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TheWarsof Alfredthe Great

Alfred the was Great a brilliant military leader and organiser. Throughout the 870s, Wessex was beset with a sustained series ofViking raids, which cost among other things Alfred's brother, King Aethelred. After the assuming throne purchased and carrying onthe fight, Alfred negotiated a peace and the time used byhis tribute toturn Wessex into When Vikings a heavily armed citadel. the returned in892, Alfred inplace held them with his fortified burghs them and drove offwith hismobile field army. Bythe time death in899, Alfred ruled much ofhis of England, and had secured his Vikings... Wessex throne against the

HeathenRaidersfrom Across the Sea
The first recorded Viking raid uponEnglandoccurred in theyear793.TheAnglo-Saxon Chronicle reports: Here terrible portents came about over the land of Northumbria, and miserably frightened the people: thesewere immenseflashesof lightning, and fiery dragons flying in theair.A greatfamine,and wereseen after that in the sameyear the raiding of the heathen miserably devastated God's church in Lindisfarne islandby lootingandslaughter.' For the first half of the ninth centu4r,the Vikings sporadically raided the English coast.While costly, theseraids were never more than a nuisance.But in 865 a greatwave of Viking marauders arrived in England,settling first in Kent beforeplunderingtheir way north. The Anglo-Smon Chronicle calls them the 'great heathen EastAnglia, army'. They ravaged Mercia, and Northumbria, sacking cities like York, killing kings and nobility, and taking everything of value.Havingexhausted theresources ofnorthernand eastemEngland,the Vikings looked west to Wessex, thekingdomof theWestSaxons.

The campaigns of the GreatHeathen Army 865-879.

An evocation of the Saxon shield wall.3 The Vikingscometo Wessex In late 870 the 'great heathenarmy' invaded Wessex. In theory the shield wall would stand firm in defenceor press forward in atlack.These men carried a simple spear.a Four days after the battle of . they would lock shields and form a wall. The Vikings fortified the camp and sent raiding parties against the counhyside. The furd was an AngloSaxon militia led by ealdormen and thegns. nobility and prominent men in command of raiding parties or sections of raiding parties.Aethelwulf was killed. The fyrd's rank and file was lower-class freeholdersand commoners. In combat. The Vikings were accomplished sailors who used their longboats for strategic mobility (though they surely would never have called it that). The combined army marched on Reading. commanded by an ealdorman named Aethelwulf.Led by the Viking kings Bagsecgand Halfclan. In the New Year the local fyrd. though they hailed from all over Scandinavia. Contemporaries often substitute the word Dane for Viking. which could be thrust or thrown. But when Aethelred and his men reached the gates the Vikings stormed out in a furious charge 'like wolves' saysAsser. The kings delegatedmuch authority to jarls.2 The Vikings. @ o 6' @ 3 Armiesand Weapons in the $trugglefor England To defend Wessex. covered in leather and ringed by a metal band. Here a bloody battle was fought and the West Saxons inflicted great slaughter upon the Vikings who then retreated to their fortified camp.Aethelred andAlfred had the furd. They were also organized along similar lines. and routed the West Saxons. was heavily defeated at Englefield. Raiding parties would form around kings who promised great glory and plunder. A few days later. but Aethelred and Alfred escaped. round wooden shield.the army crossed the Thames and made camp at Reading. The latter were the rich land owners and nobility who were rewarded with the king's favour in exchange for military service. who did not start using their infamous two handed battle axe until the tenth century used similar arms and equipment. about thirty miles up the Thames from London. King Aethelred and Alfred arrived with the rest of the West Saxonfurd andunited with Aethelwulf's remaining forces. They were often armed with swords and outf. They could be brutal and recreationally cruel. and a small.tted with mall byrnies and conical helmets. Alfred's biographer.

