Viking

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Many earlier guidebooks to Chester give scant mention (if they include it at all) to the Scandinavian settlement in the Wirral, often merely stating that the Norse, under the leadsership of Ingimund, were allowed to settle in Mercian territory by permission of Æthelflæd who effectively ruled Mercia from 911 until her death in 918. There is, however, much more to the story of "Viking Chester".

Contents

Viking Chester

Vikings[a] were the seafaring Norse people from southern Scandinavia (in present-day Denmark, Norway and Sweden) who from the late 8th to late 11th centuries pirated, raided and traded from their Northern European homelands across wide areas of Europe, and explored westward to Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland. In modern English and other vernaculars, the term also commonly includes the inhabitants of Norse home communities during this period. This period of Nordic military, mercantile and demographic expansion had a profound impact on the early medieval history of Scandinavia, the British Isles, France, Estonia, Kievan Rus' and Sicily. The Vikings were known as Ascomanni ("ashmen") by the Germans for the ash wood of their boats, Dubgail and Finngail ("dark and fair foreigners") by the Irish, Lochlannach ("lake person") by the Gaels and Dene (Dane) by the Anglo-Saxons. Geographically, the Viking Age covered Scandinavian lands (modern Denmark, Norway and Sweden), as well as territories under North Germanic dominance, mainly the Danelaw, including Scandinavian York, the administrative centre of the remains of the Kingdom of Northumbria, significant parts of Mercia, and East Anglia.

Expert sailors and navigators aboard their characteristic longships, Vikings voyaged as far as the Mediterranean littoral, North Africa, and the Middle East. After decades of exploration, piracy and plundering around the coasts and rivers of Europe, Vikings established Norse communities and governments scattered across north-western Europe, Belarus, Ukraine and European Russia, the North Atlantic islands all the way to the north-eastern coast of North America. The Vikings and their descendants established themselves as rulers and nobility in many areas of Europe. The Normans, descendants of Vikings who conquered and gave their name to what is now Normandy, also formed the aristocracy of England after the Norman conquest of England.

The Vikings not only raided parts of Cheshire and the Wirral but also settled there. In addition much of the history of the region and the city of Chester in the late ninth to late eleventh centuries had a Viking aspect. This article looks briefly at the evidence for a Viking presence, some historical background before the start of the "Viking Age" and then a detailed consideration of the interaction, both direct and indirect between the City and the Vikings.

The Evidence

The presence of a Viking settlement in the Wirral and their influence at Chester first became evident to historians from place names and has more recently been confirmed by DNA studies. There is additional evidence in the form of church dedications and physical objects.

The west coat of the Wirral seen from Hilbre Island towards low tide. The white painted buildings are at West Kirby (fromm the Old Norse "Kirkjubyr", meaning 'village with a church')

Place Names

Evidence of Norse settlement in Wirral can be seen from its place names, such as the '-by' (meaning "village" in Scandinavian languages) suffix, which is common in the area i.e, Helsby - hjalli-byr village at the ledge (or "village with a rack to dry fish"), Raby, from the Old Norse ra-byr meaning boundary or border settlement, Frankby (Franki's settlement), Greasby (wooded stronghold). Tranmere comes from trani melr ("cranebird sandbank"), Meols derives from the Old Norse for sandbanks or sandhills. West Kirby, or West Church Settlement - the settlement of Vestri Kirkjubaer in Iceland has exactly the same name, which translates from Icelandic as West Kirby. Thor’s Stone , also known as Thor’s Rock, on Thurstaston Common, a large red sandstone outcrop of unusual shape and appearance, is a place shrouded in legend. Early Viking settlers are purported to have held religious ceremonies there in honour of the thunder god Thor, or used it as a place to hold meetings. Further examples include Heskeths field (which derives from hestaskeið = horse race track), Storeton is old Norse for great farmstead or farmstead by a young wood. Claughton means hamlet on a hillock, Neston (farmstead at the promontory), Hinderton (village lying at the back), Arrowe (shieling or hill pasture), Denhall (Danes' well), Gayton (goat farmstead) and Ness (promontory, an almost lost feature of the original coastline).

Some care is needed with place names, as Old Norse (ON) and Old English (OE) are no dissimilar languages and OE adopted ON "loanwords". Professor Steve Harding, who did much to popularise the history of "Viking Wirral", list a very large number of places in the Wirral with supposed Viking names. Many of these cannot be disputed, but some could be derived from Old English. For example, the word "dale" comes from the Old English word "dael", from which the word "dell" is also derived. It is also related to Old Norse word "dalr" (and the modern Icelandic word "dalur"), which may perhaps have influenced its survival in northern England. The Germanic origin is assumed to be "dala-". "Dal-" in various combinations is common in placenames in Norway. "Dibbinsdale" is sometimes said to have marked the boundary of the area of Norse-speaking settlement, and so might be thought to be an example of a "Viking" place name, but it only appears to have been in use since 1831. However, the presence of a high concentration of places with the "-by" ending does provide convincing evidence of a strong Viking/Norse presence.

St Olave and St Bridget

Staned glass at St Olave showing the Norwegian axe symbol derived from Olaf.

Chester has at least one and possibly two ancient churches with a Norse connection. Other dedications with possible Viking related originas are found in the surrounding area.

Olaf II Haraldsson (Óláfr Haraldsson c. 995 – 29 July 1030), later known as St. Olaf (and traditionally as St. Olave), was King of Norway from 1015 to 1028, but spent his earlier years as a pillaging Viking. Son of Harald Grenske, a petty king in Vestfold, Norway, he was posthumously given the title Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae (English: Eternal/Perpetual King of Norway) and canonised at Nidaros (Trondheim) by Bishop Grimkell, one year after his death in the Battle of Stiklestad on 29 July 1030. His remains were enshrined in Nidaros Cathedral, built over his burial site. His sainthood encouraged the widespread adoption of Christianity by Scandinavia's Vikings/Norsemen. He is the St Olave of the now redundant church in Lower Bridge Street.

In life, Olaf was more of a psychopath than a saint. He took part in the Viking invasion of England in 1009. One account (which may not be strictly accurate) describes the excessively violent conduct of the raiders/invaders and eventual murder of archbishop Ælfheah as follows:

  • "Olav attacked it in 1011. One English chronicler left this description of when the city was sacked: “some of the inhabitants were run through, others burned alive in their own houses, women were dragged by their hair down the streets and burned alive; babies were crushed under heavy wagon wheels.” When the Vikings left Canterbury, they took with them not only a gigantic tribute, but also the archbishop Ælfheah. During a drinking-bout the Vikings entertained themselves by throwing “stones, bones and oxen skulls” at their venerable prisoner, until one of them was deeply moved by some sort of compassion, ending the misery of man of God by splitting his head with an axe."

Pope Gregory VII canonised Ælfheah in 1078, with a feast day of 19 April. Pope Alexander III confirmed Olaf's local canonisation in 1164 with a feast day of 29 July. In the bull Non parum animus noster, in 1171 or 1172, Alexander III gave papal sanction to ongoing crusades against pagans in northern Europe, promising remission of sin for those who fought there. In doing so, he legitimized the widespread use of forced conversion as a tactic by those fighting in the Baltic.

The presence of a church with a "Viking" dedication provides good evidence of a sizable Scandinavian presence in Chester. There is also the church of St Bridget which could well be earlier. The dedication was especially likely to have been favoured by immigrants from Ireland and was used also at West Kirby, in the Scandinavian settlement on Wirral. Moreover, since the medieval parish of St. Bridget's at Chester was in two portions, separated by parts of other parishes, it was perhaps once larger and had been eroded by later foundations. St Bridget was probably the first to serve the Hiberno-Norse in Chester and dated from the period of their settlement in the city.

St Olave in 2014, with the retaining wall supported.

DNA

Recent Y-DNA research has also revealed the genetic trail left by Vikings in the Wirral, specifically relatively high rates of the Haplogroup R1a, which is distributed in a large region in Eurasia, extending from Scandinavia and Central Europe to southern Siberia and South Asia. It is associated in Britain with Norse ancestry. Y-chromosome DNA is only passed down the male line. Similar studies on the famale ancestry line are done with mitochondrial DNA (on which Wikipedia needs a better article).

"Viking DNA: The Wirral and West Lancashire Project" is the culmination of several years of research by Wirral-raised Professor Steve Harding from the University of Nottingham, Professor Mark Jobling and Dr Turi King from the University of Leicester. A group of volunteers were selected according to certain areas and specific surnames present in these areas at least prior to 1600. DNA tests on around 100 men from the area who had local surnames dating back hundreds of years. Some names were sourced from a tax register from the time of Henry VIII, others from lists of alehouse and criminal records, and a list of people who contributed to the stipend of a priest. Scientists found two men from Meols who shared identical historical links to Scandinavia during DNA studies, their strongest DNA link was to Gotland, an island off the east coast of Sweden.

Overall, approximately 50% of the DNA admixture of the old population of Wirral, and also the old population of West Lancashire appears to be Norse-Scandinavian in origin.

Physical Evidence

The presence of isolated finds of "Viking" artifacts does not always indicate invasion or settlement, but could be an item lost by a traveller or trader passing through an area. However larger physical objects, such as grave markers and the remains of buildings are more likely to indicate a permanent presence.

In the museum in the old school-house by the churchyard at West Kirby one may see a stone, which, from its shape, antiquaries call a 'hog-back'. The hog-back is generally believed to be a tombstone or grave-slab that marked the burial-place of some Scandinavian chief, although hogbacks are not found in Scandinavia. They are considered a unique invention made by the Viking settlers in Northern England. The hog-back stone bears heavy damage on its top surface and there has been speculation that it has lost short parts of both of its ends (which possibly included "end-beasts" - although not all do). The decoration consists of three bands; wheel and bar ornament on side A’s top, skeuomorphic shingle-roof tegulae (tiles) in the middle and plaitwork beneath. This stone, said to date from the 10th century AD was discovered during the restoration of the church in 1869. It has been suggested that the monument type was invented in the late 9th century, at a time when Viking warlords had seized power at York. However, a tenth-century date has been generally accepted due to the ornament on hogbacks, largely influenced by the Borre and Jellinge styles which appeared in Scandinavia in the late ninth and early tenth centuries.

The West Kirby stone presents something of a puzzle as it is not of the local rock but appears to be from the Cefn quarries near Ruabon/Wrexham. This was a much sought-after building stone for centuries, but the quarries are well outside the Hiberno-Norse sphere of influence. The Pillar of Eliseg is from the same hard, grey, quartz-rich sandstone, as is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct over the River Dee. Despite that some earlier hogbacks have pagan imagery, the fact that they are typically found in churchyards may indicate that they were made for wealthy Christian Scandinavians. The puzzle is further complicated by looking at the distribution of hog-backs through England and Wales - this type of monument is rare outside of the north-east, with only a few elsewhere. The majority of the stones appear to come from areas which were not settled by what might be called "Ingamund's People". However, the coincidence of hogback distribution with that of Norse-Irish place-names in Northern England allows for the possibility of ultimate Irish influence. Tegulated house-shaped caps are common on tenth-century high crosses in Ireland. The earliest forms of hog-back are found in the Allertonshire area of North Yorkshire, those from Brompton being well executed copies of long houses with "bombe" sides and large-muzzled bears as end-beasts, each occupying a third of the monument. Houses of this type have been revealed in an eleventh-century context in England, though not in Yorkshire as yet, and Scandinavian sites, notably the Danish forts of Trelleborg and Fyrkat, have yielded ground plans of very similar buildings. Curiously, recent excavations at Hilbre Island may have revealed a similar structure.

There is evidence from Chester for at least trade contact with the Isle of Man. Chester has yielded several ring-headed pins of a Hiberno-Norse type very like examples found in Man, and fragments of jewellery from a hoard deposited at Castle Esplanade c. 965 have also been interpreted as similar to material from a hoard found on the island. More permanent settlement exists in the form of the remains of Norse-type buildings. Huts excavated in Lower Bridge Street have been interpreted as of the bow-sided type especially associated with Scandinavian sites in England, and what was perhaps the name of a gate in the City Walls in that quarter, Clippe Gate, may have derived from the Old Norse personal name "Klippr".

"Scouse"

A modern form of Norwegian "scouse".

One rather amusing piece of evidence comes from culinary habits.

Lapskaus is a thick Norwegian stew made of meat and potatoes. In Britain such a dish and its variants are known in areas which were settled by the Vikings. "Lobscouse", a European sailors' stew or hash is particularly associated with Liverpool. Similar dishes include the Danish "labskovs", Finnish "Lapskoussi" or the German "labskaus". Latvian "Labs kauss", is generally taken to mean "good bowl" or hotpot, Lithuanian "labas káušas", means the same. Many other origins for the culinary term "scouse" have been suggested.

It has been proposed that the presence of this dish arrived in all these places through the agency of sailors - the "Oxford Companion to Food" states that lobscouse:

  • "almost certainly has its origins in the Baltic ports, especially those of Germany"

Potatoes and salted meats were a standard fare of sailors and Labskaus would make a "less than fresh" cut of meat more palatable and stretch the meat supply. In many modern recipes the meat is salted and set aside for a few days to effect a brief "cure". Obviously, the potato would not have been known to the Vikings (they were introduced to Europe from the mid-Americas in the second half of the 16th century by the Spanish). Very few root vegetables were known at the time (possibly only the parsnip). An alternative meaning of the name of the dish could be derived from "wrapped in a blanket", which would suggest that the salted meat was wrapped in cloth and soaked in the sea to remove the preservative salt and possibly even cooked by boiling the package in sea water.

The History

The homelands of the Jutes, Angles and Saxons were in what is now Denmark.

The political history of human migration and settlement has been the subject of much debate. Views on population movements range from invasion and "ethnic cleasing" with wholesale eradication of any "indigenous" population, to replacement of the controlling classes by new rulers and artisans with inter-breeding into the previous society. Future archaeologists may well find the remains of Japanese cars in Chester, but this does not mean that the City was invaded by the Japanese. Similar arguments may be applied to earlier cultures, where technology such as the replacement of bronze with iron need not always mean that there were "Iron Age invaders". The Romans invaded Britain, as did the Normans, but neither replaced the existing population with "Italians" or "French". The impact of the Vikings on the history of Chester is best seen against the background of previous events.

Anglo-Saxons

The Anglo-Saxons were a cultural group who inhabited England from the 5th century. They comprised people from Germanic tribes who migrated to the island from continental Europe, their descendants, and indigenous British groups who adopted many aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and language. The Anglo-Saxons established the Kingdom of England, and the modern English language owes almost half of its words – including the most common words of everyday speech – to their language. The Old English ethnonym "Angul-Seaxan" comes from the Latin Angli-Saxones and became the name of the peoples Bede calls Angli and Gildas calls Saxones. Anglo-Saxon is a term that was rarely used by Anglo-Saxons themselves. It is likely they identified as ængli, Seaxe or, more probably, a local or tribal name such as Mierce, Cantie, Gewisse, Westseaxe, or Norþanhymbre. Scholars have not reached a consensus on the number of migrants who entered Britain in this period. The invasion and settlement was not unopposed - see: Mold Cope.

