DANELAW YEARS - 2: NJORD'S SILVERY PATH, Danes Cross the Sea ... Aiming for Wessex

Ravens were sated when the Danes went to war...

Ragnar's eldest son Ivar, nicknamed 'the Boneless' for his athletic prowess. One trick he had was of leaping onto the Danes' shield platform and over into the midst of a Saxon shield ring. Thus havoc reigned until the Saxons yielded or died
Ragnar's eldest son Ivar, nicknamed 'the Boneless' for his athletic prowess. One trick he had was of leaping onto the Danes' shield platform and over into the midst of a Saxon shield ring. Thus havoc reigned until the Saxons yielded or died
Campaigns of the 'Great Heathen Army', Ragnar Lothbrok's sons crossed and re-crossed the Anglian and Saxon kingdoms; it was Guthrum who would make a bid for Wessex
Campaigns of the 'Great Heathen Army', Ragnar Lothbrok's sons crossed and re-crossed the Anglian and Saxon kingdoms; it was Guthrum who would make a bid for Wessex

Kingdom of Denmark at its earlier peak

The Danevirke was built to keep out intruders, but Charlemagne's Franks would have over-run Denmark in Godred's time had he challenged them. The Franks might have been held off for a time, but in the long run it could have amounted to suicide.
The Danevirke was built to keep out intruders, but Charlemagne's Franks would have over-run Denmark in Godred's time had he challenged them. The Franks might have been held off for a time, but in the long run it could have amounted to suicide.

Turn of the Northlands Tide

The Romans first felt the impact of the population surge in the lands they occupied when in 100 BC the Cimbri and Teutons pressed southward into Gaul. These tribes were believed to have begun their migration from the Jutland peninisula, but what came next sent shock-waves through the smug Romans' world.

The Ostrogoths and Visigoths smashed their way into the eastern regions of their empire. Having begun their southward movement from overcrowded Gotland and southern Scandinavia through the eastern fringes beyond the Romans' area of influence, they had settled near the Caspian Sea and were pushed gradually westward by another, more warlike migratory tribe from the Mongol Empire.

When the western Roman empire disintegrated and the Franks took up the baton as 'civilisers', the Norse threat had still to be fully appreciated

The Carolingian dynasty was fulfilled in Charlemagne (Charles the Great) and in its northward spread threatened the kingdom of the Danes in Godred's time (8th C).

A stand might have been made. after all, with its more centralised rule Denmark showed in the building of the Danevirke that it was ready for an attack from the south. But with the manpower at Charlemagne's disposal the stand may not have lasted long enough and the Danes would have been over-run - end of kingdom. There were many more Franks than Danes. The pieces of the kingdom worth taking would have been greedily snatched up by their neighbours to north and east.

Frankish Royal Annals tell of Godred's kingdom stretching to the Vestfold in Norway as well as Skaane and Halland (now S.W. Sweden). The author would have us believe it was in Britain too. Danish rule in Norway was well established at this time, and it may have been through Godred's prompting that the West Norse raids began around this time on Britain's isolated outposts of Christianity such as iona and Lindisfarne. Nevertheless a later native-born king Harald 'Harfagri' (Fairhair) would rule a more concerted state of Norway in the 9th Century.

The press would be hard in the shieldwall when Dane and Saxon met again. Aelfred's warriors learned well from Guthrum's winter attack on Chippenham in AD 878

In East Anglia the Danes crushed Eadmund's warriors at Hoxne, Suffolk in November AD 869 and cornered him, cowering in the church at Bury. A king should go down fighting beside his men, surely?
In East Anglia the Danes crushed Eadmund's warriors at Hoxne, Suffolk in November AD 869 and cornered him, cowering in the church at Bury. A king should go down fighting beside his men, surely?
Danes and Saxons lay into one another in the aftermath of the Great Heathen Army landing on Wessex shores and crossing from Mercia
Danes and Saxons lay into one another in the aftermath of the Great Heathen Army landing on Wessex shores and crossing from Mercia | Source

From early days in the western seaways to non-royal kingship

When the West Norse first raided on the coasts of north-western Europe in the 8th Century their leaders were neither kings nor jarls but hersir. At the outset of the 8th Century the hersir were landowners of independent means, chieftains perhaps. In these times they were better equipped than those they led, yet by the 10th Century the hersir came under the yoke of a more centralised form of kingship. Their weaponry and standing were more of the standing of a king's retainer, like the Danish huscarl.

