FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY Early Medieval The Birth of Nations: England
WESSEX
section three *
 
King of the West Saxons
The bronze Statue of Alfred the Great, by Hamo Thornycroft, erected at Winchester in 1901.
Son of Æthelwulf.
Alfred came to the throne “after Easter” 871 (Easter fell on the 15th of April that year), following the death, from unknown causes, of his brother Æthelred – during a campaign against a “heathen army” of Danes, that had invaded Wessex at the end of 870, and had been reinforced by new arrivals from overseas shortly before Æthelred's death.
Alfred was the fourth son of Æthelwulf in succession to rule Wessex. His biographer, Asser, writes (§42): “Alfred, who had been up to that time, during the lifetime of his brothers, only of secondary rank, now, on the death of his brother, by God's permission undertook the government of the whole kingdom, amid the acclamations of all the people; and indeed, if he had chosen, he might easily have done so with the general consent whilst his brother above named [i.e. Æthelred] was still alive, since in wisdom and every other good quality he surpassed all his brothers, and especially because he was brave and victorious in nearly every battle. And when he had reigned a month almost against his will – for he did not think that he alone, without divine aid, could sustain the ferocity of the heathen, for even during his brothers' lifetimes he had sustained great losses of many men – he fought a fierce battle with a few men, and on very unequal terms, against all the army of the heathen, at a hill called Wilton, on the south bank of the river Guilou [Wylye], from which river the whole of that district [Wiltshire] is named; and after a severe engagement, lasting a considerable part of the day, the heathen, seeing the whole extent of the danger they were in, and no longer able to bear the attack of their enemies, turned their backs and fled. But, shame to say, they took advantage of the fewness of their pursuers, and, again rallying, gained the victory and kept the battle-field. Let no one be surprised that the Christians had but a small number of men, for the Saxons as a people had been all but worn out by eight battles in this selfsame year against the heathen, in which there died one heathen king, nine earls, and innumerable troops of soldiers, not to speak of countless skirmishes both by night and by day, in which the oft-named King Alfred, and all the ealdormen of that people, with their men, and many of the king's thegns, had been engaged in unwearied strife against the heathen.+ How many thousand heathen fell in these numberless skirmishes God alone knows, over and above those who were slain in the eight battles above mentioned....
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ (and, consequently, Asser and Æthelweard) apparently adopts the convention of starting the year in September, to reflect the campaigning-year of the “heathen army”.* As a result, annal 871 actually starts in late-870. At any rate, the ‘Chronicle’ reports: “And this year 9 great battles were fought against the army in the kingdom south of the Thames”.  In fact, Asser had previously omitted a battle – recorded by the ‘Chronicle’, at an unidentified site called Meretun – from his account, hence his reference to only eight battles. However, even the ‘Chronicle’ only names six battles. Æthelweard does not mention the battle at Wilton, at which both Asser and the ‘Chronicle’ say Alfred was present, but mentions instead (IV, 3) a battle fought when Alfred was attending his brother's funeral: “Although the [English] ranks were not at full strength, high courage was in their breasts, and rejoicing in battle they repel the enemy some distance. However, overcome with weariness, they desist from fighting, and the barbarians won a degree of victory which one might call fruitless. Afterwards, they dispersed, carried off plunder, and ravaged places. And in their hateful period of ascendancy there were three times three battles [fought] by the English, not including those mentioned above, and eleven of their [the Danes'] consules fell, whom they usually call earls, and one king.”
.... In that same year [871] the Saxons made [i.e. bought] peace with the heathen, on condition that they should take their departure; and this they did.” V
In 874, the Danes drove out Burgred, king of Mercia, who was married to Alfred's sister. (Burgred spent the rest of his life in Rome.) The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ says that they placed one Ceolwulf, “a foolish king's thegn”, on the Mercian throne, to rule as their puppet. Ceolwulf's charters, however, show him acting independently, with the consent of Mercian bishops and ealdormen, and, furthermore, he and Alfred collaborated in the production of coinage. At the time, therefore, Ceolwulf's rule would appear to have been regarded as legitimate in both Mercia and Wessex.
In the autumn of 874, the Danes divided their forces. Part moved permanently to Northumbria, where they settled the area that became Yorkshire. The remainder – “a large army”, under three kings: Guthrum, Oscetel, and Anwend – spent the following year in Cambridge.
In the summer of 875, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ notes that: “King Alfred went out to sea with a naval force, and fought against the crews of 7 ships, and took one of them, and put to flight the others.”
Towards the end of that year,* the “large army” which had been based at Cambridge: “stole away from the West Saxon army into Wareham [in Dorset] ....
Æthelweard (IV, 3) seems to indicate that they joined forces with a “western army” at Wareham: “and the greater part of that province was ravaged by them.”*
.... and after that [in 876] the king made peace with the army ....
Æthelweard: “the king made a treaty of peace with them, and gave them money at the same time.”
.... and they gave to the king as hostages those who were most honourable in the army, and they swore oaths to him on the holy ring,* which they before would not do to any nation, that they would speedily depart from his kingdom; and notwithstanding this, the mounted body stole away from the army by night to Exeter.+”  The story continues in the next annal: “the army came to Exeter from Wareham; and the ship-army sailed west about;* and then a great storm met them at sea, and there perished 120 ships at Swanage. And King Alfred with his force rode after the mounted army as far as Exeter, but could not overtake them before they were in the fastness, where they could not be come at.* And they there gave him as many hostages as he would have, and swore great oaths, and then held good peace. And then in harvest-time [of 877] the army went into the Mercians' land, and divided some of it, and gave some to Ceolwulf.+”  Æthelweard (IV, 3) says: “they ravaged the kingdom of the Mercians, drove away the natives everywhere, and with one involved movement encamped in the town called Gloucester.”
Just a few months later, however, at the beginning of 878: “in midwinter, after Twelfth Night”, says the ‘Chronicle’: “the army stole itself away [from Gloucester] to Chippenham, and harried the West Saxons' land, and settled there, and drove many of the people over sea, and of the remainder the greater portion they harried, and the people submitted to them, save the king Alfred, and he, with a little band, withdrew to the woods and moor-fastnesses.+”  Asser (§52) notes that Chippenham, in northern Wiltshire, was: “a royal vill”, so it seems as though the Danes (who, it later becomes clear, were led by King Guthrum) had hoped to capture Alfred there.*
It seems likely that the ealdorman of Wiltshire capitulated to the Danes. A later charter (S362, of 901) notes that an Ealdorman Wulfhere forfeited an estate in Wiltshire for treasonous conduct: “he deserted without permission both his lord King Alfred and his country in spite of the oath which he had sworn to the king and all his leading men”.
Alfred had become a fugitive in his own kingdom. Asser (§53) takes up the story: “King Alfred, with a few of his nobles, and certain soldiers and vassals, was leading in great tribulation an unquiet life among the woodlands and swamps of Somersetshire ....
Æthelweard (IV, 3) records that: “Æthelnoth, the ealdorman of Somerset, also lurked in a certain wood with a small force.”
.... for he had nothing that he needed except what by frequent sallies he could forage openly or stealthily from the heathen or from the Christians who had submitted to the rule of the heathen.”
At this point, Archbishop Matthew Parker inserted the famous tale of ‘Alfred and the cakes’, which he took from the ‘Annals of St Neots’, into Asser's narrative: “as we read in the ‘Life of St Neot’, he [Alfred] was long concealed at the house of one of his cowherds.  But it happened on a certain day, that the countrywoman, wife of the cowherd, was preparing some loaves to bake, and the king, sitting at the hearth, made ready his bow and arrows and other warlike instruments. The unlucky woman espying the cakes burning at the fire, ran up to remove them, and rebuking the brave king, exclaimed:
“Ca'sn thee mind the ke-aks, man, an' doossen zee 'em burn?
I'm boun thee's eat 'em vast enough, az zoon az 'tiz the turn.”*
The blundering woman little thought that it was King Alfred, who had fought so many battles against the pagans, and gained so many victories over them.  But the Almighty not only granted to the same glorious king victories over his enemies, but also permitted him to be harassed by them, to be sunk down by adversities, and depressed by the low estate of his followers, to the end that he might learn that there is one Lord of all things, to whom every knee doth bow, and in whose hand are the hearts of kings; who puts down the mighty from their seat and exalteth the humble; who suffers his servants when they are elevated at the summit of prosperity to be touched by the rod of adversity, that in their humility they may not despair of God's mercy, and in their prosperity they may not boast of their honours, but may also know, to whom they owe all the things which they possess.  We may believe that the calamity was brought upon the king aforesaid, because, in the beginning of his reign, when he was a youth, and influenced by youthful feelings, he would not listen to the petitions which his subjects made to him for help in their necessities, or for relief from those who oppressed them; but he repulsed them from him, and paid no heed to their requests. This particular gave much annoyance to the holy man St Neot, who was his relation, and often foretold to him, in the spirit of prophecy, that he would suffer great adversity on this account; but Alfred neither attended to the reproof of the man of God, nor listened to his true prediction. Wherefore, seeing that a man's sins must be corrected either in this world or the next, the true and righteous Judge was willing that his sin should not go unpunished in this world, to the end that he might spare him in the world to come. From this cause, therefore, the aforesaid Alfred often fell into such great misery, that sometimes none of his subjects knew where he was or what had become of him.”
Asser (§§54–56): “In that same year [878] the brother of Ivar and Halfdan,* with twenty-three ships, came, after many massacres of the Christians, from the country of Demetia [i.e. Dyfed, south-west Wales], where he had wintered, and sailed to Devon, where with one-thousand-and-two-hundred others he met with a miserable death, being slain, while committing his misdeeds, by the king's thegns, before the stronghold of Cynuit [Countisbury], in which many of the king's thegns, with their followers, had shut themselves up for safety. The heathen, seeing that the stronghold was unprepared and altogether unfortified, except that it merely had ramparts after our manner, determined not to assault it, because that place is rendered secure by its position on all sides except the eastern, as I myself have seen, but began to besiege it, thinking that those men would soon surrender from famine, thirst, and the blockade, since there is no water close to the fortress. But the result did not fall out as they expected; for the Christians, before they began at all to suffer from such want, being inspired by Heaven, and judging it much better to gain either victory or death, sallied out suddenly upon the heathen at daybreak, and from the first cut them down in great numbers, slaying also their king, so that few escaped to their ships....
Asser appears to have misread the number of dead. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ says that Ivar and Halfdan's brother: “was slain, and 800 hundred men with him, and 40 men of his army.”  It is not clear what distinguished the “40 men of his army” – in fact, Manuscripts B and C have 60 (lx) in place of 40 (xl) – from the other 800.* Manuscripts B, C, D and E continue: “And there was the standard taken which they call the Raven.”  According to Æthelweard (IV, 3), the unnamed brother of Ivar and Halfdan had thirty ships. He says it was Odda, ealdorman of Devon, who was besieged, but, unaccountably, he makes the Vikings the victors of the encounter. Geffrei Gaimar identifies Ivar and Halfdan's brother as Ubba:
A brother of Ivar and Halfdan
Was killed in Penwood.