Mercia

Archaeological surveys show that Angles settled the lands north of the River Thames by the 6th century. The Mercian kings were the only Anglo-Saxon ruling house known to claim a direct family link with a pre-migration Continental Germanic monarchy, via Icel supposedly the son of Eomer (443-489), last King of the Angles in Angeln. Icel supposedly led his people across the North Sea to Britain around 515. Eomer would later give his name to a major character in "Lord of the Rings".

In many ways Mercia was the dominant English kingdom for three centuries, between about 600 and about 900. In much later medieval times, historians would begin to refer to the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms as the "Heptarchy", listing its members as East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex, and Wessex. Although heptarchy suggests the existence of seven kingdoms, the term is just used as a label of convenience and does not imply the existence of a clear-cut or stable group of seven kingdoms at all times. The number of kingdoms and sub-kingdoms fluctuated rapidly as kings contended for supremacy. In the late 6th century, the king of Kent was a prominent lord in the south. In the 7th century, the rulers of Northumbria and Wessex were powerful. In the 8th century, Mercia achieved hegemony over the other surviving kingdoms, particularly during the reign of Offa (of dyke fame). Mercia was a perculiar state in that it does not appear for much of its existence to have had a capital as such, but made use of a "portable court" with the ruler moving from place to place and perhaps over-wintering at a royal estate.

Victorian historians sometimes imply that Mercia was effectively destroyed by the Vikings, but this is now not believed to be the case. The Viking raiders and later invaders were relatively few in number and would replace the Mercian aristocracy rather than wipe out the population. As with the later Norman Conquest there would be a significant fusion of Viking and Mercian cultures.

The "Viking" period of Chester's history seen as a walk along the River Dee, with distance replacing time. The kings who ruled for more than five years are in blue and those who ruled for less in green. Sweyn Forkbeard seems to have missed-out, although he ruled for a very short time in the confused transition from Ethelred the Unready to Cnut. This is scaled so that Edgar the Pacific ends up in Edgar's Field and Harold (of "Hastings") in the Hermitage. This is 500m equivalent to the 93 years from 973 to 1066. On this scale (which is very approximate) Roman Chester starts roughly about where Saltney is and, continuing upriver, modern times would be reached about where is Heronbridge is found. In these superstitious times Halley's Comet would have appeared three times: in 912 when Aethelflaed was busy re-fortifying Chester and other towns, in 989 just before the Battle of Maldon (991) when payments of Danegeld started and in 1066.

Viking Origins

Scandinavia was among the last regions of Europe that became habitable after the ice age, when glaciers gave way to the land 10,000 years ago. The Roman writer Tacitus (about 98 AD) described a nation called "Suiones" living "on an island in the Ocean". These Suiones had ships that were peculiar because they had a prow in both ends (as on typical "Viking" ships). This word Suiones is the same name as in Anglo-Saxon Sweon whose country in Angle-Saxon was called Sweoland (Svealand) - now called Sweden. The ship has been functioning as the centerpiece of Scandinavian culture for millennia, serving both pragmatic and religious purposes, and its importance was already deeply rooted in the Scandinavian culture when the Viking Age began. Scandinavia is a region with relatively high inland mountain ranges, dense forests and easy access to the sea with many natural ports. Consequently, trade routes were primarily operated via shipping, as inland travel was both more hazardous and cumbersome.

The Vikings built a range of different ship types: including warships called langskip (left) and merchant ships called knörr (right). The warship has oars, is completely open and is built for speed and maneuverability. In contrast, a knörr is partially enclosed and powered primarily by sail.

The Vikings built many different kinds of craft, from small fishing boats and ferries, to their famous longships. Viking boats were advanced in terms of shipping technology and far surpassed contemporary English or Frankish vessels in lightness and efficiency. The secret of the Viking ship lay in its unique construction. Using a broad ax rather than a saw, expert woodworkers would first split oak (in Denmark) or pine (in Norway and Sweden) tree trunks into long, thin planks. They then fastened the boards with iron nails to a single sturdy keel and then to each other, one plank overlapping the next. The Vikings gave shape to the hull using this "clinker" (or "lapstrake") technique rather than the more conventional method of first building an inner skeleton for the hull and then forming a shell of close-fitted planking. The ships were made watertight by filling the spaces between the planks with wool, moss or animal hair, mixed with pine tar or tallow. The ships were all the same long narrow shape, with shallow draughts. This meant that they could be used in shallow water along shelving coastlines and quite far up rivers. They could be landed on a beach and many appear to have had a false keel forward to protect the fore-parts of the ship in such circumstances. Longships were double-ended, the symmetrical bow and stern allowing the ship to reverse direction quickly without a turn around; this trait may have proved particularly useful at northern latitudes, where icebergs and sea ice posed hazards to navigation.

Products that the Vikings exported from Scandinavia included walrus ivory, whalebone, and the furs and skins of animals such as fox, bear, beaver and otter. They also carried amber, a fossilized resin that was cut and polished to make beads, pendants and brooches. A significant amount of amber was used in the "[Mold Cope]" which dates from about 1900-1600 BC. This is believed to have been associated with the society who mined copper in North Wales and possibly indicates trade with Scandinavia at that early date.

"First" raids

The exact reasons for Vikings venturing out from their homeland are uncertain; some have suggested it was due to overpopulation of their homeland, but the earliest Vikings were looking for riches, not land. At the time, England, Wales, and Ireland were vulnerable to attack, being divided into many different warring kingdoms in a state of internal disarray. Initially, the Vikings limited their attacks to sea-based "hit-and-run" raids: if they could get in and out quickly then they would face little local defence and would be safe from any organised reprisal.

A notable early raid being that of 793 at Lindisfarne. The D and E versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle record:

  • "Her wæron reðe forebecna cumene ofer Norðhymbra land, ⁊ þæt folc earmlic bregdon, þæt wæron ormete þodenas ⁊ ligrescas, ⁊ fyrenne dracan wæron gesewene on þam lifte fleogende. Þam tacnum sona fyligde mycel hunger, ⁊ litel æfter þam, þæs ilcan geares on .vi. Idus Ianuarii, earmlice hæþenra manna hergunc adilegode Godes cyrican in Lindisfarnaee þurh hreaflac ⁊ mansliht." (In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of the Northumbrians, and the wretched people shook; there were excessive whirlwinds, lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and a little after those, that same year on 6th ides of January, the ravaging of wretched heathen men destroyed God's church at Lindisfarne.)

The generally accepted date for the Viking raid on Lindisfarne is on or before 8 June; Michael Swanton writes: "vi id Ianr, presumably [is] an error for vi id Iun (8 June) which is the date given by the Annals of Lindisfarne, when better sailing weather would favour coastal raids. The assault on Lindisfarne was not the first raid, as records indicate raids going back to 787/9. However it was an attack on one of the most famous places in the Christian world and a shocked Alcuin of York wrote io Ethelred King of Northumbria:

  • "Lo, it is nearly 350 years that we and our fathers have inhabited this most lovely land, and never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made. Behold the church of St Cuthbert spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments; a place more venerable than all in Britain is given as a prey to pagan peoples .."

These preliminary raids, unsettling as they were, were not followed up in any consistent way. However, the Vikings soon expanded their operations elsewhere. In the years 814-820, Danish Vikings repeatedly sacked the regions of Northwestern France via the Seine River and also repeatedly sacked monasteries in the Bay of Biscay via the Loire River. Eventually, the Vikings settled in these areas and turned to farming. This was mainly due to Rollo, a Viking leader who seized what is now Normandy in 879, and formally in 911 when Charles the Simple of West Francia "granted" him the Lower Seine which were already under Viking control. The Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte of 911 effectively created the Duchy of Normandy. The Vikings were granted all the land between the river Epte and the sea, as well as Duchy of Brittany, which at the time was an independent country which West Francia had unsuccessfully tried to conquer. Rollo also agreed to be baptised and to marry Charles' daughter Gisela. here is no evidence that Rollo owed any service or oath to the king for his lands, nor that there were any legal means for the king to take them back: they were granted outright. Rollo's Vikings would later develop into the Normans, a society with significant military power and prowess.

Alfred the Great

England after the Treaty of Chippenham in 878, showing the extent of land held by the "Vikings". In effect, the Vikings had done to the Anglo-Saxons much the same as the Anglo-Saxons had done to the Britons a few hundred years before.

Alfred the Great (848/9 – 26 October 899) was king of Wessex from 871 to c. 886 and king of the Anglo-Saxons from c. 886 to 899. He may never have expected to be king as he was the youngest son of King Æthelwulf of Wessex. His father died when he was young, and three of Alfred's brothers, Æthelbald, Æthelberht and Æthelred, reigned in turn before him. After ascending the throne, Alfred spent several years fighting Viking invasions. He won a decisive victory in the Battle of Edington in 878 and made an agreement with the Vikings, creating what was known as the Danelaw in the North of England. Alfred also oversaw the conversion of Viking leader Guthrum to Christianity. He defended his kingdom against the Viking attempt at conquest, becoming the dominant ruler in England.

Chester lay outside of the Danelaw but close to its western border. It is unclear to what extent the city was inhabited during parts of this period, although local legend has it seen as a "place of safety" in 783 when Werburgh's relics (died c.699) were supposedly moved there (see below). The foundation legend of St Johns (689) indicates that it was an eccesiastical center prior to this date and there are other tales which may imply some form of continous settlement in post-Roman times, at the date of the Battle of Chester (c616) and in the time of Ecgbert (who occupied it in 828). Plegmund, who was to be come Alfred's archbishop appears to have been associated with the city at some time in the period c875-887. The military importance of Chester was underlined in 893 when it was subjected to a Viking raid. Chester remained important to Alfred's successors. It was refortified after 900 by his daughter Æthelflæd and was the possible site of a significant battle with Vikings in c807. Alfred's son Edward the Elder appears to have had a royal center at Farndon and Chester may have been used as a base by Alfred's grandson Æþelstān prior to the Battle of Brunanburh. Whether Chester was a significant military base after the departure of the Romans and prior to the "Viking Age" is not known.

Hiberno-Norse

The first Viking Age in Ireland began around 795, when Vikings began carrying out hit-and-run raids on Gaelic Irish coastal settlements. Over the following decades the raiding parties became bigger and better organized; inland settlements were targeted as well as coastal ones; and the raiders built naval encampments known as "longphorts" to allow them to remain in Ireland throughout the winter. In the mid 9th century, Viking leader Turgeis or Thorgest founded a stronghold at Dublin, plundered Leinster and Meath, and raided other parts of Ireland. He was killed by the High King, Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid, which was followed by several Irish victories against the Vikings and the seizure of Dublin in 849. Shortly after, a new group of Vikings known as the Dubgaill ("dark foreigners") came to Ireland and clashed with the earlier Viking settlers, now called the Finngaill ("fair foreigners"). The wavering fortunes of these three groups and their shifting alliances, together with the shortcomings of contemporary records and the inaccuracy of later accounts, make this period one of the most complicated and least understood in the city's history.

Historical accounts make it clear that when they raided coastal towns from the British Isles to the Iberian Peninsula, the Vikings took thousands of men, women and children captive, and held or sold them as slaves — or "thralls", as they were called in Old Norse. According to one estimate, slaves might have comprised as much as 10 percent of the population of Viking-era Scandinavia. The Annals of Ulster, described a Viking raid near Dublin in A.D. 821, in which "they carried off a great number of women into captivity". Other sources emerged from the Arab world, including the account of the 10th-century geographer Ibn Hawqual, who in A.D. 977 wrote of a Viking slave trade that extended across the Mediterranean from Spain to Egypt.

The Vikings of Dublin engaged in slave-trading as a major local industry. When the Vikings established early Scandinavian Dublin in 841, they began a slave market that would come to sell thralls captured both in Ireland and other countries as distant as Spain, as well as sending Irish slaves as far away as Iceland, where Gaels formed 40% of the founding population, and Anatolia. Mitochondrial DNA mapping of the modern Icelandic population found that up to two-thirds of Iceland’s female founding population had Gaelic origins (either Ireland or Scotland) while only one-third had Nordic roots. In 875, Irish slaves in Iceland launched Europe's largest slave rebellion since the end of the Roman Empire, when Hjörleifr Hróðmarsson's slaves killed him and fled to Vestmannaeyjar. Almost all recorded slave raids in this period took place in Leinster and southeast Ulster; while there was almost certainly similar activity in the south and west, only one raid from the Hebrides on the Aran Islands is recorded. Slavery became more widespread in Ireland throughout the 11th century, as Dublin became the biggest slave market in Western Europe. Its main sources of supply were the Irish hinterland, Wales and Scotland. The Irish slave trade began to decline after William the Conqueror consolidated control of the English and Welsh coasts around 1080, and was dealt a severe blow when the Kingdom of England, one of its biggest markets, banned slavery in its territory in 1102.

The Vikings and Chester

The Vikings would have a very strong influence on the history of Chester for a period of about 200 years from around 873 to 1066. This does not mean that the Vikings arrived suddenly in 873. They were almost certainly present before that year, although they expanded their presence afterwards. The legacy of this influence would be one factor in the establishment of the Norman eardom of Chester and the establishment of a Palatinate whose existence would echo down the centuries. The Timeline for Chester is dominated over this period by events which involve either the Vikings directly, the Viking-originating Normans, or either indirectly.

Their influence even stretches to the Cheshire dialect: the word "rein" as a boundary or ploughland strip occurs only in the dialect of the Wirral and Broxton Hundreds on the western edge of Cheshire. This shows that Viking settlement was more widespread than simply the north-east corner of the Wirral. There is one peculiar piece of evidence for Viking settlement some way south of Chester at Shocklach where there is a church dedicated to St Edith, who was possibly the sister of Æþelstān who gave her (around 926) in marriage to Sihtric Cáech, a hiberno-scandinavian (Viking) King of southern Northumbria and Dublin. Inside the church, tucked away in a corner at the western end near the bell-tower, is a carving on a piece of sandstone about 12 inches square. The parish leaflet states it "seems to show a military figure on horseback", although it has been suggested that it shows "the Flight into Egypt". The citation in the Grade 1 listing identifies it as a "mounted knight" and dates it possibly to the 17th century. The carving is of a man on a horse with, in some interpretations, many legs and therefore actually may be a representation of Odin, the Norse god, and his multi-legged horse, Sleipnir. The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture also suggests that it could be Odin and discusses interpretations, including the fact that the wall in which the stone is set dates from the Norman period (apparently built in around 1150 by Thomas de Shocklach). There is a much damaged stone cross outside of the church and it could be that the stone bearing the carving was taken from that: ctosses with a mixture of christian and Viking symbolism are know in other areas where the Vikings settled.

