‘The New Danish-Norman England – the Stout Bulwark of the Peoples’ Freedom (0)

12 November, 2012

This week on the Reading Rest I have two books by J. J. A. Worsaae, one of the founding fathers of modern archaeology. He was a young father and it is characteristic of Worsaae that even when he didn’t know for sure and was in part wrong, he was more or less right — there is some sort of peoples’ freedom in England.



Worsaae, J. J. A. 1851. Minder om de Danske og Nordmændene i England, Skotland og Irland (MODON)—Monuments of the Danish and the Norwegians in England, Scotland and Ireland. Copenhagen.

(the sober publication in the following referred to as MODON).

Worsaae, J. J. A. 1863. Den danske Erobring af England og Normandiet (DEEN)—The Danish conquest of England and Normandy. Copenhagen.

(the popular book in the following referred to as DEEN)


In 1851 the Norwegian historian P. A. Munch wrote a history of the Norwegians disregarding archaeological sources. He argued among other things that Denmark was originally a country populated by Germans. In his book, The Viking Period, c. 800-1000 CE, was already a conventional term labeling a certain Scandinavian rather than Norwegian or Danish era epitomized by a ‘Viking’ mentality. For obvious political reasons Munch’s book was soon translated into German and called ‘The Nordic-Germanic People: their Original Home Land’, i.e. Norway and not Denmark. The Danish archaeologist Worsaae, a nationalist between two wars with Germany (1848-51 and 1864), didn’t like it.

Nevertheless, the birth of their respective nations was Worsaae’s as well as Munch’s concern, and Vikings denoted a pre-Christian mentality that took Scandinavians into Christian lands and their own nation states. Generally speaking, the experience civilized Vikings transforming them into Norwegians, Swedes and Danes.

Munch’s and Worsaae’s general understanding of the Viking Period or Viking Age as a period of transformation, not least from Pagan to Christian society, is still deeply felt. Sæbjørg Walaker Nordeide for one calls her 2011 book The Viking Age as a Period of Religious Transformation. Of course she doesn’t mean that and therefore the subtitle tells us what it is all about: The Christianization of Norway from AD 560-1150/1200. It is hard to understand why the first date is sharp and the last one fuzzy, since the first is the approximate beginning of the ‘Merovingian Period’ in Norway, i.e. 560-800 CE, while the concluding 50-year period in the Middle Ages is supposed to capture the year 1152/3 when to Nordeide’s mind (p. 21) Christianity was well-established in Norway and the country thus transformed. Transformation and civilization are difficult matters and no doubt pointing out what is in effect intellectual contact between Scandinavia and the Continent before 787 CE is a great step forward compared to the 1850 forefront of research – a leap of emancipation in the study of History.

Already in P.A. Munch’s days this Viking view – Pagan virtue eventually transformed into Christian civilization and social order – was contradicted by the earliest sources describing Scandinavian atrocities. P. A. Munch, who quotes the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from 787 CE highlighting such aggressions, comments upon it: … … These were the first Danish ships to scourge England [literally: Þæt wæron þa ærestan scipu Deniscra monna þe Angelcynnes lond gesohton]. To Munch this part of the entry is an addition, added when several attacks had already taken place making ‘Danes’ English for ‘Scandinavian Vikings’. (P. A. Munch in German 1853:186)

Nevertheless, the quotation doesn’t refer to Vikings, only to three ships filled with aggressive Danes. And there is no historical proof of Munch’s conviction. References to Vikings in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle start to occur only late in the 9th century. Moreover, since his pre-understanding prevents him from believing that Danes come before Vikings, Munch thinks that the expression ‘the first Danish ships´ is wise in the event. A victim of his prejudice, he fails to see that Danes were not news to the chronicler; they had been around for hundreds of years, a nuisance, doing whatever they did already in the 6th c. In 787 CE, however, they took it one step further and came just to attack the land of the English.

From Munch to Nordeide, none the less, the Historian’s Viking has played a central part in the study of Norway, not least after the attack on Norway in 1940, or perhaps since 1937 when ‘Viking’, the leading Archaeological journal in Norway, was published for the first time by A W Brøgger, an archaeologist, almost as precocious as Worsaae, who strongly condemned Nazism already in 1936.

