Bring Back the Danelaw

The legend of the Danish King Cnut attempt­ing to bid back the waves springs to mind when con­sid­er­ing the response of London appar­at­chiks to Scotland’s tidal move­ment away from the Union in gen­eral and London in particular.

Scotland, led by a Scots Nationalist gov­ern­ment recently re-elected by a land­slide, is gear­ing up for a vote on inde­pend­ence. This isn’t going down well with London, which hates not being at the centre of everything.

Worse is in store, how­ever: London is going to be ignored. In pre­par­ing for an inde­pend­ent future, Scotland is also begin­ning to shift its atten­tion away from the Sassenach south, and back to its his­toric neigh­bours in the east and north.

An inde­pend­ent Scotland would shift much of its atten­tion away from the UK to become a mem­ber of the Scandinavian circle of coun­tries, with its own army, navy and air force mod­elled on its Nordic neigh­bours, accord­ing to detailed plans being drawn up by the SNP.… They reveal that SNP lead­ers want an inde­pend­ent Scotland to look north and east in Europe for part­ner­ships, trade and key defence rela­tion­ships, rather than con­tinu­ing to focus on west­ern Europe and the Commonwealth, as the UK does now.’

This story caused howls of anger and ridicule in England – or rather, in the London media and polit­ical elites which seem united in their bit­ter oppos­i­tion to the increas­ingly inev­it­able pro­spect of Scottish inde­pend­ence. Largely because this means the end of the imperial/global pre­ten­sions of ‘Britain’ and ‘Britishness’, and of course those London insti­tu­tions foun­ded on it.

Personally, I wel­come and sup­port full Scottish inde­pend­ence. Partly because I think it will do them a power of good, but mostly because it means us English will have to finally find out who the hell we are.

And closer ties with its Scandinavian neigh­bours seems to me a per­fectly sens­ible move for Scotland. The Scots have much in com­mon with the Scandinavians. Many are des­cen­ded from them. Scotland and Scandinavia are oil-producing, socialist-leaning, sparsely-populated regions which also tend to pro­duce very sim­ilar hard-drinking mor­ose TV detectives.

But then, England, when it isn’t tun­ing into the latest series of The Killing is in denial about its own Scandinavian her­it­age. By rights, we should talk not about ‘Anglo-Saxon’ but about ‘Anglo-Saxon-Danish’. As a res­ult of large-scale set­tle­ment by Vikings the English lan­guage has been greatly enriched by a host of rather use­ful Danish words, such as ‘law’, ‘sky’, ‘win­dow’, ‘knife’, ‘hus­band’, ‘call’, ‘egg’, ‘she’, ‘they’, ‘them’, ‘their’ and ‘arse’. Without the Danish con­tri­bu­tion to English our TV soap opera scripts would be very dif­fi­cult to write indeed.

As a meas­ure of the influx of Danish blood, English pat­ronym­ics end­ing in ‘son’– e.g. ‘Clarkson’ or ‘Simpson’— are likely to be Danish in ori­gin. And under the Danelaw in the 8th and 9th Century, half of England was occu­pied and run by the Danes, from my homet­own of York (then Jorvik), which was at the centre of a thriv­ing trade net­work stretch­ing from Iceland and Dublin to the Black Sea.

And in the Danelaw, not only were Danish/Old Norse words bor­rowed by English, Anglo-Norse dia­lects which were in some ways more Scandinavian than English took root, bequeath­ing us the dis­tinct­ive sounds and argot of the Lake District, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

In the early 10th Century the Danish King Cnut the Great man­aged to preside over a king­dom that included Norway, Denmark, all of England and much of Sweden. His reign in England was said to have been main­tained in part through ‘bonds of wealth and cus­tom’ rather than sheer might. In other words, a shared trade and cul­ture. A wise and pop­u­lar king, it was only the Cnut’s fail­ure to pro­duce a last­ing heir that brought the col­lapse of his Anglo-Scandinavian king­dom (and single cur­rency) which would have changed the his­tory of these islands, and per­haps Europe itself.

His fam­ous bid­ding back of the waves was not a sign of mega­lo­mania but rather a delib­er­ate demon­stra­tion to his sub­jects of the lim­its of kingly power. It’s a les­son that Westminster really needs to learn again in regard to Scottish independence.

