I was reading a satirically-inclined history of Britain (well, allegedly, although so far it’s pretty much all been about England) by John O’Farrell. If you haven’t heard of him, Mr O’Farrell has an impressive satirical CV, having worked on Spitting Image and Have I Got News For You, and now edits the NewsBiscuit website. He also apparently used to be Gordon Brown’s joke writer – here, Gordon, I’ve got a good one for you, tell everyone how your role as a leading architect of the financial meltdown means you’re ideally placed to put it all right…
Anyway, I was reading his most recent book An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: Or, 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge (which, by the way, is excellent, and comes highly recommended), and I came across this passage about the historical figure I named my blogging alter ego after, Aethelread the Unready:
Of all the terrible leaders this country has had to endure, Ethelred was up there with the worst of them […]. When Vikings landed demanding money, Ethelred gave it to them. Unsurprisingly they came back and asked for more and a frightened Ethelred paid them again. […] The money Ethelred paid out was called the Danegeld; a word that entered the English language as a symbol of the coward’s way out […] The Danegeld became such a burden for the country that thousands of free peasants had to give up farming their own little patches of land and were forced into serfdom by the crippling taxes Ethelred levied.
Finally Ethelred did stand up to the bullies, but in the most cowardly way possible. Instead of meeting the soldiers in battle, he hatched a plan that every Scandinavian in the country be murdered on the same day. There was a great difference between the young Viking soldiers who had just sailed from Norway, and the settled, Anglicized Danes who had been in the country for several generations, but Ethelred was panic-stricken and convinced that he was about to be assassinated. The St Brice’s Day massacre in 1002 was an orgy of co-ordinated, cold-blooded racial murder – England’s own Rwandan genocide. Across southern and eastern England there were stories of babies being crushed under cartwheels, women being buried up to their waists in order that their breasts could be ripped off by dogs; when Danes in Oxford took refuge inside a church, the locals burnt it down with the Danes inside. Far from making Ethelred more secure the massacres provoked fury in Scandinavia. The King of Denmark […] sailed to England and for four years exacted a bloody and protracted revenge.
John O’Farrell, An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: Or, 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge, pp. 63-5.
So, on the one hand, I’m asking people to compare me with a weak, country-wrecking, cowardly, baby-crushing, woman-mutilating genocidaire.
And on the other hand, I have a weak and rather annoying pun.
Hmmm…putting it like that, it’s a completely one-sided debate, isn’t it? Clearly the weak pun has to stay intact…