The Vikings Return
III: Ironside

During the second half of 1013, Swein Forkbeard, king of Denmark, conquered England. At the end of the year, Æthelred (remembered as ‘the Unready’), the overthrown English king, joined his wife, Emma (sister of Richard the Good, duke of Normandy), and their sons, who had already evacuated to Normandy.

As luck would have it, Swein did not live to enjoy the kingdom that Æthelred had abandoned to him. His fleet was moored on the river Trent at Gainsborough, in Lindsey (northern Lincolnshire), and he died there on the 3rd of February 1014.


By the end of the 11th century, the monks of Bury St Edmunds were claiming that Swein had been killed by the shade of St Edmund. (Hermann: De Miraculis Sancti Eadmundi, written in the 1090s.)
Florence of Worcester presents a brisk but dramatic version of this story s.a. 1014:
The tyrant Swein, after having committed innumerable and cruel atrocities, both in England and in other countries, filled up the measure of his damnation by demanding a large tribute from the town where rests the uncorrupted corpse of the precious martyr, Edmund [i.e. Bury St Edmunds] – a thing which no one had dared to do since the town was given to the church of that saint. He threw out frequent threats that if it was not speedily paid he would certainly burn the town and the townsmen, raise to the ground the church of the said martyr, and torture the clerks in various modes. Moreover, he frequently dared to deprecate the martyr in many ways, and with profane and sacrilegious mouth to bawl out that he was a person of no sanctity. But because he would not curb his malice, divine vengeance did not suffer his blasphemy to last any longer. As he was reiterating his threats, towards evening, in a general muster which he was one day holding at Gainsborough, and surrounded by very dense files of Danes, he alone saw St Edmund coming armed against him. He was terrified at the sight, and began to cry in a very loud voice, “Help, my comrades, help! Lo! St Edmund is coming to kill me.”  As he was speaking, the saint ran him through fiercely with a spear, and he fell from the stallion whereon he was sitting, and remaining in great agony until twilight, he died miserably, on the 3rd of the Nones of February [3rd February].

The ships’ crews immediately elected his son, Cnut, who had come to England with him, king.

Seizing their opportunity, Æthelred’s erstwhile councillors (witan) contacted the exiled king, and, saying “that to them no lord was dearer than their natural lord”, invited him to return to his kingdom: “if he would govern them more justly than he did before” (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E).  Æthelred despatched his son Edward to England with the message:

… that he [Æthelred] would be to them a kind lord, and amend all the things which they all eschewed, and all the things should be forgiven which had been done or said against him, on condition that they all, unanimously without treachery, would turn to him. And they then confirmed full friendship, with word and with pledge, on each side, and pronounced every Danish king an outlaw from England for ever. Then came King Æthelred, during Lent, home to his own people, and he was gladly received by all. —
— Then after Swein [Swegen] was dead, Cnut sat with his army at Gainsborough until Easter; and it was agreed between him and the people of Lindsey that they should supply him with horses, and afterwards all should go together and harry. Then came King Æthelred thither to Lindsey, with a full force, before they [Cnut’s forces] were ready; and they then harried and burned, and slew all of human race whom they could reach. And Cnut went away with his fleet, and the miserable people were thus deceived through him; and he then went southward, until he came to Sandwich, and then caused the hostages that had been given to his father to be landed, and cut off their hands and ears and noses. —
— And besides all these evils, the king commanded 21 thousand pounds to be paid to the army which lay at Greenwich. —
— And in this year, on St Michael’s mass eve [i.e. on 28th September], came the great sea-flood widely through this country, and ran so far up as it never before had done, and drowned many vills, and of mankind a countless number.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1014


According to the ‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’, as told in Heimskringla, as soon as Æthelred returned to England: “he sent word to all those men who were willing to take money to help him win back the land.”  Amongst the “large numbers” who took-up Æthelred’s offer was Olaf Haraldsson, the future King Olaf II of Norway (St Olaf), “with a great force of Norwegians”:
Then they first of all made for London and up into the Thames, but the Danes were holding the city [i.e. the walled town]. On the other side of the river there is a large market-town that is called Southwark. There the Danes had done a lot of work, digging a great ditch and placing inside it a wall of timber and stones and turf and keeping inside it a great troop. King Æthelred ordered a strong attack, but the Danes defended it, and King Æthelred achieved nothing. There were arched bridges there over the river between the city and Southwark so wide that wagons could be driven over them in both directions at once. There were fortifications, both strongholds and wooden breast-works on the downstream side that came up waist-high. And under the arches were stakes, and they stood down in the river just under the surface. And when the attack was made, then the army stood on the arches all over them and guarded them. King Æthelred was very worried about how he should win the bridge. He called all the leaders of his army to a council, and tried to work out a plan with them for bringing the arches down. Then King Olaf said that he would try to bring up his force, if the other leaders would attack as well. At this conference it was decided that they should bring their army up under the arches. Then each one got his force and his ships ready.
King Olaf had great hurdles made of withies and of wet branches and had wicker-work houses taken to pieces and had these put across his ships far enough to reach over both sides. Underneath he had poles put that were thick and high enough for it to be possible to fight from underneath and for it to withstand stones if they were dropped on top. And when the army was ready, then they rowed forward along the river to attack from below. And when they got close to the arches, then both weapons and stones were thrown down on them, so heavily that nothing could withstand them, neither helmets nor shields, and the ships themselves were seriously damaged. Then many drew away. But King Olaf and the force of Norwegians with him rowed right up under the arches and put chains round the posts that supported the arches, and they took hold of them and rowed all the ships downstream as hard as they could. The posts were dragged along the bottom right on until they were loose under the arches. And because an armed host was standing packed together on the arches, a lot of stones and many weapons were there, and the posts were broken below; as a result the arches collapse and many of the people fall down into the river, and all the rest of the force fled from the arches, some into the city, and some into Southwark. After this they brought an attack against Southwark and won it. And when the citizens [of London] saw this, that the river, the Thames, was won, so that they could not prevent the passage of ships up inland, then they became fearful of the passage of ships and gave up the city and received King Æthelred.
‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’ Chapters 12–13
The above battle, ostensibly set in 1014, is classed as Olaf’s sixth. He is said to have assisted Æthelred in three further battles. His seventh battle is said (Ch.14) to be his victory in “a great battle on Ringmere Heath in Ulfcytel’s country”.  This battle, though, took place in 1010, and, similarly, Olaf’s eighth battle, where he is said (Ch.15) to have been “commander of the army when they made for Canterbury and fought there”, apparently refers to the siege of Canterbury in 1011 (see The Wrath of God). On both these occasions, Olaf would, of course, have been Æthelred’s enemy, not his ally. Olaf’s next battle, at a site called Newmouth, is unidentified. At any rate, c.1015, Olaf succeeded in establishing himself as king of Norway.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Manuscripts C, D and E) entry s.a. 1015 begins:

