The Danish in
From 800AD the Vikings began to make an appearance, their towns are recognised
by the name suffixes of -by or -thorpe. It is a common misconception that
the Vikings had horns on their helmets, no evidence for this has ever been
found. However it is well recognised from the ecclesiastical writings of
the time that their raids were much feared.
a) The Danes from Denmark landed on the east coast of England. The Danes
led by Guthrum established by treaty with Alfred of Wessex,
the Danelaw, whose southern
boundary lay approximately along lines drawn from the Thames to London, north
along the river Lea to its source then a straight line to Bedford, then to
the river Ouse and finally to Watling Street.
b) The Norsemen from Norway, landed on the West coast, Old Cumbria and
In the 800's England was divided into four parts2:
All but the West Saxons (Wessex), controlled by Alfred, fell to the
Vikings which was the most distant from their incursions. Wessex recovered
the other three when Eric Bloodaxe, ruler of York died in 954.
Wessex used a system of BURGHAL HIDAGE (an Anglo-Saxon document)
to defend the city walls.
Burgh= fortified town
Hide= land area to support one family
A person owning one hide of land had to contribute one man to defend the
walls. Four men were needed to defend one pole of wall (1 pole = 5.5 yards)
or 4 1/8 feet per man.
Knowing the number of hides it could be used to calculate the length of
walls needed. This idea spread to the Midlands (Mercia) as they were reconquered.
Unlike the later Normans the English never built castles, only walled towns.
Norman castles were built to dominate towns and Anglo-Saxon houses were
removed to allow them to be erected. A system of burghs (Anglian:
burhs) are evident in South Yorkshire which may represent a fortified
line against the Danes, which appears to follow the Magna Via, the old road
running from the North to the south of England, and may in fact have led to
its development as a main transport route.
By 851 the Vikings began to make permanent settlements.
865 autumn - Halfdan "settled his warriors to the plough". Halfdan &
Ivar the Boneless, sons of Ragnar Lothbrok came to an understanding with
the East Anglians, but by the following autumn this army left East
Anglia, using horses, moving quickly, circuiting The Fens and
taking York (1st November 866). The Northumbrians were weakened by civil
867 The A/S Northumbrians attacked the Danish army in the spring at York
both inside & outside the Roman defences. Both Northumbrian leaders
were killed and Northumbria ceased to exist as a political power.
867 The Danes left York in the autumn for Mercia and established
a winter quarters at Nottingham (Snoetingham). Danish settlers preferred
the flatter areas as in Denmark, whereas the Norse settled the mountainous
areas e.g. Cumberland, North Yorkshire Moors and The Pennines. A force
was sent from Wessex but the Danes held the position and no major battle
took place. Sheffield museum possesses one of only two surviving A/S helmets.
It has a bronzed boar on top. It was found at Benty Farm in Derbyshire where
there are a large concentration of burial sites. Could this be a Mercian graveyard
following sorties into Northumberland?
868-9 Winter- The Danes returned to York which they called Jorvik (c.f.
869 Autumn- The Danes returned to East Anglia & set up winter quarters
at Thetford. Shortly after they met & defeated an army led by Edmund
of the East Anglians (near Hoxne in Suffolk). On this second entry into E.
Anglia the Danes were brutal.
870 (late) The Danes left Thetford and encamped at Reading between the
Thames & Kennett rivers. On the Berkshire Downs ("Ashdown") the Danes
were beaten back in a hard fought battle.
871-2 (winter) The Danes stayed in London with a brief incursion into Northumbria.
872-3 (winter) they camped at Torksey on the Trent
Thus most of this Danish movement went through the region between the
Humber Marshes and what is now S.W. Yorkshire probably along the existing
Roman road through Doncaster and Tadcaster to York.
874 (late) The Danish army broke into two:
a) Under Halfdan they moved from Repton to Tyne and harried Picts
& the Strathclyde Welsh. At Repton (Derbs.) a pagan burial was
found in a churchyard which is believed to have been part of the
winter camp of the Danish army in 7841.
876 They settle in Southern Northumbria (modern Yorkshire). With
the settlement of Northumbria by the Danes a confused time in the North developed.
The Dublin Norse (Vikings) tried to control the Danish in Yorkshire. There
were many Norse kings in York the last of whom was Eric Bloodaxe (d. 955)
b)The second group left Repton and travelled to Cambridge where
they stayed for 12 months
875-6 This second group attacked Alfred's Wessex a number of times unsuccessfully.
They finally settled in the "Five Counties" (Lincoln, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire,
Leicestershire & land around Stamford)
There is little evidence for Danish burials. Some are undoubtably beneath
present day cemetaries. Where they are evident they were buried with pagan
grave goods but they appear to have accepted Christianity quickly.The
Danish males were often buried with their weapons such as spears. The Middleton Cross near
Pickering, Yorkshire shows a pagan burial with a spear on a Christian
By the 800's Wessex under Alfred was ascendant he later unified England
in the 900's under one crown.
Alfred built fortified towns, grouped villages together into "HUNDREDS"
and had disputes settled at a meeting of the hundred.
Hundreds later became SHIRES, many shires are old kingdoms e.g. Essex,
Sussex, Cumbria, Northumbria.
