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Fact 1: Parts of England were once under control by Vikings

Danelaw is the name for an area of England that was once being controlled by the Vikings.

From the late 9th century to the early 11th century, the Danish Viking Empire decided to settle in England. The first place they decided to settle was York. England was under control by the Anglo-Saxons at the time, and there was a fight over who would control England – the Vikings or the Anglo-Saxons!

The fight ended in a peace agreement that divided England into two parts. They decided that the North and East of England was Viking territory, and the south and west was English territory. The peace treaty meant that the Vikings were allowed to self-rule in their territory.

The areas of England that were ruled by the Vikings during this time included:

  • Bedford
  • Buckingham
  • Cambridge
  • Derby
  • Essex
  • Hertford
  • Huntingdon
  • Lincoln
  • Middlesex
  • Norfolk
  • Northampton
  • Nottingham
  • Suffolk
  • York
The Danelaw

Fact 2: The Vikings came to England in search of farmland

The Vikings originally came from Scandinavia, a region that included Norway, Sweden and Denmark. However, the Danish Vikings were driven away from their home in Scandinavia and decided to make a drastic move to England between the 9th and 10th centuries.

Before settling on English land, the Vikings made several trips to raid England for treasure. They would sail to areas along the English East coast and steal gold, silver, cattle and even slaves, before taking their new-found treasure home. However, more and more Vikings would decide to stay behind on English land. It had become harder for the Vikings to grow crops and rear cattle on Danish land, whereas in England they were able to cultivate all the land they needed. Vikings were able to use their military power and strength to gain land for themselves in England, and they soon started to make new lives for themselves there.

Fact 3: Some areas of England had to follow Danish laws, and even speak Danish languages!

The name Danelaw comes from the fact that Danish laws were followed in the areas of the UK under Viking control. Those that lived in the Danelaw part of England practiced Danish customs, Danish law and even spoke Old Norse or a similar Danish language!

The Thing!

Viking society was known for their strict laws. Their laws were decided in a special meeting that they called a “Thing”.

These meetings were held in an open area such as a field, where communities could all gather and have their say. The Vikings would debate at the “Thing” until everyone had agreed on the new law. New laws would then be spread by word of mouth as Vikings didn’t write things down!

If anyone had broken a Viking law, there would be another “Thing” to decide if the person was guilty, and how they should be punished.

Fact 4: English places were given new Viking names that still exist today!

The Vikings created new place names for areas within the Danelaw, and a lot of these places still have their Viking name today!

Viking place names would usually include a suffix such as “by”, “kirk” or “Thorpe”, which all had a special Viking meaning.

  • Place names that included the suffix “by” meant a farm or farmstead.
  • The suffix “holme” was used to mean an island.
  • “Kirk” was used to refer to a church.
  • “Ness” usually referred to places found along the coast.
  • The suffix “Thorpe” signified a small hamlet or village.
  • “Toft” was a single farm or a minor settlement.
  • Place names with “wick” signified a bay or creek.

England still has lots of towns and cities with these suffixes today, such as Derby, Rugby, Whitby, Scunthorpe, Warwick and many more!

Fact 5: Peace didn’t last long

Despite the Danelaw starting with a peace treaty between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, the peace did not last for long! It didn’t take long for the Vikings and English to start fighting again.

After lots of attempts by the English to bring Danelaw back under their control, they eventually won. The English took York back from the Vikings and soon the Danelaw was ended in England.

However, despite the end of Danelaw, the Vikings had made a big impression on the areas they had settled. This left a lasting mark on the people who had lived there, the language they spoke and their customs. We still see a Viking influence on English culture today, not just with place names, but with our days of the week – many of them are named after Viking gods!

  • Wednesday is named after Viking god Odin
  • Thursday is named after the Viking god Thor
  • Tuesday is named after the Viking god Tyr.