Sweyn II of Denmark

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Sweyn II Estridsson
Svend Estridsen mont a.jpg
Coin of Sweyn Estridsson
King of Denmark
Reign1047–1076 [1]
Predecessor Magnus the Good
Successor Harald III of Hen
Died28 April 1076
Søderup, Hjordkær Parish
Spouse Gyda of Sweden
Gunnhildr Sveinsdóttir
Tora Torbergsdatter
among others...
Harald III Hen
Canute IV the Saint
Oluf I Hunger
Eric I Evergood
Niels I
Ingerid, Queen of Norway
Sweyn the Crusader
Svend Tronkræver
Sigrid Svendsdatter
Full name
Sweyn Estridsson Ulfsson
House Estridsen
Father Ulf Thorgilsson
Mother Estrid Svendsdatter
Religion Roman Catholicism

Sweyn II Estridsson [2] (Old Norse : Sveinn Ástríðarson, Danish : Svend Estridsen) (c.1019 – 28 April 1076 [3] [4] ) was King of Denmark from 1047 until his death in 1076. He was the son of Ulf Thorgilsson and Estrid Svendsdatter, and the grandson of King Sweyn I Forkbeard through his mother's line. He was married three times, and fathered 20 children or more out of wedlock, including the five future kings Harald III Hen, Canute IV the Saint, Oluf I Hunger, Eric I Evergood, and Niels.

Danish language North Germanic language spoken in Denmark

Danish is a North Germanic language spoken by around six million people, principally in Denmark and in the region of Southern Schleswig in northern Germany, where it has minority language status. Also, minor Danish-speaking communities are found in Norway, Sweden, Spain, the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. Due to immigration and language shift in urban areas, around 15–20% of the population of Greenland speak Danish as their first language.

Ulf the Earl Danish nobleman

Ulf was a Danish earl (jarl) and regent of Denmark. Ulf was the father of King Sweyn II of Denmark and thus the progenitor of the House of Estridsen, which would rule Denmark from 1047 to 1375, which was also sometimes, specially in Swedish sources, referred to as the Ulfinger dynasty to honor him.

Estrid Svendsdatter of Denmark, was a Danish princess and titular Queen, a Russian princess and, possibly, Duchess of Normandy by marriage. She was the daughter of Sweyn Forkbeard and perhaps Gunhild of Wenden and sister of Cnut the Great. By Ulf Jarl, she was the mother of the later King Sweyn II Estridson and Beorn Estrithson. The dynasty that ruled Denmark in 1047–1412 was named after her. She was known in Denmark as Dronning Estrid, despite the fact that she was not married to a King and not a queen regnant.


He was courageous in battle, but did not have much success as a military commander. [5] His skeleton reveals that he was a tall, powerfully built man who walked with a limp.


Accession to the throne

Sweyn was born in England, [5] as the son of Ulf Thorgilsson and Estrid Svendsdatter, the latter of whom was the daughter of King Sweyn I Forkbeard and sister of Kings Harald II and Canute the Great. Sweyn grew up a military leader, and served under king Anund Jacob of Sweden for a time. [5] He pillaged the Elbe-Weser area in 1040, but was caught by the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen, who released him shortly thereafter. [6]

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Sweyn Forkbeard 11th-century King of Denmark, England, and Norway

Sweyn Forkbeard was king of Denmark from 986 to 1014. He was the father of King Harald II of Denmark, King Cnut the Great and Queen Estrid Svendsdatter.

Harald II of Denmark King of Denmark

Harald II of Denmark was King of Denmark from 1014 until his death in 1018. He was the youngest son of Sweyn Forkbeard and Gunhild of Wenden, and was regent while his father was fighting Ethelred the Unready in England. He inherited the Danish throne in 1014, and held it while his brother, the later king Cnut the Great conquered England. After his death in 1018, he was succeeded by Cnut the Great. Little detail is known about Harald II.