To Anglo-Saxons and Danes alike, ‘Viking’ was a well-known term in the 8th century, but as Worsaae (1851) points out, Gaelic speakers, who spoke of foreigners – Norwegians as finngalls and Danes as dubhgalls – had to translate ‘Viking’ when they heard the word. So they did, faithfully constructing the compound lochlannach – (1)loch-(2)lann-(3)ach, i.e. (3) a kinship (2) dwelling on/by/at (1) a lake/fjord/inlet, i.e. the equivalent of (1)Vik-(2,3)ing. It seems unlikely that they start differentiating between two kinds of foreigners after they had experienced lochlannach. On the contrary, Vikings were more deviant than foreign.

Leading authors such as P. A. Munch and J. J. A. Worsaae were interested in promoting Viking mentality as a driving factor in the history of their nations. Munch cemented his attitude already in 1851, but Worsaae’s changed between 1851 and 1863, not least because Denmark was threatened by German aggression. In 1851 Vikings played a less central role than in 1863 when arguing against Germans was so much more important than in 1851.


Worsaae was sent to the British Isles at King Christian’s initiative for nine month 1846-47. In a conversation, when Worsaae presented his latest book to the King, his Majesty all of a sudden asked Worsaae whether he would like to go abroad this summer. Worsaae said he would like to travel in Scandinavian before going to Russia in the future. Instead of commenting upon this, the King suggested England, Scotland and Ireland. Worsaae would very much like to, and the King asked why he hadn’t mentioned it before. Worsaae said that England was expensive, the King said he could afford it and ordered the exchequer to grant Worsaae 100£ (a year’s salary for an engineer – when the visit was prolonged more money was granted). In all probability the King had scientific as well as political reasons for sending Worsaae to England asking him to start in London. To a certain extent a king’s reasons for sending his subjects on a mission are always political, and Worsaae, who was already the King’s protégé, could be trusted. Off he went with letters of introduction to the conservative elite, such as the Duke of Sutherland and Lord Ellesmere. One year after Worsaae’s return the King died and war broke out (1848-51). A Danish nationalist and politically a non-liberal Worsaae published MODON when Denmark had won the war.

Worsaae was 25, clever, socially gifted, and already a leading archaeologist when he arrived in London. The Danish ambassador took him everywhere and Worsaae immediately understood that he had to buy some new clothes to fit in. It wasn’t his first trip abroad, but London and the museums, societies and private homes where he was welcomed during some hectic weeks, made a formidable impression on him – not least the respectful way he was treated as a researcher. Once at British Museum discussing some archaeological problems, his views were praised as similar to Worsaae’s before everybody understood that he was indeed Worsaae. The colleague who made the comment was busy translating one of Worsaae’s works from German. The importance of London shows in the letters he wrote to his mother and in MODON. Modern London and London around 1000 CE was the kind of place, where modern Danish researchers and ancient merchants, far from being Vikings, felt that they belonged. In  MODON, London is his ‘hook’ and in the end we know why a Dane 1000 CE or 1850 CE feels part of the same wonderful urban dynamism – they are at the centre of civilization far from provincial Denmark.

Worsaae tours the British Isles sorting every memoire of the Danes, and they are everywhere, putting them into the right category: anecdotes from the Napoleonic wars, popular misunderstandings, learned constructions, folklore, substantial folklore, place names, Scandinavian Saints, archaeological monuments and artefacts. They all fit the larger picture. Danes, Norwegians and Normans conquered England during a couple of hundred years and what they achieved was a necessary historical step in human development, when degenerated Anglo-Saxons, essentially Germans, were mixed with and replaced by the vigorous Scandinavians who laid the foundation for the present centre of the world — ‘The new Danish-Norman England – the Stout Bulwark of the Peoples’ Freedom. There is no need for Worsaae to protest this himself he simply quotes the scholar John Mitchell  Kemble (MODON:234-5) who pointed out that the battles lost by the Thames and the Avon (when the degenerated and demoralized Anglo-Saxons were defeated) were the preconditions for the victories by Sutlej (in the First Anglo-Sikh war 1845-46). The battle of Hastings was the birth of a Nation. England went on to become ‘1066 and all that’ while Denmark was marginalized, but still prosperous; despite having lost generations of capable men, Denmark became a Christian nation in the process of losing them.

