We all know the children's nursery rhyme London Bridge is Falling down.Well, I wonder if you have every heard this verse...London Bridge is broken down.Gold is won, and bright renown.Shields resounding,War-horns sounding,Hild is shouting in the din!Arrows singing,Mail-coats ringing,Odin makes our Olaf win!
Let's take a journey back to the early 11th Century. It is story time, now listen...The oars of the great Viking longships hardly made any sound as they cut through the water of the River Thames. The mist from the Thames hid their presence and they made good progress. However, as the sun began to rise, so did the mist.
A child rubbed her tired eyes when she thought she saw something that looked like a dragon. Suddenly she realised what she was seeing.
"Vikings," she screamed with fear, as she dropped her basket and ran for home.
Her cry was taken up by others, and King Cnut, whose Father had only recently toppled King Æthelred from the throne, came out with his warriors. Surely Æthelred would not be so foolish as to try and take his kingdom back?
|King Sweyn (Cnut's father) invading England 1013 ~ WIkipedia|
Unbeknown to King Cnut, King Æthelred had enlisted the help of the great King Olaf of Norway. King Cnut prayed to God for victory when he spotted an armada of dragon heads coming out of the mist.
"To the Bridge," he yelled. King Cnut knew that if they could hold the Bridge, then they could hold the kingdom. King Æthelred would have to pass under the bridge if he had any chance of winning this battle. King Cnut prayed to God that King Æthelred would keep coming, for he had one heck of a surprise for him.
But, this had once been King Æthelred's kingdom, he knew the territory and he knew this bridge. So he was not at all surprised when he saw that King Cnut had used the bridge to form an impassable blockade.
King Æthelred smiled, it was exactly what he had expected King Cnut to do and he had prepared for such an eventuality. He had instructed King Olaf to build high platforms on the boats. He knew that King Cnut would think that this had been done to protect the rowers, but that was not the reason.
When the dragon heads reached the bridge, King Æthelred and King Olaf's men climbed onto the platforms. They were now on the same level as King Cnut's warriors who were standing on the bridge. King Æthelred had instructed his and King Olaf's men to stand in pairs. One of which would hold a shield and the other a grappling hook.
|A typical Viking shield ~ Wikipedia|
Arrows, rocks, and rubble rained down upon them, but it did not deter the warriors who threw their hooks towards the bridge’s wooden pilings. But they were not trying to moor up, far from it.
King Cnut's released what King Æthelred planned to do and he ordered his men to throw mighty boulders down onto the ships, but it was too late.King Æthelred gave the order to row back the way they had come. The wood of the bridge’s pilings held strong for a moment. King Æthelred felt a moment of doubt. This wasn't working. But then, God answered his prayers. The wood began to tear as the grappling hooks dug in. London Bridge began to shake.King Æthelred encourage his mean to heave and to his delight he watched as wood, stone and men fell into the water.
|Æthelred in an early thirteenth-century copy of the Abingdon Chronicle ~ Wikipedia|
A great cheer rose up from the Viking boats. King Æthelred and King Olaf had won. London Bridge had fallen down.
Is there any truth in the story...?
|King Cnut defending London Bridge ~ Wikipedia|
Well, yes! Æthelred the Unready did indeed lose his throne to Sweyn. Æthelred fled to Normandy, but then Sweyn died unexpectedly and his son, Cnut, became king. Æthelred launched an expedition, with the support of Olaf Haraldsson to retake his kingdom. Olaf led a successful attack on London Bridge, and Cnut and his army withdrew from England.Later, Æthelred son, Edmund Ironside, revolted against his father and established himself in the Danelaw. Cnut returned and over the next few months conquered most of England. Cnut won a decisive victory over Edmund at the Battle of Ashingdom (1066) but, so impressed was he with Edmund that he agreed to divide the nation. Edmund took Wessex while Cnut took the whole of the country beyond the Thames. Edmund died a few weeks later, and Cnut became the first Viking King of England.
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