The extensive "Viking Empire" of Canute. By 1017 he ruled Norway, Denmark, parts of Sweden, England, and Scotland had accepted him as overlord.

Knutsford is often said to take its name from the Viking Canute (Cnut). Legend has it that in 1016 Canute passed through Knutsford with his army on the march northwards, against the king of Scotland and prince of Cumberland. He is said to have forded the River Lily, or perhaps the Birkin, creating a muddy crossing across the river through the low-lying marsh.

In Chester itself there are some Norse-derived place names, but it is impossible to associate dates with them: several places use the element "Stacks" from "stakkr" - a stack. Flookersbrook is probably from Old Norse "flokari" - one who catches fish. Edgar's Field was at one time "Ketill's Croft" and also in Handbridge is "Grymesdichw Haye" - Grimr's ditch. Handbridge traditionally measured land in Carucates named for the "carruca" heavy plough that began to appear in England in the 9th century, introduced by the Vikings. Elsewhere in Chester land was measured in more standard Anglo-Saxon "hides".

The period of Viking influence on Chester can be split somewhat roughly into several phases:

  • Events prior to the arrival of the Great Heathen Army in 865: The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms are largely concerned with wars between each other and with Wales. The Vikings are only an occasional problem.
  • Alfreds War with the Danes (865-900): A major invasion followed by settlement resulting in the establishment of the Danelaw.
  • The reconquest of the Danelaw (900-954): The descendents of Alfred progressively recapture control of the Danelaw and of Scandinavian York, with some setbacks at times.
  • The quiet years of Edgar the Pacific (954-975): A period in which there appear to be comparatively few issues with the Vikings.
  • Æþelræd's War with the Vikings (980-1013): Renewed Viking agression following the end of Edgar's peace, possibly triggered by political instability in England.
  • Viking Rule (1014-1042): Wholesale "conquest" at the peak of the "Viking Empire".
  • Norman Involvement (1043-1066): Restoration of English rule now with the focus shifting to contact with mainland Europe.
  • Norman Conquest (1066 and after): The end of Anglo-Saxon England, with considerable involvement of Vikings and Normans.

Many any of these periods end with a sucession "crisis", frequently accompanied with an upsurge in Viking raiding or land-grabbing. This may be due to the Vikings taking advantage of a lack of clear leadership on the part of the English or due to the expiry of treaties with the death of one of the parties.

* Events prior to the arrival of the Great Heathen Army in 865:

Mercia reached its peak under Offa (died 29 July 796 AD). Offa's son, Ecgfrith, succeeded him, but reigned for less than five months. Offa had ruthlessly eliminated dynastic rivals leaving only his son. This seems to have backfired, from the dynastic point of view, as no surviving close male relatives of Offa or Ecgfrith are recorded, and Coenwulf, Ecgfrith's successor, was only distantly related to Offa's line. Coenwulf's early reign was marked by a breakdown in Mercian control in southern England. South of the Thames, Britain had been mostly colonised by the Saxons. During Offa's time Mercia mostly dominated the Saxons south of the Thames, but after his death this control rapidly weakened. To the north of Mercia was the border with the kingdom of Northumbria - effectively for much of the time the River Humber. In 789, Annals of Chester (which were wrritten much later) record "Primus Danorum educatus [adventus] in Angliam qui docuerunt Anglos nimis potare" (The first arrival in England of the Danes, who taught the English to drink too much). The Viking raid on Portland in Dorset was the first of its kind recorded in the British Isles, including Ireland. The reeve of Dorchester (a local high-ranking official) went to greet them after they landed, perhaps accustomed to welcoming Scandinavian merchants. He was killed. Viking attacks increased in intensity over the coming decades.

Coenwulf the Mercian died in 821 at Basingwerk near Holywell, Flintshire, probably while making preparations for a campaign against the Welsh that took place under his brother and successor, Ceolwulf, the following year. Coenwulf was the last of a series of Mercian kings, beginning with Penda in the early 7th century, to exercise dominance over most or all of southern England. Egbert (Ecgberht) of Wessex ruled from 802-839, and is thought to be descended from the founder of Wessex, Cerdic (514-534), despite being the son of a Kentish noble. He was sent into exile by Offa in 789, and resided at the court of Charlemagne for three years. Egbert took back Wessex in 802 when his rival Beorhtric was poisoned by his own wife, Eadburh. In the years after Coenwulf's death, Mercia's position weakened, and the Battle of Ellendun in 825 firmly established Ecgbert of Wessex as the dominant king south of the Humber. He was 55 at the time and would remain ruler of Wessex until the age of 69. Egbert is commemorated at Chester Town Hall in one of a series of bas-reliefs showing what are supposed to be key moments in Chester's history.

The fact that Mercia and Wessex could engage in wars with each other as well as expeditions into Wales suggests that they were relatively free of trouble from the Vikings, despite the raid on Portland. There were however some other raids: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 840 says that Æthelwulf of Wessex (the son of Ecgbert and Alfred's father) was defeated at Carhampton, Somerset, after 35 Viking ships had landed in the area. As regards Chester, nothing is recorded of any trouble with the Vikings. There was certainly intercourse with Ireland, especially that involving the Celtic church and presumably also trade. It is possible that the Mercians were already contemplating trouble in the east and this may have been one reason why Offa built his dyke to formalise and defend his western border, although construction of the dyke is believed to have started just before the first Viking raids.

The there is evidence to suggest that the border between what were later to become North Wales and Cheshire fluctuated considerably over the years. At times the border may have been as far eastward as the Gowy or as far westward as Offa's Dyke, variously placing Chester under Welsh or Mercian control. Chester was a Roman Port and may well have been an important port to the Mercians and part of significant trading links with Ireland. At Meols there is evidence of occupation going back to the neolithic, and there is reason to suppose that trade between Chester and Ireland was established at an early date.

Werburgh's shrine at the Cathedral shown here while converted to the bishop's throne. The shrine which is extant in the Cathedral today bears the marks of its complex, troubled history and various phases of destruction, decay and restoration. During the reformation the relics of Werburgh were removed and the shrine was dismembered, with the remnants later forming the burial place for Bishop Downham and then, from 1635, part of the new episcopal throne. After a partial restoration in 1748 of the sections of the shrine incorporated into the thronr, all the remaining pieces were collected in 1888 by Arthur Blomfield and reassembled. The empty statue niches on the front of the cathedral and the lack of medieval stained glass are relics of iconoclasm from the Reformation and the Civil War.

* Alfreds War with the Danes (865-900):

Major Danish invasions of England took place in 865. The campaign of invasion and conquest against the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms lasted 14 years and resulted in almost the complete conquest of Britain. Although eventually fought to a stalemate by a resurgent Alfred of Wessex, the Danes were not evicted from all of their conquered teritory and retained considerable land to the east of the country. This has been seen as a pivotal moment in English history and both the historic events and the later views of them are worth some consideration.

The invaders initially landed in East Anglia, where the king (later to become Edmund the Martyr) provided them with horses for their campaign in return for peace. Estimates of the size of the army vary with many clustered around 3000 men. They spent the winter of 865–66 at Thetford, before marching north to capture York in November 866. York had been founded as the Roman legionary fortress of Eboracum and revived as the Anglo-Saxon trading port of Eoforwic - the Danes installed a puppet ruler (Ecgberht I) in Northumbria. During 867, the army marched deep into Mercia and wintered in Nottingham. The Mercians agreed to terms with the Viking army, which moved back to York for the winter of 868–69. In 869, the Great Army returned to East Anglia, conquering it and killing its king Edmund. Edmund later became the he of Bury St Edmund. The army moved to winter quarters in Thetford again. In 871, the Vikings moved on to Wessex, where Æthelred I (brother of Alfred the Great) paid them to leave. The army then marched to London to overwinter in 871-2. The following campaigning season the army first moved to York, where it gathered reinforcements. This force campaigned in northeastern Mercia, after which it spent the winter at Torksey, on the Trent close to the Humber. The following campaigning season it seems to have subdued much of Mercia. Burgred, the king of Mercia, fled overseas and Coelwulf, described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as 'a foolish king's thegn' (a puppet) was imposed in his place.

Werburgh (873)

The Vikings were the reason the remains of St Werburgh, and her cult, ended-up in Chester.

The army spent the following winter at Repton on the middle Trent, after which the army seems to have divided. Repton is one of the few places where a Viking winter camp has been excavated. Excavations from 1974 to 1988 found a D-shaped earthwork on a bluff, overlooking an arm of the River Trent, and opened a mound containing a mass grave. The mass grave contained the remains of at least 264 individuals. The bones were disarticulated and mostly jumbled together. Forensic study revealed that the individuals ranged in age from their late teens to about forty, four men to every woman. Five associated pennies fit well with the overwintering date of 873–74. The absence of injury marks suggest that the party had perhaps died from some kind of contagious disease, which raises the possibility that there was a plague raging in the Viking camp.

It was at this time that a much later tradition states that the remains of St Werburgh were relocated to Chester. There are two versions of what followed Werburgh's burial. In the first Werburgh had apparently decided on Hanbury as her final resting place but happened to be at Trentham when she died. The nuns at Trentham refused to give up the body and even instituted security arrangements to prevent its removal. Despite this an expedition from Hanbury succeeded in "miraculously" recovering her remains. According to the second version her brother decided that Werburgh should be moved to the more important site at Hanbury. The shrine of St Werburgh remained at Hanbury until the threat from Danish Viking raids in the late 9th century prompted their relocation to within the walled city of Chester. As recorded in the Annales Cestriensis:

  • In the same year, when the Danes made their winter quarters at Repton after the flight of Burgred, king of the Mercians, the men of Hanbury, fearing for themselves, fled to Chester as to a place which was very safe from the butchery of the barbarians, taking with them in a litter the body of S Werburgh, which then for the first time was resolved into dust.

The men of Hanbury may not only have feared the violence of the Vikings at Repton but may also have been concerned about the fact that the Vikings were dropping like flies from what may well have been a plague in their winter quarters.

There are some problems with the traditional Werburgh story. The "Annales Cestriensis" is written in the same hand up to the year 1139 and so was either written at that time or copied from an earlier work which is since lost. Later scribes have added comments in their own hands over periods which far exceed a lifetime. Much of the story of Werburgh comes from "The Holy Lyfe and History of saynt Werburge very frutefull for all Christen people to rede" written by Henry Bradshaw (c.1450-1513). No other chronicles tell the story as recorded in the legend. Some writers have suggested that the "relics" of Werburgh only appeared in Chester at the time that Æthelflæd was promoting her cult. However, that does not realy change the fact that the Vikings were involved at both possible times for her translation. Æthelflæd's promotion of her cult appears to have been part of the establishment of an overall "package" for her newly re-fortified Burh.

Haesten (893)

"Urnes" style runic inscription at St Johns. This is possibly graffiti originally carved on the wall of the Amphitheatre during the Viking raid of 894. As the stone is in the very base of the wall this possibly indicates significant rebuilding after 894, but quite when and for what reason is uncertain.

The Vikings gave rise to the myth that Chester had a castle before the Normans built one.

In 892 (or 893) the Danes again attacked Britain in force. Finding their position in mainland Europe (on the French coast) precarious, this new horde crossed to England in 330 ships in two divisions. They entrenched themselves, the larger body, at Appledore, Kent and the lesser under Hastein, at Milton, also in Kent. The invaders brought their wives and children with them indicating a meaningful attempt at conquest and colonisation. Alfred ("The Great"), in 893 or 894, took up a position from which he could observe both forces. Since the earlier raid Alfred had establish fortified towns under his "burh" system and these provided a much better defence than before. After some confused fighting they made a sudden dash across England and occupied Chester. The following account appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

  • Þa hie on Eastseaxe comon to hiora geweorce. 7 to hiora scipum. þa gegaderade sio laf eft of Eastenglum, 7 of Norðhymbrum micelne here onforan winter 7 befæston hira wif, 7 hira scipu, 7 hira feoh on Eastenglum, 7 foron anstreces dæges 7 nihtes, þæt hie gedydon on anre westre ceastre on Wirhealum, seo is Legaceaster gehaten; Þa ne mehte seo fird hie na hindan offaran, ær hie wæron inne on þæm geweorce; Besæton þeah þæt geweorc utan sume twegen dagas, 7 genamon ceapes eall þæt þær buton wæs, 7 þa men ofslogon þe hie foran forridan mehton butan geweorce, 7 þæt corn eall forbærndon, 7 mid hira horsum fretton on ælcre efenehðe. 7 þæt wæs ymb twelf monað þæs þe hie ær hider ofer sæ comon. (As soon as they came into Essex to their fortress, and to their ships, then gathered the remnant again in East-Anglia and from the Northumbrians a great force before winter, and having committed their wives and their ships and their booty to the East-Angles, they marched on the stretch by day and night, till they arrived at a western city in Wirral that is called Chester. There the army could not overtake them ere they arrived within the ramparts: they besieged the ramparts though, without, some two days, took all the cattle that was thereabout, slew the men whom they could overtake outside the ramparts, and all the corn they either burned or consumed with their horses every evening. That was about a twelvemonth since they first came hither over sea.)

The Chronicle of John Brompton, seems to be the first work to mistakenly have Chester Castle in existence prior to the Norman Earls of Chester. This error was copied by many later authors. The Victorian work "Picturesque England", following Brompton, describes the fortifications at Chester of Alfred's time of being a round sandstone castle:

  • The Danes, the following and more terrible invaders, who had been allowed by Alfred the Great to settle in Northumberland, next assailed Chester, and seized the fortress, which was circular and of red stone...
Hastein dressed in a shroud after playing dead to get into the city of Luna, leaping out of his coffin with an axe and decapitating a priest.

In fact the Danes who attacked Chester were not from Northumberland but encamped in the south. The Danes in Northumbria had not been allowed to setttle there by Alfred, but had conquered it. The obvious puzzle here is why the Danes should suddenly rush across the country from Shoeburyness on the Thames estuary in Essex to Chester. The Danes were coastal raiders who usually targeted a rich source of portable loot - the Danes from Northumberland were busy attacking Exeter (Roman Isca) which Alfred had fortified as a "burh" and north Devon. Alfred had driven the Danes out of Exeter in 877 after they had occupied it for a year. The Viking force which attacked Chester was commanded by "Hastein" a notable Viking chieftain of the late 9th century who made several raiding voyages. During 859–862, Hastein jointly led an expedition with Björn Ironside. A fleet of 62 ships sailed from the Loire to raid countries in the Mediterranean. Eventually he decided to sack Rome, but mistakenly attacked the city of Luna (modern Luni). He tricked his way in by pretending to be a dying Christian convert. Hastein then leapt from his coffin and decapitated a priest before joining his men. According to the traditional version upon finding that the city he had sacked was in fact Luna and not Rome, Hastein was so embarrassed that he massacred everyone there.

