PUBLISHED BY K.S.DOIG
(A rather difficult read but worth it if you are into the synergy created by contact between the Germanic Anglo-Saxons, Germanic Scandinavians and British & Gaelic Celts. Also good info on onomastics & British toponyms. K.Doig)
"Mediaeval Scandinavia ‘Hiberno-Norwegians’ and ‘Anglo-Danes’:anachronistic ethnicities & Viking-Age England"
by Clare Downham PhD
Two papers have recently been published, with reference to Irish sources from the
Viking-Age, challenging the identification of Dubgaill (‘Dark Foreigners’) with
‘Danes’ and Finngaill (‘Fair Foreigners’) with ‘Norwegians’.2 In this paper I seek to
broaden the debate by suggesting that the categorisation of Insular-viking politics as
a struggle between opposing Danish and Norwegian factions is similarly unhelpful.
For example, the use of the term Dene in ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ can be
regarded as similar to the use of the terms Dani and Nordmanni in Frankish
chronicles: that is, as a general name for those of Scandinavian cultural identity
rather than a label referring to people of one particular Scandinavian ethnicity.3 I
argue that the supposed animosity between ‘Hiberno-Norwegian’ and ‘Anglo-
Danish’ factions in English politics before 954 is largely a historiographic invention
and not a Viking-Age reality.
The stereotypes applied to each of these so-called groups (the ‘Hiberno-Norwegians’ being generally seen as more violent, more heathen, and more chaotic than the ‘Anglo-Danes’) can also be called into question.
If this argument holds true, then references to ‘Hiberno-Norwegians’ and ‘Anglo-Danes'.
1) I should like to thank Judith Jesch and Alex Woolf for the opportunity to present versions of
this paper at Nottingham and St Andrews in February and April 2007. My thanks also go to Paul
Bibire, Stefan Brink, and David Roffe for reading and commenting on the text.
2) David N. Dumville, ‘Old Dubliners and New Dubliners in Ireland and Britain: a Viking-
Age story’, Medieval Dublin 6 (2004) 78–93, reprinted in his Celtic Essays, 2001–2007 (2 vols,
Aberdeen 2007), I.103–22; C. Downham, ‘The good, the bad and the ugly: portrayals of vikings
in “The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland”’, The Medieval Chronicle 3 (2004) 28–40.
3) Quellen des 9. und 11. Jahrhunderts zur Geschichte der Hamburgischen Kirche und des Reiches, edd. & transl. Werner Trillmich & R. Buchner (Darmstadt 1961), p. 450, and Adam of Bremen, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, transl. Francis J. Tschan (New York 1959; rev. imp., by T. Reuter, 2002), p. 195 (IV.12), quoting Einhard, Vita Karoli regis: Dani et Sueones ceterique trans Daniam populi ab hystoricis Francorum omnes uocantur Nortmanni …, ‘Danes and Swedes and other people beyond Denmark are all called Northmen by the historians of the Franks’.
‘HIBERNO-NORSE’ OR ‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIAN’?
I should first comment on the term ‘Hiberno-Norse’ which frequently appears in
modern historical writing. It is sometimes found in contrast to ‘Anglo-Danes’ but
its meaning seems to vary at the hands of different authors. In its broadest sense
‘Hiberno-Norse’ is sometimes (inaccurately) used by scholars to refer to all
Scandinavians linked to the Gaelic-speaking areas of Ireland and North Britain.
However, the term is more often used with reference to vikings from Ireland. The
meaning of ‘Norse’ is problematic. Sometimes it is applied to Scandinavians in
general, and sometimes it is used specifically to mean ‘Norwegians’. According to
the Oxford English Dictionary the word Norse is first recorded in the English
language in 1598; it was derived from the now obsolete Dutch word noordsch. 5) In
origin it means ‘northern’ or ‘nordic’, and its early use was as a linguistic label.
4) In this article I use ‘Viking’ as a cultural label; I avoid ‘Norse’, ‘Norsemen’, and ‘Northmen’,
because all these terms have been used in English-language historiography with specific reference to Norwegians, and they can therefore be misleading in a more general context. I consider ‘Scandinavian’ to be often inappropriate in a colonial situation, for it does not reflect the hybrid identities which developed. Hybrid names including ‘Anglo-Scandinavian’, ‘Hiberno-Scandinavian’, ‘Scoto-Scandinavian’, and ‘Britanno-Scandinavian’ might suit, but it would often be difficult when reading Insular primary sources to know which of these subgroups one is dealing with. In the Middle-Ages the name ‘Viking’ was used to describe Norse-speaking seaborne raiders, although its meaning has broadened considerably in modern popular usage. The term has a drawback: ‘Viking’ can conjure up a caricature of a warrior in a longship, much as the word ‘Norman’ invites the stereotype of a knight on horseback. Neither emblem is fully representative of a society, although it can be said to communicate something vital. ‘Viking’-activity characterised the colonies founded in the Scandinavian diaspora where power was based on dominance at sea and on military prowess.
Here ‘viking’ can be seen to have some relevance as a cultural label, for the resources of whole communities were drawn on to build ships and supply expeditions, and the impact of raiding and trading reached beyond those who were involved in seafaring. This can be seen economically, socially, and also in matters of religion: Neil Price, The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia (Uppsala 2002). The terminology used for these peoples is currently a matter of debate, and it will be interesting to see how the arguments develop in future years. For some comments on the baggage associated with the word ‘viking’ (akin to that associated with the word ‘Celt’), see J. Langer, ‘The origins of the imaginary viking’, Viking Heritage Magazine 4 (2002), available online at http://www.abrem.org.br/viking.pdf (accessed 22/02/08). 5 Oxford English Dictionary, edd. John Simpson & E. Weiner (2nd edn, 20 vols, Oxford 1989), X.519.
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 141
Walter Scott introduced the term ‘Norseman’ into Scots and English in 1817.6 He
also popularised the word ‘Norse’ as a people-name (rather than just a linguistic
term), although it had been used thus by Scottish authors from the seventeenth
century.7 Since the nineteenth century, use of the term ‘Norse’ has been criticised as
having a Norwegian bias.8
This bias seems to reflect usage of the word in Scottish historiography and literature where ‘Norse’ has often been employed to mean ‘Norwegian’, and this interpretation has spread more widely. The Scottish usage may point to an alternative Scots derivation of ‘Norse’ from norsk as meaning ‘Norwegian’ in modern Scandinavian languages.9 Or it may be due to the fact that
Norway was regarded as the natural homeland of the viking-settlers who came to north Britain.10 The use of ‘Hiberno-Norse’ and ‘Norse’ as ethnic labels can cause
confusion, as different authors have used these terms to mean different things. The
use of ‘Hiberno-Norse’ meaning ‘Hiberno-Norwegian’ is particularly troublesome,
as I hope to demonstrate in this paper through analysis of the terminology used by mediaeval authors and modern historians.
VIKINGS IN ‘THE ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE’
It is evident that Latin words Nordmannus and Danus were used interchangeably in
European chronicles composed in Latin during the ninth and tenth centuries.11
One should therefore question whether their Old-English equivalents, "Norðmenn"
and Dene, were used to distinguish separate ethnic groups in the First Viking-Age.
6 Ibid., X.520.
The first known appearance of the term ‘Norseman’ is due to Walter Scott,
Harold the Dauntless. A Poem in Six Cantos (London 1817); P. Roberts, ‘Sir Walter Scott’s
contributions to the English vocabulary’, Proceedings of the Modern Language Association of
America 68 (1953) 189–210, at p. 198. 7 Alexander Garden, A Theatre of Scottish Worthies: and the Lyf, Doings, and Deathe of William Elphinston, Bishop of Aberdeen, ed. Alexander Laing (Glasgow 1878), p. 17: ‘I gave att Largs a foull yet famous foile, where numbers of thy Norces left yet ly’; Walter Scott, "The Pirate", edd. Mark Weinstein & A. Lumsden (Edinburgh 2001), pp. 10–11, ‘Land … in the possession of the Norse inhabitants’ (this was first published in 1822). 8 Andrew Wawn, The Vikings and the Victorians. Inventing the Old North in Nineteenth Century Britain (Cambridge 2000), pp. 4, 148. 9 Scottish National Dictionary, ed. William Grant (10 vols, Edinburgh 1941–76), VI.443. 10 See below, pp. 152–3. 11 Jean Renaud, Les Vikings en France (Rennes 2000), p. 78; Eric Christiansen, The Norsemen in the Viking Age (Oxford 2002), pp. 116–18; P. Bouet, ‘Les chroniqueurs francs et normands face aux invasions vikings’, in L’Héritage maritime des vikings en Europe de l’ouest, ed. Élisabeth Ridel (Caen 2002), pp. 57–73, at p. 59, n. 6.
Paul Bibire has argued that before the late tenth century both Old-English Dene
and Old-Norse Danir referred to Scandinavians in a general way.12 It can be argued
of the ninth and early tenth centuries that Denmark and Norway were not yet
politically unified.13 It would thus be anachronistic if ninth-century viking-groups
were to be identified primarily by use of the distinct national labels ‘Dane’ and
14 The case will be put that Norðmenn and Dene were used
interchangeably in English sources from the First Viking-Age. The argument will
focus on ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ as the most influential source used by
historians of Viking-Age England. It can be held that the terms used to describe
vikings in this chronicle show little concern to categorise them into different
The terms used to describe vikings in ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ in annals
787–954 varied in popularity over time.15 This gives the impression that authorial
preference was in play, or that concerns other than ethnicity were determining the
language used. The word hæðen occurs frequently in the annals from 832 to 872,
and it is most popular during the 850s to the exclusion of other labels. It is only
found once again, for the year 942.
In annals from 860 to 892 the word here (‘invading army’) was the favoured usage.16 It is little used thereafter, with 12 P. Bibire, "North Sea language contacts in the early Middle Ages: English and Norse", in "The North Sea World in the Middle Ages". "Studies in the Cultural History of North-western Europe", edd. Thomas R. Liszka & L.E.M. Walker (Dublin 2001), pp. 88–107, at p. 89. 13 Christiansen, "The Norsemen", pp. 118–23; K. Crag, ‘The early unification of Norway’, in "The Cambridge History of Scandinavia, I", ed. Knut Helle (Cambridge 2003), pp. 184–201; I. Skovgaard-Petersen, "The making of the Danish kingdom", ibidem, pp. 168–83. Cf. also the papers by U. Näsman, J. Ringtved, and M. Axboe in "Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 10" (1999) 1–10, 49–63, 109–18. Cf. Uta Goerlitz, "Literarische Konstruktion (vor-) nationaler Identität seit dem Annolied", "Analysen und Interpretationen zur deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters" (11.–16. Jahrhundert) (Berlin 2007), and see n. 28, below.
