Jorvik (York) – who Ruled it and When?

Roman Period

The military conquest of most of Britain started in AD 43 with the Emperor Claudius and more or less ended in AD 84 with Agricola’s attack on the highland tribes of Scotland. During this time, the Romans built a legionary fortress at York, which they called Eboracum. In the third century AD, the Romans made Eboracum one of their provincial capitals. In the fourth century the defences were rebuilt and it became one of the finest towns in the Roman Empire.

Anglo-Saxon Period

When the Roman occupation of Britain ended early in the fifth century, the northern, eastern and midland regions were invaded and colonized by the Angles, one of the tribes of the Germanic group we now refer to as Anglo-Saxons. Eboracum, which the Angles called Eoforwic, became the capital of their kingdom of Northumbria. When the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity, Eoforwic was made the seat of one of the two archbishoprics of England, which it still is today (the other being Canterbury, Kent).

Scandinavian Period

Eoforwic fell to Viking invaders in AD 866 and became the capital of their Kingdom of York. Its name became ‘Scandinavianised’ to Jorvik. The history of Jorvik and the Kingdom of York from AD 870 to AD 954 is complicated and sometimes confusing. For much of the time, Jorvik and the Kingdom of York were ruled by Vikings, but there were periods when the Viking rulers were no more than ‘petty kings’, themselves ruled over by the English kings of Wessex. The last Scandinavian king, Eric Bloodaxe, was expelled from Jorvik in AD 954 and the settlement and its region returned to full English control, which was kept through carefully-appointed earls and archbishops who were often of mixed Anglo-Scandinavian descent. Jorvik (York) was viewed uneasily by the southern English, who were always watchful for a fresh rise of Scandinavian power in the north. As late at 1066 the Battle of Fulford was fought there as Harald Hardraada of Norway made a bid for the throne of England. It is likely that Harald Hardraada saw Jorvik and the old Kingdom of York as a good base for attacks on the rest of England and probably hoped that he would get support from the Anglo-Scandinavian population in the region. If so, he was mistaken and, though successful at the Battle of Fulford, his army was shortly afterwards defeated at nearby Stamford Bridge by Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of the English.

The Norman Period

Harold Godwinson’s army was seriously weakened by the Battle of Stamford Bridge and, after a strenuous march south which left his warriors strung out throughout England, he was confronted at Hastings by Duke William of Normandy. The Normans (themselves of Viking origin some generations earlier) won the day, Harold was killed and William the Conqueror was crowned King William I of England. The Normans set about buildings castles to control the English and York was watched over at one stage by two Norman castles, for the Anglo-Scandinavians and Northumbrians of northern England were often rebellious – until they were crushed by William’s ‘harrying of the north’ in the winter of 1069/70. There were further Danish attempts to recapture York in 1070, 1075 and 1085, but these were short-lived and unsuccessful.


AD 866 TO AD 1069

866 Eoforwic captured by Viking Great Army. Scandinavians settle in Yorkshire and other parts of northern and eastern England.
876 Viking kings begin to rule Jorvik
??? Guthfrith, a Christian Viking, is King of York.
919 Ragnald is ruler of the Kingdom of York.
921 Ragnald acknowledges overlordship of the English King Edward; Sigtrygg (formerly king of the Dublin Vikings) becomes ruler of the Kingdom of York when Ragnald dies.
926 Sigtrygg marries the sister of the English King Athelstan (son and successor of King Edward) as a political move, to try to hold on to his independent rule.
927 Sigtrygg dies and is succeeded by Guthfrith from Dublin, but Guthfrith is driven back to Dublin and Athelstan gains control of Jorvik/York.
937 Athelstan beats off an attack by a combined force of Strathclyde Celtic Britons, Scots and the Viking King Olaf Guthfrithson of Dublin, at the Battle of Brananburh.
939 Athelstan dies.
939-954 English, Dublin Vikings and Scandinavians compete for power in Jorvik.
954 Expulsion of Erik Bloodaxe, last Viking king of Jorvik.
954-1066 English kings control Jorvik through carefully-chosen earls and archbishops, often of mixed Anglo-Scandinavian descent.
1066 Battles of Fulford, Stamford Bridge and Hastings. Scandinavian claim to the English throne is repelled but England falls to William, Duke of Normandy and Harold Godwinson, last Anglo-Saxon King of England, is killed. Jorvik/York comes under Norman control.
1069 William the Conqueror (William I) finally subdues Jorvik/York and the north after some temporary control by a combined Scandinavian/Northumbrian force.
1070 -1085  Occasional Danish attempts to recapture Jorvik/York.
NOTE : This Stamford Bridge, which is a few kilometres north-east of York, should not be confused with Stamford, Lincolnshire (one of the Viking ‘Five Boroughs’ of The Danelaw). Nor should it be confused with the other Stamford Bridge, which is Chelsea’s football ground in London !