Viking Invasions

Map of early Viking invasions

Map Information

Viking invasions started in around 790 AD. In 793 the monastery at Lindisfarne was attacked. Churches were an easy target for the Vikings as they were built in remote locations and were poorly protected. Most importantly they contained ornaments made of silver and gold. The Vikings killed the monks and burnt the buildings. The monastery of Iona on the west coast of Scotland was attacked in 802 AD.

The number of attacks steadily grew and became an annual occurrence. At first the Vikings attacked in the summer and returned to their homelands for the winter. But soon the Vikings began to set-up permanent camps and stay in Britain over the winter months.

See the timeline for more detailed information.

Arrival of the Danes

The Vikings (Danes or Norsemen) began their invasions as early as 787 but the main attacks on the south and centre of the country started in the reign of Egbert (802-339). Egbert, the King of Wessex led the defence of the country and in 837 inflicted an important defeat at Hingston Down in Cornwall. But this defeat was only a temporary setback for the invaders.

Egbert died in 836 and was succeeded by his son Aethelwulf and by several of his sons. Viking raids continued during the reigns of these Saxon rulers and the Vikings began to feel so secure that were able to remain in the country over the winter months were before they had returned home. During the reign of Aethelred in 866 a mighty Viking army arrived in the country and took control of the city of York and the area of Northumbria.

The Danes conquer East Anglia

In 870 East Anglia was conquered by the Vikings after they defeated King Edmund and killed him. Many Danes travelled from their home countries to settle in their newly acquired lands.

Alfred the Great

When Alfred became King of Wessex in 871 much of England was under the control of the Danes. Wessex itself was still under threat and if it fell to the invaders England would cease to be ruled by Englishmen. Although Alfred was in his early twenties and was interested in studies and learning he had plenty of experience fighting the Danes with his elder brothers.

Guthram was one of the leaders, alongside Halfdan, of a large Viking army that invaded Britain in 871. The Viking army attacked the Anglo-Saxon states of Wessex, Northumbria and Mercia. In 875 the army split in two. Half, led by Halfdan, went north into Scotland and briefly into Ireland while the other half, led by Guthrum, went into East Anglia and set up base there.


1. Who began to invade in the reign of Egbert? Who were the Danes? When did they begin their attacks on England? Where did Egbert defeat them? When? Who succeeded Egbert?



