Monday, 20 August 2012


(c. 895-939) King of Wessex (r. 924-939) and the first Anglo-Saxon king to have effective rule over the whole of England. The son of Edward the Elder, king of Wessex, Athelstan was brought up in Mercia by his aunt Aethelflaed, the lady of the Mercians. On his father's death in 924, Aethelstan was elected king in both Wesswx and Mercia. On the death of its king, Sihtric Caech, in 927 Athelstan seized York and received the submission of the Northumbrians, so completing the West Saxon takeover of all England. Athelstan's growing power united against him a strong coalition of Olak Guthfrithsson, king of Dublin and claimant to the throne of York, Constantine II, king of the Scots, and the Britons of Strathclyde. Athelstan decisively routed the allies at the battle of Brunanburh in 937. Regarded as a mighty king by his contemporaries, Athelstan enjoyed close relations with many European rulers, and he married his half-sisters into the royal houses of France, Germany and Burgandy. Athelstan never married and was succeeded by his half brother Edmund.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. p 29

Battle of Brunanburh (937). Crushing victory of Athelstan, king of Wessex, over a colaition of Dublin Vikings, Scots and Strathclyde Britons led by Olaf Guthfrithsson of Dublin, at an unidentified location, probably in northern England. The battle was fought from dawn till dusk; when Olaf's army broke it was pursued by the West Saxons and Mercians, who cut down the fugitives. Though West Saxon losses were heavy, Olaf's army was cut to pieces and he himself barely escaped. Among the dead were five minor Norse kings, seven jarls and Cellach, the son of king Constantine II of the Scots. Olaf's aim had been to recapture York, seized by Athelstan in 927, and to curb the growing power of Wessex. Athelstan's victory was therefore an important step in the creation of a unified English kingdom.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 37-38


'lady of the Mercians' (d.918). Daughter of Alfred the Great, Aethelflaed was married to Ealdorman Aerheled of Mercia in 884. She ruled Mercia jointly with her husband, and after his death in 911 ruled alone for the remainder of her life. She gave permission for the Viking Ingamund to settle on the Wirral c.902 and refortified Chester in 907. after he attacked it c 905. She founded burhs at Eddisbury and Runcorn to block Viking expansion south of the River Mersey. From 912 she cooperated closely with her brother Edward the Elder, king of Wessex, in his campaign to conquer the Danelaw. In 917 Aethelflaed captured Derby, and in 918 Leicester surrendered to her. In the same year the Danes of York offered to submit to her, but she died before the offer could be acted upon. She was briefly succeeded by her daughter Aelfwynn, but in 919 Edward formally annexed Mercia to Wessex.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. p 19

Edward the Elder

(d.924) King of Wessex (r.899-924). Edward was the eldest son of Alfred the Great. His greatest achievement was the conquest of the Danelaw as far north of the River Humber. The first three years of his reign were spent suppressing the rebellion of his cousin Aethelwold, who allied with the East Anglican Danes to raid Mercia. Although Edward's army was defeated by the Danes at the Holme in 903, both Aethelwold and the Danish king Eorhic were killed. In 909 Edward invaded the kingdom of York: a Danish counter-attack in 910 was bloodily defeated at Terrenhall. With the Danes of York effectively eliminated, in 912 Edward embarked on the methodical conquest of the Danelaw, aided closely by his sister Aethelflaed of Mercia. After the unnamed Danish king of East Anglia was killed in battle at Tempsford, Bedfordshire, in 917, resistance in the Danelaw crumbled, and by the end of 918 Edward's conquest was complete. In parallel to his conquest of the Danelaw, Edward also absorbed Mercia into Wessex, seizing London, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 911, and the rest of the kingdom in 919 following the death of Aethelflaed (918). In the same year he occupied Manchester in the kingdom of York. Edward consolidated his conquests by building fortified burhs. The Mercians were not reconciled to the loss of their independence and they rebelled in alliance with the Welsh in 924. Edward died in Cheshire in the same year, suppressing the rebellion. After a brief succession crisis he was succeeded by his son Athelstan.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 61-62


Anglo-Saxon fortified settlements, built mostly in the late 9th and early 10th centuries as a response to Viking attacks. The first burhs were built at the end of the 8th century in the Midland kingdom of Mercia, but their systematic use as defensive centres began in Wessex under Alfred the Great (r. 871-899). In the 880s Alfred established a network of 30 burhs across Wessex so that no part of the kingdom was more than 32 kilometres from one. There were two categories of burh. The largest were planned as permanent settlements and market centres, most of which developed into successful towns. There was also a catagory of smaller burhs that were intended only as temporary forts: most of these were probably abandoned by the mid 10th century. Some burhs, such as South Cadbury, were sited to take advantage of surviving iron age fortifications; others such as Bath, Chichester, Exeter and Winchester, made use of old Roman fortifications. Burhs such as Walingford and Wareham had defences that were modelled on Roman forts; many others utilized natural defences. Each burh was given a tax assessment and a garrison of peasant levies according to length of its walls. The formula recorded in the Burghal Hidage, compiled c914-18, was that four men were needed to man each pole (about 5 metres) of wall, and that one man should be supplied by each hide (the area of land needed to support one peasant family). Thus Wareham, whose defences were 400 poles (about 2,000 metres) long was assigned 1,600 hides of land. The defences were usually built of clay or turf, topped with a timber palisade, though in a few cases these ramparts were rebuilt in stone in the 10th century. Alfred's son and successor, Edward the Elder (r. 899-924) and daughter Aethelflaed, lady of the Mercians, methodically extended the system of burhs to consolidate the conquest of the Danelaw.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 38-39

Additional information about burhs - Alfred the Great and the burhs

also Burghal Hidage (Alfred's towns, the burhs)

and Alfred the Great, including information on the Burghal Hidage

Alfred the Great part 2

Found two useful books in the public library dealing with aspects of the life of Alfred the Great - The political thought of King Alfred the Great by David Pratt (Cambridge University Press 2007) and Alfred the Great : Asser's life of King Alfred and other contemporary sources (Penguin Classics 1983).

Both books have a photo of the Alfred Jewel now in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum of British Archaeology at Oxford University. The jewel was believed to have been the top of a pointer (aestel) sent to bishops with copies of Alfred's translation of Pope Gregory's Pastoral care or it may have been a symbol of office. The Alfred Jewel is one of the few objects remaining from the Anglo-Saxon period.

Alfred translated Pope Gregory's Pastoral care from Latin into old English for the use of his bishops who he suspected were neglecting their duties. he also wrote a preface to the work explaining his program of educational reform. This is one of the works included in Penguin Classics volume. Other works include:

Asser's Life of King Alfred - available online as part of Online Medieval and Classical Library. Asser was the Bishop of Sherborne and wrote this work in Latin around 888.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - also available as part of Online Medieval and Classical Library . King Alfred commissioned the writing of the chronicle around 890 and it was subsequently added to by other writers until the middle of the 12th century.

Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius - available online as part of the Project Gutenberg. Boethius wrote this work c524.

Soliloquies by Augustine of Hippo - available online as part of  Internet Archive. Saint Augustine lived from 354 to 430.

Prose translations of Psalms 1 - 50 - available online Medieval Academy publications.

Other sources from the reign of Alfred include:

The laws of King Alfred - a selection is available online in Internet History Sourcebook. An article on the laws and a brief account of Alfred's life is also available online.

