DANELAW YEARS, An Era Of War & Prosperity In England Summarised

Vengeance was the motivation for crossing the sea...

Ragnar's ship foundered on rocks near Bamburgh. When Aelle had him thrown into the snake pit he could not have known what lay ahead...
Ragnar's ship foundered on rocks near Bamburgh. When Aelle had him thrown into the snake pit he could not have known what lay ahead...
In legend Ragnar lay in the snake pit composing verses whilst he succumbed to the venom
In legend Ragnar lay in the snake pit composing verses whilst he succumbed to the venom
Led by Ivar 'the Boneless', Ragnar's sons seek a punishment for those they see should answer for their father's death
Led by Ivar 'the Boneless', Ragnar's sons seek a punishment for those they see should answer for their father's death
The Great Heathen Army, 'Micel Here' crossed to East Anglia first before moving on north to seize Aelle. The Bernician king was prosaically dealt with whilst Osberht of Deira was held hostage
The Great Heathen Army, 'Micel Here' crossed to East Anglia first before moving on north to seize Aelle. The Bernician king was prosaically dealt with whilst Osberht of Deira was held hostage
Eadmund of East Anglia also suffered. Fleeing the battlefield he sheltered in the church at Bury in Suffolk. The Danes caught up with him, wondered why he thought he would leave his men to die for him, he was executed for cowardice - an unworthy foe!
Eadmund of East Anglia also suffered. Fleeing the battlefield he sheltered in the church at Bury in Suffolk. The Danes caught up with him, wondered why he thought he would leave his men to die for him, he was executed for cowardice - an unworthy foe!

A new era dawned for the Anglian kingdoms of Bernicia, Deira, Mercia and East Anglia when King Aelle made his first and final mistake

There was no warning when hundreds of ships put into the East Anglia in the spring/summer of AD 865. Led by the sons of Ragnar 'Lothbrok' the 'Great Heathen Army' (or according to the Chronicle the 'Micel Here', no mention of 'Heathen') had arrived! Ivar 'the Boneless' as eldest son was overall leader, with brothers Ubbi. Sigurd 'Snake-eye', Bjorn 'Ironside' and Halvdan as under-commanders. From Thetford in AD 866 they went overland to Eoferwic (Anglian York) and took the burh. The Northumbrians ousted King Osberht, giving the throne to the usurper Aelle of Bernicia - not even of the royal bloodline. In a pitched battle at Eoferwic Aelle and Osberht joined forces however and attacked the Danes. Their luck was not with them. The Danes won the day and Osberht was held for ransom. Aelle would not be so lucky, according to the sagas. As the one answerable for their father's death, chained in the snake-pit at Bamburgh, a gruesome end awaited him. He would be tethered like a sacrificial sheep for the folk of Eoferwic to see, his ribs cut away from his spine and splayed out through his flesh. This gave him the appearance of a perched eagle with its wings held wide. The punishment was known as the 'Blood Eagle' ('Blod Erne'). Whether it actually took place or not is unconfirmed.

The Army overwintered in Nottingham, AD 867-68 and then returned to Eoferwic where they stayed for the next four years whilst making forays into other regions such as East Anglia under Ivar and Ubbi. At Hoxne (near Bury, Suffolk) King Eadmund was defeated. The story goes he fled from the field to take sanctuary in the church at Bury. Ivar and Ubbi followed, finding him being shielded by monks. They asked him why he thought he should live out his days when his men died for him on the battlefield. He had no answer for that. Conversation led possibly to his Christianity and whether he thought he would go to heaven after betraying his warriors. He was bound to a post and died from arrow wounds. "Obviously his god no longer wanted him", Ubbi might have said, "See, he is still here".

Eoferwic would become Jorvik. In AD 872 the Army turned south to Torksey in eastern Mercia where they overwintered, and on to Repton near the River Trent to overwinter in AD 873. In AD 874 the Army split into two, one half returning to Jorvik and on to the Tyne, the other south to Cambridge. In AD 875 That part of the Army with the war-band leader Guthrum pressed on to Wareham in Wessex (now Dorset), Exeter the year after and Gloucester by AD 877.

