Scandinavian take-over of estates in The Danelaw

Anglo-Saxon society was based on the village community, where every household had a share of land, according to the rank of the householder. Where the land was suitable, they shared it out into strips and a household might have a number of separate strips, spread across two or three large, open fields.

The land of one or more villages was in the custody of an hereditary thegn. In return, the thegn had to give military service to his lord. The lord, in turn, held his land from the king and was expected to administer justice, raise taxes and provide men for the king’s army (fyrd) when needed. A lord would often hold several villages and their lands, and we would now call this an ‘estate’ or ‘manor’.

When The Danelaw was established, the estates were often broken up and the villages and land were shared out amongst the Vikings. Sometimes the previous custodian had been killed in battle, or had fled. Others were dispossessed by the Vikings but, in some cases, the Vikings introduced a new custom – buying land for money, because many of them had become wealthy through plundering and their share of Danegeld.

Many villages were given fresh Scandinavian names or hybrid English-Scandinavian names. Additional land was taken in and new villages established with Scandinavian names also.

Some Viking settlers adopted the English open field method of lowland farming, where the land was suitable for this. In the less fertile uplands, they herded sheep and cattle.

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