Derivation of the Surname RAMSDALE

Part 3: Danish or Norwegian Origin
Viking Society Web Publications

Old Norse Place-Name Evidence in and around the coastal fringe of North Yorkshire

Part 1 Index: Etymological & Teutonic Sources

  1. Derivation of the Surname RAMSDALE
  2. Etymology
  3. Teutonic Sources
  4. Viking Influence
  5. Danish or Norwegian Origin ?
  6. Topographical and Toponymic (habitation) Surnames
  7. Heraldry
  8. Notes
  9. Møre og Romsdal, Norway
  10. Romsdal to Ramsdale

Part 2 Index: Locative Sources

  1. Ramsdale Hamlet, Fylingdale's Parish, North Yorkshire
  2. Ramsdale Megalithic Standing Stones, North Yorkshire
  3. Ramsdale Valley, Scarborough, North Yorkshire
  4. Ramsdale & Ramsdell Chapelries, Hampshire
  5. Lilla Howe Bronze Age Barrow, North Yorkshire
  6. Cuerdale Hoard, Preston, Lancashire
  7. Wade's Causeway, North Yorkshire

Part 3 Index: Danish or Norwegian Origin

  1. Danish or Norwegian Origin (published sources)
  2. Danish or Norwegian Origin (table of place-names)
  3. Viking Society Web Publications [THIS PAGE]
  4. Molde Wind Roses
  5. "On dalr and holmr in the place-names of Britain", Dr. Gillian Fellows-Jensen
  6. The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire (1979) A. H. Smith

Part 4 Index: General

  1. Fylingdales: Geographical and Historical Information (1890), Transcript of the entry for the Post Office, Professions and Trades in Bulmer's Directory of 1890
  2. Fylingdales Parish: Victoria County History (1923) A History of the County of York North Riding Volume 2, Pages 534 to 537
  3. Ramsdale Mill, Robin Hood's Bay, Yorkshire - Postcard Views (circa 1917 to 1958)
  4. Ramsdale Valley, Scarborough, North Yorkshire: Edwardian Postcards (1901 to 1915)
  5. Scarborough, North Yorkshire: Bulmer's History and Directory of North Yorkshire (1890)
  6. Ramsdale Megalithic Standing Stones, Bronze Age Stone Circle, Fylingdales Moor, North Yorkshire
  7. Robin Hood's Bay - published articles regarding its origin
  8. Ramsdale Family Register - Home Page
  9. Whitby Jet - published articles


Fylingdales was recorded as Figclinge in the 11th century, Figelinge and Fielinge in the 11th and 12th centuries and possibly as Saxeby in the 12th century. It was a parochial chapelry south of Whitby and contained the villages of Robin Hood's Bay and Thorpe, or Fylingthorpe (which was recorded as Prestethorpe in the 13th century) and the hamlets of Normanby, Parkgate, Ramsdale, Raw (Fyling Rawe, 16th century) and Stoupe Brow. Fylingdales Parish covers an area of 13,325 acres (53.92 km², 20.82 mi²) of land and inland water.

England 878 AD The Liberty of Whitby Strand

North Yorkshire Littoral - Parishes

Danish or Norwegian Origin ?

"Robin Hood's Bay lies in the ancient parish of Fylingdales. The name itself is believed to be derived from the Old English word 'Fygela' which meant 'marshy ground'. The first evidence of man in the area was 3000 years ago when Bronze Age burial grounds were dug on the high moorland a mile or so south of the village. These are known as Robin Hood's Butts. Some 1500 years later, Roman soldiers had a stone signal tower built at Ravenscar about the 4th century AD. The first regular settlers, however, were probably Saxon peasants, followed by the Norsemen. The main colonists of this coast were Norwegians who were probably attracted by the rich glacial soil and ample fish, and this is how they survived by a mixture of farming and fishing. The likely original settlement of the Norsemen was at Raw, a hamlet slightly inland, which helped to avoid detection by other pirates." See Robin Hood's Bay - its history and origins.

It is frequently impossible to decide whether a particular word or personal name is of Danish or Norwegian origin. However, place-names on the North Yorkshire coast ending in dale, by and thorpe are indicative of settlement by Norwegian adventurers in the 9th century AD who had joined Danish Vikings in subjugating the whole of northern England (the Danelaw) before settling there as farmers and traders and developing great mercantile cities such as York.

"It is only, I think, by comparison with other districts, and from the history of the old Danes and Norse - not merely as pirates, but as colonists - that we may hope to learn the facts and interpret the remains of the great Viking settlements." per "Norse Place-names in Wirral" (1896) W. G. Collingwood, Saga Book Vol. II at page 147

Old Norse Origins: local place-name evidence

In (and around) the Chapelry of Fylingdales and the parishes of Sneaton and Hackness there are some 8,731 examples of local place-names containing one or more of 502 Old Norse original elements. Where a place-name has two or more Old Norse original elements it is included under both so the total number of examples includes some double and triple counting. Examples of such multiple element listings are:

In this regard see place-name element raw: hrar, bráð 'raw flesh' and rauðr 'red' with (seven) duplicate entries.

The table of local place-names can be found in Part 4 of "Derivation of the Surname RAMSDALE".

Old Norse is the language of Norway in the period circa 750 to 1350 (after which Norwegian changes considerably) and of Iceland from the settlement (circa 870) to the Reformation (circa 1550 - a date that sets a cultural rather than a linguistic boundary). Known in modern Icelandic as Norræna, in Norwegian as Norrønt and in English sometimes as West Norse or Old Icelandic, this type of speech is a western variety of Scandinavian.

Although Icelandic circa 870 to 1550 and Norwegian circa 750 to 1350 are here given the designation 'Old Norse', it would be wrong to think of this language as entirely uniform, without variation in time or space. The form of Scandinavian spoken in Norway around 750 differed in a number of important respects from that spoken around 1350, and by the latter date the Norwegian carried to Iceland by the original settlers had begun to diverge from the mother tongue. Nevertheless, in the period circa 1150 to 1350, when the great mediæval literature of Iceland and Norway was created, there existed an essential unity of language in the western Scandinavian world.

Old English is the name given to the language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th to 11th centuries.


Kenning comes from the ON kenna verb 'to know' but carries the connotation of 'to name after'. Kennings are found most commonly in OE and ON poetry. They typically consist of two nouns that are joined by a hyphen, forming a compound that stands in for another noun, known as the 'referent'. The two words that make up a kenning are called the 'base word' and the 'determinant'.

The base word stands in for the referent, and shares a metaphoric (though not always immediately evident) similarity with the referent. The determinant modifies the meaning of the base word, much like an adjective modifies a noun, to help reveal the base word's connection to the referent. So in the kenning 'whale-road', the noun 'road' is the base-word, since it stands in for the referent (the sea). The similarity they share is that both are expanses that offer a means of travel. The noun 'whale' is the determinant, because it modifies the noun 'road' by describing the type of road: in this case, a road for whales.

Modern Kennings

While kennings are most common and noticeable in OE and ON poetry, there are some modern phrases or idioms that fit the general kenning form. For instance, take these two examples:

  • Couch potato: Here the referent (a lazy person) is being compared to a potato (which is similar to the lazy person in its lack of movement), so 'potato' is the base word. The noun 'couch' describes what kind of potato it is (one that sits on a couch), so 'couch' serves as the determinant.
  • Bookworm: In this case, the referent (a voracious reader) is being compared to a worm (a voracious eater), so the 'worm' is the base word. The noun 'book' describes the type of worm, so 'book' is the determinant.

The point is not so much that there are still many poets composing kennings, but rather that the kenning form still has resonance today and occurs even when people are not purposely thinking up kennings.

Kennings vs. Epithets

An epithet is a descriptive phrase that is used to characterize a person or thing, and (like kennings) it can often be used in place of, or alongside, the thing being described. However, kennings and epithets are not the same. For example, in The Odyssey, the goddess Athena is frequently referred to as 'grey-eyed Athena'. In this case, 'grey-eyed' is an epithet for Athena. Similarly, water might be referred to using the epithet 'bane of fire'. Note the two ways in which these, and all, epithets are unlike kennings:

  1. Structurally: neither follows the noun-noun 'determinant + base word' structure that is a part of kennings.
  2. Metaphorically: kennings create a simile between their referent, base word, and determinant ('the sea is like a road for whales'). Epithets, in contrast, identify a quality or characteristic of a thing or person and use that as the basis of its reference without creating any kind of comparison: Athena is grey-eyed; water is the bane of fire.

Why do writers use kennings ?

At the center of every kenning is a simile - the sea is like a road for whales, the sun is like a candle in the sky. So in many ways, people use kennings to breathe new life into the subjects of their poetry using words that are not synonyms for the thing being described, but that share certain essential characteristics with it. In this sense, kennings help to describe things poetically by using metaphorical or figurative language that can change the way readers see or think about the thing being described. Additionally, it's important to note that kennings are not nearly as common in modern English literature as they were in OE and ON literature, when they were an essential part of what it meant to write poetry. The same kennings were often used repeatedly by different writers in OE, so the use of kennings in writing was also simply a way of participating in the poetic style and convention of the time.

"An Icelandic-English Dictionary" (1874 & 1957) Richard Cleasby and Gudbrand Vigfusson at page 335, entry 50

KENNA, dative, kennig … [Gothic kunnan; Anglo-Saxon knáwan; Old English and Scotish 'ken'; Danish kjende; Swedish känna] to ken, know, recognise … II. kenna sér eitthvat, to know as one's own, claim; … III. to acknowledge as belonging to another, attribute to him …

"An Icelandic-English Dictionary" (1874 & 1957) Richard Cleasby and Gudbrand Vigfusson at page 775, entry 59

kenna, the verb, add, to tell, make known; … kennit mér nafn konungs, tell me the king's name; … kenna einhverjum brautir, to tell one the way, as a guide.

Viking Society Web Publications

  1. The Norsemen in Shetland (1896) Gilbert Goudie, Saga Book Vol. I at pages 289 to 318
  2. Norse Place-names in Wirral (1896) W. G. Collingwood, Saga Book Vol. II at pages 143 to 151
  3. "Harald, first of the Vikings" (1911) Captain Charles Young (references to Raum- people and places)
  4. "Harald Fairhair and his Ancestors", Sir Henry H. Howorth, Saga-Book of the Viking Club (1920) Volume IX Part I at pages 1 to 31 (references to Raum- people and places)
  5. "The Ancestors of Harald Haarfagre", Sir Henry H. Howorth, Saga-Book of the Viking Club (1920) Volume IX Part I at pages 46 to 227 (references to Raum- people and places)
  6. Danes and Norwegians in Yorkshire (1925) A. H. Smith, Saga Book Vol. X at pages 188 to 215
  7. Saga Book of the Viking Society for Northern Research (1945) "Anglo-Saxon England" reviewed by F. M. Stenton
  8. The Proportion of Scandinavian Settlers in the Danelaw (1945) Eilert Ekwall, Saga Book Vol. XII at pages 19 to 35
  9. Viking Revaluations: "Norway (800-1200)" (1992) Knut Helle
  10. Viking Revaluations: "Norse in the British Isles" (1992) Michael Barnes
  11. Saga Book Volume XXV (1998-2001) Viking Society for Northern Research

"The Norsemen in Shetland" (1896) Gilbert Goudie, Saga Book Vol. I at pages 289 to 318

At pages 292 to 295

The first and most distinctive feature of the conquest was the seizure by the new comers of the lands of the vanquished Picts; and, holding these by right of conquest, they recognised no human superior, and transmitted their possessions to their descendants without forms of vassalage or acknowledgement of feudal "service", or seignorial dues. Thus was transplanted into the islands the Odal (or, as termed in Orkney and Shetland, "Udal") system of land tenure as it existed in Norway, whence the conquerors had come: in its independence and its absolute freedom the very antithesis of the system of landholding under feudal conditions elsewhere prevailing in Europe at the time, and since. This right of independency was not confined merely to the ownership of land, but it also followed the Udaller into the domain of civil politics, where, though he might be but of small degree, his voice and vote were, in theory, as good and effective as were those of the most influential Thingmen in their periodical assemblies.

This equality and fraternity, long the bloodstained aspiration of many nationalities, agonized after for ages, were the birthright of our progenitors, acquired not by tumult or revolution, but by the natural development of the genius of the race. Every man could not, of course, be a landowner, and a residue of the "unfree" was a necessity in the nature of things; but practically the country was held by the people, not in thraldom as tenants at will, but by right of ownership, independent of the trammels and penalties attached to feudal vassalage, of which they knew nothing. The holdings for the most part were of necessity of small individual extent, and in virtue of constant sub-division on the co-equal succession of heirs (for the law of primogeniture was practically unknown), the Udal system had in itself the germs of dissolution. It is wonderful how, in spite of this, and of the general tendency to the breaking up of property holdings, large or small, so much of the land in Shetland has come down in small Udal possessions even to our own day.

In addition to the native landholders, the Church in Norway must also be regarded as having been owner, to a considerable extent, of landed estate in Shetland which continued to be held long after the islands became subject to Scotland. The Brevebog (or Chartulary) of Munkaliv's Cloister (the Monastery of St. Michael) at Bergen, contains particulars of the possessions of that monastery in the islands. Other insular possessions of the Church are known, such as that termed "The Provostry of the Dom Kirk [i.e. the Cathedral] of Bergen", which included four merks of land at Sumburgh, and ten and a half merks at Helliness in the parish of Cunningsburgh. The former of these holdings, now part of the estate of Sumburgh, was disposed of by the Danish owners (coming in place of the Norwegian Church and Crown) so late as in 1661; and a Confirmation of the Sale, in order to prevent challenge of the title from any quarter, was granted by King Frederick the Third in the following year. Since that time the lands of the "Lordis of Norroway", as they were called, have ceased to be owned in Norway, and, becoming incorporated in Shetland estates, have wholly passed out of view, and out of knowledge.

The sales, or loss by forfeiture, of the small holdings of the Udallers, and the absorption of these holdings into the larger estates, are significant illustrations of the process of disintegration, and of the transition, under Scottish influences, to modern conditions of life. Many of the deeds of conveyance from the old Udallers to the new owners are preserved. A number of these deeds are in the Norse language, some of them written in Norway, and some in Shetland. The testimony so strikingly afforded by these legal relics to the persistence of the Norse sentiment, and to the continued intimacy of the relationship between the islands and the Norwegian fatherland, will be more distinctly referred to under a subsequent head.

During the long period from the settlement of the isles by the Norsemen in the ninth century to the close of the Norwegian era, after which our estimate of the conditions of local life rests upon a more definite historic basis, it may be safely affirmed that while the Shetlanders lived a no doubt simple and hearty life, with few of the gratifications of modern tastes, yet the enjoyment of their entire freedom under their native laws and institutions, with comparative immunity from local tyranny and from desolating assaults by external enemies, ensured for them a degree of comfort and contentment that was not surpassed anywhere at the time, and has perhaps not been reached at any subsequent period of their history until the present age. In the earlier epoch, the Shetlanders were apparently addicted in a less degree than the Orkneymen to the hereditary diversion of Viking raids, and they were not long in settling down to ordinary civil life, pursuing the means of sustenance mainly by the scanty agriculture which the soil permitted, by sheep rearing, and by fishing, in very much the same way as their representatives do at the present day, and as their kinsmen still do in Faroe, Iceland, and on the coasts of Norway. In all these northern regions the bondi, or peasant, was first a farmer, and thereafter, as occasion or necessity required, a fisher, the combination of these industries, by land and sea, rendering the islesmen who practised them thoroughly equipped successors to the daring Vikings, their ancestors, who equally excelled in both callings. One of the earliest, and certainly one of the most interesting, glimpses of everyday life in the islands is in the story of Earl Rognvald's adventure in the twelfth century, as an amateur fisherman, in disguise, among the Dunrossness men of that time. The circumstantials, and the local environments as related, might almost be taken as an incident of common life, during a busy fishing season at the present day. Another curious native sketch appears in the story of the shipwreck of the same Earl at Gulberwick, in Shetland (Orkneyinga Saga, 1873, chapter lxxix).

In the times we are speaking of, the independence and comfort of the Shetlander consisted mainly in this, that he was not only in the majority of cases the owner of the land he cultivated, but that he was also able, from his own industries, in fishing, tilling, sheep and cattle rearing, to furnish the whole food and raiment of himself and his family. Landmails (or rents), where these were exigible, and dues of every kind, were also paid mostly in wadmell (home-made cloth) and in oil and butter or other produce. Money was thus as little required as it was seldom seen. These remarks apply in a general way almost to so late as the beginning of the present century.

At page 296 to 301

While Shetland was a Norwegian possession (for a short time it was disjoined from Orkney and administered, along with Faroe, from Norway) its government was, practically, in the hands of the all-powerful Jarl: though, as the earldom residence was in Orkney, its immediate control was for most part in the hands of subordinate officials responsible to him. The Jarl, in turn, was nominally responsible to the King of Norway, from whom he was bound to receive investiture, and at all times to acknowledge fealty; but for all practical purposes he administered his little state on his own account, and was only occasionally brought to book by his suzerain.

While the Earl was thus the head and front of political authority, the problem of local self-government under him was solved in the islands at an early date.' In the case of Orkney the facts are somewhat obscure, but in Shetland the main features do not admit of doubt. Contemporary details, it is true, are few; but when, after the middle of the sixteenth century, we come to get a clearer glimpse at the social conditions then prevailing, we are able, by study of the transitional forms by which these conditions were regulated, to reconstruct the old system of local polity with, I believe, a fair approximation to accuracy …

… Shetland was a Foudrie (Norse, Fogderi), in the same way as Norway is subdivided into Foudries at the present day. The supreme executive officer was the "Foud," usually termed the "Great Foud" (Norse, Foged), who was appointed by the Government, and was charged with the public administration, judicial and fiscal, the latter embracing the collection of skatts, mails (rents), umboth, wattle, and all other duties, which went on gradually augmenting, especially after the islands passed under the domination of Scotland. The great court was the Althing (the general or universal Assembly of the country), possessed of civil and criminal jurisdiction, which met usually once a year, but oftener when required, at the Loch of Tingwall, under the presidency of the Great Foud, with the guidance of the "Lawman" (Norse, Lögmadr), who expounded the law and regulated the proceedings. On all occasions there appears to have been a selected assize of Raadmen (or Councillors), who acted as advisers or jurors; but in certain cases of criminal investigation doom seems to have been pronounced in accordance with the determining voice of the whole assembly. The functions of this Althing Court were legislative as well as judicial, and as its membership was composed of all landholders, or "freemen", of the country, it was thus a primary and not a representative body, and its powers seem to have been without limitation, so far as purely local interests were concerned, extending to the full over life and property.

A remarkable feature of this native system was that, subordinate to the Althing, there was a similar method of local government and judicature established in every parish, and this ages before the idea of Parish Councils was seriously discussed in Britain.

The chief officer in the parish court was the Under Foud, appointed, like the Great Foud, by the ruling authorities, while the interests of the bondi (or Commons) were jealously guarded by the "Lawright-men" (Norse, Lögrettamenn), whose duty it was to see that justice was done, and that the country people were not harassed by undue exactions in the settlement of their mads and duties. In every case of trial, as between man and man, the Foud, in the same way as the Great Foud in the Althing Court, had the benefit of an assize of Raadmen, or assisting jurymen.

Succession to heritable or moveable estate was arranged at meetings of the parish court, or of a number of reputable neighbours, whose decision, embodied in a Shuynd Bill, or brieve of succession, or of division, was accepted as authoritative, and therefore permanently binding. Several examples of the Shuynd Bill have been preserved.

A curious method of criminal prosecution was by the compurgatorial system. According to this, persons indicted for an offence were permitted, or were doomed, to seek acquittance from the charge by the oath, in their vindication, of a sufficient number of honest neighbours. Hence the "saxter aith", the "twelter aith" (the oaths respectively of six and of twelve neighbours, who swore to their belief of the innocency of the person charged) which we frequently come upon in Shetland records. This form of purgation, common in northern countries, was not confined to Scandinavian nations, but was also recognised by the Saxon law in Britain, and a ceremonial survival of it was not abolished in England until in the eighteenth year of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The "Lawright" oath was also a form of acquittance sometimes referred to in court proceedings in the olden time in Shetland.

Another curious system, that of Oþgestry, as it was called, existed not only during the purely Norse period, but also, like the compurgatorial, into the Scottish times which succeeded. According to this custom persons in age, infirmity, or pecuniary difficulty made over their whole lands or means, of whatever kind, to other persons, who undertook, in exchange for a formal transfer of their property, to harbour and maintain them for the whole remaining period of their natural life. Of agreements of this kind some specimens remain.

The official system, the regulations of law and local government, thus cursorily hinted at, are thoroughly Scandinavian, very much the counterpart of what prevailed, and still to some extent prevails, in Norway, and which was transplanted in a somewhat similar way by the emigrants to Iceland. As I have on different occasions endeavoured to illustrate the nature of the Norse occupation of the islands, and the laws and institutions which were their special pride, I shall not dwell upon the subject further now. The saddest part of the retrospect is the decline and subversion of these laws and institutions after Shetland and Orkney came under the domination of the Scottish Crown. For with them passed away not only our ancient native freedom, but much also of our genuine Norse spirit. And yet this process of assimilation to Scottish and modern forms presents an interesting and instructive study of the social and administrative transition of which it was the outward expression.

The mortgaging of the islands to Scotland in 1468 did not, as some may suppose, transform the Norse islesmen into Scotsmen. For more than a hundred years later their conditions were not materially altered, though the germs of transformation were beginning quietly to work. It was only after the advent of the rapacious Stewart Earls, in the reign of Queen Mary, and under the persistent oppressions exercised by their successors, that the subversion of native laws and institutions, to which reference has been made, was accomplished after a long struggle, some of the outward semblances continuing almost to our own day, though the spirit was gone. Crown donatories, tacksmen, lawyers, and subordinate officials, harassed the people, and, gradually acquiring the larger portion of the land, became an alien dominant caste. Another element of change was the steady intrusion of Scottish clergy, even from before the Reformation. These and their descendants had little sympathy with the natives or their traditions, and gradually swelled the dominant class; so that by degrees the proud and independent Udallers, very many of them losing their lands and sinking into indigence, were compelled to pass into the background. Scottish families, and imported fashions, thus came into vogue, along with changed laws and regulations; and the old native family names, the native language, and native customs, ceased to be considered to be in proper form.

In the course of this radical upheaval, the Foged, or Foud, of Norse times, was transferred into the "Steward" or "Sheriff" The Logmadr (or "Lawman") entirely disappeared, along with the Book of the Law; the L%ouml;grettamenn, nominally permitted to exist, retained their title as "Lawrightmen"; the Althing became the "Lawting" Court, the "Sheriff" Court, and "Justice" Court; while the Vard-things, or district courts, became the parochial courts, presided over by the parish "Bailie"; formerly the Under-foud. Ere long the Lawrightmen, the Raadmenn or Councillors, and the Bailie Courts disappeared, the latter, however, dragging on existence till towards the middle of last century. The Ranselmen, who had powers of inquisition for theft and petty offences, alone survived to our own day, and are perhaps not yet entirely extinct.

