Art and Literature

At the period when the Danes were making their conquests in the West,
art and literature did not occupy any very high position in Europe. The
severe shock which the fall of the Roman Empire had given to all the
more elevated pursuits was still far from being overcome. Christian art
was in its childhood, and groped its way with weak attempts, and
imitations of Roman models; whilst literature, confined for the most
part to one-sided theological inquiries, or to the inditing of dry and
annalistic chronicles, could scarcely be said to deserve the name.

It was, however, a natural result of the long-continued domiciliation of
the Romans in France and England, where they founded so many and such
important works, and where Christianity was adopted at a comparatively
early period, that a taste for art and literature should develop itself
in no mean degree in those countries; particularly in comparison of the
far North, where the Romans had never ruled, and where the darkness of
heathenism still rested on the people.

Nevertheless we should be grievously mistaken if we imagined that the
Scandinavian people was at that time entirely unfitted for the ennobling
occupations of art and literature. It has been before stated that the
Northmen early distinguished themselves not only by an extraordinary
skill, for those times, in the art of ship-building, but that they had
also developed, previously to the conquest of England, a taste, in some
respects peculiar, in the manufacture of their ornaments, domestic
utensils, and weapons, and which had principally sprung from
characteristic imitations of the Roman and Arabian articles of commerce
brought into the North. The Scandinavian antiquities that are dug up,
belonging to the older period, or what is called “the age of bronze,” as
well as those of the latest times of heathenism, or “the iron age,” may
on the whole, with regard to form and workmanship, be even ranked with
contemporary objects of a similar kind manufactured in England, France,
or Germany. The Sagas, moreover, state that the carving of images was
sometimes very skilfully practised in the North; and the English
chronicles, which depict in such glowing colours the splendidly-carved
figures on the prows of the Danish or Scandinavian vessels, confirm the
truth of these statements. In Olaf Paas’ Hall, at Hjarderholdt, in
Iceland, the walls were even adorned with whole rows of carvings,
representing the ancient gods, and their exploits. On the other hand
there could naturally as yet be no possibility of erecting such
buildings in the North as those which the spirit of Christianity had
already produced in other countries.

But no sooner were the Normans from Denmark and Norway settled in
Normandy, and converted to Christianity, than they began to manifest a
lively desire to erect splendid buildings, and particularly churches and
monasteries. Scarcely had the first violent revolutions in that country
been brought to a close when there sprang up such a number of great
architectural works among the Normans, that Normandy can still show more
such monuments of art, of the eleventh century, than any other district
of France. After William’s conquest of England, the Normans also founded
there a somewhat peculiar style of building, which, though only a branch
of the Byzantine-Gothic, or a further development of the older Saxon,
constantly bears in England the name of “Norman.”

Previous to the Norman conquest, the Danes settled in England were
naturally unable to influence, in a like degree, the style of English
architectural works. Their sway there was both too short and too
unsettled for such a purpose: not to mention that the Danes had still
much to learn from the Anglo-Saxons in the art of building; for the
latter had long been Christians, and were besides settled in a country
possessing abundant remains of the magnificent architectural works of
the Romans. Nevertheless it is not incredible that several of the many
churches and convents then and subsequently erected by Danish princes
and chiefs, and especially in the northern parts of England, but which
are now for the most part either rebuilt, or have entirely disappeared,
may have borne the stamp of their Scandinavian origin. We are led to
this opinion by the ruling inclination manifested by the ancient
Northmen to let their own conceptions pierce through, even in their
imitations of foreign objects. Numerous and contemporary evidences in
England itself also sufficiently prove to what a remarkable extent the
Danes must have devoted themselves to peaceful occupations, long before
the Norman conquest. In these, indeed, which relate to only a single
branch of art, the Anglo-Saxons were their teachers; still they will
show that the Danes were neither wanting in a natural capacity for art,
nor in faculty or will for its further development.

It has been stated before that the Danes, previously to the conquest of
England, were unacquainted with the art of coining money. At most they
only imitated the Byzantine coins by fabricating the (so-called)
“_Bracteates_,” which, however, were stamped only on one side, and were
for the most part used merely as ornaments. But the art of coining was
very ancient in England. It was customary among the Anglo-Saxons for the
coiners to put their names on the coins struck by them. The quantity of
Anglo-Saxon coins that has in the course of time been found and
examined, has afforded an opportunity for inspecting and comparing a
considerable number of names of coiners in England, especially from the
eighth and ninth centuries until far into the thirteenth. About Edward
the First’s time, the names of the coiners were no longer suffered to
occupy so conspicuous a place on the coins as previously.

