The St. Brice’s Day Massacre In Vikings: Valhalla Explained (True Story)

The St. Brice's Day Massacre In Vikings: Valhalla Explained (True Story)

Vikings: Valhalla continues the great Viking legacy that started in the first Vikings series. This time, the entire plot of Vikings: Valhalla arose due to one important event that forced the Vikings into action. The event we are talking about here is the St. Brice’s Day Massacre, which was what forced the Vikings to exact revenge on the Saxons. However, is the St. Brice’s Day Massacre a true story?

The St. Brice’s Day Massacre is a true story that happened during the beginning of the second millennium, as King Aethelred the Unready ordered the massacre of the Danes that were residing close to London because he thought that their numbers were growing uncontrollably.

It is interesting to note that all of the Vikings series are based on historical events that actually happened. In that regard, Vikings: Valhalla is also based on true events, as the St. Brice’s Day Massacre is one of the most important events in the history of the Danes and the Saxons. As such, let’s get a good look at what actually happened in both the series and in history.

Was The St. Brice’s Day Massacre In Vikings: Valhalla A True Story?

Vikings: Valhalla is the newest Netflix series to talk about the history of the Vikings, as this show is based on events that really happened long ago. As such, it is no different from the original Vikings series in the sense that they both talk about events that actually happened in the history of the struggles between the Vikings and the Saxons centuries ago.

That said, one of the central events that sparked the entire plot of Vikings: Valhalla is the St. Brice’s Day Massacre. In the series, King Aethelred ordered the death of all of the Vikings living in England, as he felt like their numbers needed to be culled because, in his own words, “they weren’t Englishmen.”

The St. Brice's Day Massacre In Vikings: Valhalla Explained (True Story)

As such, he ordered the deaths of all of the Vikings living near the London area during the first episode of the series. This act was what forced the Danish people into action because they wanted to take revenge on the treacherous king that killed their brethren. That’s why a good part of the series dwells on the fallout of what happened during the St. Brice’s Day Massacre in the very first episode.

We did say that Vikings: Valhalla is a series that is based on real-life historical events. So, with that said, did the St. Brice’s Day Massacre actually happen in real life? Is this event a true story that is based on historical facts and evidence?

Like a lot of the major events that happened in both Vikings and Vikings: Valhalla, the St. Brice’s Day Massacre is based on a true historical event of the same name. And the way the massacre was portrayed in the series is almost the same as the events that happened in history.

RELATED: Do You Need To Watch Vikings Before Watching Vikings: Valhalla?

The St. Brice’s Day Massacre is the killing of the Danes that resided in the areas around London during the beginning of the second millennium back in the 1000s. This massacre happened in response to the unending Viking raids that were happening in England during that time. 

So, the reason why the massacre is called St. Brice’s Day Massacre is that it happened on the feast of St. Brice of Tours, a fifth-century bishop and was the fourth bishop of Tours. The Danish people that were living in England at that time were celebrating St. Brice’s Day in St. Frideswide’s Church, which was burned down so that the Danes that were inside the church would come out and would end up getting killed.

In the series, however, the celebration of St. Brice’s Day coincided with the send-off that the Vikings on England had for Harald Sigurdsson, one of the prospective kings of Norway.

Going back, there was never a true number of people that were estimated to have died during the St. Brice’s Day Massacre. But historians believe that there was a massive loss of life that happened because of what happened back then. In one of the excavations at St. John’s College, 30 skeletons of young men were found, and it is believed that these men were some of the Danes that were massacred long ago.

The St. Brice's Day Massacre In Vikings: Valhalla Explained (True Story)

Mark Pollard, director of the Research Laboratory in the School of Archaeology of St. John’s College, said:

“Our latest research suggests that it is possible that the grisly remains at St John’s College are the outcome of the documented massacre at St Frideswide’s Church in AD 1002. Evidence of knife wounds and the burning of the bodies are consistent with the story of the burning of the church. However, following the chemical analysis of the teeth and bones, we are presented with an alternative interpretation: that they could have been a group of professional warriors rather than a group of residents of Danish origin who were later rounded up and massacred.”

Regardless of what the Danish Vikings were doing back in the day, it can be argued that the massacre on the Danes during the St. Brice’s Day Massacre was a little too extreme for anyone, especially if you consider what happened during that day.

Who Ordered The St. Brice’s Day Massacre?

Similar to the events in the series, it was also King Aethelred that ordered the Danes to be killed on St. Brice’s Day. The historical accounts suggest that he ordered the Danes on England to be killed as a response to the growing number of Viking raids that were happening in the country. If you can recall, in the events of the original Vikings series, the Vikings of the northern territories terrorized the coastal areas of England by raiding them during an era often called the Viking Age.

The St. Brice's Day Massacre In Vikings: Valhalla Explained (True Story)

Meanwhile, going back to King Aethelred, he ordered the massacre of the Danes as a means of quelling the numbers of the Danish people that were living in England. He explained in the series that, no matter how long they were living in England, they still weren’t Saxons. That meant that he didn’t regard them as the equals of the Englishmen living on the island.

RELATED: Is Vikings: Valhalla Related To Vikings? (Is It A Sequel Or A Spin-Off)

An archived post from the Oxford University magazine actually has an excerpt from the edict of King Aethelred regarding the killings of the Danes that he ordered. The edict says:

“For it is fully agreed that to all dwelling in this country it will be well known that, since a decree was sent out by me with the counsel of my leading men and magnates, to the effect that all the Danes who had sprung up in this island, sprouting like cockle amongst the wheat, were to be destroyed by a most just extermination, and thus this decree was to be put into effect even as far as death, those Danes who dwelt in the afore-mentioned town, striving to escape death, entered this sanctuary of Christ, having broken by force the doors and bolts, and resolved to make refuge and defence for themselves therein against the people of the town and the suburbs; but when all the people in pursuit strove, forced by necessity, to drive them out, and could not, they set fire to the planks and burnt, as it seems, this church with its ornaments and its books. Afterward, with God’s aid, it was renewed by me.”

When Was St. Brice’s Day Massacre?

It is estimated that the St. Brice’s Day Massacre happened on the 13th of November, 1002. However, there are some accounts that would suggest that it may have happened on the same day in 1004. Regardless, what we could be sure of is that this event happened exactly on St. Brice’s Day in the early part of the second millennium, more than a thousand years ago.

What Was The Importance Of The St. Brice’s Day Massacre?

In the series, the St. Brice’s Day Massacre was what prompted King Canute of Denmark to launch a full-scale invasion of England. As shown in the series, King Canute was able to succeed in his campaign against the Saxons, led by Aethelred’s son Edmund, the boy king who succeeded his father.

The St. Brice's Day Massacre In Vikings: Valhalla Explained (True Story)
Vikings: Valhalla. (L to R) Bradley Freegard as Canute in episode 104 of Vikings: Valhalla. Cr. Bernard Walsh/Netflix © 2021

However, historically, it is suggested that the St. Brice’s Day Massacre was what provoked King Sweyn Forkbeard’s invasion of England a year after the event. In the series, Forkbeard is King Canute’s father, and that means that there is a discrepancy between the historical accounts and the events of the series.

As to the Englishmen, Aethelred, in his edict, ordered the killing of the Danes not only as a way to decrease their numbers but also as a reason to rebuild the St. Frideswide’s Church, now known as the famous Christ Church Cathedral. This was a retaliatory effort on their part, as they had been at the bad end of Viking raids for more than a century already.

But, if the historical accounts are correct, the massacre only led to retaliation on the part of the Danish people, and the retaliation of the Norsemen is what Vikings: Valhalla is all about.

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