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What was the Danelaw? - Learn what you need to know at KS2

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

Courtesy of Hel-hama


In 865 AD, a large Viking army invaded England. The Anglo-Saxons called this huge army the "Great Heathen Army". In the past, the Vikings had travelled to England for raids. They would terrorise the Anglo-Saxons, steal riches and take slaves - but most of the time they returned home to Scandinavia afterwards.

But this time, things were different. The Great Heathen Army of Vikings had not come to raid England, but to settle in it. The land in England was much better for farming than back in Scandinavia. So the Vikings of the Great Heathen Army planned to make England their new home.

All Out War:

This was a problem for the Anglo-Saxons who already lived in England. Over several years, the Anglo-Saxons fought battles against the Great Heathen Army. By 874 AD, most Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, particularly those in the North and West of England, had fallen to the Vikings. All except for Wessex, in the South West, which was ruled over by Alfred the Great.

King Alfred Courtesy of Philip Halling

Finding Peace:

Alfred the Great fought and won many battles against the Vikings, but he was never able to push the Vikings out of England. After many years of fighting, Alfred and the Viking King, Guthrum, eventually formed a kind of peace agreement. England was to be divided with an imaginary line running from Chester in the North-West to London in the South East. The two parties agreed that the Anglo-Saxons would live South-East of the line and the Vikings would live North-West of it.

Establishing Danelaw:

The area where the Vikings resided, North-West of the divide, was called the Danelaw. The people who lived in this area were ruled by the laws of the Danes (the Vikings) - hence the name "Danelaw". The Vikings settled and began farming the land. There were three main areas to the Danelaw; Northumbria (which included Yorkshire), East Anglia and the Five Boroughs ("Boroughs" was the Viking name for fortified towns - these five towns were Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Lincoln). The city of Jorvik (or York as it is known today) was the most important city and a centre for trade.

Map of Danelaw & 5 Boroughs

The End of Danelaw:

Over the years that followed, there were still many battles between the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons. After King Alfred died, his descendants, such as King Edward (Alfred's son) and King Athelstan (Alfred's grandson), gradually captured more and more land back from the Vikings.

In 954 AD, the last Viking King, Eric Bloodaxe, was forced to flee from Jorvik. This is considered to be the end of Viking rule in England and the end of the Danelaw. The Anglo-Saxons were free from the Vikings - for the time being. The Anglo-Saxons had a breather of about 20-30 years before the Viking resumed their raids on England again around 980 AD.


If you are a Primary School teacher then you'll definitely want Imagining History to bring their 'How to Launch a Viking Raid' Interactive workshop to your school.

Have your students got what it takes to launch a successful Viking raid?

In this award-winning workshop, our practitioners will use interactive activities with a drama and performance twist to teach your students everything they need to know to raid the Anglo-Saxon monastery on Lindisfarne. Your students will:

  • Create a timeline stretching from the first Viking raid to the end of the Viking era.

  • Construct a Viking Longship using just their bodies.

  • Interact with replica Viking Weapons, Armour, and tools, including a sword, shield, spear, and sunstone.

  • Use their teamworking skills to test out Viking navigation techniques

  • Launch a raid on Lindisfarne & outsmart the Monks to steal their treasure.


Further Reading:

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