At the weekend, while doing some research for my latest work in progress, I stumbled across something that might help answer one of the great historical mysteries — why did the Vikings attack Lindisfarne in 793 AD , in a bolt from the blue?
No one knows for certain. Many theories exist.
One thing for certain is that the Vikings did have trade with Charlemagne, did know about the lands to the West and indeed there are reports dating from before 793 of North men. . What they were not supposed to have was warships that were capable of travelling across the seas.
So why attack Lindisfarne?
When I wrote Taken by the Viking in 2006, the most plausible theory that I read was that it was a trading mission gone wrong. There is precedent for thinking this. It is what happened in East Anglia a few years later. The Vikings wanted gold and silver. They either traded for it or they took items which cold be traded.
However, recent books, most notably the Hammer and the Cross by Robert Ferguson (2010) speculated about Charlemagne and his muscular Christianity (basically he was fond of invading pagan kingdoms). He thought that maybe the Vikings were reacting against this and this is why they became so violent after years of successful trading. He doesn’t satisfactorily explain why the Vikings would attack Northumbria to get back at Charlemagne though. He did mention that Charlemagne was not very keen on trading with pagans and it was possible that they had gone in search of new markets as traditional markets were being closed to them..
Max Adams in his 2013 book King of the North briefly mentions the Viking problem and speculates that perhaps it is to due with the Northumbrian situation. They had turned more towards God than being warriors. But he didn’t have any explanation as why then. But it got me thinking. What did Northumbria have to do with it? Why target their holy sites?
My research from the immediate post Lindisfarne raid threw up a couple of interesting points. There is a brief mention that King Eardwulf (796 -806) married a daughter of Charlemagne. Alcuin who hailed from Northumbria was also at Charlemagne’s court.
If Northumbria was in alliance with Charlemagne and the Vikings (whoever they were – most likely from Norway around Oslo aka Viken) had grievance against them because of this, it is entirely possible they attacked Lindisfarne with premeditation to send a message to Charlemagne. If Northumbria was an ally, then it might be a way of attacking them by proxy. The Anglo Saxon chronicles lists all North men as Danes, but recent advances in looking at teeth and where they came from has shown that the Norwegians tended to raid more in the North and over to Ireland. The Danes were definitely at war with Charlemagne though.
Equally it could be that because of the alliance, following Charlemagne’s lead, Northumbrians refused to trade with pagans. And the North men reacted – either then and there or with pre-meditation, travelling from one of the many trading towns. Or possibly, even as a warship from Scandinavia.
The next year 794, the North men again attacked Northumbria, this time in Jarrow where St Bede’s monastery was. This raid, however did not go as the North men planned, the Viking leader was killed and thanks to a storm (dubbed St Cuthbert’s storm) the boats were shipwrecked and the surviving North men killed. Unfortunately as far as I can determine, no tangible trace of this raid has been found as it is quite probable that they came from same general area as the 793 lot.
Notwithstanding the threat from the North men, Northumbria then dissolves into one of its many civil wars in 796 where Eardwulf emerges as the winner. He then has to hold the throne against several rival claimants (and various pagan raids) before he is banished in 806, but returns in 808 with Charlemagne’s help. Basically Game of Thrones has nothing on English Dark Age politics. It is enough to make your head spin!
But I love doing research and finding out bits that make history more accessible.
In other news:
My latest cover arrived in my inbox last month. I was intrigued to see that they had reversed the covers in the UK and the US! I am not sure which one I like better...Saved will be going out in NA print retail so I am v. excited about this.
Only last week I was given the exciting news that my latest –TAMING HIS VIKING WOMAN has sold. I also signed a new contract and am currently writing the second book in that contract -- the reason for doing research on Northumbria!
Michelle Styles writes war, witty and intimate historical romance of Harlequin Historical in a wide range of time periods, including Viking. Saved by the Viking Warrior will be published on 19 August 2014. www.michellestyles.co.uk has an excerpt.