24 November 2009

Harold Godwinson in Normandy

What was Harold doing on the continent?

This inexplicable visit is not mentioned in any English sources (had they any knowledge of it?) as the ASC was totally and strangely silent for the year entry 1064.
As the Norman sources were written after the events of 1066, their interpretation of what may have happened are therefore suspect, probably twisted out of all proportion with propaganda designed to airbrush Harold from history.

Certainly Harold seemed to be on a personal mission- Edward didn't have the power to order him to stop (though in the Bayeux Tapestry a crestfallen Harold is afterwards seen lowering his head to Edward, as if to say "I told you so"?).
Harold set out to sea from his manor at Bosham and is seen in the Bayeux Tapestry boarding his ship with hunting birds etc, but was shipwrecked on the treachorous coast at Ponthieu in a storm, despite the expertise of the English seamen.

* Was Harold hoping to visit Baldwin of Flanders to help negotiate with William in order to secure the release of his brother(Wulfnoth) who was later moved to England on William's orders & kept in close custody and freed upon his death in 1087 only to be in chains during William II's reign? Maybe Wulfnoth died a free man at Winchester priory? Harold's nephew Hakon (Sweyn Godwinson's son)- was also held by the duke since Jumieges kidnapped them in 1052 and may also have been the purpose of Harold's voyage? But if so, why had Harold waited this long to free them?
* Was Harold intending to visit various European leaders (ie. The Norman 'puppet' Pope or The Holy Roman Emperor- as in the late 1050's)? Was Harold sailing to arrange a political marriage between one of his sisters- Elgiva?(d.1066, was she the mysterious Elgifu in the Bayeux Tapestry?) and a nobleman in Flanders/Ponthieu/France or other European nation, building an alliance against William?

Guy of Ponthieu (who captured Harold and his retainers on the shipwrecked coast) and Harold were previously acquainted- in 1056 on the continent in the presence of Baldwin V... and only the Normans say that Harold was in any danger!!!
Another noted Englishman- a certain Hereward (not ‘the Wake’ but exiled son of a king's thegn) similarly fell into the hands of one of Guy's neighbours (Manasses of Guines). When he established his identity, he was released and treated honourably.

Blown off-course in a storm & wrecked upon the coast notorious for this- Local Count Guy (William's former foe but now his vassal since the vicious battle of Mortemer in the 1050's) claimed all booty- as permitted from wrecks- from such "accidents" and so maybe Harold et al were victims of the false harbour lanterns that deliberately enticed ships to their doom?
Harold & his advisor/huscarl/servant retainers were fettered by Guy's men (the brutal types who would not normally even blink at torturing a hostage to exact higher ransoms) & led off to a gaol at Guy's castle at Beaurain.

But one escaped to find the ambitious & greedy William who, seeing a golden chance for personal gain(Ransom? Succession issue? Sizing up his rival?) he immediately raced to Guy and ordered his vassal to hand them all over- or maybe 'dire events' would ensue.
William had them taken to his Norman capital Rouen as his honoured "guests", where they met William's own family, watched tournaments and ate lavishly etc. It suited William to be shown as Harold's rescuer (obligation to him) and tie the powerful earl to him by even knighting him!
Harold was possibly even flattered by William's praise of his recent Welsh 'conquests' in order to win him over?
Maybe William browbeat him into more than one Brittany campaign with the Duke (wanting to witness his man's battle strengths & weaknesses for a later date?).

William used a rebellion in Brittany's east to advance to Dol, Rennes and to Dinan (to punish Count Conan II for recent raids into Normandy's Western frontier, where Conan submitted). Harold distinguished himself valiantly- once pulling two drowning Norman troops out of marshes.

William and Harold had both got the measure of their 'opposite' numbers (strengths, weaknesses, battle-prowess and character) and maybe only superficially exchanged pleasantries for a time they both by now must have inwardly known would soon drastically change?

Back at the scheming duke's main hall in Rouen(?), William then secretly had some holy relics hidden in a chest beneath a sheet...with an "oath" from Harold in mind...

22 November 2009

1065: Revolt against Earl Tostig of Northumbria

A huge and efficiently-organised Northumbrian revolt arose directly against earl Tostig's rule, led by powerful thegns from Yorkshire, Mercia and Northumbria, but earl Tostig himself was in Wiltshire hunting with Harold...coincidence?

Had Harold covertly colluded with this concerted, huge rising of powerful thegns (who as a feuding earldom, had never before allied themselves together) as Tostig later accused Harold of, in 'revenge' for Tostig's suspected collusion in Gruffydd ab Llewelyn's attacks on Harold's own castle at Portskewet years before? 
Did Harold willingly sacrifice his brother for a secure northern alliance?

Tostig’s personal piety- and his Flemish wife Judith’s are beyond doubt. They had bestowed lavish gifts upon the church of St Cuthbert (also York, Beverley, Hexham and Ripon?).
Judith commissioned the Gospels of Countess Judith (now in Pierpont Morgan library in New York), written by English scribes and artists to record her generosity. This contained exquisite illuminations by the gifted artists that flourished in pre-1066 England.

Tostig had spent much of his early ten-year tenure establishing a close relationship with the thegns and churchmen of the northern earldom. He also made the wise decision of using a local man, Copsi, as his deputy. 

