Saturday, 11 July 2009

Ubba: Character in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Series

From the Viking Invasion to the Norman Conquest

The Danish Invasion Pre 865

The year 865 heralded disaster for Anglo-Saxon England. It was the year of full scale invasion by the Great Army of the Danes. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle said that the Danes took winter quarters in East Anglia. "And the same year a great raiding army came to the land of the English and took winter quarters in East Anglia and were provided with horses there, and they made peace with them". According to Aethelweard writing 100 years later, their leader was Igwar or Ivar, one of the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok. Ragnar had two sons involved in these raids. One was called Ubba, and the other was known as Ivar the Boneless. The chronicle implies that King Edmund paid them off in money and supplies to keep the peace in East Anglia.

Modern historians refer to the 200 year period after 865 as The Late Anglo-Saxon time.

Map showing Northeast and Lindesfarne

866 The viking force marched north from East Anglia, took York and thus conquered Northumbria. The brilliant cultural life of the north, the schools, libraries, churches and minsters were all destroyed. "An immense slaughter was made of the Northumbrians there".

867 Vikings moved on Nottingham and the Mercians sued for surrender.
If King Edmund had indeed paid off the Danes to avoid war in 865, we do not know why the same thing was not attempted in 869. Perhaps the Danes now felt strong enough to take him on, or perhaps he had now resolved to resist them. "The Danish host rode across Mercia into East Anglia and took winter quarters in Thetford and in the same year King Edmund fought against them and the Danes had the victory. And they slew the king and overran the entire kingdom".
That description came from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, version A, written between 877 and 899, and is the first record of the death of King Edmund, later to be called St Edmund, King and Martyr. A note to Version F adds that the Danish head men who slew the King were Ingware (Ivar) and Ubba.
Version B, copied at Peterborough in 1103 also added that they destroyed all the monasteries to which they came, one of which was Peterborough itself. This would be very significant because it implies a wholesale destruction of written records and literature in East Anglia.
Later stories were to tell how Edmund was captured in battle, and offered his life to share his kingdom and renounce his Christian faith. This he refused to do and was shot with arrows and his head was cut off and thrown away.The death of King Edmund is attributed to November 20th, and the History of the Legend of St Edmund is described fully elsewhere on this website.
According to Abbo of Fleury, writing in 985, the death of St Edmund occurred at Haegelisdun Wood. According to Herman of Bury, writing in 1095, the saint was then buried nearby at Sutton. Aeldorman Aethelweard, writing at the end of the 10th century said "and his body lies entombed in the place which is called Beadoriceswyrthe".
Some modern writers now support the ideas of Dr Stanley West that the location of Edmund's death was at Bradfield St George, rather than at Hoxne, which had been the claim of the medieval bishops after 1101. Dr West has noted that there still survives an old field name Hellesden, close to a Sutton Hall six miles south of Bury St Edmunds. Two miles north are Kingshall Farm, Kingshall Street and Kingshall Green. It seems likely that St Edmund's death would not have been far from his eventual resting place.
Map of East Anglia
Prior to this time there had been a single kingdom of East Anglia, consisting chiefly of today's Norfolk and Suffolk. Its land frontiers were defence works on the Icknield Way facing southwest and joining up two natural boundaries. The Devil's Dyke ran 7½ miles from Reach on the edge of the marshy Fens to the dense forests still remaining at Stetchworth in the east.
The town of Thetford seems to have been built upon these beginnings as a Danish winter stronghold. For the next fifty years, East Anglia was under viking control.
At this time there were a few settlements scattered around Haverhill and we know nothing about their fate under the Vikings. However, being on the southern frontier of East Anglia would not have made for a settled or secure life. 870 The Danes now moved against King Aethelred of Wessex and Alfred his brother. Battles took place at Englefield, ten miles west of Reading, at Reading itself and at Ashdown, Basing and Merton. The slaughter was great on both sides, enough to make Aethelwerd comment "that neither before nor after has such a slaughter been heard of since the race of Saxons won Britain in war".King Aethelred died after Easter and was succeeded by his brother, Alfred.
Ealdorman Aethelweard wrote his Chronicle towards the end of the 10th century. 871 King Alfred the Great became King of Wessex and the English until 899. He was a man of letters, so learning and history were important to him, but he was also a very practical man and a warrior. His chief pre-occupation was to ward off the Danish invasions and at first, things were at a very low ebb, and a very large payment of Danegeld was made to keep them out of Wessex. 876 After 871, part of the Viking army settled at York and took to farming. Godrum led another part to Cambridge and in 876 they launched another assault on Wessex. They lost 5,000 men at sea, and were forced to retreat. 878 On the feast of Twelfthnight the Vikings surprised Alfred's army at Chippenham. Much of Wessex was taken by the Danish and their territory was expanded to its greatest ever extent. Alfred even took refuge at Athelney in Somerset, later founding a monastery there in gratitude.
By May, Alfred rallied the army and won a decisive battle over king Guthrum, or Godram, at Edington near the Bristol Channel. The Peace of Wedmore was made following Alfred's victory at Edington, 15 miles from Chippenham. Under the Treaty the borders of Danish rule were rolled back and established east of Watling Street, along a line from London to Chester. Essex was ceded to the Danes.

Death of Edmund by Sybil Andrews

Steapa of Landroval a character in Lord of the Rings on line

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