Viking Invasion of Britain

Danes — versus — Saxon

Danish Marauders in England, 793-911 , Consolidation of Saxon Kingdoms, 900-950
Decline of the Saxon Kingdoms, 990-1066 , Viking Raids in Scotland and Ireland, 961-1263

The First Viking raid on England is reported to have occurred in 793 at the Lindisfarne monastery. In the subsequent 250 years the Danes (as the Vikings who invaded England are generally called), continued their raids, but at the same time, gradually turned from rampaging pirates to fellow Christians and citizens. Some wrought only destruction, but others, like the Saxons before them, eventually settled down and became civilized.

The worst of the Viking depredations were undoubtedly during the ninth century, and Alfred the Great is the central character during this crisis. At the beginning of his reign, the Saxon kingdom had nearly collapsed due to the destruction and dislocations of Danish raiders. Yet within a single generation, he had won a critical victory over the Danes and persuaded a number of them to become Christian and settle down peaceably along side the Saxons. These Danes, who often inhabited coastal regions, provided a buffer against further attacks, and helped restore some tranquility to the Saxon kingdom. Depredations continued during the tenth century, and there were several important battles including Brunanburh and Maldon, but by this time the Danes were no longer merely lawless marauders, but agents of somewhat more unified Viking Kingdoms, sent forth as armies to do battle for their kings rather than simply to loot and plunder. By the eleventh century, there was a long established Danish region in Northern England, and largely due to misrule by the Saxon King, a Danish King assumed the crown of England. The years of Danish rule lasted only twenty years, and then the throne was returned to the Saxons, but the reign of the Saxons was not destined to last much longer. In 1066 the last Danish invasion of England occurred, and almost immediately afterward, the Saxon kingdom fell permanently into the hands of the Normans, who were themselves, of Viking blood.

Danish Marauders in Saxon England : 793-911

The first wave of Viking attacks on England was the most devastating to Saxon civilization. Prior to the Viking attacks, the Angle and Saxon kingdoms were not unified, and had no means of common defense. Shortly after the first Viking attack, the kingdom of Wessex was founded under Egbert the Saxon, when he united the kingdom of Mercia and Anglia under the headship of the Western Saxons. Part of the motivation for this was to provide a common defense against the Vikings, but the Saxons seldom had an opportunity to fight a pitched battle against the Vikings since they typically attacked at night and were gone before an army could be raised against them. By 870 however, a great wave of Danish invaders wintered in England and began to set up permanent colonies. The Saxons opposed them and won a few battles, but after successive invasions they were utterly dispersed. By the time Alfred the Great came to the throne, his whole kingdom was in chaos. In spite of great difficulties, he unified the Saxons, rallied his forces, and won a great victory over the Danes at Edington. As a result of this victory, Guthrum the Danish leader agreed to become Christian and settle peaceably within Alfred's realm. Eventually the region of Northumbria, which had been settled mainly by Angles, became heavily populated by Danes. Several more battles occurred between the Saxons and Anglo-Danish realms, but the worst of the Viking raids was past.

