‘ From the wraith of the Norsemen deliver us ‘ – Fearless, wild and savage, the vikings in their long-ships were the scourge of the European coasts.
Background to the Normans
Viking raids on France and the British Isles increased in intensity throughout the 9th century. In 911 Charles the Simple, King of the West Franks ceded Rouen and the lower Seine valley to a group of Vikings led by Rollo, he extended his authority to the west and took over the entire area, now known as Normandy, these people were later to be know as the Normans.
In the year 960, the Danes converted to Christianity and Harald Bluetooth became the first Christian king of Denmark. His son, Sweyn Forkbeard, conquered England and from 1018 to 1035, Denmark, England, and Norway were united under King Canute the Great. After Canute’s death, Denmark fell into a period of turmoil and civil war, and both England and Norway slipped away.
By the 11th century Viking power was declining and four independent kingdoms had emerged Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the Republic of Iceland. The fortunes of Norway, Denmark and Sweden remained closely intertwined throughout. In 1180 Denmark resumed an expansive role, this time they turned their attentions to the Baltics. By 1185 they had occupied Pomerania, Mecklenburg and Holstein.
King Valdemar Sejr (1202-41) captured the area around Lubeck and Hamburg, and during his reign then Danes played a major role in the crusading advance along the southern and eastern shores of the Baltic. In 1219-20 Denmark gained control of northern Estonia with their major base at Reval (Tallinn)
It was in the course of the Battle of Lyndanisse in Estonia, according to legend, that a blood-red flag bearing a white cross floated down from heaven – a ‘sign from God’. A strong and independent church developed, and due to the later weak kings, the nobles forced King Eric to sign ‘The Royal Charter’ in 1282, thereby establishing a form of government where the king had to collaborate with the nobles and where an annual national assembly had to be called.
Valdemar Atterdag, who reigned 1340-75, brought Danish power back to a high point, and in 1397 the Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish crowns were united in the Kalmar Union under his daughter, Queen Margaret. In 1460, Christian I united Schleswig and Holstein with the Danish crown
TWO HANDED WEAPONS
The Vikings were fond of fighting with twohanded weapons, it was supposed to be only the best warriors who could fight like that (normal warriors used the big round shield we know). This cultural concept stayed on after the conversion to Christianity, which was done by the Vikingking Svend Tveskæg’s (Sweyn Forkbeard) father Harald Blåtand (Harald Bluetooth).
In time the axe was scrapped in favour of the more elegant swords. The great Danish Executioner sword was born. It was not a sword of the individual (fools sword) like so many other twohanders of this time, it was supposed to be used to great effect in battle.
The equipment of the Executioner (a later adopted name) was the great sword itself, a smaller round shield carried on the back and a secondary onehanded sword. Should the Executioner be cornered or anything like that he would drop the great sword and use the normal sword and shield combo.
The normal Executioner was in the frontlines of the formation with normal swordsmen at his sides to provide protection in melee. He was supposed to break the enemy lines with his sword, but it was imperative that the normal swordsman protected him from flanking attacks.
So it is obvious that only the royal guard was trained in its use. They were the only troops that were professional in Denmark in those times (1150-1250). The other troops in the danish army was the local knights and their levies and vassals. Something like most feudal armies.
THE BATTLE AXE
The Vikings used a large battleaxe, not many but quite a few compared to other armies at this time. It was very similar to the axe used by the Housecarles of Harolds army at Hastings. It was a little shorter with a larger head, it was a feared weapon, and this was the weapon the Vikings took with them to Constantinople. As it is well know some Vikings became Varangians who in time converted the great battleaxe into a massive waraxe. It was even shorter than the battleaxe but it was doubleheaded with the same head as the battleaxe.
Valdemar II called Sejr (Valdemar the second called Victory) 1202-1241
Even before his coronation he captured Hamburg and Lübeck. He did a lot of things for the trade, which flourished under his rule. In general he was both benevolent, had a lot of Piety and was feared by his enemies. In the year 1202 16 Estonian warships ravaged the Danish county of Blekinge (in what is now southern Sweden). The king would not ignore this and got permission from the Pope for a crusade against the pagan Estonians. In 1206 he captured the islands of Øsel and Dagø¸ (the two big islands near the baltic coast). In 1219 a great Crusade was brewing, the whole populace was ecstatic. In the summer the Danish army landed near the town now known as Tallin (the Danish City). On the 15th of June during the dusk the Estonians attacked the slumbering Danish army. A great battle erupted. Legend has it that as long as the archbishop Anders Sunesen held his arms up in prayer the Danes were winning but when he had to rest his arms the Estonians were winning. During the course of the battle the Danish flag (the one we know today) fell from the sky and the troops rallied around it. Finally the Estonians had to give up and be christened.
Another important figure from these times was the Archbishop Absalon 1128-1201.
He was a feared person, as he almost made his own little inquisition in Denmark to root out the last vestiges of paganism. He also led many battles against the Venders. During the time from 1182 to 1192 he was the de facto ruler of Denmark while the king was too young to rule.
His warhorse was supposed to have been the largest in Europe, though that was hardly the case, the horse must have been a giant. Absalon himself was armed with a large axe, possibly the last version of the Danish battleaxe as after him only few were ever armed with axes.