The More Things Change: A 1000-Year-Old Cautionary Tale

Vikings heading for land. Frank Dicksee.Ju. 1873 L.C.

by David Mullaly

The Viking Age in England was difficult, dangerous, and complicated. It began in the mid-ninth century with a series of Viking raids along the English coastline. Then the Great Heathen Army landed and ravaged much of the eastern part of the country.

Many Vikings chose to stay and settle there, and the Danelaw was established, which provided the Scandinavian newcomers with a large area in which to live peacefully according to their laws and customs. However, wherever on the island Danish newcomers settled, they faced hostility. The continual attacks on coastal towns by the raiders from Denmark led English residents to blame peaceful settlers, with their interesting accents and clothing, for the violence of the raiders. All residents with Danish roots were seen as Viking savages.  The hostility and distrust culminated in the Saint Brice’s Day massacre in 1002 A.D. when the English king Aethelred II declared that every Dane in the kingdom should be put to death, and an unknown number of Scandinavians were slaughtered.

Perhaps that scenario sounds familiar. The current administration has used an extremely broad brush to paint all Muslims as actual or potential Islamist terrorists. In addition, all undocumented Mexicans and other Latinos are caricatured as potential rapists and murderers. In this climate of bigotry and ethnic profiling, even African-Americans and Jews are increasingly vulnerable to slurs and attacks.

Fear of “the other” has an ancient pedigree. It has been used by demagogues and ambitious populists to unite and empower one group at the expense of another. At best, it divides a society and fuels stereotypes and personal bias; at worst, it brings people with power closer to cultural anathema: ethnic cleansing, and in the most extreme instances, genocide.

What finally brought the two cultures in England together was an invasion and conquest by a Dane, Cnut, who married the widow of the former English king, and who publicly embraced the Catholic Church and English traditions. He was successful because he embodied both sides of the cultural divide. Hopefully, such drastic intervention won’t be required for Americans to accept as brothers and sisters those who are currently the “other”.

The title of my novel is “Eadric And The Wolves: A Novel Of The Danish Conquest Of England.” The story is a mixture of genuine history and creative fiction, attempting to show what English life was like around the year 1000 A.D.

Cedric and the Wolves. A novel by Anne Arundel County writer David Mullaly. Photo: David Mullaly
Cedric and the Wolves. A novel by Anne Arundel County writer David Mullaly. Photo: David Mullaly

The central character is based on a real Englishman from a relatively unimportant family, who becomes a prominent leader in Anglo-Saxon England. The king names him Earl and he marries the king’s daughter. However, despite his political connections, he allies himself with the Viking invader Cnut.

As a youth, Eadric had become friends with a Danish boy and his family who lived nearby, and their relationships have a powerful influence on Eadric’s later political decisions. Those decisions, in turn, have huge consequences when the Danes invade England.

Eadric has to make a choice between a virulent ethnocentric loyalty to his “own people” versus a respect for and acceptance of people from another culture. In these interesting times, we seem to have a similar choice.

David Mullaly is a first-time novelist and a retired English teacher who lives with his wife Mardell in Annapolis.

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