Category Archives: The Vikings

The Viking Age

VikingShip

The image we have of Vikings is one of wild-haired barbaric savages, who raided lands across Europe and beyond, all based on their chronicles.

They used two different styles of ships.  The “Drakkar” longship was intended for war and exploration designed for speed and agility, with oars and a sail.  It had a long narrow hull with a shallow draft for ease of landings and shallow waters.  Whilst on the otherhand their “Knarr” longships were designed as a merchant cargo vessel, with a broad hull and deep draft.  She would rely more on her sail to drive her, for she carried a relatively small number of oars.

The Vikings had a language all of their own, made up from sound values integrated with Latin, and used their “Runor” alphabet to read and write.

The Vikings left Rune stones inscribed with memories of the dead, or battles won.  These can be found across Europe, mainly in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, and gives us an insight into their timeline.

If one looks at a Rune stone, the centre is made up of images similar to those of early cave-man drawings, whilst the outer edge is a creation of their own alphabet.

In Denmark there are Viking Rune stones, dating between 960-985, placed there by King Gorm the Old, the last pagan King of Denmark in memory to his Queen; Thyre.

Harold Bluetooth his son placed a stone, for the conquest of Denmark and Norway, and the conversion of Danes to Christianity.

An inscription on the larger of the stones read:  “King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gomr, his father, and in memory of Thyre his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.”

There are known Viking burial sites across much of Europe, especially in their homelands of Sweden, Norway and Denmark.  A Viking warrior is usually buried with his weapons, and these artefacts give us an insight to their lifestyle.

In England the Viking age began with the spilling of blood and destruction as they destroyed the Abbey on the island of Lindisfarne in 793AD, which sent shock waves across Europe to their presence.

Historical accounts of Viking raids and colonization of Europe, is written in the chronicles of; Nestor, Novgorod, and Ibn Fadlanand Ibn Rusta.

For three hundred years, Viking raiders were the scourge of the waters, plundering, killing and taking captives to sell into a life of slavery.  Shoreline settlements lived in fear of these barbaric warriors.  For it was in 991Ad “The Battle of Maldon,” took place on the shores of the Blackwater River in Essex, between the Viking raiders and its inhabitants.

The Norwegians are known to have spread to the north and western areas, covering Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and Greenland.  Whilst the Danes settled in the northern and Eastern parts of England and Normandy.

Other Vikings ventured the northerly coasts of the North Atlantic Ocean, travelling south to North Africa, and east into present day Russia.  They raided, pillaged, traded and some even settled in these new lands, and some were known to have become mercenaries.

Those Vikings under Leif Ericson, heir to Erik the Red, settled in Newfoundland and Labrador Canada.

The Normans were descendants from the Danish and Norwegian Vikings, and were known to raid English shores as early as 790 until the full Norman Conquest of England in 1066.  If we look back into our history, we will see that King Harold II was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, and he did in fact have Danish ancestors.

Some Scandinavian Vikings are known to have served as mercenaries, at a time when the Swedish visited the Byzantium Empire in the early part of the 800’s.

By the latter part of the 10th century, the imperial guard consisted of Scandinavians, better known as the Varangian Guard.  Varangian, is believed to have stemmed from Old Norse, but in Slavic and Greek refers to Scandinavians.

Harold Hadrada a well respected and influential member of the Varangian Guard, rose to become King of Norway (1047-1066).

By the latter part of the 11th century, the Catholic Church had increased its power and influence amongst the Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway and Denmark).  Then in 1103 the first Archbishopric was founded.

A major profit for Vikings had been the taking of captives and selling them as slaves.  Christianity had abolished this practice throughout parts of northern Europe, but it continued well into the 11th century, when it was outlawed and replaced by the act of “Serfdom.”

Raids continued for much of the 11th century and early part of the 12th century, until a new target could be found for their fighting warriors.

In 1107 Sigurd I of Norway took his army of Norwegian crusaders to the “Kingdom of Jerusalem,” for the Baltic Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries.

