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Valhalla: Why King Aethelred Killed the Vikings

Aethelred of Valhalla orders the execution of the Danes in England, but although his actions seem unprovoked, the real story is actually very different.

Warning: SPOILERS for Vikings: Walhalla.

In the opening scenes of Vikings: Walhalla, Aethelred, the King of England, ordered the execution of Vikings living in the Danelaw in a seemingly unprovoked move, but the real story behind his actions was anything but. After the death of his half-brother, Edward the Martyr, the real young Aethelred became king at only 12 years old. His reign was marked by endless conflict with the Danes and this time was not known for any kind of civil coexistence between the Vikings and the English as Valhalla portrayed him.

the vikings spinoff certainly took some liberties in its depiction of significant historical events during this time, but the events themselves are mostly true, just told in a different order from how they actually happened. With the show beginning at the start of the Saint-Brice massacre, Vikings: Walhalla had provided no context as to why King Aethelred was ordering such measures to be taken. The Danes are portrayed as innocent residents of the British Isle and with the stern-faced Aethelred watching as his soldiers eliminate them, the King comes across as the villain of this scene.


Related: The True Story Of Harald Sigurdsson Of Valhalla: Does He Become King Of Norway?

Still, a little more historical context would have changed the whole mood of the scene in question. The Danes were constantly attacking England, trying to gain more land on the British island. Although in Vikings: Walhalla it seems that the Danes did nothing to justify such action against them, the truth is that they had raided the kingdom of England every year from 997 to 1001. These raids had horrible consequences, because the Vikings were known for their brutal methods. including the slaughter, rape and sale of women and children as slaves. Due to this constant assault on his people on his shores, King Aethelred took matters into his own hands, ordering the execution of a number of Vikings in an attempt to send a message.

King Aethelred in Vikings Valhalla

A lot of Vikings: Walhalla takes place in England, but at this point much of that land was inhabited by Danes. With the signing of the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum in 884, the boundaries of the Danelaw had been defined. The treaty was supposed to give the Danes a share of what they attacked England for: land. It was a sort of peace offering to calm the onslaught of raids suffered by the English people, but the Danelaw was not enough to satisfy the Vikings. The raids continued year after year until Aethelred intervened in the year 1002.

According to Anglo-Saxon ChronicleAethelred had learned that the Danes “would deprive him of his life, and then of all his council, and then have his kingdom without any resistance” (via Gutenberg). This was the ultimate reason why he ordered their execution, resulting in a scene in Vikings: Walhalla recalling the red weddings of game of thrones. the the Chronicle also mentions that he ordered all Danes in England to be killed, but historians believe it was unlikely that most Danelaws were killed due to the resistance the English would have faced there -low. Still, the bodies of 34 to 38 men identified as Vikings have been found in Oxford, England, and radiocarbon dating technology shows they may have been buried at the time of the massacre.

Historians have also delved into the ramifications of the Saint-Brice massacre. Some say it was an effort to bring about the invasion of Sweyn Forkbeard in the year 1003. Historian Audrey MacDonald says the massacre is ultimately what led to the rise of England’s canut Viking king. Vikings: Valhalla King Aethelred may have seemed like the villain at the start of the series, but if the actual actions of the Vikings had also happened before the start of the series, his approach wouldn’t have been unwarranted after all.

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