An account of the struggle between Viking invaders and the inhabitants of the British Isles
The inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland struggled for about two hundred and fifty years against the Viking raiders. For many years they contented themselves with quick assaults against a few mostly defenceless targets before disappearing over the sea with their ill-gotten gains. Eventually they began to establish permanent settlements and finally banded together in a Heathen Army to conquer whole swathes of Anglo-Saxon England. Their domination was curbed by Alfred the Great and the Danelaw was governed alongside the whole of England by his successors until a Danish resurgence occurred during the reign of the weak king Aethelred the Unraed.
Viking was a term which came into use at a later time to describe raiders from the sea coasts of Norway, Denmark and southern Sweden. They were also known as Norsemen (from Norway) or Danes, but there was no national or ethnic difference between the various groups and the language of Old Norse was shared by all.
Their seamanship, navigation skills and shipbuilding technology was so good that they ventured over the Atlantic Ocean to Greenland and North America and down the Russian river system to Byzantium, the surviving eastern rump of the Roman Empire.
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The Vikings made their first appearance in England in 793 when they destroyed the abbey at Lindisfarne and slaughtered the monks. Soon they were making raids on shores and river inlets in every country of the British Isles. They were violent men who stole what treasure they could find. They killed the plough oxen and feasted on their flesh. They carried off men, women and children into slavery. Their chief targets, however, were the churches and monasteries where they knew they would find books, vestments and church ornaments richly decorated with gold, silver and gemstones.
For seventy years their raids on the British Isles were seasonal and sporadic, but eventually they launched an all-out attempt to conquer England. In 865 a combined force of mainly Danish Vikings, which the Anglo-Saxons called the Great Heathen Army, invaded England. By 874 Wessex, now ruled by King Alfred, was the last of the seven kingdoms left to oppose the Vikings. Alfred came close to being overwhelmed before he finally rallied and won the vital battle of Edington in 878. Alfred was not powerful enough to dislodge the Danes from the whole of England, but he made a treaty with his opponent Guthrum whereby Guthrum agreed to recognise Alfred’s control of West Mercia, including London, as well as Wessex. Guthrum also ‘sealed the deal’ by converting to Christianity. He and his followers went off to settle in East Anglia where he ruled as king until his death.
Other parts of the Danish army were beginning to settle in an area stretching from the River Tees in the north down to Bedford. Five towns, Derby, Nottingham, Lincoln, Stamford and Leicester, served as their political and military bases in the Mercian area of the Midlands. Together with Guthrum’s kingdom and the stronghold of Jorvik or York and its fiefdom of a large part of the old kingdom of Northumberland, this large territory of eastern, and midland England became known as the Danelaw because, although it was most likely still populated by an Anglo-Saxon majority, Danish law and customs ruled and, to all intents and purposes, it was a Danish colony.
The Danes settled as farmers, traders and craftsmen and, for two generations, they lived relatively peaceably alongside their English neighbours. The Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse languages, being somewhat similar in some respects, began to blend together as the two nations interacted with each other in the Danelaw area during this period. Moreover, every year more Danes became Christians; the religion would shortly take root in Denmark itself. The few monasteries which remained standing in England were less likely to be targets for Danish war bands in the future, and a certain amount of Anglo-Saxon/Danish intermarriage probably began to take place.
Meanwhile, their Viking brothers in arms had established themselves in the Orkney and Shetland Isles and in Ireland, where they founded Dublin. They were also active around the coast of Cumbria and Scotland and in the Frankish kingdom across the English Channel, where they established the Duchy of Normandy. During this period, the Welsh Britons, fearing the predatory intentions of the Vikings, chose to acknowledge Alfred and his successors as their overlord.
For some years the Danelaw coexisted alongside the English kingdom of Wessex which, under Alfred, developed into a well-organised and powerful state. He fortified strongholds known as burhs, where people could seek refuge, and any Danish incursion could quickly be confronted by the permanent armed garrison from the nearest burh. The English thegn was now a completely different soldier to his ancestor who took over the land from the Britons armed with little more than a trusty spear and shield and, occasionally, a sword for the better off. Every thegn was now mounted on a horse, armed with a well-crafted sword and protected by a helmet and a shirt of chain mail.
Commanded by these well-armed and well-trained men, The Fyrd militia was divided in two: one half remained at home guarding their own and their neighbours’ property whilst the other half manned the burhs or, with a new, swift-moving cavalry element, went into the field against Vikings or more localised outlaws and robbers. These policies effectively deterred Danish aggression and any English chieftain tempted to lead a war band against his fellow-countrymen. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle claimed Alfred also funded a navy, consisting, of swifter and bigger ships with which to counter the Viking threat.