Svend was made a jarl under Danish king Harthacnut (the two were first cousins), [5] and led a campaign for him against Norway, but was beaten by Magnus I of Norway. [6] When Harthacnut died in 1042, Magnus claimed the Danish throne and made Svend the jarl of Jutland. [7] In 1043, Sweyn fought for Magnus at the Battle of Lyrskov Heath at Hedeby, near the present-day border of Denmark and Germany. [6] Sweyn won great reputation at Lyrskov Heath, and had the Danish nobles crown him king in Viborg in Jutland. [7] He was defeated by Magnus on several occasions, and had to flee to Sweden. Eventually he managed to return and establish a foothold in Scania. [6]

An earl is a member of the nobility. The title is Anglo-Saxon in origin, akin to the Scandinavian form jarl, and meant "chieftain", particularly a chieftain set to rule a territory in a king's stead. In Scandinavia, it became obsolete in the Middle Ages and was replaced by duke (hertig/hertug/hertog). In later medieval Britain, it became the equivalent of the continental count. However, earlier in Scandinavia, jarl could also mean a sovereign prince. For example, the rulers of several of the petty kingdoms of Norway had the title of jarl and in many cases they had no less power than their neighbours who had the title of king. Alternative names for the rank equivalent to "earl/count" in the nobility structure are used in other countries, such as the hakushaku (伯爵) of the post-restoration Japanese Imperial era.

Harthacnut King of Denmark and King of England

Harthacnut, sometimes referred to as Canute III, was King of Denmark from 1035 to 1042 and King of England from 1040 to 1042.

Commonly, "cousin" refers to a "first cousin", people whose most recent common ancestor is a grandparent. A first cousin is a third-degree relative and used to be known as a cousin-german, though this term is rarely used today.

The war between Magnus and Sweyn lasted until 1045, when Magnus' uncle Harald Hardrada returned to Norway from exile. Harald and Sweyn joined forces, and Magnus decided to share the Norwegian throne with Harald. [5] In 1047 Magnus died, having stated on his deathbed that his kingdom would be divided: Harald would get the throne of Norway, while Sweyn would be king of Denmark. [7] Upon hearing of Magnus' death Sweyn said, "Now so help me God, I shall never yield Denmark". [8]

Harald Hardrada 11th-century King of Norway

Harald Sigurdsson, given the epithet Hardrada in the sagas, was King of Norway from 1046 to 1066. In addition, he unsuccessfully claimed the Danish throne until 1064 and the English throne in 1066. Before becoming king, Harald had spent around fifteen years in exile as a mercenary and military commander in Kievan Rus' and of the Varangian Guard in the Byzantine Empire.

Feud with Harald Hardrada

Harald, unwilling to relinquish Denmark, attacked Sweyn and fought a long war. Harald sacked Hedeby in 1050, and also sacked Aarhus. [6] Sweyn almost captured Harald in 1050, when Harald attacked the coast of Jutland and loaded his ships with goods and captives. Sweyn's flotilla caught up with the Norwegians and Harald ordered his men to throw out the captured goods, thinking the Danes would stop to get the goods. Sweyn ordered his men to leave the goods and go after Harald. Harald then ordered his men to throw the captives overboard. For them Sweyn was willing to let Harald slip away. [8] Sweyn came close to losing his life at the naval Battle of Niså off the coast of Halland in 1062. [5] According to the sagas Harald urged Sweyn to meet him in a final and decisive battle at Elv in the spring of 1062. [9] When Sweyn and the Danish army did not show up, Harald sent home a large part of his army, only keeping the more professional warriors in his fleet. When Sweyn finally came to meet Harald, his fleet numbered 300 ships to Harald's 150. [10] The fleets met at night and the battle lasted until morning, when the Danes started to flee. In the sagas the Norwegian victory is largely credited to earl Haakon Ivarsson, who disengaged his ships from the Norwegian flanks and started attacking the weakened ships on the Danish flanks. [11] This might be the aiding Norwegian chieftain that Saxo Grammaticus refers to, as turning the tide in Norwegian favour. [12] Sweyn managed to escape the battle, reached land and stopped at the house of a peasant to ask for something to eat. "What was the terrible rumbling in the night?" she asked. "Didn't you know the two kings were fighting all night?" asked one of Sweyn's men. "Who won, then?" the woman asked. "Norwegians," came the reply. "It's a shame on us, for a king we already have. He limps and is timid." "No," King Sweyn explained, "Timid the king of the Danes is assuredly not,"[ clarification needed ]defended another of the king's men, "but luck isn't with him and he lacks a victory." The housecarl brought the men water and a towel to wash themselves. As the king was drying his hands, the woman tore the cloth from him, "You should be ashamed of yourself for using the whole towel for yourself," she scolded. "The day will come when I will have your permission to use the whole cloth," was the king's comment. Her husband gave the king a horse and Sweyn continued on his way to Zealand.