Guthrum's target was king Aelfred. The Saxons would have been nervous at Guthrum's close presence but at Chippenham Aelfred celebrated Christmas in AD 878, his ealdormen and thegns forgetting their worries for the time being. They allowed themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security. There would be no drunken ribaldry at the Yulefeast for Guthrum's men, for between Christmas and the New Year Guthrum struck at the royal burh. Aelfred was lucky to get away with some of his men, ealdormen and thegns fled in another direction. The king of Wessex was now a fugitive in the Somerset Levels near Glastonbury, on Aethelney (the island of the princes). Guthrum put a price on his head and combed the area. Many common folk would have been pleased with the silver, h owed had they known who he was who burned their cakes whilst fleeing the Danes' clutches. Few owed him any loyalty, many being outlaws who had been banished by Aelfred's predecessors under various archaic Saxon laws. Read the episode on Aelfred in this series to see how he fared ( DANELAW YEARS -3: "ALL I SMELL IS BURNING CAKES!" These would have been oatmeal cakes, like bread, as many could not afford grain for grinding).

Guthrum was the self-styled king of East Anglia, who would be defeated at Ethandun before he and Aelfred agreed a treaty to divide the land along the old Roman road known then as Watling Straet from London to Chester. Eastern Mercia would be part of the Danelaw (Danelagen), as would East Anglia and much of the land east of London beyond the River Lea. Deira would become the Danish Kingdom of Jorvik with Halvdan Ragnarsson as its king. He was not above farming the land himself and became a wealthy landowner. See elsewhere about the three 'Ridings'.

God lykke! (Good luck)


War with Wessex

On the rampage - to ensure those they mastered knew they had been, the Danes burned and looted in Wessex. As it turned out, they would never master Wessex itself but nor was Aelfred able to master them
On the rampage - to ensure those they mastered knew they had been, the Danes burned and looted in Wessex. As it turned out, they would never master Wessex itself but nor was Aelfred able to master them
The physical reality of the 9th Century - the eastern part of England was largely waterlogged, allowing the Danes to make inroads well into Deira, Mercia and East Anglia
The physical reality of the 9th Century - the eastern part of England was largely waterlogged, allowing the Danes to make inroads well into Deira, Mercia and East Anglia
It was the Danes who gave the pious Aelfred the epithet 'the Great'. He had taken them on on their terms and held them at arm's length. His son Eadward 'the Elder' had less luck
It was the Danes who gave the pious Aelfred the epithet 'the Great'. He had taken them on on their terms and held them at arm's length. His son Eadward 'the Elder' had less luck
Following Guthrum's conversion and naming as Aethelstan - not to be confused with Aelfred's grandson - the land east and north of the old Roman road, Watling Street was parcelled out to the Danes. Guthrum had East Anglia, Halvdan Ragnarsson Yorvik
Following Guthrum's conversion and naming as Aethelstan - not to be confused with Aelfred's grandson - the land east and north of the old Roman road, Watling Street was parcelled out to the Danes. Guthrum had East Anglia, Halvdan Ragnarsson Yorvik

An Aengla Land Fragmented

Weaponry unearthed - these swords, spear and axe heads were well crafted, lasting perhaps ten centuries in the soil
Weaponry unearthed - these swords, spear and axe heads were well crafted, lasting perhaps ten centuries in the soil
After Aethelstan died AD 939, his half-brother Eadmund held the kingship of a more fragmented England
After Aethelstan died AD 939, his half-brother Eadmund held the kingship of a more fragmented England
It would be Aethelred II, 'Unraed' who next paid the penalty for a weakened, disunited kingdom
It would be Aethelred II, 'Unraed' who next paid the penalty for a weakened, disunited kingdom
St Brice's Day, November 13th, AD 1002 proved to be Aethelred's undoing. Of the Danes in Oxford who were murdered by his men, one was Gunnhild - sister of Svein Haraldsson, 'Fork beard', king of Denmark
St Brice's Day, November 13th, AD 1002 proved to be Aethelred's undoing. Of the Danes in Oxford who were murdered by his men, one was Gunnhild - sister of Svein Haraldsson, 'Fork beard', king of Denmark

Although much shorter than (a quarter of its length) the VIKING series, the DANELAW YEARS series promises to equal its effect.

If you or your forebears have roots in Eastern England between the River Wear, the Tees and the Thames, as far west as the Irish Sea coast south of Ribblesdale and along the Pennineamountain chain there may be a hint of Danish blood coursing through your veins. There was in King Harold, and there is in the Windsor family from different eras.