In addition to his military reputation, Alfred is remembered as a pious Christian ruler who devised and enforced a fair system of law and justice. He also wrote or inspired the publication of many books, promoted the Old English language and made education central to his philosophy for improving the lot of his kingdom and its people. His fame spread throughout Europe, where he was greatly respected by his contemporaries. He came to be known as ‘Alfred the Great’, the only British monarch to earn that appellation.
Alfred’s son, Edward the Elder renewed the Anglo-Saxon struggle with the Danes and was assisted by his daughter Aethelflaed, who became the Lady of the Mercians when she married the ruler of Anglo-Saxon West Mercia, a semi independent remnant of the former powerful kingdom, They continued with great success the policy of building fortified burhs and eventually they over-ran the five towns of the Danelaw and also East Anglia in 918.
Although events are confusing because of the lack of real historical records, it seems the Viking world was suffered internal problems at this time. The Irish King of Leinster is reputed to have evicted Ragnald and his Norse Vikings from Dublin in 902. Ragnald originally came to the Isle of Man after being ejected from Dublin and he eventually took over the Viking powerhouse of Jorvik or York in 919. Jorvik was the last Viking stronghold to resist the Wessex takeover of England. Edward’s son Aethelstan completed the English offensive by taking control of York and the Danish-controlled kingdom of Anglian Northumbria. All of England was now in Aethelstan's control and, from 927, Aethelstan became the first man to be known as the King of the English.
Aethelstan and his successors engaged in several attempts to establish a northern border with their new neighbours in the north, the Kings of Alba - soon to be known as Scotland. In the process Lothian was detached from its long association with Northumbria and became part of Scotland. The rest of the old kingdom of Northumbria recognised the king’s supremacy, but remained split between York, ruled by one or other Viking dynasty, and the old Bernicia ruled by the Anglo-Saxon Ealdorman of Bamburgh.
The English shires, nearly all of which survive to this day, were established in this period. The power of the church, much weakened by the Viking attacks, was restored alongside monastic life under the auspices of St Dunstan the Archbishop of Canterbury, who became an influential advisor to Edgar the Peaceful. This was indeed reputed to be an unusually peaceful period and a time of firm government and justice.
However, it was soon followed by further political insecurity when Edgar was succeeded by his eldest son Edward, a young man given to wild and unseemly behaviour, who became known as ‘the Martyr’ after he was murdered in the year 978 by members of the household staff of his step-mother, the dowager queen - Ælfthryth third wife of Edgar. Her young son Aethelred took the crown. He is known to history as ‘the Unready’ which is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon word unraed meaning badly advised.
With England ruled by a boy king whose court was riven by suspicion and disputes between a variety of factions, conditions were ripe for a renewal of Danish raids on the south and east coasts of England after the year 980. Following defeat by a large Danish force at Maldon in Essex, Aethelred attempted to buy off the Danes with a payment of £10,000. You cannot buy off a bully: he merely returns and asks for more. This is what happened to Aethelred; further attacks by organised Danish forces extracted ever-increasing payments of Danegeld.
At one stage Aethelred apparently engaged some of the attackers to serve as mercenaries based in the Isle of Wight. The hired mercenaries soon turned on their paymaster and joined their compatriots in harrying the south coast. They were occasionally aided by fellow Vikings from across the channel who provided support and a safe haven in Normandy. Elsewhere, the newcomers began to squeeze into areas of Eastern England already occupied by their kinsmen who had settled there during the previous century. Anglo-Saxon neighbours were probably roughly treated and removed to make room for the new arrivals.
By the year 1002 the king was desperate. He issued a command that all Danish men in England should be killed on St Brice’s Day 13th November. A massacre duly took place, most probably concentrated in southern England outside the Danelaw area. One of the victims was allegedly the sister of the King of Denmark, Sweyn Forkbeard, who invaded with a powerful army and exacted retribution on areas of East Anglia which were not already dominated by Danish settlers. However he was strongly resisted by the local ealdorman and desisted from leading further attacks for some years. Nevertheless, English morale was destroyed in the next few years by constant Viking raids, despite the payment of ever-increasing amounts of Danegeld. King Sweyn eventually returned to England in person and quickly took over the country in 1013. Aethelred was forced to seek exile with his father in law in Normandy. Sweyn Forkbeard was pronounced King of England. However, five weeks after becoming king he suddenly died.
