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.

Early Anglo-Saxon battles

456 Hengist defeats Vortigern at the battle at Creacgan Ford (Crayford, Kent)  
465 Hengist and Aesc (later King of Kent) beat the Britons at Wippedes Fleot (ebbsfleet?)  
473 (site unknown) Hengist & Aesc again defeat the Britons  
477 Saxon Aelle (King of Sussex) & sons Cymen, Wlencing & Cissa beat the Britons at Cymenes Ora (Selsey Bill?- now under the sea)  
485 Aelle beat the Britons at Mearcraedes Burna  
491 Aelle and son Cissa led the Saxons in a fierce attack on the Britons, who were entrenched in an old [Roman?] fort here- Pevensey  
495 Cerdic (King of Wessex) and Cynric (King of W.Saxons) beat the Britons at Cerdices Ora  
508 Cerdic & Cynric beat Natanleod at Natan Leag (Netley Marsh?)  
517 British victory (largely cavalry) at Mount Badon under ‘Ambrosius Aurelionus’ checks incursion by Saxon & Angles for about 44 years.  
519 Cerdic & Cynric beat the Britons at Ceridices Ford (site?)  
527 “ “ “ at Cerdicies Leag (site?)  
552 Cynric) beat the Britons here, Searoburh (Ols Sarum?)  
556 Cynric & Ceawlin beat the Britons at Beranburh (Badbury?)  
568 Ceawlin (King of Wessex) and Cutha (W.Saxon king) beat Aethelbert (King of kent) at Wibbandun (site?)  
571 Cuthwulf (W.Saxon king) beat the Britons at Biedcanford (Luton area?) “ Cutha (brother of Ceawlin) beat the Britons in this important battle at Biedcanford.  
577 DYRHAM Cutha, Ceawlin both beat 3 British kings (Conmail, Condidan & Forinmail) then occupied Bath, Gloucester and Cirencester. This major victory split Cornish Britons from the Welsh and SW Britons above the Severn.  
577 West Saxons defeat British at the Battle of Doerham.  
583 Defeat of West Saxons at the Battle of Faddiley stops further incursion into Wales.  
584 Although Ceawlin had taken burhs and booty, he returned home irate – had his army been beaten at Fethanleag (nr Stoke?)by the Britons?  
592 Ceawlin was beaten by ?? here at Adam’s Grove (Alton Priors, Wilts?)  
593 Cwichelm (King W.Sussex), Crida and Ceawlin were beaten in battle at Wodensbeorg (and killed?) by Ceol, who succeeded Ceawlin.  
598 N.Britons under Owain from nr Edinburgh, were wiped out at Cattraith (Catterick?) - recorded in “Goddodin” of Aneirin- by men of Deira/Bernicia led by Aethelferth, who ravaged “North Briton” (now Scotland) killing & slaying, taking land.- Northumbrian power grew, and English troops threatened Scots.   
603 Athelfrith of Deira & Bernicia utterly routs Aidan, king of Dal Riata and Ulster, at the Battle of Degsaston. English army fiercely cut through Celts, killing most. Athelfrith (king of Nbria) conquered all S.E.Scotland below the Forth.  
607 Aethelfrith defeated the Welsh in a great battle near Chester “ (site?) Ceolwulf (King W.Saxons) beat the S.Saxons.  
616 Athelfrith wins major battle against the Britons of Powys and their king, Selyf at the Battle of Chester. Battle was preceded by the slaying of a monk who had been praying for British victory. This split the Strathclyde Britons from their Welsh allies.  
616 Edwin (one son of Aelle) of Deira, was driven out by Aethelfryth of Bernicia and he finally sought refuge with Radwald king of East Anglia, who refused to cave in to Aeth’s demands to hand him over. Raedwald with Edwin of Deira march here and defeat/kill Athelfrith at the Battle of River Idle (Gainsborough?), Edwin was restored to Deira & Bernicia as well (as Raedwald’s vassal?)  
