Brihtric took Offa’s daughter Eadburg for his wife. In his days came the first three ships of the Northmen from Horthaland. The reeve rode there, and meant to force them to the king’s dwelling, because he did not know what they were; and then he was killed. Those were the first ships of Danish men to seek out the land of the English.

This is the entry in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle in 789AD and it the details the first appearance of Vikings on English shores. The first recoded raid occurred four years later in793ad at the monastery of lindasfarne and marks the start of the Viking age.

The Vikings in England -Part 1

England at this time was far from the united kingdom it was to become centuries later. Before the Vikings arrival the island was divided into 7 kingdoms that had arisen gradually from various kingdoms and tribes following the Anglo Saxon settlement of England after the withdrawal of the Romans/ East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria, Kent, Essex, Sussex, and Wessex. Though the number of kingdoms fluctuated over that time there were also several sub kingdoms such as Bernicia and Deira within Northumbria; Lindsey in present-day Lincolnshire; the Hwicce in the southwest Midlands. These kingdoms were by no means equal powers and between the 7th and the 9th century Mercia dominated the Anglo Saxon Heptarchy. The England did not become a unified kingdom until Athelstan conquered Northumbria in 927 and as late as 1016 King Cnut established Earldoms based on the former kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex.

The Anglo-Saxons were descended from various Germanic tribes such as Angles, Jutes and Saxons who migrated to England from north Europe between 400 and 600AD and were Christianised in the 7th century. They spoke a language we call Old English, and called themselves as the Angelcynn, Englisc or Engle. They called their lands Engla land, meaning "Land of the Angles. It was also already a wealthy country King Offa of the Mercians issued silver coins and Charlemagne referred to him as his brother and even the lesser kingdoms such as Kent had had their days of prosperity. The richness of isolated communities of Monks and the rebellions and infighting between the kingdoms made for inviting targets for the Vikings.

The Anglo Saxon chronicle is the earliest known history written in the English language and probably compiled in Wessex under King Alfred and records English history from 60bc till around 1042 ad. A translation can be found online here at the page for The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from Online Medieval and Classical Library.

For following 200 years the Norse are mentioned frequently in the chronicle who refers to them as Heathens or Danes. First recording the early small raids against isolated communities and then more frequently in large engagements, in 871 alone it records 9 pitched battles besides numerous small engagements. The chronicle also records the first year Vikings spent the winter in England and other events such as treaties and the division of land for settlement. But also the many years of conflict, victories turned into defeats, the deaths of kings and installation of puppet kings. Though several kings formed alliances to fight the invaders these were not always successful and others paid tribute for peace, yet the either these truces were only lasted a short time or other groups of raiders returned. It wasn’t until Alfred’s military reforms England was able to reliably combat the viking raids with regular fortifications to enable a quick response to raids similar to how raiders were dealt with on the continent.

A force known as the great army first arrived in 865 (Old English: mycel heathen here) commanded by Ivar the 'Boneless', Halfdan and Ubbe said to be the sons of Rangar Lothbrok. Over the next 14 years the army overran the north of England. Though some kingdoms paid tribute for peace, the army fought the combined armies of Mercia and Wessex and conquered Northumbria and East Anglia. In 871 they were reinforced by a summer army under Bagsecg and fought a series of battles against Alfred before accepting tribute for peace. The army then fought Mercian’s before dividing into two, One part under Halfdan settling in Northumbria and One under Guthrum, Oscetel and Anwend who went to Cambridge before retuning to a second invasion of Wessex and being defeated by Alfred at Edington in 878.

The Viking leader Guthrum retreated to a stronghold where Alfred besieged him for 14 days before the Vikings being 'thoroughly terrified by hunger cold and fear' surrendered and promised to leave his kingdom and receive baptism. After which treaty between King Alfred and Guthrum was signed where England was divided between their control establishing the boundaries of the England united under Alfred and an area that became known as the Danelaw.

This treaty is sometimes known as the treaty of Wedmore which is a royal estate that Asser mentions in his 'life of king Alfred' though all he mentions is that Guttorm became a Christian and accepted Alfred as his adoptive father. The Treaty survives in Corpus Christi College Cambridge Manuscript 383 and was probably made after Alfred obtained London in 886 but is certainly no later than 890 being the year guthrum died.

Treaty between Alfred and Guthrum c(878-890)
English translation by Attenborough. source English Historical Documents.

This is the peace which King Alfred and King Guthrum and the councillors of all the English race and all the people which is in East Anglia have agreed on and confirmed with oaths, for themselves and for their subjects, both for the living and those yet unborn, who care to have God's grace or ours.

