Eric Bloodaxe

Viking battle axe in the Yorkshire Museum, York

947AD - 954AD

Eric was the son of Norwegian King Harald Fairhair.  According to the colourful Icelandic sagas he began his Viking career aged 12.  On one expedition he met and married a witch called Gunnhild, the daughter of the king of Denmark.

The sagas recount how Eric became king of Norway after the death of his father and had four of his older brothers killed in his bid to keep the crown.  But he was ousted by his younger brother and came to Britain where he was made king of Northumbria and lived in a palace in York.

The sagas paint Bloodaxe – a name they gave to Eric – as a barbarian, a murderous tyrant whose savagery was shocking even by Viking standards.  Contemporary evidence, mainly from the Anglo-Saxon chronicles, is less vivid.  This has the Northumbrians selecting Eric Bloodaxe as their king in 947.  The English king Eadred responded by invading and ravaging Northumbria, burning down St Wilfrid’s minster at Ripon.

As the English army headed south, Eric Bloodaxe’s army caught up with its rearguard and ‘made a great slaughter’ at Castleford.  Eadred threatened to destroy Northumbria in revenge, and the Northumbrians turned their back on Eric and made reparations to the English king.

After another change of mind they accepted Olaf Sihtricsson as their ruler, only for Eric to drive him out and take over again.  Finally in 954 Eric Bloodaxe was expelled for the second and final time and King Eadred of Wessex and England gained control.

From then on York and Northumbria were always part of a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom.

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