Thetford, chapter 8: Of the city under the Danes and Danish monarchs

An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1805.

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'Thetford, chapter 8: Of the city under the Danes and Danish monarchs', in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, (London, 1805) pp. 36-42. British History Online [accessed 29 February 2024]



Turkil, Thurkill, or Thurketel, (fn. 1) (for I find him called by all these names,) the leader of these Danish murderers, (fn. 2) took possession of this city, and all Norfolk and Suffolk, in the year 1012, and continued chief lord and governour, tyrannizing over the people in a most savage manner, and the rest of the Danes compounding with the English for 8000l. spread abroad in the country, sojourning in the cities, towns, and villages, as they liked best. Soon after this, Turkil advises King Swain how matters stood in England, that the King was negligent, and minded only his pleasure, that the nobles were unfaithful, and the commons weak and without leaders, which induced him to invade the land again; and accordingly, in the year 1013, he landed at Sandwich, and taking sea again, compassed Norfolk and Suffolk, but did not find the people apt to join him, as he expected, for Turkil their governour, after he had sent him the advice aforesaid, had joined King Ethelred, and was then with him in pay at London, with 45 Danish ships, in order to defend the city, if Swain came to assault it, as he did, after he had received the Northumbers and their Duke, who submitted to him, as did all the people of Lyndesey, and those on the north side of Watlingstrete, of whom he received hostages, and left Cnute his son to keep the pledges, and guard the ships, while he passed the country; then he went through South-Mercia, Oxford, and Winchester, all which submitted to him; which success encouraged him to go directly against King Ethelred at London, which he assaulted fiercely, but the Londoners as fiercely defended themselves, insomuch that Swain was glad to get away to Bath, and soon after to Denmark again, designing to return with more power, as he did next year, and was immediately met by the English, who began the battle, which was fought sharp a long time, till by reason of divers Englishmen's turning to the enemy's side, there fell such a discomfiture and slaughter to the English host, that the King perceived his royal state was in utter danger, whereupon calling the remains of his army together, he told them of their treason, and how it was by that means only that his enemies conquered them; and therefore he left them either to fight or submit to the Danes, which they did, and the King withdrew to Greenwich, and there staid a time with the navy of the Danes, under the government of our Earl Turkil; thence he sailed to the Isle of Wight, and after Christmas, to Richard Duke of Normandy, his brother-in-law, to whom he had sent his wife, Queen Emme, and Alfred and Edward his sons. During this time, the Londoners submitted to Swain, who had conquered and brought the most part of England under his subjection; and these were the days (as Speed observes) of England's mourning, she being unable to maintain her defenders, yet forced to nourish and cherish her devourers; for now the Danes, in two factions, cruelly afflicted the land, Swain as an absolute King extorted of the English both victuals and pay for his soldiers, and Earl Turkil on the other side, in defence of the English, commanded the like for his ships and men, so that the Danes had all, and the English maintained all. Swain being established thus in the government, was not only cruel in oppressing the laity, but the church also, forcing the clergy to ransome their churches and monasteries, else he burnt them to the ground, among others, (having a quarrel with the inhabitants, in the precincts of St. Edmund'sLand in Suffolk,) he not only wasted that country, but, as Holinshed tells us, spoiled the abbey of Bury, where St. Edmund's body rested; Speed and others rightly say that he ravaged the country, and only threatened the monastery, because they refused to pay the ransome money that he demanded, alleging that they ought to be free of all King's tribute, upon which, as Hoveden tells us, in the midst of his jollity and threats, as he was talking with his nobles, of his good success in conquering the land, he was struck with a knife miraculously, no man seeing from whose hand it came, (fn. 3) and so within three days after, viz. on Candlemas-day, in the year 1014, he died in great torment, at Thedford, (fn. 4) and in all likelihood was there buried, and immediately the Danes chose Cnute, his son, king; upon his death, Ethelred was recalled, and took possession of his kingdom, at his subjects' entreaty, and prevailed so much, that Cnute, though he had endeavoured to hold that by bounty and good nature, which his father had got by tyranny, and spared not to endeavour to win the hearts of the English, yet could get none to side with him but the people of Lindsey, whom Ethelred for that reason presently attacked, and that with such prowess, that he put them to the sword, and forced Cnute to retire to Denmark, without any hope of future success. And now the nation had been freed from this people, had not our Earl Turkil who knew the wealth of the land, and so compounded with the Englishmen, and staid here, revolted from Ethelred, in order to excuse himself for revolting from the Danes, which was the only way he could do it, for being retained by the King with 40 ships and the flower of the Danish soldiers, he sailed with 9 of them into Denmark, submitted to Cnute, and promised him the assistance of the other 31 ships; and their soldiers, if he would return into England: in short, he did so much by his persuasions, that Cnute, by the aid of his brother Harold, then King of Denmark, got a navy of 160 ships, and being spurred on by Ethelred's cruelty to the Danes, whom he destroyed in all parts, he took sea, and landed at Sandwich, Ao 1016, and immediately Earl Turkil had license to go against the English that were got together to resist them, whom he soon vanquished, and returned to Cnute; during this time, the King lay sick at Cossam, but his son, Prince Edmund, got an army together in order to fight, but upon information that Edrick would betray them to the Danes, he withdrew with his army into a sure place, and Edrick fled to the enemy with 40 ships full of Danish soldiers, upon which, all the west country submitted to Cnute, who, assisted by Edrick, began to waste Warwickshire; upon this, Ethelred, who was recovered, got an army together to resist them, but being advertised that he should be delivered to his enemies by treason, he withdrew to London, and there relapsing, and wearied out with grief, he died on St. George's Day, and the Londoners and Englishmen crowned his son,

