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*:
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.
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].