The Northern noble’s grievances against Tostig were;-

·        Tostig’s “enormous taxes which he had unjustly levied upon Northumbria”  These were much higher under him than traditionally in Wessex- not normal, as southern king’s wanted to sweeten the less agriculturally fertile and less financially wealthy North (for compliance) with lower taxes. Tostig had thus angered all of tax-paying Northumbria.
·        Due to Tostig’s retainer’s sacrilege, he had alienated himself from the community of St Cuthbert,
·        He had ruled too harshly and also skimmed off some profit from his treacherous dealings (“He oppressed the nobles with the heavy yoke of his rule because of their deeds…and was accused of punishing wrong-doers more from a wish to confiscate their property than for love of justice”) But then, ‘severe’ justice could simply mean efficient rule that stopped nobles guilty of the same crimes from benefiting?
·        The rebels demanded “a return to the laws of Canute”  which were now seen as a yardstick for good and just government.

In his later years, however, it seems he spent too much time attending to the affairs of King Edward, and left the running of Northumberland to his deputy Copsig ( lowly Yorkshire thegn) and secured by his Huscarl bodyguard. He had also, after the Welsh campaign, become drawn into local politics. 

The involvement in local Northumbrian noble blood feuds, which until then he had avoided, came to a head when he had two notable thegns, Gamal Ormson and Ulf Dolfinson, killed in his own chamber whilst they were under a safe conduct.
Tosti was also said to be behind the murder of Gospatric Uhtredson  (youngest son of the slain Uhtred) at the court of King Edward(Xmas 64) alledgedly with sister Queen Edith's connivance, or orders? 

Tosti had in his entourage another Gospatrick (Maldredson), a kinsman of King Edward and King Malcolm of Scots.
This Gospatric, who had acted valiantly during an attack on Tosti's party whilst returning from a visit to Rome in 1061/2, was the head of a rival family to that of his namesake.
Both were descendants of Ealdorman Waltheof of Northumberland (not the later Waltheof- the son of Earl Siward of Northumberland, though he was related). These killings were used as the main reason by the northern thegns when they rebelled. 

Tostig had also arrested a local brigand, Aldan-Hamel and imprisoned him at Durham, but he escaped and fled to the sanctuary of St Cuthbert’s church. Tostig’s retainers chased him and paused. Their leader, Barcwith, shouted out in anger  to break down the doors, and was about to do so when he was struck down by “an arrow from on high” He died in agony 3 days later.
What horrified the Northumbrians was the sacrilege- a grave crime and in English eyes the kind of thing that the Scottish raiders did.

But there was another underlying reason: money.
The northern shires had been subjected to a lower tax regime than those in the south. Tosti made the mistake of trying to redress this anomaly. The result was a revolt that involved 'all the thegns of Yorkshire' so the various versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tell us.
The reason for Tosti increasing the tax yield may well have been his need to refurbish his coffers after the expense of the joint 1063 Welsh Campaign with Harold, against Welsh 'king' Gruffydd ab Llewelyn (the Earl kept 1/3 of the take, the king got the rest).
Tosti may well have felt that he would be able to weather any local opposition as in his 10 year rule he had considerably reduced lawlessness in the earldom, curbed the power of local landholders and through intrigue and craft, neutralised the Scots. He seriously miscalculated. 

The tax, and the fact that his men were using arbitrary justice to enforce collection led that autumn to the thegns of Yorkshire and many others from throughout Northumberland to seize and occupy York and they slayed all 200 of Tostig's huscarls-  including Amund and Ravenswort- (the latter held lands near the estates of the rebels).
Now, their following snowballed into a full rebel army, and the next day they won what appears to have been a pitched battle. Against whom?
Having sacked the treasury and taken back what they deemed their's by right, the northern thegns then declared Tosti outlaw and sent for Morcar, the young brother of Earl Edwin of Mercia, to be the new earl. Their choice of an outsider, with no Northumberland connection and little Norse blood, appears to have been dictated by a need to avoid splitting the rebels by picking from the local powerful families with their long running blood feuds.
It would also have been influenced by the fact that Tosti was a favourite of King Edward and his brothers ruled most of England. Proclaiming Morcar earl would ally them with the next most powerful family in the land. Declared deposed by this odd alliance.

King Edward was so enraged (Tostig apparently being his favourite) that he(and his Norman advisors) was all for war, but Harold himself wasn't- again not wanting a crippling civil war to leave England open to foreign invasion.
Other earls and nobles felt likewise- as in 1051/2, and the campaigning season was hit by worsening weather.

Morcar led the massive rebel army south, killing, enslaving, plundering, terrorising, sacking &  raping through Lincoln and Derby

Joined by Mercian Earl Edwin (Morcar's brother), they were rebuffed for support by the townspeople at Nottingham, so Morcar allowed his men to run amok with vile atrocities (Maybe present were some of Gruffydd's disaffected warlike Welshmen still burning to avenge 1063? or local Northumbrian/Welsh mercenaries?).
They raided the local countryside for cattle & food, killing or enslaving all who would not support them- according to many sources the ravaging continued even after Tostig's deposition was endorsed.