overwhelmed Underthe colnmdnLl a gleatfleetarrived.s rvere killed.totgo qtrictly.r''' \. -{.about in checkuntil Aethelrecl's flfteen rniles northwestof thcir Reacling and fell upon the Viking flank and rear. Alfi'ed tt.') ( t. theAnglo-Saxons.Alfred'sfinal campaigns..rthmrn. the year'871 saw no less than ninc ancl thc the WestSaxons between battlcs to Asscr: Vikings. But Alliecl would t.l I Landings of the Great Army and of Hasteinn Rrids of 893 Campaignsof894 Campaigns of 895-6 and the dlspersal of the Great Army Saxon vlctory Norse fortlficatlon Alfred's burghs Saxons fought savagely and pusir.Alfi'ed led his men into battle Yet afterReading.:g -r. Accorcling ' . later another A few weeks follow.jut'ls. Not only base.the Saxons werevirtuallyannihilatcd 'like a wild boar'.' Wessex was to suffet'auothcr clef'cnc1ed. \..*l'. 'a violent clash After what Asser calls himself confronting the entire Mking army on his own.t i*i*= -. -. with Wesscr 'witlt thc under firrious attack.. The batllc lastedall clay.rons o f t h e k i n g d o r n . .' * 1i l ' :" .. : -: !. A n. The West t o a m a n i n t h i s s i n g l ey e a r . Alfi'cd aflertakingthc throne.. How rnany thottsandsc'rl the Viking army were killed in thesc frequent skinnishes (Quite aparl front in the eight thosewho were slaughtered battlesmentionedabove) is not krown. Alfled agreed to split their forces in . /.892-896. ten miles south of Reading.' Even so. But the Vikingregrotrped and counterattacked an.J t \ rl .so Alfred found Basing. only setbacks. assurnecl the throne. back the Vikings.".!'i . . .. Aethelrecl clicd blow when.Aethelred and Alfrccl attacked forccsarrived Bagsecg'sforces at Ashclorvu. I 1i' +:: Bagsecg Aethelred wor. Thc Vikings continuedto inflict clepravaliotisuport the countrysicle. siclegaininga clear advantage. Bagsecg held the high groundanci clriving them frorn the field. the lnanpowcl SeeingthatAlfl'ecllackecl thcrn. t'.'. .had and intently against fought ceasclessly the Vikings... one division he cotlmanded l:re jurl. fi'orr and Anwencl. of the Viking kings Gr. In late March anotherbattle was fought at men to close ranks and charge. the Vikings to overwheltn Alfi'ed's aud def-eatccl counterattackccl fbrce. the fleet etnbarkecl back thlt the continentas word filterec'l Wessex was ripe for plunderand lightl. the Vikings withdrew frorn the ficld and Alfi'eclpursuedwith a srnall bancl. while the other was led brotherwon a greatvictory for Wessex. Wor:. and along had 1heVikings fled.: ?ll i. l e a v i n g asidc the inuumelable skimrishesby day and night which Alfi'ed. and Halfdan: Alfi'ed would deal with knew the WestSaxons the. At thc age ol'twenty two. Oscetcl..(' o l s o A s s e rt e l l s u s ) .1 . Alfi'ed and his rvith Halfdan.Alfred personallyled the assault. King Bagsecg his troopsin two sectior. . br-rt Aethelred did not Apparently he refused to attack before battle was fought at the royal estateof he finishedhis prayers. year Alfred's resources Alfred was forced to make peacewith the Viking invaders and paid them ttr .rs c'leployed a ridge. Alfred ordered his on all fi'onts' the Vikings prevailed.ronth led his fblcesinto battlcat Wilton.with neitheL Finalll.: "f f : i'':-:l .. .afterEaster.o. and held the Vikings Reading.rld attack tu. about seventy-fivcnriles south of Readirtg. hr all. exceptto God alone. Aethelred and by their izr'l lieutenants. the Vikings proved to be totr much for Wessexand by the end of the were exhansted. Asser tells us the royal estateof Merettn. approval of divinewill anclaccorcliug wish of all the inhabitants the unanin. first.