The Danelaw nobility immediately offered the crown to Sweyn’s son Cnut, but the ealdormen in the rest of England invited Aethelred to return, on condition that he addressed the people’s grievances and promised that he would govern them justly and forgive past offences against his majesty. Only the people of Lindsay supported Cnut whole-heartedly, but he was forced to return to Denmark, leaving his allies in Lindsay to face the vengeance of Aethelred and his son Edmund, who earned the nickname ‘Ironside’ for his success in opposing the Danes.
However, Cnut returned the following year with a strong alliance of Vikings from all parts of Scandinavia. The ealdormen of Mercia and East Anglia defected to his side, King Aethelred died and his successor, Edmund Ironside was finally defeated. Soon afterwards Ironside also died, leaving England entirely in the hands of Cnut who (despite being married already) promptly married Emma, the widow of King Aethelred, by whom he had two more children. Emma’s two sons and daughter by Aethelred remained safe in Normandy. She is particularly noteworthy for twice becoming the queen consort of two kings of England; as Cnut’s wife she also became Queen of Denmark and Norway; furthermore, she was mother of two further kings of England: Harthacnut, son of Cnut and Edward the Confessor, son of Aethelred.
Cnut mercilessly eliminated other claimants to the throne, notably Eadwig Aetheling, last surviving son of Aethelred the Unready by his first wife. Despite those flashes of the old Viking cruelty, he turned out to be a shrewd and successful ruler of a North Sea empire consisting of England, Denmark, Norway and part of Sweden. A professed Christian, he came to be well-regarded by the Church despite his bloody history and the concurrent maintenance of two wives. Cnut made great efforts to enlist the powerful Church’s support and actively promoted Christianity among his Viking subjects.
England had become a country of mixed cultures and nationalities. The Anglo-Saxons were more numerous, but large numbers of Danes also shared much of the country and a significant number of the old British stock lived in the far west. With energy and intelligence Cnut set about forging these people into a single nation. He tightened the reins of government, replacing the Anglo-Saxon concept of ealdorman with Scandinavian earls. He appointed four powerful earls to have charge of areas equivalent to the four major kingdoms that preceded the unification of England. By the end of his reign two of the earls were Anglo-Saxons of the powerful Godwin family, and their countrymen were included among his closest counsellors, demonstrating that Cnut had successfully moulded England into a multi-cultural whole.
Cnut’s marriage arrangements gave rise to a complex problem of royal succession. At his death the Scandinavian Empire was already fracturing. Norway was seeking independence from Denmark and his sons were faced with plausible Anglo-Saxon competitors for the English crown in the form of Emma's sons by Aethelred. Cnut's chosen heir Harthacnut, his son by Emma, was unable to leave Denmark due to the difficulties with Norway. Harold Harefoot, Cnut’s second son by his first wife, acted as regent for his half-brother in England until the Witan, finding the king’s absence unsupportable, prevailed on Harefoot to take the crown.
During Harefoot’s brief reign, a prospective Anglo-Saxon claimant in the form of Aelfred, Emma’s younger son by her first husband Ethelred the Unready, came to England from Normandy and was captured by Earl Godwin. Aelfred was blinded and died of his wounds; his retainers were put to death and their bodies were mutilated. Queen Emma and her eldest son Edward were naturally appalled by the duplicity of Godwin and the outrage committed against their son and brother.
Harthacnut finally came to England and took the throne after the death of Harefoot. However, he too died suddenly two years later and the dynasty of Danish rulers in England was ended.
The crown was awarded by the Witan to Edward, Emma’s eldest son by Aethelred the Unready, who is remembered by the soubriquet ‘the Confessor’ on account of his pious and abstemious life. Edward and his wife, who was daughter of the powerful earl Godwin, had no children and he made plans to pass the crown on to the last remnant of the Wessex royal house. He welcomed his nephew Edward the Exile, son of Edmund Ironside, to England and treated him as a potential successor. However, the Exile died almost immediately, leaving his six year old son Edgar to be brought up at Edward’s court. He was called the Aetheling which meant crown-worthy or a potential successor.
The powerful Godwin family had other ideas. When the Confessor died, the Witan chose Harold Godwinson, brother of Edward’s queen and an experienced soldier, to become his successor. However, although Godwinson was the most powerful earl in England, he also had many enemies. As King Harold II, he was immediately confronted by rebellion in the north, led by his own brother Tostig allied to King Harald Hardrada of Norway. Hardrada’s claim to the English crown via a tenuous relationship to Cnut’s successors was almost as weak as the Godwin claim. King Harold II marched north and won a battle outside York where his brother and the King of Norway were both killed.
