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Vikings in the Danelaw

This was the coursework element of my undergraduate third year 'special subject'. I never really got into the subject at all, and wrote about 70% of this the night before it was due in...

Part II Paper 2 (B) Special Historical Subject 


Is the settlement of the Danelaw in England a useful model for interpreting Viking settlement elsewhere?

Throughout the twentieth century the Viking settlement of Northern England, an area which came to be known as the Danelaw, was the subject of extensive research. Toponymic work carried out the by the likes of the English Place Names Society from the 1920s seemed to suggest that the settlement had been vast. This view was supported by historians like Sir Frank Stenton, who argued that everything about the settlement in the Danelaw pointed to a large number of Viking settlers in the area.[1.] If this were the case it would make sense to use the Danelaw as a model for interpreting other Viking settlements in the British Isles, and even further afield. However in the 1950s and 1960s historians like R. Davis and Sawyer cast doubt on this theory. They argued that the breadth of Viking settlement in the Danelaw had been exaggerated. Archaeological work carried out in the 1970s and 1980s was used as proof that there was much more continuation than had previously been thought, and similarities were highlighted between the Danelaw and contemporary Anglo-Saxon settlements in England. Today the picture of the Danelaw has been re-evaluated. Historians like D. M. Hadley accept that there was likely much more continuation of Middle-Saxon practice, than Danish innovation happening in the Danelaw. If the Danelaw is a useful model we would thus expect to see similar continuity across other Viking settlements.

Before elaborating any further it is first imperative to define the terms of the question. Even the term ‘Viking’ is far from straightforward. Thought to come from Old Norse or Old Icelandic, it is used in the Icelandic sagas to mean ‘expedition’. Its use in the English language is comparatively recent. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the term ‘wicing’ is used only five times, and then it is not a specific reference to Scandinavians, but rather to pirates. The Scandinavian invaders are instead referred to as ‘Dani’ (Danes) or ‘Nordmanni’ (Northmen). Elsewhere contemporaries were using a variety of terms. In Ireland for example Vikings were referred to as Fingaill and Dubgaill, translating as the fair foreigners and the dark foreigners respectively. This reflects the fact that the Vikings were not a homogeneous group, the Dubgaill was the name given to a second wave of Vikings, who fought the Fingaill for control.[2.] Scandinavia covers a vast geographical area, which was itself divided into separate territories. The Vikings who settled in the Danelaw were primarily Danes, but those who raided the Southern coast were more likely to hail from Norway. Today ‘Viking’ is used as an umbrella term to encompass all Scandinavian peoples and their descendants who shared a common culture, during a time period which stretches from the late eighth to the eleventh century. In keeping with this definition ‘Viking’ will be used in the same broad sense throughout the essay, with reference to their specific origin where necessary.

Now we have a workable definition of Viking, the same must be accomplished for ‘Danelaw’. The term is first recorded in two eleventh century legal compilations of Æthelred II (978-1016). It is described as a jurisdiction in which the population lives under Danish law. Earlier, Edgar (959-75) had stated that the Danes would be allowed to make their own laws as a reward for their loyalty. Nevertheless there were certain laws which were to supercede any the Danes might create, such as the clause which stated: ‘whether Englishmen, Danes or Britons, in every province of my dominion … the poor man and rich may possess what they rightly acquire.’[3.] This hints at the fact that the supremity of Danish rule was never unchallenged. This, in turn, creates problems for outlining the geographical extent of the Danelaw. By Domesday the area recgonised as the Danelaw was massive, incorporating fifteen shires, compared to nine in Wessex. This incorporated modern day Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire.[4.] Katherine Holman points out that these boundaries were likely to have been constantly shifting however. In addition the fact that the old kingdoms of Merica, Northumbria and East Anglia were not entirely under Danish influence, the northern part of Northumbria remained in the hands of Anglian earls for instance, suggests that the Danelaw was not as extensive as Domesday records might lead us to believe.[5.] What we can say is that the Danelaw encompassed areas of northern England, the precise composition changing over time. This area, furthermore, was recognised to be under, at least limited, Scandinavian control.

