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Ivarr 'the Boneless' Ragnarson
King of Dublin
King of Jorvik
Born circa 795 died 873

Biography

His father was Ragnarr Lothbrok, a Viking chieftain who once sailed a fleet up the Seine and laid siege to Paris in 845. In the year 857, Ivarr appeared in Ireland as king of the Viking settlement at Dublin (founded in 840).

He was known in the Old Norse as Ivarr "beinlauss", which apparently means 'bone-less' or 'bone-loose'. No one seems to be quite sure why he got this name, although it is suggested that he may either have been double-jointed or suffering from some afflication such as Marfan syndrome and was simply tall and gangly.

Ivarr's real career began in the year 865, when despite his advancing years, he and his brother Halfdan invaded East Anglia with a large army. As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says,

a great heathen raiding-army came to the land of the English and took winter quarters from the East Anglians, and were provided with horses there

In 866 the two brothers rode north and took advantage of the civil war raging between the rival claimants for the throne of Northumbria (Osberht and Aelle) and captured York on 1st November 866.

On the 21st March 867, the two Northumbrian rivals united in an unsuccessful attempt to retake the city. Osberht was killed in the fighting but Aelle was captured and put to death in the traditional Viking fashion as related, with a certain amount of relish, in The Thattr of Ragnarr's Sons;

They caused the blood eagle to be carved on the back of Aella, and they cut away all of the ribs from the spine, and they ripped out his lungs

And so fell Northumbria, once one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, now a Viking dominion and renamed Jorvik.

The next year Ivarr was in Mercia were he captured Nottingham, but the appearance of an allied army from both Wessex and Mercia persuaded him to make peace and return to York. (Which probably means he was offered a large enough payment to go away.)

In 869 Ivarr was back in East Anglia. This time the reigning king of East Anglia, Edmund, put up some resistance but was soon defeated and captured. According to the Abbo of Fleury's Life of St Edmund;

They then shot spears at him, as if it was a game, until he was entirely covered with their missiles, like the bristles of a hedgehog

Ivarr then had Edmund's head cut off for good measure. And that was the end of East Anglia as a kingdom in its own right.

Now one might have thought that conquering two kingdoms would be enough for one lifetime, but leaving his brother Halfdan in charge of Jorvik, the following year Ivarr was back in Dublin. There he formed a partnership with one Olaf the White (who seems to have been left in charge of Dublin), and together they launched an attack on the North British kingdom of Strathclyde. After a four month siege they captured the fortress of Alt Cluid, capital of Strathclyde and ended four centuries of independence by the Brythonic rulers of that kingdom.

He died, apparently of natural causes, in Dublin in 873 and was recognised as the "king of all the Scandinavians of Ireland and Britain".

Assessment

Little known as he is, Ivarr the Boneless is probably one of the most important and influential individuals in the whole of British history. Although very little is known about him as an individual, he must have been an extremely capable and talented military commander; in six short years he managed to wreck havoc throughout almost the whole of Britain.

His conquest of Northumbria and East Anglia led to the establishment of a Danish presence on the eastern coast of Britain that persisted until the Conquest and beyond, and created the conditions that allowed the unified kingdom of England to be created. Scotland as later came into being (and as we know it today), would certainly never have come into existence had he not similarly destroyed the power of Strathclyde.

What would he have achieved had he started when he was in his 30s?


SOURCES

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

www.vanl.freeserve.co.uk/gvlIvarr.html and www.regia.org/clanivar.htm together with the archives of www.hum.gu.se for a discussion of the derivation of 'boneless'.

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