On the 8th of June 793 AD, Vikings attacked the monastery at Lindisfarne, a small island off the coast of Northumbria. The scale and the nature of the attack shocked the world. Monks were put to the sword, precious religious artefacts were stolen, and the church’s shrine of St Cuthbert was defiled. This event would kick-start what is now known as the Viking age.
The raids continued up till the 11th century. The Anglo-Saxons who lived here tried paying them to leave or gave them horses. Sometimes this worked, often it didn’t. The Vikings wanted more than just to raid and steal away with treasure. They wanted to settle in this land that was much more hospitable than their own.
The Vikings, also known as Norsemen, came from Scandinavia – where Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are today. They travelled over the sea in longships - long, narrow wooden boats that could be sailed in both deep and shallow water. These ships were light enough to carry across land. They had a sail and a mast but also oars for rowing in case the wind disappeared. These boats had one oar at the back of the ship to steer them by. At the front of the ship – the prow – there was often a skilfully carved dragon or snake head to make people fearful.
They left their homeland looking for better places to farm and live. They first attacked Britain in 787 AD. A group of Vikings attacked the Isle of Portland in Dorset but then went back to their homes. The attack on Lindisfarne was the invasion that marked the start of the era when the Vikings began to settle in England.
Fighting and skirmishes continued for many years. In 878 AD, King Alfred the Great defeated the Vikings in battle and had them sign a treaty. This gave them a section of land called the Danelaw and the Vikings were to remain within it. Danelaw became smaller as the Anglo-Saxons took more and more control. Eventually, the Vikings in England agreed to be ruled by the king of England rather than having their own king. But that didn’t mean that the King of England couldn’t be a Viking! The first Viking King of England was King Canute from 1016 to 1035 AD.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles tell us that in 895 AD some Vikings built a fortress by the River Lea at a point about twenty miles north of London. There was fighting between Anglo-Saxon forces and the Vikings. King Alfred himself arrived at harvesttime and camped near the Viking fortress to prevent the Vikings from stopping the locals from reaping their corn. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles also tell us that after this King Alfred rode up the River Lea to see where the river could be obstructed to block in the Viking ships. The Chronicles confirm that the river was indeed obstructed and that King Alfred started to build a fortification on either side of the river. The Vikings realised they were being trapped and abandoned their ships. They fled overland all the way to Bridgnorth on the River Severn in what is now Shropshire.
We don’t know if the Vikings actually came to Birmingham – there is no evidence left behind. However, we do know that they passed nearby on their travels to Bridgnorth. Their route very likely took them along Watling Street, the modern A5 which passes through Fazeley near Tamworth.
In 1066 AD, William the Conqueror fought and won a major battle at Hastings. The English King Harold was defeated, as were the Vikings. The Normans ruled. And the Viking Age was over.