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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.