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The Vikings Take Part in the History of Britain

If you take a look at the other pages on this website you will find that the history of Britain is very complex and long. First the Celts, then the Romans and then the Anglo-Saxons. But the history of Britain does not finish here. There is a lot more to learn about the history of Britain.

Towards the end of the 8th century, new raiders arrived to the British Isles. These were the Vikings. The Vikings came from Norway and Denmark. The arrival of the Vikings was very aggressive. They burnt churches and monasteries. They finally invaded Britain in 865 and the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms could not keep them out. Only King Alfred in Wessex held resistance against the Vikings, who were already in control of most of England. These were the only Anglo-Saxons in the history of Britain that defeated the Vikings in a decisive battle in 878.

The Danelaw, that is, the Viking rule, was recognized in the east and north of England and Alfred was recognized as king in the rest of the country. Alfred built walled settlements to keep the Danes out. These settlements were called “burghs”, now usually spelt "borough" and used in the endings of places names.

After decades of peace, the Vikings started raiding westwards, and the Saxon King of the time, Ethelred, set a tax on his people to pay the Vikings to stay away. This tax was called "Danegeld". This was the beginning of a regular tax system in the history of Britain.

After the death of Ethelred, the history of Britain is a little complicated. As there was no king, and the Danish Viking king Cnut already controlled most of England, he became the new ruler. When he died in 1035, his son died short after and there was no successor to the thrown. The Witan chose Edward, one of Saxon Ethelred's sons, to become king. Edward was known as The Confessor and he was more interested in Church than in Kingship.

When Edward died without an obvious heir, the question of who should be his successor was very important in the history of Britain. The Witan chose Harold to follow him as king. Although Harold had no royal blood, he was very brave and skillful and was good for the throne of England.

Duke William of Normandy challenged Harold’s right to the English throne, but Harold did not resign the throne. However, in 1066 when Harold had to march north into Yorkshire to defeat the Danish Vikings who had not given up their claim to the English throne either, William landed in England with his army. Harold’s men were tired to battle again, but they still marched south fast to meet William’s armies. As William’s army was small, Harold did not wait for all his army to gather and fought against the enemy anyway. The Norman soldiers were much better armed and organized. Harold was defeated and killed. After this, William was crowned king of England, and a new period for the history of Britain began.




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