One of the Best-kept Secrets in English History?

Here is how it all started…

Viking raids on England started in the late 8th century. The attack on Lindisfarne monastery in 793 was a particularly dramatic and significant event, heralding the onset of frequent raids on coastal communities, with churches and monasteries being particularly targeted for their wealth.

Sporadic raiding gradually turned to larger-scale assaults, as war-bands amalgamated, and these took on a more political aim. Over-wintering in defended camps, the control of extensive areas of land, and the extraction of ‘protection money’ (the so-called Danegeld) became characteristic of Viking activity in England.

To start with, English resistance was uncoordinated and often ineffective. ‘England’ was a region of several independent kingdoms – often at war with each other – and the lack of a unified political and military structure meant that Viking war-bands could roam the countryside with some impunity. Eventually, King Alfred of Wessex was able to confront the Viking ‘Great Army’ at Edington, in 878, when his victory enabled him to establish terms for peace, though this did not put a complete stop to Viking activity which continued on and off for several more generations. Alfred had to concede the northern and eastern counties to the Vikings, where their disbanded armies settled, created new settlements and merged with the local populations. Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Leicester became important Viking towns within The Danelaw (or ‘Scandinavian England‘), while York became the capital of the Viking Kingdom of York which extended more or less over what we call Yorkshire.

These areas were gradually reconquered and brought back under English control by Alfred’s successors, but not before the Scandinavian influence had been locally imprinted to an extent which is still detectable today.

After the Battle of Clontarf (1014) many of the Hiberno-Norse Vikings migrated to England and settled in the north-west, from the Wirral to the Lake District. In northern England, as a crude generalisation, the Pennine watershed represents the interface of the ‘Norwegian’ and ‘Danish’ Viking regions. The last major Viking battle took place at Stamford Bridge near York in 1066, but the threat of further Scandinavian invasion, with ambitions to conquer and rule, did not diminish until well after the Norman Conquest of 1066 and, in fact, under Canute/Cnut (c.994-1035) the realm had a Danish monarch and was part of an Anglo-Scandinavian empire.

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