Towards the end of the eighth century, what we now think of England was divided up into a number of competing kingdoms; in south there was Wessex, in the midlands Mercia in the north Northumbria and on the south-east coast was East Anglia maintaining a sort of fitful semi-independence but generally getting bullied by either Mercia or Wessex.

And then came the Vikings.

The Vikings were a people who variously originated from Norway, Denmark and Sweden but as a general rule of thumb it was the Danish that hit England and the Norwegians that fancied their chances in Ireland and the north of Britain. Quite why they suddenly decided to leave home and undertake a life of pillaging, piracy and slave trading is not known (although there are plenty of theories) but the impact they had on the former Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms were profound. Under the pressure of Viking assaults every kingdom crumbled except that of Wessex, whose kings, most notably Alfred ended up as leaders of the English on the principle of last man standing. Thereby effectively transforming the land of the Angles into a single united kingdom named England.

Oh, but in the end, although it took them 270 years, the Vikings won.


c788 - The first recorded Viking attack; three Viking vessels land off the coast of Wessex and are met by the Reeve of Dorchester; there is a slight misunderstanding and the Reeve gets himself killed.

These were the first ships of the Danish men that sought the land of the English nation.

793 - The Vikings raid Lindisfarne, loot the monastery, kill the odd monk and take others to sell as slaves. The shock reverbarates all around Europe; Never before has such an atrocity been seen bemoans Alcuin.

794-835 - Viking raids become a regular feature of English life, monasteries becoming their favourites targets due to the abundance of gold, silver and sundry other goodies they contain. The rest of Britain and Ireland is not immune either. Reachtra or Lambay was hit in 795. Iona was raided repeatedly.

820 - Meanwhile the Vikings conquer the Isle of Man.

833 - Egbert king of Wessex fought the Vikings at the battle of Charmouth, he lost.

835 - A Viking fleet lands in Cornwall whose Brythonic inhabitants join with them in waging war against Egbert, Egbert defeats the alliance at the battle of Hengeston.

835-850 - The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records a succession of battles against Viking raiders and insurgents; the entry for the year 839 for example simply reads This year there was great slaughter in London, Canterbury, and Rochester

840 - Meanwhile some Norwegian Vikings establish a base in Ireland and found the city of Dublin.

851 - The Vikings change their tactics; instead of going home for the winter, they seize the Isle of Thanet in the Thames estuary and establish a permanent base from which they launch regular raids into Kent over the following years. Aethelwulf of Wessex wins a notable victory at the Battle of Aclea with a great slaughter of the enemy.

865 - The inahabitants of Kent, weary of regular raids from the Viking colony decide to offer them a large sum of money to leave them alone; now regarded as the first recorded example of the payment of danegeld.

866 - Aethelred I succeeds to the throne of Wessex the Viking Great Army arrives in East Anglia, occupies the kingdom and spends the winter there.

867 - Under the command of the two brothers Ivarr the Boneless and Halfdan, the Great Army follows this up by moving into Northumbria and seizing control of York. The rival kings of Northumbria, Aelle and Osberht, throw aside their differences and attempt to retake York, but both are killed and their army slaughtered.

869 - Edmund the last king of East Anglia is captured and killed by Ivarr the Boneless.

870 - The Vikings under Halfdan move against Wessex but are beaten at the battle of Englefield, they fall back on Reading which they succesfully hold, scattering the attacking Anglo-Saxon forces.

871 - The Vikings move against Wessex again but at the battle of Ashdown, the Anglo-Saxon forces under the command of one Alfred succeed in defeating the Vikings but at a heavy cost. Aethelred I dies soon after, and Alfred assumes power in Wessex. Alfred continues to fight off Viking incursions but lacks the military resources to continue ans os follows the Kentish precedent and pays off the Vikings and buys himself some time.

874 - The Vikings attack Mercia and drive its ruler king Burgred into exile, they install Ceolwulf, as sub-King there. Ivarr the Boneless dies, but his sons continues attacks on north-eastern England.

877 - Guthrum leads the Viking assault on Wessex. Guthrum accepts payment from Alfred but takes Exeter anyway. Fortunately for Alfred a violent storm destroys most of the Viking fleet, cutting off Guthrum's supply lines, Guthrum is surrounded, sues for peace and is permitted to withdraw.

878 - The Viking forces launch a surprise attack on Alfred's court at Chippenham on Twelfth Night, January 878. Most of Alfred's army is wiped out and he is forced to retreat to Athelney in Somerset.

Alfred regroups and gathers his forces and at the Battle of Edington in May 878 uses some old fashioned Roman infantry tactics and inflicts a serious defeat on Guthrum; suitably chastened Guthrum accepts the proffered peace terms and converts to Christianity. The Treaty of Wedmore divides England in two, Alfed gets to keep Wessex and the south, the north goes to the Vikings and becomes known as the Danelaw.