Harold led a Royal army north to speak on the king's behalf- met them several times for discussions, often wild and heated- Tostig accusing Harold of complicity (though he swore an oath denying such charges at Northampton when reporting on negotiations) .
The rebels now moved to Oxford.
But finally, maybe to conceal his own possible complicity in ousting his brother,ceded to rebel demands(Tostig was overthrown and laws of Cnut's taxes revived) at Oxford on Oct 28th

Edward had meanwhile summoned the Witan in London to discuss the crisis, again hoping(as in the crisis of 1051-2) that support for the rebels would dissolve if he dragged his feet. 
It didn't, and Edward was so apoplectic that he had a series of strokes and was taken ill to his bed.

A few days later, a frustrated and embittered former earl, Tostig, his wife Judith and their children and retainers crossed the Channel for the winter under the protection of Judith’s brother Count Baldwin V of Flanders..

20 November 2009

Earl Harold's "oath" of 1064

No witnesses were ever named for this 'oath'- was it a public oath- and in the open air? (as in the Bayeux Tapestry)?

English custom was that they were always sworn on a gospel book, (Normans say Harold swore manibus junctis- feudal fashion) so was it 'under duress' or procured by deceit, which would render it worthless anyway, certainly outside of Normandy?

William of Jumieges never went as far as stating that Harold had sworn what later they said he did.

Normans had a voracious reputation for chicanery and inventing outrageous claims- Dudo of St.Quentin- historian of the early dukes- had the gaul to state that William Longsword and Richard the Fearless reigned over "half the world".

Was William's daughter -Adeliza- 'promised' betrothal to Harold? A way of binding him to the duke, whatever, this fell through (did Harold refuse?) or was one of Harold's sisters proposed to a Norman noble?

The Normans state that Harold coveted the crown himself – even if true, why would Harold willingly and freely swear this oath, thereby ruling HIMSELF out of the succession as the most qualified candidate?

But instead a storm blew his embassy off-course and unluckily into William hands (eventually) and, knowing all too well his gaoler's track record of assassinations, grim gaols that meant a death sentence and penchant for brutality- especially poisonings,(a nephew of King Edward, earl Ralf's younger brother, Walter, Count of Mantes, and his wife, died prisoners this year in William gaols- poisoning rumours. But the two nobles were never seriously considered by Edward as successors)

And William powers were such that he could simply 'take over' a noble's castle when he wanted, and take hostages from them- usually sons, brothers or nephews.

William’s father Robert ‘the Devil’ had been suspected of poisoning his own brother Richard, after all?

Harold went along with the deed whilst as a Norman "guest" for his own 'safety' and that also of the hostages Wulfnoth & Hakon etc, knowing how worthless the "sworn oath" meant in English eyes and how he could easily shrug it off when back home?

Only the King & Witan could decide the succession- not some half-baked Norman oath- esp under duress, thus invalid in English eyes!

Maybe also Harold, having seen his Norman rivals in action in Brittany, decided how strong they were and realised that the 'true heir' Edgar Aetheling(a boy of 14 -whose father had died in 1057[murdered?]he had backed for the throne only recently?) was too weak & inexperienced to resist such formidable and organised foes, so he must seize the throne himself? (Until Edgar reached maturity, or forever?)

All major powers near Normandy had either been coaxed into an alliance or crushed -

  • Count Eustace of Bologne (who had supported William's own rebel uncle, William of Arques) was now an ally to the east, and also near him the buccaneering warrior Count of Amiens & Valois had ended his alliance with French Kings, becoming William's friend.
  • Anjou was still ripped apart by civil war and so unable to pose danger.
  • Count Guy of Ponthieu was now a vassal.

Harold returned to England with Hakon, but without his brother, Wulfnoth. Shortly after that King Edward had a prophetic dream of the tree of England being 'split asunder, not to be rejoined' (retrospective post-1066 Normanism?)

19 November 2009

878: Alfred - burning cakes and battle-victory!

Rout at Chippenham January- Having taken 5mths to reinforce, strengthen and marshall his reduced army after the fleet-part’s disaster off Swanage, Guthrum now acted fast- whilst the English celebrated the Christian ‘twelfth night’.

It being a Christian feast day the Saxons were presumably taken by surprise - indeed it is possible that Wulfhere, Ealdorman of Wiltshire, allowed the attack either through negligence or intent, for on Alfred's return to power later in 878 Wulfhere was stripped of his role as Ealdorman.

Wulfhere was guilty of deserting an army under the personal command of the king. But more importantly, he had contravened his oath to king and country(the opening chapter of “Alfred’s Code”)- in extreme cases this could result in forfeiture of lands and titles.

According to the Code, an oath-breaker who refused to submit to punishment could be physically forced to lose his arms and lands.

Curiously, acc to a charter, Wulfhere and his wife were forfeited of their lands due to his desertion, though her role in this is unclear and she is not even named in the Charter, as laws limited a married woman’s liability.

She must have played some role to even be jointly ousted from their estate, as laws were clearly defined about joint involvement. Has Wulfhere acted alone without her, he alone would have been exiled.

Guthrum, attempting to capture Alfred alive- and knowing that he would be leaving one well-stocked burh to seize another- to put him through the horrific ordeal of the ‘blood eagle’, Guthrum rode over the snowy Wiltshire landscape and seized Chippenham- maybe many English were drunk (off-duty) and the guards etc too few and unready to hold the attack (without the disbanded fyrd)?

