From 793 to 1066, England was terrorised by Viking warriors. These were people from Scandinavia, especially Danmark and Norway. Scandinavia at the time had a growing population and with inland areas inhospitable, the vikngs looked overseas for new territories and wealth.
“In the year 793, the pagans from the north came to Britain like stinging hornets…” wrote an early Saxon chronicler about the first Viking raid on England. The Vikings had struck a small costal monastery, killed and pillaged. This was the frist blow in a mighty struggle between the Vikings and England whch ended with The Battle Of Hastings in 1066.
For the next 40 years however, there was peace. The Vikings had been preparing for a full-scale invasion and from 835 onwards, hardly a year went by without a raid being reported to the Saxon chronicles. In 851, the Vikngs first wintered in England and in 856 forced England to pay its first Danegald or tribute.
In 867, 3 famous sons of ragnar hairy-Breeches : Ivar the the boneless, Ubbi and Halfdan landed in East Anglia, marched across country, seized York and settled in Northumbria. By 871 the Vikings had overrun the north of England and were preparing to invade the Saxon stronghold, Wessex. This was the first time they had come face-to-face with the Saxon Prince Alfred. Although only second in command, Alfred led the Saxons to victory.
Later that year, Alfred became King Alfred and within months was on the battle fields once again. This time however, he was defeated at Wilton and forced to pay a tribute. After this the Vikngs split in two. One group under the leadership of halfdan went and settled in northumbria. the remaing under Guthrum settled in South Cambridge and waited for another chance to invade Wessex.
In 875, Alfred went to sea with a small naval force and on the south coast of Wessex met 7 Viking longships and defeated them. This was the first time that the Vikings had been challenged at sea so Alfred decided to build a fleet. While busy seeing over the shipbuilding, Alfred failed to notice that Guthrum had struck south. Guthrum had taken Chippenham thus surrounding Wessex and giving himself a much greater chance of success. The Vikings had taken control of most of West Wessex and the Saxons submitted to them. But not Alfred. He and a small group of troops made a small stronghold at Athelney.
Alfred, wishing to know the Vikings plans and tactics, dressed as a wandering minstrel and walked boldly into the viking camp and snuck his way into the council of war. After staying a few days, and content that he knew all he needed to, Alfred hurried back and told his men how easily the Vikngs could be beaten.
With the people of Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire united, Alfred drove the Vikings back to Chippenham and stayed to negotiate a treaty with Guthrum. This treaty stated that Alfred and the Saxon people aknowledged their new neighbours and territories. Guthrum returned to Danelaw which was comprised of the five boroughs of Derby, Stamford, Leicester, Lincoln and Nottingham but not before being baptised in the presence of Alfred.
After Guthrum moved back to Danelaw, there was seven years of peace. this was until a new army from the continent came across the English Channel and seized the city of Rochester. Alfred’s army came once again to the rescue a\though and defeated the new invaders and pushed them back to sea.
Alfred steadily pushed the Vikings back with many small invasion attempts and by 886 had regained control of London. by now all the English looked upon alfred as their leader. Alfred felt an easing of pressure and now concentrated on his defences. He built fortified towns or Burhs.
There were seven more years of peace, until The Great Army from Germany crossed the Channel with 250 ships, sailed un the Lympne estuary and stormed one of Alfred’s Burhs . These Vikings were defeated at Farnam and at the same time the Vikings in danelaw chose to send 100 ships to the north coast of Devon, so that the Saxons had to march west. The Saxons overtook the vikng army on the banks of the Buttington and on the Banks of the Severn and besieged it on every side. The Vikings this time were defeated be famine and when they finally faced the Saxons they lost a very bloody battle. After 2 further years of fighting, The Great Army broke up.
In October 899, King Alfred died. He went down in history as the man who saved England from being completely overrun but the Vikings still held Danelaw.
Alfred’s successor edward the Elder (899-925) was a powerful king. He conquered much of Danelaw in his reign as king. The next king, King Athelstan (925-940) was a powerful king also.
Despite this, the Northumbria Vikings were restless and joined forces with the Scots and the Norwegian vikings from Ireland. Athelstan inflicted a devestaing defeat upon them. The Northumbria Vikings continued however until their last king, Erik Bloodaxe was driven out in 954, when Northumbria became an English earldom. The Norwegian Vikings settled down and started to settle in the Northeast and Midlands.
Edgar the Peaceable (959-975) became friends with the Vikngs as he respected their beliefs and customs. But his son Ethelred the unready (978-1016) was a different kind of man. The Viking attacks were soon renewed. The Vikings had a string of victories and made Ethelred pay higher and higher amounts of Danegald. The most annoying of Ethelred’s foes was the king of Denmark, Svein Forkbeard. He attacked mercilessly until Ethelred ordered that “all the Vikings that have sprung up on this island shall be destroyed”. This led to the massacre of St. Brice’s day on 13th November 1002. Among those killed was Svein’s sister, Gunnhild. Her death enraged Svein and from 1003 onward there were continuous attacks.
When Svein died, his second son Canute took his place. He wooed the church and went on a pilgrimage to Rome. In all he ruled England, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and the Orkney and Shetland islands. While he reigned the Vikings and Saxon people lived in harmony, but when he died everything changed. His son died unexpectedly and as the fight for succession carried on, the English elected a new king, Edward the confessor (1042-1066).
The Vikings made one last attempt to conquer England under a new leader Harald Hardradi. However three days after losing the battle of Stamford bridge, the Normans landed led by Duke William. They fought hard with King Hardradi and all his remaining troops but were defeated and it was there that King Harald was killed. The Viking raids were over and the English had new tormentors.