Northumbria - 4: A New Flame - Jorvik, the light stifled by Wessex' ambition
A hunger for crop-rich land that began with a thirst for vengeance...
"AD 865. This year sat the heathen army in the Isle of Thanet, and made peace with the men of Centland, who promised scot therewith; but under the offer of peace and and gold the army in the night stole up the kingdom and over-ran all Centland eastward...
Seen another way: Halvdan Ragnarsson built a new kingdom around Eoferwic that became Jorvik, a trade hub with the rest of Europe, Scandinavia and the East. Its pride was restored and conquest brought Strathclyde under Danish-Northumbrian rule. The kingdom stretched from the Irish Sea in the west to the North Sea in the east... Then Wessex wanted a share of the spoils
Cutting a swathe across the kingdoms from south-east to north, south-westward and north again...
They stole across more than Kent...
A darkness fell on the Northumbrian Angles when Ragnar's sons entered Deira in the year AD 866. Ivar 'the Boneless', Ubbi, Sigurd 'Snake-eye', Bjorn 'Ironside' and Halvdan came each with their own following, their aim to wreak havoc for the death of their father at the hands of the upstart Aelle of Bernicia.
Having crossed from eastern Mercia the Great Heathen Army took Eoferwic. King Osberht - ousted as overall king of Northumbria by Aelle was spared, ransomed instead to anyone able to afford the price of a high-born slave. As for Aelle, an unforeseen fate awaited. A rite said to have been practiced by the Danes, the 'Blood Eagle' ('Blod Erne') involved the victim's ribs being torn from the spine and splayed out to look like the wings of an eagle at rest. Aelle would rue the day he met Ragnar 'Lothbrok'.
The following year the Danes were beset by the Northumbrians in Jorvik, as Eoferwic had become. Overwintering near Nottingham AD 867-68 they returned to Jorvik. In AD 869 the East Anglian king Eadmund was taken off-guard with his retainers and their following near Thetford and withdrew hastily to the church at Bury, leaving his men to fight on. Ivar and Ubbi cornered him at the church where he was executed by the Danes for cowardice, hiding behind the monks.
Going on, westward next they bypassed London and made camp at Reading, clashing AD 870 with the West Saxons. After beating the Danes at Ashdown the West Saxons under Aelfred and his older brother Aethelred I were forced back to Basing and Wilton where Aethelred was wounded fatally and died later, around Easter, AD 871. The youngest of Aethelwulf's sons Aelfred was browbeaten into the kingship. Although Aethelred had two sons they were seen as too young to succeed. This would lead to acrimony within the family, but that is beyond the remit of this article. [Soon after he succeeded to the throne of Wessex, Aethelred had helped Mercian king Burgred lay siege to the Danes in Nottingham, although between them they failed to see them off].
The Danes overwintered in London this time, AD 871-2, following which an overland march with booty taken on their campaign they returned to Jorvik to rest and re-group, soon to swing east into eastern Mercia where they overwintered in Torksey.(west of Lincoln), AD 873-4 before advancing further west along the River Trent upriver to Repton.
The Army divided the following year at Repton...
Under the leadership of Halvdan many Danes went north to Jorvik, the rest under Ivar, Ubbi and the warband leader Guthrum headed south-westward to Wessex to take the kingdom. They first took Wareham (now Dorset) before striking out further west to take Exeter (in Devon) before turning north early the year after (AD 877) for Gloucester where they made camp, close to Chippenham.
Aelfred and his following had settled at Chippenham for the Christmas feast. Late over the festive season, lulled by the thought that the Danes were camped far enough away to be harmless, Guthrum struck in the dead of night. He had taken his followers overland through the snows to take Aelfred off-guard, scattering the West Saxons and narrowly missing Aelfred. The West Saxons with Aelfred fled west to Aethelney (on the Somerset Levels near Glastonbury), pursued by Guthrum, who put out a healthy reward on the young king's head.
