Today’s Kipling – Dane-Geld

It is the oldest game in history – shaking down a neighbor for tribute. Kipling wrote about it in this short poem. Which certain Presidents (Democrats all) never read.


A.D. 980-1016

Rudyard Kipling

It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbour and to say: —
“We invaded you last night–we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: —
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: —

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!


One thought on “Today’s Kipling – Dane-Geld”

  1. FWIW, I’ve been listening to the Great Course on Medieval England recently, and the lecturer mentions this poem.

    This is the relevant paragraph from the Course Guide.

    The Viking raids of England began again in 991 under Olaf Tryggvason, leading to the Battle of Maldon. Where Byrhtnoth had refused to pay off the invaders, Aethelred later agreed. This was the first of the payments that would become known as Danegeld, essential tax that was collected at irregular intervals down to the 12th century, long after the Viking invasions had ceased. This payoff bought the English only a little time; in 994, King Swein Forkbeard led a Danish invasion. The king paid them off, and again in 1002, and in 1007, and in 1012, and each time the amounts got bigger and bigger. Unlike Alfred, Aethelred failed to take advantage of the time he had bought, and thus he had to keep paying. And also unlike Alfred, Aethelred was an ineffective military commander. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1010 tells us, “when the enemy were in the east, then the army was kept in the west; and when they were in the south, then our army was in the north.” When Aethelred sought the witan’s advice, “whatever was then decided, it did not stand for even one month.”


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