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Around 26:20 of the episode 7 of Vikings Vallhala, we see the English ealdormen sealing their conspiration against King Canute and the Vikings by throwing pieces of silver onto a piece of cloth. Then Gowdin takes this as the proof of their oath.

I understand the symbolism of such an action. There can be no proof whatsoever of their betrayal if the pieces were to be shown to anyone. The pieces of silver themselves don't bear their faces, but the King's; and even then...

What puzzles me is that, at the moment the cloth is laid on the ground and that it's obvious Edmund and Godwin ask for their coalescence, they throw a piece onto the cloth. It's a strong and clear image for the movie and the plot, but I can't find any source stating that this could be a custom at that time (to seal a coalition).

Is this scene based on some kind of historical fact/practice or just something that came up from writers' minds?

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I am no historian, but I bolster my Medieval fascination with research. Hopefully what I believe is happening won't promote a misinterpretation.

The English Ealdormen are asked just before the act of throwing coins, "Who here will support our English King?" The throwing of the coins is likely a symbolic act of taxation.

Taxation at the time was justified only by the legitimacy of the King's behest. So one way of paying homage to the "true King" would have been to pay him a tax. Under the Medieval system, only the King has sufficient authority to levy a tax. Everyone else was just collecting it. This is further reinforced visually by the King taking the taxes as his own.

Why silver? King Offa originally (~800 AD) collected the first semi-documented taxes in sliver pennies. Gold was far too rare to regularly be used in taxation.

In 1012 AD, a land-based tax or "geld" was levied to hire mercenaries to protect against the Norman Conquest (the "heregeld" or "army geld" / "army land based tax").

So, there are additional layers of symbolism in the act. It is simultaneously legitimizing the King in the eyes of the ealdormen, and an allusion to the heregeld tax that was created specifically to prevent the Norman Conquest.

A basic rundown of the Medieval taxes / taxation.

Oddly enough, the coins they paid (pennies) were likely Cnut pennies, and thus the idea of "the face upon the coin" is probably wrong, as it would have the wrong King's face. Edmund Ironside (Edmund II) is the "King" collecting this tax, and he died without a coin.

No Edmund Ironside coins found to date.

And Edmund's subsequent death in the show is likely fiction. His death is oddly well documented by date (30th of November 1016) but the means of death were likely scandalized as a propaganda tool. As such his death has been rumored to be:

  • multiple stab wounds of a dagger by an assassin hiding in the cesspool of a privy.
  • multiple crossbow wounds by an assassin hiding in the cesspool of a privy.
  • succumbing to prior wounds in battle.
  • disease.
  • run-of-the-mill (no privy, no bottom play) murder.

The first historical treatment of his death was 100 years after it occurred, where his humiliation in death (which was likely posthumous defamation) was already likely to have been held as fact. The crossbow story was documented later. The wounds and disease descriptions are likely rational conclusions completely rejecting the privy story. The run-of-the-mill murder hypothesis is based on the believing the death occurred in the castle of Eadric Streona of Mercia, a supporter of King Cnut, while discarding how the historian described the death-by-privy.

Means of death reported for Edmund.

Edward II & monarchs who met a nasty end.

TL;DR: as only a king can levy a tax, by throwing money on the cloth, they voluntarily pay a tax, showing their allegiance and support to him, and at the same time, recognizing him as the 'real' king of England (against Cnute).

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  • Thanks for very useful information. When you write "Oddly enough, the coins they paid (pennies) were likely Cnut pennies", isn't it plausible that coins bear the face of the late king Aethelred instead? Cnut probably didn't have time to mint coins (as he mentioned to Harald before he leaves: "next time, these will bear my face"). Might be just nitpicking, no offense intended :)
    – OldPadawan
    May 21 at 5:58
  • Possible, but unlikely. All Kings levied a "die" tax by decreeing a new coin and then charging Moneyers (3rd party coin stampers) for the new dies. Most existing coin would then be restamped, except for lost coins or those out of circulation. King Cnut's coin would have effectively replaced nearly all coins in circulation, and there's good indication that it would have been the only valid money. bbc.co.uk/history/trail/conquest/wessex_kings/…
    – Edwin Buck
    May 21 at 14:10
  • And Cnut coins are known to have been stamped in 1016. Unless this is immediately before Cnut could distribute the dies to the Moneyers, then the coins would be those of Edward II coincraft.com/edward-ii-1307-1327#orderby=5 not Aethelred.
    – Edwin Buck
    May 21 at 14:16
  • Well, the series is obviously trying to be historically accurate; but, King Cnut would never have to make the time to remint the coins. His staff create dies for his approval (a few days), distribute them to Moneyers, and decree it would be the only valid tender. People would then voluntarily surrender their old coins to be restruck so they could be used for commerce. The entire process would only disrupt commerce for a very short period as everyone wanted the new coin, payment with the old was invalid. (no worries about the nit-pick, I didn't read it as such)
    – Edwin Buck
    May 21 at 15:00
  • My digest/understanding is then: as only a king can levy a tax, by throwing money on the cloth, they voluntarily pay a tax, showing their allegiance and support to him, and at the same time, recognizing him as the 'real' king of England. Can we accept this as an answer?
    – OldPadawan
    May 22 at 15:52

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