Some Derbyshire Warriors

Professor Judith Jesch, University of Nottingham
Posted in: East Midlands, Viking Age, Vikings

Of the East Midlands counties, Derbyshire is perhaps the least well known for its Viking Age remains, apart of course from the camp at Repton. There is a scatter of place-names that suggest that members of that camp settled down in the region. And the recent publication of the Derbyshire volume of the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture provides further clues.

Stone cross-shaft depicting a warrior

Cross-shaft from Brailsford, Derbyshire. Photo by Judith Jesch

At Brailsford, not far from Derby, a moss-covered cross-shaft stands outside the church, depicting a figure with a small shield and a rather large sword. The Corpus volume describes this as a ‘battle-ready warrior’ (p. 91) and suggests (p. 157) that this unusual warrior image is a memorial stone or marker of a member of the Anglo-Scandinavian warrior elite. The stone is loosely dated to the tenth century, so it could represent someone who had been at Repton, or more likely one of his descendants.

Another warrior figure can be found on a cross-shaft at Norbury, to the west of Brailsford. This figure has a sword and what looks like a horn. The Corpus volume suggests (p. 194) that this is similarly a memorial to a member of the warrior elite. But it also raises the intriguing possibility that the figure represents the Norse god Heimdallr, whose horn announces the beginning of Ragnarök. While a bit speculative, this is not impossible since Heimdallr is fairly certainly represented on the Gosforth cross in Cumbria and possibly on the Jurby cross in the Isle of Man.

Stone fragment with ring-chain ornament

Part of cross-shaft from Bakewell. Photo by Roderick Dale

Though there seem to be only two warrior-figures from Derbyshire, there are plenty of other Anglo-Scandinavian sculptures. There are (or were) two hogbacks: one from Repton which is lost but known from drawings, and one from Derby which can be seen in the museum there. There are a number of crosses and cross-shafts with various types of Viking Age ornament. Particularly interesting is part of a cross-shaft from Bakewell with Borre-style ring-chain (p. 122). This type of ornament is associated with the Irish Sea region and demonstrates the links the East Midlands had with the rest of the Viking world. Who all these memorials represent is a fascinating question we would all love to know the answer to.

Most intriguing of all is a rune-inscribed fragment, also from Bakewell. The runes are very clearly Anglo-Saxon, yet as interpreted by David Parsons (p. 142) they most likely represent the Scandinavian male personal name Helgi (or its female equivalent Helga).

 

Related articles

The Rich and the Brave: Burials, Weapons, and Warriors

The common association of highly furnished weapon burials containing a male skeleton with warriors is still a highly debated topic…

Winter Camps in the East Midlands: Commerce and Industry

Viking winter camps were more than just bases for the Great Army to live in during the winter or centres…

Winter Camps in the East Midlands: Location and Layout

Our knowledge of the Viking Great Army's movments during its campaigns in England is provided by entries in the Anglo-Saxon…

Brooches, Pendants and Pins: Scandinavian Dress Accessories in England

Nowadays it is common to see people wearing various accoutrements such as earrings, necklaces, pendants, or rings. The Viking Age…

Two Languages, One Name: Hybrid Place-Names in the East Midlands

Resting in the Trent river valley are the small villages of Gonalston, Thurgarton, and Rolleston. You are politely asked 'Please slow…

Labels and Identities in the Viking Age East Midlands II: People

For part I of this post CLICK HERE Peoples, languages and cultures Thorfast's new improved comb…

Labels and Identities in the Viking Age East Midlands I: Place and Time

This website explores a period in the…

Thorfast the Comb Maker

by Erik Grigg (with the help of Janine, Paige, Josh and Hannah!) Thorfast the comb-maker's workshop…

What Does the Word 'Viking' Really Mean?

Late Viking Age Swedish rune-stone commemorating a man called Víkingr. Swedish National Heritage Board, Photo Bengt A. Lundberg, CC BY…

Everyday Writing in Runes in Lincoln

Lincoln, in the first half of the…