866 AD – 1066 AD




The first Vikings to appear on our shores were indeed fierce warriors who ransacked towns and villages for treasure and slaves, taking them back to their homelands of Norway and Denmark.  The first raiders in Northumbria were Norwegian Vikings who attacked the peaceful monastery of Lindisfarne in 793, killing the monks who were unable to flee, destroying banks of art and writings, and taking the churches gold.

“In this year terrible portents appeared over Northumbria and miserably frightened the inhabitants; these were exceptional flashes of lightening and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air.  A great famine soon followed these signs and a little after that in the same year, the harrying of the heathen miserably destroyed God’s church in Lindisfarne by rapine and slaughter”.

Quote from the Old English Chronicle

The Viking Century in East Yorkshire – A. L. Binns

Over the next 70 years, raiders attacked more frequently.  Farming was problematic in Denmark and the Viking raiders were looking for something more than gold and silver; they wanted good land for their people to live and farm, and England was one of their many chosen places.

viking lindisfarne

866 to 880 AD

The Viking Age of Yorkshire is said to begin in 866 AD with the capture of York by the Great Army led by Ivar the Boneless, Ubbe and Halfdan, sons of Ragnar Lothbrok.  Legend has it that decades before this, Ragnar raided our shores with his warriors and was eventually captured by King Aella of Northumbria, who left him to die in a poisonous snake-pit.  His sons wanted revenge.

Ivar, Ubbe, and Halfdan invaded East Anglia in 865, from which they manoeuvred their army to Northumbria after camping the winter there.  They crossed the Humber and carried on to York.  Civil war meant that the two kings of Northumbria, Aella and Osbert, were fighting each other and the Vikings took advantage of the unrest and captured Eforwic (York).

After this, the feuding Kings banded together against the common enemy and drove the Vikings from York.  They spent the following winter on the Tyne gathering strength and men, and in 867 they returned and violently slaughtered the Northumbrian army, taking the great city back.  They renamed it Jorvik.  Osbert was killed in battle and Aelle was captured by the Viking brothers.

Aelle was ritually killed by ‘blood eagle’, which meant having his ribs forcibly pulled through a long cut in his back and his lungs pulled out, so it looks like the wings of an eagle.

The brothers had their revenge.  viking axe

Between 867 and 880 AD Vikings attacked, fought and talked their way throughout the country, gaining control of most of Northumbria, East Anglia and parts of Mercia.  They had appointed a puppet-king, Egbert, whom they ruled through to avoid uprising.

They were finally driven back by King Alfred of Wessex, who eventually reached a compromise with Guthrum, King of the Danish Vikings.  He issued a treaty which stated that they kept the land north of the invisible line from London up to Chester, and they leave the county of Wessex and everything else to the remaining English.

In 878 Guthram converted to Christianity and changed his name to Aethelstan, perhaps as a part of the deal, or perhaps as a way to exert power in these Christian lands.

The treaty was honoured and the Vikings began carving out their new land to suit themselves and issued laws and taxes to the people.  This was known as the Danelaw.

Many Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria fled north and formed settlements outside of the Danelaw, in what is now Scotland.

viking map use
The Danelaw of Viking England


Local Vikings

East Yorkshire was a prime site for the new farmers and they settled in various places, making use of the fertile land and nearby River Humber, which was a vital artery to the veins of England’s inner rivers; most notably the Ouse, which led to the Viking capital of Jorvik.


Small farming communities sprang up along the river and the Hull valley floodplains, such as Willerby, Anlaby, Tranby and Skidby.

The suffix -by is thought to mean ‘farmstead’, or ‘dwelling’, so Skidby could mean Skyti’s farm, Anlaby – Anlaf’s farm and Tranby – Tran’s farm (Tran being an old Norse word meaning ‘Crane’).  Sewerby near Bridlington was Siward’s farm.  Siward was the Governor of Northumbria towards the end of Viking rule.

viking farm
Image taken at Hull & East Riding Museums

Names ending in -thorpe, -holme, -dale, -toft and -ay were also Viking villages, denoting the surrounding land; e.g. -holme: island or meadow field in a marshland, and -thorpe: outlying farm.

There were other major settlements along the peninsular beyond Spurn point; Ravenspurn and Ravenser Odd, which have now been reclaimed by the North Sea.  Vikings believed ravens were otherworldly and these places were obviously named after the beak-like shape of the land.  They believed the Norse God Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muinnin, were his spies who brought him news of the mortal world.    crow

The Viking invasion of East Yorkshire also meant the merging of existing Anglo-Saxon villages as well as creating new ones.   The very name ‘Yorkshire’ came from the Anglo-Saxon ‘shire’, which means ‘county’, and of course, Jorvik.


