Viking Exploration Part 2 – The British Isles
A brief look at Vikings and the British Isles.
One of the reasons the Vikings are so well known is due to their impact on the people of the British Isles. From the time Viking raiders attacked Lindisfarne monastery in 793, an attack that caused much concern throughout the Christian west, as the centres of literacy in Western Europe, monasteries dutifully recorded the event into the annals of history and the age that historians now call the Viking Age began.
For the Vikings didn’t just raid, they also settled the lands in Europe that they conquered through warfare.
Sometimes it was just the warriors who settled down, began working the land, and took wives from among the native population. At other times, whole families moved from Scandinavia to the newly-conquered territories. Surprisingly, Viking rulers in conquered territories largely adapted to what was expected of a ruler in those lands rather than simply imposing Scandinavian customs on the populace. Viking rulers in non-Norse lands often maintained good relations with the Christian Church, used written documents in governance, and even minted coins. Their Viking followers did likewise, to the point that archaeologists often find it nearly impossible to distinguish the graves of Vikings from the graves of non-Vikings in Viking-controlled territories.
Viking conquests had the deepest and longest impact on the British Isles. The Scandinavians who migrated to England, Scotland, and Ireland forever changed the character of those countries. By the late ninth century, the Norse controlled virtually all of England besides Wessex, and large swaths of Scotland and Ireland as well.
The Vikings settled northern Scotland especially heavily, mostly because it was both to Norway and a convenient jumping-off point for raids in England and Ireland. The level of Norse influence upon the people of Scotland and its islands was so great that today, Shetlanders have 44 percent Scandinavian DNA, the Orkneys’ inhabitants have 30 percent, while those who live in the Western Isles have 15 percent. The inhabitants of the Orkney and Shetland Islands spoke Norn, a dialect of Old Norse, until the nineteenth century.
Meanwhile, the Norse adapted to the local customs, including becoming Christians.
Vikings settled in Ireland and From 840 began building fortified encampments, longphorts, on the coast as they overwintered in Ireland. The first encampments were at Dublin and Linn Duachaill. Their attacks became more ambitious and reached further inland, striking larger monastic settlements such as Armagh, Clonmacnoise, Glendalough, Kells and Kildare. As they became more and more integrated into Irish society, Vikings fought wars on behalf of Irish leaders, intermarried with the Irish, adopted Christianity, and made the transition from being slavers to becoming important traders. Though Viking settlements in Ireland were confined to trade towns, they had an enormous impact on the contemporary and subsequent character of the country.
One Viking settlement is the Irish capital, Dublin.
Wales was not colonized by the Vikings as significantly as eastern England. The Vikings did settle in small numbers in the south around St Davids, Haverfordwest, and the Gower. Place names such as Skokholm, Skomer, and Swansea remain as evidence of the Norse settlement, but they did not set up a Viking state or control Wales, due to the powerful forces of Welsh kings.
Viking raids and rule dominated England.
After Lindisfarne in 793, Raids continued until 865, when a group of hitherto uncoordinated bands of predominantly Danish Vikings joined together to form a large army that landed in East Anglia. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described this force as the Great Heathen Army and went on to say that it was led by Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan Ragnarsson. The army crossed the Midlands into Northumbria and captured York (Jorvik). In 871, the Great Heathen Army was reinforced by another Danish force known as the Great Summer Army led by Guthrum. In 875, the Great Heathen Army split into two bands, where Guthrum led one back to Wessex, while Halfdan shared out Northumbrian land amongst his men, who “ploughed the land and supported themselves”, founding the territory later known as the Danelaw.
Most of the English kingdoms, being in turmoil, could not stand against the Vikings, but King Alfred of Wessex eventually defeated Guthrum’s army at the Battle of Edington in 878. There followed treaties that formalised the boundaries of the English kingdoms and the Viking Danelaw territory, with provisions for peaceful relations between the English and the Vikings. Despite these treaties, conflict continued on and off. Alfred and his successors eventually drove back the Viking frontier and retook York.
A new wave of Vikings appeared in England in 947, when Erik Bloodaxe captured York. The Viking presence continued through to the reign of the Danish prince Cnut the Great (reigned as King of England: 1016–1035), after which a series of inheritance arguments weakened the hold on power of Cnut’s heirs.
When King Edward the Confessor died in 1066, the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada challenged his successor, Harold Godwinson, as King of England. Hardrada was killed, and his Norwegian army defeated, by Harold Godwinson on 25 September 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Harold Godwinson himself died when the Norman William the Conqueror defeated the English army at the Battle of Hastings only a month later in October 1066. William was crowned king of England on 25 December 1066 and, according to modern historians, the Viking Age ended.
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About the author:
Hi, I’m Rob Shackleford. I am author of a number of novels: Traveller Inceptio, Traveller Probo and the recently published part 3 of the Traveller series, Traveller Manifesto. My research into 1000 years into the past has included Vikings, which are a fascinating field of historical study.
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