In 865 the relative peace of England was shattered by a new invasion. Danish Vikings who had been raiding France and Germany formed a great army and turned their attention on the English. Within 10 years, most of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had fallen or surrendered. Only the West Saxons (modern Wessex) held out under Alfred, the only English ruler to be called "the Great."
England was divided among the Vikings, the West Saxons, and a few other English kingdoms for nearly 200 years. The Viking half was called the Danelaw ("under Danish law"). The Vikings collected a large payment, called the Danegeld ("the Dane's gold"), to be peaceful. The Danes became Christians and gradually became more settled. In time the English turned on the Danes, and in 954 the last Viking king of York was killed. England was united for the first time under an English king from Wessex.
In 1066 the Witan ("king's council") offered the crown to Harold, son of the Earl of Wessex. Two others claimed the throne: Harald Hardrada (meaning "the hard ruler"), King of Norway, and Duke William of Normandy. The Norwegian landed first, near York, but was defeated by Harold at the battle of Stamford Bridge.