The depleted troops of the Fyrd then marched south again to meet another dangerous foe. Duke William of Normandy claimed Edward the Confessor had promised he would inherit the English crown, although that gift was ultimately in the hands of the Witan. William always maintained that Harold Godwinson had also promised on oath to support his claim. The two armies met at Hastings on October 14th 1066. After a long, hard-fought battle, during which Harold and most of the nobility of England were slaughtered, the old Anglo-Saxon/Danish rule established by earlier invaders over the previous 650 years, was destroyed.
Looking back over those centuries since bands of German settlers first came to England was, for the Englishman of 1066, like us looking back to Agincourt and the days before the Wars of the Roses. Unlike us, they could not consult a continuous narrative of their history in these islands. There were no records to help them recall with any certainty the early struggles of their Germanic forebears as they wrested the country from the hands of their Romano-British predecessors.
Nevertheless, those early years of conquest and settlement were recorded forever. They are marked on our present-day maps, which are peppered with the names their Anglo-Saxon forefathers gave to the places where they built their homes and tilled their fields. Places such as Hastings (the people of Haesta) recall the name of the particular leader who established the settlement. As the Germanic migration increased, places were named after some local aspect such as Fordham (the home or settlement by a ford) and Ely (the island of eels). There are scores of Suttons and Nortons (South farm and North farm) all over England. Ham at the end of a place name usually means village or settlement. Later still, a name recalls a particular action or activity; every place called -bury or -burgh was a place fortified by Alfred or his immediate descendants and cheap or chipping as an element in a name reveals it was a market.
The country was almost completely anglicised until the Vikings arrived in the 10th century. Their presence is witnessed by every place name ending in -by meaning village, -toft meaning hamlet and -thorpe meaning homestead. In the north-west, which until then had largely remained in the hands of the Britons, we find Norse suffixes like –thwaite, a forest clearing.
In fact, the Old English language of 1066 was quite heavily infiltrated with the recent addition of Norse words and expressions. It was more distant from the Germanic dialects of their ancestors than modern English is from the tongue of Geoffrey Chaucer. But, even with a mass of Viking descendants in their midst, the English had become one nation. Saxon southerners might have difficulty understanding the brogues of the north but they shared a common language and a basic framework of law and they lived within a common Christian heritage. The Norman incomers ruled with a rod of iron, but they faced a stubborn, well-established common people wedded to their customary life and culture.
The same might also be claimed for the Gaelic Irish, now settling uneasily with their Norse neighbours who lived in the few townships of that land, and the British fiercely defending their Celtic culture in Wales. The emerging country of Scotland to the north was also evolving with combined Gaelic Irish, British, Anglian and Norse elements on a Pict background.
802 Egbert (c 771-835) is recalled from exile to take the Wessex crown following the death of Mercia’s puppet-king Beorhtric.
806 Vikings kill 68 monks at Iona. The abbot removes to Kells in Ireland.
825 Egbert King of Wessex defeats the Mercians at the battle of Ellendun.
~ Aethelwulf (died 858), son of Egbert, expels the Mercians from Kent and becomes sub-king of Kent, including Sussex, Surrey and later Essex with his father as overlord.
826 Mercians try to re-impose their overlordship upon the East Angles but their King Beornwulf is killed and his successor Ludeca is slain the following year.
829 Egbert of Wessex defeats the Mercians again and takes temporary control of their country.
830 Wiglaf leads a revolt and gains the crown of Mercia.
~ Aethelstan of the East Angles demonstrates independence from Mercia by issuing coins.
835 Vikings ravage the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.
836 Vikings with 35 ships defeat Egbert of Wessex at the battle of Carhampton.
838 King Egbert of Wessex defeats a Viking/Cornish force at the battle of Hingston Down. Cornwall, home of a section of Britons, becomes a vassal state of the kingdom of Wessex.
~ Norse Vikings establish a settlement on the river Liffey in Ireland which develops into the city of Dublin.
839 King Egbert dies to be succeeded by his son Aethelwulf who is already sub-king of Kent, thus two of the seven Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms are united.
843 Kenneth MacAlpin unites the Scots and the Picts into the kingdom of Alba in Scotland.
849 St Columba’s relics are removed from Iona to Kells monastery in Ireland for safety from Viking marauders.
851 Viking raids in southern England become more intense. The first recorded English naval battle takes place off Sandwich. Kent beats off a Danish flotilla.
