How the Vikings stormed the coast of Norfolk before trading the fighting for agriculture

If you’ve ever been on the coast of the Flegg District (Scratby and Hemsby) here in Norfolk, try imagining rowboats pulling the shore and hordes of Vikings heading your way!

Over a thousand years ago in 840 AD, “the great pagan army” or the Vikings trod these lands before setting out to conquer the rest of East Anglia, wreaking havoc in their wake.

They attacked rural towns and villages upstream of the Yare River before crossing the Wensum River to attack strongholds.

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They have marked our landscape. While we remember them most famous for killing East Anglian King Edmund, sacking Thetford and much later burning Norwich, it is what happened after the violence and destruction that is most surprisingly – they settled down.

Violence and destruction

The burning of a Viking longboat was a pagan funeral tradition. East Anglia has a deep history with the Vikings, especially the Danes.

One of the greatest historical documents we have on the Vikings in England is “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles,” written by monks between 871 and 899. The chronicle details the event of the East Anglian invasion:

“And in the same year came a great pagan army into England, and established their winter quarters in East Anglia, where they were soon on horseback; and the inhabitants made peace with them.

After arriving on the shores of Norfolk, the focus in the early years was the usual Vikings’ interest – gold, silver, and slaves.

In 864-5 a Viking army wintered at Thetford in Norfolk. From there they began a campaign of conquest across England.

Edmund was the King of East Anglia (the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk). After attempting to make peace with the Danes and their leader Ivar the Boneless, he encountered them in combat at Hoxne, Suffolk, in 869/70.

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The Danes were victorious and the last king of East Anglian was killed. The Danes now had full reign of the kingdom of East Anglia. King Edmund later became a saint and is still honored at Bury St Edmunds.

The following years saw the destruction of monasteries including the monastery of St. Etheldreda in Ely, Dummuc and Elmham, towns and villages.

This reign of destruction ended thanks to Alfred the Great, the first king of the English.

He raised an army against the Danish army and the Viking King Guthrum. At the Treaty of Wedmore in 886, after years of fighting, Guthrum agreed to convert to Christianity. He was baptized Athelstan and a border was established separating his land from that of King Alfred.

This boundary stretched from the River Lea in Essex to Bedford, then along the valley of the Ouse. This neighborhood became known as Danelaw.

Viking neighbors

Anglo-Saxon village reproduction
Anglo-Saxon village and country park of West Stow in West Suffolk. This park is a reproduction of what an Anglo-Saxon village would have looked like.

Viking settlement can be seen across Norfolk County through the place names.

Rather romantic, the name Flegg itself is an echo of an Old Norse word Flaeg, a marsh plant that still grows here; considered the swamp iris. The settlements here are almost entirely named using words of ancient Scandinavian origin.

Thwaite (meaning a glade in Old Norse), Pockthorpes (fairy establishments), Winterton (headland), Toft Monks (dwelling), are all examples of Viking settlement names.

So what were the Vikings actually doing in Norfolk?

Well, most surprisingly, they let go of their axes and battle shields and became peaceful farmers.

The East of England developed an Anglo-Scandinavian society with a mixed identity that continued even after Wessex finally conquered the Danelaw.

Read more: “Where to go to learn about your family’s history in Norfolk”

The “Danish Law” still worked even after its official “end”. The two different languages ​​of Old Norse and Old English were mutually intelligible; and mixed marriages would have helped to bring communities together. Because the Danes converted to Christianity so quickly, the church was able to accept the new leaders and live together.

Historians believe that the Danish and East English invaders lived rather peacefully and quickly integrated into a multicultural society. The Danes were also great traders and merchants and helped East Anglia to become a wealthy kingdom and Norwich to become a very wealthy city.

Many East Anglians with deep ancestral roots in the region today have at least a small percentage of Scandinavian DNA.

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About Keneth T. Graves

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