In this year was the great meeting at Oxford; and there Ealdorman Eadric betrayed Sigeferth and Morcar [“sons of Earngrim”, adds Florence of Worcester], the chief thegns in the Seven Boroughs. He enticed them into his chamber, and therein they were foully slain.

Eadric, ealdorman of Mercia, who earned the epithet Streona (meaning ‘the Aquisitor’), is probably the most reviled figure of the whole Anglo-Saxon period,[*] and not without reason. In killing Sigeferth and Morcar, however, he was, on the face of it, acting on behalf of Æthelred – it is “the king” who is said to have promptly seized the brothers’ possessions, and had Sigeferth’s widow, who is named Ealdgyth by Florence of Worcester, taken captive and held at Malmesbury. The plot rapidly thickens. In defiance of Æthelred, Edmund (who would become known as ‘Ironside’), the king’s eldest surviving son,[*] freed Ealdgyth and married her:

Then, before the Nativity of St Mary [8th September], the ætheling [i.e. Edmund] went thence from the west, north to the Five Boroughs, and immediately took possession of all Sigeferth’s and Morcar’s property, and all the folk submitted to him.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1015

In fact, by this time, Æthelred’s health was failing, and Eadric Streona would appear to have been pulling the strings, so Edmund was probably challenging Eadric rather than his father. Meanwhile, in Denmark, Cnut had been preparing his invasion fleet.

Returning to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

And then, at the same time, King Cnut came to Sandwich, and then immediately went about Kent to Wessex, until he came to the mouth of the Frome [i.e. Poole Harbour], and then harried in Dorset, and in Wiltshire, and in Somerset. —
— Then lay the king sick at Cosham. Then Ealdorman Eadric gathered a force, and the ætheling Edmund one in the north. When they came together, the ealdorman wanted to betray the ætheling; and then, on that account, they parted without a battle, and gave way to their foes. And Ealdorman Eadric then enticed forty ships [“full of Danish soldiers”, adds Florence of Worcester] from the king, and then submitted to Cnut. And Wessex submitted and gave hostages, and supplied the army with horses; and it was there till Midwinter [i.e. Christmas].
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1015

As 1015 drew to a close, Cnut’s army, accompanied by Eadric Streona, crossed the Thames, at Cricklade, into Mercia.[*] They made their way to Warwickshire:

… and harried, and burned, and slew all that they came to. Then the ætheling Edmund began to gather a force. When the force was assembled, they were not content with it, unless it were that the king should be with them, and they had the support of the townspeople of London; they withdrew then from the expedition, and each man went home. —
— Then, after that tide [Midwinter-tide; i.e. after Epiphany, 6th January, 1016], a force was ordered, on pain of full penalty, so that every man who was able to go should turn out; and they sent to the king at London, and begged him that he come to join the force with the help that he could gather. When they all came together, it availed naught more than it had often before done. Then it was made known to the king that they wanted to betray him; those who ought to be a support to him. He then left the force and returned to London. Then the ætheling Edmund rode to Northumbria to Earl Uhtred, and every man imagined that they wanted to collect a force against King Cnut. They then marched into Staffordshire, and into Shrewsbury, and to Chester; and they harried on their part, and Cnut on his part. —
— He [Cnut] went out through Buckinghamshire into Bedfordshire, and thence to Huntingdonshire, and so into Northamptonshire, along the fens to Stamford, and then into Lincolnshire;[*] then thence to Nottinghamshire, and so to Northumbria toward York.[*] When Uhtred learned this, he abandoned his harrying and hastened northwards, and then from necessity submitted, and all the Northumbrians with him;[*] and he gave hostages; and, notwithstanding, they slew him through the counsel of Ealdorman Eadric, and Thurcytel son of Nafena with him.[*]
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1016

Cnut, who is now being called ‘king’ by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, appointed a Norwegian earl, Eric of Hlathir, earl of Northumbria.[*]

Cnut set-off for the south, travelling down the west of the country (steering clear of Edmund Ironside’s territory) heading directly to his ships, moored in Poole Harbour. Edmund, meanwhile, joined his father in London. Cnut and “all the army” arrived at their ships “before Easter [1st April]” 1016.

