Ælfred’s Britain: War and peace in the Viking Age

Publication: November 2017, by Head of Zeus

A history of the peoples of Britain, in the century and a half between the first Viking raids and the expulsion of the Vikings from York in 954. In 865, a great Viking army landed in East Anglia, precipitating a series of wars that would last until the middle of the following century. It was in this time of crisis that the modern kingdoms of Britain were born. In their responses to the Viking threat, these kingdoms would forge their identities as hybrid cultures: vibrant and entrepreneurial peoples adapting to instability and opportunity. Traditionally, Ælfred the Great is cast as the central player in the story of Viking Age Britain. But Max Adams, while stressing the genius of Ælfred as war leader, law-giver and forger of the English nation, has a more nuanced and variegated story to tell. The Britain encountered by the Scandinavians of the 9th and 10th centuries was one of regional diversity and self-conscious cultural identities: of Picts, Dál Riatans and Strathclyde Britons; of Bernicians and Deirans, East Anglians, Mercians and West Saxons.  The Scandinavian contribution to our island story is brought vividly into focus through the landscapes, documents and artefacts that betray their lasting influence.

‘Remote places, like the haunts of robbers and wild beasts on the moors of Yorkshire or the marshy fenlands of East Anglia, the Vale of York and the Somerset levels, were profitable sources of fear and wonder, inhabited by devils and unspeakable demons… In mythologizing Ælfred’s sojourn in these lonely and unhealthy landscapes his hagiographers were not just preparing the ground for his miraculous survival and improbable final triumph; they were also tapping the dark recesses of the Early Medieval psyche.’ FROM ÆLFRED’S BRITAIN


‘This engrossing history of the British people between the first Viking raids in 865 and the expulsion of the Vikings from York in 954 is notable for being a more nuanced portrait of that era … Lands other than Wessex come into fascinating new focus’ The Bookseller.

‘An evocative look at a period that continues to grab the popular imagination’ History Revealed.

‘This is much more than a book about the Vikings versus King Alfred … [Adams’] great achievement is to cover events throughout the whole of Britain with some excursions into Ireland and Europe as well’ TLS.

‘A beautifully crafted and impeccably compiled book, and one that is certainly a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in the events and figures that moulded Britain during the reign of the Vikings’ All About History.

‘Essential reading for all those interested in late Anglo-Saxon Britain’ Historical Novel Society.

‘Adams very usefully drops from the macro-narratives to detailed examples of what all this meant to people at ground level, using the evidence of coins and charters and, especially, archaeology – much of which exposes the written chronicles and histories as propaganda … A great virtue of his book – in following the archaeologists and the geographers, the reconstructors and the genealogists, Adams never forgets to ask what it looked like to the people on the ground’ London Review of Books.