14 Christiansen, "The Norsemen", p. 117.
15 "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Collaborative Edition, III", MS A, ed. Janet M. Bately
(Cambridge 1986), pp. 39–74; "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Collaborative Edition, IV", MS B, ed. Simon Taylor (Cambridge 1983), pp. 28–54; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Collaborative Edition, V, MS C, ed. Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe (Cambridge 2001), pp. 50–80; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Collaborative Edition, VI, MS D, ed. G.P. Cubbin (Cambridge 1996), pp. 16–45; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Collaborative Edition, VII, MS E, ed. Susan Irvine (Cambridge 2004), pp. 41–56; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Collaborative Edition, VIII, MS F, ed. Peter S. Baker (Cambridge 2000), pp. 53–81.
16 T.A. Shippey, ‘A missing army: some doubts about the Alfredian Chronicle’, Anglo-Saxon 1
(2007) 319–38. ‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 143
Appearances only in the annals for 910, 914, and 915. The term wicing
(‘viking’/‘pirate’) is employed in annals 879 and 885 and then only used once more
in version A, in annal 917. Norðmenn is recorded in annal 787 – unlikely to be a
contemporary record – and then reäppears in 920 (version A), 937, and 942.17
Dene is similarly infrequent, with occurrences in annals 900, 917, 942, and 943.
English regional names Norþ(an)hymbre and Eastengle are used to describe vikingarmies
from 893 to 919 and again from 944 to 948.
Overall, Denisc, used as an adjective or a noun, was most frequently employed to
label vikings in ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ throughout the ninth and early tenth
centuries. Denisc first appears as an adjective in annal 787. Deniscan is used as a noun
in annal 833. Thereafter these labels are employed to the near-exclusion of all others
until 845 (when hæðen becomes the dominant term). Denisc(an) reäppears in annal
870 and remains in frequent use until annal 913. Denisc is thereafter used in version
A of the Chronicle in annals 918 and 920. Scholars have usually considered that
Denisc means ‘Danish’; but I am grateful to Paul Bibire for pointing out in
conversation that an adjectival form of the word Norðmenn (which is usually taken to
mean ‘Norwegian’) does not appear in Old English until the eleventh century. Denisc
might therefore apply to all Scandinavians in the ninth and tenth centuries.18 It can
be argued that the use of labels in ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reflects authorial
preferences across particular time-frames, rather than an attempt to distinguish
viking-groups by ‘Danish’ or ‘Norwegian’ ethnicity. Furthermore, it can be argued
that the words Norðmenn, Denisc, and Dene refer to Scandinavians in general.
In versions B, C, D, and E of ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ under the year 787
there is an account of a viking-attack, in which Norðmenn is shown to be equivalent
to denisce menn: ‘on his dagum coman ærest .iii. scipu Norðmanna; … þæt wæron
þa ærestan scipu deniscra manna þe Angelcynnes land gesohtan’ (‘and in his days
there came for the first time three ships of Norðmenn … Those were the first ships
17 It should be noted that there are references to a ‘northern’ king in 890 and to ‘northern’
armies in 910 and 937. ‘North’ is used also as a relative concept (not only as a pseudo-ethnic
term), as in 823, norð ofer Temese (‘north across the Thames’). For examples, see: ASC.A, ed. Bately, pp. 41, 54, 71; ASC.B, ed. Taylor, p. 47. 18 F. Amory, ‘The dönsk tunga in early medieval Normandy: a note’, in "American Indian and Indoeuropean Studies: Papers in Honor" of Madison S. Beeler, edd. Kathryn Klar et al. (Den Haag
1980), pp. 279–89.
Of Denisc men which came to the land of the English’).19 Furthermore in the D-text
under the year 943 a king Óláfr and his followers are identified as Dene but, in the
previous year, they are taken to be Norðmenn. These records challenge assumptions
which scholars have made about the ethnic connotation of these labels. Even where
a contrast between ‘Danes’ and ‘Norwegians’ has been perceived in records of
events in ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ – in annals 920A and 942ABCD, these
distinctions may be shown to result from a preconception that Norðmenn means
‘Norwegians’ and Dene means ‘Danes’. In both cases it can be argued that there is
a repetition of terms with similar meanings to produce a particular effect.
In annal 920 the subjection of various Insular peoples to King Edward the Elder
is said to have occurred at a royal meeting at Bakewell (Derbyshire).20 In the A-text
the list of those who submitted, and the terms of their subjection, are made to
sound as impressive as possible:21
hine geces þa to fæder 7 to hlaforde Scotta cyning 7 eall Scotta þeod 7 Rægnald 7 Eadulfes
sunu 7 ealle þa þe on Norþhymbrum bugeaþ ægðer ge Englisce ge Denisce ge Norþmen ge
oþre 7 eac Stræcledweala cyning 7 ealle Stræcledwealas,‘and then the king of the Scots and all the people of the Scots, and Rögnvaldr and the sons of Eadwulf and all who lived in Northumbria, English and Danish, and Northmen and others, and also the king of the Strathclyde Britons and all the Strathclyde Britons, chose him as father and lord’.
I interpret the categories being identified here as the people of Alba and the
Northumbrians (namely English Northumbrians and Scandinavian Northumbrians
and other Scandinavians and all others dwelling in Northumbria) and also
Strathclyders. By using this formula, the chronicler sought to be as inclusive as
19 ASC.B, ed. Taylor, p. 28. Cf. ASC.C, ed. O’Keeffe, p. 50; ASC.D, ed. Cubbin, p. 16; ASC.E,
ed. Irvine, p. 41; ASC.F, ed. Baker, p. 53. Cf. The Chronicle of Æthelweard, ed. & transl. A.
Campbell (Edinburgh 1962), p. 27 (III.1). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, transl. Michael Swanton
(London 1996), p. 54, n. 4; Bibire, ‘North Sea language contacts’, p. 89. Cf. ASC.A, ed. Bately,
p. 39, which lacks Norðmanna (as does its copy, version G).
20 Clare Downham, Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland. The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014
(Edinburgh 2007), pp. 95–7, 150. 21 ASC.A, ed. Bately, p. 69 (s.a. 920). I am grateful to Paul Bibire for pointing out that in the absence of hooked o the spelling Rögnvaldr is more accurate than Røgnvaldr, the form used by Downham, Viking Kings.
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 145
possible in naming the peoples of Northumbria and north Britain.22
The idea that England was peopled by two principal ethnic groups, the Englisc
(English) and the Denisc (Scandinavians), is found at various points in ‘The Anglo-
Saxon Chronicle’ and in Anglo-Saxon law-texts.23 The pairing of Angelcynn/Ængle
and Denisc/Dene as opposing categories can be seen in ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’
in annal 887 where it is said of King Alfred that all Angelcyn to cirde þæt buton
deniscra monna hæftniede was (‘all the English turned to him, except those in
captivity to denisc men’).24 It is said of him again in annal 900, se wæs cyning ofer
eall Ongelcyn butan ðæm dæle þe under Dena onwalde wæs (‘he was king over all the
English except that part which was under the control of Dene’).25 In 910, Ængle 7
Dene fought at Tettenhall.26 Eight years later, King Edward captured Nottingham,
and ‘all the people settled in the land of the Mercians, both denisc and englisc,
turned to him’.27 It has been argued that Alfred and his successors sought to
promote a unified sense of English identity through the use of words Angelcynn and
22 The author of annal 920A in ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ was careful to specify that
Edward’s authority extended to those of both English and Scandinavian identity in Northumbria.
Such care was perhaps necessary, as the term ‘Northumbrians’ was used fairly fluidly in the late ninth and tenth centuries to refer to either English or Scandinavians or all groups in
Northumbria. For example, in the 890s the term ‘Northumbrian’ is found with reference to a
viking-army but in a tenth-century alliterative charter it seems to be used in reference to people of English rather than Scandinavian identity: ASC.A, ed. Bately, p. 55 (s.a. 893); C. Downham,
‘Religious and cultural boundaries between vikings and Gaels: the evidence of conversion’, in The March in the Medieval West, edd. Jenifer Ní Ghrádaigh & E. O’Byrne (forthcoming).
23 Dawn Hadley, The Vikings in England. Settlement, Society and Culture (Manchester 2006), p. 32: ‘settlers, whatever their background, were labelled as Danes for legal purposes’. For example, see The Laws of the Kings of England from Edmund to Henry I, ed. & transl. A.J. Robertson (Cambridge 1925), pp. 32/3 (IV Edgar 2a §2), eallum leodscype, ægðer ge Englum ge Denum ge Bryttum, on ælcum ende mines anwealdes, ‘to the whole nation – to the English, Danes and Britons in every part of my dominion’. 24 ASC.A, ed. Bately, p. 53 (s.a. 886). Cf. ASC.B, ed. Taylor, p. 39 (s.a. 887); ASC.C, ed. O’Keeffe, p. 64 (s.a. 887); ASC.D, ed. Cubbin, p. 29 (s.a. 886); ASC.E, ed. Irvine, p. 52 (s.a.886).
25 ASC.A, ed. Bately, p. 61 (s.a. 900). Cf. ASC.B, ed. Taylor, p. 46 (s.a. 901); ASC.C, ed.
O’Keeffe, p. 71 (s.a. 901). 26 ASC.B, ed. Taylor, p. 49 (s.a. 910); ASC.C, ed. O’Keeffe, p. 75 (s.a. 910); ASC.D, ed. Cubbin, p. 37 (s.a. 910). 27 ASC.A, ed. Bately, p. 69 (s.a. 918).
146 CLARE DOWNHAM
Englisc.28 One tactic in promoting this sense of unity was to pitch these terms in
opposition to a foreign ‘Other’ whose existence might be seen to threaten the power
or success of the self-referred group. It can be argued in this use of opposing pairs of
ethnic terms that Denisc or Dene functioned as an inclusive term to describe all
those of Scandinavian identity in Britain. It was contrasted with Angelcynn or
Englisc, referring to people of native identity.