Edmund, at Kingston, Ao 1016; he was sirnamed Ironside, by reason he continually went in armour, and was able and hardy to endure labour and toil. Cnute and his Danes reached London with their ships in a few days after Ethelred's death, (fn. 5) and besieged the city, but finding the Londoners true to their prince, who was coming to join them, he raised the siege, and wintered in the isle of Sheppey: in the mean time Edmund was received by the city, and crowned King there. The spring following, Cnute invaded the west parts, but the King encountered him at Penham in Dorsetshire, and discomfited his army. During the time that Edmund was raising his forces, Cnute had been proclaimed and ordained King at Southampton, by the bishops and abbots, and divers of the temporal lords, who assembled there, to whom he sware to be their good and faithful sovereign, and to see justice truly and uprightly ministered in the realm; and then he besieged London again, but was forced to withdraw into Dorsetshire, where he was beaten by Edmund into Worcestershire, where Edmund also beat him again, though he was near losing the battle by the treason of Earl Edrick, his cursed son-in-law, who seeing the Danes much oppressed, cut off a soldier's head who was like King Edmund, and ran with it to the English host, crying to them, that they should fly, for their King was slain, and that was his head; but Edmund, advised of this stratagem, quickly got him to the high ground, and convinced his soldiers of that untruth, and so kept the field, but was so unwise as to excuse Edric's fact, upon his pleading he was mistaken in the countenance of the man. In a day or two after, Cnute departed secretly to London, and besieged it, but was soon removed thence by Edmund, who followed him thither; soon after, Edmund passed the Thames, and hasted to the West-Saxons, and the Danes again attempted London, but with no success, and so they went and ravaged in Mercia: Edmund upon this enters Kent, and met them at Otford, where there was a great battle, in which Edmund was conqueror, for with the loss of 600 men only he killed 4500 Danes and put them to flight; and had not the ever-traitorous Edric stayed him at Aelsford from pursuing them, he had gotten a complete victory, and at once freed himself from his enemies, who by this means retreated into Essex, where Edmund followed them, and meeting them at Ashdon, (fn. 6) near Saffron Walden, he gave battle to Cnute, and a great slaughter ensued; at first the Danes recoiled, which Edric perceiving, he turned with all his men to their assistance, and by so doing, the English were totally vanquished, great numbers being slain; of the English nobility died Earl (fn. 7) Alfred, Earl Godwin, Earl Athelward, (fn. 8) Earl Athelwin, Cadnoth Bishop of Winchester, Wolsey Abbot of Ramsey, and many others, both of the clergy and laity, together with our noble Earl Ulfketel, whom Turkil had expulsed from this city and county. After this defeat Edmund went with the relicks of his army to Gloucester, in order to raise forces to try once more his fortune with the Danes, to whom the Londoners had submitted, upon news of their conquest, which made Edmund resolved to venture all at one push, and accordingly the armies met at Dearhurst, by the river Severne; but just before the engagement, a captain suddenly stepped forth, and by many arguments persuaded the two princes that they should end the matter by single combat, rather than occasion so much blood to be spilt. This being agreed, the Princes entered a small island, called Alney, which is in the Severne, not far from Gloucester, and there they began the combat, which was fought first on horseback, and then on foot, with great resolution on both sides, till Cnute (who was overmatched) received a wound, upon which he requested a compromise, and King Edmund agreeing thereto, they divided the kingdom between them, the part overagainst France was assigned to Edmund, and the rest to Cnute; but now the false Earl Edric had his last and great act to put in execution, which he soon did, by following King Edmund to the privy, and there (from under the draught) he thrust a spear into the King's body, and then cutting off his head, presented it to Cnute, with this fawning expression, All hail, thou now sole monarch of England! thinking thereby to rivet himself the deeper in Cnute's favour, who though he was desirous of sovereignty, yet being of a princely disposition, and of remarkable justice, he some time after placed the head of this traitour Edric upon the highest gate of London, as a signal that he hated treason. And thus died Edmund, at St. Andrew's-Tyde, in the year 1016, after a troublesome but short reign of seven months only; upon which