It was of course the suc­cess­ful inva­sion by William the Conqueror in the water­shed year 1066 that finally ori­ented England south­wards and towards the Continent for the next Millennia, repla­cing the rul­ing Saxon class with fel­low Normans. But Francified William was of Scandinavian des­cent him­self: ‘Norman’ means ‘men from the north’. And he defeated the Anglo-Saxon king Harold at Hastings in part because Harold was exhausted by a forced march to York (and back again) to defeat an inva­sion by… Norwegians. 1066 was a very Scandinavian year indeed.

So as a ‘-son’ of York who dwelled in London for a dec­ade or so but has since returned to his ances­tral stomp­ing grounds to become a pro­vin­cial les­bian, I say good luck to Scotland with its dreams of a future safe in Scandinavia’s arms. And if a newly single England still won’t acknow­ledge its own Scandinavian her­it­age, or if the south keeps inflict­ing a London/Norman/Tory gov­ern­ment on the rest of us maybe the east and north, where val­leys are Danish ‘dales’, streets Danish ‘gates’, and counties are still — no mat­ter what the south insists — Danish ‘rid­ings’, should just revolt and bring back the Danelaw.


11 thoughts on “Bring Back the Danelaw”

  1. Davy: Think it’s pretty clear he doesn’t want to be Scottish — he just wants to get a bit of jokey pub­li­city for him­self, Doncaster and the English Democrats. He succeeded.

  2. Does seem a bit strange , Mark — an English Democrat want­ing to be Scottish ?

    Seems lots of people are hav­ing iden­tity crisis.….“who’s born which way” ? 😉

  3. Nathan: Ta for the tip. Will look up Mr Davies.

    Davy: Doncaster’s English Democrat mayor is being quite ‘canny’ there.

  4. Read Norman Davies’ ‘Vanished Kingdoms’. It shed a great deal of per­spect­ive on this issue.

  5. York is in the heart­land of Danelaw. The news this week con­firmed that Liverpool was at the heart of the north/south divide.
    Come and visit the scand­inavian Seaman Church for cof­fee and sauna morn­ings.
    My french friend who leaves in the city centre tells me that she always knows when it’s a home game because of all the ‘Danes that invade the city, they’re all 6“tall, blonde, blue eyed with long, straight noses’ It amazes her. I’m more focused on the irish.

  6. Great post Mark , par­tic­u­larly on the end­ing of imperial/global pre­ten­sions of Britland & Britishness. We need some more less *met­ro­centric* 😉 dis­cus­sions like this.

    I sup­port inde­pend­ence for Scotland — not as a nation­al­ist — but as a means of dis­mant­ling the imper­ial dis-united queen­dom , and hope­fully clear­ing some space to re-build fairer societies.

  7. Considering that the British Empire stretched far and wide not that long ago, it’s inter­est­ing that it’s just fall­ing from big peices to smal­ler peices and now to vir­tual shreds, It’s some­what encour­aging to any­one with an anomos­ity for imper­i­al­ism to think that at some time Americans would have to mind their own busi­ness at some point. Problem is hat our not s wise pres­dents gave American com­pan­ies the option of pro­du­cing and now selling most of their goods to ele­ments of the empire(not as much an empire as a con­glom­er­ate of (often Chinese) cor­por­a­tions that run the coun­try as it’s con­veni­ent, and will just dump us in short order if we threaten to tax them.
    Be thank­ful that it’s a little less con­vo­luted and dis­as­ter­ous in the U.K.

    I have one of the latest History Books out by a fel­low named Welsh about the British Isles: 3″ thick, which should cla­rify things for me if i ever get through it.

  8. Being a cit­izen of an ex-British coun­try (Australia)and of mostly non-English back­ground (German, Pole, Danish, Welsh grand­par­ents) I prob­ably should be care­ful what I say, but the whole British thing seems overrated…or at least the wrong parts seem to be cel­eb­rated too much. The old Empire was a cham­ber of hor­rors for too many people out­side the home islands,yet the British iden­tity is so tied up in the “Goodness” of it that is really hard for out­siders to look on the remain­ing British (Niall Ferguson we mean you!) with any­thing other than dis­taste. Good luck for Scotland and hope­fully a brighter new future for all the Sceptered Islanders when Britain is gone!

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