On this day in history….8th June 793

On this day in history : 8th June 793 – The beginning of the Scandinavian invasion of England, when Vikings raid the monastery of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumbria….

Lindisfarne Abbey – and St Mary’s – Russ Hamer CC BY-SA 3.0

Although cited as the beginning of the Viking Age, which saw a reign of terror which was to last the next 200 years, Lindisfarne was not the first raid…. Previously in 789 three longships had arrived at Portland, Dorset….and on being sent to fetch the ‘Northmen’ to the West Saxon Court the King’s reeve had been killed by the strangers…. Evidently coming in peace had never been their intention – but the raid at Lindisfarne, also known as ‘Holy Island’ had entirely different connotations – being the ‘very place where the Christian religion began in our nation’….

A monastery was founded at Lindisfarne around 634 by Irish monk Saint Aidan…. It became the Christian heartland where monks from the Irish community of Iona settled…. It was where Northumberland’s patron Saint Cuthbert was monk, abbot and then Bishop of Lindisfarne…. Where he died and was buried in 687 and his body revered as a saint – (his remains were later moved to Durham Cathedral)….

Cuthbert von Lindisfarne, Heiliger
Saint Cuthbert – image PICRYL

Lindisfarne lies in the North Sea, two miles off the Northumbrian coast – it is part of the county of Northumbria and is linked to the mainland by a causeway at low tide…. At the time it would have been wild, undefended and exposed….and totally unprepared for what was to come….

The causeway flooding (with refuge box in distance) – Gary Rogers CC BY-SA 2.0

It has long been debated as to why the Vikings originally invaded England…. Possibly poor harvests in their own land had driven them further afield – but more likely they came to plunder to satisfy their own greed…. They could cross the North Sea in their longships in a matter of a couple of days to make a raid…. The attack on Lindisfarne was just the start of a long and terrifying plunderous campaign….the monks were either killed or taken as slaves and the monastery’s treasures carried away to the awaiting Viking ships….img_3345

The news reached Alcuin, a Northumbrian scholar living in a Frankish kingdom where he was tutor to King Charlemagne’s children…. He recorded “The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the street”….

Worried that this was a message of wrath from Divine Powers he wrote to Higbald, Bishop of Lindisfarne…. He questioned why God had allowed such a thing to happen in “a place more sacred than any in Britain”….and advised Higbald to examine his conscience…. “Is this the outcome of the sins of those who live there?”…. Was he referring to the murder of the Northumbrian king in 788 by a group of conspirators led by Sicga? – Who then in 793 ‘perished by his own hand’….but then had been carried to the Holy Island for burial – just six weeks before the Vikings struck….

Despite the attack at Lindisfarne a Christian community managed to survive…. Raids became more and more frequent – and by 850 Viking armies were over-wintering in the northern parts of England…. By 870 the invasion and conquering of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had begun in earnest….

On this day in history….3rd February 1014

On this day in history : 3rd February 1014 – The death of Sweyn Folkbeard – England’s shortest-reigning king, with a reign of just 40 days….

Sweyn Folkbeard, detail of a mid-13th-century miniature. Cambridge University Library. Public domain.

Sweyn was born around 960 AD and was the son of Harald Bluetooth, the first Scandinavian king to be baptised a Christian….

Sweyn Folkbeard – (known as such because of his long clefted beard) – grew up to be a brutal and violent man….but then – they were brutal and violent times…. During the mid 980s AD he led a revolt against his father and seized the throne…. Harald went into exile and died soon after….

Sweyn and the Jomsvikings at the funeral ale of his father Harald Bluetooth. Painting by Lorenz Frolich c.1883-86. Public domain.

It was during the 990s AD that Sweyn began a campaign of fear and mass destruction in England…. King of England at the time – Ethelred the Unready – attempted to rid himself of the troublesome Dane by paying him off…. The ‘Danegeld Tax’ was intended to pay tribute to the Vikings and save the land from being ravaged. Only it did not work….the Danes continued to raid Northern England, albeit on a smaller scale…. Some Danes even began to settle here….

Ethelred was advised in order to save England he must get rid of the Danes once and for all…. On the 13th of November 1002 he ordered the complete massacre of all Danes in England – men, women and children (St. Brice’s Day Massacre)…. Among those to be slaughtered was Gunhilde, Sweyn’s sister….

Sweyn swore revenge…. In 1003 he arrived with a massive invading force….landing at Sandwich (Kent). From there he ravaged much of Southern England….terrifying the natives and forcing them into submission. He then proceeded north to the Humber – Northumbria surrendered…. Next Sweyn made his way to Winchester and finally turned his attention to London….

Ethelred resisted at first, putting up a fierce fight….but his subjects were terrified of the consequences. The English Earls, not happy with how their King was handling matters, reluctantly declared Sweyn King of England…. Ethelred fled to the Isle of Wight and from there to Normandy – where he joined his wife and children….

Ethelred the Unready in an early thirteenth-century copy of the Abingdon Chronicle. Public domain.

Sweyn was made King of England on Christmas Day 1013 (although he was never crowned)…. He ruled from a fortification at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire…. On the 3rd of February 1014 he died suddenly…. Some say he had a fall from his horse, whilst others believe he died from apoplexy (stroke). He had reigned for just 40 days….

He was buried in England but later his remains were moved to Roeskild Cathedral, Denmark. He was succeeded as King of Denmark by his son, Harald II….

Viking longboat ‘Hugin’ at Pegwell Bay, near to Sandwich Kent…. A gift from the Danish government in 1949….