The Vikings in England

In AD 793, Danish Vikings attacked english soil for the first time and the assult on the monatsery on Lindisfarne started an long period of Scandinavian influence and dominans in England.  

In AD 865, after many smaller plundering raids against England in the beginning of the 9th century, a Danish Viking army made peace with the local people against payment of money – so-called Danegeld. The following year, a large Viking army of around 2000-3000 men came and in the subsequent years conquered the whole of Northumbria, parts of Mercia and East Anglia – the areas that would subsequently be called, denoting the areas with Danish or Norwegian influenced laws. Written sources mention this kind of area for the first time from the 11th century onwards, i.e. after the English kings had conquered most of the previously Viking kingdoms.

In AD 871, Alfred became king in Wessex and he fought several battles against the Vikings. In AD 886, he made peace with a Danish king, Gudrum, and a border was drawn between the two kings’ kingdoms. Alfred fought hard for his kingdom and on several occasions had to defend it against invading armies of Danish or Nordic origin. When Alfred the Great died in AD 899, he was succeeded by children and grandchildren who managed to re-conquer power in England. In AD 954, the king in York, the Norwegian Eric Bloodaxe, was driven out by the town's inhabitants and later killed.

Svein Forkbeard and Cnut the Great

Throughout the greater part of the 10th century England was relatively peaceful. But when the English King Edward was murdered in AD 978 and his brother Ethelred became king. He was only 10 years old and internal strife blazed up. The Vikings took advantage of this and in AD 980 they ravaged the English coast. In AD 991 a large fleet came – led by Svein Forkbeard – and ravaged Southeastern England. They were paid 10,000 pounds of silver by the English in Danegeld. In the subsequent 20 years there followed a period where England was overrun. The Anglo-Saxon chronicle reports of innumerable attacks and great misfortune at the hands of Viking armies. In the beginning, the attacks had the character of small, scattered incidents. Later, there were large, mobile armies who remained over winter and were led by chieftains or kings – with rapidly increasing payments in Danegeld as a consequence.

In AD 1013, Svein Forkbeard sailed yet again for England but this time to conquer the country, in which he suceeded in the course of a few months. But he died shortly after in AD 1014. His son Cnut was elected as king by the army, while the English re-elected Ethelred, who had fled to Normandy. Cnut was thrown out but returned with his brother's help in AD 1015. Cnut was  now sole king og England.

Cnut the Great became a very English king. Even though he also secured for himself the Danish and the Norwegian thrones, he spent most of his time in England. He divided the kingdom into four earldoms, retained an English aristocracy, enforced old English laws and was a great benefactor to the church. He even married Ethelred’s widow Emma.

After Cnut's death in AD 1035, England was split up. Two of Cnut's four children came to sit on the english throne, but by AD 1042 all his children were dead without any descendants and Emma's son with Ethelred, Edward became king. You can read about what happened next in The Battle for England.

Nordic Place names in England

The Viking influnence in England can be traced by the importance of place names in conquered territories, especially in connection with settlements, the foundation of towns and fortifications as well as the taking over of farms and landing places. In Derbyshire there are Danish influenced towns such as Derby, with the suffix - by (town), and Ormskirk, were both sullables are of Danish origin. Similarly, in the southern part of Yorkshire, there are several minor towns and places with the suffix - by. These lie onlys one day's ride from the large town York, which was called Jorvik in Viking times and functioned as a sort of capital for the Scandinavian Vikings in England. York has several street names with the nordic suffix - gate, of which the most well known is Coppergate - cup maker's og beaker maker's street. the borders of the Danelaw can be traced today through Danish-influnced place names. Small changes in town names, such as Charlton to Carlton, however shows, that the Viking were, to some degree, able to pronounce the English place names.

Barbara Højlund

Read more about the Vikings in England

According to the Irish annals, the Vikings first set foot on the Isle of Man in the year 798. By 820 they had conquered and settled in the Isle of Man, establishing a prosperous Viking colony that benefited greatly from the trade between Ireland and the Scottish islands.

