In a programme for BBC Radio 3, Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough explores the power battles between the Vikings and Anglo Saxons, culminating in the events of 1066. Speaking at the Free Thinking Festival at the Sage Gateshead, Eleanor tells of how the North East of England provided the stage where “the curtain officially opened on the Viking age.”
The wealthy and powerful Anglo Saxon monastery at Lindisfarne, just up the road from Gateshead, was famed for its elaborate manuscripts, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels. In 793 AD, however, Viking raiders attacked the monastery. The monk Alcuin wrote, “Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race. Behold, the church of St Cuthbert, splattered with the blood of the priests.”
A few years later at Jarrow, just down the River Tyne from Gateshead, the Anglo-Saxon locals fought back, driving back the raiders who were washed ashore at Tynemouth, where they were butchered. Although North East England was now left alone for forty years, by 865 the Scandinavians were back, as the heathen army of Ivar the Boneless swept through England from East Anglia to Northumbria.
Eleanor tells the story of the tussles between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings from the eighth century in the North East, up to the Norman conquest of 1066 which brought England under a single ruler – though one who was himself of Viking heritage.