~ The battle of Aclea or Oakfield. After taking London and defeating the Mercians, a large Danish force is defeated by Aethelwulf of Wessex. The Danes overwinter in Thanet.
853 Olaf the White establishes Norse power in Ireland and Western Isles after a struggle with Danes.
855 Aethelwulf goes to Rome, accompanied by his youngest son Alfred (847/9-899), and leaves his eldest son Aethelbald (c835-860) acting as King of Wessex.
858 Aethelwulf dies after returning home from Rome. His son Aethelberht (c839-865) becomes King of Kent and Aethelbald remains King of Wessex.
860 Aethelbald of Wessex dies and his brother Aethelberht succeeds him.
865 Viking war bands amalgamate into The Great Heathen Army under brothers Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ivar the Boneless and invade East Anglia.
~ Aethelberht of Wessex dies and is succeeded by his much younger brother Aethelred I (c847-871).
866 The Great Heathen Army captures York, which they call Jorvik, and destroy the famous cathedral library.
867 Aella, King of Northumbria and his brother and rival Earl Osbert are killed and a puppet king is installed to rule Bernicia on their behalf; Deira becomes the Danish kingdom of York.
867-8 Wessex come to the aid of Mercia as the Great Heathen Army besieges Nottingham. A truce is agreed and the Danes withdraw to York.
869 The Great Army defeats and kill Saint Edmund (birth date unknown), the martyr king of the East Angles.
870 Ivar the Boneless joins Vikings from Dublin who sack the stronghold of Dumbarton Rock in the British kingdom of Strathclyde, Scotland.
871 A series of battles with the Vikings ends with defeat for Aethelred king of Wessex at the battle of Meredune and he dies weeks later. His brother Alfred (849-899) succeeds him, the fourth son of Aethelwulf to become king.
~ Vikings withdraw from Wessex to winter quarters in London.
873 Reputed date for death of Ivar, described in sagas as king of the Norse in Ireland and Britain.
874 The Vikings conquer Mercia and install a puppet king. Wessex alone is left to resist.
875 Orkney and Shetland are taken by the King of Norway.
~ The Danish forces split. Halfdan Ragnarsson goes to the kingdom of Jorvik (York), Guthrum (died c690) returns to East Anglia.
876 A Viking force commanded by Guthrum occupies Wareham in Wessex and kills hostages before escaping a blockade by King Alfred.
877 Halfdan Ragnarsson is reputedly killed as he tries to gain control of Dublin from the Norse Viking inhabitants.
878 Guthrum defeats King Alfred in a surprise night attack on Chippenham. Alfred takes refuge in Athelney in the Somerset marshes.
~ Alfred the Great emerges as England’s primary leader when he defeats the Danes at the battle of Edington.
~ British leaders in South Wales recognise King Alfred as their overlord.
879 Guthrum moves to East Anglia which together with East Mercia he rules until his death in 890.
880 As part of the Treaty of Wedmore, Guthrum is baptised and concedes the puppet kingdom of West Mercia and control of London to Alfred.
~ The Danelaw, centred on ‘the five boroughs’ of Derby, Leicester, Nottingham. Lincoln and Stamford, is established in Central/Eastern England, which is now dominated by the Danes and where English law is subsidiary to Danish law.
~ King Alfred takes the title King of the Anglo-Saxons and begins to rebuild the ruined city of London.
883 The remains of St Cuthbert and the bishopric of Lindisfarne are transferred to Chester le Street for safety.
890 Guthrum ruler of the Danelaw dies.
892 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, historical annals (records of a wide range of current events) written in Old English, begin to be distributed around churches in England.
893 King Alfred is confronted by an influx of Danes from the continent intent on settling in Kent and the south east. He hounds them throughout central and western England for three years.
897 The newcomer Danes are finally driven off by Alfred.
899 Death of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, scholar and saviour of England succeeded by his son Edward the Elder (c874-924).
900 The Pictic language has disappeared from most of Scotland, replaced by dialects of Old English and Scottish Gaelic originating from Hibernia (Ireland).
Circa 902 The Norse of Dublin and other Irish towns are driven out by the King of Leinster and they colonise the Isle of Man, Galloway, Merseyside and Cumbria.
911 The Frankish King Charles the Simple (879-929) cedes part of modern Normandy to Rollo the Viking (c860-c930).
914 Danish Vikings led by Ragnald, exiles from Cumbria or Mersey known as Dubghal (black foreigners) in Ireland, take back Waterford.
