Jorvik : Viking Northumbria

Jorvik : Kingdom of York, the Danish Conquest, AD 866-900

Most people have heard of the Norman Conquest of 1066 but the Danish conquest of 866 made just as great an impact on the North. The Danes brought cultural, linguistic and political changes to the North and made southern Northumbria the Danish Kingdom of York which they divided into three ‘ridings’. In Northern England, the Danes settled mainly in Yorkshire while the land north of the Tees and especially north of the Tyne remained largely unsettled. Many Danish place-names survive in Yorkshire today like Thornaby, Wetherby and Danby, but the most important Viking settlement in England was, of course, the city of York.

Map of Viking age Northumbria
Map of Viking Northumbria. The darker shaded area centred on Yorkshire was the main area of Viking settlement (along with the darker shaded areas in Mercia). The orange-shaded area, mostly north of the Tees represents the remaining rump of Northumbria where Viking settlement was minimal © David Simpson and 2018 (new edition 2022). This is a reduced resolution image. A high resolution version of this map is available as an A2 print from Tangled Worm

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866 – Osbert overthrown

Osbert, King of Northumbria, is overthrown by his people and replaced by his brother Aelle II.

866 – Ivar the Boneless invades

A Danish army of around 10,000 men invades East Anglia where it encamps for the whole winter. The Danes are led by Ivar the Boneless (so called because of his lanky, gangling appearance) along with his brothers, Halfdene and Hubba.

866 – Danes invade the North

The Danes have taken advantage of turmoil in Northumbria and crossed the Humber into the Deiran province of Northumbria (Yorkshire).

Nov 1, 866 – Danes sack York

York is sacked by the Danes under Ivar, Halfdene and Hubba. Aelle and Osbert unite against the Danes.

York Minster from Low Petergate
York © David Simpson

Mar 23, 867 – Danes kill northern king

Aelle, King of Northumbria, is captured attempting to retake York from the Danes. Osbert is killed during the battle. Aelle is subjected to the horrific Blood Eagle ordeal by the Vikings. His ribs are torn out and folded back to form the shape of an eagle’s wings. It is punishment for his alleged murder of Ragnor Lodbrook, a great Danish leader who was the father of Ivar, Halfdene and Hubba.

Bootham Bar and York Minster
York as depicted on an old postcard

867 – Danes employ a client

The Danes employ an Anglo-Saxon called Egbert as temporary King of Northumbria.

869 – Danes return north

The Danish army returns to York following an excursion into the Midlands where it captured Nottingham.

871 – Alfred the Great : King of Wessex

Alfred the Great is King of Wessex. Earlier this year he defeated the Danes at Ashdown in Berkshire. Alfred will encourage learning and will translate many great Latin works including Bede’s History of England. He will also build a great navy to defend against the Danes

872 – Bernicians eject king

The Bernicians of North Northumbria reject the appointment of King Egbert and hope to replace him with a nobleman called Ricsige.

873 – Ivar the Boneless dead

Viking leader Ivar the Boneless dies in Ireland. He is succeeded by his brother Halfdene at York.

875 – Cuthbert people flee Vikings

Eardwulf, Bishop of Lindisfarne, leaves Norham on Tweed with the Community of St Cuthbert carrying St Cuthbert’s coffin to escape the anticipated Danish attacks. The influential community begins a period of wandering around the north and settles briefly in Cumbria where Eadred, the abbot of Carlisle, becomes its new leader.

The church at Norham
The church at Norham © David Simpson

875 – Halfdene king of York

Halfdene becomes King of York (Yorkshire) on returning from a victory over the Mercians. The old Anglo-Saxon estates in Yorkshire are to be shared out among his army and followers. Yorkshire will be divided into the three Ridings (Viking ‘thrithings’ or thirds) which can be defended by three military divisions of the Danish Army based at York. None of the Ridings is further than a day’s ride from York.

King's Square, York looking towards Low Petergate
King’s Square, York looking towards Low Petergate and York Minster © David Simpson The Royal Place of the Viking  kings is thought to have been situated in King’s Square

875 – Danes attack Tyne

The Danes, under the leadership of Halfdene, enter the Tyne and destroy Tynemouth Priory before wintering at the mouth of the River Team near Gateshead. Hexham will be ransacked. Once the winter is over the Danes begin their battle campaign in Bernicia and Scotland setting up a camp near the River Coquet.