Ubba was his name, an evil doer.
Over him the Danes made
A great mound, when they found him.
They called it Ubbelawe.
The mound is in Devonshire.
There was great slaughter of folk.
Eight hundred and forty died there.
What matter? felons, perjurers, they were.
Taken was the war flag
Of Ubba, called the Raven.” (lines 3147–3158)
Matthew Parker inserted a piece lifted from the ‘Annals of St Neots’ into Asser's narrative: “and there they [the West Saxons] gained a very large booty, and amongst other things the standard called Raven; for they say that the three sisters of Ivar and Ubba, daughters of Lothbroc, wove that flag and got it ready in one day. They say, moreover, that in every battle, wherever that flag went before them, if they were to gain the victory a live crow would appear flying on the middle of the flag; but if they were doomed to be defeated it would hang down motionless, and this was often proved to be so.”
.... The same year [878], after Easter, King Alfred, with a few men, made a stronghold in a place called Athelney, and from thence sallied with his vassals of Somerset to make frequent and unwearied assaults upon the heathen....
Later, Alfred had a monastery built at Athelney, and, from Asser's description (§92), it becomes apparent why Alfred had chosen the site as a base for his guerilla operations: “This is a place surrounded by impassable fens and waters on every hand, where no one can enter but by boats, or by a bridge laboriously constructed between two fortresses, at the western end of which bridge [at Lyng] was erected a strong citadel, of beautiful work, by command of the aforesaid king. In this monastery he collected monks of all kinds from every quarter, and there settled them.”
.... And again, the seventh week after Easter, he rode to Egbert's Stone [unidentified], which is in the eastern part of Selwood Forest (in Latin Sylva Magna [Great Forest], and in Welsh Coit Maur). Here he was met by all the neighbouring folk of Somersetshire and Wiltshire, and such of Hampshire as had not sailed beyond sea for fear of the heathen; and when they saw the king restored alive, as it were, after such great tribulation, they were filled, as was meet, with immeasurable joy, and encamped there for one night. At daybreak of the following morning, the king struck his camp, and came to Æglea [Iley Oak – now lost – near Warminster], where he encamped for one night.  The next morning at dawn he moved his standards to Edington [in Wiltshire], and there fought bravely and perseveringly by means of a close shield-wall against the whole army of the heathen, whom at length, with the divine help, he defeated with great slaughter, and pursued them flying to their stronghold [probably Chippenham]. Immediately he slew all the men and carried off all the horses and cattle that he could find without the stronghold, and thereupon pitched his camp, with all his army, before the gates of the heathen stronghold. And when he had remained there fourteen days, the heathen, terrified by hunger, cold, fear, and last of all by despair, begged for peace, engaging to give the king as many designated hostages as he pleased, and to receive none from him in return – in which manner they had never before made peace with any one....
According to one legend, Alfred had been spurred to this decisive victory over the Danes by a vision of, the Northumbrian saint, St Cuthbert.* In another yarn, before engaging with the Danes at Edington, Alfred had infiltrated their camp disguised as a jester, and spent several days gathering intelligence.*
.... The king, hearing this embassage, of his own motion took pity upon them, and received from them the designated hostages, as many as he would. Thereupon the heathen swore, besides, that they would straightway leave his kingdom; and their king, Guthrum, promised to embrace Christianity, and receive baptism at King Alfred's hands – all of which articles he and his men fulfilled as they had promised. For after three weeks Guthrum, king of the heathen, with thirty men chosen from his army,* came to Alfred at a place called Aller, near Athelney, and there King Alfred, receiving him as a son by adoption, raised him up from the holy font of baptism. On the eighth day, at a royal vill named Wedmore, his chrism-loosing took place.* After his baptism he remained twelve days with the king, who, together with all his companions, gave him many rich gifts.”
In the autumn of 878 (therefore, s.a. 879 in the ‘Chronicle’), Guthrum's army: “went to Cirencester [in Mercian territory] from Chippenham, and sat there one year. And in that year a body of Vikings assembled, and sat down at Fulham on the Thames.”  Asser (§58) seems to imply that this new Viking band met up with Guthrum's army before settling down to overwinter at Fulham. If it was the intention of these two forces to mount a concerted attack on Wessex, it came to nought. A year later, i.e. in the autumn of 879, Guthrum's army: “went from Cirencester to East Anglia, and occupied and divided the land. And in the same year the army, which had before sat down at Fulham, went over sea to Ghent in the land of the Franks”.  Guthrum had taken the name Athelstan at his baptism. He ruled East Anglia, issuing coins under his Christian name.
In late-881 or 882 (s.a. 882): “King Alfred went out to sea with ships, and fought against four ship-crews of Danish men, and took two of the ships, and the men were slain that were therein;+ and two ships crews surrendered to him; and they were sorely fatigued and wounded before they surrendered.”  No chronicler provides any relevant information, but, according to a charter (S345), Alfred campaigned in the vicinity of Epsom, Surrey, in 882.
Meanwhile, the Viking army that had sailed from Fulham in autumn 879 was plaguing the Franks. In 884 it was at Amiens. Towards the end of that year, as Asser (§66) records: “the aforesaid army divided into two parts: one body of them went into East Frankland, and the other, coming to Britain, entered Kent, where they besieged a city called in Saxon Rochester, situated on the east bank of the river Medway. Before the gate of the town the heathen suddenly erected a strong fortress; but they were unable to take the city, because the citizens defended themselves bravely until King Alfred came up to help them with a large army. Then the heathen abandoned their fortress and all the horses which they had brought with them out of Frankland, and, leaving behind them in the fortress the greater part of their prisoners on the sudden arrival of the king, fled in haste to their ships; the Saxons immediately seized upon the prisoners and horses left by the heathen; and so the latter, compelled by dire necessity, returned the same summer to Frankland.”  In fact, this last statement is not quite correct. The version of the ‘Chronicle’ to which Asser had access clearly had a passage missing – as, indeed, do all the surviving ‘Chronicle’ manuscripts – which Æthelweard (IV, 3) has, albeit in his tortured Latin, preserved. It appears that only some of this Viking army returned to the Continent. The remainder came to terms with Alfred, but proceeded to break their word, and twice raided south of the Thames. They were helped by “the foul people who then held East Anglia”, i.e. Guthrum's people, and the combined forces set up a base at Benfleet in Essex. For unspecified reasons, there was a falling-out between the two factions, and at this point the remainder of the Viking army sailed for the Continent. Asser (§67) continues: “In that same year [i.e. in 885] Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons, shifted his fleet, full of fighting men, from Kent to East Anglia, for the sake of spoil.* No sooner had they arrived at the mouth of the river Stour than thirteen ships of the heathen met them, prepared for battle; a fierce naval combat ensued, and the heathen were all slain; all the ships, with all their money, were taken. After this, while the victorious royal fleet was reposing, the heathen who occupied East Anglia assembled their ships from every quarter, met the same royal fleet at sea in the mouth of the same river, and, after a naval engagement, gained the victory... [§72] In that same year also the army of heathen which dwelt in East Anglia disgracefully broke the peace which they had concluded with King Alfred.”
It will be recalled that previously, in “harvest time” 877: “the army went into the Mercians' land, and divided some of it, and gave some to Ceolwulf.”  It would appear that, roughly speaking, the Danes colonized the eastern half of Mercia, leaving the west to English rule. Numismatic evidence tends to suggest that the Mercian town of London remained in English hands – that coins in the names of both Ceolwulf, the Viking appointed English king of Mercia, and Alfred were minted there, and that Alfred's coins continued to be produced there after Ceolwulf's rule ended. Ceolwulf disappears from history in 877, but he is assigned a reign of five years in a Mercian regnal list from Worcester, by which token he ceased to rule in 879. His successor, the final name on the list, is Æthelred. When, however, this Æthelred eventually appears in the historical record – in a charter from Worcester dated 883 (S218) – he is ruling English Mercia not as a king, but as an ealdorman, with Alfred as his overlord. Æthelred, though, had greater status than an ordinary ealdorman. He is given various titles in different sources, even ‘king’ occasionally, but he is generally known by the description he receives in the, so-called, ‘Mercian Register’: Lord of the Mercians. Around the mid to late 880s, Æthelred married Alfred's daughter (his eldest child), Æthelflæd.* At any rate, according to some manuscripts of the ‘Chronicle’, it seems that, in 883, London had been occupied by a Viking force: “Marinus the pope [882–884] then sent lignum Domini [i.e. wood of Christ's cross] to King Alfred. And in the same year Sigehelm and Athelstan conveyed to Rome the alms which King Alfred had vowed to send thither,+ and also to India to St Thomas, and to St Bartholemew, when they sat down against [i.e. besieged] the army at London; and there, God be thanked, their prayer was very successful, after that vow.“*  In 885 the Viking force from the Continent was active in the vicinity of the Thames estuary, and in the next year, 886, all manuscripts of the ‘Chronicle’ report that: “King Alfred restored Lundenburh [i.e. the fortified Roman city of London]”.  Asser (§83) says: “Alfred, king of the Anglo-Saxons, after the burning of towns and the massacre of people, honourably restored the city of London and made it habitable”.*
A silver penny (18 mm dia. 1.54 g) of King Alfred (ÆLFRED REX), minted at London. It is known as a ‘London Monogram’ type from the design on the reverse, which represents the word LONDONIA. Mark Blackburn (‘The London Mint in the Reign of Alfred’, in ‘Kings, Currency, and Alliances: History and Coinage of Southern England in the Ninth Century’, 1998) writes: “The London Monogram type, formerly associated with the events of 886, now appears to have been struck ca 880, shortly after Ceolwulf II's demise.”
It has only recently been appreciated that the numismatic evidence suggests Alfred was already in control of London at this time. The traditional interpretation of the sparse documentary evidence sees Alfred liberating London from long-term Viking occupation in 886.*
The ‘Chronicle’ entry for 886 continues: “and all the English race turned to him [Alfred] that were not in the bondage of the Danish men; and he then committed the burh [i.e. London] to the keeping of the ealdorman Æthelred.”
Asser, himself a Welshman, reports that by about 885 the rulers of southern Wales had voluntarily submitted to Alfred's overlordship, and later (by 893) the rulers of northern Wales followed suit: “Nor was it in vain that they all gained the friendship of the king. For those who desired to augment their worldly power obtained power; those who desired money gained money; those who desired his friendship acquired his friendship; those who wished more than one secured more than one. But all of them had his love and guardianship and defence from every quarter, so far as the king, with all his men, could defend himself.” (§81).*  Asser dedicated his ‘Life’ of Alfred to Alfred himself, whom he titles: “king of the Anglo-Saxons, the worshipful and pious ruler of all Christians in the island of Britain”.
