In the Bernard Cornwell books, Leeds is where 9th-Century Viking invader, Ragnar the Fearless and his family settle down.
The modern city of Leeds is named from Loidis, a small British kingdom annexed by Northumbria back in the 7th-century.
The name, which may mean ‘People of the River’, lives on in Leeds itself (called ‘Ledes’ in 1086) as well as Ledston (Ledestune, 1086) and Ledsham (Ledesham, 1030) all within 10 miles of each other.
By the early 10th-Century, this area was a buffer zone – not between English and Danes, but between the Scandinavian settlers and the Britons of Strathclyde/Cumbria.
The Scandinavian settlers were fewer here than in other parts of Yorkshire, and those who did settle in the Leeds area broke up large church estates – like the one centred on Leeds – and shared the land between them.
The 10th-century Leeds Cross dates from this volatile time. One of its panels features the hero Weland the Smith escaping from captivity in his flying machine: the wing on the left is a reconstruction, but the one on the right is original and Weland’s tools can still be seen in the bottom corner.
So why should Weland feature on the Leeds Cross?
Perhaps because Weland is a hero of both Norse and Germanic myth, with one saga sending him on a journey to bring back a Victory Stone, which the king of the saga needs if he’s to triumph against his enemies.
If the mythical Weland was associated with victory, that could explain why the Scandinavian settlers of Leeds put him on their cross – because although they’d converted to Christianity, they were still drawing on ancestral traditions to commemorate their military victories, perhaps against the native Northumbrians or even the Strathclyde Britons … a victory that never made it into the history books.
For more info and photos on the Leeds Cross: