MED Theatre’s Version by Helen Gilbert
Pallig Tokesen was a Danish Chieftain and the husband of Gunhilde, sister of Sweyn Forkbeard, the King of Denmark. Pallig had travelled to England with the Danish Vikings but was then made the Earl of Devon by King Aethelred (Eth-el-red), otherwise known as Aethelred the Unready, meaning poorly-advised. The King had given Pallig this role in an attempt to make peace with the Viking Danes and protect England from the danger of raids or invasion.
During Pallig’s time as Earl, two Anglo-Saxon children, let’s call them Aisley and Frith, were trying to get word of their parents who had been captured and taken away by Vikings. Gunhilde, Pallig Tokeson’s wife, took the children under her wing children and was kind to them, but they were unsure whether to trust her, as she was a Viking. However, Gunhilde was known to make the best apple cake ever tasted, and her warm treatment of the children won them over, so that soon she became their friend.
In 997 Viking longships came up the Tamar Estuary and sacked the recently-built Tavistock Abbey, carrying away its treasure. Then a few years later Pinhoe was burned and pillaged. Aethelred began to hear rumours that, although he appeared to be a good Earl to the people in the daytime, Pallig Tokeson was still taking part in raids on Devon’s coastal villages after nightfall. Aisley and Frith overheard Pallig plotting one such raid and passed the message on until it reached Aethelred. Aethelred’s mother, Elfrida (Aelfthryth), had guided her son to make wise choices regarding his relationship with the Vikings, but now she had died, the King was under pressure from his advisors to take his revenge on Pallig and the Danish settlers who were at this time living alongside his Saxon people in the South of England. Following his counsellors’ fateful advice, King Aethelred sent out an order for all the Vikings in the country to be killed while they were sleeping on the night of November 13th 1002.
Aethelred’s orders were carried out, in what is now known as the St Brice’s Day Massacre, since November 13thwas the feast day of St Brice. Anglo-Saxons stormed into the houses of Viking families and killed them in their beds. Pallig Tokeson himself was stabbed in the heart by an Anglo-Saxon, and his wife, Gunhilde was also killed as she slept beside him. Aisley and Frith were pleased that Pallig, whom they blamed for their parents’s disappearance, was dead. But they were also deeply sad that Gunnhild had been murdered, because she had always been kind to them. The massacre turned out to be a major mistake for Aethelred. Gunhilde’s brother, Sweyn Forkbeard, was the King of Denmark at this time and was also the best general in Europe, and he was furious when he heard about his sister’s murder.
In his fury, Sweyn came to England with a huge army and carried out his revenge. By 1013 Sweyn had conquered the country and quite soon afterwards it turned into a Viking kingdom, ruled by Sweyn’s son Canute.
In 2020 and early 2021, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, MED Theatre’s groups met online rather than in person.
The online group for 8 to 12 year olds worked hard to devise a new script inspired by the story of Pallig Tokeson and King Aethelred’s misguided decisions. This is a slightly different telling of the story, however, as it is told from the perspective of young people of the time, observing the adult world and commenting on what they see and hear.
Listen below to the recording of the playreading, which took place live on Zoom, or click the image to the right which will open up a PDF copy of the script!