Historical Figure Profile: King Ricsige of Northumbria

Illustration of a Viking raid

Illustration of a Viking raid

So far with the Historical figure posts, we have looked at the years 858-875AD, the years concerning the reigns of those Northumbrians in power during the Viking invasions of York. We started with King Osbert, King Aelle and Archbishop Wulfhere, the last of which was the only one of the three to have survived the destruction of York. In fact, even after the death of Aelle’s successor King Egbert, and after the deaths or disappearances of King Ricsige, Ivarr the Boneless, Halfdan and Ubba (all coming in later posts), Archbishop Wulfhere still managed to hold his position as the Archbishop of York right up until the end of the century (excluding his year in exile).

In the next few Historical Figure posts I will start to examine the evidence of some of the Viking leaders that were involved in Northumbrian history. However, before we get there we have to take a look at King Ricsige, the last of the native Northumbrian Rulers.

Once more the sources are limited to Simeon of Durham and Roger of Wendover. After the death of King Egbert in 873, who was in exile in Mercia, another unknown candidate called Ricsige (also spelt Ricsy, Ricsi or Ricsig) ‘… succeeded in the Kingdom… and reigned three years.’ In The History of the Church of Durham by Simeon however, the following passage suggests that perhaps Rigsige’s reign started at the point of Egbert’s exile and not on his death.

‘In the meantime the Northumbrians had expelled out of the province their King Ecgbert and Archbishop Wulfhere; and had appointed as their King a person named Ricsige.’

This would fill the void of approximately a year where there seems to have been no ruler at York during King Egbert’s, Archbishop Wulfhere’s and the Viking’s absences.

During this first year of King Ricsige’s reign and King Egbert’s exile in Mercia, Halfdan leaves his base in London and with his army he camps in northern Mercia. King Burgred of Mercia and his family are exiled to Rome, King Egbert of Northumbria mysteriously dies, and Archbishop Wulfhere who had also been exiled to Mercia along with King Egbert, is reinstated to his post at York. In 875, Halfdan and his half of the great army move into Northumbria which is attacked and punished for an entire year. The Vikings then settle the newly subdued Kingdom and Halfdan is possibly made the first Viking King of York.

But what happened to King Ricsige?

‘The same year Halden (Halfdan), King of the Danes, took possession of Northumberland, which he parcelled out among his servants, and made his army cultivate the lands; which so affected Ricsy, the king of that province, that he died of a broken heart…’ – Flores Historiarum, Roger of Wendover

This entry is clearly an embellishment of Roger’s. Whilst the Flores Historiarum has its place as a primary source, a cursory read through of many of its entries, especially when read in conjunction with other primary sources, shows that he has a flair for mixing fact with legends and hearsay (as an additional note, all primary sources should be read with caution. Most, even the Anglo Saxon Chronicle and Asser’s Life of Alfred the Great, were either written decades even hundreds of years after the events, were written with a particular bias towards a person or Kingdom, or genuinely believed that the sagas and legends of their ancestors to be true).

What we can establish from this though, along with a few blunt words by Simeon corroborating the fact, is that Ricsige dies around 875-6. This possibly happened at the hands of the Danes during their year of punishing the North.

The last entry after Ricsige’s demise by Roger of Wendover states that he was succeeded by a man called Egbert. The History of the Kings of England by Simeon states that ‘… Egbert the Second reigned over the Northumbrians beyond the River Tyne.’ Suggesting that Halfdan was in charge of the lands south of the Tyne (the Kingdom of Jorvik). Simeon then goes on to say in his History of the Angles, that this Egbert reigned for only two years, yet this king too is lost to us in time.

Unfortunately there are no coins establishing the reigns of the Kings of York after the initial invasion in 866 until the Viking King Cnut in 895, making it hard to establish who was made king and for how long. All we have to go on are the cryptic entries from chronicles.

What we do know however, as far as Northumbria is concerned, is what follows is a history that twists and turns with a distinctly Scandinavian flavour. As I have already mentioned in previous posts, York was attacked by the three sons of Ragnar Lothbrok; Ivarr, Halfdan and Ubba. Ivarr seems to have been the initial leader of the three, and his story looks as though it is tied up with that of Olaf the White, the Norse King at Dyfflin (Dublin). Interestingly, Olaf too had brothers fighting with him; Imar, Albann and Auisle.

Many have interpreted Imar to be Ivarr the Boneless and Albann as Halfdan, so I have decided that the next Historical Figure post will be on Olaf the White. Hopefully from there we can see whether or not all four Vikings were related, and to what extent the invasion of Northumbria and of the other Saxon Kingdoms were part of a larger Empire encompassing modern England, Scotland and parts of Ireland.

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