EnglandBack to Home - Kings, Nobles, & Warriors

For most of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, the three titles apply to nearly all of the people. Most Kings were noblemen first, and most Warriors worth mentioning became Kings or died trying. After reviewing many of the sources that have been used and assigned, I have selected the most important people from their specific regions based on my opinion. The people will be listed chronologically for the most part, but some deviation will occur.

Navigating Instructions: Click on the person to go directly to where he is mentioned. The person's name will be in bold the first time he is mentioned

Ragnar Lothbrok (Hairy-Breeches)
Alfred the Great
Edward the Elder
Athelred the Unready
Olaf Tryggvason
Sven Forkbeard
King Knut

Ragnar Lothbrok (Also known as Ragnar Hairy-Breeches) had two sons that led an invasion of England in 865: Halfdan and Ivar the Boneless. There was another called Basecg who was also a Danish King. They arrived in East Anglia with what is to be known as “The Great Army.”[1] Upon their arrival, they made peace with the East Anglians after landing. They went north and conquered York, and returned to conquer East Anglia killing their King. The army makes its way toward Mercia for its next campaign. The King of Mercia is a man name Burgred, and he begs the help of the King of Wessex. Athelred (not to be confused with Athelred the Unready, this is many years before him) and his brother Alfred agreed to help Burgred. But despite their efforts, Mercia is conquered by the Danish forces and he is sent into exile. The Danes push forward from Mercia into Wessex and meet the two brothers in battle. The brothers succeed in repelling their invasion pushing them back. The Danish army retreats not to attack again for over a year. Shortly after this, King Athelred dies and his brother Alfred assumes the throne. It is important to note in this part of the story that the Danish forces are divided: Halfdan takes a part of the forces north to go settle in York, while Basecg takes the remaining forces with him into Wessex when they attack again.

Alfred the Great is what he is to become. Alfred has just taken over from his brother and is one of the only parts of England left unconquered. His defeat would’ve most likely resulted in the complete loss of Anglo-Saxon England as the Danes would’ve taken over. But it was not to be. The Danes left London and made another attempt to take Wessex. At one point, things looked grim for Alfred as he was driven into hiding. But he was able to regather his forces and drive the Danes from Wessex. They agreed to make peace with him, but this was not to last. Alfred realized he had bought himself some time and made sure to prepare for what was to come. He proceeded to build forts across his territory and make his army more mobile[2]. When the attack came again, Alfred defeated the Danes. He defeated Gunthrum who had been made King of Mercia and made peace with him. The Danes had been settling in the newly conquered areas so Alfred got back London along with all of Mercia while Gunthrum kept East Anglia and York. The defeat of Gunthrum discouraged most Viking raids in England for some time, which is noted by the increase of raiding on the continent.
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However the Vikings did try again. A force landed around 892 and tried multiple times to push into England from the currently Danish occupied lands of western Britain. But despite all their efforts, Alfred was prepared. He had learned how to fight them from before and after multiple campaigns the Danish forces had barely been able to escape. They fled numerous times when the English had the advantage. Eventually forces broke up, some choosing to settle in the surrounding areas while others went back to Francia. Alfred died in 899 having been King for 28 years and been the first effective King to stop the Viking raids.[3] Sadly this was shortlived.
Edward the Elder succeeded Alfred and continued his father’s campaign but attempted to reclaim the lost lands to the Danes in the East. He had originally been attacked by the Danes, but they failed to take anything, so he was able to retaliate and break them. His campaign was very successful and since the people in the newly conquered Danish territory had laid down their arms and turned to living, the conquest was very easy for Edward. He was able to take over nearly all of the territory. This included Mercia and East Anglia.[4]
Athelstan succeeded Edward and was acknowledged as “King of the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes.” He continued to hold the lands Edward had recently taken.[5] He completed this campaign with the takeover of the Kingdom of York. He defeated the Irish-Norse Viking Ragnald (also written as Ragnall) when he tried to take York and later also crushed Olaf Guthfrithsson, King of Dublin. [6]

Athelstan was succeeded by Eardred who would add Northumbria to the English Kingdom. It had been taken over by Olaf Guthfrithsson in 939 along with York. It would proceed to go back and forth between his control and the English. After an exiled king from Norway, Erik Bloodaxe, came in against both the English and Olaf, the people of Northumbria rose up against him and killed him. After that, Eardred came in and tookover for the last time.
The reign of Eadwig and later Edgar resulted in little significance worth mentioning (based on our sources). It was a peaceful time for the Viking raids. However the success enjoyed after Alfred’s great victories came crashing down with Athelred the Unready . Much can be said just by being remembered as ‘the unready’. Of course it is worth mentioning that he was twelve years old when he took the throne, Athelred ‘s older brother Edward was murdered so he assumed the throne at a rather young age.[7] The raidings were being done by Olaf Tryggvason in the beginning and later King Sven Forkbeard of the Danes.[8] The raids were done in former Danish lands where Sven would raid, and Athelred would pay them off. Sven would raid again later, and Athelred would pay him off even more. The sum of pay offs increased dramatically every time but nevertheless, Athelred continued. During this time, Athelred instituted a tax known as the heregold which was to pay for these massive bribes to keep the armies at bay. It was the first of its kind but would later be known as the Danegold[9]. At some point during the payoffs, Sven switched from raiding to conquest. Sven went back to England after years of raiding it, had himself proclaimed King of the Northern territories. He swept south taking all the lands in his name and Athelred went into exile in Normandy.[10] (Athelred had married Emma of Normandy so he was able to flee with her)

Sven Forkbeard would die a few weeks after taking over England, and Athelred would return. However Athelred would also die soon after and his son Edmund would take the throne. Sven’s son Knut would flee to Denmark while regathering his forces. When he returned to England, he fought Edmund and after defeating him agreed to share the kingdom by splitting the rule. Amazingly enough, Edmund died too a few weeks later and Knut became King of all England.[11]

King Knut (also spelled as Cnut) was a very successful ruler of England. He was also heir to the throne in Denmark first when his father died, but did not secure it until his brother died years later. He chose though to directly rule over England. He later conquered Norway creating a very large empire. However with his death, so goes the empire. His brother Harald Harefoot was made King of England while his Norway and Denmark were taken over by others. Harald died a few years later, Harthaknut took over but then also died a few years later. This opened the door for Athelred’s son Edward to return to England and the Wessex line to throne was put back in power.[12]

Works Cited

[1]Haywood p.62/ The Viking Age: A Reader p.274-282/ Sawyer p.54
[2] Haywood p. 66
[3] Haywood p. 66/ The Viking Age: A Reader p 281-282
[4] Haywood p .68
[5] Sawyer p. 69
[6] Haywood p.70/ Sawyer p.71
[7] Haywood p.118
[8] Haywood p.118/ Sawyer p. 73-77
[9] Sawyer p.78
[10] Haywood p.120
[11] Haywood p. 120/ Sawyer p. 75-76
[12] Haywood p. 122

"Viking Activities in England, 851-900." The Viking Age: A Reader. Ed. Angus A. Somerville and R. Andrew Mcdonald. University of Toronto Press: Toronto, 2010.
Haywood, John. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. Penguin Books: London, 1995.

Sawyer, Peter. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings. Oxford Univeristy Press: New York, 1997.

This page was created by Thomas Gandee