Apart from the record for the year 920 in ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, the other
place where there is a perceived distinction between Dene and Norðmenn is in annal
942, in the poem which celebrates the capture of five boroughs from viking-control.29
Her Eadmund cyning Engla þeodenmaga mundbora Myrce geeodedyre dædfruma swa Dor scadeþHwitanwylles geat and Humbra eabrada brimstream burga fife 5Ligoraceaster and Lincyleneand Snotingaham swylce Stanford eacand Deoraby Dæne waeran ærorunder Norðmannum nyde gebegdeon hæþenra hæfteclommum 10lange þrage oþ hie alysde eftfor his weorþscipe wiggendra hleoafera Eadweardes Eadmund cyning.
The translation which was published by Allen Mawer in 1911/12 will probably
sound familiar to all who have studied this period of English history. From line 5b
it reads: ‘… the five boroughs, Leicester and Lincoln and Nottingham, likewise
Stamford also and Derby. The Danes were before this subject for a long time by
force under the Norsemen, in bonds of captivity to the heathens …’.30 In this
interpretation Edmund is seen as the liberator of Danes from the evil clutches of
the heathen Norwegians.
28 P. Wormald, ‘Engla Lond: the making of an allegiance’, Journal of Historical Sociology 7
(1994) 1–24; S. Foot, ‘The making of Angelcynn: English identity before the Norman conquest’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th series, 6 (1996) 25–49.
29 ASC.A, ed. Bately, p. 73. In quoting the text of this poem, I have removed all internal
punctuation to assist thoroughgoing reëvaluation of the poem’s meaning. Cf. ASC.B, ed. Taylor, p. 53; ASC.C, ed. O’Keeffe, p. 79; ASC.D, ed. Cubbin, p. 43. 30 A. Mawer, ‘The Scandinavian kingdom of Northumbria’, Sagabook of the Viking Society 7
(1911/12) 38–64, at pp. 61–2; A. Mawer, ‘The Redemption of the Five Boroughs’, English
Historical Review 38 (1923) 551–7, at p. 551.
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 147
The poem is found in versions A, B, C, and D of ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’.
There is some variation in the grammatical case of Dene given in different versions.
Nominative or accusative plurals Dæne and Dene are given in versions A, C, and D.
The dative plural Denum is the reading given in the B-text. Scholars working in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries tended to prefer the reading of the B-text.
The translation given by Henry Petrie (1848), Charles Plummer (1899), Walter
Sedgefield (1904), and E.E.C. Gomme (1909) is rather different from Mawer’s and
along the lines of ‘… five boroughs … they were under the Danes, under the
Northmen in heathen fetter-bonds a long time …’.31 In this earlier habit of
translation the Dene are regarded as being in league with, or as being the same as,
the Norðmenn. On text-historical grounds the readings of versions A, C, and D are
to be regarded as superior to that of B.32 Nonetheless it is interesting that a shift in
the translation of ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reflects a change of perception by
scholars in the early twentieth century, that vikings in Britain might be categorised
into rival ethnic groups. This historiographical development is discussed in the next
section of this article.33
If it be considered that Danes and Norwegians were not distinctive rival groups
in early tenth-century England, another translation which respects the readings
given in versions A, C, and D of ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ can be made. Mawer
suggested that a sentence-division should be inserted into the poem following the
list of five boroughs. This interpretation has been followed by most subsequent
translators of the poem.34 Nevertheless, if one took the poem as a single sentence,
then Dæne wæron ær (‘They were previously Dene’) could be an interjection
referring back to the Myrce (‘Mercians’) whom Edmund defeated. In this
reïnterpretation a distinction is being made between the Engle whom Edmund leads
31 Monumenta Historica Britannica, or Materials for the History of Britain, from the Earliest
Period, I, edd. Henry Petrie & J. Sharpe (London 1848), p. 387; Two of the Saxon Chronicles
Parallel, with Supplementary Extracts from the Others, ed. Charles Plummer (2 vols, Oxford
1892/9; rev. imp., by D. Whitelock, 1952), II.143; The Battle of Maldon and Short Poems from
The Saxon Chronicle, ed. Walter Sedgefield (Boston, MA 1904), p. 41; The Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle, transl. E.E.C. Gomme (London 1909), p. 89.
32 Mawer, ‘The Redemption’, pp. 552–3.
33 See below, pp. 152–7.
34 Mawer, ‘The Scandinavian kingdom’, pp. 61–2. For example: The Anglo-Saxon Minor
Poems, ed. Elliott van Kirk Dobbie (New York 1942), pp. xli, 20–1; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Revised Translation, transl. Dorothy Whitelock et al. (London 1961), p. 71; The Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle, transl. Swanton, p. 110.
148 CLARE DOWNHAM
and the Mercian Dene whom he conquers. A new translation could read as
‘In this year King Edmund, lord of the Engle,protector of men, conquered Mercians,noble doer of deeds, as the Dore divides,Whitewell gate and Humber’s river,broad sea stream, five boroughs,Leicester and Lincoln,and Nottingham and Stamford also,and Derby – they were previously Dene –,oppressed in need under Northmen,in the fetter-chains of heathensfor a long time, until he freed them againfor his glory, shield of warriors,offspring of Edward: King Edmund.’This interpretation does not eliminate the option of distinction between Dene and
Norðmenn, but it does allow the possibility that here they were members of the
same group. It could be argued that the poet used the terms Norðmenn and hæðen,
in addition to Dene, to belabour the alien domination of the five boroughs.
Edmund’s campaign is implicitly justified by the fact that he was conquering those
Mercians who could be identified as foreigners (or under foreign control).36 This
new reading also sits better with the record in ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ where
King Óláfr, who was defeated by the capture of the five boroughs in 942, is
identified as leading an army of Dene in 943.37 Furthermore, parallels can be drawn
between the seizure of boroughs from the control of Dene in 942 and accounts of
35 I am particularly grateful to Paul Bibire for his assistance in achieving this version.
36 This translation may resolve the difficulty which Allen Mawer had in explaining the
description of the boroughs as being held down for ‘a long time’. The poet was not, perhaps,
referring to the relatively brief period of York’s domination of five boroughs, but to the
settlement and domination of the region by Scandinavian settlers since the late ninth century.
David Roffe has made the interesting suggestion in e-mail correspondence that ‘The reference to five boroughs must have in mind the re-organization in local government that led to the
establishment of the Five Boroughs as an institution (clearly English and post-942). Was the
intention to promote the new organization?’ If this institution was established in 942 it may have
disenfranchised some of the Scandinavian lords who had wielded power at a local level (albeit
under the overlordship of West Saxon kings). Mawer, ‘The Redemption’, p. 555; C. Downham,
‘The chronology of the last Scandinavian kings of York’, Northern History 40 (2003) 25–51, at
37 ASC.D, ed. Cubbin, p. 43 (s.a. 943).
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 149
other West-Saxon victories recorded in ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ during the
early tenth century. In 912 King Edward constructed a stronghold at Witham in
Essex where him beag god dæl þæs folces to þe ær under deniscra manna anwalde wæron
(‘a good part of the people previously under the control of dæniscra manna
submitted to him’).38 After a vigorous season of campaigns by King Edward in 917,
him cirde micel folc to, ægþer ge on Eastenglum ge on Eastseaxum, þe ær under Dena
anwalde wæs (‘a great multitude, both in East Anglia and in Essex, which was earlier
under the control of Dene, turned to him’).39 Thus ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’
conveys the impression that people who dwelt in areas under Scandinavian rule
willingly submitted to the West-Saxon king in order to throw off the yoke of
viking-oppression. The same image may be intended in annal 942. Whether all the
inhabitants felt liberated by the extension of West-Saxon power across areas which
had previously been ruled by East Angles or Mercians or Northumbrians, as well as
vikings, is a matter for speculation. It can only be expected that ‘The Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle’ gives a rather one-sided view.
VIKINGS IN INSULAR CHRONICLING
If ethnic labels were not used to distinguish different viking-groups in the ninth
century, this raises the question of the terms used to distinguish one viking-army
from another. A brief investigation of Insular chronicles suggests that, in the ninth
century, Viking-Age chroniclers described armies in a variety of different ways.
These included the identity of their leaders; their bases or the area where they last
campaigned; the areas where they settled; the relative size of their army; and even
their level of contact with the local population.
Examples of identification of viking-groups by their leaders are found in ‘The
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. For example: 871, ‘two divisions, one led by Bagsecg and
Hálfdan, the other by earls’; 875, ‘Hálfdan’; 875, ‘Guthrum, Oscetel, and
Anwend’; 876, ‘Hálfdan’; 878, ‘the brother of Ívarr and Hálfdan’; and, for the years
892 and 893, ‘Hæsten’.40 In Irish chronicles frequent reference is made to the
leaders of viking-armies. For example, in ‘The Annals of Ulster’ for 853 ‘Amlaíb’
(Old-Norse Óláfr) brings a fleet to Ireland and is referred to as an army-leader until
38 ASC.A, ed. Bately, p. 64.
39 ASC.A, ed. Bately, p. 68.
40 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, transl. Whitelock et al., pp. 45–54.
150 CLARE DOWNHAM
871.41 From 856 he is often found in alliance with ‘Ímar’ (Old-Norse Ívarr).42
References to vikings by their bases or last campaign-site are found in ‘The
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’: 867, ‘from East Anglia’; 879, ‘from Chippenham’; 880,
‘from Cirencester’ and ‘the army which had encamped at Fulham’; 882, ‘the
Frankish empire’; 885, ‘the army in East Anglia’; 886, ‘the army which had gone
east’; 893, ‘army which had been at Milton … which had been at Appledore’; and
894, ‘who were encamped on Mersea’.43 In ‘The Annals of Ulster’ there are many
references to viking-bases, including ‘heathens from Linn Duachaill’, ‘heathens
from Dublin’, and ‘heathens from Cael Uisce’ for 842, and further references to
‘heathens from Lough Ree’ for 844 and ‘ships of Limerick’ for 845.44
References to the areas where vikings settled are found in ‘The Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle’ include: 893, ‘those who lived in Northumbria and East Anglia’; 896,
‘the armies in East Anglia and Northumbria’; and 910, ‘the army in
Northumbria’.45 In Irish reporting, viking-settlement focused on individual sites
rather than areas. Nevertheless there is reference to ‘Foreigner-Gaels of Leth Cuinn’
in Chronicum Scotorum for 858.46
The term micel here, ‘big/great army’, was employed in ‘The Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle’ in annal 866, and the same force is referred to in the account of the
870s as simply here. This may refer to the biggest invading army active in southern
Britain at that time. It should be noted, however, that the composition of the army
altered over time, with the addition of new men and the departure of others.47 In
annal 893 there is reference to se micla here … þe ær … sæt æt Apuldre (‘the large
army which had been encamped at Appledore’).48
In Irish chronicles the trio of names introduced to distinguish viking-groups in
the mid-ninth century – Finngaill, Dubgaill, and Gallgoídil – may be translated as
41 Downham, Viking Kings, pp. 238–40.
42 Ibid., pp. 258–9.
43 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, transl. Whitelock et al., pp. 45–54.