Hedeby city

Hedeby was an important Danish Viking Age trading settlement near the southern end of the Jutland Peninsula, now in the Schleswig-Flensburg district of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is the most important archaeological site in Schleswig-Holstein.

Aarhus City in Central Denmark Region, Denmark

Aarhus is the second-largest city in Denmark and the seat of Aarhus municipality. It is located on the east coast of the Jutland peninsula, in the geographical centre of Denmark, 187 kilometres (116 mi) northwest of Copenhagen and 289 kilometres (180 mi) north of Hamburg, Germany. The inner urban area contains 273,077 inhabitants and the municipal population is 340,421. Aarhus is the central city in Business Region Aarhus and in the East Jutland metropolitan area, which had a total population of 1.378 million in 2016.

Battle of Niså

The Battle of Niså was a naval battle fought on 9 August 1062 between the forces of Norwegian king Harald Hardrada and king Sweyn II of Denmark. Harald had claimed the Danish throne since 1047, and had launched raids into Denmark ever since. With his invasion in 1062, he wanted to decisively defeat the Danes, and thus finally be able to conquer Denmark. The battle was won clearly by the Norwegians, but since many Danes managed to escape, including Sweyn, it proved indecisive in Harald's attempt to conquer Denmark.

Some time later the peasant was called to Zealand and given lands there for his service to the king, but his wife had to remain behind in Halland. [8] Sweyn had a reputation for generosity and kindness that helped him on several occasions to win the trust of his people. Harald relinquished his claims to Denmark in 1064, [5] in exchange for Sweyn's recognition of Harald as Harald III of Norway. [7] Harald then sailed off to England to claim the crown of England, and was killed there.

Consolidation of power

Coin of Sweyn II. Coin king of denmark sven estridsen.jpg
Coin of Sweyn II.
Sven Estridson coin pendant, found in Mildenhall, Suffolk. British Museum. Sven Estridson coin pendant from Mildenhall Suffolk.jpg
Sven Estridson coin pendant, found in Mildenhall, Suffolk. British Museum.
Coin of Sven Estridson. British Museum. Sven Estridssen.jpg
Coin of Sven Estridson. British Museum.

Sweyn's connection to the Danish line of succession was his mother Estrid Svendsdatter, and he took the matronymic surname Estridsson after her, emphasizing his link to the Danish royalty. [6] He also minted his own coins.

Sweyn sought to consolidate his power through links to the church as well as foreign powers, and actively sought the friendship of the Popes. [5] He wanted his eldest son Knud Magnus crowned by the Pope, but Knud died on the journey to Rome. He also unsuccessfully pressed for Harald Bluetooth, the first Christian king of Denmark, to be sanctified. He was an ally of Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor against Baldwin V of Flanders in 1049, and Sweyn assisted his son-in-law Gottschalk in the Liutizi Civil War of 1057. [6]

After Harald Hardrada was killed, and William the Conqueror had conquered England, Sweyn turned his attention to England, once ruled by his uncle Canute the Great. He joined forces with Edgar Atheling, the last remaining heir of the Anglo-Saxon royal house, and sent a force to attack king William in 1069. However, after capturing York, Sweyn accepted a payment from William to desert Edgar, who then returned into exile in Scotland. Sweyn failed another attempt in 1074/1075. [6]

Relationship with the church

Sweyn feared that Archbishop Adalbert of Hamburg would fill the upper ranks of Denmark's churches with Germans, so he brought Anglo-Danes over from England to keep the Danish church independent. Under the influence of Sweyn, [13] Denmark was divided into eight dioceses around 1060. [14] He set the dioceses up by donating large tracts of land, with the Diocese of Roskilde being the highest favoured one, as he had a good relationship with Bishop Vilhelm of Roskilde. [6] When Archbishop Adalbert died in 1072, Sweyn was able to deal directly with the Holy See.