Will of King Alfred

Pratt's work provides a study of the translated works and their relevance to the understanding of Alfred as well as his contribution to the governance and development of England as one nation.

Alfred the Great

(d. 899) King of Wessex (r. 871-899). The youngest son of Aethelwulf of Wessex, Alfred succeeded to the throne on the death of his brother Aethelred I. The early years of his reign were taken up by a life-and-death struggle with the Danish Great Army, culminating in the near collapse of Wessex after a surprise attack on the royal manor at Chippenham in midwinter 878 forced Alfred into hiding at Athelney in the marshes of Somerset. From there, Alfred rallied his forces, and that May he won a decisive victory over the Danes at Edington and besieged their base at Chippenham, forcing them to surrender. By the treaty of Wedmore, the Danish king Guthrum accepted baptism and withdrew his army to East Anglia. Alfred embarked on a thorough reorganisation of the defences of Wessex, building a series of fortresses or burhs, reforming the army, and building a fleet to take on the Vikings at sea. He built a close relationship with Mercia, marrying his daughter Aethelflead to its ruler ealdorman Aethelred, and also with Northumbria, presenting himself as leader of all English not under Danish rule. In 886 Alfred recaptured London from the Danes after Guthrum had broken the the peace the previous year. In the peace settlement, Alfred forced Guthrum to grant equal rights to the English living under his rule. The effectiveness of Alfred's defences were tested by the arrival of a large Viking army from Francia in 892. But despite receiving support from the Danish settlers in the Danelaw, this new onslaught was contained. The Vikings faced constant harassment by Alfred's forces and in 896 their army broke up, most to settle in the Danelaw, others to join the Viking army on the River Seine.

A devout Christian, Alfred believed the Viking attacks were a punishment from God for the laxity of the English Church. As a result, Alfred began a programme of educational reform to raise the standard of the clergy, inviting scholars from abroad and translating into English several major works, including Pope Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care. He was responsible for beginning the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. In the late Anglo Saxon period, Alfred's reputation was overshadowed by those of his successors, Edward the Elder and Athelstan. Alfred's reputation began to grow in the 12th century, thanks to chronicler William of Malmsbury, and by the 16th century he had acquired his title 'the Great', the only English king to be so distinguished. Certainly, with the benefit of hindsight, Alfred's reign can be seen as decisive in English history, marking the beginning of a national kingship. In his combination of political, military and scholarly abilities. Alfred stands alone among the leaders of medieval Europe.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 21-22

Thursday, 9 August 2012

William Longsword

(d. 942) Son of Rollo, William count of Rouen (r. c.928-42), was the second ruler of Normandy. William continued the expansionist policy of his father and was granted the Contentin peninsula in 933 and attempted to establish his protection over Brittany. In 935 William invaded Flanders but was defeated at Therouanne. William also consolidated his authority over the Scandinavian settlers in Normandy, putting down a rebellion led by a Viking called Rioul in 933-4. In 939 he allied himself with Hugh the Great in a rebellion against King Louis IV. The war was ended through the mediation of the pope, and Louis confirmed William's investiture of Normandy in 940. William's murder, on the orders of Arnulf I, count of Flanders, during a meeting on an island in the River Somme in 942, threw Normandy into chaos. He was succeeded by his illegitimate son Richard I (Richard the Fearless).

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. p 208.


The only Anglo-Saxon kingdom to survive the Viking invasions of the late 9th century intact. Wessex, the kingdom of the West Saxons, is traditionally considered to have been founded by Cerdic c AD 500, and by the 9th century it covered most of England south of the River Thames. Its main towns were Winchester and Hamwic (Southampton). The victory of Egbert (r. 802-839) over the rival kingdom of Mercia at Ellandun in 825 established Wessex as the strongest Anglo-Saxon kingdom, and in 829 he was recognised as Bretwalda (high king of Britain). Viking attacks on Wessex began during the reign of Egbert's predecessor Beorhtric (r. 786-802) with a raid on Portland, probably in 789. Later tradition in Wessex held that this was the first Viking raid in Britain. Large-scale Viking attacks began only in 836 when Egbert was defeated by thirty-five ships' companies at Carhampton in Somerset. The scale of raids escalated dramatically in the 850s when the Vikings wintered at Thanet in the Thames Estuary, but generally the West Saxons gave the Vikings as good as they got.

With the arrival of the Danish great army in East Anglia in 865 the Viking threat escalated yet again, but its first foray into Wessex five years later was defeated by king Aethelred and his brother Alfred after bitter fighting. The Danes under Guthrum, Oscetel and Anund, invaded again in 875 and Alfred, now king (r. 871-899), was hard pressed, driving them out only after his decisive victory at Edington in 878. Alfred successfully defended his kingdom against a second Viking onslaught in 892-6.

Alfred was followed by a succession of able kings who progressively brought the rest of England under their control. Alfred's son Edward the Elder worked closely with his sister Aethelflaed, wife of the Mercian earldoman Aethelred, to conquer the Danelaw of eastern England in 912-18. A year after Aethelflaed's death in 918, Edward annexed Mercia, taking West Saxon control to the Humber and the Mercy. When Edward's son Athelstan captured York from the Norse in 927, all the Anglo-Saxons and all the Scandinavian settlers in England came under a single ruler for the first time and Wessex was transformed into the kingdom of England.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. p 208.

Harald Hardrada

1015-1066 - King of Norway (r. 1046-166). Harald's spectacular, if largely unsuccessful, career carried him across much of the world then known to the Vikings: it is not without justification that he is widely regarded as the last great Viking leader. Harald's career is known mainly from his saga in Snorri Sturluson's 13th century Heimskringla. At the age of 15, Harald fought for his half-brother king Olaf Haraldsson in the battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Defeated, Harald went into exile in Sweden in Sweden and then to the court of prince Jaroslav the Wise at Novgorod. For three years he served Jaroslav as a mercenary, before joining the Byzantine emperor's Varangian Guard at Constantinople. Though it can be shown from contemporary Greek sources that the saga exagerates harald's importance, he undoubtedly made a good reputation as a warrior and a small fortune for himself during his service in the guard. In 1044 he returned to Sweden, marrying Jaroslav's daughter Elislief (Elizabeth) on his way back through Russia. There he allied with Svein Estrithson to try to win a share of his nephew Magnus the Good's Norwegian-Danish kingdom. When Magnus offered him joint rulership of Norway in 1046, Harald abandoned his alliance with Svein. When Magnus died the following year, Harold became sole ruler of Norway, but Svein seized power in Denmark.Harald tried vainly to dislodge Svein from Denmark. Despite winning every battle he fought, in 1064 Harald finally recognised Svein as king of Denmark. Harald also faced frequent opposition to his rule in Norway, earning his nickname 'hardradi' (hard ruler) for the ruthless measures he took to defend his authority. Harald had inherited a claim to the English throne as a result of a treaty between Magnus and Cnut's son Harthacnut in 1036. The death of England's king Edward the Confessor in 1066 seemed the ideal opportunity to pursue the claim. Landing in the Humber Estuary with a fleet of 300 ships in September, he defeated an English army at Fulford Gate and then took York. Only days later, another army under the English king Harold Godwinson surprised Harald's force at Stamford Bridge and annihilated. Harald himself was killed, and the severity of the losses in the battle weakened Norway for a generation. Harald was succeeded by his son Magnus II.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 91 - 92.