44 The Annals of Ulster (to A.D. 1131), I, edd. & transl. Seán Mac Airt & G. Mac Niocaill
(Dublin 1983), pp. 300–3.
45 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, transl. Whitelock et al., pp. 55, 57, 61.
46 Chronicum Scotorum. A Chronicle of Irish Affairs, from the Earliest Times to A.D. 1135, with a
Supplement containing the Events from A.D. 1141 to A.D. 1150, ed. & transl. William M.
Hennessy (London 1866), pp. 156/7. 47 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, transl. Whitelock et al., pp. 47–8 (annals 871 and 875). 48 Ibid., p. 55; cf. Shippey, ‘A missing army’, pp. 324/5.
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 151
‘Old Foreigners’, ‘New Foreigners’, and ‘Foreigner-Gaels’.49 These categories seem
to reflect the level of contact or interaction which these groups had with the Gaels.
These terms endured, and their meanings adapted over time. Gallgoídil eventually
became associated with the area of Galloway in Scotland. Dubgaill soon became so
settled into Irish politics that they may have been considered not so much as ‘new’
foreigners but as being under the leadership of descendants of the first leaders of the
Occasionally, reference seems to be given to the homeland of a Scandinavian
force, although all such references are controversial. The DEF-texts of ‘The Anglo-
Saxon Chronicle’ (representing in their agreement ‘The Northern Recension’ of
around A.D. 1000) identify Hereðaland (which may be Hordaland in Norway) as
the origin of three ships which arrived in Dorset during the reign of Beorhtric, king
of the West Saxons (786–802).50
The fact that Hörðaland is not mentioned in
other recensions of ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ indicates that the information
may have been added in Northumbria around 1000.51 Asser, the late ninth-century
biographer of King Alfred, described the army which arrived in East Anglia in 865
as having come from the Danube (de Danubia). Here Asser may have confused
Dacia (the area of modern Romania, through which the Danube flows) with Dania
(Denmark/ Scandinavia). Alternatively he may have been alluding to an originlegend,
which is recorded in the eleventh century, that vikings hailed from Dacia.52
In Irish chronicles reference is made to the arrival of a son of the king of Laithlinn
in the mid-ninth century.53 The meaning of Laithlinn is intensely controversial but
may designate an area to the north-east of Ireland, including some of the Scottish
49 A.P. Smyth, ‘The Black Foreigners of York and the White Foreigners of Dublin’, Saga-book
19 (1974–7) 101–17; Dumville, ‘Old Dubliners’, especially pp. 83–4, 91–2.
50 Annal 787: ASC.D, ed. Cubbin, p. 16 (of Hæreðalande); ASC.E, ed. Irvine, p. 41 (of
Hereðalande); ASC.F, ed. Baker, p. 53 (of Hereðalande).
51 ASC.E, ed. Irvine, pp. xiii, xxxiii.
52 Alfred, transl. Keynes & Lapidge, p. 238, n. 44; Dudo of St Quentin, History of the Normans,
transl. Eric Christiansen (Woodbridge 1998), pp. 15–16 (I.i-ii). If Asser was referring to an
origin-legend, this indicates interest in King Alfred’s circle to understand and interpret
information about Scandinavian political geography and identity, which may have been
undergoing an important stage of conceptual development at the end of the ninth century. It is
relevant to note that the first reference to Denmark thus is found in ‘The Voyage of Ohthere’
written at Alfred’s court: The Old English Orosius, ed. Janet Bately (Oxford 1980), pp. 13–16
53 ‘The Annals of Ulster’, s.a. 852[=853].2 (edd. & transl. Mac Airt & Mac Niocaill,
152 CLARE DOWNHAM
islands and/or parts of Scandinavia. It is uncertain how this name fits with
Lochlann, a term in use from the eleventh century which then means Norway or the
It can be argued that Insular chroniclers in the ninth and early tenth centuries
were not preöccupied with identifying whether groups were Danes or Norwegians,
for such distinctions had no apparent relevance in a contemporary context.55 The
same argument can be made from the Frankish evidence.56 It seems that vikingarmies
often comprised a diverse range of individuals who had come together for
the purposes of a particular campaign, or following a particular leader.57 We cannot
expect that armies were uniformly composed of people from just one part of
ENGLISH-LANGUAGE HISTORIOGRAPHY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
If the division between Danes and Norwegians was not functional in the ninth
century, this naturally raises the question why later historians introduced these
categories in their discussions of the Viking-Age in Britain and Ireland. Until the
nineteenth century, ‘Dane’ was often used as a catchall word in English
54 A. Ahlqvist, ‘Is acher in gáith … úa Lothlind ’, CSANA Yearbook 3/4 (2005) 19–27; C.
Etchingham, ‘The location of historical Laithlinn/Lochla(i)nn: Scotland or Scandinavia?’, in
Proceedings of the Seventh Symposium of Societas Celtologica Nordica, ed. Mícheál Ó Flaithearta (Uppsala 2007), pp. 11–31.
55 N. Higham, ‘Viking-Age settlement in the North-western countryside: lifting the veil?’, in
Land, Sea and Home. Proceedings of a Conference on Viking-period Settlement, at Cardiff, July 2001, edd. John Hines et al. (Leeds 2004), pp. 297–311, at p. 303: ‘Nor is it clear that contemporary communities distinguished uniformly between Danes, Norse, Irish, Britons and English in the same ways and for the same reason as modern scholars have been inclined to’.
56 Examples in ‘The Annals of Saint-Bertin’ from the mid-ninth century demonstrate that
viking-groups could be identified by their leader’s name (s.aa. 845, 850, 861); by the size of a
fleet (s.a. 852); by stating where they last campaigned (s.aa. 845, 856) or where they were based (s.a. 865). But there is no consistent distinction made between Nordmanni and Dani.
See Annales de Saint-Bertin, edd. Félix Grat et al. (Paris 1964), pp. 61, 63, 72, 78, 89, 106–7, 149–51. 57 N. Lund, ‘The armies of Swein Forkbeard and Cnut: leding or lið?’, Anglo-Saxon England 15 (1986) 105–18. Cf. Hadley, The Vikings in England, pp. 83, 306; S. Keynes, ‘The vikings in England, c. 760–1016’, in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings, ed. Peter Sawyer (Oxford 1997), pp. 48–82, at p. 54; M. Innes, ‘Danelaw identities: ethnicity, regionalism and political allegiance’, in Cultures in Contact: Scandinavian Settlement in England in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries, edd. Dawn Hadley & J. Richards (Turnhout 2000), pp. 65–88, at p. 78.
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 153
historiography to describe all Scandinavians or vikings.58 However, during the
nineteenth century there were calls for a more specific terminology to be applied to
Scandinavian raiders and settlers in order to distinguish the impact of Norwegians
and Danes in mediaeval Britain.
This concern to demarcate the influence of
different groups seems to have been entangled with contemporary nationalistic
agenda. In 1852 J.J.A. Worsaae insisted in his book An Account of the Danes and
Norwegians in England, Scotland and Ireland, that ‘the Norwegians in Scotland’
were ‘the most numerous of all the Scandinavian colonists’ but observed that the
word Dane was commonly used to describe Scandinavians in a North-British
context. Worsaae (a Dane himself) attributed ‘the preponderance of the Danish
name’ to59 the pre-eminent power of the Danes in ancient times, and in the early middle ages; and of course, more particularly to the supreme domination which they had so gloriously won for themselves in the neighbouring country of England.
This echoes, in some respects, the opinion expressed by Daniel Wilson in his
Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, published the previous year:60
the invariable adoption of the latter term [Danes] in preference to that of Norwegians or
Norsemen,61 shows how completely Scottish and Irish antiquaries have abandoned
themselves to the influence of English literature, even where the appropriation of its dogmas
was opposed to well-known historical facts.
Wilson clearly resented the overt influence of English scholarship on interpretations
of the Viking-Age in Scotland.62
Some scholars objected to the prevalent use of the word ‘Dane’, not merely
because it was deemed inaccurate but also because it seemed to deny the
significance of Norway in the Viking-Age. It was the Norwegian, Peter Andreas
58 J. Graham-Campbell, ‘“Danes … in this country”: discovering the vikings in Scotland’,
Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 134 (2004) 201–39, at p. 202.
59 J.J.A. Worsaae, An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland and Ireland
(London 1852), p. 199. 60 Daniel Wilson, Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland (Edinburgh 1851), pp. xiv–xv; Graham-Campbell, ‘Danes … in this Country’, p. 221.
61 Here the equation of Norse and Norwegian, which has caused such confusion of usage, is
quite explicit. 62 A. Newby & L. Andersson Burnett, ‘Between Empire and “The North”: Scottish identity in the nineteenth century’, in Parting the Mists. Views on Scotland as Part of Britain and Europe, ed. Henrik Meinander (Helsinki 2008), pp. 37–53.
154 CLARE DOWNHAM
Munch, who had urged Wilson to purge the Danish terminology in scholarship.63
Munch’s concerns reflected a contemporary movement to minimise Danish
influence in Norway. In 1814, Denmark had ceded Norway to Sweden, but
Norway took the opportunity to declare independence. After a brief war, Norway
entered a union with Sweden which allowed the country to retain a separate
constitution and gain independence for many of its institutions. From this time it
appears that attitudes towards the language, history, and culture of Norway became
increasingly politicised as emphasis was laid on their distinct national character. For
example, before 1814 the official language was called Danish.
