The Vikings were great seafarers and shipbuilders, but also fierce raiders, and began to attack Britain at the end of the 8th century. They raided and plundered villages, burnt churches and monasteries, and stole the riches they contained. In the middle of the 9th century the Vikings conquered territory after territory, and settled in England. They were only defeated by King Alfred’s army, and compelled to make a treaty. Alfred allowed the Vikings to settle in an area called Danelaw, and made them accept the Christian faith.
King Alfred, known as the Great (849-899), not only checked the Danish invasion; he built the first English navy and designed a series of fortified towns – burghs - destined to develop into trading centres. He was also a great statesman and a scholar, but against the Anglo-Saxons were defeated, and England was ruled by Danish kings.
The king organized the government of England on the feudal system. This system was based on the holding of land and distributed it to his Norman lords. The lords, in their turn, had to swear loyalty to the king and give him part of the promise loyalty and service to his superior.
In return, a lord – and the king himself – had to give his vassals protection. A knight’s estate was called manor; the people living on the manor belonged to the knight and were not free to leave the estate. On the other hand, they were made of wood and had grass roofs. In the southern regions they were built around the manor-house and the church. Sheep represented the main source of income because there were wide expanses of open grass-land, and European weavers, especially Italian, used English wool for their cloth.