787 Summer First recorded Viking raids
   The first recorded Viking raids in England occurred during this year.
802 Vikings raid Iona
   The monastic community founded by St. Columba on the tiny island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland was attacked by the Vikings. The Vikings returned in 806 killing over sixty of the people living there.
807 Vikings raid island of Inishmurray
   The monastic community on the tiny and remote island off the north west coast of Ireland was attacked by the Vikings.
814 Vikings attacks
   The monastery on the island of Noirmoutier just to the south of the River Loire's mouth was attacked.
835 Vikings invade Sheppey
   It appears that the raid on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent was the start of a trend of attacks by the Vikings.
836 Viking invade Devon
   A fleet of possibly 35 ships landed a Viking army in Devon. Egbert fought the Vikings at Carhampton but was defeated by the invaders.
Ireland raided by the Vikings
   Up until now the Vikings had raided islands and coastal communities but now they launched inland attacks. The Vikings attacked Southern Ui Néill and they took captives.
837 Battle of Hingston Down
   A Viking raiding party assisted by local Cornish men was defeated by Egbert of Wessex.
841 Rouen attacked by the Vikings
   A fleet of Viking longboats sailed up the River Seine to Rouen. There they plundered the city of its wealth.
843 Nantes plundered by the Vikings
   Saling their longboats up the Loire River allowed the Vikings to travel far inland. They reached the city of Nantes which they plundered and killed those who lived there.
Winter Vikings remain over Winter
   Rather than sailing back to Norway the Vikings began to build camps and remain where they were over the Winter months. They chose the island of Noirmoutier off the mouth of the Loire River as their base.
844 King of Northumbria killed
   Redwulf, the king of Northumbria, was killed during a Viking raid.
851 Danish invasion defeated
   The Danes landed at Wembury near Plymouth and were defeated by forces from Devon. A sea battle off the coast of Kent led by Athelstan (eldest son of Ethelwulf) defeated a Danish fleet of vessels and Ethelwulf defeated an army of Danes at the battle of Ockley who had arrived in the Thames and were attacking the south of the country.
852 Winter Vikings spend winter in England
   The first Viking raiding party to stay in England for a period of time landed at the Isle of Thanet in Kent. They spent the winter in England.
854 Danes attack Paris
   More information required.
865 The 'Great Army' invade
   A large army of Danes landed in East Anglia led by King Ivar the 'Boneless' and King Halfdan. No attempts were made to get rid of the invaders.
866 The 'Great Army' arrive in East Anglia
   A large number of Vikings landed in East Anglia and gathered horses and supplies from the surrounding areas in preparation for their assault on Northumbria. Their leaders were Ivar the Boneless, son of Ragnar Lodbrok, and possibly Anlaf (Olaf) Cuaran, the King of Dublin.
Vikings driven out of Ireland
   Vikings raiders were driven from the northern coasts of Ireland by Aed Finliath.
Winter Northumbria is invaded by the Danes
   The 'Great Army' moved north from their original landing site in East Anglia and into Northumbria. The Army split is two. One section took boats up the coast and sailed into the Humber while the other section went overland.
867 Danes are attacked and move south
   Armies from Northumbria attacked the Danes at York but were defeated. The Danes moved south attacking Nottingham and taking the city. The king of Mercia asked Ethelred and Alfred for assistance and an army from Wessex went to help.
Danes impose a king on Northumbria
   The Danes place a puppet King on the throne in Northumbria called Egbert.
The Danes invade Northumbria and York
   The Danes led by the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok, Ivar the boneless and Halfdan, attacked Northumbria and York. They wanted revenge for the death of their father who had been killed by Aella, the King of Northumbria. (Aella could have been an Irish Prince.) The Danes destroyed many churches and monasteries including Whitby Abbey. The monasteries remained ruined for two hundred years.
868 Autumn A peaceful settlement is reached
   Ethelred and Alfred married Mercian noble women whilst assisting the King of Mercia with the Danes on his land. A peaceful settlement was reached with the Danes and a Danegeld was paid for them to leave.
869 Danes attack East Anglia
   Moving south again from York, The Danes entered East Anglia, attacking and destroying the many religious in the area including the monastery at was what to become Peterborough. The King of East Anglia, Edmund raised an army to attack the Danes but was captured and killed.
870 Crowland Abbey destroyed
   Danes attack Crowland Abbey and burn it down.
Siege of Dumbarton Rock
   The Vikings laid siege to Dumbarton Rock. The siege lasted for four months after which the defences fell and the Vikings took prisoners and treasures to Dublin.
Dec The Danes attack Wessex
   The Danes moved south into the Wessex area and captured Reading.

Reign of ALFRED (The Great, King of Wessex 871-899)

