Лекция 4 | The Vikings’ Period (Часть 1)

The Vikings’ Period

(IX – the middle of XI)

At the end of the VIII century the new invaders appeared in Britain. They were the Vikings. They came from Scandinavia. Probably the word “Viking” meant “turned” – “one who went another way”. It derived from the old Scandinavian verb “vikja” – “to turn”. The name of “the Vikings” wasn’t the name of any tribe or nation. It was the name of a social group. They were the Scandinavian people who didn’t want to stay at their native country. And they tried to get wealth and glory out of Scandinavia.

The Northern Scandinavia was the poor land then, people used to starve. At the same time the Scandinavians were the best sailors of the period[1]. Some of them became sea raiders. They attacked and devastate the European coast for 3 hundred years (end of VIII – mid XI). They were not only robbers. Their actions depended on the possible profits. In some cases they led a trade, in some cases they served local aristocracy. In some situations it was profitable to organize states.

They were the Vikings who called themselves the Vikings. In different countries they were given different names.

What was their name in Russia? – Varangians

Britain was raided by the Vikings mostly of Denmark. So they were called the Danes. For a long period all Scandinavian languages, including Swedish and Norwegian, were called Denish, because of all the Scandinavians the Danes were the most familiar to the people in Britain.

The first recorded visit of the Vikings to Western Europe was to England in 789. The Vikings raided Lindisfarne, the most important British monastery of the period . Not a single monk survived. Gradually the Danes began to settle and seized at last all the Eastern and central England.

The Vikings came from Scandinavia. The word “Viking” means “turned” They were people who tried to get wealth and glory out of Scandinavia. In Britain the Vikings were called the Danes. They seized the bigger part of England.

Only in one hundred years a king appeared who tried to resist the Danes. He is known in English history as Alfred the Great. May be you chose him as your character in our game “The elections of the best English king”. So try to store the material. He ruled Wessex in the end of the IXth century[2]. Wessex was the strongest of the 7 Anglo-Saxon kingdoms then with the capital in Winchester.

Alfred is the only king in English history who deserved the epithet “the Great”. He is famous for two main things:

  • the defense of Wessex against the Danes
  • the enlightment of people

Alfred managed to stop the Danes’ advancementFirst he was defeated. But he used the advantage of Wessex geography. Wessex was a marshy area. Alfred hid with his army in Somerset swamps and led a guerilla war. While the Danes couldn’t catch him in the swamps, he carried out the reforms. These swamps were like those described by Conan Doyle in “The Hound Of The Baskervilles”. They were impassable for strangers. But not for the local people. A lot of people gathered by the Alfred’s appeal. He organized a professional army[3]. Also he built a navy. He copied the construction of the Vikings’ ships. But his ships were twice as much as Danes’ and had up to 60 rowers.

With his newborn army and navy he started the struggle with the Danes and win. Since that struggle Alfred has been considered the father of the English navy.

Alfred made a treaty with the Danes. The country was divided. The Danes’ part was called the Danelaw, the land where the law of the Danes ruled. In the other part Alfred was recognized as a king. This part was not more than one forth of modern England. But it was in Alfred’s period that the name of England appeared. He was the first king called “the English king”. It occurred in 897[4]. So the concept of England appeared as the contrast of the Danelaw.

The enlightenment was his another achievement. He was not only literate, he new Latin, that was the privilege of the clerics (priests) at that time. First he made his nobles study letters. Then he founded the first schools for commoners. One of the schools worked at his palace and sometimes he taught there personally.

He was the first man who translated the part of Bible from Latin in old English (Anglo-Saxon). He started the “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”. It was continued for 250 years. It has the similar importance for the history of England as “Tale of Bygone Years”forRusssian history

For all these deeds Alfred deserved the name of “The Great”.