One last point to raise before turning our attention to the question at hand is that of sources. When the Vikings arrived in England they were not yet keeping records. There are some runic inscriptions surviving from this period, but these are often fragmentary and declining standards of Old Norse as it came into contact with the native languages makes them difficult to translate. It is not until the thirteenth century that oral tradition was written down in the Icelandic Sagas. These are problematic primarily because they rely so heavily on oral tradition, which is generally more concerned with story telling and myth making. There are however contemporary Chronicle sources, such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Irish Annals of Ulster. Although one has to be wary of bias against the ‘pagan’ invaders, many ecclesiastical Chronicle writers framed Viking activities as a punishment from God for example, these are invaluable sources for dating the movements of the Vikings, and validating the later claims of the Norse Sagas. Other evidence is available to help making sense of the Viking age. Toponomy, the study of place names, can help reveal the extent of Viking settlement, and etymology, the study of the history of words, can shed light on how closely Vikings integrated with the native population.[6.] Archaeological finds are also useful for this purpose, including excavation of buildings and objects which have been uncovered, such as the extensive Viking hoard found in York in 2007. Study of burial sites for example can reveal the manner in which people were being interred, and whether it was more Christian or Pagan in flavour. In short, there are a number of sources available, but each has its own unique drawbacks and problems which must be kept in mind when using them.

The beginning of the settlement of the Danelaw is typically dated to 880, the year the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records Guthrum and his army settling in East Anglia. This followed a lost battle with King Alfred of Wessex in 878, and the subsequent baptism of Guthrum under Alfred’s sponsorship.[7.] Although this was by no means the first mention of Vikings in the British Isles. In fact the first recorded Viking raid on England was almost a century earlier, at Portland in 789. Later sources, such as the Icelandic sagas, claim that it was the tyranny of Kings in Scandinavia which forced the Vikings to settle elsewhere. King Harald of Norway is blamed in Icelandic tradition for forcing the Scandinavian people to find new lands in which to settle. But as Harald did not become King until after the battle of Hafrsfjord in c.892 this explanation cannot be accepted unquestioningly. There may well have been increased competition for land and power as both Norway and Denmark moved towards becoming unified kingdoms, but it was unlikely to be the sole reason for such expeditions. In Norway it is suggested that partible inheritance led people to search for larger landholdings overseas.[8.] Hadley suggests that the early raids were primarily an exercise in raising revenue. Something which seems to be borne out by Chronicle evidence lamenting the loss of ecclesiastical treasures to the Vikings, and describing the heavy monetary dues they exacted in exchange for peace. We can conclude that there were a number of reasons why Scandinavians looked to settle in the Danelaw and elsewhere, and that these factors were likely working together.

By Guthrum’s time, it seems that at least some of the Vikings in England were looking to settle rather than simply raid. This was not without precedent; settlement had been taking place in Scotland since the early ninth century, and the first Viking settlement in Dublin was in 836. In England itself Halfdan is said to have shared out Northumbria amongst his men in 876, and settled there. Guthrum was part of the great Danish invasion of 865 and, by the 870s, was waging battle against the West Saxon King, Alfred the Great (871-899). Eventually Alfred forced Guthrum to come to peace terms, and had him baptised with his own sponsorship in 878. Thereafter Guthrum conducted himself in a manner which was much closer to what we might expect of a native king. He concluded a treaty with Alfred some time in 886, formally recognising him as ruler of East Anglia. Treaties were not common in Scandinavia at this time, so this is an example of Guthrum working with the system. It is a sign that he recognised the significance the natives attach to treaties, and that he would be looked upon more favourably if he adopted the same diplomatic niceties.[9.] This is not to say that the treaty was kept. Vikings from Northumbria and East Anglia continued to carry out raids on Wessex, and there was much dispute over territorial boundaries. What we see is acknowledgement of the usefulness of making treaties. The example of the Danelaw seems to be that Vikings were prepared to use the system as and when it suited them, to their own advantage.