The Isle of Man had a central locationwas on the sailing route from Scandinavia to Ireland. With its excellent fertile agricultural land and good harbours around the coastline, it was an important base not just for raiding and settlement, but also for trading with Scotland and Ireland.

Achaeological evidence confirm the presence of Vikings on Isle of Man. The various findings from burrials and settlements and nordic place names still used creates a fuller picture of Vikings life on the island.
Some of the most important Viking sites on the island include the burial mound at Ballateare, Peel Castle on St Patrick’s Isle and Tynwald

Peel Castle

Peel Castle has been a site of religious and secular importance in Isle of Man history.
I 1982 archaeologist began excavating the ruins of the castle to prove the importance and date the many building faces. 
With the walls is a Round Tower from the 11th century, a cathedral from the 13th century and small apartments from the later Lords of Mann, who ruled on the Island.

During the excavations they found seven pagan burrials all located at the later christian cemetry.
One of the most spectacular finds was a burried pagan lady from the Viking Age with an obvious high status in society. The grave had several rich grave goods, including a necklace made of beads. The necklace dates to late 900 AD and consist of 73 beads of glass and amber. The beads are all in different size, shape and colour. The number of beads on the necklace and the variety of them makes this one of the most impressive jewellery finds ever.

During the excavation they also found af golden pin. The fine details and fragility indicates that it was purely ornamental. 

Faktum: Other grave finds from Isle of Man include the boad grave at Balladoole and the burial mount at Gronk Moar. The boat grave dates to 850 - 950 AD and contained a Vikign ship at 11 metres with a burried mand and woman dressed in fine clothing as well as equipment for horse riding, tools and a shield. In the burial mount was a fully dressed man in a coffin with a cloak, knife, sword and a pin for the cloak.


In 800 AD the Vikings founded Tynwald, the oldest working parliament in the world. This parliament is still in existence on the island today.
Tynwald means open assembly in old Norse and can be linked to similar assemblies on Island (Tingvellir) and the Faroe Islands (Logting).

The Tynwald might have been local and regional to begin with and then later developed into one centralized assembly or goverment. These Tynwalds were already in operation before the establisment of Parliamentary Goverment in England.
At Tynwald old laws or rules from the local areas were made officiel, new laws submitted and punishment were given to law breakers.

Burial Mound at Ballateare

In 1946, during excavations on the north of the island, archaeologists found a burried Viking warrior from 800 AD. The warrior was burried with his weapons, including a two-edged sword decorated with silver inlay. The sword scabbard was found intact and was constructed from wood and layers of leather and other textiles. The sword had deliberately been broken into three pieces. 

Other finds from the burial include:

  • Three iron spearheads
  •  A knife
  • And an iron shield boss. 

The preserved pieces of the wooden shield revealed that it had once been decorated in red, white and black. The Viking was buried wearing a cloak held in place by a bronze ring-headed pin. Accompanying the warrior into afterlife was a woman who had been killed by a savage blow with a sharp weapon across the back of her skull, as well as the dead man’s livestock.

The myth of Sigurd 

Great decorated stone crosses with Viking motitfs are today preserved in many parishes on the Isle of Man. These crosses are all dated to the 1000 - 1100 century and their carvings tells stories of Nordic heroes, legends and myths.
Four of the stone crosses, from the parishes of Andreas, Jurby, Malew and Maghold, tell the myth of Sigurd.

Sigurd grew up in a king's household, but was brought up by the dwarf Regin, who was king's black smith. Sigurd was destined to become a great hero some day.
When Sigurd was young Regin told him the story of how The god Loki had killed the great fisherman Ottar. To recompense Ottar's father Hreidmar, the gods made a cover of gold for Ottar to be burried in. But the gold were cursed and Hreidmar was soon killed by his other son Fafni, the serpent dragon.