He brought scholars to Denmark to teach him and his people Latin so they could converse with the rest of Europe on equal terms. Adam of Bremen travelled to meet this learned king and came away with greater respect for the king's patience and wisdom. Sweyn encouraged the building of churches all over Denmark, and Adam of Bremen was astounded that there were 300 churches in Scania alone, more than in all the other countries of the north put together.[ citation needed ]

Sweyn could be ruthless. One New Year's Eve it was reported to the king that several of his guests and hired men had ridiculed him and talked behind his back. The king was so angry that he had them murdered in the church on New Year's Day. When the king arrived at Roskilde Cathedral for mass, his friend Bishop Vilhelm met him at the door and forbade the king and his party to enter. "You stand condemned before God, a murderer, who has defiled the house of God with blood!" cried the bishop and pushed the king back with his shepherd's crook. He declared the king excommunicated from the church. The king's men drew their swords and stepped forward to hack the bishop down, but Bishop Vilhelm held his ground. "Let him be," shouted the king and withdrew to his farm. There he removed his New Year's fine clothing and weapons and dressed in sackcloth. Then he walked back to the cathedral in his bare feet and cast himself face down in front of the entrance. Bishop Vilhelm had just begun the mass when he was told the king lay humbled at the door. Bishop Vilhelm stopped the service and went to the door to hear the king's abject confession. When the bishop realized the king was truly repentant, he raised him up, lifted the excommunication and led him into the cathedral.[ citation needed ]


King Sweyn died at the royal estate Søderup, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) west of Åbenrå at the Little Belt strait. The Danish chronicles inaccurately date his death to 1074, but it is known that he received and answered letters in 1075 and died in 1076. [4] [3] The king's body was carried to Roskilde Cathedral where he was interred in a pillar of the choir next to the remains of Bishop Vilhelm (who was the actual person who died in 1074). Later he was called the "father of kings" because five of his fifteen sons became kings of Denmark. [8]

He was the last Viking ruler of Denmark and an ancestor of all subsequent Danish kings. [15] The remains of other Danish kings are also entombed in Roskilde Cathedral. According to the saga, Sweyn's mother was entombed inside a pillar across from the chapel. However, analysis of mitochondrial DNA proved that this person was not the king's mother, as his mtDNA indicated Haplogroup H, HVR1 7028C. [15]


One of the legacies of King Sweyn was a fundamental change in Danish society which had been based on whether a person was free or a bondsman. Sweyn is often considered to be Denmark's last Viking king as well as the first medieval one. A strengthened church in alliance with the land-owning noble families begin to pit their power against the royal family. The peasants were left to fend for themselves. [16]

Sweyn built a strong foundation for royal power through cooperation with the church. He completed the final partition of Denmark into dioceses by corresponding directly with the pope, bypassing the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen. During his reign hundreds of small wooden churches were built throughout the kingdom; many were rebuilt in stone in the 12th century. [6] Sweyn sought to create a Nordic Archbishopric under Danish rule, a feat which his son Eric I accomplished. [13]

Sweyn seems to have been able to read and write, and was described as an especially educated monarch by his personal friend Pope Gregory VII. [13] He is the source of much of our current knowledge about Denmark and Sweden in the 9th and 10th centuries, having told the story of his ancestry to historian Adam of Bremen around 1070.


Sweyn's first marriage was to Gyda of Sweden, daughter of king Anund Jacob of Sweden. His second marriage, in 1050, was to Gunnhildr Sveinsdóttir, the stepmother of Gyda. The Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen ordered that the union be dissolved, [6] which was effectuated by Pope Leo IX. [13] After Harald Hardrada's death, Sweyn married his widow Tora Torbergsdatter. He took one mistress after another during his life. Sweyn fathered at least 20 children, of whom only one was born in wedlock. [5]

With Gunnhildr:

  1. Svend Svendsen, who died young [5]

With various concubines: [5]

  1. Knud Magnus
  2. Harald III Hen of Denmark (d. 1080)
  3. Canute IV the Saint of Denmark (d. 1086)
  4. Oluf I Hunger of Denmark (d. 1095)
  5. Eric I Evergood of Denmark (d. 1103)
  6. Svend Tronkræver (d. 1104)
  7. Ulf Svendsen (Ubbe) (d. 1104)
  8. Benedict Svendsen (d. 1086)
  9. Bjørn Svendsen, Duke of Nordalbingien from 1099 (d. 1100) [17]
  10. Niels of Denmark (d. 1134)
  11. Sigrid Svendsdatter (d. 1066), wife of prince Gottschalk
  12. Ingerid, wife of Olav III of Norway
  13. Sweyn the Crusader (d. 1097)
  14. Thorgils Svendsen
  15. Sigurd Svendsen, died in war against the Wends [5]
  16. Guttorm Svendsen
  17. Ømund Svendsen
  18. Gunhild Svendsdatter (Helene)
  19. Ragnhild Svendsdatter, wife of Svein Aslaksson

