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banner (Anglo-Saxon, guð-fana), which they called “the raven " (Anglo-Saxon, ræfen v. brefn. v. hræfen). Another account adds, that these chiefs were sons of Regner Lodbrog, and that the flag, or mark, was cunningly woven by Regner's daughters. The raven borne upon it was thought to forbode either victory or defeat.
This ensign is again spoken of a century later, in the time of Canute the Great. It is mentioned in the great battle of Clontarf, in Ireland (1014), when Sigurd, the Norwegian Jarl of Orkney, bore a ravenstandard against the Irish. Two years afterwards, in the sanguinary battle at Ashingdon in Essex (1016), which partly decided Canute’s conquest of England, the Danish army had begun to give way; when the jarl, Thorkel the Tall, shouted to the warriors, as he pointed to the flag, that the raven fluttered its wings, and predicted a glorious victory. The Danes took fresh courage, and victory crowned their efforts. The mighty Danish jarl Sivard, or Sigurd, surnamed “ Digre" (the stout) (+1055), who ruled the earldom of Northumberland somewhat after Canute's time, and after the Danish dominion in England had ceased, also bore a raven ensign, which was called “Ravenlandeye,” or the raven that desolates the land. (" Corvus terræ terror.") There seems to have been many legends among the people, both as to the manner in which Sigurd procured this ensign, and as to its supernatural power.
After the time of Canute the Great and Sigurd Digre, there is scarcely any coin to be found bearing the image of the raven; but fortunately there is a representation of another kind, belonging to the eleventh century, which in no slight degree proves that raven-ensigns were actually borne by the successors of the Danes and Norwegians in the west of Europe until about the year 1100.
It is known that Scandinavian Vikings, and particularly Normans and Danes, conquered the French province afterwards called from the Northmen (Normænd) Normandy; and that the successors of Rollo, or Rolf (Ralph), continued to govern that land as dukes. From Normandy, Duke William, surnamed the Conqueror, passed over in 1066 into England, which he conquered by the battle of Hastings. The whole expedition, together with this battle, is represented in the old and extremely remarkable piece of tapestry, preserved in the cathedral of Bayeux, in Normandy, and said to have been worked by William the Conqueror's own consort, Matilda ; at all events it was made shortly after the conquest of England. There can, therefore, be no question about the fidelity of the figures represented, at all events, as far as regards the Normans. It is here seen that the Norman chiefs, after the old Scandinavian fashion, had each his ensign or banner of party-coloured cloth cut out into tongues or points, and fastened to the pole of a lance. But where William is represented on the Bayeux tapestry advancing to the battle of Hastings, the chief banner is borne by a mounted knight clad in chain armour, who rides before another knight, likewise clothed in armour, and having on his lance an ensign or flag with five tongues or points, and with a cross in it.
On the chief banner, the only one of that form among the many flags in the tapestry, but which in its whole shape and pendant fringes bears a striking likeness to the
old Danish flags before mentioned, there is seen in the middle the figure of a little bird, which may, with the greatest probability, be taken for Odin's raven. For it is very natural that the Scandinavian Vikings, or Normans, who had achieved so many and such famous conquests under Odin's raven, should continue to preserve this sign, even after they had adopted Christianity; and that thus the Normannic dukes in Normandy should also long bear their forefathers' venerable ensign with them as a Palladium in the combat.
After the conquest of England by the Normans, however, the Norman kings abandoned the old Scandinavian raven-mark, and adapted themselves more to the English customs. Probably each king had his own mark or flag, after the custom of that time, until the national banner afterwards received a settled form. But the remembrance of the Danish raven by no means became obsolete among the English nation. Whilst the raven-flag has almost been erased from the memory of the Danish people, the remembrance of it still exists freshly in the British islands; and both poets and artists who represent, however simply, the ancient combats of the Danes with the Anglo-Saxons, the Scotch, and the Irish, seldom neglect to make " the enchanted raven” wave in the Danish ranks.
On the often-mentioned Bayeux tapestry is also represented the fall of the English king, Harald Godvinsön, at the battle of Hastings. The king's flag-bearer, or marksman, who, as well as the king, is on foot, bears a flag-staff, on which is fixed a figure, probably of cloth, cut in the resemblance of a dragon, which was the royal mark of the Anglo-Saxon king. Close before him lies a fallen knight, by whose side is seen a lance with the point downwards, and on which hangs a similar dragon.
This fallen knight is without doubt the king. From the form of his flag, or mark, we may conclude that the Danes' raven-mark probably consisted at times of the figure of a raven fixed to a shaft, and cut out or sewed in a similar manner.
What colours were used for the raven-mark can now hardly be decided. The bird, or raven, on William the Conqueror's war-flag appears to have been of a blueblack on a pale yellow, or light, ground. This colour in the tapestry may, perhaps, have been accidental; and the account of an English chronicler would lead us to suppose that the ground of the Danish flags, or marks, was, at least in time of peace, white. But the colours were certainly different at different times. There can be no doubt that the ground was often red; for, from the most ancient times, red was a very favourite colour in the north, especially in time of war. The old inhabitants of the north, when they came as friends, used to show a white shield, but when they appeared as enemies it was red; then “they raised the war-shield.” In Norway red seems to have been the national colour from an early period;
and it was even ordered in Gulething's laws, that every man who possessed six silver marks * should have a red shield. Something similar was probably the case in Denmark. An old legend preserved by the Scotch historians relates that, in a battle in Scotland about eight hundred years ago, the Danes wore red and white tunics. That red and white appear so prominently on the Danish national colours ever since the thirteenth century is certainly owing to an ancient predilection among the people for these colours. It is perhaps, therefore, most probable that the banners, or marks, of the ancient Danes were, in time of peace, of a light colour, but in war time of a blood colour, with a black raven on the red ground.
In the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries the raven, the Danebrog of heathenism, waved victoriously in the western lands. It was with Canute the Great at Ashingdon, with the Norman William at Hastings, and was thus present at two conquests of England. But the battle of Hastings was the last important battle that the raven won. Heathen Scandinavia had exhausted its strength by numerous and far-extended conquests. Christianity, and with it a new and a higher civilization, advanced with a power not to be checked even among the ancient followers of Odin. The raven, Odin's mark, to which the heathen Danes had attached themselves with all the strength of religious faith, no longer inspired them as before when the warriors had lost the hope of the joys of Valhalla. If they now fought, it was mostly against heathens who would not bow before that cross on which Christ bled and suffered for the sins of mankind. In order to inspire the combatants, it was necessary that the banner which they followed should be an expression of the spirit which stirred among the people, of that living hope which animated them respecting the manner of their existence in another world. The raven, the symbol of heathenism, paled by degrees, as antiquated and meaningless, and at last quite gave place to the symbol of Christianity, the holy cross.
* A mark was half a pound of silver.