Towards the end of the eight-century new raiders were tempted by Britain s wealth. These were the Vikings, a world that probably means either pirates or the people of the sea inlets, and they came from Norway and Denmark. Like the Anglo-Saxons they only raided at first. They burnt churches and monasteries along the east, north and west coast of Britain and Ireland.
London was itself raided in 848. Plunder was not only aim. They were also searching for new places to live. Norsemen began the to settle on the treeless islands to the north and west of Scotland: the Shetlands, Orkneys, Faroes and Hebrides. They bought their families and lived by farming, fishing, and seal-hunting. These islands were ideal bases for attacks on Ireland.
Lonely Iceland was the next place to be settled by Norsemen. Although it was too cold for growing grain crops it had grassy regions suitable for cattle and sheep. Later sagas (stories) of the Icelanders describe further voyages they made across the unknown Atlantic Ocean. In 982 a though Norseman called Eric the Red (He had red hair) killed a man and was banished from Iceland for three years.
He spent the time exploring a snow-covered land to the west, which had earlier been sighted by fishermen. After much searching he found a few areas of grassland along the coast. When Eric returned to Iceland he called this new country Greenland. The Norsemen also wanted to settle along the North American coast but all their attempts failed because of the attacks by people the Norsemen called Skraelings, probably the red Indians.
At the time of the early Norse settlements around the British Isles, Danish, and Vikings were spreading panic in France, Germany and eastern England.
At first they plundered coastal villages and monasteries. Then they grew bolder and sailed up great rivers bringing destruction deep in to the heart of the countryside. Late in 870 the Great Danish Army, let by Guthrum, set up a base near Reading and prepare to attack Wessex - the strongest English kingdom. King Ethelred and his brother Alfred led the men of Wessex straight into the attack and they defeated them in a great battle on the Berkshire Downs. Ethelred died suddenly in 871 living the kingdom and all English hopes in the hands of his brother. After many hard struggles, Alfred s men defeated the Danes and made peace. Guthrum was baptized a Christian, and then the Viking chief let his men across the country to east England, where they settled peacefully to plough the land and sow crops. Soon, a frontier between the English lands and the Danelaw, where Danish laws and customs were followed was fixed. In the rest of the country Alfred was recognized as king. During his struggle against the Danes, he had built walled settlements to keep them out. These were called burghs (this where the word borough comes from) and they were built at places like Exeter, Bath and Winchester. Who should be king? By 950 England seemed rich and peaceful ...
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