Cast your eyes down this list of pages and see what attracts, I can promise it will not be dull:

01. LEGENDARY 'LEATHER BREEKS' - Ragnar 'Lothbrok', Viking Leader Above Others;

02. NJORD'S SILVERY PATH, Danes Cross The Sea, Aiming For Wessex;

03. "ALL I SMELL IS BURNING CAKES!" Aelfred's Domestic Skills Tested;

04. AETHELRED II, 'UNRAED' TO EADWARD, Slow Fuse To Crisis, 11th Century Politics;

05. KNUT, A Great Dane, No Ransacking Viking But An Empire Builder;

06. HUSCARL, Household Servant Turned Professional Warrior;

07. DANES AT HOME, Viking Age Kingdom Over The Waves;

08. DENMARK [O.E. 'Denemearce'], Heroes, Kings, Legends;

09. JORVIK, Home To Kings, Traders, Warmakers;

10. HROLF 'KRAKI', Feted And Fated Warrior King - Origins Of The Saga (This in itself is an 'overture' to the SAGA OF HROLF 'KRAKI' in nine parts)

Good news for Jorvik Viking Centre fans and newcomers

In December 2015 York was inundated once again, the River Ouse flooded, its banks burst and the Jorvik Viking Centre had to close its doors... for the duration, some thought pessimistically. There is good news, the Centre will open its doors once more on April 8th, 2017 after extensive repairs and prevention work undertaken to ensure a repeat will not happen.

Use the link below to see what's been done, and how this 'keyhole' into the Viking Age has changed (mustn't spoil the pleasant surprise for you):

AD 1013: After squeezing Danegeld from Aethelred's coffers, Svein brought his younger son Knut and a great fleet

Svein Haraldsson, 'Forkbeard' had ousted his father before turning to bleeding Aethelred's coffers. A desire for the kingship brought him to land in the old Danelaw in AD 1013
Svein Haraldsson, 'Forkbeard' had ousted his father before turning to bleeding Aethelred's coffers. A desire for the kingship brought him to land in the old Danelaw in AD 1013
With Svein came his younger son Knut, who would become king of Aengla Land in November, AD 1016. Two years later his brother Harald died in Denmark without an heir, so Knut succeeded to an extended kingdom
With Svein came his younger son Knut, who would become king of Aengla Land in November, AD 1016. Two years later his brother Harald died in Denmark without an heir, so Knut succeeded to an extended kingdom
Knut already had two sons by Aelfgifu of Northampton when he entered a 'dynastic' marriage with Aethelred's widow Emma, daughter of Richard 'the Fearless', Duke of Normandy....
Knut already had two sons by Aelfgifu of Northampton when he entered a 'dynastic' marriage with Aethelred's widow Emma, daughter of Richard 'the Fearless', Duke of Normandy....
... With whom he had another son, Harthaknut. His son Harold by Aelfgifu - whom he had not repudiated - would be regent in England for Harthaknut until deciding to take the crown for himself. His younger brother Svein was regent in Norway for Knut
... With whom he had another son, Harthaknut. His son Harold by Aelfgifu - whom he had not repudiated - would be regent in England for Harthaknut until deciding to take the crown for himself. His younger brother Svein was regent in Norway for Knut

