Medieval Yorkshire (Part 1)

We last left off our tale of Yorkshire’s history, in 402 AD when the last Roman garrison in the county left the city of York. This marks the beginning of the early Medieval chapter in the county’s history. The Medieval period of European history is somewhat of a fascination for people across the globe with its tales of crusades, galivanting knights, warring houses and tyrannical kings. But what did this bloody era of history bring to the beautiful dales and craggy moors of the county of Yorkshire?

600 AD and further years

Around this time a king by the name of Æthelfrith became the first of the Angle peoples to unite the territories of Deira and Bernecia, encompassing much of what would become modern day Yorkshire. In Æthelfrith’s day, this new kingdom was called Northumbria.

The next king of the region was Edwin of Northumbria, who was responsible for incorporating Christianity as the major religious force in the area. He was converted by his ally Eabald of Kent, who was himself bought into the Church by the Gregorian mission that arrived in Britain 596.

Edwin met his end at the battle of Hatfield Chase in 633, but Christianity continued to dominate the religious mainstream of the Yorkshire area for thousands of years.

Differing branches of Christianity, namely the Celtic and Roman traditions, continued to cause conflicts between their followers. That was until the Synod of Whitby in this year, at which King Oswiu declared his people would celebrate Easter on a Sunday in the Roman tradition and would defend Roman monastic orders.

Viking age

865 marked the first recorded Danish Viking invasion into the lands of what would become Yorkshire, when the epically named due of Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan Ragnarsson conquered York. The first Viking attacks had occurred in Northumbria nearly 20 years earlier, but local resistance put them off returning until this time. By 875 the Scandinavian invaders had conquered much of the country including the Yorkshire area. They even changed the old English name for York, Eoforwic, into Jorvik – which more approaches the modern-day spelling.

Halfdan Ragnarsson

Various Viking, Scottish and Saxon factions fought over the Kingdom of Jorvik for many years, culminating in the battle of Battle of Brunanburh in this year. It was here that Æthelstan defeated an alliance of Scottish and Northumbrian Viking troops, marking the beginning of the end for Viking control of the region.

No-one knows exactly where this battle was fought, although locations across the North of England have been suggested – from the Wirral to Bradford. This was one of the most important battles in English history and helped define the boundaries England as we know it today.

Year 954 brought the end of Viking rule in Britain, when Eric I of Norway (also known by the infinitely cooler name of Erik Bloodaxe) was slain by Anglo Saxons at the Battle of Stainmore and then his forces were driven from York. The biggest legacy of Viking rule over Yorkshire was probably the Riding system of governance. This split the area into three jurisdictions – North, West and East. These divisions survived, officially, until nearly a 1000 years later in 1972.