A ‘burh’ (from which the modern word ‘borough’) is simply a fortified site. It is evident that Alfred established a strategic network of burhs – some were adaptations of existing strongholds (as at London) and some were constructed from scratch – for the defence of Wessex. Alfred's network was augmented by his son, Edward, and a text (known as the ‘Burghal Hidage’) from the latter's reign – it is generally thought to date from c.914 – listing thirty-three burhs, and the resources allotted to maintain each, has survived. The garrison of a burh was calculated on the basis of the length of its defensive wall – each ‘pole’ (5½ yards) of wall was allocated four men.
Asser (§91) talks of Alfred's: “restoration of cities and towns, and of others which he built where none had been before ... royal halls and chambers, wonderfully erected of stone and wood at his command ... royal vills constructed of stones removed from their old site, and finely rebuilt by the king's command in more fitting places”.
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ notes, s.a. 887: “Ealdorman Æthelhelm conveyed the alms of the West Saxons and of King Alfred to Rome.”  Asser (§86) adds that Æthelhelm was ealdorman of Wiltshire – this is the last occasion that Asser makes use of the ‘Chronicle’.* In 888: “Ealdorman Beocca conveyed the alms of the West Saxons and of King Alfred to Rome.”  The next year, 889: “there was no journey to Rome, except that King Alfred sent two couriers with letters.”  And in 890: “Abbot Beornhelm conveyed the alms of the West Saxons and of King Alfred to Rome. And Guthrum, the northern king, died, whose baptismal name was Athelstan; he was King Alfred's godson, and he abode in East Anglia, and first settled that land.”  The text of a treaty made between Alfred and Guthrum, in which the border between their territories is defined, has survived.
In 891, Viking forces were roundly defeated by Arnulf, king of the East Franks, on the river Dijle, near Leuven (in modern Belgium). The beaten “great army” made its way to Boulogne, and the following year, 892, in a fleet of 250 (or thereabouts) ships, crossed the Channel, “with horses and all”, and landed in the mouth of the river Lympne (now the Rother): “The mouth is in the east of Kent, at the east end of the great wood which we call Andred [the Weald].+ The wood is in length, from east to west, one hundred and twenty miles long, or longer, and thirty miles broad. The river, of which we before spoke, flows out from the weald. On the river they pulled up their ships as far as the weald, 4 miles from the outward mouth, and there stormed a work [i.e. a fortification]: inside the fastness a few peasant men were stationed, and it was only half constructed.+
Alfred's biographer, Asser, writing in 893, points out the reluctance of some members of the West Saxon hierarchy to carry out Alfred's orders to build fortifications (burhs): “if, owing to the sluggishness of the people, these commands of the king were either not fulfilled, or were begun late at the moment of necessity, and so, because they were not carried through, did not redound to the advantage of those who put them in execution – take as an example the fortresses which he ordered, but which are not yet begun or, begun late, have not yet been completely finished – when hostile forces have made invasions by sea, or land, or both, then those who had set themselves against the imperial orders have been put to shame and overwhelmed with vain repentance.” (§91).
This “great army” built a fortification at Appledore. Meanwhile, a smaller army, led by a Viking of some repute called Hæsten, had sailed, in 80 ships, from the Continent into the Thames estuary, and built a fortification at Milton Regis (Middletune).MAP
893 *
Alfred realized that these two newly arrived armies might get support from the Danes already living in England. Accordingly, he secured the word of the Northumbrian Danes and the East Anglian Danes – the East Anglians even gave 6 hostages – that they would not get involved. They promptly broke their word, however, and joined in the newcomers' raiding activities. Alfred established a camp between the two fortifications – his patrols prevented any large scale Viking forays.
The account provided by the ‘Chronicle’ is rather confusing,* but it was apparently at this stage that an accommodation was reached between Alfred and Hæsten. As a part of the settlement, Alfred became godfather of one of Hæsten's sons, and Ealdorman Æthelred, lord of the Mercians, godfather of the other. Hæsten, though, was not acting in good faith. He and his men crossed the Thames, constructed a fortification at Benfleet in Essex,MAP and commenced marauding: “he harried that part of his [Alfred's] realm which Æthelred, his son's godfather, had to defend”.
According to Æthelweard (IV,3), it was after Easter (Easter fell on the 8th of April in 893) that the large army managed to break-out from their fortress at Appledore – heading westwards through the Weald, using the dense undergrowth as cover – “and gradually wasted the adjacent provinces, that is Hampshire and Berkshire.”  Their ships, meanwhile, had set sail for Essex. The ‘Chronicle’ takes up the story: “They [the large army] had then taken great booty, and would convey it northwards over the Thames into Essex towards the ships. The [English] force ....
Led by (says Æthelweard) Alfred's son, Edward.
.... then rode before them, and fought against them at Farnham [in Surrey],MAP and put the army to flight, and rescued the booty; and they [the Vikings] fled over the Thames without any ford; then up by the Colne to an island.”  Æthelweard gives the name of the island: “Thorney”. It is probably to be identified with the hamlet of that name near Iver, Buckinghamshire.MAP
The English forces besieged the Viking army on the island. After a time, however, the English troops had: “stayed their appointed time [i.e. completed their turn of duty] and consumed their provisions”.  Alfred, with fresh troops, was on his way to relieve them, so they departed. The Vikings, though, were unable to turn this to advantage, and escape, since their (unnamed) king was wounded.
For the most part, Alfred's forces were not full-time professional fighting men. Generally, the ‘fyrd’, as an English army was called, was mustered from the locality to meet an immediate threat, and then stood down when the crisis had passed. Earlier in the annal, in a short aside, the ‘Chronicle’ had described, though none too clearly, how Alfred organized his army: “The king had divided his force into two, so that they were constantly half at home, half abroad, besides those men that held the burhs.”  This is usually (as indicated by the above incident at Thorney) interpreted as meaning that Alfred instigated a shift system, whereby half the men eligible for service in the fyrd spent a specified period “abroad”, i.e. in the field, and then spent a similar period “at home”, i.e. about their usual everyday business, whilst the other half were on duty.* This would mean that Alfred always had forces “abroad” on active service, whilst, at the same time, the men “at home” could maintain agricultural production and defend property and families.
Meanwhile, the Danes of Northumbria and East Anglia had collected: “some hundred ships, and went south about; and with some forty ships went north about; and besieged a work in Devonshire by the north sea [i.e. the Bristol Channel];+ and those who went south about besieged Exeter.”MAP  As soon as news reached Alfred, he and his main force headed for Exeter, whilst a small detachment, under Edward, carried on to Thorney. Æthelweard says that Edward was joined by Æthelred, lord of the Mercians – in fact, Æthelweard calls him King Æthelred – who brought reinforcements from London.MAP A deal was negotiated. The Vikings gave hostages, and headed eastwards, to their ships, which, according to Æthelweard, were at Mersea,MAP an island off the Essex coast.*
Assuming Æthelweard is correct when he says, in his brisk version of events, that the Vikings from Thorney met their ships at Mersea, then, presumably, they sailed south to join Hæsten's army at Benfleet, since that is where they are next encountered in the long and convoluted account presented by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. It would appear that the English force from Thorney also travelled eastwards, and, having received reinforcements at London and “from the west”, they marched on Benfleet. At the time, Hæsten and his small army had “gone out harrying”, so only the “great army”, seemingly lately arrived from Mersea, was in residence. The English: “put the army to flight, and stormed the work, and took all that there was within, as well money, as women and children, and brought all to London; and all the ships they either broke in pieces, or burned, or brought to London, or to Rochester”.MAP  Hæsten's wife and two sons were captured and taken to Alfred. Alfred, however, released them because he had earlier stood as godfather to one of the boys, and Æthelred to the other.
The defeated army apparently regrouped and joined-up with Hæsten's army: “at Shoebury in Essex,MAP and there wrought a work, [and] they then went both together up along the Thames, and a great increase came to them, both from the East Angles and the Northumbrians. They then went up along the Thames, until they reached the Severn, then up along the Severn.+ Then the ealdorman Æthelred, and the ealdorman Æthelhelm [of Wiltshire], and the ealdorman Æthelnoth [of Somerset], and the king's thegns, who were then at home in the works, gathered together from every town east of the Parret, as well west and east of Selwood, as also north of the Thames and west of the Severn, and also some part of the Welsh race. When they were all gathered together, they followed after the army to Buttington on the banks of the Severn,MAP and there beset them on every side in a fastness.”
In Æthelweard's telling (IV, 3), after the Vikings from Thorney are reunited with their ships at Mersea they disappear from the story. There is no mention of the English attack on Benfleet, nor the construction of the stronghold at Shoebury: “Hæsten made a rush with a large force from Benfleet, and ravaged savagely through all the lands of the Mercians, until he and his men reached the borders of the Welsh; the army stationed then in the east of the country gave them support, and the Northumbrian one similarly. The famous Ealdorman Æthelhelm made open preparation with a cavalry force, and gave pursuit together with the western English army under the generalship of Æthelnoth. And King [sic] Æthelred of the Mercians was afterwards present with them, being at hand with a large army.”
During this whole period, Alfred was in Devon. No mention is made of the Viking band who had besieged an unnamed burh on the Bristol Channel. The group besieging Exeter had taken to their ships on Alfred's arrival and were keeping him busy.
Asser wrote his biography of Alfred in 893. He notes (§91) that: “from the twentieth year of his age to the present year, which is his forty-fifth, he has been constantly afflicted with most severe attacks of an unknown disease, so that there is not a single hour in which he is not either suffering from that malady, or nigh to despair by reason of the gloom which is occasioned by his fear of it.”-
At Buttington [near Welshpool],* meanwhile, the Viking forces were pinned-down for “many weeks” in their stronghold, which, it is evident, was an island in the Severn: “they were distressed for want of food, and had eaten a great part of their horses, and the others had died of hunger”.  Eventually, they broke-out, “on the east side of the river”, and a fierce battle took place. Many Danes were killed. Æthelweard (IV, 3) says: “the young Englishmen on that occasion kept possession of the field of victory in the end. These events, which occurred at Buttington, are vaunted by aged men. Furthermore, their effort was evidently an ineffective one for the Danes. They confirmed peace again, they did not refuse hostages, they promised to leave that region.”  The surviving Danes returned to Essex. The ‘Chronicle’ reports: “When they came into Essex to their work and to their ships ....
