Battle of Brunanburh

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Four Kings, each having some association with Chester have been famed for their wide rule and in some cases considered to be the "first King of England", The truth is somewhat more complicated. Starting soon after Offa (died 29 July 796), with Egbert (771/775 – 839) who was king of Wessex from 802, we are told by the sculptures at Chester's Town Hall that he captured Chester and "united the kingdoms" and a West Saxon scribe described him as a "bretwalda", meaning "wide-ruler" or "Britain-ruler", but the scribe also noted that he was the eighth such ruler. He seems to have kept control of Chester only for a year or so. Egbert's son supposedly recieved the submission of other kings "from Berwick to Kent" at Chester, but then went on pilgrimage to Rome and returned to find his "caretaker" brother would not give up the kingdom. Egbert's grandson, Alfred the Great (848/849 – 26 October 899) fought back from a Danish invasion which saw him reduced to ruling a few squere miles of swamp to a stalemate where the Danes ruled the eastern half of the country. Alfred apparently fought Vikings at Chester. Alfred's son Edward (c. 874 – 17 July 924) regained much of the lost territory with the aid of his warlike sister who rebuilt Chester, then died at Farndon after dealing with a revolt in Chester. Next came Æþelstān (c. 894 – 27 October 939) who may have fought a battle near Chester and called himself "King of the English". Upon his death England fell apart. Edward's grandson Edgar (c. 943 – 8 July 975) famously cruised on the River Dee to proclaim his "wide rule", and upon his death England once more collapsed into chaos. In the midst of this two centuries of dynastic conflict came the Battle of Brunanburh which sheds some light on events in Chester between the collapse of the Mercian hegemony and the Anglo-Saxon beginnings of what was to become the Norman Earldom.

The Battle of Brunanburh was fought in 937 between Æþelstān, "King of the English", and an alliance of Olaf Guthfrithson, King of Dublin; Constantine II, King of Scotland, and Owain ap Dyfnwal, King of Strathclyde. The main point of contention is the location of the battlefield, for which over forty places have been proposed. One contender for the site of the battle is Bromborough on the Wirral, a little way north of Chester. Whether the battle was fought there or not, there is little or nothing on the supposed battle site to see today, save for visitors with a particular interest, although "Viking Wirral" has quite a few sites worth a look. There is compelling evidence that the Wirral was settled by the Vikings and an excellent guide can be found together with heaps more stuff on the Viking Wirral pages. This article assumes the battle was fought on the Wirral, although, as noted, well-reasoned arguments have been put forward for several other locations.

Britain in 878 after the successful campaigns of Alfred the Great and peace with the Danes - showing the area of Danish occupation. The "English" already have access to the Irish Sea at the Wirral and the Celtic peoples of Wales and Strathclyde are already separated.
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This battle has posssibly been confused with the legendary Arthurian battle of "Mons Badonicus" which was already reported by Nennius and Gildas in De Excidio Britanniae ("The Ruin of Britannia") many years previously. However, the fact that Alfred fought the Danes at Chester, and that his son Edgar fought (and died) at Farndon, may have meant that if third-generation Æþelstān fought another battle near Chester, later legends would mix all these elements together. Some early theories suggested that the "purpose" of the battle was to drive an English wedge between the "Welsh" and the "Scots" and therefore prevent any alliance against the Anglo-Saxons as well as gaining a port on the Irish Sea. This theory has now largely been discounted, for reasons that Wales was an ally of Æþelstān, the Danes had already split the celts and for the further reason that the Mercians already had access to the Irish Sea.

The connection with Chester is not only one of proximity, is possible that a boundary stone ("Vínheíþr-stan" in Icelandic) existed at Upton giving rise to the name of "Wealstone Lane". The reference to "Vínheíþr" has been considered interesting as "Vin Heath" is mentioned in Egils Saga (see Chapter 52) as being the location of the Battle of Brunanburh. Æþelstān was encamped prior to the battle at a town a little way to the south and, given the time that it took for messengers to ride between the opponents, this may well have been Chester. "Vin" is often interpreted as a personal name, but the so-called "Wirral Micro-climate" may be such that it was possible to grow grape-vines there in Viking times, so the "Vin" may be a reference to a place where grapes grew (they are actually still grown there today). There is a further reference to vines on the 1735 map of Upton. Port-, Tapa- and Wing-Fields are grouped together along Liverpool Road behind the Egerton Arms (now "The Mill") – Upton Drive area. Tapa is a personal name (NB Pica in Picton), words beginning with ‘wing’ in the Old English dictionary frequently relate to vines. Another possible origin of "Wealstone" could be from "foreigners stone", but whatever it actually was, its location has long been lost.

Who fought in 937?

St Olave from a Randle Holme woodcut. As used by Hemingway. The ruins to the right are probably those of Paris Hall as discussed on page relating to Bridge Street. The tower has the appearance of a "stave church" possibly a link to its Norwegian connections.

As with all battles outside of a comparatively modern era the names of the vast majority of those who took part have not been recorded. We know the names of the leaders of the factions involved and also that in some cases family members were also present. As to the names of advisors, lesser troop commanders &c. only very little has survived. Similarly, comparatively little is known about the details of events surrounding the battle and the course of any campaign leading up to it. The two sides can be thought of as an "English" side and a "Northern Alliance" of opponents:

The "English"

In the eighth century, Mercia had been the most powerful kingdom in southern England, but in the early ninth, Wessex became dominant under Æþelstān's great-great-grandfather, Egbert (who eventually captured Chester as portrayed in sculpture at the Town Hall). In the middle of the century, England came under increasing attack from Viking raids, culminating in invasion by the "Great Heathen Army" in 865. The Mercian capital Tamworth was sacked by the Danes (Vikings) in 874. It remained a ruin until 913, when Æthelflæd, daughter of King Alfred the Great and "Lady of the Mercians", rebuilt the town and constructed a burh to defend it against further Danish invaders.

By 878, the Vikings had overrun East Anglia, Northumbria, and Mercia, and nearly conquered Wessex. The West Saxons fought back under Alfred the Great, and achieved a decisive victory at the Battle of Edington (878). Alfred and the Viking leader Guthrum agreed on a division that gave Alfred western Mercia, while eastern Mercia was incorporated into Viking East Anglia. The dividing line was more of less the course of Watling Street, the Roman Road from Chester to London. In the 890s, renewed Viking attacks were successfully fought off by Alfred, assisted by his son (and Æthelstan's father) Edward the Elder and Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians. This conflict involved a skirmish at Chester, possibly with the Vikings camping out in the Amphitheatre. Æthelred ruled English Mercia under Alfred and was married to Alfred's daughter Æthelflæd, who was involved in the re-fortification of Chester and the extension of the City Walls. Alfred died in 899 and was succeeded by Edward the Elder.

Vikings in the Wirral

The presence of a Viking settlement in the Wirral is evident from place names and has more recently been confirmed by DNA studies. Judging from the rather limited historical evidence for Scandinavian settlement in the Wirral, the Norse, under the leadsership of Ingimund, were allowed to settle in Mercian territory by permission of Æthelflæd who effectively ruled Mercia from 911 until her death in 918.