Cnute the Dane became sole monarch of England; and having established himself in the throne, he divided the realm in four parts, assigning this city and the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk to Earl Turkill, who had possessed it ever since the expulsion of its last English Earl, the valiant Ulfketel. Cnute, after he was settled in peace, married Emma, King Ethelred's widow, and settled the crown on his issue by her, and on failure of issue, his brother Edward was to succeed him, by which means the Danes were utterly excluded from all right to the crown, and the English blood restored again, and then giving the Danes that had served him 82,000l. he sent them home to Denmark, which so contented all his subjects, that he reigned gloriously to the end of his days; during his reign he favoured the church, founding many monasteries and churches out of his own coffers, as the church of Ashdon in Essex, where he conquered Edmund, the abbey in the Holm in Ludham parish in Norfolk, which he dedicated to St. Bennet, whom he greatly reverenced, and Bury monastery in Suffolk, which he dedicated to St. Edmund, whom he greatly feared. In this time Earl Turkil was in great favour with him, and all things were done by his counsel and approbation, as historians agree; (fn. 9) this Earl was a great benefactor himself to St. Edmund's monastery, and it was he, as I take it, that first gave to that house divers lands and revenues in Thetford, (fn. 10) on which there were a few monks placed, as a cell to that abbey, (fn. 11) but it being afterwards forsaken, the Abbot turned it into a nunnery, and placed the Benedictine nuns of St. George there. This Cnute confirmed all the large privileges which Edmund King of the West-Saxons had formerly granted to St. Edmund's monastery, and discharging all the land of that saint from tribute, he enclosed it with a ditch, (running cross Newmarket heath,) that there might be no dispute about the limits of his land, and to this day that ditch terminates the liberty of St. Edmund; and from this time all the lands and revenues of that monastery in Thetford were exempted from all jurisdiction of the place, and enjoyed all the liberties and privileges of St. Edmund's monastery, their patron. In the year 1021, Cnute finding that Iric Earl of Northumberland, and our Earl Turkill, began to aspire too high, and grow too much in greatness and the people's love, he banished them both, and took their whole government into his hands, establishing one law, by which Danes and Englishmen should be equally governed; by this he entirely gained the love of his subjects. This Cnute was the greatest prince that had ever reigned over the English nation, for he had the sovereignty of all Denmark, England, Norway, (fn. 12) Scotland, and Sweden: he died, according to the Saxon Chronicle, in the year 1036, (fn. 13) on the 12th of November, in the 20th year of his reign, upon which, Earl Godwin, and the men of the west parts, would have Hardicnute, (fn. 14) son of Cnute by Queen Emma, according to the settlement made on Cnute's marriage, for their king; but the Danes and Londoners having Leofrick Earl of Chester, and divers north-country noblemen, on their side, elected