In the 12th century a Scottish warrior named Somerled, of the Donald clan and of Viking descent, drove the Vikings out of Scotland.

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Emma of Normandy

Emma of Normandy
Emma of Normandy

Emma of Normandy was an intriguing medieval woman born around 990 AD to parents; Richard I of Normandy and Gunnor a Dane.  Emma was both Viking and Norman, and her great grandfather, a Viking named Rollo, was founder of the lands known as Normandy.

In 1002, aged just twelve she left France for England, she was destined to marry Aethelred II (Ethelred) of England.  This marriage would create an alliance between France and England.  Emma being a descendant of both Viking and Norman would marry an English King and bear a Norman child.

King Aethelred’s intentions of this marriage, was to prevent the Normans from joining forces with Vikings and take on the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

Aethelred escorted his young bride to Canterbury, where they were married and she was crowned Queen in 1002, and duly given an English name; Aelfgifu, after the Kings grandmother.

For hundreds of years, Vikings had raided Britain’s coastlines, and many had chosen to settle here, taking an Anglo-Saxon wife.  So it was fair to say, a large proportion of the population were Danes or descendants thereof.

On the 13th November 1002, St.Brices Day, marked Aethelred’s response to these Viking raids upon his lands, with large scale massacre’s of the Danes living in Britain.

The Viking response to such actions, led by Swein Forkbeard, inflicted a brutal attack upon Britain.  Exeter, the Queens property was destroyed, showing she was not exempt from these attacks.  However, she being of Viking and Norman blood, her reputation amongst her subjects lay in tatters, their trust in her, all but gone.

The Vikings made concerted attacks upon Britain, and by 1009 all able bodied men were called upon to defend these shores against the Viking onslaught.  Their efforts, against savage warriors failed, as by 1011, large parts of southern Britain were now under Viking control.

Swein Forkbeard and his son Cnut landed in the northern parts of the country, and were met with little opposition, as they submitted to these Vikings.

Emma, the wife of a failed King, demanded protection of her brother, Richard in Normandy, whilst Aethelred fled to the Isle of Wight.

Swein and his sons, Harold and Cnut, pushed away the Anglo-Saxon dynasty and became the first Viking rulers of Britain.  Swein became King on the 25th December 1013, and made Gainsborough in Lincolnshire his capital.

Just five weeks later, Swein died and Aethelred returned to his kingdom to salvage what he could from a ravaged country.  In 1016 King Aethelred died.

Emma may have had no love for her husband Aethelred, but his death left her not knowing what future lay ahead for her.

The people of London, chose Edmund as their new King.  Edmund sensed Cnut the Dane poised to fight for the crown, but offered a compromise, they split the land in two… Edmund died before the deal had been completed.

Cnut became King in 1016, and took Emma as his wife, his trophy between old and new.

Cnut showed his commitment, by bringing Anglo-Saxon and Danes together.  Emma provided good judgement, as they formed a close working relationship.  One of her most trusted advisors in matters concerning the church was Stigand, who would become Archbishop of Canterbury.

Saying that, she had to be careful and watchful of Earl Godwine a close and trusted advisor to Cnut.

Emma bore Cnut a son; Harthacanute and a daughter, Gunnhild, future contenders to the English crown.

Cnut ruled Britain as well as Denmark, which meant Emma watched over his kingdom during his long absences.

Many precious gifts were bestowed upon the church, but most remembered has to be the “Golden Cross” at Winchester.

In 1035, Cnut died without naming his successor, and Emma found herself in a precarious situation once again.

Emma moved into the royal quarters at Winchester, surrounding herself with Cnut’s belongings…  Who would be the next King, would determine her safety.

Cnut’s first wife; also named Aelfgifu proposed her son Harold Harefoot, whilst Harthacanute remained in Denmark, fighting to protect his Danish kingdom.  The decision was made by Noble Lords who allocated the north to Harold and the south to Harthacanute.

Emma’s sons by Aethelred; Edward and Alfred sailed to England with their armies.  The Earl of Godwine intercepted Alfred who had landed in Kent, to accompany him to Winchester, to meet with his mother and brother.