Some historians have suggested that allowing the Vikings to settle was a strange decision. What may be relevant is that Æthelflæd's brother, Edward the Elder had other issues with the Vikings at the time. Becoming king was not straightforward for Edward. A cousin, Æthelwold, disputed the succession and seized the royal estates of Wimborne, symbolically important as the place where his father was buried, and Christchurch, both in Dorset. Edward brought an army to Dorset, but Æthelwold fled to Viking-controlled Northumbria, where he was accepted as king - although it is not clear whether he was accepted as "king of Northumbria" or simply recognised as having a claim to Wessex. No explanation can be offered as to how he came to be on apparently friendly terms with the Northumbrians. In 901 or 902 Æthelwold sailed with a fleet to Essex, where he was also accepted as king (again it is not clear of what). The following year Æthelwold persuaded the East Anglian Danes (Vikings) to attack Edward's territory in Wessex and Mercia.

At about the same time the Hiberno-Norse exile Ingimund sought to settle near Chester. Ingimund was a Viking who had been expelled from Ireland and had attempted to settle in north Wales where he came into immediate conflict with the Welsh. According to the Welsh Annals, Ingimund came to Anglesey and held "Maes Osmeliaun", whilst the Welsh vernacular chronicle reports that Ingimund held "Maes Ros Meilon". The site itself appears to have been located on the eastern edge of Anglesey, perhaps near Llanfaes (effectively the later site of Beaumaris) if the aforesaid place names are any clue. Another possibility is that Ingimund was settled near Llanbedrgoch, where evidence of farming, manufacturing, and trading has been excavated at a Viking-age settlement. There is reason to suspect that the Llanbedrgoch site formed an aristocratic power centre, and that it may have originated as an informal Viking trading centre just prior to Ingimund's attempted colonisation. The centre itself could have provided an important staging post between the Welsh and other trading centres in the Irish Sea region. The conflict with the Vikings is well-attested in the Welsh records but Ingimunds subsequent move to the Wirral is only based on fragmentary evidence. There is no reason to suppose that the events on the Wirral and in East Anglia were related, but any arrangements reached with Ingamund could have been affected by the threat from Danes on two fronts, and the close timing of these two events is often overlooked by historians. Ingimund may well have been a member of the wealthy slave-trading rulers of Viking Dublin before his expulsion and could have offered a substantial cash bribe, which would have been of considerable benefit to Æthelflæd. This may even have been a quanity of silver sufficient to kick-start the expansion of a mint in Chester.

Edward now retaliated with a raid on East Anglia, forcing the enemy to return home in order to protect their own lands. When Edward withdrew the men of Kent lingered and met the East Anglian Danes at the Battle of the Holme (13 December 902). The Danes were victorious but suffered heavy losses, including the death of Æthelwold.

In the Wirral, the Norse possibly landed somewhere between "Vestri-Kirkubyr" (West Kirby) and "Melr" (Meols). At Meols over 4000 artefacts and nearly 1000 coins and tokens have been recovered from the eroding shore. The finds, mainly made in the 19th century, date from the prehistoric, Roman, medieval and post medieval periods and are an indication that in the past Meols was a major coastal trading site with links to places as far away as mainland Europe and the Mediterranean. The exiles, led by Ingimund, were granted land in Wirral by Æthelflæd and soon established a community with a clearly defined border, its own leader, its own language (Norse), a trading port, and at its centre a place of assembly or government (þing vollr) - the "Thing" at Thingwall. They also brought their religion with them to "Thor's Stone" (Mjollnir) at "Thorsteinn's farmstead", now Thurstaston Hill. It is also possible that the Norwegian "Labskause" may have come to this part of the country at that time and survived as "scouse". See: Hilbre Island for more.

The copper-alloy "Jellinge" Irish-Norse brooch found in excavations at Hunter Street in Chester.

Archaeology also confirms a Hiberno-Norse presence in Chester itself: a brooch with Borre-Jellinge ornament found at Princess Street/Hunter Street is identical with a brooch found in Dublin, and must have derived from the same mould. So trade had been established with Chester but the Vikings cast covetous eyes on the wealth of the city. In 905 (some sources say 912), the Norsemen revolted and attempted to take the city of Chester. The opening of the story involves a certain amount of treachery:

  • At first, the Saxon inhabitants of Chester placed a force outside the city gates and then staged a mock retreat. The Norse followed and the gates were closed behind them, trapping them in the city where a great number were slain.
  • Following this, the Saxons came to an arrangement with the Irish, who were "no friends of the Saxons but hated the Norsemen more" to meet with the Norse and propose to betray Chester. Unfortunately this was a double-cross and the Norse that came (unarmed) to the meeting were also slain.

Their subsequent Norse attempt at taking the city took on all the elements of a farce:

  • The first Norse attack upon the walls was driven off by dropping rocks upon them. The Norse answer to this was to protect their heads with wooden hurdles supported by wooden beams;
  • The Saxon answer to the hurdles was to pour boiling beer on the Vikings (which of course ran through the hurdles). The Norse response to this was to cover the hurdles with animal skins;
  • Fire would have been the next Saxon weapon, and the Vikings would have countered this by protecting their assault on the wall with soaking-wet sails from their ships;
  • Unfortunately for the Vikings the Saxons has a secret weapon - they threw at the Vikings "all the beehives of the town". For the Vikings, trapped inside their heavy, soaking wet, hide and sail-covered siege shelters - now also filled with very agitated bees - that was enough, and the attempt on the city was abandoned.

"Ingamunds saga" (and the "Three Fragments" of the "Annals of Ireland") repeat the story as follows:

  • "..But the other forces, the Norsemen, were under hurdles piercing the walls. What the Mercians and the Irish who were among them did was to throw large rocks so that they destroyed the hurdles over them. What they did in the face of this was to place large posts under the hurdles. What the Mercians did was to put all the ale and water of the town in the cauldrons of the town, to boil them and pour them over those who were under the hurdles so that the skins were stripped from them. The answer that the Norsemen gave to this was to spread hides on the hurdles. What the Mercians did was to let loose on the attacking force all the beehives in the town, so that they could not move their legs of hands from the great number of bees stinging them. Afterwards they left the city and abandoned it. It was not long before they returned."

The later fortunes of Ingamund's people is not entirely certain: there was a sizeable Scandinavian "ghetto" in the southern quarter of Chester later on, centred on the church of St Olave’s (the Norwegian king, Olaf Haraldsson, martyred in 1030), and it would appear that many of them settled down in the city as merchants, possibly giving rise to the Gloverstone enclave.

When Edward died in 924, he controlled all of England south of the Humber and had concluded treaties with his neighbours to the north, including Scotland, Strathclyde and Scandinavian York. The simplest way of explaining what happened next is that Edward's successor Æþelstān broke his father's treaties as soon as the opportunity to do so presented itself.

Edward the Elder and his relatives from Ecgberht who is commemporated on the Town Hall at Chester for his capture of the city to Edgar who famously took a boat trip on the Dee from his "palace" to St Johns. The chart shows the unexpected twists and turns of succession in this period, with the eldest son of the king frequently not being the one to inherit or pass-on the "crown".