1.First concerning our boundaries: up the Thames, and then up the Lea, and along the Lea to its source, then in a straight line to Bedford, then up the Ouse to the Watling Street.
2.This is next. if a man is slain, all of us estimate Englishman and Dane at the same amount, at eight half-marks of refined gold, except the ceorl who occupies rented land, and their (the Danes) freedmen; these also are estimated at the same amount, both at 200 shillings.
3. And if anyone accuses a king's thegn of manslaughter, if he dares to clear himself by oath, he is to do it with 12 kings thegns; if anyone accuses a man who is less powerful then a king's thegn, he is to clear himself with 12 of his equals and with one king's thegn- and so on in every suit which involves more than four mancuses - and if he dare not (clear himself), he is to pay three-fold compensation, according as it is valued.
4. And that each man is to know his warrantor at (the purchase of ) men or horses or oxen.
5. And we all agreed on the day when the oaths were sworn, that no slaves nor freeman might go without permission into the army of the Danes, any more than any of theirs to us. But if it happens that from necessity any of them wishes to have traffic with us, or we with them, for cattle or goods, it is to be permitted on condition that hostages shall be given as a pledge of peace and as evidence so that one may know no fraud is intended.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle uses the term 'here' to describe the Viking armies which according to the laws of King Ine of Wessex refers to an invading army or raiding party containing more than thirty five men. Estimates on the actual size of the army vary between 1 and 6 thousand men, though large military bases that would house these large armies have not been discovered

The term Danelaw (Old English: Dena lagu; Danish: Danelagen) was first used in law codes compiled in 1008 and is used to refer to the Northern and Eastern parts of England that were inhabited and self ruled by the Danes. The Danelaw comprised roughly 1 third of the total area of the English Kingdom at the time covering 15 shires: Yorkshire, Five Boroughs of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Lincoln, as well as Essex, the Kingdom of East Anglia shires of Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk, East Midlands shires of Northamptonshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Buckinghamshire. This area was re absorbed into the English kingdom in 954 when the Norwegian ruler Eric Bloodaxe was driven out. Though East Anglia and the Midlands had already been conquered by Edward the Elder and Aethelflaed in the 910's

Map of the Vikings in England.

Part 2 The Scandinavian Kingdoms of york

In 867 Jorvik was the first important English city captured by the Viking invaders. It had long been an important town with a famous library and an archbishop and was a major trading centre, in the doomsday book York was second only to London in prosperity and size having a population around 8000. Under the Saxons the town was called Eoforwic which meant - wild boar settlement and was built above the remains of the Roman Eburacum. In the Norse tongue this was rendered as Jorvik.
The Vikings seem to have quickly overcome the defences of the Northumbrian king Aella who then allied with the previous ousted king Osbert. The pair were defeated 'with great slaughter' according to the AS chronicle and both kings killed.
For the first 10 years after its capture York was ruled by puppet kings the Vikings had first installed a king named Egbert though he and the archbishop Wulfhere were driven out by a Northumbria rebellion in 873, after returning to defeat this rebellion the Vikings reinstalled Wulfhere and as Egbert had died installed a new puppet Ricsige. Then in 875 part of the great army returned after fighting the Picts and the Britons of Strathclyde and Halfdan 'shared out the lands of Northumbria' and then became the first of the Viking kings who would rule york for most of the next 80 years. Apart from three periods of interruption by 927-39 Æthelstan, 944-46 Edmund and 948-50 Eadred, it remained under Viking control until 954 when its last king, Eric Bloodaxe expelled back under control of newly established kingdom of England and ruled by the Earls appointed by the English king.

Eric Bloodaxe became king in York around 947/8 when the Northumbrians defected from king Eadred who responded with raids and caused them to appease the English king. Eadreds brothers Godson Anlaf Cwiran then came to claim the kingship in 949 against which Eadred seems to have turned a blind eye. However, that in 952, “the Northumbrians drove out King Olaf and accepted Eric, son of Harold before he was again expelled in 954 and killed by Maccus son of Onlaf at Stainmore.

Possible layout of Jorvik (c.1066).

In the town a cross culture of Saxon and Viking developed, two thirds of men named in the doomsday book living in York had Scandinavian names. Norse style jewellery is found with Saxon style decoration and until 1066 is known as York's Anglo-Scandinavian era. Trade at York fostered by easy access along the River Ouse to the Humber estuary existed in both the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods and it was described in c. 1000 as being 'enriched with the treasure of merchants who come from all quarters, particularly from the Danish people'. Archaeologists have found silk from the Mediterranean, pottery from the Rhineland, whetstones and ivory from Norway and a silver Arabic coin. Local craftsmen fashioned amber and bronze jewellery, bone combs, lathe turned wooden bowls and cups and the city had its own mint.

The use of the Danish word -gata for street is very common in the town itself and the streets were often named for the tradesman who worked on that street. Coppergate was the centre of carpentry and Skeldergate the street of the shield-makers.

Coppergate and other viking streetnames.

More to come on food and everyday life at Jorvik....

JORVIK Viking Centre Artefact Gallery
York Archaeological Trust Online Picture Library