kingdom was patently open to all, now the road is closely blocked by the obtruding wall, and a very narrow gateway will keep in those who wish to leave. Of course, as the faithful servant of my lord I shall carry out his design, and when I have gathered in the entire wealth of the kingdom, I shall surrender myself to your will, and our infuriated people will be held back by the retaining wall. The entrance which will allow us an unhindered passage will remove the possibility of pursuit by the national army.'

When the envoys heard this, they greatly commended the cunning of the woman and went joyfully back to their own country, reassured that she would keep her promise. Meanwhile the queen pushed on all the more earnestly with the work she had begun; and thus the cunning of a woman deceived the inflated vanity of the Germans. And when three years had passed and the building of this ingenious work was brought to a conclusion, and it was properly adorned with bastions, they gave this most magnificent construction the name of Danevirke (78), because it had been accomplished and completed by the sweat of the Danes. As for the queen by whose peerless ingenuity freedom has been won for the Danes to remember for evermore, they gave her the not unworthy name she fully deserved: Thyrwi, the Ornament of Denmark (79).

[7] The emperor immediately orders picked knights of the empire to set out for Denmark with immense parade to meet the queen. A crew of minstrels, making music with viols (80) and harps and 'timbrels and dances' (81), escort them with noisy rhythm. They sent on a few of the more important men into Denmark to sound the mind and wishes of the queen, and pitched their tents by the Eider to await her arrival.

And when she learned of their arrival, she summoned to her the wiser men of her kingdom, and in the hearing of them all she gave the following reply: 'What the emperor demands, I deny. What he desires, I refuse. What he seeks, I avoid (82). I will not play the adultress, and at once disgrace the kingdom, defame my sex, and dishonour the king. You reproach me with the king's inactivity. You may be certain that this suits me very well. The whole kingdom obeys my wishes, and there is not a lawsuit or prosecution which is settled otherwise than at our pleasure. Thus, as you know, I am fully respected both as king and as queen. And you may rest assured that the king is highly distinguished in the nobility of his birth, for he is the offspring of kings on either side. Therefore, even if he cannot match (83) the size of the emperor's power, he is in no way inferior in his royal lineage. And to conclude my short speech: I shall forthwith liberate the Danes from the yoke of servile tribute, and they will owe you no further submission or respect whatever (84).'

The legates were immediately stunned to silence by the dreadful disrespect (85) of this unlooked-for reply, and they hastened in disarray back to the tents of the nobles mentioned above. A crowd of these nobles converged on them in troops, asking what it could be that sped their return at so urgent a pace. Without hesitation the envoys reported directly to all of them that they had been foiled in their intentions and outwitted by the cunning of a woman.

When the emperor discovered this, he ordered that the hostages should undergo sentence of death on the spot. For that most illustrious queen knew a long time in advance that this would be the outcome of the matter, as if she were gifted with knowledge of things to come (86). However, she decided that it was better to redeem the whole kingdom from servitude by the death of a few rather than to serve foreigners to the very end (87).

Then was the ambition of the Germans confounded and their joy turned to grief. Back they went, grieving and lamenting. And when that famous queen and the king her husband had completed their span of years, leaving a son, Harald Bluetooth (88), who was also the heir to the kingdom, Harald had both his parents buried according to heathen rites in almost identical mounds of equal size by the king's residence at Jelling, to serve as glorious mausoleums (89).

[8] This Harald held sway over the kingdom with his royal sceptre for a long time afterwards. This was the first king to reject the filth of idolatry and worship the cross of Christ (90). However, he sent the army to haul the immense rock which he intended to have raised over his mother's mound in memory of her achievements, and disorder began to seethe among the people. It was caused both by the new religious observances and by the unbearable servile yoke (91). Then the commons broke out in rebellion against the king, and all together they drove him from the kingdom. He fled with speed, for 'fear added wings to his feet (92),' and arrived in Slavia as a refugee. There he is said to have had a peaceful reception and to have founded the city which is now called Jomsborg; whose walls I, Sven, saw levelled to the ground by Archbishop Absalon (93).