Dunston Staithes and the mouth of the River Team
Mouth of the River Team where it joins the Tyne © David Simpson

875 – Viking Coquet camp

A Viking camp was set up near the River Coquet from which Halfdan raided across Bernicia and Scotland. Though its specific location is not publicly identified the camp has recently been discovered and was extensively excavated by archaeologists during 2021.

875 – North East escapes Danish settlement

Bernicia, the rump of old Northumbria north of the River Tees (Northumberland and Durham) is defeated by the Danes but will generally escape Danish settlement. There will be pockets of Danish settlement here and there, particularly in southern Durham around Sadberge and Gainford, but most of the region remains Angle dominated and will continue to speak the Anglian language, though over time new Scandinavian words will have their influence. Descendants of the old Kings of Bamburgh continue to rule the North East region but as clients of the Danish Kings of York.

Place-names show Viking settlement was mostly south of the River Tees, especially as indicated in village names ending in ‘by’. A scattering of Viking place-names can also be found north of the Tees (shown in yellow) which are often ‘Grimston hybrid’ type names where a Viking personal name is combined with the Anglo-Saxon word ‘ton’. South of the Tees, there are so many Viking place-names (including Grimston hybrids) that it is only practical to show those ending in ‘by’ (the Viking word for a farm/village/estate). Places recorded as being located within the Viking Wapentake of Sadberge are marked in purple – some of which have Anglo-Saxon names © David Simpson.

875 – Midland and Yorkshire Vikings

One half of the huge Danish army under Halfdene is settling in Yorkshire while the other half is taking control of the East Midland shires of Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, Lincoln and Stamford which will come to form the Danish ‘Five Boroughs’. The West Midlands remain Anglo-Saxon.

877 – Danish king of York dies

Halfdene, the Danish King of York, has been killed in battle in Northern Ireland fighting a rival faction of Irish Norsemen from Dublin.

878 – Wessex Alfred defeats Danes

Alfred the Great of Wessex defeats a Danish army under the leadership of the Viking army general Guthrum, King of East Anglia.

882 – Cuthbert people support Danes

Abbot Eadred of Carlisle, the leader of the Community of St Cuthbert, has supported the claims of Guthred as King of York and Northumbria. What we know about Guthred comes down to us through the much later Norman scholar, Symeon of Durham. Guthred is said to have been a former slave released by Eadred, after St Cuthbert appeared in a vision to the abbot and instructed him to pay for Guthred’s release.

883 – Beginnings of County Durham

Guthred, the new Danish King of York, has granted an area of land between the Tyne and Tees to the Community of St Cuthbert, which recently fled to Cumbria before taking refuge briefly at Crayke in Yorkshire. The grant of this land signifies the beginning of what will later become County Durham. The parcel of land is mostly between the Wear and Tyne and the ‘Community of St Cuthbert’ settle at Conecaster (much later called Chester-le-Street). Their territory will be called the Land of the ‘Haliwerfolk’ – meaning the holy man people.

Chester-le-Street church.
Chester-le-Street church on the site of an Anglo-Saxon minster and Roman for © John Simpson.

883 – St Cuthbert reburied

St Cuthbert’s body is interred in a new church at Conecaster (Chester-le-Street). Eardwulf the former Bishop of Lindisfarne becomes the first Bishop of Conecaster.

886 – Alfred liberates London

Alfred the Great, the King of Wessex, liberates London from the Danes and it is returned to English Mercia. Alfred signs a treaty with Guthrum, the Danish King of East Anglia. The region which will come to be known as ‘the Danelaw’ is established stretching from the River Thames (and its tributary the River Lea) to the River Tees. Here the English and Danes are declared equal in law. Alfred becomes the King of the Anglo-Saxons who are not subjected to the rule of the Danes.

895 – Danes join with Vikings from France

Danes from East Anglia and Yorkshire side with a Viking called Hastein who invades England from his base in France. Since the 840s Vikings have been actively raiding in France and recently began to settle in huge numbers in northern France. Here these ‘northmen’ will intermarry with the native French and adopt their language. They will come to be known as the Normans.

895 – Danish king of York dies

Guthred, the York-based Danish King of Northumbria has died. The knowledge we have of this king is scant and perhaps legendary. He should not be confused with the Danish army general and King of East Anglia, Guthrum, who died around 890.

899 – Death of Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex and the Anglo-Saxons dies. He is succeeded in Wessex by his son, King Edward the Elder.

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About Viking Northumbria

Viking Age Northumbria 866 to 1066AD. Poster Print (A2 only).

North East England History and Culture