9th Century Timeline

Our main historical source is the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, but there are other records such as the Irish Annals, letters, and political documents. It’s always exciting when the written record can be matched with archaeological finds, as at Repton.

Sporadic Raids by Norwegians

  • 792 King Offa makes arrangements for the defence of Kent against “pagan peoples”.
  • 793 Lindisfarne destroyed by “heathen men”.
  • 798 Inis Patraic attacked [1].
  • 804 The monastery of Lyminge, north of Romney Marsh, acquires a refuge within the walls of Canterbury.

Increased Raiding by Norwegians and Danes

  • 835-850 Heavy raids on south coast.
  • 850 A Danish army winters at Thanet, despite a Danish force been defeated at Wicganbeorg by Ealdorman ceorl and the men of Devon. Either these were two different groups, or the defeated army retreated to Thanet.
  • 851 350 ships enter mouth of Thames. The warriors storm Canterbury and London, and go into Surrey, where they are defeated at Aclea by a West Saxon force.
  • 860 Vikings who’d been in the Somme in 859 storm Winchester but are then put to flight and return to the continent in 861.

The “Great Army”

  • 865 Large armies start to arrive intending permanent settlement. These forces are highly mobile and move rapidly around the country attacking weak kingdoms. “A great heathen army” winters in East Anglia. This combined force appears to have been led by Ivar the Boneless [2] and his brother Halfdan, among others.
  • 866 The Great Army moves into Northumbria.
  • 866 Vikings capture York.
  • 867 The Great Army moves into Mercia. The Northumbrian king Aella is killed at York in the spring.
  • 868 The Great Army goes back into Northumbria.
  • 869 The Great Army goes through Mercia to East Anglia. Vikings kill Edmund, king of the East Angles and claim conquest.

Enter King Ælfred

  • 871 King Æthelred dies and is succeeded by his brother Ælfred. Vikings attack Wessex, joined at Reading by a “great summer army”. After much fighting the West Saxons make peace. The Great Army continues on its way.
  • 871/2 Vikings winter at London: Croydon hoard deposited. [3]
  • 872/3 Vikings winter at Torksey.
  • 873/4 Vikings winter at Repton. [4] After this, the Vikings divide: Halfdan goes to Northumbria, wintering by the Tyne in 874/5. Guthrum, Oscetel, and Anwend, leave Repton in 874 and head for Cambridge.
  • 874/5 Vikings winter in Cambridge.
  • 875 Wessex invaded again.
  • 876 Halfdan shares out Northumbrian lands among his followers, who settle and begin farming.
  • 877 Mercia is divided between Ceolwulf, the king of “English” Mercia, and more members of the Great Army.
  • 877/8 Vikings winter at Gloucester.
  • 878 Guthrum’s force invades Wessex: Ælfred is driven into Somerset, where he takes refuge in the marshes of Athelney. He recoups and his forces defeat the Danish leader at Eddington. Guthrum and thirty of his leading men are baptised into the Christian faith, the ceremony being completed on the royal estate at Wedmore in Somerset. A separate Viking army which had been encamped at Fulham decides to spend the next decade ravaging France and the Low Countries instead.
  • 878/9 The Danes winter at Cirencester, then head off to East Anglia later that year.
  • 880 East Anglian land is shared out among member of the Great Army.

The Great Army Settles Down

  • 886 The Treaty of Wedmore establishes a formal boundary between Ælfred’s Wessex and Guthrum’s East Anglia “up the Thames as far as the river Lea, then up the Lea to its source, and then straight up to Bedford, and them up the Ouse to Watling Street”. This was the Danelaw, in which Danish custom prevailed as opposed to English law. The treaty may date from as early as 880: Ælfred officially only occupied London in 886, but the numismatic evidence suggests that London had been under English control since about 874. From this time forth, Ælfred takes steps to defend his territory against further attacks and prepares to reconquer England. He has burgs or defended towns built, organises a militia system and commissions a fleet of fast ships.
  • 890 Guthrum dies.
  • 890s onward fresh groups of Vikings attacked Wessex but the Ælfred’s defensive measures prove sufficient.
  • 892 The “Fulham” force comes back as the “great Danish Army” with 250 ships and establishes itself in Kent. Another army under a renowned leader Hasting lands at Milton also in Kent. However, they meet with little success.
  • 896 The new Viking army disperses. Some settle in East Anglia and Northumbria: others sail to Normandy.
  • 899 Ælfred dies.

Ælfred’s Legacy

  • Approx 899Ælfred’s daughter Æthelflaed marries Æthelred, King of Mercia. First she and then Ælfred’s son Edward gradually reconquer the Danelaw. Raiders find other parts of Europe easier targets.
  • 902 Vikings expelled from Dublin. Danes and Norwegians come into conflict.
  • 919 Norse take control of York from the Danes.
  • 920 Northumbrians and Scots submit to Edward.
  • 937 The Battle of Brunanburh brings an end to Danish power in the north.
  • 954 Erik Bloodaxe, last Viking king of York, is expelled from city.

Notes

  1. Probably the island of Inispatrick off Dublin. [back]
  2. This nickname has not been explained. Given the Viking sense of humour, it may be a reference to a “wood problem”. He might have had brittle bone disease. Or it may be some “in joke” which we’ll never understand. [back]
  3. England had a full money economy where coins had an agreed face value and foreign issues were excluded from circulation. So hoards were likely to contain personal jewellery and valid current, local coinage. In contrast, Viking hoards may contain hack silver, coins from Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia, Arabic and Carolingian coins, ingots, and ornaments. [back]
  4. 250 disarticulated bodies were buried around a single grave at Repton, Derbyshire. This is thought to be the grave of a Viking leader of the Great Army. The dead were mainly robust males aged 15-45, many of whom had previously sustained injuries but who did not appear to have died of their wounds. They may have been victims of an epidemic. [back]
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