Æþelstān:

Æþelstān (c.894 – 27 October 939) was the son of King Edward the Elder (see: Farndon) and his first wife, Ecgwynn. He became king in 924. Modern historians regard him as the first King of England. He is considered one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon kings - he was certainly one of the most aggressive and more legal texts survive from Æþelstān's reign than from any other 10th century English king indicating that he had something of a pre-occupation with law and order.

He never married and had no children, and while some have suggested this was because of his somewhat extreme religious position others have suggested that he was gay. Æþelstān's father and his aunt Æthelflæd were to regain much of the territory which the Vikings had conquered to the east of Mercia. In the process they would build a string of fortified locations across the gap from North Wales to the Pennines, including restoring the city of Chester. This would protect their flank while they rolled up the Vikings on the east coast and it is likely the young prince Æþelstān gained his military training in the Wessex/Mercian campaigns to reconquer the Danelaw. Aunt Æthelflæd, with whom Æþelstān spent much of his youth may have had strong views on religion as she established and promoted several cults (perhaps for political reasons), including that of Werburgh at Chester, and also, according to some traditions, had strong views on sex. According to William of Malmesbury, the birth of Ælfwynn only child of Æthelflæd and Æthelred was a difficult one, and William wrote that this led Æthelflæd to abstain from further sexual relations. To what extent Æþelstān's family upbringing shaped his character towards its particular form can only be speculated upon. Much the same can be said for his possible interaction with the Archbishop Plegmund a Mercian who had links to Chester.

At first Æþelstān appears to have continued with his father's policy of making treaties, although that may only have been because he (like his father before him) faced potential threats at home following his disputed ascent to the throne, which possibly involved the murder of his rival Ælfweard. One of the tools he used to some advantage was the marriage of his half-sisters for political ends (at times in return for holy relics to add to his vast collection of the same). In one instance he sent two sisters off to a foreign ruler (Otto the Great) and suggested he chose which one to marry and send the other back. Half-sister Eadgifu became the second wife of Charles the Simple, King of the West Franks. Eadgyth was German queen from 936, by her marriage with King Otto I. Eadhild was the second wife of Hugh the Great, duke of the Franks. The unions of two of Æþelstān's sisters to the two most powerful western-European leaders (Hugh and Otto) was a coup, but the relatively short-lived marriages produced no children. Both Hugh and Otto would create dynasies crucial to the later development of Europe but it would be with later wives. Æþelstān himself, had neither a male heir nor daughters to marry off.

He married his one full-blood sister, possibly Edith to the Danish king of Scandinavian York, Sitric Cáech with the condition that Sitric convert to christianity. According to one version of the tale, the marriage was never consummated. Sihtric soon broke his side of the agreement by renouncing the Christian religion and died shortly thereafter (927). Tradition has it that Edith returned south and founded a nunnery at Polesworth, not far from the Mercian royal seat at Tamworth, spending the rest of her life as a devout nun and virgin. Sitric's death brought about an internal conflict in Northumbria.

Æþelstān (c. 894 – 27 October 939) presenting a book to St Cuthbert - who died in 687. Illustration in a gospel book presented by Æthelstan to the saint's shrine in Chester-le-Street, the earliest surviving portrait of an English king (Corpus Christi MS 183, fol. 1v) - note that he is wearing his presumably new crown. Æþelstān supposedly removed some Cuthbert "relics" from Winchester.

Later in 927 Æþelstān conquered Scandinavian York, making him the first Anglo-Saxon ruler of the whole of England. It appears that upon the death of Sihtric and the outbreak of local conflict Æþelstān simply seized the chance and attacked. Gofraid ua Ímair (Guthfric), a cousin of Sihtric, led a fleet from Dublin to try to take the throne, but Æþelstān easily prevailed. He captured York and received the submission of the Danish people living there. According to a southern chronicler, he "succeeded to the kingdom of the Northumbrians", and it is uncertain whether he had to fight Guthfric at that time. Southern kings had never ruled the north, and his usurpation was met with outrage by the Northumbrians, who had always resisted southern control. However, at Eamont, near Penrith, on 12 July 927, King Constantine II of Alba, King Hywel Dda of Deheubarth, Ealdred of Bamburgh, and King Owain ap Dyfnwal of Strathclyde (or Morgan ap Owain of Gwent) accepted Æthelstan's overlordship. His triumph led to seven years of peace in the north and he adopted the title "rex anglorum" (king of the English), in recognition of his rule over the whole of England. The term "Englalonde" (England) only came into use in the late 10th or early 11th century.

In 934 Æþelstān invaded Scotland and forced Constantine II to submit to him. Æþelstān's reasons are unclear, and historians give alternative explanations. The death (probably murder) of his half-brother Edwin in 933 might have finally removed factions in Wessex opposed to his rule. Guthfric, the Norse king of Dublin who had briefly ruled Northumbria, died in 934; any resulting insecurity among the Danes would have given Æthelstan an opportunity to stamp his authority on the north. An entry in the Annals of Clonmacnoise, recording the death in c.934 of a ruler who was possibly Ealdred of Bamburgh, suggests another possible explanation. This points to a dispute between Æthelstan and Constantine over control of the late Ealdred's territory. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle briefly recorded the expedition without explanation, but the twelfth-century chronicler John of Worcester stated that Constantine had broken his treaty with Æthelstan.

Edmund:

Edmund (921 – 26 May 946) was the son of Edward the Elder and his third wife Eadgifu of Kent, and a grandson of Alfred the Great. Edmund was a young child when his father died in 924 at Farndon, and Edward the Elder was succeeded by his eldest son and Edmund's half-brother Æþelstān, the son of his father's first wife. Æþelstān may have been implicated in the deaths of at least two rival claimants, both of whom were also half-brothers to both Æþelstān and Edmund by Edward the Edler's second wife Ælfflæd. There is nothing to suggest that Edmund ever made any kind of claim to the throne: although he was the son of King Edward he was only about 4 when Edward died (and only about 16 at the Battle of Brunanburh). Edmund is both named in the near contemporaneous poem which commemorates the battle and he is identified as the "prince" on the winning side, as there were only two "princes" at the time, Edmund and his younger brother.

As described in more detail below, Edmund would eventually become king of England when he would engage in a considerable amount of warfare. He is sometimes known as "Edmund the Elder" (to distinguish him from a later Edmund) or, rarely, "Edmund the Magnificent". Edmund's first wife was Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury. There were two sons of this marriage: Eadwig (c. 940–959), and Edgar (c. 943–975). Both became kings of England. Ælfgifu died in 944, following which Edmund married Æthelflæd of Damerham. There are no known children of this marriage.

