Danish Encampment, Swineshead by Unknown

Letter S.

Seven miles from the sea-port of Boston, in Lincolnshire, lies the rural town of Swineshead, once itself a port, the sea having flowed up to the market-place, where there was a harbour. The name of Swineshead is familiar to every reader of English history, from its having been the resting-place of King John, after he lost the whole of his baggage, and narrowly escaped with his life, when crossing the marshes from Lynn to Sleaford, the castle of which latter place was then in his possession. The King halted at the Abbey, close to the town of Swineshead, which place he left on horseback; but being taken ill, was moved in a litter to Sleaford, and thence to his castle at Newark, where he died on the following day, in the year 1216.

Apart from this traditional interest, Swineshead has other antiquarian and historical associations. The circular Danish encampment, sixty yards in diameter, surrounded by a double fosse, was, doubtless, a post of importance, when the Danes, or Northmen, carried their ravages through England in the time of Ethelred I., and the whole country passed permanently into the Danish hands about A.D. 877. The incessant inroads of the Danes, who made constant descents on various parts of the coast, burning the towns and villages, and laying waste the country in all directions, led to that stain upon the English character, the Danish massacre. The troops collected to oppose these marauders always lost courage and fled, and their leaders, not seldom, set them the example. In 1002, peace was purchased for a sum of £24,000 and a large supply of provisions. Meantime, the King and his councillors resolved to have recourse to a most atrocious expedient for their future security. It had been the practice of the English Kings, from the time of Athelstane, to have great numbers of Danes in their pay, as guards, or household troops; and these, it is said, they quartered on their subjects, one on each house. The household troops, like soldiers in general, paid great attention to their dress and appearance, and thus became very popular with the generality of people; but they also occasionally behaved with great insolence, and were also strongly suspected of holding secret intelligence with their piratical countrymen. It was therefore resolved to massacre the Hus-carles, as they were called, and their families, throughout England. Secret orders to this effect were sent to all parts, and on St. Brice's day, November 13th, 1002, the Danes were everywhere fallen on and slain. The ties of affinity (for many of them had married and settled in the country) were disregarded; even Gunhilda, sister to Sweyn, King of Denmark, though a Christian, was not spared, and with her last breath she declared that her death would bring the greatest evils upon England. The words of Gunhilda proved prophetic. Sweyn, burning for revenge and glad of a pretext for war, soon made his appearance on the south coast, and during four years he spread devastation through all parts of the country, until the King Ethelred agreed to give him £30,000 and provisions as before for peace, and the realm thus had rest for two years. But this short peace was but a prelude to further disturbances; and indeed for two centuries, dating from the reign of Egbert, England was destined to become a prey to these fierce and fearless invaders.

Danish Encampment at Swineshead, Lincolnshire.

The old Abbey of Swineshead was demolished in 1610, and the present structure, known as Swineshead Abbey, was built from the materials.