Monday, October 6, 2008

Morgan Hen, the Black Pagans and the Vikings in Gwent


The Vikings in Gwent and Monmouthshire

'from the fury of the Northmen, good Lord deliver us!'

Gwent did not escape the invasions of the Danes. At first they came in small bands to harass Caerleon and everywhere along the South Welsh coast, plundering and burning localtowns. St Davids was attacked many times, also Abertawe became a Viking town of Swansea (Schwansee). They ran their ships ashore, attacked, plundered and burnt a settlement and returned to their boats long before people could be assembled to fight them. In the course of time , however, they cahnged their methods of attack, and crossed the seas in large numbers fully determined to settle in the land. At home they had been fishermen and hunters and their constant exposure to storms and hardships made them untiring and daring warriors. Fighting was their one ionterest in life, and they were the most pitiless and savage of enemies slaying women and children along with the men in their fury. The people prayed

'from the fury of the Northmen, good Lord deliver us!'

First recorded Danish Incursion 877 AD

This was recorded in 877 when a band under Hubba , a borther of famous Viking Halfdene, invaded South Wales and laid the country waste. They intended spending the winter , but 'found the land so wild and inhospitable, and the people so poor, that they remained no longer tan they could help'

In the Welsh records, the Northmen are called the 'Black Pagans' probably on account of their black boats and clothing together with the fact that they hated the Christians , and loved nothing better than to spoil churches and monasteries and burn them to the ground.

The Burning and sacking of Illtyd's monastery and Cadoc's monastery at Llancarfan 891 AD

In 891, the Vikings appeared again and burned Llantwit Major (Llan illtyd Fawr) and Llancarfan and advanced towards Gwent. At this time, Cadoc's relics were taken for safekeeping to Mamhilad near Pontypool. One of the princes at this time was Morgan Hen. HEaring of the advance of the Black Pagans he made preparations to fight them and defend Gwent against the invaders and defend the monasteries. The two forces met at Caerleon and the men of Gwent won, so they put to sea and went to Ireland.

The Black Pagans want revenge

The Vikings took their revenge by returning and returned in 892 with even larger numbers , determined to overthrow Morgan Hen and spoil Caerleon. Landing on the shores of the Severn, they ravaged the whole of Monmouthshire and attacked and plundered Caerleon, destroying the shrines of St Julius and Aaron and St Cadoc at Caerleon as well as many others. The story of their attempted attack of Mamhilad, God intervened. According to the Life of St Cadoc, a Viking who attacked the Reliquary of St Cadoc was destroyed and frightened off all the other Pagans. Four years later, however, those Danes who were defeated by Alfred passed by land into Gwent again and ravaged it. (897)

Ohter and Harold

Another attack of Danes which the Welsh Chronicales give is an account to 915. The pagan pirates under two chiefs, Ohter and Harold entered the Severn and fell upon everything they could seize near the shore. 'Their usual practice was to venture up the river as far as possible , and suddenly to land from their boats. The horses in the neighbourhood were seized and haveing mounted them, they sped like wildfire into the interior. Their speed was so great, so as to baffle all means of defence , for while the farmers were gathering to oppose them, they had swooped down on abbeys, churches and manor houses (or 'Halls' as the Saxons called them)From these, they plundered everything of value , and then with their rich spoil they hastened back to their camps and their long black boats'.

Cyfeiliog or 'Cameleac was seized and the Bishop of Llandaff was borne to their ships with great glee. Here they held him prisoner until he was redeemed by King Edward for forty pounds in Silver!!!

Another Invasion Attempt

Battle of Severnside

At last the whole of the Danish hosts landed from their ships intending to venture further inland in search of plunder. The men of Caerleon,Glwyssing (Hereford) Gloucester and other neighbouring towns however, banded themselves together to head off the Danish onrush. A fierce battle was fought where Harold and Ohtar's brother was killed, together with a great part of the Viking army. Every care was now taken to guard the coast from further Danish attacks.

Another Danish Invasion 976 AD

Over fifty years passed before the Danes appeared again, but they had not forgotton the ferce reverse the men of Caerleon had caused their fathers. In 976 AD they undertook a fresh attack on Gwent and the severity and ruthlessness wuith which they did this seemed to indicate their desire for vengeance , for they did not stop their fury untill all of Gwent had been ravaged and the stronghold of Caerleon destroyed, although many buildings still stood and were rebuilt.

The Discovery of the Newport Viking Ship

An interesting relic of the repeated attacks of Gwent and its religious settlements and towns by the Danes was discovered during the excavation for the timber float at the Alexandra Dock, Newport in April 1896. In the course of their work, the workmen came across the remains of an ancient vessel several feet below the surface of the soil. The vessel appears to have been over 70 feet long and was constructed for speed rather than for strength as it was only slightly put together. In an old chronicle it is recorded that in 893 an invasion and warfare with the Danes took place on this spot (at Newport Docks!!!) They were driven over the Bristol Channel in their ships , and it is more probable this ship was left by them in their haste to escape.

The place where it was found is now more than a mile from the Usk and half a mile from the River Ebbw. The channels of the two rivers have therefore altered their courses considerably during the period that has elapsed, and this, combined with the fact that eight feet of solid mud was deposited there, will give us some idea of the changes that have taken place at this spot during a thousand years or so!

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