A monk wrote of the first attack, on a shire reeve who was doing his king Beorhtric's bidding by trying to find out their business. He was slain on the forestrand,

"Those were the first ships of Danish men which came to the lands of the West Saxons".

(They were in fact from Hordaland in south-western Norway but let that pass for now. Early writingd were made by Churchmen not known for historical accuracy. They can be useful in pinpointing the dates and targets of raids. This first attack was on the king's reeve when asked for their origins in assessing taxation on any goods sold on Wessex's shores. The raids that followed on Lindisfarne and iona were targeted. Raids on the North Sea coasts of the Frankish Empire byto remind the Franks that they were not out of reach (or forgotten). By the mid-830's no trading centre was safe.

Timescale:

789 King Beorhtric's shire reeve (forerunner of sheriff) was killed by the West Norse;

792 Offa of Mercia sets up defences in Kent and Mercia to ward off attacks by pagan seafarers;

793 Lindisfarne (off the coast of Northumbria near Bamburgh) raided;

795 iona (off the coast of Mull) raided;

799 Norse raiders at the mouth of the Loire (St. Nazaire);

810 Danes attack Frisia;

820 Further Danish raids on Carolingian trade centres;

830-850 Raids on Frankia and Kent;

835 Norsemen in the West Country beaten off by King Ecgberht of Wessex;

c850 King Harald 'Harfagr' (lit. Hair-fair, or Fairhair) born;

865 Danegeld paid by Kentish folk;

866 York (Eoferwic, Jorvik) falls to Danes under Halfdan Ragnarsson;

870 Harald 'Harfagri' sole king of West Norse;

872 Battle of Hafrsfjord;

877 Mercia succumbs to Danes;

878 First treaty agreed between Aelfred and Guthrum;

879 East Anglia falls, King Eadmund 'martyred' by Danes under Ivar 'the Boneless' and Ubbi (the Danes executed him for deserting his own army at Hoxne in Suffolk to claim sanctuary in a church at Hellesdon near Norwich);

886 Treaty of Wedmore between Aelfred and Guthrum, self-styled king of East Anglia - dividing Wessex's influence south and west of Watling Street (Roman road: London-Chester) from East Mercia subseq. known as Danelaw, East Anglia and Northumbria south of the Tees [isolating Anglian Bernicia - Northumbria north of the Tees];

895/905 Icelandic warrior poet Egil Skallagrimsson born;

930-937 Wessex regains control of S.E. England and Midlands under Aethelstan;

934 Eirik Haraldsson, 'Blood-axe' killed in ambush on Stainmore Common (old boundary of County Durham-Cumberland-Yorkshire);

937 Battle of 'Brunanburh' between Aethelstan's Wessex and Mercian army and Hiberno-Norse-Welsh alliance won through deception by Aethelstan - first instance of military intelligence being used against an overwhelming foe;

940-54 Viking kingdom of York (Jorvik) carved out of Deira - Yorkshire;

979 Aethelred II, 'Unraed', comes to throne of fledgling kingdom of England;

980 Renewed Danish attacks on kingdom of England;

991 Battle of Maldon between East Saxon fyrd led by Aethelred's kinsman, and Norsemen under Olaf Tryggvason - Byrhtnoth slain after day-long conflict;

991-1015 Escalating amounts of Danegeld to Danes under Svein Haralddson 'Tveskaegg' ('Forkbeard') to avenge Danish deaths in England after St Brice's Day Massacre [13th November 1002] in which his sister was killed amongst others - activity of Thorkell 'Havi' ('the Tall') - Svein controls Danelaw England; Svein dies suddenly at Gainsborough;

