The Vikings:


The Great Viking Army of 865:

Minor Viking raids on the east coast were not uncommon in the 9th century and although they undoubtedly caused a lot of localised damage they would probably have had little effect on the wider communities of the kingdom of Northumbria; it was not until the landing of the Great Viking army in 865 that the Vikings became a threat to the established Anglo-Saxon power structures.

At this time, there was already a Viking settlement in Ireland and in the Northern and Western Isles of Scotland, but the leaders of the Great Viking Army, Ivar the Boneless and his brother Halfdan, seem to have been determined to create their own kingdom in England.

They landed in East Anglia in 865 and the following year they marched north to capture York, which they then used as a base for campaigns against the southern English kingdoms; a series of puppet kings were put in place to rule York while the Danes ravaged the rest of the country; it was during one of these conflicts in 869 that Ivar is said to have martyred Edmund, King of the East Angles.

In 876 Halfdan moved back into the north and began to wage war on Bernicia (Northumbria, north of the Tees), on the British kingdom of Strathclyde and on the Pictish kingdoms further north; this gave security to the Viking Kingdom of York and allowed Halfdan to settle his followers in their newly conquered territories around York and further south. See Viking Territories in 886.

The first Christian King of Viking York:

After Halfdan's death, the throne of York passed to a Christian, Guthfrith; his swearing-in seems to have been an odd fusion of both pagan and Christian ceremonies; it took place on top of a hill and involved both the use of a golden amulet and the swearing of oaths on relics of Saint Cuthbert; Guthfrith only ruled for a few years and was followed by a number of kings bearing Viking names, about whom little is known.

A similar mixture of Christian and pagan elements, used for his swearing-in, can be seen on the Leeds cross (found in fragments in the early 19th century when Leeds parish church was being rebuilt), which among the figures of Christian saints includes a depiction of the Viking hero Wayland in his flying machine.

A re-unified Northumbria:

After he had helped to found a Scandinavian kingdom in York, Ivar the Boneless went to Dublin which he used as a base for raiding parties into Scotland; his grandson, who eventually became King Regnald of York, also waged a series of campaigns against the Scots and the Irish; he gained control of the whole of northern England and finally wrested control of Bernicia from the Anglo-Saxons in 916.

Never again would Northumbria be split into two separate provinces; the only problem was whether the Vikings or the English would finally rule what is now England; effectively England was divided into two parts, the Danelaw, comprising northern and eastern England under Viking rule, and Wessex (which included the south-east and south-west) under English rule.

Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, brought much of the South and the Midlands back under English rule before his death in 899; the process was continued by his son Edward but it was not until the accession of Aethelstan and his success at the Battle of Brunanburh in 937, where the English defeated a combined force of Vikings and Scots, that the title 'King of England' was adopted (the first use of the term, as distinct from 'King of the English' used by Alfred the Great).

The modern northern border with Scotland was not fixed until 1157; historians have argued over the precise location of the battle of Brunanburh; some have suggested Brinkburn in Northumberland; others have suggested the Solway Firth or the Cheshire plain and another possible candidate, suggested partly on place-name evidence, partly for geo-strategic regions, is Brinsworth near Rotherham in South Yorkshire, close to the old Roman fort at Templeborough and on the line of the old Roman road to the North; if this is the site of the battle, the Viking-Scots army would have travelled down the old Roman road through Castleford where it is likely they would have camped on their way to the battle.

The battle marked a turning point in English history; although there were other brief periods when Northumbria was governed as a separate province by Viking rulers, Aethelstan's achievement was remembered by his successors who sought to maintain a unified English kingdom; in 948 Castleford itself was the scene of a major battle when the Northumbrians ambushed King Eadred (Aethelstan's half brother) as he travelled southwards from Ripon; there was immense slaughter on both sides.

Eventually the English compelled the Northumbrians to drive their Viking king Eric Bloodaxe into exile, but they soon brought him back again and it was not until 954 when Eric Bloodaxe died in fighting on Stainmoor that Northumbria was finally brought permanently under the rule of the English king.

Despite its annexation by England the earls of Northumbria continued to cause trouble for the rulers of the period; they were powerful men who could be seen as contestants for the throne; the problem was one that the Anglo-Saxon state never fully dealt with and it was not until William the Conqueror's ruthless 'Harrying of the North' that the problem was brought under control.

Viking settlement:

There is little apparent archaeological evidence to-date for Viking settlement in West Yorkshire; only a few stray finds of the period have been made and no settlement sites have been positively identified; one possible source of information may come from place name evidence; for example, place names ending in 'by' may indicate Viking settlement as this was their word for village, however Scandinavian place names are very much a minority in West Yorkshire and how much Viking settlement actually occurred in West Yorkshire is currently unknown, but was probably not large.

Evidence for the later period of Viking rule comes from the large number of fragments of stone sculpture showing Scandinavian influence which still survives in our parish churches today; these may well have been commissioned by Anglo-Scandinavian nobles who will have been buried in the churches' Christian burial grounds.

For the kingdom of Northumbria the Viking era opened in 793 with an attack on the monasterey at Lindesfarne; Danish Vikings crossed the North Sea to plunder the coast of Northumbria whilst Norwegians raided Orkney, the Western Isles and Ireland; King Ragnar Lodbrok led a Danish Leidang into Northumbria during the mid-9th century, but was captured and executed in a snake pit at the Anglian court.

The Danes embarked on a mission of vengeance, but were also part of the greater Scandinavian imperialist movement; in 865 his eldest son Ivar the Boneless led the Great Viking Army into a landing at East Anglia, where they slew King Edmund the Martyr; after their landing in East Anglia, the Danes headed north and took York in 866, eventually conquering the whole of Northumbria and the Kingdom of Strathclyde.

Early Middle Ages - A medieval representation of Saint Olaf:

This is the period from the Danish colonisation of 866 AD to the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066; after the Danish subjugation of the region, in 875 Guthrum became leader of the Danes and he apportioned lands to his followers; however most of the English population were allowed to retain their lands under the lordship of their Scandinavian conquerors.

Ivar the Boneless became "King of all Scandinavians in the British Isles"; the Danes changed the Old English name for York from Eoforwic, to Jorvik; the Vikings destroyed all the early monasteries in the area and took the monastic estates for themselves; although some of the minster churches survived the plundering and eventually the Danish leaders were converted to Christianity.

In the late 9th century Jorvik was ruled by the Christian king Guthfrith; it was under the Danes that the ridings and wapentakes of Yorkshire and the Five Burghs were established; the ridings were arranged so that their boundaries met at Jorvik, which was the administrative and commercial centre of the region; the Swedish Munsö dynasty became overlords of Jorvik because the Danes in Britain had promised loyalty to the Munsö Kings of Dublin.

The Norse-Gaels, Ostmen or Gallgaidhill became Kings of Jorvik after long contests with the Danes over controlling the Isle of Man, which prompted the Battle of Brunanburh; then, in 954, King Eric I of Norway of the Fairhair dynasty was slain at the Battle of Stainmore by Anglo-Saxons and Edred of England began overlordship.

Jorvik was the direct predecessor to the shire of York and received further Danish royal aids after the invasion and takeover of Jorvik by England, from the Munsö descendants, Sweyn II of Denmark right down to Canute IV of Denmark's martyrdom; Saint Olave's Church in York is a testament to the Norwegian influence in the area.

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