Another important development during this same period was the unification of most of the minor Viking tribes under Harold Fairhair in Norway. The original Vikings had been petty sea-kings, each without any overlord, but henceforth, Viking armies were sometimes sent in service to their king rather than acting entirely independently.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Ellandune   Wessex victory
In this battle, fought 823, the Mercians under Beorwulf, were totally routed by the West Saxons under Egbert.
Battle of Hengestesdun (Mauraders ) Saxons victory
Fought 835, when the men of Wessex, under Egbert, totally defeated the Danes and Cornish Britons.
Battle of Ockley (Mauraders ) Saxons victory
Fought 851, between the Danes, and the West Saxons, under Ethelwulf. The Danes were completely defeated.
Battle of Thetford (Mauraders ) Danes victory
Fought 870, between the Danish invaders, and the East Anglians, under Edward. The latter were defeated and Edward killed.
Battle of Englefield (Mauraders ) Saxons victory
Fought 871, the first of the series of battles between the West Saxons and the Danish invaders. The former, under their king, Ethelred, defeated the Danes.
Battle of Reading (Mauraders ) Danes victory
Fought 871, between the Danish invaders, and the West Saxons, under Aethelred and Alfred. The West Saxons, after a stubborn resistance, were defeated and driven from the field with great slaughter.
Battle of Ashdown (Mauraders ) Saxons victory
Fought 871, between the West Saxons under Aethelred and the Danes under Bag Secg and Halfdene. Largely owing to the brilliant leading of Alfred the Great, who commanded one of the wings, the Danes, after a desperate conflict, which lasted throughout the day, were finally put to flight, having lost one of their kings and five jarls.
Battle of Basing (Mauraders ) Danes victory
A victory of the Danish invaders in 871 over the West Saxons.
Battle of Merton (Mauraders ) Danes victory
Fought 871, between the West Saxons, under Alfred, and the Danish invaders. After a severe engagement the Danes were victorious.
Battle of Dollar (Mauraders ) Danes victory
Fought 875, when the Danish invaders under Thorstem totally defeated the men of Alban under Constantine. The Danes subsequently occupied Caithness, Sutherlandshire, Ross and Moray.
Battle of Edington (Mauraders ) Saxons victory
Fought 878, between the West Saxons, under Alfred, and the Danes, under Guthrum. The Danes were totally defeated, and Alfred's victory was followed by the Peace of Wedmore, which lasted for fifteen years.

Short Biography
Egbert the Saxon United the Saxon and Angle kingdoms in a federation to resist the Danes.
Alfred the Great Noblest of Saxon kings. Fought the Danes and made peace. Built churches and schools.
Ethelwulf Father of Alfred the Great. Deeply religious King of Wessex who fought Danish invaders.
Ethelred Elder brother of Alfred the Great. Fought alongside Alfred in several battles against the Danes.
Guthrum Danish king defeated by Alfred the Great. Agreed to become Christian and settle in England.

Story Links
Book Links
Danes  in  Alfred the Great  by  Jacob Abbott
Reverses  in  Alfred the Great  by  Jacob Abbott
Victory over the Danes  in  Alfred the Great  by  Jacob Abbott
King Alfred  in  Stories from English History  by  Alfred J. Church
Egbert the Saxon  in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  John H. Haaren
Alfred the Great  in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  John H. Haaren
King Alfred and the Danes  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
Alfred and the Danes  in  Barbarian and Noble  by  Marion Florence Lansing
King Alfred  in  Heroes Every Child Should Know  by  H. W. Mabie
Vikings in England  in  Stories of the Vikings  by  Mary MacGregor
King Alfred in the Cowherd's Cottage  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
King Alfred and the Danes  in  Historical Tales: English  by  Charles Morris
Ragnar Lodbrok and his Wives and Sons  in  Historical Tales: Scandinavian  by  Charles Morris
Alfred the Great  in  Great Englishmen  by  M. B. Synge
Alfred the Great Rules England  in  European Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Book Links
In the Days of Alfred the Great  by  E. M. Tappan
Alfred the Great  by  Jacob Abbott

Consolidation of the Saxon Kingdoms : 900-950

During the first half of the tenth century, the Saxon kingdom was well ruled by the sons and Grandsons of Alfred the great. During this period the Saxons regained territory that had previously fallen to the Danes. The battle of Brunanburh was particularly important because in it, the Danes and British Celts of Northumberland combined forces with the Scots, to do battle against the Saxons. The combined forces of all of the enemies of the Saxons at this time, could not prevail against them, and the dominance of the Saxon kingdom in England, over its rivals was assured.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Tettenhall (Saxon Consolidation ) Saxons victory
Fought 910, between the Danish invaders, and the West Saxons, under Edward the Elder. The Danes were defeated.
Battle of Wednesfield (Saxon Consolidation ) Saxons victory
Fought in 911, between the Danes and the West Saxons, under Edward the Elder. The Danes were defeated.
Battle of Brunanburh (Saxon Consolidation ) Saxons victory
Fought 937, when Aethelstan defeated with great slaughter the combined armies of Anlaf the Dane, Owen of Cumberland, and Constantine III of Scotland.