At pages 302 to 315

1. The Norse Language in Shetland

There is a fascination in studying the survivals of an old language, and the expressive relics from the old Norse which enter so largely into the composition of the Shetland vernacular to the present day are of peculiar interest in this way, especially to native born students who can comprehend the sometimes almost hidden meaning of the terms. Let us see, then, what evidence remains of the genuine Norse (locally the "Norn") having been the common language of the islands.

Readers of the Orkneyinga Saga are aware of the obvious fact that the question of language presented no difficulty in Orkney or Shetland or elsewhere in the northern countries. The Norrœna tunga, or old Norse, was in the age of the Sagas everywhere intelligible; but in the present enquiry we naturally look not so much to evidence of a general kind as to the earliest adminicules of proof locally existing.

First of these are rune-inscribed stones, on which, wherever they were settled, the Scandinavians carved, in their own characteristic style, brief memorials of their departed friends. These palæographic records were usually expressed in a very simple formula, such as:

"(A) raised this stone" (or "Carved these runes ") "in memory of (B) son of (C)."

… Next in order in the chain of evidence after the Runes is the testimony of legal documents in the Norse language which have been found in the islands, and which have already been referred to. Besides six such deeds previously known, no fewer than twelve documents in the old tongue have been discovered by myself, either among the public record papers of the county of Zetland, preserved in the Sheriff Clerk's office in Lerwick, or in the charter chests of local families. The existence of these documents was not known, and not surmised, and their recovery should be an incentive to patient research in the future.

Some of the deeds have been written in Shetland, and some in Norway, in cases where the owners of the lands resided there; but in either case, the language and the legal phraseology used are practically identical …

In the period succeeding the era of the Norse deeds, when externally everything bore the imprint of Scottish forms, we come upon the literary evidence of the persistence of the language in the testimony of old writers who visited the islands …

But apart from these literary attestations, everyone possessed of distinct local knowledge is aware that to this day in Shetland the everyday language of the people bristles with Norse words and idioms. My friend Herr Jakob Jakobsen, of Thorshavn in the neighbouring group of Faroe, student of the University of Copenhagen, an expert linguist, has lately spent more than a year in Shetland, gathering up, in every district of the country, the fragments which are still preserved of the old language; and he claims, as the result of much patient research, to have recovered many thousands of such words still in use, many of them no doubt confined to remote districts, and some known to few speakers only. In my own youthful days I looked back with wonder and regret to the days when the language of old Norway was the speech of our forefathers, ignorant of the fact that my own ordinary vocabulary was largely made up of survivals from that tongue. It was an awakening when, later in life, it fell to my lot to describe native Runic monuments subsequently discovered, and from time to time to bring to light and expound a variety of documents in the old language which had been found in the islands. Unfortunately, in recent years the increasing intimacy of connection with Scotland and England, the accession of new settlers from the south, and other causes, have had the effect, to a large extent, of brushing aside many of the most interesting localisms in thought and language. It is well therefore that attention should be directed at the present time to the essential characteristics of the hereditary vernacular, ere they become so blurred as to be scarcely discernible. The extent, however, to which the Norse prevails, or till recently prevailed, in the islands, in a corrupted form, is evidenced by the large collection of native words, in more or less common use, contained in the "Etymological Glossary of the Shetland and Orkney Dialect," by the late Thomas Edmondston of Buness (Edinburgh, 1866), which indeed could have been largely augmented.

II. The Local Names

This, too, is a department of our enquiry which would require a treatise by itself. As, however, the present is a mere sketch, it is not necessary to enlarge in details. In point of fact, to illustrate by example the prevalence of Norse in the local nomenclature would be simply to transfer to these pages almost the whole place-names of the islands. For if it be the fact that the native Celts (or "Picts") were not annihilated by their Norse conquerors, it certainly cannot be denied that their language and place-names in the islands have, with very few exceptions, perished. Sacred sites, and the dedications which these bore, have in several cases survived; but the long dominance of the Norse element in the population has well-nigh obliterated the ordinary traces of their Celtic predecessors. Take as examples the following names of parochial divisions of the country, viz.: …

In short, the place-names throughout the islands are intensely Scandinavian, the old names clinging to field and hill, to loch and rock, to shore and geo and bay, and refusing to be dislodged, so long as the native-born inhabitants remain. But the process, in the present century, of abolishing run-rig holdings, and of consolidating small farms into large grazing tacks, has caused to some extent a displacement of the population, the tendency of which is fatal to the preservation of the minor place-names, as well as to the old traditions of the country. Enough, however, still remains to show that no more telling evidence of the presence of the Norsemen exists than the quaint descriptive Norse names which cover the islands as with a garment.

In speaking of local names it is not necessary to confine the reference to place-names merely. Personal and family names, either genuine old Norse or of purely native growth, which is very much the same thing, everywhere abounded until, in later times, disguised or transmuted in deference to a mistaken notion or prejudice (begotten of the continued invasion of Southerners, ignorant of the history, language and traditions of the islands), that the old names were common-place, vulgar, and therefore better to be discarded or recast …

It may be added that a number of years ago I made an attempt to collect the minor place-names in different localities, and succeeded in bringing together several pretty full lists. The labours of the Ordnance Survey Department have fortunately put on record since then very many of the smaller names, especially along the coasts; but a vast deal more yet remains to be done to preserve these still audible voices of the Norsemen's past, recorded upon the surface of the ground they so long occupied, but every day becoming more and more faint, with the risk of their being obliterated for ever. In the meantime the standard authority on the place-names of Orkney and Shetland is, and will probably ever remain, the learned article by the late Professor Munch of Christiania, which appeared in the Memoirs of the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries (Copenhagen, 1850-1860). In his investigations, however, the major names were chiefly dealt with.

III. Archæological Relics of the Norsemen

These, in Shetland, are but scanty. In Orkney we have the great temple of the Norsemen, a monument of their skill and also of their devotion-if not perhaps of their piety in any very strictly modern sense …

… Dwellings of the people, even in an advanced social state, are always of a more or less temporary character, apt to fall into decay, and constantly subject to alteration and renewal; and very few of such domestic structures of any considerable antiquity are consequently to be found in any country. It is only the more massive stone- or brick-built castles of the lords of the soil - very many of these in ruins-that can with any success resist the persistent assaults of time, and war, and weather. We have reason to believe that in Shetland, at all events in the earlier Norse period, the dwelling-places even of the more substantial of the bondi were constructed of wood and other more or less perishable material, as in the Norwegian motherland and in the colonies of Iceland and Faroe, the surrounding strengthening material of stone and earth being equally subject with the wooden fabric to decay and reconstruction. The only architectural remains of remote antiquity which we find are the massive round towers - borgs (or "boroughs") as designated by the Norsemen which they found on their arrival in the islands. I have no hesitation in assigning these fortalices, mysterious as in some respects they are, to the Celtic race (the "Picts") who were in possession of the country before the Norsemen's arrival.

If, therefore, we must admit the absence of specific structural remains of the Norsemen, I yet claim that the social organization in country districts, in its material shape and form, is essential1y Norse to the present day. The ancient run-rig system is scarcely yet abolished. Many of the old hill dykes, enclosing townships from the hill and moorland, some of these of stone, so me of turf ("feals"), are very many centuries old, some it may be approaching a thousand years, patched and repaired from age to age as circumstances demanded. Up to fifty, or even twenty, years ago the distribution and arrangement of townships and of dwel1ing houses and offices in the older vil1ages, we have reason to think, may have been but little changed from the days when the Norsemen, after displacing the Picts, settled down and completed their system of rural economics …

Again, the mill-burns, and the quaintly diminutive native mills, working horizontally, to be found in every quarter of the country, and only now falling into decay, are other most telling survivals from a remote age, and thoroughly Norwegian in their design and practical working, as I have had occasion to point out elsewhere at considerable length ("On the Horizontal Water Mills of Shetland", Proceedings S. A. Scot., vol. xx., 1886) and I shall not therefore allude to these further.

Except deeds and documents, and always of course excepting what may be of local composition in the Orkneyinga Saga, we have in Shetland little or nothing of local literature from the early or even the late Norse period. The same may be said of personal ornaments or property, though it is true that a good many years ago a fine specimen of the large oval shaped Viking brooch, which must have decorated the breast of a Northern warrior, was found in the island of Unst. It is now to be seen in the National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh.

The "Visecks", or songs, and ballads, which were formerly recited and sung, and the" Sword Dance" of Papa Stour, may be last flickers of survivals from the Norse period; while many burial mounds, stone circles, and standing stones, in different parts of the islands, may commemorate departed Norsemen; but it is difficult, without examination by excavation, to discriminate what is Norse from what is Celtic in such remains. The learned Worsaae, Minister of Public Instruction in Denmark, now deceased, in his book which has been done into English as "An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland, and Ireland" (1852) has included Orkney and Shetland in the scope of his researches, and has given some valuable observations on the traces of the Norsemen in these islands, as these traces present themselves to the eye of a learned and sympathetic foreigner.

There are only two other characteristic objects of native use to which I may allude, viz., the Shetland Boat and the Bysmar, both essentially Scandinavian survivals in their form and equipments.

The larger trading and fishing boats, with high prow and stern post and square sails, to be seen on the Norwegian coast, are strikingly suggestive of the Viking ships of other days: and the smaller boats, though the points of difference are very apparent to the eye of an expert, wonderfully resemble in their general look the small craft common in Shetland. And when, in Bergen, we call a boat with the summons "Ho, flöt!" (or flöd), the mental apparition for a moment of the Lerwick "flit-boat" is irresistible, though the flit-boat has acquired a more specific meaning in Shetland than its congener has in Norway, the significance in the latter case being much more general. It is no wonder that this strong resemblance should exist between the boats of Shetland and Norway, seeing that the boards for the clinker-built Shetland boats were, until comparatively recently, imported ready-made from Norway.

The weights and measures, which corresponded with those formerly in use in Norway, were as follow, viz.:

  • 8 Ures (or ounces, Norse, öre) = 1 Mark
  • 24 Marks = 1 Lispund, Span, or Setteen
  • 6 Lispunds = 1 Meil
  • 24 Meils = 1 Last
  • 48 Cans of Oil or 15 Lispunds Butter = 1 Barrel
  • 12 Barrels, 180 Lispunds, or 576 Cans = 1 Last

In the measurement of land 8 ures made I mark, and 18 marks I last: this land measurement being not a matter of extent, but of estimated value. Thus a mark of land of good quality might be small in extent, while a mark of inferior quality would be very much larger. The graduation of quality was fixed at an early date as so many pennies the mark 4, 6, 8, or 12, as the case might be (probably the amount of skat or other duty originally levied upon it). These distinctions in the description of land continued in legal instruments from age to age, and are probably still in use, though for long unintelligible even to the conveyancer, and practically of no value.

Wadmell (cloth), used in payment of rents and duties, was measured by the cuttell, or ell; and this native cloth was used for clothing until recently, if indeed it is not still in use.

These weights and measures, and the partition of the land descriptively into marks and ures, have been in use probably from the early days of the Norse settlement …

"Norse Place-names in Wirral" (1896) Reports of heraths-umboths-men (district secretaries) The District Secretary for Cumberland and Westmoreland (Mr. W. G. Collingwood), Saga Book Vol. II at pages 143 to 151

The place-names also are of great interest to us. The Norse origin of many among them has been long accepted, and they have been much discussed … I venture to add a few notes on some left unexplained, for we have here a very neat and striking example of the Viking colony, and some leading features which these names illustrate are of importance with regard to the subject in general.

Ingimund's Lochlans (Norse) from Dublin asked for lands here "because they were weary of war". They did not come as conquerors, but as settlers. They did not blot out the existing churches, where pre-Viking crosses were left standing. There could have been no question of storming or creating strongholds: they wanted farms, not forts; agricultural, not strategical advantages. I think we can see plainly that each chief got a slice of land with a frontage to the fjord of Mersey or Dee (in which the most southern creek is Shotwick, the Domesday Sotowiche, Suðrvík) and reaching back up the hills to waste land of the interior, just as the settlements were made in Iceland.

In each landtake the bóndi fixed his homestead, neither on the exposed hilltop nor on the marshy flat. He made his bœr, a group of buildings, in the tún, or homefield, which he manured and mowed for hay, and surrounded with a garth to keep the beasts out; so that bœr, heimr, staðr, or tún would equally well express the place, and it might be distinguished by the name of the settler or by some natural feature.

Þórsteins-tún must have been a Norse farm, though Bebbington was Anglo-Saxon, being the tún of the Bebbingas. A place called Brimstage, anciently Brunstath or Brynston indifferently, shows that staðr and tún were convertible terms; the first part of the name, in which the 'u' became 'y' and 'i', must be brunnr (spring), and not brún (brow), so that the Norse name was Brunns-staðr or Brunns-tún. In Storeton I think we have the Icelandic Storð, found in the Lake district as Storth, Storthes, and Storrs, meaning coppice or scrub, which once covered the country, though it might have been Stór-tún (big field).

Oxton, which is a difficulty to those who derive all tons from Anglo-Saxon, seems to be good Norse. It lies on the saddle or col of a long ridge or yoke, Latin jugum, Icel. ok, the name of a mountain in Iceland; and Oks-tún would be the "farm on the yoke".

Some of these are secondary settlements; for, as in Iceland, the younger sons of a chief, or his freedmen, would receive bits of less valuable ground inland. There is Irby, up the hills from Þórsteins-tún, which like Ireby and Irton, in Cumberland, would be Ira-bœr, the "farm of the Irishmen", perhaps Thorstein's dependents. Raby, like Raby in Cumberland and the Isle of Man, Roby in Lancs., Vraaby in Denmark, etc., means a farm on a small holding wedged in between the greater estates - a wray, taken by some squatter. The Anglo-Saxon for such a place … is unþances, "without leave", from which come the Unthanks of the North of England.

Around these farmsteads were the acres where they sowed bigg and barr and haver, and pastures of various kinds. Some were called völlr (plural, vellir), as Crabwall, krapp-völlr, "narrow field"; Heswell, in Domesday Eswelle, and mediaeval Haselwell, i.e., hasla-vellir, "hazel fields," and many other names in wall (völlr) or well (vellir).

Each estate had its woods (viðr), such as Birket (birkwith), where firewood was cut, and charcoal burned in coalpits (gröf, genitive grafar), from which we get the "graves", as Hargrave, and Greasby, in Domesday Gravesberie.

A field at some distance from the farm, especially one that sloped from the hill to the shore or swamp, was a þveit. Many, if not most, of our Lake district thwaites are sloping fields; and in Wallasey there are fields called thwaites.

The hólmr and kjarr (carr) and mýrr served for pasturing larger cattle; on the firmer ground they had special places for keeping lambs and calves. Near Windermere we have Calgarth, anciently Calvgarth, Kálfa-garðr. In Caithness is the burn of Calder, which in "Orkneyinga Saga" appears as Kálfadalsá, stream of the dale where calves were kept; just as we have many Swindales (svíadalir], Hestfells, etc. In Wirral is Calday near Þórsteins-tún, which the Domesday scribe wrote Calders. There is no particular "cold water" there, and I suspect this to mean "calf dales."

The sheep were sent up to the moor, and the path up which they were driven was called the Rake, as at Eastham. In summer, cattle also were taken up the moor, and the herdsmen had huts like the Swiss châlets and Norse sæters. In the Lake district we have many examples of Satterhow and Satterthwaite, together with a short form, Seat-thwaite, Seat-scale, becoming Seathwaite and Sea-scale, which have nothing to do with the sea. In Wirral, Seacombe can hardly be the hybrid "Sea-cwm"; it is surely the hvammr or combe of the seat or sæter.

Summerhill and Sellafield we have in the North, with the same meaning as sæter: and there is another word, erg or œrg (see the Icel. Dictionary), a loan-word, like so many others, from the Gaelic, in which airidh means "moor, summer pasture" (… ergh, argh, and ark.). The 'g' must have been very guttural, and so confused with the 'dh', and sometimes softened into a weak syllable, just as borg becomes "borough". We have Arrad near Ulverston, and at Coniston there is Little Arrow, formerly spelt Ayrey, like Aira Force, etc., and evidently this is ergh or airidh. In the translation of "Orkneyinga Saga" (p. 187, note), Dr. Anderson shows that Asgrim's œrg has become Askary. This must explain the Wirral name Arrow, which may have been Thorstein's ergh on the inland wilds; he, being presumably one of the settlers from Dublin, would use the Gaelic loan-word, which two or three centuries later became misunderstood and confused with Arwe, the Anglo-Saxon for an "arrow".

Right in the middle of Wirral, where the hinterlands of the old settlers met, was their Thingvellir, showing that they had some organisation of their own during the tenth and eleventh centuries. It is very curious to find, close to Thingwall, a place in a muddy dell called Landican, in Domesday Landechene, which, whether Welsh or Irish, denotes a chapel or kil; not a Saxon kirk, such as also existed in Wirral, but a little place where a Celtic monk lived as a hermit. There are several such in Cumbria, and it seems certain that Irish monks came in with the Irish Vikings, who were not all heathens. The second syllable in Landican is short; perhaps the original form might have been Lann-Aedhagain, the kil of "Athacan" as the name is written in runes at Kirkmichael, Isle of Man. Just up the hillside is Prenton, in Domesday Prestune, the priest's farm; and it looks as though the hermit who had settled near the thing-stead, and had so often held up the Cross above debates of feud and strife, had become a recognised power, and - as often happened - had been endowed with a bit of land for his living.

It is only, I think, by comparison with other districts, and from the history of the old Danes and Norse - not merely as pirates, but as colonists - that we may hope to learn the facts and interpret the remains of the great Viking settlements.

"Saga Book of the Viking Society for Northern Research" Volume XII Proceedings 1937 - 1945, University College London, at pages 19 to 35

"The Proportion of Scandinavian Settlers in the Danelaw" by Eilert Ekwall

A great deal has been written on the Scandinavian settlements England, and their history may nowadays be considered to have been cleared up in its main outlines. For brief accounts of the present stage of research I may refer to my two articles: The Scandinavian Element in Introduction to the Survey of English Place-Names (1924), and especially The Scandinavian Settlement in Historical Geography of England before 1800 (Cambridge, 1936). But important questions still remain unanswered, particularly those dealing with the relative numbers of the Scandinavian settlers and the nature of the settlements.

It has sometimes been asserted that the Scandinavian settlers cannot have been so very numerous, and that they were assimilated at an early date to the native English population. Others have advanced a contrary opinion. Though it is impossible to attain definite results on points of this nature, yet there are facts which give valuable indications. Some of these facts will be briefly set forth in the following notes.

The great numbers of Scandinavian place-names in certain parts of England indicate that the Scandinavian settlers in such parts must have been numerous. But they do not afford figures of a definite or even approximate kind. They may also be in a way misleading. The Scandinavian element in the place-nomenclature of the Lake District proper, to take an example, is very strong indeed and seems to indicate that the Scandinavian settlers must have far outnumbered the English population. But there is good reason to suppose that the Scandinavian language lived on for a long time, doubtless for some generations, in the remote parts of the north-west and Scandinavian place-names there continued to be formed for at least a couple of centuries. These names therefore do not give a definite indication as to the relative numbers of the original settlers.

There is reason to suppose that in the Danelaw the Scandinavian settlers on the whole became amalgamated with the English population far earlier than in the north-west. Most of the Scandinavian place-names there probably arose at the time of, or not much later than, the original settlements. Even in these districts the proportion of Scandinavian names is so considerable that the number of settlers cannot have been insignificant.

In Yorkshire alone there are some 250 names in -by together with numerous other Scandinavian names, and many old English names appear in a Scandinavianized form. In Lincolnshire there are nearly 250 names in -by, and the Scandinavian influence is apparent in many other names. But it is not certain that even in the Danelaw the numbers of Scandinavian place-names give an accurate idea of the Scandinavian settlements. There is good reason to believe that Scandinavians frequently settled in villages which have retained their old English names. This is indicated by the numerous Scandinavianized place-names. Such names contained sounds or combinations of sounds unfamiliar to the Scandinavians. Names which offered no such difficulties might be adopted by the Scandinavians without a change. But though Scandinavian place-names do not allow definite conclusions, they are of very great value as indications of the distribution and relative intensity of the Scandinavian settlements. For a full discussion of these questions I refer to the articles just mentioned. The evidence of place-names, fortunately, can be supplemented by other evidence.

Some indication of the relative numbers of Danish settlers in the Danelaw is given by personal names. The earliest sources do not give much help. There are few Old English charters from the Danelaw. Yet there are some important exceptions. One is the well-known document printed in Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum no. 1130, which mentions a good many people living in the district of Peterborough circa 972 to 992.

The Scandinavian element in the place-nomenclature is not very considerable here; yet, 37 out of some 110 persons mentioned have Scandinavian names. Another document is one of circa 1050, which contains Bishop. Elfric's festermen (Farrer, Early Yorkshire Charters, no. 9). The district in question is that of Snaith and Sherburn in Elmet in the West Riding of Yorkshire, a very strongly Scandinavianized district. 45 out of circa 75 individuals have Danish names. Some other late Old English charters may be added. The charters by Eadgar from 958 to 963 in Early Yorkshire Charters no. 2 ff. (Birch, 1029, 1044, 1052, 1112 f), referring to Nottinghamshire and south Yorkshire, have numerous witnesses with Scandinavian names, most occurring in more documents than one. Certainly Scandinavian are: Oscytel, archbishop of York, Gunnere, Halfden, Leot (Leod), Morcare, Oskytel, Urm, all duces, Arkitel, Cytelbearn, Dragmel, Forno, Hrowald (Rold), Sumerled, Dor (for Dor), Durkitel, Durmod, Thurferð, Ulfketel, all ministri. Presumably these were earls or thegns in Danelaw districts. Some scraps of evidence may be gleaned from sources such as Symeon of Durham, the Life of St. Cuthbert, the Liber Vitæ Dunelmensis, where people with Scandinavian names are recorded. But the numbers of names are not sufficient for any definite conclusions.

The Domesday Book does not afford very much help here. It generally gives only the names of the chief tenants, not those of small landholders. Yet the number of tenants with Scandinavian names is considerable in the Danelaw counties. A cursory examination of the names of tenants in Lincolnshire in the time of Edward the Confessor gives as result that there are some 140 Scandinavian names, some 80 English, while a few are obscure. I have not ventured to try to determine the numbers of individuals with English and with Scandinavian names, as many persons held land in more villages than one.