Many nobles submitted, but Alfred and many men escaped. For the next 4mths Guthrum held this fortified burh.

Desperate Alfred Pursued by Guthrum’s men on horseback from a chaotic Chippenham, and rebuffed by many of even his own unsympathetic and fearful kinsmen in towns when asking for/ demanding shelter/food (whom he surely punished later or raided and attacked from Athelney?), and who may have informed the enemy of his whereabouts(?) Alfred fled for the safety of Athelney- a series of marshy and lethal waterways and islets. He finally reached there three weeks later.

Athelney marshes The levels comprised of both woodland and fenland in which stags, wild goats and other beats grazed (wild boars?), and it was criss-crossed with timer trackways, some submerged, leading to settlements in the extensive and impassable low-lying marshes, therefore perfect for guerrilla warfare, and v.difficult to penetrate.

Rising out of the fenland, and often flooded by the inflowing sea-waters from the Bristol Channel, were scattered islets of high ground.

One of these had been inhabited by a an order of holy men in the 4thC, seeking solitude for the practices of their devotions. The church which grew up around them was rebuilt in the 8thC and was the early religious life fabric of Glastonbury Abbey, which quickly became known as a centre for learning and Celtic Christiantity.

There existed the constant danger that Guthrum might weave his fleet up the river Parret and locate Alfred’s stronghold there, who already led aggressive raids upon the Danes and also to gather supplies (whether his own people agreed to or not?).

As a youth, Alfred would have hunted, fished and hawked there, knowing the marshes well. The king, some nobles, retainers, family (Edward?) and the men of Somerset with their earl, Aethelnoth – maybe 200 men in all- built a fortified base in the murky, dangerous and swampy islets of the isle of Athelney. Even today floods can make this region inaccessible. To survive, the desperate Alfred had to steal, borrow and raid in order to eat, moving quietly through swamps and secret trackways.

All the while keeping in touch with his underground resistance network with the men of Wiltshire and Hampshire (and others from Somerset?), Alfred also sent out/led guerrilla raids against probing/lost Vikings.

If Alfred had given up and sailed off into exile, the English language would have died out, and we would be speaking Danish/Norse. But he his out with his retainers and heavily-armed thegns etc.

Ubba having survived the battle off Ireland (West?) which killed his brother Halfdan, he had regrouped at Anglesey and sailed to Guthrum for orders from his waiting base in S.Wales, and his orders were to seek out Alfred from behind from his base there with ’23 ships’ of 1200 men- part of a pincer attack.

Battle at Countisbury Hill The Devonshire fyrd, under earldorman Odda, was aware that the Danes were probing the north Devon coastline to try to sneak into Alfred’s hideaway, and he knew he was the last hope of stopping them- he entrenched his Devon men in a disused ancient fort here.

But because they had hurried there (to avoid Ubba’s approaching men), it’s defences were poor and the walls and meagre provisions could not withstand a major siege/attack.

Likewise, Ubba knew he had to defeat the entrenched Devonshire army blocking his path if he were to commence with Halfdan’s plan to pincer-attack Alfred and, caring not to lose precious casualties in a frontal assault, besieged it.

Instead of delaying until they were suffering from extreme thirst and hunger and couldn’t fight, Odda’s men sallied out against the Danes- crashing into them with all the ferocity and of defending homesteaders, eventually massacring the Vikings so badly that they were routed back to their ships.

Out of the 1200 Danes, over 800 were slain, including Ubba himself- Guthrum’s plan had suffered a major reverse, but the English also captured the Raven banner called Hrefn or the Raven.

While the Anglo-Saxon chronicle only briefly mentions the battle, it does draw attention to the capture of the banner, which is interesting considering that it does not single out any other trophy captured by the English in the many other victories they had against the Danes.

What made this banner so special? Sources tell us that out of the three commanding brothers of the Vikings – Halfdan, Ivar, and Ubba – Ubba was the most superstitious and prone to consultation of pagan seers to dictate his course of action in battle.

As Ubba’s battle flag, the Raven banner therefore held specific ritual meaning amongst the Danes, and is even described as being as ritually important to the Danes as the ‘holy ring’ that the Danes used to declare their peace with Alfred after the battle of Edington some months later.

Alfred’s loyal earls After hearing about Odda’s great victory, the king summoned all those earldormen and thegns to him (ie; Athelnoth of Somerset) and the earl of Hampshire, those who had not already either fled overseas or submitted to the Danes. Earldorman Odda meanwhile guarded the Devon coast.

No mention of Dorset nobles/fyrd is recorded as being at Athelney or Ethandun- had their chiefs submitted to Guthrum? Tellingly, this was the stemland of Alfred’s nephew Aethelwold, who would side with the Danes after Alfrd’s death. Earldormen Wulfhere of Wiltshire was ousted from office and fled to Mercia.

In Athelney Alfred secured the loyalty of these nobles and senior commanders with oaths, for the upcoming battle against Guthrum which he was planning. He had also stepped up his guerrilla attacks on the Danes and any disloyal locals. Thus armed with good reconnaissance and preparation, Alfred acted.

