Book 2, Chapter 4, 857 AD to 878 AD – Treaty between Alfred and Guthrun
Another of the sons of Ragnar, probably the sanguinary Ubbo, with three and twenty sail, had lately ravaged the shores of Demetia, or South Wales and crossing to the northern coast of Devonshire, had landed his troops in the vicinity of Apledore. It appears as if the two brothers had previously agreed to crush the king between the pressures of their respective armies. Alarmed at this new debarkation Odun the ealdorman with several thanes fled for security to the castle of Kynwith. It had no other fortification than a loose wall erected after the manner of the Britons, but its position on the summit of a lofty rock rendered it impregnable.
The Danish leader was too wary to hazard an assault, and pitched his tent at the foot of the mountain, in the confident expectation that the want of water would force the garrison to surrender. But Odun, gathering courage from des-pair, silently left his intrenchments at the dawn of morning, burst into the enemy’s camp, slew the Danish chief with twelve hundred of his followers, and drove the remainder to their fleet. The bravery of the Saxons was rewarded with the plunder of Wales, and among the trophies of their victory was the Reafan, the mysterious standard of the raven, woven in one noontide by the hands of three daughters of Ragnar. The superstition of the Danes was accustomed to observe the bird, as they marched to battle. If it appeared to flap its wings, it was a sure omen of victory: if it hung motionless in the air, they anticipated nothing but defeat.
The news of this success infused courage into the hearts of the most pusillanimous. Alfred watched the reviving spirit of his people and by trusty messengers invited them to meet him in the seventh week after Easter at the stone of Egbert, in the eastern extremity of Selwood forest. On the appointed day the men of Hampshire, Wiltshire, and Somerset cheerfully obeyed the summons. At the appearance of Alfred, they hailed the avenger of their country the wood echoed their acclamations and every heart beat with the confidence of victory. But the place was too confined to receive the multitudes that hastened to the royal standard, and the next morning the camp was removed to Icglea, a spacious plain, lying on the skirts of the wood, and covered by marshes in its front.
The day was spent in making preparations for the conflict, and in assigning their places to the volunteers that hourly arrived. At the dawn of the next morning, Alfred marshalled his forces, and occupied the summit of Ethandune, a neighbouring and lofty eminence, the modern name of which is Tatton. In the meanwhile Guthrun had not been an idle spectator of the motions of his adversary. He had recalled his scattered detachments, and was advancing with hasty steps to chastise the insolence of the insurgents. As the armies approached, they vociferated shouts of mutual defiance, and after the first discharge of their missile weapons, rushed to a closer and more sanguinary combat. The shock of the two nations, the efforts of their leaders, the fluctuations of victory, and the alternate hopes and fears of the contending armies, must be left to the imagination of the reader.
The Danes displayed courage worthy of their former renown, and their repeated conquests The Saxons were stimulated by every motive that could influence the heart of man. Shame, revenge, the dread of subjugation, and the hope of independence, impelled them forward: them perseverance bore down all opposition and the Northmen, after a most obstinate but unavailing resistance, fled to their camp. The pursuit was not less murderous than the engagement the Saxons immolated to their resentment every fugitive who fell into their hands. Immediately, by the king’s orders, lines were drawn round the encampment and the escape of the survivors was rendered impracticable by the vigilance and multitude of their enemies. Famine and despair subdued the obstinacy of Guthrun who on the fourteenth day offered to capitulate. The terms imposed by the conqueror wore, that the king and principal chieftains should embrace Christianity, that they should entirely evacuate his dominions, and that they should bind themselves to the fulfilment of the treaty by the surrender of hostages, and by .their oaths. The following translation of this remarkable treaty is taken from Mr. Thorpe’s “Ancient Laws and institutes of England” (i. 183).
This is the peace that king Alfred, and king Guthrun, and the ‘witan’ of all the English nation, and all the people that are in East Anglia, have all ordained and with oaths confirmed, for themselves and for their descendants, as well for born as unborn, who reck of God’s mercy or of ours.
“1. First, concerning our land boundaries, up on the Thames, and then up on the Lea, and along the Lea unto its source, then right to Bedford, then up on the Ouse unto Watling Street.
“2. Then is this, if a man be slain, we estimate all equally dear, English and Danish, at VIII half-marks of pure gold, except the ceorl, who resides on ‘gafolland,’ and their ‘liesings,’ they are equally dear, either at cc shillings.
“3. And if a king’s thane be accused of manslaying, if he dares to clear himself, let him do it with twelve king’s thanes. If anyone accuse that man who is of less degree than the king’s thane, let him clear himself with eleven of his equals, and with one king’s thane. And so in every suit which may be for more than iv mancuses. And if he dare not, let him pay for it three-fold, as it may be valued.
“4. And that every man knows his warrantor for men, and for horses, and for oxen.
“5. And we all ordained on that day that the oaths were sworn, that neither bond nor free might go to the host without leave, no more than any of them to us. But if it happens that from necessity any of them will have traffic with us, or we with them, with cattle and with goods that is to be allowed on this wise, that hostages be given in pledge of peace, and as evidence whereby it may be known that the party has a clean back.
Chapter 4, Reign of Ethelbald
Chapter 4, Destruction of Croyland Abbey
Chapter 4, Alfred the Great
Chapter 4, Fresh Troubles with the Danes
Chapter 4, Treaty between him and Guthrun
Overthrow of Ubbo
Categories: Book 2