871 Qtr 1 Battle of Ashdown
   Aethelred and Alfred defeated the Danes at Ashdown.
Qtr 2 More Danes arrive in Britain
   Another army of Danes landed in London and were joined by those at Reading. The army defeated Alfred at Wilton and so the king decided to pay the Danes some money to keep the peace.
872 Ivar the Boneless dies
   Ivar 'the Boneless', the king of Dublin died. He was succeeded by his brother Halfdan.
Revolt in Northumbria
   In 867 the Danes had installed a puppet ruler in Northumbria called Egbert. In 782 the Northumbrians rebelled and expelled Egbert. The Viking army moved north from Wessex and put down the revolt. They installed a new ruler called Ricsige.
874 Vikings colonise Iceland
   Vikings landed in Iceland with plans to create settlements and start farming the land.
875 Danes move against the north.
   Led by Halfdan the Danes moved north to attack the Picts and the area of Strathclyde. The Danes divided Northumbria taking York for themselves and creating the area known as Danelaw. A second Danish King called Guthrum took his army back south to Cambridge where he prepared plans to attack Wessex.
876 Danes defeated in the south
   Led by Guthrum, an army of Danes moved to Wareham in Dorset where they were met by a new army from the sea who landed at Poole. Alfred trapped the army and demanded hostages in return for a peaceful settlement. The Danes divided, half fleeing to Exeter where they besieged the town while the other half escaped in their ships but were drowned in heavy seas. Those at Exeter were forced to surrender and were moved up to Gloucester.
Jorvik founded by the Vikings
   The Vikings made York the capital of their kingdom in England. They called it the kingdom of Jorvik.
877 Death of Constantine I
   Invaders from Scandinavia were a constant threat to the Scots and an invasion in 877 resulted in the death of the Scottish King, Constantine I. He was succeeded by his his brother Aed.
878 Jan The Danes take the advantage
   After Exeter. Alfred was hoping that trouble with the Danes was over, but again led by Guthrum, an army headed for Alfred at his Chippenham residence. Alfred fled under overwhelming odds leaving Chippenham in the hands of the Danes.
Spring Alfred burns the cakes
   During the winter and spring period Alfred was in hiding. He ran a guerrilla warfare style war against the Danes and set up his headquarters on the Isle of Athelney in Somerset. It was on one of his scouting missions (the story goes) that he took refuge and not being recognised as the King was asked to watch the cakes which he burnt.
Apr Battle of Edington
   Alfred called for his men to form an army and attack the Danes. He ordered the army to meet at a location known as Egbert's Stone and seven weeks after Easter an army was formed. Once formed the army quickly moved towards Guthrum and the Danes and the two armies met at Edington. The battle at Edington was won by Alfred and the Danes retreated to Chippenham. The Danes were surrounded and surrendered. Guthrum along with several other high ranking members of the Danish army were converted to Christianity under Alfred's sponsorship. Guthrum and Alfred agreed on peace terms and the Danes returned to their holdings in East Anglia known as the Danelaw.
879 Start of reorganisation
   After the success at Edington Alfred decided to construct of a series of fortified villages or burhs to help protect Wessex. He set up a system that provided Wessex with both a standing army and defence at a local level.
New Viking Invasion
   A new Viking fleet sailed up the Thames and built a camp at Fulham. For Alfred this was a worrying situation as he was unsure if this new Viking army would move to join Guthrum. Alfred did not have to worry as the army soon broke camp and headed for France.
882 Alfred attacks Viking ships
   Alfred had been increasing the size of his new navy and in 882 used it to good affect when he sailed out to attack four Viking ships. Two Viking ships were captured and their crews killed.
885 Vikings besiege Rochester
   An army of Vikings landed in Kent from the Continent and besieged Rochester. Alfred's work in improving the defences of the major towns paid off and the town held out long enough for Alfred to organise an army and force the Vikings to flee back across the Channel to the Continent.
- 886 The Siege of Paris
   A fleet of Viking longships sailed up the River Seine heading for eastern France and new lands and cities to plunder, When they reached Paris the Vikings offered to spare the city if they were allowed free passage up the river. The river was blocked by bridges that crossed and prevented even the Viking ships passage. Their request was denied and so the Vikings laid siege to the city. The siege was broken when an army led by Emperor Charles the Fat arrived and dispersed the Vikings.
886 Alfred captures London
   Alfred took full control of London and strengthened its defences in defiance against Viking attacks. London had not been a capital town before now but Alfred raised London's status.At some point in this period of time Alfred and Guthrum signed a treaty agreeing to several conditions. The first condition being a boundary thought to define the extent of the Danelaw, the area where the Vikings were living in England.
890 Guthrum dies
   Guthrum died in 890 and his peace agreements with Alfred were maintained by his successor.
893 Danish Invasion
   A huge army of Danes travelled from Boulogne using some 250 ships and crossed the Channel landing in Kent at the Lympne Estuary, now called the River Rother. The army found a half-completed Saxon fort at Appledore which they attacked and took control of. At the same time another Danish army led by Haesten had arrived in the Thames estuary and set up camp at Milton. Alfred was facing a serious threat but decided to position his army half way between the two enemy encampments and wait.
894 Battle at Farnham
   While Alfred concentrated his efforts against the Danes at Milton, the Danes at Appledore left their camp. Alfred's son Edward took an army and caught the Danes at Farnham. Edward dealt a heavy blow and forced the Danes to retreat to an island on the River Colne. At the same time Danes from East Anglia had sailed around to the Cornish coast and had besieged Exeter. Aflred, who had been on his way to help Edward deal with the Danes on the island, changed direction and headed for Exeter. Back in Essex Haesten had gained reinforcements and moved to a new fortified site at Benfleet, but the fort was attacked by the Saxons while the Danes were on a raiding trip and this forced Haesten to move to Shoebury. The Danes outside Exeter ended their siege and sailed around to the join Haesten at Shoebury.
895 Danes march west
   The combined Danish army left Shoebury and marched west up the Thames valley through Worcestershire and up the Severn valley finally reaching Chester where they were besieged by the Saxons who tried to starve the Danes out. The Danes managed to escape into Wales where they raided and left with a great deal of spoils.