By this time Guthrum had moved his army north of Salisbury plain- and when Alfred heard this he decided now was the time to ride his small but warband of leaders, heavily-armed thegns and retainers out of Athelney marshes after six long weeks and -using a probably complex but sadly unrecorded underground network- to unite with the gathered fyrds of Somerset, Wiltshire and part of Hampshire and “they were overjoyed to see him” (Chronicler Athelweard recorded)

Guthrum’s scouts must have reported Saxon burhs emptying of men and, himself warily watching his own back for an un-tamed Alfred, but not yet knowing for sure that the king had ridden out of his secret base, let alone organised a huge army to fight, prepared his (5000?) men on high ground near an old hillfort called Bratton- with a commanding view.

Battle of Ethandun (Edington) May Appearing in view were Alfred’s army (4000 men?). They had no option but to climb the steep hill to the level ridgeway, dispersing the Viking skirmishers (berserkers??) and press forward in a tight, spear-pricked shieldwall against Guthrum’s similar but statis formation- all the while both forces yelled war cries and insults. Weapons beating shields.

The air would have also filled with hand throwing weapons (spears, axes, clubs, bow??)

Alfred’s army clashed with Guthrum’s waiting army and, after a ferocious and grim day-long struggle when the Danes looked like breaking, Alfred ordered his line forward- routing the Danes in a dreadful slaughter- even mounted units pursuing them in a merciless rout as far as Chippenham 15m away.

Outside the now-besieged Danes at Alfred’s former base of Chippenham, the Saxons vengefully slew every Dane they could. Did Guthrum deliberately fight a rearguard action in order to halt casualties? Maybe unlikely given the following…

The Saxons arrived at Chippenham, encircling it and slaughtered any enemy they could find, seizing cattle, weapons and booty. Here the victorious Alfred’s army camped and surrounded the hungry, fearful Danes for two weeks. Guthrum maybe hoped that the Saxons would grow impatient and disperse as at Nottingham, but Alfred held his army firm and ready- despite their poor reputation against Danish strongholds. But it is said that they even reverted to eating their own horses to stay alive.

Guthrum was forced to negotiate with Alfred, who maybe was relieved that, despite his crushing victory, he knew this lethal cat-and-mouse could not go on indefinitely. But, remembering Guthrum’s betrayal at Wareham, Alfred maybe kept his troops on alert.

“The Peace of Wedmore”

To save face for both commanders, Alfred and Guthrum start to talk via envoys. Guthrum –wearing a symbolic white robe and forced to ‘tour’ Wessex to show the English Alfred’s victory- swore an oath to leave Wessex forever and agreed to become Christian (and 30 of his senior leaders). The Danelaw was formed.

Three weeks later at Aller (nr. Athelney), there is a baptismal ceremony and 12days of feasting at Wedmore. They were allowed to stay in Wessex until Autumn - watched closely by Alfred, the Danes moved to Cirencester for a year, then into into distant E.Anglia where they settled and farmed.

871 - Alfred's "year of nine battles"

In early January Halfdan marched his still-large army to the Saxon royal estate at Reading on the s.bank of the Thames, during early new Year, subduing the locality and ensconsing his army there.

This town was strategic- the confluence of two rivers Thames and Kennet, providing excellent land and waterway access, and the Danes lost no time in building a wooden rampart 800m long linking the two rivers.

Englefield 6th(?) January. Whilst this rampart was being built, Halfdan sent out a raiding party “two jarls with a great part of their force”. They marched westwards, compelled that direction by the great Windsor forest to the south.

As they marched along the north bank of the Kennet reaching here (12m from their base) they were ambushed by the fyrd of Berkshire under Mercian earldorman Athelwulf (maybe sent by King Ethelred as a screen to locate the Danes whilst he prepared his own army for the onslaught?)

A fierce battle raged at first, but the Danes were broken and one of their jarls killed. Or maybe they fought a rearguard action and weren’t killed?

Reading 10th(?) Wanting to exploit Athelwulf’s success quickly, King Athelred and brother atheling Alfred joined the buoyant earldorman’s army with their own 4days later.

Hacking down every Dane they could overtake outside the walls of the Danish base at Reading, then besieged them. But the Danes sallied out and a ferocious battle ensued, in the carnage Athelwulf was slain and the allies later broke. The royals fled eastwards with the core of their beaten army, then regrouped.

ASHDOWN 14th(?) Having taken 4days to bury his dead and regroup- also scout to make sure the English weren’t lurking, Halfdan seized the initiative and and, presuming the English beaten, marched out to bring them to battle if his men were to recover lost loot unimpinged.

He had to choose a target that would provide his army with food and one that he knew the English were bound to defend. He chose Wallingford- it had granaries, a rich old abbey, fishponds and farms.

However, the king’s scouts alerted him to the Danish movements, and he moved his army onto high ground along the ancient Icknield Way ridge, near an old Roman fort. Just to the south is a slightly lower hollow which drops away sharply.

Alfred was to set a trap, a part of the Saxon army would act as a decoy- luring the Vikings after them, and the rest of the army would trap them against a sharp and sudden steep drop where they would not be able to fight effectively.

