Danelaw Years: An Introduction to a Ten Part Series on an Era of War, Trade & Prosperity in England From AD865-1042
Vengeance was the motivation for crossing the sea...
Dark days dawned for the Anglian kingdoms of Bernicia, Deira, Mercia and East Anglia when King Aelle made his fatal mistake
There was no warning when hundreds of ships put into East Aengla (Anglia) in the spring/summer of AD 865. Led by the sons of Ragnar 'Lothbrok' the 'Great Heathen Army' according to the Chronicle the 'Micel Here', (no mention of 'Heathen') had arrived! Ivar 'the Boneless' as eldest son and able warrior was overall leader, with brothers Ubbi. Sigurd 'Snake-eye', Bjorn 'Ironside' and Halvdan as under-commanders.
From Thetford in Norfolk in AD 866 they progressed overland to Eoferwic (Anglian York) and took the burh. The Northanhymbrans (Northumbrians) had ousted King Osberht, giving the throne to the usurper Aelle of the northernmost Aengle kingdom Beornica (Bernicia). Not even of the royal bloodline of either part of the kingdom, Aelle used brute force to achieve his aims. In a pitched battle on the southern fringes of Eoferwic Aelle and Osberht cast aside their differences and - too late! - joined forces to attack the Danes. 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 Baebbanburh (Bamburgh), a gruesome end awaited him. He would be tethered like a sacrificial sheep for the folk of Eoferwic to witness,.his punishment known as the 'Blod Erne' ('Blood Eagle'). Whether it actually took place or not is unconfirmed, a legend, put about by whom is anyone's guess.
The Danish army overwintered in Snotingaham (the old Aengle name for Nottingham) at the end of the campaigning season AD 867 to return to Eoferwic, renamed Jorvik by them. They would be based here for the next four years whilst making forays into other regions such as East Anglia under Ivar and Ubbi. At Hoxne (near Bury, Suffolk) in AD 869 King Eadmund of East Anglia was defeated.
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 Tina (Tyne), the other south to Grantaceaster (Cambridge). In AD 875 that part of the Army with the war-band leader Guthrum pressed on to Wareham in Wessex (in the part then known as Thornsaetan or Dorset), Exanceaster (Exeter) the year after and Glaewaceaster (Gloucester) by AD 877.
Guthrum's target was the West Seaxan (Saxon) king Aelfred. The Seaxne (Saxons) would have been nervous at Guthrum's close presence but at Cipanham (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 had crossed the breadth of the frost-hardened land into West Seaxe and struck at the royal burh. Aelfred was lucky to get away with some of his men. Read the episode on Aelfred in this series to see how he fared in the Danelaw Years episode -3: "All I Smell is Burning Cakes!" (would have been oatmeal cakes, like bread, as many could not afford grain for grinding)].
Guthrum, the self-styled king of East Aengla, 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 Danelagen (Danelaw), and much of the land east of London beyond the River Lea. Deira would become the Danish Kingdom of Jorvik which stretched from the Irish Sea shore in the west to the North Sea shore in the east. With Halvdan Ragnarsson as its king the kingdom flourished in trade with her overseas neighbours. He was not above farming the land himself and became a wealthy landowner. See elsewhere about the three 'Ridings'.
There's much more to read through the series that concludes with the story behind the legend of Hrolf Kraki, and leads to the eponymous series, "The Saga of Hrolf Kraki"
God lykke! (Good luck)
War with Aelfred
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)
An Aengla Land fragmented between warring kingdoms stood no chance against a concerted invasion... Step up Aethelstan
AD 1013: After squeezing Danegeld from Aethelred's coffers, Svein brought his younger son Knut and a great fleet
An empire his heirs could not hold on to
Despite Aethelstan's achievements successive weak West Seaxan kings brought the new state of Aengland to its knees...
From when Aelfred died AD 899, succeeded by his son Eadward 'the Elder' and in turn the 'caretaker' reign of Aethelstan the new state prospered. However, all hopes would be shattered by the time Aethelred II, 'Unraed' came to the throne. Follow the 'Danelaw Years' series to learn of the perfidy of successive weak kings until a strong Knut (Cnut or Canute) Sveinsson took the throne AD 1016 following the death of Eadmund 'Ironside' from wounds sustained in battle at Esandun (Ashingdon) east of London. In losing the kingship of Eadmund the kingdom lost a strong ruler. However it gained another strong ruler in Knut until his premature death AD 1035 and another struggle for power ensued before the all too short reign of Harthaknut Knutsson ended. The twenty-four year long rule Aethelred II's son Eadward by Emma of Normandy would prove a stepping stone for another strong, ruthless king after the all-too-short reign of the popular Harold II....
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. The Centre opened 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):
JORVIK VIKING CENTRE, Coppergate, York, YO1 9WT, 01904 615505
The gateway to York's Viking Past is located on Coppergate in the heart of the city, close to shopping, the Castle Museum and the River Ouse. Travel back into history, see how York's Anglo-Danish citizens lived, worked and traded from the 9th Century
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.
DANELAW YEARS, how was it for you?
Will you follow the ten parts of the series?
© 2016 Alan R Lancaster