The secrets of the forgotten battle that defined Britain: How Anglo Saxon warriors took on the Viking-led enemy alliance in brutal close quarter combat at the Battle of Brunanburh
- The 937AD battle saw King Aethelstan’s English forces fight a Viking-led alliance
- The conflict saw close quarter combat with shields, arrows, axes and spears
- The site of the battle remains unknown despite its historical significance
A bloody Anglo Saxon conflict which forged modern England is seen by historians as one of the most significant battles in British history but remains largely unknown to its people.
The Battle of Brunanburh in 937AD saw King Aethelstan’s English forces fight a Viking-led alliance in a brutal combat which saw six kings and seven earls killed.
At the time of the battle, Britain was a divided nation ruled by the Celts in the far north, the Earls of Northumberland (of Norse, viking decent) in the north of England and most of Ireland while the Anglo Saxons controlled central and southern England.
The Battle of Brunanburh in 937AD saw King Aethelstan’s English forces fight a Viking-led alliance in a brutal combat which saw six kings and seven earls killed
Brunanburh saw the Anglo Saxons go head to head with a joint army of Celts and Norse warriors.
The site of the battle has been a mystery despite its historical significance, with archaeologists most recently claiming it took place near Liverpool.
The conflict mainly played out in shield-wall clashes where a long line of ironbound willow shields were carried by warriors also wielding swords, spears and axes, The Telegraph reports.
The attackers would throw spears and shoot arrows at the enemy’s shield-wall hoping to break the defence before coming into close contact.
Shields clashed with shields and fighters hacked at each other in the brutal battle as they tried to open a gap in the first line of defence before ranks behind would fill in.
If the shield-wall broke the savage fighting became even bloodier with warriors slain as they tried to flee.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a collection of annals in Old English, said of the battle: ‘Never greater slaughter/Was there on this island, never as many/Folk felled before this/By the swords’ edges.’
After researching medieval manuscripts, uncovering weapons and carrying out land surveys, experts believe the true battlefield was in Wirral.
It has been rumoured to have taken place in County Durham, Yorkshire and Cheshire.
The site of the battle has been a mystery despite its historical significance, with archaeologists most recently claiming it took place near Liverpool
In 927, King Aethelstan invaded Northumbria, occupied York and expelled King of Ireland Anlaf Guthfrithson’s kinsmen, the rulers of York and Dublin.
Ten years later, in the summer of 937, Anlaf and Constantine launched their invasion with ‘the biggest Viking fleet ever seen in British waters’.
At some point later in the year Aethelstan advanced out of Mercia and attacked the main allied army around Brunanburh.
In a battle described as ‘immense, lamentable and horrible’, King Aethelstan defeated a Viking fleet led by the Anlaf and Constantine, the King of Alba.
Anlaf escaped by sea and arrived back in Dublin the following spring.
Had King Athelstan – grandson of Alfred the Great – been defeated it would have been the end of Anglo-Saxon England.
But upon victory, Aethelstan prevented the dissolution of his kingdom in what historian Alfred Smyth described as ‘the greatest single battle in Anglo-Saxon history before Hastings’.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described at the time how Athelstan’s forces chased after the Scots and Vikings after they had been vanquished, and slaughtered them mercilessly.
WHY PROFESSOR MICHAEL WOOD IS CONVINCED THE BATTLE TOOK PLACE IN SOUTH YORKSHIRE
TV historian Professor Michael Wood
Most people believe the Battle of Brunanburh took place in Bromborough on the Wirral, Merseyside.
But TV historian Professor Michael Wood is convinced it actually unfolded 100 miles away in South Yorkshire, near the quaint village of Burghwallis.
He gives six main reasons as evidence for the battle’s location in South Yorkshire:
1 – He says a battle site on the main route from York down into England’s Danish heartland in Mercia is a far more likely location for the battle.
The region south of York was the centre of conflict between the Northumbrians and the West Saxon kings during the second quarter of the 10th century.
2 – The name Bromborough comes from an Old English place name Brunanburh or ‘Bruna’s fort’ which is the same as the battle.
But Professor Wood argues the case for Bromborough being the location of the battle ‘rests on the name alone’.
He says Bromborough is not mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book and doesn’t appear until the 12th century.
3 – There are also doubts about whether Brunanburh should be spelt with a single or double ‘n’, as it was by several 10th and 11th century chroniclers.
Altering the spelling to a double ‘n’ and Brunnanburh changes the Old English meaning from ‘Bruna’s fort’ to ‘the fort at the spring’, which could refer to Robin Hood’s Well.
4 – Professor Wood highlights a poem in 1122 in which John of Worcester reported Anlaf’s fleet landed in the Humber, the opposite side of the country to the Wirral.
5 – And a lost 10th century poem quoted by William of Malmesbury says the Northumbrians submitted to the invaders at or near York, implying the invaders were in Yorkshire in the prelude to the battle.
6 – An early Northumbrian source, the Historia Regum, gives an alternative name for the battle site – Wendun.
Professor Wood said this could be interpreted as ‘the dun by the Went’ or ‘Went Hill’ in south Yorkshire, near to Robin Hood’s Well.