It might be supposed that “their work” refers to the fortification at Shoebury, but Æthelweard, who apparently knows nothing of Shoebury, seems to imply that it was to Benfleet that the Danes retreated, and that they shared out their booty there. He also says that the rampart of the fortress at Benfleet fell-down. He then adds: “When these events had so happened, Sigeferth the pirate arrived from the land of the Northumbrians with a large fleet, ravaged twice along the coast [of Wessex?] on that one expedition, and afterwards sailed back to his own land.”
.... the remnant gathered again a great army from the East Angles and from the Northumbrians, before winter, and committed their wives and their ships and their chattels to the East Angles, and went at one stretch, by day and by night, until they arrived at a desolated city in the Wirral, which is called Legaceaster [Chester].”MAP  It is possible that Hæsten led this dash to the, apparently deserted, Roman fortified town of Chester, but he has now disappeared from the record. Whoever their leader was, by the time English forces caught up with them, the Danes were safely ensconced inside Chester's walls, so: “they beset the work from without for two days, and took all the cattle which was there without, and slew the men that they might intercept outside the work, and burned all the corn, and with their horses consumed it on every plain.”
894
The English army's scorched-earth policy forced the “great army” to abandon Chester. The Danes crossed into Wales. The ‘Chronicle’ loses sight of them, but an entry in the ‘Annales Cambriae’ might suggest that they travelled the length of the country: “The Northmen came and laid waste Lloegr [England] and Bycheiniog and Gwent and Gwynllwg [all in the south eastern quarter of Wales].”
Æthelweard's meaning is, unfortunately, not at all clear, but it would appear that the Northumbrian Danes were ravaging the area of Mercia corresponding to Rutland. Seemingly, Æthelnoth, ealdorman of Somerset, went to York and “contacted the enemy”, but whether his mission was diplomacy or combat is impossible to conclude with any degree of certainty.
Later in the year, the Danes of the “great army” reappear on the English radar: “When they had again wended out of Wales with the booty which they had there taken, then they went over the land of Northumbria and East Anglia, so that the English army could not reach them, until they came into the eastward part of the land of Essex, to an island that is out in the sea, which is called Mersea.MAP And when the army that had beset Exeter again turned homewards, they harried in Sussex near Chichester,MAP and the townspeople put them to flight, and slew many hundreds of them, and took some of their ships. Then, in the same year, in early winter, the Danish, who abode in Mersea, pulled their ships up the Thames, and then up the Lea.”MAP  At a place on the Lea: “20 miles above London” (possibly Hertford),MAP the Danes built a fortress.*
895
The English appear to have tolerated the Danes' presence on the Lea until the summer of 895, when a force, seemingly comprising “a great number” of the London garrison* and also some “other folk”, attacked their fortress. The English: “were there put to flight, and some four king's thegns slain.”  The immediate danger in Devon having passed, Alfred was free to take a personal interest in the situation: “during the harvest, the king encamped in the neighbourhood of the burh [London], while the people reaped their corn, so that the Danish might not deprive them of the crop. Then, one day the king rode up by the river, and observed where the river might be obstructed, so that they [the Danes] might not bring out their ships.”  Work began – fortifications were being built on each side of the Lea. When the Danes realized their ships were going to be trapped, they decided to abandon them. Having sent their womenfolk to safety in East Anglia, they broke-out from their stronghold and made an overland dash to Bridgnorth, on the Severn,MAP where they built another fortress. English forces had chased after them, but what they accomplished is not recorded. Meanwhile: “the men of London brought away the ships, and those which they could not bring off they broke up, and those that were serviceable they brought into London.”
896
The Danes, “the army”, spent the winter of 895/6 and spring 896 at Bridgnorth. There is no record of their activities.
Given the proximity of Bridgnorth to south-eastern Wales, it is possible that the raids on Bycheiniog, Gwent and Gwynllwg, noted by the ‘Annales Cambriae’, occurred during this period.
In the summer of 896: “the army went, some to East Anglia, some to Northumbria; and they who were moneyless got themselves ships, and went south over sea to the Seine. Thanks be to God, the army had not utterly broken up the English race; but they were much more broken, in those three years, by a mortality of cattle and of men; most of all in that many of the king's most excellent thegns that were in the land died in those three years: of these one was Swithwulf, bishop of Rochester, and Ceolmund, ealdorman of Kent, and Beorhtwulf, ealdorman of Essex, and Wulfred, ealdorman of Hampshire, and Ealhheard, bishop of Dorchester, and Eadwulf, a king's thegn in Sussex, and Beornwulf, town-reeve at Winchester, and Ecgwulf, the king's horse-thegn, and many also besides these, although I have named the most eminent.”+
 
The Viking armies that had rampaged through south-Humbrian England (and also Wales) since 892 dispersed in the summer of 896, but the south coast of Wessex continued to be harassed by pirates from Northumbria and East Anglia. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reports that Alfred ordered the construction of some new ships: “which were full nigh twice as long as the others; some had 60 oars, some more; they were both swifter and steadier, and also higher than the others; they were shapen neither as the Frisian nor as the Danish, but as it seemed to himself that they might be most useful.”  Nine of Alfred's new ships were sent after six Viking ships which were raiding the south coast. Alfred's ships trapped the Vikings in an estuary. Three of the Viking vessels were beached whilst their occupants were ashore. Alfred's ships engaged the other three, capturing two at the river-mouth, and killing the occupants. The third ship, however, managed to escape (though all but five of the men aboard had been killed) because the large English ships had run aground. As the tide retreated, three of the English ships were left high and dry on the same side of the river as the beached Viking ships, whilst the rest were stranded on the other side. The Danes from the three Viking ships, attacked Alfred's three isolated vessels. In the ensuing battle, Alfred's force, which comprised both Englishmen and Frisians,* lost 62 men, whilst 120 Danes were killed. As the tide came in, the Danes managed to get their ships afloat first, and they rowed out to sea, but: “they were then so damaged that they could not row round the South Saxons' land, for there the sea cast two of them on land, and the men were led to the king at Winchester, and he commanded them to be there hanged; and the men who were in the one ship [that didn't get cast ashore] came to East Anglia sorely wounded. In the same summer [896] no less than 20 ships, with men and everything, perished on the south coast.”
Æthelweard (IV, 3) talks of “a disturbance on a very great scale”, that apparently took place in 899, seemingly among the English who lived in Danish Northumbria (i.e. Yorkshire) – no more is known. Æthelweard continues: “Then in the same year [899], there passed from the world Alfred, king of the Saxons, unshakable pillar of the people of the west, a man full of justice, active in war, learned in speech, steeped in sacred literature above all things ... The king died on the seventh day before the festival of All Saints [25th October], and his body rests in peace in the city of Winchester. Only say, reader, ‘Saviour Christ, save his soul’.”  In all manuscripts of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, Alfred's death is given as 26th October (i.e. six days before All Saints), and this is the accepted date. However, all manuscripts of the ‘Chronicle’ also place Alfred's death s.a. 901, but it is now well established that 899 is the correct year.* The ‘Chronicle’ simply states that Alfred: “was king over all the English race, except the part that was under the dominion of the Danes ... And then Edward his son succeeded to the kingdom.”*
Son of Alfred.
Edward succeeded his father, Alfred, who died on the 26th of October 899, but he immediately had to deal with a challenge from his cousin Æthelwold (son of Alfred's brother and predecessor, Æthelred). The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reports:* “Æthelwold ætheling, son of his paternal uncle, forcibly entered the vill at Wimborne and that at Twinham [now Christchurch] against the will of the king and his witan.+ Then the king rode with a force, until he encamped at Badbury, near Wimborne; and Æthelwold sat within the vill with the men who submitted to him; and had obstructed all the entrances to him, and had said that he would one or other, either there live or there lie [i.e. lie dead]. Then, in the meanwhile, the ætheling rode away by night, and sought the army [i.e. the Danes] in Northumbria, and they received him for their king and submitted to him.+ They [Edward's men] then beset the woman whom he [Æthelwold] had before taken without the king's leave, and against the bishops' ordinance; because she had previously been hallowed a nun.”*
In the meantime, Æthelweard notes (IV, 4) that Edward: “was crowned with the royal crown on Whitsunday [8th June 900], having been elected by the chief men”.  A 12th century chronicler, Ralph de Diceto (dean of St Paul's, d.1199/1200) claims that the coronation took place at Kingston upon Thames.
In the autumn of 901: “Æthelwold came hither over the sea with the fleet that he was able to get, and he was submitted to in Essex.+
A year later: “Æthelwold led the army [i.e. the Danes] in East Anglia to a violation of the peace, so that they harried over all the Mercians' land, until they came to Cricklade, and there they went over the Thames, and took, both in Braydon and thereabout, all that they could carry off, and then again went homewards. Then King Edward went after them as speedily as he could gather his force, and harried all their land between the dykes and the Wusan, all as far north as the fens....
The dykes being Devil's Dyke and Fleam Dyke in Cambridgeshire. The Wusan is probably the Wissey, but possibly the Ouse.
.... When he again would withdraw thence, he commanded it to be proclaimed over all the force, that they should all withdraw together; then the Kentish men remained there behind against his command, although he had sent 7 messengers to them. Then the army [i.e. the Danes] there surrounded them, and they there fought ... there was a great slaughter made on either hand; and of the Danish there were more slain, though they held possession of the place of carnage.”  Amongst the dead were Eohric, Danish king of East Anglia, and Æthelwold.*  This battle is mentioned in the first entry, dated 902, of the, so-called, ‘Mercian Register’: “the fight at the Holme [unidentified] between the Kentish men and the Danish.”  Æthelweard also indicates that the battle took place in 902: “When the customary passage of the year had been twice completed [since the year 900], hostilities soon developed at the Holme against the eastern enemy five days after the feast of the Holy Mother.”  Presumably, by “the feast of the Holy Mother”, Æthelweard means the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (8th December), which dates the battle to the 13th of December 902.*
Two charters of Edward's son Athelstan, dated 926 (S396 and S397), refer to parcels of land bought from the Danes, by Englishmen, on the instructions of Edward and, his brother-in-law, Æthelred, lord of the Mercians. (One parcel is in Bedfordshire and the other in Derbyshire.) It seems unlikely that these were isolated transactions, so, maybe, there was a policy to infiltrate Danish held territory on a large scale. They also show that not all contact between Dane and Englishman was hostile.MAP
An entry in Manuscript E of the ‘Chronicle’ notes that, in 906: “King Edward, of necessity, concluded a peace both with the East Angles' army and with the Northumbrians.”  Symeon of Durham (‘HR’, Chronicle One) makes a statement to the same effect under the same year. The phrase “of necessity” implies that the Danes' raiding activities had obliged Edward to buy peace. The other ‘Chronicle’ manuscripts (not F) also record a treaty s.a. 906 – presumably the same – but give no such indication, saying, that: “peace was concluded at Yttingaford [a crossing of the River Ouzel, near Leighton Buzzard], as King Edward dictated, both with the East Angles and with the Northumbrians.”