with a small band to the marshlands of Somerset andmadea campon the Isle of Athelney near Taunton. It Alfred Fights On is unclear how this came about. To solidiff his land based defence. Alfred concludeda more advantageous treaty with Guthrum. Viking Treachery In December of 876 the Vikings broke their word ..Guthrum promisingto plunderit no left Wessex. thereby cutting them off. a Viking fleet of twenty-three ships. This time. As a result..Asser calls it 'their usual treachery'.andnorth to the River Mersey. but how? While it is true that he experimented with naval forces against the Vikings he eventually decided that the main effort must come on land.Guthrumhunkereddown amidst his fortifications at Edington.abandon their baseat Readingandleave Wessexaltogether. After Alfred bought them off.In describing Alfred's growingpower.In all Alfred seems to have gatheredone thousandmen. In 878 Guthrum led an army into Wessexand seizedthe royal estateof Chippenham. after which they returnedto Wessex and campedat Wareham.led by a brother of Halfdan. Word spread throughout Wessex that West Saxon resistance was not at an end. more. At this time. Alfred was in no mood to fight and negotiated terms with the Vikings wherebyhe paid them tribute in return for leavingWessex alone. Alfred marchedto Guthrum's camp and offered battle. and occupied the forhess of Exeter. eventually bringingabouttheir surrender. FromhereAlfred continued to resist. he had to find a way to stop them militarily. Alfred rallied thefyrd and surrounded the forhess. East Anglia.At the sametime.but this could not last forever and. it must have been a drain on the already weak resourcss of Wessex. the Vikings agreedto terms and left Wessexfor Mercia.He converted Guthrumto Christianityand signeda treaty of friendship.northwest of Wiltshire on the River Avon. Alfred Consolidates His Power Alfred was not fool enough to count on the good intentions of the Vikings. Alfred took possession of London. Alfred also exertedsome control of the westernMidlands and EnglishMercia from Walesto Watling Street. The Vikings salliedout from their fortificationsand a fiercebattleerupted. What was left of the Viking force took refuge inside their fort which Alfred besiegedfor two weeks.sallying out of the marshes to wage a partisanwar against the Vikings. In early JuneAlfred led his men out of the marshwith the objectiveof raisingthefyrd andbingng abouta pitchedbattle againstGuthrum. inflicting great sufferingupon the Vikings as he went.or one of theirs? .Ratherthen be starvedinto submission.'. In return for ceding Essex.the Vikings would once again turn their attention to Alfred's kingdom. whereAlfred held court.marchedinto Devonshire. . Alfred gained conhol of cnrrld Oneof ours. Ready for war.the local fyrd burst from their fortifications. though military action is one possibility. Remembering the chaosbroughtaboutby the last Viking raid. Alfred marchedto Egbert's Stone on Wiltshire's southernborder: here he issued a call to arms.and settledin westemMercia on moreor lessfriendlytermswithAlfred. With their fleet largely destroyed in a violent stormoff Devon. Alfred was unprepared for Guthrum's attack. sooner or later. this move. so much so that many of the WestSaxons fled their landsor pledged allegiance to Guthrum. The gaveAlfred new territorial arrangement a stablekingdom with definedborders that couldbe defended. When they did. Nevertheless. the Vikings were ravaging the Franks. Alfred's victoryresulted in a diplomatic coup. Alfred intendedto be readyfor them.for the Viking raids from Chippenham were unusuallyfierce.the Anglo-Saxon Chronicleclaimsthat 'all the Englishraceturnedto him. No longercouldWessex resist the heathen onslaught and most of the counkyside fell into Viking hands. the Vikings fled the field and Alfred pursued.a fearsomequestionfor ninthcenturysaxons. the Vikings spent 872-875 ravaging Mercia and Northumbria. dominate the Thames.But the Vikingswould be back.the latter recognised Alfred's undisputed conhol over Cornwall and everything south of the Thames. Leaming of Alfred's sortie out of the marsh. This agreement only boughttime. West Saxon manhood prevailed over the GreatArmy. caught the Vikings unaware. and the EastemMidlands to Guthrum. and defeated them. With But Alfred was unwilling to concede.raided along the coast of Devon and besieged the fortressof Countisbury.

his new allies.his skirmishers exacting a heavy toll. the burghs could not hold out indefinitely.Here. To hold off Viking attiacks. Not long after their arrival. The mobile field army was to march to the relief of besieged burghsand battle the Vikings. he divided the militia in half. Viking armies did not sally from their morethan twice. a Viking king named Hasten The wait is harderthan the battle. He positioned his mobile field force betweenthe two Viking campsso that the armiescould not unite without fighting him first.. Several burghs were also constructed along key waterwaysand roadways. Alfred mobilised the fyrd. The Chroniclespeaks of constantskirmishing:'. a large fleet appeared at the mouth of the River Andred. on whichever andmounted the also from was without an army and strongholds.In some cases.Alfred's reformsensured and march move out hada forcereadyto quickly to the areaof battle. Edward.Alfred requiredmen to keep horseson hand and sixty days' that he rations. The English rallied to Alfred.. [Alfred's troops]wentthroughthe forestin gangs edge groups. Onehalf was designated to garrisonthe burghs. Alfred a string of fortified strongestablished points called burghs. Hastenquickly constructeda fortified base at Milton while the other raiding party operated out of Appledore.I Y I I I I with arrivedat the mouthof the Thames a fleet of eigbty ships.The baseswere in supportingdistanceof one anotherand in position to dominatethe othersthey were fresh constructions of wooden palisades. . Alfred struck he sent his son. becausethe Viking armiesbuilt substantialfortified bases.'Alfred's forces must have been fearsome.why? A yet in Britainapparently did not find it so necessary reconstructionof Trelleborgin its heyday. Alfred reorganisedhis defencesand prepared Wessex for the inevitableViking return. First. One of their was to pin down Viking main purposes raiding parties until Alfred's reformed fyrd arived.the otherto serve in his mobile field army. The VikingsReturn Wessex was as ready as Alfred could make it when in 892. and the Northumbrians and East Anglians to him. Alfred reformed the fyrd in severalways. Alfred Readiesfor Another lnvasion During the long interval between sustained Viking attacks. Burghs were designedto slow down and blunt Viking raids and to serveas refugesin case ofattack. Now he was sworeallegiance morethanjust King of theWestSaxons. Burghs were establishedalong the southern coast and the border with Mercia. fleeing the famine and pestilence among the West Franks. once campsen masse before thefyrd had beenmobilised and once when they were trying to carry their booty to the fleet in Essex. On the Gontinent . Of course. burghswere built on top of old Romanbases. With he wasKing of theAnglo-Saxons.and ditches. facilitate quick marchesto trouble spots.. earthenramparts. to Second.