During his exile his son Sven was raised to the throne; he was surnamed Forkbeard (94). And he adopted as a true worshipper of God the faith which his fugitive father had in the end renounced (95). Reborn in the holy waters of baptism and made orthodox in the faith, he ordered the seeds of God's word to be sown throughout the land.

In the course of time envoys arrived to repair the discord which had arisen between the fugitive father and the son who occupied the royal throne. The king therefore decided that his father and the Slavs should meet him in the straits of Grønsund (96) to make peace. The king arrived there first with the Danish fleet at the time appointed, and waited a long time for his father. The fugitive Harald meanwhile accepted the suggestion of one of his counsellors – that is, of Palna-Toki, a man with two names (97) – and constructed for himself a rapid vessel best suited for rowing. This he manned with the most experienced sailors and put the above-mentioned Palna-Toki in charge, who set off with all speed to meet the king.

When he reached the Danish fleet, he ranged his oarsmen on deck and, with treachery in mind, gave orders that his ship should make for the king's. With his crew in position, at the first light of dawn he quietly roused the king in his resting-place (98). When the king woke, he asked who it was. 'It is us,' he said,' the envoys of your father. We have been sent over to you to discuss peace-terms.' When he gathered this, the king wanted to inquire more closely into how his father was, and he put his head a little way over the gunwale of the ship (99). Then Palna-Toki grabbed him by the ears and the hair, gave a more powerful heave against his unavailing resistance, and dragged him willy-nilly out of his own ship. Although he yelled and shouted, just a little, they made their escape with furious oar-strokes while everyone else slumbered in ignorance. Nor did they heave to until they reached the city of Jomsborg (100).

When the Slavs caught sight of him, the people rose up and condemned the prisoner to various forms of death and refined torture. However, the better sort of their leaders prevailed with wiser counsel. They decided that, rather than put an end to him by killing him forthwith, they would be better advised to have him ransomed for a large tribute; in that way the Danes would be impoverished and Slavia would perpetually rejoice in her wealth. It would yield but little profit to the community if they were to condemn their prisoner to death.

So they charge their envoys to announce to the kingdom that they may buy back their king with three times his weight in gold and silver; and they did so without much delay (101). The Danes collected a levy from almost the entire kingdom, and when the Slavs arrived at Vindinge (102) with the captive monarch, they were eager to redeem their king. But the levy proved insufficient to release him, and in order to ransom him the married women agreed to make up the shortfall in coin with their own jewellery. They topped up the king's levy by adding rings, bracelets, ear-rings, necklaces and all their chains. And when it was complete, the Danes obtained from the king their first common rights over woods and groves (103). Moreover, in recognition of the goodwill and generosity of the married women, he was also the first to concede that in future a sister should share with her brother a half portion of the division of the family inheritance (104); for women had previously been wholly excluded from any share in what was inherited from the father. For he considered it was agreeable to all reason that a display of whole-hearted love and a giving of gifts ought to be rewarded in equal measure, as if to say, 'the same measure with which you have measured shall be measured unto you (105).'

[9] When Sven died, his son Knut succeeded to the kingdom, and they also surnamed him the Old. He widened the boundaries of his kingdom by the amazing force of his valour. By his manifold prowess he added to his own empire the neighbouring kingdoms from farthest Thule almost to the empire of the Greeks. Yes indeed, with not inconsiderable gallantry he subjugated Ireland, England, France, Italy, Lombardy, Germany, Norway, Slavia, and Samland too (106). And while he enjoyed the calm of peace in England, he was the first to make laws for his retainers, which I have outlined above according to the small measure of my slight abilities (107).

He also had a daughter called Gunhild, a famous woman whom the Emperor Henry, son of the Emperor Conrad, took in marriage (108). And when the Romans drove Henry from the royal throne by seditious riot, he went to his father-in-law and begged for his assistance. Seizing the opportunity thus afforded him, the noble and renowned Knut raised his own army and first invaded and ravaged Gaul; and so, marching on, he laid waste Lombardy and Italy, and afterwards forced the Romans to yield their city by his manifold valour. Thus he restored the emperor his son-in-law to the throne (109). After that, he travelled with much rejoicing as far as France, and masterfully carried away with him from Tours to Rouen the relics of the blessed Martin. For Knut loved her more than others, with a special affection (110).

