The Thames.—London.

London, and its wealthy neighbourhood, was naturally the main object of
the Danish attacks in the south-east part of England. Under the Romans
it had already become considerable as a commercial mart; but afterwards,
under the Anglo-Saxons, it increased so much in wealth and importance,
that it was, if we may use the expression, the heart of England. It was
for this reason that the old northern bards used the term “Londons
_Drot_” in their songs about the kings of England. From the first London
is undoubtedly indebted for its greatness chiefly to its situation on
the Thames, which opened an easy communication both with the opposite
shores of the Continent and with the interior of England. In our days it
is certainly a remarkable sight to observe the numberless ships that
assemble there from all parts of the world, and to mark the activity
that everywhere prevails on the beautiful shores of the river. But it
becomes doubly remarkable when we recollect that this spectacle is
neither a new one, nor has arisen under a single people; but that it has
been repeated, in a somewhat altered form, for about two thousand years,
under the most different circumstances: namely, under the dominion of
the Britons, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans.
In this respect there is no river whatsoever that can be compared with
the Thames. Had it not been one of the most, or indeed quite the most,
favourably situated stream in Europe for commerce, the greatest
commercial city in the world would hardly have risen on its banks.

But just as the Thames brought, in the olden times, numerous merchant
vessels, and, along with them, wealth and prosperity to the south of
England, so must it also have frequently drawn down ruin on the
surrounding districts, since it attracted thither almost all the Vikings
who sought for booty and conquest. Nature herself has cut a deep bay
into the eastern coast of England, at the mouth of the Thames, and thus
pointed out to the Vikings the way they should pursue. The ships of the
Danish Vikings constantly swarmed at the mouth of the Thames. “When they
were not strong enough to sail up the river and attack London, or when
the winter approached, they anchored under the coast, in places where
they could lie in wait for and seize the merchantmen, and whence they
could easily reach the open sea, if attacked by too superior a force.
Some of their most important stations were under the Isle of Thanet, in
Kent, and the Isle of Sheppey, (_Anglo-Saxon_, Sceapige, or the Sheep
Island,) which lies at the mouth of the Thames. Thus these islands,
whose remote situation rendered them sufficiently dangerous before,
suffered doubly from the ravages committed by the Vikings on the coasts.
Another place near the Thames, where the northern Vikings and conquerors
generally landed when they harried the south of England, and where they
often wintered, was the present Sandwich, in Kent. As it was an
important landing-place even in the times of the Romans, they had
already fortified it. Sandwich (_Ang.-Sax._, _Wic en Stad_) became in
the mouths of the Northmen “Sandvic,” or the sandy bay; an appellation
which perfectly agrees with the nature of the place. We find the same
name for places in Orkney and the Shetland Isles, in Iceland, and
Norway. From Sandwich it was but a few miles to Canterbury (in the
northern tongue “Kantaraborg”), which, being a rich bishopric, was on
that account exposed to remorseless plunder. In the year 1011
especially, the Jarl Thorkel the Tall, visited it with fire and sword.
Christchurch, the principal church in England, was burnt down; the monks
were put to death, and only one in ten of the citizens spared. Many, and
among them Archbishop Elfeg, who was afterwards cruelly murdered, were
cast into prison.

To the south of Canterbury, on the channel, lies “Dungeness;” and at the
mouth of the Thames, “Foulness,” and “Sheerness.” The termination
_ness_, in these names, seems to be neither Saxon, nor Celtic, but
plainly the Danish and Norwegian _Næs_ (a promontory, or lofty tongue of
land, running out into the sea).

The nearer we approach London by the Thames, the more memorials we
find of the Danes. Just before we reach the metropolis, we sail past
Greenwich on the left, called by the northmen “Grenvik” (nearer,
perhaps, “Granvigen,” the pine-bay), whose celebrated hospital
contains in our days a little host of England’s superannuated seamen,
who have fought in defence of her honour, and who, supported by the
public, enjoy an old age free from care. In the eleventh century
Grenvik was also for a long time the resting-place of a host of naval
warriors, who were supported at the public expense; but that was a
host of bold Danish Vikings, who, after having fearfully devastated
England under their chief, Jarl Thorkel the Tall, had now, in 1011,
allowed themselves to be bought off for an immense sum of money, and
to settle down peaceably in the service of the English king Ethelred.
From this time it became the custom for the English monarchs to have
continually a standing army, composed mostly of Danes, “Huskarlene,”
or “Thingmen,” as they were called (Þingmannalið), whose duty it was
to keep the country quiet, and to defend it against foreign invasion;
whence they sometimes came to fight against their own countrymen. King
Athelstan (925-941) had, however, almost a century earlier, made use
of Danish warriors to suppress revolt in his kingdom; for which
purpose it was ordered that one of these men should be maintained in
every house, in order that they might be always ready for the king’s
service. The Thingmen were to the English kings much what the
Varangians were to the Greek emperors in Constantinople. They had
certain rights and privileges, and later, in particular, two places
were assigned to them for their headquarters—London in the south of
England; and in the north, Slesvig (Nottinghamshire). Under King
Canute, they played, as is well known, a considerable part.