Short Biography
Athelstan Grandson of King Alfred. Fought the Danes and Celts at the Battle of Brunanburh.
Edward the Elder Son of Alfred the Great, and King of Wessex who prevailed against the Northumbrian Danes.
Olaf III Guthfirthson Viking King who led the forces against Wessex at Brunanburh.

Story Links
Book Links
Olaf the Viking  in  A Child's Book of Warriors  by  William Canton
How King Athelstan Fought at Brunanburgh  in  Stories from English History  by  Alfred J. Church
Maldon  in  The Boy's Book of Battles  by  Eric Wood

Decline of the Saxon Kingdoms : 990-1066

When the fortunes of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex began to fall, it was largely due to the misfortune of having a series of young and inexperienced kings on the throne. Aethelred the Unready had a particularly unfortunate reign, beginning with the battle of Maldon, which went against the Saxons and resulted in the payment of Danegeld or tribute to the Danish pirates. After several more years of misrule, Aethelred was driven from England by Sweyn, a vengeful Danish sea-king. A few years later, Canute, the son of Sweyn, and Edmund Ironside, the son of Aethelred fought a number of battles without resolution, and agreed to co-rule the kingdom. Edmund died shortly thereafter, leaving Canute the Dane to be sole-ruler of Wessex for a generation. Eventually the throne returned to the Saxon kings, but in 1066 the Danes again attacked and demanded more territory. They were soundly defeated by Harold Goodwinson, but he himself was shortly thereafter deposed by the William the Conqueror and his Normans, who were themselves of Viking stock.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Maldon (Saxon Decline ) Danes victory
Fought 991, between the Anglo-Saxons, under Brihtnoth, and the Danes, under Olaf Triggvason and Guthmund. The Anglo-Saxons were completely defeated and Brithnoth slain.
Battle of Pen Selwood (Saxon Decline ) drawn battle victory
Fought 1016, between the English, under Edmund Ironside, and the Danes, under Knut, shortly after Edmund's election as King by the Witanegemot. This was the first of the series of engagements between the two rivals, which ended with the Peace of Olney.
Battle of Sherstone (Saxon Decline ) drawn battle victory
Fought 1016, between Edmund Ironside, and Knut, the rival claimants to the throne. The battle was indecisive.
Battle of Ashingdon (Saxon Decline ) Danes victory
The last of the five battles fought in 1016 between the English under Edmund Ironside and the Danish invaders under Knut. Owing to the treachery of Aedric, who crossed over with the Hereford men in the course of the battle, the English were defeated, and shortly afterwards Knut was proclaimed King of England.
Battle of Fulford (Saxon Decline ) Danes victory
Fought 1066, between the Norsemen under Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, the English under Earls Edwin and Morcar. The English were defeated.
Battle of Stamford Bridge (Saxon Decline ) Saxons victory
Fought September 25, 1066, between the English, under Harold, and the Norse invaders, under Harold Hardrada and Tostig. The Norsemen were surprised by Harold in their camp, and totally defeated, both Hardrada and Tostig being killed, and the survivors driven to their ships.

Short Biography
Brithnoth Saxon warrior hero who died at the battle of Maldon.
Aethelred the Unready Acsended to the Saxon throne at a young age, ruled poorly and was unable to effectively resist the Danes.
Canute the Great Danish king of Britain who ruled well. Married Emma, the wife of his enemy, Ethelred the Unready.
Edmund Ironside Eldest son of Aethelred the Unready, fought Canute for the throne, but then died.
Harald Hardrada Became rich as a Byzantine Mercenary, then ruled Norway. Killed at Battle of Stamford Bridge.
Tostig Godwinson Brought an army of Vikings to fight his brother, Harold Godwinson, at Stamford Bridge.
Harold Godwinson Son of Godwin. Ascended to the Saxon throne when Edward the Confessor died childless.

