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Widecombe History Group Talk
Vikings in Devon
A talk by Derek Gore
One of the first and most accurate mentions of The Vikings in Devon was in 836AD when King Egbert of Wessex fought with 35 shiploads of Vikings(Norwegian) at Carhampton near the north coast of Somerset and won, this was recorded in ‘The Anglo Saxon Chronicle‘, (a great source of information), that there was great slaughter. It is possible that the Vikings had been visiting the South West for the previous 30 years and records show they had been in France in 799.
The Vikings were great shipbuilders and navigators, and the design of their boats made them particularly good for rowing. At times they had sails but if the winds were such that sails were of little use they were able to row and manoeuvre their boats onto any beach and due to their light construction pull them up the beach and secure them.
They were travelling around the north of Europe looking for items of high value particularly silver. They would ransack churches, monasteries, royal palaces, in fact anywhere where they thought goods of this kind may be hidden or stored. They were principally Scandinavians but did include Dutch as well. They also used Ireland as a place from which to launch their attacks. They were Pagans so had no respect for the Churches of Britain and any ‘portable wealth’ they could gather was ‘fair pickings’ to them.
There were at that time three main ‘clans’, the Britons who occupied the extreme South West (Dumnonia), The Anglo Saxons which h occupied most of Britain and the Viking Warriors of the North who were constantly raiding The British Isles. When two of these groups united in battle the third party had a difficult task, two against one is often unfair and under any circumstance created a political triangular situation. In 815 Egbert raided Cornwall. 825 shows the Britons moved against Egbert at Galford and it is possible that they defeated Egbert as the Anglo Saxon Chronicle does not record what happened. When Egbert was successful it was recorded in the Chronicle. It appears that by 839-841 the Vikings had captured three quarters of Britain including York and East Anglia.
Egbert’s grandson, Alfred the Great, 871 - 899 was King of Wessex and by 874 reigned over three-quarters of Britain. In 875 he was involved with a battle against the Vikings at Wareham. The Vikings agreed to leave his Kingdom in 875. He allowed them to leave and they went to Exeter, a walled site giving them protection, and in 877 and 878 they moved to Gloucester another walled site just outside Wessex which was only thirty miles outside Alfred’s territory. By 878 the Vikings were at Countesbury in North Devon, in the old records spelt Arx Cynuit, The Anglo Saxons were in the camp Vikings blockaded their camp this time but Anglo Saxons attacked them early one morning and beat them and drove them out. No Anglo Saxon graves have so far been found in Devon with ‘grave goods’ in them like some found in Somerset.
King Harold owned many estates all over Britain and he lost his life in 1066 in battle with the Normans. Prior to that the Irish Vikings made life in Britain very difficult. A picture of a beautiful Gold Armlet was shown found on the beach of South Devon. How it got there is by no means clear.
Viking influence can be found in Cornwall and this suggests that the Britons of Cornwall were happy to co-operate with the Irish Vikings in order to keep the Anglo Saxons away from their lands. Examples of Viking stones at Cardingham Cross, Hog Back Stones in places all similar to those found in Yorkshire and The Isle of Man.
This delayed the unification of the South West with the rest of Britain. The Wessex Kings had started to build towns and Totnes is an example of their work, in many cases called Burghs.
Derek’s talk gave rise to several questions and he does run successful courses on ‘The History of Britain‘.
Derek has two courses imminent
i. at Newton Abbot Community Centre on Roman Britain. Mondays from 10.00 - 12 noon.
ii. at St Sidwell Centre, Exeter on Fridays 10.30 - 12.30 on the early Medieval Age of North and West Britain.
He had copies of a novel he has recently written for sale.Title: ISCA, ‘The Fall of Roman Exeter’ ISBN 1-903356-43-1 priced at £8.
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