628 Penda (King of Mercia) beat Cynegils (King of Wessex) and son Cwichelm at Cirencester (Gloucs).  
633 Penda of Mercia & Cadwallon of Gwynedd (unnerved by Nbrian expansion) defeat and kill Edwin at the Battle of Hatfield Chase (or Heathfield) at Doncaster.  
634 York. Cadwallon (King of Gwynedd) beat & killed Osric (King of Deira) “ Battle of Heavenfield (Hexham?). Oswald of Bernicia & Deira defeats and kills Cadwallon. They had been ravaging the region and had killed Osric of Deira (above) and Earfrith (Bernicia), Oswald’s brother. Oswald annexed their two kingships of Deira/Bernicia and ensured that this new, expanded kingdom of Nbria would return to Christianity. “ Calathros (Stirlingshire?) – Oswald (King of Nbria) beat Domnall Brec Aedan.  
642 Penda of Mercia defeats Oswald of Bernicia & Deira at the Battle of Maserfield (Shropshire?). He then cut off his hands/head and put them on stakes (as offerings to war gods?) or to terrorise any opposition?
652 Cenwalh of Wessex beat the Britons at Bradenforda (Bradford-on-Avon)  
655 Oswy of Deira had constant wars with Penda of Mercia and the Britons, and here defeated and killed Penda with Æthelhere and 30 other princes and kings in a vicious rout 9where many Mercians/Britons drowned) at the Battle of Winwaed.
658 Cenwalh of Wessex beat the Britons at Penselwood (or Peonnan)- Pinhoe, Devon.
661 “ “ “ “ “ at Postentesburh (posbury, Devon).  
665 Badon (Badbury?) Britons v Anglo-Saxons (unknown outcome)  
674 (site?) Nbria- Ecgfrith of Nbria beat Wulfhere of mercia.  
675 Biedbanheafod Wulfhere of Mercia v Aescwine of Wessex (outcome unknown)  
676 Aethelred of Mercia beat the Britons at Rochester (Kent)
679 Aethelred of Mercia beat Ecgfrith of Nbria at Trent River- it was unusual for enemy nobles to be executed. Lesser enemy were sold abroad as slaves.
685 Against all advice, Ecgfrith of Northumbria fiercely attacked the Picts (under Brude McBeli) but it was a disaster. Lured into a mountain pass he and his army was ambushed & massacred by Picts at the Battle of Nechtansmere (Forfar?). Scotland/Pictland was made safe from the English, whilst Nbrian power declined and left it powerless by the time of the Vikings.  
704/5 Osred I Son of Aldfrith. He defeated the usurper, Eadwulf, at the Battle of bamburgh. Killed by Cenred.  
710 Ine of Wessex beat Geraint King of Cornwall at the River Tamar  
715 Ceolred beat Ine of Wessex at Adam’s Grove (Alton Priory, Wilts)  
722 River Hayle (Cornwall) - Ine of Wessex beat the S.Saxons “ Taunton (Somerset)- Aethelburg of Nbria beat Ealdburgh, Prince of Wessex. “ Garth Maelog (Wales) – Welsh Britons beat English (Mercians? Saxons?) “ Pencoed (Wales) - “” “ “ “  
725 (site?) Ine of Wessex beat the S.Saxons.  
733 Aethelbald of Mercia beat Aethelheard of Wessex at Somerton (Somerset).  
752 Beorgfeord (Burford, oxon) Aethelbald of Mercia was beaten in battle by Cuthred of Wessex, thus expanding north of the Thames. Gains here were wiped out by Offa’s victory at Benson in 777.  
756 Eadbert of Nbria & Angus of the Picts beat Britons of Strathclyde. At Alcluith (Dumbarton).  
757 Cyneheard Prince of Wessex beat Cynewulf of Wessex at Merantun.  
776 In late 8thC Kent had struggled to stay independent against Mercia, but lost here, Otford (Historical accounts conflict)  
777 Offa of Mercia defeats Cynewulf of Wessex at the important Battle of Benson. He gained lands back below the Thames.  
798 Ceolwulf of Mercia beat eadbehrt Praen of Kent at Romney Marsh.