Egill Skallagrimsson

Egill Skallagrímsson (c.904 – c.995) was a Viking-Age poet, warrior and farmer. He is known mainly as the protagonist of Egil's Saga. Egil's Saga (text) historically narrates a period from approximately 850 to 1000 CE and is believed to have been written between 1220 and 1240 CE. Its oldest manuscript (a fragment) dates back to 1240 AD, and comprises the sole source of information on the exploits of Egil, whose life is not historically recorded. Stylistic and other similarities between Egil's Saga and Heimskringla have led many scholars to believe that they were the work of the same author, Snorri Sturluson (1179 – 23 September 1241). Egill was born in Iceland, and, at the age of seven, was cheated in a game with local boys. Enraged, he went home and procured an axe, and returning to the boys, split the skull of the boy who cheated him. This set the pattern for his future. He exhibited frequent "berserk" behaviour, and this, together with the description of his large and unattractive head, has led to the theory that he might have suffered from Paget's disease.

Egill Skallagrímsson - may have suffered from Paget's disease which gave him a thick skull and a violent nature.

Later, after being "grievously insulted", Egill killed Bárðr of Atley, a retainer of King Erik Bloodaxe and kinsman of Queen Gunnhildr, both of whom spent the remainder of their lives trying to take vengeance by sending various assassins against Egill, most of whom ended up dead. Eric Bloodaxe would banish him from Norway. Some time later Egill was shipwrecked in Northumbria. Whether Egill was present at the battle is disputed, simply due to the saga being the only source. However the discription of the battle and the events surrounding it is so detailed that it appears that this section of the saga is based on real events. If he had been present then he was probably present as a mercenary.

Ultimately, Egill returned to his family farm in Iceland, where he remained a power to be reckoned with in local politics. He lived into his eighties and died shortly before the Christianisation of Iceland. Before Egill died he buried his silver treasure near Mosfellsbær. In his last act of violence he murdered the servant who helped him bury his treasure. The treasure (if it ever existed) has never been found.

Welsh Forces

Whereas Æþelstān was the first English king to achieve lordship over northern Britain, he inherited his authority over the Welsh kings from his father and aunt. In the 910s Gwent acknowledged the lordship of Wessex, and Deheubarth and Gwynedd accepted that of Æthelflæd of Mercia; following Edward's takeover of Mercia, they transferred their allegiance to him. According to William of Malmesbury, after the meeting at Eamont Æþelstān summoned the Welsh kings to Hereford, where he imposed a heavy annual tribute and fixed the border between England and Wales in the Hereford area at the River Wye. The dominant figure in Wales was Hywel Dda of Deheubarth. Welsh kings attended Æþelstān's court between 928 and 935 and witnessed charters at the head of the list of laity (apart from the kings of Scotland and Strathclyde). When Æþelstān set out on his campaign in May 934 to invade Scotland, he was accompanied by four Welsh kings: Hywel Dda of Deheubarth, Idwal Foel of Gwynedd, Morgan ap Owain of Gwent, and Tewdwr ap Griffri of Brycheiniog. When Æþelstān marched to Brunanburh, the Welsh did not join him, and they did not fight on either side. This is somewhat surprising as Hywel Dda had a long history of "alliance" with Æþelstān and embraced "submission" to England and used it to his advantage whenever possible. The primary benefit for Hywel would have been assistance against raids from Vikings and Strathclyde. Such was the relationship between the neighbouring countries that Hywel was able to use Æþelstān's mint at Chester to produce his own silver pennies. The reasons for Hywel's absence at Brunanburh are unclear. He may have been having internal troubles in Wales. There was certainly some ill feeling at the level of taxation imposed by Æþelstān. The Armes Prydein Vawr or "Great Prophecy of Britain" appeared at about this time and promoted a future where all of Brythonic peoples are allied with the Scots, the Irish, and the Vikings of Dublin under Welsh leadership, and together succeed in driving the Anglo-Saxons from Britain forever.

The "Northern Alliance"

The "Northern Alliance" (as named for the purposes of this article) was a union between Hiberno-Norse Vikings, Scots/Picts and the "Welsh" of the "Old North". These peoples had a long history of conflicts with each other.

The "leader" of the alliance appears to have been Olaf Guthfrithson, the Viking King of Dublin, joined by Constantine II, King of Scotland and Owain ap Dyfnwal, King of Strathclyde. Some have sugested that Constantine was the leader, although although Olaf seems the more agressive. According to John of Worcester, Constantine was Olaf's father-in-law.

Though they had all been enemies in living memory, they had agreed to set aside whatever political, cultural, historical, and even religious differences they might have had in order to achieve one common purpose: to destroy Æthelstan. It has been suggested that the battle was a pre-arranged contest, with an agreement in advance that the victors would control England. This appears to be based on the assumption that it would have taken time to gather the forces needed.

Constantine II:

Constantine II (born no later than 879 - died 952) became king around 900. According to tradition he began life as an exile to Ireland, where he was apparently raised by monks. He returned to Scotland about 889.

The core of the kingdom was formed by the lands around the River Tay. Its southern limit was the River Forth, northwards it extended towards the Moray Firth and perhaps to Caithness, while its western limits are uncertain. His reign, like those of his predecessors, was dominated by the actions of Viking rulers in the British Isles, particularly the Uí Ímair ("the grandsons of Ímar", or Ivar the Boneless). During Constantine's reign the rulers of the southern kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, later the Kingdom of England, extended their authority northwards into the disputed kingdoms of Northumbria. Constantine appears to have entered into treaty arrangements with the Anglo-Saxons on several occasions, and frequently visited the royal court, only to have these arrangements broken.

Bromborough before extensive building which has now covered almost the entire area of this map.

Olaf Guthfrithson:

Olaf Guthfrithson (died 941) was a Viking leader who ruled Dublin and Viking Northumbria in the 10th century. He was the son of Gofraid ua Ímair and great-grandson of Ímar, making him one of the Uí Ímair. Olaf's father had previously come into conflict with Æþelstān when Æþelstān conquered York. There is some debate as to who was in charge of the alliance: either Olaf or Constantine. The consensus appears to be Olaf. Two of the seven extant versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle have the following brief entry for the year 937:

  • "In this year Athelstan and Edmund his brother led levies to Brunanburh and there fought with Olaf, and with the help of Christ they had the victory"

Vikings invaded the territory around Dublin in the 9th century, establishing the Norse Kingdom of Dublin, the earliest and longest-lasting Norse kingdom in Ireland. Its territory corresponded to most of present-day County Dublin and a principal industry was the trading of slaves. The Norse referred to the kingdom as Dyflin, which is derived from Irish Dubh Linn, meaning "black pool". The ruling Vikings of Dublin were expelled from the city in 902 by a joint force led by Máel Finnia mac Flannacán (died 903), overking of Brega and Cerball mac Muirecáin (died 909), overking of Leinster. Those Vikings that survived the capture of the city split into different groups; some went to France, some to England, and some to Wales. Archaeological evidence suggests Dublin remained occupied in the years immediately following this expulsion, perhaps indicating only the ruling elite were forced to leave. Gofraid is presumed to have left Dublin with the rest of the ruling Vikings in 902. By 921 Gofraid appears to have re-esrablished his rule in Dublin.

Olaf succeeded his father as King of Dublin in 934 and succeeded in establishing dominance over the Vikings of Limerick when he captured their king, Amlaíb Cenncairech, in 937.

