Vikings in England

Vikings in England

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is situated on the northeastern coast of England. In 793 AD, the Vikings raided the monastery of Saint Cuthbert on the island. The raid would mark the beginning of the Viking Age; a period that would see Scandinavian warriors spread their influence and culture throughout Europe. The initial raids would be followed by Viking settlements, most notably the establishment of the Danelaw in England. In 865, the Great Heathen Army descended on England, conquering large swathes of territory from Northumbria to Essex (Alfred the Great successfully defended Wessex from the Great Heathen Army, eventually culminating the Treaty of Wedmore with the Vikings).

The uneasy peace between the Vikings and their Anglo-Saxon neighbors would come to an end in 1002. On Saint Brice’s Day (13 November) a large number of Viking settlers were massacred under the orders of King Ethelred the Unready. Sweyn I of Denmark responded to the bloodshed with an invasion of England in 1003.  After ten years of war, Sweyn defeated the Anglo-Saxons and forced Ethelred into exile. He was crowned King of England, but his reign would be short, dying in February 1014. Following Sweyn’s death, Ethelred returned from exile, driving Sweyn’s heir Cnut to return to Denmark. Cnut would return in 1015 with a massive fleet, and following the death of Ethelred in April 1016, Cnut would triumph over his heir, Edmund, in the Battle of Assandun, concluding the Danish reconquest of England.

Cnut and his heirs would control England until the mid-11th century. Edward the Confessor would seize control from his half-brother Harthacnut in 1042, restoring Anglo-Saxon rule over England. Edward would die in 1066, with Harold Godwinson being appointed king. The appointment of Godwinson angered William of Normandy, who claimed he was the rightful heir to the throne, and Harald Hardrada of Norway. The two foreign leaders launched their invasion of England in the fall of 1066. Hardrada landed first, capturing York and defeating a small Anglo-Saxon force in the Battle of Fulford. Godwinson responded to the Viking invasion by marching his army north, defeating Hardrada (resulting in the Norwegian king’s death) in the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Two days following his victory against Hardrada, William set sail from Normandy.

When word reached Godwinson of the Norman invasion, he marched his army south in a magnificent feat of endurance to counter William’s forces. The two sides would clash on 14 October 1066, near Hastings. The Normans would triumph in the battle (historical legend notes that Harold was killed by an arrow to the eye), and eventually, conquer the whole of England. The Normans, who were descendants of Vikings (their name coming from the term “Northmen”), would go on to be one of Europe’s great power brokers in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Look for more information regarding the Vikings in the upcoming Strategy & Tactics issue #301 article “The Varangian Guard: Imperial Axe-Bearers” and join the conversation on Facebook!

About The Author

Kyle is a Military Historian and Senior Editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. A fourth-generation combat Veteran, Kyle retired from the United States Army in 2010. He specializes in military operations from 1945-Present and has written extensively regarding the future of asymmetrical warfare.

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