Reign of EDWARD (the Elder, King of West Saxons, 899-924)

902 Norwegians expelled from Dublin
   The Norse that had occupied Dublin were expelled with nowhere to go. Over the next few years they attacked Wales, Scotland and North West England.
906 Peace with Northumbria
   Edward the Elder managed to agree peace terms with the Danes in Northumbria but friendly relationships were not to last.
910 Aug Battle of Tettenhall
   Edward the Elder of Wessex with help from Aethelred of Mercia defeated Danes from York at the battle of Tettenhall (Wednesfield) in Staffordshire.

911 Rollo founds the Norman Dynasty
   Rollo, in return for land in Northern France, swore allegiance to the French king Charles III. Charles' motives were to use a settled band of Vikings in his country to help prevent more Viking attacks in the future. The hope that Charles may have had of removing the Vikings at a later date proved impossible to implement.
913 Tamworth fortified against the Danes
   Athelflaed, the Lady of the Mercians, fortified the towns of Tamworth and Stafford against attack from the Danes.
914 Vikings return to Ireland
   Vikings landed at Waterford in Ireland and established a base.
Warwick founded by Athelflaed
   Athelflaed, the Lady of the Mercians, founded the town of Warwick at the important river crossing across the River Avon. The town was fortified againt attack from the Danes.
917 Battle of Tempsford
   The Danes were defeated at the battle of Tempsford and their leader Guthurm was killed.

Reign of ATHELSTAN (King of the English 924-939)

927 Athelstan defeats the Vikings
   When Sihtric died he left an heir Olaf. The king of the Norse in Dublin arrived to assist Olaf but Athelstan was ready for any trouble that they could do and defeated them. York was seized and its fortifications destroyed.
930 St. Albans attacked by the Danes
   The abbey church at St. Albans was attacked and damaged by Vikings.
937 Danish invasion
   The Dane Anlaff (possibly Sihtric's son), Owen of Cumberland and Constantine, King of the Scots sailed into the Humber to invade Northumbria. Athelstan's speed at raising his army that marched north put paid to any plans of invasion and a fierce battle occurred (Brunanburgh near Beverley ?) in which many Danish kings and earls were killed.

Reign of Eadred (King of the English 946-955)

954 York falls to Eadred
   Eadred defeated Eric Bloodaxe the Dane that had ruled the kingdom of York on and off for several years. Eric was killed and Eadred took control of the kingdom of York. Eadred nominated Oswulf as the new ruler of Northumbria.