The above-mentioned Knut also begot two sons. He called one of them by his own name, and he was given the surname Hard: it was a name he got not because he was harsh or inhuman, but because there was a province of the same name from which he came originally by birth (111). His father put this son in charge of the kingdom of Denmark. He called the other son Sven and delegated the government of Norway to him. Knut himself ruled England [as king for nearly five quinquennia, and during that time the sons to whom he had committed those kingdoms (112)] paid the debt of Adam and left their father as survivor.

When the king heard that the kingdom of his fathers was bereft of a ruler, he speedily returned to Denmark. Because the church was newly planted in Denmark (113) he brought with him many priests and bishops; some he kept by him and others he sent out to preach. Scattered abroad throughout Sweden, Götaland and Norway, and sent over to Iceland as well, they sowed the seed of God's word and gained many souls for Christ – as it is written, "Their sound has gone out to all lands, and their words to the ends of the earth.' Among them were the bishops Gerbrand and Rodulf, and one of them – that is, Gerbrand – he appointed as the first to rule the church of Roskilde, while to the governance of Rodulf he entrusted the church of Schleswig (114).

Now, as he was unable to attend to several kingdoms on his own, he invested his nephew (Sven, that is), despite his youth, with royal rank and entrusted him with the government of Denmark. His father was Ulf, who was known by the surname Sprakaleg (115), and his mother was the king's sister Estrith.

[10] When King Knut was dead, his nephew, this same Sven who had been placed on the throne by his uncle, undertook the government of the realm. Not long did he rule it in peace and quiet (116), for the Norwegian king, Magnus, son of the blessed King Olaf by a concubine (117), invaded Denmark with his fleet in pursuit of conquest. King Sven met him near Helgenaes and fought a sea-battle with him, in which Magnus triumphed and won Jutland, Fyn and Slavia (118). But while the victor was trying to chase Sven into Scania, he met an unexpected accident in Sjælland: he was thrown from his falling mount (119), hit a tree and died. After that, Sven was restored to the kingdom and held the government of the realm in peace.

The rustics called him 'the father of kings' because he was a most prolific begetter of numerous sons (120), five of whom wore the shining diadem of kingship in succession. I have deemed it superfluous to recount their deeds in full, lest they should be repeated too often and weary my readers, for the noble Archbishop Absalon informed me that my colleague Saxo was working to describe at greater length the deeds of them all in a more elegant style (121).

However, it ought not to be overlooked in passing that it was the primeval custom of our forefathers that, when kings were raised to the throne, all the Danes came together in a body at Is0re, so that royal inaugurations should be enhanced by the consent of all (122). And so, when King Sven died, his son Harald, whom they called the Whetstone because of his complaisant softness, was raised to the throne (123). He was the first to give laws to the Danes in the place where kings were enthroned, which we have mentioned (124).

[11] When he died, his brother Knut succeeded to the kingdom, and the church of Odense boasts of him as their crowned martyr: killed not, as some consider, on account of his excessive harshness or because of the unbearable yoke which he would have imposed on the plebs as a result of his harshness (125). For the reason why he was persecuted was the following.

At the time when he enjoyed the 'plenitude of power', he grieved that he had not inherited the sovereign sway of his father's uncle. So he summoned an army and a fleet for the invasion and conquest of England, and went to Humlum, which in those days was a harbour connected to the sea; there he ordered the army to assemble (126). He was waiting for a following east wind with the assembled fleet when a sudden rumour reached the king's ears that treachery against the realm had arisen at Schleswig. He hastened there with all speed to put an end to that conspiracy (127) at the outset, and when he arrived there, he arrested and bound the originators of the crime and took them into his own keeping. He then hastened back with extreme rapidity to the fleet he had unexpectedly abandoned, and thought to find his men in the same place where he had unfortunately left them.