And then, after Easter, King Cnut went with all his ships towards London. Then it befell that King Æthelred died before the ships came. He ended his days on St George’s mass-day [23rd April]; and he held his kingdom with great toil and difficulty, while his life lasted.[*]
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1016

Florence of Worcester supplies important information not found in the Chronicle:

His body was honourably buried in the church of St Paul the apostle. After his death, the bishops, abbots, ealdormen [duces], and all the nobles of England, assembled and unanimously chose Cnut to be their lord and king; and having come to him at Southampton, and renounced and repudiated all the descendants of King Æthelred, made peace and swore loyalty to him; and he, in his turn, swore that both in Divine and secular affairs he would be a faithful master to them.[*]
Florence of Worcester s.a. 1016

Not quite all of the great and the good sided with Cnut, however:

And then, after his [Æthelred’s] end, all the councillors [witan] who were in London, and the townspeople, chose Edmund for king; and he boldly defended his kingdom while his time was.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1016

Having been elected king in London, Edmund promptly rode to Wessex.

Then came the ships [Cnut’s ships] to Greenwich, in the Rogation days [7th–9th May]; and within a little while they went to London, and they then dug a great ditch on the south side, and dragged their ships to the west side of the bridge, and afterwards be-ditched the town around, so that no man could pass either in or out; and they repeatedly fought against the town, but they boldly withstood them.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1016

Meanwhile, as Florence of Worcester reports, Edmund was enjoying considerable success in Wessex:

… being gladly welcomed by the whole population, he quickly reduced it under his dominion; and a great number of the English people, hearing of this, hastened to make spontaneous submission to him… So, abandoning the siege [of London] for a time, and leaving a portion of the army to guard the ships, they [the Danes] marched into Wessex with such speed that King Edmund Ironside had no time to muster his army. Nevertheless, with the troops which in this short time he had got together, he boldly marched into Dorset against them, trusting in God for help, and attacking them at a place called Penselwood, near Gillingham, routed them and put them to flight. After Midsummer, having again assembled a larger army than before, he boldly resolved to attack Cnut, whom he encountered in Hwiccia, at a place called Sherston.[*] —
Drawing up his army as the nature of the ground and the strength of his force required, he [Edmund] posted all the best men in the foremost ranks, placing the remainder of the army in reserve, and, addressing each by name, exhorted and entreated them to remember that they were about to fight for their country, their children, their wives, and their homes, and by an excellent address stirred-up the courage of his troops; then he ordered the trumpets to sound and the army to advance by degrees. The enemy’s army did the like. When they came to a spot where they could join battle, the hostile standards met with tremendous uproar; they fought with sword and spear, and with the greatest obstinacy. Meanwhile King Edmund Ironside exerted himself to the utmost in the foremost ranks, provided for every emergency, fought hard in person, often struck down an enemy, and fulfilled at one and the same time the duties of a brave soldier and an able general.
But inasmuch as that most treacherous ealdorman Eadric Streona, and Ælfmær Darling, and Ælfgar the son of Meaw, who ought to have assisted him, had, with the men of Hampshire and Wiltshire, and a countless host, joined the Danes – his army was overworked. However on the first day of the battle, which was Monday, the contest was so severe and bloody that at sunset both armies were unable to continue the fight for very weariness, and separated as it were with one accord. But on the next day the king [Edmund] would have exterminated the Danes, had it not been for the trick of that treacherous ealdorman Eadric Streona.[*] For as the battle was raging, and he perceived that the English were gaining advantage, he cut off the head of a man named Osmear, whose face and hair were very like King Edmund’s, and, holding it up, cried out that it was useless for the English to fight, saying, “Oh! ye men of Dorset, Devon and Wiltshire, flee quickly; ye have lost your leader; Lo! here I hold the head of your lord and king Edmund; flee with all speed.” When the English heard these words they were terror-struck, more by the atrocity of the thing than by the credit which they gave to their informer. Some waverers were nearly induced thereby to flee; but as soon as it was known that the king was alive they took courage, pressed the Danes harder than ever, slew many of them, and kept fighting with all their might until dusk, when the armies separated just as they did the previous day. —
— But when the night was far advanced, Cnut ordered his men to leave the camp silently, and, setting out for London, regained his ships, and shortly afterwards he renewed the siege of London. When the morning came, and King Edmund Ironside discovered that the Danes had fled, he returned to Wessex for the purpose of raising a larger army.[*]
Florence of Worcester s.a. 1016

Returning to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry:

And then a third time he [Edmund] gathered a force, and went to London, all north of the Thames, and so out through Clayhanger,[*] and saved the townspeople, and drove the army in flight to their ships. —
— And then, two nights after, the king went over [the river] at Brentford, and then fought against the army, and put it to flight;[*] and there were drowned a great many of the English folk, by their own carelessness – those who went ahead of the force and wanted to take booty.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1016

English losses would appear to have been heavy, since Edmund retired to Wessex to collect more troops, which allowed the Danes to resume their siege of London:

… and [the Danes] obstinately fought against it [the town], both by water and by land. But Almighty God saved it. —
— The army then, after that, went from London with their ships into the Orwell, and there went up, and went into Mercia, and slew and burned whatever they overran, as is their wont; and provided themselves with food; and they drove both their ships and their herds into the Medway. Then a fourth time King Edmund collected all his force,[*] and went over the Thames at Brentford, and went into Kent [“and fought a battle with the Danes near Otford”, adds Florence of Worcester]; and the army fled before him, with their horses, to Sheppey; and the king slew as many of them as he could overtake.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1016

At this point, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that Ealdorman Eadric “turned to meet the king at Aylesford”, and implies that Edmund, displaying the same poor judgement that gave rise to his father’s nickname, ‘the Unready’, accepted Eadric’s pledge of loyalty – the Chronicler, writing soon after the events, notes: “No greater folly was ever agreed to than that was.”  Florence of Worcester maintains that Edmund’s victory over the fleeing Danes “would that day have been complete” if “the treacherous” Eadric Streona, “by his wiles and insinuations”, hadn’t detained him at Aylesford.[*] The Latin entry in Manuscript F of the Chronicle says that, when Edmund arrived at Aylesford, Eadric: “by a trick made the English army turn back.”  At any rate, the Danes were off the hook.

