Viking Invasion of England 866 *Viking Great Army

866 – Arrival of the Viking Great Army in England and the Conquest of Northumbria, East Anglia, and Murcia

Start of the Great Viking Army invasion *865

A Great Viking Army, also called the Great Heathen Army, arrived in Anglo-Saxon England in the 9th century. This Army was an exceptional coalition of Norsemen. Warriors that comprised the army originated from Denmark and also included warbands from Norway and Sweden.

This vast army arrived to attack the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England.

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Viking Raids to Conquests

Before 866, the Vikings came to raid priories and monasteries and adopted hit-and-run tactics. They returned to their lands after mustering plunder and receiving tributes from Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

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This tribute was known as Danegeld. The raids were mostly done in summer. The Great Viking Army was different from these raids. They did not come to only raid and run. They arrived with the intent of conquering England.

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Events Leading to the Viking Great Army Invasion

There were a lot of raids launched by Vikings in England in the 8th century. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the first confrontation with Danes in England was in 787. In this period, three ships came to England during the reign of King Offa.

Lindisfarne Holy Island *Historic Viking Attack on Monastry

Lindisfarne Holy Island *Historic Viking Attack on Monastry

The first major raid by Vikings was at Lindisfarne in 793. The Vikings attacked the monastery. This event shook the whole of Europe because the monastery was considered very sacred in the Christian World. After this event, Viking raids became more and more common.

Due to valuable portable items like religious relics they hosted, monasteries were the primary target. It is believed that Vikings thought of capturing as much land as they could by force to have more wealth.


Arrival of the Great Heathen Army

Before the arrival of the Viking Army, legendary Viking leader Ragnar Lothbrok was executed in England after being captured. The Great Heathen Army was led by four sons of Lothbrok, with the purported aim of avenging their father.

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These included Bjorn Ironside, Hvitserk, Ivar the Boneless, and possibly Ubba. They landed in England in East Anglia. The king of East Anglia provided them with horses in return for peace. The Great Heathen Army spent the winter of 865-66 at Thetford. It attacked York in November of 866.

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Great Viking Army *Invasion of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

After resting in East Anglia, the Army marched to the Kingdom of Mercia. The Northumbrians paid the tribute, so Vikings appointed a puppet leader in Northumbria. The King of Mercia sought help from the King of Wessex against the Great Army.

Anglo Saxon Settlements Map

Anglo Saxon Settlements in England

The winter of 868 was spent in Northumbria by the Army. On return to East Anglia in 869, they were attacked by Edmund, the king of East Anglia. The Great Viking Army won the battle against Edmund. Edmund was then captured, tortured, and killed by the Vikings.

Anglo Saxon Warriors

Great Heathen Army Invasion -*Effect and Aftermath

King Alfred defeated the Heathen army in 878 at the battle of Edington. Alfred signed a treaty with Vikings to leave Wessex. The Vikings started raiding Wessex again. He then fought back and defeated the army once again. After the defeat, the Vikings settled in York, Northumbria, and Mercia.

Danelaw *Viking Settlements in England

Danelaw *Viking Settlements in England

Some surviving Vikings of the Viking great army continued to raid the neighboring areas of Wessex. But Alfred was successful in protecting Wessex from Vikings. King Alfred realized the vitality of the navy. He ordered to build ships that were larger than Vikings.

Alfred the Great *Anglo Saxon King

Alfred the Great *Anglo Saxon King

Alfred’s conflict with the Great Heathen Army helped lay the foundations of a unified England.

We hope you enjoyed this article on the Great Viking Army also known as the Great Heathen Army. If you would like to know more about Viking armies please see the links below.