Harold Godwinson (Harold II)

c1020-1066. The last Anglo-Saxon king of England (r. 1066). Harold was the son of Godwine of Wessex and Kent and his wife Gytha, a Danish noblewoman related by marriage to Cnut. Through his father's patronage Harold became earl of East Anglia in 1044. When Godwine was exiled by Edward the Confessor, it was Harold who led the army that forced the king to reinstate him. He inherited his father's earldoms on his death in 1053. Harold became the dominant figure at court, obtaining earldoms for his brothers Tostig, Gyrth and Leofwine by 1057. In 1063 he showed his military abilities on a successful punitive expedition in Wales. When Edward died in 1066 without any heirs, Harold was chosen king but he faced rival claimants in William the Conqueror of Normandy and Harald Hardraga of Norway. He also faced the hostility of his brother Tostig, who had been exiled from his earldom of Northumbria in 1065 and was now leading the Viking raids along the English coast. When Harald (Hardrada) in September 1066 he was joined by Tostig, but both were killed when Harold surprised and defeated their army at Stamford Bridge near York (25 September). A few days later William landed on the south coast and Harold hurried south with his exhausted army to confront him. After a fierce day-long battle at Hastings (14 October), the English army broke and Harald with his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine was killed. By Christmas William had been accepted as king of England. It is not known why Harold did not allow his army time to recover from the battle at Stamford Bridge or to gather reinforcements. It may have been eagerness to protect his family lands in Wessex from Norman depredations. More likely, he did not want to give his political enemies in England the opportunity to ally with William against him.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 92 - 93.


Viking leader who founded the duchy of Normandy (d. c928). Although regarded in Norman sources as a Dane, Rollo was probably Norwegian: late Icelandic sources identify him with Gongu-Hrolf, a son of Rognvald of More, who turned to piracy after he was outlawed by Harald Fairhair. According to the Norman chronicler Dudo of St Quentin, Rollo arrived on the Seine in 876. In 911 he led a band of Danish Vikings in an unsuccessful attack on Chartres. In peace talks at St-Claire-Sur-Epte, king Charles the Simple of the West Franks granted Rollo the county of Rouen and other districts on the lower Seine in return for his homage and defence of the area against other Viking raiders. Rollo was baptised in 912, though he did not give up worshipping the pagan gods. Rollo was granted further territories around Bayeux in 924, but broke the treaty in 925, attacking Amiens, Arras and Noyon, before he was defeated at Eux by the counts of Flanders and Vermandois. Rollo was succeeded by his son William Longsword.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 160.

Rognvald of More

Jarl (earl) of More in western Norway (fl. c870) Rognvald was remembered as a close ally of king Harald Fairhair. Rognvald is generally considered to have been the founder of the earldom of Orkney. Irish sources suggest that this happened about the same time as the Danes captured York (866). Rognvald was content to remain in Norway and handed Orkney over to his brother Sigurd the Mighty who consolidated the authority of the earldom. Rognvald was killed in a dispute with king Harald's son Halfdan Halegg and was succeeded by his son Thore as jarl of More. His illegitimate son Torf-Einar later became earl of Orkney. Another of his sons was Gongu-Hrolf, who is probably to be identified with Rollo, the founder of Normandy.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. p 159.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Earldom of Orkney

Norse earldom comprising in the 11th century the Orkney and Shetland Islands and Sutherland and Caithness on the Scottish mainland. The origins of the earldom are obscure. According to medieval Icelandic historical traditions, Orkney was conquered in the late 9th century by King Harald Fairhair of Norway, who granted the islands to his ally Rognvald of More as compensation for the death of his son Ivar on the campaign. Independent Irish sources suggest that it was Rognvald himself who conquered the islands at the same time that the Danes captured York (866) much too early for Harald to have had a hand in events. Archaeological evidence generally supports the conclusion that the main period of Scandinavian settlement in Orkney was around the middle of the 9th century. The story of Harald's expedition, if not actually true, certainly does reflect an early interest in Orkney by the Norwegian kings. Although up to the end of the 11th century the earls of Orkney were effectively independent rulers, they did acknowledge Norwegian sovereignty.

Sigurd the Mighty (d. c892) began the expansion of the earldom, conquering Caithness and Sutherland. Considerable Norse settlement in Caithness followed. The maximum expansion of the earldom took place under Sigurd the Stout (r. c895-1014) who brought the Norse settlements in the Hebrides  under his control, and Thorfinn the Mighty (R. c1020-1065), who probably conquered Ross (c1030-1035). Thorfinn is also known to have ruled in the Shetland Islands: whether he was the first Orkney earl to do so is unclear, as it is possible they had formerly been rules from Norway. Many Orkney earls, including Thorfinn, found the islands a convenient base for Viking raiding in the Irish Sea area, and Norse pirates such as Svein Asliefarson continued to harass the British coasts into the second half of the 12th century. By this time, the earldom was a declining power. Shetland was brought back under direct rule by Norway in 1195, and SutherlandCaithness and Ross were conquered by the Scots in 1199-1202: the Hebrides had already been lost to the kingdom of Man in the late 11th century. After the union of Kalmar in 1397, Orkney, along with Shetland, came under Danish sovereignty until they were both ceded to Scotland in 1469.

Orkney and Shetland are unique among the areas settled by Scandinavians during the Viking Age in that the native population (the Celtic Picts in this case) became assimilated to Scandinavian culture and language and not vice versa, as happened in other areas. So complete was this assimilation - a sign probably that the Scandinavian settlers were very numerous - that almost all place-names in Orkney, Shetland and even Caithness are of Norse origin. Orkney and Shetland developed their own Norse dialect, known as Norn. By the beginning of the 15th century, however, the Scots dialect of English was being used in official documents and by the mid-18th century Norn had died out. Physical reminders of the Norse age in Orkney and Jarlshof in Shetland have been excavated, and the ruins of fine early Norse churches, built soon after the Christianization of the islands in the 11th century, survive at Orphir and Egilsay in Orkney. Most impressive of all is the early 12th century cathedral of St Magnus (Magnus Erlendsson) at Kirkwall, Orkney, which is, after Durham Cathedral, perhaps the finest Romanesque building in the British Isles.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 142 - 143.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012


Duchy of Normandy - region of northern France that came under Viking rule in the 10th century, the name of which is derived from Nordmannia (Northmans Land). The origins of Normandy can be traced to the arrival of a large Viking army on the Seine in 885. In 890 most of the force had moved on to Flanders, and eventually to England, but some Vikings remained behind and continued to raid the area. After the seine Vikings unsuccessfully besieged Chatres in 911, thier leader Rollo reached a peace agreement with the Frankish king Charles the Simple at St-Claire-Sur-Epte. In return for his homage, conversion to Christianity and an undertaking to defend the Seine against other Viking raiders, Rollo was made count of Rouen (the title of duke was adopted by Norman rulers only in 1006). Though the establishment of Normandy would certainly cause some major problems for future kings of France, the treaty achieved its immediate objective: permanently ending the threat to the Seine. Rollo was granted further lands around Bayeux in 924, and his son William Longsword gained the Cotentin peninsula in 933, but the powerful counts of Flanders defeated their attempts to expand eastwards. A political crisis followed the murder of William Longsword in 942 and the subsequent accession of his ten year-old son Richard the Fearless, but by 946 the threat to the survival of Normandy had been averted. Under Richard and his successor Richard the Good, Normandy became progressively assimilated into the political life of the West Frankish kingdom (France).