Owain ap Dyfnwal:

Owain ap Dyfnwal (fl. 934) was an early tenth-century King of Strathclyde. The language of Strathclyde, and that of the Britons in surrounding areas under non-native rulership, is known as Cumbric, a dialect or language closely related to Old Welsh, and in modern terms to Welsh, Cornish and Breton. One of the traditional stories relating to the creation of Wales is derived from the arrival in Wales of Cunedda (fl. 5th century) and his sons as "Men of the North". Cunedda himself is held to be the progenitor of the royal dynasty of the Kingdom of Gwynedd. The House of Cunedda – as the direct descendants of Cunedda are known – eventually expired in the male line in 825 upon the death of Hywel ap Rhodri Molwynog. The new ruling line in Gwynedd was not descended from the Strathclyde Welsh although they almost certainly spoke the same language.

Bryant's map of Wirral gives particular emphasis to the estuary of the Dibbin, showing that it was a recognised inlet. The chapel at "Brunburgh" is one of very few religious establishments referred to as such on the map.

Owain appears to have met with Edward the Elder and engaged in treaty negotiations. However, Owain is first securely attested in 934, when Æþelstān, assisted by the Cambrian Welsh, invaded and ravaged the Scottish Kingdom of Alba and seemingly Strathclyde as well. In the aftermath of this campaign, both Owain and Constantine are known to have been present at Æþelstān's royal court, witnessing several charters as "subreguli" of the English king.

The Battle

One of the earliest and most informative sources is the Old English poem Battle of Brunanburh in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (version A), which was written within two decades of the battle. The poem relates that Æþelstān and Edmund's army of West Saxons and Mercians fought at Brunanburh against the Vikings under Anlaf (i.e. Olaf Guthfrithson) and the Scots under Constantine. After a fierce battle lasting all day, five young kings, seven of Anlaf's earls, and countless others were killed in the greatest slaughter since the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

It is unclear how much of the few fragments of events leading up to the actual battle can be believed. According to some accounts Æþelstān was caught unawares by the invaders and had to assemble his forces in a hurry. Symeon of Durham has Olaf bringing a fleet of 615 ships, but this is almost certainly an eaggeration. The Saga (Chapter 52) suggests that there was an initial skirmish in Northumberland, but seems to get completely confused between Olaf the Viking king of Dublin (who the saga calls "Olaf the Red") and Constantine the king of the Scots:

  • "..the earls who ruled there mustered their force and went against the king. And when they met there was a great battle, whereof the issue was that king Olaf won the victory, but earl Gudrek fell, and Alfgeir fled away, as did the greater part of the force that had followed them and escaped from the field. And now king Olaf found no further resistance, but subdued all Northumberland. Alfgeir went to king Athelstan, and told him of his defeat. But as soon as king Athelstan heard that so mighty a host was come into his land, he despatched men and summoned forces, sending word to his earls and other nobles. And with such force as he had he at once turned him and marched against the Scots. But when it was bruited about that Olaf king of Scots had won a victory and subdued under him a large part of England, he soon had a much larger army than Athelstan, for many nobles joined him. And on learning this, Hring and Adils, who had gathered much people, turned to swell king Olaf's army. Thus their numbers became exceeding great. "

Æþelstān apparently entered into negotiations with the opposing forces with the intent of delaying the start of the battle so as to allow the last of his troops to come up. He also pitched empty tents to make it seem that his forces were more extensive than was actually the case. Legend recounted by Malmesbury has it that Olaf entered into Æþelstān's camp disguised as a harper and sang for the king, before being well paid. Olaf then tries to bury his new treasure and is arrested by a guard in the act, but released as the guard had previously given an oath to Olaf. Stretching credulity somewhat this guard then advises Æþelstān to move his tent and a bishop who erects his tent on the spot where Æþelstān's had stood is murdered in the night.

The Celtic/Norse army apparently dug themselves into the battlefield with timber-fortified trenches, although these defences were quickly overrun

LIDAR mapping of the area around Bromborough. The Mersey estuary is to the right. The deep valley is that of Dibbinsdale, which flowed into the natural harbour of Bromborough Pool. Local legend also has this as the landing place of St Patrick, and there is a petrifying well in the woods. The coastline and the lower valley of the Dibbin have been considerably altered in the last hundred years.

Both the "The Battle of Brunanburh" and the Icelandic Saga describe the battle in bloody terms. The poem reads:

  • "No slaughter yet was greater made e’er in this island, of people slain, before this same, with the edge of the sword"

The chronicles make reference to the "fact" that five kings and seven earls were killed, but they are not named, save perhaps for the son of Constantine: although the reference to "five kings killed" might be a reference to biblical pseudo-history in which a coalition of five Amorite kings attack the forces of Israel under Joshua. Malmesbury relates that Æþelstān lost his sword during the battle, but that it was miraculously restored through the intercession of St Aldhelm. Ælwine and Æthelwine, Æþelstān's kinsmen, are said to have died in the battle, and were buried at Malmesbury.

Location?

The poem provides three clues to the location of the battle:

Brunanburh

  • "ymbe Brunanburh. Bord-weall clufon" - "around Brunanburh, the shield-wall cloven"

The name Brunanburh suggests a fortified place, or "burh". Charters from the 1200s suggest that Bromborough was originally named Brunanburh which could mean "Bruna's fort" in the language of the Anglo-Saxons. "Bromborough Rake" literally means "the road at Brom's fort" (rake being derived from the Old Norse for road). Given the trouble that Edward and his sister had with Ingimund, it seems entirely reasonable that they should locate a fort close to the edge of the Viking land on the Wirral simply to keep an eye on things. The is also a record that in 912:

  • "A monastery, dedicated to St. Barnabas, was likewise founded by the 'Lady of Mercia', at Brunnesburgh, [In Cheshire.] that year, which shortly after fell to decay"

- there is still a St. Barnabas in Bromborough, built in 1828 to replace the original 928 church which had survived until the 19th century. Reconstructed from fragments found when the church was demolished, an Anglo Saxon cross stands in the churchyard. There are apparently some other carved stones, possibly of Saxon origin, in the garden of the nearby parsonage. It is perhaps worth noting that Barnaby's Tower at Chester may have stood at the southernmost extension of Æthelflæd's walls (as Bonewaldesthorne's Tower stood at the western) and its name may (possibly) be of Old Scandinavian origin. Barnabas was a noted missionary and the purpose of establishing a monastery close to the fort of Brunanburh could well have been to assist in the conversion of the Viking population of the Wirral.

Dingesmere

  • "..dreorig darotha laf, on Dinges mere / ofer deop waeter Dyflin secan / eft Ira lang aewiscmode."- "..the dreary survivors left on Dinges Mere / over the deep water sought Dublin / to Ireland, ashamed in spirit."

