History of Britain, Warriors of the north. They came from the cold, harsh lands of the north, like creatures of prey. Their own countries had little to offer them. To prosper, they had to travel; to be utterly ruthless, to kill and to rob without the smallest twinge of conscience.
They were the Norsemen; the most magnificent seamen the world has ever known. They crossed the Atlantic; explored the Arctic fringe into Russia; made voyages to the Mediterranean; and paid many visits to the British Isles.
IN the early part of 793, there were disturbing omens in England. The roof of St Peter’s church in York appeared to drip with blood. There were exceptionally high winds, and the sky was rent by lightning. Some people said that they saw fiery dragons in the heavens. Afterwards, there was a famine.
Tha June, the meaning of these portents became clear. The longships of the Vikings (each with a dragon on its prow) came to Lindisfarne. The monastery was sacked. Many of the monks were drowned or clubbed to death – the rest were taken away as slaves. All the treasures were removed.
As the years went by, the raids became more numerous. The Norsemen occupied the Shetland Island, the Orkneys and the Faroes. From these bases, they plundered the west coast of Scotland and southwards as far as the River Mersey. They attacked Ireland, whilst, on the east coast of England, the Danes harried Norfolk and Suffolk.
Whenever the Norsemen came, their attacks followed the same pattern. As soon as they were ashore, they rounded up every horse in the vicinity. Then they rode inland, looting, burning, killing, Presently, rich with booty, they returned to their ships and sailed away.
But these operations were the work of small chieftains whose only interest was in the plunder. When, in 851, the Danes came to the isles of Thanet and Sheppey in Kent, it was quite another matter. They remained there throughout the winter. And it was obvious that they were now considering a full scale invasion.
One day in 839, twelve years before the Danes’ winter holiday in Kent, a Norwegian named Turgeis had landed in Ireland and founded the city of Dublin.
He proclaimed himself ‘King of all the foreigners’. Turgeis was something of a missionary. His ambition was to convert the island’s population from Christianity to his own pagan beliefs. The natives were not impressed. They drowned him in a lake.