The army turned again up into Essex, and went into Mercia, and destroyed all that it passed over. When the king learned that the army was gone up, he, for the fifth time, assembled all the English nation, and went after them, and overtook them in Essex, at the hill which is called Assandun, and there they boldly engaged together. —
— Then did Ealdorman Eadric as he had often before done; first began the flight with the Magonsæte,[*] and so betrayed his royal lord and all the nation of the English race.[*]
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1016
And according to some, it was afterwards evident that he [Eadric] did this not out of fear but in guile; and what many assert is that he had promised this secretly to the Danes in return for some favour.
Encomium Emmae Reginae II, 9
… the treacherous ealdorman, Eadric Streona, seeing that the Danish line was giving way, and that the English were getting the victory, kept the promise which he had previously made to Cnut, and fled with the Magonsæte, and that division of the army which he commanded; thus craftily circumventing his lord King Edmund and the English army, and by his craft throwing the victory into the hands of the Danes.[*]
Florence of Worcester s.a. 1016
There Cnut had the victory, and won him all the English nation.[*]
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1016

English losses were severe – as Manuscript C of the Chronicle phrases it:

… all the flower of the English race was there destroyed.

The Chronicle lists some major English figures who were killed at Assandun: Bishop Eadnoth of Dorchester, Abbot Wulfsige of Ramsey, Ealdorman Ælfric of Hampshire, Ealdorman Godwine of Lindsey, “Ulfcytel of East Anglia” (this is Ulfcytel Snilling), and Æthelweard, the son of Ealdorman Æthelwine of East Anglia (d.992).[*] Bishop Eadnoth’s obit appears in a late-12th century, Ely, calendar (Trinity College Cambridge MS O.2.1), and this provides the date for the battle of Assandun: 18th October.

Then, after this battle, King Cnut, with his army, went up into Gloucestershire, where he had learned that Edmund the king was.[*] Then Ealdorman Eadric, and the councillors who were there, advised that there should be a reconciliation between the kings; and they gave hostages between them.[*]
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1016

Edmund and Cnut met at Olney (Olanige), an island in the Severn, near Deerhurst. (Florence of Worcester says they went in fishing boats – Edmund from the west bank, Cnut from the east.) They agreed that England would be partitioned – Edmund taking Wessex, Cnut the country north of the Thames[*] – and fixed the level of payment (the amount is not given), that the English would make to Cnut’s army.[*]