Reign of Aethelred (II The Unready, King of the English 978-1013, 1014-1016)

980 First Viking attacks
   With Aethelred on the throne for a short time and possibly showing some weakness in his ability to rule the Vikings started their attacks. Concentrating on the south coast the raids were limited and the affect to the country as a whole was small.
982 Vikings colonise Greenland
   Vikings from Iceland discovered the island and called it Greenland.
988 Battle at Wachet
   In Somerset Viking raiders attacked and burnt the village at Wachet. Streonwold, the local English leader, called for help from the surrounding population and a battle was fought. The Vikings won the battle and Streonwold was killed.
991 - 993 Vikings attack the wealthy south-east
   Under the leadership of Olaf Trygvasson the Vikings attacked the wealthy south-east coast of England and took as much riches as they could carry.
Battle of Malden
   The raiding Vikings attacked the Ipswich area of England before sailing into the Blackwater river estuary near Malden. The English were waiting for them and trapped the Vikings in rising tidal waters. The English fought bravely and a poem was written about their exploits but in the end the Vikings were victorious and the English were defeated.
Vikings paid to leave England with land tax
   Aethelred was advised by Archbishop Sigeric to talk to Olaf and arrange a truce rather than trying to defeat the Vikings in battle. The Vikings accepted a large payoff and left. The sum of money was around 10,000 pounds and was raised by collecting and land tax known as Danegeld.
992 Ships gather in London
   King Aethelred decreed that all sea-worthy ships should gather in London and then put to sea and destroy the Viking army. But alderman Aelfric sent word to the Danes the night before the attack of the King's plan which allowed them to escape. Aelfric then fled.
994 Swein Fork-Beard invades Britain
   Swein Fork-Beard had overthrone this father King Harold Blue-Tooth Gormsson, King of Denmark in 988. With a huge fleet of 94 ships he arrived in the Thames estuary with Olaf Trygvasson by his side. London put up a good defence and drove the Vikings back so Fork-Beard moved his forces again to attack the south-east coast to plunder what he could find.
Winter Trygvasson converted to Christianity
   Through the Winter months Aethelred provided the Vikings with lodgings and £16,000 in cash to stop the raids on his land. Aethelred was also the sponsor at the baptism of Olaf Trygvasson. Olaf was given instruction from the Bishop of Winchester.
999 Durham Cathedral consecrated
   Bishop Aldhun, the first Bishop of Durham, consecrated a cathedral at the location where the remains of St. Cuthbert had been relocated to. The remains were at Lindisfarne and were moved because of the danger of Viking raids.
1001 Danish raids
   Danish raids on Sussex and Devon.
1002 Another Danegeld paid
   Aethelred was forced to pay the Danes that were camped on the Isle of Wight another large amount of money for them to leave.
Nov 13 Massacre of St Brice's day
   Aethelred ordered the massacre of all Danes living in England because he was fearful of them plotting against him.
1003 Wilton and its abbey attacked
   Swein attacked the town of Wilton and possibly its abbey.
1006 Destruction of Walingford
   The Danes, led by Swein, attacked and destroyed the river crossing at Wallingford.
Reading attacked by the Danes
   The Danes attacked and burnt the town or Reading.
1008 A large fleet is ordered
   Aethelred ordered England to build a massive fleet of ships. The people of England had to supply armour for the crew as well. It was a huge undertaking but was completed the following year.
1009 Danes repeatedly attack England
   Swein Fork-Beard repeatedly attacked England over several years destroying the land.
1011 The Vikings murder Aelfheah
   The Vikings captured Canterbury and obtained a payment of £48,000. In a drunken rage the Vikings murdered Aelfheah, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Aelfheah was the man that had baptised Olaf Trygvasson in the Winter of 994. Outraged by the actions of his fellow men Thorkell the Tall defected to the side of Aethelred along with 45 Viking ships to help defend England from further Viking attacks.
1012 Danegeld paid
   The Danes were paid a large sum of money, known as the Danegeld, to leave England.