The Danes split their army into two divisions as they moved uphill, and the English did likewise (presumably in a shieldwall). Halfdan spotted what he thought was the whole Saxon army (actually the decoy party deliberately trying to be seen, then feinting uphill to the ridge) and moved his entire army after them.

Alfred, urgently tired of waiting for his brother’s wing of the army (but the king was still in prayer), charged his own division uphill against the deceived Danes “like a wild boar” and a fierce battle raged.

The Danes realised too late that this was a trap and were too cramped to swing weapons. As Alfred’s army crashed into them with a ferocity they had little known, they slowly pulled back/ were pushed back to the ridge drop. Also, the ‘decoy’ party was now blocking their escape and driving the Danish flanks uphill, and some Danes began to be driven over the edge- some even killed their own men accidentally in the desperation to swing at Alfred’s determined men.

Finally, Ethelred’s wing charged into the battle, the Danes’ uneven shieldwall with fierce impact, and a lengthy and fierce struggle rang out. Battle-lines turned out of kilter and casualties were heavy on both sides- as the day wore on “the fiercest fighting was around a single thorn tree”

But eventually the Danes broke and a savage rout ensued. The Danes may have lost half of their army, including one of their two kings, five jarls. Many were viciously hunted down in the fading light by vengeful Saxons, all the way back to Reading..

It was soon after this that a Danish “Summer army” landed, led by Kings Guthrum, Oscetel and Anwend, swelling the enemy horde, effecting Saxon morale despite this great victory.

Basing January 22nd After receiving re-inforcements, Halfdan faced the depleted Saxons in battle here (seeking battle, or raiding in force?). In a brutal but long battle, the Danes eventually ‘held the field’ of battle. Both armies withdrew to regroup and rest, and Halfdan saw his chance to seize Wallingford, then moved south against the King’s army.

Meretun March (unknown site- maybe Marten on the Inkpen ridgeway, 20m north of Wilton?)

Once again fighting in two divisions each, another brutal and closely-fought battle where “there was great slaughter on both sides”. But the Danes again had the edge.

Was Ethelred severely wounded at this battle? It is not recorded anywhere, or was it an illness (the ‘family’ illness?) brought on by the constant worries and strains of kingship? He died on April 15th and was buried at Wimborne minster (later destroyed by Viking raids), with Alfred present.

Despite having two young sons, Ethelred’s proven brother, Alfred, was elected king by the witan and he succeeded to a desperate kingdom.

Wilton King Alfred and his depleted army- here the men of Berkshire and maybe Hampshire- had been driven back across the eastern borders of Wiltshire and Dorset. Here they and Halfdan –

“fought with a small force against the whole [Viking] army and put it to flight far into the day”

But again, despite great losses on both sides, the Danes held the field.

Three more unnamed battles were also fought, but as they are unrecorded by the Chroniclers, maybe they were also English defeats?

After Wilton, a victorious sea battle against the Danes in which he captured one of “seven crews of ships” and routed the rest.

Alfred, having fought the Danes to a standstill, now offered the Danes terms that they should leave Wessex in peace –and payments by heavy taxation of his people, of Danegeld (unknown amount, but likely huge).

They accepted- Alfred needed a breathing space to regroup; Halfdan had overstretched his lines of supply and communication, and his casualties had cost him dear (he moved on to Reading, despite the military advantage he hald), both sides knowing they would be back.

The Viking 'Great Army' of 865

865 “The Great Army” The Danes (recruited from the fjords of Norway, also Denmark, W.Baltic and Frisian islands) land a massive invasion fleet in E.Anglia, led by the sons of Ragnar- Ivar the ‘boneless (helping from Dublin) as the eldest and leader, with Ubba and Halfdan.

They invaded in supposed revenge for ragnar’s death (in a pitful of snakes by Aelle of Northumbria) and their Norse ally- “Olaf the White” (Ivar’s co-ruler of Dublin and now overlord of the Picts and Scots) attacked British Strathclyde in Scotland- maybe to prevent any alliance between the northern English and empathetic Britons?

The E.Anglian army is quickly subdued and the host wintered 865/6 to spend a year draining the locality of supplies and horses, plus Danegeld- for the next phase of their conquest and, fully stocked up with supplies of grain, horses and Danegeld, they head north for Northumbria (alledgedly to avenge their father?)

866 York This important town (Northumbrias capital) fell on Nov 1st. Home of sea trade, commerce and the seat of Archbishop Wulfhere (of questionable loyalty under Viking rule).

At the time, Northumbria was divided by civil war and Osbert (the ‘lgitimate king’) was ousted by the people for the tyrannical Aelle (“not born of the royal line”), and when the Danes advanced they made peace and moved on York together.

Unfortunately for the York citizens, the Northumbrian allies arrived some months later- by which time the Danes were well-defended behind the walls, having laid a trap. Allowing the allies to storm York, the Vikings eventually killed the leaders and 8 earldormen, with a huge number of their men.

The Vikings then moved north against Northumbria and suppressed the region south of the Tyne. They then placed an Englishman- Ecgbert, as earl of Northumbria as their puppet ruler (d.873), The Danes now moved south.