However, when he came to the appointed place, he discovered that the whole lot of them had mutinously and disobediently rowed back to their homes. Blazing with over-much fury, he anxiously asks himself how to inflict the signal retribution (128) which so great a misdeed deserved. For the unhappy king was in two minds (129), considering that he ought to be less severe because it would involve the undoing of so many men, nor would he be able to punish so great a communal crime with as much strictness as was needed to deter the misdeed of a private person. Therefore each steersman was made liable to pay a composition of forty marks, just as the rigour of the king had ordained, and the compensation also required of each sailor was three marks, because they had ruined the king's army by their dispersal (130).

While visiting each province he would exact payment with the full rigour of the law (131); and he began to levy the fine among the Vendel-dwellers first of all (132). This was a brutal and uncivilized people, who were thirsting for innocent blood with ferocious cruelty, and instead of their tax they presented their innate fury. Moreover, such a mass of people had come together that not a single householder had the privilege of staying at home. When the king learned of their outrageous-ness, he took instruction from the words of truth, 'If you are persecuted in one city, flee to another (133)'; and he tried to escape their rage and deprive them of the opportunity of doing evil. But the enemy were infected by the suggestions of the Old Prevaricator (134); their frenzy mounts, to threaten the king's head; profane plebeians devise the prince's death (135). Whispering rumour spread, urgently resounding, and with repeated slanders roused the whole body of the realm against the king's harshness.

Good news flies slow, by envy stayed,

Bad news on feather'd wings doth spread (136).

Nor did the frenzy of the infuriated rabble cease (137) before he had been driven out across the Little Belt (138) and pursued to Odense. And there he was crowned with martyrdom, and commended his soul to Paradise (139).

[12] Once he was dead, his brother Olaf was made king, and in his time there was a famine so terrible that the common people called him the Famished; but it lasted no longer than seven years (140). On his death his brother Erik the Good takes his place (141). And at the end of his reign he followed Christ and took the cross upon his shoulders (142). For he set out for Jerusalem and committed his soul to Christ on the way; having removed himself from the prison of this life, he rests in the island of Cyprus. During his reign he was the proud begetter of children from a noble stock, although from various successive hymeneal unions (143). For he begat Knut of Ringsted, father of King Valdemar, [and also Erik, the father of King Sven, and Harald Kesia, the father of Biorn Ironside (144) and his eleven brothers. After] Erik his brother Nicolaus succeeded, and the rabble named him the Old because he governed the kingdom for seven quinquennia (145). He had a son by lawful marriage who was called Magnus, great in name and great in height. For, like King Saul, 'from the shoulder and upwards he stood above' (146) all the warriors of the kingdom and his contemporaries.

[13] During the time of that same king, Knut of Ringsted (147), a man who was wise, discriminating, courteous, energetic and strong in the virtue of honesty, became famous as the duke of Schleswig. He cowed the wild fury of the Slavs by his wonderful vigour and prudence (148) and brought them under his jurisdiction by his extraordinary virtue. Envy meditated on his virtues ... and began to grow sick, for her head is apt to hang low at the prosperity of others (149).

With timorous ambition, Magnus began to plot his death, so that he would not be deprived of the transient kingdom (150) even if he failed to win the everlasting crown. For goodness is always suspect to kings:

...all power will be

Impatient of a consort... (151)

and thus:

Right, law and goodness perish,

And all respect for life and death (152).

For they put aside the ties of kinship and joined together with the same Duke Knut's kinsman – that is, with Henrik the Lame (153) – and took counsel [for the killing of Knut (154)] in covert conclave, as if it were a high matter of state.