And the army then went to their ships with the things that they had taken. And the Londoners made a truce with the army, and bought themselves peace; and the army brought their ships to London, and took them winter-quarters therein. Then, on St Andrew’s mass-day [30th November], King Edmund died [“at London”, adds Florence of Worcester]; and his body lies at Glastonbury with his grandfather Edgar.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscripts C, D and E s.a. 1016
Soon thereafter it became evident to what end God commanded that he should die, for the entire country then chose Cnut as its king, and voluntarily submitted itself and all that was in it to the man whom previously it had resisted with every effort.
Encomium Emmae Reginae II, 14
Swein had invaded England previously, engaging in Viking activity from 1003 to 1005 (see Unready), and William of Jumièges evidently sees the Viking invasion in 1003 and the campaign of conquest in 1013 as a single event. Perhaps, then, the treaty between Swein and Richard belongs to 1003–5. However, William is clear that Swein travelled to Normandy from Yorkshire, and there is no record that Swein got any further north than East Anglia during that period.
The king’s advisory council, composed of important secular and ecclesiastical personages.
The term ‘Seven Boroughs’ only appears here. Frank Stenton* suggests that this is the usual Five Boroughs of the Danelaw – Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby, Leicester and Stamford – plus Torksey (in Lincolnshire) and York.
* Sir Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England Third Edition (1971), Chapter 11 (p.388 fn.2).
Eadric became ealdorman of Mercia in 1007. In his report of the event, Florence of Worcester quotes directly from a Latin ‘Life’ of St Ælfheah (archbishop of Canterbury 1006–1012), written in the 1080s by Osbern of Canterbury: “he [Eadric] was a man of humble birth, but his tongue procured him both riches and high station; he was of a ready wit, of persuasive eloquence, and surpassed all his contemporaries in malice, perfidy, pride, and cruelty.”  William of Malmesbury refers (GR II §165) to Eadric as: “one of the refuse of mankind, and the reproach of the English; an abandoned glutton, a cunning miscreant”.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript D s.a. 1057: “King Edmund [Eadmund], who was called Ironside for his valour.”
Æthelred evidently had six sons by his first wife (a shadowy figure, possibly called Ælfgifu and possibly the daughter of Thored, earl of southern Northumbria, centred on York, from c.975 to c.992). By 1015, however, there were only two of the brothers left alive: Edmund (Eadmund) and Eadwig. Their older brother, Athelstan (Æþelstan), had only recently died. The combination of his will and obits recorded at Canterbury, and at Old Minster, Winchester, where he was buried, dates his death to 25th June 1014. Athelstan’s will (S1503), which he made on the day of his death, indicates that he was on friendly terms with his father and brothers, and also Sigeferth and Morcar.
Amongst Athelstan’s bequests are eleven swords, one of which was “the sword that King Offa owned”. This was one of two swords that Athelstan left to Edmund, who was with him at the time.
Æthel (Æþel) means ‘noble’ (it features as an element of many Anglo-Saxon names), and an ætheling is a male of royal blood who is an eligible candidate for the throne.
Highlighted phrase absent in Manuscript E.
Thietmar’s story is considerably confused, so his word carries no more weight than the Encomiast’s regarding whether or not Harald came to England with Cnut. However, written in a contemporary gospel-book from Christ Church Canterbury (British Library MS Royal 1 D ix) is a notice of the entry of King Cnut and his brother Harald, with three other Scandinavians, into confraternity with the community. Now, it is possible that Harald was there in person, but Alistair Campbell, in the Introduction to his 1949 edition of the Encomium Emmae Reginae (p.lvii), reckons that Cnut simply gave the monks his brother’s name.
Though the Encomiast is insistent that Cnut was the elder brother, Thietmar refers to “brothers Harald and Cnut” (their names also appear in that order in Heimskringla, ‘Saga of Olaf Tryggvason’ Ch.34), an indication that Harald was actually the elder. It would, indeed, make sense for Swein, in 1013, to have left his eldest son in charge of the Homeland, whilst taking the younger on a hazardous campaign of conquest, and modern historians tend to suppose that, despite the Encomiast, Harald was the elder.
Manuscript E and, its abridged bilingual relative, Manuscript F, of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle assert that Cnut’s army comprised “160 ships”.  There was no naval involvement. The army had been provided with horses, and this was a land expedition, as Florence of Worcester makes clear: “crossed the river Thames with a large body of cavalry”.  Presumably the intended meaning is that Cnut’s army consisted of the crews of 160 ships – the implication being that his fleet comprised 160 ships – plus the additional 40 ships’ crews that Eadric had brought to the party.
burhware – inhabitants of a burh. A burh (dative: byrig) is a fortified site; often, as in this case, a town (it is the source of the modern word ‘borough’, and the -borough, -burgh and -bury endings of place-names), but not necessarily so. The burhware here would be the town’s garrison, rather than the general population.
Highlighted phrase in Manuscript C only.
The rank of earl (Old English eorl; Old Norse jarl) is the Scandinavian equivalent of the English rank of ealdorman.
Earl Uhtred was married to Edmund’s sister, Ælfgifu.
(See The Siege of Durham.)
Thurcytel son of Nafena – evidently he was an associate of Uhtred – is otherwise unknown. Nafena is a rare name, and it is very likely that Thurcytel’s father is the magnate of that name who, with his brother, called Northman, attended a “great meeting” at London c.989 (S877). Incidentally, present at the same meeting was Styr son of Ulf (Stir Wulfes suni), who features in the story reported by De Obsessione Dunelmi.
The aristocracy of southern Northumbria, centred on York, had a Scandinavian background. Hold was a Scandinavian rank equating to the English rank of high-reeve – the latter is particularly associated with northern Northumbria, centred on Bamburgh (see Bloodaxe). It is a high rank, but below earl/ealdorman.
Possibly (by no means certainly) to be identified with Wighill, near Tadcaster.