Further evidence of this emphasis on using native modes of conduct in the Danelaw can be seen in the numismatic evidence. Guthram was given the name Æthelstan by King Alfred at his baptism, then proceeded to use it on his own coinage in East Anglia. It was still very unusual for coins to be minted at all in Scandinavia at this time, so the presence of Guthrum’s coinage, complete with Christian imagery such as the cross, is striking. It suggests that only was Guthrum willing to adopt the trappings of a contemporary king, he was also making a symbolic statement about Danish rule: it would not mean a total change. Mark Blackburn found that Guthram’s coinage was much lighter than Alfred’s contemporary issues. Even this, however, has been shown to be a sign of some sophisticated attempts at integration. The weight of Alfred’s coinage was fixed by a coinage reform of c. 880, whereas the weight of Guthram’s coinage, found by Blackburn to be standardised, was the same as the traditional Anglo-Saxon coinage of the area.[10.] Thus, for the natives under Danish rule, there was much continuation.

If we compare this with the settlement of other Viking territories it will give us a basis on which to prove or disprove the validity of using the Danelaw as a model for other Viking settlement. We can see other examples of Vikings concluding treaties with native rulers. Cinaed son of Conaing, king of the Ciannachta, came to an agreement with the Vikings in 850, for example, agreeing to work together against Maelsechnaill.[11.] The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, written in the eleventh century, say Cerball mac Dúnlainge had a force of Danes, who assisted him against the Norwegians. King Olaf Tryggvason was baptised in the Scilly Isles and married an Irish princess. The mid ninth century King Olaf of Dublin was also said to have married an Irish princess, the daughter of the Irish King Aedh, by the Fragmentary Annals. Similarly the negotiations between King Athelstan and Sihtric Coach of York were sealed with a marriage deal between Sihtric and Athelstan’s sister.[12.] This would have bound the two sides together, as they were now seen to be family. The Vikings, then, recognised the importance of creating diplomatic ties and made full use of opportunities to do so in the Danelaw and elsewhere.

The administrative organisation of the Danelaw has also been the subject of close scrutiny. It is not clear whether the Fiver Boroughs, for instance, encompassing Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Lincoln and Stamford were a Danish innovation or the survival of an earlier system. The area had its own court, administration and legal identity. Political control within the Danelaw was often fragmented, with towns being controlled by military leaders, for example Jarl Thurcytel at Bedford and Jarl Toli at Huntingdon. Rural areas were characterised by multi-vill estates. These were estates which grouped together a number of areas with complimentary resources, under common ownership.[ Julian D. Richards, Viking Age England, (London: English Heritage, 1992), p. 30.] This arrangement was once thought to be a Danish innovation, the ‘sokemen’ or free peasants reflecting army hierarchy, but is now generally believed to be a continuation of earlier practices.[14.] Similarly the units of administration in the Danelaw, such as the Wapentake seem to have their origin in pre-Viking settlement, based on the similarities of names and topographical settings of public assemblies with those elsewhere in Northern England.[15.] The Vikings shared land out amongst their own men, Ragnall for example granted land to his followers in thanks for their support at the battle of Corbridge in 914 and again in 918, according to the history of Saint Cuthbert. Similarly in 876 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that Halfdan and his army ‘shared out the land of the Northumbrians.’[16.] But it seems they were happy to continue with systems already in place. This ties in with other evidence discussed so far; Viking rule in the Danelaw was about making the most of pre-existing structures.

