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Viking Sherwood

The Viking Age in England

The first contact with Scandinavians would have been with traders visiting settlements on the coast and rivers but everything changed with the Viking raids which began with the plunder of Lindisfarne in 793. However, it was not until 850 that the Viking raiders overwintered in England.

In 865 the Great Army of Danish Vikings invaded England led by Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ivarr the Boneless. They met serious resistance when they reached Wessex. This campaign continued into the 870s when the Danes were bought off by Alfred the Great of Wessex. By this time the invaders had colonised the English kingdoms of Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia, creating the Danelaw.

During the 900s the English kings of Wessex expanded the area they controlled northwards. By 920 the boundary of the Danelaw was at the Humber and by 927 all of the northern rulers had submitted to King Athelstan who could then claim to be the first king of all England. His successors generally retained the upper hand over the Vikings by either military force or through making payments.

The reign of King Ethelred saw renewed Viking attacks. From 991 Danegeld was raised by taxation to buy off Danish invaders. In 1002 Ethelred ordered a massacre of all Danes living in England which prompted attacks by Sveyn Forkbeard, the Danish king. In 1013 Sveyn was accepted as king of England. He died shortly afterwards but his son Cnut became the English king in 1016.

By this time the royal families of England, Denmark and Normandy were becoming closely connected. This lead to the Norman invasion of 1066 which brought the Viking age in England to an end although some of their customs would continue in parts of the country.

The Vikings in Sherwood

867 The Danes occupying Nottingham are besieged by King Athelred of Wessex and his brother Alfred in support of King Burhred of Mercia. They fail to draw the invaders into battle. In order to establish peace Burhred cedes Nottingham to the Danes in exchange for leaving the rest of Mercia undisturbed.

872-3 Viking winter camp at Torksey on the River Trent, 16 miles from Thynghowe.

873-4 The Great Heathen Army winter settlement at Repton.

877 A group from the Great Army splits off from the campaign against King Alfred of Wessex to colonise the Five Boroughs or Shires of Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland.

917 King Edward the Elder captures Nottingham as part of his successful campaign to unite Wessex and Mercia, with English and Danes as joint subjects.

1013 Sveyn Forkbeard becomes king of England, Denmark and Norway. He organises his kingdom from Gainsborough on the River Trent 20 miles from Thynghowe.

Lawmaking and Assemblies

The Danish warriors were given land to farm in the area now known as Sherwood Forest (the 'shire' wood). We believe they created an assembly site on Thynghowe to discuss matters and settle disputes. The formulation of this customary law went far beyond the law of the Anglo Saxon Hundred and was later recognised for its differences by being termed Danelaw as opposed to English Law.

The Danelaw Wapentake would establish a system of government distinct from a rule of a king or a lord. The Thing assembly would later be used in Iceland in 935 and would become the accepted system of administration across the whole Viking diaspora. Some of these traditions survived the Norman invasion through the customs of inheritance in local manors. They may even have contributed to the legends of outlaws in Sherwood Forest.

Evidence for Thynghowe and the Danish Occupation of Sherwood

Thynghowe was recorded as a point on a perambulation of Sherwood Forest in 1251.

References to Thynghowe appear on maps of 1609.

Forest maps of 1791 refer to 'Gates', the Norse term for a road.

Topographical and LiDAR surveys of Thynghowe reveal features typical of Thing sites across the Viking world.

There are many settlements in and around Sherwood Forest that have names of Scandinavian origin indicating Danish occupation during the time of the Danelaw. Budby, Walesby, Linby and Kirkby are names ending with 'by' which derives from farmsteads Names ending in 'thorpe' indicate small secondary settlements. Gleadthorpe, Perlethorpe and Bilsthorpe are local examples. Other place names with Scandinavian origins are Eakring, Clipstone, Welbeck, Holbeck and Langwith.

Download the Viking Sherwood leaflet.