Story Links
Book Links
Story of King Canute  in  Stories from English History  by  Alfred J. Church
Harold the King  in  Stories from English History  by  Alfred J. Church
Canute the Great  in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  John H. Haaren
Harald Hardrada  in  Stories of the Vikings  by  Mary MacGregor
How Edmund Ironside Fought for the Crown  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Battle of Stamford Bridge  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Canute the Great, King of Six Nations  in  Historical Tales: Scandinavian  by  Charles Morris

Viking Raids in Scotland and Ireland : 961-1263

As the Wessex kingdom in England began being more effective at repelling Viking invaders, they pirates turned north towards Scotland and Ireland. They Danes had already colonized several sparsely inhabited Islands around Scotland including the Orkneys and Hebrides, but in the tenth and 11 centuries made some major raids into Scotland and Ireland, most of which were repulsed. The Scots did not contest Danish possession of their outlying islands until the thirteenth century.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of the Bands (Scotland ) Scots victory
Fought 961, between the Scots under their king, Indulph, and the Danish pirates. The Danes were defeated, but Indulph fell in the battle.
Battle of Luncarty (Scotland ) Scots victory
Fought 980, between the Scots, under Kenneth III, and the Danish corsairs, who had landed on the Tay to attack Dunkeld. After a furious hand-to-hand fight the Danes were defeated and driven to their ships.
Battle of Kinloss (Scotland ) Danes victory
Fought 1009, between the Danes under Sweyn of Denmark, and the Scots, under Malcolm II. The Danes were besieging Nairne, and Malcolm attempting to raise the siege, they attacked and defeated him after hard fighting, in which Malcolm was wounded.
Battle of Mortlack (Scotland ) Scots victory
Fought 1010, between the Danes, under Sweyn, and the Scots, under Malcolm II. After a long and obstinate engagement the Danes were totally defeated, and forced to flee to their ships. A victory for them on this occasion would probably have given them a permanent lodgment in Scotland, as Malcolm had his last available man in the field.
Battle of Clontarf (Irish Bruce ) Irish victory
Fought April 24, 1014, when the Scandinavian invaders were totally routed by the Irish of Munster, Connaught, Ulster and Meath, under Brian Boru. The Norsemen are said to have lost 6,000 men. Brian Boru and his son fell in the battle.
Battle of Largs (Scotland ) Scots victory
Fought October 2, 1263, between the Norsemen, under Haco, and the Scots. The Norse fleet of 160 ships was driven ashore off Largs by a violent storm, and many of them wrecked, and Haco landed a force to protect the shipwrecked crews. This force was attacked by the Scots and utterly routed, and Haco was forced to withdraw, and abandon the project of invasion. The only name on the Scottish side which has come down to us as taking part in the battle is that of Sir Pierce Curry.

Short Biography
Malcolm II of Scotland Early King of Scotland who fought off Danish invaders
Brian Boru King who unified all of Ireland briefly before the Norman invasion.

Image Links

The armed troops stood thick upon the bridge
 in Historic Boys

Danish Warriors
 in Stories from English History

He looked long and earnestly into the face bent above his own.
 in Our Little Saxon Cousin of Long Ago

He took a step forward with bared breast.
 in Our Little Saxon Cousin of Long Ago

How the Danes came up the channel a thousand
 in  The Story of the English

Invasion of England by the Danes
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

Alfred the Great in the Danish camp
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

Danes embarking for the invasion of England
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

Norwegian pirates on the coast of Kent
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

Alfred the Great in the Danish Camp
 in Barbarian and Noble

In the early grey of the morning they could see the outlines of the highest buildings.
 in In the Days of Alfred the Great

Messengers were sent to every village.
 in In the Days of Alfred the Great

When they tried to climb up the lofty sides the Saxons thrust them down.
 in In the Days of Alfred the Great