Here today for your enjoyment, I present the third of William Thackeray’s Miss Tickletoby’s Lectures on English History (satires published in Punch magazine in 1842), in which the (fictional) amateur historian Miss Tickletoby elaborates on that little-known period in English history – the Danish Conquest.
|Could this be the learned Miss Tickletoby herself?
THE SEA-KINGS IN ENGLAND
In the olden time our glorious country of England, my dears, must have been a pleasant place; for see what numbers of people have taken a fancy to it! First came the Romans, as we have seen, then the Saxons; and when they were comfortably established here, the Danes, under their Sea-Kings, came gallantly over the main, and were not a whit less charmed with the island than the Saxons and Romans had been. Amongst these distinguished foreigners may be mentioned the Sea-King Swayn [Sweyn Forkbeard], who came to England in the year nine hundred and something, landing at Margate, with which he was so pleased as to determine to stop there altogether – being, as he said, so much attached to this country that nothing would induce him to go back to his own. Wasn’t it a compliment to us? There is a great deal of this gallantry in the people of the North; and you may have observed, even in our own days, that some of them, ‘specially Scotchmen, when once landed here, are mighty unwilling to go home again. Well, King Swayn’s stay became preposterously long; and his people consumed such a power of drink and victuals, that at length our late beloved monarch, King Ethelred the Second, was induced to send to him.
A-reading of the newspaper, in meditation lost,
A bard of those days has recorded, with considerable minuteness, the particulars of Swayn’s arrival; and as his work has not been noticed by Turner, Hallam, Hume, or any other English historian, it may be quoted with advantage here. Snoro the Bard (so called from the exciting effect which his poem produced on his audience) thus picturesquely introduces us to the two kings*:
Sat Aethelred of England, and took his tea and toast;
Sat Aethelred of England, and read the Morning Post.
Among the new arrivals the Journal did contain,
At Margate, on the twentieth, His Majesty King Swayn
Of Denmark, with a retinue of horsemen and of Dane!
Loud laughed King Aethelred, and laid the paper down:
“Margate is a proper place for a Danish clown”.
“Take care”, said the Chancellor, “he doesn’t come to town”.
“Let him come”, said the King (in his mouth buttered toast popping),
“At Wapping or at Redriff this boatswain will be stopping”.
“Take care”, says Chancellor Wigfrid, “he don’t give you a wapping”.
“I’m certain”, says wise Wigfrid, “the Sea-King means us evilly. –
Herald, go to Margate and speak unto him civilly;
And if he’s not at Margate, why then try Ramsgate and Tivoli”.
Herald, in obedience to his master dear,
Goes by steam to Margate, landing at the Pier;
Says he, “King Swayn of Denmark I think is lodging here?”
*The poems are translated, word for word, from the Anglo-Saxon, by the accomplished Adolphus Simcoe, author of Perdition, The Ghoul, editor of the Lady’s Lute, etc.
The ballad, which is important to the archaeologian as showing how many of the usages of the present day prevailed nine hundred years back (thus fondly do Englishmen adhere to their customs), and which shows that some of the jokes called puns at present were in existence at this early period of time, goes on to describe, with a minuteness that amounts almost to tediousness, the interview between Swayn and the herald. It is angry, for the latter conveys to the Danish monarch the strongest exhortations, on the part of King Ethelred, to quit the kingdom.
Falling into a fury, Swayn then abuses the King of England in the most contumelious terms; says that he will make his back into a football, and employ his nose for a bell-rope; but finally recollecting himself, dismisses the herald with a present of five-eighths of an Ethelred groat – twopence-halfpenny (a handsome largesse, considering the value of money in those days) – bidding him at the same time order what he liked to drink at the hotel where he (king Swayn) resided. “Well”, says the chronicler pathetically – “well might he order what he thought proper. King Swayn of Denmark never paid a copper”. A frightful picture of the insolence and rapacity of the invader and his crew!
A battle, as is natural, ensues; the invader is victorious. At Swayn’s death, Snoro is lost in grief, being, however, consoled in the next stanza by the succession of his son Canute to the throne. After following King Canute through his battles – in one of which the celebrated GODWIN (who, I believe, afterwards married Mary Wollstonecraft) showed the valour of Englishmen – after going through a list of murders, treasons, usurpations, which the great monarch committed, the bard comes to that famous passage in his history which all little boys know; when King Canute tried to order the sea to retreat. I have the pleasure to show a copy of an Anglo-Saxon drawing which is to be found in the manuscript, and which never has been seen until the present day.
[This drawing was handed round to the company by Miss Tickletoby and excited an immense sensation, which having subsided, the lecturer proceeded to read from the same MS., Claud. XXVII. XXVIII., “The Song of King Canute”, at which point – without wishing to disparage the abilities of the great bard Snoro – the editor feels it is right to stop].