Danegeld

Danegeld

[deyn-geld]
Danegeld, medieval land tax originally raised to buy off raiding Danes and later used for military expenditures. In England the tribute was first levied in 868, then in 871 by Alfred, and occasionally thereafter. Under Æthelred (965?-1016) it became a regular tax, and was collected by later rulers until the 12th cent., when it was converted into tallage.

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 Danegeld ("Danish tax") was a tax raised to pay tribute to the Viking raiders to save a land from being ravaged. It was characteristic of royal policy in both England and Frankland during the ninth through eleventh centuries.

Danegeld in England

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.

Anglo-Saxon era

The first payment of the Danegeld to the Vikings took place in 845 when they tried to attack Paris. The Viking army was bought off from destroying the city by a massive payment of nearly six tons of silver and gold bullion. English payment, of 10,000 Roman pounds (3,300 kg) of silver, was also made in 991 following the Viking victory at the Battle of Maldon in Essex, when King Aethelred "The Unready" was advised by Archbishop Sigeric of Canterbury and the aldermen of the south-western provinces to buy off the Vikings rather than continue the armed struggle.

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.

Geld in England after the Norman Conquest

The Danegeld, now known simply as the geld, was based on hidages, an area of agricultural land sufficient to support a family, and farmed (collected) by local sheriffs. Records of assessment and income pre-date the Norman conquest, indicating a system which Campbell describes as "old, but not unchanging. According to Bates, it was "a national tax of a kind unknown in western Europe. It was used by William the Conqueror as a principal tool for underwriting continental wars, as well as providing for royal appetites and the costs of conquest, rather than for buying-off the Viking menace. He and his successors levied the geld more frequently than the Anglo-Saxon kings, and at higher rates, such that by 1096 the geld in Ely, for example, was double its normal rate. Green states that from 1110, war and the White Ship calamity led to further increases in taxation efforts.

Current British usage

In the United Kingdom, the term "Danegeld" has come to be used as a warning and a criticism of any coercive payment, whether in money or kind. For example as mentioned in the British House of Commons during the debate on the Belfast Agreement:
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,
You never get rid of the Dane.
In Britain the phrase is often coupled with the experience of Chamberlain's Appeasement of Hitler.

Danegeld in Francia

In literature

William Shakespeare made reference to Danish tribute in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act 3, scene 1 (King Claudius is talking of Prince Hamlet's insanity):
...he shall with speed to England,
For the demand of our neglected tribute

Danegeld is the subject of a poem by Rudyard Kipling. It ends in the following words:

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: --

"We never pay any-one Dane-geld,

No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!"

References

Notes

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