Sunday, June 14, 2009


Odinists, pagans, historians and other celebrators of the aulde Norse & Danes recognize the just passed June 8 as Lindisfarne Day and the start of what we now know as The Viking Age. On June 8, 793 CE (1043 Runic Era) just about midyear in anybody’s calendar, three Viking ships raided the even then iconic holy monastery (once home to the illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels) on the Isle of Lindisfarne, that famous island off the coast of Northumberland. In what appeared to some as a demonstration of religious intolerance, the Vikings were reputed to have cruelly slaughtered the defenseless monks and staff of Lindisfarne. Those that they didn’t outright hack to death, they ostensibly dragged into the sea and drowned. Probably a lot of that is true.

They looted and desecrated the chapels and monastery at Lindisfarne (established in 635 CE) of her riches of gold, silver, jewelry, and much, much more which had been primarily derived from the payment for indulgences – monetary payments to safeguard the believers from the torments of Hell. No, this raid and alleged slaughter wasn’t motivated by religion, rather the Vikings engaged this well organized, purely economic enterprise because they could (the Viking longship) and because they needed those resources. For the eighth century and incredibly vulnerable residents of Lindisfarne and the rest of Anglo Saxon Britain, this criminal enterprise was their 911. That prompted history which was then recorded by the only ones who could write – the monks and members of the religious orders so looted and desecrated – to weigh in so heavily against the Vikings with what is now recognized as subjective, mostly one-sided versions of that reality.

Alcuin, the distinguished Northumbrian theologian of that period, noted:

Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race. . . .The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.

The Lindisfarne event coupled with another, earlier incident in 789 CE near the present site of Portland, near Weymouth, England fully marked the beginning of The Viking Age. It seems that this violent encounter between Vikings and a party of local men led by Beaduheard, the shire reeve (from which title we derive the word ‘sheriff’) of the King of Wessex. This ill advised confrontation by Beaduheard (fully engaged in the height of arrogance) was ostensibly for the purposes of, believe it or not, taxation. Our gude and pompous shire reeve apparently mistook the Viking party for an honorable Scandinavian commercial trading venture. When he “demanded” that the Viking party accompany him to Dorchester, some nine miles away, our Viking brethren dispatched Councilor Beauduhear and his party in short order. Tax officials need take heed to this most understandable reaction. To the Vikings who were routinely going about their business, this was not a raid, rather their reaction to a nonsensical, conceited (and to them probably illegal) stunt by Beauduhear that was easily solved by the mighty Viking sword.

This incident was recorded by no fewer than four medieval scribes who saw the 789 Portland incident as sufficiently significant to record it in their chronicles. Interestingly, one source and contributor to the important
Anglo-Saxon chronicle, in recording the affair, reveals the uncertainty about whence the raiders came, calling them both Norwegians and Danes:

In this year Beorhtric took to wife Eadburh, daughter of king Offa. And in his days came first three ships of Norwegians from Höthaland and then the reeve rode thither and tride [sic] to compel them to go to the royal manor, for he did not know what they were: and then they slew him. These were the first ships of the Danes to come to England.

So much for scholarship and geography in the 8th century which prompts our review of these and other incidents involving the Northmen. Who knows, maybe in death Beaduheard gained immortality, mostly for being an incredibly naïve, adrenalin pumped clerk with a tin badge and an overbearing, big mouth.

By the way, the term Viking is no longer in vogue, especially by academics and, no; the Vikings didn’t have horns on their helmets. While no doubt lives were lost in these two incidents, the pursuit of a more accurate history reflects that there was a lot more going on than the mindless slaughter of civilians and, no, we aren’t going to try and forgive Viking indiscretions or rewrite/whitewash this particularly heinous part of the historical record. We will attempt, however, to dispel some of the misconceptions about the Northmen by offering the motivations and raison d’êtres for their actions in future posts where we will also provide some of the history of this great culture, which from, by the way, many folks feel that our branch of the Buxtons sprang.

A furore Normanorum, libera nos Domine (From the fury of the northmen, God deliver us.)


Ned Buxton

We thank the very talented Pip Wilson, of Australia and for some of his words and perspectives that motivated this little Viking snippet. Don’t think that he’s a Gunn do you?

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