Britannia, by William Camden


* They are often called by our Writers, by a mistake, Daci, Dahen. Big W WHAT the original of the * Danes was, themselves are in a great measure ignorant. Danus the giant, son of Humblus, is long since discarded by Antiquaries, together with Goropius’s derivation from a henne. Andreas Velleius, a Dane and a very learned man, fetches it from the Dahi a people of Scythia, and (a) Marc, which does not signify bounds, but a countrey. Our countryman Ethelwerd was of opinion, that the name came from the city Donia. For my part, I have always thought, that they were the posterity of the Danciones, plac’d by Ptolemy in Scandia (who by the change of a letter, are in some copies call’d Dauciones,) and that from thence they unburthen’d themselves into Cimbrica Chersonesus, which the Angles had left; 'till the learned and most judicious antiquary Jonas Jacobus Venusinus, made a very curious discovery of some plain remains of the Danish name in the Sinus Codanus, and Codanonia, which Pomponius Mela mentions in those parts. Chdovaeus These names, the northern people pronounc’d grosly In the Margin, Thesibus, de fabula quæ pro historia se venditat.Cdan and Cdanonus; but Mela to reduce them to the genius of the Latin, made them Codanus and Codanonia; as after-ages mollify’d Gdanum into Dansk, Clodovæus into Lodouic, Knutus into Canutus.

(a) Marc I think is never us’d to signify a Countrey: our Marches, ’tis true, contain a certain plot or quantity of ground; but then the original of the name, was there being frontiers, or bounds.

No mention is made of the name before the time of Justinian the Emperor, about the year of our Lord 570. For about that time, they began to make inroads into France; and the Latin-writers of the history of England call them Wiccingi, from their trade of piracy; Wiccinga.Wiccinga (as we are assur’d by Alfric) signifying in Saxon a pirate. They likewise term them Pagani (the Pagans,) because at that time they were not converted to the Christian Religion. But the English themselves, in their own language, call’d them Deniscan, and very commonly Heathon men. Give me leave to set down here what Dudo of St. Quintin, an author of considerable antiquity, has said concerning these Danes; as I had it out of the library of that indefatigable Antiquary, John Stowe, a Citizen of London, to which I had always free access. The Danes, like bees out of a hive for confusion, and after a barbarous manner with their swords drawn, swarm’d out of Scanza (ie. Scandia;) when their leacherous heat had improv’d them to such an infinite number. For when they were grown up, their way was to quarrel with their fathers or grandfathers, and very often among themselves, about the Estate; the land they then had, not being large enough for them. Upon which, according to an ancient custom, a number of their young men were muster’d by lot, and driven into foreign parts, to cut out their fortunes with the sword. Religion of the Danes. When they were ready to be dispatch’d away, their custom was, to sacrifice to† From hence is our Thursday.Thur, the God whom they anciently worship’d; not with sheep, or oxen, but the blood of men. This they look’d upon as the most precious of all sacrifices: and after the Priest had determin’d by lot who should dye, they were barbarously knock’d on the head with yokes of oxen, and kill’d at one stroak. Each of those who were to die by lot, having his brains dash’d out at a single blow, was afterwards stretch’d upon the ground, and search was made for the fibre on the left side, that is, the vein of the heart. Of this they us’d to take the blood, and pour it upon the heads of such as were design’d for the march: and, imagining that this had secur’d the favour of the Gods, they immediately set sail, and fell to their oars. There was another way which the Danes had, of appeasing their Gods, or rather of running into most detestable superstition; which Ditmarus, a Bishop, and an author somewhat older than Dudo, thus describes. Lib. 1.But because I have heard strange things of the ancient sacrifices of theNorthmanni.Normans and Danes, I would not willingly pass them over. There is a place in those parts, the capital city of that Kingdom, call’d Lederun, in * * Pago.the province of Selon. There they meet once every nine years, in January, a little after our Twelfth-day, and offer to their Gods Ninety-nine men, and as many horses; with dogs and cocks instead of hawks: being fully perswaded (as I observ’d before) that these things were most acceptable to their Gods.