The name of Canute the Great is connected not only with the town of
Brentford (Brandfurda), on the Thames, near the western parts of London,
and with Ashingdon (Assatun), in Essex, to the north-east of London,
and, as the legend says, to the north of “Daneskoven” (the Danish
forest), in which places he fought bloody battles with Edmund Ironsides,
before he subdued England; but it is also connected in the closest
manner with London itself.




When I sailed up the Thames for the first time, and when at length,
above a forest of masts, the gray turrets of the Tower appeared on one
side, and London Bridge in the distance, I was involuntarily led to
recall the time when King Canute long lay in vain with his ships before
the fortress and bridge of the metropolis, whilst a great part of the
rest of England submitted to his sway. London Bridge was defended by
three castles, one of which stood on the bridge itself. The Danes
attempted to dig a canal round the foot of the bridge; and though
Canute, who was well supported by Thorkel the Tall, and by Erik Jarl,
the Norwegian, is said to have resumed the siege several times, yet it
was by negociation alone that he seems to have obtained possession of
London.

Even amid the varied impressions created by the metropolis of the world,
I could not forget—and what Dane could?—that it was chiefly here that
for a long period the Northmen found, as it were, another home, from
which they returned to their native land enriched by fresh knowledge,
and on the whole with a higher degree of civilization, which they
afterwards turned to account in the north; that it was here that not a
few of the most zealous promoters and defenders of Christianity in
Scandinavia, and amongst them particularly the Norwegian king, Olaf
Trygvesön, had dwelt before they began the work of conversion; that it
was here, lastly, that several Danish chieftains, and especially Canute
the Great, had played the sovereign, and held their court, surrounded by
the _Thingmen_ and the bards, who in those times usually accompanied the
northern kings. On surveying London, its proud river, and beautiful
uplands, one cannot help doubly admiring the power of that king, who, at
a distance from his native land, was not only able to command all this,
as well as the whole of England, but Norway and Denmark in addition. One
feels the truth of the words of the Saga about Canute: “Of all kings
that have spoken the Danish tongue, he was the mightiest, and the one
that reigned over the greatest kingdoms.”

Although London was at that time one of the most considerable towns in
Europe, it was of course but very small compared with what it is at
present. The walls inclosed only that proportionally small part of
modern London called the “City,” and which forms the centre of its busy
commerce. Close by lay a castle (whence the Northmen’s name for London,
“Lundunaborg”), and undoubtedly on the same spot where, not long after
Canute’s time, William the Conqueror built the Tower. Somewhat higher up
the Thames, on an island which, from the many thorns growing there,
obtained the name of Thorney (_Anglo-Saxon_, Thornege), or the Thorn
Island, stood another castle, said to have been inhabited at different
times by Canute. This island, in whose name we find both the Anglo-Saxon
_ege_, and afterwards the northern _ey_ (island), and which is therefore
sometimes very incorrectly called Thorney _Island_, has now lost both
its ancient name and appearance. Under the name of Westminster, it forms
at present a continuous part of London.

The Dane who wanders through this immense city, will not only be
reminded by such names as “Denmark Court,” “Denmark Street,” and
“Copenhagen Street,” and by monuments in St. Paul’s and Westminster
Abbey, of the sanguinary battles which have taken place in modern times
between England and Denmark, as well as of the older ties of friendship,
which for a long time found increased support by means of the
relationship and reciprocal marriages which occurred in the reigning
families of the two countries; but he will also find traces even to this
day, of the power and influence which his forefathers, both before and
after King Canute’s time, possessed in the most important commercial
city of wealthy England.

Approaching the city from the west end, through the great street called
“the Strand,” we see, close outside the old gate of Temple Bar, a church
called St. Clement’s Danes, from which the surrounding parish derives
its name. In the early part of the middle ages this church was called in
Latin, “Ecclesia Sancti Clementis Danorum,” or, “the Danes’ Church of
St. Clement.” It was here that the Danes in London formerly had their
own burial-place; in which reposed the remains of Canute the Great’s son
and next successor, Harald Harefoot. When, in 1040, Hardicanute ascended
the throne after his brother Harald, he caused Harald’s corpse to be
disinterred from its tomb in Westminster Abbey, and thrown into the
Thames; where it was found by a fisherman, and afterwards buried, it is
said, “in the Danes’ churchyard in London.” From the churchyard it was
subsequently removed into a round tower, which ornamented the church
before it was rebuilt at the close of the seventeenth century.

It has, indeed, been supposed by some that this church was called after
the Danes only because so many Danes have been buried in it; but as it
is situated close by the Thames, and must have originally lain outside
the city walls, in the western suburbs, and consequently outside of
London proper, it is certainly put beyond all doubt, that the Danish
merchants and mariners who, for the sake of trade, were at that time
established in or near London, had here a place of their own, in which
they dwelt together as fellow-countrymen. Here it should also be
remarked, that this church, like others in commercial towns, as, for
instance, at Aarhuus in Jutland, at Trondhjem in Norway, and even in the
city of London (in East Cheap), was consecrated to St. Clement, who was
especially the seaman’s patron saint. The Danes naturally preferred to
bury their dead in this church, which was their proper parish church.