Olaf and a small band of men escaped by ship over "Dingesmere" (a place believed to be known only from the poem) to Dublin. Constantine's son was killed, and Constantine fled home. The escape by ship would seem to place the battle near the coast, and the fact that they fled to Dublin would suggest the west coast. The fact that the leaders of the Northern Alliance were able to escape also suggests a coastal location as a retreating army might by quite easy to cut off from embarkation and completely exterminate. It also seems telling that the "losers" managed to hang onto their kingdoms indicating that they had not exhausted their reserves. Dingesmere could be þings-mere ("The Thing's Mere") - the wetland or waterway overlooked by, or controlled by the Thing (Old Norse: "Place of Assembly"). The use of "mere" being here similar to that in "Tranmere", another Viking name in the Wirral, or even Raby Mere, which is actually in Bromborough, quite close to the tidal anchorage at Bromborough Pool. The land at the mouth of the Dibbin has been much altered, and it is noted that:

  • "........To the south was a tidal inlet that led to the River Dibbin with a further tidal creek coming off this which led northwards to border the western flank of the New Ferry "hill" (this creek was filled in by the Victorians when Port Sunlight village was constructed, the village school, the church and Lady Lever Art Gallery were all built on the filled ground). "

Bromborough Pool was a major port for Price's Candle Works and later for Lever Bros, both of whom imported fats from Africa and elsewhere by ship and both of whom built a "model village" for their employees, with Price building some years in advance of Lever, who copied Price on a somewhat larger scale.

Bromborough showing the location of the Mersey (top right) and Brackenwood - the "traditionsl" site of the battle. "Vinyard Farm" is on the North West side of Poulton Road

Battle of Chester

  • "Ne wearth wael mare / on thys ig-lande aefre gieta / folces gefielled beforan thissum / sweordes ecgum, thaes-the us secgath bec / eald uthwitan, siththan eastan hider / Engle and Seaxe upp becomon / ofer brad brimu Britene sohton / wlance wig-smithas, Wealas ofercomon / eorlas ar-hwaete eard begeaton." - "Nor has there on this island / Been ever yet a greater number slain / Killed by the edges of the sword before / this time, as books make known to us, and old / And learned scholars, after hither came / The Angles and the Saxons from the east / Over the broad sea sought the land of Britain, / Proud warmakers. Victorious warriors, / Conquered the Welsh, and so obtained this land"

This could possibly be a reference to the Battle of Chester, which is one of the few actual conflicts mentioned in "books" with numbers of those killed. Those defeated in the earlier conflict are the "Wealas" (foreigners), which even turns up on the Wirral as "Isle of the Foreigners" - Wallasey.

Taking these together seems to suggest Bromborough as a very good candidate for Brunanburh. It is already a Viking settlement and its geography would be known, while the locals might not oppose a landing and disembarkation. It faces Dublin and is not too-long a sea voyage for marine troop transport, either from Ireland or Strathclyde and the place-names fit, including a nearby "Vinyard farm" close to the locally traditional site of Brackenwood golf-course. Chester had a mint which would give the opportunity for plunder if the raid had to be cut short, and a harbour which could be used if the city was taken. One of the arguments against the location is that Æþelstān was able to give battle soon after the Northern Alliance troops had landed and before they could move far from their ships. Howver the sags (see Chapter 52) suggests ther was a pause before the actual battle when the parties negotiated, with messengers going back and forth. This could have been a ruse by Æþelstān to give him the time to gather and concentrate his troops.

There are alternative interpretations of the location of the battle and who was the leader of the Northern Alliance. John of Worcester’s chronicle recorded:

  • "Anlaf, the pagan king of the Irish and many other islands, incited by his father-in-law Constantine, king of the Scots, entered the mouth of the River Humber with a strong fleet"

There are occasional reports in the press that the site of the battle has been definitely located by hard artifactual evidence. However while the consensus in the academic literature points to somewhere on the Wirral, there is still no conclusive proof.

Aftermath

Æþelstān's 15th Cent tomb at Malmesbury Abbey - with a certain irony given that he was an avid collector of relics, his own boneswere lost during the Reformation and the tomb is empty.

Æþelstān's victory prevented the dissolution of England, but it failed to unite the island: Scotland and Strathclyde remained independent, and Æþelstān does not appear to have gained any territory as a result of the battle, although he may have gained some stability. Scholars have succested that its consequences beyond Æþelstān's reign have been overstated and that it was a pyrrhic victory as the campaign against the northern alliance ended in a stalemate. It appears that the English considered it a triumphant victory and this coloured their accounts of it. As the memory of Æþelstān faded down the centuries the facts became distilled down to it being a defining moment when Alfred's unification of England became true. This is an over-simplified view given what happened in the following years.

Æþelstān continued to collect relics until he died at Gloucester on 27 October 939. His grandfather Alfred, his father Edward, and his half-brother Ælfweard had been buried at Winchester, where the New Minster was probably established as a royal shrine, together with other royalty including Edward's mother Ealhswith and Edward's second wife Ælfflæd, but Æþelstān chose not to honour the city associated with opposition to his rule, or the minster wher his step-mother was buried. Æþelstān chose to be buried at Malmesbury Abbey, where he had buried his cousins who died at Brunanburh, but his own "relics" there only consist of an empty 15th cent. tomb as his bones were lost during the Reformation.

After Æþelstān's death, the men of York immediately seceded and chose the Viking king of Dublin, Olaf Guthfrithsson, as their king, and Anglo-Saxon control of the north, seemingly made safe by the victory of Brunanburh, collapsed. The reigns of Æþelstān's relatively young half-brothers Edmund and Eadred (923–955) were largely devoted to regaining control. Given the relative youth of these monarchs and their immediate sucessors, politics in the period after the death of Æþelstān probably involved a number of military and political "advisors" whose details have been lost to history.

The Danish leader, Olaf Guthrithson, took the city of York supported by the infamous renegade Wulfstan, Archishop of York. Edmund besieged Olaf and Wulfstan at Leicester in 943, indicating that the Northumbrians had expanded their operations southwards. The King, supported by Odo, the Danish Archbishop of Canterbury, forced Olaf to accept his overlordship and agreement was eventually reached between the two opposing parties that Edmund was to rule the south and Olaf was to retain possession of all the area north of Watling Street - effectively the old Danelaw. On the death of either, the survivor would inherit the whole country. Fortunately for Edmund, Olaf died the following year and the English King invaded Northumbria in 944. He marched a combined army of English and now the Welsh into Strathclyde, whose ruler, the renegade Donald or Dunmail had supported Olaf. Edmund conquered the province, which in 946 he ceded to Malcolm I, King of Scots on agreement that the latter should become his vassal. Constantine had abdicated and retired to a monastery. Edmund had a sure way of putting an end to the previous dynasty in Strathclyde - he devastated Cumbria and blinded two sons of Dyfnwal ab Owain, himself the son of Owain ap Dyfnwal and now king of Strathclyde.

Edmund's promising reign was cut violently short after only six years. On 26 May 946, St Augustine's Day, Edmund was murdered by Leofa, a convicted outlaw, at Pucklechurch in Gloucestershire. According to the post-Conquest chronicler, John of Worcester, Leofa attacked Edmund's seneschal, and Edmund was stabbed when he intervened to protect his servant, other version have it as a political assassination, and some report that Edmund was drunk at the time and became angered when he saw Leofa. Edmund was twenty-five years old when he was buried at Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset.

The House of Leofric was to be the major political force in Chester after about 990, establishing a political power-base which later developed into a Norman palatinate with considerable independence from the crown under the Earls of Chester.

