Viking ship

Under attack

Last updated: 26 August 2008

England had enjoyed a lengthy period of peace during the 10th century.

However, in 991 King Ethelred II (the Unready) was confronted by a Viking fleet led by Olaf Trygvasson from Norway, who sought to re-establish the Danelaw - an area in the north and east of England under Viking rule.

Ethelred negotiated terms with Olaf, but Viking raids continued. Some were quashed; others were dealt with by payment, a practice which became known as Danegeld.

By the end of the 10th century Danish attacks on England were increasing. In 991 King Ethelred II (the Unready) agreed to marry Emma, daughter of the duke of Normandy, in an attempt to create an blood alliance to help protect against future Viking invasions. The marriage took place in 1002, and produced two sons - Edward (later known as the Confessor) and Alfred Aetheling.

Also in 1002 Ethelred ordered the massacre of the Danes living in England. In retaliation, Sweyn Haraldsson launched a series of Viking attempts to conquer England. In 1013 Ethelred fled to Normandy, seeking the protection of his brother-in-law, Richard II of Normandy.

Sweyn was succeeded by Canute as King of England. Ethelred died in 1016, and his son became Edmund II, sharing the English kingship with Canute.

Canute's son Harthacanute took the English crown in 1037. Harthacanute's mother was Emma of Normandy, wife of Ethelred. The unmarried and childless Harthacanute invited his half-brother Edward to end his exile in Normandy to return to England in 1041. The following year Edward took the throne, following Harthacanute's death, becoming the penultimate Anglo-Saxon king of England.

Edward the Confessor's reign saw an erosion in the royal power base in England, with power moving towards various earldoms around the country. One of the most powerful of these was Godwin, Earl of Wessex, who had been appointed by Canute. By 1023 Godwin had become the most powerful English earl.

Godwin's daughter Edith married Edward in 1045, a union which produced no children. After Godwin's death in 1053 his son Harold succeeded him as Earl of Wessex. Godwin's son Tostig became Earl of Northumbria in 1055.

From 1062-1063 Harold and Tostig waged a series of successful campaigns against the Gwynedd ruler Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, who had ruled all of Wales from 1055 until his death. Llywelyn, known as King of the Britons, was killed by his own men in 1063.

Wales was divided once more into the traditional kingdoms - Gwynedd, Powys, Gwent, Glywysing and Deheubarth. Llywelyn's head and the figurehead of his ship were sent to Harold, who married his widow Ealdgyth Swan-Neck, also known as Edith the Fair or Edith Swan-Neck.

When the Normans reached the Welsh borders following the Battle of Hastings they were met with a series of kingdoms rather than one ruler. This division of power, and the unwillingness of the rulers to yield it, was a major contributing factor to the resistance to the Normans in Wales.


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