If the Danelaw can be used as a model for Viking settlement, we would expect to see the Vikings making use of structures already in place in other areas. The parish system on the Isle of Man is based on Norse land divisions. It is, in turn, believed that these were based on earlier Celtic arrangements.[17.] Thorsteinsson argues that the division of the Faroe Islands into 85 bygdir was something which was in place well before fifteenth century records made note of it, but we cannot know if it pre-dated Viking occupation.[18.] It may be that in the absence of a pre-existing administrative system the Vikings were forced to create their own, as they did when they settled Iceland. Again we see that the model of the Danelaw is useful to an extent. Where possible the Vikings were likely to retain and make minor alterations to existing settlement structure. Where none was pre-existing however, local circumstance determined the end result.

Power changed hands frequently during this period, as a rule. If we take York as an example we can see just how complex this could be. In 909 King Edward the Elder of Wessex began a successful conquest of the Scandinavian territories, killing Eowils and Halfdan, kings of the Northumbrian Danes in 910. At York his sister Aethelflaed exacted a pledge of loyalty from the ‘people of York’, but died before this could be enforced. It was also around this time that Ragnald took York, as evidenced by the coinage bearing his name minted before his death in 920. His kinsman Sihtric ruled until his death in 927, after which Edward’s son and Sihtric’s brother-in-law, Aethelstan took control of York and expelled a rival king named Guthfrith. Again in 937 Aethelstan had to fight off competition from Guthfrith’s son Olaf, the latter successfully taking York on Aethelstan’s death in 939. In 940 Olaf died and the throne went to his cousin, another Olaf. He, in turn, lost lands to Edmund in 942 before being driven out of York completely in 944.[19.] This example of kingship in York shows how tenuous Scandinavian control in the Danelaw could be.

Religion, at first glance, would seem to contradict this picture of integration. Traditionally the Vikings have been blamed for the destruction of ecclesiastical centres. The contemporary Chronicles describe the damage done to churches by Viking raiders. In 870, for example, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that a Viking army ‘came to Medeshamstede [Peterborough], burnt and destroyed it, killed the abbot and monks and all they found there, and brought it to pass that it became nought that had been very mighty.’[20.] Similarly, Alcuin writing from the Carolingian court in the 790s was dismayed at the raid on Lindisfarne in 793. In a letter to King Ethelred of Northumbria he wrote: ‘Behold, the church of St Cuthbert spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornament, a place more venerable than all in Britain is given as prey to pagan peoples’.[21.] This tallies with evidence which suggests a massive decline in the prosperity of Christian foundations in areas of Viking settlement. At Christ Church, Canterbury, following Viking raids in the mid ninth century, the quality of work carried out by scribes diminished significantly. By the 1870s charters copied there were full of errors and repetitions, suggesting the funds to employ better scribes were not available, or even that better scribes were not available, reflecting the general decline in literacy standards as a result of Scandinavian influence.[22.] The Vikings, this evidence would seem to imply, were interested in the Christian church only for the treasures they could sell on.

This negative picture is easy to overstate however. Whilst the initial contact between the Anglo-Saxon church and the Vikings was undoubtedly negative, the church symbolising little more than a source of wealth, the relationship did not remain static. We know that many churches which suffered at the hands of Viking raiders nonetheless survived. The shrine of St Aethelthryth at Ely, for example, was protected by clerics until the community was re-founded in c.970.[23.] At Ripon in Yorkshire ecclesiastical life continued too, the relics there were only moved when they were threatened by the advancement of King Eadred’s army in 948.[24.] In the city of York itself, under Viking rule, the churches continued to be used. Oswald of Worcester, who although brought up in France was of Danish ancestry, became Archbishop of York in 972, and was committed to church reform. Stone sculptures in churches, for example of crosses with Scandinavian imagery as found at Nunburnholme in Yorkshire suggests that the Vikings were not actively opposed to Christianity.[25.] Although official conversion was a slow process, it is likely that Christian and Scandinavian practices were merging. The churches did not have the money and power they had had before the arrival of Vikings with which to try and evangelise, but it would seem they continued to be used, as evidenced by the time and money which was still being spent on decorating them. Once settled the Vikings operated a policy of, if not tolerance, then certainly indifference to Christian practices, something which must have placated the indigenous population and made it much easier for the Vikings to win their allegiance.

