January is Viking month on Historical Romance Review so travel back in time for some wonderful stories set in the times when the Norse and Danes plied the seas and the Gaels who would one day become a part of Scotland had their own independent Kingdom of the Isles!
The Norse Longships
Longships were ships primarily used by the Scandinavian Vikings and the Saxons to raid coastal and inland settlements during the Middle Ages. The design evolved over several centuries and was fully developed by about the 9th century. But they were still being used in the 12th and 13th centuries by the Norse who had settled in the Orkneys and the Hebrides, the setting for Summer Warrior. The larger ships were also used for long distance trade and commerce, and for exploratory voyages to Iceland, Greenland and beyond.
They were long, narrow and light with a shallow draft hull designed for speed. This shallow draft allowed navigation in waters only three feet deep and permitted beach landings, while the ship’s light weight enabled it to be carried over portages. Longships were also double-ended, the symmetrical bow and stern allowing the ship to reverse direction quickly without having to turn around.
Dragonships are known from historical sources, such as the 13th century Göngu-Hrólfs Saga (the Saga of Rollo). These longships were elegant and ornately decorated, and were used by those who went í Viking (raiding and plundering). According to the historical sources the ships’ stem posts carried carvings of menacing beasts, such as dragons and snakes, allegedly to protect the ship and crew and to ward off the terrible sea monsters of Norse mythology. This may be the reason why the dragon is found so widely on everyday objects, and why it continued to be used even in the early Christian period in Scandinavia, as in the carvings on Norway’s stave churches at Urnes and Borgund.
The size of the ships varied as seen in the number of oars/benches and the number of crew. For example, the Skuldelev 5 (pictured above) is one of the smaller longships and was likely used as part of a war fleet. It had 26 oars and a crew of 30. Its average speed was 6-7 knots and its top speed was 15 knots.
The earliest Viking raiders had ships averaging between 32 and 38 oars. Crews of 25 to 60 men would sit on benches on open decks. Over time, the size increased so that ships from Orkney or Norway might average 40 oars. Larger longships carried as many as 100 or more. Earl Hakon of Orkney’s flagship was said to have 54 to 74 oars and carry 300 crew.
Somerled’s West Highland Galleys
The West Highland galleys, like those in Somerled’s fleet in my story, most likely would have had 26 oars or less with a crew of about 30-40 men. Somerled, the Norse-Gael who forged the Kingdom of the Isles, is credited with developing the fixed rudder in the stern whereas the Norse longships had a “steer board” on the right side of the ship. The galleys were thus faster and more maneuverable than the Norse longships.
The galley, sometimes called a birlinn, was a clinker-built wooden ship, which meant the external planks overlapped the upper edge of the lower plank as did the Norse longships. Initially they were made of oak with a leather sail. These Celtic sailing ships, used as early as 1 B.C. in Ireland, had been plying the seas near Scandinavia since the time of Caesar. Archaeological digs have determined early Viking longships did not have a mast or sail. The Viking mast was a later innovation, probably taken from their seafaring Celtic neighbors.
“Walker weaves a spellbinding tale of heroism and adventure coupled with a touching love story.”
~ A Reader’s Review
Somerled’s parentage was noble, of the Kings of Dublin, the
royal house of Argyll and the great Ard Ri, the High Kings of Ireland.
But when the Norse invaded Argyll and the Isles, his family’s fortunes fell
with those of his people. All hope seemed lost when he rose from the mists of
Morvern to rally the Gaels, the Scots and the Irish.
Sweeping across Argyll and the Isles like a fast-moving storm, brilliant in strategy and fearless in battle, Somerled began retaking his ancestral lands, driving away the invaders and freeing the people from the Norse stranglehold. In doing so, he would win the title Somerle Mor, Somerled the Mighty, Lord of Argyll, Kintyre and Lorne and, eventually, Lord of the Isles.
This is the unforgettable story of the Norse-Gael who forged the Kingdom of the Isles and won the heart of a Norse princess.
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