The 23 year old Eadred came to the throne following the death of Edmund I. The chief achievement of his reign was to bring the Kingdom of Northumbria under total English control, which occurred with the defeat and expulsion of Eric Bloodaxe in 954. Eadred died at the age of 32 having never married, thus bringing to the end the rule of the last of the sons of Edward the Elder. He was succeeded by his 15-year-old nephew, Eadwig. He died in 959, having ruled less than four years. He was buried in the capital Winchester. Eadwig was not a popular king, and his reign was marked by conflict with nobles and the Church, primarily St Dunstan and Archbishop Oda. In 957, the thanes of Mercia and Northumbria had changed their allegiance to the c.14 year-old Edgar. A conclave of nobles declared Edgar as king of the territory north of the Thames. Edgar became King of England upon Eadwig's death in October 959, aged 16. Edgar "the Pacific", (c. Aug 7, 943 – July 8, 975) was the great-grandson of Alfred and was famously crowned both at Bath and at Chester (in 973) as the first king of all England. The religious rites used in his coronation (use of anointing etc.) were devised by St. Dunstan and have been in use ever since. Edgar was 29 when he was crowned at Chester, having been king for 13 years. It might have seemed that some stability had returned, but the death of Edgar in 975 was to kick off another round of chaos.

Local Perspective

From around the year 600 the remnant of Roman Chester was still a place of some importance. It may be no co-incidence that the Battle of Chester was fought there. Tradition ascribes the foundation of St. John's to Æthelred, king of Mercia (674–704), in 689. The silence of the Dark Ages then descends until 829 when Alfred's grandfather Ecgbert (king of Wessex) invaded Mercia (which then included Chester) and drove Wiglaf, the king of Mercia, into exile. In 839 Egbert's successor, Æthelwulf of Wessex (Alfred the Great's father) held the Witenagemot (literally "meeting of the wise") in Chester, and received at Chester the homage of tributary kings, "From Berwick to Kent." Æthelwulf was the first son to succeed his father as West Saxon king since 641.

Stone cross fragments on display at St John's. A printed sign in the Church says : "These stone crosses are reputedly from the workshop established in the quarry of St Johns by Irish - Norse traders who settled in Chester during the 10th Century. Similar crosses thought to have been from the same workshop have been found over a wide area as shown on the map."

The translation of Werburgh to Chester appears to co-incide with a Danish invasion (~876) and possibly a plague in the Danish winter camp at Repton - evidently Chester was seen as a place of safety. The Viking raid on Chester (~894), led to Alfred's "relief" of the city and was followed by the subsequent refortification by Alfreds daughter Æthelflæd (907). Alfred's son Edward the Elder had a royal dwelling at Farndon, where he died in 924. Edward the Elder's grandson Edgar the Pacific is said to have prayed in the minster (monasterium) of St Johns after being rowed along the River Dee, possibly from Edgar's Field or possibly from a royal palace at Farndon. If Æþelstān did fight at Bromborough, he would almost certainly would have used Chester as a base - it still had good roads along the Roman Watling Street to the midlands and the south, as well as a possible (but only partly confirmed) Roman Road running to the tip of the Wirral. If the location of Brunanburh was a matter of prior argreement between the combatants then an arranged fight near Chester might be seen as a fair choice, it was accessible to all by land and sea and there were Vikings settled in the Wirral.

As noted above, the Hiberno-Norse also settled in Chester and undoubtedly helped to promote trade with Ireland on which much of the early prosperity of the city was based. From the 10th century onwards it developed connexions with Ireland and with Scandinavian settlements all round the Irish Sea. The importance which the Norse of Dublin, for example, attached to the trade links is apparent in their attempts to set up fortified quaysides, harbours, and navigation points along the north Welsh coast to ease the journey between the two ports. Chester almost certainly contained a sizeable Hiberno-Norse community involved in the Irish trade, located south of the legionary fortress in the quarter next to the early harbour where the clearest evidence for pre-Conquest settlement has been found. Huts excavated in Lower Bridge Street have been interpreted as of the bow-sided type especially associated with Scandinavian sites in England, and what was perhaps once the name of a gate in the city walls in that quarter, Clippe Gate (it no longer exists), may have derived from the Old Norse personal name Klippr. The dedications of the two churches, St Bridget and St Olave were also appropriate for a Hiberno-Norse community. St. Olave's cannot have come into being before the mid 11th century, since the dedicatee, the Norwegian king Olaf Haraldsson, was killed only in 1030; St. Bridget's, however, could well be earlier. The dedication was especially likely to have been favoured by immigrants from Ireland and was used also at West Kirby, in the Scandinavian settlement on Wirral. Moreover, since the medieval parish of St. Bridget's at Chester was in two portions, separated by parts of other parishes, it was perhaps once larger and had been eroded by later foundations.

In another depiction by the somewhat inaccurate James Doyle, Edward the Martyr is offered a cup of mead by his stepmother Ælfthryth, widow of the late Edgar the Pacific, unaware that her attendant (the fellow in the red hat) is about to murder him. Doyle shows Corfe castle as it was after the mid 13th Cent. In the 10th Cent. there may have been a wooden hall. While Æþelstān is often portrayed as the first "King of all England" the country collapsed into chaos after his death and did so again after the death of Edgar the Pacific.

The Hiberno-Norse community was much involved in coining. As early as the reign of Edward the Elder one of the moneyers in north-western Mercia bore the name Irfara, a Norse nickname meaning 'the Ireland journeyer', and there continued to be a strong Scandinavian and Gaelic element among the names of Chester moneyers, much more pronounced than at other west Mercian mints, throughout the 10th century and beyond. The mint at Chester seems to have risen to prominence quite suddenly, c. 916-18, the time of Æthelflæd's most notable victories over the Welsh and the Danes. At her death in 918 it was well established, with perhaps 16 moneyers. Under Æthelstan (924-39) at least 25 moneyers worked there, with probably as many as 20 striking at any one time, compared with 10 in London and 7 in Winchester. It has been suggested that the city was the centre for the collection of bullion and tribute acquired by Æthelflæd and Æthelstan as a result of their military victories over the Danes and the Welsh princes. Although there is nothing to suggest that Æþelstān ever exacted tribute on the scale or with the regularity necessary to sustain the output of the mint in his reign, large amounts of bullion were probably obtained from the Vikings of the western Danelaw, either as plunder from those who had resisted and fled, or as offerings from those who wished to reach an accommodation with the new regime.

The extensive coinage may also have been stimulated by a favourable balance of trade. Presumably Chester was a centre for the export of valuable commodities needed in Ireland, the bullion received in return being made into coin on the spot for circulation in England. That trade would naturally have been focused on Dublin, which by the mid 10th century had become the principal port of the Irish Sea and one of the richest of all Viking towns. The extent of the traffic between the two centres is apparent from the large amount of Chester ware exported to Dublin by the time of Æþelstān. Other exports possibly included salt, much needed in Dublin to preserve fish and treat hides.