Normandy may owe its creation and name to the Vikings but they had very little influence on the region in the long term. Place-name evidence suggests that Scandinavian settlement was fairly dense around Fecamp, Rouen, Caen and the Cotentin peninsula, but elsewhere it was sparse: the Scandinavian settlers were certainly a minority in Normandy as a whole. Place-names indicate that most of settlers were Danish, though many may have previously settled in the Danelaw in England, and others in the Cotentin were Irish-Norse. There is almost no archaeological evidence of Scandinavian settlement, indicating that the settlers quickly adopted Frankish material culture and burial customs. One of the most important finds is a richly furnished female grave from Pitres. Finds of several swords of Anglo-Saxon pattern strengthen the case for immigration via England. A new wave of pagan settlers arrived c942 and, led by one Turmod, started a brief pagan revival, but most of the original settlers had become at least nominally Christian by this time, and monasteries such as Jumieges, abandoned in the previous century, were being reoccupied. A final influx of pagan Viking warriors created a brief stir in the early 960s. Trade links with Scandinavia were never important and had been abandoned by the early 11th century, by which time Norman coins cease to appear in Scandinavian hoards. Scandinavian speech probably survived until the early 11th century, as the presence of a Norwegian poet at the ducal court in 1025 suggests that there were still people there who could understand him. By the time William the Conqueror led his invasion of England in 1066, however, the Normans had become completely assimilated to French culture and language.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 134 - 135.

Vikings in Francia part II

The Vikings have often been blamed for causing the breakup of the Frankish Carolingian Empire, but the driving force for this was internal and dynastic: the Vikings certainly profited from the empire's internal divisions but they did not cause them. Carolingian rulers did not regard the Vikings as being nearly as serious a threat as their dynastic rivals. However, the Franks did not share their rulers' priorities. They increasingly perceived royal countermeasures  against the Vikings as half-hearted  or even cowardly, and by demonstrating the ineffectiveness of royal power the Vikings probably hastened its decline. The most important long-term consequences of Viking activity in Francia was the establishment of of the duchy of Normandy, the importance of which to the future history of France, England and Italy can hardly be understated.

As in other areas of western Europe, Frankish monasteries - and their monks - suffered severely from Viking attacks, and many were abandoned. Monasteries were the main cultural centres of early medieval Europe, and the revival of learning fostered by Charlemagne, known as the 'Carolingian Renaissance', had collapsed before the end of the 9th century. Severe economic damage  must also have been caused in the short term by Viking plundering both in the towns and the countryside. Wooden buildings were easily rebuilt, and the fertility of the soil could not be taken away, but losses of livestock, seedcorn and manpower would have caused years of hardship for peasant farmers. Two major towns, Quentovic and Dorestad were completely abandoned in the Viking Age, but the culprit here appears to be silting of the rivers that gave access to them, rather than Viking attacks. Some Frankish merchants saw the in the plunder-laden Vikings an opportunity and traded with them, though this could be a dangerous business: Franks who had entered a Viking fort in Flanders to trade in 882 were captured and ransomed. Overall, however, the Vikings do not seem to have had the stimulating impact on trade in Francia that they had in the British Isles. Nor did the Vikings have any cultural impact on Frankish civilization: even in Normandy, the Scandinavian settlers were quickly assimilated to the native population, leaving little trace of their presence behind.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. p76.


The most successful of the Germanic barbarian peoples that invaded the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries . The Franks were a tribal confederation that emerged in the early 3rd century AD from the Chamavi, Chatturai, Salians, Tencteri and other peoples on the east bank  of the lower Rhine. The Franks began to settle on the Roman territory  west of the Rhine in the late 4th century, but their expansion was unspectacular until the reign of Clovis (r.482-511) who made them the masters of Gaul and much of Germany. Under Charlemagne (r768-814) the Franks conquered most of Christian western Europe. It was from the breakup of Charlemagne's empire, known as the Carolingican Empire, in 887-8 that the medieval kingdoms of France and Germany emerged.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 76-77.

Carolingian Empire
The Frankish empire founded by Charlemagne (r. 768-818), comprising most of Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, the low Countries, Italy and parts of Spain and Hungary.  The empire passed intact to Charlemagne's sole surviving son, Louis the Pious, but after his death it was divided according to Frankish custom between his three sons by the treaty of Verdun in 843. The empire survived through a succession of divisions until it was reunited under Charles the Fat (r. 881-7) on whose death it broke up for good.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 40.


The eastern region of England, between the Thames and the Tees, conquered and settled by the Danes in the 9th century, in which the customary laws observed in local courts were strongly influenced by Danish legal customs. The word is derived from Old English Deone lage (Danes law), which is first known from a charter of 1008. The exact borders of the Danelaw during the Viking Age are uncertain, but in the 12th century it was defined as the fifteen counties of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Middlesex. The first recognition that different legal customs prevailed in the Danish-ruled areas of England comes in the peace treaty between Alfred the Great and Guthrum, the Danish king of East Anglica in 866-890. These differences persisted for about 200 years after the West Saxon conquest, and in 970-4 king Edgar officially granted legal autonomy to the Danelaw.

Place-name evidence shows that the Danes did not settle the whole of the Danelaw intensively and were probably a minority of the population in most areas. But while they did not displace the majority of the native population, the Danes did take over royal and aristocratic estates wholesale and formed a new social and political elite that had a lasting influence on local customs. In local administration, the hundred (the basic unit for the administration of justice in England) was usually called a wapentake, and the hide (the area of land needed to support a peasant family) was generally known as the ploughland. (OE plogesland). The law of the Danelaw  was distinguished from English law by procedural differences, heavy fines for breach of the king's peace, and the use, unknown in England at the time, of sworn aristocratic juries of presentment to initiate the prosecution of criminal suspects in wapentake courts. While under contemporary English law the most serious crimes could be tried by ordeal, in the Danelaw trial by combat was normal. There were also major differences  in the landholding in the Danelaw. At the time of the Norman Conquest there was an unusually high number of peasant freeholders or 'sokemen' in the Danelaw compared with the rest of England. In Lincolnshire they accounted for nearly fifty per cent of the population, and in many other Danelaw counties it was around a third. Many sokemen were driven down into serfdom during the Norman period.
Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 51-52.


A term commonly used by modern historians to describe paid tribute to the Danes by the English during the reign of Aethelred II (r.978-1016) in return for peace. It is often also used more generally to describe all such payments to the Vikings, such as tribute paid by the Franks in the 9th century. In fact, the term Danegeld did not appear until after the Norman Conquest (1066), when it was used to describe the heregeld (army tax), which was actually an annual land tax introduced by Aethelred in 1012 to pay for the hire of the mercenary army of Thorkell the Tall. Prior to this Aethelread had imposed general taxes - in 991, 994, 1002, 1007 and 1008 to raise tribute (known at the time as gafol) to buy off the Danes. Enormous sums were raised with apparent ease, a testament to Aethelred's abilities as an administrator and a sign of the wealth of late Anglo-Saxon England. After the Danish conquest of England, Cnut continued to levy the heregeld to pay his housecarls and Fleet, and after the Norman Conquest it developed into a tax to finance military campaigns. Dandgeld was last levied in 1162.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. p51.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Stephen & Matilda part 2

Matilda, Henry I's sole surviving legitimate child, was married to Holy Roman Emperor Henry V when only 11 years old. After his death in 1125, she returned to her father's court before being married in 1128 to Geoffrey Plantagenet, count of Anjou. It was a loveless marriage, for mutual political gain, and the couple produced three sons, including the future Henry II of England, then went their separate ways.

