Eric Bloodaxe and Northumbria

Bloodaxe and Northumbria : AD 946 – 989

When Eric Bloodaxe became King of York in 948AD he claimed all of Northumbria as his own. He had one rival – Earl Oswulf of Bamburgh. Supported by the King of Wessex, Oswulf employed an agent to murder Bloodaxe at Stainmore high in the Pennines near to where the A66 runs today. On Eric’s death, the 350 year old Kingdom of Northumbria came to an end. The King of Wessex became King of all England. The North-East had lost its independence for good.

Eric Bloodaxe coin
A coin from the reign of Eric Bloodaxe, Viking King of York. Bloodaxe visited Chester-le-Street in 952AD

👈 Norse-Gael era | TimelineCnut era 👉

May 26, 946 – English king assassinated

Edmund, King of Wessex and England, has been assassinated, he has been succeeded by his son, Eadred.

946 – Archbishop plots to install Bloodaxe

Wulfstan, the Archbishop of York, has submitted to Eadred King of England at Tanshelf (Yorkshire) in the south of Northumbria. Eadred is unaware that Wulfstan plans to offer the Kingdom of York to Eric Bloodaxe, the King of Norway.

York, Shambles
York Shambles © David Simpson

948 – Eric Bloodaxe King of York

Eric Bloodaxe – part Norse, part Danish – has been elected King of York and lays claim to the whole of Northumbria.

948 – Bloodaxe ousted by new Wessex king

Yorkshire support for Eric Bloodaxe has been subdued following an attack from Eadred, the King of England. Bloodaxe has been ousted by Eadred in favour of a new candidate. Ripon minster is severely destroyed during the confrontation and Odo, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has taken the relics of St Wilfrid and reburied them at Canterbury. Because of the uncertainty in the North-East, King Malcolm of Scotland has raided as far south as the River Tees.

949 – Olaf Sihtricson, King of York

Olaf Sihtricson, a Viking from Dublin, has become the King of York. He is thought to have gained the support of Eadred, King of England, who would rather see Olaf in power than the powerful Eric Bloodaxe who is somewhere in exile. Wulfstan, Archbishop of York, has been imprisoned for supporting Eric Bloodaxe.

Bootham Bar and York Minster
York depicted on an old postcard. Many of the street names in the city have Viking origins.

952 – Bloodaxe reinstated at York

Olaf Sihtricson has failed to gain support in York and Eric Bloodaxe has been reinstated by the men of Yorkshire. Eric visits the shrine of St Cuthbert at Chester-le-Street. This pilgrimage has become something of a tradition among powerful kings – in previous years English kings who have visited the shrine have included King Æthelstan, King Edmund and King Eadred.

Chester-le-Street viewed from Great Lumley
Chester-le-Street where the shrine of St Cuthbert was visited by Eric Bloodaxe © David Simpson.

954 – Bloodaxe murdered on Stainmore

Eric Bloodaxe has been murdered in the bleak moors of Stainmore in Teesdale by Maccus, an agent of Oswulf Ealdulfing, the High Reeve or Earl of Bamburgh, who rules Northumbria north of the Tees. Oswulf is a supporter of Eadred, the King of Wessex and Eng land, who may have encouraged the murder. Eric’s death signifies the end of northern independence and from now on Yorkshire and the North-East will be ruled as part of England by Kings in the south.

The stony River Greta at Greta Bridge
The stony River Greta at Greta Bridge. The river rises on Stainmore and joins the Tees near Barnard Castle. Its Viking name means ‘stony stream’ © David Simpson

954 – Scots take Edinburgh

The Scots under King Indulf have taken Edinburgh from the Northumbrians.

957 – Northumbrians rebel against Eadwig

In 955 King Eadred of Wesex and England died and was succeeded by his nephew Eadwig. Mercia and Northumbria rebel against Eadwig in favour of his brother Edgar who they wished to appoint king. Edgar will become king in 959.

966 – Outsider is Earl of York

Oslac, a nobleman from the fenlands of Mercia, has been appointed Earl of York (Yorkshire) by Kind Edgar who expects him to keep the north peaceful.

966 – Norwegians establish Scarborough

Viking brothers called Thorgils and Kormak in the service of King Harald Grafeld, King of Norway, have established a stronghold at Scarborough while harrying in Ireland, England and Wales. Thorgils was known to his brother by the nickname ‘Hare Lip’, or in the Viking language ‘Skarthi’ . It is probable that ‘Hare-Lip’ gave his name to Scarborough. There may already have been an Anglo-Saxon settlement on the site and there was certainly a Roman signal station here.

Above the rooftops, Scarborough
The coast at Scarborough © David Simpson

971 – Scots raid as far as Teesdale

Kenneth, King of Scotland, has raided the North-East as far as Stainmore, Teesdale.

High Force waterfall, Teesdale
High Force waterfall, Teesdale. Force is a Viking word for a waterfall © David Simpson. 2018

972 – St Oswald becomes Archbishop

St Oswald, the Bishop of Worcester, has been appointed the Bishop of York. He is a Midlander by birth but is of Danish descent. St Oswald replaces St Ethelwold who only became Archbishop of York last year. He is sometimes confused with the earlier St Oswald who was a once king of Northumria.

974 – Wessex King discusses North East

King Edgar of Wessex and England has held a meeting with Kenneth, King of the Scots, and the Kings of Cumbria, the Islands and five other kings at Chester in the North West of England. The meeting is thought to have been a discussion regarding the Scottish claim to land north of the Tees. Edgar, who impressed the northern kings with his great army, is likely to have told them to keep their hands off the region which has been a great supporter of kings in the south.

975 – Edward the Martyr King of England

King Edgar of Wessex dies and is succeeded by King Edward of Wessex as king of England. Edward will be known to history as Edward the Martyr.

975 – Oslac exiled from York

Oslac, Earl of Yorkshire, has been exiled from York and replaced by Earl Thored.

Ouse Bridge, York
River Ouse at York © David Simpson

979 – ‘Unready’ King of England

The young King Edward the Martyr has been murdered at Corfe Castle in Dorset, and succeeded by his nine-year-old half-brother Æthelred II of Wessex- nicknamed the Unready because he is so young and uncounselled.

979 – Viking parliament on Isle of Man

The Vikings have established the Tynwald, which is the name of the parliament on the Isle of Man. The island is a major stronghold of Norse settlement. It was settled by the Vikings from around 850 but a Manx Gaelic language survives here.

979 – Manx Vikings raid Wales

Vikings from the Isle of Man raid Wales.

988 – Forkbeard new King of Denmark

Swein Forkbeard has become the King of Denmark.

👈 Norse-Gael eraCnut era 👉


Viking Northumbria

North East England History and Culture