Settled back in Brittany, Hastein allied himself with Salomon, King of Brittany against the Franks in 866, and as part of a Viking-Breton army he killed Robert the Strong at the Battle of Brissarthe near Châteauneuf-sur-Sarthe. In 867 he went on to ravage Bourges and a year later attacked Orléans. Peace lasted until spring 872 when the Viking fleet sailed up the Maine and occupied Angers, which led to a siege by the Frankish king Charles the Bald and a peace being agreed in October 873. Hastein remained in the Loire country until 882, when he was finally expelled by Charles and then relocated his army north to the Seine. There he stayed until the Franks besieged Paris and his territory in the Picardy was threatened. It was at this point he became one of many experienced Vikings to look to Britain for riches and plunder. Given the time-span involved there may be more than one "Hastein" as he would have been very old during his British campaign. The Norman monk Dudo of Saint-Quentin wrote of Hastein:

  • "This was a man accursed: fierce, mightily cruel, and savage, pestilent, hostile, sombre, truculent, given to outrage, pestilent and untrustworthy, fickle and lawless. Death-dealing, uncouth, fertile in ruses, warmonger general, traitor, fomenter of evil, and double-dyeded dissimulator ..." Dudo of St. Quentin's. Gesta Normannorum. Book 1. Chapter 3

It has been suggested that Chester was not a deserted city at the time that the Vikings fled there, and that they did not occupy the city itself but only the ruins of the Amphitheatre, which may or may not have been converted into a fortified dwelling. Whatever interpretation is taken leads to difficulties. On the one hand, Alfred does not engage the Vikings in a pitched battle at Chester but simply kills a few stragglers and burns all available supplies leaving the Vikings to starve after investing them for only a few days. This presents problems as to what any inhabitants of Chester might have been doing at the time and more importantly what they did over the winter, with Vikings camped on their doorstep and all local food apparently destroyed. On the other hand, if Chester was deserted then why is devastation of the Churches etc, including St Johns not recorded.

* The reconquest of the Danelaw (900-954):

In 902 the Vikings were thrown out of Dublin. As recorded in the Annals of Ulster:

  • "The heathens were driven from Ireland, i.e. from the fortress of Áth Cliath, by Mael Finnia son of Flannacán with the men of Brega and by Cerball son of Muiricán, with the Laigin; and they abandoned a good number of their ships, and escaped half dead after they had been wounded and broken."
Roman Chester - overlaid on a map of the city prior to the building of the Inner Ring Road. The extension of the City Walls by Æthelflæd is shown as a dotted line.

Many of these Vikings settled elsewhere, including one group which eventually settled in the Wirral. Some historians have suggested that allowing the Vikings to settle in the Wirral was a strange decision. What may be relevant is that Æthelflæd's brother, Edward the Elder had other issues with the Vikings at the time. Becoming king was not straightforward for Edward. A cousin, Æthelwold, disputed the succession and seized the royal estates of Wimborne, symbolically important as the place where his father was buried, and Christchurch, both in Dorset. Edward brought an army to Dorset, but Æthelwold fled to Viking-controlled Northumbria, where he was accepted as king - although it is not clear whether he was accepted as "king of Northumbria" or simply recognised as having a claim to Wessex. No explanation can be offered as to how he came to be on apparently friendly terms with the Northumbrians. In 901 or 902 Æthelwold sailed with a fleet to Essex, where he was also accepted as king (again it is not clear of what). The following year Æthelwold persuaded the East Anglian Danes (Vikings) to attack Edward's territory in Wessex and Mercia.

Ingimund (902)

The Vikings may have been involved in the establishment of a mint and eventually a silversmithing trade in Chester.

At about the same time the Hiberno-Norse exile Ingimund sought to settle near Chester. Ingimund was a Viking who had been expelled from Ireland and had attempted to settle in north Wales where he came into immediate conflict with the Welsh. According to the Welsh Annals, Ingimund came to Anglesey and held "Maes Osmeliaun", whilst the Welsh vernacular chronicle reports that Ingimund held "Maes Ros Meilon". The site itself appears to have been located on the eastern edge of Anglesey, perhaps near Llanfaes (effectively the later site of Beaumaris) if the aforesaid place names are any clue. Another possibility is that Ingimund was settled near Llanbedrgoch, where evidence of farming, manufacturing, and trading has been excavated at a Viking-age settlement. There is reason to suspect that the Llanbedrgoch site formed an aristocratic power centre, and that it may have originated as an informal Viking trading centre just prior to Ingimund's attempted colonisation. The centre itself could have provided an important staging post between the Welsh and other trading centres in the Irish Sea region. The conflict with the Vikings is well-attested in the Welsh records but Ingimunds subsequent move to the Wirral is only based on fragmentary evidence. There is no reason to suppose that the events on the Wirral and in East Anglia were related, but any arrangements reached with Ingamund could have been affected by the threat from Danes on two fronts, and the close timing of these two events is often overlooked by historians. Ingimund may well have been a member of the wealthy slave-trading rulers of Viking Dublin before his expulsion and could have offered a substantial cash bribe, which would have been of considerable benefit to Æthelflæd. This may even have been a quanity of silver sufficient to kick-start the expansion of a mint in Chester. The mint certainly flourished under Æthelflæd, when it produced coins of distinctive north-western design.

Edward now retaliated with a raid on East Anglia, forcing the enemy to return home in order to protect their own lands. When Edward withdrew the men of Kent lingered and met the East Anglian Danes at the Battle of the Holme (13 December 902). The Danes were victorious but suffered heavy losses, including the death of Æthelwold.

In the Wirral, the Norse possibly landed somewhere between "Vestri-Kirkubyr" (West Kirby) and "Melr" (Meols). At Meols over 4000 artefacts and nearly 1000 coins and tokens have been recovered from the eroding shore. The finds, mainly made in the 19th century, date from the prehistoric, Roman, medieval and post medieval periods and are an indication that in the past Meols was a major coastal trading site with links to places as far away as mainland Europe and the Mediterranean. The exiles, led by Ingimund, were granted land in Wirral by Æthelflæd and soon established a community with a clearly defined border, its own leader, its own language (Norse), a trading port, and at its centre a place of assembly or government (þing vollr) - the "Thing" at Thingwall. They also brought their religion with them to "Thor's Stone" (Mjollnir) at "Thorsteinn's farmstead", now Thurstaston Hill. It is also possible that the Norwegian "Labskause" may have come to this part of the country at that time and survived as "scouse". See: Hilbre Island for more.

The copper-alloy "Jellinge" Irish-Norse brooch found in excavations at Hunter Street in Chester.

Archaeology also confirms a Hiberno-Norse presence in Chester itself: a brooch with Borre-Jellinge ornament found at Princess Street/Hunter Street is identical with a brooch found in Dublin, and must have derived from the same mould. So trade had been established with Chester but the Vikings cast covetous eyes on the wealth of the city. In 905 (some sources say 912), the Norsemen revolted and attempted to take the city of Chester. The opening of the story involves a certain amount of treachery:

  • At first, the Saxon inhabitants of Chester placed a force outside the city gates and then staged a mock retreat. The Norse followed and the gates were closed behind them, trapping them in the city where a great number were slain.
  • Following this, the Saxons came to an arrangement with the Irish, who were "no friends of the Saxons but hated the Norsemen more" to meet with the Norse and propose to betray Chester. Unfortunately this was a double-cross and the Norse that came (unarmed) to the meeting were also slain.

Their subsequent Norse attempt at taking the city took on all the elements of a farce:

  • The first Norse attack upon the walls was driven off by dropping rocks upon them. The Norse answer to this was to protect their heads with wooden hurdles supported by wooden beams;
  • The Saxon answer to the hurdles was to pour boiling beer on the Vikings (which of course ran through the hurdles). The Norse response to this was to cover the hurdles with animal skins;
  • Fire would have been the next Saxon weapon, and the Vikings would have countered this by protecting their assault on the wall with soaking-wet sails from their ships;
  • Unfortunately for the Vikings the Saxons has a secret weapon - they threw at the Vikings "all the beehives of the town". For the Vikings, trapped inside their heavy, soaking wet, hide and sail-covered siege shelters - now also filled with very agitated bees - that was enough, and the attempt on the city was abandoned.

"Ingamunds saga" (and the "Three Fragments" of the "Annals of Ireland") repeat the story as follows:

  • "..But the other forces, the Norsemen, were under hurdles piercing the walls. What the Mercians and the Irish who were among them did was to throw large rocks so that they destroyed the hurdles over them. What they did in the face of this was to place large posts under the hurdles. What the Mercians did was to put all the ale and water of the town in the cauldrons of the town, to boil them and pour them over those who were under the hurdles so that the skins were stripped from them. The answer that the Norsemen gave to this was to spread hides on the hurdles. What the Mercians did was to let loose on the attacking force all the beehives in the town, so that they could not move their legs of hands from the great number of bees stinging them. Afterwards they left the city and abandoned it. It was not long before they returned."

The later fortunes of Ingamund's people is not entirely certain: there was a sizeable Scandinavian "ghetto" in the southern quarter of Chester later on, centred on the church of St Olave’s (the Norwegian king, Olaf Haraldsson, martyred in 1030), and it would appear that many of them settled down in the city as merchants, possibly giving rise to the Gloverstone enclave. Some may have returned to Dublin - in 917, Sitric Cáech and his kinsman Ragnall ua Ímair sailed separate fleets to Ireland where they won several battles against local kings. Sitric successfully recaptured Dublin and established himself as king. Over time, the settlers in Dublin became increasingly Gaelicized. They began to exhibit a great deal of Gaelic and Norse cultural syncretism, and are often referred to as Norse-Gaels.

When Edward died at Farndon in 924, he controlled all of England south of the Humber and had concluded treaties with his neighbours to the north, including Scotland, Strathclyde and Scandinavian York. The simplest way of explaining what happened next is that Edward's successor Æþelstān broke his father's treaties as soon as the opportunity to do so presented itself.

Refortification (907)

Mercian defence strategy. The green areas are occupied by the Hiberno-Norse, while the blue are occupied by the Danes. The line of fortifications from Chester to Manchester is intended to prevent a flank/rear attack on Tamworth, the Mercian political center. The approximate boundaries of England for 917, 920 and 927 are shown.

The Vikings are probably the reason why the City Walls were rebuilt.

The Roman city of Chester was refortified around 907 by the Mercians. The event is recorded in the Chronicle (although versions vary) and a cryptic note from 907 that "Chester was restored" suggests more fighting (or rebuilding) in that year:

  • A.D. 907. This year died Alfred, who was governor of Bath. The same year was concluded the peace at Hitchingford, as King Edward decreed, both with the Danes of East-Anglia, and those of Northumberland; and Chester was restored.

Raphael Holinshead (writing in the 1570's) also mentions the same, adding that this was when the walls were extended by Æthelflæd - daughter of Alfred and sister to the King:

  • Not without good reason did king Edward permit vnto his sister Elfleda the gouernment of Mercia, during hir life time: for by hir wise and politike order vsed in all hir dooings, he was greatlie furthered & assisted; but speciallie in reparing and building of townes & castels, wherein she shewed hir noble magnificence, in so much that during hir government, which continued about eight yéeres, it is recorded by writers, that she did build and repare these Tamwoorth was by hir repared, Eadsburie and Warwike towns, whose names here insue: Tamwoorth beside Lichfield, Stafford, Warwike, Shrewsburie, Watersburie or Weddesburie, Elilsburie or rather Eadsburie, in the forrest of De la mere besides Chester, Brimsburie bridge vpon Seuerne, Rouncorne at the mouth of the riuer Mercia with other. Moreouer, by hir helpe the citie of Chester, which by Danes had beene greatlie defaced, was newlie repared, fortified with walls and turrets, and greatlie inlarged. So that the castell which stood without the walls before that time, was now brought within compasse of the new wall.

The dates here are important. Alfred has his first major fight with the Danes (under Guthrum) in 871-875 at the time that the remains of St Werbergh were tranferred to Chester. Alfred has his second major fight with a fresh wave of Danes in around 894, just after Guthrum's death. In 900 Alfred died and his son Edgar the Elder was consecrated at Kingston-upon-Thames by the archbishop of Canterbury, Plegmund (of St Plegmund's Well fame). In 902, Alfred's daughter Æthelflæd is effectively ruling Mercia and a Hiberno-Norse community settles in Wirral after its expulsion from Dublin. In 907 Chester was "rebuilt" by Æthelflæd. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records:

Werbergh - Princess of Mercia, later saint, from stained glass at the Cathedral. This window was destroyed by a burgular in 2018.
  • "A.D. 913 ... This year by permission of God, went Aethelfleda, Lady of Mercia, with all the Mercians, to Tamworth and built the borough there in the early summer, and afterwards, before Lammas, that at Stafford. Then afterwards in the next year, that at Eddisbury in the early summer and later in the same year, in the early autumn, that at Warwick, then afterwards in the next year, after Christmas that at Chirbury and that at Wearyg (Warburton), and in the same year before Christmas, that at Runkhorn (A.D. 915)."

Æthelflæd's refortification of Chester was part of a larger strategic intent. At the time the Danes had occupied much of the North Sea coast and were in a position to threaten the Mercian political center at Tamworth. Meanwhile the Hiberno-Norse had invaded much of coastal Lancashire and Cumbria. The Cheshire plain offered an easy line of approach to Tamworth assuming landings along the Dee and Mersey estuaries, so Æthelflæd and her brother built a line of "burhs" (fortified sites) at Chester, Eddisbury, Runcorn and Manchester. At Chester and Manchester this involved the use of Roman fortifications, whereas at Eddisbury an Iron-Age hill-fort was re-used. The reality of the danger was emphasized in 920 when a Norse army from Dublin landed and penetrated as far as Davenport in Cheshire. With her flank secure Æthelflæd was able to take part in the campaigns against the Danes who hand been driven out of much of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire by 927.

Hoards

2004 saw the discovery of the "Huxley Hoard" - 22 silver objects and some lead fragments dating back to the 10th Century, most likely to the period 900-910, and found by the river Gowy. The lead fragments suggest the hoard could have been buried either in a lead sheet or a lead-lined wooden box. The silver objects were bracelets and a silver ingot. All the bracelets in the hoard have been flattened so that they take up less space. The original owner seemed to be trying to reduce the size of the silver as much as possible to fit it in the original container. Bracelets of the type have been found in other hoards in the Northwest of England and North Wales, as well as in Norway. They are a type believed to have been produced by Norse settlers in Dublin during the late 9th and early 10th centuries AD. Thus the hoard could be interpreted as bullion buried for safekeeping by Vikings who settled in (or invaded) Cheshire.

