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Sven Forkbeard

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology

Ian Howard

Sven Forkbeard (c. 960–1014), 

Scandinavian warrior and wide-ranging ruler. By the time of his death in February 1014, Sven Forkbeard had made himself king of Denmark, king of England, and ruler of Norway. Also, through an alliance with his stepson, Olof Skötkonung, he had enormous influence over the Swedes. Sven was an excellent politician and strategist with an aptitude for choosing successful generals.

Saga accounts suggest that Sven became king of Denmark in 986 or 987 through an alliance with the powerful Jomsvikings and in rebellious opposition to his father, Harald Bluetooth. His rule over Denmark was consolidated by his marriage to the dowager queen of Sweden and an alliance with the Swedes. The strategy adopted by Sven made victory at the battle of Svold (1000) possible. As a result of this victory over the king of Norway, Sven was able to extend his influence to Norway, where his son-in-law and protégé, Erik Hakonarson, ruled on his behalf. Following the mixed fortunes of his English campaign in 1003–1005, Sven sent armies commanded by Tostig, Hemming Strut-Haraldsson, and Thorkell the Tall that brought the English establishment to its knees during a series of campaigns between 1006 and 1012.

Sven’s own campaign in England in 1013 was underpinned by diplomacy and an alliance with leaders of northern England. Men from northern England augmented his army for his invasion of southern England to such an extent that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes the army as a fyrd (native army). Unable to capture London, Sven conducted a brilliant campaign during which he forced the leading burghs to submit to him: by the end of the campaigning season Sven controlled all England except the London region. Fearful of being cut off if he lost control of the Thames, King Aethelred II, “the Unready,” fled into exile, leaving the burgh of London to capitulate. Thus Sven Forkbeard conquered England without fighting a major battle.

[See also Britain, subentry on Narrative (1000–1300); Svold, Battle of; and Thorkell the Tall.]


Blake, N. F., trans. The Saga of the Jomsvikings. London: Nelson, 1962.Find this resource:

    Howard, Ian. Swein Forkbeards Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England, 991–1017. Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 2003.Find this resource:

      Ian Howard

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