Evidence for the names of the smaller landholders in the Danelaw is offered by twelfth and early thirteenth century charters issued by people belonging to the class of free landholders, and by lists of tenants in early landbooks. Most valuable for our purpose are the collections of charters from Lincolnshire, which have been published by Professor F. M. Stenton, especially his Danelaw Charters (Documents Illustrative of the Social and Economic History of the Danelaw, London 1920) and the abstracts of charters in his Free Peasantry of the Northern Danelaw (Published in Bulletin de la Société Royale des Lettres de Lund. Lund, 1925-6). No material of quite equal value is available for other Danelaw counties. The documents in the collection of Northamptonshire charters published also by Professor Stenton, are chiefly royal or feudal charters. The Early Yorkshire Charters, published by Dr. Farrer, contain a good deal of relevant material, but it is scattered and difficult to judge. The earliest Assize Rolls and Feet of Fines are sometimes helpful.

In drawing conclusions from this kind of material, it must be remembered that the documents are comparatively late, few being earlier than the latter half of the twelfth century, and that personal nomenclature may be supposed to have undergone some changes in the time from circa 900. Fashion plays an important part in the field of personal names. Just as Old English names were almost totally superseded by French ones not long after the Norman Conquest, so it is probable that Scandinavian names may have been adopted by English people and vice versa. It is worthy of notice that it can often be shown that people belonging to the same family, in the eleventh or twelfth century, could have names of different provenance. Thus in the Lincolnshire Domesday are mentioned four brothers, who held land in Beesby and Newton le Wold, with the names Ingemund, Oune, Edric and Eculf. Oune is certainly, Ingemund probably Scandinavian, while Edric is certainly English, and Eculf probably so (OE Ecgwulf). Among lawmen of Lincoln in 1086 are mentioned Ulbert and his brother UIf; Ulbert is OE Wulffbeorht, while Ulf is presumably OScand Ulfr. In the lists of those who had sake and soke (literally, 'cause and suit' denoting jurisdiction over a court or property) in Lincolnshire in the time of Edward the Confessor, we note Godric son of Toruert, Adestan son of Godran, Toli son of Alsi, where Godric, Adestan, Alsi are English (OE Godric, Eðelstan, Ælfsige), Turuert, Godran, Toli are Danish. Sometimes it is not easy to determine the provenance of personal names. In the same list we find Achi son of Siward and Wilac his brother. Achi is Odan Aki. Wilac may be ODan Wiglek or an unrecorded OE Wiglac, while Siward may be OE Sigeweard or OScand Sigvarðr.

However, even if the value of the figures given in the sequel must not be over-estimated, yet the fact that Scandinavian names are extremely common in documents of the kind under discussion is significant.

In the introduction to the Danelaw Charters, p. cxiv ff., Professor Stenton gives the number of individuals with Danish names in the charters embodied in the collection as more than half the number of those recorded (266 out of 507), and a good many of the remaining 241 have names of doubtful provenance. The Scandinavian names are stated to be 119.

In Free Peasantry, which contains abstracts of numerous charters from various parts of Lincolnshire and some also from other Danelaw counties, Professor Stenton gives no figures for the personal names. An examination of the material from Lincolnshire gives the following results. The grantors of these charters, which generally date from about 1200 or the early thirteenth century, in the greater number of cases have Norman names, but their fathers (mothers) or grand-parents generally have English or Scandinavian names.

The charters thus tell us something about the personal nomenclature about the middle of the twelfth century. Out of the individuals with English or Scandinavian names mentioned, some 240 altogether, about 160 have Scandinavian, about 80 English names. It is true that possibly in some cases the same person may have been counted twice. The number of names used is not so large, altogether some 70 Scandinavian, some 50 English.

Professor Stenton, Introduction to Danelaw Charters p. cxiv, remarks that "an analysis of the native personal names occurring in the Lincolnshire Assize Rolls of 1202 shows 215 Scandinavian against 194 English forms".

A few notes may be added on Yorkshire names. Charter no. 64 in Early Yorkshire Charters mentions a good number of persons from Markingfield in the West Riding (1135 - 53). We find the following Scandinavian names:

Ragnilda, Audkill, Gamel (and Suan his father), Slainulf, Thor (father of Acca), Rainkill (and Stainbern his father), Ketel, Ulf, Orm, Wallef, (father of Uctred), altogether 12 Scandinavian names. There are only 5 English names: Osbertus, Siward (father of Ketel), Heremer (father of Orm), Uctred, Acca. The remaining names are Norman.

Another important charter is no. 931 in the same collection, dating from 1100 to circa 1115, which enumerates a number of landholders in the North Riding. Scandinavian names are here:

Ilvilling, Colbrand, Leising, Turkil, Thurkil (and Thorald his father), Thorne (father of Crinan), Leot, Askil, Halthor, Kille (and Erchel his father), Swartebrand, Arkil (and Thurkil his father), Forni (father of Helrandus).

Crillan is Irish and may be looked upon as Irish-Scandinavian. This gives us 16 Scandinavian names. English are:

Quenilda (mother of Turkil), ?Athele (father of Leot), Aldred (and his father Siward), Sceldfrithe, Frithegist, Duda, at most 7. The rest of the names are Norman; Melgric may be corrupt.

I have examined the names in the Yorkshire Fines (1199 to 1214) (Surtees Soc. 94). English and Scandinavian personal names are about equal in number, about 40 each, but the number of individuals bearing Scandinavian names is slightly higher than that of individuals with English names (circa 75 as against circa 60).

Valuable material for Norfolk is found in the collection of charters published by J. R. West in Abbey of St. Benet of Holme (1020 - 1210) (Norfolk Record Society 2), but time has not permitted a careful examination of it. Of the unpublished Castleacre Cartulary (Norfolk), Mr. D. C. Douglas, in the introduction to Feudal Documents from the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds (1932), p. cxxi, footnote 4, tells us that "of the names of men of native ancestry in the twelfth-centurv charters in this cartulary (Harl. MS. 2110) about 40 per cent are of Scandinavian origin."

In the volume just quoted Mr. Douglas publishes a most interesting document, The Feudal Book of Baldwin, Abbot of Bury St. Edmunds, 1065 - 1098. It is to be hoped that some similar documents relating to some more strongly Scandinavianized part of the Danelaw than Suffolk will come to light. The Feudal Book is about contemporary with Domesday Book. It gives the names of the free peasants of a number of Suffolk villages belonging to Bury St. Edmunds. In Suffolk the Danish colonization, to judge by place-names, does not seem to have been nearly as strong as in Lincolnshire or Yorkshire. This is borne out by the personal names in the Feudal Book. Of about 700 individuals mentioned, according to the editor, only some 60 have Danish names, i.e. 8½ per cent. The names of Danish origin are given in the Introduction, p. cxviii f.; they number 40. But very likely some names of obscure origin should be added to this number. And some certainly Scandinavian names have been inadvertently omitted by the editor, as Osbern, Osgot, Sparhauoc, Suein, Turgod, probably Ormer, though this may be OE Ordmær. The following names borne by fathers of tenants should also be added: Dag, Gangulf, Grimulf; Puse [1] (Godric Pusesune), Scanche. It is also a noteworthy fact that in the cases where the father's name is given, this is in several cases Danish, while the son's is English, in at least 14 cases. The opposite case is far rarer (3 or 4 examples). This seems to indicate that in Suffolk English personal names began early to be adopted by Scandinavians. It is of interest to find a fairly large percentage of Scandinavian names in Coney Weston, whose name is English Cyningestun, Scandinavianized. To 11 English names correspond 6 Scandinavian (Brother, Ulfchetel, Turchetel, Lefchetel, Suein, Odin).

[1] For Puse, cf. the ON by-name Posi; identical with ON posi, OSwed. upsi "a bag".

An important criterion for the relative numbers of Danish settlers in the Danelaw is offered by the proportion of sokemen recorded in Domesday. A sokeman was mostly of a humble position economically. In Lincolnshire in the eleventh century he might own a whole plough-team or more but there are cases where he only had one ox or even less. Professor Stenton, in the Introduction to the Lincolnshire Domesday, p. xx, says that the ordinary sokeman or villein was a man of two or three oxen. But, unlike the villein, the sokeman was a free man. Professor Stenton has discussed the problem of the sokeman in various publications, and he holds that

"the sokemen of the Danelaw represent, as a class, the rank and file of the Scandinavian armies which had settled this district in the ninth century" (Free Peasantry page 79).

It is very probable that this view is correct. The sokemen of the eleventh century would then on the whole be the descendants of the late ninth century Danish settlers, while we should have to suppose that the villeins and bordars represent the native English peasant class. Supposing this to be in the main correct, the following facts will be found to be of importance.

In Free Peasantry, pp. 77 ff., Professor Stenton gives the percentages of sokemen to villeins and bordars in each Lincolnshire wapentake. The percentages vary from roughly 73 to 20 per cent of the peasant class. The lowest figures are those in Elloe wapentake, in the Holland division, where there are no Danish village names. The highest percentages are recorded in those wapentakes where the greatest numbers of Danish place-names are found, as in Bradley and Ludborough Wapentakes in the North Riding, or in Bolingbroke, Candleshoe, Gartree, Hill, Louth Eske in the South Riding. In these districts there are thick clusters of villages with names in -by. In Leicestershire from 50 to 27 per cent of the peasants were sokemen. The highest percentage is found in Framland Wapentake, where place-names testify to a very thorough Danish colonisation. In Nottinghamshire, the figures are from 52 to 10 per cent, the highest percentage being found in Newark Wapentake.

The numbers of sokemen are not given for Lincolnshire, but for Leicestershire Professor Stenton gives the number in Domesday as nearly 2,000, while Nottinghamshire has more than 1,500 recorded (Danes in England, p. 16). Here we get concrete figures, which give some idea of the numbers of Danish settlers. No doubt the figures are too small, for it is unlikely that all the sokemen or villeins got recorded in Domesday. No exact figures for Lincolnshire are known to me, and I have not had time to undertake a calculation. But the following figures for parts of the county may be illustrative. The sokemen on the King's land recorded are alone about 1,275, while the villeins and bordars numbered nearly 1,000. An examination of Bolingbroke Wapentake, which is only a small portion of the Lindsey division, gave as result some 550 sokemen, as against some 165 villeins and 60 bordars. The figures for Loveden Wapentake in Kesteven are some 410 sokemen, some 350 villeins and 115 bordars. It is clear that the total number of sokemen in Lincolnshire must have been far higher than that in Leicestershire. The sokemen must have numbered several thousands, and this figure would not include women and children.

Of course, the figures for 1066 may have been a good deal different from those of about 900. But if we may assume that the sokemen on the whole represent the descendants of the Danish settlers, the villeins and bordars those of the English peasants, and also that the proportion between the two classes of peasant had remained on the whole unchanged, the conclusion must be that the Danish settlers in Lincolnshire and some other districts were about equal in number with the earlier population. It is true we do not know that all the sokemen in Domesday were really of Danish descent. It is quite possible that also some English peasants reached that status. On the other hand we are hardly justified in assuming that all villeins and bordars in the Danelaw were of English descent. There is every reason to suppose that some Danes had joined the unfree class [2]. All we can say with certainty is that the Danish element must have formed a very considerable part of the population in the Danelaw.

[2] This would particularly be probable in the case of the Danish freedman (liesing), whose wergeld was the same as that of the English ceorl on gafol-land. (Treaty between Alfred and Guthrum)

The results of the preceding discussion raise questions as to the nature of the Scandinavian settlements. Did the Scandinavians in England settle in villages or in single homesteads? The Norwegians nowadays usually live in homesteads, not in villages, and there is every reason to suppose that they have done so from of old. They settled in homesteads in Iceland, and we may assume that they followed their old custom when they settled in England. The Norwegian settlement in the north-west of England may well have been chiefly of a peaceful nature, carried out with the permission of the earlier population. The Danes, on the other hand, have always lived in villages, so far as our evidence goes. One would suppose that they would not give up this custom when they settled in England, where compact settlements would seem to have been an act of common prudence. Yet it seems to have been tacitly understood sometimes that the Danish settlements in the Danelaw were generally single homesteads. For the name-type characteristic of the Danelaw is -by, and -by in place-names is often held to mean 'farm'. Thus Dr. Smith, in Place-names of the North Riding, regularly renders -by by 'farm', except for such names as Birkby , Danby, Ingleby, whose first element is the genitive plural of a folk-name ("the village of the Britons, Danes, English"). Even Kirkby is taken to mean 'farm by the church', Whitby, 'Hvitis farmstead'. On the other hand thorp is regularly rendered by 'village', e.g. in Ganthorpe, Howthorpe, Ravensthorpe. Only Towthorpe, perhaps owing to an oversight, is rendered by 'Tofi's farm'.

It is not easy to understand why -by is thus regularly taken to mean 'farm', thorp 'village'. In Danish by is the regular word for 'village', while thorp was used of a dependent hamlet, which, of course, often came to develop to an independent village. In Scania, formerly a part of Denmark, thorp in place-names must have denoted a farmstead, and the same was the case in Sweden. In Modern Swedish, torp even denotes a 'croft'. Thus it is obvious that in Danish districts in England we expect names in -by to have denoted villages, while those in -thorpe were given to farmsteads or dependent hamlets belonging to an older village. It would be more correct really to translate -by by 'village', thorpe by 'farm' than the other way round. In Norwegian districts, on the other hand, thorp was hardly used, and by may quite well have meant 'a farm', as Old Norse býr (bær) denoted both 'a farm' and 'a village'. The meaning 'farm' is even more probable, for in Norwegian place-names by normally means 'farm'. In the North Riding, where the Scandinavian settlements were mostly Danish, the probable meaning of by is 'village'.

But there is one circumstance which may seem to tell against this theory, viz ., the fact that names in -by mostly have a personal name as first element. There are no doubt a good many exceptions. Some names in -by have as first member a word denoting a natural feature or the like, as Aby, Dalby, Ashby, Skewsby, Wauldby, Kirby, Kirkby. This is the normal type in Denmark and Sweden. Others contain a folk-name or similar word in the genitive plural, as Birkby, Danby, Ingleby, Irby, Normanby, Flotmanby, Hunmanby, or an adjective, as Newby, Whitby. Barrowby, Borrowby, by the way, go back to Old Scandinavian Bergabyr, whose first element I now think is a folk-name derived from berg, 'hill' ('the village of the people on the hill') [3]. However, names in -by with a personal name as first element are decidedly in the majority.

[3] Cf. Sahlgren, Namn och Bygd, vol. 23, p. 194, who takes a name such as Swedish Berga to be a folk-name 'hill people'.

Unfortunately, no material is available that gives us direct information on the original status of Scandinavian settlements. But Domesday Book may give some hints. I have again chosen the Lincolnshire part of Domesday for an investigation. The Yorkshire part, for well-known reasons, is not so helpful as might be wished. Lincolnshire had not suffered from devastation at the time of the Norman Conquest, and the material for that county is easily accessible in Canon Foster's excellent edition of the Lincolnshire Domesday (Lincoln Record Society, 19). An examination of the material reveals some important facts.

In his illuminating introduction to Canon Foster's edition, Professor Stenton shows that the figures for the carucates ascribed to villages are largely conventional. The scheme was "framed by men who felt that a village ought to be assessed either at exactly twelve carucates or at some fraction or multiple of this sum" (p. xi). If a village is assessed at 12 carucates, we can thus only conclude that it was for fiscal purposes assessed at that figure. A very large village was generally assessed at 24 car.; a large village at 12, a medium-sized one at 6, a smaller one at 3, and so on. The number of carucates assigned to a village thus indicates its general size. A closer examination of the figures shows that old villages with English names, especially names in -ham, as Bassingham, Hougham, Metheringham, are fairly often assessed at 24 car. There are very many 12-car. villages, especially with names in -tun, as Barkston, Branston, Broughton, Dry Doddington, Dorrington, Edlington, etc., and an about equal number of 6-car. villages. A good many are assessed at lower figures, especially 4 or 3 car., and not a few have 2, 1½, 1 car., or even lower figures.

Turning now to villages with Scandinavian names, we find that those with names in -by on the whole show lower figures than those with English names. Only Coleby (in Boothby) and Rauceby are of the largest type. There are several 12-car. villages, as Boothby, Graffoe, Digby, Dunsby (Flaxwell), Gonerby , Kirkby, Laythorpe, Scrivelsby, Thealby , Thurlby (near Lincoln), Welby. Numerous 6-car. villages occur e.g: Barnoldby, Beelsby, Beesby (Haverstoe), Candlesby, Mavis Enderby, Miningsby, S. Ormsby, Osbournby, Roxby, Scamblesby, Scremby, Stainby, Ulceby, Whisby. Several are assessed at 5 or 4 car., but the greatest number at 3 car. or slightly more, as Aunsby, Asgarby (near Spilsby), Beesby in the Marsh, etc. Several have two car. or slightly more, a few only 1½ or 1 car. (e.g. Claxby St. Andrew, Clixby, Fonaby, Fulsby, Ailby, Aisby (in Corringham), Legsby.

We may add that Fishtoft and Timberland are assessed at 12, Langtoft at 6 car. Villages with names in -thorpe are generally small. Only a few are assessed at 3 car. or more, and of these some are doubtless English. Some are very small indeed.

The general result is that villages with names in -by were not as a rule small villages in the middle of the eleventh century, even if few were very large ones. And it is important to note that many of the 24- or 12-car. villages have names with a personal name as first element, e.g. Coleby, Rauceby, Dunsby, Gonerby, Thealby , Thurlbv . Most of the 6-car. villages have names of that type.

A few notes may be added here on the carucage of Leicestershire villages in the Leicestershire Survey of about 1125. In Leicestershire -bys are generally assessed at about 6 carucates. But Saltby (inclusive of Bescaby) has 20 car., Sileby 15½, Somerbv 14, Ashfordby 13, Gaddesby 12½, Rearsby, Welby 12, Freeby, Sysonby 9, Ab Kettleby 9, Stonesby 8; all these have a personal name as first element. Killerby with 3 car. forms an exception. We may add that Kirby Bellars has 24 car., Beeby 12, Great Dalby 12, Frisby 11, Hoby 11½. The thorpes are generallv small, thus Boothorpe 1, Oakthorpe ½, Osgathorpe ½ car. The figures for the -bys are generally somewhat higher than for the Lincolnshire ones.

It is obvious that the results of the investigation are really valid only for the middle of the eleventh century. The figures show that places with names in -by were villages at that time, and most of them villages of a respectable size. We cannot, of course, conclude that the conditions of circa 1050 altogether correspond to those of circa 950 or 900. No doubt some villages had grown as regards population, but it is also possible that some had gone down. It is likely that the total population of Lincolnshire had increased in the 150 years between goo and 1050, but we should hardly assume that the increase had been very large. If nativity was high in those days, so was doubtless the rate of mortality. And the increase of the population has to account also for the secondary settlements, those on uplands and in fen-land. The Lincolnshire thorpes are largely on low land along the coast and probably represent a later period in the history of settlements. It is unlikely that the villages of circa 1050 on the whole go back to homesteads of circa 900.

If the Danish settlements in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire were chiefly villages, it is obvious that the settlers must have been many times more numerous than the Scandinavian place-names are. And we should, of course, not assume that Scandinavians settled only in those villages which have Scandinavian or Scandinavianized names. A village of 3 or 6 carucates had room for a good many people. Two bovates, i.e. a quarter part of a carucate, was a normal holding for a sokeman in the eleventh century. If this holds good for the time about 900, a village of 3 carucates would support some 12 to 20 settlers with their families. A few examples from Domesday Book will illustrate this:

It remains to account for the remarkable fact that many villages (even large ones) with names in -by were named from one particular person. This may seem surprising in view of the fact that all the freemen in the Danish army are supposed to have looked upon themselves as equals. Indeed, according to the treaty between Alfred and Guthrum the wergelds of any Danish freeman was to be equivalent to that of an English thegn (1,200 shillings). But in reality it cannot well be doubted that an army like the Danish one must have been organized, and that some men were in a more responsible position than others. Professor Stenton has emphasized the military nature of the Danish settlement. He holds that the Danish landowners were essentially an army established on the soil. At the original settlement some large villages may well have been allotted as manors to leaders of the army with their followers. This would naturally account for some of the large villages with names in -by that have a personal name as first element. In other cases villages would be allotted jointly to a group of men, and it is a reasonable supposition that one among these was in some sense a leader, who was responsible for the rest or was their spokesman. We may also suppose that the settlers were not all equal economically. Some more provident people would be able to contribute more capital or a larger number of oxen for the plough than the others. In cases like these villages might well have come to be named from one particular person, even though they were theoretically held in common by a group of settlers.

"Harald, first of the Vikings" (1911) Captain Charles Young

References to Raum- people and places

Prologue at page 13

Time calls for the man, and God appoints him; the man for his time was the subject of my book, Harald Fairhair - "Harfager", as his countrymen called him - a man who dominated the age in which he lived by the sheer force of his personality and will. He was, to put it in one epithet, the First Great Viking or King of the Sea.

At page 61

Guttorm issued many proclamations, promising immunity and reward to loyalists, but scant mercy to malcontents; and these, and the knowledge of the swiftness of the punishment that had overtaken the four leaders aforementioned, enabled Guttorm ere long to rally round his royal master's standard the population of Ringerike and Heathmark, Gudbrand's-dale and Hadaland, Thotn, Raumrick, and all the northern parts of Vingulmark. Only King Gandalf abode still in his own land, wild with rage and disappointment, and gathering to him numbers of folk from the more southerly parts of the country to try and make head against the conquering king. But his day, also, was at hand.

At page 62

The battle was severe, and lasted for some time; but eventually Gandalf was slain, and his men, disheartened by the fall of their leader, dispersed in all directions for safety. "So Harald got to him all Gandalf's realm south away to Raumelf".

At page 79

The king at that time of the Möre folk was one Hunthiof, and he had a son named Solvi Klofi. They were great warriors, on sea and land, and their fame had spread far and wide; and they joined unto them in alliance Nockvi, the King of Raumsdale, who was the father of Solvi Klofi's mother. Now when the tidings of King Harald's expedition came to their ears they sent round the war arrow, gathered all their available ships of every kind, and sailed to meet him. The two fleets encountered each other off Solskiel (an island in the parish of Aedo, North Möre), and the weather being favourable joined battle without delay.

At page 83

King Harald stayed all that summer among the North Möre folk, settling the land; and when autumn came he sailed away northward to Thrandheim, having first made Rognvald, Earl of Möre, who had that summer sworn allegiance to him, lord over the two peoples of North Möre and Raumsdale in place of the dead kings.

At page 87

After this battle King Harald overran and subjugated South Möre, while Vemund, brother of the slain Audbiorn, became king of the Firth folk. Not wishing to stay after the opening of autumn, Harald appointed Rognvald Earl of North and South Möre as well as of Raumsdale, and left with him many men and ships to help him preserve peace; then he turned his face northward again and bode, as was his custom, in Thrandheim the winter through.

