Gold for the Danes.
After the Viking victory at the Battle of Maldon in Essex, Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the aldermen of the south-western provinces, advised Æthelred the Unready to buy off the Vikings, to pay them to go away. (Got to love those names.)
In 991 the English made a payment of 3,300 kg of silver. In 994 the Danes returned and laid siege to London. Once more, the English paid Danegeld to make them go away. In 1002 and 1007 more payments. In 1012 the Vikings accepted 17,900 kg of silver to go away, but only after sacking Canterbury and killing its Archbishop. No, it wasn’t Sigeric the Serious who died in 994, but one of his successors.
In 1016, Canute, became the first Danish King of England. The Danegeld failed to keep the Danes away.
This fact of history might have been forgotten, but in 1911, Rudyard Kipling published the following poem. Why then and why this topic? In 1911, Kipling had long been predicting a war with Germany. Ten years earlier he became involved in the debate over the British response to the rise in German naval power known as the Tirpitz Plan to build a fleet to challenge the Royal Navy. He published a series of articles in 1898 which were collected as “A Fleet in Being”.
Perhaps Kipling realized his poetry had a greater impact than his political writings.
It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbour and to say: —
“We invaded you last night–we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”
And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ‘em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!
It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: —
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”
And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: —
“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!”
To end this story: President Ronald Reagan read this poem at a meeting of the National Security Planning Group in 1985.
To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net