868 Mercia the Great army split- Ivar headed north to war in Scotland, (taking advantage of ally Olaf the White’s sailing to Norway) setting off to claim Dublin and Jorvik kingship, and to crush the Britons of Strathclyde, whilst Ubba and Halfdan (left in charge by Ivar) headed into Mercia, which was defended by earl Eadburh- brother-inlaw of the current king Athelred. They continued south for Wessex.

Nottingham fell to the Danes and Burghred, ruler of Mercia, consulted his witan. Appealing to his Wessex kinsmen (Aethelred agreed to help), and he amassed “an ‘immense army’ from every part of the kingdom” (Wessex) and sped north with his younger brother Alfred, and joined the Mercians in laying siege to Nottingham.

The Danes, heavily outnumbered, wisely stayed behind the walls and didn’t present their foes with a chance of battle, knowing that impatience and boredom would dissolve the army (and playing on their enemies’ rivalry), also the fyrd would need to reap harvests (this was before Alfred’s reforms).

The walls proved impregnable (did the allies try attacking?) and the Wessex army decamped and marched home (why was Athelred forced to return home- revolt?), leaving the abandoned Burghred, now with the military/political initiative removed, no choice but to submit to the Danes (maybe why he later harboured the quisling ousted ruler of Northumbria- Egbert in 872 and the ousted earlorman Wulfhere in 878?)

The Danes returned to brutally crush a Northumbrian revolt against their rule, which had arisen through grudging resentment at their rule.

869 (Autumn), the Danes returned to E.Anglia in a two-pronged invasion, Ivar marched overland, controlling the Icknield Way and brutally massacring anyone in his path from York southwards (especially churchmen at Castleford, Doncaster, Lincoln & during the slaughter at Peterborough, thenthrough Eldernell, March and Denver) and Ubba led a well-concerted sea assault (pre-arranged to sail into the Wash and land to meet Ivar there?).

United, the superarmy now leads an attack on Thetford, E.Anglia. This is where local thegn Edmund (St) was captured, beaten, tortured and shot to death with viking arrows, before being beheaded. He was soon after venerated as a saint, esteemed by both vikings and Saxons alike.

Events during King Ecgbert's reign (802-39)

802 On the same day that Ecgbert acceded to the kingdom of Wessex (after an exile for 3 or 13yrs at Charlemagne’s court, scribal error, though sources confirm 3), the Mercians continued to oppose Egbert: the day of his accession, the Hwicce (who had originally formed a separate kingdom, but by that time were part of Mercia) attacked, under the leadership of their ealdorman, Æthelmund.

Weohstan, a Wessex ealdorman, met him with men from Wiltshire: according to a fifteenth-century source, Weohstan had married Alburga, Egbert's sister, and so was Egbert's brother-in-law.

The Hwicce were defeated in the ensuing battle, though Weohstan was killed as well as Æthelmund. This battle probably influenced that the river Avon would be the boundary between Western Wessex and Mercia.

Charlemagne(who died in 814) and his Frankish troops and money almost certainly helped Ecgbert achieve his aims.

803 - The Synod of Clofeshoh (possibly Brixworth) is held, at which the Archbishopric of Lichfield is demoted to an ordinary Bishopric, with Papal permission obtained by King Coenwulf I of Mercia. 806 - King Eardwulf of Northumbria is expelled from his kingdom by one Aelfwald who takes the throne as King Aelfwald II. Eardwulf flees to the Imperial Frankish Court of Charlemagne and later visits Pope Leo III in Rome. 807 - Death of King Cuthred of Kent. Kent possibly under direct Mercian rule. 808 - With the active support of Emperor Charlemagne of the Franks and Pope Leo III, the exiled King Eardwulf of Northumbria is able to return to his kingdom and oust the usurper, King Aelfwald II. 809 - The Papal Legate is kidnapped by Vikings while sailing for Northumbria. c.810 - Death of King Eardwulf of Northumbria. He is succeeded by his son, Eanred. Canterbury Cathedral is probably demolished by Archbishop Wulfred of Canterbury and rebuilt on a more extravagant basilican scale c.812 - King Sigered of Essex is reduced to the rank of Dux by his Mercian overlords.

815 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Egbert ravaged the whole of the territories of the remaining British kingdom, Dumnonia, known to the author of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as the West Welsh; their territory was about equivalent to what is now Cornwall.

818 - King Coenwulf of Mercia raids Dyfed.

823 Galford A charter dated 19 August this year indicates that Egbert was campaigning in Dumnonia again; this may have been related to a battle recorded in the Chronicle, between the men of Devon and the Britons of Cornwall. First written record of the county of Devon in the Saxon form of the name.

Powys, The Mercians invade but are beaten back by King Cyngen. They also destroy the Gwynedd capital, Degannwy. Death of King Ceolwulf I of Mercia. He is succeeded by Beornwulf, a descendant of the late King Beornred. Rise of King Baldred of Kent. His allegiance is uncertain, but he was propbably a relative of King Beornwulf of Mercia. Athelstan of East Anglia attempts to claim the East Anglian throne again.

825 Battle of Ellandun. A huge earthwork called ‘Wansdyke’ had separated the rival kingdoms of Wessex/Mercia- of varied height and 60miles long, it ran from Portishead in the Bristol Channel to the Inkpen Beacons in Berks- maybe built by King Ecgbert.