When Sigurd got older he convinced Regin to make him a great sword. He also selected one of the finest horses from the king's stables. Following the advice of Odin, Sigurd set out to find the Fafni's gold.
Sigurd dug a pit and hit under some branches, and when Fafni passed by he drove his sword into the monster's belly. He cut out Fafni's heart and roasted it to give to Regin. When touching the meat to see if it was done he burned his fingers. When he sucked the blood, tasting the dragon blood, he could suddenly understand the birds singing.
The birds told him that Regin would kill Sigurd, steal the gold and Fafni's wisdom.
Regin couldn't kill Sigurd, but after several years of adventure the curse of the gold took effect, when Sigurd was killed by his own brother Gunnar.
Gunnar stole the gold, but the curse followed him as well and he later died by a snake bite to the heart.

The Viking rule ended i 1265 when Isle of Man was handed over to Alexander III of Scotland.


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» Vikings in England

» The appearance of the Viking

By: Louise Kæmpe Henriksen, The Viking Ship Museum

London was founded by the Romans, but following their withdrawal the town fell into ruins. It was not until the 9th century that it again began to make its mark among English towns.
London was attacked by the Vikings several times. An during the reign of Cnut the Great's  it was one of the most important towns in England. 
During the reigns of Edward the Confessor and Harold Godwinson, London's significance became even greater, and while William the Conqueror was on the throne, the town acquired special, royal privileges. 

The Romans gave London its first bridge across the Thames. They also fortified the town with a ring wall. But after their withdrawal the area within the town wall became virtually deserted. It was not until the middle of the 7th century that an actual town again became established. 

Viking attacks

By the 9th century London was yet again a powerful and wealthy town attracting the attention of the Danish Vikings. They attacked London in AD 842, and again in AD 851, and The Great Army spent the winter in the town in AD 871-72.

Alfred the Great, who became king in AD 878, forced the Vikings to make peace and fortified the town. During the next century London became the most powerful town in England. Coins were minted at eight different places in the town, trade flourished and cloth and jewellery were produced, also for export. At the same time, London also became an important political centre – it was here that the king held his counsel and laws were issued.

When Ethelred the Unready became King of England as a very young man, he made London his capital. During his reign the Vikings once more showed an interest in England – and London. Svein Forkbeard attacked London unsuccessfully in AD 994 and again in AD 1013. Ethelred was forced to pay Danegeld several times and had finally to flee the country. Svein died in AD 1014, and his son, Cnut the Great, took over leadership of the army and besieged London. Ethelred died in AD 1016.

Cnut became King of England and in AD 1018 he was able to send his army back to Denmark. He burdened the English population with the tax thingild to pay for the maintenance of a small army. He also placed his Danish garrisons around London, including by the church St. Clemens Danes. Generally, Cnut was a popular king, and during his reign peace prevailed in England. Cnut died in AD 1035 and one of his sons, Harold Harefoot, took over the English throne. 

Fact: On his death Harefoot he was buried in Westminster Church, but his brother Harthacnut ordered the body to be dug up and thrown into the Thames. Perhaps Harold Harefoot was re-buried in St. Clemens Danes outside the town wall. The peace in England was over.

Edward the Confessor and Harold Godwinson

When Edward the Confessor became the English king in AD 1042 he made London one out of only three places of assembly for the Royal Council. But the official royal seat was still Winchester. Edward was very religious and founded among others the great monastery at Westminster: Westminster Abbey. It was finished only a few months prior to Edward's death in AD 1066, and he was buried there. 
Several people now claimed the throne, but at the Royal Council's meeting in London, Harold Godwinson was chosen. He was crowned in Westminster Abbey which underlined London’s position as the most important town in England.

William the Conqueror as English king

Harold was attacked by Duke William (the Conqueror) of Normandy at was killed at the Battle of Hastings. Subsequently, William conquered several English towns; but he shunned London. He wanted the town to submit of its own accord and acknowledge him as king. The town soon consented and William therefore gave them issued special privileges. The town must answer to the king alone and it stands under his full protection. 
During his reign William founded the Tower of London on the western outskirts of London. 


