ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Viking - 5: Incursions Into Wales - Norsemen Settle on the South-West Coast and Anglesey

Updated on February 26, 2019

"A true friend whom you trust well and wish for his good will, go with gifts and keep company with him".

Havamal

Mysteriously, when the Danes and Norsemen were so close in Ireland, why was Wales never colonised to the same extent as the rest of the British Isles?

Cable Bay near Aberffraw - an ideal landing beach for the Norsemen's ships, and suitable for a camp from which to forage inland
Cable Bay near Aberffraw - an ideal landing beach for the Norsemen's ships, and suitable for a camp from which to forage inland | Source

Norse settlement of Wales was sparse

They settled in small numbers around St. Davids, Haverfordwest, Milford Haven and Tenby. The obvious names such as Skokholm, Skomer and Tenby reflect evidence of Norse settlement. Less obvious with its modern-sounding name is Swansea, which would have then read as: Sveins-ey, Swein's Island established in the early years of the 11th Century by Svein Haraldsson, 'Forkbeard' (Tveskegg in Danish, 'two-beards') ostensibly at a time when Svein met with ship trouble, i.e., either coming to grief on the skerries or storm damage. From there he followed the coast round to Chester during his campaign against Aethelred II, 'Unraed'.

Norse settlement was limited by the power of the Welsh princes. Following a successful Viking alliance with Brittany in AD865 the Britons (Cwmran) made peace with the Danes and a Danish-Welsh alliance defeated an Anglian army from Mercia in AD878. There were still skirmishes with the Welsh, however.

Svein 'Forkbeard' was by AD1013 accepted as king in parts of Aethelred's kingdom, albeit briefly, as well as Denmark and Norway. 'Sveins-ey' was at the estuary of the River Tawe. The Gower Peninsula had Norse place names such as the Great Orm's Head (Orm being the Norse reference for Serpent, or Dragon; it could also be a man's first name). Twenty miles west of Cardiff is Tusker Rock, from Toske, who settled the area with hos followers.

The first recorded raid on Welsh shores was recorded in AD852. Random attacks were made up until about AD919. Rhodri 'Mawr' (Rhodri 'the Great'), the ruler of Gwynedd from AD844 led the initial counter-attacks. In AD903 Dublin Danes led by Ingimund went on to Anglesey after being expelled from Ireland, only to be repulsed by the Welsh and sailing on east to Chester. The next stage of raiding came around AD950, after the death of Hywel Dda, the 'king' of Gwynedd, and Deheubarth in the south-west. There were numerous raids in coastal lowlands, and in particular on religious sites such as Penmon and Caer Gybi on Anglesey and Clynnog Fawr in Caernarfon (Caernarvonshire). St Davids was attacked eleven times between AD967 and AD1091. Yet Wales suffered lightly compared with Ireland - this may yet prove misleading due to poor documentary records. A third era of raids took place in the second half of the 11th Century linked to events leading up to the Norman invasion of England.

Sometimes the Welsh and West Saxons combined against the Danes, setting their differences aside. In the AD890's a large army landed in Wessex with reinforcements from the Danelaw, ravaged Mercia and headed for the Welsh border. A West Saxon army caught up with them, defeating them at Buttington in AD893 (near Welshpool, Gwent/Monmouthshire.). The Saxons were supported by a number of the Welsh. In AD914 again a Viking fleet from Brittany raided in southern Wales and entered the Wye Valley, taking captive Cyfeilog the Bishop of Llandaff. King Eadward 'the Elder' paid the £40 ransom on him. Thrown back by by the garrisons of Hereford and Gloucester, the Danes left for Steepholm in the Bristol Channel where many died of hunger.

The Norse tongue made little impact, if anything, on the Welsh. Some prominent coastal features, navigational points such as those already named above have Norse names but there are no 'linguistic incursions' on Welsh. There are burial sites - such as one by the shore on Anglesey. This is the best area for Viking finds, being an easy day's sailing from Dublin or the Wirral - or Man. A few high status burials are also located on Anglesey who migrated from Dublin. At Llanbedrgoch near Red Wharf Bay there was a 7th Century settlement built up into a 10th Century stockade or fortification which might have been the hub of several smaller Norse settlements. There is a Viking interment at the head of a beach nearby, and there are other non-Christian burials outside the settlement walls.

Displacement of Viking leaders from Ireland in the early 10th Century created 'ripples' around the Irish Sea. By the middle of that century its shores had been turned into a Scandinavian community of traders and craftsmen. No evidence for its equivalent in Wales of a Dublin-styled city exists, but some Norse leaders had Welsh connections and some - like Olaf Haraldsson (killed at Stiklestad in AD1030) in the early 11th Century - may have ruled for a short time on Anglesey and mainland Gwynedd. Some of the grave finds point to inter-marriage and scattered individual Norse settlement.

