Vikings Part 2 Battle Part 3
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Part II




Why did the Vikings invade Britain ?

his is a question that has never really been answered definitively. It was probably a number of conditions that promoted the sea faring exploits of these people in the seventh and eighth centuries. A number of suggestions have been forwarded. An expanding population in a rather barren and agriculturally difficult part of the world due to the climate may have been one reason. Another is the use of iron and steel which promoted better farming implements and weapons. The development and use of iron related implements is evident by farming being conducted higher and higher in the peaks of Scandinavia. The population would have grown in response, until a point would have been reached where no further cultivation could occur. Unable to sustain the growing population possibly prompted the development of the longboat into a seafaring machine. Better tools must have played some part in the scenario. With a larger population that had to be fed and with the means to escape, the results are history. The Vikings spread their influence far. This is the story of their invasion of Britain and the consequences. It is easy to call the Vikings, pirates, but desperation may have been more the cause, being left with no choice and the reluctance of surrounding countries people to accept them and their aggressive ways and pagan religion, they began to take what they wanted by force.


The first Invasions

he first invasions of Britain were well chronicled. The most publicised occurred on Lindisfarne island off the coast of Northumbria in 793 A.D. Lindisfarne was a monastery founded by St Aiden in 630 which was ransacked and their ecclesiastical finery of gold, jewellery and relics taken. Many monks were killed and others kidnapped. The alters were destroyed as well as the fabric of the buildings. This was the precursor for the next 273 years. The attack on Lindisfarne had far reaching effects because it was considered an assault on Christianity. News of this invasion travelled across Europe. The Vikings would not be finally beaten in England until 1066 A.D, by Harold II at the battle of Stamford Bridge. Following the destruction of Lindisfarne, they cast their attention to other easy targets. Monasteries were their favourites because of the riches contained in them. To this end, they invaded Jarrow in 794 and Iona in 795, 802 and 806. They usually gave the holy houses sufficient time to replace their riches before invading again. The first chronicled attack of Wessex predated the Lindisfarne attack and was thought to have been in 787 or 789, when three Viking vessels landed off the coast at a place now known as Portland. The Reeve of Dorchester journeyed to meet them. Considering the Vikings track record, it is surprising he did not take better precautions. The situation got out of hand and resulted in the Reeve being killed. This is an interesting episode because if the Vikings had any intentions of creating mayhem, surely they would have arrived with a bigger force? This indicates the possible trading nature of the people. In 835 A.D, a large Viking force of longboats entered the Thames estuary and devastated the Isle of Sheppey on the Kent coast. It was usual for these people to conduct the raids during the summer and return to their homes with their booty. In 850 however, this changed. Another large force, instead of returning home for the winter, encamped on the Isle of Thanet in the Thames estuary. They set about fortifying their conquest ready for the following years plundering. To the residents of Kent, enough was enough. By 865 the people of Kent approached the Vikings with a lucrative offer on the understanding that they would leave them in peace. This has now been catalogued as the first payment of danegeld.

Location of lindisfarne Island

Location of lindisfarne - which became the target of the first Viking Attacks.


Pay us danegeld and we will go away

he Vikings must have thought that they had hit pay dirt. They began to realise that the fear of their threat was much better than having to carry it out physically, whilst being paid not to in the bargain. They were not adverse to carrying out their justice if their terms were not met. To this end, the English used what is called danegeld to appease the Vikings on a regular basis. The payment of danegeld was usually accepted in precious metals such as gold but more usually silver. More will be said about this later.

Location of Portland

The location of the first acknowledged attack by Vikings on the English mainland.


Hairy Breeches

ithout doubt, the most famous of the invading Vikings was Ragnar Lodbrok. A Norwegian who was associated with the ruling classes of Denmark at that time. A pirate almost from birth, he spent most of his life invading one country or another. He was given the name hairy breeches because of the trousers made from animal skin by his wife. By 845 he was a well established figure who was famous for his exploits. In that year, he invaded Paris, but was beaten back. Not to be outdone he turned his attention to England. He landed in Northumbria on the north east coast of England. Unfortunately he was captured by King Ella of Northumbria and thrown into a snake pit of adders, the only poisonous snake that exists in England. As he was slowly being bitten to death, he was alleged to have exclaimed " How the little pigs would grunt if they knew the situation of the old boar ". The story continues that when his four sons heard the manner of his death, Hvitserk, who was playing chess gripped the piece so hard that blood issued from his finger nails. Bjorn gripped his spear so tightly that he left an impression in it and Sigurd who was trimming his nails cut straight through to the bone. Only the fourth son, Ivor the boneless collected all the details of his fathers death and prepared their revenge. The custom known as blood red eagle was to cut the ribs of the victim out and the lungs removed by grasping them and spreading them over the body. This justice was allegedly carried out on King Ella. The story above as obviously been exaggerated but the consequences of Ragnar Lodbrok's death had serious consequences. Ivor The boneless was the mastermind behind the attacks on the mainland in the final quarter of the ninth century. In 866 he invaded East Anglia and the following year attacked York. He was aided by the internal struggle for power in Northumbria. With no fleet and no defences of note, the Vikings wintered in England and were reinforced by more of their kind. In 869 Edmund the last king of East Anglia was slain for not renouncing his faith. Mercia which had been the foremost power in the country since king Offa, reeled under the attacks. They appealed to Wessex for help. Wessex responded and Aethelred and the young Alfred marched to their assistance only to see the Mercians surrender to the invaders. Fighting almost alone, the Vikings were pushed out of Mercia. They retreated back to York. It was only a temporary peace. It was not long before they returned, regaining most of the ground that was lost by them. The only kingdom of the heptarchy left with any say in its own affairs was Wessex. Soon, it would be their turn to suffer the invaders might.

Location of Sheppey and Thanet.

Location of the first Viking settlers in England.


Vikings Part 1

Vikings Part 3

Vikings Part 4

Vikings Part 5

Viking Photographs


copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
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