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King of the Danes
Reign 804–810
Predecessor Sigfred
Successor Hemming
Born Godfred Sigfredsson
Late 8th century
Died 810
Dynasty Sigfredian
Father Sigfred

Gudfred was a ninth century Danish king who is held to have reigned from about 804 to about 810. Alternate spellings include Gudfred, Göttrick (German), Gøtrik (Danish), Gudrød (Danish), and Godofredus (Latin). The Danish Sagas say he was the son of Sigfred, who preceded him as king of Denmark c.770–804, was the uncle of two later Danish kings: Hemming Halfdansson (c.810–812) and Harald 'Klak' Halfdansson (c.812–827), and was the father of King Horik I (c.827–854).


Gudfred is held to have had several sons, as well as several nephews, who served as co-rulers of the Danes between 810 and 827. His sons are typically called "sons of Gudfred" without mention of their names or personal histories. Hemming I is mentioned in the Royal Frankish Annals as son to an unnamed brother of Gudfred. An 837 entry in the Annales Fuldenses calls Hemming a son of Halfdan. Though Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum by Adam of Bremen considers Hemming and Gudfred to be "patruelis", paternal cousins.[1] Horik I seems to have survived his siblings and cousins, and was sole ruler by 827.

Historical events[edit]

Towards the end of the 8th century, the Danes and their Saxon neighbours were facing challenges from the Franks. In 798, the Saxons were defeated by the Obodrites, a West Slavic people allied to the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne, at the Battle of Bornhöved (or Swentana River). A part of the Saxons' land, in Holstein north of the Elbe, was awarded to the Obotrites in 804, as a reward for their victory. That same year, a Frankish army penetrated as far as the Ejder (Eider), Denmark's southern boundary at the time, and Gudfred was mentioned as having a navy as well as being involved in diplomacy with the Franks at Holstein.[2] Fearing an invasion by the Franks, who had conquered heathen Frisia over the previous 100 years and Old Saxony in 772 to 804, Gudfred began improvement on an enormous structure to defend his realm, separating Jutland from the northern extent of the Frankish Empire. The Frankish invasion never materialised, but it caused Gudfred to improve sections of the Danevirke, which ran from the Schlei toward the west coast of Denmark by means of the river Trende. The wall was built with an earthen embankment topped by a wooden stockade and protected from the south by a deep ditch. Denmark's most important town, Hedeby, which apparently already existed on the Schlien, was expanded and garrisoned with Danish soldiers and the early sections of the wall were designed to protect it.[3]

It is believed that Gudfred's brother Halfdan became earl of some wealthy market towns south of the river Ejder, occupying what became known as North Frisia. Refusing to pay tax to Gudfred, Halfdan swore allegiance to Charlemagne in 807 for protection. In 808, Gudfred forced the Obodrites to acknowledge him as their overlord. The citizens of Reric were allied with Charlemagne, who used the port as part of a strategic trade route. Gudfred attacked Reric, burnt it down, killed Chief Drożko and ordered the merchants to resettle at Hedeby, which was being integrated into the Danevirke defensive line.[3]

In 809, Gudfred and emissaries of Charlemagne failed to negotiate peace. In 810, Gudfred led 200 ships to plunder the Frisian coast, forced the merchants and peasants to pay 100 pounds of silver and claimed Northern Frisia as Danish territory. To protect the northern coast of the Frankish Empire, Charlemagne began paying Viking chieftains to protect sections of the coast from the Schlei west to the Weser River. That same summer Gudfred was killed by one of his housecarls. According to Notker of St Gall, the bodyguard who murdered him was one of his own sons.[3][4]


  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  2. ^ Danernes Sagnhistorie
  3. ^ a b c Huitfeldt, Arild. Danmarks Riges Krønike
  4. ^ Notker the Stammerer, De Carolo Magno, Book II, Chapter 13.
Legendary titles
Preceded by
King of Denmark Succeeded by