The Vikings and English Resistance

Anglo-Saxon England became the focus for a wave of attacks by ferocious Scandinavians called Vikings.

From their homelands in modern Denmark, Norway and Sweden, these fierce sea-borne warrior tribes wreaked havoc up and down the coasts of Britain and Ireland with unexpected and devastating raids.

By 850 AD, Britain was experiencing wave after wave of Viking attacks, with the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms buckling under the pressure.

(Above) The Vikings were ferocious sea-borne warriors who invaded and settled all along the coast of northern Europe, including Britain. They settled in relatively small numbers in Britain, and make up only a tiny fraction of the present day British population.

In 871 AD, a new king took the throne in the kingdom of Wessex, a man who became known to posterity as Alfred the Great.

In 878 AD, Alfred inflicted a severe defeat on a huge invading army of Danish Vikings, which forced them to accept a division of Anglo-Saxon England into two parts:

Alfred’s enlarged kingdom of Wessex and what became known as the Danelaw, which comprised Essex, East Anglia and Northumbria.

(Above) Alfred the Great, the man who successfully resisted the encroaching Viking invasions. He is credited with laying the foundations of modern England. Generally considered to be England’s greatest king.

Alfred turned out to be one of the most benevolent rulers in British history, doing much to lift his people to new heights.

He became famous for creating the first English navy and is generally recognised as the king who laid the foundation for the nation of England.

Alfred then turned his attention to destroying the Danelaw and dislodging the Vikings.

He was succeeded by his son, Edward the Elder, who was a great but relatively unknown English king.

(Above) Edward the Elder, Alfred the Great's forgotten son. Edward the Elder turned out to as great a king as his father.

It wasn’t until 991 AD that Alfred’s grandson, Aethelstan, finally succeeded in uniting the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and thus creating the nation of England.

The successful conquest of the Danelaw created the nation of England, united by the kingdom of Wessex, whose king ruled along with a council of princes and nobles called the Witenagemot.

(Above) A map of Britain circa 900 AD, showing the division of Anglo-Saxon England between Alfred the Great’s kingdom of Wessex in the south and the Danelaw in the north and east.

Soon enough, a fresh raid of Danish Viking raids began, and towns such as London were attacked.

A new Anglo-Saxon king, Ethelred, tried to buy the Vikings off with cash payments, which became known as the Danegeld, but this only made the problem worse, as they kept coming back for more.

As time pressed on the Danegeld payments got bigger and bigger, from 10,000 pounds in 991 AD to 82,500 pounds in 1018 AD.

When the Danes launched a full-scale invasion, under their leader Swein Forkbeard, and forced the Anglo-Saxons to submit, king Ethelred fled to Normandy, and gained the name of Ethelred the Unready as a result.

(Above) Athelstan, the first King of a united England. He won a great victory over the Vikings at the Battle of Brunanburh and created a united English kingdom.

Ethelred’s son, Edmund Ironside, so called because of his prowess in battle, carried on the fight for a while until he was assassinated.

The new Danish king, called Canute, did his best to stabilise Danish control over England, which was now joined with Denmark and Norway in a multi-national super-kingdom, by using Anglo-Saxon councillors and upholding Anglo-Saxon traditions.

But when Canute died in 1035 AD, Ethelred’s other surviving son, Edward, returned to claim the throne of Anglo-Saxon England.

Edward the Confessor, as he became known to posterity, was famous for founding Westminster Abbey.

During construction, Edward moved the royal court to be close to the works, virtually creating the political district of London called Westminster.

Westminster has remained the home of British politics till the present day.

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