If there is a general understanding of who the Vikings were and what they did, it would be something like this: that warriors sailed westward from Scandinavia, finding place like Lindisfarne Abbey and towns and cities in the British Isles. That they warred, plundered, pillaged, raped and destroyed their way across England, Scotland, and Ireland. And then they – did what?
There’s some truth to that picture, but the reality is far more complex. The British Isles experienced repeated waves of Viking invasions and attempted invasions, as did many other parts of Europe. And while the Vikings brought considerable destruction, they also brought the instincts and plans of settlers. In 1016, a new wave arrived, in the forms of the Danes. Fifty years later, descendants of the Norseman who settled in Northern France and became Normans invaded Britain – a story of Viking descendants fighting Viking Descendants, and not only the descendants of the Angles and the Saxons.
In Dragon Lords: The History and Legends of Viking England, Eleanor Parker takes a look at the Vikings, why they came, and what they did, and fins a far richer story than the received wisdom. Analyzing the myths, legends, and poetry of the period, she finds a complex and fascinating story.
Some came for plunder, yes. But others came to settle down and raise families and even raise up new dynasties. Some came to avenge deaths. They came for land and territory and to create kingdoms.
Parker examines a diverse array of legends, stories, and myths. She considers the stories and histories (many with an ax to grind against the Viking invaders) of warriors, kings, and even saints (yes, Vikings converted to Christianity, with some joining the clergy and a few becoming beatified). She looks at the numerous stories (often widely differing) about Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons, Siward of Northumbria, Havelok the Dane, and other figures historical and legendary.
Parker is a lecturer in medieval English literature at Brasenose College. Oxford. She received her B.A., M. Philosophy, and D. Philosophy degrees from Oxford. She teaches Old and Middle English literature, English language, and Old Norse literature. Her research focus is the literature in England between 1000 and 1400 A.D., with a special interest in the Danes who came to Britain. She publishes a highly regarded blog, A Clerk of Oxford, and writes a regular column for History Today.
In Dragon Lords, she tells an interesting and compelling story. Parker reminds us that literature and history can be closely related, and that literature can be used to understand historical events and eras.
(Note: The American edition of Dragon Lordsis not available until Sept. 30. Before then, it can be ordered, with free shipping worldwide, from Book Depository in the U.K.)
Top photograph: an illustration of a Viking longship.