Harold, second (fn. 15) son of Cnute, by Alfgive, his first wife, king of this realm; he was sirnamed Hare-Foot, by reason of his swiftness, and enjoyed the kingdom, Hardicnute his brother refusing to come out of Denmark to take the government from him. (fn. 16) This Harold was an inglorious prince, but, to the joy of his subjects, died in 1039, when he had reigned four years and sixteen weeks only, upon which all the nobles unanimously agreed, and sent for

Hardicnute, whom they had chosen king, who landed the same year, (fn. 17) and was crowned at London; in his time, viz. 1041, Athelstane Abbot of Ramsey (fn. 18) had a house in Theford, for then he had a possessionary writ, directed to the burghers of Theford, to command them to see that the Abbot enjoyed it as freely and fully as he held it before. This King is remarkable only for gluttony and excess, in the midst of which he died suddenly at a feast, in this year, after he had reigned two years, wanting ten days, and with him died all the rule of the Danes in this land, he being the last prince of their blood that ever sat on the English throne; (fn. 19) for now,

Edward, an Englishman, for his piety sirnamed the Confessor, half brother to Hardicnute, and son of King Ethelred by Queen Emme, was unanimously elected King of England, and sent for out of Normandy, and after his landing was anointed King in 1042, (fn. 20) in which year Stigand the priest was made Bishop of the East-Angles, (being then a great favourite of the Confessor,) and soon after was ejected; but coming into favour the next year, he was admitted to his bishoprick, and was afterwards Bishop of Winchester, and Archbishop of Canterbury; this is that Stigand so often mentioned in DomesdayBook. This King expulsed all the Danish soldiers that were in England, and banished Lady Gonild, niece to King Swain, by his sister, with her two sons, introducing many Normans in their stead, who had been serviceable to him during his exile; and from this time that people got ground till the Norman Conqueror enjoyed the crown. During this King's reign, Harold, son of Earl Godwin, was Earl of the East Angles: he was not faithful to the King, but assisted his father, who then rebelled, with a large body of troops raised out of his counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and Huntingdonshire; but he had better been at quiet, for he was forced to come to London with twelve servants only, and resign all his soldiers and provinces to the King's government, and then he and his brother Leofwine (fn. 21) fled to Ireland, upon which he was proclaimed an outlaw, and this city and counties, with all his estate, were seized and given to Algar, son of Leofrick Earl of Chester, who governed them worthily, and afterwards freely resigned them to Harold again, when he returned out of exile; among other noble deeds, (fn. 22) by which this King gained his subjects love, we must reckon his remission of the yearly tribute of 40,000l. gathered for forty years together, by the name of Danegilt, it being imposed by his father upon all men's lands, the clergy only excepted; as also that noble body of laws which he selected from those of the Danes, West-Saxons, Mercians, and Northumbrians, and translating them into Latin, they became the fountain of what we now call the Common-Law. Earl Godwin, Swain, Harold, and his other sons, remaining in exile, were continually infesting the sea coasts, and doing much damage, wherefore the King raised an army against them, but by the mediation of friends, peace was restored, and the Earl and his sons had possession of their former estates, and then Harold received this city and its provinces of Algar peaceably, in the year 1052; and the next year Earl Godwin his father died; and all his earldom and lordships came to our Earl Harold, (fn. 23) who generously gave this city and its earldom to

Algar, or Alfgar, in recompense for his generosity in restoring it to him peaceably, after his return from his exile, and so Algar became Earl of the East-Angles in 1053.