The killing of Carl’s sons is recorded s.a. 1073 (HR), by Symeon of Durham. The author of De Obsessione Dunelmi says that two of Carl’s sons (or possibly grandsons, it isn’t entirely clear) survived the massacre. The first was spared, because of “his innate excellence of disposition”, and the second: “who is alive at this present day, happened not to be there.”
The date of the Uhtred’s murder is the subject of debate. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle seems to place it firmly in the first quarter of 1016 (prior to Æthelred’s death), but Symeon of Durham (HR) claims that Uhtred was fighting the Scots in 1018.
(See The Battle of Carham.)
Uhtred was earl of all Northumbria, and the Chronicle says that Eric (Yric) was appointed “earl in Northumbria, just as Uhtred had been”.  It is, however, possible that Eric’s jurisdiction was limited to southern Northumbria.
(See The Battle of Carham.)
Highlighted section as Manuscript C. Manuscripts D and E have: “after great toil and difficulty in his life.”
Florence of Worcester augments his notice of Æthelred’s death derived from the Chronicle with material taken from a Latin ‘Life’ of St Dunstan (archbishop of Canterbury, d.988) written by Osbern of Canterbury c.1090:
… [Æthelred died] after a life of great toil and manifold tribulations, all of which St Dunstan on his coronation-day, after placing the crown on his head, prophetically announced as about to come upon him: “Because,” said he, “thou hast obtained the kingdom by the death of thy brother, whom thy mother has slain, therefore, hear now the word of the Lord; thus saith the Lord, ‘The sword shall not depart from thy house, but shall rage against thee all the days of thy life, slaying thy seed, until thy kingdom be given to another kingdom whose manners and language the nation whom thou governest knoweth not.’  And thy sin, and the sin of thy mother, and the sins of the men who have wickedly shed blood by her direction, shall be expiated only by long-continued punishment.”
(See No Worse Deed.)
Hwiccia (province of the Hwicce): a region of Mercia, roughly corresponding to Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and western Warwickshire. Scearstan (Florence’s spelling) is usually identified with Sherston in Wiltshire, which would have been in the Hwicce/Wessex borderland.
There is a tradition (the existence of which is first recorded in the 17th century, by John Aubrey) at Sherston, regarding a local hero called John Rattlebone, who purportedly fought there against the Danes. Though severely wounded, Rattlebone fought on to the bitter end, clutching a stone tile against his wound to staunch the flow of blood. According to John Aubrey*:
The old woemen and children have these verses by tradition, viz.
“Fight well Rattlebone,
Thou shalt have Sherstone.”
“What shall I with Sherston doe,
Without I have all belongs thereto?
“Thou shalt have Wyck & Willesly,
Easton towne and Pinkeney.”
These are hamlets belonging to this parish.
* ‘An Essay Towards the Description of the North Division of Wiltshire’.
Florence does not use the vernacular title ‘ealdorman’. He uses the Latin term dux (plural duces).
In place of Florence’s detailed account, Manuscripts C, D and E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle simply have:
… he [Edmund] rode over Wessex, and all the folk submitted to him. And shortly after that, he fought against the army [i.e. Cnut’s army] at Penselwood by Gillingham. And a second battle he fought after Midsummer at Sherston, and there was great slaughter made on each side, and the armies, of themselves, separated. In that battle Ealdorman Eadric and Ælfmær Darling gave aid to the army against King Edmund.
Similarly, William the Conqueror is said to have removed his helmet at The Battle of Hastings to show that he was still alive.
The sequence of annals covering the years 983 to 1016, preserved in Manuscripts C, D and E of the Chronicle, are the main source for Æthelred’s reign. They were evidently composed after 1016 and before 1023.
Edward A. Freeman* suggests that Thietmar has simply confused Athelstan and Edmund, and that it was Athelstan who: “was killed, as is perfectly probable, in one of the battles near London or in some unrecorded skirmish.”  However, as previously mentioned, the combination of his will and obits recorded at Canterbury, and at Old Minster, Winchester, where he was buried, indicate that Athelstan died on 25th June 1014 (which would explain his conspicuous absence from the annals of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle).
* The History of the Norman Conquest of England, Its Causes and Its Results Vol.1, Third Edition Revised (1877), Appendix, Note VV (pp.700–1).
The highlighted section is in Manuscript C only.
Clayhanger is now in Tottenham.
Scandinavian tradition places Eric at the siege. He is also said to have been victorious in a battle, fought to the west of London, against Ulfcytel of East Anglia.[*] The sagas give Ulfcytel the soubriquet Snilling, which is usually translated as ‘the Bold’.
In Heimskringla (‘Saga of Olaf Haraldsson’ Ch.25), Snorri Sturluson misinterprets his source, a verse by Thord Kolbeinsson, to suggest that Ulfcytel was killed in the encounter with Eric. This was not the case, and the verse is correctly interpreted in Knýtlinga Saga (Ch.15) – possibly written by Snorri’s nephew, Olaf Thordsson, ‘the White Poet’.
Though later chroniclers, such as Florence of Worcester and William of Malmesbury, are happy to accord Ulfcytel the rank of ealdorman (Latin dux or comes), in the witness-lists of charters he features as only a thegn (Latin minister).
Highlighted phrase in Manuscript C.
Manuscripts D and E: “collected the whole English nation”.
Old English unræd, defined in Bosworth-Toller (dictionary of Old English): “evil counsel, ill-advised course, bad plan, folly”.  ‘Unready’, as in Æthelred’s nickname, is a corruption of unræd.
William of Malmesbury (GR II §180) and Henry of Huntingdon (HA VI, 13) agree with Florence of Worcester, that Edmund would have conclusively beaten the Danes at this time if Eadric had not intervened.
In fact, Florence of Worcester places Eadric’s switch of allegiance from Cnut to Edmund rather earlier than the Chronicle indicates – in the immediate aftermath of the indecisive battle of Sherston. Henry of Huntingdon places it a little later than Florence – after Edmund had crossed the Thames at Brentford, and put the Danes to flight (but many Englishmen had been drowned). William of Malmesbury is noncommittal regarding the precise timing.
The location of Assandun is not certain. Two candidates are proposed: Ashdon, near Saffron Walden, in north-west Essex; or Ashingdon, near Rochford, in south-east Essex.
The Magonsæte: Men from the region of Mercia roughly corresponding to Herefordshire and southern Shropshire.
