Led by Halfdan and Ivar the Boneless, the Viking army attacked on November 1 866. This date may well have been chosen with care. It was All Saints Day, an important festival in York when many of the town’s leaders could have been in the cathedral, making a surprise attack even more effective.
It worked. They took York, although the Northumbrian kings Aelle and Osbert were not captured.
The Viking army spent the winter on the Tyne and had to recapture York in March 867. This was a more violent clash. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles recorded that there was ‘an excessive slaughter made of the Northumbrians’. Among those killed were Aelle and Osbert.
After a series of campaigns against other kingdoms, part of the great Viking army returned to Northumbria in 876. According to Anglo Saxon chronicles, Halfdan ‘shared out the lands of the Northumbrians and they proceeded to plough and to support themselves’.
Two years later King Alfred of Wessex agreed a truce with Viking king Guthrum which saw England divided into the Anglo-Saxon southern kingdom and the Danelaw. The Danelaw, under Viking control, included counties north of an imaginary line running from London to Bedford and then up to Chester. It was England’s first north-south divide.
A history written 150 years later records how the Viking army ‘rebuilt the city of York, cultivated the land around it, and remained there’.
Eoforwic had become Jorvik, and was soon transformed into the capital of a kingdom of the same name, roughly corresponding to Yorkshire today.