The most famous of these hoards was the massive hoard of Viking silver discovered on the banks of the River Ribble at Cuerdale, Lancashire in 1840 - this Cuerdale Hoard has been associated with the the Viking expulsion from Dublin of 902, although some of the coins date from slightly later. The Cuerdale Hoard was also buried in a lead-lined chest and contained 7,500 silver coins from all over the Viking world. Around 40 per cent of the coins were silver pennies issued at York by its Danish kings Sigfrid and Cnut, but others came from as far away as Spain and Afghanistan. The latest coins in the Cuerdale hoard are fifty-five pennies of Edward the Elder, a papal coin of Benedict IV dating to 900 – 903, and coins of king Louis of Provence dating to 901 – 905. These suggest that the hoard was buried not long after 905. As well as the coins, the hoard contained over 1,000 pieces of jewellery and hacksilver. Vikings put no great store by the artistic merit of the precious objects they looted and usually hacked them up into smaller pieces to make the loot easier to share out. Most of the hacksilver and jewellery came from Ireland and Cuerdale is only a few miles inland from the Irish Sea along the Ribble valley route between the Irish sea and Scandinavian York. It is likely, then, that the hoard was buried by Viking refugees from Ireland, although other theories have been proposed. It is also possible that this great wealth was in part the proceeds from the slave trade which could explain the huge geographical range of the coins.

Battle of Tettenhall (910)

A raid associated with a religious foundation in Chester provokes the Vikings

The Battle of Tettenhall (sometimes called the Battle of Wednesfield or Wōdnesfeld) took place, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, near Tettenhall (Shropshire) on 5 August 910. The allied forces of Mercia and Wessex met an army of Northumbrian Vikings in Mercia. It appears that the Vikings may have been provoked to invade by Æthelflæd's five-week campaign against Lindsey in 909, when she successfully captured the relics of Saint Oswald of Northumbria from Bardney Abbey. Bede relates that Bardney Abbey (which he called Beardaneu) was greatly loved by Osthryth, queen of Mercia, and in about 679 she sought to move the bones of her uncle, the very pious St Oswald, to there. However, according to legend, when the body was brought to the Abbey the monks refused to accept it, because the Abbey was in the Kingdom of Lindsey, and Oswald, when king of Northumbria, had once conquered them. The relics were locked outside, but during the night a beam of light appeared and shone from his bier reaching up into the heavens. The monks declared that it was a miracle and accepted the body, hanging the King's Purple and Gold banner over the tomb. Osthryth appears in the stained glass at St Johns.

Stained glass window from St Johns showing the founding of the Church (already built in stone) in 689. The "king" in the image is presumably Æthelred who was standing-in as ruler for Werburgh's under-age brother Coenred. One of the bishops may be intended to be Wilfrid. The woman on the right may be intended as Osthryth (died 697), queen of the Mercians, wife of King Æthelred and daughter of King Oswiu of Northumbria and his second wife Eanflæd. She was murdered by the nobles of Mercia.

Oswald (who had died near Oswestry) was the other saint who, together with Werburgh, Æthelflæd promoted the cult of at Chester. A late tradition holds that the cult of St. Oswald was introduced at Chester when the minster was refounded by Æthelfiæd and re-dedicated to St. Werburgh and St. Oswald in 907. It is odd to think that Werbergh, whose grandfather Penda slew Oswald in 641 at Oswestry, should come together again in this strange way. The foundations of St Oswald's church forms part of the Cathedral but nothing is known of the fabric of the Anglo-Saxon minster, except that it was beautified by Earl Leofric of Mercia (d. 1057) and his his better-known wife Godiva, who eclipsed her husbands historical deeds by simply taking off her clothes in Coventry.

In 910, the Danelaw rulers assembled a fleet and transported a Danish army, via the River Severn, directly into the heart of Mercia. There they ravaged the land and collected large amounts of valuable plunder, but quickly sought to return north rather than be trapped in hostile territory. However an army of West Saxons and Mercians caught them at Wednesfield, near Tettenhall, and according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle defeated them and inflicted losses of many thousands including two or three kings. The Viking dead at the battle may have included Ingmundir. Whether Æthelflæd fought in the battle is not known, although her already ill husband appears to have fought in the battle and may have been killed either at the battle or died as a result of injuries sustained.

The deaths of their two kings, Halfdan and Eowils, in the battle of Tettenhall left the Scandinavian kingdom of York without a ruler. This created the opportunity for Ragnall, the grandson of Imar, a king of Dublin, to seize control by a coup in 911. Ragnald had just enough time to issue some coins in his own name before the Christian Danes opposed to his paganism drove him out. This group tried to organise an alliance with Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians but their attempt was cut short by her death in 918. Ragnall returned to York in 919 and ruled until his death in 921. The Irish-Norse dynasty was never able to establish itself securely at York, however. Following the death of King Sihtric Cáech ("the squinty") in 927, king Æthelstan of Wessex (ruled 924 – 39), Edward the Elder’s son, seized York, thereby bringing, for the first time, all of England under a single ruler.

Brunanburh (937)

The Vikings were involved in the Battle of Brunanburh, which may have been fought near Chester.

The Battle of Brunanburh was fought in 937 between Æþelstān, "King of the English", and an alliance of Olaf Guthfrithson, King of Viking Dublin; Constantine II, King of Scotland, and Owain ap Dyfnwal, King of Strathclyde. The main point of contention is the location of the battlefield, for which over forty places have been proposed. One contender for the site of the battle is Bromborough on the Wirral, a little way north of Chester. The connection with Chester is not only one of proximity, is possible that a boundary stone ("Vínheíþr-stan" in Icelandic) existed at Upton giving rise to the name of "Wealstone Lane". The reference to "Vínheíþr" has been considered interesting as "Vin Heath" is mentioned in Egils Saga (see Chapter 52) as being the location of the Battle of Brunanburh. Æþelstān was encamped prior to the battle at a town a little way to the south and, given the time that it took for messengers to ride between the opponents, this may well have been Chester.

Egill Skallagrímsson (c.904 – c.995) - may have suffered from Paget's disease which gave him a thick skull and a violent nature.

Egill Skallagrímsson (c.904 – c.995) - he of the saga - was a Viking mercenary who founght on Æþelstān's side in the battle of Brunanburh. So great was the victory that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle abandoned its usual matter-of-fact style and burst into heroic verse. Unfortunately, while strong on blood-thirsty images of slaughter, it does not give any details of the conduct of the battle itself. When the Vikings and their allies finally fled they left the bodies of five minor Norse kings, seven jarls, and Cellach, the son of King Constantine of the Scots, as well as countless warriors. King Owain was probably also among the dead. The Chronicle exulted:

  • "Never yet in this island, was there a greater slaughter of people felled by the sword’s edges... since Angles and Saxons came here from the east and seized the country from the Welsh".

The toll on both sides at Brunanburh was very heavy, and this may have been one reason why Æþelstān did comparatively little during the few years of the rest of his reign. Indeed the outcome of the battle could be considered a stalemate. After Æþelstān's death, the men of York immediately seceded and chose the Viking king of Dublin, Olaf Guthfrithsson, as their king, and Anglo-Saxon control of the north, seemingly made safe by the victory of Brunanburh, collapsed. The reigns of Æþelstān's relatively young half-brothers Edmund and Eadred (923–955) were largely devoted to regaining control. Edmund's promising reign was cut violently short after only six years, during which time he had used Chester as a naval base. The 23 year old Eadred came to the throne and the chief achievement of his reign was to bring the Kingdom of Northumbria under total English control, which occurred with the defeat and expulsion of Eric Bloodaxe in 954.

* The quiet years of Edgar the Pacific (954-975):

Of the late Anglo-Saxon kings the one most closely associated with Chester is Edgar the Pacific. King Edgar (c. 943 – 8 July 975) was King of England from 959 until his death at the age of 32. He was the younger son of Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, and came to the throne as a teenager, following the death of his older brother Eadwig. He is famous for his "boat-trip" on the River Dee, where he "recieved the submission" of other rulers of the British Isles. The identity of these other rulers is discussed in further detail on the page relating to Edgar's Field. Edgar is commemorated in Chester in several ways: the name of the field and the park being the most prominent, although there is also a notable work of sculpture in the park. His boat trip is depicted in stained glass at St Johns and in tiles at the Bull and Stirrup in Northgate Street. He appears, in his boat, as an anachronism on many old maps of Chester. An inn known as "Ye Old Edgar" once stood at the bottom of Lower Bridge Street, there is an "Edgar House" hotel and an Edgar Place.

One notable feature of Edgar's reign was the lack of Viking raids in the period from about 954-980. 954 had seen the Northumbrians expell Eric Bloodaxe. After the expulsion of Eric the historical sources are very poor, with some indications that major figures included the Ealdormen Osulf and Oslac who held Northumbria with the leave of Eadwig and later Edgar. It is possible that Edgar had a largely "hands-off" approach to the Danelaw and that this helped to maintain peace - he certainly had a law code which promised equal treatment for the English in England and the Danes in the Danelaw, each being governed by their own laws. As for external factors Denmark was becoming christian at the time, with the conversion of Harald Bluetooth in around 960. Denmark was also going through a unification process that involved some internal conflict.

The port of Chester appears, from the evidence of coinage, to have been the main trading partner with Ireland from the 920s to the 970s. While Chester remained significant in the eleventh century, the Severn estuary seems to have become increasingly important for Irish traders. This shift may be observed in the efforts made by the dynasty of Ívar to dominate the coasts of South Wales, and in the deposition of silver hoards in that region. This geographical re-orientation of trade in the eleventh century is also represented by stronger contacts by the Irish with other towns in southern England. Documented examples include London, Gloucester, Exeter, and Cambridge. This change has been linked with the political decline of northern England and the increased significance of trade across the English Channel.

Edgar's Fleet (973)

A typical depiction of Edgar as cox on the Dee - this one is from the Bull and Stirrup in Northgate Street. It features St Mary on the Hill which was not founded until the 12th Century and only gained its third stage in the 19th century.

Edgar does seem to have maintained a significant navy, although the fleet of 3,600 ships which he had apparently amsssed at the time of his death does seem like an exageration by later writers taken to the point of absurdity. Viking fleets are known to comprise a hundred ships only in exceptional circumstances, and most raiding parties would be much smaller. The early English fleets were never otherwise described as so large - a fleet of 3,600 ships at Chester would have been one of the greatest collections of shipping of all time. Marc Anthony's fleet at the Battle of Actium was "only" 500-strong. In 851, an unprecedentedly large force of Danes invaded southern England, carried on, so it is said, about 350 ships. Edgar's fleet is supposedly ten times this size. Edgar is described as carrying out large-scale fleet-operations each summer, possibly including a circumnavigation of the isles, but it is difficult to see how this could be effective against any opponent who did not mass forces into a single fleet. But the Chronicles are quite clear that Edgar brought the lot to Chester:

  • "geleade ealle his sciphere to Lægeceastre and þær him comon ongean vi cyningas and eallwið trywsodon þæt hi woldon efenwyrhton beon on sæ and on lande" (‘took his whole naval force to Chester, and six kings came to meet him, and all gave him pledges that they would be his allies on sea and on land’)

* Æþelræd's War with the Vikings (980-1013)

England had experienced a period of peace after the reconquest of the Danelaw in the mid-10th century by King Edgar the Pacific, Æþelræd's father. However, beginning in 980, when Æþelræd had been king for two years and could not have been more than 14 years old, small companies of Danish adventurers carried out a series of coastline raids against England. Hampshire, Thanet and Cheshire were attacked in 980 and other raids followed. The Viking attacks on Cheshire and Southampton in 980 coincided with a campaign against Wales by the Hiberno-Scandinavian king of Man and the Hebrides, Guðrøðr Haraldsson. Guðrøðr’s main enemy at this point, was Hywel, king of Gwynedd, who was allied with Ælfgar, earl of Mercia. This would have made Cheshire fair game for an attack.

Æþelræd resorted to some desparate measures to solve the Viking problem. The first was the payment of Danegeld, while the second was the genocidal proposal to slay all the Danes in England which led to the somewhat limited "St Brice Day Massacre".

Viking Raid in 980

Did the Vikings destroy the Chester mint?

The 980 raid is recorded in the "C manuscript" of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle in the following terms:

  • "..and the same year Cheshire was ravaged by a northern naval force"

In 970 there were known to be about 20 moneyers at work in the Chester mint. The coins produced have a lack of portraiture which possibly suggests that they were being produced to accommodate the taste of the Norsemen of Dublin. Edgar reformed the coinage: and the number of moneyers at Chester declined dramatically from c. 20 immediately before the reform to a mere five or so during the reform itself. Such small numbers continued throughout the reign of Edward the Martyr (975-8) and during the early issues of Æthelred II (978-1016), and were associated with a huge decline in output and the end of die-cutting at Chester. Die production for the Reform issue was centred upon London and Winchester, but most major mints quickly re-emerged as die-cutting centres, Chester alone among the great northern mints continued to receive its dies from Winchester until the 990s.

The decollated remains in the Dorset Ridgeway mass burial (Oxford Archaeology). This has been associated with the St Brice Day "genocide attempt" (1002). The fact that the heads are separate from the bodies is clearly visible. There is no evidence to indicate that any similar slaying took place in Chester, which may indicate that by this time the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian elements of the population had become integrated.

It appears that the Hiberno-Norse community was much involved in coining. As early as the reign of Edward the Elder (899- 924) one of the moneyers in north-western Mercia bore the name Irfara, a Norse nickname meaning "the Ireland journeyer", and there continued to be a strong Scandinavian and Gaelic element among the names of Chester moneyers, much more pronounced than at other west Mercian mints, throughout the 10th century and beyond. Just when the mint at Chester was established is unclear as it was at times not the case that the names of the either the moneyer or the mint were placed on coins. Under Æthelstan (924-39) at least 25 moneyers worked there, with probably as many as 20 striking at any one time, compared with 10 in London and 7 in Winchester. The mint's extraordinary productivity in the earlier 10th century is rather puzzling. Proximity to the mines of north Wales, believed to have yielded silver along with the lead which was their chief product, has been adduced as a reason for its unusually high output, but there is no evidence that Wales ever produced silver in the quantity necessary for the vast numbers of coins minted in Chester. More plausibly, it has been suggested that the city was the centre for the collection of bullion and tribute acquired by Æthelflæd and Æthelstan as a result of their military victories over the Danes and the Welsh princes. Although there is nothing to suggest that Æthelstan ever exacted tribute on the scale or with the regularity necessary to sustain the output of the mint in his reign, large amounts of bullion were probably obtained from the Vikings of the western Danelaw, either as plunder from those who had resisted and fled, or as offerings from those who wished to reach an accommodation with the new regime.