In 878 all of England was overun by Vikings.The later Viking villages took
the less productive areas, the English were already established in villages,
hybrid named villages combined Danish and English land, which the "Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle" called "sharing out the lands"
One major problem for the English was a lack of a clear line of succession.
Eadig of Wessex was the first to rule all of England, succeeded by his brother.
His son Edward the Martyr followed succeeded by Edwards brother ethelred
900 Edward the Elders
reign begins, he reconquered the Danelaw.
A hoard of gold dated at 906 was found in 1840 at Cuerdale. It was found
in a lead lined chest forty metres from the bank of the river Ribble, where
the M6 now crosses the river. One thousand ounces of scrap silver ingots
and 7000 silver coins were taken from Ireland by Norwegian Vikings. Mostly
English and Danish coins were present but some were from the Middle East2.
910 The Viking town of York at Coppergate had been set out1
924 Edward (Edwin) the Elders reign ends
925 Athelstan's reign begins. The Danelaw is divided into shires with market
towns of the same name.
927 Sihtric dies.
928 Olaf (Sihtrics son) dies
929 Athelstan, son of Edwin The Elder raises York to the ground to remove
Norse influence under Olaf.
937 Battle of Brunanburg Lancashire V's King Constantine of Scotland.
940 Athelstan's reign ends
955 With the Death of Eric Bloodaxe comes an end to the Scandinavian attempt
to settle an independent kingdom between Dublin & York. Wessex takes
Northumberland along with East Anglia and Mercia.
959 Edgar's reign begins, an "Age of Peace" which develops until
975 when Edgar's reign ends.
978 Ethelred ascends, he raises Danegeld, a tax to pay off the Vikings.
1013 Swein (Sweyn) Forkbeard one of the Jomsvikings in Denmark had driven
his father out of Denmark in 988 and then campaigned in England
1013 Swein landed at Sandwich, Kent then turned north to the Humber passing
up the River Trent and established a camp at Gainsborough. Swein was accepted
as king of the Northumbrians and all the Danes of East England attacked
various places inland.
1017 Swein's son Cnut ascends the throne to rule an English-Danish Empire.
Cnut became a Christian. One year after Cnut's acession, Swein gave Northumbria
to Eric of Hlaoir but this lasted only a year or so. Before his death in
1035 Cnut appointed a vigorous Danish warrior Siward to the Northumbrian
Earldom. Siward established a firm hold on the western parts of the border
district and was strong enough to hold back Strathclyde.
1055 Siward dies after defending the northern Marches for many years. He
helped Malcolm Canmore to defeat Macbeth. His eldest son Earl Gospatrick
(?killed 1138) also died leaving his son Waltheof who was too young at the
Siward had married into the native line of Northumbrian earls and
his son Waltheof (=Walter?) became Earl of Northumberland and an important
figure in early Norman times.
Because Waltheof was too young, Godwine's son Tostig became Earl of Northumberland
At Kirkdale an 11th century sundial over the church doorway states:
"Orm Gamal's son brought St. Gregory's church down it fell to broken
and he had it built anew from ground in honour of Christ St. Gregory. King
Edward in the days of Earl Tostig" The church had been rebuilt by a Dane
probably from Mercia with a Scandinavian personal name 150 years after it
had been sacked.
There may be Vikings buried deeply beneath Kirkdale cemetary. There are
also Viking age sculptures including a hogback & crucifixion built into
the church walls1
1063 (spring) Tostig led a force from Northumbria to North Wales.
1065 (autumn) There was a Northumbrian rebellion against Tostig's harsh
rule.Only about 200 rebels march on York while Tostig was visiting Edward
The Confessor near Salisbury. They Seized Tostig's treasury and killed his
supporters. They outlawed Tostig and invited Morcar, the brother of Edwin,
Earl of Mercia to be the Earl of Northumbria.
The Northumbrian army swelled picking up Mercians on its way south. They
took Northampton & Morcar was confirmed as Earl of Northumbria., Tostig
went into exile.
1066 (spring) King Harold (Harold Godwinsone, he was elected and
not of Royal stock, but his family had maintained order during internal
wars) marched north to Northumbria5. At Easter he went south
again from York to London Halley's comet was seen on the 24th April 1066.
Tostig attacked the S.E. coast, East Anglia, and then sailed up the Humber,
he did much damage to Lindsey and was driven off by Edwin of Morcar.
Tostig returned to the Humber with Harold Hardrada and the Scottish in
300 ships, they passed up the River Ouse and anchored at Riccall. Harold
of Norway marched towards York but 2 miles south of the city at Gate Fulforda
battle ensued on the 20th September 1066 against Edwin of Morcar. The English
were defeated and terms were made with Tostig.
1066 24th September Harold reached Tadcaster.
1066 25th September Harold's army covered covered 9 miles to York and another
7 to the east, he attacked Tostig and his supporters at Stamford Bridge
on the River Derwent.
Tostig's army suffered such losses that they only needed 24 of the
300 ships to take the survivors away.Both Tostig & Harold were killed.
1066 1st October Harold and his army headed South to meet William of Normandy,
the rest is history!
Later FEUDALISM developed where peasants owed service to the Lord of the
1. History Today October 1986
2. Anglo-Saxon England. David Brown, Bodley Head, 1978.
5. Anglo Saxon England Peter Hunter Blair p. 255 (Camb. Univ. Press)
(C) Tim Midgley, April, 1999, revised June 2007