In the end of the IX the Danes were stopped by the king of Wessex Alfred the Great. He is the only English king deserved the name of “the Great”. He is known as the father of English navy. He was the first king called “the English king”. He made a treaty with the Danes. Their part of England was called the Danelaw, it was three forths of modern England. He is also known for the enlightenment: he founded the first schools for commoners and nobles.

Alfred’s successors couldn’t stop[5] the further pressure of the Danes. They had to pay the tribute to prevent their advancement. One of the Anglo-Saxon kings Athelred set a tax called “The Danish money”. This tax was gathered to be passed to the Danes. People didn’t want to pay it and called the king Athelred Unready.

In the XI century the whole England became the part of Scandinavian Empire. It was ruled by the most powerful Scandinavian king Cnut[6]. The other parts of the Empire were Denmark, the southern Sweden, the Western Norway

His name meant “a knight” (узел). It had to bring a magic protection to the king and to his state. In all the ancient cultures a knight was considered to be the way of the magic protection. Note that knight – noble warrior sounds similar. It is not occasionally. It had the same magic meaning.

At that time the capital of Cnut’s empire was Winchester. Cnut ruled, died and was buried there.

The state of Cnut was very big and very primitive. It hadn’t any solid political system. After the death of Cnut and his son Magnus the empire disintegrated easily. Even contemporaries were surprised and the legend was composed to explain it. While Magnus was riding a horse a hare suddenly jumped across the way. The horse was scared and threw the rider. Magnus was hid and perished.

Does it resemble you anything?

The legend about wise[7] Oleg and the snake which crept out from the scalp of his horse and bit him.

Such legends had to explain the disintegration of the big, but early and primitive states.

By the middle of the XI century the Scandinavians had organized their states in Scandinavia and stopped attacking the other lands in Western Europe. The Viking’s period was over.

So from the IV till the XI century Britain was influenced by the Scandinavians, who came there in two waves, known as the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings.

There is an example of Scandinavian influence in the British culture. The main Scandinavian gods were

  • Wodin – of war and wisdom
  • Thor – of thunder
  • Frej and Freja of fertility

Which names of the days go back to their names?

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday

The most powerful king of the Danes was Cnut. His name meant “a knight” as the name of noble warriors. The Scandinavian influence on the British culture reflected in the names of the days

Wednesday from Wodin (god of war and wisdom)

Thursday from Thor (of thunder)

Friday from Frej and Freja (of fertility)

The Norman Invasion and setting the feudal system

After the Scandinavian empire was disintegrated, the Danish nobles were weakened, they struggled with each other. And the Anglo-Saxon nobles took part in a struggle. One of them became a king. He is known as Edward the Confessor.

His nickname tells that he was interested more in the Church than in the Kingship. By the time he had died there was a Church almost in every village. It was he who made Westminster Abby famous. The monastery appeared on the isle of Thames in the IX century. It was devoted to St Peter. Edward enlarged the church and gave it the French name “minster», which meant “monastery”. This church became known as the “west minster” to distinguish it from St Paul’s Cathedral (the east minster) in the City of London.

What is it famous for?

  1. Since XVII century famous people of Britain have been buried there or commemorated if they are buried in another place.
  2. Most of the English kings were crowned there.

3 – 17 British monarchs are buried there

While his father was of an Anglo-Saxon family his mother was the daughter of the duke of Normandy – Western France. Edward spent there the bigger part of his life, 25 years. A lot of Norman nobles surrounded him. He hadn’t a son. Once he invited his nephew to England. The young man came and was fascinated by its green meadows. Edward promised him the throne.

What was the name of Edward’s nephew?

William the Conqueror

As for the Edward the Confessor for 400 years he considered to be the patron of England. His first tomb was found not long ago under the later levels of Westminster Abbey. Archeologists said that it wouldn’t be disturbed.

After the Danes the throne was given to Edward the Confessor. He spent 25 years in Normandy (France). He tried to establish churches in all the villages, enlatged and gave French name to Westminster Abby promised the English throne to his nephew William of Normandy

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