It was a ploy orchestrated by Earl of Godwine, who had Alfred taken prisoner and accused of acts against Anglo-Saxons at London, then taken to Ely where his eyes were gouged out… he died later of his wounds.

Edward headed back to the safety of Normandy, upon hearing of Alfred’s death.

In 1040 Harold died and Harthacanute dug up his body, beheaded it, and tossed it into the River Thames.

Upon the death of Harthacanute in 1042, the Earl of Godwine fought off claims by descendants of Swein Forkbeard.  Edward “Edward the Confessor” was crowned King with Earl Godwine running much of the country on his behalf.

On the 3rd April 1043, Emma takes up her position, by taking command of Edward’s treasury at Winchester.  Edward did not take kindly to his mother assuming this position, and took the treasury keys from her, and suggests she moves out, for she is not welcome at Winchester Castle.

In 1052 Emma died, and was buried alongside her second husband; Cnut in Winchester.

In 1066 Emma’s son, Edward the Confessor died childless leaving no successor, and Harold Godwine, son of Earl Godwine elected by Nobles and Church leaders became King.

On the 14th October 1066, one of the most significant dates in English history, witnessed Emma’s great nephew William, the Duke of Normandy “William the Conqueror” successfully take on Harold II at the “Battle of Hastings” and claim the English crown.

Wikipedia Image

Birth of the Normans

Viking Ship Wallpaper
Viking Longship

Viking sea-raiders from Scandinavia created fear, attacking coastal lands of Western Europe… They plundered; they killed and took captives to sell into a life of slavery.  They earned the reputation of showing no mercy!

Hrolf, leader of the Vikings pillaged the lands of North-Eastern France, around the area of the Seine River in 911.  The threat, the fear imposed upon King Charles of the Franks, led to a treaty with the Vikings at St.Clair-sur-Epte in 911.  Effectively this treaty gave large areas of France to the Vikings, thus creating the lands of Normandy around the mouth of the River Seine.

Some two generation’s on and the Viking lifestyle had changed.  They had taken under their wing, the language, religion, laws, customs and politics of the Franks.  They were referred to as the Northmen of Normandy, only later to be known as Normans.

Their desire for conquest, led Normans to pursue military goals abroad.  Normans went to Spain to fight the Moors; to Byzantium to fight the Turks; to Sicily in 1061 to fight the Saracens; and England in 1066.

The Norman Duke, William I, friend of Edward the Confessor, the Saxon English King who reigned from 1042-1066, and who supposedly promised the throne to William upon his death.

William the Conqueror
King William I of England…… William the Conqueror

William I had no choice, when Harold II claimed the English throne, which had been promised to him.  So these two armies met to decide who should be the rightful King of England.  The Norman style of fighting against the Anglo-Saxons… there was no real contest as William the Conqueror became King William I of England in 1066.  It was a brutal time, as thousand’s were slaughtered in battle, and more died through famine and disease.

Norman England added to Norman France created a powerful and rich territory across Europe.

William I ran England using the “Feudal System” where the King owned everything.  So that meant he rented everything to his Barons, and they provided him with as army when required.

The Domesday Book
The Domesday Book

These Baron’s leased out land to farmer’s etc, and so the Domesday Book of 1086 was produced, creating an inventory of the country…

Bayeux Tapestry Part 1
One section of the Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry was instigated by William’s half brother; Odo and produced by Queen Matilda, William’s wife.  It provides one with a visual record of events in 1066.

The New Forest, which to-day is a National Park, was formerly lands located to the North-East of Southampton and commandeered by William I, as his exclusive hunting grounds.

