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What was Danelaw? KS2 Fact Blog

What was Danelaw? KS2 Fact Blog

What was Danelaw? Read this Danelaw KS2 Facts blog to find out the answer to this question!

Download our ready-to-teach Vikings vs Anglo-Saxons KS2 History lessons here!

What was Danelaw?

Danelaw was the name of the area of England that officially belonged to the Vikings after 886 CE.ย 

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Map showing how England was split between the Vikings (Danelaw) and the Anglo-Saxons (English Mercia and Wessex) in 886 CE.
Map showing how England was split between the Vikings (Danelaw) and the Anglo-Saxons (English Mercia and Wessex) in 886 CE.

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How was Danelaw established?

To answer this question, we first need to know when and why the Vikings came to Englandโ€ฆ

The first recorded Viking raid was at Lindisfarne on Holy Island, off the coast of Northumberland, in 793 CE. After this, the Vikings continued to attack, plunder and destroy monasteries around the coastal areas of the north of England, Scotland and Ireland.

For over 50 years, the Vikings only ever raided England and sailed away again in their longboats back to Scandinavia. However, in 852 CE, the Vikings stayed in England for a long period of time. They camped on the Isle of Thanet in Kent over the winter.ย 

The Vikings were starting to think about colonising England. (This means that they wanted to take control of the country, establish their own settlement, and rule over it.) They had already settled in some of the islands off the coast of Scotland. In 865 CE, the Danish โ€˜Grand Armyโ€™, led by King Ivan โ€˜the Bonelessโ€™ and King Halfdan, landed on the east coast of England. Over the coming years, the Vikings attacked further inland in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria.ย 

In 869 CE, King Edmund raised an army to defend the East Anglians from the latest Viking attacks. However, his army was defeated and King Edmund was killed and decapitated.

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King Edmund, who was killed by the Vikings in 869 CE
King Edmund, who was killed by the Vikings in 869 CE

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After their success in East Anglia, the Vikings next turned their attention to Wessex, which was by then the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. In 871 CE, there were a series of battles between the Vikings and the Wessex army, led by King Ethelred and his brother Alfred. However, Ethelred became ill and died, and the crown passed to Alfred.ย 

A month after he became king, Alfred suffered a humiliating defeat in yet another Viking battle. By this time, the men were war-weary and many had deserted or gone back to their farms to harvest the crops. Alfred decided that he would offer the Vikings money on the condition that they would stay out of Wessex. The Vikings agreed and a special tax called danegeld was paid to them, which kept the peace for a number of years.ย 

However, the peace was not to last. In 878 CE, the Vikings once more attacked Wessex but this time, King Alfred and his army were able to defeat them. Both sides agreed that a peace needed to be reached. At this time, there were seven separate kingdoms across England.ย 

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Map showing the seven kingdoms of England in 793 CE
Map showing the seven kingdoms of England in 793 CE

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King Alfred offered the Vikings the northeast of England on the condition that they leave the rest of the country to the Anglo-Saxons. The Vikings agreed and King Guthrum, the Viking leader, even converted to Christianity and was christened by King Alfred to further enhance the peace between the two sides.ย 

In 886 CE, the Treaty of Wedmore was signed. This officially granted the Vikings the northeast of England, now known as the Danelaw, and left the rest of the country to King Alfred. It was agreed that Alfred would now control Wessex and English Mercia, being named โ€˜King of all Englandโ€™ and uniting the kingdoms for the first time.

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Maps showing the change in territory from 793 CE to 886 CE after the Treaty of Wedmore.
Maps showing the change in territory from 793 CE to 886 CE after the treaty of Wedmore

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Download this FREE Danelaw Map

What was Danelaw like?

Danelaw consisted of three main areas: Northumbria (which included modern-day Yorkshire), East Anglia, and โ€˜The Five Boroughsโ€™ (Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Lincoln). The city of York (then known as Jorvik) was a key Viking city; it had a population of over 10,000 people, and was an important trading place.

When and why did Danelaw end?

In 954 CE, Eric Bloodaxe, the then king of Northumbria, was defeated and driven out of the kingdom. This marked the end of Danelaw. Viking rule in England finally ended in 1066 CE, when Harald Hardrada, the last Viking king, was defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge near York.

The legacy of Danelaw in modern-day England:

Many places that were founded by the Vikings during their rule of Danelaw can still be found today: villages and towns whose names end in -by, -ay, or -thorpe are likely to be of Viking origin!

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If you are a teacher looking for ready-to-teach lessons about this part of history, you might be interested in our Vikings vs Anglo-Saxons KS2 History scheme of work, or our Vikings Topic Bundle, which includes these history lessons as well as Viking-themed Science, Geography and Art lessons.

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