Having gathered enough supporters Aelfred took on Guthrum at Ashdown, and won again at Englefield. Yet despite winning Wessex could not force the Danes into retreat. A truce was called for, resulting in the AD 878 Treaty of Wedmore. Guthrum, self-styled king of East Anglia accepted Christianity and with Aelfred as 'godfather', took the baptismal name of Aethelstan (not to be confused with Aelfred's grandson through his daughter Aelfflaed). There would be a partition between Wessex and its dependency Mercia west of Watling Street (the Saxon name for the Roman road that led from Chester south-eastward to London and Rochester), and the Danes to the east in East Anglia, the Five Boroughs (Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford) and the Kingdom of Jorvik. Aelfred's son-in-law Aethelred held western Mercia as 'regent' after Burgred's death, although he had the greater ambition to be its king when Aelfred's health declined.
When Halvdan took over Jorvik and Deira Anglian, north of the River Tees Bernicia would be left isolated from any potential allies in Mercia. Hemmed in by the Scots and Strathclyde Britons to the north and west, the North Sea in the east and Danish territory to the south. Bernicia was in an unenviable position.
Halvdan had not been idle on his return north to Jorvik from Repton in 874. He had raided north of the Tees as far as Tynemouth between AD 868-9, and now he put his stamp further north in Lothian and the Kingdom of Strathclyde (modern Cumbria and the southern Lake District). The boundary of his kingdom was pushed north to Stainmore Common and Upper Teesdale, (overlooked by the. Pennine Mountains bordering on Cumbria).
In AD 876 he and his men finally settled the territory he bounds were known later as Yorkshire. The bounds of this kingdom were pushed west to the Irish Sea beyond the Pennines, the southern limit on this side being the Mersey, facing Mercia, the north at the mouth of the River Ribble. Amongst his achievements we see the administrative division of the kingdom east of the Pennines into 'Thirdings' ('Thridjungar'), later known as the Ridings - North, East and West. Further divisions would be the Wapentakes, (the 'Vapnatak' or weapon-take) for defence against outside attack by Norsemen from Ireland or Danes wanting to 'muscle in' on his kingdom. The land measurement of the carucate was introduced for the first time - Wessex and Mercia had the 'Hundred'. He took up farming in fertile, rich lands to the north and east of Jorvik.
However, according to 12th Century historian Simeon Halvdan and Ivar were slain in a raid on Devon AD 878, but the Chronicle of the time gives the leader of this expedition as 'their brother'. Halvdan is more likely the 'Alband', a Danish warlord killed AD 877 by Oistin, son of Olaf of Dublin in the battle of Strangford Lough.
Julian Richards takes us into the Viking Age in a general overview before narrowing down the narrative specific to their presence in Britain and England in particular. Under 'Viking' we also have to understand the Danes are included. 'Colonisation' sees the Danes in particular in England with two major waves, the 9th and 11th Centuries with Ragnar Lothbrok's sons and Guthrum chasing Aelfred around Wessex, the story of Jorvik and the Danelaw. The Norsemen were thrown out of Ireland at various times and settled on the Irish Sea coast from Lancashire to Cumbria, some also around the East Coast of England as at Scarborough and Whitby. Let Julian 'show' you around Viking Age England with the associated ups and downs of conflict with Wessex, Mercia, Scotland and Ireland.
Tempur Publishing ISBN 0-7524-2888-8
On to Wessex...
The next Danish king of Jorvik is named as Guthfrith...
Guthfrith was king from AD 883-95. Little is known of him or his successors, Sigfrid (AD 895-901) or Knut (AD 901-902. An Anglian king Aethelwold held the kingdom very briefly in AD 903 after which Halvdan II took the reins for eight years, with Eowils (?) and another Ivar as joint rulers.
Their reign was cut short by a joint West Mercian and Wessex army at the Battle of Tettenhall (now on the outskirts of Wolverhampton), AD 910, a long way south from Jorvik and near no navigable river for escape by ship! The kingdom was rocked, leaderless, and fell prey to Irish Norse leader Ragnald from Dublin in AD 911. His rule was initially short but he came back AD 919 to rule for a couple of years to AD 921. Sigtrygg 'Caech' ('Squinty') took the kingship after Ragnald's death. Sigtrygg had been king in Dublin and successfully campaigned against the Ui Neill clan. He handed the kingship over to his brother Guthfrith and crossed the sea to take up the kingship of Jorvik. In 926 he agreed a treaty with Aethelstan at Tamworth, took baptism and the hand of Aethelstan's sister Eadgyth. With Sigtrygg's death AD 927 the Irish Norse grip on Jorvik was tentative and Aethelstan wrested it from Norse hands..