The Danish plunders. About the time of King Egbert, in the eight hundredth year after Christ, they first annoy’d our coasts. Afterwards, making havock of every thing, and plundering all over England for many years, they destroy’d the Cities, burnt the Churches, wasted the lands, and with most barbarous cruelty drove all before them; ransacking and over-turning every thing in their way: They murder’d the Kings of the Mercians and East-Angles, and then took possession of their kingdoms, with great part of that of Northumberland. To put a stop to these outrages, a heavy tax was impos’d upon the miserable Inhabitants, call’d † † i.e. a certain sum paid to the Danes, from the Saxon Gyldan, to pay; and thence our Yield.Dangelt; the nature of which, this passage, taken out of our old laws, will fully explain. The Pirates gave first occasion to the paying of Danigeld. For they made such havock of the nation, that they seem’d to aim at nothing less than its utter ruin. And, to suppress their insolence, it was enacted, that Danigeld should be yearly paid (which was twelve pence for every hide of land in the whole nation,) to maintain so many forces as might withstand the Incursions of the Pirates. All Churches were exempt from this Danigeld; nor did the Lands in the immediate possession of the Church, contribute any thing; because they put greater confidence in the prayers of the Church, than the defence of arms.

But when the Danes came to dispute the point with Alfred King of the West-Saxons, he, what by retreats, and what by attacks, did not only drive them out of his own territories, but slew the petty King of the Mercians, and in a manner clear’d all Mercia of them. And his son, Edward the Elder, pursuing his Father’s conquests, recover’d the Country of the East-Angles from the Danes; as Athelstan his natural son, to crown their victories, after a great slaughter of them subdu’d the Kingdom of Northumberland, and by his vigorous pursuit put the Danes into such a fright, that part of them quitted the kingdom, and the rest surrendered themselves. By the Valour of these Princes, was England deliver’d out of that gulph of miseries, and had a respite of fifty years from that bloody war. But after ÆthelredAEthelred (a man of a cowardly spirit) came to the Crown, the Danes raising fresh hopes from his unactive temper, renew’d the war, and made havock of the nation; till the English were forc’d to purchase a Peace with annual contributions, which were very great. And so insolently did they behave themselves, that the English form’d a Plot, and in one night 1012.slew all the Danes through the whole nation, to a man: hoping, that so much blood would quench the flaming fury of that people; and yet as it happen’d, it did but add more fuel to it. For Sueno, King of the Danes, incens’d by that general massacre of his subjects, invaded England with a powerful army, and, in an outragious and violent manner destroying all before him, put Ethelred to flight, and conquer’d the whole nation, and left it to his son * * Cnut in the Coins. Canutus. He, after a long war with Ethelred, who was return’d, and with his son Edmond sirnam’d Ironside (but without any decisive battle:)The Danes infested England 200 years, reign’d about 20. was succeeded by his two sons, Harold his natural son, and Canutus the Bold. After the death of these, the Danish yoke was shaken off, and the government return’d to the English. Edward the Confessor. For Edward (whose sanctity gain’d him the name of Confessor, the son of Ethelred by a second wife,) recover’d the Regal Dignity. England did now begin to revive; but presently (as the Poet says)

Mores rebus cessêre secuncdis.

The loads of Fortune sunk them into vice:

The Clergy grew idle, unactive, and ignorant; the Laity gave themselves over to luxury and supineness; all discipline was laid aside; the State, like a distemper’d body, was consum’d with all sorts of vice: but Pride, that forerunner of destruction, had of all others made the greatest progress. And as Gervasius Dorobernensis observes of those times, They ran so greedily into wickedness, that it was look’d on as a crime to be innocent. All these things plainly tended to ruin.

The English at that time (says William of Malmsbury) wore cloaths that did not reach beyond the middle of the knee; their heads were shorn, and their beards shaven, only the upper lip was always let grow to its full length. Their arms were loaded with golden bracelets; and their skin dy’d with painted marks. The Clergy, content with a superficial sort of learning, had much ado to mutter out the words of the Sacraments, &c.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06