At page 88

King Harald was nothing if not thorough; and this trait was emulated by those of his subjects who wished to stand high in his favour. We have seen how, before sailing for his winter quarters in Thrandheim, the king had placed Earl Rognvald in charge of North and South Möre and Raumsdale, and also that Vemund, brother of that King Audbiorn who fell at Solskiel, had possessed himself of his brother's kingdom - the Firths, or the Fjorde district - and proclaimed himself king in his stead.

At page 98

Nor was this all. It seemed that Eric had placed a certain Earl Hrane Gotska - who was a renowned warrior and capable man - in authority over his newly acquired territories, to hold them for him against all claimants; and Harald learned further that the Swedish king had openly avowed that he would not rest until he had as great a kingdom in Viken as Sigurd Ring of old, or his son, Ragnar Lodbrok, had possessed, and that was Raumerige and Westfold right away to the Isle Grenmar, and also Vingulmark and all that lay south of it.

At page 102

As the autumn drew nigh Harald advanced in Raumerige, doing there as he had done elsewhere, and the people came to him and told him all things concerning themselves and the country, and he reassured them and spake them fair; but he had never need to employ force at any time, for his name had gone before him, and the counsel of Cyrus, to which he constantly turned, bore fruit a thousandfold.

At page 106

Having executed this task as a matter of personal vengeance for the treacherous and dastardly stroke that Eric had dealt his late host, Harald marched rapidly hither and thither through Vermeland, claiming the allegiance of all; and he let know, plainly and firmly, that should the province dare again to admit Eric or any of his officers, he would revisit it with fire and sword. And they knew that he would keep his word. This done, King Harald marched back to Raumerige, and stayed there awhile.

Index of Proper Names, page 243

  • Raumelf, 62
  • Raumerige, 98, 102, 106
  • Raumrick, 61
  • Raumsdale, 79, 83, 87, 88

"Harald Fairhair and his Ancestors", Sir Henry H. Howorth, Saga-Book of the Viking Club (1920) Volume IX Part I at pages 1 to 32

References to Raum- people and places


I propose in the following pages to describe the reign of the greatest of the Norwegian kings, who probably shares with the famous Emperor Otho the First, the reputation of being the most heroic figure in the European history of the 10th Century - namely, Harald Halfdaneson, known from the profusion and beauty of his locks, as Fairhair, the founder of the kingdom of Norway.

… During recent years it has become more and more probable that the same Scandinavian stock which inhabits the great peninsula has been there from very early times and has probably been very little altered in its more general features.

… Munch and others have established the conclusion that the Norwegian race in early times comprised three great communities, one of them occupying Norway east of the "keel" or backbone of the country, and two of them occupying the whole seaboard from Norland to the great inlet of Viken and the Christianiafiord. These were known as the Thronds, in the north-west; the Hords in the south-west, and the Raums in the Uplands i.e. the northern part of Norway, east of the Dovrefelds.

Munch made it plain that the stock which peoples the whole maritime district of North-West Norway, including the widely ramified Throndheimfiord and extending from the province of North Mere in the South to that of Norland inclusive, is united by certain unmistakable common features, physical, artistic and linguistic, and notably also by the local nomenclature. In all these respects it differs generally from the people to the South, who are separated from them by Raumdal.

At pages 15 and 16

… As I have said, Halogaland (the land of the Thronds) was doubtless divided from early times into several "fylkies" or provinces, answering to the Northfolk and Southfolk in England, who were all governed by the same code of laws but had their own independent administration. Four of them were situated on the coast, namely, Raumafylki, Nord Mere, Naunidal, and the most northern, i.e. Halogaland.

At pages 17 and 18

… I will now abstract from Munch: "Nordmoen denes aeldste Gudeog Helte Sagn, 178," a list of the fylkies into which the land of the Thronds (which was subject to the Frosta Thing) was divided, with the situation of their principal temples, where known: … 12. Raumsdoela fylki Véey.

The larger part of these fylkies, as is obvious, took their name from the principal valleys which traversed them. The two first and the two last faced the sea, and were largely backed by mountains and forests which made access to them from the land side almost impossible at this point.

… The Thrond extended southward to North-Mere fylki which had its counterpart in South Mere, but was, however, occupied by another race, the Hords. The two Meres apparently originally represented waste districts separating the territories of the Thronds and Hords. They are now separated by a fylki called Raumdal, which is the frontier of the Thronds in the South.

At pages 27 to 31

Having dealt with the Thronds and the Hords, we will now turn to the third main division of the Norse people - namely, the Raums. The great area east of the Dovrefjelds and west of Sweden, and bounded on the north by huge forests and wastes, was in early times, so far as can be seen, peopled only by a very scanty population of Finns, divided into two sections with very different histories. A northern section occupying a hilly and not too fertile land, and a southern one comprising the fertile lands round the Christianiafjord and eastward as far as West Gothland. The former was known as Alfheim, and was so called from the two great rivers, with their affluents, which watered it - namely, the Glommen or Rauma and the Klar-elf or Gotha.

Munch identities the Alfheimers with the Hilleviones of Pliny, the Helvikones of Tacitus, and the Heliouen of Ptolemey. Pliny says of them that they came from another world, which Munch explains as meaning that they were immigrants into the country where they were then living. He further argues that they came from the North and occupied a district once occupied by another people. With this he compares the legendary story preserved in the so-called Fundinn Noregr, about the origin of the Norway peoples. It tells us that Nor (the eponymous of the Northmen) had a son Rauma, who was settled in Alfheim, which included all the country through which the two rivers flowed. By Vergdis, the daughter of the giant Thrym, Rauma had three sons among whom he divided his realm. Biorn took Raumdal; Brand, Gudbrandsdal; and Alf, Osterdal and all the country north of the Worm as far as the Gaut-Elf and the Raum-Elf, the modern Gota and Glommen.

"An Icelandic-English Dictionary" (1874 & 1957) Richard Cleasby and Gudbrand Vigfusson

ELFR, f., genitive elfar, accusative, dative elfi, a proper name of the three rivers called Elbe, Latin Albis, viz. Gaut-Elfr, the Elb of the Gauts (a Scandinavian people) = the River Gotha of the present time; Sax-Elfr, the Elb of the Saxons, the Elbe; Raum-Elfr, the Elb of the Raums (a people in Norway), i. e. the present Glommen and Wormen, Bær. 3, Njála. 42. Fornmanna Sögur i. 6, ii. 128, iii. 40, iv. 121, ix. 350, 393, 401, x. 292: Elfar-bakki, the bank of one of these Elbes, Bær. 3, Fornmanna Sögur ix. 269, 274; Elfinar-bakki, Fornmanna Sögur i. 19;, of the river Ochil in Scotland, is a false reading = Ekkjals-bakki, vide Orkney. 12. Compounds: Elfar-grímar, m. plural dwellers on the banks of the Gotha, Fornmanna Sögur vii. 17, 19, 321. Elfar-kvíslir, f. plural the arms of the Gotha, Fornmanna Sögur i. 7, iv. 9, ix. 274; used of the mouths of the Nile, Edda 148 (pref.) Elfar-sker, n. pl. the Skerries at the mouth of the Gotha, Fornmanna Sögur, Fornaldar Sögur; compare álfr, p. 42. 2. metonymically used of any great river, (rare in Iceland but frequent in modern Danish).

Elfskr, adjective, a dweller on one of the Elbe rivers, Landnáma, Fornmanna Sögur ii. 252.

"A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic" (1910) G. T. Zoëga at page 111

elfar-bakki, m. bank of a river.

Elfar-byggjar, -grimar, m. plural, the dwellers on the banks of the Gotha (Gautelfr); -kvíslir, f. plural, the arms of the Gotha, also used of the mouths of the Nile; -sker, n. plural, the skerries at the mouth of the Gotha.

elfr (genitive elfar, dative and accusative elfi), f. river; especially as proper name in Saxelfr, the Elbe; Gautelfr or Elfr, the river Gotha (in Sweden); Raumelfr (in Norway).

He goes on to say that other sons of Raum settled in Hadaland, Haddingadal and Ringeriki, which he looks upon as later acquisitions of the Raums.

The focus of their country in early times was apparently Raumariki, so called from the river Rauma, and hence the race which peopled it were afterwards known as Raums, while the name Alfheim was restricted to the fylki, bounded on either side by the two great rivers just named, which had a different history. The Uplands, properly so called, comprised the fylkies or counties of Gudbrandsdal, Hedemark, Thoten, the southern part of Herdalen, Raumariki, and generally the country watered by the Rauma, the Logen, the Worm and Glommen rivers.

It is interesting to find some of the names surviving in this district in use as early as the time of Jordanes. He speaks of the Raumarici, the Ragnarici and the Fervir, (corruption of Ferdir).

Munch gives us a list of these fylkies in the Uplands, with the sites of the great Thor temples, marking the central focus of each of them: Rauma fylki … Ullinshof at Ulleisakri.

Eystein the Great, whom I have spoken of above, was the ruler of the Uplands. I have already described his famous campaign against the Thronds. He had several sons namely Hogni and Frothi, Eystein the Younger, and Osmund. While Hedemark or Heathmark, was the centre of his realm and he was sometimes called King of Hedemark, he was also the ruler of the great fylkies of Hadeland, Thoten, Raumariki, Gudbrandsdal, and Osterdaler. He was in fact the great overlord of the Raumfolk, and doubtless belonged to a very old stock.

The fylkies, over which he ruled, were grouped round the great lake formerly called Miors and now known as Mjösen, the second largest lake in Norway, and containing a famous sacred island with a noted shrine of Thor. It was also known as the Watersend (Magnusson Heimskringla IV., 265), and stretches from Gudbrandsdal to Raumariki.

Hedemark is the district north of Raumariki, and bounded on the east by the Glommen and by the Wormen the river of Gudbrandsdal. Its name shows it was a frontier district or mark. Thoten, the modern Toten, was bounded on the east by the Mjösen lake and the Wormen, which separated it from Hedemark, on the south by Raumariki. Hadeland was situated immediately to the south-west of Thoten and bordered the Randsford.

The districts which were occupied by the Thronds, Hords and Raums were not always coterminous, which accounts for their different customs, laws and dialect … The earlier tribal settlements were doubtless once quite isolated. Each tribe having round it as a protection a Mark or frontier, which, in the North really meant a wide stretch of impassable forest. As the population grew the forest was gradually reclaimed by industrious settlers - saeters they are called in the North. The Anglo Saxons called them saetas, as in Dorsaetas, Defnsaetas, etc. They increased in numbers, and gradually pushed on as an advanced guard of each tribe until the two streams met.

Munch tells us that their ancient homes are marked both in the North and South by differences in dialect, pointing to there having been a gap between them at one time. "A mark", in fact, that is a stretch of unoccupied land, separated in each case the great tribal areas. It was the best protection available in a wild country. The intervening gaps were afterwards filled up by immigrants from either side. In this way the upper parts of the so-called Osterdals were gradually encroached upon by settlers from Throndheim, and we find the people in them speaking the dialect of the Thronds. The Thrond speech extends to Nóros on the Upper Glommen, but south of that town not a trace of it is to be found. There they speak the Rauma dialect as far as Quickne, a place near where the Glommen and the Orka come together, and where there is another similar frontier. Munch says that it is clear the settling of this part of the country has come from two sides, and that the streams of population ran from Tonset in the north to the Lower Neendal in the south.

So much for the frontier between the Raums and the Thronds. The evidence points to similar results in the south-west between the former and the Hords.

Munch shows that the inhabitants of the upper parts of the valleys to the east of the mountains and south of Gudbrandsdal i.e., of Waldres and Hallingdal, are in dialect, appearance and habits much more like their neighbours on the other side of the mountains in Sogn and Hardanger, who were Hords, than with those of their neighbours in the lower part of the same valleys showing whence the latter came. On the other hand, their land in Hadeland, Sigdal and Ringariki, obviously received their first inhabitants from the west i.e., from the land of the Hords by the easy route of Fillefjeld Hemsedalsfjeld, the Aurlandsfjeld and the heights of Ustedal.

This becomes more probable when we remember that Waldres and Hallingdal were in ancient times treated as part of the ancient Hord confederacy, and were subject to the jurisdiction of the Gulathing. In this district, therefore, we again have two streams of people - one from the West and the other from Raumdal. It is not only the valleys belonging to the water shed of the Drams Ely to which this applies. Thelemark is also divided into two portions separated by their dialect. That in the Eastern, is quite unlike that in the Western "setars" and it cannot be doubted that the two sections of Thelemarken got their population partly from the East i.e. from Westfold, which was perhaps once called Thyle or Thule, and partly from the West from the land of the Rugians.

Munch has collected a good deal of evidence to show that the people of Rogaland, who were closely akin to the Hords and obeyed the Gula thing, also sent considerable colonies across the mountains northward and eastward; both Thelemark and Numedal afford proofs of this.

So much for the three great tribes which occupied Norway in early times …

At page 32

… Eric, the Swedish Ring, claimed that Signrd had ruled the Raum realm and Westfold, out to Grenmar, Vingulmark, and thence away South. (Saga of Harald Fairhair, ch. xiv.) …

Note II. Munch has an interesting paragraph about the particle rik or ric which terminates certain names in South Norway. He says: In the old German world we never find the designation rigi or riki except in the case of conquered districts or those from which the former inhabitants have been dispossessed. Thus, Frankrige, France; Myrcena-rica, Mercia; Beornica-rige, Bernicia; Deorarige, Deira, West Seaxenarige, Wessex, etc. In Norway we have the fylkis of Raumariki, Ranrike, and Ringariki pointing to these districts having been conquered from others. Their conquerors must have come from the south-east, i.e., from the land of the Goths, whose north-west frontier was doubtless Hedemark, while Vingulmark points to another marchland.

Deira (Old English: Derenrice or Dere) was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in northern England previously inhabited by Britons and first recorded when Anglian warriors invaded the Derwent Valley in the latter half of the fifth century.Deira's territory extended from the Humber to the Tees, and from the sea to the western edge of the Vale of York. It later merged with the kingdom of Bernicia, its northern neighbour, to form the kingdom of Northumbria.

"The Ancestors of Harald Haarfagre", Sir Henry H. Howorth, Saga-Book of the Viking Club (1920) Volume IX Part I at pages 46 to 227

References to Raum- people and places

At pages 46 and 47

Let us on with our story. We are told that Olaf got a wife called Solva or Solveig, the daughter of Halfdane Guldtand, or Gold-Tooth, the son of Solve Solveson, who was the son of Solve the Old, who first settled in Soloer (Ynglinga Saga, xlvi.).

Munch argues, reasonably, in regard to these names that they are artificial, and that their common particle "Sol" has some connection with Soleyer, whose etymology is still unknown. Saxo explains it as meaning "insular solis", islands of the sun but this, says Munch (ii. 106, note 1), cannot be so, since in ancient times the name was written Soleyar, and not Soleyyar. The district lay immediately west of Wermeland, and between it and the Glommen. Sólöyar, or Sóleyar, now called Soloer (says Aal), although forming no part of Raumariki, was yet included in the Rauma fylki (i.e. the gau, or county, of Rauma). It formed a long narrow strip, bounded on the east by Wermeland, on the north by the so-called Alfrhiem's Herad (surviving in the parish of Elverum), on the west by the river Glommen, and on the south by Alfheim and Raumariki (see Aal's map). It has been suggested that the early chiefs of Soloer had their seat at the house called Kongshaug, in the parish of Grinder, which in the Red Book and in charters of the fourteenth century was called Konungshof (Aal, op. cit., 32 note).

At page 53

Halfdane's father-in-law, Eystein the Great, was a much more important figure than has generally been supposed. A large part of the various districts peopled by the Rauma clan were united in obeying a common code of laws known as the Eidsivathing, and in being, as we have seen, subject to Eystein the Great, for we presently find his sons and grandson having a fierce struggle with the descendants of Halfdane for the districts which the latter had appropriated; among these we are expressly told was Hedemark, where Eystein had his court. Eystein was, in fact, master of all Norway east of the Dovrefelds, except Westfold, Alfheim, and Vingulmark. He thus ruled over the so-called Uplands, including Hedemark, Thoten, Raumariki, Hadeland, Ringariki, &c.

At page 54

… During the life of his father-in-law Halfdane, Eystein apparently remained quiet and it was only on his death that he began his conquests of which we have only very meagre details. We are told that he first proceeded with an army to Raumariki, which he plundered and subdued (Ynglinga, xlviii).

Raumariki lay west of Soloer, and formed with it the Rauma fylki, the two being only separated by the river Glommen. It was doubtless settled from an early date, and it is probable that the original people of Soloer came from Raumland.

In addition to Raumariki, Halfdane subdued a great part of Hedemark, Thoten and Hadeland (Id., xlix.). Hedemark is the district north of Raumariki, and bounded on the east and west by the Glommen and the Yormen, the river of Gudbrandsdal. Its name shows it was a frontier district …

At page 55

… Munch argues that the early inhabitants of Westfold belonged to the same Rauma clan as the folk in the neighbouring gaus (Op. cit., i. 104). The famous code known as Eidsivathing's law had authority there as in the country of the Raumas (Id., ii. 168), and it would naturally have formed part of Eystein the Great's dominions, and probably of those of his ancesters; …

At page 59

… By Asa, his wife, already named, Halfdane had two sons, Eystein and Gudrod. The former, as we have seen, had married, the daughter and heiress of Eric, the ruler of Westfold. He succeeded his father in Raumariki and Westfold, and lived to a great age. It is equally probable, therefore, a priori that Eystein was the contemporary of Sigurd Ring, and the Sagas, in fact, as we shall now see, bring the two into contact …

At page 60

… In the latter we read that "when Sigurd was very old, he happened to be in West Gothland in autumn, dispensing justice among his people, when the sons of King Gandalf, i.e., his brothers-in-law, went to ask his assistance against King Eystein of Westfold …

At page 64

… Gudrod's wife was Alfhild the daughter of Alfarin of Alfheim, in the maritime district on the east of the Wik, between the Raum elf and the Gaut elf, and with her he got as a dowry one half of Vingulmark …

At page 85

Meanwhile King Alfgar of Alfheim took all Vingulmark (part of which had been ruled over by Olaf's father) and placed his son Gandalf over it, after which the father and son reduced the greater part of Raumariki.

At pages 127 and 128

The district of Raumariki had been subdued by Sigtryg, the son of King Eystein, who was then living in Hedemark, (by whom Eystein, Hogne's son, King of the Uplands, is doubtless meant). A battle was fought with him, which Halfdane won, and we are told Sigtryg was killed by an arrow which struck him under the arm as his troops were trying to fly. Halfdane thus secured Raumariki; but no sooner had he returned from this expedition than Eystein Sigtryg's father, who was then king in Hedemark, marched to Raumariki and reconquered the greater portion of it.

At page 138

A Saga still extant in Hadaland makes out that Halfdane was drowned while returning from paying a visit to a noble lady at Hermansrud, west of the Rands-fiord (Munch, ii. 178, note 2). He had been a very fortunate king, and good seasons had characterised his reign, and he was so highly thought of, that when his body was floated to Ringariki to be buried, the people of most repute from Westfold, Raumariki, and Hedemark, who came to meet it, all wished it to be buried among themselves, hoping thus to secure good seasons and crops. It was at last agreed to divide the body into four parts.

At page 140

Munch has shewn that it was a very early feature of the fylkis in Scandinavia (i.e., the divisions corresponding to the "gaus" or counties, in Germany and England, traces of which remain in the North folk and South folk of East Anglia) to be united in Unions of two or three for religious purposes, and for holding a common Thing, or legislative and judicial assembly; while on the other hand there is evidence that certain districts, as, for instance, that of the Upper Dales, did not originally constitute separate fylkis at all, but attached themselves to some neighbour for these special purposes, still retaining their independence as communities. Thus, Vors and Haddingyadal were apparently united in this way to Hordaland, Waldres to Sogn, Osterdal to Raumariki, Southern Thelemark to Westfold, North Western Thelemark and Robygdelag to Ryfylki. It would seem that in early times Fiarda and Sogn fylki were thus united to Hordaland, Agder to Rogaland, and Hada fylki to Raumariki or Hedemark. These unions seem to point to an early relationship and close kinship among the people who formed them.

At page 141

The so-called Gulathings-law, i.e., code of the Gula Thing, had authority in all the district from Rygyarbit as far as the frontiers between Sondmore and Raumsdal. In the form in which it has reached us it dates from the end of the twelfth century.

… The old Frostathingslaw had authority in Raumsdal and Finmark; while the eight fylkis in Throndheim had a similar joint code, and formed a close union.

Munch considers it probable that the inner Upland fylkis formed a close union from the earliest times. At first, this probably comprised only Raumsdal, Gudbrandsdal, and Hedemark but later, as the people of Rauma obtained control of Raumariki, and even further towards the south-west, while Raumsdal extended its influence beyond the mountains, it came to include the focus and kernel of the Uplands, i.e., the fylkis round the Miösen lake, namely, Heina, Hada, and Rauma.

At page 142

In early Norwegian history we meet with three great codes - the Frostathing's lag in Nordmore, Raumsdal, and the northern fylkis; Gulathing's lag, for the district of the Thrond people, i.e., the fylkis from Söndmore as far as Rygiarbit; and, lastly, Eidsivathing's law, for what is known as Eastland. The former two were, according to Snorri, the work of Hakon the Good, and the last of Halfdane the Black. This last had authority, as we have said, in the districts immediately subject to Halfdane, that is to say, Rauma fylki …

At page 143

To revert to Halfdane's kingdom. It must be remembered that Raumariki at this time only extended as far as the river Glommen (the largest river in Norway, running from north to south into the eastern side of the Skagarak). East of that river was Alfheim, subject to King Gandalf.

At page 148

… Haki was killed with a great part of his men. He was buried, says our author, in a place called Hakadalr, now Hakedale, a valley dividing Hadaland from Raumariki (Magnussen, op. cit. iv. 253).

At page 149

… The result of the fight was that King Harald, by the help of his uncle, secured a great accession to his kingdom, namely, Heathmark, Gudbrandsdal and Hadaland, Thotn and Raumariki, and all the northern parts of Vingulmark.

At pages 157 and 158

In the spring Harald set out with his fleet from Throndheim southwards towards Mere (really North-Mere), which was doubtless peopled by the same stock and perhaps ruled by the same family as its southern neighbour Raumsdale. The King of North-Mere was Hunthiof, who was the father of Solvi, styled Klofi. Raumsdale was ruled by Nockvi. He was Hunthiof's father-in-law, and they went together against Harald and met his forces at Solskel, now Solskelo in Aedo parish, off the coast of the southern part of North-Mere (Magnussen Heimskringla, iv. 279). As usual Harald won the fight, and both the kings who opposed him (i.e., Hunthiof and Knockwi) fell, but Solvi escaped.

