Great to hear enthusiastic expert 'tease out' county's Viking story
I must thank Stephen Butt and the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society for their invite to hear distinguished TV historian Michael Wood's revelatory talk on Viking Leicester, at the New Walk Museum, on October 4.
Michael has been appointed the society's president for the next three years and has local connections. After a long association with the University of Leicester's School of Archaeology, the university awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Letters last year.
Best known for his TV history documentaries, of which he has made more than 80, Michael's most recent series was this year's The Great British Story: A People's History.
However, his most locally pertinent series was the brilliant 2010 Michael Wood's Story of England, which focused on Kibworth. If you missed it, I thoroughly recommend catching up on the DVD or book.
The New Walk venue was packed out with several hundred people to hear Michael's talk, which was delivered with his usual trademark infectious enthusiasm and aplomb.
In his introduction, Michael stated how Leicester's city centre is "fantastically historically rich", alluding to the recent possible discovery of Richard III, but noting it was "a tragedy the underpass had been built through one of the city's most important areas of archaeology."
Viking Leicester is often overlooked by historians, mainly because there is so little surviving source information, be it documentary or archaeology.
However, as Michael stressed, "Although we know virtually nothing about this period in Leicester, if you look hard enough, there are some written sources from which a story can be teased out."
These are, notably, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, plus accounts by 13th century historians Simeon of Durham and Roger of Wendover.
Michael explained that the Viking's "Great Heathen Army" reached Watling Street, now the A5, on the Leicestershire / Warwickshire border, marking the dividing line of the Viking occupation in England, with the Anglo-Saxon kingdom to the south.
In about 877AD, the Vikings appear to have calmed down a bit and started farming locally.
Several county villages bear Viking names, such as Blaston, Slawston, Scraptoft and Illston on the Hill, and some, such as Smeeton Westerby, are a combination of English and Viking.
Some local surnames, such as Iliffe and Coleman, also have Viking roots.
However, the Vikings were not averse to reverting back to their old ways, raiding Oxfordshire in 914AD and Towcester two years later.
It appears in both cases they used Leicester as a raiding base for these attacks, possibly refortifying the town's Roman walls.
But the Vikings' tenancy was not to last: the English evicted them from Leicester in 942AD.
Michael also expressed he is a "convinced localist", adding "without doubt, local history is the root of history".
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