1016-1035 Reign of Knut Sveinsson, 'Knut the Great' over empire that stretches from S.W. Sweden in Scandinavia to parts of British Isles, Norse Atlantic territories (Greenland, Iceland and Faeroe Islands and all of England via Denmark;

1035-40 Reign of Harold Knutsson, 'Harefoot' - first as 'viceroy' on behalf of Harthaknut, his half brother by Emma, then in his own right;

1040-42 Harthaknut claims throne and invites his half brother Eadward [through Emma] to share kingdom - H. dies after choking fit at a wedding feast in Lambeth (south of the Thames) given by Osgod 'Clapa' for his daughter's wedding;

1043-1066 Eadward becomes sole ruler, weds Earl Godwin's daughter Eadgytha, stage-manages Earl Godwin's banishment in 1051-1052 but reinstates him and his sons after constitutional crisis, dies without heir after Christmas, 1065; end of the Cerdicingas' (Wessex male line), entombed at his Westminster Abbey on the same day as Harold's coronation at the New Year. Kinsman William crowned a year later.

The Prize - Anglian kingdoms in the east, Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia and... who knows, Saxon Wessex?

Aftermath: Eastern Mercia becomes the Danelaw, Danish-ruled kingdoms of York and East Anglia. Wessex keeps its dependents except for the East Saxons now behind the Danelaw boundary, acquires East Mercia. Northumbria is isolated north of the Tees
Aftermath: Eastern Mercia becomes the Danelaw, Danish-ruled kingdoms of York and East Anglia. Wessex keeps its dependents except for the East Saxons now behind the Danelaw boundary, acquires East Mercia. Northumbria is isolated north of the Tees

Not only did the Danes 'colonise' the eastern half of England, but also the Norsemen settled around the coastal fringes in the North West and North East. The language was gradually simplified with the influence of Danish in the east, and Norse words were adopted. Take a look inside and understand how life developed...

Viking Age England

The longest-running conflict in English history...

Saxon and Viking clash in one of how many dozen conflicts over a few hundred years of territorial claims
Saxon and Viking clash in one of how many dozen conflicts over a few hundred years of territorial claims
Somerset Levels near Glastonbury, hiding place of Aelfred when the Danes offered a large reward for his capture
Somerset Levels near Glastonbury, hiding place of Aelfred when the Danes offered a large reward for his capture
Knut's palace at Nassington, Northamptonshire shared with English common-law wife Aelfgifu and sons Svein and Harold. Svein was Knut's regent in Norway. Harold succeeded Knut as regent for half brother Harthaknut, and as king until his death in 1042
Knut's palace at Nassington, Northamptonshire shared with English common-law wife Aelfgifu and sons Svein and Harold. Svein was Knut's regent in Norway. Harold succeeded Knut as regent for half brother Harthaknut, and as king until his death in 1042
Seal of Eadward 'the Confessor', successor to Harthaknut, son of Aethelred II
Seal of Eadward 'the Confessor', successor to Harthaknut, son of Aethelred II

Summing up (going back in time to beginnings):

After the Roman Empire shrank back to the motherland several Germanic tribes surged southward across what is now Germany. The Goths had long since migrated east to lands between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, only to be pushed westward onto the tender mercies of their Roman paymasters by Attila's Huns. Around this time the Burgundians left southern Scandinavia across the Baltic for pastures new. They settled to the south of another Germanic tribe, the Franks. From the south of the Jutland peninsula, neighbours of the Angles, the Teutons struck south-east across the continent, other neighbours, the Vandals had struck out across Gaul and the Iberian peninsula with the intention of settling in warmer climes. Rome didn't want them in North Africa, where they were headed, and called on ship-owners not to take them south. They did make it, and settled in what is now Libya, opposite Sicily. The Langobards (Long Beards) crossed the Alps after making their way past Bohemia and Upper Saxony to settle south of the Ostrogoths. They're known now as the Lombards. The Ostrogoths' cousins, the Visigoths crossed the western Alps and the Pyrenees into Iberia, establishing the kingdoms of Castile, Aragon and Leon. The Franks expanded under Charlemagne into an empire... and crumbled apart again after his death under his descendants. The demise of the Frankish holdings was the invitation for Danes and Norsemen alike to raid around the Seine and Loire valleys as far as Paris.