In the eighth and ninth centuries the names of these coiners are purely
Anglo-Saxon. But in the tenth century, and especially after the year
950, pure Danish or Scandinavian names begin to appear; for instance,
Thurmod, Grim, under King Edgar (959-975); Rafn, Thurstan, under King
Edward (975-978); Ingolf, Hafgrim, and others. These Scandinavian names
are more particularly found on coins minted in the northern part of
England, or at all events in the districts that were early occupied by
the Danes to the north-east of Watlinga Stræt. But under King Ethelred
the Second (979-1013), who contended so long with Svend Tveskjæg and
Canute the Great (and consequently, therefore, before the conquest of
England by the Danes was completed), such a number of Scandinavian
coiners arose all at once, in consequence of the rapidly-increasing
power of the Danes, that the names of forty or fifty may be pointed out
on coins of Ethelred alone that have been found in different parts of
England. During the Danish dominion, Scandinavian names naturally appear
no less frequently on the coins of Canute the Great and Harald Harefoot;
nay, even after the fall of the Danish power, they are to be met with,
in almost the same number as before, on coins of the Anglo-Saxon king,
Edward the Confessor (+ A.D. 1066).

The following table exhibits, from the coins themselves, a list of fifty
names of Danish-Norwegian coiners in England that appear most frequently
from 979 to 1066; or in that period which embraced, as well as
immediately preceded and followed, the Danish dominion; together with
the names of the places in which the respective coins were minted. We
must remember, besides, that there must have been several coiners of the
same name at one and the same time. Thus, for instance, we find coins of
Ethelred bearing the name of “As-” or “Oscytel,” though minted in cities
so far distant from one another as Exeter, London, Cambridge, Leicester,
and York. Again, as it is nowhere stated that “Arncytel,” for instance,
who was coiner in York under King Ethelred, was the same man as Edward
the Confessor’s coiner in that city, it is clear that the fifty names
here given might very easily have belonged to ninety or a hundred
different persons; yet they are but a selection from a greater number.
The same difficulty, however, occurs with these names as in the previous
consideration of the Scandinavian names of places and of the popular
language; namely, that owing to the great similarity between the Saxon
and Scandinavian tribes in ancient times, it is often almost impossible
to decide with certainty what is exclusively Saxon and what
Scandinavian. But at all events, the annexed list contains, at most,
hardly more than a couple of names that might have been current in Saxon
England before the Danish conquests.

1846. 4to.)

│ │Ethelred │Canute │Harald │Edward │
│ │ (979-1013)│ (+1035) │ (+1040) │ Confessor │
│ │ │ │ │ (+1066) │
│Arncytel │York │York │ │York │
│Arngrim │ │York │York │York │
│Arnkil │ │ │York, │ │
│ │ │ │ Stamford │ │
│Arnthor │York │ │ │ │
│Ascil │London │ │ │ │
│As, or Oscytel │Exeter, │ │ │ │
│ │ London, │ │ │ │
│ │ Cambridge,│ │ │ │
│ │ York, │ │ │ │
│ │ Leicester │ │ │ │
│As, or Oslac │ │London, │ │ │
│ │ │ Lincoln, │ │ │
│ │ │ Norwich │ │ │
│Auti │ │ │ │London, │
│ │ │ │ │ Lincoln │
│Beorn (Björn) │ │York │York │York │
│Cetel │Exeter, York│Exeter, York│ │York │
│Colgrim │Lincoln, │Lincoln, │Lincoln, │Lincoln, │
│ │ York │ York │ York │ York │
│Dreng │Lincoln │Lincoln │ │ │
│Eilaf │York │ │ │ │
│Eistan │ │ │Winchester │ │
│Escer │Stamford │ │Stamford │ │
│Grim │Lincoln, │Shrewsbury │ │ │
│ │ Thetford │ │ │ │
│Grimcytel │ │Lincoln │ │ │
│Hardacnut │ │ │Lincoln │ │
│Huscarl │ │ │ │Leicester │
│Iric │ │London │ │ │
│Jelmer (Hjalmar)│ │ │ │Lincoln │
│Justan, or │ │Lincoln │ │ │
│ Justegen │ │ │ │ │
│Northman │ │ │Lewes │ │
│Othgrim │Lincoln, │York │ │Lincoln │
│ │ York │ │ │ │
│Othin │ │York │York │York │
│Oustman, or │ │York │Winchester │ │
│ Ustman │ │ │ │ │
│Rœfen (Ravn) │ │York │ │ │
│Rœienhold │Lincoln │ │ │ │
│Siafuel, Sœfuhel│ │ │ │York │
│Scula │ │Exeter, York│York │York │
│Stgncil (Stekil)│Lincoln │ │ │ │
│Styrcar, │Lincoln, │York │ │ │
│ Stirceir │ York │ │ │ │
│Sumerled │Deptford, │Lincoln, │Lincoln │Lincoln │
│ │ Nottingham,│ Norwich │ │ │
│ │ York, │ │ │ │
│ │ Lincoln │ │ │ │
│Swan │ │York │ │ │
│Swarti │ │Leicester, │ │ │
│ │ │ Lincoln │ │ │
│Swartgar │York, │ │ │ │
│ │ Stamford │ │ │ │
│Sweartabrand │ │Lincoln │Lincoln │ │
│Swegen │London, │Leicester │ │ │
│ │ Leicester │ │ │ │
│Thor │ │ │ │York │
│Thorald │Leicester │ │ │ │
│Thorcetel │Torksey, │London, │ │ │
│ │ Lincoln │ Torksey │ │ │
│Thorstan │York │York, │ │Norwich │
│ │ │ Stamford │ │ │
│Thorulf │Chester, │ │Stamford │ │
│ │ York │ │ │ │
│Thurcil │ │ │ │Wilton │
│Thurgrim │ │York │York │York │
│Ulfcetel │York, │London, │ │York │
│ │ Lincoln, │ Lincoln │ │ │
│ │ Norwich │ │ │ │
│Valrefenn │ │ │Lincoln │Lincoln │
│Widfara │ │ │Ipswich │ │
│Winterfugl │ │ │ │York │
│Wintrieda │York │ │ │ │

