The Vikings in and around Leicestershire

Speaker: Peter Liddle

21 February 2017

February’s meeting of the Thurcaston and Cropston Local History Society heard Peter Liddle (former County Archaeologist) talk about The Vikings - in and around Leicestershire. 

Peter started by setting the scene in Britain before the arrival of the Vikings, when England, as we know it now, was divided into Anglo Saxon Kingdoms. Leicestershire was part of Mercia, and other kingdoms included Wessex, East Anglia and Northumbria.  At that time Leicester was one of the important cities of the Mercian kingdom.  Unfortunately very little documentation from the period remains as it all disappeared with the Vikings. 

The first notable Viking raid was on Lindisfarne in Northumbria in 793 AD where the great Abbey was destroyed, the monks killed and its treasures looted and taken back to the Vikings’ homelands. For the next 60-70 years they made frequent coastal raids taking back treasure, goods and people - either as hostages or slaves.  In 865 AD the “great army” landed, this time not just to raid and loot, but to conquer the Anglo Saxon kingdoms.  In the next ten years the whole structure of Mercia changed as the Viking army rampaged through the country, taking lands and pillaging the countryside .

Although there is no written documentation of the Vikings takeover of Mercia, artefacts are sometimes found which give an idea of their life.  We know that they played board games such as Nine Mens Morris and Hnefatafl as playing pieces have been found.  Metal detectorists have been instrumental in adding to the knowledge of the times by discovering items such as broaches, horse fittings and coins.  One such, the Thurcaston Hoard, is a total of 12 Viking, Saxon and Arabic coins found in the parish by Brian Kimberley, this is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge .

The East Midlands formed part of the Danelaw, as place names with the ending ‘by’ show.  Many are nearby such as Frisby, Brooksby and Rearsby.   Leicester was one of the “Five Boroughs” of the Danelaw together with Nottingham, Derby, Lincoln and Stamford (the main towns of Danish Mercia).  Danish rule of the Five Boroughs was lost following the English reconquests under Aethelflaed (King Alfred’s daughter) during 916 and 917.  The area was then ruled by Earls of Mercia, until it was briefly reoccupied by the Danes in 941, but it was soon recovered by King Edmund in 942.