917 Aethelflaed (c870-918), Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great, captures Derby, one of the five towns, an important step in the English subjugation of the Danelaw. The rest of the five towns are soon taken.
~ Edward the Elder storms the Danish fortress of Tempsford and kills the last Danish king of East Anglia.
~ Ragnald and his Dubghal force of Danish Vikings captures Dublin.
918 Edward the Elder, King of Wessex takes Nottingham, Lincoln and the Mercian Danelaw from the Danes.
~ Aetheflaed dies and is succeeded as ruler of Mercia by her brother Edward, King of Wessex.
~ Battle of Corbridge. Ragnald wins a narrow victory against King Constantine II of Alba and Ealdred of Bernicia, in parts of which (County Durham) the Norse begin to settle.
919 Ragnald takes York but, along with the kings of Alba and Strathclyde, he acknowledges King Edward the Elder as his overlord, leaving Guthfrith to rule Dublin.
~ Niall Glúndub, High King of Ireland is killed when he attempts to take Dublin from the Vikings.
921 Wexford in Ireland is founded by the Vikings, followed a year later by Limerick.
924 Death of Edward the Elder, succeeded by Aethelstan (c894-939).
927 Aethelstan, Alfred’s grandson and King of Wessex and Mercia, takes York from the Vikings and subdues Northumbria and Alba.
928 Aethelstan becomes known as King of the English and arranges marriage of his sister to Otto who becomes Holy Roman Emperor.
937 Aethelstan defeats an invading force led by Constantine II (died 952) King of Alba, Owain King of the Strathclyde Britons and Olaf King of Dublin, at the battle of Brunanburh.
939 Aethelstan dies, succeeded by Edmund I (921-946).
~ King Olaf of Dublin takes York and resists King Edmund I.
940 St Dunstan becomes Abbot of Glastonbury and begins reforms which follow the Benedictine Rule.
943 Olaf of York, recognises King Edmund as his overlord.
945 King Edmund I reasserts his power in Northumbria and invades Cumbria/-Strathclyde, but hands the province to Malcolm I (died 954) of Alba as part of terms for a permanent alliance.
946 King Edmund I is assassinated reason unknown. His brother Eadred (923-955) succeeds to the throne.
954 Eadred expels Eric Bloodaxe, the last Viking King of York, who is later murdered.
955 Eadwig (c940-959) elder son of Edmund I succeeds Eadred who died after a life of ill health.
957 The nobles of England beyond Wessex revolt against King Eadwig and support his brother Edgar.
959 Eadwig dies and the Wessex nobles accept Edgar as their king. England is united again under King Edgar the Peaceful (c943-975).
960 Church reformer and influential statesman St Dunstan (c909-988) becomes Archbishop of Canterbury.
963 King Edgar issues a Law Code granting legal autonomy to Danish areas of England.
973 Near the end of his reign King Edgar the Peaceful is crowned at Bath in a ceremony which became the pattern for all succeeding English coronations.
~ King Edgar cedes Lothian to the King of Alba so long as his overlordship continues to be recognised.
978 King Edgar is succeeded by Edward the Martyr (born c962) who is assassinated at Corfe Castle, the home of his young half-brother.
~ Aethelred II (c966-1016) the Unready or Unraed (meaning badly-advised) takes the throne of England.
979 The Tynwald parliament is established on the Isle of Man which is ruled by Norse Vikings.
980 Danish raids are renewed on the south and east coasts.
~ Irish and Manx Norsemen raid Wales.
~ Malachy II High King of Ireland defeats the Dublin Norsemen at Tara.
991 Danes win the Battle of Maldon against Aethelred the Unready. He pays a £10,000 tribute, later known as Danegeld, which soon became a regular land tax to pay for defence of the realm.
994 Norsemen and Danes led by Olaf and Sweyn Forkbeard attempt but fail to take London. Danegeld continues to be paid and some Danes are retained as mercenaries, but coastal attacks continue in the following years and further Danish settlements are established in southern England.
995 Kenneth of Scotland invades Bernicia but is repelled by Uhtred (dies 1016) of Bamburgh.
~ St Cuthbert’s remains are removed to Durham and Ealdhun (c950-1018/9), last bishop of Lindisfarne, becomes the first Bishop of Durham.
997 King Aethelred introduces the Law Code of Wantage. Probably intended for application in areas dominated by the Danes, it allows for local Danish custom and includes a pre-cursor of a presentment jury of twelve.
