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The short and the curlies

29 December 2013

At www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lincolnshire-25345754 … we have a perfect example of the BBC way of reporting – grabbing soundbites from universities, organisations, NGOs, and charities, and adding a bit of extra umph to make the story more user friendly – depending on the age of the journalist. In this instance the latter was probably quite young as he had a fascination with the atrociites said to have been committed by Vikings, and especially those that involved the short and the curlies. The BBC, and other news organisations, regularly regurgitate sources emanating from PR people but in this instance it is not clear if the council at Gainsborough are really involved as he quotes the York Archaeological Trust and a local historian. The issue is Sweyn Forkbeard, father of Canute. Gainsborough has every thing to gain, from a tourist perspective, if they can bring Sweyn into the public consciousness, bearing in mind all the publicity that surrounded the recent discovery of the body of Richard III. We can take that to mean that the hunt is on for the body of the shortest reigning monarch on the throne of England – he lasted just 40 days before he was assassinated (by persons unknown), in 1013.

The journalist also shows his age by adding to the story the tale involving Canute supposedly demanding the tide hold back when the story is all about Canute illustrating to his subjects that, as a Christian convert, he could not hold back the tide – as that was the preserve of God. He was showing to his subjects he was human and had human abilities – nothing divine.

Sweyn was important as he was the fearsome adversary of Ethelred the Unready – and his equally unready advisors. Instead of meeting the Dane on the battlefield they bought him off – repeatedly. It kept Ethelred on the throne, and thwarted those opposed to Ethelred that wanted to engage with Sweyn, but in the end it culminated in the accession of Sweyn. He had spent 20 years ravaging lowland England, raiding and pillaging in the time honoured fashion. Canute, on the other hand, became king of Denmark, Norway, and England, and his reign was benign in many respects, and he has gone down in history as one of the good guys.

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