After 1814 the same
language was in Norway called Norwegian.64 It was in this environment of growing
expression of Norwegian nationalism in literature and the arts that Peter Andreas
Munch and his fellow-historians worked. Munch was concerned with celebrating
the character and historical importance of Norway in his great work Det norske folks
historie, published in 1863.65 His influence passed over into scholarship written in
English. Munch promoted the idea that the Viking-Age culture of Scandinavia was
more deeply rooted in Norway than in Denmark.66 This complemented existing
stereotypes of the Norwegians as more rural and backward-looking, but also more
individualistic and liberty-loving, and freer of foreign influence than their Danish
neighbours.67 This desire to distinguish Norwegians from Danes in order to reclaim
for Norway a distinct historical impact in Britain and Ireland was expressed by
other Scandinavian scholars whose work reached out to an English-speaking
audience. For example, the eminent historian Alexander Bugge complained in 1900
that English students of the Viking-Age ‘confound Norwegians and Danes, without
distinguishing between the two nations’.68
Some regarded the shift in identifying a strong and distinctive Norwegian
cultural impact in the Viking-Age as going too far.69 George Stephens, a
nineteenth-century English scholar who worked in Denmark, argued against the
64 A. Elviken, ‘The genesis of Norwegian nationalism’, Journal of Modern History 3 (1931)
365–91, at p. 385.
65 P.A. Munch, Det norske folks historie (8 vols, Oslo 1863); Elviken, ‘The genesis’, p. 387.
66 P.A. Munch (transl. Sigurd Bernhard Hustvedt), Legends of Gods and Heroes (New York
1926), pp. xiii–xvi.
67 Elviken, ‘The genesis’, pp. 371–4; Wawn, The Vikings, p. 9.
68 Alexander Bugge, Contributions to the History of the Norsemen in Ireland,
Videnskabsselskabets Skrifter, II, Historisk-filosofisk Klasse, nos 4–6 (3 parts, Oslo 1900), I.3.
69 Wawn, The Vikings, pp. 4, 148.
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 155
trend towards national separatism in historical interpretation, by contending that
Scandinavian language and culture had been united across a large area.70 Stephens’s
insistence on the shared heritage of ‘Anglo-Scandic lands’ can be interpreted as a
reäction against Norwegian nationalism and German imperialism in the nineteenth
century.71 German scholars had their own scholarly ideology (which in Stephens’s
view downplayed the significance of Scandinavia), and Germany posed a tangible
political threat to Denmark, a country whose culture Stephens had enthusiastically
embraced.72 Stephens’s views did not gain widespread support.73 However, it is
evident that scholarly disputes were steered (and sometimes buffeted) by the twin
forces of national separatism and imperialist ideologies which circulated in
nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe.
The discussion thus far demonstrates that in the nineteenth century efforts were
made to distinguish vikings who were active in Scotland from those who were active
in England. The former were identified as being predominantly from Norway and
the latter predominantly from Denmark. In Ireland the view that Danes and
Norwegians had operated as separate groups was well established in nineteenthcentury
historiography. In 1860 John O’Donovan published an edition and
translation of the text now called ‘The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland’. An eleventhcentury
saga embedded within that text identified two groups of vikings who were
called ‘Dark foreigners’ and ‘Fair foreigners’ as Danes and Norwegians respectively. I
have argued elsewhere that the eleventh-century saga-author was interpreting earlier
chronicle-material, which he drew on for his account, in the light of eleventh-century
rivalries between Danes and Norwegians.74 David Dumville has persuasively made
the case that references to ‘Dark’ and ‘Fair’ foreigners in the ninth century refer to
groups under different leadership.75 The terms ‘Dark’ and ‘Fair’ may be interpreted to
70 Ibid., p. 219.
71 George Stephens, The Old Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England, now first
collected and deciphered (4 vols, London 1866–1901), I, dedication, and I.xi–xii. Despite
emphasising the unity of the Old North, Stephens promoted the idea of regional dialects. In
particular he insisted that English dialects were the ‘best key to the oldest Scandinavian folk-talks’
rather than Icelandic, thus illustrating his own national bias.
72 Wawn, The Vikings, pp. 218–28.
73 Ibid., p. 243.
74 Downham, ‘The good’.
75 Dumville, ‘Old Dubliners’; cf. Ailbhe Mac Shamhráin, The Vikings. An Illustrated History
(Dublin 2002), p. 48; Downham, Viking Kings, pp. xvi–xvii.
156 CLARE DOWNHAM
mean ‘New’ and ‘Old’ in a Gaelic context, rather than being ethnic signifiers.76
However, guided by the nationalist preöccupations of the age, scholars dealing with
the saga-element in ‘The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland’ readily accepted the division
of vikings into national groups. Some, including James Henthorn Todd and Charles
Haliday, registered their frustration that other sources did not clearly distinguish
between Danes and Norwegians in accounts of ninth-century events.77
Such frustrations were inevitable, I should argue, because ninth-century viking-groups were
not mono-ethnic and probably did not use national labels to identify themselves.
It can be seen that in the nineteenth century there was a well established
perception that viking-populations in Ireland were composed of different ethnic
groups which might work in competition with each other. Opinions were divided on
which of the Scandinavian peoples was dominant. In 1891, Heinrich Zimmer
considered that the royal dynasty of Dublin and the dominant culture in the vikingcolonies
were Danish.78 Nevertheless a number of prominent Scandinavian scholars
regarded the Norwegians as the dominant cultural element in Ireland’s viking-ports.79
This was partly argued on geographical grounds: the Scottish islands, which were
thought to have been settled from western Scandinavia, were but a short trip by sea
from Irish shores.80 Alexander Bugge’s Contributions to the History of the Norsemen in
Ireland, published in 1900, presented a vigorous argument in opposition to Zimmer
that Dublin’s royal dynasty and much of the viking-population were Norwegian in
origin. Bugge’s work was influential, for after 1900 the majority of scholars writing in
English regarded Ireland’s viking-towns as being Norwegian in character, although
debates continued about the origin of Dublin’s royal dynasty.
Links between Gaelic and Norwegian peoples were also highlighted in mediaeval
76 Smyth, ‘The Black Foreigners’; The Annals of Clonmacnoise, being Annals of Ireland from the Earliest Times to A.D. 1408, ed. Denis Murphy (Dublin 1896), p. 148 (s.a. 922).
77 ‘It is to be regretted that our author [of Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh] does not always very
clearly distinguish between them in his descriptions of their devastations in Ireland. We cannot
even be sure that the name Dane is not sometimes given to the Norwegians’: Cogadh Gaedhel re: Gallaibh."The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill", or, "The Invasions of Ireland by the Danes and Other Norsemen", ed. & transl. James Henthorn Todd (London 1867), p. xxxi. Charles Haliday, The Scandinavian Kingdom of Dublin (2nd edn, Dublin 1884), p. 15: ‘But whether these invaders were Norwegians, Danes, Swedes, or Jutes, it is difficult to determine’.
78 H. Zimmer, ‘Keltische Beiträge, III: Weitere nordgermanische Einflüsse in der ältesten
Überlieferung der irischen Heldensage’, Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum 35 (1891) 1–176.
79 Worsaae, An Account, pp. xxiii, 297–353; Chronica regum Manniae et Insularum, edd. &
transl. P.A. Munch & A. Goss (2 vols, Douglas 1874), I.1–2.
80 Ibid.; cf. Worsaae, An Account, p. xvii.
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 157
Icelandic historiography. The author of Landnámabók asserted that some of the early
settlers came to Iceland from the Hebrides and Ireland.81 The Gaelic contribution to
mediaeval Icelandic culture has been much explored since the late nineteenth
century.82 Nevertheless, not all scholars saw Gaelic influence in positive terms. It is
sometimes possible to see the anti-Irish sentiments which circulated in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries surfacing in the scholarship of the times.83
The picture built up so far is that historians in the nineteenth century sought to
define the impact of different Scandinavian groups on Britain and Ireland. The
Norwegians were eventually seen to be the dominant cultural influence in Scotland
and in Ireland, while Danish links with England had long been recognised. This
prepared the ground for a view which developed in English historiography of rival
viking-factions in Britain which were aligned along ethnic lines, that is the ‘Anglo-
Danes’ on one side and the ‘Hiberno-Norwegians’ on the other.
There is common sense to the argument that travellers from what is now Norway
would tend to settle in the north and west of Britain and that settlers from what is
now Denmark would settle in the east. There are however some problems in the
way in which place-names have been interpreted to draw a sharp distinction
between Scandinavian settlements in the west and east of England.84 This is evident
in maps which oversimplify the work of onomastic specialists by showing eastern
and western Scandinavian settlements in different colours (in particular those with
81 Íslendingabók – Landnámabók, ed. Jakob Benediktsson (Reykjavík 1968).
82 Sturlunga Saga including the Islendinga Saga of Lawman Sturla Thordsson and Other Works, ed. & transl. Gudbrand Vigfusson (2 vols, Oxford 1878), I.xxvi; Israel Gollancz, Hamlet in Iceland (London 1898), pp. lii–lv; W. Faraday, ‘On the question of Irish influence on early
Icelandic literature’, Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society 44 (1899/1900) 1–22. 83 G.T. Flom, review of Islands Kultur ved Aarhundredskiftet 1900 by Valtýr Guðmundsson, The American Anthropologist, new series, 6 (1904) 339–41.
Flom described Valtýr’s categorisation of those deemed to be descended from ‘thralls of a non-Aryan race’: ‘for the greater part, perhaps, … the Celt’ (p. 341) who among other things ‘are generally melancholy … characterized by very strong feelings, are constant, oppose change … pessimistic, easily discouraged, suspicious, jealous… live for the moment, cannot plan for the future’ (p. 339), in contrast to the noble qualities ascribed to those of Norwegian descent! See also L.P. Curtis, Jr, "Anglo-Saxons and Celts. A Study of Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England" (Bridgeport, CT 1968), pp. 74–89. 84 Hadley, "The Vikings in England", p. 101.
158 CLARE DOWNHAM
thin intervening strip of no-man’s land) as if Norwegian and Danish populations
lived in geographically separated zones with little interaction.85 The interpretation
of ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ which gained ground in the early twentieth
century, that there were two rival ethnic camps of Scandinavian settlers in Britain,
may have influenced historians’ interpretations of place-name evidence.
