As we get ready for the premiere of BBC AMERICA’s Last Kingdom on October 10, the retelling of the Vikings’ raid on early England, we thought we might revisit some Viking landings and battle sites.
The TV series, starring Matthew Macfadyen (Ripper Street), David Dawson (Ripper Street), and Alexander Dreymon (American Horror Story), is an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell‘s series of historical novels The Saxon Stories.
Let’s take a brief tour of Great Britain, before it was Great Britain, trailing the Vikings’ moves, leading us up to the reign of King Alfred the Great (where we pick up in The Last Kingdom):
1. The Vikings Arrive
The Scandinavian Vikings, arriving from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, invaded what is now known as England in 793 A.D. Three longships were spotted on the northeast coast, which historians guesstimate as Portland Harbour, pictured above.
2. Lindisfarne Monastery
The first attack was on Lindisfarne Monastery in 793 A.D., slaughtering the monks and stealing their treasures. Those who survived were captured and taken by the Vikings to be sold into slavery. Word of the attack spread through Northumbria (now northern England and southeast Scotland) and Europe. A priory was built on the site of the Anglo-Saxon monastery in 1093, where ruins still stand.
The vikings returned in 794 A.D., landing near Jarrow, England. Again they attacked a monastery, but this time around the English won, sending the Vikings back to Denmark. The Danes were shaken up and stayed put for forty years, leaving the English at peace. Jarrow is located on the River Tyne, in northeast England, with a population of approximately 43,000 people.
Things were quiet for a while, but the Vikings did make their return in 835 A.D., colonizing the Shetland Islands, in England’s neighboring Scotland. The warriors preferred the climate of the islands to their severe native climate, becoming farmers after settling down. Shetland consists of a group of 100 islands with approximately 900 miles of coastline and a population of around 23,000, according to Historic U.K. If you swing by Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands, on the last Tuesday of January, you’ll be witness to their Up Helly Aa fire festival, a celebration of Shetland history, with Vikings and all.
The people of Northumbria, now northern England and southeast Scotland, were under two different kings in the ninth century. The divided groups united to fight the Viking invaders, and were able to drive the Scandinavians back beyond the city of York’s walls. But the natives let their guards down too soon, with the Vikings returning and winning the battle of York in 867 A.D. Modern-day York is home to the Jorvik Viking Centre, which offers a tour of a recreated Viking settlement, with actual artifacts from the time.
The fortress in Dumbarton, Scotland, was destroyed by the Vikings in 870 A.D. The structure and its men were the kingdom of Alclud’s stronghold against the invasion, but it wasn’t strong enough. In 872 A.D., Ivar, King of the Norsemen, retired and quietly passed away in Dublin, Ireland after capturing Dumbarton Rock, known as Brythonic Strathclyde, Dumbarton at the time.
7. Alfred the Great of England
Prince Alfred, before he was king, led the English into the Battle of Ashdown in 871 A.D. His brother Ethelred was king, but decided to turn to prayer before the battle. Alfred took it upon himself to make the decision to move forward. The English prevailed in this battle, and Alfred was made king soon after when his brother fell ill and passed away. King Ethelred had sons who were next in line to the throne, but Alfred was made king, and a great one at that. The exact location of the battle is unknown, but it’s believed to have happened somewhere in what is now Berkshire, England.
Hogbacks are stone Anglo-Scananavian sculptures used to mark graves. St. Thomas’ Church, in Brompton, England, has the largest collection, with five hogback stones. The church was built in the 12th century, but the stones date back to the 10th century, marking grave sites for the Vikings who settled in early England. You can find examples of hogback monuments here.
9. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
The collection of annals was created during the reign of King Alfred. The original manuscript is no longer in existence, but nine manuscripts have survived, with seven located in the British Museum. The chronicle tells the history of Britain, with multiple scribes contributing. An online edition is available here. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle can provide more details to the highlights listed above.
The BBC AMERICA original series The Last Kingdom premieres Saturday, October 10 at 10/9c. Watch the trailer.
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