999 Malachy II (949-1022) and Brian Boru (c941-1014) joint Irish high kings take Dublin.
1000 English ships raid Normandy and Isle of Man.
1002 The St Brice’s Day massacre of Danes in England provokes renewed Danish invasions.
~ King Aethelred, hoping to prevent Norman assistance to his Danish enemies, takes for his second wife Emma (c984-1052), daughter of Richard I Duke of Normandy.
1004 King Sweyn Forkbeard (960-1014) of Denmark invades England and sacks Norwich and Thetford but is strongly resist-ed by Ulfcytel Snillingr (died 1016) and returns to Denmark.
1005 A severe famine this year. Malcolm II (c954-1034) seizes the throne of Alba.
1006 Malcolm II King of Alba attacks Durham City but is defeated by Uhtred of Bamburgh in Bernicia. The king also makes him Ealdorman of York, thus reuniting Northumbria under one authority.
1009 Thorkell the Tall (dates unknown) invades Kent but fails to take London. He takes prisoner Ælfheah (born c953) the Archbishop of Canterbury but loses control of his men who murder Ælfheah. After receiving of 48000 pounds of silver as Danegeld, Thorkell enters Aethelred’s service.
1013 Sweyn Forkbeard briefly takes the English throne but dies very soon after. King Aethelred and his family take refuge in Normandy but he returns and reclaims the throne on Sweyn’s death.
1014 Cnut (c995-1035) son of Sweyn retreats to Denmark, leaving his allies, the men of Lindsay, to face Aethelred’s vengeance.
~ The Danes having occupied London, Aethelred pulls down London Bridge and evicts them.
~ Brian Boru of Munster, the Gaelic High King of Ireland dies at the battle of Clontarf. Although his forces defeat a Leinster/Viking alliance they fail to capture Viking Dublin. Nevertheless Viking power in Ireland is in decline.
1015 Cnut invades England again and claims the crown. Wessex submits to his rule and Eadric Streona (died 1017) Ealdorman of Mercia, son in law of King Aethelred, joins forces with Cnut.
~ Uhtred, Ealdorman of Northumbria, is murdered on his way to submit to Cnut, who divides Northumbria once more into two earldoms, York and the area north of Tees (Berenicia).
1016 King Aethelred the Unready dies. Edmund Ironside (born 990-1016), his son by his first marriage, who has already taken control of the Danelaw and risen in revolt against his father, is proclaimed king by the citizens of London.
~ The Witan, however, meeting in Southampton supports Cnut who defeats Edmund Ironside at the battle of Essendune or Assendun in Essex. Edmund retains Wessex but concedes all the rest of England to Cnut.
~ Cnut becomes King of all England when Edmund Ironside suddenly dies suspiciously of causes unknown. Edmund’s two young sons are sent into exile and finish up in Hungary (see 1056).
1017 Emma of Normandy, widow of Aethelred the Unready, marries King Cnut. Her sons by Aethelred are sent to her brother in Normandy.
~ Eadwig Aetheling (birthdate unknown), son of Aethelred by his first marriage is murdered.
~ Thorkell becomes Earl of East Anglia.
~ Eadric Streona, the Earl of Mercia is executed.
1018 The battle of Carham. Malcolm II (c954-1034) of Alba and the King of Strathclyde defeat Northumbrian forces and establish the Anglo-Scottish border along the river Tweed.
~ King Cnut collects a massive Danegeld and pays off his Scandinavian army.
1019 Cnut becomes King of Denmark.
1027 Cnut attends the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor in Rome.
~ King Malcolm II of Alba recognises Cnut as overlord of Bernicia but retains land north of the Tweed.
1028 Cnut becomes King of Norway and puts it under the control of his first wife Aelgifu (c990-c1037)) and their son Sweyn (1016-1035). Their harsh rule leads to rebellion and the loss of Norway in 1034.
1034 Duncan I (c1001-1040) of Alba succeeds Malcolm II and becomes recognised as King of Scots.
1035 Death of Cnut is followed by confusion over the succession.
~ His son Harthacnut (1018-1042), son of Cnut and Emma of Normandy, already rules Denmark but he is unable to leave Denmark to claim the English throne. Harold Hare-foot (c1016-1040), Cnut’s son by his first marriage to Aelgifu, is appointed regent, with Queen Emma keeping a watching brief on behalf of her son, supported by Godwin (c1001-1053), Earl of Wessex.
