Take our quick tour through the impact of these Scandinavian raiders and settlers on England from 789 to 1066 AD.
1. The first recorded raid on England was a trading expedition that turned sour
In 789AD at Portland, Dorset, a group of Viking ‘traders’ took umbrage at their business affairs being controlled by the local king’s representative.
They killed the unfortunate official and his retinue. The more famous raid on the monastery of Lindisfarne followed in 793.
2. The Vikings were highly mobile and organised warriors
In the 860s and 870s AD they invaded in larger numbers. They used their ships to support their armies along England’s rivers. They requisitioned horses for raiding. The Vikings built winter camps to protect their families, such as at Torksey in Lincolnshire.
Documentary sources tell us how they exploited divisions in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms to overwhelm them, until the last kingdom standing was Wessex, in southern England, under King Alfred.
Archaeologists have identified the ‘signature’ of the Viking army’s presence: comprising lost artefacts such as slivers of coins from the Islamic world, ‘hacksilver’ and gaming pieces.
3. They settled in large areas of England
The Vikings settled in East Anglia, the East Midlands and the North of England. This is reflected in the density of Scandinavian place names such as those ending in “-by” or “thorpe” for example.
They were not just raiders and once settled their far-flung trading network contributed to the economic growth of towns in the “Five Boroughs” of Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford and especially of York.
During the 10th century King Alfred’s successors brought together much of England under their rule. But new waves of Vikings changed the situation so that for a while England became part of a Scandinavian ‘empire’ under King Cnut.
4. The Vikings brought new artistic styles that blended with existing Anglo-Saxon ones
Their ‘hogback’ tombstones look like idealised Viking houses with curved shingle roofs and bowed sides. There are carved crosses whose motifs blend Christian and pagan Norse beliefs, for example at Gosfoth, Cumbria.
5. The last Viking invasion of England was in 1066
The period under Cnut was followed by a Saxon restoration under Edward the Confessor. When Edward died in 1066, the throne was claimed Harold Godwinson. His right to rule was disputed by Duke William of Normandy and Harald Hadrada, King of Norway.
The veteran warrior Harald Hadraada invaded first but was defeated and killed by Harold Godwinson’s army at Stamford Bridge. Harold himself then lost the Battle of Hastings, which ushered in the era of Norman rule. The Viking Age in England was over.
More about the Vikings in England
Learn more about the archaeological traces they left
The role of Historic England
Some of the important sites mentioned are protected by being ‘scheduled’ or ‘listed’. You can find out more about these and other sites online at the National Heritage List for England.
Thanks, Robin – I find these summary / over-view articles perfect – interesting in themselves, of course, and a big help in deciding whether or not to pursue an interest in any particular period.