Matilda alienated all whom she ought to have wooed when she ruled England for a short period in 1141-42. During that brief episode of victory she refused to stand to greet her two chief supporters, her uncle, King David of Scotland, and her half-brother, Earl Robert of Gloucester, and greatly angered them. She also insisted on levying an unreasonably heavy tax from the citizens of London, and turned their loyalty and co-operation into hatred and resistance; she was forced to flee from the city.

Haughty, hard and inflexible, she was criticised by contemporaries for her lack of feminine qualities. But she was handsome and brave, a powerful woman in an age dominated by men, and could inspire great loyalty in others.

Civil War
The war of succession between Stephen and Matilda began soon after he had seized the crown in 1135, with Matilda's uncle, David, King of Scotland, invading northern England on her behalf in 1138. Conflict deepened when Matilda herself landed at Arundel in 1139.

The war had its near-decisive moments. In 1141 Stephen was captured at the battle of Lincoln, only to be exchanged against Matilda's half-brother, Earl Robert of Gloucester, who was taken at Winchester in 1142. But it was mostly a struggle of attrition characterized by sieges and small military operations, with Matilda and her supporters entrenched in the West Country and Stephen unable to dislodge them. Matilda was normally on the defensive, occasionally desperately so, as when, in the depths of winter in 1142, with Stephen's army besieging her in Oxford Castle, she had to make a dramatic escape by walking in secret through enemy lines at the dead of night. From 1142 there was a stalemate which neither side came near to breaking.

England suffered the devastation typical of this kind of civil war. Contemporary  England chroniclers tell a grim story. In the West Country, for example, 'you could see villages with famous names standing solitary and almost empty'. They also tell of the construction of castles and local tyranny.

Such conditions did not prevail everywhere; but the normally peaceful English countryside suffered the consequences of an unremitting struggle in which neither side could fully control its soldiers. Central government disintegrated. with taxes not collected in many regions and coins minted locally by barons. Power was assumed by local lords who were given earldoms by the contenders vying for their support.

Matilda left England early in 1148. Her son Henry of Anjou, later Henry II, to whom she transferred her claim, kept up the fight.

Stephen had quarrelled with Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, in 1147, and in 1150 the Church refused to confirm his son, Eustace, as his heir. By now, Henry had established his domination throughout the territories of Normandy, Anjou and Acquitaine and, as a result of this, and the steady support he enjoyed in England, allegiances had slowly drifted his way; by 1153, great barons like Earl Robert of Leicester were ostensibly on Stephen's side, but in practice had done secret deals with Henry.

They were increasingly reluctant to fight a decisive battle - whichever side won, a massive confiscation of property would undoubtedly follow. When Stephen and Henry finally faced each other across the Thames at Wallingford in 1153, there was general pressure on Stephen to acknowledge Henry as King of England.

Medieval Monarchs edited by Elizabeth Hallam. Tiger Books International, 1996 pp 28 & 29

Stephen & Matilda

Stephen (c1097 - 1154) king of England 1135 - 1154

Matilda (1102 - 1167) in power in England 1141 - 1142 but not crowned

The succession crisis that occurred after the death of Matilda's father, Henry I, was known as The Anarchy.

A contemporary chronicler described Stephen 'a good night, but in all other respects a fool'. A stinging verdict that was perhaps over harsh. No one doubted Stephen's personal bravery. At the battle of Lincoln on 2 February 1141 he fought on foot long after much of his army had fled, wearing out a battle-axe and a sword before being captured.

He was a chivalrous figure - courteous, affable, kind-hearted and generous, if somewhat ineffectual when it came to carrying through the schemes he had conceived with such enthusiasm. He could also be sly and shifty, and on many occasions showed considerable lack of judgement. Stephen was the third son of Stephen, count of Blois and Chartres, who had acquired European notoriety by running away from Antioch during the First crusade, and Adela, the tough-minded daughter of William the Conqueror who sent her husband back to the Holy Land.

Young Stephen was dispatched to the court of his uncle Henry I and given extensive lands in Normandy and England which made him one of the wealthiest of the Anglo-Norman landholders. In 1126, along with many others, Stephen took an oath to accept the succession of Henry's daughter Matilda.

However on hearing of Henry's death on 1 December, 1135, he set in motion what seems to have been a premeditated and well-organized plan. He crossed to England, was accepted as king in London, gained possession of the treasury at Winchester, and was crowned on 22 December. A messenger then hurried to Normandy  where the Norman barons, after hesitation, accepted him as duke. In this way Stephen re-created Henry I's cross-Channel dominion. Early in 1136 his position seemed secure. His Easter court was attended by many of the major landholders, and even Matilda's half brother, Earl Robert of Gloucester, had done homage. Matilda and her supporters had been able to occupy parts of southern Normandy and there were isolated acts of defiance in the West Country. However, Stephen made political blunders during his 19 years on the throne - a reign that was plagued by civil war, local disturbances and even a loss of control of the kingdom in 1141-1142. Arresting Roger, bishop of Salisbury, and his nephews Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, and Nigel, bishop of Ely, was one that cost him the Church's support. And on occasions his sense of chivalry led him to make mistakes that astonished and dismayed his followers, as in 1139 when he had Matilda at his mercy but gave her safe-conduct to her brother's castle at Bristol. Because Matilda, as wife of Geoffrey Plantagent, count of Anjou, had a secure base in Anjou and later in Normandy, Stephen had to deal with a combination of of external and internal opposition the like of which none of his predecessors had faced. In the end, however, he simply lacked the dominant personality essential to successful 12th century kingship.

Medieval Monarchs edited by Elizabeth Hallam. Tiger Books International, 1996 p 26

Sons of William the Conqueror - Henry I

Henry I (1068 - 1135) king of England 1100 - 1135

Henry I, youngest son of William the Conqueror, was in the hunting party in the New Forest when William Rufus died. One explanation of the assassination is that the future king arranged his brother's death because he was frustrating his (Henry's) plans to marry Eagdyth, daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland. Whether he took part in a conspiracy will never be known. But from his point of view his brother's death could not have come at a better time, nor in a better place. He rode straight to Winchester, claimed the royal treasury and three days later was crowned in Westminster Abbey.

Henry I followed the custom of his predecessors  and immediately issued a charter announcing his intention of correcting the abuses of the previous reign: vacant sees were filled (though with men loyal to the king), and Anselm was recalled. In the same year, 1100, Henry's marriage to Matilda, the king of Scotland's daughter, and a descendant of the old English kings, won him popular support. A few weeks after the coronation, his elder brother Robert, duke of Normandy, returned to Normandy from the First Crusade ready to claim the English throne. He invaded England in 1101 but renounced his claim to the throne in return for Henry's Norman lands and a pension. But Henry remained determined to take Normandy by force, and on 28 September 1106, 40 years to the day after William' the Conqueror's decisive victory at Hastings, he defeated Robert near Avranches in a pitched battle that lasted less than an hour. Robert was taken prisoner and died 28 years later, still in captivity.

Henry was now king of England and duke of Normandy, He quickly restored order, punishing rebel barons, razing castles and consolidating his father's system of government. His influence on continental politics increased. Alliances with a number of neighbouring states were formed, but his principal opponents - Louis VI of France and the counts of Flanders and Anjou, plus a number of Norman barons - were increasingly restive and there were continual wars and battles. Finally, by 1120, peace and stability seemed to have arrived at last, and Henry was able to spend more time in England. But in that year Henry's only son was lost at sea along with a number of prominent courtiers.