A brief note in the ‘Mercian Register’, s.a. 907, reports that: “Chester [i.e. the derelict, walled, Roman city] was renovated.”  A story told in the ‘Three Fragments’, an Irish source, suggests that this refortification was necessitated by the arrival of large numbers of Hiberno-Norse Vikings in the Wirral-.  According to the ‘Three Fragments’, Ealdorman Æthelred, who ruled English Mercia under Edward – Æthelred is referred to as “lord of the Mercians” in the ‘Mercian Register’ – was, by this time, incapacitated by the illness which would eventually kill him, and his wife, Æthelflæd, Edward's sister, was holding the reins of government.
In 909: “King Edward sent a force both from the West Saxons and from the Mercians; and they made a very great ravage on the north army [i.e. the Northumbrian Danes], both in men and in every kind of cattle, and slew many of the Danish men; and were five weeks therein.”  The Danes were apparently compelled to agree terms, but the following year, 910, they retaliated, as Æthelweard (IV, 4) reports: “the barbarians broke the peace with King Edward, and with Æthelred, who then ruled the Northumbrian and Mercian areas. The fields of the Mercians were ravaged on all sides by the throng we spoke about, and deeply, as far as the streams of the Avon, where the boundary of the West Saxons and Mercians begins. Then they were transported across the river Severn into the west country, and there they ravaged great ravagings....
The ‘Chronicle’ says that the Northumbrian Danes felt secure in raiding so far from their home because they believed most of Edward's forces were on board “some hundred ships” off the south coast, headed to Kent where Edward was waiting for them. This proved to be a serious misjudgement on the Danes' part.
.... But when rejoicing in rich spoil they returned towards home, they were still engaged in crossing to the east side of the river Severn over a pons to give the Latin spelling, which is called Cant-bricge [presumably Cwatbrycge is meant, now Bridgnorth, Shropshire] by the common people. Suddenly squadrons of both Mercians and West Saxons, having formed battle-order, moved against the opposing force. They joined battle without protracted delay on the field of Wednesfield; the English enjoyed the blessing of victory; the army of the Danes fled, overcome by armed force....
The ‘Chronicle’ places this battle at Tettenhall, some three miles west of Wednesfield (Woden's field) – both locations are now suburbs of Wolverhampton – and it is as the ‘battle of Tettenhall’ that the engagement is usually known.
.... These events are recounted as done on the fifth day of the month of August. There fell three of their kings in that same ‘storm’ (or ‘battle’ would be the right thing to say), that is to say Halfdan and Eowils, and Ivar also hastened to the hall of the infernal one, and so did senior chiefs of theirs, both earls and other noblemen.”*  The English victory at Tettenhall – “many thousands” of Danes were killed there according to the ‘Chronicle’ – turned out to be a knockout blow from which the Northumbrian Danes never fully recovered.
Following its notice of the battle of Tettenhall, the ‘Mercian Register’ mentions: “And in the same year [910] Æthelflæd built the burh at Bremesbyrig [possibly Bromesberrow, near Ledbury, Herefordshire].”  The next year, 911, Æthelflæd's husband, Æthelred, lord of the Mercians, died. Æthelflæd, stepped into his shoes, and, as ‘lady of the Mercians’, she proved to be a formidable leader. Her contribution to the success of Edward's campaigns against the Danes of south-Humbrian England is ignored in the main entries of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, but her exploits are briskly catalogued in the ‘Mercian Register’.
The ‘Chronicle’ reports that, immediately following Æthelred's death,* Edward took over control of “London and Oxford and all the lands which thereto belonged”, which had been in Æthelred's jurisdiction, and then: “about Martinmas [11th November 911], King Edward commanded the north burh to be built at Hertford, between the Maran, and the Beane, and the Lea. And then, the summer after that [i.e. of 912], between the Rogation days and Midsummer ....
The Rogation days, or Gang days, are the three days preceding Ascension Day, which fell on 21st May in 912. Midsummer is 24th June.
.... King Edward went with some of his force to Maldon in Essex, and there encamped, while the burh at Witham was being wrought; and a good deal of the folk submitted to him, who were before under the power of the Danish men. And some of his force the while wrought the burh at Hertford on the south side of the Lea.”*  The ‘Mercian Register’ entry for 912, meanwhile, records that: “In this year Æthelflæd, lady of the Mercians, came to Scergeat [unidentified], on the holy eve of the Invention of the Holy Cross [i.e. on 2nd May], and there built the burh; and in the same year that at Bridgnorth.”
In 913: “the army [i.e. the Danes] rode out after Easter from Northampton and from Leicester, and broke the peace, and slew many men at Hook Norton and thereabouts. And then, very soon after that, when the one [band of Danes] came home, then they [the Danes] raised another troop, which rode out against Luton; and then were the country people aware of them, and fought against them and put them to full flight, and rescued all that they had taken, and also a great portion of their horses and their weapons.”  The ‘Mercian Register’, s.a 913: “In this year, God granting, Æthelflæd, lady of the Mercians, went with all the Mercians to Tamworth, and built the burh there, in the early summer; and before the following Lammas [1st August], that at Stafford.”
The ‘Chronicle’ reports that in 914: “there came a great naval force over hither from the south, from Brittany, and with it two earls, Ohtor and Hroald, and went west about until they arrived in the mouth of the Severn; and they harried on the Welsh everywhere by the sea, where it pleased them; and took Bishop Cameleac [Cyfeilliog, bishop of Llandaff] in Archenfield [now south-western Herefordshire], and led him with them to the ships; and then King Edward afterwards ransomed him with 40 pounds. Then after that, all the army landed, and would still go to harry towards Archenfield. Then met them the men of Hereford and of Gloucester, and of the nearest burhs, and fought against them, and put them to flight, and slew the earl Hroald, and the brother of Ohtor the other earl, and many of the army, and drove them into an inclosure, and there beset them from without, until they gave them hostages, that they would depart from King Edward's dominion. And the king had contrived so that his force sat opposite to them on the south side of the mouth of the Severn, from the west, from Cornwall, east as far as the mouth of the Avon, so that they durst not anywhere seek the land on that side. Then, nevertheless, they stole away by night, on some two occasions, on one occasion, up to the east of Watchet, and on another occasion, to Porlock. Then they were beaten on both occasions, so that few of them came away, save those only who there swam out to the ships; and these seated themselves out on the island of Flat Holm, until the time that they were greatly destitute of food; and many men perished from hunger, because they could not obtain any food. They then went to Dyfed, and then out to Ireland; and this was in autumn. And then after that, in the same year, before Martinmas [11th November], King Edward went with his force to Buckingham, and sat there four weeks, and wrought both the burhs on each side of the river, before he went thence. And Earl Thurcytel sought him for his lord, and all the holds, and almost all the chief men belonging to Bedford, and also many of those belonging to Northampton.”  Meanwhile, as recorded by the ‘Mercian Register’, Æthelflæd built strongholds, i.e. burhs, at: “Eddisbury [an Iron Age Hillfort in Cheshire], in the early summer; and afterwards, in the same year [i.e. 914], towards the end of autumn, that at Warwick.”
The ‘Chronicle’ reports that in 915:“King Edward went with an army to Bedford, before Martinmas, and gained the burh [i.e. occupied the Danish stronghold]; and almost all the garrison who had previously dwelt there turned to him, and he remained there four weeks, and commanded the burh on the south side of the river to be built, before he went thence.”  Whilst the ‘Mercian Register’ notes that Æthelflæd built three burhs in 915: “after Midwinter, that at Chirbury [in Shropshire] and that at Weardbyrig [unidentified]; and that same year, before Midwinter, that at Runcorn.”
In 916: “before Midsummer [24th June], King Edward went to Maldon, and built and established the burh, ere he went thence.”  The same year, Earl Thurcytel, erstwhile commander of the Bedford Danes: “went over sea to the land of the Franks, with the men who would follow him, with the peace and support of King Edward.”  The ‘Mercian Register’ reports how, three days after the killing of an Abbot Egbert, on 16th June 916, presumably by the Welsh, the redoubtable Æthelflæd despatched a force into Wales which took captive the wife of the king of Brycheiniog.
In 917, Edward, with Æthelflæd's support, launched an all-out offensive against the south-Humbrian Danes: “before Easter [13th April], King Edward gave orders to proceed to Towcester, and build the burh. And then again, after that, in the same year, in the Rogation days [19th, 20th and 21st May], he commanded the burh at Wigingamere [unidentified] to be built. In the same summer, betwixt Lammas and Midsummer,* the army [i.e. the Danes] broke the peace from Northampton and from Leicester, and north from thence, and went to Towcester, and fought against the burh a whole day, and thought that they should take it by storm; but, nevertheless, the people who were within defended it, until a greater force arrived; and they [the Danes] then left the burh, and went away. And then again, very soon after that, they again went out with a predatory band by night, and came upon men unprepared, and took no little, both in men and in cattle, betwixt Bernwood Forest and Aylesbury. At the same time, the army from Huntingdon, and from the East Angles, went and wrought the work at Tempsford, and inhabited it and built it, and forsook the other at Huntingdon; and thought that from thence they could, by warfare and hostility, again obtain more of the land. And they went until they arrived at Bedford; and then the men who were there within went out against them, and fought with them, and put them to flight, and slew a good part of them. Then again, after that, a great army was gathered from East Anglia and from the land of Mercia,* and went to the burh at Wigingamere, and beset it round about, and fought against it far in the day, and took the cattle about it; and, nevertheless, the men defended the burh who were therein; and then they [the Danes] left the burh and went away....
The ‘Mercian Register’: “Æthelflæd, lady of the Mercians, God aiding her, before Lammas [1st August], got possession of the burh which is called Derby, with all that belonged thereto; and there also were slain four of her thegns, within the gates, whose loss was a great sorrow to her.”