J.J.A. Worsaae was one of the earliest scholars to highlight the differences between
Scandinavian place-names in eastern and western England. In 1852 he wrote:86
the names ending in by, thorpe, toft, beck, næs, and ey, appear chiefly in the flat midland
counties of England; whereas farther towards the north, in the more mountainous districts,
these terminations mostly give place to those in thwaite, and more particularly to those in
dale, force, tarn, fell and haugh. The difference, however, is scarcely founded on the natural
character of the country alone; it may have arisen from the different descent of the
inhabitants … Exactly similar names are met with to this day in the mountains of Norway;
whilst they are less common, or altogether wanting, in the flat country of Denmark …
Norwegians … appear to have betaken themselves chiefly to the most northern and
mountainous districts, which lay not only nearest to them, but which in character most
resembled their own country.
The geographically determined argument makes sense, that Scandinavian names in
mountainous areas of England are akin to the names of mountainous areas in
Scandinavia and the names of lowland-areas are akin to the names found in the
lowlands of Scandinavia. However, the ethnically determined view that Norwegians
shunned lowland-areas which would have been richer agriculturally, as they felt
drawn to a harsher landscape which looked more familiar, does not make as much
sense.87 The classification of place-names into ‘Norwegian’ and ‘Danish’ elements
therefore risks being a division between names for ‘upland’-features and names for
‘lowland’-features which reflect differences in geography between northwestern and
85 For a selection online, see: http://medieval.ucdavis.edu/20A/Viking.England.jpg;
viks/v0311.jpg; http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/evolenglish.html; http://research.uvsc.edu/
v/viking_ra.gif; http://members.lycos.nl/vikings/vikingjourney.html (all accessed 01/08/08).
86 Worsaae, An Account, pp. 72–3.
87 If one can imagine an attitude towards landscape as a commodity which requires heavy
manual work (and is not simply cast in aesthetic terms), those who had farmed in a harsh
landscape would especially prize good flat land and might regard it as more visually attractive. I
should thank my late great-grandfather, Edward Inman, a Westmorland-farmer, for this insight.
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 159
Worsaae went on to identify -býr or -bý (‘farm’/‘settlement’) as a Danish placename
element.88 He noted that these names appear more frequently in northeastern
counties of England than they do in the north-west. Recent research by Gillian
Fellows-Jensen has reïnforced the view that northwestern names ending in -bý were
transmitted from the east of England, taking into account some complexities of the
evidence to draw the following conclusion: 89
there was an anti-clockwise movement from the northern Danelaw across the Pennines and
down the Eden valley to Carlisle, spreading northwards from there into eastern
Dumfriesshire and trickling along the coast to Galloway, and southwards from Carlisle
along the coastal plain of Cumberland, across the Irish Sea to Man, and finally perhaps back
across the Irish Sea to Wirral and south-west Lancashire.
However, Fellows-Jensen’s view that all British -bý names were originally
disseminated from the Northern Danelaw has been challenged by Alison Grant,
who has argued on linguistic grounds that -bý names of Ayrshire and the Hebrides
were introduced in a Gaelic-Scandinavian milieu. In other words, Grant has put the
case that -bý names were transmitted from the west as well as from the east.90
Grant’s argument may also have implications for some of the -bý names of
Cumbria, Lancashire, and the Isle of Man.91
The other elements discussed by Worsaae were -thveit (‘clearing’) and -thorp
(‘secondary settlement’). Worsaae considered -thveit to be a Danish place-name
element because it was commoner in northeastern England than in Scotland or
northwestern England. His interpretation was soon challenged by Robert Ferguson,
whose work The Northmen in Cumberland and Westmoreland was published in
1856. Ferguson identified the work of Worsaae as a springboard to his own
researches, but he was concerned to highlight the links between the English Lake
District and Norway.92 Ferguson noted the frequency of -thveit names in
Cumberland, suggesting that such names were less frequent in the east because
areas of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire would have already been cleared before vikings
88 Worsaae, An Account, pp. 75–6.
89 G. Fellows-Jensen, ‘Scandinavian place-names of the Irish Sea Province’, in "Viking Treasure from the North West". "The Cuerdale Hoard in Context", ed. James Graham-Campbell (Liverpool 1992), pp. 31–42, at p. 36. 90 A. Grant, ‘The origin of the Ayrshire bý names’, in "Cultural Contacts in the North Atlantic Region: the Evidence of Names", edd. Peder Gammeltoft et al. (Lerwick 2005), pp. 127–40. 91 Diana Whaley, A Dictionary of Lake District Place-names (Nottingham 2006), p. 390. 92 Robert Ferguson, "The Northmen in Cumberland and Westmoreland" (London 1856), pp. i–ii.
160 CLARE DOWNHAM
arrived.93 He therefore regarded the distribution of -thveit names as being
influenced by geographical factors, but he also linked it with settlement from an
area of southwestern Norway where this element was common. Nevertheless,
-thveit is also found in eastern England. It occurs in seven settlement-names in
Norfolk, and, as Fellows-Jensen has pointed out, the adoption of the word thwaite
into northern dialects of English means that a number of -thveit names in Cumbria
(Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire North-of-the-Sands) may postdate the
ninth and tenth centuries.94 In sum, the distribution of -thveit names (like -bý
names) does not always conform with a simple east/west division of English placenames.
The Old-Norse place-name element -thorp is found frequently in eastern
England but rarely in the west. It has the same meaning as Old-English -throp
which is also focused in the Eastern counties but which is much less common. It is
possible that some -thorp names were adopted from Old English -throp by Norsespeakers
or those speaking a Scandinavianised dialect of English.95 The word thorp
continued to be used in Middle English, and some names seem to have been
formed after the Viking-Age.96
Fellows-Jensen has noted that -thorp names appear
frequently in eastern Norway, which challenges the view that the names in England
were all coined by settlers from Denmark.97 Furthermore, the upland-distribution
of -thveit names in northwestern England is analogous to where -thorp names lie in
eastern England, except that in Cumbria these areas would have been more thickly
wooded: ‘when the Vikings were naming dependent settlements in this part of
England, they referred to them quite naturally by the term þveit “clearing”’.98 These
arguments suggest that, despite the marked east/west pattern of division in the
distribution of -thveit and -thorp, it would be unwise to conclude that the former
were all coined by Norwegians and the latter were all named by Danes.
93 Ibid., pp. 36–7. 94 K.I. Sandred, ‘Language contact in East Anglia: some observations of Scandinavian placenames in thwaite in Norfolk’, in Proceedings of the Seventeenth International Congress of Onomastic Sciences, ed. Eeva Maria Närhi (Helsinki 1990), pp. 1–8; G. Fellows-Jensen, ‘Little Thwaite, who made thee?’, in "Proceedings of the Nineteenth International Congress of Onomastic Sciences", ed. W.F.H. Nicolaisen (3 vols, Aberdeen 1998), II.101–6; G. Fellows-Jensen, ‘Vikings in the British Isles: the place-name evidence’, Acta Archaeologica 71 (2000) 135–46, at p. 143.
95 G. Fellows-Jensen, ‘Place-names in -þorp: in retrospect and in turmoil’, Nomina 15 (1991/2)
35–51, at pp. 36, 40.
96 Ibid., pp. 39, 42.
97 Ibid., p. 41.
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 161
As part of a debate about the level of dialectal difference between West Norse
(Old Icelandic/Old Norwegian) language and East Norse (Old Swedish/Old
Danish) language, Paul Bibire has questioned the analysis of Norse place-names in
Britain.99 For example,100 the form Botham and the loan into English, booth, have been used as evidence for East Norse, and more particularly Danish, settlement in Yorkshire … It has been alleged that there is a dialectal distribution of Old West Norse ú, Old East Norse ó in this root … but in actual fact, Old West Norse has both ū and ō … A geographical distribution of ū and ō in this root and words derived from it must therefore be regarded as very questionable, and it is far from certain that all varieties of Norse did not have both vowels in the ninth century.
There is no consensus as to when dialectal differences between West Norse and
East Norse became pronounced: opinions range between the sixth and the eleventh
century.101 It is therefore problematic to apply these arguments to Norse placenames
in an Insular context, where local languages (Gaelic, Brittonic, English) and
dialects will also have impacted on the evidence.
In sum, one would expect that Norse place-names in the east of England might
show greater influence of East-Norse naming habits and that northwestern England
might show greater influence from West-Norse naming habits. However, the
distinctions between eastern and western England have also been influenced by
local geography. Furthermore, the evidence is complex in terms of the origin of
settlers, the chronology of settlement, and the chronology of name-formation using
onomastic elements of Norse origin. While modern onomastic studies show
sensitivity to all these issues, the differences between eastern and western England
have been exaggerated and sometimes continue to be overplayed in modern
accounts and associated maps. The perception that ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’
treats ‘Norwegians’ and ‘Danes’ as distinct groups has perhaps coloured analyses.
On this basis it had been argued that Denby and Normanby place-names 99 The West-Norse language is also called West Nordic or West Scandinavian in scholarly usage, and similarly for East Norse.
100 Bibire, ‘North Sea language contacts’, pp. 100–1; G. Fellows-Jensen, ‘To divide the Danes from the Norwegians: on Scandinavian settlement in the British Isles’, Nomina 11 (1987) 35–60, at p. 53. 101 M. Schulte, ‘Language contact in the period between Ancient Nordic and Old Nordic’, in The Nordic Languages. An International Handbook of the History of the North Germanic Languages, I, edd. Oskar Bandle et al. (Berlin 2002), pp. 882–95 (§88); H. Perriden, ‘Dialects and written language in Old Nordic, II: Old Danish and Old Swedish’, ibid., pp. 1018–28 (§114). I am grateful to Stefan Brink for providing bibliographical guidance on this matter.