The legacy left by the Norman’s has to be its Churches, Cathedrals and Castles, many of which were built out of stone, which stretched across this land of ours:

Durham Cathedral – Winchester Cathedral

The Nave Arcade of Norwich Cathedral (1094-1145)

The West Front of Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire (1108)

The Nave of Rochester Cathedral built by Gundulf (1080)

Tower of London – Windsor Castle

tower of london
The Tower of London

Saxon and Vikings: Their gods

Anglo Saxon Cross
Anglo-Saxon Cross

Saxons and Vikings worshipped the Norse Gods, in their homelands, but in Britain they became Christians.  They never forgot the religious beliefs of their Gods, these warrior Gods, and their ancestor’s stories of heroic deeds, all in the name of their Gods!

Saxons = Woden                   Viking = Odin

The Saxon goddess; Eostre, became the Christian Festival of Easter.  The Saxon Gods, Tiw – Woden – Thunor – Frigg transposed into days of the week = Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Saxon used spells and charms to ward off evil spirits and sickness.

The Vikings believed that their lives were ruled by fate, and the Goddess of Norns looked after the past, present and future.  Viking Gods lived at Asgard, joined to Earth by a rainbow bridge.  Around the Earth monsters inhabited the ocean, for these were the enemies of their God.

Death to a Viking meant everlasting glory, going to Odin’s hall of Valhalla.  Some Vikings were buried in a ship, whilst others were sent off on a burning ship heading out to sea to the after-life, along with their weapons and coins to do battle within the after-life.

Christianity was introduced to Britain during the Roman occupation (306-337) and during the reign of Emperor Theodosius of Rome (378-395) and became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

In 431 Pope Celestine attempted to evangelise the Irish, and Columba was sent forth to Iona, off the coast of Scotland.  Then in 596 Pope Gregory I sent missionaries to Kent under the leadership of the Monk Augustine.

King Ethelbert of England married Bertha a Christian Frankish princess in 612.  Ethelbert was baptised and Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and the southern Kingdoms turned to the Christian faith.

The Kingdom of Northumbria; met the Christianity of Rome and celtic Christianity, which came from Ireland by St.Columba to Scotland and in 651 by St.Aidan.

Celtic church differed from that of Rome.  Northumbria’s King Oswy (612-671) opted to follow the Christianity of Rome, giving England a common religion.  Theodore of Tarsus (602-690), the then Archbishop of Canterbury in 668, gave English church its basic structure.

The Venerable Bede, Northumbrian Monk was responsible for using BC and AD for the dating of historical events.

With Christianity accepted by the Anglo-Saxons Kingdoms, there was still friction between the two options; Roman Rites and Irish Rites.  In 664 Saint Wilfrid an advocate of Roman Rites won against his Irish Rites opponent Bishop Colman.

King Alfred versus The Vikings

King Alfred the Great
King Alfred the Great

The Viking made it known; they could not be bought off with gold in the name of peace.  They objected to our religion of Christianity, and when King Edmund point blank refused to give up his Christian faith, and follow that of Odin, they murdered him, making him a martyr, who died for his faith.

Ethelred I, King of Wessex fought a fierce battle alongside his brother against these Viking warriors attacking their lands.

In 871, Ethelred died and Alfred became the new King of Wessex.  His first battle as King against the Vikings was a disaster, they were beaten and he was forced to make peace with these invaders.

In 878, Guthrum led his army against Wessex, his men, his Kingdom surrendered but Alfred could not be found, for he had hidden in the Somerset Marshes, planning how to regain his Kingdom of Wessex.

In spring of 878, Alfred met the Vikings on the battlefield at Edington, and defeated them in battle…  He proved to his followers and the enemy that the Vikings were not invincible…

He allowed the Viking leader Guthrum and his men to settle in East Anglia, all in the name of peace.  Guthrum was baptized a Christian and named Athelstan, and had Alfred as his godfather.

The lands held by the Vikings; York – Danish Mercia and East Angles, became known as Danelaw, and they followed Danish not Saxon laws.

The treaty of Wedmore was created, dividing the lands of Britain; The Viking lived in Northumbria, East Anglia and down to Essex.

Could Alfred trust these Vikings to remain within these lands, living a new life as farmers?

In the early years, many became farmers and took English wives, yet they still kept to their own language and abided by their own laws … Viking laws.