Elsewhere this picture of religious integration seems to be replicated. At Buckquoy in Orkney Norse graves were added to existing Pictish cemeteries.[26.] Similarly on the Isle of Man, pagan burials have been found at the Christian cemetery to the north of St German’s Cathedral on St Patrick’s Isle.[27.] There are also examples of crosses engraved with Scandinavian art on the Isle of Man. At Kirk Andreas there is a cross depicting the Norse hero Sigurd for instance. This is interesting because it suggests that the Vikings were willing to, at the very least, make use of existing ecclesiastical structure for their own purposes. But at the Chapel Hill site in Balladoole, again on the Isle of Man, the cemetery ground had been dug away at, displacing recent Christian burials, for a ship burial.[28.] In Scotland there have been many more pagan burials identified than in England, implying that the Vikings in Scotland retained their faith to a far greater extent. However it would seem that the burial practices employed by the Vikings depended heavily on their interaction with those around them. In areas where they are not the dominant force there is likely to be a merger of burial practices, whereas in areas where they are an invading force they are more likely to use traditional Norse practices. It also needs to be pointed out that burial practices differed between different groups of Scandinavian people. The sagas say that Norwegian King Olaf Tryggvason forced the Scandinavians in Orkney to Christianise on his arrival in 995, for example.[29.] Practice in the Danelaw is a model only in that it suggests the Viking attitude towards native religion tended to be pragmatic. The way this actually manifested itself differed from area to area.

We can gauge the extent of Viking influence on, and integration with, the native population in a number of ways. Old Norse loan words used in Old English number in their hundreds, yet in Middle English there are thousands of Scandinavian loan words. This would suggest that there was considerable contact between the two groups. Matthew Townend argues that Old Norse and Old English were, to a large degree, mutually intelligible based on, for example, the absence of any references to interpreters, even though they are commonly mentioned in Anglo-Saxon texts discussing communication with Latin or Irish speakers.[30.] If this is true, it would make it much easier for integration between the two communities to take place. The large number of Scandinavian place names, and Scandinavian loan words suggest that, at the very least, English speakers were more than familiar with the language of the new settlers. In the East Riding of Yorkshite forty per cent of place names recorded in the Domesday Book were of Scandinavian origin, for instance.[31.] Given names too show a marked Scandinavian influence. In the Domesday Book fifty per cent of the given names recorded in Nottingham and Cheshire were Scandinavian.[32.] It has been suggested that the high volume of recorded Scandinavian given names actually reflects a vogue in naming conventions, rather than a large number of Scandinavians in England. Yet even this would imply that Scandinavian names were desirable. It seems there were attempts from both sides to more closely identify with each other.

Outside of the Danelaw there have also been heated debates as to how Norse impacted on the native languages. Historians are undecided as to the fate of Gaelic on the Isle of Man. Some argue that it had to be reintroduced in the fourteenth century due to the total dominance of the Scandinavian presence there. Others suggest that it is more likely the majority of the island’s inhabitants were bilingual, with Norse becoming the language of officialdom. This is supported by the deterioration of the Norse being used, the loss of precision in Norse for example as the two languages impacted on each other.[33.] It seems that the Vikings used language as was practical. In the Danelaw it made more sense to retain Anglo-Saxon due to the high volume of native speakers. On the Isle of Man, where Scandinavian presence was, relatively speaking, much larger, it was easier to retain Norse. In Scotland place name evidence provides proof of Viking occupation, replacing earlier names. For example the Old Norse Sandvik, predecessor of the modern Sandwick, meant ‘sandy bay’ and the name was used for many of the areas which fit that criterion.[34.] On Lewis of 126 village names, 99 are purely Scandinavian whilst another 9 have Norse elements.[35.] It would seem that on Lewis Scandinavian presence was strong enough to overpower native naming conventions. The Danelaw can be seen as a useful model in linguistic terms as it suggests languages will merge when in contact, rather than both remaining pure and unchanged, and the evidence from other settlements seems to support this.