.... Then, after that, in the same summer, a great body of people assembled in King Edward's dominion, from the nearest burhs, who could then go, and went to Tempsford [the newly constructed Danish stronghold], and beset the burh, and fought against it until they took it by storm, and slew the king [of East Anglia]*, and Earl Toglos, and Earl Manna his son, and his brother, and all those who were there within and would defend themselves, and took the others, and all that was therein. Then, very shortly after that, a great body of [English] people assembled in autumn, as well from Kent as from Surrey and from Essex, and everywhere from the nearest burhs, and went to Colchester, and beset the burh, and fought against it until they reduced it, and slew all the people, and took all that was there within, except the men who fled away over the wall. Then, after that, yet in the same autumn, a great army assembled from East Anglia, both of the local army and of the Vikings whom they had allured to their aid, and thought that they might avenge their injuries. And they went to Maldon, and beset the burh, and fought against it, until there came greater aid to the townspeople from without; and the army then abandoned the burh and departed. And then the men from the burh went out after them, and also those who had come to their aid from without, and put the army to flight, and slew many hundreds of them, both of the ship-men and of the others. Then, very soon after this, in the same autumn, King Edward, with a force of West Saxons, went to Passenham, and sat there while they surrounded the burh at Towcester with a stone wall. And Earl Thurferth, and the holds, and all the army which belonged to Northampton, north as far as the Welland, submitted to him, and sought him for their lord and protector. And when that division of the [English] force went home, then went the other out,* and reduced the burh at Huntingdon, and repaired and renovated it, where it was before in a state of ruin, by order of King Edward; and all the folk that were left there of the peasantry submitted to king Edward, and sought his peace and his protection. Then again, after that, in the same year, before Martinmas [llth November], King Edward, with an army of West Saxons, went to Colchester, and repaired and renovated the burh, where it had previously been ruined; and a great number of people submitted to him, both in East Anglia and in Essex, who had before been under the power of the Danes. And all the army in East Anglia swore unity with him, that they would all that he would, and would protect all that the king would protect, both by sea and by land. And the army which belonged to Cambridge chose him specially for their lord and protector, and confirmed it by oaths, just as he decreed it.”
The ‘Mercian Register’ reports that “in the early part” of 918, and “with the aid of God”, Æthelflæd: “got into her power peacefully the burh at Leicester; and the greatest part of the army [the Danes] which belonged thereto became subjected to her. And the people of York had also promised her, and some given a pledge, and some confirmed by oaths, that they would be at her disposal.”  The main ‘Chronicle’ entry notes that: “between Rogation days and Midsummer [i.e. between 11th May and 24th June], King Edward went with a force to Stamford, and commanded the burh to be wrought on the south side of the river; and all the people who belonged to the northern burh [i.e. the Danish stronghold] submitted to him, and sought him for their lord. And then, while he was there sitting, Æthelflæd his sister died at Tamworth, 12 nights before Midsummer....
The ‘Mercian Register’: “she died at Tamworth 12 nights before Midsummer, in the eighth year from the time she rightfully held the lordship over the Mercians; and her body lies in Gloucester, in the east porch of St Peter's church.”
.... And then he [Edward] took possession of the burh at Tamworth; and all the people in the Mercian's land, who had before been subject to Æthelflæd, submitted to him; and the kings of the Welsh, Hywel, and Clydog, and Idwal, and all the Welsh race,+ sought him for lord....
Brothers Hywel – who later gained the epithet ‘Dda’ (the Good) – and Clydog ruled in south-west Wales. Idwal, their cousin, was king of Gwynedd. Grandfather of the trio was Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great).*
.... He [Edward] then went thence to Nottingham, and reduced the burh, and ordered it to be repaired, and peopled, both with Englishmen and with Danish. And all the people who were settled in the land of Mercia submitted to him, both Danish and English.”*
It is evident that, presumably as a gesture to Mercian sensibilities, Edward initially allowed Æthelred and Æthelflæd's daughter, Ælfwynn, to succeed her mother as nominal ruler of Mercia. However, the ‘Mercian Register’ entry s.a. 919 states: “In this year also the daughter of Æthelred, lord of the Mercians, was deprived of all power in Mercia, and conveyed into Wessex, three weeks before Midwinter. She was called Ælfwynn.”*  Edward assumed direct control of Mercia.
Edward now had command south of the Humber, and could turn his attention to Northumbria, where the situation had been complicated by the arrival of Vikings from Ireland.
Northumbrian Struggles    
Translations:
Alfred's Laws by F.L. Attenborough
Asser ‘Vita Alfredi’ by Albert S. Cook
‘Annales Cambriae’ by James Ingram
Æthelweard ‘Chronicon’ by A. Campbell
‘Eyrbyggja Saga’ by Hermann Pálsson & Paul Edwards
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ by Benjamin Thorpe (adapted)
Florence of Worcester ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ by Thomas Forester
Geffrei Gaimar ‘L'Estoire des Engleis’ by Sir T.D. Hardy and C.T. Martin
In the interests of clarity, the spelling of personal names, most of which are found in several forms, has been standardized. Those names which have survived into modern times are given their familiar spelling.
Back to: section two.
This is a Welsh form of the name.
872 in Manuscript C, which is a year ahead until the end of the century.
And, therefore, appearing s.a. 876 in the ‘Chronicle’ (s.a. 877 in Manuscript C).
The highlighted passage, regarding hostages, does not appear in Manuscript A, though it is in Manuscripts B, C, D and E (so it must have been in the original). Asser and Æthelweard also refer to the hostages.
The, anonymous, mid-13th century ‘Eyrbyggja Saga’: “Inside the main temple was a structure built much like the choir in churches nowadays, and in the middle a raised platform like an altar. On this platform lay a solid ring weighing twenty ounces, upon which people had to swear all their oaths. It was the business of the temple priest to wear this ring on his arm at every public meeting.” (Chapter 4).
Dated 877 (878 in Manuscript C).
(This annal is not in Manuscript F at all.)
This is the first mention of a Viking fleet, and the implication is that there were two Viking forces – a land force and a naval force. Perhaps the ships belonged to the “western army” mentioned by Æthelweard.
In fact, Alistair Campbell, whose 1962 translation of Æthelweard is used on this page, has: “the army which had been in Cambridge encamped in the same position as the West Saxon army, a thing which they had not previously done, near the town called Wareham, and the greater part of that province was ravaged by them”, but this is on the basis that Æthelweard has mistranslated the Old English of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. A rendition of Æthelweard's Latin as it stands is: “the army which had been at Cambridge united its forces with those of the western army, a thing which they had not previously done, near the town called Wareham, and the greater part of that province was ravaged by them.”  The latter interpretation seems to make sense of the sudden mention, in the next annal, of a Viking fleet, and is preferred by Frank Stenton (‘Anglo-Saxon England’, Third Edition, 1971) and Simon Keynes & Michael Lapidge (‘Alfred the Great’, 1983).
The highlighted sections are omitted in Manuscripts B and C.
“Storm” (yst) in Manuscripts A, B and E. “Mist” (myst) in Manuscripts C and D.
Asser, writing in Latin, here uses the Late Roman title dux (which is translated into modern English as ‘duke’) for both Englishman and Dane alike. The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ uses the title eorl for the Danes, which is the Old English equivalent of the Old Norse jarl, and both translate into modern English as ‘earl’. At this stage in English history, however, the English rank that equates to the Danes' ‘earl’ is ‘ealdorman’ (from which the modern term ‘alderman’ is derived) – ‘earl’ did not properly become a title of rank in England until the reign of Cnut (1016–1035).
Manuscripts B and C say simply “hostages” (gislas), but A, D and E seem to have “preliminary-hostages” (foregislas). In his 1996 translation of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, Michael Swanton suggests that this refers to the hostages “eminence”.
The evidence suggests that the sole manuscript of Asser to have survived into modern times (it was destroyed in 1731) did not contain any material pertaining to the year 877 – indeed, it is possible that the annal was not present in the version of the ‘Chronicle’ that Asser used. The void in Asser's text would appear to have been filled under the auspices of Matthew Parker – employing a story lifted from, the 13th century writer, Roger of Wendover: “he [Alfred] went himself to Exeter, where the pagans were wintering, and having shut them up within the walls, laid siege to the town. He also gave orders to his sailors to prevent them from obtaining any supplies by sea; and his sailors were encountered by a feet of a hundred and twenty ships full of armed soldiers, who were come to help their countrymen. As soon as the king's men knew that they were fitted with pagan soldiers, they leaped to their arms, and bravely attacked those barbaric tribes: but the pagans, who had now for almost a month been tossed and almost wrecked among the waves of the sea, fought vainly against them; their bands were discomfited in a moment, and all were sunk and drowned in the sea, at a place called Swanage.”  Though this plausible sounding story is found in some translations of Asser's work (here from J.A. Giles' of 1848), there is no definite trace of it before Roger of Wendover.
In fact, Asser has the Danes travel from Exeter to Chippenham. If his copy of the ‘Chronicle’ had no annal 877, it would explain this error, since he would have been unaware that “in harvest-time” of that year “the army” had retreated to Mercia.
The highlighted phrase is from Manuscript C. Manuscripts A and B have: “and they turned to them,” whilst D and E omit the phrase. (Entry not in Manuscript F.)
The translator, J.A. Giles (published 1847), makes the following note: “The original here is in Latin verse, and may therefore be rendered into English verse, but such as every housewife in Somersetshire would understand.”
The leader of the original “great heathen army”, which landed in East Anglia in autumn 865, was, says Æthelweard (IV, 2): “the tyrant Ivar” (see: Edmund). In Scandinavian tradition he is Ivar the Boneless, a son of Ragnar Lothbroc (Hairy-breeches). His brother, Halfdan, led the faction of “the army” that moved permanently to Northumbria in the autumn of 874.
It has been suggested that heres (army) is a scribal error for hiredes (retinue).
The Old English idiom used by the ‘Chronicle’ says that Guthrum was “one of thirty” men. If meant literally, therefore, there would be Guthrum and twenty-nine, not thirty, others. However, this is a turn of phrase, not a precise measure.
Chrism is blessed oil. After the forehead of a newly-baptized person had been anointed with chrism, it was covered with a white cloth band. This was ceremonially removed a week later. According to Æthelweard, Æthelnoth, ealdorman of Somerset, participated in the ceremony.
One year later in Manuscript C.
Here, Manuscripts D, E and F simply have “and they slew the men”.
This should be sixteen. Presumably Asser has misread xvi (16) in his copy of the ‘Chronicle’ as xiii (13). All the ‘Chronicle’ manuscripts (except F, which doesn't feature the incident) and Æthelweard agree that there were sixteen ships.
The passage preserved by Æthelweard makes sense of Alfred's actions. Presumably he was intent on punishing the East Anglian Danes for assisting their recently departed colleagues.
The Old English word is gesette, which will bear various interpretations – the Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon dictionary has: “ge-settan; p. -sette; pp. -seted, -set, -sett  To set, put, fix, confirm, restore, appoint, decree, settle, possess, occupy, place together, compose, make, compare, expose, allay”.  In the Thorpe translation here (of 1861), Alfred “restored” the city, but in Dorothy Whitelock's (1961) and Michael Swanton's (1996) translations, Alfred “occupied” London, and this seems to be the preferred modern reading. However, Asser's equivalent entry (§83) says, unequivocally, that Alfred: “honourably restored the city of London and made it habitable”.