built another camp. Alfred and his men stormed the base. The The Saxonsand Norsehad very similar cultures. The Vikings. Viking forces gathered at Shoebury in Essex where they built a base and received reinforcements from bases in East Anglia and Northumbria. and once more took to raiding the countryside. While Hasten was plundering. Earls loyal to Alfred.a vulnerable target as it was laden with booty. gathered their forces to engage the Vikings along the Thames and Severn. routed the garrison and put it to the torch. Alfred again struck his base and destroyed it. who returned to Benfleet. then marching back to London with Viking treasure. With his combined army he marched on Benfleet where Hasten had made camp. and children. and marched north and west and built a camp at Wirral or fLo Welsh border. Among Alfred's prisoners were Hasten's wife and two sons whom he returnedto the Dane. From here.with a strong force to intercept the Viking army . sallied out from their fortifications and attacked the AngloSaxons. Edward overtook the Vikings at Farnham and routed them. The survivors took refuge on an islet. The Anglo-Saxon army pursued the Vikings and laid siege to this base.1 A l+lr^rrdla +Lf^# . They marched against the raiding army. The Vikings were defeated 'and very great slaughter was made of the Vikings. Alfred Prevails Alfred was marching with his force to join the siege when word reached him that a fleet of one hundred ships threatenedExeter while a smaller fleet of forfy ships menacedDevonshire. In early 894 Viking reinforcements arrived from East Anglia and Northumbria. the Vikings moved up the Thames and the Severn threatening Somerset. including his son-inlaw.and were both immigrants to Britain. women. En route he gathered reinforcements at London.'the Chronicle tells us. Viking parties were ridden down and slaughtered and the land or^"nn +Lam ro-'. overtook it. The excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship burial.Alfred's gesture of goodwill was not reciprocated by Hasten. Doubtless that madecoexistence easieronce Englishrule was restored. which Edward besieged. housing the majority of his army while he was personally out on a raid. short of food. Meanwhile. and besiegedit at Buttington on the Severn shore. Alfred at once led most of his army to Exeter.^-. Then Alfred marched on Exeter and drove off the besieging army.

As the Chroniclerecords.where they camped. But againthey salliedout andbuilt a baseon the islandof Mersea near the mouth of the Thames.went up theThames andbuilt a fortifiedbaseatLea. Wales. . and often a work of decorative art as well. the Vikings were driven out and forcedinto was not stormed.Alfred died in 899.He foundeda military establishment that lasteduntil (andalmostturnedback)William Anglo-Saxonwarrior king. t. his vision united much of England. He madesurethat cropswere harvested in order to denythemto the Vikings. taking away their mobility.setout for the Seine. He fought the Vikings.'The raiding-army.. arriving at Bridgenorthon the Severn. andNorthumbria.but they werea greatdealmorecrushed threeyears. . Left: PaganViking burial practicesmeanthat we know moreaboutthe qualities of their beloved swordsthan possiblyany other class of medieval artefact.the Viking army that attacked Exetermarched north for a time. lost.thinking.he was forward . and Northumbriawould raid the southWessexcoast.@Royal Armouries.twentymilesabove the London. andthe nextyear.the garrisonput them to flight and killed many hundredof them.' Alfred'sFinalBattles In 895 the Viking bandat Mersea ran out their boats. Yet 300years settledin England's fields and forests seemsto have gentledthem a little by the time the Vikingsarrived. Alfred'sAchievement Alfred's victory was remarkable. He retreated. Alfred containedthe Vikings in the area.. and was ultimately victorious.Tbelocalfurd attacked but wasunableto dislodge Vikings. li Far left: The weaponwhich seemsto havegiven the Saxonstheir name. Thus endedthe crisis. '. plundering into Sussex in the Chichester regionbut the Chronicle notes'. Sothat summer.counterattacked.Tiring of Alfred and the raiding army retueated into EastAnglia his Anglo-Saxons.A tool exquisitelysuited to its purpose.Thenhe fortified the river above and below'the Viking position. was personally brave. Meanwhile. In the year897 Viking bands out of East Anglia . by the grace of God.but they did not ventureinland. This bandreturned to EastAngliaandNorthumbria. had not altogetherutterly crushedthe in those Englishrace.Moreover.the seax. The Vikings abandonedtheir base and marched overland.t. Alfred arrivedto supervise operations personally. Alfred wasthe greatest William Stroock rl . andtooksome of theirships. the Bastard.