After Brunanburh the royal focus seems to have shifted southwards, possibly because of increasing trade and political contact with continental Europe. The decline of the Chester mint has long been attributed to a Viking raid on Cheshire in 980. Three of the four Anglo-Saxon coin hoards found in the city, those from Castle Esplanade, Pemberton's Parlour, and Eastgate Street, have been assigned to roughly the same period and were originally interpreted as being linked to that raid. However it now seems that they were deposited 965-970, before the Viking raid. The city's relatively depressed state was indicated by the low output of its mint in the 980s and early 990s. This was a time of a certain level of national disorder following the death of Edgar the Pacific. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records the death of Edward the Martyr:

  • "A.D. 978. This year all the oldest counsellors of England fell at Calne from an upper floor; but the holy Archbishop Dunstan stood alone upon a beam. Some were dreadfully bruised: and some did not escape with life. This year was King Edward slain, at eventide, at Corfe-gate, on the fifteenth day before the calends of April. And he was buried at Wareham without any royal honour. No worse deed than this was ever done by the English nation since they first sought the land of Britain. Men murdered him but God has magnified him. He was in life an earthly king -- he is now after death a heavenly saint. Him would not his earthly relatives avenge -- but his heavenly father has avenged him amply. The earthly homicides would wipe out his memory from the earth -- but the avenger above has spread his memory abroad in heaven and in earth. Those, Who would not before bow to his living body, now bow on their knees to His dead bones. Now we may conclude, that the wisdom of men, and their meditations, and their counsels, are as nought against the appointment of God. In this same year succeeded Ethelred Etheling, his brother, to the government; and he was afterwards very readily, and with great joy to the counsellors of England, consecrated king at Kingston. In the same year also died Alfwold, who was Bishop of Dorsetshire, and whose body lieth in the minster at Sherborn."

However, from the later 990s the family of Leofwine of Mercia settled in Chester and helped to ensure the city's survival as a major provincial centre. The family of Leofwine (known as the "House of Leofric") were to acquire immense wealth and power, and effectively create what was to become the "Earldom" of Chester. There was some royal focus on the region again just prior to the time of the Norman conquest with dynasic marriage between the house of Godwin and that of Leofric. The Normans then created a palatine administration that survived as an institution partly separate from the monarchy at least into the time of Edward I, and the death of the last non-royal earl in 1237. Throughout this period Chester was a base for the invasion of north Wales.

Chester would retain its strategic importance as a link to Ireland through the Civil War, when the intervention of a King of England was again required - although that king was less successful in war than Æþelstān. There was one last "Irish" attempt to take the city in 1867, when Republican supporters made a failed attempt to gain control of the arsenal at Chester Castle. Once armed, the plan was to commandeer a train, take the arms to Holyhead, seize a streamer, sail to Wexford and raise a revolt in Ireland. But the plan was given away and the leaders of the plotters fled "over the deep sea to Dublin", just as Olaf Guthfrithson had done almost a thousand years before.

Sources and Links

"Urnes" style runic inscription at St Johns. This is possibly graffiti originally carved on the wall of the Amphitheatre during the Viking raid of 894.

Chronology with links

Edward the Elder

  • 900: Alfred the Great dies, Edward the Elder becomes king of Wessex, Constantine II becomes king of Alba;
  • 902: Æthelwold persuades the East Anglian Danes to attack Edward the Elder's territory in Wessex and Mercia. Irish Norsemen, under Ingimund expelled from Dublin, establish colonies on The Wirral, at around this time Æthelred's health collapsed and Æthelflæd became the effective ruler of Mercia;
  • 904: Egill Skallagrimsson born;
  • 906: Abbey of St John the Baptist (St Johns) founded by Æthelred;
  • 907: Chester refortified by Æthelflæd;
  • 908: Plegmund visits Rome;
  • 909: Edward the Elder despatches an Anglo-Saxon army to attack the Northumbrian Vikings and ravages Scandinavian York, Æthelflæd recovers Oswald's relics from Bardney. Asser dies;
  • 910: Battle of Tettenhall: Edward the Elder, allied with the forces of Mercia, defeats a Northumbrian Viking army; Eowils and Halfdan and Ingwær, kings of Northumbria, are killed;
  • 911: Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, dies and his wife Æthelflæd takes over rule as Lady of the Mercians;
  • 912: Chester attacked by Vikings under Ingimund; "A monastery, dedicated to St. Barnabas, was likewise founded by the 'Lady of Mercia', at Brunnesburgh, [In Cheshire.] that year, which shortly after fell to decay";
  • 914: Æthelflæd fortifies Eddisbury;
  • 915: Æthelflæd fortifies Runcorn;
  • 917: Vikings retake Dublin;
  • 918: Æthelflæd of Mercia dies at Tamworth; Edward the Elder takes control of her kingdom;
  • 919: Ragnall ua Ímair seizes control of the Kingdom of York, Edward the Elder fortifies Thelwall and Manchester;;
  • 920: Norse Vikings under Sitric Cáech attack Cheshire. Constantine II of Scotland, and the kings of Strathclyde, York, and Northumbria meet with Edward the Elder the Elder at Bakewell;
  • 921: Edward the Elder fortifies Cledematha (Rhuddlan) at the mouth of the River Clwyd, Edmund born;
  • 923: Plegmund dies;
  • 924: Chester joins a Welsh revolt against English rule, Edward the Elder dies at Farndon and is succeeded by Æþelstān, Ælfweard dies;

Æþelstān

Edmund

Stained glass window from St Johns showing Edgar the Pacific on the River Dee in 973. No one seems to be steering the boat which is traditionally said to have sailed from Edgar's Field to St John's, although it may have sailed from Farndon where there was probably a royal stronghold. The "sub-kings" include Kenneth II King of Scotland and Dyfnwal ab Owain King of Strathclyde. This is in part a re-run of the submission given to Edgar's great-great-grandfather Æthelwulf of Wessex at Chester in 839.
  • 940: King Edmund cedes Northumbria and the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw to Olaf Guthfrithson;
  • 941: Olaf Guthfrithson dies;
  • 942: King Edmund recaptures the Five Boroughs (Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford.);
  • 943: Vikings take Tamworth;
  • 944: Edmund takes York;
  • 945: Edmund invades Strathclyde, and grants Cumbria to King Malcolm I of Scotland;
  • 946: Edmund murdered, a wooden statue of the Virgin fell on the head of Lady Trawst, wife of the Governor of Hawarden Castle, and killed her;

Eadred

  • 947: Wulfstan I, Archbishop of York invites the Viking leader Eric Bloodaxe to become King of Northumbria;
  • 948: King Eadred expels Eric Bloodaxe from Northumbria;
  • c.950: Leofwine born;
  • 952: Constantine II dies, Eric Bloodaxe reconquers York, Eadred imprisons Wulfstan of York;
  • 954: Eric Bloodaxe is killed at Stainmore allowing King Eadred to recover York;
  • 955: Eadred dies;

Eadwig

  • 956: Dunstan exiled;

Edgar the Pacific

  • 957: Mercia and Northumbria rebel, choosing Edgar as King;
  • 973: Edgar sails to Chester, and receives homage from the rulers of Alba, Strathclyde, Wales, and the Kingdom of the Isles;

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