So they appointed a place in the wood at Haraldsted (155) to confer with him. And the fearless champion of Christ (156), conscious of his own good faith alone, did not hesitate to meet them. Marked out only by the banner of the Holy Cross, protected neither by shield nor by helmet and escorted by no more than two guards, the lamb stood there ready for the furious wolves. The criminals arrive later, wolves in sheep's clothing (157), with hoods and cloaks concealing coats of mail and helmets. Without delay the enemies of peace make haste to slaughter the 'Israelite indeed (158)', their own cousin, and occupy themselves in sending to Heaven the soul that had previously been held captive within the prison of the flesh. Followers of Christ afterwards bear his lifeless body to Ringsted for burial (159), where by the divine power of the Lord many miracles were worked by Christ before numerous witnesses.

[14] And so this monstrous crime subsequently stirred up a fierce rebellion in the kingdom. Erik is moved by the finger of the Lord (160) to avenge his brother, while his uncle Nicolaus, mentioned above, is still ruling, and he is stirred up to try the issue in battle. Erik was raised to the throne with the title of king and afflicted his uncle with manifold persecutions. They fought each other often but the most famous fields of battle were these.

First they fought at R0nbjerg (161), where Nicolaus won the day, and he captured my grandfather Kristiarn and sent him, bound with iron shackles, to be held in custody at the fort which overlooks the town of Schleswig.

After a while there was another meeting between the contestants at the bridge at Onsild (162), and although the fighting was even fiercer, Nicolaus's party prevailed again. Erik's army turned tail, and he would have been captured on the spot had not the Biorn mentioned above, who was nicknamed Ironside on account of his famous strength, in company with my father Aggi, fought back manfully in the middle of the bridge. They resisted a shower of missiles with such courage that they were thought to be immovable pillars (163). While defending the way across the bridge, they beat back the enraged attackers with such wonderful valour that they might have crossed the bed of the stream dry-shod on the corpses of the slain. Although hampered by numerous wounds, they did not cease to guard the bridge until the king had embarked on his ships and was ready to escape. They followed him at once and accompanied him in his flight to Scania.

King Nicolaus had now triumphed in two encounters (164). Therefore he tries to drive his hostile nephew out of the kingdom altogether. He gathered a fleet and pursued him to Scania, where he made a rapid landing at a place which is commonly known as Fotavik (165) and belongs to Lund. The commons of Scania, who are always mightily upright (166), had called together the entire manpower of the land. This was a well-equipped force, and they had no hesitation in meeting him. Battle was joined, and they hacked and haled to Hades the king's son Magnus, the perpetrator of the crime previously spoken of, along with two prelates (167).

And so King Nicolaus was beaten, and bereft of his son and heir at the same time, and he sailed to Schleswig, and the burghers of that city received him within their enclosing walls and treacherously slew him (168).

[15] Having gained a glorious victory, the above-mentioned Erik, who is known as Ever-memorable (169), held the kingdom after him in peace, and freed the aforesaid Kristiarn from his chains. So he gained the kingdom but, having risen to power, he forgot the reason for the vengeance he had wrought, and began to rage against his own kinsmen more cruelly than the tiger. For with anger in his heart he had his brother, Harald Kesia, summoned to a meeting in the silence of the dead of night (170), while he was staying at his manor of Skibing [?] (171). Bidden from his bed, boding naught baleful, once roused he hastened to the king his brother, weaponless. And in that very place commissioners caught him and cut off his head (172).

Not long after that he meted out a dire retribution to repay his own nephew, the Biorn mentioned above. He seized him, tied him to a millstone, and sank him in the depths of a bottomless pit (173). He ordered Biorn's brothers to be put to death by the sword as well. They numbered ten adults, some flourishing youths and some children (174). In this he bore little resemblance to his father (175).

And since he was the author of so great a crime and had wholly exterminated these budding kinglets (176), the righteous judgment of God's authority went against the exalted power of the king, and the avenger of innocence quickly destroyed the author of the crime 'in the breath of his mouth (177)'. For Plogh the Black ran him through with a spear at the Urne-thing, while he was surrounded by a circle of warriors (178).

[16] And so the king was killed, and another Erik was placed on the throne. They called him the Lamb on account of his sweet and gentle nature, and in his days there was a plenteous abundance of everything (179).

