Rulers of Jorvik: A critical examination of the contemporary, Anglo-Norman, and Scandinavian sources pertaining to the rulers of Anglo-Scandinavian York
By Jelmer Dijkstra
Master’s Thesis, University of Utrecht, 2013
Introduction: Anglo-Scandinavian York is an enigma. The reason for this is a discrepancy in the surviving evidence. From 866 until 954, York was part of a Viking kingdom ruled, mostly, by the descendants of Ragnar Lothbrok; the city seems to have been the capital of the Viking kingdom from which power was exercised. Very little is actually known about York during this period, for no contemporary written sources have survived, nor does York feature to any great extent in later traditions, both Anglo-Norman and Scandinavian. By the same token, there are few certainties regarding the Viking kingdom. Our knowledge of the kingdom derives chiefly from its main adversaries, namely the kings of Wessex, who ultimately created the ‘Kingdom of England’. Whereas sources reveal much more of the political situation in the kingdom of Wessex and, later, of England, we are in the dark regarding York.
At the same time, York is one of the richest cities in archaeological terms. Through many excavations, archaeologists have been able to discover and reconstruct, to a certain extent, the economical growth of the city in the Viking age. Evidence for workshops has been excavated, showing extensive artisan activity within the city during the Viking age; this productivity centred mainly around the rivers. Similarly, many coins and sculpture from the period survives; many of the coins derive from the mint of York. This stark contrast between the archaeological record and the written sources is the reason why Anglo-Scandinavian York is such an enigma.
Due to the nature of the surviving evidence, it is hard to assess the extent of rule by the Viking kings in the Viking kingdom of York. Generally, historians have silently supposed that the Scandinavian kings ruled York. David Rollason has questioned this assumption. In his Northumbria, 500-1100, Creation and Destruction of Kingdom, Rollason has argued instead that York could hardly have been ruled by the Viking kings, given their short and violent reigns; he proposed the hypothesis that the archbishops controlled the city politically.