… Harald appropriated the two fylkies, dwelt there a greater part of the summer and proceeded to set up law and justice, and established rulers over them and took their fealty. Harald appointed Rognwald, (the son of Eystein Glumra), jarl of North-Mere and Raumsdale (whence he was afterwards known as the Mere jarl), and assigned him lords and franklins, or freemen, and also ships with which he might protect the country. He was known as Rognwald the Mighty or Keen-counselled, and it was said he deserved both titles equally well. He was the ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy and and of our Norman Kings.

Meanwhile Solvi, the son of Hunthiof, had remained with his ships all the winter, had harried in North-Mere and had slain many of King Harald's men, robbed others, and burnt the houses of others. Part of the time he stayed with Arnvid, his kinsman, the King of South Mere, which lay south of Raumsdale;* the latter fylki, in fact, divided the two Meres from one another, forming an important race frontier as well, since it divided the Thronds, of whom we have said so much, from the Hords, of whom we shall say more presently.

* It is possible in fact that all three fylkies N. and S. Mere and Raumsdale, which formed a wedge between the Thronds and Hords, were peopled by the Raum Stock which had come down to the seaboard by way of Raumsdal.

At page 168

His (Harald's) pretensions were still greater for he claimed that he intended to appropriate all the lands in "The Wik" which he alleged had been ruled over by his great ancestor Sigurd Ring and his son Ragnar Lodbrog. This included Raumariki and Westfold as far as Grenmar (now Langesundsfjorden), with Vingulmark and the country to the South, that is to say, the very kernel of Harald's dominions.

Probably as the result of the latter's absence in the the West many chiefs in these frontier lands had turned their eyes to the great King of Upsala. Harald was naturally much distressed at the news, and summoned a gathering, or mote, of his bonders, or farmers, in the district of Westfold and charged them with treason to himself. Some denied it, some paid money as a fine, and others were punished. Thus he spent the summer, and in the autumn he went to Raumariki, upon which he also laid a heavy hand.

At page 170

When Harald was ready to mount, he summoned Aki. His men went to look for him and found him dead on the road. He called on them to avenge their host. They thereupon rode together in pursuit of King Eric until they reached the forest that separates Gothland from Wermeland. There Harald turned back into Wermeland, which he subdued, and slew King Eric's men wherever he found them. After which he returned to Raumariki and dwelt there awhile.

At page 212

Hornklofi … tells us that when Harald married his Danish wife he scorned the Holmfolk (i.e., the women belonging to the typical Norwegian district of the islands on the coast of Rogaland) and the maidens of the Hords and Raums (or of Horda land and Raum realm) and of Halgoland.

At pages 226 and 227

In dividing the kingdom he (Harald) had assigned Vingidmark, Raumariki, Westfold and Thelemark to Olaf, Biorn, Sigtrygg, Frothi and Thorgils …

… To Eric, his favourite son (whose mother was the Jutish princess, Ragnhild the Mighty, who he meant to succeed him as Overlord of the whole State, and who also lived continually with him), he gave as a special appanage Halogaland, Northmere and Raumsdale.

"Danes and Norwegians in Yorkshire" (1925) A. H. Smith, Saga Book Vol. X at pages 188 to 215

The object of this paper is to give some account of the individual influence of Danes and Norwegians in Yorkshire. The general influence of the Scandinavian peoples is extensive, but when we attempt to determine what the Danes have done or what the Norwegians have done, the task is difficult. For one thing, there are severe limitations to our knowledge on account of the limited nature of our sources. For that reason, we must collect all the information we can and include the study of chronicles, place-names, local dialects, and relics of Anglo-Scandinavian sculpture. The Scandinavian peoples at an early date were divided into two groups:

  1. East Scandinavian (Danish and Swedish);
  2. West Scandinavian (Norwegian and Icelandic).

The difference between the two groups was mainly linguistic, but modifications were present which were due to divergent political and geographical factors. But despite their differences they were of a common stock, and both indulged freely in the Viking expeditions into Western Europe. Both groups made their presence felt in Yorkshire, but at different periods. The Danes came first.

The first mention of the Scandinavians in Northumbria is the entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle anno 793, when the Isle of Lindisfarne, at the end of a year of terrifying portents and dragons, was put to sword and fire by the "heathen men". But it was not till 867 that any important invasion took place in the district. In that year "the marauding army" (here) crossed the Humber estuary from East Anglia to York in Northumbria" (Anglo Saxon Chronicle 867) and after a terrible battle captured York. The fall of the English districts of the Midlands and East Anglia followed, but King Alfred successfully staved off the invasion of Wessex. By the treaty between Alfred and Guthrum, the Danes confined their bellicose efforts to the Danelaw. This was more of a necessity to the Danes than a triumph, for the strength of the West Saxon defence was more than the Danes had expected; and whilst that resistance was considerable it was more profitable for them to return to the parts they had already subdued.

These invaders were undoubtedly of Danish origin. The great Scandinavian army, which had now been in the country since 866, had come from Denmark by way of the Rhine mouth under the leadership of the sons of famous Danish Viking Ragnar Loðbrok or Ragnar with the shaggy breeches. This is important, for it shows that it was a Danish army that first settled in Yorkshire. And an interesting confirmation of this appears in a 12th century chronology, where in the year 868 we are told that "the Danes Hinguar and Hubba entered England"; the various Scandinavian forces in England about this time are always referred to as Dani in the chronology.

In 875 this great Danish army, which had subdued York and the Midlands, divided its forces at Repton (Derbyshire), and one part, under Guthrum, went south; the other, under Halfdene, returned to its operations in the north. A certain amount of plundering must have taken place in Yorkshire about this time, for the Memorial of the Foundation and Benefactions of Whitby Abbey (Whitby Chartulary, Surtees Society I) tells us that St. Hild's famous monastery of Streoneshalch was destroyed "by the most cruel pirates Ingwar and Hubba" - the brothers of Halfdene. Halfdene ravaged the country north of Yorkshire, probably the borders of County Durham and along the river Tyne. After spending the winter there he proceeded to attack the Picts and the kingdom of Strathclyde. Green suggests that these movements outside the old kingdom of Deira were merely predatory, but there can be little doubt, as Lindkvist suggests, that the enterprise was actuated by a desire to ensure the peaceful colonisation of Yorkshire, which was to take place in the following year 876. Plunder cannot have been the object of attacking County Durham; the land between the Tees and the Tyne was a barren waste and was regarded as the natural boundary - a kind of buffer state - between the old kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia.

In 876 "Halfdene portioned out the land of the Northumbrians, and they tilled it and made a livelihood by it." This is the first recorded settlement of Scandinavians in this country, and it was effected, as we have already seen, by a Danish army. Its extent was limited on the north by the river Tees, for the place-names of Durham betoken little direct Scandinavian influence. That being the case, Halfdene's settlement must have been confined to Yorkshire. The contemporary account of Asser that "Halfdene, the king of that part of Northumbria, subdued the whole district, divided it amongst his followers, and settled his army upon it" leads us to believe that the settlement included the greater part of Yorkshire. Place-names, as we shall see later, indicate that the Danish settlement was confined mainly to the most fertile parts of the country - the East Riding, the Vale of York, and the eastern part of the West Riding.

"Under the Danes" writes Professor E. V. Gordon, "Yorkshire became a realm of many freeholders, large and small, according to their rank and military services. The large freeholder was called a hold, which originally meant a "hero"; the word appears with that meaning in OE hæleð, German held. The small freeholder was called a dreng, a word which enters into the place-name Dringhoe in the ERY, and Dringhouses in the WRY. Under these were servile dependants of English blood, who appear in later records as liesings, that is, freemen. The number of freeholders in Yorkshire, as in other parts of Scandinavian England, by this system of distribution of land among the men of the army, became far greater than in Anglo-Saxon England, where large landowners were the rule." The large number of free-holders is apparent even in the Domesday Book accounts of the land tenure of the time of Edward the Confessor.

The rule of the Danes at York was turbulent and unruly; little peace there was, for their kings were constantly at enmity with the English, and often with their own people. This state of affairs brings to a convenient end the first great Scandinavian settlement - the settlement of the Danes.

Soon after this we find the beginnings of a new Scandinavian invasion, this time of Norsemen from Ireland. According to Ethelwerd, the jarl Siefrid is said to have made two descents on Northumbria: he is probably identical with the Siefred whose name appears on the York coins of 893. It is interesting to note that Siefred from ON Siggferdð is of West Scandinavian origin. He was in alliance with the Danes who were campaigning against Alfred, and seems to have died fighting. This is the beginning of the second great Scandinavian invasion. It was well recognised in the strengthening of the north-western forts against the Irish Vikings in 918. The following year, 919, Ethelfled, the lady of the Mercians, captured York, and perhaps it was the fall of York to the English that brought to England Viking assistance from Ireland. For, in the same year, "Regnold the king captured York". This Regnold is known elsewhere as Ragnvald mac Bicloch, and in the preceding years he had harried Ireland and the Isle of Man. He was the first of a series of Irish Viking kings of York which lasted for 35 years. He was succeeded by his brother or cousin Sigtryggr, who had been expelled from Dublin by Guðfrid O'Ivar, and who in England is said to have slain his brother Niel. It is probable that, now intercourse was established between Ireland and Yorkshire and the kingdom of York was ruled by Irish Vikings, large numbers of Norsemen came and settled in Yorkshire in the tenth century. This is confirmed by place-names, which give some clue as to the nature and provenance of these settlements.

Danish and Norwegian Texts

The general extent of Scandinavian influence on England has been closely examined by

  • Björkman on general lexicographical questions (Scandinavian Loanwords in Middle English, Halle, 1900), and on personal names (Nordische Personen-namen in England and Zur englisch Namenkunde, Halle); and
  • Lindkvist on place-names (Middle English Place-names of Scandinavian Origin, Uppsala, 1912).

Professor Eilert Ekwall has made many contributions to our knowledge of the Scandinavians in England (especially in his chapter on the Scandinavians in the Introduction to the survey of English Place-names, Cambridge, 1924). Björkman and Lindquist are mainly concerned with Scandinavian as distinct from English, and do not carry their investigations far in distinguishing between Norwegian and Danish influence. The material available for this is limited by the very exacting nature of the problem; the difference between Danish and Norwegian was not very great, and even when we discover a difference it is possible that ME orthography cannot be interpreted with certainty. For these reasons we have to rely mainly on the material available for a study of the place-names of Yorkshire, and the examination of this reveals a number of interesting features.

In the present state of our knowledge, place-names and archæology are the two branches of historical studies on which we must base our examination. Place-names, quite apart from the fascination they may have for patriotic in-dwellers, often have a definite historical value, and this proves to be the case in dealing with the question of Danish or Norwegian settlements in Yorkshire.

In deciding what is Norwegian or what is Danish in our place-names, we should first make out what were the differences between Norwegian and Danish speech in the Viking Age.

In a number of sound-combinations Danish and Norwegian differed:

  1. ODan ŭ = ONorw ŏ (from PrGerm ŭ by a-mutation, which took place with much greater regularity in ONorw than in ODan). Thus ODan hulm "level land by a stream" is equivalent to ONorw holmr. The latter form appears almost always in Yorkshire, and it finally ousted the one or two examples of ODan) hulm, which is found twice as Holme (YER) (de Hulmo 1219, Assize 1040.m. 3d), and as Holme (NRY) (Hulme DB 1086, 1128-35 YCh 944). The ODan form corresponding to the ONorw personal name Folkar was Fulkar; the Danish form enters into Foggathorpe (ERY: Fulcariorþ DB 1086). Other words seem to bear this relationship: ODan had a form kunung 'king' (= OE cyning), but in ONorw the regular form was konungr. The Danish form is in several Yorkshire place-names, such as Conisbrough (Cunugesburh 1002 KCD 1208, Cuningesburg DB 1086) and Coniston (Cuningestone DB 1086) in the WRY and Coneysthorpe (Cuningestorþ DB 1086) in the North. Corresponding to the ONorw. personal name Folki, was an OEScand Fulke as in OSwed and this is found in Folkton (Fulcheton DB) and Foulbridge (Fulkebrigge 1182 P). The material available for this difference is scanty and at first unexpected; the reason for it seems to be this. Most of our spellings date from after the Norman Conquest and consequently were the work of Norman scribes, who wrote down English sounds according to French methods of orthography. Thus for early English u they wrote o, so that many names, containing ODan u, were represented by French scribes with o, which was also the symbol for the sound o. Often, therefore, though distinction was preserved in ME between the sounds ODan u and ONorw o, it is impossible to say whether they were Norwegian or Danish in origin. Where u was written, it is, of course, certainly Danish.
  2. ODan ō, ONorw ū: in the case of the long vowels ō and ū the provenance in OScand is reversed. The chief example is ODan bōð 'a booth, stall', corresponding to ONorw būð 'booth' though pronounced like ONorw būð is from ODan bōð, just as 'tool' is from OE tōl. Both forms are found a number of times in Yorkshire. Scarborough in the ERY (Scogerbud DB 1086), 'stall in the wood', is from ONorw būð and ON skógar, genitive skógar. Beedale, near Wykeham (Boddal circa 1153 Dugdale v. 670), is from ODan bōð and ON dalr 'a valley'. Bootham in York (Bouthum 1145-61 YCh 267, Buthum 1150-61 Easby, 135) is also from ONorw būð.
  3. Loss of r in the genitive inflexion -ar before a consonant, as OSwed hæstanir, 'the horses', took place in OEScand but not in ONorw where r was kept, as ONorw hestarnir. Consequently, in place-names, where the second element often begins with a consonant, -r in the genitive was lost as in such ODan names as Gutmundatorþ, Asvardebode (ONorw Guðmundar-, Asvardarbuð). Barkerthorpe in the ERY, frequently Barchetorþ in early spellings (as DB 1086 beside Barchertorþ) is from the ON personal name Bųrkr, genitive Barkar, and forms which show loss of r are due to the original Danish type with loss of genitival r before a Consonant. So too Sewerby 'Siwards farm' and Romanby (Romundebi DB 1086) 'Hroðmund's farm'.
  4. Assimilation of a stressed vowel to the unstressed vowel of the next syllable is found in Norwegian dialects, and seems to he found in the name of Tharlesthorpe, a lost town on the Humber (Toruelestorþ DB 1086, Tarles-, Tharlesthorþ 1285 KI, 1316 NV), in which the first element ON þoraldr first underwent assimilation to þarald.
  5. Assimilation of certain consonant combinations in ONorw took place about the year 1000:
    nk > kk
    nt > tt
    rs > ss

That this change took place before the end of the Viking settlements in Yorkshire seems clear from the word 'drucken', a common dialect equivalent to 'drunken'. There can be little doubt that words belonging to one of the assimilation groups belong to a late stratum of Norwegian loanwords, borrowed, no doubt, from Scandinavians who came after the year 1000. It is also possible that some words which do not show assimilation might belong to an earlier invasion of Norsemen; we can only be certain that words which show the change are Norwegian.

The chief examples here are:

  1. nk > kk: ODan early ONorw brink, ONorw brekka "a slope". Danish brink is found in Brink Hill, NRY (Brinks 1376 Dugdale v. 348) and Micklebring (WRY), Mikelbrink 1335 IpmR, whilst ONorw brekka is found in Breck (Brecche 136 YCh 868, a lost place near Whitby, a similar place Breck (Brecca 12th century YCh 910) in Catton (ERY), two lost places in Skirpenbeck (ERY) Haibrec (1175-86 YCh 838) and Bildebrec (ib. also Bylbrek 1446 Whitby) 'Bildi's slope'. It is also found a number of times as the simplex Breck in WRY. ODan slanke, ONorw slakki "a hollow". The Danish form slank is not found in Yorkshire, but ONorw slakki is of common occurrence: at least 16 Slacks in the WRY (e.g., Slack, near Quarmby, Slac 1275 Goodall); several in NRY, as Waterslakgille (1265-78 Whitby) in Hackness; several lost places in ERY, as Grenesdaleslack (1175 YCh 1230) in Willerby, Halleslac, Refholeslac (1200-22 YCh 1264) in Huggate.
  2. nt > tt: ODan klint, ONorw klett 'a rock'. ODan klint occurs several times as Clint (WRY, Clynt 1285 KI), Clints (NRY), and a lost place in Willerby (ERY), called Galeclint (1172 YCh 1228, Galeclinth 1175 YCh 1230). ONorw klett is not found in Yorkshire apart from a possible case in Cleatop near Settle (WRY), Clethop 13 Percy.
  3. rs > ss: ON fors, ONorw foss 'a waterfall'. ONorw foss occurs several times in NRY), as Fossdale (Fossdale 1280 YI). The assimilated form foss probably enters into Catfoss (Catefos DB 1086 Catfosse 5 Hy iv. Bodl a.i. 339) and Wilberfoss (Wilburfossa circa 1180-93 YCh 913), both in ERY.

In the two OScand dialects a number of words occur which are peculiar to one or the other dialect, and these may be of use in determining the extent of Danish or Norwegian influence on Yorkshire. But at the outset we must recognize that, whilst OWScand is well represented in early literature and historical matter, Danish is comparatively poorly represented. In consequence, a word not found in ODan and adduced in ONorw may quite possibly have existed in Danish, though it happens not to be recorded. On the other hand, a word found in Danish but not in Norwegian is very probably peculiar to Danish.

The chief Norwegian test-words are "gill" and "scale". ONorw gil, "a ravine, deep valley", does not occur in ODan or in any Danish or Swedish dialect. In Sweden gil is found, but only in the north-west, where Norwegian influence is felt most strongly. The reason for the absence of gil in OEScand is probably geographical: Denmark and Sweden contain few ravines or gills which can be compared with those of Norway. The element occurs with frequency in Yorkshire, but only in the deep valleys of the west and in the Cleveland Hills. Examples are:

  • Howgill (Holegil 1218 FF) 'hollow ravine'
  • Wemmergill (Wymundergil 1265 GiffReg) 'Vigmund's ravine' (from the ON personal name Vigmundr, genitive Vigmundar)
  • Gaisgill (Gasegill 1285 KI) 'Gasi's ravine'

The only Yorkshire examples in DB 1086 are

  • Raygill (Raghil DB) from ON "roe-(buck)"
  • Scargill (Scracreghil DB 1086, Scakregill 1172 P 12th century VCH i.41) from the ON by-name Skakari. The word is not found in ERY

The second test-word is ONorw skali, "shanty, hut", which appears in YKS south of the Nidd as Schole, and north as Scale. In WRY the chief examples are Brianscholes (Brynscoles 1337 WCR) from the OE personal name Bryne (? Bryne from OE brún, 'brown'), and Scholes near Cleckheaton (Scales 1228 Gray's Reg) and elsewhere. In NRY it enters into Burnolfscales (13th century Guis) in Guisborough (from ON Brunolfr, Raufscales in Kildale (ib.) from the personal name Ralph, Scalebec (13th century Whitby) in Liverton, all in Cleveland, and into Gammersgill (Gamelscale 1388 IpmR) from the ON name Gamall, Scales, near Richmond (Scales 1137-46 Easby folio 321), and many other times in the western dales. ME derivative skaling appears in Scalefoot (Schalingthawythe 1301 LS) and Scaling (Skalynge 12th century Guis), both in Cleveland.

Of Danish test-words thorp 'village' is the most reliable. It is a common element in Danish and Swedish place-names, and though it occurs in Norway it is only in place-names adjacent to the Swedish border. In the north and west of Norway one or two isolated examples of the simplex thorp and in Iceland one example þorpar occur. Thus, when thorp appears with any frequency in a district it may be regarded as a sure sign of Danish settlement. The possibility of the rare OE þrop (þorp) affecting this test in Yorkshire is negligible. In the north-west of England the element is rare; in CUL there is one (doubtful) example, in WES there are five (Sedgefield) and in LAN four (Ekwall). In YKS, however, it is common; there are at least 160 examples, of which 60 are in ERY, 65 in WRY south of the Aire and principally in the east, and the rest are in NRY but mainly in the central vale of York and along the Derwent valley near ERY borders. Incidentally, this distribution of thorp gives a good idea of the general provenance of Danish settlements in the north of England.

There is also a certain class of place-names of value for our purpose. The terms 'Dane' and 'Northman' were used in OE in the tenth century to distinguish between the two groups of Scandinavian invaders. It is interesting to note that the distinction is first made in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the war after Ragnvald's invasion from Ireland, when large numbers of Norwegians came into Yorkshire. After the battle of Brunanburh "the Northmen departed across the deep sea to Dublin"; five years later, in 942, the Five Boroughs which "formerly belonged to the Danes, now submitted in their distress to the Northmen". This distinction is preserved in place-names such as Danby (ON Danabyr), 'village of the Danes', and Normanton or Normanby (OE Norþmannatun, ON Norþmannabyr), 'village of the Norwegians'. In a Danish district the name Danby would have little distinction, for every farm or village might be called Danby, but in an Anglian or Norwegian district it would carry distinction. Consequently Danby indicates an isolated settlement of Danes. Similarly Normanton or Normanby indicates an isolated settlement of Norwegians in a Danish or Anglian district. Normanton occurs once in WRY and Norrnanby occurs four times in NRY, all under the stated conditions. Danby is found thrice in NRY, whilst Denaby (from OE genitive plural Deniga) and Denby (OE genitive plural Dena) are in WRY.

Lastly, a few personal names appear in Yorkshire place-names, which seem to be adduced in OEScand only. Such are ODan Esi (= OWScand Ási) as in Easby, near Middlesborough (Esebi DB 1086), and a lost village in Rainton (NRY) called Eseby in 1234 (Percy); ODan Eskil (= OEScand Áskell) in Exelby (Eskilby 1199 FF); ODan Frithi (not found in OWScand) in Firby (NRY Fridebi DB 1086), Firby (ERY, Frytheby 1303 KF); ODan Kiari (not found in OWScand), in Kearby (WRY Cherebi DB 1086) and Cold Kirby (NRY, olim Kereby); ODan Malti as in Maltby (NRY, Maltebi DB 1086), Maltby (WRY, Maltebi DB 1086). Björkman (Nordische Personennamn in England) suggests that the personal name Muli as in Mowthorpe (NRY, ERY, Muletorþ DB 1086) is OEScand only, but Lind (Norsk-Isländska Personbinamn) adduces ONorw Muli; moreover, there was an OE personal name Mula (Searle) which reduces the value of ODan Muli as a test of Danish influence.

Norwegians from Ireland

One special feature of the Scandinavian influence on England is that which betokens a strong Irish trait. Place-names of this type depend for their value in this connexion on whether Norwegians or Danes settled principally in Ireland and the Western Isles, and whether Scandinavians who settled in these parts of England were from Ireland.

