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Anglo-Saxon Britain

The Viking Kingdom of York

by Mick Baker, 9 April 2007. Updated 31 October 2020

The name the 'Viking Kingdom of York' is really a bit of a misnomer. The territory in the north of England which was captured by the Vikings should be known as the 'Kingdom of Viking Northumbria' (although 'Scandinavian Kingdom of York' is also acceptable).

At the demise of Anglian Northumbria when the rival monarchs Ælle and Osberht were both killed at the Battle of York, the Vikings installed an Anglian puppet ruler by the name of Egbert I. He in turn was deposed in 872 and King Ricsige was installed for the next three years.

The Vikings still had overall control as the Great Army of the Danes was still conquering swathes of the country. Halfdan ('Wide Embrace') was king of Viking Dublin from 873, and it was he who assumed the role of the first Viking king of York in 875. He was expelled in 877 and seemingly returned to Dublin where he died in 883. An interregnum apparently followed in York between 877-883, but it is likely that Halfdan still claimed overlordship as York was not claimed by a successor until his death.

In 876, one Egbert II is mentioned as a puppet ruler of Northumbria, and it was at his death that Viking York absorbed Anglian Northumbria. One wonders how much power those three puppet kings of Northumbria actually held. Although there remained a rump of Northumbria which was under their Anglian control once the Vikings had taken the York area, this only approximated to the old Anglian kingdom of Bernicia. That became a form of sub-domain of York, governed by the high reeves of Bamburgh who seemingly held some sort of valid claim to the Northumbrian kingship. They became increasingly semi-independent during the tenth century.

At the Convention of Eamont of 927, at which King Athelstan received homage from several kings, Ealdred of Bamburgh is referred to as a 'sub-king'. He and his father, Eadwulf (who died in 913), mention themselves as being at Bamburgh, and governing 'Northumbria'.

In 954, Osulf is referred to as the 'Lord of Bamburgh', subject to the overlordship of the English king. After this, Bamburgh seems to have been ruled by earls, and the term 'sub-king' disappears. One may assume, therefore, that ancient Bernicia (with its capital at Bamburgh) had re-established itself as 'Northumbria'. That aside though, the remainder of the English in the north were subjects of the Viking kingdom at York.

Jorvik Viking Centre

'Halfdan shared out the land of the Northumbrians, and they proceeded to plough and support themselves.'

As far as borders are concerned, those of the Viking kingdom seem to correspond to the former kingdoms of Deira and Elmet. The Convention of Eamont (near Penrith) in 927, is said to have taken place near the border of Strathclyde and 'The Kingdom of York'.

By the 880s Northumbria had ceased to exist as a single political and cultural province. The most important fracture was between the former kingdoms of Bernicia (Anglian) and Deira (Viking). Both were east of the Pennines but both retained territory in the western Pennines, with central and southern Lancashire being an integral part of the kingdom of 'York' for at least part of the latter's existence. Lancashire's ninth and tenth century history is extremely vague, though, with some parts perhaps even becoming independant and allying themselves to the Britons of Strathclyde.

It can be surmised, therefore, that it would be quite plausible to include Craven (Dunoting) within this Scandinavian state (areas of Lancashire had initially been acquired by the Norse, perhaps those from Dublin, which would mean that they were attached to York when Dublin's king ruled there).

When Halfdan I took the region he based himself at Tynemouth, where he could marshal both his army and fleet. He originally imposed his rule on Bernicia as well, and also raided into Strathclyde.

In 876, 'Halfdan shared out the land of the Northumbrians, and they proceeded to plough and support themselves' (Anglo Saxon Chronicle). However, it is unlikely that Halfdan would have 'rewarded' his men by effectively turning them into yokels. The text should be taken to mean that his men were given tracts of land to govern. and their subjugated Brito-Anglian peasants would be doing the ploughing. Perhaps the 'misunderstanding' is meant to serve Saxon propaganda.


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Viking Puppet Kingdom of Northumbria
Installed by the Ragnarsson brothers, Ivarr & Halfdan
867 Egbert I Deposed in 872 and banished, along with Bishop Wulfhere.
872 - 873 Ricsige Dependent upon the Danes.
Capital: Bamburgh.
876 Egbert II
876 Was Egbert II a resurgent Northumbrian king, wresting control of Bernicia from the Vikings? - The predecessor of King Eadwulf (died 908) and King Ealdred of Bamburgh - or was he another monarch dependent upon the Viking overlord? At Egbert's death, Anglian Northumbria was absorbed into the Viking territory, until it emerged as independent Bamburgh, subject to the English king. The earls of Bamburgh followed.
Scandinavian Kings of Northumbria (York)
Consisting of ancient Elmet & Deira
875 - 877? Halfdan I ('Wide Embrace') Died probably at the Battle of Strangford Lock, trying to regain Dublin.
877 Interregnum
883 Guthred-Knutr
894 Sigferth
899 Knutr
900 Æthelwald Son of Edward the Elder, driven from Wessex and took refuge in York where the Danes received him as king.
905 Halfdan II Brothers and co-rulers - killed by the invading Saxon army.
905 Eowils
910 Ingwer (Ivarr)
911 Interregnum (Saxon overlordship?)
918 Ragnald I Invading Dublin Norse Vikings
921 Sihtric 'Caoch'
927 Guthfrith Sihtricsson of Dublin
927 - 939 Athelstan of England
940 Olaf/Anlaf I Guthfrithsson
942 Olaf/Anlaf II 'Cauaran' Sihtricsson
943 Ragnald II Guthfrithsson
944 Edmund of England
946 Edred of England
947 Eirikr ('Bloodaxe') Danish dynasty again.
949 Olaf/Anlaf II 'Cauaran' Sihtricsson Restored.
952 ? Dublin-based claimant, briefly recognised.
952 Eirikr ('Bloodaxe') Restored.
954 Edred of England Effective end of Viking Northumbria.


Text copyright © Mick Baker. An original feature for the History Files.