Highlighted phrase omitted in Manuscript E.
Both William of Malmesbury (GR II §180) and Henry of Huntingdon (HA VI, 13) clearly state the view that Eadric’s supposed submission to Edmund was a ruse concocted by Cnut and Eadric.
Henry of Huntingdon adapts a story that William of Malmesbury associated with the earlier battle at Sherston – saying that, at Assandun, Eadric, sensing that an English victory was imminent, shouted: “Flee, Englishmen. Flee, Englishmen. Edmund is dead.” And then left the field with his own men, so precipitating a general English withdrawal.
Highlighted phrase, ealle Engla þeode, as in Manuscripts C and D.
In Manuscript E the phrase is rendered eall Engla land, i.e. “all England”, but the phrase vel þeode, “or nation” (vel is Latin for ‘or’), is inserted between the lines, above land.
Eadnoth’s remains reside in a niche in Ely Cathedral, next-door-but-one to Ealdorman Byrhtnoth, who was famously killed at The Battle of Maldon in 991.
Highlighted phrase omitted in Manuscript D.
Henry of Huntingdon (HA VI, 13) also has Cnut go to London after Assandun: “King Cnut, strengthened by this great victory, took London and the royal authority.”  In reality, however, London had still not capitulated to Cnut at this time.
According to the Supplement to the Jómsvíkinga Saga preserved in the late-14th century Flateyjarbók, Ulfcytel Snilling was married to a daughter of King Æthelred called Wulfhild. Thorkell the Tall killed Ulfcytel, thereby avenging the death of his brother, and married Wulfhild. (The same source also makes the ludicrous assertion that Eadric Streona was Emma’s brother.) This Wulfhild is, in fact, otherwise unknown, and Florence of Worcester (s.a. 1021) says Thorkell’s wife was called Eadgyth.
Manuscripts C and E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle have: “Edmund succeeded to Wessex and Cnut to Mercia.”
Manuscript D has: “Edmund succeeded to Wessex and Cnut to the north part.”
There is a gap in Florence of Worcester’s text, but as reconstructed from Roger of Wendover (the bracketed section), it says: “Wessex, East Anglia, Essex with London [ city, and all the country south of the Thames, were allotted to Edmund, while Cnut obtained the northern parts of England; but the supremacy of ] the kingdom was to remain with Edmund.”  However, it is hard to imagine that East Anglia would be regarded as Wessex by the Chronicle, and London was soon to capitulate to Cnut. Northumbria (the southern part anyway) was evidently already under Cnut’s control. Geffrei Gaimar writes:
On the south Edmund’s share fell.
There was his uncle Saint Edward.
And on the the other side of Thames
King Cnut held right justice.
He had London, there was his seat.
York was in his kingdom.
lines 4383–4388
Æthelred’s half-brother, Edward the Martyr, buried at Shaftesbury (see No Worse Deed).
Geffrei Gaimar (lines 4228–4233) credits Thorkell with commanding the Danes at Sherston, but in an extract from Ottar the Black’s Knútsdrápa (Knýtlinga Saga Ch.10), Cnut himself is presented as the commander at Sherston – as he is by Florence of Worcester above, and by Henry of Huntingdon (HA VI, 13).
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle hasn’t mentioned Thorkell since 1013, at which time he was in Æthelred’s service. Alistair Campbell, in the Introduction to his 1949 edition of the Encomium Emmae Reginae (p.lviii), states: “there is no reason to believe that Thorkell commanded the Danes at Sherston, even if it be assumed, which is quite uncertain, that he fought on the Danish side during the 1015–16 campaign or part of it.”
Frank Stenton* opines: “There can be no doubt that in creating an army adequate to the conquest of England, he [Cnut] owed more than any historian has recorded to the help of his sister’s husband, Eric of Hlathir, the greatest nobleman in Norway”.
* Sir Frank Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England Third Edition (1971), Chapter 11 (p.387).
Edward A. Freeman* suggests it was at this stage that Thorkell allied himself with Cnut: “it was probably not until death had set him free from all personal ties to his first master, certainly not till English ealdormen had set him the example of acknowledging the foreign king.”  Alistair Campbell**, however, writes: “there is absolutely no evidence that Thorkell was not true to the English cause all through until … he automatically became Knútr’s [Cnut’s] subject, when the latter became king of all England in 1017.”
* Edward A. Freeman, The History of the Norman Conquest of England, Its Causes and Its Results Vol.1, Third Edition Revised (1877), Chapter 5 (p.356).
** Alistair Campbell, Encomium Emmae Reginae (1949), Appendix III (p.75).
Geffrei Gaimar (lines 4162–4168) knew that Swein was first buried at York (“In St Peter’s Minster he lay”), and that he was subsequently moved overseas. Geffrei, however, confuses the issue (as is his wont) by having Swein’s remains lie at York for “ten years or more”, seemingly so he can then have them taken “to Saint Olaf” in Norway (Trondheim, actually) for reburial. St Olaf (Olaf Haraldsson) wrested Norway from Danish suzerainty in about 1015, establishing himself as king (Olaf II). He was killed in 1030, and quickly became a popular saint in England as well as in Scandinavia – Manuscript C of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, s.a. 1030, reports his death: “In this year King Olaf was slain in Norway by his own people, and was afterwards sainted.”
An extract from the poem Knútsdrápa (attributed to Ottar the Black, probably composed c.1027), as preserved in the, mid-13th century, Knýtlinga Saga (Ch.12), says: “you [Cnut] fought a battle beneath the shield at Assatun [i.e. Assandun]. The blood-crane got morsels brown [with blood]. Prince, you won renown enough with your great sword, north of Danaskógar, but to your men it seemed a slaughter indeed.”  As presented in the Knýtlinga Saga, all of this verse refers to one battle, i.e. Assandun – in which case, Danaskógar (Old Norse skógr = ‘wood’, ‘forest’) is in Essex, to the south of Assandun, and is unidentified. Some modern scholars*, however, reckon that there was another battle fought, after Assandun, “north of Danaskógar”, and suggest that Danaskógar is the Forest of Dean, which is in western Gloucestershire.
* For instance, M.K. Lawson, Cnut: England’s Viking King 1016–35 (2011), Chapter 2 (p.78). (This book was first published as Cnut: the Danes in England in the Early Eleventh Century in 1993.)