Henry became increasingly concerned about the succession, and in 1127 made his barons and bishops swear allegiance to his daughter, Matilda, widow of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, as his heir. She was then married to Geoffrey Plantagenet, count of Anjou. The last years of the king's reign were relatively trouble free.

Henry died in 1135 on a hunting trip near Lyons, as a result of Lampreys, a dish forbidden by his doctors, and today he is remembered for laying the foundations of the royal administration and developing the English judicial system.

Medieval Monarchs edited by Elizabeth Hallam. Tiger Books International, 1996 pp 22-23

Sons of William the Conqueror - William Rufus

William II also called William Rufus (c1056 - 1100) was king of England from 1087 - 1100.
William II, the Conqueror's son and successor, was known as William Rufus because of his ruddy complexion. He was initially popular: his first act as king was to distribute part of the royal treasure to monasteries, churches and the poor 'for his father's soul' and in 1088 he received popular support when he put down a series of uprisings led by Odo, bishop of Bayeux and earl of Kent, which he swiftly overwhelmed. The king, who thanked his people for their support and made promises of good government, was never to be so popular again. As soon as the danger of rebellion had passed, he increased taxation and and enforced royal privileges more strictly. Popular resentment grew. Only Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, could control some of the king's excesses, and after the archbishop died in 1089 William's violence, impiety and disagreeable qualities became yet more evident.
The attempt to wrest Normandy from his brother Robert Curthose's control was a persistent obsession. He invaded in 1090, made peace a yea later, invaded again in 1093 and finally acquired the duchy in 1096 in exchange for 100,000 silver marks which Robert needed to join the First Crusade. The taxes William imposed in England to raise this sum were so severe the treasures of the churches and monasteries were melted down, and contemporaries alleged that many men were made homeless.

In 1091 he campaigned against Malcolm III of Scotland, and throughout his reign, tried in vein to subdue the Welsh, until eventually he gave up and built a line of castles along the Welsh marches. The burden of yet more taxes, to pay for these campaigns, together with poor weather and meagre harvests caused more suffering. He quarrelled with Anselm, Lafranc's successor as archbishop of Canterbury, about the right of a king to invest bishops and control elections, exiling him in 1097.

William Rufus was killed while hunting in the New Forest on 2 August 1100, in circumstances that have never been clarified. Although it was accepted as an accident, his death was also interpreted as an act of God against a dangerously irreligious king. So too was the collapse of the tower of Winchester cathedral, shortly after the king's burial there.

Medieval Monarchs edited by Elizabeth Hallam. Tiger Books International, 1996 p 18

[Williams's nephew, Richard (an illegitimate son of Robert Curthose) spent much of his time in his uncle's court. He died in May 1100, also the result of a hunting accident in the New Forest.]

Sons of William the Conqueror - Robert Curthose

Robert Curthose - the eldest son (c1054- 3 February 1134).  In 1077 he rebelled against his father by attempting to take the castle of Rouen. He and his followers were not successful and he took refuge in Flanders. In 1080 a truce existed between father and son and Robert and Robert returned to the court until the death of his mother in 1183. He then travelled throughout Europe. On the death of his father in 1087 Robert inherited the title of Duke of Normandy while his younger brother, William Rufus became king of England. An agreement is reported to have been made by the brothers to be each other's heir. Circumstances changed however when some of the barons supporting Robert unsuccessfully rebelled against William in 1088. In 1096 Robert left for the Holy Land on the First Crusade. When king William died in August 1100 Robert was on his way back from the Crusade. In the meantime his younger brother Henry had become king. In 1101 Robert landed at Portsmouth pressing his claim to the throne but was defeated. Although he renounced his claim to the throne his continued involvement in disturbances resulted in Henry invading Normandy and in 1106 claiming Normandy as a possession of England. Robert was captured and held at Devizes Castle for twenty years before moving to Cardiff Castle where he died in 1134. He was buried at Gloucester Cathedral.

Robert married Sybilla of Conversano and had one legitimate son, William Clito born 25 October 1102 as well as three illegitimate children (two sons and a daughter). William's attempts to win back Normandy in 1119 and 1125 failed and he died in 1128 leaving no heir.

William the Conqueror (c1027-1087)

Duke of Normandy (1035-1087), King of England (1066-1087).
William was the last ruler of England to face a major Scandinavian invasion. The illegitimate son of Robert the Magnificent, William succeeded his father as Duke of Normandy while still a child. On attaining his majority (c1042) he successfully established his authority in the face of baronial opposition. It is likely that the pro-Norman king Edward the Confessor had promised William the English throne, but on his death in 1066 the English chose Harold Godwinson as their king instead. Invading England, William defeated and killed Harold at Hastings (14 November 1066). William was fortunate that Harold's army had not had time to recover from its victory over a third claimant to the English throne, Harald Hadrada of Norway at Stamford Bridge less than three weeks before. He was crowned king of England on Christmas day 1066. William faced many uncoordinated rebellions during the early years of his reign, prompting interventions by the Danish king Svein Estrithson, who had inherited Harald Hardrda's claim to the English throne. In October 1069, a fleet of 240 Danish ships under Svein's son Cnut (Cnut II) allied with English rebels and took York. William recaptured York in December and spent the winter engaged in the infamous 'Harrying of the North'. As well as punishing the locals for supporting the rebels, this scorched-earth campaign was intended to make the area unattractive to further Danish intervention. Svein met his son on the Humber in spring 1070 and in June they joined Hereward the Wake in sacking Petersborough. But English resistance was collapsing and William was able to negotiate Sven's withdrawal. A second Danish intervention came in 1075 when Cnut was invited to take the English throne by rebel Norman barons. William had crushed the rebellion by the time Cnut arrived. William faced the threat of a third Danish Intervention in 1085 when Cnut, now king of Denmark, began to prepare an expedition to conquer England. The attack never materialised because Cnut was assassinated the following year. It was partly in response to this threat that William ordered the famous Doomsday survey in 1086. He was killed the following year when fighting in France.

Although William was of Scandinavian descent, the Norman conquest of England can in no way be considered as an extension of Viking activity: William and his followers were culturally and linguistically completely French. The conquest led to a decline of cultural and political links between England and Scandinavia as English institutions were Normanized and English culture was exposed to powerful French influences.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 209-210.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Domesday Book

In 1085, William 'sent his men over all England into each shire' to investigate his subjects, their lands and wealth. Domesday Book thus enabled the king to record the estates of his barons as well as his own and to check that none had seized land unlawfully. Domesday was also a record of tax due from each landholder. The book's title is a nickname given to it by the native English, who equated its sentence with the day of Judgement.

At the time of the Conquest most people worked on the land. Life was hard, barely above subsistence level. The main crops were grain, grown as food for both men and animals and to make ale, the national drink. Domesday Book frequently refers to 'plough lands' and to 'ploughs', which were the essential agricultural tool. They were often shared, although some estates and some working men possessed their own ploughs and teams. Partly because every available field was cultivated, there were few hers of animals, although pigs were numerous, as they could forage in woodland. Much of the country was covered by forest, marsh and fen, which were gradually being cleared.