The decline of the Chester mint, indicated by a scarcity of Chester coins, has long been attributed to the Viking raid on Cheshire in 980. Three of the four Anglo-Saxon coin hoards found in the city, those from Castle Esplanade, Pemberton's Parlour, and Eastgate Street, have been assigned to roughly the same period and were originally interpreted as being linked to that raid. However it now seems that they were deposited 965-970, before the Viking raid. The city's relatively depressed state was indicated by the low output of its mint in the 980s and early 990s. There was perhaps a time of a certain level of national disorder following the death of Edgar the Pacific (985) and the subsequent death of Edward the Martyr (978). The current view is that the 980 raid has been overused as a reason for the decline of the Chester mint and cannot account for the catastrophic falling-off in 973, presumably part of some more general process since the other north-western mints, especially Derby, show a like pattern. One possible explanation lies in long-term economic developments. The shift away from the north-western mints towards those of eastern England in the late 10th century may have owed as much to changes in trading patterns in response to the opening up of the German silver mines in the 960s as to the disruption of traffic across the Irish Sea.

What the evidence of coins from the Chester mint does show is just how well the Scandinavian people of Chester had become integrated with society. Coining operations were essentially a franchise, where the moneyers purchased the dies and the right to stamp out coins from the king by means of a hefty advance payment. The moneyers names were often stamped onto the coins, and the penalty for short weight coins were severe - usually the loss of a hand. The kings would ensure a continuing flow of revenue by frequent re-issue of coinage meaning that fresh dies would have to be purchased. Only the wealthy could afford to become moneyers.

Edmund Ironside dies with a spear through his bowels. The traditional version has him being murdered by an assassin who hid in a latrine and did for him with either a spear or a primitive cross-bow. He was probably not missed by the people of Chester as he had ravaged the city for refusing to fight the Danes.

* Viking Rule (1014-1042):

An English payment of 10,000 Roman pounds (3,300 kg) of silver was first made in 991 following the Viking victory at the Battle of Maldon in Essex, when Æthelred was advised by Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the aldermen of the south-western provinces to buy off the Vikings rather than continue the armed struggle. In 994 the Danes, under King Sweyn Forkbeard and Olav Tryggvason, returned and laid siege to London. They were once more bought off, and the amount of silver paid impressed the Danes with the idea that it was more profitable to extort payments from the English than to take whatever booty they could plunder. Further payments were made in 1002, and in 1007 Æthelred bought two years peace with the Danes for 36,000 troy pounds (13,400 kg) of silver. In 1012, following the capture and murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the sack of Canterbury, the Danes were bought off with another 48,000 troy pounds (17,900 kg) of silver.

Edmund Ironside ravages Chester

Æthelred became increasingly unpopular, possibly due to the high level of taxation to support payments to the Danes. This was especially unpopular with the inhabitants of the former Danelaw who were themselves in many cases of Scandinavian ancestry. In 1013, when Sweyn Forkbeard landed in England as an invader he was well-recieved. The contemporary Peterborough Chronicle (part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) states:

  • "..before the month of August came king Sweyn with his fleet to Sandwich. He went very quickly about East Anglia into the Humber's mouth, and so upward along the Trent till he came to Gainsborough. Earl Uchtred and all Northumbria quickly bowed to him, as did all the people of the Kingdom of Lindsey, then the people of the Five Boroughs. He was given hostages from each shire. When he understood that all the people had submitted to him, he bade that his force should be provisioned and horsed; he went south with the main part of the invasion force, while some of the invasion force, as well as the hostages, were with his son Cnut. After he came over Watling Street, they went to Oxford, and the town-dwellers soon bowed to him, and gave hostages. From there they went to Winchester, and the people did the same, then eastward to London."

Æthelred stayed in London (the only place which did not go over to the Danish side) and let his son Edmund Ironside lead his armies in the field. One of his first acts was to ravage Western Mercia, including Chester, because the population "would not go out to fight the Danes". The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Æthelred died on St George's day (April 23, 1016), and that after that Edmund was chosen as king by all the counsellors who were in London. The allegiance of the rest of the country is not discussed in the Chronicle, but John of Worcester in the 12th century explains that the chief nobles of the rest of the country renounced the line of Æthelred and concluded a peace with Cnut at Southampton. The facts that in the Chronicle's account the Vikings could besiege Edmund in London with impunity, and that Edmund had to re-take possession of Wessex, tend to support John of Worcester's statement. It was during the conflict over London that the later Olaf II (of St Olave) would make a noted assault on London Bridge.

In 1016 Sweyn Forkbeard's son, Canute, became King of England. After two years he felt sufficiently in control of his new kingdom to the extent of being able to pay off all but 40 ships of his invasion fleet, which were retained as a personal bodyguard, with a final huge Danegeld of 72,000 troy pounds (26,900 kg) of silver collected nationally, plus a further 10,500 pounds (3,900 kg) of silver collected from London.

Cnut (1016)

The Vikings helped create the Earldom of Chester.

Another fanciful portrayal of history. Eric Haakonsson takes a rather flimsy-looking axe to the treacherous Eadric Streona in 1017 while Cnut looks on.

"Sanding the streets" of Knutsford is traditionally thought to have made its appearance in Cnut's reign. This custom is to decorate the streets with coloured sands in patterns and pictures, that continues to this day. Specifically it is held now to celebrate May Day. Tradition has it that King Canute, while he forded the River Lily, threw sand from his shoes into the path of a wedding party. The custom can be traced to the late 1600s, but not earlier. Queen Victoria, in her journal of 1832 recorded: "we arrived at Knutsford, where we were most civilly received, the streets being sanded in shapes, which is peculiar to this town"

The link with Chester is through Eadric Streona - who rose to prominence during the reign of Æthelred "the unready". Eadric's character was the subject of very clear assessments by later chroniclers:

  • "..he was a man, indeed, of low origin, but his smooth tongue gained him wealth and high rank, and, gifted with a subtle genius and persuasive eloquence, he surpassed all his contemporaries in malice and perfidy, as well as in pride and cruelty." — John of Worecester, Chronicon ex Chronicis
  • "This fellow was the refuse of mankind, the reproach of the English; an abandoned glutton, a cunning miscreant; who had become opulent, not by nobility, by specious language and impudence. This artful dissembler, capable of feigning anything, was accustomed, by pretended fidelity, to scent out the King’s designs, that he might treacherously divulge them." — William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum

Eadric was one of at least eight children and had relatively humble beginnings: his father Ethelric attended the court of King Ethelred the Unready, but was of no great significance and is not known to have had any titles.

Eadric was appointed Ealdorman of Mercia by Æthelred in 1007, and regained this position even after Cnut became king. However Cnut soon decided to be rid of the treacherous Eadric. His successor, appointed by Cnut was probably Leofric. Becoming Earl of Mercia, made Leofric one of the most powerful men in the land, second only to the ambitious Earl Godwin of Wessex. Godwin was another who had benefited from Cnut, becoming an earl by 1018. Whether there was any family relationship between Leofric and Godwin is difficult to determine although their descendants would have significant interaction.

Harold Harefoot (1035)

Harthacnut was the son of King Cnut the Great (who ruled Denmark, Norway, and England) and Emma of Normandy. When Cnut died in 1035, Harthacnut struggled to retain his father's possessions. He was unable to come to England in view of the situation in Norway and Denmark. The "Earl of Chester" Leofric's proposal of the first son Harold Harefoot's regency on behalf of the absent heir Harthacnut was a compromise accepted by the witan, despite Godwin's opposition. Accounts of the events surrounding the succession vary widely - with the Encomium Emmae Reginae, having Æthelnoth, Archbishop of Canterbury (and possibly Godwin's uncle), at first refusing to crown Harold and a frustrated Harold renouncing Christianity and going off hunting. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that Godwin and the leading men of Wessex opposed the rule of Harold for "...as long as they could, but they could not do anything against it". The details behind the event are obscure. The account of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, version E, jumps from Harold being a mere regent to Harold being the sole king. Versions C and D do not even make a distinction between the two phases.

Harthacnut remained as King of Denmark and became King of England in 1040 after the death of his half-brother Harold Harefoot. Harthacnut died suddenly in 1042 and was succeeded by Magnus in Denmark (an illegitimate son of Olaf II) and Edward the Confessor in England. Harthacnut was the last Dane to rule England.

The real "Game of Thrones" this family tree of the Kings of England from Edgar the Pacific to Harold, shows some of the complex family relationships. The chart also shows the possible candidates for the mysterious Ælfgyfa in the Bayeux Tapestry.

* Norman/Viking Involvement (1043-1066):

Edward "The Confessor" was the seventh son of Æthelred the Unready, and the first by his second wife, Emma of Normandy. Edward was born between 1003 and 1005 in Islip, Oxfordshire. During his childhood, England was the target of Viking raids and invasions under Sweyn Forkbeard and his son, Cnut. Following Sweyn's seizure of the throne in 1013, Emma fled to Normandy, followed by Edward and Alfred, and then by Æthelred. Sweyn died in February 1014, and leading Englishmen invited Æthelred back on condition that he promised to rule 'more justly' than before. Æthelred agreed, sending Edward back with his ambassadors, but Cnut soon became king leading to Edward returning to mainland Europe.

Edward spent a quarter of a century in exile, probably mainly in Normandy, although there is no evidence of his location until the early 1030s. He probably received support from his sister Godgifu, who married Drogo of Mantes, count of Vexin in about 1024. According to William of Jumièges, the Norman chronicler, Robert I, Duke of Normandy attempted an invasion of England to place Edward on the throne in about 1034 but it was blown off course to Jersey. He also received support for his claim to the throne from several continental abbots, particularly Robert, abbot of the Norman abbey of Jumièges, who later became Edward's Archbishop of Canterbury. Following Harthacnut's death on 8 June 1042, Godwin, the most powerful of the English earls, supported Edward, who succeeded to the throne. Modern historians reject the traditional view that Edward mainly employed Norman favourites, but he did have foreigners in his household, including a few Normans, who became unpopular.

Exiles in Ireland

Edward's reign was the time of a continuing feud between the House of Godwin (Wessex) and that of Leofric (Mercia/Chester), later continued by sons Harold and Ælfgar. Both Ælfgar and the future king Harold had been exiled to Ireland at times, and both appear to have used Viking forces to help restore their position in England. The Vikings would continue to be involved in English and Welsh politics.

In 1051 Harold had followed his father, Godwin the Earl of Essex, into temporary political exile, choosing Ireland as his place of refuge along with his brother Leofwine (later Earl of Kent and Essex, who fell by his brother’s side at Hastings) and some of his children, while the rest of the Godwin family fled to Bruges. While in Dublin, Harold seems to have struck up a friendship with Murchad mac Diarmata, the youthful king of Dublin, and his father Diarmaid ("Baldy of the Cattle"), who reigned at the populous fortress-town of Fearna Mór Maedhóg, over a hundred kilometres to the south. In 1052 Harold led a small Dublin naval fleet back to Britain in support of his father’s return from the Continent with Diarmaid’s approval. Meanwhile his sister, Edith of Wessex, the later wife of Edward the Confessor, the penultimate king of England, became a noted speaker of Irish, the lingua franca of the Irish Sea region - in Vita Ædwardi her skill is presented as highly prestigious and equal in significance to her knowledge of Danish and French.

The next prominent outlaw who fled from England to Ireland was Ælfgar, son of the Mercian earl Leofric. Ælfgar had fallen foul of the house of Godwine, and he was accused of treachery in 1055. He promptly withdrew to Ireland and collected eighteen warships. He then sought help from Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, king of Gwynedd, and they invaded Herefordshire. Harold Godwinesson was sent to put down the invasion, but he failed to engage his opponents in battle. In the truce which resulted, Ælfgar was restored to his former status. Three years later Ælfgar was exiled again. On this occasion he allied with Gruffudd ap Llywelyn and a fleet under the command of the Norwegian prince, Magnús, son of Haraldr Hardráði. This included vikings from the Orkneys, the Hebrides, and Dublin. The combined forces attacked England, and Ælfgar was again restored.

* Norman Conquest (1066 and after):

By around 1056 the power balance in England was complex but fairly clear. With the death of his father and the absence of his brother Harold Godwinson was the head of the house of Godwin and effectively controled Wessex. Harold's brother Tostig held the earldom of Northumbria. Leofric still lived but was taking a lesser part as power shifted to his son Ælfgar. Ælfgar had already established an alliance with Wales, now unified under King Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. Edward the Confessor seems to have withdrawn from affairs as he became increasingly dependent on the Godwins, and he may have become reconciled to the idea that one of them would succeed him. However, Edward seems to have remained indecisive over the succession.

Edwin and Morcar (1066)

The Vikings were involved in the Norman Conquest and delayed the Norman suppression of resistance at Chester.

Harold dies - or does he? - a Chester legend has it that he later lived in the Hermitage near St Johns Church. "Arrow in the eye - a flesh wound", I'll be back!

Edwin succeeded to his father's title and responsibilities on Ælfgār's death in 1062. He appears as Earl Edwin (Eduin comes) in the Domesday Book. His younger brother, Morcar was soon to rise to prominence as well. By 1063, Tostig's popularity in Northumbria had plummeted to a new and dangerous level. Many Northumbrians were Danes, and had perviously benefited from low taxation compared with elsewhere in England. However, the Welsh wars needed paying for and Tostig had played a part in that he attacked from the north whilst brother Harold attacked from the South. To add to his unpopularity, in late 1063 or early 1064 Tostig had Gamal, son of Orm, and Ulf, son of Dolfin, assassinated when they visited him under safe conduct. He was also frequently absent at the court of King Edward in the south, and possibly showed a lack of leadership against the raiding Scots. Their king was a personal friend of Tostig, and Tostig's unpopularity made it difficult to raise local levies to combat them. He resorted to using a strong force of Danish mercenaries (housecarles) as his main force, an expensive and resented policy. On 3 October 1065 the thegns of Yorkshire and the rest of Yorkshire descended on York and occupied the city. They killed Tostig's officials and supporters, (the housecarls' leaders were also slaughtered by rebels), then declared Tostig outlawed for his unlawful action and sent for Morcar, younger brother of Edwin, Earl of Mercia. Tostig would eventually end up in Norway and greatly impressed the Norwegian king and his court, managing to sway possibly unenthusiastic Harald Hardrada, who had just concluded a long and inconclusive war with Denmark, into raising a levy to take the throne of England. One factor would have been the fact that Edward the Confessor had just died With Hardrada's aid (240-300 longships), Tostig (12 boats) sailed up the Humber with a Viking fleet. Edwin and Morcar stood against Hardradas 11,000 (Norwegian Vikings and Flemish mercenaries) at the Battle of Fulford on September 20, 1066. William Camden writes:

  • "the two Earles Edwin and Morcar led forth a power of souldiers, whom they had raised suddainly and in tumultuary haste: but they, not able to abide the violent charge of the Norwegians, fled for the most part as fast as they could, and together with the Earles made shift to escape."