See also

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Sweyn II of Denmark at Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Monarkiet i Danmark – Kongerækken Archived 2009-11-18 at the Wayback Machine at The Danish Monarchy
  2. His first name is also spelled Swen, Svein and Sven and his last name as Estridson, Estridsson or Estridsøn.
  3. 1 2 Steenstrup, Johannes C. H. R. (1903). "Svend Estridsen". In Bricka, Carl Frederik (ed.). Dansk Biografisk Leksikon (in Danish). 17. Kjøbenhavn: Gyldendalske Boghandels Forlag (F. Hegel & Søn). p. 4. Retrieved 2007-02-22. Sweyn died at the royal estate Søderup in [the Duchy of] Schleswig April 28, 1076 (the Danish annals have, certainly incorrect, 1074) and was buried in Roskilde Cathedral. [S. døde paa Kongsgaarden i Søderup i Slesvig 28. April 1076 (de danske Aarbøger have, sikkert urigtig, 1074) og blev begravet i Roskilde Domkirke.]
  4. 1 2 Ræder, J. G. F. (1871). "Danmark under Svend Estridsen og hans Sønner (Copenhagen, pp. 202–203)". archive.org. Retrieved 2017-02-22. At Vilhelm er død før Kongen, meddeles af de ikke meget senere Skribenter Anonymus Roskild. (Lgb.I. S. 378) og Ætnothus (Lgb.III. S. 338). At fremdeles Svend Estridsen døde 1076 og ikke allerede 1074, er ligeledes hævet over enhver Tvivl; naar nu ikke destomindre en hel Række Kildeskrifter lader ham dø allerede 1074, saa synes dette at hænge sammen med det allerede tidlig opstaaede og hos Saxo opbevarede Sagn om, at Vilhelm døde faa Dage efter Kongen og af Sorg over hans Død. Det kan da tænkes , at man har draget Kongens Død tilbage til Bispens Dødsaar 1074, ligesom Nyere (t. Ex. Molbech, hist. Aarb. III S. 19) drage Bispens Dødsaar frem til 1076 for at faa Begges Dødsaar til at falde sammen." ... & ... "men derimod giver en ny Skrivelse, som Paven afsendte til Svend d. 17. April s. A. [1075], En det bestemte Indtryk, at der i Mellemtiden er foregaaet Noget, hvorved Svend har gjort sig Paven forbunden
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Bricka, Carl Frederik, Dansk Biografisk Lexikon, vol. XVII [Svend Tveskjæg – Tøxen], 1903, pp.3–5.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Stefan Pajung, Artikel: Svend Estridsen ca. 1019-1074/76, danmarkshistorien.dk, Aarhus University, January 19, 2010
  7. 1 2 3 4 Louise Kæmpe Henriksen, Historiske Personer – Svend Estridsen – konge af Danmark 1047–74., vikingeskibsmuseet.dk
  8. 1 2 3 4 Huitfeldt, Arild. Danmarks Riges Krønike
  9. http://mcllibrary.org/Heimskringla/hardrade2.html, p.61
  10. http://mcllibrary.org/Heimskringla/hardrade2.html, p.63
  11. http://mcllibrary.org/Heimskringla/hardrade2.html, p.65
  12. http://www.jomsborg.eu/Saxobog11.pdf
  13. 1 2 3 4 Svend 2. Estridsen at Gyldendal Åbne Encyklopædi
  14. Diocese of Lund, Diocese of Odense, Diocese of Ribe, Diocese of Roskilde, Diocese of Schleswig, Diocese of Viborg, Diocese of Vestervig, and Diocese of Aarhus.
  15. 1 2 iGenea – DNA profiles and haplogroups of famous persons: Sven II Estridsen – the last Viking King, accessed July 2018.
  16. Danmarks Historie II perbenny.dk
  17. Kings and Queens of Denmark at JMarcussen.dk
Sweyn Estridson
Born: c. 1019 Died: April 28 1076
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Magnus the Good
King of Denmark
Succeeded by
Harald III