Viking Victories

Vikings01 phillipmartin

Clipart kindly provided by

In the late 700s AD the Vikings of Scandinavia began to attack settlements all over Europe, including England, which explains their lasting impact on our language. They did not simply attack and leave with booty; they often immigrated to and settled in the lands they attacked.  For a period of time the northern part of England, for instance, was under the control of Vikings; this was called the “Danelaw”. Vikings also set up colonies in France; the word “Normans” actually comes from “northmen”. They were farmers and craftspeople as well as raiders.

The Vikings did not call themselves by that name. They called themselves Danes; the word Viking comes from their expression, “to go a-Viking” –  voyaging for trade or to raid vulnerable settlements.

Futhark phillipmartin

Clipart kindly provided by

Initially the Vikings wrote with runes (the name of this system was futhark from the order of the first six runes). They followed their own religion and had many gods; some had the same names as the Anglo-Saxon gods or were clearly similar. Eventually, however, the Vikings were converted to Christianity and began to use the Latin script with which we write today (or its archaic equivalent).

Odin was their most powerful god and corresponds to the Anglo-Saxon god Wodin (who gave us the name “Wednesday” if you recall).

Odin phillipmartin

Picture of Odin kindly provided by

The Vikings’ influence on English was very important. They even gave us some of our pronouns (“they” and “them”, for instance), which is unusual because most of the building blocks of English come from the Anglo-Saxons.

First activity: Go to Act 2 of the Ages of English timeline from the BBC:

Answer these questions:

1. What place-name endings come from the Vikings? Can you think of any place names in Australia with these endings?

2. Write down 6 common words that were given to us by this group of people.

3. What is the total number of words believed to have come from Old Norse (as a dictionary would call it)?

4. What is a “kenning”? Write down a Viking example and a modern example of a kenning. Make up some witty or poetic kennings of your own and add them in  a comment at the bottom of this post.

5. Which English king managed to confine the Vikings to the Danelaw (a prescribed area in the north of England)?

6. Visit this page to find out about the rights of Viking women, which were generally better than women in the rest of Europe. List their rights. What impact do you think conversion to Christianity might have had?


(clipart of Viking longship kindly provided by – in the public domain)

Viking longship from wwwclkercom pd


Second activity: Now discover what it might have been like to go a-Viking by tackling the Viking Quest from the BBC:

Medieval Peasants – and More on the Story of English

Medieval face from http medievalThis little “button” of a medieval person was kindly provided by, a medieval clip art site.

The Life of Medieval Peasants

Piers_plowman_drolleries public domain wikipedia commons

A public domain image from the glowing pages of the Luttrell Psalter, which you can view properly by going to this link:



(Do not even contemplate clicking on this link at school. Even with broadband and adequate equipment it takes minutes to load. Click on it at home, go and make yourself a cup of milo, do a few rows of knitting or a few minutes of homework and it should be ready for you to turn its magical pages.)


DETAIL october tilling and sowing pd calendar page of  Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

A detail from the beautiful 15th century Book of Hours (in the public domain from called Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. This shows October – tilling and sowing.



Now, some information and websites on medieval peasants:

Did you know…?

Medieval face from http medieval

Medieval peasants worked long hours, produced most of the food and paid most of the taxes. If you want justice, don’t expect to find it in the medieval world.



Medieval face from http medieval

Peasants’ cottages had dirt floors and walls made of mud and straw. There was no glass in their windows and their animals often lived with them.



Medieval face from http medieval

Fleas were common. People expected to have them.





Medieval face from http medieval

Many peasants died in the winter from hypothermia.





Medieval face from http medieval

Outer clothes were rarely washed but wood smoke acted as a kind of deodorant.




Medieval face from http medieval

It has been estimated that 20% of women died in childbirth (this would not have varied much from peasants to the wealthy, presumably). Infant mortality was also high.



General details of peasant life:

Serfdom – not quite slavery:

Peasant life and housing with pictures of cruckhouses:


Two primary documents on Peasants:

Jean Froissart – a writer and the first war correspondent:

It is the custom in England, as with other countries, for the nobility to have great power over the common people, who are serfs. This means that they are bound by law and custom to plough the field of their masters, harvest the corn, gather it into barns, and thresh and winnow the grain; they must also mow and carry home the hay, cut and collect wood, and perform all manner of tasks of this kind.  (1395)


A fragment from a poem by William Langland, written about 600 years ago, which describes the grinding toil and sorrow of a peasant’s life:


Seedman copyright free from medieval clipartImage kindly provided by

As I went on my way,
I saw a poor man over the plough bending.
His hood was full of holes,
And his hair was sticking out,
His shoes were patched.
His toes peeped out as he the ground trod.
His wife walked by him
In a skirt cut full and high.
Wrapped in a sheet to keep her from the weather.
Bare foot on the bare ice
So that the blood flowed.
At the field’s end lay a little bowl,
And in there lay a little child wrapped in rags
And two more of two years old upon another side.
And all of them sang a song
That was sorrowful to hear.
They all cried a cry,
A sorrowful note.
And the poor man sighed sore and said,
“Children be still.”


Your task: Scan the sites on medieval peasants and make notes on the vital information you need for your assignment. Then copy the poem above into a Word document, making the page A3 in size. Around this poem (and behind it if you wish), scatter images of medieval peasants from internet sites. Use primary source material if you can. You may if you wish draw your own picture to go with this poem.

The Story of English, continued

Can you solve this Anglo-Saxon riddle?

I appear on the ground like a blanket. and melt in the midday sun. What am I?

Here’s a clever one written by a student called Ian three or four years ago:

What runs but never walks?
Has a mouth but never talks?
Has a bed but never sleeps?
First, continue to discover the story of our language by looking at Act 2 (The Vikings) and Act 3 (The Normans). Try to answer these questions extra fast (Word file: Ages of English continued) and then do some research on the life of medieval peasants for your medieval assignment. 
Ages of English timeline link: CLICK HERE

Act 2: The Vikings Attack and the Anglo-Saxons Fight Back

  • When did the Vikings begin raiding Britain and when did their raids end?
  • When did the Anglo-Saxons strike back?
  • Who was the Anglo-Saxon leader?
  • What was the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle?
  • A poetic device common to the Anglo-Saxons was called a “kenning”. Write down two examples of theirs and then try to write some of your own for our school, the internet, your family car and your i-pod (or another electronic aid).
  • List a few words that came into English from Old Norse (the Vikings’ language).

Act 3: The Normans Conquer (but English Survives)

  • How did the English language develop after the Norman Conquest?
  • What were the three main languages used in England at this time?
  • Look at the types of words that came from the Latin language. What are some common themes?