So now we come to these sceptred isles... From when Guthrum and Aelfred fought to a standstill, agreed to divide Mercia and the Kingdom of York was established the Danes had the upper hand for a while. Ragnar's son Halvdan took the reins north of the Humber in AD 876 after an Anglian puppet king had taken the place of Osberht, In his short reign Halvdan established a kingdom of Jorvik which stretched from the Irish Sea to the North Sea and between the Tees in the north to the line of the River Don-Humber in the south. The Thridjungar (Ridings) were introduced and subdivision of the Ridings into Vapnataks (Wapentakes), and the Danish Carucate was used as a land measurement. Unluckily Halvdan was - reportedly - killed in Ireland in AD 877. Little is known of his successors but their names. Danish rule came under threat from across the Irish Sea after an Erse win over the Dublin Norsemen AD 902. Deaths of three Danish kings, direct descendants of Halvdan, and a humiliating defeat by a combined Mercian-Wessex force at Tettenhall in Mercia (now West Midlands) AD 910 brought the kingdom down and Jorvik fell to the Irish-Norse Ragnald in AD 911. He was ousted soon after but returned eight years later to rule another two years. When he died the Irish-Norse grip on Jorvik wavered and finally broke in AD 927 when Aethelstan ousted them.

Aelfred's son Eadward 'the Elder' had tried unsuccessfully to uproot them. His nephew Aethelstan was subsequently able to outwit a combined force of Irish, Scots, Welsh and Norsemen at Brunanburh in AD 937 and bring their leaders under his rule as 'Bretwalda' or over-king in Britain. Renewed Danish rule in Jorvik came with Aethelstan's death in AD 939 with Olaf Guthfrithsson's return from Dublin, He took Jorvik as well as Bernicia to the north and the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw. However his grip was shaken by AD 944 when Jorvik came under English rule again. Jorvik fell under West Norse rule next. Eirik Haraldsson, 'Blood-axe' came to England to avoid being slain in Norway after murdering his half-brothers. He ruled, albeit shakily from AD 948 for six years, fighting against Olaf Sigtryggson of Dublin.Eirik was briefly king for a second short reign in Jorvik until in AD 954 he was lured with a small force of supporters to Stainmore Common (then at the extreme north-west of his kingdom) by a larger force under a little-known Maccus The Northumbrian Osulf of Bamburgh was rewarded by King Eadred with the ealdormanry of all land north of the Humber, known as Northumbria. Knowing Jorvik held with kings of Scandinavian blood, ealdormen and archbishops of southern background were appointed.

In AD 1016 Knut was made king in England after the death of Aethelred's son Eadmund 'Ironside'. He became king of the Danes after his older brother Harald died two years later and reigned until his own premature death in AD 1035. His son Harold by Aelfgifu of Northampton held the north and ruled Wessex for his half-brother Harthaknut. When Harthaknut was unable to come to England after a long absence fighting his neighbour Magnus Olafsson, In AD 1037 Harold seized Harthaknut's share of the kingdom as King Harold I. He died shortly before Harthaknut reached these shores in AD 1040. Harthaknut then invited his half-brother by his mother Emma to come from Normandy. Eadward accepted the offer, to become king over all England at Harthaknut Knutsson's death in 1042 at a wedding feast given by an old friend, Osgod Clapa (he died from asphyxiation by choking). Thus, at least for a while, Danish rule ended in England until the turn of AD 1065-66 when Eadward died without direct heir. A half-Dane, Harold Godwinson ruled briefly in 1066 until another branch of Viking rulers took over from William I of Normandy, descendant of Hrolf 'the Ganger'.

What goes around comes around.

Next - 3: Aethelred to Eadward

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