While they were defeated Edwin and Morcar bought the valuable time need for Harold to arrive with his troops and, five days later, defeat the invader at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Fortunately for Harold, the Norwegians had split their troops and only some 6,000 of them were at Stamford Bridge when Harold arrived with his army. The other 5,000 were about 15 miles to the south, guarding the Norse ships that had been beached at Riccall. Harold's forces had marched from London to York (185 miles) in just four days and included a significant number of Scandinavian-Irish and Irish mercenaries who helped sway the battle his way. Those auxiliaries had come through the English ruler’s personal connections with the Irish seaport of Dublin and its overlord, Diarmaid mac Maoil na mBó, the formidable king of the Uí Cheinnsealaigh and ruler of the province of Laighin. Around 6,000-8,000 of the invading army were killed while possibly around 5,000 of Harold’s men died. Harold accepted a truce with the surviving Norwegians, including Harald's son Olaf and Paul Thorfinnsson, Earl of Orkney. They were allowed to leave after giving pledges not to attack England again. Only 24 ships from the original fleet of 300 were needed to carry the survivors back to Norway.

Harold now forced his depleted army to march 241 miles (386 kilometres) to intercept William, who had landed perhaps 7000 men in Sussex. Harold's brothers-in-law Edwin and Morcar declined to help on this occasion, preferring to mind their business in the north, and presumably having suffered considerable loss of troops. This lack of support severely reduced the numbers Harold would be able to use in the forthcoming battle. The two armies clashed at the Battle of Hastings, near the present town of Battle on October 14. 1066. The Normans, who were the descendants of Vikings, became the new rulers of England.

Harold's Family

Following the defeat of the English at the Battle of Hastings, three of Harold Godwinson’s adult sons by his common law wife – Godwin, Edmund and Magnus – sought refuge in Ireland at the court of the family’s old sponsor, the king of Laighin and his aristocratic kin. They may have been proceeded by Harold’s legal wife, Edith (of Mercia/Chester), the possible if unproven mother of his infant son and likely heir, Harold, born at Chester some months after the king’s bloody death. With Diarmaid’s support they organised several unsuccessful seaborne expeditions from the Viking/Irish towns of Dublin and Wexford to liberate England, raiding some distance into the south-west of the country in the summers of 1068 and 1069 to the great alarm of the new and still insecure Norman occupiers (Magnus is never mentioned again after the first expedition perhaps indicating his loss). With the death of Murchad mac Diarmata in Dublin during the winter of 1070 (probably from battle injuries) and Diarmaid’s slaying in battle in early 1072 (while upholding his contested claim to be the “King of Ireland”), the surviving sons of Harold seem to have lost much of their Irish support. The last firm reference to the two siblings was in 1074 when they are said to have been present in the company of Sweyn II Estridsson, king of Denmark, presumably seeking his aid.

The Vikings still did not give up all hope of invading Britain. In 1069, Sweyn II Estridsson joined forces with Edgar Atheling, the last remaining heir of the Anglo-Saxon royal house, and sent a force to attack king William. However, after capturing York, Sweyn accepted a payment from William to desert Edgar, who then returned into exile in Scotland. With the trouble at York sorted, William could now finally march on Chester and supress the last of the English rebels (who were still being assisted by the Dublin Vikings), although he had to soon return to the south which had been raided by yet another Danish fleet. It appears that Sweyn failed another attempt in 1074/1075 and his son later Cnut IV was involved in the 1075 Revolt of the Earls. The extent to which Harolds surviving offspring were involved in these later events is not known.

Gruffudd ap Cynan (1075)

The last "Viking" to have a significant part in this story was a Dublin-born half-Viking but seems to have inherited a healthy dose of Viking determination from his mother and his upbringing in Hiberno-Norse society in the years c.1055-1075.

Gruffydd ap Cynan (half-Welsh / half-Viking) escapes after MANY years imprisoned at Chester Castle - note guard having a kip. For someone who had been chained up for years he looks remarkably clean and tidy.

According to the Life of Gruffudd ap Cynan, Gruffudd (c. 1055 – 1137) was born in Dublin and his mother was Ragnailt ingen Amlaíb, a daughter of Olaf Sigtryggsson, granddaughter of Hiberno-Norse King Sigtrygg Silkenbeard and a member of the Uí Ímair dynasty. He was the son of a Welsh Prince, Cynan ap Iago, who was a claimant to the Kingship of Gwynedd but was probably never its king (except perhaps briefly), though his father, Gruffudd's grandfather, Iago ab Idwal ap Meurig had ruled Gwynedd from 1023 to 1039. Gruffudd first attempted to take over the rule of Gwynedd in 1075, following the death of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn. Trahaearn ap Caradog had seized control of Gwynedd but had not yet firmly established himself. Gruffudd landed on Abermenai Point, Anglesey with an Irish force, and with the assistance of troops provided by the Norman Robert of Rhuddlan first defeated and killed Cynwrig ap Rhiwallon, an ally of Trahaearn who held Llŷn, then defeated Trahaearn himself in the battle of Gwaed Erw in Meirionnydd and gained control of Gwynedd. Gruffudd then led his forces eastwards to reclaim territories taken over by the Normans, and despite the assistance previously given by Robert of Rhuddlan attacked and destroyed Rhuddlan Castle. However tension between Gruffudd's Danish-Irish bodyguard and the local Welsh led to a rebellion in Llŷn, and Trahaearn took the opportunity to counterattack, defeating Gruffudd at the battle of Bron yr Erw above Clynnog Fawr the same year. Gruffudd fled back to Ireland but, in 1081, returned and made an alliance with Rhys ap Tewdwr, prince of Deheubarth. Rhys had been attacked by Caradog ap Gruffudd of Gwent and Morgannwg, and had been forced to flee to St David's Cathedral. Gruffudd this time embarked from Waterford with a force composed of Danes and Irish and landed near St David's, presumably by prior arrangement with Rhys. He was joined here by a force of his supporters from Gwynedd, and he and Rhys marched north to seek Trahaearn ap Caradog and Caradog ap Gruffudd who had themselves made an alliance and been joined by Meilyr ap Rhiwallon of Powys. The armies of the two confederacies met at the Battle of Mynydd Carn, with Gruffudd and Rhys victorious and Trahaearn, Caradog and Meilyr all being killed. Gruffudd was thus able to seize power in Gwynedd for the second time. Gruffudd had not been king very long when he was enticed to a meeting with Hugh of Avranches, Earl of Chester and Hugh, Earl of Shrewsbury at Rhug, near Corwen. At the meeting Gruffudd was seized and taken prisoner. According to his biographer this was by the treachery of one of his own men, Meirion Goch. Gruffudd was imprisoned in Earl Hugh's Chester Castle for many years while Earl Hugh and Robert of Rhuddlan went on to take possession of Gwynedd, building castles at Bangor, Caernarfon and Aberlleiniog.

Gruffudd managed to escape from Chester Castle and again took refuge in Ireland but returned to Gwynedd for a third time to lead the assaults on Norman castles such as Aberlleiniog. The Welsh revolt had begun in 1094 and by late 1095 had spread to many parts of Wales. This induced William II of England (William Rufus) to intervene, invading northern Wales in 1095. However his army was unable to bring the Welsh to battle and returned to Chester without having achieved very much. King William mounted a second invasion in 1097, but again without much success. In the summer of 1098, Earl Hugh of Chester joined with Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury in another attempt to recover his losses in Gwynedd. Gruffudd and his ally Cadwgan ap Bleddyn retreated to Anglesey, but were then forced to flee to Ireland in a skiff when a fleet he had hired from the Viking settlement in Ireland accepted a better offer from the Normans and changed sides. The situation was changed by the arrival of a Norwegian fleet under the command of King Magnus III of Norway, also known as Magnus Barefoot, who attacked the Norman forces near the eastern end of the Menai Straits. Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury was killed by an arrow said to have been shot by Magnus himself. Among those in Magnus' party were Harold Haroldson, son of Harold Godwinson King of England. Harold was probably born posthumously in Chester, where his mother (Ealdgyth the daughter of Ælfgar) had fled to escape the advancing army of William the Conqueror. The Normans were obliged to evacuate Anglesey, and the following year, Gruffudd returned from Ireland for a fourth time to take possession again, having apparently come to an agreement with Earl Hugh of Chester. Gruffudd the half Viking ruled for the rest of his life and died peacefully in his bed, aged around 82 and blind, in 1137. He was buried by the high altar in Bangor Cathedral which he had been involved in rebuilding. He also made bequests to many other churches, including one to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin where he had worshipped as a boy. He was succeeded as king of Gwynedd by his son Owain Gwynedd.

Summary: Viking Chester

A map showing Scandinavian-derived place-names around Chester, and the location of the Saxon fortified burhs.

Alfred the Great (848/849 – 26 October 899) fought back from a Danish invasion which saw him reduced to ruling a few squere miles of swamp to a stalemate where the Danes ruled the eastern half of the country. The dividing line between the English lands and those ruled by the Danes was Roman Watling Street which runs more or less directly from London to Chester. The Victorians portrayed the Vikings as an effectively barbarian people who were defeated by Alfred "the Great", who was to the Victorians the founder of the navy and marked the beginning of their "Redcoat and Dreadnaught" view of history. Much of the telling of this history was influenced by more recent political events. It is not a step too far to say that much of Chester's history in the two centuries between the reign of Alfred and the Norman Conquest was significantly influenced by the Vikings. The Vikings did not have the same local political influence in Chester that they did in Scandinavian York, and it is only in recent years that the impact of the Vikings on Chester has been appreciated.

Alfred apparently fought Vikings at Chester. Alfred's son Edward (c. 874 – 17 July 924) regained much of the lost territory with the aid of his warlike sister, Æthelflæd, who rebuilt Chester, then Edward died at Farndon after dealing with a revolt in Chester. Next came Æþelstān (c. 894 – 27 October 939) who may have fought the Battle of Brunanburh against Vikings near Chester and first called himself "King of the English". Upon his death England fell apart. Chester was an important base in 942 when there was collusion between the Welsh and the Scandinavian kingdom of York during King Edmund's campaign against the latter. England was once again united under Edward the Elder's grandson Edgar the Pacific (c. 943 – 8 July 975) who famously cruised on the River Dee, possibly from Edgar's Field to proclaim his "wide rule" over the British Isles. He was apparently supported by a powerful navy to protect the country from Viking raids and upon his death England once more collapsed into chaos. Out of this chaos came Æþelræd "the Unready", who fought a fresh wave of invaders in a long war that was at one time genocidal and was followed by Cnut, a very successful Viking king. Mercia effectively re-emerged as the lands of the House of Leofric (put in place by Cnut) who at times maintained good relations with Wales that were far better than those of Wessex and later the (once Viking) Normans. Leofric, his son and grandsons were the effective Mercian and later Northumbrian counter-balance to the Wessex-based power of House of Godwin, who had risen to power under the rule of the Viking Cnut. Both Ælfgar and Harold Godwinson, sought the assistance of Dublin Vikings to regain their position after exile. The focus of English history only shifted decisively southward with the coming of the Normans (assisted in their conquest by a Viking assault on York), and Mercia can in some ways be said to have survived as the Palatinate of the Earls of Chester, and the principality created by Richard II. During the Civil War Chester would side with its king (and Earl) who once again sought aid from Ireland.

Exploring the History

The Amphitheatre at Chester may include remains of an early Christian shrine in the east entrance and was probably the place the Vikings overwintered. The nearby St Johns has a collection of early stone crosses which help further illustrate the importance of Chester at an early date, and some reused stone from the Amphitheatre possibly with a Viking inscription. The City Walls as extended by the Anglo-Saxon's can be walked around to this day. Chester's Gloverstone may be linked to its Viking past. St Olave still stands as a monument to early Scandinavian settlers in Chester. Plegmund's well and the landscape around Farndon may give some impression of the land as the Anglo-Saxaons and Vikings might have known it. A trip to Hilbre Island provides an opportunity to explore "Viking Wirral". The rather battered shrine of St Werburgh in the Cathedral shows the local importance given to the Mercian royal line, and it is still possible to visit Edgar's Field. If you really must, you can hire a boat on the River Dee and repeat one version of Edgar the Pacific's cruise up to St John. The Hermitage between the River and St John is, according to the very dubious legend, the place where Harold finally ended his days, and the nearby Suspension Bridge commemorates the Norman Earls with somewhat inaccurate coats of arms. The Grosvenor Museum has a silver collection which hints at the importance of the mint once based in Chester.

Chronology

9th Cent

  • 789: Annals of Chester record "Primus Danorum educatus [adventus] in Angliam qui docuerunt Anglos nimis potare" (The first arrival in England of the Danes, who taught the English to drink too much).
  • 793: Lindisfarne sacked by Vikings;
  • 794: Iona attacked by Vikings (for the first of many times). Vikings sack the Monkwearmouth–Jarrow Abbey in Northumbria;
  • 802: Ecgbert becomes ruler of Wessex;
  • 806: Vikings massacre Columba's monks, and all the inhabitants on the island of Iona. Other monks flee to safety in the monastery of Kells (Ireland). They take with them the Book of Kells;
  • 807: The Vikings land on the Cornish coast, and form an alliance with the Cornish to fight against Wessex;
  • 828: Ecgbert takes Chester (briefly);
  • 835: Danish Viking raiders ally with the Cornish, against the rule of King Ecgbert of Wessex (approximate date). The Isle of Sheppey is attacked by Vikings.
  • 836: Ecgbert was defeated in 836 at Carhampton by the Danes
  • 837: Battle of Hingston Down: The West Saxons, led by King Ecgbert of Wessex, defeat a combined force of Cornish and Danish Vikings, at Hingston Down in Cornwall;
  • 839: King Ecgbert of Wessex dies after a 37-year reign, and is succeeded by his son Æthelwulf ("Noble Wolf") as ruler of Wessex;
  • 840: Vikings make permanent settlements with their first 'wintering over', located at Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland (approximate date).
  • 841: The town of Dyflin (meaning "Black Pool") or Dublin (modern Ireland) is founded by Norwegian Vikings, on the south bank of the River Liffey. The settlement is fortified with a ditch and an earth rampart, with a wooden palisade on top. The Norsemen establish a wool weaving industry, and there is also a slave trade. An artificial hill is erected, where the nobility meets to make laws and discuss policy.
  • 850: The Pillar of Eliseg is erected by King Cyngen ap Cadell of Powys (Wales), as a memorial to his great-grandfather Elisedd ap Gwylog (or Eliseg);
  • 851: Danish Viking raiders enter the Thames Estuary, and plunder Canterbury and London. They land at Wembury near Plymouth, but are defeated by Anglo-Saxon forces led by King Ethelwulf of Wessex. His eldest son Æthelstan of Kent, accompanied by Ealdorman Ealhhere, attacks a Viking fleet off the coast at Sandwich, and captures nine of the enemy vessels while the remainder flees.
  • 852: A Viking fleet of 350 vessels enters the Thames Estuary before turning north, and engages the Mercian forces under King Beorhtwulf. The Mercians are defeated, and retreat to their settlements. The Vikings then turn south and cross the river somewhere in Surrey; there they are slaughtered by a West Saxon army, led by King Æthelwulf and his son Aethelbald, at Oak Field (Aclea). King Æthelstan, the eldest son of Æthelwulf, is killed by a Viking raiding party. He is succeeded by his brother Æthelberht, who becomes sub-king of Kent, Essex, Surrey and Sussex;
  • 858: King Æthelwulf of Wessex dies after an 18-year reign, and is succeeded by his eldest son Æthelbald. He marries his father's young widow Judith (daughter of Charles the Bald), and becomes sole ruler of Wessex. His brother, Æthelberht, is left to rule Kent and the south-east of England;
  • 859: Winter - The weather is so severe that the Adriatic Sea freezes, and Italy is covered in snow for 100 days;
  • 860:
  • 865: Great Heathen Army arrives in Britain;
  • 869: Bardney Abbey destroyed by Vikings;
  • 870: Ely Abbey destroyed by Vikings;

Alfred the Great(23 April 871 — 26 October 899)

Edward the Elder

Æþelstān (August 2, 924 – October 27, 939). Son of King Edward the Elder.