~ William the Bastard (c1028-1087) becomes Duke of Normandy.
1036 Aelfred (born c1005), the son of Emma by her first husband Aethelred the Unready, comes to England with a troop of armed Normans. He is taken prisoner by Godwin Earl of Wessex, who has apparently deserted Emma. Aelfred is blinded and dies of his wounds.
1037 Harold I Harefoot, who is in poor health, is proclaimed king, but his rights are disputed by Harthacnut. Emma flees to Bruges.
1038 Dunan or Donatus (died 1074) is appointed first Bishop of Dublin by the Norse ruler of the city. He is also known as chief bishop of the foreigners.
1039 Gruffydd ap Llewelyn (died 1063) Prince of Gwynedd defeats a Mercian invading force near Welshpool.
1040 Death of Harold I Harefoot succeeded by his half-brother Harthacnut King of Denmark.
~ Macbeth (c1005-1057) kills Duncan I and becomes King of Scots.
1042 Harthacnut dies suddenly. Magnus (1024-1047) of Norway who has inherited the Danish crown also claimed the English throne. However…
~ Edward the Confessor (c1003-1066), Emma’s surviving son by Aethelred the Unready, is elected King of England in succession to the Danish kings.
1045 Edward the Confessor marries Edith (c1025-1075), daughter of Godwin Earl of Wessex, and she is crowned queen consort.
~ Harold Godwinson (c1022-1066) is created Earl of East Anglia.
1046 Earl Sweyn Godwinson (dates unknown) assists Gruffydd ap Llewelyn Prince of Gwynedd with his invasion of Deheubarth (SW Wales). He also abducts the Abbess of Leominster, hoping to marry her and claim her vast estate. He is exiled to Flanders.
1051 King Edward, supported by the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria attempts to bring the mighty Godwin clan to heel. The Godwins go into exile and Edward repudiates their sister, his wife Queen Edith.
~ Norman knights are invited to erect the first motte and bailey castles in the Welsh March.
1052 The Godwins, except for Sweyn, return and all their properties and titles are restored. Edith their sister is restored as queen. They hold most of the reins of power.
1053 Harold Godwinson is created Earl of Wessex following the death of his father.
1054 King Macbeth of Scotland is defeated at the battle of Dunsinane and Malcolm Canmore (1031-1093), nephew of Siward (dates unknown) Earl of Northumbria, is installed as lord of Strathclyde and Lothian.
~ Tostig Godwinson (c1026-1066), brother of Harold, is created Earl of Northumberland following the death of Siward.
1055 Gruffydd ap Llewelyn recaptures Deheubarth and controls the whole of Wales.
1056 King Edward recalls Edward the Exile (1016-1057) son of Edmund Ironside to England and names him his heir but he soon dies in uncertain circumstances.
1057 Malcolm Canmore defeats and kills King Macbeth of Scotland.
~ Death of Leofric Earl of Mercia (age unknown) and husband of the famous Lady Godiva. His son Aelfgar (died 1060) is exiled and becomes allied with Gruffydd of Wales.
1058 Malcolm Canmore becomes Malcolm III (1031-1093) King of Scotland after killing Macbeth’s stepson.
~ Aelfgar is created Earl of Mercia.
1061 Malcolm III of Scotland ravages Bernicia and takes control of Cumberland.
~ Most likely date for the foundation of England’s earliest national pilgrimage shrine, Our Lady of Walsingham, by Richeldis de Faverches.
1063 Death of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, the only Welsh prince to rule the whole of Wales. Wales is subjugated by the Godwinson earls Harold and Tostig and is divided into north and south. Harold marries Ealdgyth or Edith the widow of Gruffydd.
1065 The North rebels against Earl Tostig of Northumbria. He is exiled, replaced by Morcar (dates unknown) of Mercia. The king tries to save Tostig but Harold and the other earls do not support him.
~ The Consecration of Westminster Abbey, England’s first Romanesque church (demolished in 1245 to be replaced by the present building).
1066 King Edward dies and is succeeded by Harold Godwinson (c1022-1066) Earl of Wessex as King Harold II, but the succession is contested by the King of Norway and the Duke of Normandy.
~ A combined force led by Harald Hardrada (born 1015) King of Norway and Tostig Godwinson defeat Earl Morcar and his brother Edwin of Mercia (died 1071) at Fulford, Yorkshire.
~ King Harold II marches north and defeats Harald Hardrada and Harold’s own brother Tostig, both of whom are killed, at Stamford Bridge near York.