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Sweyn Forkbeard

Sweyn Forkbeard (d.1014), king of Denmark (c.985–1014), king of England (1013–14). For some 20 years before 1013 Sweyn Forkbeard was involved in sporadic heavy raiding against England, in 994 in the company of Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, later an arch-enemy. Attacks intensified after 1004, some said in revenge for the murder of his sister Gunnhild during the massacre of St Brice's Day, 1002. His principal effort came, however, in 1013 when, accompanied by his son Cnut, he invaded England through the Humber and the Trent, setting up his base at Gainsborough, where he was recognized as king by most of Anglo-Danish England, east of Watling Street. He then moved south where Oxford and Winchester surrendered immediately. Only London, incongruously defended in Æthelred's interest by the Viking chieftain Thorkell the Tall, held out against him, and when London finally submitted towards the end of the year, Æthelred was forced to flee to Normandy. For five or six weeks Sweyn was thus in control of all his newly conquered kingdom of England, but on 3 February 1014 he died at Gainsborough. Cnut was too inexperienced at that stage to do more than withdraw to Denmark, leaving behind him a reputation for cruelty and treachery, and opening the way for Æthelred's return.

Henry Loyn

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