The Viking Great Army and the Making of England by Dawn M Hadley & Julian D Richards – Review
By Sandra Callard
The eighth and ninth century incursions of the Vikings into the not yet named Great Britain left an astounding and lasting legacy from those early years of the so-called Dark Ages. Known already as feared marauders across present day Europe and even further afield, the Vikings wrought havoc to the collections of small kingdoms scattered throughout early England, bringing war, death and destruction throughout the land.
This vivid new book by Dawn M Hadley and Julian D Richards, The Viking Great Army and the Making of England, brings a fascinating new look at the lives and times of the Vikings, and indeed the enduring contribution that these barbaric fighters made to the eventually powerful land of England.
In researching the “Great Army” the authors have gone mainly down the route of archeology, of which both authors obviously excel. They follow the route of the Vikings in England as the winter approached. As cold and snow enveloped the land, fighting became impossible, so they formed camps of possibly thousands, now known to be a massive conglomeration of fighters, traders, workmen, craftsmen and women and children. The authors highlight in particular the village of Torksey in Lincolnshire, amazingly still a village there, as a wintering settlement for the Vikings, although other places such as Reading, Exeter and Wareham have also been noted as Viking winter shelters.
Torksey in particular has produced one of he greatest hoards of Viking finds, lost during the wintering, and subsequently buried until archeology found them. These finds were mostly domestic but occasionally silver and gold finds have helped the authors piece together the life of the Vikings as they battled thorough the winter towards the welcome signs of spring. Hundreds of household pieces such as gaming and chess pieces, nails and weights have shown that the Vikings had intelligence and were good traders. There was also the elaborate and beautiful ring, named the Aethelswith ring which was ploughed up in a field near Aberford in West Yorkshire. The details of the Vikings’ lives during these times are the result of an enormous pool of knowledge and work by teams of archeologists, who can clarify information from the smallest pieces of archeology, and this book is the result of their astute and exhaustive work.
The book also highlights other parts of Britain which include still surviving villages, towns or even cities, where the Vikings settled, noting that it was always near a river and, if possible, near one of the very few roads which were beginning to form, or were already there after being made by the now departed Romans, such as the A1 as it is now, or the Great North Road as was, and Ermine Street which ran from London to Lincoln.
The great thing about this book is that the authors have an easy, almost conversational, way of writing, which is very different from many other historical books. They refer to the archeologists by their first names, if they know them, which somehow encourages the ordinary reader, who is no expert but loves history, to carry on reading, and what’s more important, to understand it. It is quite astounding that the long ago world of circa 875 can be easily envisaged by the totally different world of 2021 if it is presented in the right way, and, very happily, this book most certainly is.
‘The Viking Great Army and the Making of England’ by Dawn M Hadley & Julian D Richards is published by Thames & Hudson, £25 hardback