The St Brice’s Day Massacre was the murder of Danes living in England under the order of King Aethelred.
King Aethelred had become King in 978. In the year 980 Danish Vikings began making raids on the southern coastal towns. In 991 the raids intensified and it became clear that the Danes wanted to invade and settle in England. Following the defeat of the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Maldon in August 991 Ethelred agreed a peace which allowed Danes to settle in England peaceably. In return for peace England was to make a payment to the Danes (Danegeld) of £10,000.
The peace was short-lived and In 994 another party of Danes arrived and attacked London. Ethelred was again forced to sue for peace the payment of Danegeld this time being £16,000. As before peace lasted just three years before the raids began again. In 1000 Ethelred gathered an army and attacked Cumberland which was a Viking stronghold.
In 1001 the Danes mounted a more intensive raid on the South coast. Although the Anglo-Saxons resisted in the Spring of 1002 Ethelred was forced to negotiate for peace. This time the price of peace was £24,000.
With the numbers of Danish settlers continuing to increase Ethelred took a drastic action. He ordered that on 13th November, St Brice’s Day, all Danes living in England were to be slaughtered. The extent to which this order was carried out is unclear. However, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles record that on 13th November 1002, the community of Danes living in Oxford took refuge in St Frideswide’s church. The townspeople of Oxford set light to the church causing the deaths of many Danes including the King of Denmark, Sweyn Forkbeard’s sister.
The result of the St Brice’s Day Massacre was an increase in the number and intensity of Danish raids on England. Successive towns fell to the Danes and in 1013 Sweyn Forkbeard was reluctantly accepted as King of England. Aethelred was exiled to Normandy. Aethelred returned as King when Forkbeard died in 1014 but died two years later. Cnut, Forkbeard’s son became King in 1016.