The Scandinavian raids on Ireland began in the 8th century and were chiefly carried on by Danes, or, as the Irish Chronicles term them, the Gaill "foreigners". But in 836 the "Four Masters" notes the arrival of 60 shiploads of Northmen; in the same chronicle in the year 847 distinction is made between the Dubhgaill, "the dark foreigners" (i.e., the Danes), and the Fingaill "the fair foreigners" (i.e. the Norwegians). In 850 the Dubhgaill or Danes attacked Dublin and slew the Fingaill or Norwegians. About this time the Norwegians began to settle, and their chief centres were Dublin, Limerick, and Wicklow. The extent of their settlements increased, but they never seem to have left the coastal district.

When this state of affairs was reached, the native Irish and the newly arrived Norwegian population naturally exercised mutual influence on their respective civilisations. The Irish adopted a number of Scandinavian words. The Scandinavian were also affected; their language and sculpture betray very clear traces of Irish fashions, and the obvious conclusion is that the two peoples lived intimately together. From the evidence of the lasting impress of Ireland on the Norwegians who came to England, we must suppose that the Norwegians had lived amongst the Irish for a number of generations. As we have already seen, a few of these Norwegians from Ireland entered Yorkshire with Siefrid circa 890-3, but the main body probably came in the years 919 to 952 after Ragnvald captured York, and constant communication was kept up between York and Dublin. Place-names and other sources which contain Irish elements we may ascribe to Norwegians who had come from Ireland.

The chief case in point is a place-name in which the usual order of elements is reversed. In the usual Germanic type of place-name, the order is:

  1. a defining element, and
  2. the common element, as in such names as England Brighton 'Brihthelm's farm', Bradford 'Broad ford', German Middendorf 'dirty village', Norwegian Djuþedal 'deep valley' (Rygh, Norske Gaardnavne, i.97), etc.

But in Celtic the usual order of elements is the reverse of this, as in Welsh names beginning with llann 'church', e.g., Llan san Bregit (the Welsh name for Bridstow); Tre-Walchmai 'the dwelling of Gwalchami (= England Gawain), where tre is the common element. This mode of forming place-names was adopted by the Irish Vikings. Their place-names in Ireland and the Isle of Man exhibit this feature - Stillorgan (Co. Dublin), earlier Stathlorgan is 'Lorcan's place' from ON staðr and the Irish name Lorcan; Holm-Patrick: (Isle of Man), 'Patrick's island' (from ON holmr). Similarly, in the English Lake District and North Lancashire such types are found, as Aspatria 'Patrick's ash', Leagrim, earlier Lathegrim, 'Grim's lathe or barn' etc. The origin of the elements in these "inversion-compounds", judging from Ekwall's examples in the North-West of England, is clearly:

  1. OWScand, e.g. ONorw búð, gil, and skáli, and
  2. Goidelic i.e. Irish, especially personal names like Irish Colman, Patrick, etc.

In YKS there are a few examples of this type:

  • Craven (Ribblesdale) near the LAN border: two lost places Stainþaþan and Hillegrime
  • Stainþaþan occurs in the Furness Chartulary; the first element is ON steinn 'a rock'; the second is probably an OIr diminutive personal name Þoþan from OIr þoþa 'teacher' (compare Lackenby infra). Hillegrime occurs in Percy and consists of the element ON pylr 'a pool' and the name Grímr.
  • Catterick (NRY): Arrathorne (vide infra) and a lost place called Myregrim (13th century Marrick), which is from ON mýrr 'marsh' and the name Grímr. Arrathorne (Ergthorn 13th century Marrick, 117) is a doubtful example; it is from ON erg 'a pasture' and ON þorn 'thorntree', and the meaning 'pasture near the thorn-tree' seems preferable to 'pasture thorn-tree'
  • Cleveland (Teesdale): a probable example is a lost place in Ormesby called Hillebrait (12th century Guis), Hille-, Illebrayth, which is composed of the elements ON hyll 'a hill' and the ON personal name Breiðr: another is Sawcock (earlier Salcok) 'Cock's hall' (from ON Salr)
  • The first element in Arrathorne, ON erg is of importance in this section of our study. Its ultimate origin is Gaelic airigh 'a hill pasture', compare Irish airgh 'a place for summer pasture in the mountains'. This word was apparently unknown outside Scandinavian Britain, for in old Scandinavian literature it is found only in two passages in the Orkneyinga Saga relating to Caithness. In the first, erg is equated with ON sel 'a hut on a mountain pasture", and in the second passage, preserved only in a late Danish translation, erg is glossed by ON sétr 'a mountain pasture'. Yorkshire material is here more prolific than was the case with the "inversion-compounds"
  • Upper Calderdale (near Huddersfield): Golcar (Gudlagesarc DB 1086), from ON Guðlaugr
  • Craven: a number of erg-names are found, as a lost place Stratesergum (DB 1086), first element probably a personal name; Snellesherg (Ekwall 83) from ON Sniallr; Gamellesarges (1232 Kirkst) from ON Gamall; Feizor (Feghesargh 1299 Ekwall 83) from a personal name Feg (possibly from OIr Fiach; and Battrix (Bathirarghes 1343 Moorman) from ON Bǫðvarr (as in Battersby, Badresbi DB 1086), and possibly an unidentified Startholfhisherix late Hy iii. Puds
  • Catterick: Arrathorne (vide supra)
  • Cleveland (Teesdale): Eryholme (Argun DB 1086) and Airyholme (Ergun DB 1086) 'at the pastures or huts', and Coldman Hargos (Colmanergas 1119, etc., Guis), from the OIr personal name Colman
  • Near Whitby is Airy Hill (Ergum 1090-6 YCh 855), and in Ryedale is Airyholme (Erghum 1138 Dugdale v. 350)
  • ERY: a lost place Alderges (1285 KI) and Arras (Erghes DB 1086), both near Market Weighton; Argam (Ergone DB 1086) near Bridlington, Arram (Ergum 1195-1912 YCh 1211) near Beverley and Arram (Argun DB 1086) near Hornsea

A number of Irish personal names are found in Yorkshire. Their evidence should be divided into two groups for the purpose of estimating Irish-Scandinavian influence. The first of these is the group of Irish names which are recorded as names of men living in the country. The following is a list of such names principally from DB 1086:

  • Colman (13th century Kirkst WRY), Coleman (1252 Assize. 1048, m. 4d. Cleveland): OIr Colman from earlier Columbán; it is found as OWScand Kalman, the name of one of the earliest settlers in Iceland. It is later used as a surname in Yorkshire (KI)
  • Crin (DB 1086 TRE in Fremington NRY); a personal name based on OIr crín, 'dry, withered'; it is found as an OIr diminutive name Crínan, compare Förster, Keltisches Wortgut, 6l.
  • Fech (DB 1086 TRE in Giggleswick WRY): OIr Fiách (Donegal).
  • Finegal (DB 1086 TRE in Langton on Swale NRY) OIr Fingaill 'white foreigner' (vide supra page 14), which also enters into the name of a lost place in Easby, called Finegalgraft (13th century Easby). The district round Dublin, Fingall, earlier Fine-na n-Gall 'district of the foreigners', contains this element -gaill
  • Ghille, Ghil (DB 1086 Catterick district NRY, Rillington ERY): = OWScand Gilli from OIr gilla 'servant'. It was used later as a surname Gill (KI)
  • Ghilander (DB 1086 Pickering Lythe NRY), compare Gaelic Gilleandrais (Macbain) 'servant of St. Andrew'
  • Ghilebrid (DB 1086 Leavening ERY): compare Gaelic Gillebride 'servant of St. Bridget' from OIr Brigit (genitive Brigte), Gaelic Bride
  • Ghilemicel, -michel (DB 1086 Kepwick NRY). Gilmychel (12th century MS. Faustina B. VII. fol. 82d): OGael Gillemicel (MacBain) 'servant of St. Michael'
  • Ghilepatric (DB 1086 Wensleydale NRY), Ghilpatric (12th century MS. Faustina B. VII. folio 73d): OIr Gillepatric 'servant of St. Patrick'
  • Glunier (DB 1086 York, North Leeds district WRY. Wensleydale NRY): Irish Gluniaran, an Irish loan from ON Jarnkné
  • Macus (DB 1086 Preston WRY): OIr Maccus, an Irish adaptation of ON Magnus.
  • Malcolumbe (Norman son of; DB 1086, Colton ERY): OIr Maelcolumban 'servant of Columban or Colman'.
  • Melmidoc (DB 1086 Welbury NRY): OIr Maelmaedhog
  • Murdac, Murdoc (DB 1086 Owstwick ERY), Meurdoch (DB 1086 York), Murdacus (1160-71YCh 1243, Huggate, ERY): OIr Muiredach; Gaelic Murdock (MacBain)
  • Neel (1170-82 YCh 814, in Bassacer ERY)): OIr Nel, which appears in ASC as Niel (vide supra page 5)
  • Patricius (12th century Guis): OIr Patrice
  • Sudan (DB 1086 Sinderby YNR): cf. OIr Maelsuthan and OE Suthen (LVED 15) from the same source
  • Truite (Robert: 12th century Riev, Pickering Marishes NRY); possibly from a hypothetical OIr Troit compare Irish troid 'quarrel'; vide Ekwall 19.

The second group of Irish personal names comprises those which are found in Yorkshire place-names, and the superior value of these over the preceding group lies in the fact that we can estimate much more accurately the districts which were most affected by this influence.

  • WRY: near Huddersfield not far from Golcar is Fixby (Fechesbi DB 1086), which contains Fecc mentioned in the above list. A few miles to the west in Halifax parish is Mankinholes (Mankanholes 1275 WCR), from the OIr personal name Manchan. In Craven, Feizor probably contains Fecc
  • NRY: in Wensleydale, Melmerby (olim Melmorebi) from OIr Maelmuire; Melmerby in Halikeld (olim Malmerbi) is from ON malmr, genitive malmar, 'sand'. Yockenthwaite (Yoghannesthweit 1241 Percy), from a Scandinavian adaptation of OIr Eoghan (Donegall)
  • Near Catterick, not far from Arrathorne and Myregrim mentioned before, is Patrick Brompton from OIr Patricc, which also enters into a lost place near here Paterik-keld (13 Marrick) 'Patrick's spring'
  • Cleveland (Teesdale): Melsenby (Malsenbi DB 1086) possibly contains OIr Maelsuthan (compare Sudan above), and Brettanby (earlier Bretaneby 12th century Easby folio 5d, 1219 Ass (PRO) No. 1040, m. 8d) contains OIr Brettan (Förster, Keltisches Wortgut, 101). Nearer the sea, in the district where the names Hillbraith and Coldman Hargos are found, are Coldman Hargus itself and Commondale (Colemandale 1273 YI). Lackenby (Lachenebi DB 1086, (Lachaneby 1231 Ass (PRO) No 1042 m. 3d) is from the OIr personal name Lochan (Donegal). As in Stainþaþan supra, the vowel o offers some difficultv, but OIr o appears as a in Kalman, theOWScand form of Irish Colman
  • Ryedale. The OIr personal name Duban (compare Duuan in the LAN portion of DB 1086), a diminutive of OIr dub 'black' is found in Dowthwaite (earlier Duvanesthwat circa 1154-63 Riev)
  • York: Patrick's Pool (Patrickpole 1274 Leon folio 172, 1346 Leon folio 134d) is from OIr Patricc. An isolated example in Bramham (between York and Tadcaster) is a lost place Colemangate (1160-75 YCh 1023) from OIr Colman and ON gata 'road, way'. In the north of ERY is Duggleby (Difgelibi DB 1086) from Dubhgall 'black foreigner' (compare supra pp. 14, 18)

An isolated example of Irish influence is found in the Fount Chartulary, where mention is made of a place called Diuelinstanes, which contains the OWScand name for Dublin, i.e. Dyflinn.

Lastly, there was a Scandinavian nick-name Iri, which was used of a Norwegian who had come from Ireland. It enters into one or two Yorkshire place-names (NRY), such as Irton, near Scarborough (earlier Iretune DB 1086), and Irby (Irebi DB 1086) near Northallerton: both these names mean 'farmstead of the Irishman'. They are of a similar type to Danby and Normanton (supra, page 12), and where they are found they must indicate that, though Irish Vikings settled in that particular district, they were in isolated settlements. Such is the case with Irton and Irby; they are both in districts where there is little or no further trace of Irish influence.

The Extent of Danish and Norwegian Settlements

Using all these tests as we have applied them to Yorkshire names we may gather some idea of the provenance of Danish and Norwegian settlements in Yorkshire.

The Danes settled largely in ERY, the eastern half of WRY and the south of NRY, judging from the distribution of -thorpes and such names as Folkton (from Fulke); that is, they settled in the level fertile districts of the Ouse valley. Most of these are due to Halfdan's settlement.

The Norwegians appear to have settled principally in the Craven district of WRY as betokened by such names as gill and scale and the Irish elements. This district is geographically part of LAN, and the settlement appears to be an extension of Norwegian settlements in that country. In NRY Norwegians are mainly responsible for the settlement of Wensleydale, which contains instances, such as Melmerby and Yockenthwaite, of Irish influence, probably due to Irish Vikings who came by way of Cumberland. The same may be said of the adjacent Catterick settlements, where we find Arrathorne, Myregrim, and Patrick Brompton. In Teesdale, especially in Cleveland, there was a strong Norwegian settlement; gill is found all along Teesdale, scale enters into a number of places such as Burnolfscales, Raufscales, Scaling, and there are such Irish types as Hillbraith, Coldman Hargos, Commondale, Eryholme, Airyholme, and the type Normanby.

In Whitby there are traces of both Scandinavian groups; the majority of place-names are of Scandinavian origin, and one or two such as Airy Hill, Bursteadgill (Burstadgille 13th century Whitby) Waterslackgill, Normanby (Normaneby 1100-15 YCh 857), Breck, indicate a strong Norwegian element. Danby is the only name which shows definite Danish influence; the few traces of Danish influence may be due to the devastation of the district by Ingwar and Ubba the Danes (vide supra page 3).

In Ryedale, a few thorpes are found in the south of the Wapentake, such as Howthorpe (Holetorþ DB 1086). Coneysthorpe (supra page 7), Laisthorpe (Lechestorþ DB 1086 = 'Leik's village'), Easthorpe (Estorþ DB 1086), which really belong to the Danish settlement in Bulmer Wapentake. But in the rest of Ryedale Wapentake, Scandinavian names are numerous and betray considerable Norwegian influence, e.g. Airyholme, Normanby (Northmannabi SD), Dowthwaite, Laskill (Lauescales 1170 Riev = 'low pastures') etc.

In the East Riding are the various Arrams, Argam, Arras Scorbrough, Duggleby, etc., Geographical factors are against these eastern Norwegian settlements being extensions of the settlements in the Yorkshire Dales. The probability is that they arose from Irish Vikings who came by sea, possibly by way of Caithness, for all these districts are within easy reach of the sea.

The names of York are, of course, very Scandinavian, but only a few can be ascribed to either Scandinavian group. Coney Street (Cuningesstrete circa 1150-60 YCh 232, Cunengstrete 13th century Leon folio 102 d) is from Danish kunung, whilst Bootham (Buthum 1150-60 YCh 260) from ONorw búð, and Patrick's Pool from the OIr name Patricc are Norwegian. The historical position of York under Danish rulers and under Irish-Norwegian rulers favoured the survival of one type no more than the other.

Yorkshire Dialects - Norwegian and Danish

The question of the influence of one particular Scandinavian language on Yorkshire speech is faced with many difficulties, and in particular we are faced with an insurmountable difficulty in the paucity of vernacular records from the earliest period down to the 14th century.

Some Scandinavian sagas show a direct connection of Yorkshire and Iceland. Kormak's Saga tells of the foundation of Scarborough by Þorgils Skarði about 967; Egill the poet visited York, where he wrote his famous poem "The Head Ransom" to save his life, and he gives a Scandinavian version of the Battle of Brunanburh, in which Scandinavians from Ireland joined the Danes of Yorkshire in opposing the English king Athelstan: Gunnlaug Ormstunga (i.e. 'the serpent's tongue') appeared at the court of king Ethelred the Unread and tells us that "there was one speech in England and Norway before William the Bastard conquered England" (Gunnlaugs saga Ormstungu, ed. Reykjavik, page 18). This may indicate that an Anglo-Scandinavian dialect was spoken in England, though it may simply mean that Norwegian and Old Northumbrian were not sufficiently different to be mutually unintelligible. There is an illuminating story in the Heimskringla (also in Fagrskinna, ed, Jonsson, page 295) bearing out this last suggestion. After the Norwegian defeat at Stamford Bridge (near York) the Marshal of Norway fled towards the coast. The weather was cold and inclement at the time, and meeting a Yorkshire carter on the road, the Marshal said: "Will you sell your coat, farmer?" "Not to you" replied the carter; "you are a Norwegian; I know you by your speech."

This shows that there were certain well-defined features in ONorw which were at least intelligible to the native English. A few traces of Scandinavian grammatical features, such as the modern dialect at for that (conjunction), hanum, the ON dative pronoun 'him' in the Aldborough inscription circa 1050-60 (Ulf het aræran cyrice for hanum and for Gunwara saula), are present in ME and modern Yorkshire dialects, but nothing can be definitely ascribed either to Danes or to Norwegians. A number of words in common speech can be determined to be one or the other. Danish are the modern dialect words amelle 'in the midst' (ODan a melle), sum in whatsumiver 'whatsoever' (ODan sum), thrave 'a bundle' (ODan þrafe). Norwegian are baan, boon 'bound for' (ONorw búinn), addle 'earn' (ONorw oðla), graithe 'prepare' (ONorw greiða), bane, as in such expressions as t'banest way 'the quickest, shortest road' (ON beinn, which also enters into the river-name Bain; vide RNY page 17). Irish-Norwegian are cross (OIr, ONorw kros; vide Förster, page 28ff.), which is also found in a large number of place-names such as Ralph's Cross, Lilla Cross (NRY) Staincross Wapentake (WRY) etc., and capel 'a horse' found in ME only (ONorw kapall from OIr caþall).

A number of words and names appear in English which seem to have undergone late Scandinavian sound-changes. Shunner Howe (sometimes Senerhou, Shonerhou) must have arisen from the ONorw form Siónar (genitive of Siónr), in which the vowel had undergone "breaking" and the stress had shifted from the first to the second element of the diphthong (ON Senar-Séonar, which is the normal form borrowed in English as Sener; ONorw Siónar) and underwent a ME sound-change of [sj] to sh (compare A. H. Smith, Review of English Studies, i. 4, page 437 ff). Mutation of a to o in ONorw is evidenced also in such words as hold (compare supra), hǫfuð 'head', common in such place-names as Middle Head (NRY, Midelhovel, Middelheved, 13th century Riev) and Howden (ERY OE to Hæfuddene YCh 4, Houedene DB 1086), where OE heafod was later replaced by the late ONorw cognate hǫfuð. Normally this class of words appears in English with a, as in Blansby (NRY Blandebi DB 1086) from the ON genitive case Blǫndu, earlier Norwegian Blandu (compare the nominative case Blanda). In late ONorw ht was assimilated to tt, which is found in dialect ettle 'to intend'; the older form with ht is found as ME eghtle, NRY airtle, and in sleight 'a level piece of ground'. ME sleght from ON sleht, later slétta. The Norwegian change of d to th seems to have taken place in some place-names of English origin, such as Goathland (Godelande, Gotheland, 12th century Whitby) from OE Godan-land 'Goda's district', where Godan underwent the same sound-change which distinguishes ON góðr 'good' from OE gōd, ON guðr 'god' from OE god, etc. Most of these sound-changes are probably due to Norwegians rather than Danes, for they were certainly the latest of Scandinavian settlers in this part of England.