Further evidence for integration can be found in the archaeological record. Excavation work has shown that there was much continuation when it came to building style. In York the Coppergate tenements have been shown to be an area of Viking industrial activity. As the plots were of uniform size it may be a sign of town planning.[36.] There is nothing distinctively Scandinavian about the buildings. Some building types are typically linked with Scandinavian influence, such as bow-sided halls which are particularly associated with Viking Age Denmark. Examples have been found at Chester, Thetford, and Durham, amongst other places.[37.] Similarly the Vikings often used existing fortifications, rather than builing their own. The Mercian burhs, built to keep the Vikings out, often ended up becoming part of Viking defences.[38.] Again this shows the practicality behind Viking thinking, it would have undoubtedly been much more cost effective to make use of these existing structures. As we have seen with other issues, the model in the Danelaw was one of continuity.

If we contrast this with other Viking settlements, a similar picture becomes clear. In Norway it was more common to build in stone, something which is seen on the Isle of Man. Although this is not conclusive in itself, as it may have been native practice to do so. At Ribblehead a typical Norse dwelling has been excavated, but we have no way of knowing if it is substantially different to the buildings being erected before the Vikings arrived. It may be that stone was more available, whereas in England it was easier to use wood as was the common practice. At Braaid a bow-sided hall was excavated, showing obvious Viking influence.[39.] In Scotland Viking settlements were almost universally built on top of earlier farms, symbolic of the way the Vikings were taking control of pre-existing structures and administration. This was the case at Skaill in Deerness, a former Pictish settlement. At Birsay in Orkney even the individual house plots were retained.[40.] These examples suggest that the Danelaw can indeed be used as a model for interpreting Viking settlement elsewhere.

This mixing of Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon styles is especially apparent in contemporary arts and crafts production. At York for example flat disc brooches were excavated of the Anglo-Saxon style, but they were decorated with animals in the Jelling style. It is likely that they were made in Britain as the disc brooch was virtually unknown in Scandinavia. Similarly numbers of strap-ends of British production, but with foreign stylistic influence have been found. At St Mary Bishophill Senior in York, for instance, a strap-end has been found which combines a common English ring-and-dot design on the underside, with Borre style decoration.[41.] This means that Viking artistic influence was not just finding its way into funerary practice, as with the grave slabs at York Minster with Viking decoration, but also into everyday life. Finds such as these imply integration between Vikings and the native population in the Danelaw.

On Lewis a wealthy female burial was uncovered in 1915, she had been buried wearing Scandinavian brooches, and brooches and a belt-buckle of native design.[42.] On Orkney there was a break in stone carving style around 800, coinciding with the settlement of Vikings there. Yet on the Shetlands the process was slower, Viking influence becoming marked only slowly. This reflects the differing composition of the Viking settlers. More numerous in the fertile lands of Orkney it is unsurprising their impact on local art and craft techniques should have been more substantial.[43.] On the Isle of Man there are examples of rune stones in the form of the cross. This suggests, again, a mixing of Viking and native culture. At Braddan there is a rune stone dating from the 980s which has an inscription recording this integration. It reads: ‘Thorleif Hnakki (Norse name) put up this cross in memory of his Fiac (Celtic name), Hafr’s (Norse name) nephew.’[44.] It would seem from these examples that the basic of model of integration we see in the Danelaw can also be applied to other Viking settlements.