Contradictions of Norman writer William of Poitiers...

Let me introduce you to 'William of Poitiers' desperate world of hagiography and propaganda ...!

Odd how the widely-read chaplain to William of Normandy, a former soldier, praised the English/Harold in one breath, then denigrated them/him in the next?
Was he writing these things after and before 1066, when some uncomfortable truths had become unpalatable?

The Anglo-Saxon army.

= They were "the fiercest of men...always by nature ready to take up the sword"
= They had "easily defeated the King of the Norwegians" (only three weeks before Hastings, over 250m to the north, near York, at Stamford Bridge)
= They had "resisted bravely" at Hastings and the Norman/Bretons were "terrified by their ferocity"

But soon after in Poitiers' Gesta Guillame, they were "never famed for their feats of arms"???

Earl/King Harold.

= He had "honour, wealth and power", but then, ever after he was "greedy"(?) and a "usurper"

Usurping whom? Being lawfully elected King by the ruling powers- and the KING HIMSELF- makes it "legal"...
So, was Harold no longer "such a man as poems liken him to Hector or Turnus"?

And did Poitiers no longer feel the need to have to boost William's image to 'match up' to Harold's strength and martial prowess by stating insecurely "William, his equal and in no way inferior in standing"

William "subjugated all the cities of the English in a single day"...

So what of Hereward's revolt of 1071 (amongst many other large, serious and threatening revolts against the invaders post-1066- at Exeter, Dover, York, etc - not just by William's OWN Norman kinsmen either!), deemed by William to be so serious and Hereward so effective a military leader that he showed up to lead his troops against him in person?

Contradictions and expedient excuse-making from a former soldier and intelligent scholar of the classics, who secretly knew better...

"They [the Normans] produced little in art or learning and nothing in literature that could be set beside the work of Englishmen..."(Prof. Frank Stenton)

Huscarls- Methods of fighting battles...

Logan Thompson, in his "Ancient weapons in Britain" suggests that, with King Harold (then as Earl) having seen the Normans in action only two years prior to 1066, he instructed many of his elite warriors at Santlache along the front battle-rank to fight in pairs against Norman cavalry at Hastings- one to 'absorb' the enemy horseman from one side who was charging with his lance, spear or sword, and the other housecarl to strike the exposed horse or Norman rider from the other, left side.

One housecarl would have dealt with the rider's weapon-side whilst the other leapt forward and dealt a huge swipe with his axe at the rider or horse, then kill the fallen & dazed trooper. It is likely that when the housecarls swung their terrifying axes in the figure of eight motion, in order to generate unstoppable momentum (and perhaps to confuse a foe?), they targetted the enemy's right side which, despite holding their own weapon (usually in the right hand), would have been exposed to the axeman's fury.

This also meant, however, that since the huscarl himself could not use a shield together with the oversized axe, that he must remain constantly aggressive, attacking without letup in order to keep his opponent from entering aggressive stance.

One of the more distinctive confirmations of the Huscarls' tactics also comes from the Bayeux tapestry: It clearly shows them holding their axes left-handed rather than right-handed, as intuition might dictate. Using a left-handed grip would mean that they would swing toward an opponent's unguarded side (the right), requiring the average right-handed defender to shift their shield-side toward the attacking huscarl, thus entering a defensive stance and diminishing their attacking speed and ability.

Others would have found room to wield their two-handed axes against the enemy, immediately in front of the wall of shields, with others forming a prickly barbed-shieldwall of spears, with the fyrdsmen throwing various lethal missiles from behind. The huscarls were most likely cross-trained with different weapons (sword, double-handed axe, thrusting/throwing spear or axe), being well-informed about any military advancements in weapons and tactics on the continent. Some perhaps having been mercenaries abroad (Flanders? Byzantine? Even Normandy?).

The preferred technique for dealing with mounted opponents was to cleave the horse's front legs out from under it as it passed or approached. Armed with such a heavy-handed weapon however, it is unlikely that huscarls were very choosy over their targets, and they probably struck at any opportune region. One account of the Battle of Hastings described many horses as being nearly cloven in two by the Huscarls' axes.

HUSCARL ARCHERS? It is not clear whether any archers were included in a body of huscarls, though in the Battle of Maldon poem, there is quotes of Anglo-Saxon"thrown spears and bows". The English nobles present had just been hunting beforehand, and therefore bows may have been used to fight with in the impending battle.

Yet the traditional Germanic way of fighting was to hurl various missiles before armies clashed from some distance apart, but pride may have prevented the elite warriors from using such "lowly" weapons- which didn't involve hand-to-hand fighting.

In England these were aristocratic sporting weapons, used for hunting wild animals, not humans, and archery was a strictly guarded mystique as nobles had long been fanatically jealous over their hunting rights. Therefore if a poor man owned a bow, let alone practised with one, he was seen as a poacher. So few fyrdsmen would be any good at archery in battle, less dare admit it for fear of losing limb or life.

http://www.englistory.co.uk

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