I wrote this five years ago… maybe it’s time to share again!
Most people who have had a traditional history education here in England will remember the Danelaw; it was that area of England under the rule of the Danes not the Saxon kings in the south and west of the country. The ‘Danes’, an all-purpose name for the people from Scandinavia who came first to rob and pillage, and then to trade and settle and then to be settled and export from Britain, first came to these islands at the beginning of the ninth century and whose at presence caused war and turmoil for the next couple of hundred years to a greater and lesser extent. In general history they are known as Vikings and there is an amazing exhibition opening in London which I want to visit.
Various treaties between the Saxons and the Danes were made and a line was drawn to delineate an area where Danish law would hold, as opposed to Saxon. I’m very interested in history and I knew all about the Danelaw… or so I thought, because in actual fact, I didn’t. I knew about the battles and the English kings and warriors, and I knew that local to us here in Somerset some import and history-changing events took place… but I didn’t actually think what Danelaw might have been, the law of the Danes for over the territory they held.
The Danish ambassador was on the radio this morning, talking about the forthcoming exhibition; he mentioned the actual situation of Danish people living for hundreds of years in the north and east of England and what they gave us. Not only are many people descended from them and have Viking blood, and Scandinavian names (often ending in ‘son’) but Scandinavian place-names ( ending in ”by’ and ‘holt’ and ‘thorp’) The language of English has Scandinavian aspects, much of our humour – ‘the typical English’ humour is inherited, and I am sure, when I read more about it, I will find that we have inherited much more.
I did already know all that in a loose sort of way; but what was the actual law? How were the Danish kingdoms organised, how was the everyday life of ordinary people changed from what it had been before the Vikings came? Should we really think of it as a brutal yoke which had to be overthrown by our brave Saxon leaders, or was it more complicated than that?
So my unexpected ignorance has prompted my interest! Thank you Claus Grub, Danish Ambassador to the UK!