Most people lived in villages in the centre of arable land. Some men were free and held their own land, but even they had to pay their lord a nominal rent and help bring in the harvest. Most people were villeins, the next class down: each villein had his own plough land - perhaps 20 or 30 acres - allocated in strips within the communal open fields, but had to work two or three days a week on the lord's land. The bottom rank was landless serfs, compelled to spend all their time tilling the lord's estates and forbidden to leave their village. Domesday Book was the crowning glory of William's reign. He died less than two years after ordering the survey to be made while campaigning against Philip I of France. He was either injured or overcome by exhaustion while leading his army through the burning town of Nantes. Six weeks later he died at the abbey of Saint-Gervais, near Rouen.

Medieval Monarchs edited by Elizabeth Hallam. Tiger Books International, 1996 p 15

William the Conqeror (c1028-1087)

William I, the Conqueror, was crowned king of England on Christmas Day 1066, ten weeks after defeating Harold Godwinson, earl of Wessex, at the Battle of Hastings. The illegitimate son of Robert, Duke of Normandy, he had succeeded his father when he was only seven. While still in his teens he had to defend his dukedom against both ambitious neighbours and internal challengers. His success in maintaining his position no doubt taught him to manage his men, his government and his resources. But, as with all strong leaders of this time, it was the compelling personality of the man himself - his forcefulness, his energy, and the confidence and determination he displayed at all times - that made him an almost legendary figure.

A strong, charismatic military leader, William inspired his men, never hesitating to lead them into battle. But, despite his successes in the field, he never over-reached himself and resisted the temptation to expand into Wales, Scotland and Ireland in costly and debilitating campaigns.

He stands out as a forceful and able statesman in an age of petty wars, shifting loyalties and weak and confused governments. He quickly analysed those institutions (such as the judicial system) worth keeping in his new kingdom and those where changes were necessary. Order was his watchword: he kept a strong hold over potentially unruly barons, yet retained their loyalty, and taxed his subjects heavily, tying them to the land.

William was a generally religious and practical man who believed that the Anglo-Saxon Church and monastic system required thorough reform. He deposed Stigand, Edward the Confessor's archbishop of Canterbury, in favour of the learned and efficient Lanfranc, who in turn replaced the English abbots and bishops with Normans. Twenty years after the Conquest there was only one English abbot, Wulfstan of Worcester, and many English saints had been removed from the calendar of the Church.

The Normans also found Anglo-Saxon church buildings inadequate and unimpressive. A vast rebuilding programme got under way, and in a single generation a new style of ecclesiastical architecture was imposed throughout the country. The size of the major cathedrals begun after the Conquest surpassed anything already built in Normandy. The money came from the substantial Church lands now held by the new bishops, while lesser nobles often financed the reconstruction of smaller churches, in order to ensure their personal salvation, and to impress one another and the king.

In an age of heavy eating and drinking and lax morality, William is remembered  as abstemious and puritanical. Perhaps in reaction to his birth, he was absolutely faithful to his wife Matilda, the daughter of Baldwin V and, by happy coincidence, a descendant of Alfred the Great, ninth century king of the West Saxons.

Medieval Monarchs edited by Elizabeth Hallam. Tiger Books International, 1996 p 10

Medieval monarchs in the family

Medieval monarchs ruled England from the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066 until the death of Richard III in 1485 after which time England was ruled by Tudor kings.

Medieval monarchs in our family tree are:
William the Conqueror (ruled from 1066 to 1087)

Henry I (ruled 1100 to 1135 after the death of his brother, Rufus)

Matilda (daughter of Henry I should have been Queen but was usurped by her cousin, Stephen)

Henry II (son of Maltilda ruled after the death of his uncle from 1154 to 1189)

John (ruled from 1100 to 1216 after the death of his brother, Richard)

Henry III (ruled from 1216 to 1272)

Edward I (ruled from 1272 to 1307)

Edward II (ruled from 1307 to 1327)

Edward III (ruled from 1327 to 1377)

One of the sons of Edward III and Phillipa de Hainaut was John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Their daughter, Joan Beaufort married James I of Scotland. The direct family line can then be traced through Scottish families until the nineteenth century.

Vikings in Francia

Francia, the land of the Franks (roughly corresponding to most of modern France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and western Germany) was first raided by the vikings in 799. The emperor Charlemagne reacted vigorously, creating coastguard units and stationing fleets on major rivers. Except for the exposed coast of Frisa, Francia experienced no serious Viking raids until the 830s when the civil wars between the emperor Louis the Pious and his sons had begun to undermine royal authority and with it the effectiveness of the coastal defences. In 842 the Vikings established a permanent base on the island of Noirmoutier, near the mouth of the River Loire, and thereafter were a permanent presence on the Frankish territory for the next seventy years.

The main areas of Viking activity in Francia were the valleys of the rivers Seine and Loire, Flanders, Frisia and the Rhineland, all areas where navigable rivers offered the Vikings easy routes inland. Preoccupied by dynastic conflicts, Francia's Carolingian rulers were rarely able to concentrate on dealing with the Viking threat and were often reduced to buying them off with tribute. Towns were left exposed to attack because rulers such as Charles the Blad were reluctant to allow them to build defences in case they should be turned into strongholds by rebel princes and nobles. For some of these rebels, such as Pippin II of Aquitaine, the Vikings were event welcome as allies. Viking raids reached their peak in the period 879-92 when the Rhineland, the Ardennes, Flanders and the Seine valley were systematically ravaged. But the Franks were finally getting the measure of the Vikings. Able warrior kings such as Odo of West Francia (France) and Arnulf of East Francia (Germany) actively sought to bring the Vikings to battle and built fortresses and town walls across the whole of the region between the Seine and the Rhine. Faced with resistance wherever they went, and a severe famine in the winter of 891-2, the main Viking force withdrew to England in 892 where it fared no better. The worst of the Viking Age in Francia was now over but there remained Viking armies on the Seine and the Loire. The integration of the Seine Vikings into Frankish society was begun when their leader, Rollo, was made count of Rouen by Charles the Simple in 911. Normandy, as Rollo's territories came to be known, created problems of its own, but at least these were the familiar ones of dynastic and territorial ambitions that kings faced from any over-mighty subject. the problems of the Vikings on the Loire was solved when the Bretons captured their base at Nantes in 937. The last Viking raids on Francia occurred in the early 11th century.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 75-76.

Friday, 3 August 2012


The word Viking has come to be used to describe all early medieval Scandinavians, but as originally used by contemporaries the term vikingr only to someone who went i viking, that is plundering. Only a minority of early medieval Scandinavians were, therefore, Vikings in the strict sense of the word. Various explanations of the origin of the word have been proposed. The commonest explanations are that Viking is derived either from Viken in southern Norway, and therefore means simply 'the men from Viken', or that it comes from the Scandinavian word vik (bay or cove) and means 'the men from the bays'. Another possibility is that  it derives from the old Scandinavian verb vikya, meaning 'to turn away' and so came to be used to describe Scandinavians who were travelling away from home. However, a Scandinavian origin for the word  seems unlikely, as its use in Old English predates the Viking Age. It was used to describe any band of pirates, not simply those from Scandinavia. In the 8th century poem, Exodus, the seafaring sons of Reuben are described as wicingas, for example. In this case, it seems likely that wicing is derived from Old English wic (port of trade) and means 'the men who frequent (or attack) ports', and that it was only later adopted by the Scandinavians themselves. After falling into disuse in the central Middle Ages, the use of Viking was revived by the 19th century Romantic movement.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp 198-199.