And when he was dead, Knut, the son of that Magnus who had been killed in Scania (as we have recorded above), was made king at the Viborg assembly, and Sven, the son of the above-mentioned cruel Erik, was put on the throne by the Scanians. And while they were engaged in numerous battles, Valdemar, the scion of holy blood, the son of Knut of Ring-sted, gained possession of his father's fief (180) and gave assistance to both in turn, as if he stood between them.

However, after a long time, a council was held in Lolland (181), and the rulers decided to divide the kingdom into equal thirds and to confirm the treaty by an oath. But the treaty did not remain firm for long, as the outcome of the arrangement showed. For after the council had been held, the three we have mentioned came together that autumn in the city of Roskilde for a feast, and they dined first with King Sven (182). The peace and trust between them had been broken, and he had prepared a trap: he plans to kill Knut and Valdemar that evening after vespers by means of commissioners previously instructed (183). When the lights had been snuffed (184), they slew Knut and crowned him with martyrdom (185); but while they were trying to run Valdemar through with a naked sword, he was seriously wounded in the thigh (186), but God's grace preserved him (187) and he escaped. However, as soon as he had recovered somewhat from the pain of his wound, he set out for Jutland and gathered together an army.

[17] Sven, who was king of Scania, hastened after Valdemar, king of Jutland, and they joined battle at Grathe (188). Nor was the victory long in doubt, for Sven was beaten, and killed by the hand of a peasant. And so the glorious victor, King Valdemar, gained possession of the kingdom.

After that he governed the realm for five quinquennia and two years (189). This man secured (190) the boundaries of the kingdom with such glorious valour that, whereas previously the wild Slavs were encouraged by our internal divisions and laid waste all our sea-coasts and our islands as well, he tamed the seaways, brought them under his jurisdiction, and subjugated the Slavs, making them pay tribute to himself.

[18] He accomplished many things worth remembering, but his memory shines with a starry radiance from three of them alone (191).

In the first place, under his rod of iron and outstretched arm (192), he compelled the Rugians to be regenerated in the waters of holy baptism.

And the second remarkable feat was that he was the first to build a tower of fired bricks, on the island of Sprogø (193).

And the third was that he first repaired the rampart of the Danevirke with a brick wall, but he was prevented by his death from completing it (194).

For while he lived he was a man found acceptable in all things: fair of face, courteous, discriminating, wise, most penetrating in counsel, vigorous, an outstanding warrior, an accomplished wit, victorious, popular, always successful; only more cruel towards his own people than was just (195).

[19] This Valdemar took to himself in marriage as his queen Sophia (196), sister of Knut, the king at Roskilde. Nature strove immoderately to enhance the utter loveliness of her appearance. For all the skill of the ancients would fail to describe her (197). However, I borrow no solicited opinions for the 'blazoning of her beauty (198)', for many a time I used to see the much admired masterpiece of Nature with my own eyes.

And in the end, God's grace increased the reputation of the illustrious King Valdemar so widely that surrounding kings and princes strove to pay him honours as if they were his due (199).

[20] And when he had paid the debt of Adam, his son Knut followed by hereditary right and succeeded to his father's kingdom without degenerating from his father's virtue. Indeed, he repressed the wild Slavs with such manful courage that he laid waste the whole territory of the Slavs and the Pomeranians with his fleet (200) and forced their duke, Bugislav, to pay him tribute and homage. This was done aboard the king's ship, glittering with gilding on stem and stern (201), not far from the city which was founded by the fugitive Harald, as we recalled above (202); and I saw it done. And I have decided that it is worth recounting the heavenly sign of that submission.

For after they had concluded the treaty, such a thunderclap rang out that they thought the elements were collapsing. Indeed, we considered that this was done with God's permission by the Old Prevaricator (203) and the Enemy of Peace. For the same violent whirlwind and storm almost swamped and sank the smaller boats, which were carrying the bishop of Kamien (204) and the above-mentioned Bugislav, along with the king's brother Valdemar (205), a young man of the most brilliant natural abilities. When that was concluded, we rowed homeward with immense jubilation. May the Ruler of all things order this conclusion in His peace (206)!


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