A second Guthfrith came to power in Jorvik almost as soon as the dust settled and Aethelstan took the road south again. He was King of Dublin from AD 921 after brother Sigtrygg 'Caech' went to Jorvik. A spate of plundering and slaving attacks on neighbouring Gaelic kingdoms did not result in conquest, however, due to Muirchtertach ui Neill's stubborn opposition in the north. Guthfrith set out to take the rival Norse stronghold of Limerick (in south-western ireland) in AD 924 but this also came to nought. On his brother's death AD 927 Guthfrith sought to aid his nephew Olaf Sigtryggsson, only to be driven out on Aethelstan's return. Guthfrith then went north to Scotland to seek help. With a new army he laid siege to Jorvik, only to be beaten and have to yield to Aethelstan and, smarting, go back to Dublin to lick his wounded pride. Renewed raiding might have gone some way to bolstering his image but he died soon after, AD 934, from a fatal illness. His son Olaf became king in turn.
In an alliance with the Scots king Constantine and the Kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons, Irish Norse leader Olaf Guthfrithsson tried to take Jorvik back but was roundly beaten by Aethelstan at Brunanburh in AD 937. However the Wessex dream of mastery over the North was dealt a crushing blow by Aethelstan's death two years on. Olaf came back not only to re-take Jorvik but to take Northumbria and the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw. He was succeeded on his death in AD 941 at Jorvik by his kinsman Olaf Sigtryggsson - his brother Blacaire took over in Dublin.
Olaf never relinquished his hold on Dublin whilst he held the kingship of Jorvik following his kinsman's death. Nevertheless his reign would not be secure, He lost the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw to King Eadmund I and was also obliged to accept baptism. He and Ragnald Guthfrithsson were driven out of Jorvik AD 944, although he regained it the year after until AD 952 when Eirik Haraldsson took the kingship from him.
In the see-saw of history Wessex would see its fortunes in the ascendancy.
The Danes' kingdom around York
Jorvik Viking Centre, Coppergate, York, YO1 9WT
Snippets of life in the Danish kingdom (from AD 866) under Halvdan
Wessex' surge, AD 944 under Eadmund I was short-lived.
Jorvik fell into the hands of Eirik Haraldsson, 'Blood-axe', AD 952, Eirik had been king of Norway for six years after the death of his father Harald 'Harfagri' ('Fine-hair') AD 948. Eirik and his queen, Gunnhild came to Jorvik under a cloud, having done away with his half-brothers to take sole rule, Eirik had to leave before he was slain in the blood feud that would have followed, made to abdicate by a third half-brother Hakon 'the Good'.
Eirik first went to the Northern Isles, considered to have raided around Scotland and was invited by the Jorvik Danes to take the throne again. Eirik's reign would not be peaceful, and it would be broken over the next six years. He fought off first Olaf Sigtryggson ('Sihtricsson'), king of Dublin, and then King Eadred of the Wessex dynasty. Oddly, Archbishop Wulfstan I supported his kingship against King Eadred. He was ousted by Eadred, only to be replaced by Olaf. In AD 952 Olaf was ousted and Eirik was asked to take the kingship again. Nevertheless It finally fell into English hands AD 954. Eirik was lured to Stainmore Common on his way to Carlisle, then part of Strathclyde, told that there was an invasion of his territory. He is buried where he fell with his few retainers after being outnumbered and outwitted. Osulf of Bamburgh was rewarded with the title of Ealdorman for his part in engineering Eirik's downfall at the hands of one of his men, an unknown character known to us only as 'Maccus'.
Eirik's interrupted reign features in Snorri Sturlusson's 'Egil's Saga', the saga of the Icelandic warrior-poet Egil Skallagrimsson, that also sees Egil in alliance with Aethelstan earlier at Brunanburh.
For its Norse links, over the next hundred years or so, English kings of the Wessex dynasty remained wary of Jorvik's loyalties.
Next 5: Knut, Eirik of Hladir, Sigeweard 'the Dane' and the Earldom of Northumbria