Asser proceeds (§87) to say: “In that same year [887] also the oft-mentioned Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons, by divine inspiration first began, on one and the same day, to read [Latin] and to translate [into English]”. See: Alfred the Scholar.
The influential historian Frank Stenton (‘Anglo-Saxon England’, Third Edition, 1971, Chapter 8) writes: “It is possible that the city had contained a Danish garrison ever since Halfdan left it in the autumn of 872.”  Regarding the 883 siege of London recorded by most manuscripts of the ‘Chronicle’, Professor Stenton suggests: “it is highly probable that the passage ... is really a misplaced allusion to the events preceding his [Alfred's] occupation of the city [in 886]”.
Simon Keynes (‘King Alfred and the Mercians’, in ‘Kings, Currency, and Alliances: History and Coinage of Southern England in the Ninth Century’, 1998): “it seems that Alfred was known to have made a move of some kind against London in 883; and in view of the evidence suggesting that moneyers had remained active there after the division of Mercia in 877 (and after Ceolwulf's demise in 879), it is possible that the move was made not against Danes who had been established in London since the time of the division itself, but in response to a short-lived Viking ‘occupation’ of the city in 883... It may seem improbable that Alfred would have waited for three years, after removing the Vikings from London in 883, before taking more positive action for the defence of the city, and preferable not least for this reason to persist in the belief that the siege mentioned in the annal for ‘883’ in fact took place immediately before the ‘occupation’ of London in 886. It is conceivable, on the other hand, that Alfred had reason to feel that London was secure and the Londoners safe, at least for the time being, and that he was only prompted to take more decisive action by the activities of the Vikings in 885... Viking activity in 885 would have brought home to Alfred the need for effective protection of London itself; and the point was apparently grasped by Asser, if we may now interpret his reference to the ‘restoration’ of London, ‘after so many towns had been burned and so many people slaughtered’, not as an allusion to a campaign in 886 but as one to the events of 885.”
The foregoing is not found in Manuscript A, Asser or Æthelweard. (Manuscript F's abbreviated entry omits the siege of London.)
India in Manuscripts D, E and F.
Judea in Manuscripts B and C.
The highlighted phrase is omitted in Manuscripts B and C.
See: Æthelred.
The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum
See: Lundenwic.
Two hundred and fifty in Manuscripts A, E and F. Manuscripts B, C and D have two hundred, whilst the Annals of St Neots’ have three hundred and fifty.
In Manuscript A of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, the work of the first scribe stops during the annal for 891. Presumably, he thought the entry for that year was complete, and the last thing he wrote was the year-number 892 for his successor to continue. The work of the first scribe finished close to the bottom of a folio, so the second scribe started his work on a new sheet. His first addition to the ‘Chronicle’ was actually a continuation of the annal for 891, after which he re-entered the year-number 892 and carried on. Unfortunately, he failed to cross out the year-number 892 written on the previous folio by the first scribe. Later, another scribe, seeing the year 892 appear twice, misunderstood the situation and added 1 to the second 892, and so on, up to, and including, the blank annal 929 (originally 928). Hence this invasion, originally, and correctly, assigned to 892 appears s.a. 893 – as it does in Manuscripts C and D.
Manuscript C has been one year in front for some four decades. Manuscript D, by erroneously placing the entry for 891 under 892, is now also one year ahead. (It is a peculiarity of Manuscript B that after 652 the year-number is generally omitted.)
The ‘Chronicle’ describes the adventures of the two Viking armies in five annals – covering the years 892, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Manuscripts E and F, however, have no entries for the last four of those years. As already mentioned, Manuscripts A, C and D are, for different reasons, one year ahead of true date, and Manuscript B, as usual, has no dates.
In Manuscripts A, E and F: “the great wood”.
In Manuscripts B, C and D: “the same wood”.
Manuscripts A, E and F exhibit a scribal error which substitutes ‘fen’ (spelled fenne in A) for ‘fastness’ (spelled fæstenne in B). This gives the erroneous reading: “and there stormed a work in the fen; inside a few peasant men were stationed”.
The highlighted phrase is in Manuscript A, but is omitted by the other manuscripts.
Æthelweard (IV, 3) actually says: “their ships sped round from the harbour of the Lympne [i.e. from Appledore] to them at Mersea, a place in Kent, and they made a good voyage.”  Clearly, Mersea is not in Kent. Perhaps Æthelweard's intention was to refer to Appledore being in Kent (which, of course, it is).
Asser (§100) describes a similar arrangement at Alfred's court: “the king's household was arranged at all times in three shifts, in the following manner. The king's attendants being wisely distributed into three companies, the first company was on duty at court for one month, night and day, at the end of which they were relieved by the second company, and returned to their homes for two months, where they attended to their own affairs. At the end of the second month, the third company relieved the second, who returned to their homes, where they spent two months. The third company then gave place to the first, and in their turn spent two months at home. And in this order the rotation of service at the king's court was at all times carried on.”
The annal for 893 (s.a. 894) is very long and complex. The chronicler's style – rather than place all incidents in their proper place, some are simply mentioned in passing as having already happened at some time before the incident being currently related – makes it difficult to sort events into their correct chronological order.
The highlighted sentence is in Manuscript A. Manuscript D says the same in not so many words. Manuscripts B and C, though, omit it completely.
In fact, the ‘Chronicle’ uses the term ‘North Welsh’, but, in modern terms, this is simply the Welsh, i.e. the British inhabitants of Wales – the British inhabitants Cornwall being the ‘West Welsh’.
The Cornish Britons had been conquered by Alfred's grandfather, Egbert (r.802–839), though native kings evidently continued to rule in Cornwall, as vassals of the West Saxon kings, for a time. The last reliably attested king of Cornwall is one Dungarth, who drowned in 876.
The suggestion that, by Buttington, the ‘Chronicle’ means Buttington Tump – situated where the Wye meets the Severn, near Chepstow – seems to be incompatible with the statement that the Vikings travelled: “up along the Thames, until they reached the Severn, then up along the Severn”.
Alfred's Illness
Manuscript A: “before winter”.
Manuscripts B, C and D: “in early winter”.
In fact, the construction of the fortress is the first incident recorded in the next annal, i.e. relating to 895. The chronicler, however, begins his announcement: “In the same year”, which would tend to suggest that he intended it to be the final comment concerning 894.
Old English: burhware (Manuscript A: burgware) – inhabitants of a burh (Manuscript A: burg). It seems reasonable to suppose that it is the garrison of fortified Chichester who are meant here.
The ‘Chronicle’ just says: “A great number of the burhware”. Since the burh of London has just been mentioned, presumably it was the London garrison who turned out.
Wulfred is only mentioned in Manuscript A.
Again, called ‘North Wales’ by the ‘Chronicle’, meaning simply Wales. As it happens, the Danes would have left Wales at its northern end, of course, to minimize their exposure to English forces as they scampered cross-country to Danish occupied territory.
Given its full Anglo-Saxon name: Cwatbrycge in Manuscript A. The element brycge means ‘bridge’, and Manuscripts B, C and D abbreviate the name to, simply, Bridge. The element Cwat is probably the district's name, and survives in Quatford and Quatt, both just south of Bridgnorth.
Asser (§76) says that: “Many Franks, Frisians, Gauls, heathen [i.e. Vikings], Welsh, Irish and Bretons, noble and commoner, submitted voluntarily to his [Alfred's] dominion; and all of them, according to their worthiness, he ruled, loved, honored, and enriched with money and power, as if they had been his own people.”
As already mentioned, Manuscripts A, C and D are, for different reasons, running one year ahead of true date at this time, and, as usual, Manuscript B is undated. During the period 893–922, Manuscripts E and F have but a few desultory annals – the report of Alfred's death, which matches the wording of Manuscript D, being one of them.
On the surface, then, it would seem that the correct year for Alfred's death is 900. However, Æthelweard's computations suggest it was in 899, and Symeon of Durham, in both chronicles of the ‘Historia Regum’ and in his tract on the church of Durham, places Alfred's death in 899. Furthermore, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ itself dates Alfred's accession to “after Easter” 871 (Easter falling on 15th April in that year) and gives him a reign length of twenty-eight and a half years, which is consistent with a death in October 899. It seems, therefore, that the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ is here considering the year to start in September, whereby an event occurring in October 899 would be recorded s.a. 900.
Manuscripts A, B and C: “In this year died Alfred son of Æthelwulf, six nights before All-hallowmass. He was king over all the English race, except the part that was under the dominion of the Danes; and he held the kingdom one year and a half less than 30 winters. And then Edward his son succeeded to the kingdom.”
Manuscripts D, E and F: “In this year died King Alfred, on 26th October; and he held the kingdom 28 winters and half a year. And then Edward his son succeeded to the kingdom.”
The earliest version of the story is in the ‘Historia de Sancto Cuthberto’ (History of St Cuthbert) – an anonymous mid-11th century compilation. (Cuthbert, bishop of Lindisfarne, died in 687.)
This story is first told by William of Malmesbury, in his ‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Kings of England).
Asser (§75) lists the children of Alfred and, his Mercian wife, Ealhswith: “Æthelflæd, the eldest, after whom came Edward, then Æthelgifu, then Ælfthryth, and finally Æthelweard – besides those who died in childhood.”  It would appear that Asser proceeded to enumerate the dead children, but the surviving text is corrupt. Alfred's two eldest children, Æthelflæd and Edward, would become important figures in English history. Alfred founded a nunnery at Shaftesbury, and appointed Æthelgifu as its abbess. Ælfthryth was sent off to be the bride of Count Baldwin II of Flanders (which must have been after 893, since she was still in England when Asser wrote). Alfred's youngest surviving child, his son Æthelweard, is little more than a name. Alfred left him a generous inheritance, and, according to Florence of Worcester he died on the 16th of October 922 and was taken to Winchester for burial. (William of Malmesbury places Æthelweard's demise four years before that of his brother, King Edward, by which token the year would be 920.)
Edward is first distinguished by the epithet ‘the Elder’ at the end of the 10th century – in Wulfstan's ‘Life’ of, the erstwhile bishop of Winchester, St Æthelwold – presumably to differentiate him from King Edward ‘the Martyr’, who was killed in 978 (see: No Worse Deed).
Ætheling: A male of royal blood; an eligible candidate for the throne. Manuscript A, which was produced in Wessex, does not give Æthelwold this title, presumably because it implies that he had a legitimate claim.
Witan: The king's advisory council, composed of important secular and ecclesiastical personages.
Badbury Rings Iron Age hillfort.
In Manuscript A, the highlighted sentence is replaced by: “Then, in the meanwhile, he stole away by night, and sought the army in Northumbria. And the king commanded that he should be ridden after, but it was impossible to overtake him.”