The Danes and Norwegians also possessed an important place of trade on
the southern shore of the Thames, opposite the city—in Southwark, as it
is called, which was first incorporated with London, as part of the
city, in the middle ages. The very name of _Southwark_, which is
unmistakably of Danish or Norwegian origin, is evidence of this. The
Sagas relate that, in the time of King Svend Tveskjæg, the Danes
fortified this trading place; which, evidently on account of its
situation to the south of the Thames and London, was called “Sydvirke”
(Sudrvirki), or the southern fortification. From Sudrvirki, which in
Anglo-Saxon was called Suð-geweorc, but which in the middle ages
obtained the name of Suthwerk or Suwerk, arose the present form,
Southwark, through small and gradual changes in the pronunciation. The
Northmen had a church in Sydvirke dedicated to the Norwegian king, Olaf
the Saint. Olaf, who fell in the battle of Stiklestad, in 1030, was so
celebrated a saint that churches were built in his honour, not only in
Norway, where he became the patron saint of the kingdom, and in the rest
of Scandinavia, but also in almost every place where the Northmen
established themselves; nay, even in distant Constantinople the
Varangians had a church called after him. There is still a street in
Southwark, close by London Bridge and the Thames, which bears the
significant name of Tooley Street, a corruption of St. Olave’s Street.
On the northern side stands a church, called St. Olave’s Church, and
which is found mentioned by that name as early as the close of the
thirteenth century.

Within the city, in what may be strictly called ancient London, where
the Sagas already mention a St. Olaf’s Church, there are to be found at
this day no fewer than three churches consecrated to St. Olave: namely,
in Silver Street; at the north-west corner of Seething Lane, Tower
Street; and in the Old Jewry (St. Olave’s Upwell). The two last-named
stand in the eastern extremities of the city, yet within its ancient
boundaries. In the same neighbourhood, near London Bridge, there is also
a church dedicated to St. Magnus the Martyr, which likewise undoubtedly
owes its origin to the Northmen, either the Norwegians or Danes. St.
Magnus was a Norwegian jarl, who was killed in the twelfth century in
Orkney, where the cathedral in Kirkwall is also consecrated to him.

That so many churches in London should be named after these Norwegian
saints, Olaf and Magnus, who, moreover, were not canonized till after
the death of Canute the Great, and the overthrow of the Danish dominion
in England, furnishes no mean evidence of the influence of the Northmen
in London. It confirms in a remarkable manner the truth of the old
statements, that the Danes who dwelt in London could at times even turn
the scales at the election of a king; as, for instance, after the death
of Canute the Great. An English chronicler, speaking of the power of the
Danes at that period, adds, that the citizens of London had, by reason
of their frequent intercourse with “_the barbarians_” (the Danes),
almost adopted their manners and customs. And it was, indeed, natural
that the long voyages of the Northmen, and the important commerce
carried on between the countries of Scandinavia and England, should have
long secured to the northern merchants an influential position in a city
like London, which was in the highest degree a commercial city, and
particularly when these merchants had once been established there in
great numbers.

But the most striking and remarkable memorial of the early power of the
Danes and other Northmen in London is this—that the highest tribunal in
the city has retained to our days its pure old northern name “Husting.”
The word _Thing_, whereby, as is well known, both deliberative and
judicial assemblies were designated in the north from the earliest
times, does not seem to have been employed by the Anglo-Saxons in that
signification, or at all events not before the Danish expeditions and
Danish immigrations into England. The Anglo-Saxons used in that sense
the term _gemót_, as in “Witena-gemót,” which was the name of their
parliament. Husthings are also especially mentioned in the Sagas as
having been held in the north, particularly by kings, jarls, and other
powerful individuals. The Husthing in London was originally established
in order to protect and guard the laws and liberties of the city and the
customs of the courts of judicature; and the principal magistrates were
judges. In the Latin of the middle ages it is said of a person who
attended there—“Comparuit in Hustingo.” A similar Husting was also
formerly found in the Isle of Sheppey, at the mouth of the Thames.

London, beneath whose walls and gates the Danes have fought numerous
battles with various success, contains within it memorials both of their
greatest power and of the decay of their dominion. On the same side of
the Thames as Sydvirke, or Southwark, but somewhat higher up, lies
Lambeth (formerly Lambythe, Lambgathre), which is now a part of London,
and the residence of the Primate of England, but which in olden times
was a village outside the capital. At a country-house there a Danish
jarl celebrated his marriage in the year 1042. King Hardicanute, with a
number of his followers, was present at the banquet; but just as he was
drinking to the bride, he suddenly fell to the ground, in a fit of
apoplexy, and shortly afterwards breathed his last at the age of only
twenty-six years.

Hardicanute was the last Danish king in England.

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