Edmund I (October 27, 939 – May 26, 946). Another son of Edward the Elder and half-brother of Athelstan.

  • 940: King Edmund cedes Northumbria and the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw to Olaf Guthfrithson;
  • 941: Olaf Guthfrithson dies;
  • 942: King Edmund recaptures the Five Boroughs (Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford.);
  • 943: Vikings take Tamworth;
  • 944: Edmund takes York;
  • 945: Edmund invades Strathclyde, and grants Cumbria to King Malcolm I of Scotland;
  • 946: Edmund murdered, a wooden statue of the Virgin fell on the head of Lady Trawst, wife of the Governor of Hawarden Castle, and killed her;

Eadred (May 26, 946 - November 23, 955). A son of King Edward the Elder by his third wife.

  • 946: Eadred becomes king at age 23, following the assassination of his older brother, Edmund I;
  • 947: Wulfstan I, Archbishop of York invites the Viking leader Eric Bloodaxe to become King of Northumbria;
  • 948: King Eadred expels Eric Bloodaxe from Northumbria;
  • c950: Leofwine born;
  • 952: Constantine II dies, Eric Bloodaxe reconquers York, Eadred imprisons Wulfstan of York;
  • 954: Eric Bloodaxe is killed at Stainmore allowing King Eadred to recover York and Northumbria;
  • 955: Eadred dies (aged 32) unmaried;

Eadwig Elder son of Edmund I

  • 955: Eadwig becomes king at age 15;
  • 956: Dunstan exiled;
  • 957: Nobles agreed to divide the kingdom along the Thames, with Eadwig keeping Wessex and Kent in the south and Edgar (aged 14) ruling in the north.
  • 959: Eadwig dies (aged about 19)

Edgar (The Pacific) (October 1, 959 – July 8, 975). Younger son of Edmund I

  • 959: Edgar becomes king at age 16;
  • 960: Edward the Martyr born;
  • 962: Edgar abducted and married Wulfthryth of Wilton;
  • 964: Wulfthryth was returned to Wilton Abbey, along with their child, and became a nun. Edgar married, possibly for a third time, to Ælfthryth, widow of Æthelwald, Ealdorman of East Anglia;
  • 966: Edmund Atheling born;
  • 968: Æthelred the Unready born;
  • 970: Edmund Atheling dies;
  • 973: Edgar sails to Chester, and receives homage from the rulers of Alba, Strathclyde, Wales, and the Kingdom of the Isles;
  • 975: Edgar dies (aged about 34)

Edward (The Martyr, Eadweard II) (July 8, 975 - March 18, 978). Eldest son of King Edgar

  • 975: Church of St. Peter and St. Paul was re-dedicated to St. Werburgh and St Oswald. Edward becomes king at age 13, comet seen;
  • 976: Severe famine, Oslac of Northumbria banished;
  • 978: Edward murdered, aged 16;

Æthelred (the Unready: Old English Æþelred Unræd) (March 18, 978 – April 23, 1016). Younger son of King Edgar.

  • 980, The Danes renew their raids on England attacking Chester and Southampton. Manx Vikings led by King Godfred I ally themselves with Prince Custennin of Gwynedd and raid Anglesey and the Lleyn Peninsula. Custennin is killed. AS Chronicle records that Vikings ravage Chester, doing great damage: "the county of Chester was plundered by the pirate-army of the North". Three of the four Anglo-Saxon coin hoards found in the city, those from Castle Esplanade, Pemberton's Parlour, and Eastgate Street, have been assigned to roughly the same period and were once interpreted as linked to that raid.
  • 981: The monastery of St. Petroc the confessor, in Cornwall, was rifled by the same pirates, who in the preceding year laid Southampton in ruins,
  • 982: Three pirate ships came to the coast of Dorset, and the pirates ravaged Portland. London was destroyed by fire. Ethelmar, ealdorman of Hampshire, and Edwin, ealdorman of Wessex, died;
  • 983: Mercian Earl Ælfhere campaigns against Brycheiniog and Morgannwg, with the aid of the Welsh king Hywel ap Ieuaf (Annales Cambriae). Ælfhere dies the same year;
  • 986: Ethelred, king of England laid siege to Rochester on account of some quarrel, but finding the difficulty of reducing it, ravaged the lands of St. Andrew the apostle. Alfric, ealdorman of Mercia, son and successor of Elfhere, was banished from England.
  • 988: Dunstan dies. "Watchet was pillaged by Danish pirates, and they even slew the governor of Devon, whose name was Goda, and the most valiant thane Strenwold, and several others";
  • 989: Comet Halley revisits.
  • 991: Battle of Maldon. An English payment of 10,000 Roman pounds (3,300 kg) of silver was made as the first Danegeld.
  • 992: "By order of Ethelred ktng of England, after consulting his nobles, the strongest-built ships from every part of England were assembled at London; and the king manning them with a chosen body of troops, gave the command to Alfric, already mentioned, and Thored, both ealdormen, with Elfstan, bishop of Wilton, and bishop Esowy, with directions to blockade the Danish force in some port, and compel it to surrender. But ealdorman Alfric sent a private message to the enemy, advising them to be on their guard, and take care that they were not taken by surprize, and surrounded by the king’s fleet. The ealdorman himself, a singular example of wickedness, in the night preceding the day which the English had fixed for bravely engaging the Danes, clandestinely joined the Danes with his whole force, and lost no time in making a disgraceful retreat with them. As soon as the king’s fleet discovered this, it sailed in pursuit of the fugitives; one ship only was soon taken, and after all the crew were dispatched, given up to pillage. The rest of the fleet which was making its escape was accidentally met by the ships of the Londoners and East-Anglians, and a battle was fought in which many thousands of the Danes fell. Ealdorman Alfric’s own ship with its armed crew was captured by the victors, Alfric himself escaping with great difficulty."
  • 993: "This year the aforesaid Danish army took Bamborough by storm, and carried off all that was found in store there. They then directed their course to the river Humber, and, burning many vills, and butchering many people, took much booty in Lindsey and Northumbria. The provincials hastily assembled to oppose them; but at the moment of attack, their leaders Frana, Frithogist, and Godwin, being Danes by the father’s side, betrayed their followers and gave the signal for flight. The same year AJfgar, the son of Alfric, the ealdorman, before-mentioned, was deprived of sight by command of king Ethelred."
  • 994: Leofwine appointed Ealdorman of the Hwicce;
  • 1000: Chester served as the naval base for an attack on Cumberland and Man: "This year the king went into Cumberland, and nearly laid waste the whole of it with his army, whilst his navy sailed about Chester with the design of co-operating with his land- forces; but, finding it impracticable, they ravaged Anglesey"
Family relationships of the last Anglo-Saxon rulers
  • 1002: St. Brice's Day massacre;
  • 1004: Sweyn was in East Anglia, where he sacked Norwich;
  • 1006: supernova SN 1006 visible from Switzerland but not Britain. Some sources state that the star was bright enough to cast shadows, or read by;
  • 1007: Danish expedition bought off by tribute money of £36,000;
  • 1009: The Danish army, led by Thorkell the Tall and his brother Hemming, was the most formidable force to invade England since Æthelred became king. It harried England until it was bought off by £48,000 in April 1012.
  • 1010: Wulfric, Earl of Mercia and Chief Councillor of State to King Ethelred died (12 October). Leofwine becomes earl of Chester;
  • 1013: English resistance to the Danes collapsed and Sweyn Forkbeard conquered the country, forcing Ethelred into exile, but after his victory Sweyn lived for only another five weeks;
  • 1014: Canute the Great was proclaimed King of England by the Danish army in England, but was forced out of England that year.
  • 1015: Canute launched a new invasion.
  • 1016: Ethelred's control of England was already collapsing once again when he died (aged about 50) at London on 23 April. Ethelred was buried in St Paul's and was succeeded by his son, Edmund Ironside.

Edmund (Ironside) (April 23, 1016 - November 30, 1016). Second son of King Æthelred.

  • 1016: Chester ravaged by Edmund Ironside and Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria because Cheshire men would not fight against the Danes (under Canute). Edmund did not last long - a popular story has it that soldiers acting in favor of Canute hid in the cess-pit of a lavatory and stabbed Edmund in the bowels when he sat down to relieve himself (or that the Ealdorman of Chester Eadric Streona arranged for him to be shot from the midden with a primitive crossbow - the "Skåne Lockbow"), though this has never been proven and he may well simply have died of injuries sustained in battle. In any event, the present writer hopes that there is no truth in the monk's comment: "Stephanus (assassin) suffered divers others ere the king sat"

Canute (The Great) (1016 - November 12, 1035). A son of the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard (who invaded England and ruled unopposed for only five weeks).

  • In this year [1017] King Cnut succeeded to all the kingdom of England and divided it into four, Wessex for himself, East Anglia for Thorkel, Mercia for Eadric, and Northumbria for Eric. And in this yesr Ealdorman Eadric was killed, and Northman, son of Ealdorman Leofwine, and Æthelweard, son of Æthelmær the Stout, and Brihtric, son of Ælfheah of Devonshire. And King Cnut exiled the Ætheling Eadwig and afterwards had him killed
  • 1017: Eadric ("the grasper") ealdorman of the Saxon Mercians is killed on the orders of Canute. The "Encomium" says that Cnut ordered Earl Eric Haakonsson to "pay this man what we owe him" and he chopped off his head with his axe. William of Malmesbury describes Eadric Streona as "the refuse of mankind and a reproach unto the English". Northman possibly a retainer of Eadric and a son of Leofwine is also killed. Mercia may have been given to Leofric (Northman's brother) immediately after that. Leofric may have married Lady Godiva about this time. John of Worcester related that:
  • In July Cnut married Ælfgifu, that is Emma, Æthelred's widow, and at Christmas, when he was at London, ordered the treacherous Ealdorman Eadric (ducem Edricum) to be killed in the palace because he feared that some day he would be entrapped by Eadric's treachery, just as Eadric's former lords Æthelred and Edmund, that is Ironside, were frequently deceived, and he ordered his body to be thrown over the city wall, and left unburied. Ealdorman Northman, son of Ealdorman Leofwine, that is brother of Leofric the Ealdorman (dux Northmannus filius Leofuuini ducis, frater scilicet Leofrici comitis), and Brihtric, son of Ælfheah, governor of Devon, were killed with him, although blameless. The king made Leofric ealdorman (ducem) in place of his brother Northman, and afterwards held him in great affection.
  • 1020: Norwegian king Olaf II Haraldsson (he of St Olave - the building dates from 1611), was killed (either in battle or murdered).

Harold I (Harefoot) (November 12, 1035 – March 17, 1040). Son of Canute.

  • 1035, King Cnut 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 (Chester) support Harold's claim while Earl Godwine (father of Harold II) supports Harthacanute's.
  • 1039, Edwin (brother of Leofric of Chester) was killed in battle (at Rhyd y Groes near Welshpool) by Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.

Harthacanute (March 17, 1040 – June 8, 1042). Son of Canute.

  • 1041, Harthacanute orders Leofric and his other earls to plunder and burn Worcester, and lay waste the whole area

Edward the Confessor (Eadweard II) (1042 – 5 January 1066). Son of Ethelred the Unready.

  • 1043 Earl Leofric (comes of Chester), founds Coventry Abbey; gives grant of land by charter;
  • 1051: Earl Leofric supported Edward the Confessor when he came under threat at Gloucester from Earl Godwin. Through his efforts civil war was averted, and in accordance with his advice the settlement of the dispute was referred to the Witan. Earl Godwin and his family were outlawed for a time;
  • 1052: The historical Macbeth, then king of Scotand, was involved indirectly in the strife in the Kingdom of England between Godwin, Earl of Wessex and Edward the Confessor when he received a number of Norman exiles from England in his court;
  • 1053: Godwin of Essex dies;
  • 1054, July 4th, supernova SN 1054 (the precursor of the Crab nebula) appears in Taurus. Edward's Earl of Northumbria, Siward, led a very large invasion of Scotland. The campaign led to a bloody battle in which the Annals of Ulster report 3,000 Scots and 1,500 English dead, (i.e. very many on both sides) and one of Siward's sons and a son-in-law were among the dead;
  • 1057, Chester Chronicle records: "Leofric, earl of Chester, in the time of S. Edward, king and confessor, repaired, and conferred privileges on the collegiate church of S. John the Baptist, and the church of S. Werburg situate within the city as William of Malmesbury relates in his Chronicle, De Gestis Anglorum, Book 2". Earl Leofric dies. He is succeeded by Ælfgar. Harold Godwinson becomes Earl of Wessex when his father Godwin choked on a piece of bread while denying any disloyalty to the king. Ælfgar is again exiled for treason. The shrine of St Werburgh supposedly strikes an attacking Welsh king Gruffydd ap Llywelyn blind;
  • 1058 Ælfgar, supported by the Welsh and Norwegians, unsuccessfully attacks the English coast; he is nonetheless re-instated as Earl of Mercia. Edith of Mercia (Ealdgyth) marries her first husband Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Wales, King of Gwynedd, Powys, Gwent, Glywysing, and Deheubarth;
  • 1062, Ælfgar, son of Earl Leofric of Mercia dies. Edwin becomes the last Saxon Earl of Chester (his sister, Ealdgyth will later marry Harold II);
  • 1063, Earl Harold (later Harold II) attacked Gruffydd ap Llywelyn's (for ap Cynan, see below) palace at Rhuddlan in Flintshire using Chester as his base. Gruffydd dies (at the hands of his own troops);

Harold II(5 January 1066 (aged 44) — 14 October 1066). Had no claim to the throne by birth.

  • 1066: Halley's comet puts in an appearance. Norman invasion.

William I

  • 1067: Harolds son born at Chester;
  • 1068: Edwin and Morcar rebel against William, as does Eadric the Wild. Harolds older children attempt invasion with Irish support;
  • 1072: William invades Scotland, Edgar flees to Flanders;
  • 1078: William pardons Morcar on his deathbed;

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