Viking Britain

Then the Lord said unto me, out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land…

To many, the word ‘Viking’ brings to mind red scenes of rape and pillage, of marauders from beyond the sea rampaging around the British coastline in the last gloomy centuries before the Norman Conquest. And it is true that Britain in the Viking Age was a turbulent, violent place. The kings and warlords who have impressed their memories on the period revel in names that fire the blood and stir the imagination: Svein Forkbeard and Edmund Ironside, Ivar the Boneless and Alfred the Great, Erik Bloodaxe and Edgar the Pacifier amongst many others. Evidence for their brutality, their dominance, their avarice and their pride is still unearthed from British soil with stunning regularity.

This is not, however, the whole story.

In Viking Britain, Thomas Williams has drawn on his experience as Project Curator of the major international exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend to show how the people we call Vikings came not just to raid and plunder, but to settle, to colonize and to rule. The impact on these islands was profound and enduring, shaping British social, cultural and political development for hundreds of years. Indeed, in language, literature, place-names and folk-lore, the presence of Scandinavian settlers can still be felt, and their memory – filtered and refashioned through the writings of people like J.R.R. Tolkien, William Morris and G.K.Chesterton – has transformed the western imagination.

This book draws upon new academic research and first-hand experience, drawing deeply from the relics and landscapes that the Vikings and their contemporaries fashioned and walked: their rune stones and ship burials, settlements and battlefields, poems and chronicles. The book offers a vital evocation of a forgotten world, its echoes in later history and its implications for the present.

Click here for a pdf file containing a comprehensive listing of all literature cited in the notes to Viking Britain (with the exception of primary sources – these are provided under a separate heading in the original text).

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‘Fresh, vivid and impeccably researched … the most rip-roaring work of nonfiction I read this year’ Books of the Year, Tom Holland, Observer

‘Williams’ infectiously enthusiastic book gives you everything you could want from a history of the Vikings’ Books of the Year, Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

‘A debut that pulses with the author’s passion for his subject and his mastery of written sources, archaeology and legend. Williams narrates a complex story in enjoyable, lusty prose’ Dan Jones, Sunday Times

‘Viking Britain [is] an engrossing account … Williams is scrupulous to avoid the easy pub-chat message. He writes fluently and with feeling’ Thomas W. Hodgkinson, Spectator

‘Williams is a master at conveying the atmosphere of Viking Britain … We are guests at a sensory feast, at times immersed … and at others guided by the comforting hand of firm historical evaluation. Viking Britain is a giddy ride … a real treat’ Philip Parker, Literary Review

‘Williams’ evocative prose puts flesh on sturdy academic bones. ‘Viking Britain’ is a pleasure to read… a lively, colourful book that explores in high definition what being a Viking really meant. Williams … succeeds where many have failed: to make the truth about the Vikings as entertaining as the fiction’ Giles Kristian, The Times

‘A highly readable, thoughtful and vivid book … smartly written and imaginative’ Carolyne Larrington, TLS

‘Brisk of pace and fresh of tone … with a vividly atmospheric turn of phrase and a real momentum … [Williams] crams in an impressive amount of detail with colour and flair … It is a view as ambitious and wide-ranging as the travels of the Vikings themselves, and as strange and enjoyable as any saga’ Carly Hilts, Current Archaeology

‘a learned new tome on Viking Britain … [Williams] makes a case for taking Britain’s Viking history seriously’ Book of the Week, The Idler

‘An exemplary work of popular history, at once full of the most up-to-date archaeology and international scholarly thought, and full of the literary flourishes which bring the past most vividly to life for readers: dramatic reconstruction, physical scene-setting and authorial intervention. It is a great success’ Ronald Hutton

‘Thomas Williams has written a fundamentally new history of the Vikings in Britain: authoritative, at times controversial, and above all a personal journey through the byways of life under Scandinavian military occupation. The Viking experience runs like an interlace pattern through the British story, and Williams holds it up to the light with skill and nerve. It’s also (and all too rarely for scholarly works) a real pleasure to read. Viking Britain is a newly discovered country’ Neil Price

Viking Britain is a riveting read – Williams weaves together landscape, archaeology, literature and folklore to deliver an in-depth history written with the pace and elegance of a novel’ Erica Wagner

‘Told  with grand sweep, granular detail, and terrific gusto, Williams’ book gives us a powerful sense of the violent and creative energies of this amazing time. Full of gripping  images from the sources and vividly realised imaginative conjurings of events and  landscapes,  it gives us a wonderful sense of an age not just of war  but  of contacts and cultures’ Michael Wood

‘An authoritative and up-to-the-minute account, told with verve and imagination’ Marc Morris