The Norse Gaels in Northumbria AD 900 – 945

Norse Gaels : AD 900 – 945

Most of the Vikings who settled in northern England before 900AD came from Denmark although there were a few who may have come direct from Norway to settle on the Yorkshire coast around Scarborough and Cleveland. A second wave of Vikings came after 900AD, but this time the invaders were mostly Norwegians (though there were also Danes) who had been living in Gaelic speaking Ireland, particularly in the Dublin area and in the Gaelic speaking Scottish islands, including the Hebrides, Shetland and Orkney for nearly a century. These particular Vikings had acquired some aspects of Gaelic culture and language. The Norse Gaels (also called the Hiberno-Norse) would colonise parts of England, most notably the Merseyside area and Cumbria before turning their attentions to south Durham and the Durham coast.

Durham coast looking north to Sunderland from Blackhall Rocks
The Durham coast was seized by Norse-Gael leader Ragnald © David Simpson  2021

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903 – Irish evict Norwegians Vikings

Native Irish under the leadership of the King of Leinster have expelled the Norwegians from their great fortress at Dublin. They begin to cross the Irish Sea and settle in Merseyside, particularly the Wirral and also in Cumbria where there settlements may be connected with the Viking settled Scottish islands.

c.900 to 910 – Nobles flee North West

Amongst the nobles escaping the Viking attacks and settlement in the North West are Tilred, Abbot of Heversham in Lancaster and Elfred, son of Brihtwulf, a noble of Westmorland. Both find shelter with the Community of St Cuthbert in Durham to the east of the Pennines. Tilred will become Bishop of Chester-le-Street, Elfred will later lose his life in battle at Corbridge.

c.905 – Vikings dump hoard near Preston

A huge hoard of some 1,600 Viking items are dumped on the river bank at Cuerdale near Preston in the North West. Preston’s River Ribble is part of a Viking trade route between Dublin and York. The impressive hoard will not be rediscovered until 1840.

909 – Edward the Elder attacks the Danes

Edward the Elder, the King of Wessex and the Anglo-Saxons launches a military campaign against the Danes in Northumbria (Yorkshire).

910 – Battle of Tettenhall

The Northumbrian (Yorkshire) Danes invade western (English) Mercia and battle with an army alliance of Mercia and Wessex at Tettenhall in Staffordshire. The Danes are defeated and three of the Northumbrian Danish kings – Eowils, Halfdan and Ingwaer are killed.

911 – Normans are French Vikings

Vikings are settling in northern France where these northern European settlers will come to be known as Normans (‘North men’).

Beautiful Bamburgh.
Bamburgh remained the stronghold of Anglian Ealdormen who ruled the land to the north of the River Tees © David Simpson

913 – Earl of Northumberland

Eadwulf, the Anglo-Saxon Earl (Ealdorman or ‘High Reeve’) of Bamburgh who ruled Bernicia, the land north of the Tees, has died.

914 – Irish Norwegians regain Dublin

Exiled Irish-Norwegians in Lancashire and Cumbria recapture Dublin under Sihtric.

914 – Norsemen invade North East

Irish-Vikings under King Ragnald attack the North-East with the help of the Yorkshire Danes. The Bernicians fight in alliance with the Scots and defeat the Vikings at Corbridge.

Church of St Andrew, Corbridge
Anglo-Saxon tower of the church of St Andrew, Corbridge © David Simpson

918 – Battle at Corbridge

Ragnald defeats a joint army of Northumbrians, Danes and Franks in a second battle at Corbridge. The Danes no longer support Ragnald.

918 – North ruled from Dublin

Ragnald has seized York and established Irish-Viking control in Yorkshire. York will now be ruled as a client kingdom of the great Norwegian stronghold of Dublin.