List of Sources and Abbreviations (italicised abbreviations are used to denote manuscript sources)

ASC The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, ed. Plummer, Oxford, 1892
Assize Assize Rolls (Public Record Office, No's. 1040 ff)
Bodl. Bodleian Charters for Yorkshire (Bodleian Library, Oxford
Brit. British
DB 1086 Domesday Book
Donegal Martyrology of Donegal, Irish Archæological Society
Dugd. Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, London, 1846
Easby Easby Chartulary, British Museum, Egerton, 2827
ERY East Riding of Yorkshire
Ekwall E. Ekwall, "Scandinavians and Celts in the North-West of England", Lund, 1918
FF Yorkshire Feet of Fines, Yorkshire Archæological Journal and Yorkshire Archæological Society Record Series, 63
Förster M. Förster, Keltisches Wortgut im Englischen, 1921
Gael Gaelic
Giff Register of Archbishop Walter Gifford, Surtees Society, 109
Gordon E. V. Gordon, Scandinavian Influence on Yorkshire Dialects, Yorks. Dialect Society Transactions, 1923
Guis Guisborough Chartulary, Surtees Society, 86, 89
IpmR Inquisitiones post mortem (Record Commission), 1806-28
KCD Kemble, Codex Diplomaticus
KF Knights' Fees, 1303, Surtees Society, 49
KI Kirkby's Inquest, 1285, Surtees Society, 49
Kirkst Kirkstall Coucher Book, Thoresby Society, 1904
Leo Registrum Cartarum Hospitalis S. Leonardi Ebor, British Museum, Cotton Nero DIll
LS Yorkshire Lay Subsidy, 1301, Yorkshire Archæological Society, Record Series, 21
LVD Liber Vitae Dunelmensis, facsimile edition, Surtees Soc., 1921
MacBain A. MacBain, Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language, 1915
Marrick Charters of Marrick Priory, Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica (No. 820) v, London, 1838
ME Middle English
Norw Norwegian
NRY North Riding of Yorkshire
NV Nomina Villarum, 1316, Surtees Society, 49
ODan Old Danish
OE Old English (= Anglo Saxon)
OEScand Old East Scandinavian
OGael Old Gaelic
OIr Old Irish
ON Old Norse
ONorw Old Norwegian
OWScand Old West Scandinavian
P Pipe Rolls, Pipe Roll Society (in progress}
Pat Calendar of Patent Rolls (in progress)
Percy Percy Chartulary, Surtees Society, 117
PrGerm Primitive Germanic
PrN Primitive Norse
Puds The Pudsay Deeds, Yorkshire Archæological Society Record Series 56
Riev Rievaulx Churtulary, Surtees Society, 83
RNY E. V. Gordon and A. H. Smith, The River-names of Yorkshire, Yorkshire Dialect Soc. Transactions, 1925
Romeyn Register of Archbishop John le Romeyn, Surtees Society, 123, 128
SD Symeon of Durham, ed. Arnald (Rolls Series), 1882
Searle W. G. Searle, Onomasticon Anglo-Saxonicum, 1897
VCH Victoria County History of the North Riding
WCR Wakefield Court Rolls, Yorkshire Archæological Society Record Series
Whitby Whitby Chartulary, Surtees Society, 69, 72.
YCh W. Farrer, Early Yorkshire Charters
YI Yorkshire Inquisitions, Yorkshire Archæological Society Record Series
WRY West Riding of Yorkshire

Index of Place-Names (names printed in italics are unidentified with modern names)

  1. Airy Hill 17, 22
  2. Airyholme (Cleveland) 17, 22
  3. Airyholme (Ryedale) 17, 22
  4. Alderges 17
  5. Argam 17
  6. Arram (Beverley) 17
  7. Arram (Hornsea) 17
  8. Arras 17
  9. Arrathorne 16, 22
  10. Aspatria (Cumberland) 15
  11. Asvardebode (Old Danish) 8
  12. Bain, river 24
  13. Barkerthorpe 8
  14. Battersby 17
  15. Battrix 17
  16. Beedale 8
  17. Bildebrec 9
  18. Blansby 25
  19. Bootham 8, 22
  20. Bradford 15
  21. Breck (YER) 9
  22. Breck (YNR) 9, 22
  23. Breck (YWR) 9
  24. Brettanby 20
  25. Brianscholes 11
  26. Bridstow 15
  27. Brighton 15
  28. Brink Hill 9
  29. Burnolfscales 11, 22
  30. Bursteadgill 22
  31. Catfoss 10
  32. Cleatop 10
  33. Clint 10
  34. Clints 10
  35. Cold Kirby 13
  36. Coldman Hargos 17, 22
  37. Colemangate 20
  38. Commondale 20
  39. Coneysthorpe 7, 22
  40. Coney Street 22
  41. Conisbrough 7
  42. Coniston 7
  43. Danby 12
  44. Denaby 13
  45. Denby 13
  46. Divelinstanes 20
  47. Djupedal (Norway) 15
  48. Dowthwaite 20, 22
  49. Dringhoe 4
  50. Dringhouses 4
  51. Duggleby 20, 22
  52. Easby (Cleveland) 13
  53. Easby (Rainton) 13
  54. Easthorpe 22
  55. Eryholme 17
  56. Exelby 13
  57. Feizor 17, 19
  58. Finegalgraft 18
  59. Fingall (Ireland) 26
  60. Firby (YNR) 13
  61. Firby (YER) 13
  62. Fixby 19
  63. Foggathorpe 7
  64. Folkton 7,21
  65. Fossdale 10
  66. Foulbridge 7
  67. Gaisgill 11
  68. Galeclint 10
  69. Gamelesirghes 17
  70. Gammersgill 11
  71. Goathland 25
  72. Golcar 17
  73. Grenesdaleslack 9
  74. Gutmundatorþ (Old Danish) 8
  75. Haibrec 9
  76. Halleslac 10
  77. Hillbraith 16, 20
  78. Hillegrime 15
  79. Holdelithe 4 (note)
  80. Holme (YER) 7
  81. Holme (YNR) 7
  82. Holm-Patrick (Isle of Man) 15
  83. Howden 25
  84. Howgill 11
  85. Howthorpe 22
  86. Irby 21
  87. Irton 20
  88. Kearby 13
  89. Lackenby 16, 20
  90. Laisthorpe 22
  91. Laskill 22
  92. Laysingcroft 4 (note)
  93. Lazenby 4 (note)
  94. Lazencroft 4 (note)
  95. Leagrim (Lancashire) 15
  96. Legram Hill 15n
  97. Lilla Cross 24
  98. Llann san Bregit (Welsh) 15
  99. Maltby (YNR) 13
  100. Maltby (YWR) 13
  101. Mankin Holes 19
  102. Melmerby (Coverham) 19, 21
  103. Melmerby (Halikeld) 19
  104. Melsonby 20
  105. Micklebring 9
  106. Middendorf (German) 15
  107. Middle Head 25
  108. Mowthorpe 13
  109. Myregrim 16
  110. Normanby (Ryedale) 13, 22
  111. Normanby (Whitby) 13, 22
  112. Normanton 13
  113. Paterik-keld 20
  114. Patrick Brompton 19
  115. Patrick's Pool 20, 23
  116. Ralph's Cross 24
  117. Raufscales 11, 22
  118. Raygill 11
  119. Refholeslac 10
  120. Romanby 8
  121. Sawcock 16
  122. Scalebec 11
  123. Scale Foot 11
  124. Scales 11
  125. Scaling 11, 22
  126. Scarborough 20,23
  127. Scargill 11
  128. Scholes 11
  129. Scorborough 8, 22
  130. Sewerby 8
  131. Shunner Howe 24
  132. Slack 9
  133. Snellesherg 17
  134. Staincross Wapentake 24
  135. Stainþaþan 15
  136. Stillorgan (Ireland) 15
  137. Stratesergum 17
  138. Tharlesthorpe (a lost town on the Humber) 8
  139. Tre-Walchmai (Wales) 15
  140. Waterslack Gill 9,22
  141. Wemmergill 11
  142. Wilberfoss 10
  143. Yockenthwaite 19, 21

The above page references to this paper are to the inner pagination, viz., pp. 1-28.

"Saga Book of the Viking Society for Northern Research" Volume XII Proceedings 1937 - 1945, University College London, at pages 278 and 279

"Anglo-Saxon England" by F. M. Stenton. (The Oxford History of England, Vol. II). Oxford: at the Clarendon Press, 1943.

lt is a pleasant task to record the publication of Professor Stenton's history of Anglo-Saxon England, which relates to the complex period from the emergence of the earliest English kingdoms (circa 550) to the death of William the Conqueror (1087). The author deals with the political, social and religious history of this period, and, in addition, the development of Old English literature is discussed, with sensitive criticism, in relation to the culture which produced it.

lt would be superfluous to emphasise the importance of this volume for Anglo-Saxon studies. Professor Stenton has also earned the gratitude of those who are primarily interested in Norse studies. They will here find, side by side with the accounts of each impact of Scandinavian forces on England during this period, admirably lucid surveys of the political situations in Denmark and Norway underlying the different phases of piracy or conquest. An exemplarily judicious use is made of Scandinavian historical tradition. The influence of Scandinavian ideas and institutions on Anglo-Saxon society is fully recognised; references to supplementary material are given in the bibliography (pp. 704-5). This critical bibliography of thirty-five pages is a most valuable guide to Anglo-Saxon historical studies, and specialist and non-specialist, alike must pay tribute to the excellent index, the work of Mrs. Stenton.

The first known raid of Danish adventurers on England in 835 was followed by a period of sporadic raids. After the death of Horik in 854, there was no king in Denmark powerful enough to hold his people back from the prospect of exciting and profitable adventure, and in 865 England was invaded by a great Danish army, anxious to win land for settlement. The result of the ensuing series of campaigns was that, although Wessex survived as an independent kingdom, thanks to Alfred the Great, at the end of the ninth century the east of England between the head-waters of the Tees and the estuary of the Thames was settled by members of the Danish armies, as a consequence of the successive partitions of southern Northumbria, eastern Mercia and East Anglia.

Although in the tenth century West-Saxon rule was imposed on these regions, the Danelaw retained its social, legal and linguistic peculiarities. A brilliant survey of the Danelaw forms one section of this book (pp. 495-518). The language of the legal texts referring to the Danelaw, which contain both loan-words and formulas of Scandinavian origin (often anglicised in form), is an illuminating parallel to that of such a Middle English text as the Lincolnshire Havelok. In the latter part of this section Professor Stenton demonstrates the significance of place-names of Scandinavian origin as materials for the history of the Danelaw, They indicate the varying degrees of intensity with which different parts of the district were colonised, and reflect in some degree the nature of the settlement, that of a military organisation. In the northern Danelaw, where the centre of Danish influence lay, both place names and personal names prove that there was no general assimilation of Danes to Englishmen in the two centuries before the Norman Conquest.

In eastern England the bulk of the Scandinavian settlers was of Danish origin. Norwegian Vikings had raided the coasts of England at the close of the eighth century, but it was in the first quarter of the tenth century that Norwegians from the colonies they had established in Ireland began to make permanent settlements in north-western England, thus introducing a remarkable hybrid culture, in which Norse and Irish elements are inextricably combined. Norwegians were also added to the original Danish settlers in Yorkshire in the tenth century, when rival Norwegian leaders contended for the throne of York. All readers of Egils Saga will remember its picture of the court of the last Viking king of York, Eric Bloodaxe, who was expelled in 954.

The Scandinavian element in the population of England was not entirely confined to the Danelaw and north-western England, for the Viking raids that were renewed at the beginning of the reign of Æthelred II, 'a king of singular incompetence', culminated in the establishment of a Danish monarchy in England. Cnut endowed his followers with English land - for example we have clear evidence of a Danish aristocracy in Worcestershire established at this time - and Domesday Book records landowners bearing Scandinavian names in every part of England.

Relations between England and Scandinavia in the Anglo-Saxon period, however, did not consist solely in raids and conquests. King Athelstan was on terms of friendship with the Norwegian court. An English chronicle records that Harold Fairhair dispatched a Norwegian mission to England, bringing to Athelstan an ornate warship with purple sail, and Norse tradition gives us a further proof of friendship in the information that Harold's youngest son, Hakon, was brought up at Athelstan's court, as his nickname 'Aðalsteins fóstri' bears witness. Already in the tenth century there was regular commercial intercourse between England and Scandinavia. Professor Stenton notes that the best evidence for this is the fact that a currency modelled on that of England was introduced into their own countries by the rulers of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Finally, we must not forget the important part played by the English Church in the establishment of Christianity in the Scandinavian countries, most notably in Norway.

Viking Revaluations, Viking Society Centenary Symposium 14 - 15 May 1992 edited by Anthony Faulkes and Richard Perkins

Norway (800 to 1200) by Knut Helle at pages ages 6 to 9, 10 & 11

… Demographic studies form an important part of current historical research in Norway and have also given a new dimension to medieval history. Throughout the whole of the Middle Ages, Norway was a predominantly agrarian society in which towns were few and small and in which the agricultural population was settled on separate farms and not in villages as was the case in most of Denmark, the central parts of Sweden and most of the rest of Europe. This pattern of settlement, determined by the fragmented topography of the country, was an impediment to the formation of large, compact estates in the hands of aristocratic landowners. It also makes it possible to work out the volume of settlement in terms of the number of farms with their own names at given times, as they are indicated by place-names and other information in both contemporary and later sources.

We cannot determine with any accuracy the extent to which the farms named in extant sources were divided into holdings, i.e. actual working units occupied by separate households, without names of their own having been recorded. Nor do we know the average number of people living on each holding. Still, the demographic research of the last three decades has laid the foundations for a rough estimate of the population of medieval Norway at somewhere between 300,000 and 550,000 when it peaked around 1300 (Helle 1991, 35-37). This may have been about double the early Viking-Age population. In the interval there had, therefore, been a very considerable growth of population and a corresponding expansion of agrarian settlement.

We are ignorant of the causes of this growth. From what we know of the contemporary European situation and conditions in Norway in the early modern period, there can be little doubt that the average expectation of life at birth was very low. The examination of skeletal material from a number of medieval Scandinavian graveyards suggests it lay well under 30 years. It was kept low above all by high infant mortality and deaths amongst young people. When, in spite of this, the population rose, it must have been because a high death rate was more than matched by an even higher birth rate. Women must, for the most part, have begun to produce children on reaching child-bearing age. Early and frequent child-bearing seems to have been the main cause of a lower expectation of life amongst women than amongst men, at least in the High Middle Ages and possibly earlier as well (Helle 1991, 41-42).

In recent research the Norwegian expansion overseas in the Viking Age has been explained as being a consequence of demographic conditions: the increase of population and the resulting pressure on resources, particularly in western Norway. Here, the reserves of cultivable land appear to have been modest already in the Viking Age, and it was from here that the bulk of Viking expeditions set out.

This is an explanation that does not preclude other causes and motives having contributed to Viking expansionism. We should not dismiss the possibility that it was to some extent the result of political unrest at home, as was believed by Icelandic historians of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Vikings were also undoubtedly driven by a spirit of adventure. They partly followed old trade routes, lured by the riches they knew were to be found along them. Plunder was often the motive, but also more peaceful trade. On the other hand, the Norse colonization of the Atlantic islands can hardly be explained except within a context of less favourable economic conditions at home than in the areas which attracted the broad mass of colonists (Helle 1991, 26-27, 39).

In modern Norwegian archaeological and historical research into the Viking Age attention has generally been given more to conditions and developments at home than to Viking activity abroad. In my own survey, I stress the fact that it was during the Viking Age that Norway was first opened to Europe on a significant scale. Christian influences began to trickle in and led eventually to what amounted to a cultural revolution. It is also relevant that Norwegians abroad became aware of more sophisticated forms of political organization under princely power and in co-operation with a Christian Church. Among other things they discovered too the role that urban centres could play in this context (Helle 1991, 27).

The study of the conversion and of urbanization are both good examples of the shift of weight of historical research away from later saga evidence to other types of source material, in these cases particularly archaeological material. In accordance with the saga tradition, nineteenth-century historians considered the conversion of Norway to be the work of the two missionary kings (Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf Haraldsson) in the last years of the tenth and the early decades of the eleventh centuries. In modern research the change of burial customs and the existence of early stone crosses in western Norway have been used to support the view that Christianity started to extend itself to the coastal districts of southern and western Norway earlier in the Viking Age (Helle 1987, 89). In the same way the extensive urban archaeological excavations of recent decades have in some cases made it possible to uncover earlier stages of urbanization than the royal foundations mentioned in later sagas and chronicles of towns from about AD 1000 onwards (Øye 1992).

As to the social structure of Viking-Age Norway, a crucial question is this: to what extent were the broad mass of people, the peasants, already at that time tenant farmers and so to what extent was there a basis for a Viking-Age aristocracy in the payments and services of such farmers? The tenancy system existed as far back as it is possible to go with the help of written records, but it is not possible to measure just how widespread it was, relative to the freeholder system, before 1300 or thereabouts, by which time the great majority of Norwegian farmers were obviously renting their land, in whole or in part, from clerical or secular landowners.

There have been two main schools of thought on this issue. The older one, represented by among others Munch and Sars, suggests that the tenancy system was well developed and probably embraced the majority of the country's farmers well before the twelfth century. A more recent view, held by Bull and the younger Holmsen, suggests that a shift from freeholder to tenant status only took place, for the majority of farmers, in the last two or three centuries before 1300. According to this view, which has one of its roots in the writings of Keyser, the starting-point of Norwegian social history was a society of freeholding peasants all with holdings of more or less equal size. In the course of the High Middle Ages the majority of these peasants were then reduced from freeholders to tenants. This development created a clerical and lay aristocracy which separated itself from the broad mass of the population and ruled the people through the Church and State (Helle 1961, 350-53).

Neither of these hypotheses has much in the way of evidence to support it, and my own suggestion is that the truth lies somewhere in between. The growth of population from the seventh century onwards, and for that matter even in earlier periods, may have led to the creation of a number of subordinate and dependent holdings; in other words to an early form of the tenancy system. There are indications, emphasized not least by the elder Holmsen, that from the Viking Age, at the latest, collections of dependant holdings were to be found at least in the coastal districts of western Norway around seats of landed proprietors.

Later the system of tenant farmers spread more widely. The colonization of new land led to more and more tenants under public or private landowners. The larger landowners could find it more profitable to rent out their lands than to farm them on their own account in a time of rising population and high land rents. This, together with the clearing of land, could be the main reason why the unfree largely disappeared in the course of the twelfth century; in economic terms it paid to put freed slaves on rented land rather than to work that land with the help of slaves.

In accordance with recent research, I consider slavery to have been of some economic significance in the Viking Age, although its importance cannot of course be assessed exactly (Helle 1991, 51-54) …

At pages 10 and 11:

In all probability there existed, at the beginning of the historical period, a number of local and regional chieftainships in Norway. The inbuilt tendency for some chieftaincies to expand at the cost of their rivals increased in the Viking Age and was the starting point for the development of more extensive political and social units (Helle 1991, 24-26).

According to texts of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Harald Finehair was the first king to rule over the whole of Norway. And Snorri Sturluson in Heimskringla is the first saga-writer to describe in detail, more than three centuries after the events, Harald's conquest of one fylki after another until his final victory in Hafrsfjord in south-western Norway towards the end of the ninth century. Today, Snorri's presentation of Harald's systematic unification of the realm must be rejected as an unhistorical reconstruction. But it is still reasonable to regard Harald as a ruler who took an important early step in the building up of a national kingdom (Helle 1991, 28-29).

As I see it, the actual royal unification of Norwegian territory was a politico-military process that took more than three hundred years to complete. Roughly speaking it fell into two main phases. The first phase began in earnest with Harald Finehair and stretched down to the middle of the eleventh century. For this phase I agree with Bull that we must abandon any illusion that the detailed accounts of later sagas bear any close resemblance to the actual course of events.

But there are indications that through most of the period a kingdom with roots in the west Norwegian coastal districts sought to win control over other parts of the country with varying but never permanent success. It may well be that Olaf Haraldsson was the first Norwegian king to assert himself over most of the country at one and the same time, in the second and third decades of the eleventh century. But we have to admit, as Norwegian historians have been rather reluctant to do, that his rule was merely an interval in a period extending from the beginning of the Viking Age onwards when Danish kings were the strongest political factor in Scandinavia, frequently with authority over greater or lesser parts of Norway, especially Viken (the Oslofjord area), which was closest to them.

It was not until the dissolution of the Danes' North-Sea empire on the death of King Cnut in 1035 that it was possible for the Norwegian royal power to obtain permanent control over the bulk of Norwegian territory. For a time in the eleventh century, in the reigns of Magnus Olafsson and Harald Sigurdsson ('Hardrada'), Norway was even on the offensive against its neighbours and Norwegian territory was secured to the south along the present Swedish coast to the Göta älv. At the same time the monarchy managed to take control of the whole kingdom including the rich agricultural inland districts in eastern Norway and in Trøndelag to the north.

Earlier historiography tended to regard the political unification of Norway as complete by about the middle of the eleventh century. There then followed a period of relative political stability and peace. But there were times when two or more kings, each with their power base in different parts of the country, ruled at one and the same time, which, in my view, is clear evidence that political unity was far from complete. This becomes even clearer from the 1130s onwards. A series of disputes over the throne then began which were to occupy the next hundred years and have subsequently been termed the 'Civil Wars' …

"Viking Revaluations", Viking Society Centenary Symposium 14-15 May 1992 edited by Anthony Faulkes and Richard Perkins

"Norse in the British Isles" by Michael Barnes at pages 65 to 81

… on the result of language contact between Norse and English speakers in the Danelaw:

as it is most unlikely that OE and ON were fully mutually comprehensible, contact forms (Anglo-Danish pidgin) must have been used to some extent in trade and commerce. As the bilingual situation receded, the varieties that remained must have been effectively Anglo-Norse creoles with a tendency in the post-creole situation to restore some of the grammatical distinctions lost in pidginization (Milroy 1984, 11).

The very close similarity between the two languages [Norse and English] makes the emergence of a pidgin language as unlikely on linguistic grounds as it is on social grounds: linguistically, communication could be effected without drastic elimination of linguistic complexities, and socially the need (at least in most places) was for an all purpose language, not merely for a restricted purpose minimal language. Creolization is also unlikely on social grounds, and again the languages seem too close linguistically for such an extreme response to communication difficulties (Thomason and Kaufman 1988, 307).

… it is perhaps worth making two general points:

First, research into the fate of the Norse language in Britain and Ireland by and large reflects the prevailing concerns of historical linguistics at any given time. Up until the middle of this century, for example, the emphasis was almost exclusively on phonology, loan-words and place-names, and the approaches were relatively unhampered by the constraints of definition or of theory. Recent decades have seen a broadening of the scope, a greater willingness to define terms and in some scholars a positive zest for theoretical models against which to evaluate the data.

The second point to be made is that the interest of many researchers in the field has not been entirely or sometimes even primarily linguistic.

The coming of Norse to the British Isles, its subsequent existence and ultimate demise have not, at least until very recently, featured at all prominently in the literature. The emphasis has instead often been on such questions as the extent of Danish settlement in England or the fate of the pre-Viking Gaelic-speaking population in Man and parts of the Hebrides. Even where the linguistic data are ostensibly the main concern and are not merely brought in to bolster conclusions about the size of Danish armies and the like, Viking settlement patterns usually form the wider context in which they are discussed. A notable exception to this has been the study of Orkney and Shetland Norn. Because of the survival of these branches of Norse until the eighteenth century, attention here has mainly been focused on the question of language shift.

Norse in England

The received wisdom just after the turn of the century on the subject of the Norse language in England was expounded in a much quoted and often praised chapter in Otto Jespersen's Growth and Structure of the English Language (1905, 59-83). Jespersen begins by describing the Viking invasions of England. Having set the scene, he goes on - drawing, to some extent, on Björkman 1900-02 - to stress the close kinship and similarity of Norse and English, to discuss at length different categories of Norse loan-words in English and the competition between Norse and native forms, and to suggest that a 'fusion of the two languages' (page 82) took place. The chapter ends with three brief paragraphs, one on the morphology of the loans, one on contact with Norse as a cause of inflectional simplification in English, and one on Norse syntactic influence. The last of these, despite its speculative character and attribution to Viking-Age Norse of modern Danish constructions, has been quoted with approbation by many later scholars. Jespersen has not been without his critics (compare, in particular, Einenkel (1906) and Kirch (1959), who both stress the invalidity of his examples of syntactic influence), but even in the most recent edition of one of the standard histories of the English language (Baugh and Cable 1981, 90-106), it is still substantially his story that is being re-told.

A question of importance to students of the Scandinavian languages, which Jespersen scarcely raises, is: how long did Norse continue to be spoken in England ? Later writers tend to show slightly greater interest in the matter, but still often provide no more than a sentence or two in which the conclusions of Ekwall's (1930) and more recently Page's (1971) article on the survival of the Scandinavian language in England are rehearsed. Baugh and Cable (1981, 95) have the following to say:

"While in some places the Scandinavians gave up their language early there were certainly communities in which Danish or Norse remained for some time the usual language"

A conservative enough conclusion, and perhaps the only one for which there is warrant, but its blandness could, one feels, have been tempered by brief discussion of the evidence. For such discussion, Baugh and Cable's readers are directed to the articles by Ekwall and Page. Ekwall begins by arguing in general terms that the survival of Norse in England would have been determined by the number of speakers as a proportion of the population in any given district. He does not think political submission to the English would necessarily have led to the rapid demise of Norse. His examination of the evidence provided by inscriptions, place-names and Norse loan-words in English appears to confirm these initial views, though it is hard to be sure, for he does not present an orderly set of conclusions at the end of the article, but relies rather on the planting of a few stray remarks at different points in his text. In only one case is he unequivocal: the Pennington inscription from Lancashire "proves that so late as about 1100 a Scandinavian language was spoken in the district even by the upper classes." (page 24).