The war between Alfred and Guthrum may have been over, yet the Vikings had fortified bases at Leicester, Nottingham, Stamford, Derby, Lincoln and York.

Alfred built forts, which grew into thriving towns making Wessex strong once again.  He was offered support from Mercia and Wales.

In 885, the Viking Danes attacked Kent, but the armies of King Alfred defeated them.  In 886, King Alfred of Wessex, entered London, rebuilt the city walls.  As far as the people were concerned, this one man was truly their King, for he marched against the Vikings and won battles victoriously.

He restored rebuilt monasteries, created laws and was responsible for the writing of books in Latin and English.

Wessex had become a Kingdom, which had grown in stature, for it had gained the loyalty of its people.  He needed to fight off constant attacks by the Vikings which led to a series of Burhs (Forts) being constructed.

Some 25,000 men manned these burhs, and each was within a day’s march of the next.  They were more than that, if Vikings attacked, they gave safe harbour for local people.

The Vikings moved by sea, by horse on land.  Alfred had to counteract these barbaric fighters at all costs or see his lands plundered; his people murdered, or at worst enter a life of slavery.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Alfred broke his forces up into two, each responsible for set duties.  “Ealdormen” were put in charge of a shire, and Kingdoms were made up of shire’s, consisting of up to 100 families.  “Thanes” served up to a month at Alfred’s court, amongst other local duties.  “Town Officer’s” called “Reeves” collected taxes and kept law and order between the families.

Alfred created laws:

According to Saxon law, if a man fled a feud he was permitted sanctuary for up to 7 days in a church, but he would not be permitted any food.

A thief, who stole from a church, could have his hand cut off for his crime or pay a fine.

Alfred showed he meant business against these Viking seafarer’s, when he ordered a fleet of ships be built.

The early years of the Wedmore treaty was honoured, then in 890 Guthrum died.  The Viking farmers took up their arms, and joined in attacking the Saxons.  Alfred was prepared and fought off the uprising.

In 899 Alfred died, and his son Edward led his forces into the Viking held lands of East Anglia in 902.

With the help of his sister Aethelflaed of Mercia, Edward defeated the Northumbrian Vikings and won control of Danelaw as it had become known.

The final threat from the Viking’s came in the form of Raegnald of Dublin, who had made himself King of York in 919, and in 920 a defeated Raegnald submitted to Edward.

Viking Invaders Seize English Crown

English Saxon Crown
English Saxon Crown

King Alfred the Great (871-899) had turned England into one Kingdom.  This Saxon family and his descendants, had freed these lands from the barbaric Vikings, set on plunder, murder and slavery.

In the year 924, Athelstan; Alfred’s grandson became King of England, and in 937 defeated Irish and Scot Vikings at Brunanburh.  He became the first Saxon King, who would have the loyalty from all its people.

In his time as King, he created a single coinage which would be used throughout the land, and peace reigned till the end of his reign in 940.

Edmund became King in 940, and was faced by new Viking raiders, which continued throughout his life until he died in 946 only to be replaced by Edred (946-955).

England did not see peace again until 959, under King Edgar.  For he was a powerful leader, winning support of the Scottish and Welsh Kings.

In the year 975, Edgar aged only 32 died, and his death threw the Kingdom into strife.

His son Edward became King in 975, he only reigned for three years, during which time famine struck the land.

In 978 Edward was murdered at Corfe, by whom we do not know, but history leads us to believe, it could have been supporters loyal to Ethelred II his step-brother, assisted by his step-mother, believing he would make a far better King.

In 978 Ethelred was crowned King.  Shortly into his reign, the second Viking Age started, with large scale raids upon our lands in 980.

In 991, the Danes demanded payment, in return they would leave… Ethelred raised taxes and paid out 4,500 kg of gold and silver.

In 1012, the Danes demanded more; 22,000 kg of “Danegold.”  The Vikings new England was wealthy compared with other European countries which was why they kept coming back for more.

Ethelred offered Danish soldiers land, in return they would fight against their Danish comrades, they were never satisfied and continued to demand more and more land.