An extract from a poem in praise of Cnut (Knútsdrápa), attributed to Ottar the Black and probably composed c.1027, as preserved in the mid-13th century Knýtlinga Saga (Ch.8), apparently refers to battles fought by Cnut on his northwards progress: “You made war in green Lindsey, Prince… you brought sorrow upon the English, in Hemingaborg [or Helmingaborg] to the west of the Ouse.”  There is a village called Hemingbrough, some 14 miles to the south of York, but it lies to the east of the Yorkshire Ouse (though west of its tributary, the Derwent).
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle implies that Cnut didn’t proceed beyond York, but another snippet of Ottar the Black’s Knútsdrápa (Knýtlinga Saga Ch.10) indicates that a battle was fought further north: “you made the English fall close by the Tees. The deep dike flowed over the bodies of Northumbrians.”
Ottar the Black has something to say about this incident (Knýtlinga Saga Ch.12). Cnut is first said to have: “shattered Brentford with its habitations.”  Curiously, though, it is implied that Brentford was inhabited by Frisians. Further, the facts are stood on their head – the subsequent encounter with Edmund is presented as a Danish victory, and the Danes are said to have put the English to flight.
A snippet of verse in the Knýtlinga Saga (Ch.12), presented as belonging to Ottar the Black’s Knútsdrápa, is said to refer to a battle fought after Assandun: “Gracious giver of mighty gifts, you [Cnut] made corselets red in Norwich. You will lose your life before your courage fails.”  If Cnut did fight a battle in Norwich, it wasn’t at this stage. It is conceivable that he ventured there during the earlier raiding expedition, when he took his ships “into the Orwell, and there went up”, as reported by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. However, Alistair Campbell* suggests that the verse is not from the Knútsdrápa at all, but from another poem, probably not by Ottar, dealing with Cnut’s father, Swein, who did indeed sack Norwich, in 1004.
* ‘Skaldic Verse and Anglo-Saxon History’, The Dorothea Coke Memorial Lecture in Northern Studies (delivered 17th March 1970), freely available online.
Henry does not refer to Eadric by the vernacular title ‘ealdorman’, but uses the Latin term dux (genitive ducis).
Elsewhere, Thietmar refers to the English as ‘the English’, so he is evidently making a distinction by using the term ‘Britons’. Further, an extract from a poem attributed, in the Knýtlinga Saga (Ch.14), to Cnut’s men themselves, referring to his campaign against London, says: “swords clash on the British mailcoats.”  Given Gaimar’s testimony, there would seem to be a strong possibility that the Britons in question are the Welsh, but it is also possible that Cornishmen are meant.
Adam notes: “sailors say it is a three-day sail from Denmark to England with a southeast wind blowing.”
The Encomiast is evidently thinking of the church at Roskilde. According to Adam of Bremen (who had Swein’s grandson as an informant), it was not built by Swein, but by his father, Harald Bluetooth. In about 987 Swein had overthrown Harald, and driven him into exile. Soon after, Harald died from a wound he had sustained. Adam writes (II, 26): “His body was brought back to his fatherland by the army and entombed in the city of Roskilde in the church which he himself had first constructed in honour of the Holy Trinity.”  Adam makes no mention of where Swein was buried. A Supplement to the Jómsvíkinga Saga, only found in the late-14th century Flateyjarbók, notes: “King Swein died in England, and the Danes brought his body back to Denmark and buried him in Roskilde with his father.”
According to the Encomiast (II, 2), Cnut, the elder brother, suggests that Harald should share Denmark with him until they have, together, reconquered England, at which point Harald could choose which country to rule, and Cnut would take the other. Harald rejects the idea, saying he is prepared to offer assistance to Cnut, but not to divide Denmark, which, he points out, was given to him by their father with Cnut’s approval. Cnut agrees to drop the matter.
Florence refers to Eadnoth as bishop of Lincoln, but at this time the bishop’s seat was at Dorchester on Thames (Oxfordshire).
As a consequence of the conquest of Mercia by the Danes, and its subsequent partition in 877 – the Danes occupying eastern Mercia – the seat of the bishop of the Middle Angles was transferred from Leicester to Dorchester, and the bishopric of Lindsey (northern Lincolnshire, but the location of its seat is not known) ceased to exist. Following the English re-conquest of Mercia, the bishopric of Lindsey was restored, and apparently by the time of Assandun had been merged with the Middle Anglian bishopric. Dorchester was the bishop’s seat of this enlarged diocese until after the Norman Conquest – in 1072 it was transferred from Dorchester to Lincoln.
On the other hand, in the Knýtlinga Saga (Ch.20) Cnut is said to have been “exceptionally tall and strong”.
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
William of Jumièges completed the Gesta Normannorum Ducum (Deeds of the Dukes of the Normans) c.1070–1. He dedicated it to William the Conqueror (the 7th duke).
Historia Regum (History of the Kings).
A collection of sagas chronicling the kings of Norway, written in Old Norse, by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson, c.1230.
Gesta Regum Anglorum
(Deeds of the Kings of England).
The Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church) was written between 1072 and 1076, though Adam continued to revise it until his death c.1081.
Anglo-Saxon charters are referred to by their number in Sawyer’s catalogue.
Available online: The Electronic Sawyer.
De Obsessione Dunelmi was written, almost certainly at Durham, in the late-11th or early-12th century. A 16th century addition to the sole surviving, later-12th century, copy (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 139) claims the author was Symeon of Durham, but the text itself provides no reason to believe this late attribution.
Anglo-Norman chronicler Geffrei Gaimar wrote his Estoire des Engleis (History of the English), for a Lincolnshire patroness, round-about 1140. It is the earliest known historical work to have been written in the French language, and is in verse (actually, octosyllabic rhymed couplets). In fact, the Estoire des Engleis is the latter part of a longer work, but the earlier part has not survived. The existing work covers the period from the arrival in Britain of Cerdic (495) to the death of William Rufus (1100). Up to 959, it is based on a lost version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon, first produced his Historia Anglorum (History of the English) about 1130. He later revisited the work – revising and extending – several times. The final version concludes with the accession of Henry II in 1154.