Everyone loves The Vikings. That’s because everyone is at least a 1,000 years away from them and weren’t on the receiving end of their raids, incursions and invasions. Historians point out that the Vikings also farmed, traded and settled; Historians also have to deal with the fact that the Vikings pushed out other folk who were farming, trading and settled there at the time.
The Vikings comprised
Danes: (remember those Jutes? See), who’d been itching to get payback and having honed their skills fighting mainland Saxons, Franks etc reckoned now was a good a time as any.
Norwegians: At this stage there were numerous clans and sort of kingdoms with elder sons inheriting, so younger sons, cousins etc decided as they were Young Men now was the time to Go West.
Swedes: Most of these opted for going East and discovering Russia, which couldn’t have been that hard.
A Few Friesians: They just came along because they liked cowing folk.
As it will have been observed the Vikings in general knew a thing or two about fighting, which was hard luck if you didn’t and not much fun if you did but didn’t think it the most important thing in your life (a logical assumption). Tactics were fairly basic; a Viking roared, waved his axe or sword and charged the opposition; this generally worked. Amongst Vikings were enthusiasts known as berserkers, in addition to the roaring and charging, they also babbled, bit their shields, sliced small bits off of themselves and didn’t seem to notice large bits being sliced off by the foe. Some sociologists say the closest we have to today are traders in a stock exchange but these are pale imitations; you would do better to watch a writer when their computer crashes, loses their entire work or Word insists what they have written is a Reflex Pronoun, Fragment or written a phrase the wrong way.
In addition, as the Vikings were quite an egalitarian society (providing you weren’t a slave and knew your place), women were able to be Shield Maidens and accompany the men into battle doing their own roaring, charging and slaughtering. Some married great warriors and when there were marital arguments everyone else retired to a safe distance and made bets on the winner.
The Effect on these Isles was as follows
The Big Bit of The Isles
The Vikings first tuned up in these Isles in or about in 793 raiding and slaughtering acquiring booty, slaves, causing a high body count and a reputation NOT as fun-loving free-wheeling sorts. These raids went so very well (for the Vikings that is). So in 850 they took Thanet in Kent AND as we all should know by now this had belonged to the Jutes who shoved the Britons out, before being shoved out by the Saxons; as the Britons were too far away and hadn’t lodged an appeal, History can only judge in favour of The Vikings on the behalf of their ancestral Jutes. In 864 came The Great Heathen Army led by Ivar The Boneless and his brothers Halfdan and Ubba; but unlike him it is presumed both had been brought up on a balanced and calcium rich diet. Unhappily for History of These Isles the more evocative brothers Bjorn Ironside and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye don’t get much of a mention. To be fair to these colourful lads their father Ragnar and been thrown in a pit of snakes by the King of Northumbria and in those days a letter saying ‘Mistakes were made but lessons have been learnt’ was not going to help. The said king suffered a long gruesome death of at least an R or in the UK 15 status. They then proceeded to sweep in all directions; the locals were confounded; they’d never met such tidy barbarians.
Due to the multiplicity of Irish kings and thus titchy kingdoms, large civic works were not very common. When the Vikings turned (750-800ish) up for the raiding, pillaging and so forth and found there was not much in the way of stout places for stout folk to winter in, they set to building Limerick (for poetry and whimsical jests), Waterford (ready for when crystal was invented), Cork (and why not) and Dublin (for the pubs). They then proceeded to fight with any number of stubborn kings or mix with the local population (in all sorts of ways). As this was, by Viking Standards almost convivial (unless you were a monk or a stubborn king), the Irish did not notice that the Isle of Mann was also appropriated by the Vikings (unless you were a local noble). Even so Ireland did not see everything The Viking Way, and many did look calculatingly at Dublin (see The Pubs).
The Picts were no sooner getting everyone sorted out into being Scottish when the Vikings turned up (times differ due to tides). Some Vikings claimed that the Orkneys Isles were theirs anyway because they were closer to Norway than Scotland and while they were about it they’d have those Shetland Isles and the Hebrides too and to keep things neat those Faroes Isles as well. Other Vikings were actually on the run from even more fierce Vikings, but pretended to be raiders and invaders. So despite having very heroic sounding kings such as Eógan mac Óengusa of Fortriu and Riata Áed mac Boanta of Dál the Scots suffered defeats and lost bits of Scotland. Having said that, because like most new arrivals The Vikings were confused by who was Scots and who was not, they did not have things all their own way. In fact they had to sometimes cheat and sneak over from Northumbria, which was now theirs (see The Big Bit of The Isles).
Some Vikings did land upon various bits of the welsh coast. Inland incursions were halted by a very clever plan. Whenever Vikings landed the local king gathered together as many men as he could and hid them behind the usual hills, they would then sing out loudly and lustily. The Vikings thinking, that if those were just the bards, how big was the army ?Thus would not advance. In this way they were contained and Welsh Male Voice Choirs were invented.
Thus it can be seen that whereas the Vikings did not conquer The Isles, there were not many places that had not heard of them; particularly with all that roaring. (Apart from inland Wales- see Welsh Male Voice Choirs).
In the next seminar we shall examine how the local kings, nobles etc rose to the challenge and what the Vikings did about that.