The Saxon tower of Billingham church.
The late Saxon tower of St Cuthbert’s church in Billingham on Teesside dates to the tenth century, presumably constructed shortly after the lands of Scula (see below) were returned to the Community of St Cuthbert © David Simpson

918 – Olaf and Scula’s Durham coast

Land in south and east Durham has been seized by Ragnald and given to his army leaders Scula and Olaf Ball who share it out among their Norse-Gael followers. The land includes some of the best farmland belonging to the Bishop of Chester-le-Street but the bishop doesn’t have the resources to challenge them. Scula gets land in the south including Billingham and perhaps School Aycliffe (Scula Aycliffe). Olaf Ball receives the coastal land from Eden to the mouth of the River Wear. Eden (Castle Eden) marks the boundary between the lands of Scula and those of Olaf Ball.

Castle Eden Dene
Castle Eden Dene © David Simpson

919 – Mersey forts

Edward the Elder, King of the Anglo-Saxons builds a series of forts along the River Mersey as a defence against Northumbria and the Vikings who have settled there. The nearby Wirral peninsula just south of the Mersey in Mercia has also seen significant Viking settlement since 902 after a Viking leader called Ingimund was evicted from Ireland and settled there.

921 – Sihtric becomes Bishop of York

Ragnald has been succeeded by his cousin Sihtric as King of York.

924 – Edward the Elder succeeded by Æthelstan

Edward the Elder, King of Wessex and the Anglo-Saxons, has died. He is regarded by the Viking rulers of the north as their superior and now Sihtric of York acknowledges Edward’s successor, King Æthelstan , as the ‘over-king’ of England.

927 – King Guthfrith

Sihtric, King of York who rules the Viking settled part of Northumbria dies and is succeeded by Guthfrith, a Dublin Norwegian.

July 12, 927 – North kings meet Æthelstan

King Æthelstan of Wessex meets the kings of Strathclyde and Scotland at Eamont Bridge in Cumbria. The kings acknowledge Æthelstan’s superiority. Ealdred, the Ealdorman or High Reeve of Bamburgh, who rules the  territory of the North-East north of the Tees, also gives his support. No Viking kings are present.

927 – King of York expelled

King Æthelstan captures York and Guthfrith, the Viking king, is expelled.

934 – King visits Chester-le-Street

Æthelstan of Wessex, now considered the first King of the English, has visited the shrine of St Cuthbert at Chester-le-Street and bestowed many great gifts. The gifts include a work by Bede entitled the Life of St Cuthbert which depicts Æthelstan on the cover. He also gives Bishopwearmouth, and its extensive lands south of the Wear, to the Bishop of Chester-le-Street. It was likely part of the land taken by the Irish-Vikings in 918.

Athelstan at Chester-le-Street
King Æthelstan bestowing gifts to the St Cuthbert community at Chester-le-Street.

934 – Æthelstan attacks Scotland

Æthelstan has severely ravaged Scotland to enforce his superiority in the north.

934 – King grants Ripon sanctuary

Æthelstan  has granted rights of sanctuary to the monastery at Ripon.

Ripon Cathedral
Ripon Cathedral. Ripon was the site of an Anglo-Saxon monastery © David Simpson

Oct 27, 937 – Æthelstan defeats Norse-Gaels

Vikings from Dublin assisted by the Scots have been heavily defeated by King Æthelstan in a bloody battle somewhere in the North West. Æthelstan has destroyed the Danish fortress at York in order to completely suppress any further Viking rebellions.

Oct 27, 939 – Edmund King of England

Æthelstan , King of Wessex and England, has died at Gloucester. He has been succeeded by his 18-year-old brother Edmund.

939 – Dublin Viking is King of York

Olaf Guthfrithson of Dublin, the son of Guthfrith, has become King of York after the people of Yorkshire rejected the claims of young Edmund.

942 – Blacair King of Dublin and York

Blacair Guthfrithson has become the new Viking King of York and Dublin following the death of his brother Olaf.

King's Staith, York
River Ouse at York © David Simpson

944 – Edmund takes York

Edmund, King of England, has seized York.

945 – Cumbria ceded to the Scots

Strathclyde and Cumbria are ceded to Malcolm, King of the Scots, by Edmund. The area once formed part of the kingdom of Northumbria but it has been extensively settled by Scots over the past 30 years.

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