It seems that Wales was a 'closed shop' to the Norsemen, much better defended than much of England, Ireland and Scotland. However, there is also an 'ethnic' pointer in that Wales was not as open to the Danes - for example - as East Anglia, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and Kent. There the people already had a linguistic link and widespread Danish settlement was effected through trade, as was Ireland. Wessex and Wales did not enter into alliances with the Danes, and although trade was entered into with the Norsemen from Dublin and other Norse-Irish centres, these areas were more often attacked by Viking raiders.

In the 11th Century Gruffyth ap Llewellyn allied himself with Aelfgar, Earl Leofric's rebellious son. When Aelfgar went to ireland he came back with a Dublin-Danish fleet and raided the Wirral and Mersey coast with the aid of Gruffyth. Parts of the area were still recorded by Domesday in AD1086 as 'waste', even though they had been raided well over thirty years before.

Long afterward, in the late 15th Century Henry, Earl of Richmond landed at Milford Haven with an army from France and met Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485. Henry was later crowned King Henry VII.

Next - 6: Vikings in the pay of the Eastern Emperor

Norse and Danish name connections

Great Orme's Head, North Wales - the great serpent's head - reaches out to sea like a guardian dragon, apt for the Welsh coast with a fascination for dragons shared by both cultures
Great Orme's Head, North Wales - the great serpent's head - reaches out to sea like a guardian dragon, apt for the Welsh coast with a fascination for dragons shared by both cultures | Source
Solva, another Norse name, near Haverfordwest - Haverford means 'sea ford' ('Hav' - pron. 'how' - being the Norse for sea)
Solva, another Norse name, near Haverfordwest - Haverford means 'sea ford' ('Hav' - pron. 'how' - being the Norse for sea) | Source
Swansea Bay -  Svein's Ey or Svein's Isle, named after when Svein 'Forkbeard' put in here to have his ship seen to on his way around the British coast
Swansea Bay - Svein's Ey or Svein's Isle, named after when Svein 'Forkbeard' put in here to have his ship seen to on his way around the British coast | Source
Tenby seafront - the 'by' ending on the name denotes a Norse settlement or town
Tenby seafront - the 'by' ending on the name denotes a Norse settlement or town | Source
Early mediaeval Wales, showing the principalities and alliances. Norse settlement was sparser in Wales than anywhere else in the British Isles
Early mediaeval Wales, showing the principalities and alliances. Norse settlement was sparser in Wales than anywhere else in the British Isles | Source

Where Danish and Norse settlement was felt in Wales

Swansea Bay at low tide. Svein  Haraldsson established a settlement on the island in the Tawy after his ship suffered damage in the Bristol Channel
Swansea Bay at low tide. Svein Haraldsson established a settlement on the island in the Tawy after his ship suffered damage in the Bristol Channel | Source
Further west, geographic naming is good evidence of earlier Viking settlement around Milford Haven and West Wales. Many suitable landing beaches that were safe from heavy westerlies were  useful for overwintering, upkeep and repair of vessels
Further west, geographic naming is good evidence of earlier Viking settlement around Milford Haven and West Wales. Many suitable landing beaches that were safe from heavy westerlies were useful for overwintering, upkeep and repair of vessels
Wide, westward-facing strand - ideal landing for ships to trade, raid or take over territory from across the Irish Sea in Dublin, Waterford or Wexford. Look at the names of offshore isles such as 'Skomer' or 'Skokholm' ('holm' means island in Norse)
Wide, westward-facing strand - ideal landing for ships to trade, raid or take over territory from across the Irish Sea in Dublin, Waterford or Wexford. Look at the names of offshore isles such as 'Skomer' or 'Skokholm' ('holm' means island in Norse)

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

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

      Hello Livetech, I have my sources. The Norse occupation around Britain was never as intense in Wales for some reason, although trade went on with the Danish-Irish settlements on the east coast (Dublin, Waterford and Wexford). Seen the rest of the series? There's quite a few that include Norse exploration of the New World, Norse settlement of Russia and the Ukraine etc., Varangian Guard, the gods... They'll keep you quiet for a while before you go on to the DANELAW YEARS series and the Saga of Hrolf Kraki (a Danish king of the Skjoldung dynasty in the 7th century. Good hunting!

    • livetech profile image

      Paul Levy 

      21 months ago from United Kingdom

      A very informative article, you seem very knowledgeable on this. So much history in Wales to learn about!

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

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

      Thanks Trish. Have you read the ones on Scotland and Ireland? There was more interplay between the Norsemen in England, Ireland and Scotland than betwen any of them and Wales except for raiding, as you've seen. I'm in the process of charting them in Greenland and the 'New World' and the next one will look at the relationship between Norway, Orkney and Shetland in legend - the greater source of information on the colonisation of the islands.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 

      7 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      Another very interesting piece of history!

      Great!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)