Manuscript A, then, does not say that the Northumbrian Danes – their domain was the part of Northumbria that became the county of Yorkshire – accepted Æthelwold as their king. It does, indeed, seem an unlikely notion, but a small number of Northumbrian coins inscribed with the name Alwaldus survive, and it is widely believed possible that this is Æthelwold.
Here Manuscript A says: “without leave of”.
The following entry appears in Manuscripts A, B, C and D of the ‘Chronicle’ – during the period 893–922, Manuscripts E and F have only a few desultory annals – and follows on from the notice of Alfred's death. Since 892 (true date), Manuscripts A, C and D have, as the result of different scribal errors, been one year ahead of the correct year, so it is placed s.a. 901 instead of s.a. 900 (in Manuscript B, as usual, the year-number is omitted). Also, Alfred died on 26th October 899 by modern reckoning, but his obituary is in the annal which should be dated 900, which indicates that the chronicler considered the year to start in September (see: Anno Domini).
Alfred's law-code (§8) states:
“If anyone takes a nun from a nunnery without the permission of the king or bishop, he shall pay a hundred and twenty shillings, half to the king, and half to the bishop and the lord of the church, under whose charge the nun is.
1. If she lives longer than he who abducted her, she shall inherit nothing of his property.
2. If she bears a child, it shall inherit no more of the property than its mother.
3. If her child is slain, the share of the wergild due to the mother's kindred shall be paid to the king, but the father's kindred shall be paid the share due to them.”
Wergild: The monetary value, based on rank, of a person's life.
In Manuscript A: “with the fleet with which he was, to Essex.”  No mention being made that the men of Essex submitted to him.
The following entry (not in E or F) is placed s.a. 904, but it evidently should be s.a. 902 – though the event described occurred in the autumn of 901 by modern reckoning.
Manuscript A has “allured”.
Another Englishman of royal stock was also killed fighting on the Danish side: “Beorhtsige, son of Beorhtnoth ætheling”.  The names suggest that Beorhtsige was Mercian – from the family that had previously provided kings Beornred (757), Beornwulf (823–826), Beorhtwulf (839–852) and Burgred (852–874).
Æthelweard's report ties the battle at the Holme, featured in the ‘Mercian Register’ s.a. 902, and the battle where Æthelwold was killed, featured in the main ‘Chronicle’ (not E or F) s.a. 905, together. He names three individuals who were killed at the Holme – two ealdormen on the Kentish side and the Danish king of East Anglia – who are also listed among the dead by the main ‘Chronicle’. The main ‘Chronicle’ seems to be beginning its year in September, by which token its entry should be dated 903, not 905.
Incidentally, Æthelweard does not name Æthelwold, nor does he make any reference to his rebellion. He does, though, write that, in the battle at the Holme: “Two princes of the English, soft of beard, then left the air they breathed ever before, and entered a strange region below the waves of Acheron” – presumably an oblique reference to Æthelwold and Beorhtsige, both of whom actually died fighting on the Danish side.
Appearing s.a. 910 in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ (not in E or F).
Æthelweard provides the most detail of these events, but he implies they took place in 909. The ‘Mercian Register’ states, s.a. 910 (Manuscript C): “the English and the Danes fought at Tettenhall, and the English gained the victory.”  Manuscript D places this ‘Register’ notice in its entry for 909, adding that the battle took place on 6th August (Æthelweard, of course, says it was on the 5th). In the main ‘Chronicle’ (Manuscripts A, B, C and D), the events appear s.a. 911 (undated in B, as usual). Manuscripts E and F do not have the main ‘Chronicle’ annal, but Manuscript E, and also Manuscript D, have an entry s.a. 910 which simply mentions a battle at Tettenhall between the English and the Danes, with no further detail. Manuscript D has, therefore, recorded the battle three times – in 909, 910 and 911.
Æthelweard names three Danish kings who were killed: Halfdan, Eowils, and Ivar. Manuscript A of the ‘Chronicle’ mentions only one: Eowils. Manuscripts B, C and D name two, Eowils and Halfdan. Florence of Worcester, however, says, s.a. 911, that the English: “slew their two kings Eowils and Halfdan, King Ivar's brothers”.
A burh (dative: byrig) – from which the modern word ‘borough’ – is a fortified site.
Æthelred's death is dated 911 in the ‘Mercian Register’ (Manuscript C). It appears s.a. 912 in the main ‘Chronicle’ (not in Manuscripts E or F).
The foregoing annal (not in E or F), which suggests that the year was still reckoned to start in September in the main ‘Chronicle’ entries, appears s.a. 913.
The following entry appears s.a. 914 in Manuscripts C and D (is undated in B, as usual, and is not in E or F), but s.a.917 in A.
Since 892 (true date), Manuscript A had been in step with C and D (which were, for different reasons, already one year ahead of the correct year) by virtue of the fact that a later scribe mistakenly added one to the original year-numbers. The annals 913–920, inclusive (true date), in A had already, however, due to an earlier scribal misunderstanding, been rendered three years in advance. As a result, these annals are now four years ahead of the true date.
The following entry is found in Manuscripts A, B, C and D. It is placed s.a. 915 in C and D, and s.a.918 in A.
It is evident that the chronicler is now starting the year at Midwinter (i.e. Christmas).
In fact, the ‘Chronicle’ uses the term ‘North Welsh’, but, in modern terms, this is simply the Welsh, i.e. the British inhabitants of Wales – the British inhabitants Cornwall being the ‘West Welsh’.
The Cornish Britons had been conquered by Edward's great-grandfather, Egbert (r.802–839), though native kings evidently continued to rule in Cornwall, as vassals of the West Saxon kings, for a time. The last reliably attested king of Cornwall is one Dungarth, who drowned in 876.
The ‘Chronicle’ says: “from the Welsh”. Cornwall is meant.
The Old English word is eorl, which is equivalent of the Old Norse word jarl, and both translate into modern English as ‘earl’. At this stage in English history, the English rank that equates to the Danes' ‘earl’ is ‘ealdorman’ (from which the modern English title ‘alderman’ derives).
Manuscript A says Flat Holm (Bradan Relice), but B, C and D say Steep Holm (Steapan Reolice). Both are small islands in the mouth of the Severn.
Manuscript A has “holds”, but B, C and D have “earls”.  A hold is a Dane of high rank, but not as high as an earl.
The main ‘Chronicle’ annals pertaining to 915–920 (inclusive) are found only in Manuscript A, but their year-numbers are four years in advance of the true year.
It is somewhat curious that Lammas (1st August) is placed before Midsummer (24th June).
Florence of Worcester (s.a. 918) adds Essex to the regions from which the Danes gathered this “great army”. Place-name evidence suggests that, in Essex, only the area around Colchester accrued significant Danish settlement.
For the most part, the ‘fyrd’, as an English army was called, was not composed of full-time professional fighting men. Traditionally, the fyrd had been mustered from the locality to meet an immediate threat, and then stood down when the crisis had passed. In the face of relentless, wide-ranging, Viking activity, however, Edward's father, Alfred, had organized the available forces into two shifts – whilst one was on duty, the other was at home. This meant that there were always forces active in the field, and the men who were off duty could maintain agricultural production and defend property and families.
This unnamed individual is the last Danish king of East Anglia.
The ‘Chronicle’, again, uses the term ‘North Welsh’, meaning simply ‘Welsh’ in modern terms.
The statement: “In this year also” is perhaps an odd way to begin an annal.  F.T. Wainwright suggests that the date 919 may have been wrongly inserted after the ‘Mercian Register’ was originally composed, and that the entry dated 919 actually concludes annal 918. As it stands, annal 918 ends with Æthelflæd's death “12 nights before Midsummer”, and the only entry for 919 is the deposition of Ælfwynn “three weeks before Midwinter”, so 919's entry could, very nicely, tag onto the end of annal 918. Wainwright admits that his is a rather dangerous argument, since it impugns the chronology of the ‘Mercian Register’, which, as he says, “is generally considered to be above reproach”, but it has the undoubted merit of providing a context for Ælfwynn's deposition – linking it to the submission of both the English and Danish population of Mercia to Edward in late-918, as reported in Manuscript A of the ‘Chronicle’ – and it seems to have gained a considerable following.
In a paper of 1942 entitled ‘North-West Mercia’ – re-published in an anthology of F.T. Wainwright's papers, ‘Scandinavian England’, in 1975.
Lumped together with Leicester, Nottingham, Stamford and Derby, in a poem s.a 942 in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ (not in E or F), is Lincoln – as a consequence, they are known as the ‘Five Boroughs’ (Boroughs=burhs). Presumably the Danes of Lincoln submitted to Edward following the surrender of Nottingham.
See: Altered States.
The Story of Ingimund
Actually burgware – inhabitants of a burh (rendered burg in Manuscript A). In this instance, the Danish garrison.
Burgwarum – inhabitants of the burh (rendered burg in Manuscript A), i.e. Maldon.
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
See: Anno Domini.
Named after St Neots Priory, Huntingdonshire, where the manuscript was found during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the ‘Annals’ (written in Latin) were apparently compiled, in the early-12th century, at Bury St Edmunds.
The anonymous compiler used Asser's ‘Life’ of King Alfred as a source – copying so slavishly that Archbishop Matthew Parker thought the ‘Annals’ were the work of Asser. The archbishop, therefore, inserted material from them into his edition of the ‘Life’, which he published in 1574.
Charters are referred to by their number in Sawyer's catalogue.
Available online: The Electronic Sawyer.
Anglo-Norman chronicler Geffrei Gaimar wrote his ‘L'Estoire des Engleis’ (History of the English), for a Lincolnshire patroness, in about 1136–37. The earliest known historical work to have been written in the French language, it is based on a now lost version of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, and is in verse (actually, octosyllabic rhymed couplets).
In Manuscripts B and C of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, after the entry for 915, is inserted a block of material, covering the years 902–924 and chiefly concerned with Mercian affairs, known as the ‘Mercian Register’. In Manuscript D, a not entirely successful attempt has been made to integrate this material with the rest of the ‘Chronicle’. It is a peculiarity of Manuscript B that after 652 the year-number is generally omitted, though two entries are dated in the ‘Mercian Register’ section (904, 905), and these agree with the dates in Manuscript C. The chronology of the period the ‘Register’ covers is somewhat confused in the main ‘Chronicle’, but the dates provided by Manuscript C's version of the ‘Register’ are generally considered to be reliable. (Incidentally, the ‘Mercian Register’ apparently begins its year at Midwinter, i.e. Christmas.)
‘Historia Regum’ (History of the Kings).
Named after St Neots Priory, Huntingdonshire, where the manuscript was found during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the ‘Annals’ (written in Latin) were apparently compiled, in the early-12th century, at Bury St Edmunds. The compiler seems to have made use of a very early version of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’.
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