All this wasn’t due to the Vikings. They played a minor part. They were splendid seamen and great fighters, the best they had in Scandinavia, but they weren’t instrumental and they were never all the Danes or Norwegians. Instead they were the robbers and plunderers (MODON:27ff). The settlers and tradesmen were the important ones and they were not Vikings – they were Danes and Norwegians, chieftains and leaders – still raw compared to the best Anglo-Saxons, but able to develop their civilization. In Worsaae’s sections on phenomena such as trade and the arts there are no Vikings. They are seamen with a warrior identity and their Pagan and Oðinnic consciousness is signified by the raven on their flags. Consequently, there’s no Viking Age in MODON.

In order to complement the studies he had undertaken 1846-47, Worsaae went to England and France — Normandy, Bretagne, and the area around the Loire estuary — in 1851-52. Although these new studies confirmed what he already knew he didn’t publish until the early 1860s when it became evident that Worsaae’s political views and the security of the nation converged: the analysis by P A Munch and German historians were a threat because they didn’t give credit to the Danes and their contribution to the history of Europe – even some English pro-Anglo-Saxon researchers tended to minimize the Danish input. These scholars, argued that the Anglo-Saxon mentality of the English was stopped only for a short while by Danish ‘pirates’ and their followers the Normans. Worsaae could prove that they were wrong. In DEEN he therefore took a larger grip on the Northwest European coastlands between the late 8th and the late 11th c. CE.

A few months after Worsaae had published his second book, the second war with Austria and Prussia broke out (1864, the King, Frederik VII had died in Nov 1863). Cautiously, England supported Denmark, but the Danish delegates (instructed by the new King Christian IX) didn’t accept the compromise put forward by the English foreign minister during a ceasefire and negotiations in London in May 1864. That was a mistake – and a few months later, not surprisingly, Denmark had lost the war and no less that 12 percent of its population became German citizens. One of the most spectacular archaeological finds – the Nydam boat became a German antiquity by the same treaty.

Tageting civilians, the ruined town Sønderborg, 1864.

In DEEN Worsaae reaches the same conclusion as in MODON, but he expresses himself more bluntly in a conclusion and four bullets:

‘Consequently, living memories of the manifest ancient Danish settlements and significant impressions on the western countries add undoubtedly new evidence to the written historical sources telling us

that the new Danish settlements in Danelaw in England, and in the lower Seine Valley or Normandy in France, regenerated and refined the degenerated Anglian and Frankish populations that lived there;

that one and each of these new Danish settlements in their own specific way contributed to undermining and overthrowing the German-Frankish rule in France and the German-Anglian rule in England where instead a large and powerful Danish realm was established;

that between them and in close cooperation they both prepared and made possible the ensuing Norman conquest of England;

and finally that in the blending that goes on between Britons, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and Normans after the fall of the Anglo-Saxons, it has predominantly been the Danish-Norman popular spirit that prevailed in the new England; and this spirit, most of all, has advanced England’s supremacy on the oceans, its freedom and glory in general.’

To arrive at these conclusions Worsaae sees more clearly that being a Viking is a certain way of fighting and ‘Viking’ a fighting spirit. Its strategy is sea-based robbery and plundering as long as it can be done with fast boats, gruesome warriors and horses – at sea and in undefended coastlands. Viking cruelty, however, is not much worse than the cruelty of any band of warriors. Nevertheless, the whole point in being a Viking is a matter of becoming non-Viking, i.e. becoming a landowner, lord, duke or king in a new land characterized by the dynamic, freedom-loving, late-heathen, forceful Danish mentality. By happy acculturation with 11th c Christianity, the foundation is laid for the European success in the 19th c. And even today a number of researchers think that this Danish-Norwegian-Swedish contribution to European history was important.

