20 August 2013

Five Fascinating Facts about the Vikings in Northumbria

By Michelle Styles

The capital city of  Northumbria Eforwic (York) was first captured on 1 November 866 when the city was busy celebrating All Saints Day. There was hardly any bloodshed because supposedly everyone was at church except for the Vikings. It was the Vikings who renamed the city Jorvik. Vik means a bay in Old Norse. The Romans called it Eboracum and the Anglo Saxons changed it to Eforwic.

The Vikings reputedly attacked Northumbria as revenge for the death of Ragnar the Hairy Breeched whom the Northumbrian king Aella put to death by imprisoning him in a snake pit. His three sons – Ivar the Boneless, Ubbi and Halfdan of the Wide Embrace invaded England to revenge him. the actual historical context is that there was thought to be a civil war raging in Northumbria between Osbert and Aella and the Vikings took advantage of it. It is thought that consolidation pressures in Scandinavia drove warriors out of their  homelands.

On 21 March 867, the Northumbrians tried to retake the city but the Northumbrian army was soundly defeated. Both Osbert and Aella were killed. Aella is supposed to have been ‘Blood-eagled’ -- hacking his ribs from his spine and pulling his lungs out. The only time this sort of death is mentioned in the Viking sagas. There is no historical evidence that it actually happened. The Vikings were known to turn the defeated on their stomachs to allow the eagles to feast on their backs. The Anglo-Saxon church made Aella into an instant saint.

In 872 Northumbria rebelled again. The rebellion was put down in 874. In 876 Halfdan, after wintering on the Tyne in 875, shared out  Northumbria’s lands  and his warriors settled. Prior to this, the Vikings just demanded Danegeld and used the country as their own private larder. The northern part of Northumbria (basically the county of Northumberland) became a client kingdom of Northumbria –Bernecia.  The Yorkshire division into Ridings dates from the Viking era.

Halfdan died in 878 and Northumbria plunged into a period of civil war. A recently discovered a hoard of coins from the period shows several Viking kings’ names which have been lost to history.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide range of time periods. Her next book Paying the Viking’s Price is set in 876 Northumbria and is published in November 2013. You can learn more about Michelle and her books (including reading an excerpt  of Paying the Viking’s Price) on www.michellestyles.co.uk.