Stained with Saxon Blood: The Viking Cape
Capes and cloaks were a mainstay all through medieval times, for good reason. They were practical, useful for both keeping the wearer warm and safe from the weather and for protecting their more delicate clothing underneath. Capes were also easy to make and were appropriate for both rich and poor alike.
All of this means that most capes are amazing for any kind of historical reenactment or LARP event. The Viking cape, for example, was styled after the capes worn in the early middle ages. But because the style of capes didn’t change much at all, you could also wear such a cape when creating an outfit designed for the High or Late medieval period.
The versatility for this cape also shines through when considering the type of character that you might be going with. First of all, both men and women look great in this cape. It would also work well for fantasy works, as capes are brilliant at bringing a bit of drama into the situation. Finally, these capes are great for anything from warriors to merchants. The brown and green variety work especially well for adventuring types, but it’s really up to you.
Onto the nitty gritty details. Firstly, this cape is made of tough cotton twill, which should be hardy enough to shield you from the worst of the weather. This cotton is coloured either black, brown, or a faded green. You can make the cotton of the cape even more weatherproof with water-resistance treatments at home if you’d like.
This is a floor-length cape, which provides the most protection from the cold. This is fitting for the Viking cape, as it allows for the much colder Scandinavian winters that the Nordic people would face. We also have a cosy hood that keeps the harsh weather from your face, as well as hiding your features if you’d rather go unnoticed. To fasten the cape, use the straps at the neck.
However, while the cape is long, it is designed to help you to move as freely as possible. The sides of the cape are shorter to allow for increased arm mobility. This means that you can still fight while wearing this cape, if you have to.
The Long and Violent History of the Viking Raiders: In History and Fiction
We’ve all heard of the Vikings; they’ve been depicted in popular culture for decades now. Recently, they’ve had a bit of renaissance in popularity. For example, we have the historical fantasy television series imaginatively called Vikings. To the surprise of exactly nobody, this series is all about the Vikings. More specifically, it’s about one Viking called Ragnar Lothbrok.
Another popular series set during the Viking Age, both in books and in television, is the historical fiction series best known as The Last Kingdom, although the book series is called The Saxon Stories. This series focuses more on the other side of the conflict, following the Saxon-born and Danish-raised Uhtred and on Alfred the Great, the Saxon King of Wessex.
Because much of our vision of this period of time comes from these depictions, it’ll be a nice idea to compare the two with each other and with what we know of the Viking Age.
A Very Brief Overview of the Vikings in History
Before we look at the fiction, let’s very quickly get an idea of what happened during the historical Viking Age. This way we’ll have a nice baseline to work from.
First of all, what is a “Viking”? Well, rather than being a distinct race of people, the word actually described people from multiple places, most famously Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The name comes from an Old Norse word (“vik”, meaning bay or creek) which was a root of the word “vikingr”, which literally meant “pirate”. So, simply put, Viking described a pirate or raider.
Why did the Vikings start raiding? Well, we don’t know the exact reasons, because it was over a thousand years ago, but people have theorised that early Vikings were looking for riches. By the 8th century, Europe was recovering from the fall of Rome and was gradually getting richer and richer. As we know, money is the root of all Vikings. Well, something like that.
In the year 793, the earliest Viking raiders struck the Lindisfarne monastery in North-eastern England. There, they found a surprising amount of wealth that was ripe for the pickings. Suddenly, this raiding idea looked very profitable. With that revelation, the Viking Age began.
For a few decades, the Vikings stuck to just raiding the British and European coasts and even started to run protection rackets, demanding money from rulers under the threat of more raids. But by the mid-9th century, the Viking priorities changed. At this point, they decided to take the British land for their own, as well as the British riches.
The Vikings settled much of Ireland, then focused on England. They (specifically the Danish variety) very quickly conquered the Saxon kingdoms of Northern England, leaving only Wessex able to resist their forces. They retreated back to Northern England and settled down.
Outside of Britain, the Vikings continued raiding Europe, as well as exploring and settling other parts of the world. They colonised Iceland, then moved West to Greenland, for some reason. There is even evidence that the Viking explorers reached America, although any colonisation attempt was unsuccessful.
Anyway, back to Britain. After the Danes settled Northern England, centuries of war between the Danes and Saxons began. In the 10th century, the Saxon armies managed to oust the Scandinavian king and unite England in a single kingdom under Saxon rule.
Unfortunately for them, this kingdom was once more conquered by the Scandinavians in 1013, by King Sven Forkbeard. His son and grandsons inherited the kingdom as part of a greater empire, until 1042 when Edward the Confessor, a Saxon king regained the English Throne.
He lived until 1066, which is when things got really heated. Because Edward had no heir, the throne was claimed a noble, Harold Godwinesson. At this point, the Vikings decided that they wanted England back and King Harald Hardrada (a Norwegian king, if you’re interested) invaded. Harold fought off this invasion but was summarily defeated by William the Conqueror and the Normans.