Over the years the Viking spirit has changed

Worsaae needed a Viking Age to construct his new perspectives. In his terminology, this age is not a period with a definite beginning and a definite end; on the contrary, it is times marked by a cultural phenomenon. As such they came to an end earlier in France than in England; in peripheral areas such as Orkney in the 10th c. the Norwegian king would get rid of ‘the worst Vikings’, who had rooted themselves, and create a reasonable society (1). Worsaae’s Viking Age, therefore, is a period of transition followed by its natural goal, ‘The Settlement Age’ when warfare become politics rather than plundering. Armies on boats in an estuary, nevertheless, continue for a while to be strategically important. Worsaae’s last phase, ‘The Conquering Age’, is the beginning of the new English nation and the end of large armies living onboard an armada of boats – i.e. the end of the last strategic emblem of pirate/Viking warfare.

When Worsaae includes France in his model, he can point to a source material similar to the English and describe the general rules in his historically necessary change, not least because Danes or Northmen in France were given what they wanted, i.e. land, semi-peripheral coastal lands where they were allowed to organize themselves developing the society that eventually finished off Anglo-Saxon England after centuries of Danish penetration.

Behind Worsaae’s social construction of Vikings there is a Scandinavian mentality and when this non-degenerated state of mind is combined with Christianity, new and powerful nations will evolve in areas characterized by degenerated Franks or Anglo-Saxons, i.e. Germans. The fighting may go on for centuries, but in the end the new spirit will prevail.

Nevertheless, in 1864 the rules of the European Continent, showed that small Scandinavian kingdoms had better become non-aggressive and liberal democracies if they wanted to survive and proud themselves of anything. Not surprisingly, Vikings were democrats in Sweden already when the historian Geijer described them in the 1840s, but then again aggression disappeared from Swedish policy already 1809 when Finland became Russian.

Danish archaeology was created after the Napoleonic Wars in order to give the nation a revised national history incorporating the entire population. In just a few decades it succeeded not least because it produced a new and relevant source material that linked-in with place names and early historic sources. Soon everybody could do it at least in small countries.

History became a matter of development and revision and Worsaae took advantage of the obvious political points in a national history of development. And he went further, made it nationalistic and linked it with the idea of cultural degeneration and the necessity to breed new people – an embryonic racism easily amalgamated with nationalism on the basis of historical revision. Worsaae singled out the prolific gene pooling supposed to take place when a Dane married a Brit, an Anglo-Saxon or a Frank (who by the way weren’t as important as German historians believed).

When sent to England to study a model case, Worsaae’s archaeology, i.e. Archaeology, had to revise the history of the English. It had to point out that their success was a product of Pagan-Christian acculturation and healthy cross-breeding principles – initial cruelty as usual being inescapable. Inasmuch as historical archaeology sorted even Europeans according to civilization, mental health and development, allowing the healthy to reform the degenerated, it defended the rights of the English and Europeans to become colonial. In effect Danes and Norwegians were frontier people going west a thousand years ahead of themselves and other Europeans.

The second wave of frontier people

Worsaae was translated and widely read. And during the odd generation the nationalist, racist and colonial archaeology became a reality. Even today it is difficult to escape this archaeology which in its post-colonial disguise tends to explain to the indigenous, such as the Anglo-Saxons, that they are indeed heritage, indigenous and fragile. When American politicians dream of colonizing Mars they don’t expect first nations to lead the way. Given second thought, however, there is little doubt that the indigenous, such as ‘first nation Vikings’, will eventually prevail, if they are allowed to develop into something else.


(0) A quote from Worsaae 1851 summing up his conclusions.

(1) Judging from the homepage orkneyjar.com he didn’t succeed. Six out of ten Orcadian men are Vikings because their blood is Viking. Unfortunately (to orkneyjar.com) this didn’t mean Viking invasion and later on studies have showed that there were as many female as male Scandinavian settlers in Orkney. The blood therefore seems to be Scandinavian rather than Viking because women by definition aren’t Viking. To save the blood=mentality hypothesis we shall have to say that women are degenerated. Some may be tempted, but it would seem more reasonable to stop looking for Viking blood.


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