The discovery of such items hints at one of the key activities of the Vikings in the Danelaw, namely trade. None of the Five Boroughs were especially urbanised before the Viking settlement, but became so under Viking influence. Fortified for defence, they were ideal areas for trade to take place because they were protected.[45.] Our best example of a trade centre however is perhaps York, which has seen relatively extensive excavation in the twentieth century. At the Coppergate site, excavated in the 1970s, evidence was found for a wide range of manufacturing activities, including leather, glass, amber and metal work. York had been a centre of trade before the Vikings arrived, as evidenced by the large numbers of single coin finds around the city.[46.] The Vikings set out to monopolise this and, from the late ninth century onwards, there are articles representing trade found from across the world. These include jewellery and dress accessories from Scotland and Ireland, quernstones from the Mayen region near Coblenz, and silk which was brought along trading routes from China.[47.] Other finds include Islamic dirhams, cowrie shells which come from Russia or the Mediterranean, and walrus ivory imported from Norway.[48.] The types of trade being conducted were not overly different from before, only 15 imported vessels discarded at Coppergate in 150 year for example.[49.] But this does not make the finds any less significant. They show that the Vikings were keen to ensure continuation. There was a vigorous home market, and by the early early tenth century there were mints at Bedford, York, Chester, Derby, Leicester and Nottingham.[50.] At York the coinage became more explicitly Viking, with motifs such as the raven, sword, and Thor’s hammer. This implies not that Viking influence meant a stark change, but that in the Danelaw there had been a mixing of two cultures with overall continuity.

The picture of trade elsewhere varies. In Brittany no attempt was made by the Viking occupiers to maintain trade centres which had existed before their arrival.[51.] The Isle of Man however had its own coinage which suggests that trade and a monetary economy were an important part of life in the region. In Scotland however no substantial centres of trade emerged, with settlement much more rural than urban. This reflects the situation in Scotland before the arrival of the Vikings. The centres of power in Pictland and Dalriada, which were likely to have acted as trading centres, were outside the area of Norse settlement.[52.] Dublin was a very important Viking trading town, and was especially well known for its slave market. Archaeological finds of brooches and other personal items in foreign styles, such as the shield boss found with a boat burial at Balladoole on the Isle of Man, might also imply trade.[53.] The model of the Danelaw was continuity with previous trading practices, however this was not the case in all the Viking settlements. Scandinavia had strong trading links in its own right, which might explain why the Vikings in Brittany had little interest in maintaining native trading centres. In Dublin, on the other hand, trade was of key importance to the Vikings there. This shows that whilst the Danelaw can be used as a useful model to interpret what might be happening elsewhere, we cannot rely on it too much.

In the late tenth century new waves of Viking raiders attacked England, with the aim of extracting tribute or ‘Danegeld’ from the population. In 991 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that 10,000 pounds was paid to these new Danish invaders ‘because of the great terror they were causing along the coast’.[54.] This continued into the early eleventh century, the Chronicle complaining that the Vikings carried on raiding irrespective of whether they received tribute. Viking activity in England in the eleventh century was characterised by raiding carried out by new waves of Vikings, those already in England having become to some extent naturalised. In some other areas of settlement Viking influence lived on for centuries as, for instance, in Orkney. The decline of Viking rule is too closely linked to local circumstance to use the model of any single settlement as a guide.

In conclusion it is possible to use the Danelaw as a model for interpreting Viking settlement elsewhere. In the Danelaw it would seem that the Vikings acted in a pragmatic manner, making use of existing administrative systems, and integrating with the native population. Viking kings in the Danelaw were willing to adopt the trappings of native rulers, concluding treaties and minting coinage with Christian imagery for example. However we should be wary of relying too much on the Danelaw model. The way the Vikings operated in the Danelaw was a direct reaction to the circumstances they found there. When circumstances were different, behaviour necessarily had to be different. The details of Viking settlement in the Danelaw cannot be looked upon as something which can simply be transplanted to another settlement. But the drive behind the Vikings’ actions, to establish rule without overly alienating and inciting the resentment of the native population, in many cases can.