Ethelred ordered the massacre of all soldiers and farmers living in England, this was a bold and stupid action at the time, and so angered the Danish King; Sweyn Forkbeard.  In 1013, Sweyn conquered England, forcing Ethelred from his land and into exile; Normany in France.

The English nobles offered the Danish King; Sweyn Forkbeard, the crown of England; King of England, but died in 1014 before the ceremony could take place.

Ethelred returned to England after his short exile, but died in 1016.

Cnut son of Sweyn Forkbeard, now led the Danish army in England, yet Edmund Ironside Ethelred’s son gave as good as he got in battle with the Danes.

So it was a treaty was agreed between Cnut and Edmund that they shared the Kingdom.  Within months Edmund died and Cnut became King of England.  England under Cnut saw a period of peace, and was recognized as King by the Kingdoms of Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

Cnut took Ethelred’s wife Emma as his Queen, she being the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, this marriage served him well, and gained his friendship with the Duke himself.

Cnut died in 1035, and his empire; Denmark, Norway and England fell apart.  He left three sons; Harthacnut, Sweyn and Harold.  Emma had two sons by Ethelred; Edward and Alfred.  Alfred made an expedition to England in 1036 and was murdered.

With Cnut dead, any new King would need the support of Leofric of Mercia, Siward of Northumbria and Godwine of Wessex, the English Earls.

Cnut’s son Harold I was crowned King of England in 1016 and reigned until 1040.  He was replaced by Cnut other son Harthacnut from 1040-1042 until he died.

Edward son of Ethelred came home from Normandy claiming the crown; King of England as its rightful heir.  He was crowned in 1042 and carried the title “Edward the Confessor.”

Edward, England’s new King may have been born Saxon, but was more Norman.  He took Earl Godwine’s daughter for his Queen, in return for his support.  Earl Godwine died in 1053, his son Harold took an instant dislike to Edward.

Edward died in 1066, leaving no heirs to the English throne.

Vikings in Britain

Vikings attack Britain

In the year 787, the first of three Viking ships came from Denmark.  Upon their arrival, these newcomers from the seas were greeted, by the hand of friendship, only to be cut down where they stood.

Who were these Vikings that came from the seas of Europe?  They came from Sweden, Denmark and Norway; some came to settle, for they were farmers and fishermen seeking new lands.  Whilst others came to plunder, killing and taking captives to sell as slaves, these were fierce barbaric fighters.

For these Vikings, Britain offered much in the way of booty.  Treasure’s from the Saxon Kings, Monasteries, silver and gold trinkets.

According to the writings within the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, it is said, that in the year 793, these Vikings landed on the island of Lindisfarne, destroying the Abbey, spilling the blood of the Monks – showing no mercy.  Their actions of murder and plunder upon the Holy island sent shock waves through Britain and across Europe.

In the year 795, they raided the settlements of Ireland, and this became the heart of Viking trade, especially in slavery.

It is written many Norwegians sailed to the northern lands driving off the Picts and Scots, settling in parts of Scotland, the Orkney’s and Shetland islands in the 800’s.  They settled on this newly acquired land; a new life of farming and fishing.

Viking warriors plundered Britain, and returned to their homelands with their booty for the winter months.

In the year 851, an enormous fleet of some 350 Viking ships, were observed at the mouth of the River Thames.  London had not the men and weapons to stop the plundering heading their way.  That same year they plundered Canterbury for slaves and riches.

In 865 they went on to conqueror East Anglia, Northumbria and Mercia this had become more than a raid upon their land, and return to their homelands before winter set in, they were here to stay.

These Vikings lived a simple lifestyle; their houses were a single room, open plan styled.

They cooked their food in iron cauldrons, which hung over a fire, or from a spit peeling off sliced meat.  They drank beer made from barley and mead, in cups made from horns.  Their clothes were woollen, often coloured from plant dyes, boots and belts made from leather.

Their blacksmiths made the tools with which to dig the land, build their houses, swords, axes and spears for battle.