Vikings in England part III

The Vikings' impact in England was considerable. Their invasions effectively eliminated the kingdoms of East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria, leaving Wessex as the only Anglo-Saxon Kingdom. When Wessex conquered the Danelaw in the 10th century, the English were for the first time united in a single kingdom. Thus, England owes its existence as a unified kingdom indirectly to the Vikings. The extensive Danish settlements in Eastern England had a long-lasting influence on local legal customs, and a wider impact on the English language through hundreds of Scandinavian loan words, including ones such as 'sky', 'skin', 'get', 'egg' and 'sister'. The Viking attacks on monasteries certainly caused a great deal of cultural damage, but English monasticism made a strong recovery in the 10th century. Viking roads must also have caused much short-term economic hardship for their victims through losses of livestock, seed corn and manpower. In the longer term the Vikings may have promoted urbanization, both directly through trade at centres like York and Lincoln, and indirectly by prompting the Anglo-Saxons to found fortified settlements called burhs.

The Scandinavian settlers in England were assimilated  into the native population within a few generations by intermarriage and conversion to Christianity. Archaeological evidence of the Scandinavian settlement is limited. There are a few pagan burials and many works of sculpture showing the influence of Scandinavian art styles, but from apart from at York no Scandinavian settlements have been identified with any certainty. Evacuations of Viking Age farmsteads at Ribblehead in North Yorkshire, Goltho in Lincolnshire, Bryants Gill in Cumbria and Simy Folds in County Durham, each one in an area settled by Scandinavians, have all failed to produce distinctively Viking artefacts. The most important source of evidence for Scandinavian settlement comes from place-names. In the old Danelaw counties of eastern England, Danish influence in place-names ending in -by, as in Thurkleby (Thurkil's farmstead), and -thorpe, as in Kettlethorpe (Ketil's outlying farm). Hybrid names incorporating a Danish personal name and the English element -tun, as in Grimston (Grim's village) are also common in the Danelaw. Norse place-names are common in north-west England, especially in Cumbria. Typical Norse place-name elements include -thveit, as in Brackenthwaite (bracken clearing), soetr, as in Gunnerside (Gunnar's shieling) and in fjall, as in Scafell (crag hill).

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp65-66.

Vikings in England part II

England enjoyed a respite from Viking attacks until 980, when raids from Denmark and the Norse settlements in Ireland and Scotland began.

England's King Aethelred II was a poor war leader who was soon reduced to paying Danegeld to buy off the Viking raids. Among the leaders of the Vikings were Olaf Tryggvason, who used the proceeds of the raids to win control of Norway in 995, and the Danish king Svein Forkbeard. As the English defences collapsed, Svein's objective changed from exacting tribute to outright conquest. At the end of 1013 Aethelred fled the country and Svein was accepted as king of England, but he died in a matter of weeks before he could consolidate his conquest. England had to be reconquered, after an epic struggle with Athelred's son, Edmund Ironside, by Svein's son, Cnut, in 1016. Though many Danish aristocrats were granted English lands, Cnut's conquest was not followed by any significant rural settlement. Under Cnut England became part of an empire that included most of Scandinavia, but his successors showed none of his ability and the native dynasty was restored in 1042.

The Norweigian king Harald Hardrada  attempted to conquer England in 1066, but was crushingly defeated at the battle of Stamford Bridge, fatally weakening the English just weeks before William the Conqueror led his successful invasion from Normandy. The Danes supported rebellions against William in 1069-70 and 1075, and Cnut II planned another invasion in 1085. Disputes prevented the fleet from sailing, however, and Cnut's assassination in 1086 effectively marked the end of the Viking Age in England, though the Norwegian king Harald Eystein led a plundering raid along the east coast as late as 1153.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp64-65

Vikings in England

The Viking Age in England began with raids, the earliest recorded anywhere in Europe, on Portland (c789) and the monastery of Lindisfarne (793). A reference in the 792 charter of Offa, King of Mercia, to military service against 'pagans' may be evidence of other unrecorded raids around this time. The Anglo-Saxons prevented the Viking raiders penetrating inland by blocking rivers with bridges, and raiding remained small in scale until c835, when larger fleets began arriving and won some major victories, killing, for example, Raedwulf, king of Northumbria, in battle in 844. Attacks escalated further in 850 when a fleet, said to number 350 ships, established a winter camp on the Isle of Thanet near the mouth of the River Thames. Nevertheless, England suffered less severely from Viking attacks in this period than Francia or Ireland.

The decisive Viking intervention in England began with the arrival of an exceptionally large Danish army under Ivar Halfdan in the kingdom of East Anglia in 865. The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms did not cooperate effectively against the invaders, and by 876 the Danes had occupied East Anglia, eastern Mercia and southern Northumbria. Only the kingdom of Wessex, under Alfred the Great, successfully resisted Danish attacks.

Conquest was followed by widespread Danish settlement in eastern England and the foundation of small kingdoms, the longest of which was based in York. This Danish-settled area later came to be known as the Danelaw because of its distinctive Scandinavian-influenced customs. Around 900 Norse settlers, many of them from Ireland, began to settle quietly in north-west England.

Once the Vikings settled down, they lost their main military advantage - their mobility - and they became vulnerable to counter-attack. Alfred's successor, Edward the Elder, aided by his sister Aethelflaed, the ruler of Mercia, conquered the Danish-controlled areas south of the River Humber in 912-918, while the Danish kingdom of York came under Norse control in 919. Edward's son, Athelstan, captured York in 927, becoming the first king to rule over all of England. Not all Anglo-Saxons welcomed the rule of Wessex; some preferred the Danes and even fought for them. After Athelstan's death in 939 the Norse recaptured York, but could never hold it securely, and its last Viking king, Erik Bloodaxe, was overthrown and killed in 954.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. p64


The population of England before the Norman Conquest of 1066. The Anglo-Saxons were originally three Germanic peoples from northern Germany and Jutland - the Angles, Saxons and Jutes - that invaded and settled in eastern and southern Britain in the 5th century AD. Though they were still divided into several independent kingdoms, by the 8th century the three groups were beginning to develop a common English identity. The term Angli Saxones was first used by early medieval continental writers to distinguish the invaders from the native Celtic population of Britain.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. p24

There are a number of websites on the Anglo-Saxons including BBC history - Anglo-Saxons

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the single most important primary source for the history of Anglo-Saxon England from its beginnings in the 5th century up to the Norman Conquest in 1066: without it very little would be known about the Viking Age in England. The Chronicle is not a single source but a group of related chronicles that all derive from a common original compiled during the reign of Alfred the Great of Wessex, probably in the late 880s or early 890s. Copies of this original chronicle were circulated to several centres, where they were subsequently kept up to date by local annalists. All versions of the Chronicle share virtually the same information up to 890-2, but there are considerable differences between them from 893 onwards. Most versions of the Chronicle were discontinued soon after the Norman Conquest, but at Peterborough it was continued until 1154. Seven manuscripts of the Chronicle, written in the original Old English have survived, and the existence of several others, now lost, is known from extracts quoted in later Latin sources and entries in medieval library catalogues.

Though it is written mostly in a detached, dispassionate style, the Chronicle is not an objective record of events and it was probably begun on Alfred's orders as part of a propaganda campaign to present the Wessex dynasty as the leading defender of the Christian English from the heathen Vikings.

Notes from Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood. Thames & Hudson 2000. pp23-4

This is one of a number of versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle available online.