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