  1. D. M. Hadley, The Vikings in England: Settlement, Society and Culture, (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2006), p. 30. 
  2. Clare Downham, Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014, (Dunedin Academic Press Ltd, 2007), p. xvi. 
  3. Katherin Holman, ‘Defining the Danelaw’, in Vikings and the Danelaw, eds. James Graham-Campbell, Richard Hall, Judith Jesch and David N. Parsons, (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2001), 1-13, p. 2. 
  4. D. M. Hadley, The Northern Danelaw: Its Social Structure, c. 800-1100, (London and New York: Leicester University Press), 2000. 
  5. Ibid., p. 5. 
  6. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p. 2. 
  7. D. M. Hadley, The Vikings in England: Settlement, Society and Culture, (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2006), p. 30. 
  8. Anna Ritchie, Viking Scotland, (Historic Scotland, 1994), p. 12. 
  9. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p. 33. 
  10. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p. 34. 
  11. Alfred P. Smyth, Scandinavian Kings in the British Isles 850-880, (Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 129. 
  12. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p. 83. 
  13. Julian D. Richards, Viking Age England, (London: English Heritage, 1992), p. 30. 
  14. Hadley, The Northern Danelaw, p. 24. 
  15. Hadley, The Northern Danelaw, p. 105. 
  16. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p.85. 
  17. Richards, Viking Age England, p. 33. 
  18. Símun V. Arge; Paul C. Buckland; Kevin J. Edwards; Guðrún Sveinbjarnardóttir, Viking and Medieval Settlement in the Faroes: People, Place and Environment, Human Ecology, 3, 5, (Oct 2005), 597-620. 
  19. Hadley, The Northern Danelaw, pp. 10-15 
  20. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p. 193. 
  21. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p. 197. 
  22. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p. 208. 
  23. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p. 207. 
  24. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p. 203. 
  25. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p. 217. 
  26. Ritchie, Viking Scotland, p. 38. 
  27. Richards, Viking Age England, p. 102. 
  28. Richards, Viking Age England, p. 104. 
  29. Ritchie, Viking Scotland, p. 27. 
  30. Hadley, The Vikings in England, pp. 92-99. 
  31. David Wilson, The Vikings and Their Origins: Scandinavia in the First Millennium, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1970), p. 73. 
  32. Richards, Viking Age England, p. 36. 
  33. Richards, Viking Age England, p. 36. 
  34. Ritchie, Viking Scotland, p. 61. 
  35. Barabara E. Crawford, Scandinavian Scotland, (Leicester University Press, 1987), p. 96. 
  36. Richards, Viking Age England, p. 48. 
  37. Richards, Viking Age England, p. 59. 
  38. Richards, Viking Age England, p. 50. 
  39. Richards, Viking Age England, p. 68-69. 
  40. Ritchie, Viking Scotland, p. 25.
  41. Hadley, The Vikings in England, pp. 122-124. 
  42. Ritchie, Viking Scotland, p. 87. 
  43. Ritchie, Viking Scotland, p. 28. 
  44. R. I. Page, Chronicles of the Vikings: Records, Memorials and Myths, (The British Museum Press, 2002), p. 222. 
  45. Richards, Viking Age Enlgand, p. 56. 
  46. Hadley, The Vikings in England, p. 147. 
  47. Richard Hall, Viking Age York, (English Heritage, 1994), p. 84-87. 
  48. Richards, Viking Age England, p. 87. 
  49. Richards, Viking Age England, pp. 90-100. 
  50. Richards, Viking Age England, p. 95. 
  51. Neil S. Price, The Vikings in Brittany, (Viking Society For Northern Research: University College London, 1989), p. 88. 
  52. Ritchie, Viking Scotland, p. 33. 
  53. Gerhard Bersu and David M. Wilson, Three Viking Graves in the Isle of Man, (London: The Society For Medieval Archaeology Monograph Series: No. I, 1966), p. 7. 
  54. Richards, Viking Age England, p. 24.


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