Tax levied in Anglo-Saxon England to buy off Danish invaders during the reign of Ethelred II (978–1016). The term continued to be used to refer to taxes collected by the Anglo-Norman kings in the 11th and 12th century.
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The Viking expeditions to England were usually led by the Danish kings, but they could be composed of warriors from all over Scandinavia, and they eventually brought home more than 100 tonnes of silver.
In 994 the Danes, under King Sweyn Forkbeard and Olaf Trygvason, returned and laid siege to London. They were once more bought off, and the amount of silver paid impressed the Danes with the idea that it was more profitable to extort payments from the English than to take whatever booty they could plunder.
Further payments were made in 1002, and especially in 1007 when Aethelred bought two years peace with the Danes for 36,000 troy pounds (13,400 kg) of silver. In 1012, following the capture and murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the sack of Canterbury, the Danes were bought off with another 48,000 troy pounds (17,900 kg) of silver.
In 1016 Sweyn Forkbeard's son, Canute, became King of England. After two years he felt sufficiently in control of his new kingdom to the extent of being able to pay off all but 40 ships of his invasion fleet, which were retained as a personal bodyguard, with a huge Danegeld of 72,000 troy pounds (26,900 kg) of silver collected nationally, plus a further 10,500 pounds (3,900 kg) of silver collected from London.
This kind of extorted tribute was not unique to England: according to Snorri Sturluson and Rimbert, Finland and the Baltic states (see also Grobin) paid the same kind of tribute to the Swedes. In fact, the Primary Chronicle relates that the regions paying protection money extended east towards Moscow, until the Finnish and Slavic tribes rebelled and drove the Varangians overseas. Similarly, the Sami peoples were frequently forced to pay tribute in the form of pelts. A similar procedure also existed in Iberia, where the contemporary Christian states were largely supported on tribute gold from the taifa kingdoms.
It is estimated that the total amount of money paid by the Anglo-Saxons amounted to some sixty million pence. More Anglo-Saxon pence of this period have been found in Sweden than in England, and at the farm where the runestone Sö 260 talks of a voyage in the West, a hoard of several hundred English coins was found.
I feared that the Belfast agreement might be built on sand, but I hoped otherwise. But as we have seen, Danegeld has been paid, and the thing about Danegeld is that one keeps on having to pay it. Concession after concession has been made. What will be the next one?
To emphasise the point, people often quote two or more lines from the poem "Dane Geld" by Kipling as did Tony Parsons in The Daily Mirror, when criticising the Rome daily La Repubblica for writing "Ransom was paid and that is nothing to be ashamed of," in response to the announcement that the Italian government paid $1 million for the release of two hostages in Iraq in October 2004.
That if once you have paid him the Danegeld,In Britain the phrase is often coupled with the experience of Chamberlain's Appeasement of Hitler.
- You never get rid of the Dane.
It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
- For fear they should succumb and go astray;
- You will find it better policy to say: --
"We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
- No matter how trifling the cost;
- And the nation that pays it is lost!"