878-891 - For the next fourteen years, Alfred follows a policy of constructing fortified towns or burghs to defend his kingdom and of building a navy to counteract Viking naval superiority

891 - Guthrum dies

892-897 - Without Guthrum to restrain them a new Viking army roams the country plundering at various times Essex, Sussex, Devonshire, the midlands and north Wales but Alfred's fortified burghs hold up and limit the damage.

894 - Meanwhile one Turf-Einar takes contol of the Orkneys.

901 - Alfred dies and Edward becomes king.

902 - The Irish regain Dublin from the Vikings.

904-910 - Guthrum II becames leader and persuades his followers to abide by the Treaty of Wedmore.

910 - The Vikings become restless and attack Mercia, Edward together with his sister Athefleda, the Lady of the Mercians defeats them at the Battle of Tettenhall and succeeds in driving them out of Mercia.

911 - The Viking leader Rollo is granted land by the French king and founds the Duchy of Normandy.

917 - The Vikings recapture Dublin; whilst in England Guthrum II is killed at the battle of Tempsford .

924 - Edward dies and is succeeded by his son Athelstan.

927 - Athelstan, moves north of the Humber and recovers control of Northumbria by expelling Olafr Sigtryggson ruler of Jorvik.

937 - Viking forces from Dublin and Jorvik togther with those of Constantine II of the Scots and the Strathclyde Welsh move south but are defeated by Athelstan at the Battle of Brunanburh.

939 - The death of Athelstan, Edmund I succeeds him

946 - Eadred succeeds Edmund as king.

947 - Eirikr Bloodaxe revives the Viking kingdom of Jorvik.

948 - Eadred drives out Eirikr Bloodaxe, another Viking Olafr Cuaran nips in and rules Jorvik instead.

952 - Olafr Cuaran abandons Jorvik, Eirikr Bloodaxe regains control.

954 - the death of Eirikr Bloodaxe at Stainmore near York signals the end of Viking rule in Northumbria.

955 - The death of Eadred, Edwig succeeds but proves an unpopular ruler.

959-975 - The reign of Edgar, England experiences sixteen years of relative peace and quiet for once.

975 - Edgar dies and is succeded by Edward, later known as the Martyr.

978 - Edward is assassinated and his younger half brother, Aethelred II takes the throne.

980-991 - The Vikings recommence their attacks on England.

991 - The Battle of Maldon; a curious affair in August 991 where the English sense of fair play hands the Vikings victory on a plate.

991-1002 - Aethelred II follows a consistent policy of paying danegeld to maintain the peace; he coughs up substantial sums in 991, 994 and again in 1002.

995 - One Olafr Tryggvason leaves England and claims the throne of Norway. He is accompanied by a number of English priests and begins the process of converting the nation to Christianity.

1002 - Aethelred II decides to indulge in a little ethnic cleansing and moves to eliminate all Viking settlers in England. On the 14th November 1002, the killing starts and becomes known as the St Brice's Day massacre. When news reaches Scandinavia the inhabitants are not well pleased. In Ireland Brian Boru defeats the Norwegian Vikings and becomes king of all Ireland.

1003-1005 - Sweyn Forkbeard, the king of Denmark arrives in East Anglia intent on revenge, and spends two years burning and looting the south.

1006 - Sweyn Forkbeard returnes to continue where he left off; ransacking Kent and the south of England, Aethelred II coughs up another payment of danegeld.

1011 - The Vikings capture Canterbury murder Aelfheah the Archbishop of Canterbury, some of the now Christian Vikings are outraged and defect to Aethelred II.

1013 - Sweyn Forkbeard arrives in England once more this time with his son, Cnut. Aethelred loses his nerve and flees to Normandy; Sweyn Forkbeard is declared king of England.

1014 - The Vikings of Ireland are finally defeated in the Battle of Clontarf, but Brian Boru is killed. Many of the Vikings leave Ireland and settle in the north west of England.

1016 - Edmund II, the son of Aethelred II, becomes king, but Cnut challenges him at the battle of Ashingdon on the 18th October. Edmund is defeated and agrees to divide the kingdom between himself and Cnut but dies soon afterwrds; Cnut takes the lot and becomes the unchallenged king of England.

1035 - Cnut dies leaving his only legitimate son named Hardicanute as sole heir, but Hardicanute departs for Denmark leaving the throne of England to his half brother Harold I.

1040 - Harold I dies; Hardicanute returns to rule.

1042 - The death of Hardicanute, another half brother, Edward, better known as Edward the Confessor becomes king of England.

1066 - Edward the Confessor dies; Harald Hardrada of Denmark comes with a large army to claim the throne but is defeated by Harold Godwinson aka king Harold II at the battle of Stamford Bridge on the 25th September 1066.

But Harold's success is shortlived as another bunch of Frenchified Vikings from Normandy land under the command of their Duke William. At the Battle of Hastings on the 14th October Harold is defeated and killed. Duke William proceeds to London and is crowned king William I.

Constructed from information found in;

A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain by Ann Williams, Alfred P. Smyth and D. P. Kirby (Seaby 1991)

The Penguin Atlas of British and Irish History (Penguin 2001)

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

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