Although this list cannot make any pretensions to completeness, still it
will prove, even in its present form, that these Scandinavian names
exist on coins from places in the most distant parts of England, both
south and north of Watlinga-Stræt; as well as from those most
essentially Anglo-Saxon cities, Exeter, Winchester, Wilton, Lewes, and
London. From this last circumstance, some might, perhaps, contend that
Scandinavian names were frequently borne by Anglo-Saxons, who in one way
or another were related to the Danes; and in this respect one might cite
the instance of the Anglo-Saxon Earl Godwin, whose sons—possibly by a
Danish wife—were called Harald and Svend; and it might consequently be
argued, that the proof adduced from these Scandinavian names of the
Danish capacity for skill in art is not sufficiently conclusive.

It cannot of course be denied that the Anglo-Saxons, in whose veins
there was a mixture of Scandinavian blood, sometimes bore Scandinavian
names. But as a rule, the names that have been cited must have belonged
to Danes or Northmen, and their immediate descendants. It is well known
that the Danes were settled everywhere in England, even in the southern
cities, particularly those just cited; and that, too, in considerable
numbers: as, for instance, in Exeter, where in later times there was a
St. Olave’s Church; in Winchester, which obtained a Scandinavian
“Husting;” not to speak of London. This alone affords a natural
explanation why Scandinavian coiners should be found in the south of
England; but we should further observe, that those names of coiners
about which there might be most doubt are found to the north-east of
Watlinga-Stræt. The preceding tabular view will clearly prove that they
occur especially in the old Danish part of England, in the five Danish
fortified towns, and in York. The two cities, Lincoln and York, which,
according to the statements of history, had, in the eleventh century, a
very numerous, if not preponderating, Scandinavian population, are
remarkable for having the greatest number of coiners with Scandinavian
names. Some of these names are so peculiarly Scandinavian, that we
cannot without difficulty assume them to have been borne at that time by
Anglo-Saxons. Such are “Othin” (_Anglo-Saxon_, Woden) and “Thor;” names
that did not sound well in the ears of Christians: also “Northman” and
“Ustman,” or “Östman,” by which the Anglo-Saxons designated the
Norwegians and Danes, who came from the North and East. “Östman,”
especially, was an appellation commonly given by the inhabitants of the
British Isles in those times to the Scandinavian tribes that dwelt to
the east of them.

