St. Brice's Day massacre
The St. Brice's Day massacre was the killing of Danes in the Kingdom of England
Kingdom of England
The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...

 on 13 November 1002, ordered by King Æthelred the Unready. The name refers to St Brice, fifth century Bishop of Tours, whose feast day is 13 November.


England had been ravaged by Danish raids every year from 997 to 1001, and in 1002 the king was told that the Danish men in England "would faithlessly take his life, and then all his councillors, and possess his kingdom afterwards." In response, he "ordered slain all the Danish men who were in England."

The Massacre

Historians believe there was significant loss of life. Amongst those thought to have been killed were Gunhilde
Gunhilde is said to have been the sister of Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark, and the daughter of Harald Bluetooth. She was married to Pallig, a Dane who served the King of England, Æthelred the Unready, as ealdorman of Devonshire...

, who may have been the sister of King Sweyn I of Denmark
Sweyn I of Denmark
Sweyn I Forkbeard was king of Denmark and England, as well as parts of Norway. His name appears as Swegen in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and he is also known in English as Svein, Swein, Sven the Dane, and Tuck.He was a Viking leader and the father of Cnut the Great...

. Her husband Pallig Tokesen
Pallig Tokesen
Pallig was a Danish chieftain. He was recruited to help Ethelred II, and was made Jarl or Ealdorman of Devonshire. He was killed in the St. Brice's Day massacre, along with his wife Gunhilde, daughter of Harald I of Denmark and sister of Sweyn Forkbeard. Sweyn's invasions from 1002 may have been...

, the Danish Ealdorman
An ealdorman is the term used for a high-ranking royal official and prior magistrate of an Anglo-Saxon shire or group of shires from about the ninth century to the time of King Cnut...

 of Devon
Devon is a large county in southwestern England. The county is sometimes referred to as Devonshire, although the term is rarely used inside the county itself as the county has never been officially "shired", it often indicates a traditional or historical context.The county shares borders with...

shire may also have died in the massacre
A massacre is an event with a heavy death toll.Massacre may also refer to:-Entertainment:*Massacre , a DC Comics villain*Massacre , a 1932 drama film starring Richard Barthelmess*Massacre, a 1956 Western starring Dane Clark...

 or according to a different version, his defection to join raiders ravaging the south coast may have played a part in provoking it.

The massacre
A massacre is an event with a heavy death toll.Massacre may also refer to:-Entertainment:*Massacre , a DC Comics villain*Massacre , a 1932 drama film starring Richard Barthelmess*Massacre, a 1956 Western starring Dane Clark...

 in Oxford was justified by Æthelred in a royal charter
Royal Charter
A royal charter is a formal document issued by a monarch as letters patent, granting a right or power to an individual or a body corporate. They were, and are still, used to establish significant organizations such as cities or universities. Charters should be distinguished from warrants and...

 of 1004 explaining the need to rebuild St Frideswide's Church (now Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
Christ Church Cathedral is the cathedral of the diocese of Oxford, which consists of the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. It is also, uniquely, the chapel of Christ Church, a college of the University of Oxford.-History:...

In 2010, the remains of between 34 and 38 young men, all aged 16 to 25, found during an excavation at St John's College
St John's College, Oxford
__FORCETOC__St John's College is a constituent college of the University of Oxford, one of the larger Oxford colleges with approximately 390 undergraduates, 200 postgraduates and over 100 academic staff. It was founded by Sir Thomas White, a merchant, in 1555, whose heart is buried in the chapel of...

, Oxford in 2008 are believed to be Danes killed during the massacre.

Historians' views

Historians have generally viewed the massacre as a political crime which helped to provoke Sweyn's invasion of 1003. Simon Keynes in his Oxford Online DNB
Dictionary of National Biography
The Dictionary of National Biography is a standard work of reference on notable figures from British history, published from 1885...

 article on Æthelred described it as a "so-called" massacre, a reaction of people who had been slaughtered and pillaged for a decade, directed not at the inhabitants of the Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 but at the mercenaries who had turned on their employers. Æthelred's biographer, Ryan Lavelle, also questions its extent, arguing that it could not have been carried out in the Danelaw, where the Danes would have been too strong, and that it was probably confined to frontier towns such as Oxford, and larger towns with small Danish communities, such as Bristol
Bristol is a city, unitary authority area and ceremonial county in South West England, with an estimated population of 433,100 for the unitary authority in 2009, and a surrounding Larger Urban Zone with an estimated 1,070,000 residents in 2007...

, Gloucester
Gloucester is a city, district and county town of Gloucestershire in the South West region of England. Gloucester lies close to the Welsh border, and on the River Severn, approximately north-east of Bristol, and south-southwest of Birmingham....

 and London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. He comments on the remarkable lack of remorse shown by Æthelred in the Oxford charter, but views the massacre not so much as a royally executed order as an exploitation of popular ethnic hatred and millenarianism
Millenarianism is the belief by a religious, social, or political group or movement in a coming major transformation of society, after which all things will be changed, based on a one-thousand-year cycle. The term is more generically used to refer to any belief centered around 1000 year intervals...

. Audrey MacDonald sees it as leading on to the onslaught which eventually led to Danish conquest.

Further reading

Chapter 16.
  • Vaughan, Richard The Chronicle of John of Wallingford (English Historical Review 73.286. pp. 66–77. January 1958)

External links

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