Brian Wood’s Top Five Favorite Viking Battles
Maldon-summertime, 991AD, a large force of Viking raiders landed on what is now Northey Island, Essex, England, and waited for the tide to recede in order to launch a full scale invasion of the mainland. Opposing the Vikings was a much, much smaller party of Saxons. When the tide receded, the Vikings were horrified to see that there was only a narrow causeway for them to advance over, a strip of land that could handle no more than three men abreast. The Saxons were easily able to hold them off. Frustrated at seeing his men cut down, the Viking leader appealed to the Saxons to "fight fair". Amazingly, the Saxon leader did just that and let the Vikings all come ashore to fight in a conventional manner. They were, of course, defeated, and the Saxon leader beheaded. His name was Byrhtnoth, and you can find a huge statue of him at Maldon today. He's regarded as a local cult hero, a man with a stout heart that faced overwhelming odds, but other accounts point to his sin of pride and arrogance. The Northlanders connection: a similar tidal footbridge was featured in "The Shield Maidens" (#18, 19) and I have notes for a future story about The Battle Of Maldon.
The Siege Of Paris-nearly a full year, starting in 885. I love how wonderfully political this was. But first things first: the invading Viking force was comprised of some seven hundred ships and 30,000 men, which was by and far the largest assembly of Vikings At War that I've come across in my research. Most Viking battles were small, resembling more gang warfare than the huge CGI battles you see in films. If you could put 700 men in a shield wall, you'd be a force to be reckoned with (this 30k number is often disputed). Anyway, the Viking are starving the French out, and probably would have succeeded if not for Charles The Fat, emperor of the Franks, who paid the Vikings to leave (history tells us this was a very common and effective way to get Vikings to leave you alone). Included in that deal was permission for the Vikings to rape and pillage Burgundy, no friends of Charles The Fat. The Northlanders connection: none so far, but if I have the chops, I'll find a way to research this properly for a story. How can you resist the idea of Vikings in Paris?
Lindisfarne - 793. Not much of a battle. Not a battle at all, actually, but possibly the most famous sacking in history. The Christian Saxons had a really unfortunate habit of consolidating their wealth in possibly the easiest and most recognizable of locations, if you're looking to remove it by force: churches. This was probably not the first Viking raid on the coast, but it was the first so famously recorded: "...never before has such terror appeared as we have now suffered from a pagan race..." It was the unthinkable, and so you can forgive the Northumbrians for leaving their heaps of silver and gold guarded only by fat monks this ONE time, but that treasure box called a monastery was returned to again and again by the Vikings as it kept being replenished. The Northlanders connection: issues #9-10 show the Lindisfarne raid through the eyes of a young boy who sees the Vikings as his personal heroes.
Edington - 878, England. This is one of my favorite tidbits from this time period. The Viking invasion, occupation, and, really, colonization of England was well underway, to the point that these occupied territories had a collective name: The Danelaw. King Alfred (not yet The Great) had been pushed back and back to the point that he and his men occpied nothing more than a few square miles of marshland. Literally, the future England was comprised of just that, that bit of marshland, and that's how close we were to a Daneland and all of us now speaking Danish. But Alfred was able to put together enough of a coalition to meet the Vikings (under the Dane Guthrum) at Edington and save both his kingdom and his dream of a unified land (England). While I strongly dispute the Bishop Asser's account of the sickly and pious Alfred himself slaughtering scores of Northmen, he earned his title The Great. The Northlanders connection: none, really, although the Vikings' occupation of the British Isles is the backdrop for most of the Northlanders stories to date.
Stamford Bridge - 1066, three days before the Norman Invasion of England by William The Conqueror at Hastings. The Viking rule of England was on the wane, and in a last ditch effort to maintain his Northumbrian holdings, Tostig Godwinson invited the Norwegian King Harald across the water to help. The two combined armies met at Stamford Bridge, and as the result of sheer recklessness on Harald's part, he took an arrow in the throat and died. More reinforcements were to come, but the tide of history turned and the Vikings proper were repulsed. I say proper, because this three-way battle illustrated how the Vikings, over the course of the last couple hundred years, had assimilated themselves into these lands. (Norwegian) King Harald was fighting (the Danish) King Harold (of England), who, three days later as I said, was defeated by William of Normandy (the Normans being of Viking heritage). The Northlanders connection: too complicated for my blood.