In his 1971 article, Page dismembers that part of Ekwall's case which is based on epigraphical sources, and concludes that the epigraphical evidence for the survival of Scandinavian in England is slight. The Pennington inscription, he thinks, could exhibit either corrupt Old Norse or Norse-influenced Old or Middle English:

"From it I would hesitate to argue what language the people of the area spoke in the twelfth century." (page 172).

Page nevertheless stresses that the absence of clear epigraphical evidence of Norse language survival cannot be assumed to indicate an absence of Norse speakers. There are simply insufficient data to determine the matter either way.

Space forbids detailed comment on Ekwall's place-name and loan-word evidence. Suffice it to say that both would benefit from reinterpretation in the light of current knowledge. Many of his linguistic arguments in particular no longer hold, deriving as they do from views about the development of the Scandinavian languages most would now deem invalid. The upshot is that there seems to be very little direct evidence that could help us decide how long Norse survived in England, and we are therefore thrown back on indirect testimony such as the size of the Norse element in later English and on comparison with better-known language contact situations elsewhere.

The extent of Norse influence on English has been widely assumed to indicate prolonged contact between speakers of the two languages (or between speakers of a derivative of Norse and English). About the nature of this contact and its prerequisites, there has been little agreement. To most scholars around the turn of the century, who tended towards a literal interpretation of the sources, the matter was straightforward enough: vast numbers of Scandinavians settled in the eastern half of England and the north-west; they continued to speak Norse for a generation or two, but eventually gave it up in favour of a mixed Anglo-Norse which gradually became more anglicised and was ultimately the source of the influx of Norse elements into English. None of these various assumptions has remained unchallenged. Later scholars have sought to refine them, have questioned their meaning, or totally rejected them. The following points in particular have been made:

  1. There is no incontrovertible evidence that the number of settlers was vast, and a good many indications that it was small.
  2. The settlers would have consisted chiefly or only of men and would therefore have taken English-speaking wives who would have taught English to their children; the continuation of Norse speech in England must therefore have been dependent on new waves of settlers.
  3. The term 'mixed' or 'fused' language is by most who use it left undefined; in the absence of a definition, we can have no clear idea what is envisaged.
  4. In the light of current socio-linguistic models, the results of Norse-English linguistic contact are only explicable on the assumption that a pidgin developed that was subsequently creolised.
  5. There is no warrant whatsoever for the belief that a pidgin or creole developed in Viking-Age England, and by definition, therefore, no justification for talk of a 'mixed' or 'fused' language.

Of these five points, the second is the most easily dealt with in that, unlike the others, it is a matter of pure speculation and raises no theoretical issues. The following seems a fair assessment of the arguments (Hansen 1984, 81):

This entire discussion is of little avail; we are dealing with sociolinguistic subtleties which cannot be reconstructed by means of the borrowings. Besides, it was not necessarily decisive whether Danes married other Danes or married into English families. More important is the relative status of the two languages outside the family … and if Scandinavian was a high-prestige language for a couple of generations, the nationality of the Danish soldiers' wives is of minor importance.

The mention of high prestige leads naturally to the debate about numbers. Are the Norse settlers to be numbered in tens of thousands, as originally believed, or in a few hundreds, as argued at one time by Sawyer (see the review of the controversy in Fellows Jensen 1975). The principal argument against a very small settlement has been the extent of Norse influence on English, but this has been countered by pointing to Weinreich's statement (1953, 92):

"Even for extensive word transferring, large numbers of bilingual speakers need not be involved and the relative size of the groups is not necessarily a factor."

The higher or even aristocratic social status of the Norse settlers is sufficient explanation for the borrowing, it is suggested. Argument and counter-argument here form part of a historical rather than a linguistic debate, which is perhaps why Weinreich's words of caution, taken out of context, have been elevated almost to the status of an axiom (Kisbye 1982a, 50). It is certainly possible, given the right circumstances, for a minority to exercise linguistic influence on a majority, but were the circumstances in Viking-Age England right ? The linguistic evidence, such as it is, tends to suggest they were not. Norman French - indubitably a high-prestige minority language in England - left its mark on areas of life such as government, administration, culture and fashion; Norse influence, on the other hand, seems for the most part to have been restricted to basic, everyday vocabulary. Historically, too, there are difficulties. Whatever the status of the Danish and Norwegian settlers in their homeland (and this is uncertain), it remains to be demonstrated that they enjoyed higher prestige in England than the natives. For those primarily interested in Scandinavian linguistic history, the numbers question is in any case largely a red herring. Norse speech, for whatever reason, clearly enjoyed sufficient prestige for a sufficiently long period to exercise widespread influence on English.

It is with the nature and process of this influence that recent discussion on Norse-English language contact and the fate of Norse in England has been concerned. Kisbye (1982a; 1982b), arguing without the benefit, or burden as some might see it, of a general theoretical model, reaches the following conclusions:

  1. There was a degree of mutual comprehensibility between speakers of Norse and English.
  2. The settlers and their descendants did not constitute an upper class.
  3. Norse lasted into the eleventh century in England and an Anglo-Norse mixed language was still in existence in some parts of the country as late as the early twelfth century.
  4. Anglo-Norse arose primarily through the efforts of the settlers to speak English.
  5. Norse influence caused, or helped on its way, the inflectional simplification of English.
  6. The influence of Norse on English was of enormous dimensions.

The arguments that accompany these conclusions vary in quality and extent. Mutual comprehensibility is supported by a demonstration of far-reaching structural and lexical similarities between Norse and English. Against the notion that the settlers enjoyed upper-class status, detailed arguments are adduced along the lines of the point made above about the nature of Norse loans in English. The Anglo-Norse mixed language is little more than an article of faith, but is said to make an appearance in some of the inscriptions discussed in particular in page 1971 (see above). The origin of Anglo-Norse in settlers' attempts to speak English is offered as the most reasonable explanation of the data, while the effects of Norse influence in causing or assisting the simplification of the English inflectional system, as well as the massive extent of the influence, are taken as more or less axiomatic.

Less sanguine than Kisbye is Hansen (1984). Her conclusions at the end of a wide-ranging, though somewhat rambling and occasionally turgid article are that everything is uncertain (page 88):

"Whatever the result of the contact between English and Scandinavian is called and whatever models we try to fit the borrowings into, it is impossible to make inferences about the causes. There are too many unknown quantities. Therefore we mainly find ourselves compelled to guessing, though some hypotheses are of course more valid than others."

In much the same style she goes on to suggest widespread bilingualism, among both Norse and English speakers, as a cause of Norse influence on English. Like Kisbye, she does not find that any particular prestige can have attached to the Norse settlers or their speech, and she therefore concludes that there must have been a large number of settlers.

"to ensure the necessary, long survival of the Scandinavian language in England, which is compatible with the theory of secondary immigrants" (page 89).

As an alternative explanation to bilingualism she suggests the extensive transference of vocabulary as a result of language death - a phenomenon that has been noted elsewhere:

At the time when they [the borrowings] first emerged, that is 1200 - 1400, there was no standard English owing to the Normal [sic] French influence … and this weakened position may have facilitated the acceptance into the various ME dialects of Scandinavian words introduced during the last stages of the language shift (page 88).

The full theoretical implications of the Anglo-Norse mixed language so widely touted in the literature are given a thorough airing in Hines 1991. The observable data, he suggests, point to a mixture on at least two levels (page 415):

… a level of basilectal, restricted and utilitarian language produced by a shift in Old English targeted upon Scandinavian or containing the residue of the atrophy of Scandinavian under English dominance, and a higher level in which English is the dominant, lexifier language but within which Scandinavian items also carry definitive status.

Hines' argument, as I understand it, is that the language of the first generation Scandinavian settlers had higher prestige than English and therefore became a target language for English speakers when the need arose for communication between the two groups. This explains, among other things, why items of basic Norse vocabulary were carried into English: if English had been the target language, one would have expected its basic vocabulary to have been the first element mastered. The form of speech that arose in these circumstances probably fulfilled the criteria for a 'model pidgin' (page 408). Not long after the initial settlement, however, perhaps as early as in the second generation, a change set in. A desire arose among the Scandinavians to distance themselves from their sordid past and to adapt to the higher and more stable Anglo-Saxon culture. The product of this attitudinal shift was a process of Anglo-Scandinavian acculturation, thoughtful and deliberate, one of whose manifestations, if not the most visible, was the establishment of a higher-level form of Anglo-Scandinavian speech, which served to make the settlers feel more at home in their new surroundings while still emphasising their separate identity. (Though Hines does not himself make the point, it might be that the English loans in Scandinavian discussed by Hofmann (1955, 21-148) occurred as part of such a process.)

Hines' paper is closely argued, and both evidence and theoretical models are adduced at relevant points. He does not jump aboard the pidginisation and creolisation bandwagon which has been rolling with increasing velocity in recent years, but is content to give it an encouraging wave as it passes (page 420):

"The value of the term [creole] lies not in summarizing the details of the history of Scandinavian English language mixing, but in locating analogous data and associated theory. From this the usual cross fertilization of case-study and general understanding can proceed."

Whether one is convinced by the scenario Hines sketches is another matter. Scarcity of evidence is a problem, and there is at least one aspect of the question to which he gives little consideration: the degree of mutual comprehensibility between Norse and English. The talk in the first of the above quotations from his paper of 'the residue of the atrophy of Scandinavian under English dominance' is a reference to the following notion (compare Hines 1991, 406): because Norse and English were fundamentally so similar, resistance to the loss of the former was probably weaker than might otherwise have been expected; as Norse was gradually worn down, the bulk of what remained will have been basic vocabulary which, because of the kinship of the two languages, was easily preserved in a final amalgam of the dominant and subordinate forms of speech. Hines does not actually recommend this idea, but it is not dismissed either and seems to feature as an alternative to his pidginisation hypothesis (compare the above quotation from page 415 of his paper). It is legitimate to wonder, I think (in spite of the fact that definitions of pidginisation do not appear to require a specified level of dissimilarity for the process to take place), whether the conditions for the development of a basic system of communication would have existed where the languages in contact were as similar as it is suggested Norse and English were. Of course, Hines may have reasoned as follows: either they were not similar - in which case a pidgin must have been the answer - or they were similar - which will have obviated the need for a pidgin and facilitated the retention of basic Norse vocabulary in English as Norse died out as an autonomous language. However, these two hypotheses are never discussed as alternatives, so it is hard for the reader to judge their precise status in the overall analysis. Difficult though it is, the question of the degree of mutual comprehensibility between Norse and English does, I think, require serious discussion, not least because it has loomed so large in the debate about Norse-English language contact in the Danelaw and elsewhere in England.

In the same year as Hines gave his paper, Thomason and Kaufman published Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics (1988), which contains as one of a number of case studies a section entitled 'English and other coastal Germanic languages, or why English is not a mixed language' (pages 263 - 342). This deals in part with the influence of French on Middle English, but is in the main a detailed study of the process and effects of language contact between English and Norse. As the title of the section suggests, the two authors do not believe that English and Norse fused; they are in particular vehemently opposed to theories of creolisation, partly because such theories do not in their view accord with the observable facts and partly because of an innate scepticism about claims to have found the Holy Grail.

In spite of the relatively large number of grammatical elements of Norse origin in Norsified ME, their effect on English structure was almost trivial. Thirty-eight of the fifty-seven traits [that the authors deem to be indicative of Norse influence], or 67 percent, are mere phonological variants of what English had had in the first place. It is as though Norsification largely reflects a fad whereby an English speaker would parade his knowledge of Norse while speaking English (page 298).

"We … acknowledge … that overarching models that use a small number of axioms and try to explain practically everything annoy us. We dislike reductionism (ad absurdum). We are splitters, not lumpers. The purpose of this book is to introduce some subtlety into the thoughts and words of historical linguists" (page 328).

Thomason and Kaufman’s contribution is to the debate about the development of English. Detailed argumentation is brought to bear not just to show that ME is not a mixed language, but also to demonstrate the geographical route by which the Norse element, which the authors believe originally existed in its most widespread form in Midland English, ultimately spread to all dialects. This concentration on the fate of English allows Thomason and Kaufman rather a free hand in their treatment of Norse. To begin with, it permits them to ignore most of the recent and some of the earlier debate not only about the effects of contact between Norse and English, but also about the size of the Scandinavian settlement in England. Thus the names of Ekwall, Fellows-Jensen, Hansen, Kisbye and Page - to mention but a few - are missing from their bibliography.

Peter Sawyer is offered as the principal historical authority and his 1971 edition of "The Age of the Vikings" "is the most up-to-date analysis of the archaeological and historical data on the Viking raids on and settlement of parts of Britain, and will be taken as essentially the latest word for the purposes of this study" (page 360). The authors' reluctance to delve too deep into the Scandinavian element of the equation has consequences for their presentation. Most noticeable is the vagueness they display about what might have happened when speakers of Norse and English came into regular contact with each other - a vagueness which stands in stark contrast, for example, to Hines' carefully sketched scenario. What we are offered is a number of contradictory or improbable statements which stand more or less bereft of supporting documentation. On page 267 it is suggested that Norse "probably lasted no more than two generations after 955", while on page 282 the authors say they are "convinced that Norse was largely or entirely absorbed by English in the Danelaw by A.D. 1100"; a map (page 337) depicting "the demise of Norse" in different areas of England gives dates ranging from 920 to 1160. "An intense contact situation" between Norse and English led, we are told, to "category (3) [heavy] borrowing or considerable influence through shift, or (more likely) both" although, to take account of Sawyer's view that the number of settlers was small, it is also suggested that the "pre-existing close typological fit" between the two languages might have permitted heavy borrowing with less intensive contact (page 281).

Whatever the truth of any (or none) of this, "Norsified English arose at a time when Norse was still spoken but going out of use in its area" (page 284), for "in many ways Norse influence on English was a kind of prestige borrowing that took little effort to implement" (page 303).

I would not want these quotations, which I think amply illustrate the deficiencies of Thomason and Kaufman's treatment of Norse, to be taken as typical of the work as a whole. On the wider theoretical questions, and on the development from Old to Middle English the authors exhibit a higher level of competence and float a number of interesting ideas. The contention in particular, well supported by evidence, that the change from synthetic to analytic structure in English began before Norse influence became relevant, coincides neatly with the recent demonstration by Ringgaard (1986) that simplification of the Common Scandinavian inflectional system was well under way in parts of Denmark before the onset of Middle Low German influence in that country.

A great deal more could be said on the subject of Norse in England, but it is time now to turn to the Q-Celtic-speaking areas in the west of the British Isles.

… at page 78 to 81

Norse in Caithness, Orkney and Shetland

As we have seen, it is the arrival of Norse in England, Ireland, Man and the Hebrides - and the extent of the subsequent contact between speakers of Norse and the indigenous languages - that has fired the scholarly imagination. With Caithness, Orkney and Shetland it is different. Here interest has centred on the demise of Scandinavian speech. This is understandable in the light of the historical and linguistic circumstances. However long the indigenous language or languages of Caithness and the Northern Isles survived the Viking settlement, Norse seems rapidly to have become dominant, and sooner or later to have become the native idiom of the whole area, extinguishing more or less without trace such tongues as may have been spoken there earlier. Nothing is therefore to be learnt about language contact, loan-words, pidgins, creoles and the like from Viking-Age or early medieval Caithness, Orkney or Shetland. Such interest as has been evinced in the linguistic situation in northernmost Britain during this period has instead revolved around the type of Scandinavian speech the settlers brought with them and the extent to which features characteristic of developing Shetlandic, Orcadian and Caithness Norse can be observed in the relatively plentiful written sources from the region. Results in both cases have been meagre. There is a consensus that some variety of western Norwegian must have been the dominant strain, but disagreement over whether the input was primarily from the north-west or the south-west of Norway (Barnes 1984, 34-35). Few, if any, specifically Caithness or island features can be found in the runic inscriptions or the Latin-alphabet documents from the region: the most significant collection of inscriptions - those from Maeshowe in Orkney - seem largely, if not entirely, to have been carved by visitors to the islands (Barnes 1991a), while Scandinavian writing in the Latin alphabet mirrors faithfully the development of the written language in Norway.

Given such a comprehensive lack of exciting data, it is hardly surprising that scholars concerned with the Norse of Caithness, Orkney and Shetland should have turned their attention to the period after circa 1350, when the language entered a period of competition with Scots. It has been customary to refer to the Norse of this period as Norn (from norrœnn "Norwegian, Norse", or norrœna "Norwegian, Norse language"), a term first recorded in 1485 or thereabouts; that is a custom I shall observe here.

Knowledge of Norn comes from loan-words in Scots or English, of which well over 10,000 have been recorded, from a few texts written down or published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while Norn was probably still a living language, and from odd verses, sayings and snatches of conversation collected in the late nineteenth century some time after the last native speaker had gone to the grave. (Discussion of these sources together with references can be found in Barnes 1991b. In the following I shall concentrate entirely on Orkney and Shetland Norn; for the Caithness variety, which died out much earlier, possibly in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, I refer the reader to Thorsen 1954.)

The study of Orkney and Shetland Norn until recently had concentrated on collection and documentation (best exemplified by Hægstad 1900, Jakobsen 1928-32, and Marwick 1929). To the extent that opinions were expressed about the manner in which Norn succumbed to Scots, they reflected a general belief in a gradual shift between about 1600 and 1850, accomplished at least in part by the steady infusion of Norn with Scots vocabulary and grammar - a process which, it seems to have been thought, led ultimately to an amalgamation of the two languages. The unusually large Norn substratum to be found in Orkney and Shetland Scots was seen as the remains of the Norn share in this mixed language. In its purest form the Scots-Norn fusion hypothesis is probably to be found in Flom 1928-29.

It was not until 1984 that a challenge was made to the prevailing view of post-Reformation linguistic development in Orkney and Shetland. In an article with the intriguing title "How 'worn out' or 'corrupted' was Shetland Norn in its final stage ?" - 'worn out' and 'corrupted' being descriptions applied to Orkney and Shetland Norn by earlier, mainly eighteenth-century writers - Laurits Rendboe made the plausible claim that 'worn out' means not 'decayed', but 'dropped out of fashion', and he went on to argue that as long as Norn continued to be used by native speakers it survived in pure form, unadulterated by Scots pronunciation, grammar or lexicon. According to Rendboe, there can be no question of a gradual intermixture of the two languages in Shetland. All the evidence points to the conclusion (reproduced in one of my initial quotations) that 'Norn stood firm to the end'.

Against this, it seems to me, rather romantic view of the demise of Norn, I have argued (1989; 1991b):

  1. that such data as we have in no way warrant Rendboe's conclusion; and
  2. that the shift from Norn to Scots in both Orkney and Shetland should be viewed in the light of political and social developments in the islands in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and in the context of the increasing body of knowledge about language death.

In particular I commended to Rendboe's attention Nancy Dorian's splendid and seminal study of the death of East Sutherland Gaelic (1981). This work describes, with admirable clarity and in great detail, the loss of functions and the structural erosion that are affecting another language of northern Britain as it reaches the end of its struggle against English encroachment. The difficulty, of course, is to know whether the changes that Dorian observed in the dying Gaelic dialect of eastern Sutherland are general tendencies or specific to that particular situation. Many of the changes, it is true, seem also to characterise other languages in decline (compare Dressler and Wodak-Leodolter 1977; Rindler-Schjerve 1989), but it would be unwise to attempt a reconstruction of the death of Norn in Orkney and Shetland on the basis of linguistic parallels alone. That is where study of the political and social developments in the relevant period comes in. Such study may, as I have suggested, be expected to uncover useful supporting evidence. It should go hand in hand with more thorough analysis of the linguistic sources - not only of the Norn fragments that have survived, but also of certain writings in Scots.

Brian Smith has recently pointed out to me that there were several attempts as early as around 1800 to reproduce Shetland dialect (i.e. the form of Scots then used in the islands) and that the differences between these and the dialect texts of today are so small as to make plausible the contention that a settled linguistic situation pertained before the beginning of the nineteenth century. This could indicate, he thinks, that the language shift in Shetland took place somewhat earlier than the late seventeenth - early eighteenth-century date which has normally been proposed.

Whatever view we take of the way or ways in which Scots supplanted Norn in the Northern Isles and the dates at which the shift took place, we can all agree that much work remains to be done. This unoriginal if not uninspiring conclusion clearly applies with equal force to the other instances of Scandinavian language death in the British Isles on which I have touched, but in the case of Orkney and Shetland the relative nearness of the events perhaps holds out greater hope that such work will produce tangible results.

Concluding remarks

In this paper, I have approached the subject 'Norse in the British Isles' from a linguistic and from a Scandinavian point of view. My principal concerns have been the coming of Scandinavian speech to Britain and Ireland, its interaction with the different indigenous languages, the length of time for which it survived and the manner of its demise. About most of these matters our knowledge is poor, as I have shown, and in many areas lack of evidence seems likely to ensure that it remains so. We can employ new theories and models as they become available, but these will hardly be sufficient to overcome the chronic shortage of data. A vacuum such as this is clearly what inspires the enunciation of diametrically opposed views like those I quoted at the outset. As so often in life, certainty comes in inverse proportion to knowledge.

Since, in spite of my gloomy prognostications, scholars are likely to continue to work in the field, I will end by entering a plea

  1. for clear definitions and a rigorous adherence to definitions once given, and
  2. for the judicious use of theories and models coupled with the cultivation of a healthy scepticism towards the claims that are made concerning their explanatory powers.

The need for clear definitions is adequately illustrated by the many assertions about the date at which Norse died out in different parts of the British Isles. Such assertions can only be properly understood if we know precisely what we mean when we say that a language has died. It is widely held, for example, that for Manx Gaelic the end came with the passing away of Ned Maddrell on 27 December 1974 (e.g. Thomson 1984, 257; Broderick 1991, 63-64), since he was the last native speaker. But is the death of the last native speaker what is meant by those who speak of the demise of Norse in Man shortly after 1300 or in the fifteenth century ? The 'mixed language' is another problem area. Definitions of 'creole' vary widely (Hines 1991, 420), but creoles, under different definitions, are at least entities which have been shown to exist. Most who talk of mixed languages or the like do not appear to have any clear conception of the creature they are describing, largely, I suppose, because true language fusion is a very sparsely documented process indeed. The development in Orkney and Shetland apparently envisaged by some, according to which Norn gradually adopted more and more Scots features until it became more Scots than Norn, is, as far as I know, without parallel.

The problem with theories and models in the present context is one that bedevils historical linguistics in general: the uncertainty involved in basing conclusions about what happened in a given linguistic situation on the results of analogous situations elsewhere. Lack of evidence may force one to suggest that what has been documented for other languages at other times has been replicated in one's own case study, but in adopting such a solution one must never forget that language is a human activity - and human activity is, in the final analysis, unpredictable.

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