There is nothing new about Englishmen paying foreigners not to attack them, as we and our allies are now doing in Afghanistan. We were doing that here in Oxfordshire more than a thousand years ago – though evidently the system went badly wrong 1001 years ago when the Danes sacked Oxford, burning it to the ground, in 1009.

Even Alfred the Great, born in Wantage in 849, had to pay the Danes off with a hefty sum of protection money to leave him alone in his Wessex kingdom, despite his English army’s famous victory over them at Ashdown in January 871 – possibly fought in the vicinity of Alfred’s Castle, near Ashbury, in the south of Oxfordshire.

Oxford itself, first mentioned as a town in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles of 912, found itself for centuries in the perilous position of being right on the border between Wessex and Mercia. It became one of Alfred’s Burghs, or fortified places, from which he could defend his English subjects from the Danes; but even after the 880 Treaty of Guthrum, which established Danelaw in the East and North of England, Oxford was still uncomfortably close to their territory and far from safe from their raids.

Indeed, it became clear that paying off Danes (or Vikings – call them what you will) didn’t work well in the long run because they always came back for more.

For most of the tenth and some of the eleventh century the area which is now Oxfordshire was horribly confused, with racial tension between Danes and English.

In 1002, St Frideswide’s Priory (now Christ Church Cathedral) was destroyed during the St Brice’s Day massacre of Danes (November 13), ordered by the English king, Ethelred the Unready (968-1016), who, apparently bored with trying to pursue a policy of paying some Danes and killing others, in desperation commanded the slaughter of all Danish men, women and children who were in England.

The Danes in Oxford had sought sanctuary at the Priory, but had been burned to death anyway. Among the victims was Gunhilde, sister of the Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark, her husband Pallig, and their child.

Ethelred ordered the rebuilding of the church in a document dated 1004 in which he justified his ethnic cleansing by referring to the Danish settlers as “sprouting like cockle among the wheat”.

Hardly had the place been rebuilt than the Danes, led by Sweyn, invaded England again in revenge, sweeping all before them and demanding huge tributes. They razed Oxford in 1009.

Perhaps because of the St Brice’s Day massacre (of Danish settlers, not marauding invaders) Sweyn’s son, Canute the Great, who became king of Denmark, Norway and part of modern Sweden, chose to be crowned King of England too at Oxford in 1018, in order to show the world exactly who was now boss.

Crowned alongside him was Emma, the widow of Ethelred, whom he married in a bid to ward off dynastic quarrels after his death – which did not occur until 1035 following a peaceful reign. Quarrels there were, though – of course – for his illegitimate son, Harold Harefoot, seized the throne from his legitimate son Hathacanute.

Perhaps luckily, Harold died in Oxford in 1040 just as Hathacanute was preparing an invasion from Denmark. In the event, Hathacanute became king without a fight.

Queen Emma, is commemorated in Witney by a road called Queen Emma’s Dyke. She granted an estate and palace in Witney to the Bishop of Winchester, which was excavated in 1984.

Famously, she was accused of having an affair with the bishop after the death of Canute.

But some might say that the lesson to be learned from the English response to the Danish conquest is contained in the lines of Kipling’s poem Danegeld: “That if once you have paid him the Danegeld, You never get rid of the Dane.”