Sometime in the late eighth century the people of Scandinavia got bored with the fjords, forests, snow, and depressingly long winters of their homelands, got in their boats and went on holiday for about three hundred years. While they did seek out warmer climates and hoped for a good time, like most tourists, unlike everyone else who brings towels, suncream and sunburn, the Vikings brought swords, terror and death. Like tourists descending on Ibiza, the Vikings struck fear into the hearts of the native inhabitants of wherever it was they landed. Appearing from the sea in their dragon-ships Viking raiders could strike on the shore or deep inland through navigable rivers. They came, they saw, they took everything that wasn’t nailed down, killed or burned everything else and left. They were very, very good at what they did. Viking raids occurred all over Europe, from Ireland to Moscow, from Shetland to Sicily. And they took all their spoils back with them to Scandinavia. Back to the place of cold and snow and cold and ice and did I mention it was cold there? After a while they realised this was not the best of plans, so instead of raiding places they started settling in them, since they were now conveniently empty.
Vikings: First Blood II
The Vikings began to inhabit the lands they once pillaged. At first they were bases from which to pillage further inland, and more frequently, but soon they grew into towns and kingdoms. That’s not to say the pillaging stopped, the Vikings never tired of that, they just added farming and trading to their to-do lists. They built new cities in Ireland, like Dublin, and captured many in Britain, like York, mostly because the Irish never built any cities for anyone to capture. They even founded what would become Russia. These were a slightly different breed of Scandawegians. The Irish had two names for these peoples, the dubghaill and the fionnghaill, the dark- and light-foreigners, the dark ones being of course the ones who came with axes and the light ones those who came with money. One place where they made a big impact was in England where they conquered the whole place from the poor Anglo-Saxons, who were their cousins, of a sort. It should be pointed out that these were Danish Vikings under the rule of Cnut and not Swedish Vikings who were much nicer and liked bright clothes. The whole Viking kingdom in England fell apart after Cnut died, letting the English rule again, for a short while. The Vikings of Ireland made their homes around Limerick, Cork and Dublin. A one point Dublin was one of the most important cities in these Isles due to the influence of the Vikings. Brian Boru (Brain to who we owe cattle-tribute) put an end to any Viking hopes for dominance by first making himself High-King of Ireland, and then making all the other kings do what he said (in theory). After that, fighting the Vikings should’ve been easy. But it wasn’t; the Battle of Clontarf was a brutal affair, though it ended Viking aspirations in Ireland. Brain was killed but his foster-son found his murderer, pulled out his intestines, tied them to a tree and then made the man march around it, slowly tearing his own insides out. Which must have been very pleasant indeed.
Vikings II: The Normans
The English got away with being happy and carefree, and rebuilding their kingdom for about thirty years once Cnut died. Sadly a bunch of Vikings who had settled in France, who had cleverly re-branded themselves the Normans just to confuse everyone, decided that the English had no right to rule England. Billy the Bastard, more commonly known as William the Conqueror today, felt that being a Duke wasn’t cool enough, so he went and declared himself the King of England, which was a bit of a surprise to the English, as they already had one. He then had to go convince the English that he was their king. Billy’s argument was very convincing, especially when you consider that the Normans were Frenchified Vikings; they fused French heavily armored cavalry with their own style of being complete lunatics. Vikings were fearsome warriors who leapt from boats, clad in armour, waving great big axes and fought on foot. The Normans were fearsome armour-clad warriors who fought on armoured horses, with great big swords and shields, and were even better at fighting then the Vikings were. They conquered England and Wales before moving on into Ireland, ignoring Scotland for a bit because they were afraid of kilts and haggis. These Franco-Vikings were so fond of fighting that they went and picked fights in Italy, Sicily, Tunisia, Libya, the Holy Land and even became mercenaries for the Byzantine Empire. The Normans were the last successful invaders of England, and then became English (or some kind of Anglo-Franco-Viking), just as they became Irish in Ireland, and, continuing with their long tradition of going to new places and killing everyone that they found, they then went on to conquer most of the world as the ‘British Empire’. There was also a rather long tiff with the King of France who reckoned England was his since the Billy the Bastard worked for him as Duke of Normandy and therefore the hired thug had conquered England for France, not for himself. And that worked out really well for the French. If you ignore the occupation of their territory, massive wars on their land, a civil war (of sorts), plague, pillage, and other such fun things one does of a long weekend…