Among other names, those of “Colgrim” and “Valrefenn” may be noticed as
frequently appearing, and as peculiar to Lincolnshire, a district
occupied in such great numbers by the Danes. Names of birds appear on
the whole to have been often assumed in the old Danish part of England.
Thus in York we find a “Ræfn,” or “Ravn” (Raven); “Siafucl,” “Sæfuhel,”
or “Söfugl” (Seafowl); “Swan” or “Svane” (Swan); and “Winterfugl”
(Winterfowl). Strangely enough, there also appears a “Sumrfugl”
(Summer-fowl) as the name of a coiner, who minted coins for the
Danish-Norwegian king Magnus the Good, in Odensee; and as English
coiners were at that time employed in Denmark, this Sommerfugl perhaps
came over from the north of England. It was, indeed, quite natural that
Denmark and the rest of the North should procure their earliest coiners
from Danish North England, where there were plenty of them of
Scandinavian origin. The English names found on the oldest Scandinavian
coins (of the first half of the eleventh century) are consequently by no
means universally Anglo-Saxon, but often Scandinavian; as Svein,
Thorbaern (Thorbjörn), Ketil, Thorkil, Othin, Thorstein, Thurgod, Thord,
and others. It is remarkable, that the names of “Sumerled” and
“Winterled,” answering to those of Sommerfugl and Winterfugl, were also
found at that time in York. Another remarkable name is that of “Widfara”
(the far-travelled), which seems to indicate either that its bearer had
come from a great distance, or had made long voyages.

These Scandinavian names, which, as I have said, are just as frequent on
coins minted immediately after, as on those struck during, or just
previously to, the Danish-English kings’ dominion, by no means cease
with Edward the Confessor (+ 1066). During Harald Godvinsön’s short
reign, we further meet with Outhgrim, Snaebeorn (or Snéebjörn),
Spraceling (Sprakeleg), Thurcil, Ulfcetel, &c.; nay, even after the
Norman conquest, and as long as it was customary to place the coiners’
names on the coins, Scandinavian names may be recognised. Thus, under
William the Conqueror (+ 1087) we find Colsvegen, Thor, Thurgrim, Jestan
(Jostein or Eistein, Justan and Justegen), Siword, Thorstan; under Henry
the First (1100-1135), Chitel (Ketil), Runcebi (Rynkeby), Spracheling,
Winterled; under Stephen (+ 1154), Ericus, Siward, and Svein; and under
Henry the Second (+ 1189), Achetil (Asketil), Colbrand, Elaf, Raven,
Svein, Thurstan, and others. A great number of these names appear in
connection with towns in the north of England; and we have thus a new
and instructive proof that the remarkable influence of the Danish
element in England, and especially in the northern part, before the
Norman conquest, was not entirely lost _after_ that conquest had long
been completely effected.

Considering the distant period in which the Danish conquests in England
fall, it is fortunate that we can obtain so many palpable evidences of
the state of domestic civilization as these coins afford; and more will
assuredly follow from the discovery of others hitherto unknown. These
coins prove much, and justify us in inferring still more. They place, as
it were, before our eyes, the earnestness with which the Danish Vikings,
and the rest of the colonists in England, must have applied themselves
shortly after their settlement, to rival the Saxons in art, and to
retrieve what they had neglected in this respect. In like manner, there
is every reason to believe that they must have devoted themselves with
no less zeal to other peaceful occupations which they had already
cultivated in their own native homes; and that thus they must have also
preserved and cherished in England, both in war and peace, that love for
poetry and history, which flourished in the homes of their ancient
forefathers, and which, on the whole, harmonized so completely with the
heroic life of the olden times in the North. It was not natural that the
deep desire which filled the Northman to enjoy posthumous fame in
chronicles, and in the songs of the poets—which left him no peace at
home, but drove him out to sea on daring expeditions—should immediately
desert him because he had removed to a foreign soil. It is expressly
related of the Normans that they cherished eloquence and poetry in a
high degree, and that they were accustomed to entertain their guests
with songs and legends. Scandinavian bards, especially from Iceland,
continued to visit the Scandinavian colonists in France, as well as in
the British Isles. As court-minstrels, they were in constant attendance
upon the Scandinavian princes in Scotland, Ireland, and England. Their
office partly was, to entertain the warriors with lays of past exploits
in the North; and, partly, to accompany the chiefs on their warlike
expeditions; that they might, as eye-witnesses, be able to sing their
heroic deeds, and by these lays convey to the North a knowledge of what
passed among the Scandinavian colonists in the western regions. When we
add that the Scandinavian kings, as, for instance, Canute the Great
himself, practised at times the art of poetry, it will be easily
perceived in what high honour the bard and his lays must have been held.

But it lay in the nature of things that a pure Scandinavian poetry could
not grow up either among the Normans in France, or their Danish kinsmen
in England. For the development of such a poetry it was necessary that
they should preserve their Scandinavian nationality intact. But it is
well known, that a foreign education and refinement soon caused them to
abandon their belief in Odin, as well as many of the habits and customs
which they had inherited from their forefathers. Of the change that took
place in them nothing bears stronger evidence than their mother tongue,
which, by degrees, lost more and more of its characteristics, and at
length passed entirely into the modern French and English languages.