162 CLARE DOWNHAM
distinguished between separate settlements of ‘Danes’ and ‘Norwegians’ in the
ninth and early tenth centuries.102 However, this seems doubtful. All such names
are found in eastern counties rather than across the whole area of Scandinavian
settlement in England.103 As I have argued, during the ninth and early tenth
centuries, a distinction was not made between these groups in the English
language.104 Both toponyms might refer to Scandinavians in a general way, or their
coining may postdate the mid-tenth century.105
One cannot doubt that in the Viking-Age there were observable differences
between vikings raised in Gaelic-speaking areas and those who had lived in
England. These differences would presumably have increased over time as
Scandinavian settlers and their descendants intermingled with people from the
The immigration of vikings from Gaelic-speaking areas into England
may have led to the coining of new names such as Ireby (‘farm/settlement of the
Irish’), discussed by Mary Higham.106 Differences may also be noted in areas of
Gaelic-Scandinavian settlement, with the use of inversion-compounds,
combinations of Gaelic personal names with Norse place-name elements, and the
use of Gaelic loanwords into Norse, of which the most notable example is -erg
(from Old-Gaelic áirge, Modern Scottish-Gaelic airigh).107 It can be argued that
102 Worsaae, An Account, p. 73; Mawer, ‘The Redemption’, pp. 556–7.
103 ‘The Key to English Place-Names’ database lists two ‘Danby’ names in North Yorkshire, a
‘Denby’ in West Yorkshire and another in Derbyshire. Two ‘Normanby’ names are listed for
North Yorkshire and two in Lincolnshire. In addition there is a ‘Normancross’ in
Huntingdonshire and ten ‘Normanton’ names distributed as follows: Derbyshire (3),
Nottinghamshire (3), Leicestershire (1), West Yorkshire (1), Rutland (1), Lincolnshire (1). See
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/english/ins/kepn/results_search.php (accessed 01/08/08).
104 It might also be questioned whether all the Normanby and Normanton names were derived
from the Old-English plural Norðmenn, or whether some are derived from the personal name
Norðmaðr: Lena Peterson, Nordiskt runnamnslexikon (Uppsala 2002), p. 149,
http://www.sofi.se/servlet/GetDoc?meta_id=1472 (accessed 01/08/08). Cf. Mawer, ‘The
Redemption’, p. 556; Whaley, A Dictionary, p. 256, s.n. Ormathwaite.
105 For later Scandinavian impact on English place-names, see G. Fellows-Jensen, ‘Danish placenames and personal names in England: the influence of Cnut?’, in The Reign of Cnut, King of England, Denmark and Norway, ed. Alexander R. Rumble (London 1994), pp. 124–40.
106 M.C. Higham, ‘Scandinavian settlement in north-west England, with a special study of Ireby
names’, in Scandinavian Settlement in Northern Britain, ed. Barbara E. Crawford (London 1995), pp. 195–205.107 Fellows-Jensen, ‘Vikings in the British Isles’, pp. 141–2; Higham, ‘Scandinavian settlement’, pp. 199–205; Alfred P. Smyth, Scandinavian York and Dublin. "The History and Archaeology of Two Related Viking Kingdoms" (2 vols, Dublin 1975/9), I.80.
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 163
vikings could be identified by their place of origin, but I do not consider that a
political distinction was maintained throughout the ninth and tenth centuries
between people whose ancestors hailed from the areas of Denmark and Norway.
Rather, viking-groups were primarily bound together by the identity of their leaders
and by the bases and areas from which they operated in an Insular context.
The idea that conflict sometimes characterised relations between ‘Anglo-Danish’
and ‘Hiberno-Norwegian’ contingents in Viking-Age England was developed in
twentieth-century historiography. The rivalry was seen not merely as political but
also as a competition between peoples of contrasting character and world-view. It
has been concluded by various scholars that ‘Hiberno-Norwegian’ and ‘Norwegian’
colonists were more staunchly heathen, more adventurous, more violent, and even
more disorganised than their ‘Anglo-Danish’ rivals. This rhetoric, which sometimes
distinguishes relatively domesticated ‘Anglo-Danes’ from the wilder ‘Hiberno-
Norwegians’, calls to mind standard stereotypes used to contrast peoples deemed to
be at the core and the margins.108
What follows is not a comprehensive survey of the literature. However, each of
the stereotypes listed above is illustrated by quotations taken from works which I
have recently browsed. Taken together, they suggest that stereotyped perceptions of
‘Norwegians’ and ‘Hiberno-Norwegians’ in opposition to ‘Danes’ and ‘Anglo-
Danes’ have been and remain fairly pervasive in the historical literature.
The first stereotype, that ‘Norwegians’ were more adventurous than ‘Danes’ in
the Viking-Age, was linked with the perception that their colonies were
geographically distinct. This notion tends to be found in older historical narratives,
probably because recent onomastic research has effectively challenged the idea that
‘Norwegians’ and ‘Danes’ were ethnically and geographically separated in England.
According to Edward Laborde in 1936:109
108 E.D. Snyder, ‘The Wild Irish: a study of some English satires against the Irish, Scots, and
Welsh’, Modern Philology 17 (1920) 687–725; Thomas Hylland Eriksen, ‘Images of the
neighbour: reciprocal national stereotypes in Scandinavia’, http://folk.uio.no/geirthe/
Scandinavian_images.html (1997), accessed 15/02/2008.
109 E.D. Laborde, Byrhtnoth and Maldon (London ), p. 47. Here ‘Norse(man)’ means
164 CLARE DOWNHAM
The raids on the west coast of England were exclusively Norwegian. Even when attacking
the southeastern shores, they used the same route .… Joint enterprises in later times
consisting of Norsemen and Danes sometimes used the North Sea route, and sometimes
purely Norse invasions like that of Harald Hardrada also went that way. But Danish
wickings never went ‘round about’.
Thus Laborde expressed an extreme view that Danes never sailed around Scotland.
This echoes to some extent the description offered by Eleanor Hull: 110
The Norse were hardy seafarers who pushed out north-west to the shores of Greenland,
Iceland, and North Britain, and thence made their way down the western coasts of Scotland
to Ireland; the Danes, who were not naturally a sea-loving nation, were inclined to hug the
In terms of organisation, the ‘Norwegians’ have tended to be regarded as more
chaotic. Thus F.T. Wainwright wrote that ‘they lacked the military organisation
which characterised the Danish settlements of Eastern England’.111 This may be
compared with a comment made by Jean Renaud: ‘L’expansion danoise,
contrairement à celle des Suédois et des Norvégiens qui était souvent le fait de
groupes d’individus isolés, prit très vite un caractère massif et fortement organisé’.112
The stereotype that ‘Norwegians’ were less organised can also linked with
perceptions of the more violent character of the ‘Hiberno-Norwegians’ in contrast
to ‘Anglo-Danes’. For example, T.D. Kendrick wrote:
"in 918 … a roving viking of the Dublin house, Ragnvald, came over from Ireland and seized
the throne of York … the unhappy province was thrown into chaos by the attempt to
impose heathen Irish-Norwegian government upon the Christian Danes of Deira ….
And of a later king of Rögnvaldr’s family he observed that ‘Olaf and his
Norwegians were athirst for conquest". 113
The distinctiveness and aggressiveness of the ‘Hiberno-Norwegian’ is
commented on by a wide range of authors. One example is provided by the recent
book Viking Empires written by Angelo Forte, Richard Oram, and Frederik
110 Eleanor Hull, A History of Ireland and her People (2 vols, London 1931), I.91 (§3), accessed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks08/0800111h.html#ch1-3 (15/02/2008). Here again ‘Norse’ means ‘Norwegian’. 111 F.T. Wainwright, Scandinavian England. Collected Papers (Chichester 1975), p. 256; cf. p. 334.
112 Renaud, Les Vikings, pp. 8–9.
113 T.D. Kendrick, A History of the Vikings (London 1930), pp. 251, 254.
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 165
Pedersen:114 ‘Christianised York had become … an accepted part of mainland
political society …. This position stands in sharp contrast to that of the Norse of
Dublin, whose aggressive paganism continued to set them apart ….’
The association of Scandinavian traditional religion and violence is found
elsewhere. Recently, Alex Woolf has referred to ‘Christian Anglo-Danes, settled in
eastern England, and heathen Hiberno-Norse from the Irish Sea province’, arguing
that in the mid-tenth century ‘Cumbrians … were perhaps particularly exposed to
aggression from the pagans of the Irish Sea’.115 The view of ‘Hiberno-Norwegians’
as violent heathens bears on issues of cultural assimilation.
Scandinavian settlers in
the east of England were more likely to live in rural settlements than were the portdwelling
vikings of Ireland. In such circumstances the settlers in eastern England
may have more rapidly assimilated to the local population. Nevertheless, the view
that vikings in Ireland had little contact with their Irish neighbours, and in
particular that they were relatively untouched by christianity in that island, is highly
questionable. 116 The contrasts have sometimes been overplayed.
The image projected by Allen Mawer’s translation of the poem in annal 942 of
‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ was that a Danish population in the East Midlands of
England was held down under the force of heathen Norwegians. It has been
assumed that a similar situation prevailed at York. This view is exemplified in the
remarks of Katherine Holman with reference to King Rögnvaldr and his successors
who came from Dublin: 117
the new rulers of York were pagan conquerors who imposed themselves upon a Christian,
Anglo-Scandinavian population. The new political leaders seem to have made no attempt to
establish any permanent roots, but were content to simply milk York and its hinterland for
wealth and power, and to use it as a power base for further expansion of their control into
114 Angelo Forte et al., Viking Empires (Cambridge 2005), p. 78; cf. p. 103.
115 Alex Woolf, From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070 (Edinburgh 2007), pp. 182, 184–5.
116 Downham, ‘Religious and cultural boundaries’; C. Downham, ‘Viking non-urban
settlements in Ireland to A.D. 1014’, in Proceedings of the Conference on Irish-Norse Relations, 800–1200, held in Oslo on 5 November, 2005, ed. Timothy Bolton (Leiden, forthcoming). The
seminal article on economic contacts is by P.F. Wallace, ‘The economy and commerce of Viking-Age Dublin’, in "Untersuchungen zu Handel und Verkehr der vor- und frühgeschichtlichen Zeit in Mittel- und Nordeuropa, Teil IV: Der Handel der Karolinger- und Wikingerzeit", edd. Klaus Düwel et al. (Göttingen 1987), pp. 200–45. The forthcoming book by Mary Valante, "The Vikings in Ireland: Settlement, Trade and Urbanisation", should cast further light on economic contacts between Irish and vikings. 117 Katherine Holman, The Northern Conquest. Vikings in Britain and Ireland (Oxford 2007), p. 101. Again, ‘Norse’ is used to mean Norwegian.
166 CLARE DOWNHAM
the surrounding areas. The Danes who had colonized north-eastern England in the ninth
century had long since been converted, had settled down to farming and trading, and were
now an integral part of the political and social structures of the region. They were as keen to
rid York of its new Norse kings as the kings of Wessex were.