Mercian chief Beornwulf had gained power from a coup in 824 and in an attempt to defeat Wessex, he launched a pre-emptive strike this year.

Ecgbert had been building his own huge army during the past 20yrs, for his own defence, but was busy campaigning in Cornwall (crushing revolts against his neighbouring power), just as he had been recently and in 815, when he brutally crushed a huge revolt there.

Beornwulf marched his huge, but smaller, army to the border and along the ridgeway, observed Wessex from Silbury Hill and sent a decoy to try to deceive Ecgbert’s border scouts whilst he feinted his main force towards Wansdyke and further dangerously steep and uneven earthworks.

Informed by his spies within the Mercian camp close to their leader, Ecgbert- back from having crushed the Cornish Britons, marches his honed army from the downs in the summer heat into the low ground near Swindon and somewhere along the ancient trackway’s higher ground.

Here, he met Beornwulf’s army below him.

A contemporary Chronicler said that Ecgbert’s men of Wessex were “wan and thin” due to summer warring (hard to believe having fought hard recently?), whereas the Mercians looked “ healthy and ruddy of the soil” (maybe unfit?)

The battle began with Ecgbert’s advance upon Beornwulf- shieldwall to shieldwall- into the flanking slopes and deceptive hollows, and a hard, vicious battle raged.

“more soldiers were blinded by sweat than blood”.

But finally, after hours of fighting uphill into a barbed wall of spears and fierce missiles, the Mercians broke into a vicious rout and slaughter.

Ecgbert quickly expanded upon this great victory by sending his son Athelwulf, earldorman Wulfherd and Bishop of Sherborne with a huge Wessex army, into Kent and ousted King Baldred. They then brutally subdued and absorbed Surrey, Essex, Sussex into Wessex.

826 Beornwulf’s power was seriously weakened, but he turned his attention to E.Anglia, where a revolt had arisen against fading Mercian rule there, under Athelstan ‘half-king’ (Ecgbert’s son? Which may explain his near-autonomy here). Appealing to his father for aid, a West Saxon and E.Anglian army crushed Beornwulf’s army, and he himself was slain.

A Mercian earldorman, Ludeca, took command of Mercia after Beornwulf was killed, and a few months later led a similar campaign against E.Anglia, but he too was also killed in battle.

829 During the vacuum left by the deaths of Beornwulf and Ludeca, another Mercian nobleman in his 40’s called Wiglaf took charge.

In a pre-emptive strike, the all-powerful Ecgbert now invaded the crisis-hit Mercia, chasing out Wiglaf and driving any enemies aside. Ecgbert faced the Northumbrians in battle (led by Eanred, their king?), defeated them and accepted their submission at Dore.

According to a later chronicler, Roger of Wendover, Egbert invaded Northumbria and plundered it before Eanred submitted: "When Egbert had obtained all the southern kingdoms, he led a large army into Northumbria, and laid waste that province with severe pillaging, and made King Eanred pay tribute." Roger of Wendover is known to have incorporated Northumbrian annals into his version; the Chronicle does not mention these events. However, the nature of Eanred's submission has been questioned: one historian has suggested that it is more likely that the meeting at Dore represented a mutual recognition of sovereignty.

830 This year Egbert led a successful expedition against the Welsh, almost certainly with the intent of extending West Saxon influence into the Welsh lands previously within the Mercian orbit. This marked the high point of Egbert's influence.

Ecgbert failed to hold onto Mercia and, because Frankish support was drying up due to their own internal problems (revolt against Luois the pious, king of Franks) , Wiglaf was able to fight back and re-gain some of his lost Mercian power and land.

He also did so effectively with Essex and thus London, reducing Ecgbert’s area of power somewhat. But he had other things to consider- the renewed Viking raids.

Charters indicate Wiglaf had authority in Middlesex and Berkshire, and in a charter of 836 Wiglaf uses the phrase "my bishops, duces, and magistrates" to describe a group that included eleven bishops from the episcopate of Canterbury, including bishops of sees in West Saxon territory.

It is significant that Wiglaf was still able to call together such a group of notables; the West Saxons, even if they were able to do so, held no such councils.

In East Anglia, King Æthelstan minted coins, possibly as early as 827, but more likely c.830 after Egbert's influence was reduced with Wiglaf's return to power in Mercia.

836 Carhampton Ecgbert gathered an army and faced the “25 ships” of raiding Danes here (25x maybe 30 men in each= 750 vikings).

It was a long and bitter battle and Ecgbert almost won, but at dusk the Danes held the field.

838 Battle of Hingston Down “A great pirate host” came to Cornwall in an attempt to recruit the local Cornishmen against Ecgbert’s power. On this scale it was clear that the Vikings aimed to invade Wessex and drive Ecgbert out/kill him.

But Ecgbert was not only re-armed, but ready for the allies- he had spent time studying their tactics and ways.. He advanced to the River Tamar at the Cornish-Devon border and gave battle, defeating them in a hard-fought struggle. As Ecgbert was now in his 60’s, he probably didn’t fight directly, but led his men and inspired them, maybe giving field command to son Aethelwolf?

In a brutal display of superior power, Ecgbert subdued the unstable area viciously until he had sapped their will to resist so much so that, even in Alfred’s reign, they were reluctant to fight the Saxons.