|FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY||Early Medieval|
|The Danish Invasion of 892|
In 891, a large Danish army was defeated by Arnulf, king of the East Franks, near Leuven on the river Dijle, in modern Belgium. The beaten army made its way to Boulogne, and the following year (892), in a fleet of 250 ships, crossed the Channel (the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' points out that "they transported themselves over at one time with their horses withal") and landed in the mouth of the river Lympne: "... which is in East-Kent, at the east end of the vast wood that we call Andred. This wood is in length, east and west, one hundred and twenty miles, or longer, and thirty miles broad. The river that we before spoke about lieth out of the weald. On this river they towed up their ships as far as the weald, four miles from the mouth outwards; and there destroyed a fort within the fen, whereon sat a few churls, and which was hastily wrought."
King Alfred's biographer, Asser writes: "I will say nothing of the castles which he [Alfred] ordered to be built, but which, being begun late, were never finished, because the hostile troops broke in upon them by land and sea, and, as often happened, the thwarters of the royal ordinances repented when it was too late, and blushed at their non-performance of his commands."
A West-Saxon force led by (says Æthelweard) Alfred's son, Edward..... rode before them, fought with them at Farnham, routed their forces, and there arrested the booty." The Danes fled across the Thames "... without any ford, then up by the Colne on an island."
The island is identified by Æthelweard as "Thorney", which may be near Iver, Buckinghamshire.The English forces besieged the Danes on the island.
Æthelweard says that Edward was joined by Æthelred of Mercia, who brought reinforcements from London.Alfred was on his way to relieve them, but, meanwhile, the Danes of Northumbria and East-Anglia had collected "... about a hundred ships, and went south about; and with some forty more went north about, and besieged a fort in Devonshire by the north sea [i.e. the Bristol Channel]; and those who went south about beset Exeter." Alfred and his main force headed for Exeter. At Thorney, the English were not only running out of food, but it appears that their turn of duty was over and, thinking replacements were on the way, they had started to go home. The Danes, however, were in no position to make a breakout, since their (unnamed) king was wounded. A deal was negotiated; the Danes gave hostages, agreed to leave English territory, and set off east to meet their ships. Meanwhile, a part of Alfred's army had carried on to London where they were joined by reinforcements. The English force marched on the stronghold at Benfleet. Hæsten and his men were, again, raiding in Mercia, but the remnants of the main Danish army were in occupation. The English troops "... routed the enemy, broke down the work [fortification], took all that was therein money, women, and children and brought all to London. And all the ships they either broke to pieces, or burned, or brought to London or to Rochester. And Hasten's [Hæsten's] wife and her two sons they brought to the king, who returned them to him, because one of them was his godson, and the other Ealdorman Ethered's [Æthelred's]." However, the defeated Danes regrouped and joined forces with Hæsten's army. They "... gathered together at Shoebury in Essex, and there built a fortress. Then they both went together up by the Thames, and a great concourse joined them, both from the East-Angles and from the Northumbrians. They then advanced upward by the Thames, till they arrived near the Severn. Then they proceeded upward by the Severn. Meanwhile assembled Ealdorman Ethered [Æthelred of Mercia], Ealdorman Ethelm [Æthelhelm of Wiltshire], Ealdorman Ethelnoth [Æthelnoth of Somerset], and the king's thegns, who were employed at home at the works [fortifications], from every town east of the Parret, as well as west of Selwood, and from the parts east and also north of the Thames and west of the Severn, and also some part of North-Wales. When they were all collected together, they overtook the rear of the enemy at Buttington on the banks of the Severn ..." The Danes were besieged, from both sides of the river, on an island. During this whole period, Alfred had been occupied with the Northumbrian and East Anglian Danes in Devon. Meanwhile, the siege at Buttington went on for many weeks. The Danes "... had devoured the greater part of their horses; and the rest had perished with hunger." Eventually, they broke out on the east side of the island. The 'Chronicle' claims that, in the ensuing battle "... the Christians had the victory ... and of the Danes there were many slain, and that part of them that came away escaped only by flight." The remnants made their way back to Shoebury, and, once more, collected reinforcements from Northumbria and East Anglia. Before the onset of winter 893, "and having committed their wives and their ships and their booty to the East-Angles", the reconstituted Danish force "marched on the stretch by day and night" to the deserted walled Roman city of Chester. The English forces arrived too late to prevent the Danes occupying the city: "... they beset the work [fortification] though, without, some two days, took all the cattle that was thereabout, slew the men whom they could overtake without the work, and all the corn they either burned or consumed with their horses every evening." This scorched earth policy forced the Danes to cross into Wales. An entry in the 'Annales Cambriae' suggests that the Danes traversed the whole length of Wales: "The Northmen came and laid waste Lloegr [England] and Bycheiniog and Gwent and Gwynllwg." At any rate, in 894, as the 'Chronicle' records: "When they went again out of North-Wales with the booty they had acquired there, they marched over Northumbria and East-Anglia, so that the king's army could not reach them till they came into Essex eastward, on an island that is out at sea, called Mersea. And as the army returned homeward that had beset Exeter, they went up plundering in Sussex nigh Chichester; but the townsmen put them to flight, and slew many hundreds of them, and took some of their ships. Then, in the same year, before winter, the Danes, who abode in Mersea, towed their ships up on the Thames, and thence up the Lea." At a point 20 miles north of London (possibly Hertford), the Danes built a fortress. They appear to have remained there unmolested until the summer of 895, when "a large party" of the London garrison and "also of other folk" attacked the Danish fortification. The English "... were there routed, and some four of the king's thegns were slain." The immediate danger in Devon having passed, Alfred was free to take a personal interest in the situation. During the harvest he camped in the vicinity of London to provide protection "... whilst they reaped their corn, that the Danes might not deprive them of the crop. Then, some day, rode the king up by the river; and observed a place where the river might be obstructed, so that they [the Danes] could not bring out their ships." An obstruction, protected by a fort at each side, was built across the river. The Danes "procured an asylum for their wives among the East-Angles", abandoned their ships, and left the fortress. They travelled overland to Bridgnorth, on the Severn, and built another fortress: "Then rode the king's army westward after the enemy. And the men of London fetched the ships; and all that they could not lead away they broke up; but all that were worthy of capture they brought into the port of London." The Danish army spent the winter and following spring at Bridgnorth, apparently without incident. In the summer of 896: "... went the army, some into East-Anglia, and some into Northumbria; and those that were penniless got themselves ships, and went south over sea to the Seine. The enemy had not, thank God, entirely destroyed the English nation; but they were much more weakened in these three years by the disease of cattle, and most of all of men; so that many of the mightiest of the king's thegns that were in the land, died within the three years."
'Annales Cambriae' by James Ingram
'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' by Rev. James Ingram/Dr. J.A. Giles