VIKING AGE ENGLAND, Julian D Richards, Tempus Publ., ISBN 0-7524-2888-8

The kingdoms that became England were rich, Christian and ripe for plunder. It would be for plunder that initially brought the Norsemen, the monasteries and churches located perilously close to the sea. Mistakes made by kings - or usurpers in the case of Aelle of Bernicia - cost them their kingdoms, and in some instances their lives. The base execution of Ragnar 'Lothbrok' at the hands of Aelle brought his sons with their combined fleets in AD 865. The 'Micel Here' wrought punishment and wreaked havoc, eventually settling, farming, trading and spreading out north-westward towards their Norse neighbours in Cumbria. The Danes settled largely in the lower-lying lands and river valleys of the East, North and West 'Thridjungar', the Ridings and as far as the Irish Sea (the area now marked as Lancashire, Manchester and Merseyside). The native Aengle (Angles) occupied the higher ground and Norsemen settled on the coast around Whitby and Scarborough (Hviteby and Skarthiburh), plying a trade in fishing. Halvdan, one of the sons of Ragnar 'Lothbrok' took the kingship. In the east the warband leader Guthrum took the kingship of East Anglia and the area between, the Danelaw comprised the Five Boroughs, Deoraby, Leagerceaster, Lindcylne, Snotingaham and Staenford (Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford), who owed loyalty to their own community chieftains and leaders. Several kings succeeded in Jorvik, Sigtrygg 'Caech' ('Squinty') came from Dublin, another Danish centre in the British Isles. Aethelstan crushed him after marrying a sister to the Dane, but when Aethelstan died the Danes established themselves again. Later in the 10th Century Eirik Haraldsson, 'Blood-axe' took over the rule in Jorvik, coming back to reign again after being thrown out before being ambushed on Stainmore Common on the border with Cumbria, Aenglish rule was imposed again. Then Aethelred had Danes in Oxford murdered and a new kingdom would result, under Knut.

Viking Age England

DANELAW YEARS, how was it for you?

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An empire his heirs could not hold on to

Knut's own kingdoms and dependencies are shown in red. Vassal states are orange and allies yellow (Normandy and the kingdom of the Wends - or Poland)
Knut's own kingdoms and dependencies are shown in red. Vassal states are orange and allies yellow (Normandy and the kingdom of the Wends - or Poland)
The fastest mode of transport was the ship, for warfare, trade and discovery
The fastest mode of transport was the ship, for warfare, trade and discovery
Trade was important and brought untold riches to a peaceful Aengla Land after years of warfare and unrest
Trade was important and brought untold riches to a peaceful Aengla Land after years of warfare and unrest

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6 comments

BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 2 months ago from Victoria, Australia

You have done a lot of research for this and it shows, however, you have omitted the fact that the places they did not conquer were populated by Celts - including Cornwall. I see in one of your maps that they got as far as Exeter, yet Cornwall is not green. Sorry! It's really a great hub.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 2 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello Blossom,

The Saxons achieved conquest of Celtic territory as far as the Tamar. That was the extent of Wessex, back to Hampshire and north-east from Exeter to Somerset (where Glastonbury's situated at the edge of the Levels). When the Danes went down to Exeter their aim was not to conquer beyond the Tamar, but to outflank Aelfred. At that time Cornwall was known to Saxon and English chroniclers as 'West Wealas' or West Wales,(Welsh being the Saxon word for 'foreigners') being linked to Wales by its Gallic connection. It was not made part of England until the time of Henry II, 'Anjou', when he also subdued some of Ireland as it was seen by Rome as 'non-Christian' (Celtic church). 'Cornuaille' was the Norman/Anjou reference to Cornwall. There's a separatist movement in Cornwall, as in Wales.


lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 7 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

Alan

The series continues, and a very interesting one at that!

The time of the 'Danelaw' has always fascinated me, then again just about any historical period fascinates me!

Great information here.

Lawrence


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 7 weeks ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello Lawrence, just thought I'd do an intro to the DANELAW YEARS as I did for VIKING. This is from the mid-9th to late 10th C.

A thousand years ago abou this time Knut Sveinsson became king, first of England and then two years later king of the Danes. He's interred with Aerhelred's widow Emma and their son Harthaknut in the Old Minster at Winchester. Although he only reigned nineteen years he was one of our best kings. We had prosperity and a strong king. Then it all went 'pear-shaped' after he died, a mess from Harold 'Harefoot' (Knut's son by Aelfgifu of Northampton) to Henry I.


lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 7 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

Alan

Just down the road from where I grew up was Kingsford that was supposedly the place where Knut (or Canute as we used to say) sat on the beach and ordered the Sea to retreat, if it was then even the Sea obeyed him as it's now forty miles inland!

There are other places in England that claim it too so we may never know the actual location, but still great kids stories to be told.

Lawrence


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 7 weeks ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

LO again Lawrence. You might be right in assuming it was down the road from you. Others say it was on the River Thames (it's tidal up to Brentford Lock, maybe further before that was built). The story itself has grown out of proportion but its whereabouts never seemed to be as important to record. I'll have a look in my copy of the Chronicles to see if there's a mention or a clue.

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