In 1055, Earl Algar, through evil counsel, and without desert, (fn. 24) being outlawed and banished the realm, went first to Ireland, and from thence came and joined Griffin King of Wales, and did much hurt in Herefordshire, upon which the King sent Earl Harold against him, who continued his friend; for instead of fighting, he entered into treaty, and persuaded him to peace, went himself to the King, obtained his pardon, and restored him to his earldom. In 1057, Leofrick Earl of Chester, (fn. 25) son of Earl Leofæyne, died, and Earl Algar his son inherited that earldom; but the next year he was accused of treason, through envy, and was exiled again, (fn. 26) upon which he repaired to his old friend Prince Griffin, who assisted him so powerfully, that the King fearing his force, was obliged to send Earl Harold against him, who pursued Griffin and killed him, (fn. 27) and by his policy reconciled Algar to the King's grace, and he continued in favour his whole life after. In 1064 the Northumbrians rebelled against their Earl, Tosti, (fn. 28) and made Morker, Malchar, or Marcher, Earl Algar's son, their chief leader, but upon their promise of obedience, if the King would give their earldom to Morker, he consented, and Tosti was expulsed, and Morker confirmed Earl of Northumberland. In the year 1066 died this glorious King, and in him ceased the noble progeny of the WestSaxon Kings, which had continued for about 547 years: "One ability (says Baker, fo. 26) he had, which raised him above the pitch of ordinary kings, and yet at this day is ordinary with kings, that by his touching and laying his hand upon it, he cured a disease, which from his curing is called the King's-Evill." He was the first that confirmed his charters under his broad seal, that large impression being brought into use by him; he also first caused the whole realm to be surveyed, so exactly (as Ingulph says) that there was not one hide in all England whose owner and value was unknown, which occasioned the book in which this description was wrote, to be called Domesday: this was found so beneficial to the King, that the Conqueror made such another survey, in which he included this, and added every thing that had been altered, since the making of it, even to the time of his own survey; and from this record it is that we learn the state of the city.


  • 1. He expulsed the English Earl Ulfketel.
  • 2. Speed, fol. 395. Hol. 246, &c.
  • 3. Baker, fol. 20, hath it, that he cried out in the midst of his lords, that he was struck by St. Edmund with a sword.
  • 4. Some say at Gainsborough, which is not likely, it being so far from St. Edmund's territories, that it is not agreeable to the rest of the history.
  • 5. Some say Cnute besieged it some days before the King's death.
  • 6. The hill of ashes.
  • 7. These are by some authors called Dukes, but the words Consul or Comes, I think, rather signifies Earl.
  • 8. Son to Earl Ulfketel.
  • 9. Thurketel, nobilis heros, dedit Sco. Edo. Palegrave, &c. Regr. Abb. fol. 22. b.
  • 10. They laid not far off the place where the Martyr fought the Danes.
  • 11. This was the monastery said to be built in memory of the English and Danes slain hereabouts, in the battle between the holy King Edmund, and the Danish captains, Hingwar and Hubba, which lasted seven hours, with great loss on both sides. Atlas, p. 339.
  • 12. This kingdom Cnute gave in his lifetime to Swayn, his eldest son by his first wife.
  • 13. Some say 1037.
  • 14. He was then in Denmark, which kingdom his father gave him in his lifetime.
  • 15. Hol. says, bastard son of Cnute.
  • 16. Hol. fol. 263.
  • 17. Chron. Sax. p. 156. Hol. places it in 1041.
  • 18. Brady, in his Complete History, thinks it to be of a later date. Spelman's Glossary. Hist. Rams. chap. 99. Gale Script. vol. i. p. 449.
  • 19. The English were so rejoiced at their freedom from the Danish yoke, that they annually celebrated the day of this King's death, with open pastimes in the streets, and called that time Hoc-tide, or, a time of scorning and contempt, which then fell on the Danes. Speed.
  • 20. Some say 1043.
  • 21. Swain, Harold, Tosti, Leofwine, and Girth, were all sons of Earl Godwin, and rebelled with him, because the King would not at their request expel his Norman friends.
  • 22. Baker, fol. 25.
  • 23. Sax. Chron. p. 169.
  • 24. Fabian, 163.
  • 25. Or Mercia.
  • 26. Hol. fo. 277.
  • 27. Fab. 265.
  • 28. The eans were then so many vice. roys or petty kings, having the sole government of their provinces.