19 November 2009

The Viking 'Great Army' of 865

865 “The Great Army” The Danes (recruited from the fjords of Norway, also Denmark, W.Baltic and Frisian islands) land a massive invasion fleet in E.Anglia, led by the sons of Ragnar- Ivar the ‘boneless (helping from Dublin) as the eldest and leader, with Ubba and Halfdan.

They invaded in supposed revenge for ragnar’s death (in a pitful of snakes by Aelle of Northumbria) and their Norse ally- “Olaf the White” (Ivar’s co-ruler of Dublin and now overlord of the Picts and Scots) attacked British Strathclyde in Scotland- maybe to prevent any alliance between the northern English and empathetic Britons?

The E.Anglian army is quickly subdued and the host wintered 865/6 to spend a year draining the locality of supplies and horses, plus Danegeld- for the next phase of their conquest and, fully stocked up with supplies of grain, horses and Danegeld, they head north for Northumbria (alledgedly to avenge their father?)

866 York This important town (Northumbrias capital) fell on Nov 1st. Home of sea trade, commerce and the seat of Archbishop Wulfhere (of questionable loyalty under Viking rule).

At the time, Northumbria was divided by civil war and Osbert (the ‘lgitimate king’) was ousted by the people for the tyrannical Aelle (“not born of the royal line”), and when the Danes advanced they made peace and moved on York together.

Unfortunately for the York citizens, the Northumbrian allies arrived some months later- by which time the Danes were well-defended behind the walls, having laid a trap. Allowing the allies to storm York, the Vikings eventually killed the leaders and 8 earldormen, with a huge number of their men.

The Vikings then moved north against Northumbria and suppressed the region south of the Tyne. They then placed an Englishman- Ecgbert, as earl of Northumbria as their puppet ruler (d.873), The Danes now moved south.

868 Mercia the Great army split- Ivar headed north to war in Scotland, (taking advantage of ally Olaf the White’s sailing to Norway) setting off to claim Dublin and Jorvik kingship, and to crush the Britons of Strathclyde, whilst Ubba and Halfdan (left in charge by Ivar) headed into Mercia, which was defended by earl Eadburh- brother-inlaw of the current king Athelred. They continued south for Wessex.

Nottingham fell to the Danes and Burghred, ruler of Mercia, consulted his witan. Appealing to his Wessex kinsmen (Aethelred agreed to help), and he amassed “an ‘immense army’ from every part of the kingdom” (Wessex) and sped north with his younger brother Alfred, and joined the Mercians in laying siege to Nottingham.

The Danes, heavily outnumbered, wisely stayed behind the walls and didn’t present their foes with a chance of battle, knowing that impatience and boredom would dissolve the army (and playing on their enemies’ rivalry), also the fyrd would need to reap harvests (this was before Alfred’s reforms).

The walls proved impregnable (did the allies try attacking?) and the Wessex army decamped and marched home (why was Athelred forced to return home- revolt?), leaving the abandoned Burghred, now with the military/political initiative removed, no choice but to submit to the Danes (maybe why he later harboured the quisling ousted ruler of Northumbria- Egbert in 872 and the ousted earlorman Wulfhere in 878?)

The Danes returned to brutally crush a Northumbrian revolt against their rule, which had arisen through grudging resentment at their rule.

869 (Autumn), the Danes returned to E.Anglia in a two-pronged invasion, Ivar marched overland, controlling the Icknield Way and brutally massacring anyone in his path from York southwards (especially churchmen at Castleford, Doncaster, Lincoln & during the slaughter at Peterborough, thenthrough Eldernell, March and Denver) and Ubba led a well-concerted sea assault (pre-arranged to sail into the Wash and land to meet Ivar there?).

United, the superarmy now leads an attack on Thetford, E.Anglia. This is where local thegn Edmund (St) was captured, beaten, tortured and shot to death with viking arrows, before being beheaded. He was soon after venerated as a saint, esteemed by both vikings and Saxons alike.