Ethandun (Edington), near Trowbridge, Wiltshire
Danes under Guthrum vs. Saxons under King Alfred of Wessex
Edington Priory Gardens
In the late 9th century the Danes had slowly but surely infiltrated the British Isles and pushed back the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants. They already held the north and east of the country. A temporary defeat at Ashdown had interupted, but not stopped, the Danish advances. Under Guthrum, they pushed into Wessex from the south and east. They launched a winter attack on a surprised King Alfred at his court of Chippenham.
Alfred's court fled, and he was forced to take refuge in the marshes of Athelney, in Somerset. There, with a few of his supporters, he held out through the winter. When Spring came, Alfred sent out a call to his fyrd, or army, to assemble at an unknown place called Egbert's Stone. From there they marched in force to Edington, where Alfred challenged Guthrun to do battle.
Alfred was a realist; he realised that he could never hope to drive the Danes out of the rest of England. The best he could hope for was to consolidate his current posessions. By the terms of the peace agreement, known as the Peace of Wedmore, Guthrun agreed to withdraw to territory already under Danish control, that is, behind the Roman Watling Street. In addition, he and his captains were baptised into Christianity.
As for Alfred, he knew only too well that his victory would be meaningless unless he followed it up with measures to strengthen the area under his control. The solution he evolved was the encouragement of burhs, or fortified towns. Alfred encouraged settlement of these towns, which acted as a string of border fortresses, armed and held at the ready against possible Danish incursions.
This system did much to stabilize the political situation and bring a measure of peace to the ravaged islands.