In the next section of this article, the portrayal of kings from Dublin as driven by
short-term concerns and ruling by force alone, with little consensus or legitimacy, is
questioned. Although some scholars have avoided applying a theory of ethnic
rivalry to viking-politics, it would discredit the evidence to rush to the other
extreme and to assume that everyone of Scandinavian heritage pulled together. On
the one hand it can be said that factional rivalry was intense, even within the kingroup
of ‘the dynasty of Ívarr’ who ruled York. On the other hand, there is little
evidence that the battles which raged between viking-factions were ever drawn up
primarily along ethnic lines.
DYNASTIC CONTINUITY OR ETHNIC CONFLICT?
There is ample evidence that vikings controlled York intermittently from 867 to
954. It has generally been recognised that a number of these rulers hailed from
Ireland. These include Rögnvaldr, grandson of Ívarr (918–21); Sigtryggr grandson
of Ívarr (921–7); Óláfr and Rögnvaldr, sons of Guðrøðr (939×944); and Óláfr
Sigtryggsson (941×952). All belonged to the dynasty of Ívarr which dominated the
viking-ports of Ireland during the tenth century.
Historians in Ireland have long recognised that a comparison of evidence in
Irish and English chronicles suggests that a link between vikings in Northumbria
and Ireland existed before 918. Most prominent among the early exponents of this
view were Charles Haliday and James Henthorn Todd, working in the midnineteenth
century.118 Both scholars studied in detail the mediaeval sources from both sides of the Irish Sea. Historians in Britain have tended to be more cautious in admitting these links.119 The view developed in English historiography that Rögnvaldr’s accession to the throne of York after the battle of Corbridge (918) was 118 Haliday, The Scandinavian Kingdom, pp. 24–56, 81; Cogadh, ed. & transl. Todd, pp. 263–77. 119 A. Campbell, ‘Two notes on the Norse kingdom in Northumbria’, English Historical Review 57 (1942) 85–97; F.M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (3rd edn, Oxford 1971), p. 250. Cf. Smyth, Scandinavian York, I.28; Mawer, ‘The Scandinavian kingdom’, pp. 43–50; W.S. Angus, ‘Christianity as a political force in Northumbria in the Danish and Norse periods’, in The Fourth Viking Congress, York, August 1961, ed. Alan Small (Edinburgh 1965), pp. 142–64, at 144, 164.
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 167
an innovation. It was regarded as the imposition of foreign power by ‘Hiberno-
Norwegians’ enforced by brutal conquest over the resident ‘Anglo-Danes’.120 Alfred
Smyth’s volumes on the history of York and Dublin in the later 1970s highlighted
the evidence that two earlier kings from Ireland, Ívarr and Hálfdan, had ruled at
York from 866 to 876.121 However, Smyth and others have argued that power
slipped from the hands of Ívarr’s kin-group following the death of Hálfdan. The
subsequent history of York was regarded as a battle between two competing camps,
the ‘Anglo-Danes’ who forwarded their own candidates for kingship, and the
‘Hiberno-Norwegian’ dynasty of Ívarr who sought to win back the power won by
their glorious ancestor.122
The emerging idea that Rögnvaldr may have had a dynastic claim to the Yorkkingship
in 918 did not therefore dampen perceptions that his rule was imposed by
force over a reluctant ‘Anglo-Danish’ population. In a recent article, David
Dumville has challenged the perception that there was a rapid interchange between
kings representing ‘Hiberno-Norwegian’ and ‘Anglo-Danish’ factions. He has
argued that the influence of the dynasty of Ívarr was more continuous than has
often been perceived. After the death of Hálfdan, brother of Ívarr, it is unclear who
succeeded to the throne of York. The next king who can be identified is Guðrøðr,
who died in 895.123 Historia de Sancto Cuthberto, which may date from the eleventh
century, identifies Guðrøðr as a slave who was purchased by the abbot of Carlisle
who with divine guidance got him elected to the kingship of York.
This hagiographical account cannot be regarded as factually reliable. Dumville has
pointed out that the name Guðrøðr is common among the descendants of Ívarr,
and that he may have belonged to that family.124 Adam of Bremen, writing in the
late eleventh century, linked Guðrøðr to this dynasty, although his information was
drawn from lost Gesta Anglorum of uncertain value.125 Dumville has also pointed
out that a trio of kings who led a Northumbrian army in 910 (‘Eowils’, ‘Halfdan’,
and ‘Ivar’) all bear names which indicate their association with the dynasty of
120 F.T. Wainwright, ‘The submission to Edward the Elder’, History, new series, 37 (1952)
114–30, at pp. 116, 118, 123–4, 129.
121 Smyth, Scandinavian York, I.29, 79.
122 Ibid., I.102–3, 107–9.
123 Æthelweard, Chronicon, IV.3 (The Chronicle, ed. & transl. Campbell, p. 51).
124 Dumville, ‘Old Dubliners’, pp. 87–8.
125 Quellen, edd. & transl. Trillmich & Buchner, p. 258, and Adam of Bremen, transl. Tschan,
pp. 70–1 (II.25); Downham, Viking Kings, pp. 75–8.
168 CLARE DOWNHAM
Ívarr.126 Arguments have been put forward by other historians to link Sigfrøðr who
reigned around 895, and Eiríkr who reigned 946×954, with the same dynasty
(although, in the latter case, this is very tentative).127 Overall it seems evident that
the viking-kings of York were largely members of the dynasty of Ívarr. A case may
be put that some kings of uncertain origin also belonged to that family.
There is very little evidence of organised opposition by an ‘Anglo-Danish’
faction raising its own candidates. Members of the West-Saxon royal dynasty ruled
York intermittently from about 900 until the collapse of the viking-kingdom in
954.128 They seem to have benefited from struggles within the dynasty of Ívarr in
order to come to power, although there must have been a local support-base for
each party to help effect these changes of government.129 While there was, at
different times, some support for southern rule in Northumbria, the rule of the
dynasty of Ívarr could be regarded as legitimate, long-term, and backed by a large
body of local supporters.130
The received wisdom that ‘Anglo-Danes’ and ‘Hiberno-Norwegians’ were
opposed factions in Viking-Age England can be called into question. This gives a
very simplistic picture of a complex political situation. ‘The Anglo-Saxon
126 ASC.A, ed. Bately, p. 64 (s.a. 910); ASC.B, ed. Taylor, p. 47; ASC.C, ed. O’Keeffe, p. 73
(s.a. 911); ASC.D, ed. Cubbin, p. 38 (s.a. 911); Æthelweard, Chronicon, IV.4 (The Chronicle, ed. & transl. Campbell, p. 53); Dumville, ‘Old Dubliners’, pp. 88–9. (Eowils appears as Eowils in A and Eowilisc in D.) 127 Smyth, Scandinavian York, I.33–7, 46; C. Downham, ‘Eric Bloodaxe − axed? The mystery of the last Scandinavian [rectius viking] king of York’, Mediaeval Scandinavia 14 (2004) 51–77;
Downham, Viking Kings, pp. 79, 115–20.
128 Æthelwold (ca 900–2); Æthelstan (927–39); Edmund (944–6); Eadred (946×948, 954–5).
129 Downham, Viking Kings, pp. 80–2, 88–9, 95, 99–105, 111–13.
130 Evidence for concern by members of the dynasty of Ívarr to govern in England and not
merely to plunder may be seen in numismatic evidence: M. Blackburn, ‘Expansion and control:
aspects of Anglo-Scandinavian minting south of the Humber’, in Vikings and the Danelaw:
Select Papers from the Proceedings of the Thirteenth Viking Congress, edd. James Graham-Campbell et al. (Oxford 2001), pp. 125–42, and M. Blackburn, ‘The coinage of Scandinavian York’, in Aspects of Scandinavian York, edd. R.A. Hall et al. (York 2005), pp. 325–49. With regard to that dynasty’s accommodation with the Church, see Hadley, The Vikings in England, pp. 192–236. For the continuity of local administrative units and assembly-sites, see D. Roffe, ‘Hundreds and wapentakes’, in The Lincolnshire Domesday, edd. Ann Williams & G.H. Martin (London 1992), pp. 32–42; A. Meaney, ‘Gazetteer of hundred and wapentake meeting-places of the Cambridgeshire region’, Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 82 (1993) 67–92; S. Turner, ‘Aspects of the development of public assembly in the Danelaw’, Assemblage 5 (2000),available on line at
http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/assemblage/html/5/turner.html (accessed 08/02/08).
‘HIBERNO-NORWEGIANS’ AND ‘ANGLO-DANES’ 169
Chronicle’ does not demonstrate that ‘Danes’ and ‘Norwegians’ were distinct
factions in the ninth and tenth centuries, and neither does the place-name evidence.
The desire to distinguish ‘Danish’ and ‘Norwegian’ influence in Viking-Age
England can be traced back to the political and cultural agenda of various
Scandinavian and Insular scholars working in the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries. These views were elaborated into theories of ‘Anglo-Danish’ and
Although it can be said that vikings from Ireland would have differed culturally
in some respects from vikings in England, evidence of ethnic conflict between
viking-groups is ambiguous and deficient. Rather than being fly-by-nights, the
dynasty of Ívarr supplied kings for both Dublin and York for a sustained period.
These rulers would have been attuned to the needs and concerns of their
constituencies on both sides of the Irish Sea and familiar with the cultures of both.
It is possible to envisage a ruling elite who felt equally at home with the various
viking-cultures of Ireland and Britain, rather than conforming with the labels of
‘Hiberno-Norwegian’ or ‘Anglo-Dane’.
The contrasting ethnic stereotypes applied to ‘Hiberno-Norwegians’ and
‘Anglo-Danes’ reflect modern categories of thought which hinder rather than assist
our understanding of the Viking-Age. They take their origin in national boundaries
which were not embedded in the ninth and earlier tenth centuries, and they reflect
attitudes to core and periphery as defined by later mediaeval and modern politics.
In discarding these stereotypes, we may find that new possibilities emerge for
interpreting aspects of the Viking-Age in England and beyond.
Mediaeval Scandinavia 19 (2009) 139–69 ISSN 0076-5864
‘Hiberno-Norwegians’ and ‘Anglo-Danes’:
anachronistic ethnicities and Viking-Age England1
University of Aberdeen
Dr Clare Downham,
Department of Celtic & Gaelic,
School of Language and Literature,
University of Aberdeen