27 September 2011

Vikings in England by Michelle Styles

What did the Vikings ever do for the English? Were they just raiders?
There are two distinct phases to the Vikings in England. First you have the period from 793 to 865 where the Vikings did sporadic raids on the coast. They used the raids to capture booty and slaves but did not put down any roots.  Then in 865 the great heathen army under the command of the sons of Ragnar the Hairy Breeches landed in East Anglia and stayed.  While Ivar consolidated his power in East Anglia and Mercia, Halfdan went north, taking advantage of a Northumbrian civil war. At the time, the capital of Northumbria was York.  He captured York with ease on 1 November 866 as all the nobles were at church for All Saints Day and the rival kings were off fighting each other. The Vikings being pagans were no respectors of Christain holy days!
However the two rival kings Osbert and Aella quickly realised what was going on and besieged York in March 867. Halfdan thoroughly routed the Saxons. Aella who is reputed to have foully murdered Halfdan’s father by throwing him in a pit filled with poisonous snakes was put to death by being turned into a blood eagle. Halfdan then turned his attention elsewhere, but in 876 there was a rebellion which Halfdan put down. At this point, according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle he shared out the lands between his warriors and established the Kingdom of York. He died in Dublin in 877. York continued as a kingdom for a hundred years. He renamed the kingdom Jorik rather than Anglo Saxon Eoforwic. The Vikings were in England to stay.
The Viking influence remains in York and Yorkshire. Much of the layout of the current city of York was done by the Vikings. Any street ending in –gate is a Viking street. Underneath Coppersgate  (literally the street where cups are made lay the remains of Jorvik and it is where today you can find the Jorvik centre. That dig did much to change the perception of the Vikings in York as it emerged that York had been a prosperous trading city with links all over Europe and  Byzantium under Viking rule. There were also a large proportion of traders and craftsmen.
The Vikings were responsible for dividing Yorkshire up into Ridings as a means of administering their territory. You can also find Viking place names all over Yorkshire. Suffix – by such as Whitby simply means village or the village of Whit. –thrope means out lying farm, -tun means village, -wick means bay and –ford (fjord).
It is during this time period such Scandinavian words as knife, cup, egg, ill and die entered the English language. Also highly useful grammar of their, them and they come from Old Norse into the English language during this period. In all there are over 600 loan words from the Scandinavian language which shows that there was a huge amount of Viking settlement during this period. The Vikings did not evoke terror but settled and became part of the landscape before that great Viking invasion by the Normans.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty, and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical. She has written a trilogy set in the early Viking period (taken by the Viking, Viking Warrior Unwilling Wife and The Viking’s Captive Princess) and is currently working on another Viking. Her most recent book was an early Victorian To Marry A matchmaker and was published in the UK in July 2011. You can learn more about Michelle’s book by visiting her website www.michellestyles.co.uk