» English, Scottish and Irish towns

» The Vikings in England

By: Barbara Højlund

In the AD 1060s, when there were fierce battles between Anglo-Saxons, Norwegians, Danes and Normans for the English throne, the Skuldelev 2-ship sailed from Dublin to Roskilde. After the Battle of Hastings, when Harold Godwinson was killed and William the Conqueror took the English throne, both Godwinsson's sons in Dublin and their father's cousin, the Danish King Svein Estridsson in Roskilde, wanted to threaten William's power. The historian Saxo relates that Godwinsson's children visited Svein in Denmark. Skuldelev 2 was possibly part of the escort that brought the family to Roskilde.

In reality the Empire fell when Edward the Confessor lay close to death in AD 1065. 
The Anglo-Saxon nobleman, Harold Godwinson, seemed his most likely successor. When Edward died in January AD 1066, Godwinson maintained that the king had promised him the throne on his deathbed and the very next day he had arranged his coronation, approved by Edward's closest advisors.

Godwinsson's coronation was not popular, as both the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada and Duke William of Normandy were also of the opinion that they had been promised the English throne. Even the Danish King Svein Estridsson told the German monk, Adam of Bremen, around AD 1067-68, that he was promised the throne. As a consequence, there were innumerable power struggles in England in subsequent years.

In September 1066 AD Harald Hardrada attacked and took the town of York. But just a few days later there was another battle, this time at Stamford Bridge. Here, Harald's warriors were successful in defeating the Norwegians and killing the Norwegg.

The Battle of Hasting

While Harald fought against the Norwegians, Duke William of Normandy had planned an attack on England. The Bayeux Tapestry describes how William arrived in England in October with almost 8000 men and forced Harold to send his warriors rapidly southwards.

The troops met at Hastings where Harold was killed and along with him a great part of England's aristocracy. The Godwinsson family was so weakened that William was able to initiate his conquest of the whole of England. He took one large town after another and was quickly dubbed William the Conqueror. On Christmas Day AD 1066, only two months after his victory at the Battle of Hastings, William was crowned King William I of England.

The political aftermath

The Godwinsson family was forced to flee to Exeter, which in the subsequent years became the headquarters for the rebellion against William. Exeter fell to William in AD 1068 and three of Harold's sons, Godwin, Edward and Magnus, fled to Dublin where Harold’s old supporter Diarmit mac Máel was king.

That same year, two of Godwinsson's youngest sons set off with an army from Dublin for Bristol in an attempt to raise a rebellion against William. They were not successful. The following year, in AD 1069, they attempted again, leading to battles in Devon and Cornwall in Southwest England.

Saxo recounts in his that two sons and one daughter of Harold Godwinsson had, previous to this, visited the Danish King Svein Estridsson in Roskilde. Svein had arranged that Harold's daughter Gytha should marry Grand Duke Vladimir of Kiev. Perhaps they also arranged at the same time a pincer movement against William the Conqueror?

The same year Svein sent a fleet of 240 long ships against England. On board was Svein's own brother Asbjørn. After numerous attacks along the English coast he succeeded in conquering York. Here, the Danes could find support among the many Scandinavians who already were settled in the area. William, who was now under attacked two fronts, showed cunning and burned large parts of the country areas around York. After a year the Danes were forced to realise that they could not gather enough support to challenge William and, therefore, they returned to Denmark. William the Conqueror remained king until his death in AD 1087.


» The Vikings in England

» Warrior and warfare

» The battle for England


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» Make your own Sword

By: Louise Kæmpe Henriksen

On 14th October AD 1066 William (the Conqueror) of Normandy and Harold Godwinson of England met at the Battle of Hastings. Harold had sat on the English throne for nine months and William had arrived in England three weeks earlier from Normandy together with his troops. Both were convinced they had been promised the English throne by the previous king, Edward the Confessor.

While Harold Godwinson and the Norwegian king, Harold Hardrada, fought at Stamford Bridge, William of Normandy prepared his attack on England. The 70 m long Bayeux Tapestry from the AD 1070s recounts the battle from William’s point of view.

The battle by the grey old apple tree

On 28th September William reached Sussex in Southern England with a great army and fleet. Historians today estimate that there were 450 ships, 7000 men and almost 2000 warhorses. The great number of men and horses is thought to lie at the root of William’s victory as Harold's army had suffered heavy losses at Stamford Bridge only a short time previously. The English had no experience of cavalry battles and their army therefore primarily numbered infantrymen.