Thus, the Viking Age ended. The last Great Viking King had been defeated, and much of Viking culture had been swallowed up by the Christianisation of Europe. Still, there is a rich supply of Old Norse poetry we can look back on.
The Adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok As Seen in Vikings
So, onto the modern depictions of the Viking Age. First up is Vikings. This series was largely based on the sagas of Ragnar Lothbrok, a legendary Norse hero who was famed at home and feared in England and France.
The setting is right at the dawn of the Viking Age, with the first season starting in the year 793, shortly before the Lindisfarne raid. Ragnar is a family man, with a wife and two sons. He also happens to have visions of Odin and a hankering for battle. So, your average bloke.
Despite the disapproval of his ruler, Earl Haraldson, Ragnar is the one who leads the first Viking raid on Lindisfarne and discovers the wealth and religion of the monks there. The rest, so they say, is history. Well, near enough anyway. The series then follows Ragnar as he leaves home to engage in multiple raids on English and French soil.
It’s not all smooth sailing, however. While Ragnar is successful in many of his exploits, life still proves to be confounding. The series covers years of history, as Ragnar experiences both triumphs in battle and despair at home when his family turns away from him.
Still, Ragnar invariably rises to kingship. Violently, of course. Despite his belief in the Norse Pantheon and his own experiences and visions, Ragnar also starts to flirt with Christianity. As the years pass, Ragnar is continually beset with tragedy after tragedy.
The tale of Ragnar ends when he travels to England after years of raiding France, but his ships are wrecked and he is washed up onto the shores of England, ending up in Wessex. There, Ragnar is taken captive and eventually executed. The saga does continue, following the sons of Ragnar instead.
So, let’s look at this depiction of the early years of the Viking Age. Obviously, there are suggestions that the Old Norse Pantheon were real, as a veneer of magic surrounds the show. These are evident in the visions, meaningful dreams, and fulfilled prophecies that come to pass. Also, there’s the fact that Odin literally turns up and tells Ragnar’s sons about his death, just in case you still doubted it.
Because our knowledge of this period of time in history is limited to the Old Norse Sagas and the legends of Ragnar, which themselves were written long after his death, we can’t be sure of what happened. However, it’s still obvious that the show took some creative liberties with what we do know.
For example, many of the historical characters that appear have been shuffled around to include them in the narrative and to serve the story. Rollo, a major character in the story, is an adult when the series starts, despite not having been born yet in history. Other characters are shown as younger than they were in history.
Even more egregious and bizarre was the depiction of the Christian bishop punishing apostates for apostasy by crucifixion. This practice had been outlawed for centuries and would have been considered blasphemous.
While some of these changes are more understandable than others, it’s still clear that the Vikings has at least made people more aware and interested in this time period. If nothing else, it inspires people to look at what really happened.
The Last Kingdom of Wessex: Starring Uhtred and King Albert the Great
The Last Kingdom took place later on in the Viking years, starting in the year 866 and continuing past the turn of the 10th century. The protagonist is the fictional Uhtred of Bebbanburg (now called Bamburgh), who was a child when his family and the other Saxon nobles of Northumbria were killed by the Danes. Uhtred was taken as a slave by the Danish Earl Ragnar, who adopted him and raised him.
When Ragnar is killed by fellow Danes, Uhtred begins his quest, both to avenge the death of Ragnar and to reclaim his original home of Bamburgh. The story follows this Uhtred as he takes on this task, while wrestling with his dual Saxon and Danish identity. This dual identity allows the books and the show to explore both sides of the conflict.
Uhtred comes into contact with Alfred the Great and finds himself repeatedly saving the Christian Saxon kingdom from the Danes to the North. This is despite his own hatred of Christianity and his preference to the Danish beliefs of the Old Norse Pantheon.
Throughout his quest, Uhtred faces many trials and accomplishes many triumphs. He wins battles, gains prestige, is enslaved, loses good friends, and generally goes through a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. Still, he never forgot his ambition to retake Bamburgh.
Interestingly, while this Uhtred was a fictional creation of the author, he was based on a real person. Specifically, this was a fellow called Uhtred the Bold. This Uhtred lived a hundred or so years after the fictional Uhtred, but he was an Earl of Bamburgh until he was murdered. This resulted in a blood feud that lasted for years. However, he did have several famous descendants, including Oliver Cromwell and Bernard Cornwell, the author of The Saxon Stories novels.
The technical specifications for the Viking Cape are as follows:
- Materials: Cotton Twill
- Colours: Dark brown, green, or black
The Viking cape is available in sizes Small to X-Large. The measurements for these sizes are approximate.
- Small/Medium: 55 inches length (shoulder to hem), 57.5 inches width, 16.9 inches hood height, 13.75 inches hood depth
- Large/X-Large: 59 inches length (shoulder to hem), 60.9 inches width, 16.9 inches hood height, 13.75 inches hood depth