Reign of Swein (Fork-Beard)

1013 Swein Fork-Beard and Canute attack England
   Swein Fork-Beard and his son Canute sailed from Denmark to attack England. Again London defended itself and the Vikings moved elsewhere, taking Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria.
Autumn Emma and Edward leave England
   Forced to leave England by the invasion from Denmark, Emma Aethelred's wife, fled to Normandy assisted by the Bishop of Peterborough. Sons Edward (the Confessor) and Alfred followed later along with the Bishop of London. Ethelred was not far behind.
Nov London surrenders to Swein
   London was the last part of the country to accept Swein as the new king of England. Swein and his Viking army had already taken control of the Danelaw and the rest of the country accepted him as their new ruler. Swein's rule of the country would only last a few months.

Reign of Aethelred (II The Unready, King of the English 978-1013, 1014-1016)

1014 Aethelred goes into exile
   Aethelred had to abandon his country to Swein and went to Normandy to join his wife Emma and his sons.
London Bridge destroyed
   An attempt was made by Ethelred II to take back his throne from the Danes. He was assisted by Olaf of Norway and sailed up the Thames to London. The tactic was to destroy the wooden bridge and so divide the Danish army. The bridge was heavily defended and so by using rafts with coverings to protect those onboard Ethelred's men were able to get close enough to place ropes around the bridge piles. Then by rowing back down stream they managed to pull the piles from the riverbed and sections of the bridge fell down.
Feb 3 Swein dies
   Swein Fork-Beard died. Canute left England not sure of his ability to hold the country but returned a year later. Aethelred sent ambassadors to England, including his own son Edward (later the Confessor) to negotiate a possible return.
1015 Qtr 3 Canute returns to England
   Canute invaded England taking control of Mercia and Northumbria. Aethelred was ill and England was in the hands of Edmund (Ironside).

Reign of Canute (King of England 1016-1035)

1016 Apr Canute attempts to take the throne
   Canute advanced on London for a fight with Aethelred but Aethelred died in the same month. London accepted Edmund Ironside as their ruler. Canute would have to defeat Edmund if he was to become King of England.
Oct 18 Treaty between Canute and Edmund
   Canute defeated Edmund Ironside at Ashingdon and a treaty was signed leaving Edmund with only the area of Wessex.
Nov 30 Canute becomes King of England
   Edmund Ironside died only a month after the treaty with Canute. Canute then became King of England.
1017 Jul Canute marries Emma
   Canute married Emma, the widow of Aethelred the Unready. This helped Canute secure ties with Normandy as Emma was the daughter of Count of Normandy.
1019 Canute takes Denmark
   Canute travelled to Denmark after the death of his elder brother Harald to ensure his own succession to the Danish throne.
1031 Canute drives Scottish Kings into submission
   According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Canute travelled to Scotland where he forced the Scottish Kings into submission.

Reign of HAROLD (Harefoot, King of England 1037-1040)

1035 Nov 12 Canute dies
   King Canute died at Shaftesbury leaving the rule of the country in dispute between Harthacnut (the son of Emma) and Harold Harefoot (the son of Aelfgifu). The Earls of Northumbria and Mercia supported Harold's claim while Earl Godwine supported Harthacanute's. Canute's body was taken to Winchester to be buried. Harthacnut was in Denmark at the time of his father's death and was unable to travel to England because of invasion threats.
1037 Dec Harold Harefoot becomes king
   Harold Harefoot was proclaimed king of England and Emma was exiled to Bruges.

Reign of HARTHACNUT (King of England 1040-1042)

1040 Mar 17 Harold Harefoot dies
   Harold died at Oxford leaving the English throne open for Hathacanute to claim.

Reign of Edward (The Confessor, King of England 1042-1066)

1042 Jun 8 Harthacanute dies and Edward the Confessor becomes King
   Harthacanute collapsed while attending a party and died shortly afterwards. He died without an heir and so the crown reverted back to the Saxons and Edward the Confessor was crowned King of England at Easter of 1043 at Winchester. After the death of Harthacanute Magnus took control in Denmark.

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