Many viewers of Netflix’s Vikings: Valhalla were left wondering what actually happened to the Danelaw, a significant real-world location that many Dane and Norse people once called home. The show focuses on both real and fictional locations spread across several European countries as it tells its own story while incorporating historical events.
The St. Brice’s Day Massacre, which served as Valhalla’s own take on Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding, was featured in the opening scenes of the Vikings spin-off. It’s challenging to draw clear distinctions between what happened in the real Danelaw and Valhalla’s Danelaw because the historical events used in the show are depicted in a manner that is out of order from how it actually happened.
Country borders were continuously altered throughout the Viking age as a result of war after battle. The Danes had been residing in the Danelaw for a considerable amount of time at the beginning of Valhalla, which takes place in the year 1002, with one inhabitant noting: “We’ve been here so long, many of us no longer recall our own tongue.” After making this observation, Aethelred, who is married to Emma of Normandy, a descendant of Rollo, issues the order to start what is known as the St. Brice’s Day Massacre. This was part of the Anglo-Saxons’ attempt to exterminate all the Danes living there as retaliation for the ongoing Viking raids against England.
The Danelaw, whose boundaries were established in 884, was a sizable area of land in the north and east of England where Danish law predominated over Anglo-Saxon law. Up until about 954, when Eric Bloodaxe—at the time, the king of Northumbria in England—was expelled from his throne, the area was self-governed by the Danes. According to the majority of historians, this incident marked the end of the Viking era and, consequently, the Danelaw.
The events shown in Vikings: Valhalla mostly took place in England during a turbulent period, and the events preceding the performance were no different. Danish Vikings started landing on the British Isle in 865, having launched waves of attacks on English soil from 793. Following that, a number of conflicts took place, which ultimately resulted in the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum, signed in 884 by the King of England and a Danish warlord, respectively. The Danelaw was defined by the Treaty, which gave the Danish people the right to self-govern in an area that roughly corresponded to the area north of a line drawn between London and Chester but excluded the portion of Northumbria east of the Pennines.
King Canute gathers the Vikings in the fictitious Scandinavian fortress of Kattegat in Vikings: Valhalla in an effort to reclaim the territory that was lost following the St. Brice’s Day Massacre. One of the numerous deviations Valhalla has from the historical order of events is that Canute was only between 7 and 17 years old when the Massacre occurred in real life. The Danelaw officially came to an end in 954, when Eric Bloodaxe was driven from his throne as King of Northumbria in England following numerous conflicts between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings.
All things considered, it is important to reiterate that Vikings: Valhalla’s depictions of genuine events diverge greatly from how they occurred. However, using some creative license in a historical fiction production gives the chance to speculate about what could have happened and encourages viewers to find out the truth. Regardless, the Danelaw was an important location for the Vikings, both in the historical record and in the imagined version of events found in Valhalla.