Although there were many kings over the Viking era along with many battles and conflict, the majority of Viking families wanted to settle and farm.  As well as being amongst the most ferocious and fearless warriors in history, they were also highly skilled craftsmen, metalworkers, tradesmen and farmers.

The famous longships or dragon ships could be built quickly and were extremely effective, being slender and flexible enough to cross oceans and traverse rivers with ease.  They had boats specifically for raiding or merchant ships carrying cargo or passengers.

viking ship
Image by Paul Moore,

It was these boats that made it possible for the Vikings to travel vast distances and conquer distant lands.  It was these boats that made it possible for them to sail the oceans seeking out exotic merchandise, such as silk, amber and walrus ivory to bring back to York, and then export their wares worldwide.  It was these boats that made it possible for York to become the second biggest city in England, next to London, with huge markets and traders of goods and food, and expert centres of metalworkers, creating swords, axes, spears, armour and farming tools; woodworkers, making furniture such as benches and tables, and stone masons to rival anyone in the country.

York was one of the first places where an early form of mass production took place, with standardised versions of pots, wooden cups, knives and keys sold in the markets.  They also produced high quality jewellery and worked with glass.

Raw materials were brought to York from the surrounding countryside, such as leather, cloth, bone and antlers, and the specialists there produced goods, like clothing, shoes, tools, combs and pins.  These were then sold in the sprawling markets, enriching the lives of the good folk of the Danelaw.


Where tha’s muck tha’s brass!

As well as place names, the legacy of the Vikings can be found in our everyday language.  At the time, old English (Germanic Anglo-Saxon) was merged with old Norse (Scandinavian).  Here’s a few words that the Vikings brought to our language, some particular to Yorkshire …

Modern Old Norse Meaning
Viking Vikingr Someone who goes on overseas expeditions
Heathen heioinn Inhabits the open land or heath
husband husbondi Hus (house) & bondi (occupier and farmer)
bug bukr Insect
Arse ars The bottom or back of something
Bairn/bain barn Young child
dollop dolp Lump of something soft
flagstone flaga Flat stones used for paving
gate gata Street names of places within Danelaw, eg Coppergate, Flemingate
‘ey up! (Swedish – sey upp!) Greeting or warning
Lark/leck leika To play / be idol
muck myki Dirt, manure, to rake out
lad ladd Young man
happy/happen happ Good luck; fate

The habit of dropping consonants, eg ‘h’ at the beginning of words, ‘t’ in the middle of words and ‘g’ at the end of -ing, embroiled in the Hull and East Yorkshire accent comes in part from Scandinavian dialect, as well as the French influence of the next centuries.

Vikings also used the runic alphabet, which can be seen carved on their ancient monuments.

viking rune stone 1
Viking runes on a Danish Monument 


The Last King of Jorvik

In 946 England was ruled by Eadred, son of the Saxon king Edward the Elder.  Northumbrians accepted his rule until 954 when the fearsome Norwegian Erik Bloodaxe (so named as he killed most of his family to get closer to the throne) became Jorvik’s new king.  Eadred wasn’t going down without a fight and he attacked Northumbria with his armies and Erik fled.  Northumbria submitted to Eadred once more.

In 949 they again instated another Norse king, Olaf, but overthrew him for the return of Erik Bloodaxe, who was subsequently killed in 954.  Northumbria was once again under the rule of Eadred and Saxon kings ruled for the next 112 years.

1066 AD

Known as the Last Great Viking, Harald ‘Hardrada’ Sigurdsson was a mighty warrior who fought in multiple battles from Norway to Russia and was the leader of an elite unit of the Byzantine Army by his mid 20’s.  He became ruler of Norway, and then turned his attention to England.

Harald Hardrada 1

After the death of Edward the Confessor, the next king was Harold Godwinson.  Hardrada believed he should be the rightful king of England and Godwinson’s exiled brother Tostig, agreed to side with him.  Together they headed into the heart of England and on the 25th September 1066 they were met at Stamford Bridge near York by Godwinson and his army and the famous battle commenced.  Godwinson’s army greatly outnumbered theirs and both Hardrada and Tostig were killed in battle.   Harald Hardrada died of an arrow to the neck.

Shortly after this, Harold Godwinson received news that the French had invaded the shores of Southern England.  With his men depleted, injured and exhausted, they marched back down south for another battle; one which would change England forever.

anglo saxon sword
Viking Sword found at Skerne,  near Driffield.