The old predilection for poetry which the Normans brought with them from
the North, was reflected in many ways in their foreign refinement. Of
all France, Normandy was the country where most historical and warlike
songs were heard. The Normans sang them in battle, and derived from them
a sort of inspiration. Before the battle of Hastings, William the
Conqueror’s bard, Taillefer, recited songs about Charlemagne, Roland,
and others, to the Norman host, to cheer and enliven the warriors after
the old Scandinavian fashion; just as Thormod Kolbrunaskjald, before the
battle of Stiklestad, in Norway, (1030), sang the far-famed Bjarkemaal.
When the poetry of the Troubadours of Provence began to spread itself
throughout France, it found another home in Normandy; where it so
peculiarly developed itself, that the French troubadour poetry is
generally divided into two principal kinds, the “Provençal” and the
“Norman.” Even in Italy, where the Normans conquered fresh kingdoms,
their peculiar poetry had a perceptible and important influence on the
development of the art.

In England, likewise, there arose, partly as a consequence of the Danish
and Norman conquests, a particular kind of composition which, in
England, is called Anglo-Danish and Anglo-Norman. That all poems of this
sort were written by Danes or Normans, I do not venture to assert. All
that is meant is, that they were partly produced by the Danish and
Norman wars; and that, partly, they were the expressions of the new
adventurous and knightly spirit, which, through the Danish-Normanic
conquests, became prevalent in England. Some of the most celebrated of
them are romances about “Beowulf,” “Havelock the Dane,” and “Guy, Earl
of Warwick.” In the oldest romances, which are composed of the same
mythic materials as our Scandinavian Edda songs, and some of the Sagas
or legends, adventurous combats against dragons, serpents, and similar
plagues, are celebrated; whereas, in the later romances of the age of
chivalry, warriors are sung who had fallen in love with beautiful
damsels far above them in birth or rank, and whose hand and heart they
could acquire only by a series of brilliant adventures and exploits.
Valour, which before was exerted for the welfare of all, and for the
honour that accompanied it, now obtained a new object and a new reward,
and that was—love. The heathen poems of the Scandinavian North are all
conceived in the selfsame spirit; and it is therefore not altogether
unreasonable, perhaps, to recognise in this striking agreement traces of
a Scandinavian influence on English compositions. In later times, and
down to the middle ages, this influence is still more clearly apparent
in the before-mentioned ballads, or popular songs (p. 89), which are
only to be found in the northern, or old Danish, part of England, and
which betray such a striking likeness to our Scandinavian national

The Danes in England do not appear to have occupied themselves with any
compositions that can be properly called historical; at all events all
remains of such composition have disappeared. It is related of the
contemporary Normans in France, that, down to the days of William the
Conqueror, they devoted themselves more to war than to reading and
writing. This, however, is not surprising, since even the Anglo-Saxon
clergy in Alfred the Great’s time, according to that monarch’s own
statement, were so ignorant and so unaccustomed to literary occupations,
that exceedingly few of them could read the daily prayers in English,
much less translate a Latin letter. Even if we should admit that the
Danes in England, by reason of their earlier and more extended
settlements there, had somewhat better opportunities for study than the
Normans in Normandy, still there is not sufficient ground to suppose
that they wrote any other chronicles than such dry annals as some few
monks, and other learned men of that time, composed. The reason of this
seems partly to have been because they preferred preserving the
remembrance of important events in historical lays; and partly, because
neither their national nor political development could proceed in a
foreign land with such freedom from all admixture, and in such
tranquillity, as to allow of more important historical works, and
especially in their mother tongue, being produced among them.

In Iceland, on the contrary, where a great number of the most powerful
and shrewdest of the heathens of Norway sought, after the year 870, a
refuge against spiritual and political oppression, and where they
founded a republic which retained its independence for centuries, the
Scandinavian spirit obtained a free field. Not only did the old bardic
lays, and the remembrance of the deeds of former times, continue to live
among the Icelandic people, but new bards arose in numbers, who,
spreading themselves over the whole north of Europe, returned “with
their breasts full of Sagas.” There also speedily arose in Iceland,
immediately after the Viking expeditions, and altogether independently
of any external influence, an historical Saga literature in the old
Scandinavian tongue, which, viewed by itself, is, from its simplicity
and elevation, extremely remarkable, but which, when compared with the
contemporary dry Latin monkish chronicles and annals in the rest of
Europe, is truly astonishing. The Edda songs, the purely historical
Sagas, the historical novels, and other peculiarly bold and original
productions of the Icelandic literature, in an age when the European
mind was singularly contracted, form, in the intellectual world,
manifestations of the same thorough individual freedom, which stamped
itself on the arms, endeavours, and whole life of the heathen Northman.