and as evidence wherebyitmaybe knownthat the partyhas a cleanback. (London: of War.Kngship and Culturein Anglo. 2.Life of King Alfred and Other Saxon England. Bibliography Endnotes 1 MichaelSwanton. Regiais an international society. Kingship and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England. For further reading. (London: Greenhill Books. eds. Alfred the Great: War. 1995) a Simon Keynes.s h i l l i n g s . 1996) . ed.lf any one accusethat man who is of less degreethan the king'sfhegn.or a t 2 0 0 .1996) Life of Alfred. Alfredthe Great:The King and His England. (London: Greenhill Books. 1915). Michael Lapidge is RichardAbels' Alfred the Great: eds. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Adapted from Albeft Beebe Whiteand Wallace Notestein. Harperand Brothers. then up on the Ouse untoWatlingStreet. ln The Viking Art ContemporarySources.that is to be allowedin this wise . The AngloSaxon Chronicle.we estimate all equallydear. Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of Kng Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources.Website:wwwregia.1956) Griffith. theyalsoare equally dear. Abels. lf a man be slain. Source Problems in English History. And we all ordained on that day that the oathswere sworn. 1996) 2 Richard Abels. PhotoCredits Our thanks to Regia Anglorum for the use of theircopyright images.and alongthe Lea unto its source. (London: PenguinBooks. . (New York: Routledge. Nicholas. English and Danish. Richard. basedin the UK. exceptlhe ceorlwhoresideson rentedland and their (theDanes')freedmen.The text of the peacetreaty betweenKing Alfred and King Guthrum This is the peacethat KingAlfred and KingGuthrum. Paddy. And if a king'sthegnbe accusedof manslaying.that neitherbondmannor freemanmightgo to the hostwithoutleave.1983) 5Treatywith GuthrumAlbert Beebe White and Wallce Notestein. let him pay for it threefold.Michaeleds.let him clearhimself with 11of his equals and withone king's thegn. (London: Longman.with cattle and with goods. and then up on the Lea. and the Witan of allthe English nation. (New York: Routledge.1998) Ducket. 3.haveall ordained and with oathsconfirmed.up on the L Concerning our landboundaries Thames. FurtherReading 1e95) Hooper. and allthe people that are in EastAnglia.then straight to Bedford. And that everyman know his warrantor in acquiring slavesand horsesand oxen. 4. A good modern work Keynes. Kingship and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England (London: Longman.Alfred the Great: War.let him do that with 12 king'sfhegns.New York: 1915.thatseeksto recreate the life and timesof the folk whodwelt inandaround thelslands years of Britain around a thousand ago. The AngloSaxon Chronicle. Cambridge lllustrated recommends contemporary Atlas: Warfare in the Middle Ages sources on Alfred such as lhe 768-1487 .EleanorShipley. (Cambridge: Cambridge Anglo-Saxon Chronicleand Asser's University Press. The VikingArt of War.. Source Problems in English History.MichaelLapidge eds. who reck of God's mercyor of ours. But if it happenthat from necessity any of them will havetrafficwith us or we with them.eds.1998) 3 Paddy Griffith. And so in everysuit which may be morethan 4 morethan any of them to us. (New York: Harper and Brothers. as it may be valued. Swanton.that hostages be given in pledgeof peace. Simon. Alfred the Great: Asser's War. for themselves and for theirdescendants as well for born as for unborn. at 8 halfmarksof puregold. (equivalent to thirtypence)Andif he darenot. if he daresto clearhimselfon oath. Bennett. The Viking Art of War. Mr. Paddy Griffithgives a good PenguinBooks.1983) treatmentof Alfred'santagonists. Stroock Mathew.