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  Viking Ancestors of the Hodgsons

   How many Norse Viking invaders arrived in Cumbria and Lonsdale in the tenth century?


   From how many Norse Viking invaders are modern Hodgsons descended?




We can estimate the answers to these questions by two methods. One is to consider population statistics and surname density data. The other is to use DNA data.


Historians have long disputed the numbers of Irish-Norse invaders. Frederick T. Wainwright (1975) argued that it was a ‘mass migration’. Others, like Peter Sawyer (1971), have suggested that the invasions were essentially takeovers of existing communities by Irish-Norse elites. Some linguists argue that the massive Scandinavian influence on the English language and place-names is evidence of many Viking invaders. But recent DNA analysis suggests that the Viking invasions were towards the lower end of the scale, although the numbers involved were greater than the earlier Anglo-Saxon invasions (Oppenheimer 2006). The Vikings were sufficiently numerous and powerful to have an overwhelming influence on language and place names, but they were outnumbered by the indigenous peoples in the region. The DNA evidence suggests that in Cumbria and Yorkshire as a whole the invaders probably made up less than a quarter of the population.


Viking Numbers Estimated by Parish Records


Taking the marriage records from 1539 to 1625, we obtain an average number of marriages for all surnames in a period of 25 years around that time of 178 for St. Bees and 612 for Crosthwaite. Historians estimate that the population of England was about 2.5 million in the year 1600 and about one million in the tenth century. Assuming that one marriage in 25 years implies one family, the scaled down figures suggest that there were roughly about 300 families in St. Bees and Crosthwaite in the tenth century. If most of this population was Viking in origin, this gives us a picture of an invasion in this vicinity of around a thousand persons.


By a similar method we obtain a very rough estimate of about five hundred Viking settlers arriving in Lonsdale in 902. Among the two or three hundred Viking males, perhaps about a dozen became paternal ancestors of fourteenth-century Hodgsons. The early parish records show that the numbers of Hodgsons in the Lonsdale area in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was about half the numbers of Hodgsons in Cumberland in the same period.


From this we can gauge the relative sizes of the Irish-Norse settlements in Cumbria and Lonsdale. They amounted to between one and two thousand Vikings. If the paternal ancestors of the Hodgsons made up 5 per cent of the invaders, then these Hodgson ancestors would number between 50 and 100.


Viking Numbers Estimated by DNA


Stephen Oppenheimer (2006, p. 462) estimates that about 6 per cent of Y-DNA in the British Isles is of Norwegian origin. Some of this, he believes, is due to trade contacts before the Viking invasions. Assuming a population of 500,000 men in the tenth century, 6 per cent gives us a figure of about 30,000 males. The majority of these Norse were elsewhere, suggesting several thousand Norse Vikings settling in Cumbria and Lonsdale in the tenth century.


Hodgson DNA analysis shows that a minimum number of about 26 male Viking invaders in the tenth century would be necessary to account for the amount of genetic and geographic diversity found among those Hodgsons whose DNA falls into 11 identified Groups. This number may increase as more samples are added to the Hodgson DNA database. However, it is possible that several Hodgson paternal ancestors had identical Y-DNA when they invaded in the tenth century, because they had an earlier common male ancestor.


From how many Vikings are Hodgsons Descended?


Although there are differences, all estimates are roughly in the same ball park. Excluding those of illegitimate descent, most modern Hodgsons are probably descended from roughly about 50 tenth-century Vikings. Through DNA we are trying to confirm this hypothesis and to determine the DNA profile of the ancestors of most Hodgsons.


DNA analysis can help to identify the Hodgson Group to which a Hodgson male may belong, and point back to the particular Viking invader in the tenth century.


NOTE: Although the overwhelming majority of tenth-century Scandinavian settlers in Cumbria came from across the Irish Sea, place-name evidence particularly in the Eden Valley suggests the addition of Danes who possibly came from the east of the Pennines (Fellows-Jensen 1985). It is therefore possible that one or more of the original Hodgsons in Cumbria are  descended from Danes from the east rather than Norse from the west. The DNA evidence points to the ancestors of Hodgson Groups 3 or 6.6 as the most likely candidates in this regard.  




Fellows-Jensen, Gillian (1985) 'Scandinavian Settlement in Cumbria and Dumfriesshire: The Place-Name Evidence', in John R. Baldwin and Ian D. Whyte (eds) (1985) The Scandinavians in Cumbria (Scottish Society for Northern Studies: Edinburgh), pp. 65-82.

Oppenheimer, Stephen (2006) The Origins of the British (London: Robinson). (Go to for a summary.)

Sawyer, Peter H. (1971) The Age of the Vikings, second edition (London: Edward Arnold).

Wainwright, Frederick T. (1975) Scandinavian England: Collected Papers, ed. H. P. R. Finberg (Chichester: Phillimore).