When Harold Godwinson, who was in York, received the news of the Normans' landing he is thought to have mobilised his army immediately towards Hastings. Here, he hoped to be able to surprise the Normans in the same way as he just had the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge. But quite the opposite was to happen. The Angle-Saxon Chronicle written in AD 1066, in which the battle is named "The Battle by the Grey Old Apple Tree” reports:

Quote: King Harold heard this, and he gathered a great army and went against him by the grey, old apple tree, and William went against him and surprised him before his army was ready….

But a few days prior to the battle William challenged Harold to a duel in order to avoid a battle. Harold, however, did not reply and William’s messenger repeated the challenge. The second time Harold answered:

Quote:May the Lord today judge between William and I, and may He declare who of us is right.

In this way Harold rejected the challenge and William chose to attack. On Saturday 14th October William’s army evacuated Hastings and met Harold’s troops on high ground, Senlac Hills, ten kilometres from the town.

William's army comprised three types of warrior: Archers at the front, infantry in the middle dressed in coats of mail and armed with swords, spears and shields, and the cavalry to the rear, similarly equipped with coats of mail, swords, lances, spears and long shields decorated with dragons.

Harold's troops are said to have included professional warriors, the so-called housecarls, who carried a type of terrifying, long-handled battle axe known as “the Danish axe”, as well as swords, spears and clubs.

Harold was in a weak position. He had already lost a good many archers at the Battle of Stamford Bridge and the Bayeux Tapestry symbolically shows but a single English archer against the many of William's army.

After the archers had ceased fire, the infantry stepped forward and the battle commenced in earnest. After several hours of fighting, William brought his cavalry into action, and even though the English fought bravely, they could – being infantrymen – do nothing. Towards evening, after eight hours of fighting, the battle ended when Harold was killed and the surviving Englishmen took flight.

Conquering England

Duke William had won his first battle on English soil, but the battles were to continue. After the army had recuperated, battles began in order to conquer the rest of the country. The towns of Romney, Dover and Canterbury were quickly captured. Subsequently, William ravaged Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and Middlesex. He burnt down villages and killed the inhabitants. Before long he was known as Wilhelm the Conqueror.

When Christmas Day approached he travelled towards London in order to be crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey.


» Warrior and warfare

» The Battle for England

By: Louise Kæmpe Henriksen

In September AD 1066, the Norwegian king Harold Hardrada attacked England. After taking York, he left the town again having arranged with the local inhabitants that they were to deliver supplies and hostages to him at Stamford Bridge, east of York. The English king Harold Godwinson who, despite the threat of an invasion from the south, had marched northwards York with his army, received intelligence of this and was victorious over the Norwegians in an historic surprise attack.

While the newly crowned English King Harold Godwinson prepared himself for the defence of Southern England against the threatening invasion from Normandy, he was told that the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada had arrived at the Tyne with a fleet of around 360 ships.

At the Tyne, Harold Godwinson's own brother, Tostig, joined the Norwegian army.  Driven by a fierce hate of his powerful brother, he supported the Norwegians' attack and they sailed with their joint forces towards York in order to invade the town.

When Harold Godwinson, after a tremendous forced march from London in only four days unseen by the Norwegians, reached York with his troops, most of the Norwegians had moved on to Stamford Bridge where they had been promised that hostages from the whole county would be brought to them. 
In York, Harold Godwinson discovered that he was not expected at Stamford Bridge, which gave him the opportunity to plan a surprise attack. And a few days later, his troops turned up completely unexpectedly on the opposite side of the bridge at Stamford.

Snorri's Harald Hardrada Saga recounts that immediately before the battle began, 20 English horsemen approached the Norwegian positions in order to give a message. One of the horsemen shouted: "Is Earl Tostig in this army?""That fact cannot be hidden", shouted Tostig back, "you can find him here". One of the horsemen said: "Your brother Harold sends you greetings and with that a promise of peace and the whole of Northumberland. And rather than having you absent from his company, he will give you joint rule with himself over a third of his Kingdom." But Tostig would not take up his brother's offer and sent the horsemen back to inform Harold that he must ready himself for the battle.

The battle was violent and bloody and it was first late in the day. when Harald Hardrada's standard fell and the king himself was killed by an arrow through the throat. that the Norwegians gave up.

Only a few days after the Battle at Stamford Bridge, news came that Duke William of Normandy had landed in Southern England in order to take the English throne from Harold Godwinson. Harold's troops, who were weakened by their long march north and the battle against the Norwegians, must yet again set off on a forced march – this time to the south in order to defend the English throne.


» Warrior and warfare

» The battle for England

By: Louise Kæmpe Henriksen

York was founded by the Romans, but the town’s long history has, to a very great extent, been influenced by the Vikings. From AD 866-927, and again in AD 939-954, York was subject to the Nordic Viking kings and was included in the area called the Danelaw. Even after the English recapture of York, the town was still characterised by the Scandinavians living and working there. By AD 1065 two thirds of the c. 2000 registered citizens of the town had Scandinavian names.

A priest from York, Alcuin, wrote to the King of Northumbria after the first Viking attacks on Lindisfarne Monastery in AD 793. He was concerned about his town, his church and his country. He wrote:

Quote: "What means this blood rain during Lent in St. Peter’s Church in the town of York? It fell ominously from the roof towards the north, even though the sky was cloudless. Is it to be expected that the blood vengeance will come from the north"

After the Vikings had settled in York they were, however, seen in a more favourable light. The Vikings and the original inhabitants lived side by side and entered into trade agreements, marriages ect.

Viking influence on York

When the Vikings conquered the town, not only did they change the name from Enforwic to Jorvik, they also extended it out onto the protected point formed between the two rivers, Ouse and Foss. The area was well protected by the rivers, which also gave access to the North Sea, as well as the old Roman ramparts and walls. 
The streets in this quarter had Nordic names ending in –gate. A large-scale excavation in the street of Coppergate has revealed that this quarter comprised long, narrow plots, separated by wattle fences. Houses were built on these facing the street as seen in Scandinavian towns. From the end of the 10th century there are houses with excavated cellars and timbered walls– they may have been used as market stalls facing out towards the street.

Fact: The street name Coppergate means "cup-makers' street". Finds of turned wooden cups and plates as well as hundreds of wooden cores, which are the waste remains from producing turned wooden vessels, add weight to this conclusion.

Findings in Coppergate

During the Coppergate excavation evidence of commodities originating from Scandinavia, the Baltic region, Ireland, Scotland, Northwestern Europe, Byzantium and the Middle East was found This included large quantities of silk from Byzantium, an Arabic coin, a cowry shell from the Red Sea, wine from Germany, amber from the Baltic region, ring-headed pins from Ireland, soapstone from Norway, coins from Haithabu and much more. The imported commodities comprised some finished products, but also large quantities of raw materials were converted into finished products in York. Further to this there is clear evidence of the blacksmith, the bone worker, the comb maker, the leather smith, the jeweller and the mintmaster.

Of particular interest are the two coin dies and specimen proofs of lead which were found. One die is damaged while the other is completely intact. This is the "lower die", which has been secured in a wood block or bench. Viking coins have different motifs on either side. Therefore, an "upper die" must have existed to make the other side of the coin.

King Godfred, who was crowned king in York in AD 880 or 881, was a Christian. During the whole period of Nordic kings in York there were also archbishops here. Coins from the 10th century, showing Thor's hammer on one side and the name of St. Paul on the other, together with burials containing grave goods according to pagan traditions, demonstrate that the religions lived side by side in York during the Viking reign. Nordic influence is also evident in the patterns and themes seen on the town's stonemasonry.

Faktum: The last Viking king in York was killed in AD 954, but the Vikings of the Danelaw presumably stayed in the area and lived on much as before. Both archaeological finds and linguistic relics such as the names of people and places provide evidence of their continued presence.


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» English, Scottish and Irish towns

» The Vikings in England

» Who writes history

» The King and the State

By: Barbara Højlund